Star Wars VII: How Not to Sequel

Here’s my review and late-night rant about Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  [Solid Spoiler Alert!]  There’s some profanity involved, and I believe it’s appropriate.

Star Wars: Episode VII, exploiting the audience…
Here is my review of Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens.

Other links:
The original episode 7-9 stories are told (much better) in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire series: This is how it SHOULD have gone, and how it DID go before Disney needed to betray the audience to get more cash, and hate families. (Original story for Episode 7) (Original story for Episode 8) (Original story for Episode 9)



A Flashing Arrow on the Small Screen (super Heroes and a little rant about endings)

The CW has released its pair of superhero dramas for the fall.  The Arrow continues with its third season, and a spin-off series in the same universe will deal with The Flash.

For the DC comic universe, I like The Green Arrow a bit more than The Flash.  Originally a shameless Batman rip-off, Arrow on the CW has avoided the camp and spoof of the original Green Arrow (boxing glove arrows, anyone?) and caught the edge of the darker, more original Batman when he carried a gun and did kill people.  (Don’t take my word for it.  Look it up.)  When the camp died along with the Frank Miller reboot of the franchise, Batman went darker and The Green Arrow turned into a flaming liberal poster child for whatever PC cause was on at the moment.  (Honestly, in an interview the producers at DC lamented that they had like a whole year with a Green Arrow not written by a Democrat, but a moderate, *Gasp*  *Horror*)  Anyway, Arrow on CW avoided nauseating political hack-jobs (which really get old from any side of the aisle) and kept the edge of a roof-leaping vigilante detective who has the toys and the violent skills to do some justice.  He’s struggled with killing, lying to his family, issues with drugs, issues with intimacy, trust, and what justice means as opposed to vengeance.  These are some pretty cool topics worth looking at.  Season 2 dug into Marvel fan faves Loyd Slate and Ra’as al Ghoul’s League of Assassins, along with the Canary, Tiger Claw, and Deadshot.  There are no ridiculous codpieces or nipples on body armor, there are no spandex uniforms (for which I offer a sincere prayer of thanks to God), and the supporting cast is riddled with solid performances.

The ability to run has never seemed sufficient super-power for a solo magazine.  The Flash is a magazine popular with the Superman crowd (read: seven to ten year-olds) and I think it will be a tough sell to a more mature TV audience.  The show is off to a good start so far, with great effects for a TV show, no painful acting jobs yet, and some more campy humor than Arrow, but that is also true of the magazines themselves.

The premier episode was entertaining, moderately well acted, and had a big enough special effects budget that even if it works I think that they’re going to cancel after one season, not because of ratings but because they can’t afford to keep making the show.  This has been the truth for several excellent shows that I recommend: The Dukes of Hazard couldn’t afford to keep replacing cars.  Almost Human was a decent police procedural that had strong echoes of Isaac Asimov’s buddy-cop android drama, but relied so heavily on FX that there was no way that it was feasible.  Ditto for the groundbreaking concept work on Terra Nova which had some amazing supporting actors supporting a mediocre family.  No Ordinary Family was another heavily VFX laden show that did manage to tell a complete story arc before its inevitable unaffordability.

That really is the key, though, and it is something that Japanese animation has nailed and American television struggles with.  You can have a 1-season, or even a 3- or 5-season story that works just great as long as you tell your story and end at the right point.  Many great anime series run for just a single season, or three, like Avatar: The Last Airbender (Sorry, fan-boys, The Legend of Korra has neither the wonder nor the fun of the original bit of kung fu steampunk).  Here in America that idea hasn’t really aught on.  Babylon-5 in the 90’s told its story in four years and then trashed the franchise to hell and back with a tacky fifth year that killed the sense of victory, and didn’t really complete a single major story in the entire twenty-odd episodes.   I have a lot of respect for the creator of Supernatural, who had a five-year story, told it, and then walked rather than compromise his vision for what happened next.  It was good that he did, because once again in order to keep money coming in characters had to be re-written, the victory despoiled, and mythology-eroding new threats introduced.  Enterprise was another series that told a concrete beginning, middle, and end, from the first true human starship to the foundation of the UFP.

By and large, though, American TV shows are more irresponsible.  The later seasons of Supernatural, and many pilot shows that end on cliff-hangers knowing that they’re going to be cancelled (The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the most egregious of these evil-doers) as a sort of cosmic up-yours to the viewing audience who didn’t want them cancelled in the first place.

My anticipated fall line-up is not complete yet.  The Walking Dead begins soon.  Grimm has another season coming up with a mythology that continues to build organically, and we’ve come a long way from a weekly procedural with animal-themed monsters.  I have mixed feelings about Gotham so far, and the setting throws a lot of weight on the acting chops of a thirteen-year-old kid, who may or may not be able to convince us that he will become Batman as Gordon paves the way and the first of our future whack-jobs rises.  So far so good.  These will all probably get their own posts later.

