Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Last Jedi May be a New Beginning

To be fair, I guess it started with Rogue One, but that was a side story set in the past. (It had more of an EU feel than The Last Jedi.) Still, together they are a trend that will hopefully continue: the evolution of the Star Wars Universe.

Be warned, there will be minor spoilers here, though my definition of "minor" may not coincide with yours.

The Last Jedi is set both sequentially and script-wise to be the Empire Strikes Back of the new trilogy. Not even considering the homages and fan service that link the two, they have a lot in common. Despite their victory in the previous film, the rebellion (or Resistance here) is on the run. Our protagonists are split up, and perusing different goals. New wrinkles are introduced that change the stakes or our protagonists understanding of the stakes.  And, things happen that seem counter to what the first film set up.

Here is where TLJ gets controversial because some of the apparent mysteries dangled by The Force Awakens, come to naught here, rendered irrelevant. Who is Snoke? We may never know, and in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't appear to matter. He is another in what may be a long line of hubristic dark lords. Who are Rey's parents? The answer may surprise you, but only because you expect films of this sort to play out a certain way.

That gets to what is best about TLJ: it subverts tropes of Star Wars-type narratives while staying firmly rooted in that universe. Here the hero doesn't always know better than their older, more staid superiors, the odds of a harebrain scheme are important sometimes, the war may not be so black and white, and colorful rogues don't always harbor a heart of gold. These plot points aren't merely subversion for subversion's sake, they mostly lead to character development: heroes get galvanized to greater action; heroes become leaders instead of loners.

Along the way, the usual Star Wars stuff occurs. Lightsabers blaze. Ships blow up. Daring escapes are made, as are tearjerking heroic sacrifices. TLJ never stops being a Star Wars movie, it just broadens a bit what it means to be one.

It's not perfect, of course. The trope subversion means some actions of the protagonists are sort of wheelspinning, and you may not find them engaging enough on their own to warrant their inclusion. Luke's arc from RotJ to here maybe not sit well with everyone. It's believable, but perhaps less than ideal. Inter-Ressistance conflict may violate your view of Star Wars.

It's also saddled with the less than ideal choices made in the first film. How exactly the First Order came to such power is never clarified; in fact, this film doubles down on their puzzling rise. Captain Phasma got punked in TFA, and she does here, too. The relationship of Snoke, Kylo Ren, and Rey, just means that scenes that resemble ESB and RotJ occur, upping the fan service feel. The humor is at a higher level than in the original trilogy, but not (yet) to Marvel Cinematic Universe level.

I'm not sure about this, but my suspicion is that if TFA was everything you wanted in a Star Wars sequel, this film may frustrate you. If you haven't liked any film since RotJ (and you're iffy on that one) then you probably won't like this one either, and really what the hell are you doing wasting your time with modern sequels? Down that road is only heartbreak. If neither of those apply to you, I say check it out.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Kill Six Billion Demons RPG

Over at his Patreon page, Abaddon, author of the comic Kill 6 Billion Demons, has released an rpg in that setting for any patreon level. I haven't looked at the rpg yet, but given the comic, I'd say that's a pretty good deal!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Star Wars (Posts)

With a new Star Wars film upon us, it's a good time to revisit these classic Star Wars related posts:

What Star Wars Got Right What's good about SW that might be applicable to gaming.
The  Truth About Droids What's going on behind the scenes with these comic relief helpers?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Comics: A Couple of Recommendations

Here are a couple things I've read recently that I think are well worth checking out.

Doomsday Clock #1
Ozymandias's horrific ruse has been revealed and a world in turmoil wants him dead, but he's nowhere to be found. A new Rorschach in league with Ozymandias breaks two super-villains out of prison for mysterious reasons. This comic had a lot of marks against it for me: it's an "event," it's tied in to a story that is better left alone, and it's written by Geoff Johns, whose work I am generally not particularly fond of. But you know what? I actually thought it was pretty good. Frank and Johns manage to capture the vibe of Watchmen, making it seem like a credible sequel and though not a lot was revealed in this first issue, it has got me interested.

