On Being Fat, And Why I Think Fat-Acceptance Is Bullshit


I’m 27 years old. I am 5 feet and 10 inches tall. I weigh 260 pounds.

It’s difficult to explain what 260 pounds is like. And I know that I’m certainly not the most overweight person in the world, and there are people who have it much worse than me. But here’s the point: I am a card-carrying fat person. I am genuinely, actually, literally overweight. I am not an ordinary-sized person who is dealing with self-esteem issues and saying that I’m fat when I’m not.

I am fat.

It’s important for me to admit this because for me, it’s a positive thing. It’s a positive thing because you can’t begin to work on a problem until you’ve admitted it. It’s like when people stand up in AA meetings and begin by saying, “I am an alcoholic.” It’s liberating to admit it, to know that there’s a problem. Because without admitting that there’s an issue you can’t begin to work on it.

Being a relatively young person living in America in 2018, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about what it is to be fat, and the way people should think and feel about it. I have a lot of friends who are overweight. I have, on a few occassions, asked for encouragement from friends when it comes to losing weight, eating healthy, and working out. Almost always, the response is something along these lines: “You should accept yourself the way you are. You’re already beautiful, and instead of conforming to society’s idea of beauty, you should love your size and be proud of it.”

This… has always disturbed me, in a really profound way.

Let me back up for a minute. I was a skinny kid. So skinny that my family sometimes made comments that I ought to eat more and try to put on some weight. My mom and dad were both pretty thin when they were young, and when they had me. My brother had a different father than me but he’s been skinny his whole life and has one of those six-pack-without-even-trying bodies, the kind of guy who can eat absolutely everything and never gain any weight or body fat from it. My sister is more in the same boat with me: naturally skinny but capable of getting chubby if she isn’t careful.

Now, as for me personally, the first time I started to gain weight was when I was about 11 years old. I remember that it was summertime, and my whole life I’ve enjoyed sitting inside on a sunny day and playing video games or watching movies. I still played outside plenty, but I started to spend more time inside, and what’s more important is that I started to eat a lot more. I suppose I was on the onset of puberty so it isn’t surprising that I suddenly developed an enormous appetite (teenage boys in particular are known for having the appetite of a black hole).

I remember sitting in my bed until late at night, going through bags of chips, trail mix, Chex, Cheese-Its, peanut butter on a spoon, crackers, any kind of chocolate or candy. I would drink an entire 2-liter of soda in a day and then drink a pitcher of tea. I didn’t drink water at all. My mom used to buy big bags of mixed Hershey’s chocolates, and I would sit up and watch movies and eat the entire bag, and when I was done I would find a box of Chex Mix that had pretzels and M&Ms and eat the whole bag until I couldn’t eat any more, and then wash it all down with whatever there was to drink: soda, tea, milk, shakes. I’d make a bowl of ice cream and then another bowl of ice cream and then another, and I’d pour chocolate syrup on top of it. I would put ranch dressing on a plate and eat it with my fingers. I would bake frozen biscuits that were in the freezer, then put all of the biscuits onto a plate and sit and eat the whole thing.

By the time I was 13 I was overweight. But not CRAZY overweight. I was still active, I still had plenty of energy. I just also these little man-boobs and a tummy that hung over my pants, and my mom shopped in the husky section for my jeans. I remember one time on the school bus, a little girl walked over to me who I did not know and just point blank said: “Why are you so fat?” Despite this, I didn’t actually get picked on at school for being fat. Most people just considered my odd and unusual, and I was. I didn’t have many friends and I was constantly reading instead of talking. The thing that most people disliked about me was that I was gay, I was overly verbose and too intelligent to have anything in common with kids my age, and the few people I did associate with were ALSO freaks who nobody talked to. As such, I had no social life to speak of.

The majority of my time was spent alone, although I wasn’t really upset about that. I liked playing video games, writing on my computer, surfing the internet (this was in 2003, when you actually did surf the internet because you had no idea where you were going to end up and there was no central nexus to find anything), and of course, eating everything around me while doing all of this. When I turned 15, I started to grow taller, and this evened out my weight to the point that for a while, from the ages of 16 to 18, I was actually relatively normal-sized. I didn’t THINK I was, because I still had very small breasts poking out, but the truth is I was a totally average size.

When I was 18, around Christmas time, I met a guy, and I got into my first serious relationship. It was never a healthy one, and he was constantly making nasty little comments when I gained a few pounds, saying that I wasn’t skinny and cute like I was when he met me, and this of course caused me to eat more. This is when I started to REALLY gain weight. By the time I was 21 I was about 200 pounds. After that relationship ended and I moved with my family to Georgia, I met a new guy (this time the relationship was slightly healthier than the one before), but unfortunately we were living with his family and we were very poor, so the two of us both lost of weight essentially due to having nothing to eat. When we DID get jobs and our own place to stay, we were used to eating cheap, so we were constantly eating Taco Bell and Pizza Hut for every meal. By the time I was 24 I had grown to about 240 pounds. When this boyfriend and I broke up, I went into a severe depression and during this time, I went to Little Caesar’s almost every night and brought home a pizza, then ate the whole thing while drinking copious amounts of soda.

Two years ago, when I was 25, my weight had risen to about 250 pounds, and I had a blood test at my doctor’s office. The office couldn’t get hold of my results, so I went to the hospital myself and got them. When my roommate, who was a lab scientist, took a look at them, he pointed out my glucose looked really high, and suggested that I let my doctor know. I called the doctor’s office and told the nurse over the phone that my glucose was really high (I don’t remember the numbers), and her response was “Oh yeah, you’re definitely diabetic, you need to come in and see the doctor.”

Until this point, the idea that I had diabetes hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew that was a risk of being overweight but I didn’t think I had that issue. It turns out that I did, in fact, have Type 2 Diabetes. My doctor was not particularly helpful (in that he seemed to have no idea what the hell he was doing or talking about), but once I started taking Metformin and I cut out sugar, I very quickly lost ten pounds. This was a big deal for me, I thought whoa, I’m finally losing weight, this is easier than I thought! It turns out that when it comes to dieting and losing weight, you kind of get the first ten pounds for free, and the rest you have to work for. My weight has fluctutated ever since, but I’ve hovered around the same 250 pounds.

I have not known what it feels like to be “normal” since I was about 16. I have not put on a tight t-shirt or worn a pair of skinny jeans or even bought a cute pair of underwear since I was 21. I have spent the majority of my life being overweight. What I have needed, all this time, was discipline. Sure, some of it wasn’t my fault. I can’t help that depression and anxiety run in my family, and that these contribute greatly to eating disorders. I can’t help that the antidepressants I’ve been prescribed slow metabolism and cause weight gain. I can’t even help that I’m naturally at a higher risk for diabetes because other people in my family have had it.

But at the end of the day, the reason I am fat is because of my choices. I chose to drink a 2-liter of Coke every day. I chose to eat three bowls of ice cream at a time, or three sandwiches at a time, or to get a footlong sub and three cookies and a soda for a meal. I chose to eat Little Caesar’s every night for months on end, I chose to stay inside when I could have been outside walking. The reason I am fat is because of choices that I have made.

The thing that bothers me the most about all of this is the way that our culture responds to obesity. American has a serious problem with obesity. We’re the fattest country in the world. We eat like pigs, we eat processed food, we put poison into our bodies constantly. But the BIGGER issue in our culture is “fat-shaming.”

I don’t need to define what fat-shaming is or give you examples, you’ve heard of this, and you’ve no doubt seen the countless blog posts, articles, news stories, and scathing commentary by body-positivity advocates who think we should stop “shaming” people for being fat. But what a lot of these advocates consider “shaming” is just pointing out that someone is fat. Just NOTICING that someone is overweight, or even expressing concern for them, is NOT fat-shaming. And if it is, then I don’t personally have a problem with it.

I would consider fat-shaming to be outright abuse, picking on someone for their weight. Calling someone a fat-cow, telling them to put down the hamburgers, telling someone they’re ugly and unlovable because they’re fat. That’s cruel, that’s callous, and that’s wrong. But just POINTING OUT that someone is overweight, I don’t know that that’s the same thing. And on the few occassions I’ve posted on social media asking for support about losing weight, people tell me that I am being ignorant, that I should love my body the way it is. WHY? Why would I love my body the way it is? My body is SICK. My body is hurting. My skin is stretched, my blood is full of too much sugar, I don’t have the energy to make it through the day without taking a rest. I can’t stand up for long periods of time because my thighs rub together and create painful blisters that get worse the longer I walk. I sweat easily, I lose my breath, and if I go too long without food I become so weak that I shake and I can’t even stand up. I’m NOT HEALTHY. So why are people telling me to love my size? They’re essentially telling me to accept that I’m unehalthy and do nothing to change it.

How is it “body positivity” to tell fat people not to change their diet, not to lose weight? We know that obesity leads to heart attacks, to disease, to dying young. How are you possibly being “positive” or helping people by indulging in a delusion that they’re NOT unhealthy?

