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A Fork In The Road

The new Star Wars trailer is not being met with universal acclaim.

I am one of the “I have a bad feeling about this” folks.

Indulge me for a moment, and allow me to put on my “grumpy old man” hat.

I saw Star Wars when I wasn’t yet seven years old, seated on the floor of the front row of the 75mm theater in San Jose, because the guy at the ticket counter caved when Mom pleaded for three tickets even if they couldn’t be together.  I then waited literally half of my existing lifespan for the second movie.  Unlike Millennials or Baby Boomers, there’s a window of us Gen X folks who have grown up with this whole franchise, almost as a sibling.

There’s been a lot of verbiage written about how the story of Luke Skywalker follows The Hero’s Journey, in the original Star Wars – Empire Strikes Back – Return of the Jedi trilogy.  From the age of five until present day, my fiction consumption has been all over the map, but a huge representative chunk of it is a mix of science fiction and fantasy literature, two genres where The Hero’s Journey is a prominent story arc.  So I’ve read a lot of iterations of this Journey, some of them really well done, and some not so much.

It happens that these are two genres where authors often continue to write books in the same universe, after their original story is commercially successful, sometimes solely *because* they are commercially successful.  So I’ve read a lot of decent Hero’s Journeys that did not successfully make the jump to a second storyline.  It’s not entirely unheard of for authors (who are a combination of good writers *and* good storytellers) to be able to successfully craft a narrative wherein a new set of stories builds off of the existing story, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

I’m not talking about just including Easter Eggs for fans, little nostalgia triggers that make fans-of-the-original story have little waves of nostalgia that make the new series more-than-just palatable.

I mean stories where the narrative, itself, is constructive and cohesive with the original storyline.

Where the new story has callbacks to the original story that tell us that the characters that we knew and loved (or knew and hated) continued on, as characters.  They didn’t regress, but progressed… or if they regressed, they regressed for reasons that were important and tied to the new story arc that merged seamlessly with the old story arc.

For an example of this done well, look at The Hobbit, and the follow-up The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In the first story, Bilbo Baggins goes on his own Hero’s Journey.  In the second story, Frodo goes on a new Hero’s Journey.  But Bilbo is present in the second trilogy, and he is present in the second trilogy not just as a callback for nostalgia’s sake, wherein Bilbo hands off Sting and the mithril armor and provides a “atta boy, you go get ’em” for Frodo.  Yes, that happens, but much more importantly, Frodo sees how Bilbo’s role as Ringbearer has affected him, has bent and damaged him.

This means that when Frodo meets Gollum he sees not just an evil creature, but the natural progression of any mortal who carries the Ring for too long.  He sees a shadow of Bilbo, broken under the weight of the horrible evil embedded in the Ring.  He longs for the possibility of redemption for Gollum, and this is what tinges his pity with resolve: he must not slay this creature, but attempt to save it, because in doing so he shows that he could repair that damage to his uncle (and, importantly for his own resolve and ability to resist the Ring, he continues to show himself that his task will not damage *himself* irreparably, which is a morale booster he needs to carry the damn thing in the first place).

Bilbo’s Hero’s Journey thus becomes part and parcel of Frodo’s Hero’s Journey, and one that informs and expands that second journey.

In this day and age of reboots and retconns and remakes, many commercially successful attempts give us Sting and the mithril shirt (and one of the reasons why they are commercially successful is because of those Easter Eggs… little nods to the O.G. fans.)

Ultimately, however, they very often *fail* to give us a story arc that does not just repeat (or worse, overturns) the story arc that originally brought us into the world.  Examples of this are too many to count.  My own personal “most offended” is outside the realm of fantasy, the example of the original Mission: Impossible reboot.

The trailer begins with the ubiquitous “Good morning, Mr. Phelps” secret recording (which we know, of course, will self-destruct in five seconds), followed by the trill of the soundtrack and the same intro that every fan of the original series knew and loved: quick cuts of the show (now film) you were about to see, made so quick that you could not infer exactly what has going to happen in the upcoming hour (now two).  There’s a weakness in the trailer, because it fails that second test – it gives away too much of what we are going to see.

Aside from the overall weakness in the trailer, though… the first fifteen seconds were enough to guarantee that I was early in line for a ticket on opening night.

And then they made Jim Phelps the bad guy.

Now, given all of the stuff that Jim Phelps puts up with in the original series, without so much as a waver or a moment of doubt, this is an impossible ask for me, as an original fan.  Eight seconds of Jon Voight complaining about “ill-treatment and getting his”… doesn’t carry the narrative load.

If Phelps is going to have become the bad guy, we – the fans of the original series – need investment in that story line.  You have to prove that something could have turned Phelps.

And needless to say, Mission: Impossible the movie failed to do that.

This isn’t because “we’re special, us fans-of-the-original-series, and we deserve special treatment”, which is how people often read “fans of the original series don’t like this thing” (odds that there’s a comment to this effect in the comment thread: 5 to 4).

It’s because the story deserves better treatment.  Because Jim’s story deserves better treatment.

I didn’t walk out of the theater, like Greg Morris, but I could never love that movie as part of the greater story arc of the Mission: Impossible universe.

(It was still an entertaining enough movie in its own right, and a commercial hit, spawning a half-dozen sequels, which I’ll admit can be fun if you turn off the part of your brain that remembers the television series, or you never watched it in the first place.)

So now that I’ve set the stage, what does this have to do with the Star Wars trailer?

I’m not the Star Wars nerd that some Star Wars nerds are.  I haven’t consumed the entire Expanded Universe of books, and thus my own canon of Star Wars is largely my own headcanon.

My long standing personal headcanon includes this theory: to get good at the Force, training can take you so far, but only so far.

