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Solo and Star Wars

Now that I’m back from my trip and had a holiday weekend to recover, I’m ready to hit summer. This means getting up early for a walk, and I hope to spend the days indoors, making incredible writing progress. It’s looking like it’s going to be a hot summer, but I may be able to fake myself out. I’ve discovered that Amazon Prime has “sleep sounds” videos of rainy nights, so I may be able to fake a good rainy writing day by closing the blinds, sitting under the ceiling fan, and playing the rainy night video.

One thing I did over the holiday weekend was see Solo. I really enjoyed it — it might not have been quite as awe-inspiring as some of the other Star Wars movies in that I doubt it would have made me a lifelong fan of the franchise if this was the first movie I saw, but it was still a great summer action movie involving characters I like. It kind of had a Firefly vibe, right down to using a spaceship to rob a train, and for me that’s a feature, not a bug. We get to see how Han met Chewbacca, how he got the Millennium Falcon, and exactly what the Kessel Run was all about. They even addressed what’s always been seen to be an error in the original movie. Ever since the time Han bragged about making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, people have been talking about how that’s a unit of distance, not time, so he was bragging about running the 100 yard dash in 40 yards. Well, this movie explains exactly how that worked (spoiler: it’s a shortcut).

They had a great cast and some fun characters. There’s room for at least one sequel and possibly a spinoff with a character who seems to be a setup for her own story. It wasn’t as moving as Rogue One, but it was just the sort of thing I wanted right now.

Watching Solo reminded me that I hadn’t finished watching the special features on the DVD set of The Last Jedi, and the “The Director and the Jedi” documentary was really interesting. It’s a glimpse into the creative process behind a movie like that, going from figuring out the budget and the sets they’re going to need, to the preproduction, to the filming. Obviously, a lot of hard work goes into these films, but it was nice to see that everyone also seems to be having fun even while taking it all quite seriously. Also, I may have developed a teeny crush on Rian Johnson. Is it a sign you’re getting old when your celebrity crush from a movie is the director?

movies

Origins and Influences: Star Wars

I finally had a chance to watch my DVD of The Last Jedi this weekend. I saw it at the theater, but it’s been a while, so it was still relatively fresh, aside from already knowing the various twists and outcomes.

It reminded me that I have yet another chapter to share of my origins and influences: Star Wars. Although I’d always been a big reader and had always indulged in the kind of play that involved making up stories, Star Wars seems to have been the trigger that made me really want to be a writer, someone who told stories.

And to think, it almost didn’t happen. As my parents never tire of telling me, I didn’t want to see the movie. I was in elementary school when the original film came out (yes, I’m old), and I was so not into that sort of thing. It was Labor Day, and my dad had the day off but I had school, so my parents had celebrated by renting a steam cleaner and cleaning the carpets. They were still damp in the evening, so they thought it would be a good idea to go out to a movie, which would give the carpets time to dry. My dad had heard people at work talking about Star Wars and decided that’s what we should see. I was rather adamantly opposed because I’d read articles about it in Newsweek and didn’t like what I’d seen. The Slipper and the Rose, a telling of Cinderella, was on the other screen at that theater, and that’s what I wanted to see. I even proposed me going to see that while everyone else went to see Star Wars, but my parents said we would all go to the same movie, and I was outvoted.

Even though Star Wars had been out for a few months at that time, every show still sold out and there was still a long line at the theater. This was back before the days of multiplexes and the same movie showing in multiple theaters. There was one screen in town showing Star Wars. We barely made it into the theater. And then about 30 seconds into the movie I was totally enraptured.

Looking back, I find it a bit ironic that I wanted to see a fairy tale movie instead because this movie was basically a fantasy story that happened to have science fiction trappings. I think that was a lot of the appeal for me. It took all the stuff I liked about fairy tales and added a lot more action. Yeah, there were robots and spaceships, but the story was basically about a farmboy (who wasn’t all that different from all those third sons of woodcutters in fairy tales) rescuing a princess with the help of a wizard and carrying out a quest by trusting in the secret magical knowledge given to him by the wizard. While this was also the entry level to me getting into science fiction, I think it still had a lot to do with me becoming a fantasy novelist. I remember thinking as I rode home from the movie, looking up at the stars and imagining them being TIE fighters I was shooting down using the controls on the window crank knob, that I wanted to tell stories like this.

I also wanted to be Princess Leia. I absolutely loved the way she was introduced. We saw the ethereal figure in a white robe, looking beautiful and vulnerable as she sent R2-D2 on his mission. And then when the stormtroopers arrived, she whipped out a blaster and started shooting at them. After she was taken captive, when Darth Vader loomed over her, looking menacing, she sassed him. This was so much better than any fairytale princess. I think most of the characters I created in my earliest stabs at writing were more or less versions of Princess Leia.

The only problem was that she was pretty much the only girl in the movie. There might have been three female characters, at most, who even had lines. That meant things got complicated when the neighborhood kids got together to play Star Wars as we ran around the neighborhood. There was a big fight over who got to be Leia. For everyone else, we had to make up characters to play. That was some of my earliest writing activity, not just acting out existing characters, but creating new ones.

That’s also one of the areas where this new age of Star Wars is a distinct improvement. There’s more than one woman with lines. After this latest movie, there’s Rey and Rose for the younger generation. There’s Maz if you want to be an alien. If you want to be in charge, there’s Leia and Admiral Holdo. And then there are the various female pilots and support staff who could easily be fleshed out if you’re looking for roles to play. Though, in spite of what a lot of the manbaby Internet whiners claim, there are still a lot more choices for the boys. Still, it’s a much bigger universe than we had to work with in my childhood.