And then there’s the whole thing about beauty.

The number-one thing I hear when it comes to obesity is people saying “You’re beautiful. No matter what size you are, you’re still beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful because you’re fat.”

But… that’s not what we’re talking about. You can be beautiful and still be fat. Fat and beautiful are not two mutually-exclusive things. People are beautiful because they’re people. The reason you’re beautiful is not because your body is fat or skinny, what makes you beautiful is that you’re a human being who other people will find attractive. You’re beautiful because of your personality, your features, your attitude, your statements, your actions. You can be beautiful and be fat. So why are people setting up this false dichotomy? People always say “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” as though they’re two opposite things. They have nothing to do with one another.

I know, we as a culture have a history of telling fat people they’re ugly. I get that. I understand that. Believe me, I’m a gay guy in 2018, I know better than anyone what it’s like to be ignored by an entire community of people because I’m fat. I send out messages on Grindr and never get responses. The only people who say hello to me are old guys, creeps, and other fat people. Just for fun I played around on my best friend’s Grindr account, and he gets messages flying in every two minutes. I know from personal experience that I am considered ugly and unattractive because I’m fat, especially in the gay community, which is known for being very shallow and obsessed with bodily perfection.

So don’t bring me this crap about “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” It’s missing the point entirely. If you love your friends and you want to encourage and help them, you should be encouraging them to lose weight. You should be offering suggestions about diet, helping them stay responsible and accountable, you should be cheering them on, not encouraging them to stay sitting on their ass and just accept themselves the way they are.

Now, of course, I’m not saying you should go up to fat people and start berating them for being fat or even telling them to lose weight if they haven’t asked. Apart from anything else, that’s fucking rude. But can we please have some sense and look at things in the light of reality here? I’m 260 pounds! I have type 2 diabetes. I want to live a long life, I want to be healthy, I want to have energy and put good healthy food into my body. It does me no good if you, as a friend, tell me to accept my body the way it is and just love myself the way I am. I already love myself! I already know I’m beautiful!

But you know what I also want to be? Healthy. I don’t want to have a heart attack, and the way things are going, I very well could. I don’t want to lose a limb, and I very well could. I don’t want to lose sensation in my fingers and toes, I don’t want to end up in a motorized scooter because I can’t walk. How is it “body-positive” to tell someone to accept being fat? The positive part would be telling someone they HAVE the power to improve.

I could go on and on. The other day I saw a video someone shared of a woman reading a poem about being fat. She talked about how every time she goes to the doctor, all the doctor talks about is her blood pressure and her cholesterol, and he won’t stop asking probing, inappropriate questions. SERIOUSLY? That’s what a doctor is SUPPOSED to do! They’re there to keep track of your health! These fat-acceptance crusaders would have us believe that to even bring up the topic of your weight is a fucking hate crime.

Well no. I’m calling bullshit. I’m fat. I’m a genuine, real life, FAT PERSON. And I’m here to tell you that calling out the obesity epidemic, in and of itself, is not a hate crime. Now, the way you do it very well could be. If you’re going up to fat people, calling them names and making jokes, and putting them down, that’s wrong, and any decent person would know better than to do that. But if I post on Facebook saying that I’m working on losing weight, and your response is to tell me that I’m wrong, that I ought to be working harder on loving myself, then you’re not doing me a service as my friend, and you’re contributing to the problem. We don’t tell people that have diabetes to love themselves the way they are and don’t worry about taking that silly insulin, we tell them to take their medication because they have a disease. We don’t tell people with cancer to just think more positively about their bodies, we tell them to fight!

Remember that Youtube video that made the rounds a few years ago, “Dear Fat People,” by Nicole Arbour? Now, Nicole Arbour is crazy for a variety of reasons that we don’t have to get into, but I’m going to be honest: I found that video very motivational. I thought it was funny, but truthful. It was a little cruel, yeah, but she made a lot of good points. And she was criticized for hate speech. But when I saw that video, it really reminded me that I COULD lose weight, that I could avoid being unhealthy and dying of a heart attack in my 30’s. It didn’t offend or hurt me at all, AND I’M ACTUALLY FAT. One thing I can’t stand is a bunch of skinny people harping on another skinny person about being fat-phobic. It’s like when white people get offended on behalf of minorities instead of letting actual minorities speak for themselves.

Remember Meghan Trainor, with that song All About That Bass that you still can’t escape from in every shopping mall, grocery store, and restaurant you walk into? I was always really bothered by that song. Because it seems to be sending this message “Hey, don’t worry if you’re fat, you’re still sexy!” But again, that’s missing the point. Being sexy isn’t the issue, being healthy is. As for that “skinny bitches” line, you can take it as a joke, which I did, or as an actual put-down toward skinny people, but honestly I don’t care, what I care about is that in a culture where we have an epidemic of obesity, where school children eat slop and process food for lunch every day, we have an anthem about accepting being fat. Well I don’t accept it, and I will again remind you, I feel I have the right to say all this because I am ACTUALLY FAT.

If we spent half as much time as a society actually caring about our health as we did getting outraged because someone had the audacity to point out that hey, maybe we’re not all that healthy, we could all actually solve this problem in the first place.

By way of offering another side to this, here is a comment someone once made when I posted a similar rant about body-positivity on Facebook. The comment at the end is a reference to the fact that I happened to be an anti-Millenial kick at the time (I have since begrudgingly accepted that I am a Millenial, but that we have some serious soul-searching to do), and I made a comment that this seemed to me to be another example of millenials forcing the world around them to change to meet their standards, rather than bettering themselves to fit into the rest of society. Here’s the response:

“Dude — you’re wrong on this one.  Seriously wrong.  There is no sum-zero game when it comes to fighting prejudice. If you think it’s not a real problem, you’ve never had a doctor dismiss your health concerns because ‘you just need more exercise’ as many, many overweight women and men have. Does a fat chick really have to be killed because she’s fat, for this to matter?

The body-acceptance movement isn’t about justifying unhealthy lifestyles. It’s just another area where we’re learning to meeting people where they are, accepting them for who they are, and they have value as they are. Not asking them to be someone else, to be a different shape, or a different color, or a different orientation.   Why is acceptance of different body sizes important? Well, among other things — the shame associated with weight is unhealthy in and of itself, and makes it HARDER to make healthy lifestyle choices and changes. And I hate to break this one to you, but the weight thing? It didn’t start with Millennials.”

This person makes a good point. Putting someone down for their weight DOES make it harder for that person to have the confidence to make healthy choices. But I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors by pretending that being overweight isn’t a problem. It is. Being overweight is a problem. A problem that can result in actually dying. And I’m not going to stick my head in the sand, I’m going to acknowledge the problem and then do my best to fight it.

I’ll end here by repeating some of the remarks I made to that commenter back then.

“I gained over fifty pounds and got type 2 diabetes because of my own shitty choices. Did my anxiety, depression, fun variety of mental health issues, and genetic predisposition all play a role in it? Yes. But ultimately I got diabetes because of my own choices. I chose to down soda and pizza and ice cream, and to give myself no limitation, and now I’m drastically overweight and I’m literally ill from it.

Whenever I’ve asked for encouragement about weight loss, time and again people keep telling me that weight loss doesn’t matter. That I should love my body just the way it is. But I don’t want to live my body just the way it is, I want to FIX what’s WRONG with it. If I were shot and bleeding to death, the appropriate response would be to treat the wound, not accept my bloody body and do nothing to cover the wound.

Sure, there are legitimate reasons why some people can’t help their weight. Usually those people are unable to walk because of severe life altering medical conditions. But suddenly, in the year [2018], when America just happens to be at its most obese, eating poison, and our health is all rapidly declining, I’m expected to believe that SUDDENLY everyone who is overweight is a victim of circumstance and no one is responsible personally for the fact that they’re overweight? And moreover, that no one has any responsibility to themselves to FIX that issue? That everyone who is unnecessarily fat should just die 20 years earlier and get heart problems and diabetes because… because why? Because we’re too afraid we might hurt someone’s feelings to tell them they’ve stretched their body beyond the capacity it’s supposed to be according to our own biology?

There’s a clear difference between realizing that being overweight is a serious health risk and obesity is an epidemic in America, and the other extreme of pointing at all overweight people shouting “fat pig you should kill yourself!” But the trend in liberal culture now is to never tell anyone that anything is wrong with them in any way: we must accept all people exactly as they are, and that includes when they’re harming themselves and causing themselves problems that we need to ignore that. This kind of slippery slope logic is like saying that when I go to the doctor he should just tell me “Well, you’ve got cancer, diabetes, and HIV, but you know what? That’s who you are! We don’t need to change those things because that would be disrespecting who you are as a person!”

