Thursday, March 31, 2016

What I would have done with Episode VII

Let me begin by saying that I was a Star Wars fan.  I don’t know how many times as a teenager I’d be flipping through the channels over Thanksgiving and come across a marathon on some station.  Regardless of how far in they were, I’d spend the rest of the day watching the movies.  And then the same thing would happen over Christmas.  I was a fan, but I’ve grown out of it over the past few decades.  Yes, the Prequels were a part of that, but I think the bigger aspect is that my tastes changed as I matured.  If I saw the original trilogy now, I’d probably not be that big a fan because I’d notice all the little inconsistences of poor writing that stand out like a sore thumb to me.  For example, some people wonder why the Death Star just didn’t destroy Yavin and then destroy the Rebel base.  But the Death Star can fly between star systems in a matter of hours or days, but it can’t just move a few thousand kilometers to the right and has to wait for a planet to slowly get out of the way?  Some may say that the hyperdrive engines needed to cool down or something, but they could have driven better so that they came out with a clear shot.

Anyway, when it was announced that they were making more movies, I figured they were beating a decrepit cash cow.  So I wasn’t really looking forward to Episode VII.  And when I did get around to watching it, I thought it was okay, but not great.  Better than the Prequels, but that isn’t saying much.  After letting it settle a bit, my feeling on it now is that it was an okay movie that did not deserve all the hype it got.

Now you can’t toss the severed head of Jar-Jar around on the internet without hitting videos of people pointing out some of the errors of the Prequels, editing them into a more compelling story, or massive rewrites so that theydidn’t suck.  Now unless Episodes VIII and IX truly suck, I doubt as much will be done with the sequel trilogy.  But back in December I made a video giving mythoughts on Episode VII, but also theorizing what I would have done with it.  And with The Force Awakens finally coming out for download and Blu-ray, I figured it was time to give an update of my version of Episode VII with more of Episodes VIII and IX.  This includes things I’ve thought of in the past few months.  The reason I’m not making another video of this, is that – if you watch my video – you’ll see that I’m a better writer than a talker, plus I’ve been writing this post on and off for months as new things came to me.

So we’re all on the same page, my main issue I have with The Force Awakens are all the references and similarities.  If used sparingly they can be a great tool.  For example, the view of the rusted out AT-AT that Rey lives in is a fantastic bit of world building.  And the holographic, monster chess game was another fantastic bit of world building; in Episode IV.  I found its inclusion in Episode VII a bit of groaning nostalgia. 

The biggest bit of groaning nostalgia was the Starkiller Base.  It makes sense that the Empire would see a reason to spend the resources building a Death Star.  And after the first one was destroyed, it makes sense that they would build another one.  But why does the First Order need AN EVEN BIGGER ONE?  And how did they have the resources to build it?  And if the first Death Star was destroyed by a missile being able to fly into the reactor core, why make the second Death Star with openings large enough that ships could fly right up to the reactor core before firing their missiles, and why build the Starkiller Base with this super sensitive thing that keeps the whole thing from blowing up right on the surface where any schmuck in a ship could shoot at it instead of burying it ten miles under a mountain?  But it’s protected by a force field, you say.  So was the second Death Star.

When I saw the Starkiller Base on the poster and some early comments mentioned it, it just gave me the feeling of the reported Alien 3 where fifty guys in powerloaders were fighting fifty alien queens.  If you can’t make your sequel good and interesting on its own, just redo the first one but only make it BIGGER.  Because that always works.

Anyway, so what story would I have done if they had asked me to write Episode VII?  I have no idea what I would have thought of a couple of years ago, but after watching The Force Awakens, these are my thoughts.  I take characters from the actual movie, but use them in a way that I feel is more original.

First off, it made sense in the original trilogy why the Sith and Empire were closely related, because Palpatine was both Sith and Emperor.  But why does that storyline need to continue?  In my version of Episode VII, the Jedi storyline and the Empire storyline would be separate, with only some small crossover.  It would almost be like two movies at once.

Starting with the Jedi storyline.  My understanding is that people who are force sensitive pop up all the time in the general population.  If they are trained, then they become Jedi.  This explains why, in Episode IV, Vader isn’t all that surprised when he finds someone strong with the Force.  So in my movie version, Luke has a small group he is training as Jedi.  He has them set up on some uninhabited planet so there are no distractions.  Perhaps after some ghost chats with Yoda, he has an idea how things were done in the past.  But he feels he can’t just have one apprentice at a time.  But he also doesn’t want to get overwhelmed, so he has three. 

The oldest apprentice is Ben Solo.  He is a slightly troubled teenager because he is the child of two of the biggest heroes in the galaxy and nephew of a third.  All of that would put a bit of a chip on anyone’s shoulder.  This isn’t helped all that much by Luke who, not wanting to give him preferential treatment, does give him a bit of a cold shoulder at times.  And there’s another reason, I’ll get to.  The youngest apprentice is just some random alien.

