Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Last Days of Luke Skywalker

I've held off writing this post long enough.

The year 2017 has come to an end, and as such, I feel it is my duty as a Star Wars fan with a blog (i.e. no one of any real consequence) to speak my peace on the most polarizing, and quite honestly awkward, of the franchise's films to date...The Last Jedi.





MAY THE SPOILERS BE WITH YOU


I really don't know what to say that won't send me on some kind of rant. That's not what I want. It's not a fan ranting situation that I want to convey here. 

I didn't hate it, let's be clear. At the same time, I don't think it's a good movie.

Additionally, it isn't a great Star Wars movie. 

Having seen it twice, I feel like a few of the criteria that make Star Wars what it is were not met. This is separate from my particular feelings on what 'would have been cool', or how I think some of the characters should have acted. Those are my personal opinions, and don't effect whether, or not this was a well done film, or a solid entry into the Star Wars franchise.

The things I am addressing here are things of a cinematic nature, and things that make a good Star Wars, well, good. 

OK...

A Good Star Wars Movie is Fast Paced, And the Fast Pace Has Meaning

Star Wars isn't Science Fiction. Its not about what ifs. It has nothing to do with the ethical, social, or political applications of science and technology. It's, at best, Space Opera, but really more of a Space Fantasy. At it's heart, it is an Action/Adventure film.

Action/Adventure can definitely have moments of suspense, and tension, and they certainly benefit from scenes with character development and interaction. These must be placed carefully however, less they take energy and momentum away from the action that drives the entirety of the film. 

Here, the film largely revolves around the slowest, most tedious chase scene in cinematic history. The good guys move like tiny herd of wounded deer, followed by the world's laziest wolves. It was pathetic, sad, and drained the sense of urgency right out of the sequence, and because of its prominence, many of the sequences that followed. 

While there were some fast paced scenes in the film, many were self contained, and did not effect the overall narrative (more on that below). A starship battle right before the slow crawl through space simply highlighted how dreary the subsequent space slog scenes were. The awesome battle in the Supreme Leader's throne room against his personal guard was great, but had no bearing on the larger chase, the decisions of the participants, or anything. Police speeders chasing heroes on escaped animals did nothing to help the Resistance escape (though it may help them indirectly in the future).

Fast Paced Scenes are needed to generate and maintain excitement, and momentum. Those same scenes should have a direct impact on the overall plot.


Heroes in a Good Star Wars Movie Do Heroic Things - Successfully

Character need hardships to overcome, opponents to defeat, and be defeated by, and obstacles of all sorts to challenge them at nearly every turn. These are not merely things that bar their way on a path. By besting these challenges, we get to see what a character is made of. We learn how they act and think. Do they use their heads? Do they give up until reminded of a loved one, or friend in need? Do they throw caution to the wind, and use their physical abilities to barrel through because, hell, no one lives forever right?

In the end though, they succeed. They win, or at the very least they best their challenge and prove that they have what it takes to see the situation through and maybe, just maybe, save the day in the end.

No one accomplishes anything in this film. No one makes a difference, or proves they're special. Even when it seems like perhaps they do, they don't, because something detracts from their success. 

Luke does not truly train Rey. Rey does not learn very much. Rey does learn who her parents are but it doesn't matter. Rey doesn't turn Kylo Ren to the side of good. Kylo Ren doesn't turn Rey to the Dark Side. Neither does Snoke. Luke sees Leia before he dies, but not really. He gives her Han's dice from the Falcon, but not really. Finn, smitten with Rey and wanting to help her, never does.

Finn teams with Rose to deactivate the poorly thought out First Order device that can track the Resistance through Hyperspace. They fail. They look to contact the great Codebreaker. They don't. They instead get swindled by Benicio Del Toro (whose character is named Stuttering Benicio Del Toro as far as I can tell - he actually accomplishes something).

Poe proves himself a bad leader (somehow), then a mutineer, then an idiot. Admiral Holdo (who, am I to understand commands her vessel and fleet in a fashionable evening dress? No uniform? Because...?), is a great leader...or a coward. I couldn't tell. I also couldn't tell what the movie wanted me to think of her. Was her move a brilliant one? No. The defenseless transports were largely shot down going to the only planet in the area they could be going to. Many moviegoers complained that she should have told her team what her plan was so there wouldn't have been a mutiny. I disagree. The mutiny was Poe's fault for being an impatient jerk. She could have said, "Don't worry, I have a plan", but wasn't obligated to do so. No, my problem was that it was a terrible, terrible plan that ended up reducing the entire Resistance to no more people than could fit on the Millennium Falcon.

"Wait, Adam!" you say, "But Kylo killed Snoke, Finn defeated Phasma, and Rose saved Finn!"

OK, let's look at those instances...

