On Star Wars

OK, so I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. We all know that Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ new teaser trailer, unveiled today at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim, basically won the Internet today. If you haven’t seen it yet by some miracle, here it is.

Now that you’ve seen it, I hope you’ll understand when I say I actually did get a little misty-eyed. But it’s kinda funny-feeling that I did so because I don’t consider myself a real “Star Warrior” (a term that I don’t think she invented, but which I first encountered in Sam Maggs’ new book that you should preorder because it is a Good Thing). I’ve said that before: I own and have read some old Expanded Universe novels and comics, I’ve seen each of the films multiple times, I play Battlefront II and I even compared the two Clone Wars shows.

But still, I’m not really a “fan” in the sense that I am of Star Trek and Transformers (i.e. thoughts about it consume most of my mental energy). It’s just something I dip my toes in every so often. Yet, when I saw this trailer, it hit me. Star Wars, like it or not, is such a huge part of the American cultural memory that it can still affect me. It’s surprising.

Even more surprising to some of you: I like all the films on balance. Yeah, Phantom Menace is particularly dire (something I refused to believe for a long time, then got it drilled into me after I paid to see its 3-D re-release a few years back) and the other two prequels have pretty lame dialogue, but on balance, I like them only slightly less than the Original Trilogy. Why?

Well, it’s because, like how all of Generation X saw the OT in theatres, I saw all the Prequel Trilogy in theatres. I was about 6 when Phantom Menace hit, 9 for Attack of the Clones and 12 for Revenge of the Sith. Granted, I didn’t know nearly as much about good storytelling as I do now, but I was entertained and caught up in them (because yeah, Star Wars is pretty squarely aimed at kids really) at the time and, whenever I rewatch them, I still kinda am.

At the end of the day, Star Wars is one of the best examples we have of science fantasy and despite how huge and massive the brand has become, that’s still true. So for me, seeing this given new life now and in the years to come from gifted directors like J.J. Abrams, Rian Johnson (!) and Gareth Edwards (even if I didn’t love Godzilla, I still like what he did) with stories for today’s kids to latch onto and enjoy, that’s good enough for me.

Fringe–The Complete First Season Review

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So today, I finally sat down with my friend and finished the first season of Fringe, a sci-fi show from J.J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the same brain trust that’s given us the last two Star Trek films) that recently concluded a five-season run on Fox. Whenever we’ve gotten together, we usually do “Fringe binges,” as we call them, watching episodes at a time. It really helps with a show like this.

So what is Fringe about? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a sci-fi procedural about unexplained phenomena. FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assigned to investigate a mysterious airplane accident where everyone on board wound up a skeleton. Because this is well outside the bounds of normal scientific and FBI procedures, she has to go to Iraq to track down rogue genius Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) in order to use him to free his father, Walter (John Noble), an astoundingly brilliant scientist who specialized in unusual phenomena–or fringe science (hence the title)–from a mental asylum where he’s been for 17 years.

In the course of the investigation, Olivia’s partner and lover John Scott (Mark Valley) is killed and Olivia is drafted by Special Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) to join the Fringe Division, teaming up with Peter, Walter and fellow FBI agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole) to investigate the grotesque and bizarre crimes and deaths that frequently pop up in the Boston area, with it all being tied to the mysterious corporation, Massive Dynamic.

Like most sci-fi procedurals, this first season is very episodic. Which it would have to be, seeing as how, like Supernatural, this show needs us to be invested in its characters before giving them longer arcs. Unlike that show, however, rather than a core duo, here we have a whole cast of characters, each with a distinct personality. As such, it’s easier to find characters to like and characters to hate.

I pretty much like everyone though: Dunham can be a little bland sometimes, but when her personal life or past is touched upon, things really shine and Torv does a terrific job. Jackson is great as the wry, sarcastic Peter, who happens to be the only one who can control his dad who he doesn’t like all that much. He’s also very well-footed and holds his own in action scenes. Nicole doesn’t have too much to do as Farnsworth, really, but she’s still a fun counterpoint. Broyles is very much the boss, and Reddick plays him that way, using his body language and distinct voice to give him a commanding presence.

But for me, the real star is Noble as Walter. Best known for his role as Denethor in The Lord of the Rings, he has a lot to play with as Walter–a figure both comedic and tragic–and he hits it right every time. When he has to be funny, he’s hilarious; when he has to be mad, he’s seething…you get the idea. The fact that he, at his advanced age and having gone through all his mental anguish, can’t recall many things is heartbreaking, especially towards the end of the season. Noble uses all his talent to make Walter probably the most complicated scientist character on TV in the last decade, maybe one of the most complicated of all time.

Now, I know some people who have flat out refused to watch this show because they see it as a ripoff of The X-Files. To those people, and to anyone and everyone who may have a similar opinion, I offer this:

EVERY SCI-FI SERIALIZED SHOW THAT HAS AIRED SINCE THE X-FILES IS IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER COPYING THE X-FILES!!!!! GET OVER IT!!!

Seriously, there’s no point in arguing this: every SF show–heck, a LOT of shows period–have ripped off that particular show. Ignore it and move on.

Point is, Fringe is really something: managing to pack a standard crime show inside of a REALLY good science-fiction show and emerging with a great blend of both. Granted, this season’s slow build of story elements is a bit jarring at times, but overall, it has the potential to suck you in. I started the second season today and I can’t wait to continue.

“Insert your joke about lens flare/smoke monsters here”

I don’t even think I need to put a link to this news, since the entire Internet pretty much collectively has blown up about it. But, just in case you didn’t know, Disney announced last week, with rumors leaking on Thursday and their confirmation on Saturday, that the director chosen to bring Michael Arndt’s script for Star Wars: Episode VII to the screen is none other than…J.J. Abrams.

Now, while a lot of respectable and smart people have made their fears and frustration known about this, I’m actually really excited.

Why? Well, because I think Abrams has that same sort of visual flair that early Lucas had and because…and this is really important…he’s a Star Wars fan. BIG TIME!

Even though Abrams’ biggest box office success as a director is undoubtedly his 2009 reboot of Star Trek (which, among other things, kept the brand alive and helped introduce ME to it), he went into the project as having been a Star Wars kid in addition to having only a general knowledge of the franchise. Ultimately, that general sense of the iconography, along with a script that proved Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman can actually write (when they’re not working with Michael Bay), is what helped make the film a success with mainstream audiences.

Now, Abrams as a filmmaker has really only made one original movie: 2011’s Super 8. But that film tells you everything you need to know about where he comes from; the main character, a kid named Joe with a love of making movies, monsters and special effects is undoubtedly drawn from Abrams.

And y’know what? I bet you anything that, if he could without everyone breathing down his neck and cursing his name all the time, George Lucas could have made that movie too. heck, he probably even WAS that kid too!

And for all of you joking about smoke monsters and polar bears or whatever, y’all need to remember something; Abrams is directing but not writing. He’s working off of a treatment and future script by Michael Arndt, an Oscar-winning screenwriter who, in his screenwriting workshops, uses A New Hope as the example of a perfect screenplay. Whatever Arndt has written, it must be powerful, because his story is what helped make the Disney/Lucasfilm deal happen.

Episode VII hits theaters in 2015. I’ll be there and so will probably a lot of you. Till then, may the Force be with you.