After that, your ability to challenge yourself in major trials is what it takes to get to the next level of Force mastery. Challenging yourself via a major trial involves major temptation by the “other side” of the Force.  This isn’t an original thought, granted, it’s a common enough story line.

The weakness of the Jedi Order, and the reason why they ultimately fail as an order, is that the inner circle of the Jedi Order knew this, but basically walled it all off as forbidden knowledge.  Why?  Because the problem with challenging yourself is, of course, sometimes folks lose, and then they go to the Dark Side.  The Jedi Order is in opposition to the Sith, and the Jedi thought that once someone was turned, there was no redemption: you have to get rid of them.

Thus the failure mode of a major trial is unacceptable, and understandable: nobody wants to have to execute a buddy for failing a test, after all!

Like many of the major mysticism story lines in fantasy and science fiction (Yin/Yang, Dark Magic/Light Magic, Kirk getting split into Milksop Kirk and Aggro Kirk, etc) , there are aspects of each “side” that are laudable traits.  Those traits are toxic if you take only that laudable trait without the corresponding offsetting trait from the opposing side.

Will for victory is toxic… if not combined with mercy.

Authority is toxic… if not tempered with empathy.

A Jedi does not deal in absolutes… is toxic when it itself is an absolute.

And so on.

So Luke’s Hero’s Journey involves him becoming more than your average Jedi not because of his training with Yoda, which he never even finishes, after all… but *because* he faced major trial.

Now of course this works as a narrative for the new trilogy if they take it that route.  You can come up with multiple storylines that allow Kylo/Rey to work against/for/around each other to provide trials for the other.

But it *won’t* hold together with the original story if Luke isn’t still kinda badass. 

And this trailer makes me think they’re not going that route.

Luke had to have learned from the experience with Vader and the experience with the Emperor. The whole point of Return of the Jedi – the reason why it worked, as part of Luke’s Hero journey – is that he threw aside the common wisdom of the Jedi (“once you start down the Dark Side, forever will it dominate your destiny”), which both enabled him to survive the trial with Vader *and* engage with it in the first place (by believing that he could save him).  Vader killed his friends!  Vader tortured his friends!  Obi-Wan told Luke that Vader couldn’t be saved!  Yoda told Luke that Vader couldn’t be saved!  And still Luke believed he could redeem him.

If instead the story line is that Luke has… just forgotten all that, that Kylo became seduced by the Dark side and Luke just retreated from view because he was all torn up from that… then that makes the entire first trilogy (and the second one, for that matter), completely null. Luke didn’t actually learn anything!  His whole Hero’s Journey wasn’t a Hero’s Journey at all… just a dumb one-off fluke!

The way that the story can work will be if Luke still knows what he learned from his battles with Vader and the Emperor, namely that in order for the Force to come into balance there needed to be a new order that did not include the problems with the Jedi way of training.  An order that enabled challenge and trial, and most importantly (what was really missing from the Jedi Order) … redemption

… and Luke had a Force vision of his own showed him that he couldn’t be the one to bring Kylo back from the Dark side, but it needed to be someone else.

So he retreated to exile not because he’s all tore up over Kylo and worried about his own ability to teach… but because he knows that he needed to play his new role: that of the Yoda.

But not a Yoda who passed along the broken idea that once you turned down the Dark path, forever would it dominate your destiny… but a Yoda who learned the error of the Jedi way and fixed it.

If the Star Trek writing is any guide… JJ Abrams will probably not do this.  Because JJ has not convinced me that he’s particularly good storyteller.

He’s probably going to have Luke be broken over Kylo, which doesn’t make any goddamn sense at all because Luke knows that even Darth Vader, who slaughtered defenseless children can be redeemed from the Dark side.  And he knows this because that was the whole point of the original trilogy!

And then I’m gonna be super-grumpy.


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Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution. ...more →

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83 thoughts on “A Fork In The Road

  1. I didn’t see the second movie. I really should.

    I saw the first as a matinee for 10 bucks a head-in 3d. I’d been real disappointed if I’d paid 20+ for that movie and the 3d (which looked totally added on). Frankly it wasn’t that good.

    DVD anyone?

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  2. Good stuff, but I don’t think you are being fair to Luke or the story (as we know it so far)

    If Luke is someone broken up over his failure with Kylo, that’s perfectly understandable. Yes, he knows about the continous, ongoing, internal turmoil of the light side and the dark side; he felt it himself, he knows that it was his Dad’s path to redemption. (Note though that nobody says this bicameral mind was ever an attribute of Palpatine, though)

    But there’s a difference between the young guy that saves the day, and being the now older guy, with all the experience and knowledge of his own life and the previous generations – and *still* manages to make the same mistakes. That’s a heckuva lot of guilt; he’s taking the responsibility for the You Had One Job aspect of his job quite seriously.

    Yet, there are still clues that Luke’s exile is about what you say, that he’s attempting to execute the Will of the Force, that it isn’t just a self-pitying Jedi Galt move. For one, Han very much tries to be the one that inspires Kylo Ren’s redemption. It doesn’t work, but he tries. I can’t remember now from TFA is Leia was very much opposed to Han doing this, or just skeptical that it could work. But, in any case, it does look like in the trailer that the next step is some sort of showdown with Kylo and Leia. (something I’m thinking isn’t going to work out for Leia in the short term)

    Mostly, we still have just the literal glimpses of the convulted paths of how Luke’s lightsaber got to where it is and how Rey got where she is. That these two things are now together (and now with Luke) the story proper can begin. (and we’re also not sure what’s been going on with R2 between the one flashback scene and the current day)

    (plus, Luke pretty much has to go into exile after Kylo’s mutiny, as yes, Luke can probably defend himself from any ongoing Kylo-sourced onslaught, but a lot more people are going to die that way)

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    • We also have no idea when & how Snoke got involved with Ben & the Knights of Ren. It could be Luke got blindsided hard and needed time to think about how it went wrong, rather than Ben failing his trial and going dark.

