Category Archives: Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Thoughts – It’s Complicated.

I’ve seen The Last Jedi twice now. I’m still not sure how I’d rank it, but the performances are way better than most of the prequel trilogy, and the story is the first theatrical Star Wars to break new ground in ages.

I’ll admit there’s a lot of stuff that happened that I didn’t like, but it made sense within the story context, and it was done in an interesting way. And there was a lot of cool stuff too…including a ton of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details that I missed the first time through.

What do you mean, “Like?”

I learned years ago that “stuff happened that I didn’t like” and “it was badly made” are two separate comments on a movie, TV show, book, or other work of art.

Do I like the reason Luke left? No, but it makes sense. (A lot more sense than him joining the Dark Side with a resurrected clone of Darth Sidious, TBH.) When you think about it, it’s probably the best explanation they could have come up with for why Luke would decide that he’s part of the problem and remove himself from the galactic stage. It would have to be something majorly traumatic that he would blame himself for.

Do I like that the Resistance command don’t trust each other enough to share plans? No, but again it makes sense under the circumstances, and it feeds into the themes.

Structure and Hope

The Last Jedi feels different from the other Star Wars films. It’s a lot of separate threads that seem mostly unconnected but come together toward the end into a clear picture. Rey’s journey is critical, as is Kylo Ren’s, as is the link between their journeys. Luke’s reasons for being on the island, and his triumphant return, are tied deeply into the plight of the Resistance as it battles the loss of hope, which we see in the slow attrition of the fleet chase, the breakdown of trust within command, and finally the point where they’re reduced to one small band making what could well be a last stand.

And the trip to Canto Bight? For all the whining about it, I think it’s thematically more important than the chase. It shows people taking advantage of both sides of the conflict, and it shows ordinary civilians being oppressed…and that epilogue.

The First Order does everything they can to snuff out that spark of hope, and almost succeeds…but it flares again. We see it with Luke, and with Rey, but their actions only preserve what’s left. It still feels like a hollow victory until we see the epilogue and realize that the spark has taken hold, and is growing again — and that’s inspired as much by one kid’s encounter with Finn and Rose as the legend of Luke Skywalker.

Take out Canto Bight and you take out the epilogue. Take out the epilogue and you’re left with an unremittingly bleak story. Bleaker than Revenge of the Sith…but only* because we already knew where RoTS had to go.

Uncharted Regions

This is the first time since 1983 that there’s been real uncertainty about the future in a Star Wars movie. We didn’t know where The Empire Strikes Back was going, or Return of the Jedi. The prequel trilogy had a lot of surprises along the way, but we knew it would end with Anakin turning to the dark side and helping wipe out the Jedi, Palpatine becoming the Emperor, and the Republic becoming the Empire. I loved Rogue One, but again, we knew what it was building up to. And The Force Awakens was too focused on bringing fans back into the fold with familiarity to break new ground.

The Expanded Universe quickly set up a new status quo and told episodic stories within that setting. Some changes would stick over time, but you knew at the end of the day Leia was rebuilding the Republic, Luke was rebuilding the Jedi, and so on. Eventually they broke out of it and started making big changes with New Jedi Order, and subsequent stories that moved toward the more distant future of Legacy, but it was only a secondary canon, blessed but less official than the movies.

Now? We have no idea what might happen next. We can hope that the First Order will be defeated, because that’s the kind of story Star Wars is, but we have no idea what the cost will be, or who will make it through to the end, who might redeem themselves or turn to darkness.

And I have to wonder if that’s part of the backlash: Star Wars has been a familiar place for decades, and now that certainty is gone.

Cool stuff

So, some of those great details that I didn’t notice the first time through:

  • When Leia floats through the ruined bridge, she passes through the hologram of Snokes’ flagship, disrupting it just like Holdo’s hyperspace maneuver does later in the movie.
  • After Luke’s projection is finished, he sees two suns and the Force theme swells. The first time through I was so caught up in worry about Leia (tied up with Carrie Fisher’s death) that I didn’t quite notice. The second time through, I knew what was happening with her, but I just lost it at this moment.
  • The kid with the Resistance ring at the end doesn’t grab his broom and lift it – the broom moves to his hand.

*Well, that and Lucas didn’t manage to convey as much emotional heart in the prequels as he did in ANH or the other directors did w/ Empire & Jedi. They all felt slightly detached. And I’ve seen the actors in enough other movies to know it wasn’t their fault.

Convention Inflation

Next year’s WonderCon tickets are available now, and SDCC goes on sale next week. I noticed something interesting about the WonderCon price, because ten years ago, I compared a lot of convention prices.

How do they stack up a decade later?

  • WonderCon 2018 costs the same as Comic-Con 2008 did: $75. (WonderCon in 2008 was $30 in advance, or $40 onsite.)
  • Comic-Con International has gone waaaay up. They don’t sell full-weekend badges anymore, but if you’re super-lucky you could theoretically buy one-day badges for all 4 1/2 days in 2018 (if you’re really lucky), in which case you’d be spending $45+$63×3+$42 = $276!
  • Wizard World shows in general have gone from $45 in 2008 to $80 for 2018.
  • Flagship Wizard World Chicago has gone from $50 in 2008 to $95 in 2018.