Kylo did indeed kill Snoke, who seemed rather powerful, so yes I will happily admit he accomplished something. Unfortunately, it ended a character that had yet to be developed, which is a problem this new trilogy has across the board. There are too many characters that come from nowhere, and go nowhere. For example...

Finn defeating Phasma was incredibly anti-climactic. Because she is a very 'Boba Fett'-like character (cool looking but doing little to show that she is bad ass), his defeat of her isn't very satisfying. They have but one battle, and in it she is done in as much by the exploding ship she's on as by Finn's combat abilities.

Finally, Rose saves Finn before he flies directly into the Beam Drill thing...and potentially destroys it and saves the day. Rose may have stopped Finn from being killed, but she also stops him from being a hero. His character serves so weak a purpose in the second film, and not much of one in the first film. Going from renegade Stormtrooper, to Guy who takes down the First Order's weapon and enables the Resistance to escape would've been a great character arc. Don't misunderstand, I like Finn. Heck, he's my favorite character in the new trilogy! The problem is that I am starting to realize he's my favorite not because of anything he's done in any of the movies, but because I like the actor, John Boyega. Finn the character is, like most of the characters in The Last Jedi, largely ineffectual. 


Characters Develop A  Lot More When They Interact, Less When They Are Alone

In the first film, Poe Dameron never meets Rey. Rey and Poe don't have a scene together in The Force Awakens. In this film, they have one tiny scene together at the very end. Rey never meets Rose. Rose never meets Leia, Luke, Chewie, or Han. Finn, Rose, and Poe have a handful of very short scenes together. Finn and Rose have more scenes together than pretty much any two other main characters (maybe even Luke and Rey!), and yet very little of it is spent getting to know each other. A little maybe. Finn knows about Rose, but what does she know about him? Then at the end of the film, she loves him. What?!? When did they happen? Screw that, when did it start, build, develop, and...what the hell happened to that entire subplot?

These people are all fighting for a united idea. That I get, I like, and it makes sense. They are not, and could not, be fighting for each other, or battling the enemy on a personal level with a scant few exceptions. Rose lost her sister. Finn lost (in a fashion) Rey. That doesn't feel like enough. I saw no sign that these characters were truly connected to each other. 

Poe's goofy taunt of Hux for example is funny, but doesn't really make sense. It doesn't motivate Hux to hate Poe personally, nor does Poe view Hux as his nemesis. Why didn't we see Poe in his X-Wing go up against Kylo Ren in his Tie Silencer? What a waste of both characters, and both vessels. 

***

In conclusion, I felt the movie was a lot like...soup. Not good, homemade soup, but mediocre restaurant soup. There were a few tasty chunks of meat, a couple nice vegetables, but it was all held together by a thin broth. It was served so hot you had to eat it slowly, but the next thing you knew it had turned cold, and wasn't even appetizing. 

I hope the next film is better. I hope the characters start to work together, and start to matter to the story. I hope we get to see a war in the stars in the final Star Wars movie of this trilogy. 

I hope Luke didn't die in vain.

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Holiday Specials

Season's Greetings to everyone out there in blogland!

It's just me, your ol' pal Adam, here to wish you all a very Happy New Year, a Merry Christmas, and/or a Happy Holiday of your choice. You know me, I like them all.

December has been interesting so far.

I've run some really good Star Trek games, played at lot of Supers games, didn't get to see my new girlfriend nearly enough (she's out of town visiting family), and, well, got inspired and incensed in equal measure by various films, and television features. 

For now, let's focus on the positives...
 
By the way, SPOILER ALERT - SPOILERS Everywhere! - SPOILERS Up the Wazoo!


Bright





I am not, generally speaking, a fantasy fan. At the same time, I do love folklore as I've mentioned before, and can appreciate even traditional fantasy if done very well. Similarly, although am I not a crime drama fan per se, growing up the son of a cop, and the grandson of a movie buff, the genre does hold my interest on occasion. Bright, the Netflix original film staring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, and Lucy Fry, was therefore quite a surprise, as I really enjoyed it.

Bright does an excellent job of world building a 'plausible' (perhaps workable is more accurate), alternate, modern day filled with elves, orcs, and magic wands while at the same time never overtly doing so. That is to say, it doesn't lay out how this world got this way, who are the big players are, or how things work on any in depth level. Instead, it does something I have been advocating for years in other genre features from television to movies to RPGs; Bright assumes its own world makes sense, and figures you will too. 

The result is a lack of wasted time, unnecessary exposition, uninteresting characters, and eye-rolling padding that the film doesn't need. It's awesome, and refreshing. 