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  3. My greatest disappointment in the world of reboots is the new Star Trek movies. It basically says “You know that 50 years of universe building you are attached to; toss it out the window.” It’s a giant middle finger to the whole canon of Star Trek.

    Even then, I could live with it if the new stuff was any good but the stories are dry and formulaic, the interpersonal relationships are stunted, no one is even trying to emulate the original characters, and I am almost as sick of the lens flare gimmick as I am Michael Bay’s vomit-inducing weaving camera gimmick.

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  4. I am just a couple of years older than Patrick. Star Wars came out when I was fourteen, and was very much part of my adolescence. That being said, the prequels pretty much killed off any sense of excitement. I took the day off from work to see Ep. 1 that morning: a very poor decision, as was rapidly made clear. I have seen the others, but certainly not making anything special out of it. I didn’t bother with Rogue One until it came on Netflix. With Ep. 7 it became obvious that the creators have nothing new or interesting, so they are rehashing the earlier installments, with better special effects. *yawn* 7 was a remake of 4 & 5, so I expect 8 will be 6. This only leaves the question of what they will do after that.

    I will go to this in the theater if my kids want to go, and my wife doesn’t. Otherwise I expect it will turn up streaming somewhere in ample time to satisfy me.

    Also, Star Trek reboots. I stuck with Trek films longer than I did Star Wars, but I am running behind. I haven’t seen the most recent one. Is it on streaming? I haven’t checked.

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  5. I have a slightly different understanding of how the Jedi Order went wrong, and I think it’s important.

    The Jedi embraced a policy of “never have any dealings with the Dark Side”. However, this leads to a certain kind of failure. It’s not that becoming a Jedi requires you to face a trial, it’s just that trials inevitably happen to everyone, including Jedi, and if you know nothing of the Dark Side, you are more vulnerable to them.

    For instance, Mace Windu is off the rails when he confronts Palpatine in E3. Palpatine uses his fear and rage to turn Anakin, and destroy Windu.

    One of the ideas of Jedi training is that pupils were selected at a young age, and taken to the Jedi Temple and trained there. They were separated from their parents. We see no sign of any further contact. Emotion was considered the enemy and anathema. Family ties were severed.

    And now we see in E7 and E8 a serious emphasis on family ties. Snoke urges the young pupils to destroy the past. We are teased with Kylo destroying the ship holding his mother.

    Making emotion the enemy, destroying it, is the sort of thing that made sense to me in the 70’s, but doesn’t now. I say that as a martial arts teacher, knowing that in combat, a certain mindset is needed. But nobody is in combat ceaselessly. There are those who seek it because the want to run from pain, though, and that’s not a good place.

    Meanwhile Luke has been pondering his failure as a teacher, knowing he will have one more chance. My guess is that he is questioning the Jedi method of training, and going back to ancient texts. Maybe he will try something different with Rae. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. That colossal a failure is going to affect someone.

    That’s my read.

    I am more enthusiastic

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  6. Great post Patrick.

    I am around the same age as you (46yo) so grew up with SW and associated type entertainments. And like you, my reading has been all over, but it was quite often SF/fantasy when younger. The love of Star Wars was killed by the prequels, not unlike above. But the love of the genre stays, tempered with having read and watched outside that ghetto. Having read and watched things that make me think.

    All that said though, I have decided not to go see any “sequel” or reboot or similar. I refuse to give my hard earned up for poorly thought through, unnecessary, weakly acted, crap fests. Just because something is SF does not mean that it can be thoughtless. Its reach should exceed its grasp. Witness the original Blade Runner.

    Speaking of which, I will not be seeing that either. I love the original and feel it is one of the best films in the genre, or the ’80’s for that matter. Flaws and all. But there was nothing in the original that says to me “this story needs to go on.” Indeed, the ambiguity of the ending in the original film is part of what makes it so magical.

    In the ’60’s the musical and “cast of 1000’s” films were dead. And Hollywood reinvented itself with fantastic films s. ch as Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, McCabe and Mrs. Miller. And Star Wars. It’s time for another reinvention.

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    • Free tip: I have never entirely given up reading science fiction, but read much less than formerly. Partly this is because I find most of my old favorites have aged poorly, and partly because I have had trouble finding new favorites. I have one now: N. K. Jemisin. She won the Best Novel Hugo two years running. This is hardly a guarantee of anything, but suggests being worth a look. I recently read the first of the Hugo winners, The Fifth Season. It is terrific. It has the traditional SF strength of interesting ideas developed in interesting ways. It is also strong in the traditional SF weaknesses of character development and writing style. I will be reading the second Hugo winner soon.

      As for the reinvention, it seems to me that this has occurred, but the result is high quality long form television rather than the two hour theatrical feature.

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      • You should try Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie if you haven’t already. It won all the awards. (by that I mean: Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Arthur C Clarke, whatever the British Nebula is called, etc). It’s Space Opera, but the new wave or modern take or whatever they’re calling the current iteration.

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        • I bounced of Ancillary Justice, but not a “this is crap!” bounce. Once difference between bubble gum fiction and more substantial stuff is that, at least for me, the substantial stuff requires a certain frame of mind before I can get into it. It took me a few decades, but I have learned to tell the different kinds of bounce.

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        • I’ve read it (maybe it was at your suggestion…I know I got the idea from someone here). I liked it. But to read the sequels seems like too big an undertaking from me, and I probably won’t. That might be because I’m not usually a sci-fi reader. But I really did like the book.

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          • The sequels were solid work — clearly the first book wasn’t a flash in the pan, as it were — but not quite as good.

            She took a rather unique set of concepts and meshed them together in a fascinating way.

