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Movie Time: The Force Awakens

The movie is pretty good. I don’t want to drone on and on about it, but I do want to record a few of my thoughts for public consumption.

The Light Side

Spiritual Successor

The Force Awakens is the Star Wars followup that the prequels should have been. It has the same humor and likable characters as the original films, and at least aspires to the same degree of creative exuberance. It brings the adventurous spirit back into the series, and the sense of a once-proud civilization fallen into ruin. In short, it was above all else a Star Wars film, and a good one.

Humanization of Bad Guys

Star Wars has never been reknowned for a nuanced depiction of good and evil, but The Force Awakens does make some significant strides in that direction. To make the main character a defecting Stormtrooper was a stroke of genius, and the characterization of Kylo Ren was just ambiguous enough to allow me to think maybe he would reform. Sure, our arch-villains are still guilty of crimes that would make Hitler wince, but it was nice to see some genuine personalities among the bad guys.

Elderly Romance

A small thing, but noteworthy: I can’t think of any other movie, any other movie, that depicted a genuine romantic relationship between two characters who are effectively senior citizens. This is a major blind spot in our cinematic tradition, I think, and the degree of respect, of non-remarkableness, with which it was handled here, is worthy of commendation.

Gender Balance

Thank you for making Star Wars less of a men-only club. Not only by the addition of Rey as a main character, but by the use of so many women in minor supporting roles. In the old canon, “royalty” appeared to be the only job opening for women… now we see that girls can operate the ultra-doom mega-death-ray weapon, too!

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Myst in Retrospect: Exile

Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t played Myst III: Exile, you might want to consider doing so before proceeding. As far as I know there is no downloadable version of it available online, your best bet is to search Amazon. I’d recommend the 10th Anniversary DVD Edition, which is stable, can run on Linux, and requires no disc-changing.

“I started off seeing it from a kind of ‘artist’s perspective;’ I would look for the most interesting scene that I could come up with. But the problem I ran into was that every time I made it look interesting, it didn’t work for the interface because it was unrealistic. You don’t look at everything as a composition. When you’re walking through a room, you’re just walking through a room, you’re not stopping and staring at everything.” – Chuck Carter, Digital Artist, Myst (from “The Making of Myst”)

“The really early decision that we made was to try to create a story context that would really offer us the opportunity to create a lot of deliberate puzzles.” – Michael Kripalani, Executive Producer, Myst III: Exile (From “The Making of Myst III: Exile”)

Exiled in the land of lamp plants

After Riven was released, Cyan elected to go quiet for a while in order to research and produce a massive new project, a multiplayer adventure game code-named “Mudpie.” Mattel Interactive, which around this time acquired the publishing rights for the franchise, was impatient. Riven had just become the fastest-selling game so far, and naturally they wanted to reproduce that effect. Presto Studios, makers of the popular Journeyman adventure games, were called upon to pick up the slack. The game they created was Myst III: Exile. The Presto team did a good job, and in most respects the game is fairly solid, but throughout it has the slightly-off flavor of a work produced not by inspiration but as something to be sold.

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Sunrise, Setting

Issue 9 before being put into storage

Quick, what’s the difference between Calvin and Hobbes and Star Wars? Naturally, the two have so little in common that the question hardly makes sense. The comparison which I’m trying to draw, though, is this: Bill Watterson ended his series early, when it was still in its prime, while George Lucas’s epic continues staggering along, soiling its legacy a little more with each installment. While I’d like to see more Calvin and Hobbes as much as the next guy, I have to admit that I’m glad Watterson ended it before it turned sour.

You can probably see where this is going. I am going to be ending Sunrise following the completion of Issue 10. This was not an easy decision for me to make, and I’ve given it a lot of thought. Sunrise has served me well. When I started it in 2008, the only long-format comics I’d drawn were my Zark stories. I hadn’t taken any figure drawing or illustration classes yet. I wasn’t yet reading graphic novels(!). Now, ten issues later, my artwork has improved dramatically and my writing has followed suit. (How strange to think that the most recent issue was more than twice as long as the first!) Sunrise has always been primarily a learning experience for me, and I’d like to think I’ve learned its lessons well. It’s time for me to graduate.

But why graduate now, when it’s only just becoming strong? Well, to be honest, I’m getting tired of it. The episodic format doesn’t interest me as it once did. I want to move toward working with long-form stories (e.g., graphic novels) and Sunrise does not lend itself to that. Secondly, I’m interested in moving away from genre fiction. While I do have some ideas for a sprawling space opera (and Realm of course) I think it might be fun to do something about the real world for a change. Finally, Sunrise has some inherent limitations that become more pronounced to me with every issue. It too often tends to have very long passages of dialogue, and in many cases there are no opportunities for interesting visuals. As I’ve said previously, Sunrise is based pretty closely on Star Trek, and Star Trek is not a comic. This kind of storytelling works much better on TV. In short, Sunrise is wearing thin, and I’m ready to try something new.

Which is, of course, what this really comes down to. While Sunrise is ending, I have numerous other projects, at least one of which will move up to take the spotlight that Sunrise is currently occupying. Realm is one possibility. I’m also planning a graphic novel which might be well-timed to start soon. And, dare I mention it, a silly science-fiction gag strip which I may run in the interim. Suffice it to say (and this cannot be stressed enough) I am not leaving webcomics. Sunrise or no, I will be making something, so do stop by and see what it is. Naturally there will be further announcements as the time grows near.

Oh, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Issue 10 is going to be awesome. It’s got airships. It’s got action. It’s got drama. It’s got over 70 pages. It’s also the most Tintinesque issue yet, so some of you will appreciate that I’m sure. So don’t be glum. Buckle up and thanks for coming along for the ride.

Jonah Robinson, Raven, Albee… how can I ever forget them?

Why People Didn't Like the Star Wars Prequels

(Aside from the obvious, that is.)

I recently finished reading a book about fandom, Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins. It was published in 1992. It examines various aspects of the fan community, and in a section about how fans interpret material by re-watching it, I found this choice quote:

“Each time I see [Star Wars], a new level or idea about something in it shows itself. [Part of the fun is] piecing together from the few clues what the Old Republic was actually like, who the Jedi were, what Han’s background was, … what the Clone Wars were[.]” (Roberta Brown qtd. in Jenkins 1992, 73)

That’s the entire fan controversy in a nutshell, right there. Fans watched the original movies and came up with their own theories about the background material. By keeping the background in a liminal, undefined state, it was alive and exciting. By solidifying his own version of the past in the form of the prequels, George Lucas effectively killed the fans’ grounds for speculation. That, more than the shortcomings of the films themselves, is what inspired fans’ ire.

Bonus: A moral for writers of fiction. Gaps in stories are not necessarily meant to be filled. Interesting background is often more exciting when it’s undefined; when we see the trappings but don’t necessarily know what’s behind them. This is a rocky road to tread (background still has to at least appear to have a reason to exist, you can’t just make things up at random), but it pays to remember that some things are better off unexplained. Bill Watterson never defined what “The Noodle Incident” was, and you can bet if he had, it wouldn’t be as absurd as you imagined it.

   

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