Saturday, December 26, 2015

J.J. Abrams Awakens the Force

Okay we saw it.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens (SW:TFA), on Christmas Eve.  And although I am lead author — and “prosecuting attorney” — of the book Star Wars on Trial, and hence a leading critic of the series, I must admit that: 

(1) The newest installment of the franchise — directed by J.J. Abrams under Disney management — has none of the deeply objectionable traits of Episodes I, II, III and VI that I denounced in that controversial tome. Abrams and Disney shrugged off the lunacies George Lucas compulsively preached in those vividly colorful-yet-wretched flicks.

(2) On the other hand, TFA had less than I had hoped for, of the magic and brilliance of Episodes IV and V.  Alas.

But let’s do a scorecard of this film's Good aspects, its Okay ones, the Bad… and the Ugly.

WARNING: TOTAL SPOILERS AHEAD!  Including some if you've already seen the film.


  Characters! … Character is J.J. Abrams's strong suit. We knew this from LOST, where we cared deeply about them all, despite there being no sense to the story. And to be clear, Mr. Abrams did the Star Trek characters very well, too -- individually and interacting, one-on-one.  Hence, no surprise, he worked the same magic here, in SW:TFA. These people were all well crafted, the actors well-directed, and I could feel them. Moreover, let there be no doubt that characters are the most important element in all types of drama, especially film. This alone made The Force Awakens worthwhile. 

More on characters, below. Grade A-

(Why the A-minus? Because after all, well, it is Star Wars and Abrams had a limited character palette to work with. But he worked it well.)

   Effects and visuals... These were always George Lucas's fixation and the one area where he always came through. The team he built delivered nicely in this latest film. Grade  A.

    Music...  I listened carefully for the themes for the new characters. They were nice, but did not tug at the heart quite as powerfully as I felt the riffs for Luke and Darth and Leia, back in the 1970s. All right, I was younger then. Solid Williams. Grade A-


    Dialogue... I had so hoped for the sizzle of Laurence Kasden's earlier script, with the great Leigh Brackett, for The Empire Strikes Back.  Clearly, Mr. Abrams wanted it too, in re-hiring Kasden for another go!  Alas, while the script for SW:TFA is serviceable, getting us from point to point, it contains almost nothing truly memorable, this time.  

Well, at least it wasn't memorably awful, like the dialogue in Lucas's cringeworthy prequels. So, in fact, "serviceable" came as a huge relief. Grade B

     Memory lane indulgences... oh preserve us from the stunning need of all series directors to slavishly show us every beloved character in every possible coincidence, like the way Mr. Abrams made every classic Enterprise bridge officer be part of the very same Starfleet Academy class, and then bringing in Carol Marcus and Khaaaan. Oy.

Still, I give Mr. Abrams some credit for self-control this time. In fact, there were fewer of these self-indulgences than I feared, in SW:TFA. Just way too many.  (Though I admit it was a shock to re-encounter Edna Mode from The Incredibles in this flick, doing pretty much the same work. She does get around.)  C+

     Messages…. There were almost none! Which came as a relief, given how deeply George Lucas dived into propagandizing demigod-worship and spitefulness toward democracy or citizenship or common men and women. (ref: Star Wars on Trial.) I knew neither Disney nor Abrams would repeat that sickness — but there was no correction, either.  

Mind you, I kept hoping to hear that the Republic Fleet might show up and neutralize the First Order Armada, so that our heroes could do their thing. Would that have hurt?  Three extra minutes and some added battle-sizzle, while showing that the Republic and its quadrillion citizens can actually do something. Even in a supporting role?

But the damage to our notions of civilization self-confidence runs so deep that I do not blame Abrams for never thinking of it.  C+

     Sci Fi….  What’s to grade? This is not science fiction. Except briefly, in Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, it never was. For example where does the First Order get its money, its industrial base? Where do these gigantic war machines suddenly appear from? Do folks on planets resent having their sons stolen to become janissary Storm Troopers? If one henchman - Finn - can refuse to shoot a couple of villagers, might another, somewhere in the guts of that giant weapon, balk at helping to kill billions? 

A sci fi flick might have contemplated realistic ways that conflicted good overcomes ornery-plausible evil. Star Trek has taken on that question in countless nuanced variations. 

Heck, if J.J. Abrams were ever to ask my advice (and he never will), I would suggest a plot device of a villain seeking to technologize access to the Force! How much more interesting that would be, than just inserting another Sauron-style emperor and another Darth Vader wannabee.

But Star Wars is not science fiction! It is fantasy of the old school: Good and Evil are archetypes of utter simplicity. Pure light versus pure dark. Sweet folk versus red-glowing eyes.  Pretty=good and ugly=evil. The Force Awakens does all this about as well as other flicks that wallow fantasy-obsessions like "long-ago" lords and mages and mystical mumbo, e.g. Tolkien, except that in Star Wars the wizard wands are light sabers.  

Oh, this could have been science fiction. But hey, that boat sailed long ago and so let's take the franchise for what it is. And heck, why deny myself a bona fide pleasure? I can enjoy a good fantasy wallow.  Grade___ pass. 

(Oh, can you dig it? In this photo I'm wearing the crew jacket from Kevin Costner's The Postman flick.  Don't get me started on THAT!)  

The BAD:

    Plot....  Lord help us, we should have known what to expect, after LOST and Star Trek: Into Darkness... If characters are J.J. Abrams's genius strong suit, plotting is pretty much hopeless.  

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (episode VII) is essentially a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope (ep.IV), starting with a dreamy youngster stuck on a desert world wearing beige-offwhite, who rescues a fugitive droid from scavengers and storm troopers. A droid containing a secret that might save the rebellion. Followed by a cantina scene, then a Millennium Falcon swoop-escape, then some tentacled monsters. After which we observe a helmeted baddy first report to an ugly-hissing hologram of an evil emperor, then see him leer and grill a captured princess aboard a giant planet-killer. At which point goodguy infiltrators lower the shields and have fun with a trash compacter...

... all of it culminating with a little ship diving or shooting into a big ship to blow it up from the inside.

Seriously, this makes FOUR out of seven flicks in which that happens. Four… out…of… seven. 

Really? Must you? Sure, character is more important than plot. Still, plotting matters. And here TFA gets a Grade D+

The UGLY... and a missed opportunity:

There were moments, alas, when I just had to fiercely quash all critical faculties in order to stay in the spirit of the film. I succeeded! (I get plenty of practice, alack.) But these tucked-away moments did come to mind, later. 

One was an embarrassing scene in the rebel base -- (will we ever see Leia actually use some force?) -- when some rebel warrior asks incredulously (I paraphrase) "But... but... isn't this just another damn Death Star?"  

To which came the lame answer - delivered in a voice that I swear sounded apologetic -  "But can't you see? This one is much BIGGER!" 

Seriously? The dial now goes to Eleven? Even the minor human characters are complaining and rationalizing, from inside the film itself!

But most of the lame scenes involved the lead villain: Kylo Ren. I mean, when he removed his helmet for the first time, transforming muffled echoes into normal (perchance rather whiney) tones, did you expect to find Rick Moranis under there? A part of me did. A part I hated! Because I really wanted to enjoy this flick...

...and I did! Truly, I did. Especially Max Von Sydow (!!!) doing his impression of Obiwan, first as a desert hermit, then getting struck down by Darth Junior. Only to come back later, more powerful than we can imagine? Oh Please? 

Still, dang, you couldn't have given Max Von Sydow a soliloquy? Just a little one? I mean... were you aware of the fact that you were aiming a camera at ... Max... Von... Sydow?

 ("There comes a time, barbarian, when jewels cease to sparkle, when gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father's love for his child." Now that was a movie!)

But getting back to Kylo Ren. Um, we’re supposed to be impressed that Ren’s light saber has teeny little cross guards? Feh. Get a midichlorian fix, dude. Grade D-

Summing up:

Sure, this flick was essentially a remake of A New Hope, punctuated with other borrowings. In fact, next time you watch ep.VII, try to count the number of scenes that weren't homages to other SW flicks. Like Rey going underground to encounter the Force, the way Luke did on Dagoba. 

Or like another father-son confrontation on a bridge. That wasn't a bad idea, actually, though meh-executed, deserving far better attention to masterful dialogue. At least Han could have done a remise on the most-famous line by saying: “remember your mother.”  

(Good death scene for Han, though.)

My favorite part of SW: TFA? The very last scene. It was well done and a fine capper. (And possibly Mark Hamill’s best acting, ever.) 

Still, ask yourself this. Did Luke have to repeat Yoda’s path so precisely? Allowing one apprentice to kill all his other apprentices and then, instead of fixing the problem, going into a sulking exile till some new-hope trainee shows up? Um, didn't Obiwan do that, too? I mean, how many such things must repeat endlessly before fans start to stir, take notice and demand… 

...okay, okay, the answer to that question, I already know. 

Know it, so do you. 
Obvious -- and sad -- it is. 
Never, will they demand better.

But let's end up positive, here! Another set of high points were Rey’s confrontations with Ren. Cool stuff. Well drawn and acted and directed. I like her. 

And Finn. And all the women in my life vote for Oscar Isaac's character "Poe" who has the "force" of enviable masculinity. As I said, J.J. Abrams knows characters! He is brilliant with characters, as George Lucas was brilliant with visuals. And yet, as Clint Eastwood said - so-wisely - in Magnum Force: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” 

Clearly, J.J. Abrams knows this (Lucas did not.) Hence Abrams hired Laurence Kasden to work magic. And it worked, somewhat.  Extra credit points for good intentions.

The crux?  

I’ll not bother railing against this one — nor shouting joy, as I did after the anomalously wonderful Empire Strikes Back.  This newest installment is a decent-entertaining flick, benefiting from near complete absence of earlier Lucasian poisons.  A solid, fun, self-indulgent and utterly repetitive-cliched good investment of twenty bucks and a couple of hours of lifespan.  I regret nothing… 

…partly because my expectations were so low, to start with.


TCB said...

Haven't seen the new Star Wars yet, and so I say unto you:

Lalallallalalal lalallala can't hear you lalalla

Acacia H. said...

Lucas killed Star Wars for me. Abrams killed Star Trek for me. I have no faith in this and will not spend my money to see it, in the theaters or on DVD.

That is Lucas' legacy, and Abrams'.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Geez Rob. All you need is a metaphor. I see Abrams's Star Trek as a parallel world.

Kent Schmidt said...

What about the "deus ex-seismologica?" Just as he is about to lose to the newbie, untrained, maybe- somday Jedi, the PLANET cracks and drives them apart and him to safety? Really JJ?

Patrick Down said...

I mostly agree with your review. I'm not quite as offended by the recycling of the New Hope plot although I did groan a little a yet another death star. I sort of see it as Disney solidifying their hold on the fandom by making a homage to SW IV. They probably didn't want to be too adventurous this time around. Now if the next films continue to recycle old plots then I'll be a little more peeved.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Rob H. then you're missing out on a fun, nostalgia filled, science fantasy filled romp in the theaters. It's entertainment. Take it for what it is.

Unknown said...

Your comments are spot on. I was frustrated by the movie. There were too many allusions to characters and content in the original movie and the plot was essentially a remake of the original movie plot.

Acacia H. said...

This is how I see Abrams, Dr. Brin. Abrams is akin to David Weber and his Honorverse books. He can craft an interesting character (and when creating his own characters does best). But much like Weber, he works best if someone else is working on the story. In Weber's case it's because he pads his word count. His books with Timothy Zahn are superb and superior to his more recent solo books. Likewise, Abrams does good characters... but fails as a storyteller with plots that just cannot stand up to the light of day (as all you see is light shining through all the holes).

I will not watch any future Star Wars movies. Lucas killed the series. Abrams cannot restore it for me as I've no faith in his storytelling skills. As for Trek, if Abrams is behind it, then I am not. If it's associated with the detritus of his Trek, I won't watch it. If it's something set in the original Trek universe, or is a well-crafted fan-work like Axanar appears to be, then I will give it a chance.