            And of course, a group of idiots went nuts because of the “she” pronoun thing, despite it being basically nothing more than world building. It’s only story effect was having non-Empire races snicker at the main character because she had difficulty gendering people in other languages (admittedly, on a very cold world where everyone was bundled up enough that you couldn’t go with “Boobs or not?”).

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      • Oh, I haven’t given up on reading SF either. But, like you, I find many of my old favorites to age poorly, and not much new of interest coming down the pipe. I will check out Jemisin, as referrals are often the best indicator.

        As for TV, I have not been very impressed. Sure, it is better than before, but I find it very formulaic and a bad format for telling consistent stories. But then again, I was never a huge fan of the format and loath binge watching (never watch more than two episodes at once.)

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        • TV: There is a lot of “Me too!” pseudo-prestige television. The Sopranos premiered eighteen years ago. This gives us more than ample time for what was once fresh to become formulaic. An extreme example is Netflix’s Ozark, which is a mediocre remake of Breaking Bad. At least it is for the handful of episodes I watched. There are a handful of shows that are very good indeed, but a lot more that are at best only OK, but are made to appear similar to the better shows.

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    • Blade Runner 2049 may top my list of perplexing sequels. The original wasn’t a commercial success, there’s no franchise potential, and as best as I can tell no one was asking for it. More evidence that Ridley Scott should be forced into retirement I guess.

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  7. The idea that his nephew turning to the the darkside and potentially also murdering the other students would be traumatic enough for Luke to forget the lesson he learned with Vader for a a few years makes sense to me.

    That is a lot of grief and Trauma to process. Even the seclusion makes sense if you see it as an attempt to ward off the fear leading to hate etc.

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    • In Star Wars, Luke’s trusting in the Force and his belief in how they worked would generally just get him killed. Everyone was pretty screwed already due to the Giant Empire Of Evil that, well, they were all gonna die anyways so if he took a risk and died first, what did it really change?

      Gambling and getting a whole bunch of your students killed is….another thing entirely.

      Honestly, I think Luke learned the wrong lessons. Lessons that were right for him squaring up to face Vader, but weren’t good lessons for training students who hadn’t fallen.

      Plus, frankly, Skywalkers seem prone to crazy.

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      • In fairness to the skywalkers every generation of them we see has experienced horrifying moments of tragedy.

        Anakin grows up a slave, his mother is murdered by sand bandits, he fights a brutal civil war and has the stress of a secret marriage plus horrifying visions.

        And that is before he turns to the darkside.

        Luke loses his parents, a limb, and finds out his father is the second most evil person in the galaxy. Oh year brutal civil war that he loses many friends during.

        Leia loses her entire planet, is a freedom fighter who gets captured and tortured multiple times including by her own father.

        Han Solo, the father of Ben? Criminal, fights in civil war etc.

        No wonder raising Ben went wrong look at how broken all these parental figures are. The whole galaxy should have PTSD by now but those 3 especially.

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        • I’m gonna note: My internal headcanon says that the actual father of Anakin was Palpatine. Either directly (some force-related rape and mindwipe in his Apprentice days), or via his Master using his DNA to create Anakin.

          I really can’t believe Lucas didn’t take that route — you have father (knowing or not) manipulating and turning son to evil, then his son redeeming the Father. I honestly thought he was setting it up (given the “immaculate conception” of Anakin — or rather, the mother not remembering how he was conceived in a universe with a Mind Trick), the casual dropping in that Palpatine’s Master toyed with the stuff of life directly…

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          • I kind of like this idea, though I’m sure that’s not what Lucas had in mind, which I imagine to be something more like “not having a father around makes a young man more vulnerable to this sort of sociopathic monster”

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  8. I hadn’t seen the trailer before this post, and on my drive in to my office, I had some more thoughts.

    I think it is easier for a child to redeem their parent than vice-versa. This is because the parent’s job is protect their child, and keep it safe. Contrariwise, a child’s work is to become independent of their parents. This makes patricide a error of extremes – it is an amplification of the child’s work, not a contradiction of it. This is why Han failed. Kylo wants to be powerful, and Snoke is telling him that to be as powerful as he thinks he needs to be, he must destroy the past – kill his parents.

    Interestingly, this is contrasted with Rae’s situation. She is awaiting the return of her own parents, and longing for that connection. Mas Kanada tells her that what she seeks lies ahead of her, not behind.

    Meanwhile, the Jedi practiced a less extreme form of patricide. They merely took children from their parents and encouraged them to sever all ties. Was this a good idea? What role did this policy have in Anakin’s journey?

    I love these themes. I love that they are being brought into Star Wars.

    I think someone can feel fear and still act with courage.
    I think someone can feel anger and still be gentle.
    I think someone can feel hate and still act with compassion.

    I think that making the feelings, rather than behavior, anathema leads to dissociation of those feelings. They will still have an impact on a person, on a Jedi, but without any awareness, and that’s bad territory.

    That’s why I think Luke is still a badass, maybe even more of a badass, even though he seems afraid.

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  9. I agree 100% with this post.

    It’s a strange phenomenon where the audience knows what the story ought to be better than those in charge of telling it. We make jokes about headcanon but read this little story about what Chewbacca was doing at the end of A New Hope (I’m sure you’ve read it before). It basically takes all of the backstory of the prequels and turns Chewbacca into one heck of an awesome character who, at the end of A New Hope, is stuck there with the son and daughter of Darth Vader who are manifesting the Force with great enough ability to, for example, lead a freaking rebellion against the empire and/or destroy a superweapon with previous training including little more than bulls-eying womp rats.

    And you’re stuck saying “wow… that’s a really good story” and that story then becomes true in such a way that the previous version of “hey, why give a medal to the dog?” did not.

    We know it’s true.

