Perfect Moments: We Did It

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

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The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

The Moment:

Why it’s Perfect:

While many people – myself included – still choose to see ‘The Return of the Jedi’ as the end of the Star Wars story, there’s no denying that the end of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’s climactic battle is incredibly satisfying. Not because of seeing people celebrating, or that Palpatine is dead (again). It’s satisfying because of what it represents.

Sheev Palpatine has spent years tormenting the people of the galaxy. He came to power with the promise of order and security, and instead ruined the lives of so many. And even when things turned against him, he refused to give up, working tirelessly to hang onto power no matter the cost. Had he succeeded, countless more lives would have been destroyed.

But Palpatine failed. Not due to the Republic, or the Rebellion, but because ordinary people came together and said, “No.”

The people of the galaxy rallied in the face of evil, and the fought back. And though there came a moment where it seemed like all was lost, and Palpatine would hold onto his power, he failed. And now, at the end, everything he built has been destroyed, cast down to lie as ruins, and the people of the galaxy are triumphant. This was their victory. They fought for it, and they earned it.

Yet, there are no guarantees that things will get better. There will be other evils to face, and problems to solve. But that does not invalidate the fact that the greatest threat the galaxy has ever seen is gone. The people of the galaxy have triumphed, and now fly off, leaving Palpatine and his ruined empire behind. But they don’t fly into the sunset, as most films would have them do. Instead, they fly off into the sunrise, for this is a new day in the galaxy, and the dawn of a new era where things can be made right.

It’s an era of hope.

What We Can Learn From The Star Wars Holiday Special

There comes a time during every movie writer’s career where they undergo a rite of passage. Much like the Brazillian Mawé who allow themselves to be bitten by bullet ants, boys who jump off giant towers of wood, and boys becoming men at their bar mitzvahs. For writers exploring the world of storytelling, this rite of passage is to analyze the classics of grade Z cinema: Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Hand of Mandos, Birdemic, The Room, and so many others.

But there’s one experience that all writers dread.

Its name is whispered in fearful tones. Most prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. Those who have seen parts of it would rather read the Torah in its entirety while being attacked by bullet ants while bungee-jumping off towers in the jungle than watch the show in its entirety. And to this day, its name is synonymous with the pinnacle of cinematic agony:

The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Released back in 1978, the Holiday Special remains to this day one of Star Wars’ biggest missteps. Before Jar Jar, before midichlorians, and before Anakin whined about sand, we had Lumpy, Itchy, whipping, stirring, and Harrison Ford silently begging for the sweet release of death. The Holiday Special was so poorly received that to this day it has never gotten an official release; it’s become an inside joke with the creators and fans of the Star Wars franchise, and single-handily turned the phrase, ‘holiday special’ into a codeword for awfulness.

With the 2020 holiday season coming to a close – and considering that 2020 has just been an awful year in general – I thought, what better way to end it than by finally gathering my courage and watching the special from beginning to end? My rite of passage would finally be complete, and I could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my peers as someone who has endured the horror of watching elderly wookies enjoying softcore VR porn in their living rooms.

But surely the special can’t be that awful, I thought. It’s probably just an example of a film that’s most famous for its reputation – deserved or not – as a big, steaming pile of poodoo instead of its actual quality.

And so, steeling myself, I went to Youtube, found the special, mourned how I wouldn’t be watching the Incredible Hulk, and finally saw the worst Christmas event ever televised. And now, dear reader, allow me to share with you the good, the bad, and the ugly of history’s most infamous holiday special, and find out, once and for all, if it really is as bad as pop culture would have us believe.

What does the story do well?

AAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

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What could have been done to improve the story?

Why

WHY

The 10 things we don't want to see at the George Lucas Museum

WHY

Conclusion

THERE IS NO GOD.

Perfect Moments: There Are More Of Us

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

***

The Movie:

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

The Moment:

Why it’s Perfect:

Like many people, I didn’t like the Star Wars sequels. While I’m still a fan of the series, I can’t see myself watching episodes seven, eight, and nine in the years to come, save to review them as part of a series-wide, ‘what we can learn from’ marathon. Yet, despite their many, many problems, they do have their fair share of great moments, and possibly the best one of all takes place in Episode 9, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’

In the scene, the Resistance, having launched a desperate attack against the Final Order, are on the verge of defeat. Their ships are being blown up, they’re outnumbered by almost 1,000 to 1, and are on their last legs… and then Lando Calrissian arrives with the biggest fleet in Star Wars history, and the fight finally turns against the Final Order.