My doctor didn’t dismiss my health concerns because I need more exercise, he pointed out that my health concern IS THE FACT that I need mote exercise. Is there NOT a happy medium where we accept that one on end of the spectrum, being horrendously underweight like a runway model is terribly unhealthy and on the other end of the spectrum, being obese is ALSO terribly unhealthy? You don’t see people in the body acceptance movement posting pictures of people with anorexia saying “She’s beautiful just how she is! So what if she’s anorexic, that’s who she is and you don’t have the right to judge her!” No, that isn’t what’s happening at all, the fat-acceptance movement is happy to criticize anorexic people but still get offended if you imply that someone who is obese might be better suited losing weight.

I don’t think people need to look like models and fitness coaches to be healthy, and in fact I don’t really care if other people are healthy or not. What I care about is a culture that tells me that being unhealthy is fine, that to question it is wrong, and that I’m a bigot for saying that obese people, myself included, should work on losing weight rather than accepting obesity and the diseases that come along with it, and the possibility of dying young because of it.”

Nothing I’m saying here is a personal attack on anyone. If you’re overweight for reasons beyond your control, then I’m sorry. But I don’t think that justifies telling people who CAN beat obesity that they shouldn’t, just because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of not hurting people’s feelings? If it hurts people’s feelings for me to talk about how being overweight is bad for me, and bad for others, than I’m willing to hurt people’s feelings, because sometimes the truth is difficult.

Being fat, it’s hard. It sucks. Looking down when I’m naked and seeing my tummy poking out before I see my dick, that’s painful. Looking in the mirror and seeing the pouch of fat underneath my chin, that’s painful. Seeing stretch marks all across my sides and my arms and my ass is painful. Putting on an outfit and then looking in the mirror to see that it looks all wrong, that I don’t fit into my clothes, that’s painful. And the most painful thing of all is losing my breath walking around the mall, or having to sit down after half my shift at work because I’m unable to keep standing.

I’m struggling, as I always have. But the only way I can beat this is by looking forward to a future where I’m healthy, where I’m eating right, where I’m getting exercise, and where I have the energy to make my dreams come true. And I hope that I can do that. And I hope that anyone else who is in the same boat with me can find the confidence to do it too. I know that some of what I’ve said hear is a bit mean, but I don’t know of any other way to say it when it’s the hard truth. Being fat can kill you. And I don’t want to die.

So I’m fighting it. And I hope anyone else who’s obese will fight it too. Because I think that the rewards of losing weight and being healthy are much better than the rewards of just accepting being unhealthy when you have the means to change it.

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My Thoughts On The Last Jedi (Part 2/2)

I have just returned from seeing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

In part one of this lengthy expose, I talked about my feelings on Star Wars as a whole, and about the first six movies. I didn’t get into Episode VII very much and I probably won’t dive too deep into it here, because now I’m going to talk about what I really came here to talk about: The Last Jedi.

In short, I loved it.

I loved it so much that there were moments when I felt utterly captivated and I could understand, for a moment, why so many people have loved Star Wars for so long. I felt like maybe I just never quite found MY Star Wars film, the one that suited me and my generation and what I wanted to see. I suppose that since I’m a child of the nineties, the prequels would be considered my trilogy, but as I watched The Last Jedi I just couldn’t help but be impressed by every aspect of it.

It’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, this is certainly not an unbiased review, but I was biased AGAINST Star Wars going in, and expected absolutely nothing of it, not the least among the reasons being that it seems like most fans hate it (but then, as we discussed earlier, STAR WARS FANS ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE and will never be satisfied with anything), and Mark Hammill has made some… interesting comments about what he feels the writers did to Luke’s character.

I’m here to tell you, as a person who generally dislikes Star Wars, that I was well and truly impressed by this movie in every way. It felt like the movie allowed itself the space to tell a full story and utilized every moment they had perfectly, nothing was wasted. I’m not really going to do much of a plot synopsis here, but I’ll talk about the things that I find relevant. Also I guess it goes without saying but I may as well say that there will be SPOILERS for the film, and honestly if you haven’t seen it, I really think you should. And by the way, I went into the movie having had the whole thing pretty much spoiled for me on purpose. I specifically looked for The Last Jedi spoilers because I was vaguely interested in how the plot points and potential from Episode VII would be expounded upon in this movie. On paper, it would appear that the movie took all the potential from Episode VII, ripped it up, shit all over it and threw it out a window into space. None of the fan theories turned out to be right: Rey’s parents are (probably) not Skywalkers or Kenobis, Ben Solo didn’t turn good (well, not entirely anyway), Snoke is not revealed to be the long-lost Darth Plagueis (although I’m still kind of holding out hope that he might be), Poe and Finn are probably going to have a gay romance, and Luke… well, we’ll get to Luke.

It seemed to me like the change of director had been bad for the franchise.

I was wrong. As a matter of fact I think I’m really glad that J.J. Abrams left, because honestly I think his movies have the same run-of-the-mill, seen-it-all-before feel to them that I get from every goddamn superhero movie these days. But it does mean that the development of the film was tumultuous, going through several directors, and then of course there’s the very untimely death of Carrie Fisher, whose role as Leia is front-and-center in this film, and boy am I happy about that.

I’ve always felt Leia never really got the screen time she deserved, and was always a supporting character. In truth she still is a supporting character, but in a really appropriate way that I don’t think undermines her as a character at all. Carrie Fisher’s performance is wonderful, even though there are a few moments where her voice cracks pretty badly, but hey, Carrie Fisher has aged and so has Leia. The resistance members spend just about the entire movie locked in a space battle with the First Order’s flagship, maintaining a distance so that the First Order’s weapons can just reach their shields but not quite penetrate them yet, as the First Order slowly picks off all of their smaller ships and fighters. There is a moment when the bridge is blasted head on and every leader of the Resistance is sucked into space and killed at once, including Leia… but wait a minute!

Leia finally gets to have her Jedi moment and I think it’s executed absolutely perfectly. I call it her Jedi moment but really it’s her Force Power moment. We’ve always known that Leia is force-sensitive, but in the films she’s never really used the Force, apart from sensing the presence of loved ones. It might have felt silly and hammy to have Leia go on a badass rampage and start Force-pushing stormtroopers, or to whip out a lightsaber, so the way her Force ability is used feels completely organic and true to the character. When she’s sucked out into space, she’s seemingly knocked unconscious, but she begins to manipulate the particles around her and telekenetically pushes herself back toward the ship so she can be brought inside and rescued. It’s left vague whether she was consciously doing any of this or whether it was an instinctual act of self-preservation (I tend to think it’s the ladder), although her eyes do open if that counts for anything. Leia being bedridden, along with the loss of all the rebel leaders (including everyone’s favorite “It’s a trap!” trope namer, Admiral Ackbar) means that a hitherto unforseen character, vice-admiral Holdo, becomes the new de facto leader.

People seem to have a lot of opinions about Holdo, with some people feeling she’s the feminist icon Star Wars desperately needs, and others saying she is some kind of strange diversity-hire just put in to please the politically correct crowd. As always, people who think the latter are fucking stupid, because it couldn’t be father from the truth. Insert ANY character who happens to be a minority into a series, and it’s a guarantee that some fans will riot, saying that the producers just did it to appeal to “the PC crowd.” And by the way, what IS the PC crowd? Because it seems to me that if you insert a black character, the most you could be appealing to are black people, or people who don’t mind seeing a black person. So then, the only reason you’d be against seeing a black character is because… it’s because you’re racist, right? I don’t see any other alternative.

And it’s the same thing with Holdo. SOME PEOPLE (probably of the male variety, wearing fedoras and stroking their neckbeards while burping up some Mountain Dew) seem to think that she was shoehorned in so that the movie could say “Look at us, we have a female character in a position of power, HAND OVER YOUR MONEY, FEMINIST DROVES!” And also apparently some people are bothered by the fact that she has purple hair, a complaint so incredibly laughable in the context of fucking STAR WARS that I don’t even know how to go about adressing it. I mean, Yoda is a tiny wrinkly green muppet, there are green-skinned women with wet, mucus-covered tentacles poking out of their heads, one of the central characters is an eight foot tall Bigfoot that moans in a gargling whinny for speech, but yeah, it’s really the ONE LADY WITH PURPLE HAIR that strains credibility too far here.

At any rate, Holdo is the new commander of the fleet. Well, this trilogy’s Han Solo archetype, Poe, does not like that at all, and does like her methods. She wants to retreat and live to fight another day, ensuring the survival of the rebel alliance and sending a spark of hope to light a fire under the ass of the First Order. Poe would much rather be a swashbuckling hero, ride on in there and blow the shit out of their flagship (cause that worked so well when the previous heroes did that to the Death Star), and win the day for the Rebellion. They both have noble goals, and this is where we start to see what I feel is the central theme of this movie, the conflict between difficult decisions and choosing a path. Poe and Holdo both want what’s best for the rebellion, and while Leia agrees with Holdo’s philosophy, she does understand and secretly ALSO agree with Poe’s. But Leia is older now, and she’s not as willing to throw away innocent lives just to win a space battle, if that kind of thing can be avoided.

