Fiction

Avengers Infinity War – Phase 1 Analysis

We’re in the final month leading up to the culmination of a decade long story arc told in movie form. The conclusion of an historical event never before attempted in movie history. I speak, of course, of the Avengers story in the Disney Marvel Cinematic Universe, a three act, 22 movie story told over ten years. Like many fans, I’m re-watching all the movies of the series in story order in preparation for the long-awaited day (or as close as one can get to story order, making certain allowances for flashbacks, parallel arcs, etc.). I don’t intend to give a critique or movie reviews here, rather I’m interested in filling in the details that I missed the first time around, and noting patterns that weren’t necessarily obvious without the benefit of hindsight. If you have noted something that I’ve  missed, please feel free to include it in the comments.

Now, on to Act 1 (creatively named: Phase 1).

Phase 1 Movies

The order I watched Phase 1 in was as follows:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Iron Man 1
  • Iron Man 2
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Thor
  • Avengers Assemble

A few of the Avengers Phase 1 movies were difficult to know how to slot in the viewing order. Specifically, Captain America, which is mostly set in the past, but is sandwiched between scenes from the present, and The Incredible Hulk, which would appear to be set at approximately the same time as Iron Man 2 (due to the end credits scene). Otherwise, however, the movies lead quite well from one into the other Avengers Assemble. For example, the closing credits scene of Iron Man 2 leads direction into Thor, and the closing credits of Thor, leads directly into the Avengers.

As I said, I’m not here to re-critique these movies. I enjoyed all of them, some more than others. But each is a well-written popcorn-munching, big-screen, action flick with lots of eye candy and even a few thought-provoking ideas (Iron Man has already inspired 3D printed gauntlets and suits, as well as a host of personal digital assistant apps and, arguably, an entirely new line of voice-activated home technology). In the order I watched them, I noticed some things I didn’t the first time around, when I was watching with a single-movie perspective. I also noticed some interesting trends through the movies, that fed into the Avengers.

Captain America

First off, Captain America showed us Tony Stark’s father, thus tying us into the Iron Man franchise. We also see the Tesseract (although we don’t yet know it’s the space infinity gem) and we see it in association with Norse mythological symbolism. Specifically, Yggdrasil, the world tree. Thus, creating a link to the Thor movies, and to the 9 realms spoken of therein. In addition to the main chronology, this is another reason I believe Captain America is useful to place at the front of the series.

Of course, there were other links, such as Bucky, who comes back in Captain America 2, linking us to that movie, as well as Civil War, and providing us a lead in to the technology of Black Panther and Wakanda.

For me, the biggest revelation on re-watching this movie, was the ‘end’ of the Red Skull. Somehow, the first time around, I completely missed the fact that a portal had opened and he was whisked off, on a column of energy, into space (I had thought he was vapourised). On hindsight, this scene was very important to the franchise for two reasons.

First, the Russo Brothers have said all Phase 1-3 arcs will be wrapped up. That implies that we will learn what happened to the Red Skull (perhaps a servant of Thanos?). The second point that was important was the beam of energy itself — I’ll come back to this soon.

Iron Man

Of all the movies leading up to Avengers Assemble, Iron Man 1 was my favourite. Not only did Robert Downey Jr. Do an amazing job at portraying the super genius playboy Tony Stark, but the story itself was well written with interesting characters, and I completely geeked out over Stark’s man cave.

It’s not difficult to see how the Iron Man movies fit into the Avengers universe. Not only is Stark the link to Captain America, but his technology features heavily in the conclusion of Avengers, as it is likely the only energy source on the planet capable of creating the portal via the Tesseract. Perhaps even more importantly, in regards to phase 1, however, was that it was in the Iron Man movies that we saw, most obviously, the development of SHIELD and the introduction to Black Widow (specifically Iron Man 2). This is where we also meet Agent Phil Coulson, who also features in Thor, Avengers, and of course, his own spin-off TV series.

The Incredible Hulk

Chronologically, the Incredible Hulk seems to fall within the span of the Iron Man movies. It came out very closely after the first Iron Man movie, and the end credit sequence was the first real on-screen hint that this was the beginning of a shared universe (I was so excited at the end credit scene with Tony Stark and SHIELD).

The Hulk movie itself didn’t really seem to fit within the overall Avengers arc, however, something Disney/Marvel seems to have realized, as they never made another. However, there’s no specific reason why the supporting characters, especially Thunderbolt Ross, couldn’t be brought back in Phase 4, perhaps even in the background of 90’s Captain Marvel, before catching up with them in relation to SWORD?

 

Thor

The final solo-character movie of Phase 1, Thor introduced the relationships and broader universe necessary for the plot of the Avengers. It demonstrated the depth of the feelings between Thor and his adopted brother Loki, the lengths Loki would go to for acquiring the throne, and the vast difference in power between Asgard and Earth. Or, as Nick Fury put it,

“…we learned we are hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned.”