Rob H.

sgs said...

It's a fun flick; I enjoyed it. I agree with your comments pretty much. It was fun seeing how they'd chopped up "A New Hope" and reassembled the pieces.

One thing that bugs me about TV and movies is that nobody has ever heard of the concept of an "unreliable narrator". Any time a character mentions anything, no matter how ridiculous, it is "canon" and must be accepted as gospel. In this case, Kylo Ren killing all the other young Jedi. Did this actually happen, or is it an echo of Anakin? It all happened many years ago, and the SW universe is ::ahem:: not big on documentation.

Unknown said...

With regards to Maz, I understand you Edna Mode vibe (who is probably a progeny of Edith Head)
I thought Maz was the product of the Yoda and ET have some kind of gene fusion, but apparently the DNA of Maz is more down to earth.

She was based on his english teacher from Palisades High School. Now I know why I had a strange feeling when I watched the movie. I had here in 1978, Abrams had here later, she only passed away a year or two ago. Freaky.

John and Karen said...

Funny all of the young teens, mostly boys, were raving about the movie as they they left the theatre. Perhaps we are not the target audience. I'd like to know how a Tie fighter flies in atmosphere when it's wings are vertical at least the X-wing are horizontal.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this treat

Unknown said...

My big issue was firing the planet gun through an atmosphere. It would have taken the atmosphere with it, most likely killing anyone on the surface, Secondly the atmosphere would have sunk into the planet girdling trench they carved out of it in the first place.

Tacitus said...

Competently made...but took no chances at all. I don't know how many times I have seen some of the true classics (Aliens for instance). But SF and done.

I was especially aware of how many trivial throw away characters there were. Sure, many could become important later. But most are just toy opportunities.

Very much agree it was not SciFi. Hell, nobody has thought about getting through shields by a superluminal speed approach? Ever? And in fact why bother to land and duke it out with hand weapons of marginal lethality? Load the M. falcon with atom bombs....or given that speed, bricks. It was just like the infamous "Red Matter" of the JJA Star Trek reboot.

Still, enjoyable. I watched the trailers for a half dozen super hero flicks and despaired.


Lauren said...

I managed to see it X-mas eve without seeing too many spoilers. It was really nice getting back into the SW universe and getting to enjoy character discovery, and *good* characters for a change! (and to date myself, I saw the original in the theater...two weeks after everybody else I knew because of the lines back then...for which I still have not forgiven my parents!).:) The duplicate plotting of IV was really a disappointment. Can you *not* have a SW movie without a big ass something that needs to be blown up to have a good plot? Apparently, not.

I *love* that you noticed the economics of blowing up yet another really expensive big weapon! I think Leia did not swoon from feeling the death of Han, but rather from something else. C3PO: "Are you alright, Princ...General?" Leia: "I felt a great disturbance in the force. As if a million accountants screamed out in despair."

I really liked it. Truly, after what the Fat Man did to the prequels, a return to a good movie is appreciated. But, I didn't love it, exactly for the duplicate plotting. Getting rid of GL was a great start, but a truly original plot would have been better.

Unknown said...

I'm with you on many points, especially the fact that they just remade episode IV. I went in hoping for something really new and exited complaining and disappointed. Visually as always it was truly amazing. I give it a B-. On another point I'd like to thank you for all the wonderful bits of knowledge and entertainment you've provided this past year, as well as the kindness you've shown me personally. I'm looking forward to more great stuff, both fictional and factual next year. Merry Christmas to you, with hopes for a wonderful New Year. Sincerely, Ted Dunn

Jumper said...

They never explained the Wookies.
Is this movie full of Muppets?
Mostly I feel like an elitist curmudgeon about both franchises, and would just as soon prefer all these nuts get their own conventions and leave science fiction for - ah, it's hopeless.
"Sweet folk versus red-glowing eyes." Now that's funny! I like it.

Xactiphyn said...

I would suggest a plot device of a villain seeking to technologize access to the force!
I actually think there is a reasonable chance this is the plot of the new trilogy. Sort of.
Rey showed raw power we never saw in Luke. More than Kylo's. Only one person has ever shown that kind of power.
And they reminded us that clones are a thing in this universe...

Laurent Weppe said...

"To which came the lame answer - delivered in a voice that I swear sounded apologetic -  "But can't you see? This one is much BIGGER!""

Actually, this makes perfect sense narratively: Abrams said that the First Order is basically the "What if the Nazi had immigrated en mass to Argentina, and taken over?" historical fiction scenario transplanted into the Galaxy Far Far Away.

Fascists tend to view science and technology as the tools that will eventually grant them the I-Win-Button: The Death Star was Palpatine's answer to the dictator's dilemma: building a weapon so overwhelmingly powerful that no one would ever dare threaten his rule ever again. It makes sense that his heirs would cling to the idea because it resonates soooooo much with the fascistic psyche: the fantasy of finding a way, a trick, a tool that would ensure that one remains the biggest bully in the room forever.
Palpatine's heirs crank up the madness that led to the first Death Star because they simply cannot shed their desire to bully everybody into submission by virtue of carrying the biggest stick: it is too intrinsic to their very being: to forsake the desire of a magic-superweapon that guarantees their eternel dominion is to forsake the very core of their fascistic identity.

And, speaking of which, I have that perhaps stupid and probably wrong pet theory about the FIrst Order and its supreme leader's agenda.
What If Snoke was essentially pulling a Daesh?
Okay okay okay: let me explain my pet theory in detail:
The FIrst Order is a splinter group born from the Galactic Empire after it was defeated for good and reduced to a rump state by the New Republic, which on the other hand controls most of the old Republic's territories: in term of raw power and resources, the New Republic is way above the First Order, and even its half-hearted assistance to the resistance proved sufficient to allow the organization helmed by Leia to destroy Starkiller base, the crown jewel of an organization that quite obviously dedicate all its resources and wealth to its military industrial complex.
Simply put, in any type of conventional competition against the Republic, the First Order will lose, badly.
And Snoke's knows it, hence his master plan: perhaps He, unlike his underlings, realizes that building a bigger stick won't suffice to inverse the balance of power: destroying the New Republic's capital will be a traumatizing assault, but not a crippling one: a new Capital Planet will be selected, a new Senate Chamber will be built, new Senators will be elected and sworn into office, and chances re that the local bureaucracies will pick up the slack and keep the spaceships warping on time during the interregnum. But beating the Republic into submission isn't his goal: in Return of the Jedi, the Emperor's intent was to lure Luke to the Dark Side and have him replace his crippled father as the Emperor's right-hand man and heir apparent... Well, What if Snoke's goal was to lure the New Republic to the Dark Side and ensure the triumph of the Sith ideology by ensuring that the next Senators will be hardliners elected on a revanchist platform who will, in their quest for swift retaliation, dismantle the New Republic's check and balances in the name of improving it's military's efficiency: not only will it delegitimate the New Republic (the polity founded on the idea of being the antithesis to Palpatine's tyranny aping the methods of then-still-Chancellor Palpatine? That's not good PR), but in that case, even if the New Republic eventually triumphs against the First Order on the battlefield, it will have become a more suitable heir to the Sith lord's empire than the First Order ever was, just like Luke was to be molded by the Emperor into a better heir than his father.

Unknown said...

I will agree that JJ can make some intriguing characters but I do believe that story writing should be left to another team entirely. He destroyed the Star Trek universe and I think the only reason it didn't happen with Star Wars is that he pulled back the reins because he didn't want to peeve off an even larger fan base.

I was fearful for JJ Abrams as he did (in at least the second movie) make starships obsolete for a simple plot twist. Now that people can teleport between galaxies, why bother with starships? Oh, and let's not forget Bones' ability to cure extreme radiation poisoning - to my knowledge (albeit limited in massive dosages of radiation) something that literally liquefies the internal organs - with just a few cc's of Khan's blood (which is now on tap in a cryo chamber), he has the cure for death. All this done so he could 'cleverly' reverse one of the most touching death scenes in modern cinema.

Let's now fast forward to The Force Awakens where he decides that it's been almost half a movie without a light saber duel so let's give a stormtrooper a weapon capable of combating one. I'll even give you the fact that Kylo Ren's group was hunting Luke and therefore would have such weapons available but IMO there was no cinematic purpose for that fight scene. At which point, it now puts into the story that common brainwashed foot soldiers - ones who can hit a target once out of every 100 shots can go toe to toe with a light saber wielding Jedi?

Apparently Ren can stop a blaster bolt in mid air, hold it there while he talks, acts and moves about but for some reason he cannot defeat a girl who has had zero training in the force? And the moment he removed that mask, the same thing happened to me that happened due to the prequels. I no longer see a foreboding embodiment of evil, I see a whiny emo kid playing dress up in his black goth armor - complete with vampire cape and built in e-cig vaporizors.

And what the hell happened to Captain Phasma? The trailers and articles seemed to imply she was a big deal. What did she do?

"What about the villagers?" "Ok, on my command, kill them."
"Submit your blaster for review" "He was scheduled for reconditioning"
"I've lowered the shields but you'll never get away with it."

That is literally her entire time there.

I'm not sure why they went this way. Maybe they're hoping in the follow up books, comics and other sources of revenue that much of this will be explained and extrapolated upon. Maybe that's why the story sucked any sort of real 'oomph'. That Disney hopes to reap in more money as fans are starved to understand what was really going on with everyone in Episode VII - A Newer New Hope.

psikeyhackr said...

What can I say? You simply confirmed my assumptions. I suspect you confirmed yours and simply learned the random and unpredictable variables. I can wait until it comes on cable to be moderately amused.

Yeah, it is definitely not science fiction.

Tony Fisk said...

I still have spoiler shields up (though they're starting to leak ;-)

It was amusing to see Vox's David Roberts, who is another disparager of Lucas, give a review to a movie he fully expected to loathe, then ruefully admitting it was much better... the second time around.

@Tacitus, does 'the Picard Maneuvre' count as a superliminal shield breaching technique?

David Jordan said...

Here's a thought:

What if the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy approached sequels like Avatar: The Legend of Korra.

I like the approach Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel series, Avatar: The Legend of Korra took, which despite the same eastern-influenced spirtuality and eschewing spaceships and laser swords for quasi-magical powers around the four elements, actually has some pretty decent science fiction bona-fides.

In terms of story structure, Avatar: The Last Airbender bears striking resemblance to the original Star Wars trilogy. It's brilliant structural storytelling. I'd even say, it might just be the most functional copy of the OT's basic outline to date. Each season functions like one of the OT films, matching story beats from each. Blowing up the Death Star/Fire nation fleet by communing with the Force/going into the Avatar State? Happens at the end of A New Hope/Book One. The protagonist achieving enlightenment in a swamp and encountering a mysterious teacher there before leaving to save friends which training incomplete, resulting in bad consequences? Yup, that's in part two. The list goes on.

However, here's the really cool thing about the Avatar shows: They are very much about consequences of actions and how they play out in society at large. While Avatar Korra receives help from the original show's Leia equivalent, and there are quite a few callbacks, the sequel series has decidedly moved forward. The Fire Nation's rudimentary steam engines have become automobiles. Rare high-level bending abilities have become commonplace in the decades since (teaching, what an idea!), and we get to see how they're used for everything from keeping social order to facilitating industry. And all of this is a backdrop for exploring various ideologies and social ideas from our world in the context of one which has developed from a different physical/spiritual foundation. Equality vs Elitism, totalitarianism vs cosmopolitanism, etc.

I don't expect Star Wars to take that much of a Trekian turn, but moving forward from the consequences of the previous stories, rather than resetting the board would've made this installment more satisfying. Hopefully, the next film does that, much as The Empire Strikes back developed and expanded from A New Hope.

Acacia H. said...