Mickey's Craziest Adventure
This graphic novel  purports to be a lost Disney comic from 1965, but it's actually a new work somewhat mimicking an older style by French comic artists Lewis Trondheim and Nicolas Keramidas. The concept is that some installments of the story where lost, so Mickey and Donald go from one page episode to one page episode with a lot of the bridging material missing, making the crazy situations (and Trondheim and Keramidas pretty much pull out all the stops) the characters find themselves in even crazier. The episodic and "incomplete" format serves to break you out of the story, but the art is good and events interesting enough that it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Stork of Azurth

The Royal Family of Azurth (when there was such a thing), did not have children in the messy way of the common folk. Rather, it was their tradition and prerogative as the chosen heirs of Azulina, who made the Land of Azurth, to call upon the Stork to deliver to them a child.

This Stork was no ordinary wading bird of the earthly lands of which you are no doubt familiar, which is the same sort of stork common to the Land of Azurth. This stork is a fae creature, in ancient times tasked with ferrying souls but allowed the enter semi-retirement after Azulina appointed the royal line of Azurth.

The process, described in certain ancient texts once in the hands of the clerics of Iolanthe, but now confiscated, required a summoning ritual to call forth the Stork. Then, the would-be royal parents would negotiate with the great bird and be levied a price based on the number and traits of the children desired. Where the Stork acquired the children was a closely protected trade secret. The price was seldom measured in gold but rather in something highly valuable to the customer, though perhaps no one else.

Since the Wizard became ruler of the Land of Azurth, the royal line has ended and the Stork brings no more children. Some scholars believe (and a few royalist agitators hope) that some fugitive Stork-summoning texts may yet be in circulation. There are a number of folk who might pay handsomely for one, if one was located.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Brief Hiatus

They'll be a brief interruption due the arrival of a baby. Programming will resume again shortly.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Neo-Westerns of Taylor Sheridan

Though occasionally I've seen the term "neo-Western" to mean "a Western made in the last couple of decades," I think the term is most usefully applied to films that deal with thematic material and often locales that are part of the Western genre tradition, but place them in a more modern era and reflect modern concerns.

Actor/writer/director has been three unrelated (other than perhaps thematically) films that are recent exemplars of this genre, though all there also partake of other genres. Each film recalls classic Western plots but manages to do so in a way that doesn't seem rote.

Sicario (2015), directed by Denis Villeneuve, seems at first glance fairly fare from Western conventions. It's a crime story about about government agents going up against Mexican drug cartels. It plays out as a noir with deception and moral compromise the order of the day. Despite it's modern setting, Sicario plays out as sort of an inversion of many late-era American Westerns set in Mexico. The Emily Blunt's FBI agent is not a anglo-savior for the Mexican people. Instead, she's merely a pawn in a game who's rules are concealed from here and are much crueler than she naively imagines. Benico del Toro is the avenger so grim his justice it is without catharsis. It's just another move in the game of horrors. Josh Brolin's affably amoral CIA agent resembles in some ways the gringo schemers of the Zapata Westerns, but Sicario is bereft of any sort of cynical humor regarding the actions of imperialist powers.

Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water (2016) is more recognizable as a Western, being a tale of Texas bankrobbing brothers pursued by an aging ranger (Jeff Bridges). This might be a story decent men driven to law-breaking by predatory money men, or the story of the Law personified by the dogged lawman trying to stop two wrong-doers. In fact, like more nuanced Westerns, it is both. When their chase ends after many a scene of dying, economically crippled small towns and dust two-lane highways, neither side will get exactly the ending it hoped for.

This year's Wind River, Sheridan's directorial debut, again finds a female FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson) out of her depth. This time, a young Native woman has been a murder in the snowy wilderness of a Wyoming Indian Reservation. Olson's agent has help, at least, particularly Jeremy Renner's hunter for Fish & Wildlife, who lends his tracking and shooting skills. Amid freezing vistas and the business of police procedural, grief is as ever-present as the snow. Grief for the decimation of Native cultures and Native families. Grief at the loss of daughters. Wind River could have easily been a story of revenge as many of its Western progenitors were, but again those particulars are handled in a matter of fact manner. Moving on, but never forgetting, is the order of the day.

I'd recommend all of these films, but Hell or High Water feels like the strongest, or perhaps the most unified in terms of theme and action.