Effects are good, very good in fact, and largely downplayed, which I also enjoyed. As the years go on, I am less and less impressed by Fantasy projects with vulgar magic. If you shoot bolts of arcane energy out of your hands, you better be a superhero. It's cool when Doctor Strange does it, but for everyone else it's pretty tacky. The look of it here, while occasionally flashy, definitely worked and was shown as rare and special. I liked that.

Overall, this is a very cool film, and a great setting for a game. It's very 'Shadownrun Now' if you catch my drift. While not my cup of tea (I'm a coffee drinker you see), I'd be down for playing it a few times if someone else was running. 


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Season 2






I must confess that I liked the original Dirk Gently novels by Douglas Adams, but didn't love them. That's difficult to admit, considering how much I adore The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and what a huge influence it is on my own works. 

In some ways, many actually, the recent BBC series created by Max Landis, and starring Samuel Barnett, Elijah Wood, Hannah Marks, Jade Eshete, and many more very talented people, is quite different from its literary origins. Those differences help, at least for me, as I found both Season One and Two brilliant! The blend of quirky characters, off beat stories, and the more than slightly surreal nature of the program really won me over.

While I enjoyed Season One more than Two, the second season was still wonderful, and it had a lot of great new characters, and interesting twists. 

I was very sad to learn that the BBC has decided not to renew the show for a third season. Aside from not getting more of a product that I enjoyed, the second season began to delve into a much richer, and deeper meta-plot that I can't believe they would just leave hanging there. Perhaps Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu will pick it up.

Time will tell. 

Is it gameable? Well, I'm not sure. Technically I think nearly everything is gameable to some degree, and I am pretty sure I could make a Dirk Gently-like RPG campaign work. The real question is would I be able to find people into it? Maybe...


Happy!






Unlike the other two entries on this post, Happy! - a Dark Comedy/Crime Drama airing on the Syfy channel (No really! The Syfy Channel!), and based on the Grant Morrison, Darrick Robertson comic book series - is still going on. It hasn't ended yet, with Episode 4 having aired on December 27th, 2017. What does this mean? Well, only that I can't tell you my thoughts on the series as a whole, only on what I've seen so far.

I like it. A lot! I am once again surprised by my own opinions, as this sort of story is not to my usual taste. It succeeds in part because of the excellent performances by Christopher Meloni as lead character Nick Sax, and Patton Oswald as Happy!, the imaginary friend of a young girl who has been kidnapped, and seeks out ex-detective turned hitman Sax to find her. 

The other ingredient that makes this particular concoction hit the spot is the rather out there premise, and the creepy/clever way it is used in the narrative. Trust me, I do notice a theme going here. Both Happy! and Dirk Gently, appeal to my love of the largely untapped idea of a black humor Twilight Zone situation, and as such they are definitely inspiring ideas on how to incorporate that feel into my upcoming campaigns.

Which are? You'll have to wait, and see. That's a discussion for a future post.

There is a lot of other material I could discuss here, since as I noted I've watched a lot of stuff this holiday season. For instance, I can not recommend Guillermo del Toro's, 'The Shape of Water' enough. I really enjoyed that as well. It was a modernization of two older films in a way I both didn't expect, and always wanted to see. 

I feel like I'm forgetting something. Was there another big movie that came out? Recently I want to say. What was the last movie I saw? The Last J...


To Be Continued

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Joy to The World

Welcome to December, the last month of 2017, the year that marks my 40th Anniversary in the Role Playing Game hobby. Wow. The year feels like it flew by at light speed. 

This was a year of big changes for me. I moved, my business picked up finally, and considerably, one relationship ended, another has begun, and I've done a lot of gaming. A lot. A butt load honestly. 

This blog has been a bit neglected though as a result of all these other things, and while that bums me out a bit, the aforementioned events needed my attention more than this did. Barking Alien is fun, and even therapeutic, but it doesn't pay the bills. 

Now the holiday season has arrived, and I am still incredibly busy. A good thing too, as I know things will get very quiet in a week, or two. With the additional time off I may be able to game some more, and even blog a few times. We'll see.

What I am getting at here is don't be surprised if you don't hear too much from Barkley, and I until January. I'm focusing on real life, and enjoying doing so (a far cry more than I have over the past several years). 

When Barking Alien returns to its regularly scheduled programming, (such as it ever is) expect to see a lot of Sci-Fi/Space Adventure material. I've been missing Science Fiction, and related gaming a lot and I'm heavily inspired to get back to it in a big way. 

I intend to go more deeply into my gaming ideas based on The Orville TV Series now that Season 1 is complete, and I'm sure Star Wars: The Last Jedi will add fuel to the fire that's been burning in me to revisit that galaxy long ago, and far, far away. 

Until then, I want to wish everyone, and everything a very happy, and healthy holiday, regardless of the holiday, or tradition you follow.






Joy to the World,

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