It also introduced Hawkeye, and the Bifrost (rainbow bridge), technically described as an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, or wormhole, by Jane Foster. At first, this appears to be just a cool piece of magi-tech, but it the scope of the entire Phase 1, it can be seen as something much more…

Signals to Space

In Thor, we see an energy beam bring the Asgardians around the Nine Realms, including to Earth. This is a cool piece of magic technology that fits well with the theme of Asgard, but I believe it’s also the piece of information that links the character’s movies together, and to Avengers (and even to Thanos).

The Bifrost is portrayed as an immense energy beam to space, which acts as a portal. That is, it acts just like the Tesseract. In fact, Thor and Loki use the Tesseract the same way at the end of Avengers Assemble. So, in terms of story chronology, when did we first see such a beam / portal? At the end of Captain America, when Red Skull was whisked away. Furthermore, we also saw a huge beam of energy come from the large arc reactor at the end of Iron Man 1 to destroy Obadiah.

That is, each of the first movies ofthe trinity (Thor, Iron Man Captain America) had an intense beam of energy blasting into space. A similar beam was then used in Avengers, along with the Tesseract, to create the portal. I believe this was an intentional connection made by the producers between the three movies, and is alluded to in Thor’s speech to Nick Fury,

“Your work with the Tesseract is what drew Loki to it, and his allies. It is the signal to all the realms that the earth is ready for a higher form of war.”

From a timeline of the movies, science adviser to the MCU Sean Carroll noted in May 2011 (before either Captain America or Thor had been released) a conversation with Kevin Feige where he mentioned the Einstein-Rosen bridge. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude that this idea was popular enough that they added it to Captain America as an intentional tie-in to the broader space arc.

One thing the Tesseract arc in Avengers Assemble suggests to me for the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War movie, which I think has already been borne out from the trailers, is that Thanos first comes for the Power and Space gems. The reason being that he needs the power gem in order to fully utilize the space gem for intergalactic transportation. In addition, we get some hint at how powerful the mind gem could be when coupled with the power gem suggesting that for an interesting movie, it probably has to be one of the last gems collected.

Avengers Assemble

The first Avengers movie nicely brought the diverse characters together, showed the conflicts within themselves and between the group members, and gave us some nice fan fun with the heroes fighting each other. Although Tony Stark featured heavily in the movie and his arc reactor was used to power the Tesseract, Avengers Assemble was ultimately a continuation of the story from Thor — the relationship between Thor and Loki, and Loki’s quest for power. Not only was this obvious from the plot, but the story began and ended with Loki. This may become important after analysis of Phase 2.

 

 

Phase 1 as Act 1

I was a bit disappointed in myself as a writer that it took me so long to realize that ‘Phase 1’ actually meant ‘Act 1’ of a three act story. The writers laid it out clearly, but hid the idea in a simple terminology difference.

Anyway, as the first act of a three act story goes, Phase 1 of the Avengers series hit all the right spots. It introduced the main characters, their back stories, their strengths and weaknesses, and brought them together. Considering the story from the perspective of the Avengers group, Avengers Assemble provided the call to action as well as the refusal (when the group fell apart) and the final acceptance (when they overcame their individual differences to come together and do what had to be done). The entire phase 1 set the scene very well for the rest of the series.

 

That’s been my look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One movies from Disney/Marvel, and some of the interesting story and plot points I’ve observed when viewing them with the entire story arc in mind. I’ll be posting a look at the Phase Two movies and my thoughts on them shortly so be sure to check back.

Fiction

The Last Time

Perhaps I was coming in to my parenthood at the time I wrote this. Or perhaps I’d just grown up a bit, but I envisioned a dialog between the hard-working, wise, and practical God and his youthful, idealistic son regarding the events of Jesus visit to Earth, and his crucifixion and resurrection. The Last Time was the result.

A big surprise I had from this story was how well it was received by the religious members of my family and friends. My parents reworked it slightly into a performance dialog that has been shown several times to their church congregation with great success. Whether you’re religious or not, Christian or not, I hope you enjoy my Easter offering, The Last Time.

Lightning flashed in the heavens, stabbing viciously at the helpless ground below. The bank of dark storm clouds flickered brightly like a celebrity caught in the machinegun fire of paparazzi cameras. Above the clouds, somewhat higher in space and reality, a heated discussion was occurring.

“That’s it! I’m finished. I’m not going to do it again! I absolutely will not go down there pulling Your ass out of the fire another time. If You get yourself into trouble again don’t come begging to Me. I don’t know why I did it this time — three days I sat here thinking; should I, shouldn’t I? In the end I did it for Your mother, bless her heart — she makes a mean gefilte fish. But that’s it, that’s all. That was the last time!”