    A somewhat analogous point for me (more recently) was the vidja game Mass Effect 3. The first game was amazing, the second game was awesome, and the third game ended with a wet fart. People demanded that the ending be changed and it turned into suuuuuch a crapstorm (perhaps even a precursor to #gamergate) because the argument got between what the artist believed the story was and what the audience knew the story was.

    And the question comes down to “who is right?”

    From where I sit, the one who has the better story is the one that’s right. And if that ain’t the artist, then that ain’t the artist.

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      • You don’t need a universal standard of a better story.

        Note: I could see some of the other proposed storylines being fleshed out and working. For me, the question of what makes a good narrative is not really how many people like it or don’t like it, but whether or not it makes any goddamn sense at all.

        Take, for example, Cabin in the Woods. Now, for the whole movie it brings up some interesting questions and the characters actually have interesting development forks.

        And then at the end it makes no sense to me at all. Like, I can get the idea that the folks who are in charge of creating the situation where four people are murdered to keep the Old Gods from waking up are terrible people, and I can understand the moral rot there, but if I’m choosing between being killed on Earth or living it literal hell as the Old Gods awaken and… uh… kill me anyway (possibly horribly over eons), I’m not gonna just light up a joint and wait for the torture to begin. That completely knocks me out of any suspension of disbelief.

        But you *could* have convinced me that this is how the movie should end if you actually fleshed out that decision-tree in a way that I could suspend belief. So the plot idea itself is not totally incomprehensible, but the execution just don’t work.

        Now I can see the next Star Wars moving going the way *I* would have taken it and *not* working (for starters, I’m no script doctor myself so my ideas of narrative might not be implemented in a way that would actually work!)

        And I can also see it taken a different direction like some of the suggestions on this thread *and working*. It’s possible to convince me that Luke has regressed, sure.

        But that’s just a lot harder sell for me, and if it doesn’t work, I’m okay with saying I think the narrative sucks :)

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    • It’s a strange phenomenon where the audience knows what the story ought to be better than those in charge of telling it.

      But not necessarily unusual. Consider the long history of bookers in the professional wrestling business. In terms of screwing up story lines, no one takes a back seat to the bookers.

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      • Especially in multi-work arcs. Every story writer wants to put their own spin on it. Unless you’re both incredibly skilled and understand the previous works thoroughly, you’re like to make a mess of it.

        Especially if you don’t like the previous works.

        Mass Effect: Andromeda — it played like a game built by people given the ME engine, but who hadn’t really liked the previous games (the play style, not the story). Game play wise, it was a weird melange of steps backwards and forwards. Pulling in stuff from ME1 and ME2 that had been ditched (because players found it frustrating, boring, or just not fun), while ditching things from previous ME games that players had really enjoyed.

        Why? I’m guessing to “put their own spin on it” from the design perspective, without understanding why people had liked the first three games and what they had liked about them.

        Nobody really likes being forced to churn out sequels of someone else’s work, but if that’s your job — you better either love the original works or make darn sure you understand why other people do.

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        • Even individual authors. Every writer who has a successful first couple of urban fantasy books — a hot genre these days — faces a problem. The publisher wants more. Do you stick with the characters and try to give them a novel problem to deal with in each book, or do you go for the overarching Chosen One story line? Seems like everyone goes the Chosen One route these days. The Harry Potter books started out as British school stories with magic, but turned into Dumbledore/Voldemort fate of the world. The Dresden Files are as much about what sort of demi-god Harry Dresden will turn out to be as about mysteries with magic in Chicago. I have most of a draft of an urban fantasy novel written* with ideas for sequels and shorter works to do back stories for the minor characters. I am determined to not do the Chosen One thing.

          * Retirement provides time for assorted hobbyish things that career and family always precluded. Over at Charlie Stross’s blog working authors often speculate that the future of novels is a relative handful of writers who are lucky early on and can command large enough prices to support themselves, another handful who are so prolific they can support themselves (how many books per year did Alan Dean Foster crank out at his peak?), and a whole bunch who have some other means of support (retirement, spouses) that don’t need to be commercially successful.

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          • I have been reading a bunch of blogs and articles by and/or aimed at the self-published ebook crowd. It rather mystified me until I realized that they are entirely about the modern equivalent of the old dime novels. The prices asked even come out about the same, once you account for inflation. My conclusion is that we have entered a new golden age of pulp fiction, but without the literal pulp. Which is to say, badly written, formulaic, unedited prose. I shudder at the idea of reading any of this stuff. From an economic perspective, the new order is probably more efficient. There has always been a market for badly written formulaic unedited prose. Back in the day the publisher was necessary for printing and distribution, but not really much else.

            What is less clear to me is how things will play out for less demotic literature. Jemisin and Leckie, mentioned elsethread, are good examples. I wouldn’t call either of them literary fiction, but they are closer to lit fic than they are to the fourth ebook some self-published author has put out this year and is selling for three bucks on Amazon.

            And as a reader, I demand my gatekeepers, and am willing to pay for them. A download of a Jemisin novel is about ten to twelve dollars. I am happy to pay it, where I wouldn’t touch one of those three-dollar selfies.

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            • Gatekeeping is an interesting subject. My nephew was a film arts major. One of his summer jobs was at a production company reading scripts. He said that this small producer was one of the very few where a writer could just submit a script — the big companies won’t even read anything unless it comes through an established agent. I asked how many scripts he read that were worth pursuing. Two, in three months.

              I understand that there are agents who wade through a lot of the self-published dreck looking for the rare gems. Or perhaps hire people like my nephew to wade through it.

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              • I’ve heard from screenplay readers that unless a screenplay is formatted to the strictest of Hollywood standards it won’t be read at all. There are even programs a writer can purchase to do that formatting.