There are some other conventions that need to be on this list today, but weren’t on the 2008 list. Some of them are new, like C2E2. Emerald City and New York Comic Con were around, but hadn’t gotten big enough for me to include on a list that was mostly California conventions plus the big names – which at the time were SDCC and Chicago.

  • C2E2 2018 costs $76.
  • I can’t find the prices for New York Comic Con.
  • Emerald City Comicon 2018 costs $120 for the full event.
  • Long Beach Comic Con started out around the same price as a Wizard World show in 2009, and is currently $60, so a little cheaper than a Wizard World show.
  • Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con launched with super-cheap tickets at something like $11/day to get people to show up (before Stan Lee’s name was attached to it), but by 2016 it was in line with other shows at $35/day. (I can’t find any prices on their website anymore, so I don’t know the full weekend price.)

So over all: comic convention prices have roughly doubled over the last 10 years, except for SDCC, which shows what happens when the demand for tickets goes up and the supply stays static. They can’t add more badges, so raising the prices encourages people to buy tickets for fewer days, freeing up space for other people on those other days. It sucks for those of us who want to buy tickets, but it’s textbook Adam Smith.

But wait! I looked at other fan conventions at the time as well!

  1. GenCon 2017 cost $90 for pre-reg/$120 standard, up from $60/$75 in 2008
  2. DragonCon 2018 cost $105, up from $90 in 2008
  3. WorldCon 2018 (San Jose) has only gone up to $210, compared to $200 for Denver in 2008
  4. WesterCon 2018 (Denver) is $60, same as in 2008!
  5. Loscon 2018 is $35, again, same as in 2008

These have climbed a lot less. GenCon jumped 1.5x instead of 2x, and the more traditional sci-fi/fantasy cons have only increased a little bit, if at all.

It reminds me of a discussion at Chicon 7, the last WorldCon I attended in 2012, about the changing face of fandom. Fan culture has exploded in my lifetime, but traditional sci-fi/fantasy con attendance has stayed static. Fans are interacting online, or going to anime/comic conventions instead. And that lines up very neatly with the prices of the comic conventions vs. the more traditional cons.

In any case, it’s worth noting: WorldCon is now cheaper than SDCC. And you get to vote for the Hugos!

Predictive Frameshift

I’ve been thinking a lot about Robert J. Sawyer’s Quantum Night the last few months. It links human cruelty, psychopathy, and mob behavior to the nature of consciousness, mostly focusing on the main characters but playing out against a global crisis brought on by a rising tide of xenophobia.

More recently, I’ve been thinking about Frameshift. His 1997 novel deals with (among other things) eugenics, Neanderthals, Nazis, and health insurance companies doing everything they can to avoid covering people with pre-existing conditions.

I can’t imagine why that keeps coming to mind….

Pixar, the Space Shuttle, and Kids’ Museum Memories

Went with the family to see Space Shuttle Endeavour and a Pixar-themed exhibit on computer animation at the California Science Center.

The 6YO loved the Pixar exhibit, which broke down all the steps to creating a computer-animated movie into separate hands-on centers where you could do things like…

  • Apply different textures and bump maps to an object.
  • Rig a character for movement.
  • Change the lighting of a scene (real or virtual).
  • Define a shape in a 3D grid and watching the computer rotate it (way too much time on this one).
  • Create your own stop-motion animation by moving an actual desk lamp.

The only way we got him out was to point out that the museum was closing, and we only had 10 minutes left to get to the touch pools he’d said he wanted to visit. As it turned out, the pools shut down about two minutes before we got there, but staff was willing to let him look at the starfish. And we did catch the last desert flash flood simulation of the day.

As for the shuttle…he wasn’t impressed. He insisted on taking the simulator ride, but the real thing? I guess it’s old news when the whole fleet’s already been shut down by the time you start hanging onto long-term memories. 🤷

Admittedly, a big aluminum hut isn’t as suitable a viewing area for Endeavour as open space in broad daylight, surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd. Though that might have been the fact that it was my first time getting up close. On the other hand, this time I could see both sides. Heck, I could walk under it!

There is a new building in the works, where they’ll be displaying it with one of the external tanks in launch position. I’m sure it will lead to plenty of cartoons and movies where someone goes to the museum, breaks into the shuttle and blasts off.

I couldn’t make the building line up with my memories of visits when I was younger, back when it was the Museum of Science and Industry. The only thing I could match up at all were the wall facing the Exposition Park rose garden, and some of the buildings by the parking lot (a sunken structure now, but I remember it being flat).

Then again, what I remember are specific exhibits more than the layout: a big math/physics exhibit, a chicken incubator, and a multi-screen cartoon about energy sources and engine types called “The Water Engine.” (Each screen has a character talking up internal combustion, flywheels, mag-lev, electric, etc. I still quote the Peter Lorre-inspired fuel-cell scientist saying “And then…we burn the hydrogen!”)

It turns out there’s a good reason nothing fit my memory: They tore down the whole building in the late 1990s, preserving only that one wall!

Rogue One (Star Wars) and Imperial IT (SPOILERS!)

I liked Rogue One: A Star Wars Story quite a bit. Despite having a very different tone from either the original trilogy or the prequels, it’s still recognizable as a Star Wars film, and successfully weaves in and out of the events leading up to A New Hope.

There’s a somewhat odd setup for where they actually find the Death Star plans, though. SPOILERS after the cut:

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