Meanwhile, back to the real meat of the story, we have Rey, who traveled across the galaxy to the homeworld of the Jedi to find Luke, who has secluded himself in shame after losing his apprentice to the dark side. We pick up right where the last movie left off, with Rey holding out Luke’s lightsaber to him. He takes it from her, and in a move that we probably all see coming, casually tosses it backwards over his shoulder. Don’t worry though, some Porgs find it, and in that moment they are ALMOST useful to the story and not clearly Disney’s attempt to merchandise a new adorable toy. Honestly I get why people hate the Porgs, they’re kind of cute in context but they do feel somewhat out of place and is it me or is their CGI kind of shabby? Oh well. That’s all I have to say about Porgs, really.

So, Luke. Mark Hammill has done several interviews now where he talks about he vehemently disagreed with the filmmakers’ writing of Luke Skywalker. Luke has become an island unto himself by sulking on a literal island in the middle of the ocean, ashamed and without hope at the loss of Ben to the Dark Side. He hates the Jedi, he hates what they became, he understands the turmoil they brought about during the time of the Old Republic, and he understands how meaningless legends can be. He knows that he’s a legend across the galaxy, but he also knows that a legend is not the real story. He’s done a lot of introspection, and in his despair he’s cut himself off from the Force. He’s isolated, scared, and ashamed. He’s in a dark and desperate place. Mark Hammill has said that this is completely out of character for Luke, it’s not something he would do. If Luke Skywalker saw that the galaxy was in trouble, he’d get off his ass and go out there and save it.

But you know, I have to disagree with Mark Hammill, and part of my disagreement is based on what a damn fantastic job he does portraying an angry and bitter Luke. The Luke we know was young, naive, and passionate. He didn’t have time to grow and learn, to be jaded by reality. Young Luke believed there was good in Darth Vader and was brave enough to go and face him to try and turn him to the Light. But old Luke is a veteran of the deadliest war in the galaxy, he’s seen so much despair and turmoil, and he had dreams of rebuilding the Jedi Order into something grand and beautiful. His hopes and dreams were dashed by Ben Solo. He’s lost everything he loves, and the galaxy that he fought so hard to protect is teetering on the brink of totalitarianism again, despite everything he did to try and save it, and he feels that it’s ALL HIS FAULT. He feels that he failed Ben, just as Obi-Wan failed Anakin.

And really, a LOT of what happens in this movie is a direct parallel to what happened in the original films. Obi-Wan and Yoda both went into hiding after losing Anakin to the Dark Side, and they both had to be approached by someone else asking for help (in Obi-Wan’s case, Leia) before they agreed to rejoin the fight. Obi-Wan wasn’t quite so depressed as Luke, but essentially they are in the same position. When Luke finally agrees to teach Rey about the Force, it’s a mirror of his time with Yoda, with him taking on the role of the grizzled old Jedi whose seen what happens when he fails to protect the galaxy from the Dark Side, and even though he has a lot of wisdom to pass on to Rey, they disagree on what should be done next, the same way Yoda and Luke disagreed on Dagobah.

I think that Mark Hammill missed the point of Luke’s sadness and isolation. The REASON that he’s acting so unlike himself is BECAUSE he’s in a rut, and he has to redeem himself. He’s only human, he’s allowed to fail, to make mistakes, to forget who he is, and then be forced to remember by a young idealist like Rey. It’s during Rey’s training with Luke that we also learn that Ben Solo actually had a legitimate reason for betraying Luke. It wasn’t because Snoke found him and seduced him into leaving the Light side, although that is a factor, it’s because Luke tried to murder him. Luke sneaked into Ben’s tent while he was sleeping, ignited his lightsaber, and stood over him, ready to murder him in his sleep. Luke later admits that this was true, although he had already changed his mind as soon as he’d ignited the lightsaber, but by then the damage was done, and Ben turned on him fully.

There’s also the interesting new development of Rey and Ben having a telepathic link that connects them at unforeseen moments and allows them to see and speak with one another. Rey begins to see Ben’s side of things, and Ben’s veneer of purpose and stoicism is breaking fast. He throws one of his usual tantrums in a lift when he breaks his helmet against the side of the wall, and spends a lot of time crying, but it’s clear that he’s on a path he doesn’t want to be on, but he’s confused and hurt, and doesn’t know where to go. He doesn’t WANT to follow Snoke’s path, but he also doesn’t want to return to Luke, who he rightfully feels had betrayed him. To her credit, Rey becomes infuriated when she learns that Luke tried to murder Ben, and the two of them have an impressing fight sequence, which Rey wins by calling Luke’s lightsaber to herself and igniting it.

The thing about Rey and Ben is that they represent balance and chaos. Rey has been our hero up to this point, but as Luke notices she has tendencies that could lead her to the Dark side. She continues to feel alone and abandoned because of her literal abandonment by her parents as a child, and she is particularly drawn to a cavern beneath the island which seems to contain some kind of deep, dark energy, although it’s never specified exactly what it is. It is somewhat reminiscent of Luke’s journey into the cavern on Dagobah when he had to face Darth Vader and found his own face inside Vader’s mask. In Rey’s cavern, she sees several versions of herself in a straight line, with her in the center, one side representing the past and the other being the future, each one moving right after the next. She attempts to learn the identities of her parents but she doesn’t.

And now both Rey and Ben have the potential to turn to the Light side or the Dark. I doubt that Rey will become the villain, but the important thing is that this whole movie emphasizes moral grey areas and the space between two extremes. The prequels were about the Dark Side, the originals were about the Light Side, and this trilogy is about the space between. When Rey and Ben finally meet in person again, each one thinks they can turn the other to their side. The confrontation with Snoke is fantastic, with him showing off his mastery of the Force and easily overpowering Rey, who begins fighting using Ben’s lightsaber when she can’t get to her own, which was formerly Luke’s. Snoke finally Force pushes her in front of Ben and gives him the opportunity to redeem himself in Snoke’s eyes and complete his journey to the Dark Side by snuffing out the only hope of the Light, but Ben finally stands up to Snoke and impales him by telekenitcally igniting Rey’s lightsaber and cutting him in half. There is this fantastic sequence rather afterward where Ben and Rey stand back to back, fighting off Snoke’s guards, finally on the same side. At the end of it, though, Ben does the same thing that Vader did with Luke, and holds out his hand in an offer for Rey to rule the galaxy alongside him. We see that Ben has the potential to overcome the Dark side, but he’s still unsure, still wavering.

It’s also around this point that Ben confronts Rey about her parents, saying that she’s known all along that they were never anyone important, just nobodies who sold their daughter for money and abandoned her, before leaving to go die a meaningless death and be buried in the desert. It’s unclear whether this is actually true, although Rey seems to agree, but there is a possibility it’s Ben attempting to turn her by extinguishing any hope that her parents might have been important or had a good reason for abandoning her.

I want to mention that I think Adam Driver does an amazing job of playing Ben, who’s such an emotionally volatile character. I also really like his fighting stance and movement, whereas previous Jedi’s have fought somewhat like samurai wielding katanas at one another, Ben is a berserker who stands with his feet apart, planeted on the ground, and moves slowly like a tank made of stone, barreling through enemies in his path. Rey is the opposite, swift and graceful, emphasizing once again how these two characters represent opposite extremes, and the grey areas between. There are several visual motifs that show this, and my favorite is when Rey and Ben are both attempting to pull a single lightsaber caught in the air between them, and their power is so evenly matched that the lightsaber breaks in half. Interestingly, this is also Luke’s lightsaber, and it’s one of the many times visual motifs represent the old guard of Star Wars passing the torch to the new characters. A lot of this movie is about Luke, Leia and the others handing over the galaxy and the Force to the newcomers, because it’s their time.

One final note about Adam Driver, I am really impressed and a little disturbed by how deep his voice is. I honestly can’t tell if it’s a vocal effect they used on him, but his incredibly low voice is unsettling. I couldn’t help imagining him saying “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me.”

HEY HOW DID THIS PICTURE GET HERE THIS ISN’T KYLO REN OH WELL LET’S JUST KEEP IT

But I digress.

The movie has a pretty long run time, which is fine with me, because everything seems to happen exactly as it should. And unlike other Star Wars movies, this one doesn’t have abrupt scene changes where the screen just wipes from one planet to the next, the characters hopping from place to place all over the galaxy, most of the action takes place within a few specific areas. There is a subplot involving Finn and a newcomer called Rose finding a master hacker who can get them into the First Order’s ship to disable their tracking mechanisms. It’s a perfectly good section of the film and the two of them do manage to liberate a herd of domesticated racehorses (or the Star Wars equivalent thereof), although there is a minor antagonist who I don’t think adds much to the story, but I guess we had to do something with Finn. Personally I don’t think this section of the movie is BAD, just that it’s a bit of a detour from the central action.