“Come on dad, I haven’t needed that much help.”

“Shall I remind You?”

“Dad…”

“First, the birth…”

“Which went fine.”

“Which was a disaster.”

“Dad…”

“Did you think to look for a stable family…”

“They were fine!”

“…or at least a family that was at home…”

“They found something.”

“…instead of traveling during the busiest time of the year?”

“It was fine, dad; warm, comfortable.”

“It was a barn! And they were lucky to find that!”

“It was fine. I don’t know why You keep bringing it up.”

“Next was the whole child of prophecy thing; the star, the choir of angels, the three wise men. All fine and dandy, but You forgot that it wasn’t only the good people watching.”

“That couldn’t be helped, dad. The whole world deserved the same chance, I couldn’t be selective.”

“So I had to save Your newly mortal ass from Harrods’s purge.”

“That hardly counts! I wasn’t even a year old. Anyway, what were You doing letting people like that in power?”

“It’s their choice, not mine. Anyway, I was happy when You finally settled down for a while to grow up, but then what happened? You start calling out Rabbis and tearing up synagogues! Do You know what it took to keep that quiet.”

“They were making a mockery of You, of everything You taught them!”

“They wanted to string You up right there, and rightfully so! You can’t just go busting up places of worship — people take that very seriously.”

“But dad, they were doing business there!”

“That’s their choice! I had to rearrange continental politics for a few years to hold them off You and You still walked around all ‘holier-than-thou’”.

“I was helping them, dad, healing the sick, feeding the poor…”

“And then finally, I had to bail You out of this mess. Do You know how worried your mother was? Did You give any thought to her feelings before You went and got yourself crucified?”

“Come on dad…”

“I hope, at least, that You had a good reason for doing all this.”

There was an uncomfortable silence, Jesus looked around, to the distant stars, to the other planes of existence, and, finally, sadly, at the ground. A single tear fell from his eye to the otherworldly surface below. Looking up, He slowly answered, “There was so much violence and hate and suffering, I needed to bring them love, give them a sense that someone cared.”

“Do you think You’re Eros or something? You just wanted to bring them love? Since when is that Our job? I had hoped for something a little more substantial.”

“And…I just…I needed to understand what it was like…”

“Jesus H. Christ! Who do You think you are, Buddha? You’re omniscient! What in the name of Lucifer’s minions did You think You needed to learn?”

“I needed to feel it, first hand. I had to know what it was like, dad, all that suffering. There’s just so much pain and sorrow down there, I had to know.”

Like a gas giant deflating into the cold of space, God gave a great sigh, “You know, much of it they have caused themselves.”

“Do they cause the droughts? Do they cause the famines? Do they cause the diseases?”

“Well, yes in many ways.”

“Only because You don’t teach them otherwise. Really dad, how can You treat them like that — even Your chosen ones! I thought You loved them, how can You stand to see them that way?”

“You’re young, You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try Me!”

Now it was God’s turn to pause. He turned from Jesus and walked up the few stairs to His blindingly white throne, sitting himself slowly on its well-worn seat. He often came here to sit and think when the weight of the universe became too much. It reminded Him that He was still the ruler of creation, even if He didn’t always feel that way.

Slowly, God turned back to Jesus, “Son, it’s precisely because I love them that I must leave them to their own devices.”

“What the hell does that mean? Some excuse for being lazy?”

“Far from it, son. When You grow older You will realize that sometimes watching, doing nothing, is the hardest decision You can make. But sometimes it is necessary.”

“I don’t understand.”

God sat quietly for a moment before shuffling positions in his throne. After a few minutes He gave up trying to get comfortable and continued, “They must learn to find the path themselves. If You learn nothing else from Me, I hope You learn this one thing.”

“You mean You can’t help them?”

“I mean that the best way to help them, is to leave them to themselves. Either they will find the way, or they won’t.”

“You mean, I can’t tell them anything: how to cure disease, how to end suffering, how to create peace on Earth…”

“I’m saying, You can tell them what You want, but until they learn it for themselves, they won’t really understand. And until they truly understand, the knowledge will be useless at best, abused by the powerful in the worst case.”

Jesus shook His head violently, “I can’t believe that, I can’t accept it.”

“Jesus! It’s crucially important that You understand this.”

God fidgeted on His throne for a few more minutes while Jesus stood defiantly staring at Him. With an effort of infinite patience, God tried again to explain, “Listen. When I head off to the great void…”

“Dad, don’t talk like that, You still have eons ahead of You.”

“That’s not the point, We all go sometime. We’re gods, but that doesn’t make Us immune from physics; entropy catches Us all sometime. So, like I was saying, when I go to the great void beyond the veil I need to know that there is someone here who can carry on my work, keep things running smoothly so to speak. Not someone who is going to send everything to Satan in a hand-basket.”