What’s so perfect about this scene isn’t that it’s one of the most spectacular shots in the Star Wars saga, but what it represents: throughout the entire series, the regular people of the Star Wars galaxy have relied on the Republic, the Rebellion, and the New Republic to fight their battles for them against the Seperatists, the Empire, and then the Imperial remnant. For decades, the galaxy has suffered from war after war, conflict after conflict, and all of it orchestrated by one man: Emperor Palpatine. And now, despite every desperate attempt to stop him, he’s on the verge of ultimate victory, and if he wins, he’ll be unstoppable and destroy everything that could possibly stop him.

But not if the good people of the galaxy have anything to say about it.

For the first time in the Star Wars series, the regular people of the galaxy, the beings who just want to live their lives in peace, put all their differences aside and unite to fight Palpatine directly. They aren’t relying on the government to save them. They aren’t relying on a rebellion to do their fighting for them… They’re going to do it themselves.

And so, faced with the destruction of everything they know and love, the free people of the galaxy, defying all attempts to stop them, to intimidate them, and frighten them into submission, rise up against Palpatine and his egomania, his threats of terror, his lies, his delusions of godhood, and declare with one voice that they have had enough. And against the backdrop of the most triumphant rendition of the Star Wars theme ever recorded, they go to war. And while the battle has not yet been decided, there’s no doubt that the people aren’t going to let everything they hold dear go down without a fight.

The Murderer Made It In?!: The Importance of Avoiding an Afterlife Only For The Elites

If you were like most kids who watched Star Wars growing up, you fantasized about going on adventures with Luke, Han and Leia, exploring the galaxy’s many worlds, and chilling out in Han and Chewie’s sky house (or was that just me?). And at the end of your days, you would pass from the physical world and become a force spirit, where you could hang out with your best friends forever and become super sparkly!

But would you, really?

While kids (and many adults) fantasize about living in the Star Wars universe, a strong case can be made that it’s a terrible place to live, especially since it’s in a state of constant warfare, ensuring that you have a high chance of dying a terrible death, but there’s one aspect that’s rarely discussed:

The afterlife in Star Wars is unfair.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try a thought experiment and pretend that you’ve a typical person in the Star Wars galaxy who has just died:

Opening your eyes, you realize that you’re dead. That sucks, but you were prepared for it; after all, you lived a nice, long life. While it wasn’t exemplary and didn’t have any impact on the galaxy at large, or even the planet you lived on, you were still a good person who tried not to hurt anyone, admitted when you made mistakes and tried to make amends, and were generally someone who enriched the lives of the beings that knew you.

Now you find yourself standing before a great, multi-colored ocean. Without anyone telling you, you realize that this is a physical manifestation of the Force, a place where everyone goes after death. That sounds pretty fair… but then you hear the Force itself telling you that your ultimate fate is to enter and become one with it… but in the process, you will lose your personality, your memories, your sentience, and essentially cease to exist.

Wait a minute! You say, That’s not fair!

The Force doesn’t care. You’re just one being out of untold trillions. Tens of trillions of beings have entered the Force before you, and tens of trillions more will come after you. It’s a fate that has already affected your parents, your deceased relatives, friends, and your beloved childhood pets. By becoming one with the Force, they no longer exist.

You scream that it isn’t fair! Isn’t there any chance of not being dissolved?

Yes, the Force says. About ten beings have died but preserved their consciousness and become immortal.

TEN?! You yell.

Yep. And all of them were members of a religious order that was barely known by the galaxy at large… Oh, wait. Another one has just arrived!

You turn around to see someone at the edge of the ocean, but they’re being embraced by a beautiful, glorious light shining down from above. But who is it? You squint, trying to see who had earned immortality when you didn’t. And then you see that person’s face, and all your faith in justice and mercy is shattered forever, for it’s Kylo Ren, leader of the First Order, the monster who killed your parents and family when he raided a planet two years ago.

Why does he get to be immortal and not me?! You scream.

Because I made him force sensitive, the Force says, and he was very sorry at the end of his life that he murdered billions of beings.

Before you can say anything more, the Force suddenly drags you into itself, where you dissolve into cosmic goo and are erased forever.

Meanwhile, Kylo Ren high-fives Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Yoda, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn, and the other lucky immortals.

None of them pay you any heed.

Harsh? Yes, but what you’ve just read is an accurate summary of how the afterlife in Star Wars works. If we only go by what we see in the movies, everyone who dies in the Star Wars universe becomes one with the Force. Exactly what happens to the individual themselves is not specified, but they apparently become part of a larger whole, like a drop of water entering an ocean, losing their personality, their memories, and everything that makes them, ‘them.’ However, there is one way to avoid that fate, and not get turned into non-sentient cosmic go. How does that happen?