                I’m a big fan of gatekeepers. Like Richard, I rely on folks who are trained to filter out dreck to inform my art consumption. Needless to say, I prefer my gatekeeper’s judgment more than those damn lawn occupiers.

                Another interesting question re: gatekeepers: given his writing ability should Philip K Dick’s manuscripts ever have been published?

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                • Doesn’t every sort of gatekeeper demand that submissions be formatted according to strict standards? One of the nice things about word processors is that you can work in a comfortable format and then convert with a few key presses. “Comfort” being a relative thing, of course: a writer friend despises Microsoft Word, but her publisher’s work flow requires that she use obscure features in it for most of the process after submitting the initial file.

                  As a kid I always found a blank 8.5×11-inch page intimidating and tore the pages in half. 5.5×8 inches wasn’t nearly as scary.

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      • Now I’m thinking about what is derisively referred to as “Booking 101”.

        Booking 101 is just “going back to basics” and having a story where the good guy is chasing the bad guy and catches him right before everybody becomes too frustrated to keep watching.

        Al Snow has an *AMAZING* series of speeches on this. (Warning: salty language)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHhWGe02EeI

        It’s all about selling tickets and putting butts in the seats. If you forget what actually puts butts in the seats because you’re too busty being “innovative” or coming up with swerves that people “never see coming” (or, God forbid, Dusty Finishes), you’re going to get people talking, sure. But people talking does not put butts in the seats.

        (The inability of bookers to tell the difference between “hating the heel” and “not wanting to see the performer in the first place” is another series of rants.)

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        • Yep. Booking 101: We do morality plays. Evil fails, good prevails. It may take a while, evil can come in many forms, there are always good guys that fall and bad guys that find redemption, and ambiguity or outright misdirection is allowed (for a while). But the good guys win in the end.

          Ditto for superhero comics/movies, and fantasy series. I’m waiting to see if Stross has the gumption to carry through with what he’s been promising in the Laundry Files: the monsters arrive and exterminate the human race, the end.

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    • Mass Effect 3

      I’ve actually spoken to one of the story developers for ME1 and ME2 who talked about the original motivations of the Reapers, the Cycle, and all of that. It was going to a good place, and then they brought in a bunch of new story folks who wanted to “put their own stamp on it” and you got that original ending. (Admittedly, he’s biased — but media is rife with “Let’s bring in new story folks who screw with the existing story to tell their own, and then things get weird”).

      Some headscratching at the original ME3 ending can kind of get you to where they’re going — they dumb down the Reaper motivations entirely, they a**-pull the Starchild entirely to give a button-click ending choice — but it looked like they were trying to state that winning involved sacrifice of some sort and let you choose what you’d pay for victory, and maybe implying some things about the main character (that Shepard was Indoctrinated and thus saw the ending choices backwards — there were clues there, but they were buried in the “WTF Is the glowy blue AI dude? Where did that come from?” confusion).

      The too long, didn’t read version is: People playing ME3 were in the final chapter of a three game story. The people who wrote that ending were writing the ending of their game, and not the ending of a series, and that was the problem at the base. The ending worked okay for ME3, but made no sense as an ending for the trilogy.

      It’d be like ending Lord of the Rings by having Gandalf swoop in, slap on the One Ring, and pimp-slap Sauron into oblivion. I mean yes, it’d resolve the problem of the Orc armies, save Aragorn and his host, save the hobbits, and defeat Sauron. But as the ending of the Lord of the Rings, it’s not only contradictory to the overall trilogy, but you’re still left with the freaking One Ring.

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      • I didn’t play ME at all, but my daughter did. Her reaction to the glow blue AI dude was, “Oh, hey cool, a Cosmic Energy Being, which is another standard SF trope” (Just watch ST:TOS some time, it’s chock full of CEBs).

        But a lot of the fandom is apparently not familiar with them, so that has to be counted as a miss with most of the audience.

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        • It wasn’t that — it was that it wasn’t foreshadowed at all. It was a blunt Deus Ex Machina, and there were far smoother ways to have achieved the exact same result without that thing at all.

          The StarChild AI was completely unnecessary. You could have cut him out entirely, and just had the two Guys (Renegade Guy and Paragon Guy, who had both made it to where this choice was made and then offed like, 60 seconds before) and had them argue which way to go.

          Which would have fit pretty well into the themes of all three games.

          As it was, they had to devote a full DLC (which came out well after the game did) to create the backstory to make “Sudden AI From nowhere” make any sense whatsoever and reverse engineered the whole backstory for the Reapers to do it.

          It’s not that the players didn’t understand omnipotent energy being. It’s that the trope made no sense in context. Again, LoTR where they can’t make it to Mount Doom, the human armies are dying — and Bob the Yellow swoops in on a pegasus, snags the Ring, destroys it, gives Frodo another Ring and says “You can use this to destroy Sauron and all the orcs, or command them. Have fun dude!” and then flys off.

          Who the heck is Bob? Why is there another Ring of Power? What was the point of anything if Gandalf’s friend Bob was wandering around able to fix the problem whenever?

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      • Yeah. My question was *ALWAYS* “why in the ever-living heck am I taking the Starchild’s statements at face freaking value?”

        Shepard should have said “All ships, I am next to the intelligence running everything. I ask you all to target my location with everything you have. It has been an honor.”

        Heck. My ending was shooting the Starchild in the head and getting a NSGO. It was the least unpalatable choice.

        When I complained about this, there was a significant faction that said that I was an entitled whiny diaper baby and I needed to respect the artistic vision of the artists. And if I didn’t like it, I could walk.

        I chose to walk.