Scavengers: Craft vs. Concept

As an independent author and critic, I have a vested interest in independent films and books.  The joy of the hunt comes when I come across another indie artist who has produced something really beautiful or unique that deserves to be celebrated.

Writer and director Travis Zariwny’s 2013 film, Scavengers, is not such a success.  It is a pretty terrible movie.  But when I come across a terrible film, I can still learn from it and improve myself as an artist by looking at what doesn’t work, what does (as even really bad films are rarely bad at everything).

Scavengers is a movie about a pair of human starship crews caught in a race to possess an alien artifact of great power.  It’s a combination chase story and hero’s quest, but it fails to deliver in a couple of ways.

There is an endless debate in storytelling between concept and craft.  To oversimplify, one school of thought is that a great concept will lead to a great story without great writing.  The opposing school says that even an terrible story idea can give a good story if it is presented well enough.  Scavengers pushes me even closer to the craft side of the story.

Scavengers really interested me in the first act of the film.  There are some great ideas and characters in this story.  (Characters are ideas.)  The Revelator (seriously?) drops in and stumbles across an artifact.  The ship design is neat, the visuals are low-budget but that doesn’t count against them in my book.  The Revelator‘s crew is a mix of memorable character ideas.  There is Twelve the death-prone clone (he’s offed himself eleven times since they brought him on-board and only has one life left) played by Mark Wystrach.  There is Doc (it turns out she actually goes by Dock because she was a dock orphan raised, educated, and protected by the crew to the point that she now serves as engineer and ship’s medic) done very well by Jamie Strange.  The tempestuous love relationship between Captain Wake (roark Critchlow) and his lady first officer (Emerson) is a neat concept (he’s the best scavenger but it’s a dangerous job and she constantly gets furious with him for getting hurt).  The Revelator’s crew do a lot to salvage a mediocre script and dialogue with strong non-verbals and good on-screen presence.  Olos Nah (Tyler Poelle) the ship’s pilot

If the enemy crew had provided the same caliber of acting the hackneyed script could have been salvaged, but the inconsistency shines through here.  The Gutter‘s crew is too terrible to be believed.  Captain Jekel (a role inflicted on Sean Patrick Flanery) runs a crew of raving psychopaths impossible to imagine working together.  The set gets darker, and the acting gets exponentially worse.  Sean Patrick Flanery’s Captain Jekel is constantly twitching, rubbing his face or someone else on set as if he is perpetually on the brink of a gran mal seizure.

Breathtaker (the female psycho assassin played by Kelley Whilden) actually delivers the following lines.  “Your hatred for him runs seductively deep.”  and “Pleasure is the ultimate destroyer, a sick, pathetic weakness.  It’s a weapon I wield with laser precision.”  Both of those lines are crappy, lazy writing aimed at teenage boys with BDSM proclivities.  It isn’t that a femme fatale cannot work, but those lines are delivered with NO expression or body language whatsoever.  You can’t talk about how turned on you are while staring dispassionately at a computer screen instead of the person you claim is seducing you.  And perhaps the character has such sick and warped views of sexuality, but I have never read a believable character that twisted who had it as a  mission statement in their pocket.  That line is typical of the crap dished out by the bad guys, which would almost be bearable if the crew of the Revelator didn’t show them up every other scene so that the overacting seemed worse by comparison.

The rotten cheese doesn’t stop there.  I’m leaving out Overkill, the gunnery officer.  Or Kaitlin Riley’s character, Scavenger, because a film called Scavengers needs a character named Scavenger on a ship chasing the actual scavengers.  No ambiguity there.

The film has some great settings, a ship graveyard on the edge of a civil war, a pair of dark planets nearly invisible to sensors, a data pusher named Data Ocean who makes himself invaluable by having all the hyperspace coordinates.  (Of course, in case names no one would ever walk around with outside of WWE aren’t enough to prove how psycho the bad guy is Jekel has to kill him anyway.)

There are standard low-budget crimes committed here.  A bar-slaughter when asking a question and offering twenty bucks of change would have sufficed, Breathtaker shown as naked as the rating would allow for a whole conversation for no particular point, lots of hissing and growling with no change in mood from the bad guys, etc.

The final and unforgivable craft problem is the conclusion.  The story just doesn’t build up to a technical climax.  There isn’t a really dark moment.  There isn’t enough tension built up to relieve with a great act of ship handling.  Then, to prove just how terrible the story is, the heroes’ victories are proved meaningless as the bad guys get the object in the end anyway.

I felt like the director had punched me in the face and shouted, “Ha, I made you suffer through this for nothing!  Gotcha!”

I watched the film on Hulu+, so I have no means to get my money back.

If you have Hulu+, watch the first 25 minutes of this film,  because the opening is pretty good for its budget.  Everything after isn’t worth your time.  Consider knitting something.  It will be better entertainment.

I wouldn’t be anywhere near this upset if there hadn’t been enough great ideas here for a really good low-budget movie.  Some of the actors have real talent, so their painful performances must come from the director.  Move over, Uwe Boll, you have competition for the worst sci-fi and fantasy director of the century, and that’s saying something.