1. Be born force-sensitive.

2. Be fortunate enough to join the Jedi Order.

3. Be fortunate enough to learn secret teachings that only a few Jedi know.

4. Spend the rest of your life not turning to the Dark Side.

4B. If you do turn to the Dark Side, repent at the very last minute.

5. Become a Force spirit when you die.

6. ???

7. Profit!

That sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But there’s just one problem:

If you’re not born with the ability to use the Force, you’re screwed.

It doesn’t matter how you live your life. It doesn’t matter if you were devoted to destroying evil, helping space-orphans, or blowing up space-orphans in space-orphanages with their space-doggies mookas; you’ll be absorbed into the Force upon your death and cease to exist. And it’s not just you who suffers this fate, but all of your loved ones, and everyone who wasn’t chosen by the force to have the ability to sense it. Think being eaten by a sarlacc was bad? Imagine spending a thousand years being digested alive in unimaginable agony before finally dying, only to immediately be erased from existence instead of being reunited with your loved ones who have passed on before you, meaning that being tortured every moment of every day for a thousand years was all for nothing.

The longer you think about the implications of this, the more horrifying it becomes: Luke, Leia, and Anakin may have achieved immortality after their deaths, but they will never see their non-force sensitive friends or relatives again. Shmi Skywalker, Padme, Han, Lando, Chewie, Bail Organa, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Beru are doomed to be dissolved, or have already been dissolved. It’s amazing that Leia and Luke didn’t have a complete mental breakdown upon realizing that Han had died, and it’s no wonder Anakin was so desperate to save his wife after losing his mother.

And then, to twist the knife even further, ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ ends with Ben Solo, the leader of a fascist empire, a mass murderer, emotional abuser, and willing follower of the Dark Side, gain immortality. In a truly rage-inducing moment for everyone who believes in decency and justice, the official novelization of the film has a line where Ben feels the Force reaching for him in welcome as he dies, all because he felt sorry for being the worst human in the galaxy since Palpatine and Anakin. The Force will happily grant a mass murderer immortality while consigning everyone he slaughtered to oblivion. It’s a disgusting perversion of justice and turns the Star Wars universe into a hellhole where only a chosen few who were gifted at birth have any chance at immortality, and everyone else have no chance of achieving the same thing, no matter how hard they try. And this isn’t wishful thinking; according to the Star Wars wiki, only force-sensitive individuals can become spirits:

“Not only was preserving one’s consciousness reserved for the Jedi, but also for users of the light side not affiliated with the Order.”

Damn.

When you realize how horrifying and unfair the Star Wars afterlife is, it becomes obvious that writers shouldn’t make their fictional afterlives favor elites and those with advantages they didn’t earn, condemning everyday people to oblivion or worse, all through no fault of their own. It’s cruel, sadistic, and once your audience realizes that, their view of your fictional universe will forever be tainted. After all, who would want to lose themselves in such a place, much less read about it? (though to be fair, an exception could be made for the purpose of social commentary, but that still won’t be enjoyable reading).

We must be fair when creating our fictional hereafters; If they must be grim, where the possibility of being dissolved or erased exists, then make sure that everyone has an equal chance of avoiding such a fate. If our characters have to earn their eternal existence, have them all know what must be done, make that information readily available, or make it so that the process is fair and applies to everyone (such as making immortality available to the compassionate and kind, but not the cruel and sadistic). Someone’s social standing or membership in an obscure organization with only a few hundred members should have no bearing on if they get to have a happy afterlife or not.

If writers make our afterlives fair, our audiences will be more willing to endure the trials and tribulations our characters will go through if there’s a chance they will make it to the great beyond, than if that possibility is denied to them. And to that end, let’s take another look at what the afterlife of the Star Wars universe might be like if it were fair:

Opening your eyes, you realize that you’re dead. That sucks, but you were prepared for it; after all, you lived a nice, long life. While it wasn’t exemplary and didn’t have any impact on the galaxy at large, or even the planet you lived on, you were still a good person who tried not to hurt anyone, admitted when you made mistakes and tried to make amends, and were generally someone who enriched the lives of the beings that knew you.

Now you find yourself standing before a great, multi-colored ocean. Without anyone telling you, you realize that this is a physical manifestation of the Force, a place where everyone goes after death. That sounds pretty fair… but what comes next?

That’s up to you, a voice tells you. It’s a voice you recognize as the Force itself. You may become one with me, or you may remain an individual as long as you wish.

What happens then? You ask.

You’ll become a force spirit and can visit the physical realm, you’re told. You can interact with your loved ones, as well as go anywhere and see everything. Nothing can harm you, and if you ever tire of such an existence, you may join with me and become part of a greater whole. And if you tire of that, you may live again.