But the third apprentice is Rey.  Now, in my version Rey is an alien.  Not CGI, just the actress with some makeup and funny ears, or something.  The reason is, just as I’m annoyed with the Jedi/Empire continuing to be linked in the real movies, I’m also annoyed with the Skywalkers being the heroes of the galaxy.  (I’m basing this on the 99.9% certainty that Rey is Luke’s daughter.)  I’m looking for some diversity in my version, both from the Skywalkers and from the humans.  Now Rey is maybe a year younger then Ben, but she is a Jedi natural.  So much in fact, that Luke figures it’s time to make her a Jedi Master.  This rubs Ben wrong and takes away from his fantasy of being the greatest Jedi ever.

Before Luke makes Rey a Master, they all go on a bit of a road trip to Dagobah so that Rey can go into the dark cave.  This is because of Luke’s limited training so he doesn’t fully know what else to do, and because it was the one test that he failed.  Yoda’s hut has long since been taken over by the jungle, but the cave remains.  Rey goes in, and has a really freaky experience.  She comes out rather shaken, and goes to talk with Luke.  Ben figures that he is ready to go in, so he rushes in and the experience snaps him.  He comes out of the cave in a rage and cuts the third apprentice in half with his lightsaber, and Luke and Rey are barely able to contain him.

They return to their training planet, and then Han and Leia show up from their side of the movie.  Luke explains what happened, and they go to Ben to talk to him.  He’s just locked in his room.  They talk, and at first everything seems to be going okay, but after too many, “Luke says that …” Ben goes nuts accusing them of always taking Luke’s side.  He then force chokes both of them, then flies off in one of the apprentice ships.

Luke is completely distraught over the death of his sister and friend, and Rey promises to bring Ben back so that they can return him to the light.  She then flies off, possibly with Chewy, in the Millennium Falcon. 

Now, on to the Empire storyline.  My thinking is that in the Empire’s hierarchy there was Palpatine, Vader, then a big gap down to governors or whatever.  So after Return of the Jedi, there was a huge power vacuum in the Empire’s structure.  I’d think that a lot of units would surrender to the New Republic, possible even joining the New Republic Military.  Other units would kill each other off fighting for power.  In the end, there would be a small, fanatical bit of the Empire left.  They might call themselves the First Order, but I found that name a bit odd.

Anyway, my movie would start with the new Emperor meeting with Phasma.  She berates him for being weak, and then stabs him.  As he dies, he says, “I’m proud of you, daughter.” So right from the start we see that Empress Phasma is a badass.

In this diminished Empire, they are desperate to hold on.  So they use regular humans as Stormtroopers, but they also have clone troops and even droid units.  They use everything they can to stay in the fight.  And after several decades, they have a pretty secure little realm.  And after decades of fighting, the citizens of the New Republic are getting tired of the war.  There are even rumbles of wanting to make peace with the Empire.

So the Chancellor wants to win the war, and sooner if possible.  There is a War Council with Han and Leia on it.  Often in opposition to them is this General X, I don’t really have a name for him, or her.  They had been an Imperial officer who surrendered to the New Republic and then joined the Republic military.  They have served with honor and distinction for over a decade.  This General X has a young aide, we’ll call Finn. 

Anyway, Han and Leia have sent a team – led by Po – into the Empire to see if they can determine which planet has their cloning facilities.  Their plan is that if they can knock that out, this war of attrition might start going their way.  So Po has some adventures, but comes back with the information.

Han and Leia propose this massive invasion to take out the planet, but General X is wary.  But the Chancellor is persuaded and the invasion goes off.  There are hundreds of ships, with Han and Leia on the Millennium Falcon which has been outfitted as a command ship. 

There is a big battle – while Ben is in the cave – and they deal the Empire a blow but they don’t manage to take out the cloning facilities.  Could the Empire have known they were coming? 

While it wasn’t a defeat, it wasn’t the promised victory.  The Chancellor kind of needs someone to take the blame.  Leia knows something happened with Ben, so she and Han announce that they are going to go see Ben, and then retire to some quiet, out-of-the-way planet. 

The movie ends with General X going to the Chancellor and saying that perhaps they need an old solution to the problem, and holds up a little holographic display of a Death Star.

The opening crawl of my Episode VIII would state that with the Republic Death Star, the New Republic was able to destroy the clone and droid facilities of the Empire, which caused it to splinter and break up.  There are still bands of troops out there – some commanded by Empress Phasma – but they are no longer a serious military threat.

So the movie opens with the Republic Death Star, which would probably be just bare-boned because it was a rush job (Ideally, I’d love to see them build a frame around a couple mothballed Super Star Destroyers and have the gun, but that’s probably not nostalgic enough of a Death Star).  The camera pulls back to a bunch of fancy delegates on a ship.  The Chancellor gives a speech about how a Death Star is too much power, even for his hands.  There’s a laugh, and then he hits a button and the Death Star self-destructs.  General X is upset about destroying it, but the Chancellor points out that the Empress and her followers are little more than terrorists and you don’t fight terrorists by destroying planets.