When Finn and Rose finally get on board the First Order flagship, it turns out that the sketchy rogue they hired turns on them at the last minute and hands them over to the First Order. It’s here that Captain Phasma makes her return, and I’d heard a lot of criticism saying that her fifteen minutes weren’t used very well. While it’s certainly true that she wasn’t on screen for a terribly long time, I thought she was perfectly effective and served as a good antagonist for Finn, who honestly didn’t exactly have the largest role in this movie.

Meanwhile, Holdo decides to evacuate the remnants of the Rebellion to a nearby planet with an old abandoned rebel base, and Poe stages a mutiny, taking over the bridge of the ship. He is stopped before too long by Leia herself, who walks in and blasts him with a stun bolt. Holdo elects to stay behind and pilot the ship while everyone else escapes, and while Leia knows this will involve Holdo sacrificing herself, she accepts her choice and wishes her luck. The two of them have a somewhat tearful parting in which they hold hands, implying that they’ve become very close friends during the time they’ve served together. Leia does seem heartbroken to lose someone else she cares about so soon after Han’s death.

Holdo does what I immediately suspected she would do, but admittedly I only saw it coming because Katherine Janeway did the exact same thing in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. She charges the ship up to lightspeed and then barrels right through the First Order flagship, cutting it in half. This results in Finn and crew being saved just in time by the destruction of the ship, and Finn having a final, but brief, confrontation with Phasma. Also they are at one point rescued by BB8 piloting a walker ship, which felt like a strain on credibility not QUITE equivalent to fish driving a truck in Finding Dory, but not ENTIRELY unlike it either. We do get to see Phasma’s eye through her helmet before she goes, so it was good to get to see her face.

As the ship falls apart, the half that’s still remaining operational fires on the escape pods, dwindling the entire Rebellion down to a handful of people, maybe a couple dozen, as they land on the planet’s surface beneath. This is where we enter the final act, and I have to say that there’s a visual element here that’s so brilliant that it saved the finale of this movie from possibly becoming a bit tedious. There’s a moment when the Rebels are in a trench and one of the captains walks out onto what appears to be a snowy landscape, only to leave what I genuinely thought was a trail of blood. I thought it was weird that this completely unnamed character would be bleeding, but one character puts his finger in it and then licks it and announces “it’s salt,” revealing that this planet is covered in salt that turns red when it’s touched – either that or it’s a red landscape covered in white salt, but either way the effect of this is startling good. During the ensuing battle between the last of the Rebels and the First Order, the Rebel ships skirt across the salt lands leaving a trail of red dust in their wake, making intricate patterns of red on a landscape of white, and blaster shots that hit the ground blow up puffs of red smoke, which gives this whole battle an excellent visual appeal, the kind of thing that was sorely missing from things like the original films’ battle on Hoth, which I find boring because it takes place on a bland snowy landscape.

There is a final moment on the Jedi homeworld where Luke is left alone, and he carries a flame to the tree holding the ancient Jedi texts, ready to burn the whole thing down. It’s now that Yoda appears to him as a Force ghost, looking and speaking like his older version from the originals (good choice on the part of the filmmakers), and when Luke hesitates to set the tree on fire, Yoda does it himself by calling down a bolt of lightning. Luke is flabbergasted at this, and Yoda cleverly quips “The ancient texts, page-turners they were not.” And he agrees with Luke that it’s time for the old Jedi order to die. It’s up to Rey and Ben to decide what happens to the Jedi now, and it’s time for the old masters to move on. Yoda gives Luke his usual dose of wisdom, pointing out that the burden of a master is to watch his pupil replace him and move forward into a new and different world.

Back on the salt-planet, the Rebels try their best but they can’t hold off the First Order who are fast approaching and blow a huge hole in the wall protecting them. Leia and the others wait for the end as the First Order begins approaching, and as the distress call to the remnants of the rebellion scattered across the galaxy goes out, they receive no response. Leia mourns that there is no hope left, and it’s at this moment that Luke appears in the doorway, wearing a black cloak. He kneels in front of Leia and they finally have a moment to reconcile, and he apologizes for failing Ben. Leia admits that she knows now that her son is lost, and there’s a beautiful moment where Luke kisses Leia on the head.

During most of the movie I was so interested in what was happening that I had almost forgotten Carrie Fisher died after filming in this movie and that this was her final film, coming full circle and ending her career playing Leia again. There are some really striking visual setpieces in this movie, one of them being Leia standing and looking out on the white saltlands with a veil covering the lower portion of her face, and another being Luke’s final goodbye to Leia as he kisses her on the head. I couldn’t help but notice that the love theme that played during Han and Leia’s scenes in the original movies makes a return for this moment and a couple of times in the movie during scenes concerning Leia, and it was an excellent touch. It really feels like this moment of Luke saying goodbye to Leia was also a moment of Mark Hammill, and all of us, saying goodbye to Carrie Fisher. She appears after this scene, but it’s a beautiful moment and I’m sure the filmmakers knew the kind of impact it would have on viewers after Carrie’s death.

Luke walks out alone against a fleet of First Order ships, and Ben has them unload all of their firepower into him, trying to ensure that he can’t survive. When Luke emerges completely unscathed, there is a moment where the viewer probably thinks “Oh COME ON, are we really overpowering the hero TO THIS DEGREE?” but it will make sense in a bit. Even I already knew the twist that was coming with Luke and was still startled by his appearing to survive being shot at by tons and tons of ammunition.

Ben emerges alone into the field to battle Luke. As I’ve mentioned before, the white-on-red terrain effect for this planet is brilliant, and provides a gorgeous set piece for the final act, and it really gives the impression of the land bleeding every time it’s touched. The blaster shots into the ground blowing up puffs of red smoke are like geysers of blood from the land itself, and Luke faces Ben in the bloody scar where the First Order just unloaded all their firepower. Within the rebel base, Leia and the others realize that Luke is drawing their attention to stall for time, and they notice that the local ice-foxes (a much better and more interesting creature than the Porgs, and actually relevant to the plot) have disappeared and have found a way out of the maze of tunnels. They follow them only to be blocked by a wall of rocks, and it’s now that Rey appears, obviously about to show off her force powers by lifting them out of the way. It’s a very good final deed for her character in this movie, because it’s something simple yet important, and also references Luke lifting rocks while training with Yoda, something he himself mentions earlier in the film when he says the Force is more than “just lifting rocks.”

Luke and Ben have a dramatic final battle, which ends with Ben dealing a killing blow to Luke, only to find that once again, he’s completely unphased. He presses his lightsaber against Luke’s chest only to find it goes straight through him, and Luke reveals he’s non-corporeal, as he’s been astral projecting himself this entire time. Interestingly, his astral projected form had a haircut and cool black battle robes. Presumably the lightsaber was real, though. A lot of people have been complaining about Luke astral projecting as it’s an ability that’s never before been shown in Star Wars. Well yeah, what’s that got to do with it? I mean, he’s the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy and he’s been living on the Jedi homeworld and reading their secret ancient texts, so it’s not surprising he would show off some new powers.

There is a beautiful moment where Luke shows that his hope is renewed, and that Ben is wrong to think that he’s finished the Jedi, as when Ben tells him that after he kills Luke the last Jedi will be dead, he tells Ben that he’s wrong, and he isn’t the last Jedi. I actually really like this because it implies that there is a last Jedi, but it’s not specificed who it is. We’ve seen the capacity for both Rey and Ben to be led to different sides of the Force, and that there aren’t really heroes and villains. This whole movie has the feel of reality, of bittersweet endings, of grey morality, of things not being so simple as there being a chosen one who fights off the forces of evil. It’s growth, and that’s something that Star Wars desperately needs. There’s also a nice reference to the battle between Obi-Wan and Vader (again, everything in this movie mirrors the previous films, with this fight being the equivalent of the battle between Vader and his older master, grown older and wiser over the years) where Luke tells Ben that “if you strike me down in anger, I’ll be with you forever, like your father,” as a callback to Obi-Wan’s line “strike me down now and I’ll become more powerful than you can ever imagine.”

Luke finally breaks off his astral projection and we see him flushed, exhausted, and completely spent. I don’t know if Mark Hammill really worked himself into exhaustion or if it’s just excellent makeup but he’s beat red and looks awful, it’s a very effective moment. Luke’s finale is a beautiful callback to his iconic sunset scene on Tatooine, with the same main theme playing as he looks out over the two setting suns of the Jedi homeworld, and meditates, floating into the air again, and leaving his physical body behind and dying to become one with the Force, in the same way Obi-Wan did when he died. At the same time, the remnants of the rebel alliance climb inside the Millenium Falcon and escape to safety, with Rey wondering how there can ever be hope for the Rebellion now.

The final scene is of a few slave kids seen earlier in the film, playing with dolls and talking about the adventures of Luke Skywalker. After being admonished by their owner, one of the boys walks outside and picks up a broom (is it me or did he Force-pull that broom to himself, just slightly), and looks up at the stars to see the Millenium Falcon jumping to hyperspace, giving the impression of a shooting star, and it’s revealed that earlier in the film, Rose gave her rebel alliance ring to him, and he stares at the sky with hope in his eyes. It’s a callback to Anakin’s time as a child slave, as well as a reminder about younger generations taking over as the older generation passes on, which is really what this whole film has been about.