Going off topic to politics, and onto a conspiracy theorist bent, the Sanders Campaign has hinted that the employee who hacked the Clinton data might have been a plant by the Democratic National Committee. The reasoning? Josh Uretsky was recommended to the Sanders campaign with glowing recommendations by the DNC and technology company NGP VAN. DNC National Data Director Andrew Brown, who works closely with the shared voter file program, provided references for Uretsky, while NPG VAN Chief Operations Officer Bryan Whitaker also provided a positive review.

The Sanders campaign lost access to data from the DNC and if not for the significant outcry of a large voter segment would still not have access. A high-ranking DNC officer and an upper executive of the company that was hacked both provided positive recommendations for Uretsky and thus led to his being hired by the Sanders campaign.

If it weren't for the fact Dr. Brin is a diehard Clinton fanboy, he'd probably be reporting on this and questioning the role of the DNC and of NPG VAN in recommending someone who was so deficient with his professional ethics. Naturally, Dr. Brin will handwave this away as happenstance and idle speculation because his heroine would never stoop so low as to try and torpedo the one viable competitor Clinton has.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Geez Rob. All you need is a metaphor. I see Abrams's Star Trek as a parallel world.

I've been saying for years, although only readers of 21st century Marvel Comics will get the reference, that the prequel trilogy is "Ultimate Star Wars". Not a true flashback to an earlier moment in time, but a re-imagining of the concept. Almost any attempt to go back in time in an established series seems to turn out that way, hence "Star Trek: Enterprise" also works better as "Ultimate Star Trek" than it does as a true history of TOS and TNG.

So in a way, I agree. OTOH, I sympathize with Robert's position as well, even though I will probably end up seeing the new film in theaters. The fact is, I'm not interested in the Star Wars saga. I was in love with "Star Wars", the original 1977 movie. And to use another obscure reference that only "Cerebus" readers will recognize, I find that the turning of 1977-Star Wars into the Star Wars Saga represents a sort of reverse alchemy, turning gold into lead.

Still, my 14-year-old daughter, who briefly liked "Star Wars" 10 years ago before dismissing it as boy stuff, is anxious to see this one. That counts for something.

Rob said...

Edna Mode? David. I shake my finger. A spoiler follows.

SW VII passes the Bechdel Test. Literally, spiritually, figuratively.

I didn't watch Rey take up her enemy's grandfather's sword during my second viewing. I watched my daughters see it. Four young women whose faces lit with a new hope. Seriously. Nothing else mattered to me after that.

Herb Mallette said...

I have to shake my head over the way you still don't understand that the prequels were a cautionary story. They plainly show what happens when people abandon democracy to corporatism and war-mongers, and when religious people elevate dogma and prophecy above values like family and loyalty. The characters in the prequels do a bunch of stuff you don't like, and then they suffer enormously for it as the bad guys win, and yet you insist that the movies promote the stuff the people do that you don't like. George Lucas says, "If A, then Awful Stuff Happens," and your conclusion is, "George Lucas says A is great!"

I won't (and no one could) argue in favor of the quality of the prequels, but you're just living in such a fantasyland about their meaning.

David Brin said...

Laurent and Mark, interesting concepts! Rob, yes Rey is a great female role model.

Oh… some technical quibbles?

1- How come we never once see a storm trooper’s white armor accomplishing anything?

2- If the planet death star used up an entire sun to send the first planet killer beam… where’d the second sun come from?

3- Tacitus is right. If you can penetrate shields at light speed then send a brick. It will do the job.

David Brin said...

Did no one get my reference to "eleven"? I thought is *snork*worthy!

David Brin said...

Rob H.: “the fact Dr. Brin is a diehard Clinton fanboy”

Well it looks like we have another locumranch strawmanner here.He knows darn well that as recently as 6 months ago I was trying to recruit a guerrilla theater troop to satirize “Clinton-Bush” dystasticism. But he SO wants Sanders that he must perceive any lassitude toward his hero as hatred.

Dig it. Bernie should earn the darned nomination! He is known by the people of New Hampshire and hence has an advantage there. Use it! Earn it! If he gets it, I will support him. For the same reason I will support Hillary…

… because the 10,000 democratic factotums will be diverse and competent civil servants, including new judicial appointees, as opposed to 10,000 absolutely proved corrupt-traitors and/or drooling ninnies in the Bushite-Cheney-Saudi umbra and penumbra…

… and because democratic presidents wage war vastly more sanely in a dangerous world… (

…and because the nation prospers when there is a dem in the White House and ALWAYS plummets across spans of GOP rule. ( )…

In which case, all of my attention right now is on the goppers. And hoping that sane conservatives like Tacitus2 will wake up, see what’s happened to their movement, get angry and help us punish the hijackers.

David Brin said...

Herb, while it is true that Yoda's endless litany of horrifically vile advice and even worse deeds does lead to disaster and death for the galaxy, anyone who takes that chain of cause and effect and impute that George Lucas was therefor PREACHING to us by counter-example (((???) bears a steep burden of proof. If he meant this, then he failed to convey the meaning to almost anyone but thee and me... and those wise individuals who have read STAR WARS ON TRIAL!

Everyone else nods as the vile green oven mitt utter crap like "there is no try" while refusing to help anyone, ever, in any way, including the Republic.

If that was GL's intent, he would have put WORDS into the mouth of Mace Windoo -- the only slightly-wise Jedi -- that would have cast doubt on Yoda's spell of faux-eastern "wisdom." But even Mace nods in acquiescence every time Yoda over-rules him.

No, the burden of proof is on you, to show that Lucas -- who told the NY Times that he despised democracy and admires "benign dictatorship" did not mean to convey those same values in his endlessly preachy flicks.

baal said...

Oh cmon Ren isn't much of sith lord, he cannot control his temper, and that indicates that he has a very long way go before his training is complete. Before that final battle he was wounded by a bowcaster bolt, weakenening him.

Rey, is a hell of character. Try to remember the opening scenes, where she perform difficult/impossible things rappelling down the shafts of that Star Cruiser shaft. She can also understand droid, and is also good with her weapon of choice, that extra long staff ( a skill transferable to light saber). She has got skills, implying she has had some training.
Her ability to resist Ren's mind control (the only sith talent the Ren seems to excell at) along with her other talents marks her as an extreme force adept, who at the least has had some rudimentary training.

LarryHart said...

Mark M:

I'm not sure why they went this way. Maybe they're hoping in the follow up books, comics and other sources of revenue that much of this will be explained and extrapolated upon. Maybe that's why the story sucked any sort of real 'oomph'.

I've had that feeling since the first prequel--that the movies themselves are just a small taste of what the viewers are supposed to know about the story from other media, including games. When I finally saw Darth Maul, I was thinking "What's the big deal? He hardly does anything." It was as if you're already supposed to know how cool the character is from your prior expectations, and then afterwards, you "remember" that you saw that cool Darth Maul, conveniently forgetting that the real movie experience had no "there" there.

Dorrie said...

"If one henchman - Finn - can refuse to shoot a couple of villagers, might another, somewhere in the guts of that giant weapon, balk at helping to kill billions?"

Oh, David. Finn rises above the other stormtroopers because he's a *Jedi*. The force is strong with him, he has been chosen by destiny, up to his eyes in midichlorians and so on (although I'll bet we never hear another word about those!) He just doesn't know it yet, but they couldn't have made it any more obvious. The other stormtroopers are just minions, so they're okay with killing villagers, or whole planets full of people, or whatever.

My favourite scene was when Kylo Ren is throwing a tantrum because Rey got away and shouting, 'Guards! Guards!' and the guards just about face and march away. That was gold :)

Then again, Han Solo's attempt to 'bring Ben back' (which echoes Luke's plan to redeem Vader) puzzles me. How is that even supposed to work? Suppose they go for it. 'Okay, Dad, you've convinced me, I'll go back and join the goodies.' 'Hey, everyone, my son is back! He's with us goodies now, so let's just put that whole 'genocide of billions of people' behind us, right? Bygones be bygones.'? It's just as well that it doesn't work, really.

LarryHart said...


Yeah, it is definitely not science fiction.

It never was. Even in 1977.

David Brin said...

Darth Maul was when I knew GL did not care even slightly, anymore, about plot. He attachs Quijon and Amidalah on Tatooine... when Palpatine's whole plan is for her to arrive safely on Coruscant in order to fool her into denouncing the good chancellor. That's when I realized. Even movie critics don't care about plot, anymore.

David Brin said...

Dorrie, the whole bygones thing was stunning when GL pulled it on us, i Return of the Jedi... a flick that was something of a transition, with some good parts... but plummeting as fast as GL could take it, down to the dark side of storytelling.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Did no one get my reference to "eleven"?

If you mean that it comes from "Spinal Tap", sure some of us know the source. I think it's so much a part of common parlance now (even by those who don't know where the phrase comes from) that no further comment seemed necessary.

If you meant something else, then no, I didn't get it. ;)

Unknown said...

Well written, my thoughts to a T...the only thing I have to say is.....I am really looking forward to a snow battle and some muppets next movie. #FAIL

Si Naylor of Halifax Nova Scotia said...

We are supposed to believe that in all the years Chewie and Han have been seeing each other, this is the first time Han ever used Chewie's bowcaster? And they couldn't get Chewie to look as authentic as he did in the original trilogy? Give me a break. CG characters and CG cargo along with the least original plot ever killed this film for me. I thought the new actors were great, but can't believe this was the best the writers, producers, and director could do. Lose the CG characters and use masks, makeup and puppets in episode 8. And please write an original Star Wars story. Both Ewok films were more original than this and had visual continuity throughout them (not briken by the sudden appearance of terribly distracting CG characters).

A.F. Rey said...

Your comments almost exactly echo those of my family after we saw it last Monday. We pretty much are shaking our head wondering why everyone else loves it so much. I mean, you can't really spoil it, because you've seen it all before in the previous movies (and others, like GoT)! :)

My one (thin)(new?) hope is that Abrams is setting us up for a huge twist. By retelling the old story, he is lulling us into believing that history always repeats itself, and the Jedi will keep making the same mistakes again and again. And then he'll throw in a monkey wrench and completely change the pattern. Unfortunately, it is more likely that Disney was making sure they have a safe story to sell. (They still have to make back the $4 billion they gave to Lucas.)

By the way, when did the Storm Troopers become the Unsullied?? :D

Acacia H. said...

Abrams isn't directing the next movie. Or probably the third. Disney is rotating in different directors.


I notice Dr. Brin ignores my comments and instead claims "strawmanning" - and also holds Sanders to a higher standard of requirements than Clinton. If the DNC pulled the bullshit on Clinton that it has on Sanders, then he'd be calling for the DNC to be reformed. Sanders? Well, he has to prove himself. Against the Democratic Party.

Nor does Dr. Brin even consider the possibility the DNC is sabotaging Clinton's opponents so to ensure their candidate wins. Yet... would it not be in the best interest of the country that a candidate be elected on his or her merits, and not just because it's their turn?

Hell, if the DNC acted like this toward Obama, we'd probably have President Palin in office right now after McCain died in office... because the black vote would have refused to vote for Clinton if it were even hinted at that the DNC sabotaged their candidate. Corruption is not a good thing, be it Republican OR Democrat.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Just saw Ant Man. Cute. Harmless. Barely worth the time... and the plot is a nearly 100% remake of the plot of Ironman One. Seriously, do they even try, anymore? They are like republican politicians. They assume their constituency will never, ever notice.

David Brin said...

Rob H. has completely jumped the shark. Hysterics. I hope this is not typical of Sandersites. That's his business. But the next time you strawman my motives, sr, well, look in a damned mirror. That's where the fanatic is, not me.

ZarPaulus said...

Somehow the entire Republic fleet was destroyed when the planets in its capital system were destroyed by Starkiller base.

Here's hoping that a significant part of the next movie is General Leia trying to contact and recruit all the Republic fleet elements that were out on patrol or stationed in different star systems.