After I discovered Star Wars, I started reading science fiction, starting with the works of Alan Dean Foster, since they seemed most like the Star Wars novelization I devoured, and since he wrote the (now non-canon )“sequel.” I didn’t realize until later that he also ghost wrote the novelization. I also started reading fantasy around that time, with The Hobbit being one of the first real fantasy novels I read. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Star Wars was essentially a fantasy story and that there may be more connection between that and stuff like The Lord of the Rings than there is between Star Wars and things like Star Trek. Now it makes perfect sense for me as a fantasy writer to cite Star Wars as an influence.

movies

Murder on the Orient Express

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally saw the new version of Murder on the Orient Express last weekend. I missed it during first run because I was so busy when it came out, but it started playing at the discount theater, so I went with a group of friends.

I read the book ages ago (I went through a massive Agatha Christie phase in junior high), and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the earlier movie version, but I really liked this one. I got the sense that they went into it knowing that most of the audience was well aware of the big twist, so instead of focusing on surprise, they made it more about a character study, letting us see some of the psychological analysis going on.

Mostly, though, it was a chance to watch a lot of great actors doing some really nice acting while wearing fabulous costumes in a gorgeous setting, with a lovely soundtrack. I even found myself wanting to see what happens next for the various characters. They seemed to be setting up more Poirot movies, but what I’m curious about is the aftermath for the other people, who I’m pretty sure won’t appear in future movies. I’d be totally up for the continuing adventures of Daisy Ridley’s clever and logical governess character — I’m sure she’d be inspired by Poirot to start solving mysteries on her own.

And it makes me want to take a train trip, but Amtrak is nothing at all like the Orient Express. I’m not even sure the Orient Express now is anything like this Orient Express. When I took a long-distance Amtrak trip, we did have a long unplanned stop because of a death, but it was because the train hit a deer, not because a passenger was murdered.

At least, that’s what they told us, but no one came to question me, and no one gathered us into the lounge car to reveal who the killer was, so I guess I believe the story.

Anyway, I’d recommend this movie to those who like Kenneth Branagh movies, those who like old movies (it really felt like an old movie, like something that could have been made in the 1940s, only with improved technology), those who like trains, and even those who like mysteries. It’s fun to see actors get to disappear so deeply into their characters that you don’t realize who some of those people are until you see the credits.

movies

Don’t Blame the RomCom

I’ve been scarce online lately as I finished a draft of a book, and I have another draft to go and a lot going on this week, but I have a rant brewing that must come out.

Twitter’s been all abuzz about this article about a man playing the piano in a park as a way of getting his ex-girlfriend back, vowing to keep at it until he knows that she knows what he’s doing. It was initially presented as a romantic gesture, until people pointed out that it was creepy, manipulative behavior. If she wants to get back with him, she knows where to find him. The big, public gesture to get attention and acting like she owes it to him to listen to how much he loves her is a huge red flag.

And I totally agree with that. What I have issue with is that most of the commentaries that have come out on this issue have blamed romantic comedy movies for teaching that this kind of grand gesture works. They criticize the fact that stalking and big public manipulative gestures are shown as positive things in movies. However, as a huge fan of romantic comedies, I can’t think of any that really fit this circumstance. Movies are being unfairly blamed here. When there is a big, public gesture, it’s usually the person who did the rejecting or who otherwise messed up showing that he/she learned a lesson and is trying to make up for it.

Usually, the image used to illustrate these commentaries is the scene from Love Actually in which the guy who has a crush on his friend’s wife comes to their house and declares his love in a series of posters. And, yeah, that’s creepy, and rather a jerk move to declare his love to his friend’s wife. Also, very selfish, because it’s about making himself feel good, not about what it does to her. The movie does treat it like it’s a sweet gesture — but it’s also unsuccessful. She more or less pats him on the head and goes back inside to her husband. He later moves on and finds someone else. This is not shown as a successful way to get the girl.

The closest I can think of to the “stalking will win you the one you love” message might be Bringing Up Baby, but there it’s the woman going after the man. She keeps arranging ways to make him be stuck with her as a way of getting to know him and forcing him to get to know her.

Maybe there was some stuff like that in the Doris Day era, but there was a whole lot of creepy stuff going on in those movies. In the modern era, I’ve seen the reference to the boombox outside the window from Say Anything. It’s been a while since I watched that movie, but I don’t recall it being him forcing her hand. It was more of a declaration of his feelings and a show of support for what she was going through.

Otherwise, there was Billy Crystal’s public declaration of his feelings on New Year’s Eve that was his way of showing Meg Ryan that he didn’t see her as just another conquest. In Notting Hill, she made her declaration of love that he rejected, then regretted rejecting, so he made an even more public declaration (though I always felt she owed him an apology for jumping to the worst possible conclusion about him earlier). Leap Year was essentially a remake of It Happened One Night, where she realized she had chosen the wrong guy and went back to see if the right guy was interested. And I could go on.

Now, there may be some selection bias, as I’m not likely to remember or have in my collection a movie I found creepy, but I can’t think of any romantic comedy film equivalent of playing the piano in public to force an ex to deal with him. Where you’re more likely to see that kind of thing is in TV sitcoms or in romance novels. I can think of way too many books in which the guy declares at the beginning that he’s going to win the woman, she rejects him, and he spends the book relentlessly pursuing her until she gives in.

But stop blaming romantic comedy films in general. Cite specific examples of the behavior being referenced.