“Dad, I won’t sell the farm to Satan…”

“You will, if You don’t understand,” God insisted. “If You’re not careful Satan will take everything and then the universe will really be in trouble.”

Jesus suddenly seemed very interested in the dirt under His fingernails. He picked at it with great attention scraping out little bits of blood and soil that remained from His three-day ordeal.

“Did you hear me?” God asked, “You don’t want Satan getting his meat hooks into creation.”

“He’s not so bad,” Jesus said, under His breath.

“What? What was that?” God sputtered.

“I said ‘he’s not so bad.’”

“He’s… not so… he’s not so bad? He’s not so bad! Did I hear You right? He’s not so bad! He’s only been trying to undermine all My work since the beginning of time. Not so bad! What could possibly give You the idea that he’s not so bad?”

“I spoke with him,” Jesus answered, quietly.

“You what! You spoke with him. Are You crazy! When did this happen?”

“I met with him in the desert,” Jesus said, staring at his hands.

“And what forked tongued sweet-nothings did he whisper in Your ear?”

“It wasn’t like that. He wanted to help them, wanted Me to help them.”

“I suppose he offered You the world? Just take over, make everything right. That was it, wasn’t it?’

“Sort of…”

“That’s always his answer. Make everything right, force them to do the right things: stop their wars, put food on their tables, bring peace and love. And what does that solve, hmm, can You answer that, can You?”

“Well, at least they would be happy!” Jesus said, with a surge of defiance.

“Happy?”

“And healthy.”

“Healthy?”

“And there would be enough food for all, there would be no poverty, no wars, no famines, no plagues, none of the stuff You love!” He said, in a final defiant cord that hung in the suddenly still air.

The room, indeed the entire plane of existence was deathly, uncomfortably quiet. Hours upon hours passed in awkward silence. As Jesus looked over at His Father He thought maybe He had overstepped the boundaries with His last comment.

“Dad, I…”

“Is that what You think?” God answered quietly.

“No, I…”

“Is that what they think?”

“No, of course not…”

“Do You really think I love visiting all that horror upon them?”

“No…I mean, I’m sure You have Your reasons…,” He answered, clearly unconvinced.

“Listen, do You think raising sentient beings is all about making them happy? About giving them everything they want so they can live forever in comfort? Is that what You think?

“No…of course not,” Jesus answered quietly.

“You do, don’t You? Well, let me tell You, buster, there’s a lot more to consider than that.

“Look, so far I’ve only shown You Earth, yes? I’ve let You have Your fun, heal the sick, make food and wine for the masses, experience first-hand what things are like. And it’s pretty fun and pretty interesting, no? Running around below, watching the material sentients go about their business. So let Me ask You this. What about the rest of the universe? Have You thought about how large infinity is? Have You thought about how many other galaxies there are, each with billions of stars, billions of planets and multitudes of other sentient lifeforms to raise?”

“Okay, space is big, so? I like to watch the humans. Clearly You’ve been taking care of the other species.”

“Yes, I’ve been taking care of the other species while You’ve been playing Messiah, but in case You haven’t noticed, there is only one of Me and I’m no spring godling any more,” God said. He was feeling agitated again. What was it with kids? Were they intentionally obtuse, or did Jesus really not understand? With a Herculean effort He calmed Himself and tried again to explain.

“Listen, all of the sentient species in the universe follow a similar developmental path. I seed a few potentials, kick start evolution and check back every few million years to see what’s been happening. Once they develop sentience, they have a whole new set of concerns and it takes a lot more of My attention, especially in the beginning. From nomadic hunter-gatherers, they develop agriculture and urbanization, progressing through stone, bronze and iron ages and then the industrial age, atomic and information ages. If they get that far, they will either succeed wildly or fail miserably.”

“So? All the more reason to help them,” said Jesus.

Kids! “Listen, You have left the humans at a delicate period, they are mid-iron age and most signs suggest their principal empires are on the verge of collapse. It seems likely that some form of organized mythology — evolving from Your visit — will fill the coming power vacuum. From that kind of development there are many paths. Without technological evolution and a means to disseminate information to the masses, the various clergy will maintain power ultimately leading to stagnant civilizations that exist solely to pay tribute to the priesthood. In many such cases, the clergy attempt to exert their power through fear and enact widespread bloodshed in the name of the saviour — in this case that would be You.”

“Me?! No one’s going to create a bloodbath in My name, I brought them peace and love,” insisted Jesus.

“Peace and love! One thing You’ll learn when dealing with early sentients is that any lessons are quickly forgotten. Your name, My name, the name of some distant star or lowly animal — the name doesn’t matter to the powerful and neither does the original message, those are only means and justifications for control.

“Eventually the religion will fragment and the various denominations will commit highly imaginative and bloody genocides in Our name.