Acacia H. said...

Please. I'm voting Libertarian, as I've done in most of the elections I voted in.

I realize that there is no way a Libertarian candidate will be elected. I also realize that there is no reason for me to vote for a Democrat in Massachusetts because the vast majority of the state will.

My preference is for Sanders instead of Clinton. Sanders has a long record which he has remained true to. Clinton... is much like her husband, will turn whichever way the political winds blow, and work to her advantage. She will also doom the country to at least four more years of the House and Senate being in Republican hands and I detest the Republicans more than I detest the Clintons.

Of the Democratic candidates, Sanders is the one that moves from "lesser evil" category to the "I could vote for him without feeling like he's just going to betray his standards once he gets in." I felt that way about Obama in 2008. I was proven wrong.

I doubt I'd even vote for Sanders in the primaries, as I don't want to have to re-declare myself Independent after the election, and by the time Mass. comes around, Sanders will either be a lost cause, or he'll have built enough momentum that the state will vote for him as a "local boy."

So you can consider it more akin to fantasy football, only with politics instead of sports. Sanders is the better candidate. Clinton is the fan favorite because of her name.

Oh wait... you didn't want a third Bush to get elected on the "strength" of his name, did you... ;)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

In that case, as a dilettante, too precious to soil his hands, do not presume to judge those of us who are fighting for civilization that you, with effete superiority, both disdain and benefit from. I am battling for pragmatic differences that might allow our smarter better kids to have a chance to make decisions we won't understand. You are welcome here. Just stop strawmanning your absurd pretensions to my attitudes. Not when they are reflections in YOUR mirror.

Unknown said...

There are a lot of good points in this article... That being said, I feel it was necessary to recreate Episode IV in order for the old characters to open up the story of the new characters... Ask any true SW fan to put the entire saga in order of "Best to Worst" and they will give you, "Empire, A New Hope, Return Of The Jedi." The prequels will not even be worthy of coming up in a REAL SW conversation. I truly believe that this trilogy will follow suit and bring us an amazing story (With amazing back stories as well). Give Abrams a chance.... If Episode VIII sucks, I will be the first to admit I was wrong.

David Brin said...

Michael you assume folks do not have the original series to watch any time they want and get up to speed that way.

Acacia H. said...

Too precious to soil my hands?

Please. I voted for Obama in 2008 for three reasons. First, I hoped he was different than the other politicians. Second, I did not want Palin in office. And third, I lived in New Hampshire, and my vote actually meant something.

If I'm in Massachusetts, then my vote doesn't matter. It doesn't matter for the House, the Senate, or the Presidency. Nor does the vote of my Republican friend matter, as there is no way a Republican would win a House Seat unless he lived in the western part of the state.

So, if my vote doesn't matter, then why not vote for candidates who come closer to what I believe in? I sure as hell would prefer Libertarians in office to the Republicans. They'd cause a lot less damage and might try to repeal laws that should not be in the books.

And at least I vote. A lot of people just say "why bother?" and don't vote at all. It's those people in Southern states that have resulted in Republicans winning local and state elections... which is rather worrisome to me, as it suggests my early beliefs that the Republican Party would self-destruct in 20 years may be wrong.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

And as for Star Wars, it is a shame they did not try to tell a new story here. For all the failings of the Prequels, at least the story in them was not a rehash of the original trilogy. I detested the second and third movies (and tolerated the first). But it wasn't a rehash.

If all this is is a remake of Episodes IV and VI with better characterization, why bother?

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I don't follow the SW fannery, but recently heard of
a viewing order intended to retain the big Reveal, and
remove the worst of the prequel ordure.

It is called the 'machete' order, and goes: IV, V, II, III, VI.

Lookee, lookee! Theresa justa teensy bit of JarJar and no Maul.
(The Director had no business sending them.)

The Werewolf said...

"Geez Rob. All you need is a metaphor. I see Abrams's Star Trek as a parallel world."

It's not even a metaphor. It's point blank called out as a parallel universe in the comic prequel and Abrams himself said it was. It's not really that big a surprise - Abrams loves the parallel universe concept (Fringe anyone?).

If you look at the time line in his Star Trek, the events wouldn't make sense otherwise. For one thing, when the timeline is changed by someone going back, it tends to be immediate and significant (City on the Edge of Forever, Yesterday's Enterprise, Bell's War, First Contact) and we know there were at least two parallel universes before Abrams' (Mirror, Mirror and The Tholian Web). For another, the changes made just wouldn't account for the technology and events *before* the Romulan arrival or after. Really, most of the changes affect Spock and Kirk years AFTER their arrival and the rest of the Federation far less. Yes, the ship Kirk's parents were on was already substantially more advanced than the Enterprise he would command years later in the original universe.

I think Abrams did this for two reasons: as noted, he loves parallel universe stories, but it also leaves wiggle room. The old Star Trek is still there - one universe over. We're not going back there anytime soon - but all the stuff we grew up with and loved is still there if we need it.

And for me, that makes it all just fine. This is a new Star Trek written on another page - without removing or invalidating the pages that came before.

Bjorn Wahlberg said...

Why do you miss Leigh Brackett, I wonder. Nothing of her first draft of Empire survived in the film. Nothing.

Miguel Cruz said...

Where is this quote of Lucas saying he prefers benign dictatorships to democracy? The only time I've seen Lucas refer to benign dictatorships was with respect to filmmaking.

Catfish N. Cod said...

I was going to point out that Abrams-Trek is, in universe and explicitly, a parallel universe that has no effect on the Prime Universe -- which (in Star Trek Online, the MMO) was explicitly described as existing beyond the events in the Prime Universe that launched Spock Prime and the villains into the alternate timeline. But alas, a Werewolf beat me to it. (Time travel effect consistency is very hard to maintain against the power of plot. For instance, why does Marty McFly have days to reverse the effects of the grandfather paradox in Back to the Future, but ripple effects occur immediately throughout the sequels? Speed of plot!)


Having Abrams' plot be primarily a blank slate crossed with placing Episode IV in a blender is, to me, a feature not a bug. The series has been remixed and all the elements can be played with by the writers and directors of VIIi and IX. There's nothing stopping them, since Abrams only made one irreversible change to the setting (sounds familiar). The prime goal from the leadership's viewpoint was to made sure everyone loved the franchise again and undo the damage of the prequels; this was accomplished.


Dorrie: Having Finn easily wield a lightsaber -- a weapon consistently described as difficult to use untrained -- confirmed to me that the reason he could break his stormtrooper conditioning was his Force sensitivity. The entire plot happens because of Finn's defection.... because the Force awoke inside him.

ZarPaulus: I do fault Abrams for not spending thirty extra seconds explaining what got blown up by the Starkiller; episode IV spent about that long making us feel for the death of Alderaan, a planet we likewise never saw. In the ancillary material it's explained that the New Republic, to avoid the centralization taken advantage of by Palpatine, rotates the Senate amongst the sector capitals. The destroyed system was the sector capital hosting the Senate at that time -- and therefore destroyed the Home Fleet as well. But yes, there must be more elements of the Fleet elsewhere, and after such an attack, keeping the Resistance at arms' length is not likely to continue.

I assumed that the Starkiller is actually a star lifter, and only temporarily kills the star it uses for fuel. Quite aside from the absurdity of pushing a star's mass into a planet, if they permanently kill their own sun, they are destroying their own life support system, which would be profoundly stupid.


Dr. Brin: I think there is huge opportunity here to do a strong teaching point in Episode VIIi, if they are wise enough to bring it home. It is quite explicit, to me at least, that the failings of teachers are front and center throughout the Star Wars saga. Yoda taught the Younglings, and the result were arrogant and blind Jedi who followed him to disaster when Palpatine gave Order 66. Obi-Wan and Yoda taught Anakin, who fell as he was never taught proper emotional management. Obi-Wan teaches Luke and almost destroys him by covering up his own past mistakes with a clumsy dodge. Yoda teaches Luke and screws the pooch by insisting on completing traditional Jedi methods over loyalty to the spirit of the Light Side. And now Luke teaches Ben Solo and screws up (details forthcoming).

How can anyone watch this series of events and not come to the conclusion that there is something fundamentally wrong with the Jedi training method???? While ignoring Jedi training has led to bad results (Anakin, episode III), the ONLY good results have come from the people willing to buck the system: Qui-Gon Jinn, episode I, and Luke, episodes V and VI. Rey is now our only hope. She's too practical and spunky to take all this weight of history nonsense; if Luke starts in on her with the legacy of Yoda, I sincerely hope she gives him what for.

Acacia H. said...

Going back on topic (slightly) for a moment, it would have been interesting if the new Star Wars had gone for a slightly more esoteric approach for its superweapon - channeling the radiation of a star (using a Dyson Sphere) to focus all that energy to the edge of the event horizon of a black hole and opening a hole in hyperspace to send the radiation jet emitted from the black hole to the planet or star system being destroyed.

Rather than destroying an entire planet, you'd have a more interesting space battle going after the Dyson Sphere emitters while a shielded vessel heads to the primary hyperspace array to shut down the targeting system.

They even could have used the new algorithms depicting what black holes look like from "Interstellar" to show the black hole and the jets emitted by it.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Catfish N Cod:

the ONLY good results have come from the people willing to buck the system: Qui-Gon Jinn, episode I, ...

The way I see it, Qui-Gon was the one who suggested, almost out of the blue, bringing Jar-Jar along in the first place. Jar-Jar then went on to help lobby for Palpatine's successful transition to dictator. So Qui-Gon is responsible for both Darth Vader and the Emperor.

David Brin said...

Miguel Cruz see my original Salon article, the link to GL’s infamous NY Times interview is right there. Moreover it is there in his films. Everything is demigods. The Republic not only never does anything well… it never does anything… at all.

Catfish how can insipid refusal to be creative be a “feature”?

“Obi-Wan and Yoda taught Anakin” except that the vile green oven mitt refuses to teach Anekin, leaving this “dangerous” power to be trained by the least experienced master. One of a long litany of calamities inflicted by the nasty little toad. But the biggest was ordering all the Jedi into a suicide charge at just the instant he was taking delivery of his secretly arranged replacement force, the clone army. Not one person I know has put two and two together on that one, which shows that Yoda wasn’t just stupid and always unwise… but a traitor and the true evil one.

“he ONLY good results have come from the people willing to buck the system” Exactly! I expected Luke to spread the Force around. Op[en Jedi Arts studios in strip malls all over the galaxy.

Re the Abrams Trek being a parallel world, I wrote to him begging that he sit down with Leonard Nimoy while “Spock” was still alive and able to record some “messages to the young, Abrams-Kirk. And among those messages would be one assuring Kirk etc that their other selves are just fine. Also, there is absolutely no reason for Spock to refrain from helping this timeline. “Non-interference? Too late! In this new timeline, the Federation is denied the strength of Vulcan, so it needs every hint and piece of advice Spock could offer.

Jumper said...

I don't believe in a conspiracy based on faulty IT involving giving your mailing lists away. Who'd approve of that? I could hold a phone cam up to a screen, scroll through an entire database while taking a movie of it, and I'd own the database without leaving a sign I'd "copied" it... and then report it!

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Jumper
Back when I was in charge of a big data base
(Engine production with shop floor issues and engine test data and warranty issues)
I was the engineering leader not one of the computer guys
I insisted that as well as the analysis tools that we had built into the system that my engineers could download huge chunks of the data for them to play with,

Nobody knows when coming at the raw data from a funny angle could give us a solution

If I was paying a third party to look after my data I would expect the same sort of facility

Most people will just use the standard built in tools but you need to allow the creative types to mess about

Back then it was important to do the "messing about" on your own computer - you don't want to stop other people from doing their jobs because you have locked up the system by asking for something silly

Paul SB said...

I’m gone for a few days, Dr. Brin broaches the subject of Star Wars, and now look how many new names have come out of the woodwork?