So, I ended up expounding on the plot here a LOT more than I thought I would, but I’m glad I did. I was totally blown away by this movie, I daresay it may even have made a Star Wars fan out of me, for now at least. I was even tempted to go back and finish reading some of the earlier Star Wars expanded universe novels. But we’ll see how it all goes, I guess. Honestly I can’t recommend this movie enough, and if you’ve been brave enough to stick with me through both parts of this extremely lengthy essay, I thank you for it! I hope that if you’ve seen the movie you enjoyed it as much as I do.

On a personal note, part of my intentions in this new year are to do a lot more writing and posting to this blog as well as my Patreon where everything is cross-posted and earn my keep over there. If you like what I have to say and would like to hear more of it, feel free to come visit my Patreon page and lend your support.

May the Force be with us all in 2018.

My Thoughts on Star Wars (Part 1/2)

I have complex feelings about Star Wars. It is impossible to grow up any time past the seventies without knowing about Star Wars. Even if you’ve never watched the films, you do have some basic understanding: Jedi are good guys, they have laser swords called lightsabers, R2D2 and C-3PO are silly robots, Darth Vader is the most evil man in the galaxy, Princess Leia has funny hair, Han Solo is a scoundrel and Chewbacca makes funny noises. Star Wars is so ubiquitous that it’s possibly the most recognizable adventure series in the world.

And I have never really liked it.

As a kid, I had an older cousin who introduced me to most of the things I would fall in love with: video games, adventure series, fantasy worlds, and Final Fantasy in particular. I tended to assume his judgement was good on what media one should consume, so when he borrowed the three-tape box set of the original Star Wars trilogy (yes, I was a child in an era before the prequels even existed, for the first decade of my life anyway) I tried to watch it with him.

It bored me to tears. I fell asleep. He spent maybe an entire day watching all three movies from beginning to end, and I left the room because I wasn’t remotely interested. There’s a certain quality about old movies that’s always repelled me, I think it’s something to do with the sound editing. Everyone sounds like they’re speaking through a grainy filter and there are huge pauses in between dialogue where you can hear the static of the tape. Some people find that really romantic, I’ve always found it dull and detrimental to the experience. I was also never a big fan of the music, it’s always sounded very same-y to me, and it still does, it’s a lot of stacatto horns shouting wildly into the night or slow emotional string crescendos. Those things are good, but there aren’t many discernable melodies, apart from the few big and well-known ones. I was not enchanted by the alien designs, which all have a kind of batrachian  monster-of-the-deep feel to them; every non-human in the galaxy seems to be leaking mucus from every orifice and they all look really wet and shiny. There’s something really gross about the aliens in Star Wars.

I wasn’t impressed with the characters either. I always found Leia somewhat interesting but she’s hardly involved for a lot of the movie, or appears in scenes where everyone talks over her. Han was never charming to me, and Luke has always seemed uninteresting too. The whole original Star Wars trilogy is so old-hat: the forces of evil can be beaten by the power of love and friendship. The Light Side is good and the Dark Side is bad. The Jedi are the good guys and Emperor Palpatine is so cartoonishly evil he’s like a pantomime villain. There was no nuance or greyness, nothing to grab hold of, just a standard “you are the chosen one” narrative.

Now granted, these things have partly become cliche because of Star Wars itself, which is something TV Tropes tells me is called “the Seinfeld effect,” in which a work of fiction creates so many memes and trends that it eventually comes to seem dull and derivative, despite the fact that it pioneered the very things we yawn and wave our hands at. I get that, but on the other hand very little about the essential story of Star Wars was new, it was the spectacle and the imagination that made it different. There weren’t space battles or TIE fighters or lightsabers before Star Wars, and it created a fantasy world that used the terminology of science-fiction, leading some to label it “science fantasy,” a term which I hate because if there is one thing Star Wars is utterly divorced from, it’s science or any semblance of forethought about whether or not something would seem realistic. I mean the galaxy seems so small and trivial; space is treated like a highway between planets which essentially act as towns and only seem to have one feature. You’ve got your desert planets, your ice planets, your planets covered by one giant city, planets that are just one big forest or garden, I mean surely some of these planets might have diverse environments rather than just serving one single purpose?

But I digress. Suffice it to say, I was never enchanted by the original Star Wars films. When the prequel trilogy came along, I was a little more interested, though only a little. I never watched episodes I or II until the third installment came out and I saw it in theaters. I remember liking it and finding it fun and interesting, and it has been my favorite of the series ever since. I went back and watched Episode I, and honestly I’ve never understood the hatred the prequel trilogy gets. I mean yeah, it has a lot of weaknesses, but it’s exactly the same weaknesses the original series had. Peoples central complaint about the prequels seemed to be that it took the established Star Wars universe and ruined the magic by trying to explain too much.

Well if you have a fantasy universe that is so vaguely-defined that the slightest bit of detail ruins the magic, you have a very poorly built world. If the Star Wars universe loses it’s appeal the moment you start to dig deeper than the surface, then it’s just badly written, and yes, I do believe it is badly written. All of them, the originals and the prequels.

The prequels, for me as a viewer, seemed to play up the original trilogies strengths (Jedi, force powers, lightsaber battles) while ditching it’s weaknesses (focuses on slummy cantinas, bland environments, and one-dimensional characters). The prequel trilogy is the story of Anakin becoming Darth Vader, and what drives him to it. What the prequel trilogies show is that the Jedi are not at all what we thought they were: when the Jedi were in power, they were a terrible organization. They paradoxically encouraged detachment from love or relationships, but also expected Jedi to fight USING their feelings. They saw attachment as a path to the dark side, but there is a happy middle between a Bhuddist sense of detachment and an impassioned anger that leads to genocide. It’s possible to be passionate about justice, but how can a Jedi be passionate about justice if passion itself is forbidden? They forbid their members from experiencing natural landmarks of happiness like love or affection, they’re just begging for people to turn away from the Jedi and become Sith because the Jedi and Sith have established a false dichotomy: there is a middle ground between a detached and uncompassionate Jedi and a passionate, murderous Sith.

Darth Vader wasn’t created by Emperor Palpatine, he was created by the Jedi order that ripped him away from his mother and allowed her to be kept in slavery; remember that the Jedi are more than happy to intrude and shove their moral directives down other people’s throats when it suits them, but they didn’t see fit to save Anakin’s mother at any time, specifically because they wanted him to remain detached in order to suit their own ends and use him as a pawn in their prophecy to “bring balance to the force,” a phrase which is so ill-defined that it doesn’t seem to really mean much of anything. And Luke’s saga didn’t bring balance to the force either: the Light side won over the Dark side, that’s hardly balance. The Jedi claim to embrace balance, but they don’t, they embrace the Light side, or rather their perverse interpretation of the Light side, which doesn’t involve love, or passion, or family.

It seemed to me that the only sensible character in the prequel trilogy was Palpatine, but only when he was in his “normal” disguise. He was reasonable, articulate, and convincing. I never understood why he had such a cartoonishly evil alter-ego, because when he was Darth Sidious, he seemed to just want “power,” but even that was vague, all he wanted was to rule the galaxy and then he did, so… what now? His motivations were kind of dropped once the focus became on Anakin finally transforming into Vader.

And now I come to three important points about Star Wars.

So it may seem to you that I had plenty of gripes with the prequels, and I did. But now I’m going to come to three important points about Star Wars. The first this: despite the problems I have with them, I still think, and prepare yourself for this because it’s lost me a few friends, that THE PREQUELS ARE BETTER THAN THE ORIGINALS.

Horrified gasps from the audience, women fainting, the men ruffle their mustaches in anger, “What is that you say? The prequels, better than the originals? THIS IS BLASPHEMY, BURN THE WITCH!”

Yeah yeah, whatever. I do think they’re better, but they’re still weak movies, and that brings me to my second point: I don’t think Star Wars is very good. In fact, I think they’re all pretty terrible films. The originals were all over the place and couldn’t decide on a tone or direction, and the prequels seemed to be mostly about milking nostalgia out of the older viewers, but of course they failed, because as we’ve learned, and this is my third point: STAR WARS FANS CANNOT BE PLEASED.

What do we want? POLYGONS! When do we want ’em? NOW!

No, really. The Star Wars fandom reminds me a lot of the Final Fantasy fandom. The Final Fantasy fandom has spent the better part of two decades just endlessly crying out “More Final Fantasy VII, we want more Final Fantasy VII, give us Cloud, give us Sephiroth!” And then of course, they did. Final Fantasy VII got a sequel, two prequels, a movie, a slightly retooled version of the movie, two short anime films, guest appearances in the Kingdom Hearts series, and now an upcoming remake.

