One of the most anticipated movies of the year came out December 14th and the internet has been abuzz about its merits and detractors ever since the end credits finished rolling.
While people went out to see the film in droves and it hit box office gold overnight, critics, professional and armchair alike, have been taking potshots at the latest film in the Star Wars universe. And while I can take the professional critiques, some of these fans need to cool their jets just a bit and put things in perspective.
As I offer some thoughts, the obvious warning about spoilers should be taken into account.
Like Yoda chastises Luke Skywalker about obsessing over the ancient Jedi texts, I think some fans forget this is a movie set to engage audiences and tell a story along the way. Part of the problem with The Last Jedi is that it is a middle film and, like a middle child, it may not get the love afforded to the firstborn and the youngest of the clan.
Sure, some could criticize the middle of the film (which I thought did a fine job), but the movie succeeded in pulling me in, surprising me with some scenes (like the silence during the destruction of the Star Destroyer and, of course, the fight between Kylo Ren and Uncle Luke), and making me laugh when I didn’t expect to do so in an action film.
Since most of the critics haven't written anything lengthier than a blogpost since college, I would like to look at this front a writer’s perspective. I have written reasonably good indie novels, but fairly bad scripts to date. My first attempt at a screenplay had more holes than Alderaan after Darth Vader and Co. paid a visit (too soon?) and my second one wasn't much better. I am learning from my mistakes on script idea #3.
So I understand to some small degree the challenge before Rian Johnson – to write a script that would appeal to people who saw the first trilogy in the theaters (like myself) and those whose only experience with Star Wars prior to The Force Awakens was on a TV or computer screen.
In addition, you need to honor the last generation (Luke and Leia), hand the baton off to the next generation (Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose and Kylo Ren), pay homage to the previous films (anyone catch the double sun and echo back to Tatooine?), stun us with a few plot twists, and provoke a belly laugh or two to change up the pace a bit. Oh yeah, he had to direct the movie as well.
Thankfully Johnson decided to write a good action movie with humor and homages back to earlier elements in a story that began back during the Carter administration. Considering the task he was given, I for one, think he did a very good job.
So, sit back, relax and watch the movie as it was meant to be enjoyed: with child-like wonder and an adult sense of reflection and circumspection.
And to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi (and now Vice Admiral Holdo): “May the Force be with you. Always.”
A popular trend these days is binge-watching TV shows. Back when the medium was invented, you had to wait a whole week or even an entire summer to see the latest episode of your favorite show. Today, with DVDs and streaming video, you can sit for hours on end and become totally immersed in your favorite fictional universe.
While we don’t use our streaming video to its fullest, my wife and I have 3-4 TV series on DVD and tend to cycle through them when a new season comes out. The most intense experience we ever had was when we watched all of 24 in one summer. It was the definition of obsession.
For better or worse, my writing career has been defined by such binges. I greatly admire how NoNoWriMo encourages more people to write the book they've always wanted to, but there are some downsides to this race-to-the-deadline approach.
I learned how to write quickly when I was in college and worked as a reporter. These skills have been helpful as I typically have only the summer to write anything longer than a blog post or short story.
Over the last 17 years, I have written 4 manuscripts during the few summers when I wasn’t working or teaching. While I have streamlined the process with better outlining, my basic procedure remains the same: I sit down in the morning and write until I hit my word goal, which is usually 2,000 words. Some days I am under, while other days (especially toward the end) I have written up to 5,000 words in a day. This summer I wrote more than 60,000 words in seven weeks, with days off here and there to actually get outside and enjoy other humans.
While this was an immensely rewarding experience, I am not planning to repeat the process if I can at all avoid it. I imagine it’s like being on a movie set for weeks on end and you are in every scene. It becomes all-consuming.
I’m not going to lie and say I wrote every minute of every day. Sometimes my “research” time was spent discovering what my friends were saying about each other on Facebook.
Today, I have a completed manuscript, along with several notes for changes I need to make. I also have gained a few extra pounds and my tailbone really isn’t my best friend these days. We won’t even talk about what may or may not have happened to my vision during this process.
I spent most of my waking hours thinking about my story and, while I’m told things happened in the world this summer, the time has passed by in a blur.
All in all, although I love writing, there has to be some happy medium between writing for an hour a day and devoting every hour you can to the process.
When you figure out what it is, would you please let me know?
As a storyteller, I’m always looking for a good tale. When I’m on vacation, for example, I tend to sacrifice a few hours on TV shows not normally programmed to record on my DVR. Recently, I tuned in to Revelation: The End of Days on the History Channel.
While the cinema verité nature of the pseudo-documentary makes it feel like a cross between The Blair Witch Project and Left Behind, I like the boldness of the film. The movie may take some liberties with the narrative, but when you're dealing with prophesy, you quickly learns it’s all about interpretation.
Having read and watched a great deal of apocalyptic literature, particularity from a religious perspective, I am used to a certain quality and unfortunately, it’s not always very good. More concerned with giving a sermon than telling a story, these pieces typically have characters spout Bible verses with a purity and näiveté that seems unrealistic to the average reader or viewer. Although I am thankful the storytelling in this genre is improving, it has taken some time for the Christian community to accept tales that haven’t been sanitized for its protection.
Which brings me back to Revelation, a film I thought was quite well done in one regard: the characters seemed authentic. They often were filled with doubt about the reason behind their circumstances and used language you probably won’t hear from a pulpit anytime soon. They were, in a word, real. They were like normal people living through extraordinary events.
Whether or not you believe in the claims of the Bible, you have to respect Revelation from a storytelling point of view. The Bible tells a good, and often dirty, tale. For a movement that frowns on sex and violence, there sure is a lot of it in the pages of Scripture. While the Christians don’t have to like the bad behavior described in the Bible, the reason people connect with this story is because they can relate to it. They may not have committed murder, theft or adultery, but they probably have thought about it once or twice.
Having the courage to telling stories like this, warts and all, is what will take the telling of Christian tales from the wings to center stage. You can leave the job to those who don’t respect the source material, but when that happens, you get films like Noah and Exodus, which look good but have been lambasted because they took turns from the original narrative. Wouldn’t it be better if Christians told these stories rather than leave them to others?
In the Lewis classic, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Mr. Beaver says Aslan, who is a classic messianic figure, “is not a tame lion”.
If you consider that story as an allegory of the Passion of Jesus Christ, as many do, and that the rest of the stories in The Good Book aren’t very tame either, then to clean them up is not being honest to the original material.
When you mess with one part of a story, then people are less likely to believe the rest of it. And that defeats the entire purpose of telling this particular tale, doesn’t it?
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.