Much of what Dr. Brin wrote was already in the conversation I had with my daughter as we drove home from the theater, though I missed the comparison between Maz and Edna. But I thought Edna was the best character in The Inedibles, and Maz was a major improvement over Yoda, so I’m okay with that. If you mix Maz with Edna, wouldn’t you get Mazda, the Zoroastrian God of Light? (Jumper, do I owe Dr. Brin another quarter, or was that one only a nickel?)

I liked Laurent’s assessment. It’s true that swaggering dictators rarely have a lot of imagination, in spite of what the ANP members I met in college tried to tell me. Still, if you are making a movie, giving us the same plot line is not going to sell (okay, it’s Star Wars – anything with that name attached will sell). They could have tried germ warfare instead of yet another Death Star iteration, or given today’s issues, and the fact that the Rebellion won 30 years ago, why not a terror campaign with high-tech IEDs (I almost typed IUDs – talk about Freudian slip!) and fanatical recorded statements. An indiscriminant backlash against all Force users instead of just Dark Siders would have been a lot more relevant.

The two central characters made for a remarkable improvement, though. It was the first thing out of my daughter’s mouth. We have a storm trooper who had an attack of conscience (and an African in a lead role, at that) and a woman who wasn’t a princess (with Disney running the show, the irony there is delicious). She has a Core World accent, where in the old movies anyone who sounded British, with the exception of Kenobi, was instantly marked as bad guy. Before I get too enthusiastic, they left Rey’s background murky, so maybe in the next movie she will turn out to be the illegitimate granddaughter of Princess Amygdala, or something stupid like that. It’s always a family affair with this series.

I liked the fact that Bad Guy could take his mask off, it made him seem a little less 2D pulp cinema than Cardboard Vader (I wonder how many people caught the fact that vader is Dutch for father, though pronounced differently. The stunning revelation of Empire Bites Back was no surprise, given my Dutch mother). Also the temper tantrums he threw kind of speaks to the nature of evil, doesn’t it? Whether it’s the heavy metal head-bangers of my youth or the gangsta rappers admired by my students, that desire to hurt other people and get a thrill out of imposing your whims on the rest of the world, contrary to those social aspects of our nature, is entirely typical of the immature.

The one thing I saw as a major missed opportunity that Dr. Brin did not bring up was the fact that the storm trooper who broke training was not a clone. If he had been, it would have struck a blow against the simple minded genetic determinism that is the basis of so many prejudices. If anyone remembers Weyoun from DS9, there was a great conversation he had with Kira during the year the Dominion had control of the station. She was on about serious station business, but he was obsessing over Zial’s artwork. His race had been created with supposedly no sense of aesthetics, presumably so nothing would distract them from their duty. Yet he was completely obsessed. When he asked Kira, “Would this be more aesthetically pleasing if it were blue?” I was smirking for days. I knew exactly what the writers were getting at. Perhaps, though, most of the kinds of people who believe in rigid determinism aren’t bright enough to get it. Still, if our wayward trooper were a clone, I might have been willing to forgive their previous misuse (a bad pulp fiction element, not good science).

locumranch said...

After reviewing Thomas M. Disch's take on Star Trek ('Star Trek, or the Future as a Lifestyle', Chapter 5 from 'The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of', 1998), it becomes clear why David & paper-pushers everywhere prefer 'Star Trek' to Star War's individual exceptionalism:

"The lesson (that the Star Trek pajama) uniform teaches is that conformity will be the order of the day in the future even more than in the present ... turn down the sound, and look at the show's sets ... it's clear that the Star Trek Enterprise is actually an office disguised as the Future (which, btw, is the likelier destination of the younger viewers who graduate from schoolrooms everywhere, and) Star Trek is offering its its viewers essentially the same parables of success-through-team-effort that could be found on such later workplace-centered sitcoms as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Designing Women.

In Rabin and Cohen's accounting, the Enterprise is nothing less than a utopia, an ideal social environment to be given serious consideration as blueprint for a future America that would be one smoothly running military operation without conflict between the rich and poor, male and female, black and white."

From this perspective, it becomes clear why the 'Star Trek Future' is so comforting and nerdy. It is regressive; it demands the conformity of mass-educated 'clones' who are differentiated only by task & uniform (not by intellect, tribe or gender); and it represents the extension of the Primary School experience into an indefinite (authoritarian; hierarchical) future, making it more analogous to Star War's Evil Empire than that ragtag (anarchic; truant) collection of the Rebel Alliance's stereotypic individualised underdogs.


Paul SB said...

On an entirely different subject, from a previous thread, I had a thought about “horizons of inclusion.” Most people here are Westerners and thus enculturated with Western modes of thinking. Being married to a native Buddhist I wonder if it might work a little differently in the Far East. Buddhists consider all animal life to be ‘sentient beings’ all on the path toward Buddhahood. In there eyes all animal life is essentially equal and equally worthy of respect, because they all – dogs, cats, pigs, chickens – have an essential Buddha nature trying to take over. I don’t think their horizons of inclusion extend to microbial life – they don’t seem to have a problem taking or prescribing antibiotics – and plants are not included, which is why they ideally want to become vegetarians (something they shared with Christianity up until the Renaissance). This is quite the contrast with the Western gods, who are all about dividing people into us and them categories, promising eternal rewards to the in group and eternal damnation to the out groups. However, I don’t see people of the Far East being any less ethnocentric. Ethnocentrism seems to be just a little different, though. They naturalize their customs like everyone else does, but they seem less inclined to damn foreigners eternally. This is just my observation based on the people I know, who are mostly Han. There might be a testable hypothesis here, but I’m not really in that business anymore. Still, it’s interesting to speculate about.

I looked back at the last thread before I move don to SW:TFA. Did anyone notice the structure of loci's latest? It's basically Argument from Assertion, which is really just saying 'believe me, it's true because I say so.' Of course he's done that many time before, but it's usually mixed in with other elements. As fallacies go, this one is about as bad as it gets, but many people fall for it because it comes across as confidence.

The more vocabulary you have to fend off BS like that, the better you are able to defend yourself.

Jumper said...

Not being a Star Trek fan I can't say how many civilians (not counting retired Star Fleet officers) appeared in the series, but overall relatively few. I saw no real conformity among them.
Paul, I don't think youth wants to hurt so much as they want to frighten. From rap to death metal cliques, computer games, etc. Without power, and often not even physical size, there's a strong recourse to promoting fear. I detect a larger proportion of nice guys among big guys. They already have respect when young (if they got their growth early.)

Paul SB said...

"I detect a larger proportion of nice guys among big guys. They already have respect when young (if they got their growth early.)"

Yes, I've seen that, too. And of course a lot of that blustery behavior starts out as fear driven. When the trend catches on it becomes conformity driven, which for most conformers is largely about fear anyway. But there's always a subset of those who take it to heart, develop a negative identity complex and become genuinely sadistic.

Several months ago there was a story on the radio about heavy metal groupies decades after it went out of fashion. They basically concluded that the majority came out pretty normal and well adjusted, those who survived their drug-washed teen years. That's okay by me. I pretty well hated the head bangers when I was in school, but if the science says they came out okay, they came out okay.

David Brin said...

What’s amusing at times like this… when locum is cogent and logical… is how he remains utterly blind to irony. In this case, the fact that he carps against the enlightenment (as manifested in Star Trek) by accusing it of faults under the very standards preached by the Enlightenment!

It is only in Trekkian/enlightenment/modernist/ liberal terms that “conformity” would be deemed an insult! If the side he favors ever wins, the only persons allowed to be nonconformist or eccentric will be rogue sons of the ruling elite. And then either (1) for a few seasons of oat-sowing or else (2) if they sally forth bent on conquest.

Forgottheusername said...

Paul SB,
"The one thing I saw as a major missed opportunity that Dr. Brin did not bring up was the fact that the storm trooper who broke training was not a clone. If he had been, it would have struck a blow against the simple minded genetic determinism that is the basis of so many prejudices."

I doubt most, if any, of the commentators here have seen the two CGI Star Wars cartoon shows, "The Clone Wars" (which was better than both its movie pilot and the actual live-action prequels) and "Rebels", but both shows treat clone troopers as mostly heroic individuals with their own personalities (even their gunships have individualized nose arts). In fact, several arcs in "The Clone Wars" feature clone troopers as the leads, while one of the main supporting good guys in "Rebels" is a retired clone trooper who managed to disobey Order 66 (which itself has been retconned in working more like the "Queen of Diamonds" in The Manchurian Candidate) and is now working for the Rebel Alliance. In fact, one deliberate irony the new people in charge of Star Wars canon have implemented is that while the majority of original trilogy stormtroopers are regular human recruits, they're much less individualist than their clone predecessors; the clones are born as numbers but prefer to go by their personal nicknames, while the stormies are born with names but go solely by their numbers.

Steve said...

You're a cranky old twit... And btw, Abrams had nothing to do with lost other than co-write and direct the 2 pilot episodes. Lost was all Cuse and Lindelof.

Forgottheusername said...

Expanding on my clone trooper comment; I looked into it a little further, and apparently, the new guys in charge say that their currently implemented idea that Palpatine decommissioned the clones precisely because they were far too individualistic (particularly the veterans who had been exposed to Jedi/Republic ideals) compared to stormtrooper volunteers actually came from Lucas himself. It surprised me, but sometimes even Lucas deserves a little more credit than he gets, I suppose. If nothing else, all signs point to Dr. Brin being a little happier with the future ideological direction of post-Lucas Star Wars.

Brenda said...

As a physics aficionado, the result of the Starkiller weapon was egregious. I can deal with tech advances like "hyperspace" drives and weapons, but showing the results of 5-6 planets blowing up simultaneously was horrible. Even if they were in the same solar system, you would expect some light speed delay in observation.

David, they need a physics consultant.

Brenda said...

As a physics aficionado, the result of the Starkiller weapon was egregious. I can deal with tech advances like "hyperspace" drives and weapons, but showing the results of 5-6 planets blowing up simultaneously was horrible. Even if they were in the same solar system, you would expect some light speed delay in observation.

David, they need a physics consultant.

Unknown said...

Up until the end of the '70s Americans tended to not repeat themselves when it came to pop movies, TV, genre, etc. Increasingly, reiterations of SF began to franchise themselves until we seem to be unable to create anything new that surprises us. I like Star Trek and Star Wars as much as the next guy, but can't we create something new? Couldn't we at least adapt something old/new we've never seen on film, like The Mote in God's Eye? Is the problem you can't sell Motie dolls, because I get the impression Star Wars is nothing more than a series of 2 hour long commercials to sell dolls. Couldn't we at least retire that now miserable R2D2, or at least hire someone to assassinate it as a tiresome go-to for rebel scum and increasingly cis scum? Well, no... you can't assassinate a doll because dead dolls don't sell very well. Please someone kill Dr. Who and neo-Sherlock Holmes and all mordern Cthulhu Mythos stories. There's certainly room for Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Tarzan and the like but let's not push it to the point where I want the hero to die for all eternity. Our genre of xenophilia seems more xenophobic every year. The acid-bleeding Alien seems more like Ma and Pa Kettle settled in by the fireplace smoking a frickin' pipe than an alien. Make something new people, cuz if I wanted to watch the Dick Van Dyck Show I'd just buy the DVD set and pretend they live on Alpha Centauri and have a dog named "Astro" who says "Ray ra Rorce Ree Rith Rou." Our new Weird Tales is now Normal Tales and Amazing Stories now Mundane Stories.

Paul SB said...


Do you drink diet sodas? That might be why you forgot! ;]

I saw just a little of the Clone Wars cartoon when my son was in his SW phase, though he actually didn't like the cartoons very much. Your comment reminded me of a parallel in Terry Pratchett. In his book with the clever title of "Thud!" there was a pair of minor characters, one of whom was a vampire, the other his human wife (not so far-fetched in Pratchett's universe, in which many vampires have sworn off drinking human blood in order to avoid being impaled with wooden stakes by angry mods). The vampire dressed like any other citizen and tried his best to blend in, while his wife dressed up like a character from some pulp horror movie and faked the accent.