And what did the fans say? “NO! NOT LIKE THAT! Don’t give us Final Fantasy VII like THAT! We want the OLD Final Fantasy VII! We want the EXACT SAME THING we had before, only prettier and dressed up for modern audiences!”

“But, but…” Square Enix stammers, “You already HAVE the original! If we’re going to make more Final Fantasy VII media, shouldn’t it have something new and different that separates it from the original, something that improves on the originals weaknesses while holding up it’s strengths, something that sheds new light and deepens the world?”

And the resounding response from the fans is, “NO! We want THE SAME THING FOREVER!”

Change is hard, I get it. But the thing is, you just aren’t going to please Star Wars fans. Look at the outrage over Jar Jar Binks. I’m not talking about him being a racist caricature because that’s a pretty legitimate complaint, I’m talking about the fact that people seemed to hate him so much because he was annoying and silly and served only as bad comic relief. But the original series did the exact same thing with Chewbacca. I’ve always found Chewbacca annoying, I don’t like his weird sad gargling voice, the fact that the characters can understand him but we as the audience can’t makes him feel totally pointless. I mean, I could see why people were annoyed by Jar Jar, but he’s no better or worse than anything else in the film. It’s not like I particularly missed him in the second two prequels where he had a minor role, but it seemed silly to me that they caved to pressure to lessen his role in the movies.

If anything, I would have complained about the fact that Star Wars seems to turn out bad performances from every actor it touches, even the good ones: Hayden Christenson, Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are all good actors, but their performances were robotic and lifeless, even in scenes where the characters are crying or screaming, they speak with no emotion. Ewan McGregor comes the closest to overcoming this, having some genuinely emotional moments, but for the most part, Star Wars kind of destroys everything it touches. And as Family Guy pointed out in it’s Star Wars parodies, Harrison Ford was the only actor whose career wasn’t completely halted by the original Star Wars films.

Suffice it to say, I have become so exasperated with the series over time, and a lot of this has to do with it’s fans. It’s weird to me that the people who seem to hate Star Wars the most are Star Wars fans. Star Wars fans almost unanimously agree that the prequel films are awful and should be wiped from official canon, while the originals are the paragons of all that is just and good in cinema, and should never be touched, particularly not by George Lucas who apparently likes to go back and re-edit for continuity. I kind of agree with them about George Lucas mucking up the originals by re-editing them, but I strongly disagree with the idea that the prequels are terrible. I mean, if they ARE terrible, then they’re certainly no less terrible than the original films.

I am also aware that a part of why the original films don’t excite me so much is because I’m a child of a later age who is not impressed by their effects, and Star Wars is after all mostly about spectacle. And that is sad, because I’m sure if I’d been born in the seventies, I would have been blown away by the original films too.

To return to my earlier comparison with Final Fantasy VII, time has been just as unkind to Final Fantasy VII as it has to the original Star Wars films. Looking back on Final Fantasy VII now, if I were a brand new player I would probably not find it terribly interesting. I remember a time when the presentation of Final Fantasy VII was unmatched, when it’s story, music, dialogue and scenery were breathtaking, and I’m still able to get a little lump in my throat when controlling Cloud, standing out at the peak of a cliffside and looking over a vista of grasslands and the sparkling ocean in the background, while the main theme swells on the world map. But a newcomer wouldn’t see it that way at all. They would, understandably, see terribly modeled polygonal characters on a world made up of cones and squares covered by a thin varnish of scenery that look like something mocked up in a paint program, with music that, even though it’s brilliantly-composed, comes through on mid-90’s MIDI keyboard synths. A newcomer would not be blown away by Final Fantasy VII, and I as a child of the nineties was not blown away by the original Star Wars, because if Star Wars’ main strength is spectacle, I’ve seen bigger spectacles.

I certainly don’t think that the strength of Star Wars has ever been in it’s story or dialogue. There is a certain timeless feel to the heroes journey, or to the chosen-one narrative that wasn’t quite so overdone and played out back when Star Wars was a new property. It’s also impossible not to go into Star Wars somewhat jaded by it’s commercial aspect having spent your entire life surrounded by lightsaber toys, Darth Vader masks, endless quotations in every television show and movie, people pretending to do Darth Vader’s breathing sound and muttering in a gravelly voice, “Luke, I AM your father.” That does make it a little harder to enjoy those things when seeing them. The twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s father is a very good one, and as a writer it’s unfortunate that it’s now become cliche, because it means I have to rethink a lot of potential twists when writing to avoid an “I am your father” moment and have people roll their eyes and say “Well I could have seen that coming a mile away.” Yeah, but only because Darth Vader already did it.

And that’s really all I have to say about Star Wars episodes I-VI. Come back for part two when I’ll talk about my experience of seeing Episode VIII: The Last Jedi in theaters tonight.

On Stephen King and Storm Drains

I have a weird history with Stephen King and his fiction.

Admittedly, I probably haven’t read his best books. The first Stephen King book I read was one that was given to me by a friend who assured me I would love it. I did not. It was called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and I was surprised both by how boring it was and particularly by how not-scary it was. I mean, I had heard my whole life that Stephen King was a master of horror whose books were chilling and disturbing, and honestly the book was kind of meandering and had a creepy atmosphere, but in general it was pretty underwhelming.

I thought that Stephen King deserved another chance, however, and at the time I was working my first job and had absolutely no bills to pay, and I was nineteen, so of course I had no compunction spending way too much money on a super special deluxe edition of what was at the time his newest work: Under the Dome. It was a good concept, a story about a small town that’s trapped under an invisible dome that cannot be moved by any means, and how quickly society breaks down. Apparently the original title was an unfinished story called The Cannibals, and honestly that sounds much more interesting than what the book turned out to be.

I spent something like fifty dollars on a special edition of the book that came with some cards that had illustrations on them, really high quality paper and binding, and a weird cover that had the title in a flimsy ribbon rather than actually printing it on the book. Except for that ribbon thing, I was pretty impressed by the design of the book itself, and I was thirsty to read what waited within.

Under the Dome was about a thousand pages of wandering, meandering storytelling, introducing dozens of characters only to kill them off a few chapters later. I also wasn’t crazy about all the massive buildup to the incredibly underwhelming ending (SPOILER): oh right it was aliens all along. Not much explanation beyond that. Also the dome disappears and sends tons of polluted air that is killing everyone inside flying off to the rest of the state, and surely that’s going to have some bad effects but it isn’t really addressed. And there’s no epilogue at all, you get all that buildup just for the dome to disappear and the book to end on the next page.

At any rate, it was while reading this book that I began to notice the things about Stephen King’s writing that I really don’t like: everyone, be they man, woman, or child, all kind of have this jaded outlook on life and speak like truckers. I don’t mean profanity, because I don’t mind profanity. There’s just something weirdly scatological about the way everyone speaks. Everything comes down to metaphors about farts and shit and piss, or weird sayings that might sound natural coming out of a grizzled truck-driver at a 2AM pit-stop but just sound bewildering coming out of the mouth of a nine-year-old. And everyone is secretly some kind of monster. Everyone is secretly a murderer or a pedophile or a rapist, there doesn’t seem to be anyone immune from this.

Now, I get why that’s interesting in and of itself. Everyone does have the capacity to do horrible things under the right circumstances. But the character in King’s books are automatically portrayed as hiding a dark secret. The other thing that really stuck out to me was the catch phrases. I don’t remember if Under the Dome had many, but right about this time I was dating a guy who loved horror movies, who decided we were going to watch every horror movie ever adapted from Stephen King’s work. I have to say that a lot of them were great: there’s no denying Stephen King comes up with brilliant ideas. The Mist was a particular favorite, and I both loved and hated the bittersweet ending.

Carrie was a great movie, and as the weeks went on, my boyfriend and I worked our way through both versions of the Shining, through the two-part miniseries of It, Rose Red, Pet Semetary, Dreamcatcher, Misery, 1408, Secret Window, Storm of the Century, The Stand, the second version of Carrie, and probably a few more that I’ve forgotten. I still missed some classics: we didn’t watch Firestarter, Children of the Corn, The Green Mile or the Shawshank Redemption. But it’s fair to say I got a pretty good taste of what Stephen King’s ficiton is like.

A lot of those films dealt with similar themes: childhood, everyone secretly being some kind of monster, loads of catchphrases and incredibly corny moments, and even though these were adaptations and not the books themselves, I knew from reading some of King’s work that these aspects were probably present in his books too. Another thing about Stephen King books is that I just find myself feeling really uncomfortable reading them. I get that when you have a horror novel, you want to feel unnerved, but I just kind of felt anxiety, like I was trapped in a windowless room and running out of oxygen. That isn’t fun for me. I love fantasy. So it may be that I’m just the kind of person who is automatically diametrically opposed to Stephen King’s work.