        Same with the Prequels. From what I understand, I need to watch The Clone War cartoon (which I haven’t gotten around to quite yet, maybe after I retire) as I understand that the cartoon is the prequel that I knew about back when I was arguing this stuff in the schoolyard back when we were still waiting for Revenge of the Jedi to come out. (Yeah, I know it got renamed. We didn’t know it at the time.)

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        • Yeah, Starchild was….”Oh crap, we never wrote the ending. We just had it penciled in as “Choose Paragon or Renegade”. It read like an intern storyboarded it near the end of development.

          Like I said, you could have cut out Starchild and just had Anderson and the Illusive Man argue each side. You could have kept the reversed colors (Anderson as Red, Illusive Man as blue) if they’d talked about how even Shepard isn’t immune to indoctrination and let the player try to figure out that the “Control” option was a trick (after all, it was the Indoctrinated Illusive Man’s goal).

          Except their galactic war stuff locked off “Control” as an option unless you’d united the galaxy more, making it look like “Control” was better because you had to me more unified and work harder to get it!. And they never hinted that Shepard could be indoctrinated. (I, in fact, assumed the minimal exposure to Reaper tech, the resurrection, all the freaking implants, and especially exposure to the Beacon had made Shepard immune).

          Starchild was just…literally unnecessary.

          I liked the ending the ME2 folks had vaguely in mind — that “weird aging star” Mission that gets you Tali in ME2? That was supposed to be foreshadowing. Something was wrong with Dark Matter/Energy, prematurely aging the galaxy. The Reapers had been aware of it for millions or billions of years, and the whole “Cycle” was them encouraging civilizations to grow up along a tech track focused on Dark Energy/Matter, then harvest them before they destroyed themselves — incorporating any new knowledge, trying to solve the problem.

          Organics were too short sighted to care about a problem ten million years in the future, when they’d be extinct in another 10,000.

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          • Back before Bioware nuked their own forums, there was one Bioware employee (low-level writer, but a writer nonetheless) who came in and asked questions like “so are you saying that you’d have been okay with this ending if, say, EDI was talking with a mainframe and translating to you?”

            And, for my part, my answer was “yes”. I trusted EDI. I imagine they could have added a conversation question like “how do I know the mainframe isn’t lying?” and EDI could have said “oh, it’s given me some of its (insert technobabble here) and it’s not lying. You can be sure of that.” and I would have accepted that the mainframe wasn’t lying to EDI.

            But the Starchild? What the heck!

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            • Yeah. And Bioware’s (well, the Dev team. Bioware as a whole likely didn’t care) original response was”It’s war! There’s no perfect ending!” like the problem was that players were unhappy they couldn’t get the Reapers to far rainbows and unicorns.

              The problem was it was bad storytelling, and while you can forgive crappy storytelling in side quests and even some of the main quests, there’s a few places you really have to do your best — endings, specifically THE ENDING is where you can’t just toss something against the wall and call it a day.

              Of course game developers — well, the story guys were probably already on the next job, with just one or two left finishing up the DLC storyboards. So you had pretty much the wrong people facing the customers.

              “The game’s fun, what are you whining about? Endings, who cares? You beat the Reapers. That’s enough. Stop whining it wasn’t a My Little Pony ending”.

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      • They swapped authors every game, basically.

        In all fairness, the ME3 team had the hardest job (they had to end the story), but it really felt like an afterthought. And ME1 had created a pretty awesome Space Opera universe, and ME2 had taken that universe and build some great characters and characterizations in it.

        And then ME3 was basically a war, and the ending of that war involved a lot of stupid just dropped in during the last 10 minutes. It felt like they worked out the ending about two weeks before the game shipped.

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    • and it turned into suuuuuch a crapstorm (perhaps even a precursor to #gamergate)

      Is there a clear line between the two? Fascinating if true, since gamergate was Bannon’s entry point to politics.

      From where I sit, the one who has the better story is the one that’s right. And if that ain’t the artist, then that ain’t the artist.

      I agree, especially when it comes to these constructed universes. It’s the difference between architecture and interior decoration, as Hemingway famously said, tho now interior decoration may (ought to?) be defined as “the ability of a viewer to layer their own meanings unto the artist’s expressions”. Isn’t that the moral of the Chewbacca story you reference? If that’s the case, all the artist need do is introduce ambiguous interior decoration and let the audience determine its own conception of the over-arching architecture. #postmodernism

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      • Is there a clear line between the two?

        It had nothing to do with Gamergate, unless you took the “It’s about ethics in games journalism” seriously, in which case you could draw a strained nebulous line between “Reviewers tended to not hate the end as much as players”.

        There was an attempt to use Mass Effect: Andromeda’s low sales as “proving Gamergate had a point/Darn all those SJWs*” , but that didn’t pass the smell test. Nobody really hated ME:Andromeda, they just thought it wasn’t that great a game.

        It had a lot of bugs, animation problems, the gameplay itself was a massive step back in several areas, the story wasn’t compelling, and — well, bluntly, it played like the IP was handed to a B-team to milk money out of the franchise and was rushed out the door. Which, in fact, is exactly what happened.

        Once the worst bugs were quashed, what you had was a decent, but not great game whose gameplay was several steps “back” from the previous iterations and lacked a lot of polish. Had it not been a sequel to a much more polished, much better designed, set of games, there would have been less complaining.

        As it was, it felt a lot like a cash grab. For 20 bucks, worth it. But for 60? It was a rip-off that killed the IP, and people were unhappy about that.

        *The Gamergate connection attempt was to claim that fans rejected the game because the player could romance practically every companion, regardless of gender or species. Which is pretty hilarious, because that wasn’t actually a change from the previous game.

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        • It not only killed the IP, it killed the studio. They broke it up and absorbed it into other studios and they abandoned all DLC.