Sweet! You say. I think I’ll become a force spirit for now.

As you wish, the Force says.

Good choice, someone tells you. Turning, you find yourself face to face with the legendary Anakin Skywalker. And not only him, but his son and daughter, his mother, and many others you’ve heard about: Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, and so many others, all welcoming you to your new existence as a force spirit.

Hey guys, can I join?

You turn and scowl. Kylo Ren, the murderous tyrant and leader of the First Order, walks up, having recently died. But before he can say another word, he’s suddenly yanked into the ocean and dissolved; while he was sorry for being a genocidal egomaniac with self-esteem issues, and did bring one girl back to life, that wasn’t enough to grant him the right to choose how he wants to spend his afterlife. Thus, he becomes one with the Force, much to the relief and satisfaction of his billions of victims, all of whom are now spirits who go spend time with their families in the world of the living.

Glad to see that little twerp get what’s coming to him, you head off back to the physical world to see how things are going. Watching the sunrise on Coruscant seems like a good place to start. And as you materialize on the top of the planet’s tallest skyscraper, a nice spirit named Beru appears beside you, offering you a glass of spectral blue milk to welcome the day.

As we can see, this scenario seems much more fair and just. Death is supposed to be the great equalizer, which pays no heed to one’s wealth, social class, or beliefs. We shouldn’t be afraid to make that true when it’s time for our characters to head to their final rest.

‘The Force Awakens,’ ‘Underwater,’ and the power of Expanded Universes To Enrich Your Story

Note: This post contains spoilers for the 2020 thriller, ‘Underwater’

The year is 2015, and the end credits have just started rolling on ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens.’ I sit back in my seat, mulling over the first live-action Star Wars film in over a decade, my mind full of questions, so many questions, and few of them good:

*Where did the First Order come from? How did this group that’s supposed to be smaller than the Empire (and possessing a fraction of their resources) get more advanced ships, weapons, and a galaxy-killing planet?

*What’s the political state of the galaxy? How has it changed in the thirty years since the end of ‘The Return of the Jedi?’ Is the New Republic struggling? Has it been successful? Is it on the verge of becoming an empire itself?

*How did Maz somehow get a lightsaber that tumbled into a gas giant, ensuring that no one could possibly retrieve it?

*Why, when faced with a new fleet of space-Nazis, does the New Republic dispatch such a pitifully tiny group to fight it? What happened to all the battleships, cruisers, and destroyers we saw in ‘Return of the Jedi’? Shouldn’t a galactic government have the means to defend itself?

These questions left me frustrated because the film had no interest in answering them. Even more frustrating was that to get answers to many of these questions, I would had to buy tie-in novels, visual dictionaries, and encyclopedias to get answers that should have been in the movie in the first place.

Fast forward to 2020, and the end credits have just started rolling on ‘Underwater,’ an underwater horror-thriller (and the final film released by 20th Century Fox before being rebranded by Disney) in which drillers and researchers struggle to escape from the bottom of the Marianas trench while being attacked by fearsome underwater critters. While you won’t be able to remember the character’s names or any witty dialogue a week later, it’s still a satisfying and enjoyable way to spend 95 minutes. Later, I look online to satisfy my curiosity at any interesting behind-the-scenes trivia and read a few articles, including one promising a major revelation about the big monster who shows up at the end.

A few minutes later, and I’m blown away: It turns out that the big monster in ‘Underwater’ is none other than Cthulhu himself, the most famous character from HP Lovecraft’s fictional mythologies. In an instant, ‘Underwater’ goes from a generic creature flick to a movie about humanity’s first encounter with unspeakably powerful gods who could easily wipe humanity out without any effort.

Since reading that Cthulhu is the main monster of ‘Underwater,’ I’ve come to realize that the movie does one thing ‘The Force Awakens’ failed to do: use its expanded universe not to explain an incomplete story, but to enrich it.

For those who are unaware, expanded universe material is any secondary publication outside of a movie, television, book, or video game that further explores the world and characters of that story. Star Wars is the most famous example, with hundreds of novels, video games, and comics released over the decades that explores its fictional universe, but it’s now common for blockbusters and other big franchises to get expanded universe material of their own.

However, there’s one important thing to remember: Expanded Universe material is meant to enrich and enhance the franchise it’s a part of, not explain away problems that should have been addressed in the original movie, book, video game, comic, or TV show. ‘The Force Awakens,’ tells a story with a beginning, middle, and end, but there are substantial gaps (such as the ones mentioned earlier) that require reading said dictionaries and novels to understand.