I gave him another shot and read through several shorts stories from Everything’s Eventual, none of which particularly caught my interest. I had heard a lot of good things about the Dark Tower, and since it was a fantasy series and I love fantasy, I thought maybe I’d finally found the right fit. I read the Gunslinger in one day, I think about five hours, and that’s the only book in my life I’ve ever read in one sitting. Unfortunately it wasn’t because I was so enraptured by it or anything, I just wanted to get to the end. I remember bits and pieces of it. I’ve always hated westerns, cowboys, and deserts, so obviously that whole aesthetic was wasted on me. I really hated Roland for the choice he makes at the end of the book. I won’t spoil what happens but he does something very shitty and is eaten up with guilt for doing it, and I think that as a reader I’m supposed to empathize with him and this incredibly difficult choice he had to make, but mostly I just felt like Roland was kind of a dick.

I still want to give some of his other books a try. I want to read Carrie, Salem’s Lot, and maybe a couple of others. His most recent collaboration Sleeping Beauties has a very interesting concept. I’ve heard people rave about his memoir, On Writing, and I’ve read the first chapter or so and thought it was alright. Funnily enough, the only thing in Stephen King’s books that I REALLY enjoyed reading were the forewards and afterwards. I loved hearing his perspective on being a writer, on being famous, and how humble he is. It seems to me that King himself is convinced that a lot of his fame has to do with the fact that his first few books were successful, so everyone automatically loves everything written afterward. I applaud him for being so honest and self-reflective. I do notice that he has a tendency to write, um, a LOT of books about writers who live in Maine being haunted by monsters, and obviously that’s no accident I’m sure. I don’t really like his short fiction but in fairness to him I probably didn’t choose his greatest works to sample.

When I discovered that It was being adapted as a film, I was happy to hear it and thought it would probably be good. I did watch the TV miniseries back during my ex-boyfriends Stephen King movie run, and I was surprised at how terribly it’s held up over time. It wasn’t scary at all, it was incredibly campy and silly and ridiculous. As a child, I was vaguely aware of the existence of It and I remember finding it to be a terrifying concept, so seeing it as an adult it was kind of funny how incredibly not-scary it was.

Honestly, I don’t think Stephen King is really classified properly as a horror writer. Like I said, I haven’t read his classics, but a lot of his work has a very optimistic feel to it, it’s about normal people overcoming incredible darkness. It is no different, it’s about a group of childhood friends who triumph with the power of their will and their bonds with one another. It comes out to the same love-wins-over-evil trope that is a trope for a reason, because it’s a good concept. It is a little exasperating when everything ends the same way, but it’s still a good enough way to write a story.

I actually didn’t remember that the original film adaptation of It was a miniseries, I thought it was a movie. And I actually didn’t remember anything at all about the second part when the kids fight It as an adult, so either I didn’t pay attention, didn’t watch it, or just didn’t care. I do remember getting very bored, though.

So at my job we sell a few books, and one of them was the first Dark Tower novel, so I grabbed it while I was bored and flipped through the first few pages, thinking maybe I’d give that series another try. Although full disclosure, I did spoil the ending for myself a long time ago, but that’s beside the point. Despite trying, I still found the first chapter of the Gunslinger very boring. Then I saw a magazine called the ultimate guide to Stephen King or something, and I actually read through pretty much the whole thing, and I found the details about the upcoming It film to be really interesting. So when the movie was finally released I thought about going to see it in theaters, which would be a big deal for me because I’m typically very nervous about horror movies and I certainly don’t go to see them in theaters.

Last weekend I did something even more out of the usual for me, I went to see It in theaters all by myself. I was very nervous at first and did spend a little time messaging friends for comfort so I didn’t feel so alone. I had expected the movie to be good and I’d heard all the rave reviews about it, and they were right.

The movie begins with rain, which is automatically going to get my attention because I love rain. Apparently the word for that is pluviophile. What I love even more than rain is the sound of rain mixed with piano, and the movie begins with just that, so I was automatically hooked. The opening scene is pretty familiar by this point: a little boy in a yellow raincoat named Georgie takes out a homemade sailbot and runs alongside it as it sails down the rainy streets, disappears into a storm drain, and there he meets It, calling itself Pennywise, and is enticed to reach his hand in. In the book, Pennywise bites off his arm and leaves him to bleed out. In the miniseries, Pennywise grabs him and pulls him down into the sewer. The film combines these two by having Pennywise bite of Georgie’s arms in a pretty terrifying display where his mouth pulls back to reveal several rows of teeth, and a very painful scene where the actor who plays Georgie squirms helplessly in the rain in front of the storm drain.

I was really blown away by the beautiful cinematography of this particular shot. It’s hard to find a good screenshot to show you because the film hasn’t been released on home video yet, but after Pennywise bites off Georgie’s arm, he struggles to crawl away from the storm drain, screaming in agony. The actor’s performance is heart-wrenching, it’s hard not to feel incredibly sad at this very sweet kid being so mercilessly murdered. But even more than that, I loved the framing of the shot just before Pennywise reaches out of the storm drain to drag Georgie down into the sewer. It’s shown from above, with Georgie in his yellow raincoat crawling away from the drain, and rain pouring down hard on the whole scene. As he crawls, the blood from his arm fills up the water around him and the water begins to turn red. It’s just a really beautiful shot. Then Georgie is pulled down the drain and the movie’s prologue is done and the movie proper begins.

I won’t really go into too many more details about the film, except that there is one scene in particular that I have to mention because of how incredibly effective it was in the theater. There’s a scene where all of the kids gather in the main character Bill’s garage and look at slides on a projector of various incidents throughout the history of their town, Derry, and figure out It’s involvement with them. The projector starts working on it’s own and begins showing slides of Bill’s family, with Georgie in the photos, and the slides get faster and faster until they become a silent film. It’s interesting to note that Bill and Georgie’s mother is never shown directly in the movie, she is seen from the side playing piano at the very beginning of the film and mentioned by Bill’s father (who is shown), but is never explicitly shown and has no lines.

In the photos shown on the slides, Bill’s mother’s face is obscured by her hair blowing in the wind, and as her hair parts her face is revealed to be a smiling Pennywise.

Then the lights go out and the music stops, and real life movie theater is completely dark for a moment.

Then Pennywise leaps out of the projector screen at the children.

This is a particularly brilliant effect because the audience watching this movie is watching it in a theater, and the shot is framed so that the projector screen in Bill’s garage looks just like the projector screen of the movie theater, and for a split second, even though your brain knows better, you do have the feeling that Pennywise has just jumped out of the REAL movie screen and is screaming at the audience. It shocked everyone in the theater and made me jump. I really don’t like jump scares in general and the movie was mercifully short on them, but I can forgive the movie for that one because it was so genuinely unexpected.

I mean, looking back on it, sure, it does seem like the scene is obviously setting up Pennywise leaping out of the screen at the kids, but I honestly didn’t expect it, and during the moment when Pennywise jumped out of the screen, I remember several thoughts racing through my mind: one was that I vaguely wondered if this movie were in 3D and I’d missed something, then realizing it wasn’t in 3D, then the thought that scene would lend itself very well to 3D, and then how smart it was of the director to frame that shot like a real movie theater to convey the illusion of Pennywise jumping out of the screen. It simply wouldn’t work at home on a TV or on a computer monitor.

The movie was altogether very interesting and mercifully had a moment of rest where I was able to run away and go to the bathroom (I always have to pee at least once during a movie, so I have a bit of anxiety about how much I’m drinking and the timing of when I’m going to go). The ending was pretty satisfying, it was nice to see Pennywise speaking with the kids and trying to bargain for his life. I wasn’t exactly shocked by the sudden reveal at the end when the title card of the film flashes across the screen and it says IT, followed by a newly added “Chapter One.” I already knew that the filmmakers were producing a second film, as the book is set in two different time periods that overlap one another, one in which the kids fight It as children and one when they come to defeat It as adults.

After this, I skimmed the prologue of the book itself, and then skimmed through some more interesting parts that I wanted to read. There is some interesting underlying mythology about what exactly It is, it’s relationship to the universe and the universe’s creator, a mention of a kind of godlike deity guiding the children to defeat It, and all of this is heavily connected to the Dark Tower series. I had read in the Wikipedia synopsis of the book that there is a moment when the narrative switches to It’s point of view, so I was glad to find that and read it. I also read the very ending, as well as the penultimate scene that luckily never made it into either film adaptation, in which Beverly has sex with all of the boys in the sewer in order to try and bring them together. Sex scenes like that, particularly involving innocent kids who are just on the cusp of adolescence, have a way of making me feel incredibly melancholy and this one was upsetting to read too, but I do think it was pretty effective, if a little strange. But there was an element of Beverly reclaiming her power after her father attempted to take it from her.

All in all I’m really glad I saw It, and I didn’t let my initial fear of seeing it in theaters scare me away from doing it. I may also finally give Stephen King another chance sometime, although honestly I tend to assimilate the writing style of whoever I’m reading, and I don’t want my own writing to end up seeming too much like Stephen King, so I might put it off for a rainy day.

I’ll just stay away from storm drains.