“On the other hand, with rampant, unchecked technological development a society will grow faster in knowledge than in wisdom until it runs the risk of destroying itself.”

Jesus stared at his father, mouth agape, before speaking, “Well that’s great. Create species that self-destruct at every turn.”

“Shut up and learn something for a change. The way forward requires the species find a balance between that which is important for living and that which is important for existing. Sure, some or many will fail to find the path, but many others will succeed. They must, however, learn to walk it themselves. They’ll never be successful if We have to show it to them.”

“You’re saying that they can’t find the balance without learning it themselves. Even if We explain it to them.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m trying to tell You. We can’t just tell them. They won’t understand if You just tell them. Just like You had to experience their suffering first hand to understand, they have to learn the right path themselves. All of them. For every species in the universe it’s the same. Experience is the great teacher, the only teacher.

“That’s not so surprising, really. Even Gods learn by experience. Look, do You think this universe was My first try? Far from it. I must have tried infinite different ways of pulling something from nothing. I mean, wow, You should have seen some of the early ones. In fact, some of them may still be floating around out there somewhere. And what about the whole ‘Noah-gate’ thing. I mean, the world was going to hell in a hand basket. I was ready to wash My hands of the whole thing. It was only at the last minute, figuratively speaking, that I realized it was still good and changed My mind. Boy, when Your mother learned of that one…well, let’s just say, You almost weren’t born.

“Anyway, the point is, if We were to give them all the knowledge and technology they need, they would never learn it for themselves. Then We would have a universe full of helpless sentients — and where’s the point in that? Think of it this way; even as I’m training You to take over from Me when I pass the veil, so too will You one day pass beyond the veil. In that day, it will be these species, the ones who have learned the lessons well, that will inherit the universe. There won’t be gods forever, You know.”

~ ~ ~

Jesus stood, quietly contemplating his Father’s words. Of course, God was right, as usual. Jesus saw it now. He would have to postpone His trip. There was no reason to go until they were ready. He should probably tell someone, give them a message.

Vision unfocused, Jesus peered ahead several thousand years.

Wow!

There was no way John was going to understand that. Still, He had to try.

Fiction

To Infinity (War) and Beyond!

It’s just seventeen weeks until the beginning of the end. That’s right, the Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe’s amazingly triumphant experiment in movie story telling, traversing ten years and (by the end) twenty-two movies, is drawing to a close. As the experiment, conceived in the idea of telling a three-act story spread over ten years and almost two-dozen movies, nears its conclusion, I intend to recap the wonder and majesty with a trip back over the entire series, via each movie, in preparation for the arrival of Infinity War (here in the UK that’s April 27). That’s one movie per week, plus Black Panther, which arrives in Cinemas on February 12, and Thor: Ragnarok, which releases on DVD a few weeks later.

It’s difficult to imagine that the journey started in 2008 with The Incredible Hulk is now almost concluded. What’s in store for phases 4-6, if Disney/Marvel sticks to the same story-telling structure (which they’ve already suggested they may not), is anyone’s guess, especially now that Disney has bought 21st Century Fox and have recovered both the X-men and Fantastic Four franchises. All we know so far is that the new sequence will start off with Spiderman #2 and will likely heavily feature Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Antman/Wasp and possibly Doctor Strange. We also know there will be a Guardians of the Galaxy #3. Speculation is that we’ll see cameos from the main phase 1-3 heroes, but no stand-alone movies. Personally, I’d love to see Iron Man join up with the Guardians!

Regardless, back to our current reality. Sixteen weeks and eighteen movies (although one is in the theatre) means that each weekend, beginning this Saturday, I’ll be re-watching and reviewing a movie from the series, in Chronological order of the story (as best we can tell). First up is Captain America: The First Avenger. Here’s the order I’ll be watching in:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. Iron Man 1
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. The Incredible Hulk
  5. Thor
  6. Avengers Assemble (End of Phase 1)
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Thor: The Dark World
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy 1
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
  12. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  13. Ant Man (End of Phase 2)
  14. Captain America: Civil War
  15. Doctor Strange
  16. Spiderman: Homecoming
  17. Thor: Ragnarok
  18. Black Panther (February 12)
  19. –> Avengers: Infinity War (April 27)

This will be my first time watching these movies so close together in the order of the story and I’d love for you to join me. I have the movies I’m particularly looking forward to watching again (Ironman 1, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Civil War and, yes, Thor 3, come immediately to mind). Which movie are your favourite? Least favourite? What about your most and least favourite hero/villain (I love the depiction of all the characters, but I’ll miss Tony Stark the most in the new phase)?

So… Avengers Assemble!

Fiction

Why I didn’t Like Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a movie that could have been good, had all the elements of being good, but then decided to take advice from its Resistance generals and hide from the challenge. Instead of facing head-on the opportunity and striving to be great while acknowledging the risk failure, it chose to preach and stick it’s head in the sand. Ironically, that attitude lead to disaster both for the movie and the Resistance.