As Machiavelli never actually said, though the line is sometimes attributed to him, context is everything.

The irony of clones trying hard to be individuals, while the regular military try to hard to be clones is not lost on most of us.

Paul SB said...

Fail Burton,

I like your little rant here. There is so much good sci fi in novel form that could make for amazing film or television, some classic from the golden age, some much more recent. But I doubt railing at us will make much of a difference. It's the Hollywood moghuls who aren't willing to risk a dime out of their trillions-of-dollars coffers to try anything that doesn't already have a half-dozen sequels. The irony of the 'give 'em what they want' mentality is that it becomes self-fulfilling. I have a sneaking suspicion, though, that this trend is part and parcel with the changes we were discussing here a couple weeks ago about the shrinking middle classes.

Paul SB said...

I somehow managed to miss little loci's latest missive. He clearly missed the obvious, that Star Trek centered around a military organization, where uniforms are pretty standard. When you see civilians, something we saw a lot more of in DS9 than the other series, being set on a space station rather than military vessel, they were as idiosyncratic as anyone else (now I see what Jumper's comment was referring to - I was tired after 8 hours of driving).

It's an interesting irony that American progressives tend to go more for Star Trek, in which the focus is on the military, while Star Wars, in which the military is the enemy is more broadly popular, even among conservatives who tend to support all things military in the real world. But then, the military in Star Trek is a progressive military. When they are not actually at war, they spend their time exploring the galaxy and rubbing shoulders with other nations/species, unlike our militaries today, which spend time when not at war preparing for war. But there are other memes at play here. Star Wars with its perpetual rebellion is tailor made for rebellious adolescents. The military, with its rigidity is like mom & dad, whom all good rebellious teens must resist (never seeing the irony of their own rigid conformity to their peer group). In other words, Star Trek is more adult, centered around themes of responsibility and growth, while Star Wars is forever trapped in the juvenile underdog mentality, as we just saw with the new movie.

LarryHart said...


but showing the results of 5-6 planets blowing up simultaneously was horrible. Even if they were in the same solar system, you would expect some light speed delay in observation.

The dirty little secret of "Star Wars" has always been that it is not science-fiction at all. It is cowboy opera/fantasy in sci-fi trappings. Even back in 1977, it had spaceships behaving like aircraft, as well as gravity and sound in space. I guess I just caught on fairly quickly that that stuff wasn't going to be "explained", and (as Dr Brin says) turned off the part of my brain that would be bothered.

LarryHart said...

Fail Burton:

Up until the end of the '70s Americans tended to not repeat themselves when it came to pop movies, TV, genre, etc. Increasingly, reiterations of SF began to franchise themselves until we seem to be unable to create anything new that surprises us. I like Star Trek and Star Wars as much as the next guy, but can't we create something new?

It's not just sci-fi. Hollywood seems to think that remakes of old movies or tv shows is the highest form of accomplishment. Did we really need an updated version of "The Stepford Wives", an Adam Sandler version of "The Longest Yard", or a 90-minute newer Muppets movie whose entire theme seemed to be how pointless the movie you are watching really is?

Paul SB said...

Oh, a quick comment for John and Karen on the ridiculousness of tie fighters in an atmosphere: the x-wings wouldn't fare any better. Yeah, they have wings, but the wings are flat on both ventral and dorsal surfaces, so they wouldn't provide any lift. Futuristic engines might give them plenty of thrust, but without Bernouli's Principle in action, they would just be skidding along the ground.

I don't have a very strong physics background, but I know not to expect any realism in a supposed 'science fiction' in which faux Eastern mysticism trumps technology.

But then, maybe we need to get a little more realism in movies, if we can convince the Hollywood moghuls. Last summer I heard an interview with an LA County sheriff about officer-involved shootings. He complained that he got hundreds of emails from citizens who demanded that the police shoot the guns out of criminals' hands rather than shooting the actual criminals. Evidently TV and movies have become such an enculturation machine for us that many people can't tell the difference between reality and screen world.

locumranch said...

F_Burton's observations about the failure of the US collective imagination reflect an even larger failure of US collectivism & its incompatibility with creativity, resulting in the aforementioned Catch-22 mentality wherein conformity acts to forbid individualistic problem-solving strategies, leading to the dysfunctional repetition of 'success through team group-think' & the insane expectation of a 'different' outcome through mindless repetition.

Especially in politics, we see the results of this group-think dysfunction in the Left's reflexive support of Hilary, the Right's reflexive support of Jeb! & PSB's reflexive rejection of different opinion as logical fallacy (even when that opinion is clearly labelled as opinion).

We also see this same flaw in Star Trek & the Evil SW's Empire, as evidenced by the ongoing dysfunctional obsession with previously failed solutions & hackneyed plot devices, the demand for ever more Borg-like conformist 'diversity' (in response to conflict) & the Evil Empire Disney's predilection for an even bigger Death Star despite prior failures.


DavidTC said...

A couple of points:

1) Captain Phasma is, I think, destined to be the villain of *another* movie. Or possibly the TV show. She was basically doing the same thing here as Luke was. I also think *Poe* is going to have a bigger role in the later movies.

2) To expand on that, I think three movies were cast, and there are different supporting characters in each of them of them, and even some rotating main characters, but since they were all cast together, we get characters in movies before they are important characters. I also think the three original character order is Hans this movie, Luke the next, having trained Rey and in some flashbacks to what happened, and he might end up dead at the end of that, and Leia the last movie, trying to redeem Ren.

3) I'm with other people that Finn is force-sensitive, mainly because we've never seen anyone else manage to fight with a lightsaber. And it explains how he rejects a lifetime of brainwashing. (I know Brin has a objection to the pedestal that Force-users, and only Force-users, get up on in this universe, and I agree...but I'll give them the (already seen) superpower 'sense the nearby emotions of people being terrorized and murdered', which is clearly just a superpower of the same grounds as 'leap 30 feet in the air', and not a sign they should rule the universe.) If I'm right, I hope he's only force-*sensitive*.

4) I'm also with the theory that Rey *isn't* untrained. Seriously, she successfully does the Jedi mind-trick, which hardly seems something an untrained and unknowing Jedi would try! And she manages the most impressive one we've ever a distance, behind her, without hand gestures. Yes, she's young when she's left behind, but people forget how young they used to train Jedi, and maybe Luke started that again. I think Ren *spared* her, possibly because she's related to him. (The obvious possibility is Luke's daughter.) I also think her memory's been erased or blocked.

5) I noticed the X-Wings also, and what I noticed was they didn't even *bother* to close the wings in the atmosphere at least once, which is supposedly the *entire reason* the wings close. Yes, in reality, with that wing design, it wouldn't actually help, but that's just dumbass Star Wars physics. But once they set that up that 'reason', they should have remembered it and done it.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Dr. Brin:

"Catfish how can insipid refusal to be creative be a “feature”?"

Better than forcing your own vision down everyone's throat. That was tolerable in Trek because everyone knew (and it acknowledged itself as) an "alternate universe". But this had been declared the new Prime Star Wars timeline. I am relieved it didn't get more imprinted by Abrams' tropes, which are now across too many stories to be seen as anything but alien to the Star Wars franchise. Now others can build on a solid foundation.

"But the biggest was ordering all the Jedi into a suicide charge at just the instant he was taking delivery of his secretly arranged replacement force, the clone army. Not one person I know has put two and two together on that one."

If by that you mean Yoda is willing to sacrifice anyone and everyone to his own vision of the greater good, well yes, I got that back in Episode V, where it's spelled out rather clearly. That he has a stubborn, unrealistic, unyielding and toxic vision of what "the greater good" entails -- I already had that too, because if Luke had followed Yoda's plan in Episode VI he would have fallen.

His actions in Episode II and III, where he throws everyone else at his problems first and then assumes he can do it all himself, are completely consistent with that. Plus you learn that a trial with the dark side is NOT a requirement for promotion to Jedi Knight! This means that Yoda was just being his usual manipulative self even on his deathbed, using his power as the last survivor of the Jedi Council to make yet more unreasonable emotional demands on his last Padawan.

The Devil lies by clever use of the truth, and when Palpatine tells Anakin in Episode III that the Jedi and Sith are alike in their quest for personal power, he's not wrong. Yoda is the direct reflection of the Sith master. That he has good ends in mind does not mean that his means are not despicable.

"I expected Luke to spread the Force around. Open Jedi Arts studios in strip malls all over the galaxy."

That may yet be the plan! It takes time to build an organization back from a single man, and there was clearly a major hiccup along the way. And this is exactly what I was pointing at -- I felt like the gaping plot holes were actually deliberate and designed for the future writers and directors to plug in truly novel content onto the motherboard built by Abrams.

One strong glimmer of hope I was the bar owner (I never caught a name and it doesn't matter -- but Ms. Nyong'o was the motion-capture actress behind the CGI). She was Force-sensitive and not from either the Jedi or Sith traditions. The first six stories were all about these two diametrically opposed, mirror-image and hide-bound organizations, and how their polar-opposite struggle destroyed them both (not to mention death and destruction galaxy-wide). But there are other ways to know the Force! The Old Jedi Order would never have listened to such; Yoda and his students were far too arrogant, and could barely stand a mild-mannered malcontent like Qui-Gon. Luke -- especially a Luke with the moral stuffing kicked out of his first attempt at a Jedi Academy -- may be open to new ideas. And if he's not, I know darn well Rey is!

raito said...

My wife makes me see stuff like Star Wars (lucky me!).

Here's my grades:

Characters: A The original characters are themselves. The new ones appear interesting, for the most part. The new droid isn't obnoxious.

Effects and visuals: B My objections could best be summed up as 'analog vs. digital'. The look was a bit off.

Music: C Completely forgettable. Which is unusual. Williams usually only steals the best stuff.

Dialogue: B Like the good Dr. says.

Memory lane indulgences: A- If you accept all that Campbell monomyth BS, it makes sense that everything is cyclical. In a sense, a rehash.

Messages: A Almost none? Sometimes I wonder if I watch the same movie as everyone else... So it spell it out, the main question of the movie is 'Who is your family?' And the answer is 'Those people who show they are vested in your well-being by their actions'. And it's demonstrated in several ways. We have a character abandoned by her biological family (and I'm against the current here in thinking that the movies will never bother with Rey's family. They're gone.) We have a kidnapped character whose new supposed 'family' is not interest4ed in his well-being. We have a character who rejects his biological family. We have the supposed independent not only offer a family to another character, but try to fix his own. And we have a runaway putz to whom nothing appears to matter.

Sci Fi: Why bother with a grade?

Plot: C+ Yes, it's a rehash. And I explain why above. But it's not a bad one, if it has to be one. C'mon, Han giving the Force primer is a pretty decent bit of mashing things up.

And yes, Max Von Sydow was a waste in this. At least he was there.

As for Luke taking Yoda's path, geez! It's not just Yoda's path, it's Obi-wan's! Apprentice goes bad, run and hide and allow millions to die! What a putz. But it's cyclical...

The biggest thing that didn't work for me? Where are those ghosts? They ought to have been pimp-slapping angsty-boy. 'I wanna be like Gran' **POW** 'I repented and shouldn't have gone to the dark side.' 'But' **POW** 'I said no'. Sure, adolescents have pretty good blinders, so the idea that Kylo want to 'finish his grandfather's work' isn't the problem for me. It's that those supposedly-immortal spirits aren't just useless, they're not even present. Then again, who are they? The oven-mitt, the liar, and the original angry fearful guy. Maybe they wouldn't have been much help.

I must've missed Maz as Edna. But to me, Snoke might as well have been Voldemort.