Speaking of the Empress, she’s in hiding on some world.  Perhaps she’s standing on a balcony berating one of her lieutenants, when she sees a stranger walking in the alley below.  Some roughs jump them, but the stranger pulls out a lightsaber and cuts off their arms.  So later, the Empress is “attacked” by some ruffians as Ben – maybe going by the name Kylo Ren for some reason – walks nearby.  He saves her, and she then uses her Machiavellian nature and female charms to wrap him around her finger.  She drafts him in her fight against the New Republic and against the one who betrayed her.  There was someone who was sending her information, letting her defeat attacks, such as the one Han and Leia led.  But this source never mentioned a Death Star.  So she wants to take her revenge on this person, and then go on to conquer the galaxy.  And now she has her own fallen Jedi.  She may even suggest that, since he is obviously the most powerful Jedi ever, he should set up his own school to train a new order of Ren Jedi.

Meanwhile, Rey lands on some remote planet and starts looking around.  She comes across some ruffians attacking a kid, and she makes them stop.  The kid explains that the ruffians work for some crime boss who runs that corner of the planet, and figures that Rey is there to save all the little people from him.  But she tries explaining that she isn’t there to fight their war, and the people point out that if she leaves, the ruffians will just come back and take revenge on them for what she did.  So not able to think of anything else, she goes to the crime boss to try to talk things over, and it ends up being a giant fight and she cuts up most of his men.  Perhaps a lucky shot cuts her cheek, giving her a bit of a scar.  She’s not all that happy about things, but the people talk about how they can now live without fear and all that.  At the end of the movie, she’s on another planet, when she sees some ruffians attacking a woman.

Now that the war is over, General X is a galactic hero.  And now that there are just some minor terrorism cells to mop up, there isn’t much for him to do.  So his aide Finn starts pushing him into politics.

About the only thing I have for my Episode IX is that Rey has become this folk hero.  She lands on a planet and she takes out any crime bosses so the people can live free.  So she’s now hounded by assassins and anyone wanting to make it big with the crime syndicates.  And she doesn’t discriminate, whether they’re typical thugs or New Republic thugs in charge of some minor planet.  So now Senator X isn’t all that happy with her.  He feels the New Republic should clean their own house, not have some outsider do it.

Part of the general idea is that Finn was the one leaking info to the Empress.  Because he needed the war to stalemate, so that he could then give a solution – the Republic Death Star – to General X.  This makes General X a hero, gets him into politics, and perhaps eventually the Chancellorship.  All with Finn in the background pulling all the strings.  Finn isn’t the Big Bad, he’s just power hungry, and intelligently methodical about going about getting it.  In one version of my idea, Finn would turn out to be non-Sith Sith, or something.  But I wanted to get away from the black/white that comes up so often in Star Wars. 

For example of how, in my version, not everything would be Light or Dark, Rey does let pride and power go to her head, but she’s nowhere near what we think of as Sith.  Ben – on the other hand – goes dark out of depression and self-loathing, but in Episode IX starts seeing how the Empress is using him.  So perhaps he and Rey join forces to take out the Empress’s latest scheme and put the final nail in the Empire.  And perhaps Finn gets away with everything?

I’ll let this sit, and after the real Episodes VIII and IX come out, I’ll revise this again, finally coming up with a complete alternate version of the trilogy.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Grimm Reviews – “Tom Thumb”

“Tom Thumb”

There was once a couple who were lonely and wished for a child, even one as big as their thumb.  Well, they eventually had a son no bigger than a thumb, and they named him Tom Thumb. One day, his father went off to cut wood and wished someone would bring the cart to him. Tom Thumb said he’d sit in the horse’s ear and guide the horse to his father.

On the road, they passed two men who were surprised to see a horse pulling a cart “without” a driver. So they followed it. When they reached where his father was cutting wood, Tom’s father took him out of the horse’s ear and set him on a stump.

The two men figured they could show off Tom in town and make money, so they tried to buy him. His father said “No,” but Tom told him he might as well, but that he would return.

So the two men paid his father and took Tom. But when the men stopped at dusk in a field, Tom ran off and hid in a mouse hole. The men couldn’t find him and eventually they had to leave.

Later that night, Tom heard two other men walking by planning a robbery. Tom piped up saying he would help them. They were surprised, but agreed to take him. They took him to the house and he slipped into the room with the gold and silver. But then he started talking loudly, which woke a maid.

When the maid went to look to see who was talking, the robbers ran off so as not to be caught, and Tom slipped into the barn. He slept in some hay, and the next morning the hay was fed to a cow who swallowed Tom whole. He cried out from the cow’s stomach, and the maid who was milking the cow figured the cow was talking.

The master figured the cow was possessed, so he had it killed and the stomach was thrown on a dung hill. Before Tom could work his way out of it, a wolf came by and ate it.

So Tom told the wolf where he could get a good meal – his parent’s storehouse. So the wolf crept in and ate his fill, but then he was too fat to squeeze back out. Tom made a great noise and woke his father. His father killed the wolf and let Tom out so the family was reunited again.


I’d heard of Tom Thumb before, I think when I was kid I saw a cartoon of it from the 40’s, or something, but I always thought it was more … family friendly, I guess. Let’s see, in this story you have slavery, lying, attempted theft, suspected demonic possession, tricking others to their deaths, etc. I wonder, when this was first told, was Tom seen as a clever boy? Now, he just seems like a jerk, and it’s a bit hard to root for him.