** SPOILERS **

I’ve just seen the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise – Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I have to say, despite some great scenes, it left me dissatisfied at best and deeply disturbed at the worst. As a writer I’m going to approach this from a storytelling viewpoint, without discussion of the obvious social issues presented, although it is my belief that the storytelling suffered due to the influence of a social agenda.

To begin with, it’s important to acknowledge that no story is all bad, so any critique should start with the positive; and there were enough of them for many people to look past the short-comings (although this seemed easier for critics than fans, judging from the Rotten Tomatoes scores). In fact, if the scenes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi were reworked and reordered somewhat I would probably have found this an amazing movie, instead of a dissatisfying mess.

What I liked.

It was interesting seeing Luke’s changes and how his past choices and situations had affected him. More than Han or Leia, it was Luke who had changed the most. There was some genuine fun, as well as drama in his reluctant training of Rey. There was also some good drama between Rey and Ren building up to their conflict with Snoke.

There were also some nice action sequences and some nice thought put toward visualizing tech (such as the shields).

In general, as I already mentioned, if many of the scenes were given their proper emotional pay-off and the big set-piece had come at the right time in the story, I probably would have considered this a much better movie. But it seemed too bent on getting across it’s social message rather than telling a good story.

Anyway, continuing on, and without further ado, let’s start at the beginning with what I had issues with.

The opening scroll immediately starts warning bells ringing for fans looking for new additions to the Star Wars universe as it suggests escape from Hoth in Empire Strikes Back… And true to expectation, we’re immediately sent into an escape scenario as the Resistance seeks to flee a planet surface (thankfully not snow-covered) while being bombarded from space. But Po Dameran, hero of the Resistance, is there in a daring, and comical (although stupid) scheme. He succeeds in stalling and cue the action sequence, which is quite a good start to the movie. But just as the plan is 90% complete, Leia gets cold feet and calls it off. Po refuses and continues with an ultimately successful plan to destroy the First Orders’s ‘fleet killer’ ship. Something that, even in hindsight, was a powerful win and ensured the survival of the Resistance. But he’s chewed out and demoted for losing a handful of X-wings and four or five bombers.

Now this could have been the ‘hero wrongfully chewed out by captain who just doesn’t get it’ trope, but it’s not. Po is never redeemed until he literally learns to run away and stop doing heroic things. So the character conflict is essentially wasted from a dramatic point of view.

The sequences with Luke and Rey I didn’t have much issue with. There was some good comedy, some important backstory, and powerful drama. Both Luke and Rey’s stories were fleshed out more, although the Force seems to have manifested and concentrated primarily within a few beings in the galaxy now because these force users are uber compared even to the feats of the older republic and we see long distance mental and physical communication between Rey and Ren, and later an amazing feat of projection by Luke.

Next we meet a fleeing Resistance, almost out of fuel (an allusion only to one or two comments in The Empire Strikes Back and something that has never been an issue before) who have been tracked through hyperspace. They’re down to a handful ships including a single capital ship and some support frigates. Immediately they come under bombardment and Leia, and the rest of the command staff, are blasted out the bridge window.

At this point I was thinking, this is how Leia dies. This the tribute to Carrie Fischer. And for a moment it truly seemed that way as we watched her slowly freeze, still in deep space… but no, I was wrong. Leia uses previously unknown Force powers to awaken and pull herself into the nearby airlock where she is rescued. And we’re robbed a second time of what could have been a powerfully dramatic scene.

While this is happening, Po is working with Finn and Rose (a new character) to find a way aboard Snoke’s ship and disable the tracker so the fleet can jump to hyperspace. While Po commits mutiny after discovering a new war general has been appointed and her only strategy is to run and hide, Finn and Rose travel to a ritzy casino world to find a master code-breaker, which they do after much drama and social commentary.

While Rey and Ren address Snoke aboard his ship, Finn and Rose board the same ship to disable the tracker and the movie looks to be moving toward the climactic set-piece…  …but it’s not. After a battle in Snoke’s chamber, Rey and Ren separate, more convinced of their own sides than ever while Finn and Rose are betrayed.

Had this, or very shortly after with a  twist escape by the decimated Resistance, been the end of the movie, the dramatic build-up and multiple-plots-coming-together-at-once of the set-piece would have paid off with an Empire Strikes Back-style ending. But again, it wasn’t. The good guys escape back to a transport ship and Rey disappears. Meanwhile, the new general has sat in the capital ship watching The First Order wipe out almost twenty escape transports, one at a time, before she decides to sacrifice herself after doing more for the destruction of the Resistance than anyone else in the movie.