If I wanted a space fantasy on film, with multiple movies, I suppose worse could be done than the Lensman series. It's not perfect, in that you have the Arisians giving species-kind the Lens, and I'd rather see us use our bootstraps. On the other hand, Smith's brand of Jedi are chosen for who they are and do not act like righteous jackasses. The only problem I see with it is that an ordinary guy, once again, doesn't seem to be able to train up to Lensman standards (or at least it doesn't seem to happen in the books).

Jumper said...

I figured those "wings" were not aerodynamic. Those anti-grav units get hot. Or anti-grav vortices get tangled unless they're spread out.

I have to do this regularly watching SF movies. I'm good at it.

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Captain Phasma is, I think, destined to be the villain of *another* movie."

Yeah, the foreshadowing is much stronger in this one than in the original, which is to be expected, since unlike the first Star Wars, which was originally a stand alone movie, the Force Awakens was from the get go conceived at the opening act of the next trilogy.


* "I'm also with the theory that Rey *isn't* untrained"

The scene when Finn tries to save her from Unkar's underlings only for Rey to rather easily dispatch them before he even reaches her was clearly intended to show that she was far from being untrained.


* "I think Ren *spared* her, possibly because she's related to him. (The obvious possibility is Luke's daughter.) "

God I hope not: the Galaxy Far Far Away has already suffered enough from House Skywalkerides' dynastic feud to add another one in the mix, plus the hints are so obvious that if it was confirmed in the next episode, I for one would grind my teeth so hard that the whole theater would hear it.

If it was up to me, I'd make Rey the daughter of one of Luke's apprentices: it would establish that Luke learned something from his predecessors' mistakes, and decided to avoid the "aloof, ascetic space-monk" abstinence-only Jedi education of Yoda & co, allowing his apprentices to seek human (or fellow sentient) warmth and have families of their own instead of proscribing these things.
Then Ren would have spared her, because unlike his granddad, he wasn't yet gone far down the rabbit hole to murder a child in cold blood, which in turn would allow to grow up and eventually surpass him.

That would maintain the whole "Chosen One" monomyth tropes at the root of the Star Wars series, but not only would it weaken the dynastic aspect of the tale, it would also implies progress: sure the Jedi are nearing extinction again, but despite all, progress is being made, and this time the (last) Jedi master(s) made choices that will be beneficial in the long run.


* "The biggest thing that didn't work for me? Where are those ghosts? They ought to have been pimp-slapping angsty-boy."

I get the feeling that one can perceive ghosts only when they are both trained and solidly on team light-side. So Yoda could see Ben senior, Luke eventually became able to see him (he barely ears him at the end of A New Hope, starts vaguely seeing him in the beginning of Empire Strikes back, and finally calls him out for his manipulative bullshit in the Return of the Jedi), but Ben Junior doesn't see his granddad because by the time he acquired enough mastery of the Force to perceive him, the Dark Side had rendered him blind.


* "to me, Snoke might as well have been Voldemort."

A friend pointed to me that Kylo Ren reminded him of Snapes.
And to bring back my "Rey's Luke's apprentice's daughter" (hurray for contractions & saxon genitives!), Perhaps my friend is even more right than he suspects: perhaps Rey's mother was young Ben's unrequited crush: another gifted in the Force young apprentice under Luke's tutelage who became Ben's friend but fell in love with another, prompting the anguished young man to listen to the worse angels of his nature.
Sure, "unrequited love makes you go crazy and violent" is not the most original plot line, but there are worse material to get inspiration from than Harry Potter.

raito said...

One of the things that never quite gets discussed is that, if someone is strong in the Force, maybe it's going to come out, training or not. Which is why the Council was stupid in not allowing Anakin to train. If they were less jerks, Anakin might not have gone over. And it's why Qui-gon was better than most of them. Sure, Obi-wan screwed things up, but that's not the point.

Jumper said...

We could use some more alien aliens. We're about done with bugs, reptiles, and no one's done Kzin,(don't start on Wookies - how many subtitles did Chewy get?) or elephantoids like in Footfall. And they're decades old already. Jaba was good for his time.

Langoliers were alien; maybe too much so for more than one exposure.

If you stretch "alien" to include robots, my thought on Star Wars was that the existence of a used robot trade was brilliant world-making. Followed by the interstellar saloon. Then in another movie Jaba... then this steam power of moviemaking - stopped. Dried up.

Yoda was an alien, but a corporate / psychological study and focus group -styled creation. He was a picture of Albert Einstein. And a muppet.

Just for laughs I ordered Simak's They Walked Like Men after many years. The aliens are alien.

Acacia H. said...

One amusing theory I heard was that Rey is the granddaughter of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Which would mean that another Kenobi is being forced to clean up the mess of another Skywalker.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

STill, the blatantly obvious-neglected possibility was hinted in the Incredibles. Someone technologizes the force and wants to give it to everybody... villain-baddie grabs the invention and despite major drawbacks equips tons of new baddasses. All of them relatives of a certain bounty hunter...

Michael said...

Following up on your observation, "It's fantasy, not science fiction."

"It's a Trap: Emperor Palpatine's Poison Pill

In this paper we study the financial repercussions of the destruction of two fully armed and operational moon-sized battle stations ("Death Stars") in a 4-year period and the dissolution of the galactic government in Star Wars. The emphasis of this work is to calibrate and simulate a model of the banking and financial systems within the galaxy. Along these lines, we measure the level of systemic risk that may have been generated by the death of Emperor Palpatine and the destruction of the second Death Star. We conclude by finding the economic resources the Rebel Alliance would need to have in reserve in order to prevent a financial crisis from gripping the galaxy through an optimally allocated banking bailout."


Tony Fisk said...

Lensman are the epitome of Space Opera. This Starkiller thingy sounds like the Galactic Patrol's Sunbeam (although that was more a defensive weapon).

B5 drew heavily on the idea of Elder races manipulating the younger. However, it added something to the Dark Side that was unheard of: comprehensible motive.

Alien aliens?
The aliens in Butler's 'Xenogenesis' are profoundly alien: malleable, compassionate and, at a certain level, obscene.

Anderson's Ythri would be a challenge to bring to the screen. (rendering those feathers would be the least of it!)
The Diomedians...less so. They'd make for epic battle scenes, as well.

David Brin said...

Michael thanks for the hilarious link!

DavidTC said...

Perhaps my friend is even more right than he suspects: perhaps Rey's mother was young Ben's unrequited crush: another gifted in the Force young apprentice under Luke's tutelage who became Ben's friend but fell in love with another, prompting the anguished young man to listen to the worse angels of his nature.

I don't think their ages work for that.

Kylo can, at most, be 29, or he ends up being born during the orig trig. And he's probably closer to 25. Rey is, at minimum, 16. And she's probably closer to 18.

That means Kylo is at most 13 when Rey is born. Presuming that Rey's mother got with her father at least a year before she was born, so Kylo is *12* when his hopes at romance would dashed.

And, more likely, he'd closer to 8. And what are the odd that Star Wars would have a 8 year old creepily lusting after an adult woman...

Oh, crap, I just convinced myself.

DavidTC said...

God I hope not: the Galaxy Far Far Away has already suffered enough from House Skywalkerides' dynastic feud to add another one in the mix, plus the hints are so obvious that if it was confirmed in the next episode, I for one would grind my teeth so hard that the whole theater would hear it.

I keep trying to figure out if all her similarities to Luke, including dressing in his fricking outfit the whole movie, are there because she's playing his part from the original movie, or because she's his daughter.

I'm *not* leaning towards the latter. I think the latter is a deliberate fakeout.

Then Ren would have spared her, because unlike his granddad, he wasn't yet gone far down the rabbit hole to murder a child in cold blood, which in turn would allow to grow up and eventually surpass him.

I am 100% on the idea that Ren spared her. I am about 50% on the idea that he spared her because she was someone important to him, but it's possible he spared her just because she was years younger than everyone.

I.e, maybe we should assume that Luke *didn't* make the previous mistake of separating children from their parents to train them, so the apprentices were mostly adults, or at least teenagers.

Except one of those adults had a force-wielding daughter, and *she* was living there and got training also. Or maybe just sorta got secondhand training from growing up there.

I.e., the 'daughter of an apprentice' theory, but without any sort of romance thing going on. It's just that Ren couldn't bring himself to kill children, and she literally was the only one.

Paul451 said...

"The dirty little secret of "Star Wars" [is that it is] cowboy opera/fantasy in sci-fi trappings."

No, it's a combination of mix of sword'n'sorcery and WWII adventures (both spy adventures in North Africa, a la Casablanca, and dogfighting/bombing runs in WWII action movies). Mixed with pulpy serial Sci-Fi action serials (including the opening "crawl"), and the sort of horrible racial stereotypes in those films (turned into aliens in SW). And of course, straight rip off of Kurosawa.

Just as Quentin Tarantino remakes the ultra-violent, '70s blaxpoitation and grindhouse movies he grew up with, Lucas only ever made the '40s and '50s matinee movies that he watched as a kid. From American Graffiti to Red Tails, Indiana Jones to Willow.

(Spielberg seems to be another director trying to recapture the movies he watched as a kid.)

"It's not just sci-fi. Hollywood seems to think that remakes of old movies or tv shows is the highest form of accomplishment."

The weird thing is that they never seem to remake failed movies with basically good ideas that were let down by poor execution.

Paul451 said...

I haven't seen SW Ep7 yet, I probably will, but... dammit, I was starting to get my hopes up, maybe Abrams had learned his lesson, focused on the story, gave us an adventure, not a series of set pieces and in-references.... But from recent comments (including David's), it now looks like it is going to be another lazy stupid plotless plot. David's apparently better than I am at switching off his brain and just enjoying the pretty 'splosions, so if he chafed at a virtually non-existent plot, I know I'm going to hate every moment.

Abrams "writes good characters"? I can't say I've seen that. The complete lack of any character, let alone character arc, was one of the (many many) things wrong with NuTrek.

NuKirk just smugged and shrugged his way from one gift-of-coincidence to the next, doing nothing to deserve it. I can accept him being different than OldKirk, given the loss of his father, I mean that could have been really interesting, but he wasn't... well, anything.

Herb Mallette,
"The characters in the prequels do a bunch of stuff you don't like, and then they suffer enormously for it as the bad guys win, and yet you insist that the movies promote the stuff the people do that you don't like. George Lucas says, "If A, then Awful Stuff Happens," and your conclusion is, "George Lucas says A is great!" "

The issue wasn't that the prequels weren't "nice" - because the good guys had to lose in the end - the issue was that Lucas was lazy. Like a lot of modern action movie directors, he wanted certain set-pieces and put zero real thought into making the steps between them internally consistent.

I read Brin, I was more than ready for a corrupt Jedi Council, a poisoned society that was ready to crumble. And I can ignore unrealistic elements in movies, deux ex coincidences, historical/canon errors, physical impossibilities, and even the slaughter of beloved childhood tropes, but the plot has to be internally consistent. Otherwise my brain just rebels. I want you to mess with my expectations, but you have to earn it.

It wasn't even that Lucas wasn't good enough. (He wasn't.) It was that he didn't even try.

[ Likewise, the problem with Abrams' Star Trek reboot wasn't the time travel, wasn't destroying Vulcan, wasn't idiotic lens flare. It was that the plot was somehow even lazier than the SW Prequels. That's what pissed me off. He didn't even try. Abrams wants Kirk to go from Cadet to Captain, so he just does. Argh! (And being a "parallel universe" doesn't make it any less stupid and lazy in this universe.) ]

David Brin said...

My crits of the prequels were on many levels. But core to Lucas's vile immorality is the actual words of "wisdom" uttered by the actual "wise" characters whom he extolls... not one of which statements was... in any way, shape or form... even tangentially related to "wisdom" and almost always diametrically opposite.

LarryHart said...


"The dirty little secret of "Star Wars" [is that it is] cowboy opera/fantasy in sci-fi trappings."