          From my perspective, that was not the Gamergate connection. From my perspective, the connection was SJW stuff crowbarred into the game (the most obvious example was the trans character announcing “I’m trans” minutes into the first conversation with her including a mention of her deadname (!)). The slipshod graphics did not help and the reaction to the slipshod graphics tended to focus on the people criticizing rather than on stuff like “okay, yeah, maybe this needs an upgrade” (which, I point out, it got… and we went from “you’re a jerk to complain about nothing!” to “you’re a jerk to still be complaining after they fixed this!”).

          On top of that, the twitter factions of #gamergate quite regularly got into it with the more socially aware members of the Andromeda team during development (Manveer Heir being the one that I still remember, though there were others) and they did a good job of heightening the contradictions beforehand.

          The company, of course, bragged about how much money the game made and how proud they were of the game and its creators… but they still cancelled all DLC. They still broke up the studio.

          From my perspective, the #gamergate reaction to Mass Effect was about a lot more than being able to romance every companion (*ESPECIALLY* since *EVERYBODY* who played Dragon Age: Inquisition as a guy tried to romance Sera and got disappointed that they couldn’t… so this criticism doesn’t make sense to me).

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      • Is there a clear line between the two? Fascinating if true, since gamergate was Bannon’s entry point to politics.

        I see one.

        Insofar as #gamergate was also a reaction to such things as game journalists calling gamers “entitled” and feeling very much not listened to by the people providing them with bread/circuses, I think that there’s a connection.

        Think of it: if they changed the ending back in 2012, Hillary Clinton might be President right now.

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    • The argument got between what the artist believed the story was and what the audience knew the story was.

      And the question comes down to “who is right?”

      From where I sit, the one who has the better story is the one that’s right. And if that ain’t the artist, then that ain’t the artist.

      Boy howdy am I with you on this one.

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      • Architecture matters.

        Have you seen Colossal, Patrick? It’s entire purpose as an artistic experience resides in intentionally playing on and undermining viewer’s preconceptions of good architecture. Is it a good movie? I don’t know how to answer that since the whole purpose was to undermine our preconceptions of what the term “a good movie” means. Meta meta stuff!

        We live in difficult, trying times. :)

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    • Mass Effect made me so sad.

      Game one was A- (because WHY do the dune buggy busy-work)
      Game two, though, replaced the dune buggy with “scanning” that was even busier work. And then it took out essentially all of the city-map exploration. Which changed the franchise from RPG-shooter-in-space to Shooter-in-space-with-some-leveling. Which made me far less interested in 3, even after what was definitely a cool interim-ending idea.

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      • 3 had the MP aspect — something I’d avoided because it seemed a tacked on cash grab.

        Except it was fantastic. I’m not a big fan of MP (although MP campaign modes are great. Left 4 Dead and L4D2? Me and two friends used to do those missions once a week or so, and I only got through the Halo campaigns because we did them together) — I mean I can tolerate it, but it’s really not my cup of tea.

        Eventually, worn down by one of those two L4D friends bugging me, I tried it. And it was perfect. Literally the only complaint I had was that when they ended “official” support (the servers were up, they just stopped doing events, adding new classes, etc) they didn’t code in an automatic process to repeat the previous events (which were just special badges for doing certain things) for people who missed them.

        Four person, well defined difficulty bands, lots of solid nudges towards cooperative play, well designed maps — and the gameplay was tight. Games were just the right length for play — not so long you felt you had to bail on a bad group, nor so long that you decided “Eh, I can’t spare the time”. Excellent class variety (I got to play a Krogan Battlemaster. A Geth Juggernaut! A Volus Biotic God. Seriously. That one was hilariously fun), the weapons and equipment were just varied enough for you to customize any class just how you liked it, and probably five or six classes for every style of play.

        Even the playstyles that weren’t “you” were fun to play! The rates for buying loot (in-game participation rates, not cash) were good — they weren’t “forcing” you to spend money, the return was good enough outside of it.

        Absolutely, hands down, fantastic.

        ME:A — they didn’t mess that one up quite as bad, but they removed some of the variation in powers, did that stupid “no rebinding powers” thing which irritates me to no end, and there’s clearly more of a push towards spending real money. Still fun, but…strangely unpolished for what’s almost a port.

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        • Problem was it got real old on replay, you know?

          ME:A does have the cryo pods, where you can choose to have them feed you minerals. I don’t mind starting out “poor” and working up, but at the very least your New Game Plus should have some…short cuts, I suppose.

          Planet scanning got real old, real quick.

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        • I get that. But “move your mouse over the right pixels” feels–to me–not fun. (of course, to each their own fun).

          And if I’m playing a game that isn’t fun, especially a single-player game, what’s the point?

          Of course, I love every minute of XCom Long War 2, and I totally get why some don’t like randomization/meticulous turn planning/etc.

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    • The best Star Wars I saw was the Deceived trailer for Knights of the Old Republic online.

      I’d have watched the snot out of that movie, is all I’m saying.

      The Knights of the Old Republic games actually gave some fascinating Star Wars characters — HK-47 and Jolee Bindu come to mind. And the two games were very interesting — the first told a stock Star Wars story with good characters, the latter — sadly rushed — gave (especially if you play the mod that restores cut content) a deconstruction of the first game, including one of the more compelling Sith (Darth Traya) with very fascinating motivations.

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  10. I just ran across this video essay, and it seems highly relevant:

    We’ve already seen the lie that Rae believes and that Kylo believes. What is the lie Luke believes? Is he an arc character or just a mentor figure, who is inevitably doomed? I expect to be teased about this.

    Anyway, I really liked Logan, so that added.

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  11. I’m annoyed at that little smooth-chinned womp rat flying the Millenium Falcon. Can you say “New Ewok”? I can only hope that we’re going to get the Star Wars equivalent of Baby Groot, but I’m very skeptical. The franchise was created to sell toys to young children, after all.

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