At this point I’m wondering who wrote a story with such poor pacing.  There’s no reward for the build-ups or set-pieces and we’re constantly shunted away from anything that might be an emotional payoff in the story. And we still have another big scene on another planet to go.

The Resistance has hunkered-down in their hidey-hole behind a large door only to have The First Order land a half-dozen walkers and a new battering-ram canon. Resistance pilots rush out from the base in rickety mining skimmers in a doomed last-ditch charge of the light brigade and just when it all looks hopeless, Finn decides on a suicide attack to destroy the canon. We get the close-up slow motion, musically accompanied view of a hero determined to stop the bad guys at all costs and just when he’s about to make the ultimate sacrifice… Rose swings over and intentionally bumps him out of the way, potentially killing them both and destroying the emotional pay off for yet another (the forth?) dramatic but ultimately pointless scene.

They do survive and when when Finn asks what she was doing she makes a crazy statement about surviving not by destroying the bad guy but by preserving what we love. Anyone watching can’t help but wonder how they will be able to preserve anything when they’re dead. However, this is the movie’s only statement of counterpoint to both Ren and Luke’s points that the past must die.

Finally, this story of messed up scenes and zero emotional payout comes to an end after Luke sacrifices himself to buy time for the remaining Resistance to escape, Rey pilots the Millenium Falcon through the 2nd Death Star, um, crystal mines, and Po learns that running away is what he’s supposed to do to be a leader and a hero.

I continue to think this movie had all the elements to be an amazing, emotional, and dramatic movie. Unfortunately, it was like the puzzle was put together in the wrong way and I came away with such a bad feeling that a day later I still can’t shake it. And I doubt I was the only one. The cinema I saw it in was absolutely quiet after the closing scene. It was as if the audience was stunned to silence trying to figure out what they’d just seen.

However, I’m aware that mine are not the only opinions. Have you seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi? What did you like best? Dislike the most? What were your thoughts on the various plotlines of the main characters? And what about the social commentary? I’ll be addressing that last one in an upcoming post.

Insight and longevity.

Edwin

Alternate Futures

Welcome

Hello and welcome. I’m Edwin H Rydberg, author of Echoes of the Past, first episode of the Altered Destiny series and, coming soon, a number of novels in the Gateway to Eternity saga. I also write children’s books and I have a non-fiction series in the works. In addition, I run writing and coding workshops at my local library and primary schools.

I primarily write science fiction and my writing explores the relationship between humanity and technology and how each influences the other. It’s often been said that science fiction is stories of now, extrapolated into the future, and I believe this is very true. My stories tend to explore ideas and aspects of human natural in futuristic settings because I love the wonders of technology and imagining what might be achieved with them. However, I’m also aware of the horrors that can be wrought by the misuse of technology, which is why I also include a healthy dose of warnings.

This blog will include samples of my writing, reviews of science fiction stories, comments on scientific and technological developments and my thoughts on how technology has and will influence society. All of these are my own opinions, which are ever evolving. For that reason, I hope this blog will become a discussion with you the readers, rather than a lecture or a wiki. If you’re interested in learning more about me and my writing, please check out the ABOUT page. And if you want to stay up to date on my writing, opinions, and the tech of our times, please join my e-mail list.

I hope you will  come with me in an exploration of the undiscovered country as we move Into The Future.

Edwin H Rydberg

 

Fiction

Dead but not Forgotten

My Friday quick-write, NaNoWriMo prep. Just under 50 minutes, 1182 words.

Dead but not Forgotten

“I thought someone should tell you that your mother has died.”

The line was delivered with such callousness that I thought it must have been a joke.

“What?”

“Your mother has died,” the nurse said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my duties.”

“But wait! What… how… What do you mean?”

She stopped mid-stride and turned to me, with an expression that suggested I was a dolt.

“Your. Mother. Has. Died,” she said, emphasizing each word like I was a particularly daft child.

“But I just saw her half an hour ago. She was fine.”

We’d been on a cross-country trip, part of the celebrations of Mom’s sixty-fifth birthday. The whole family was getting together at my sister’s on the west coast and we’d thought it would be fun to make the four day drive, seeing the sights along the way. We’d only planned to stop in this quaint, no-signal town for a bite to eat before getting back on the road, but after the meal Mom wasn’t feeling well, so I’d brought her to the hospital. Next thing I know, she’s dead!

“That’s how it happens round these parts. One minute…,” she gave a huge, exaggerated smile, “the next…,” she rolled her head to the side and stuck her tongue out.

“But… she can’t be dead.”

“Why not?”

She had me there and I just sputtered, struggling for reasons.

“Oh fine, you’re not going to leave are you?”

I shook my head.

“Fine, would you like to see her? She’s mid-meal, but if you’re quiet and don’t interrupt.”

“Eating? But you just said she’s dead.”