No, it's a combination of mix of sword'n'sorcery and WWII adventures (both spy adventures in North Africa, a la Casablanca, and dogfighting/bombing runs in WWII action movies). Mixed with pulpy serial Sci-Fi action serials (including the opening "crawl"), and the sort of horrible racial stereotypes in those films (turned into aliens in SW). And of course, straight rip off of Kurosawa.

I'm not disagreeing. My point was that it is not science fiction. It doesn't work if you try to think of it as extrapolating from advances in technology. Rather, it is those other genres you mention with special effects that somehow succeed in making you feel you are really observing the weird settings.

But considerations such as how energy would be constrained to travel through interplanetary space? Not even on the radar of the movies. In fact, it's when they try to explain things (midoclorians) that the story gets really, really boring.

LarryHart said...


Abrams wants Kirk to go from Cadet to Captain, so he just does. Argh!

So Kirk is supposed to be Napoleon? Or Hitler?

Tony Fisk said...

... Tiberius.

Jumper said...

The antecedent seems to be the Flash Gordon serial.

LarryHart said...

In 1977, Star Wars absolutely dazzled you with special effects. It's hard for a younger audience to imagine in these days of routine CGI and of popcorn advertisements that have the level of special effects that Star Wars did, but back then, the audience just could not beLIVE (in a good way) how immersed one became in the universe one was looking at.

The story was just interesting enough to give you an excuse to keep watching. It was a Flash Gordon serial, but not a cheezy-looking 1950s one. It was, one might imagine, what a Flash Gordon story would really look and feel like.

But it was no more a realistic extrapolation about future technology than Flash Gordon was. That's why I never thought of it as sci-fi. More like a Western in sci-fi trappings.

Acacia H. said...

Going off topic again, Dr. Brin...

I think you might be interested in the second half of this blog post on Stonekettle - the interview with Presidential candidates.

It might be interesting to take a look at that on your own blog in a later post... as the author brings up some valid points, and this is the sort of thing we need to be doing with our political candidates.


Given the successes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its interwoven stories and the recent success with the new Star Wars, I have to wonder if they might try to do something similar. We know they're planning a Han Solo movie... but expanding with other characters and with unknown elements and interweaving the larger story into those sub-stories might prove profitable. Though I suppose any such branching of SW movies would depend on the financial success of the Han Solo film.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

Space Opera -

any melodramatic literature, motion picture, or television program set in outer space.

The term works well enough for Star Wars, and most things that pass themselves off as science fiction. Space opera is to science fiction what scientism is to science - it has the trappings but not the substance.

However, Larry, I wouldn't say that true science fiction is necessarily a projection of future technology (wouldn't that be more like engineering fiction? Not as catchy a name, sorry all you engineers!) Think about Gattaca, which was all about genetic determinism. It asks the question, "Are we no more than the sum of our genes?" and answers it with a definite "No!" This is a science issue, centered around biology and sociology. True it postulated a level of genetic engineering we are not up to yet, but that wasn't the central issue. Or how about "The Lathe of Heaven" which had nothing whatsoever to do with technology. It was all about psychology, which is at least ostensibly a science. I think people had more faith in psychology as a science in LeGuin's generation than people do today.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Slate magazine reads tea leaves, predicts more originality in Episode VIII:

KB said...


Didn't Asimov define Science fiction as a story whose premise could be contained within a what if question? (I am almost certainly misquoting.)

Paul451 said...

"Abrams wants Kirk to go from Cadet to Captain, so he just does. Argh!"

"So Kirk is supposed to be Napoleon? Or Hitler?"


Jumper said...

Proof that Yoda was a feudalist:

Paul SB said...

KB, I think you are probably right, but I don't have a handy-dandy reference. Julie Czerneda certainly went with that definition. She wrote a book called "No Limits: Developing Scientific Literacy Using Science Fiction" which was meant to be a resource for science teachers to engage students through science fiction. Unfortunately politics has made it virtually impossible to do that in the US (she's Canadian), though the new Common Core standards might leave some room. Anyway, I think she referenced Azimov there, but my copy of the book is buried in a cabinet in my classroom right now. Of course, What If? is pretty vague. It could range from the childish (what if Tarzan got in a fight with Conan the Barbarian?) to the profound (what would happen to our society if genetic modification of humans became a standard social/medical practice?). The definition seems a little too broad. It would categorize all sorts of soap opera as science fiction. I generally like flexibility, but that would lose the meaning of the category.

sociotard said...

I thought this would interest Mr. Transparency:

Which cities share the most crime data. Look at Red Dallas go!

Tony Fisk said...

"Abrams wants Kirk to go from Cadet to Captain, so he just does. Argh!"

"So Kirk is supposed to be Napoleon? Or Hitler?"

Paul451, Que?

My guess is Larry was thinking 'corporals'.

I daresay Tiberius was a decurion once. (cue historical correction...)

Alfred Differ said...

Space Opera also relies upon the absence of a social singularity. Try imagining a Star Trek universe where Moore's Law kept going and David's belief that there is unseen depth in the brain or quantum ambiguities fails solid tests. What would a starship look like in such a universe? 8)

Paul451 said...

Although I did have a theory that the Trek universe is a post-singularity version of Idiocracy.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

My guess is Larry was thinking 'corporals'.

Exactly. I was flashing on something Dave Sim (of "Cerebus" fame) wrote about how, notwithstanding specifically called out exceptions Napoleon and Hitler, one does not go directly from "Radar O'Reilly" to dictator in one shot.

Alfred Differ said...


For the reboot universe, I'm tempted to agree. 8)

Seriously, though, I'm sure it's hard to write decent science fiction set a few centuries from now without the use of a magic wand to explain away the potential singularity on our horizon. Of course, it might not happen, but it should be addressed somehow or my eyebrows will pop when I realize I'm reading fantasy again.

Even the original Star Trek dealt with this. Nuclear War set us way back. That was an easily understood singularity killer even if we didn't call it that back then. Writers completely forgot this by the end of the Voyager series, though. Scenes from the 29th century involving humans with understandable emotional motivations? Seriously? Simulated humans I might believe, but not free agents.

locumranch said...

The futures promised by Star Trek & Star Wars are 'same-same', functionally indistinguishable, especially if we assume that 'midochlorians' (those little microbes that create 'The Force') are manufactured bioelectrical technology, analogous to & interchangeable with that equally 'magical' hard-wired internet that merges with humanity to create the all-powerful post-singularity consciousness featured in 'Earth':

Backwards talking David is, indistinguishable from Yoda.


Jacob said...

The sad part to me is how the main characters of the original series 'seem' to be complete failures. Incompetence does make it easier for the new protagonists to have something to fix. I would have preferred hyper-competence on all sides though.

Paul SB said...

"... one does not go directly from "Radar O'Reilly" to dictator in one shot."

Emperor Claudius, if Suetonius' portrayal was at all accurate. Old Claude was probably much closer to Walter O'Reilly than either of the aforementioned ever were.

Flypusher said...

Star Wars is space opera, an action-adventure popcorn flick with a very thin veneer of sci-fi (space ships and other planets!). It reminds of ERB's John Carter of Mars series-some escapist fun, but it's not going to expand my mind and let see things from new angles like the best of Sci-fi will.

I absolutely loved the character of Rey. My youngest niece hasn't seen the movie yet, but she is going to totally adore that character. It's awesome to have a strong and capable woman as one of the central characters. And Harrison Ford went out with style.

My disappointments: the big bad super weapon with the one tiny flaw yet again?? Can we please not do that any more? Also I really wanted to see Leia use the Force. Maybe we get some more exposition in the next movies, but I quite astounded that the character seems not to have developed that talent. You'd think that in the chaos that would occur in the fall of the old Empire, you'd need people with that talent.

One thing that's always puzzled me- while those vast cavernous spaces spanned by thin catwalks make a great setting for hero-villain face offs, is there any actual functional reason for them?

David Brin said...

I pointed our the "fly a little ship into a big ship and blow it up from the inside" thing that's in 4 out of 7 flicks.

Forgot about the sneaking in to plant explosive charges from ROTJ. Dang.

Acacia H. said...

Paramount is suing the people behind Axanar for copyright violations.

Have to wonder if other Fan-Trek projects will be targeted next.

Interested Observer said...

It reminds me of the terminator series, with the gnashing of teeth that accompanied every film after T2. In particular I remember complaints that T4: Salvation did not contain the energy weapons seen in the originals, which I took to just be a natural consequence of the continuously altered timeline, with an "organic" evolution of AI over the accelerated version in the original two movies provided by the terminator wreckage. My point being, much like Enterprize I heard many, many complaints but I never quite understood the hatred.

Interested Observer said...

Agreed. The stormtrooper with the taser-stick that could fight a light saber comes from the games I think, also seen in the prequels.

Interested Observer said...

Speaking as a larger male, I find it easier to be kind when you have less fear of your own safety.

Interested Observer said...

My take was that the clearly immature Ren was desperate for the acceptance of a peer, Rey being the only candidate after he murdered his previous cohorts.

Tacitus said...

"Agreed. The stormtrooper with the taser-stick that could fight a light saber comes from the games I think, also seen in the prequels"

Nah, I saw it differently. Bringing a minimally effective hand weapon to a laser gun fight and getting shot for your troubles? Pretty much taken straight from Indiana Jones. Remember the guy twirling the scimitar?

There is a point at which homage becomes fromage and JJ Abrams has a tendency to teeter on it.


Interested Observer said...

I think Leia consciously chose to not become a force user because it seems to be a pass/ fail zero sum game. Screw it up and you become a sith and kill everyone, win and become a Jedi and manipulate other people to die for you...

Interested Observer said...

I didn't think of it like that, and concede you the argument.

Perhaps it can be non-lethal and is part of a something like a modern- mixed weapon squad? I doubt it, and man, would that be the short straw...

Flypusher said...

Interested Observer said...
My take was that the clearly immature Ren was desperate for the acceptance of a peer, Rey being the only candidate after he murdered his previous cohorts.

I wonder if Kylo jumped the gun, so to speak. He thinks he's learned it all and kills the other students/ destroys Luke's school, then finds out he doesn't know it all, but there's now no one around to complete his training. So he throws tantrums when he can't get things to work the way he wants.

There's hints at an interesting backstory here. Hopefully it's told much better in the upcoming movies than Lucas did with Anakin's fall.

David Brin said...

Interested Observer I like the way you put it.

David Brin said...

Folks should feel free to discuss SW TFA here... but i am moving onward


Michael said...

Idle hands...Devil's work....etc. ­čśĆ

Enjolras said...

I'm actually really surprised Brin wasn't more critical of Rey's character arc. She seems like exactly the type of ├ťbermensch he so heavily criticized in "Star Wars on Trial." She succeeds by virtue of her innate superpowers rather than hard work and training. She is expert in so many different skills - mechanics, piloting, lightsaber combat, mind tricks, etc - with no clear evidence of training. Even Luke had to train before he could learn to fight with a lightsaber.

David Brin said...

Bah. I got no problems with characters who are above-average. Even way above average and way talented. So long as they still achieve by working hard. And their above-averageness doesn't spill over into demigodhood or chosen-one mumbo jumbo. I assume Ren has midichlorians because Lucas made that bullshit part of canon. But Luke showed how you can do that and still be an okay guy.

I'll not be back here so please comment in the latest thread.



Anonymous said...


As a fan of Star Wars on Trial, , I thought you'd be more critical of this. The whole idea of needing to find Luke Skywalker in order to "begin to make things right" just perpetuates the mentality of supermen being needed. I was one person who liked Return of the Jedi because the day is saved by the collective efforts of the Rebels-- the Death Star duel doesn't matter! Even Order 66 in the prequels shows that ordinary Stormtroopers can take out the "Supermen." But this film undoes that progress.

Also, institutions are again shown to be ineffective in this film. The New Republic is bypassed by Leia when she creates the Resistance. The Republic doesn't even have the capability of defending its capital from he First Order.