Conversely, ‘Underwater,’ is a complete, self-contained movie that uses its expanded universe material to add another layer of depth that’s not in the film. The first time you see it, ‘Underwater’ is about scientists and drillers trying to escape underwater monsters. The second time you see it, it’s a movie about scientists and drillers trying to escape from a demigod, who’s just one of hundreds who have come from a place outside of time and space, all created by an insane god who could destroy everything if it wakes up. Our protagonists live in a world where gods are real, and none of them are our friends.

Yikes.

What does that mean for writers? When we write our stories, our audiences should get all the information they need from following our works instead of having to consult a wiki to understand what’s going on. While it’s fine to leave some mysteries and teases of a larger world in our stories, it’s important that those mysteries don’t come at the expense of the main story, and when a viewer has to do research to understand a story, that story needs help.

Try looking at it another way: Your story is a gourmet dish, and the expanded material is the sauce. If your dish is missing several ingredients, the sauce can’t salvage it. But if your dish is well-made, the sauce enriches and adds onto it, elevating the dish to something truly magnificent.

Perfect Moments: ‘Independence Day: A Star Wars Story’

Once in a while, you come across a moment in a story that is so perfect that it stays in with you for years, or even a lifetime. These are moments that, in my opinion, are flawless; perfect gems of storytelling that cannot be improved in any way, and are a joy to treasure and revisit again and again.

***

The Video:

Why it’s Perfect

While the Star Wars movies have been a part of my life since I was a child, complete with toy X-wings, TIE fighters, and action figures of Luke and Vader, ‘Independence Day’ is a film that’s much closer to my heart, having watched it at an impressionable young boy and being blown away by the terror of alien death rays, the exhilaration of humanity’s triumph, the heart-pounding score, and the incredible visual effects. So, naturally, seeing both sagas tied together years later is a dream come true.

Everything about this crossover is flawless. The editing is perfect, the visual effects of the Harvester fighter is masterfully spliced in, and the humor between Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith is even funnier than before, and having them be the only fighters assaulting the Death Star makes them underdogs fighting impossible odds, and their victory all the sweeter.

Favorite Moments: Star Wars, but with Tommy Wiseau

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Videos

Why they’re great

What happens when you take a character from one movie, and transplant them into another? The results can be amazing, and in this instance, we get Tommy Wiseau from ‘The Room’ interacting with the Star Wars universe, to astonishing effect (no, seriously, the rotoscoping in these videos is breathtakingly good!).

Favorite Moments: It’s a No, Guys.

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

The best comedy and parody sketches for films, tv shows, music, books, and video games can enhance our viewing of those things when we’re watching, reading, or playing them again, adding a little extra depth to the fictional world we’re visiting. Remember that cantina song from “A New Hope’? You know, the one played by Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes? Now, thanks to this sketch, every time I rewatch the movie, I’ll chuckle at how they turned a rejected song for fish sticks into one of the most famous bar music pieces ever composed.

Favorite Moments: Darth Vader, but with child Anakin’s voice

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

When it comes to pop culture villains, Darth Vader is one of the best. He has it all: Magic powers, an intimidating outfit, entire armies under his command, a mythical destiny, and James Earl Jones’ imposing voice.

But what happened if that voice was replaced with young Jake Lloyd? Suddenly, the second most dangerous being in the galaxy becomes a wide-eyed, fun loving guy who just wants to free slaves, show off his droids, and have fun blowing up rebel pilots. It’s… bizarre, to say the least, but also a funny and interesting look at a Dark Lord who mainly just wants to have fun while enslaving the galaxy.

Favorite Moments: Greedo’s Incompetence

We all have our favorite moments in movies, books, and games, moments that stay with us long after the story is over. This column is my attempt to examine my favorite moments and see why they stick with me.

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The Video

Why it’s great

Outside of, ‘Did balrogs have wings?’, no nerd debate has gotten as much infamy as if Han shot first, or Greedo. In light of the news that the scene was changed yet again, I thought I’d go looking for the most ridiculous version of this infamous scene, and found one where Greedo’s incompetence at shooting someone three feet away is hilarious.

This little short also serves as an example of incompetence becoming funny:

Someone who thinks they’re the best + charging into a dangerous situation =  Comedy

It’s important to note that this formula works best if the situation is played for laughs, and the character is a villain deserving some good, old fashioned karma: watching a good-natured but incompetent soldier in a wartime drama charge into a battle only to be blown apart seconds later isn’t funny. Having racist, smug Nazi commandos wearing full body armor charge into battle against kids throwing snowballs, only to be beaten to a pulp (or be blown up when a snowball hits them) is much more amusing and satisfying because it feels deserved.