“Yes.” She turned away, marching off down the corridor. When she realized I wasn’t following, she paused and turned back. “Well, are you coming?”

Dumbfounded, I raced after her.

As I caught up to the nurse’s quick pace, she explained, “It’s not wise to disturb them when they eat. Any little distraction can set them off and they can be so unpredictable. Some will charge you trying to break through the glass, or hurt themselves attempting to gouge their way through the walls. Often we can’t placate those and they have to put down. Some with go catatonic. Still others will just start wailing. In some ways those are the worst, not only because the noise is so terrible, but because others in the hospital will hear and take up the call. They can often be sedated, but that’s not an easy task either. So, no loud noise or sudden movements, okay?”

I nodded, unsure what she was talking about, but willing to go along with whatever caution was deemed necessary by this strange woman.

The look on her face conveyed her dubiousness but she turned back to the task at hand, accepting that what will happen, will happen.

The corridor was immensely long and very utilitarian, like most hospital corridors. Attempts to make it look friendly and inviting, for example, by adding children’s artwork, or friendly informational plaques, only succeeded in highlighting the fact that this was a place of illness and whoever did the decorating had as equally difficult time extricating themselves from that thought as the hundreds of friends and family that passed through daily.

Finally, we turned a corner, passed the stairwell and came to a service elevator.

At my look, she explained, “They lose what technical abilities they may have had, so we have their quarters connected only by elevator. Its safer for all of us that way.”

The elevator door closed with an ominous clang and descended, shaking and wobbling all the way. At the bottom, after a ride so long that I thought we must be descending into Hades itself, the car came to a jarring stop with another clang.

“Stay to the centre of the corridor. We leave them in a fairly open plan, but a short leash so they can’t reach us in the marked area.” She indicated the floor, where there were scuffed and worn lines leading away from the elevator.

I was more distracted, however, by the inmates of this unusual ward. Torn clothes, dirty faces, and vacant, staring eyes, they were each anchored to the wall behind them with a harness fitted around their chest. One by one, as they saw us, they turned and attempt to lumber toward us, arms outstretched.

“These aren’t what I think they are, are they?”

“That depends on what you think they are.”

“Zombies?”

“Zombies is a horribly bigoted word that we don’t encourage the use of. Just think of the preconceptions you have from the portrayal in popular culture. It’s horrible. Poor things. They’re really quite sweet,” she said, as the nearest one lunged for my arm.

She pulled me away, admonishing the creature as one would a naughty dog.

“We prefer to call them Cerebrally Challenged.”

I was only half listening, my mind caught between shock and the desire to find Mom. I discovered her a few moments later, pacing back and forth and trying to understand why she couldn’t move far from the wall. As I was about to call out, an arm rested on my shoulder.

“Don’t please. It will only set them off.”

“But, how could this have happened?”

She shrugged. “It’s just one of those quaint, small town things. Some places have purifying springs, some have dinosaur bones, ours has a brain-eating virus.”

“But how… why are you not all… Nevermind, I don’t want to know. I just want to know how to get my mom back.”

“Oh, there’s not going back. Her brain has been almost completely disoloved. Well, except that small bit in the back that keeps her breathing, eating and moving.”

“Well, what can I… how do I…,” I struggled for words to explain my situation. Finally, I said, “We’re expected at a party, her party, in two days. How can I take her like that?”

“Oh, no, no, you can’t take her. She has to stay here.”

“What? What am I going to tell my family?”

“Just tell them the truth. She died.”

“After eating dinner on our trip to her birthday? They’re going to want answers. And I can’t just turn up without her. No, there must be something I can do.”

“Well, this would be highly irregular. Never done before, in fact, but she does seem peaceful. You’d have to make sure to give her raw meat regularly and keep her away from children.”

“Yes, yes, anything.”

“And you must promise to keep our secret.”

“Mom’s the word,” I said, before realizing that was probably in poor taste.

“Alright then.”

~  ~  ~

It took some explaining when I arrived, and it was the strangest birthday bash ever, but we adapted. Mom’s been like that for twenty years now, and hasn’t aged a day. We feed her lots of raw meat and let her roam the garden at night. We even take her out for a walk through the town on Halloween. We’ve never had any trouble with her. Except for those one or two times she got loose, but that’s for another story.

Fiction

The Stellar Garden

The Stellar Garden is The Terran Sphere, both the future and the past of humanity in this shared universe spanning 10s of thousands of years of human history. Beginning in the near future and leaping ahead and abroad through time and space, this collection of series and stand-alones follows the development of humanity, and post-humanity, into the far future.

Several books and series in this universe are currently in progress with several more in the planning stages. Watch for updates to this page as they near completion, or sign up to my e-mail list to be notified of the latest (and get a free book!).

You can also visit StellarGarden.com for more details on the worlds and timeline as it becomes available.

EMAIL
Facebook
Pinterest