‘The Last Jedi’ is not the Movie You are Looking for

It’s been a while, True Believers. My apologies for taking an unintentional holiday hiatus.

During that time you may have heard about a little movie called Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I saw it opening weekend and loved it. Unfortunately, not everyone did. The Internet was lit on fire. Battle lines were drawn. It had a 90-plus percent rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but the user score was in the fifties. Fans either loved it or hated it. It’s the most polarizing Star Wars film ever released. For many it wasn’t the film they were looking for.

I was shocked, especially when I heard why its detractors didn’t like it. With this blog, I wanted to address the major criticisms because I think they’re unfounded. (Warning: This will include spoilers!)

So, without further ado…

  1. Rey’s Parents

Ever since The Force Awakens opened in 2015, fans have theorized that the new character, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), was as powerful as she was with the Force despite a lack of training because she had a special lineage. Theories included her being Obi-Wan Kenobi’s granddaughter, Han and Leia’s daughter, and (my personal favorite) Luke Skywalker’s daughter.

Guess what? Her parents are nobodies.

Yep. They were losers who sold her for drinking money. At least that’s what the villainous Kylo Ren said. It could be a lie, but I hope it isn’t. It’s far more interesting this way. It makes the Force magical and mystical again. Plus, it shows that greatness can come from ordinary places and that people don’t need a special heritage to be extraordinary.

The problem here, as is common with several of these complaints, is fans were so in love with the movies they’d written in their own heads that they couldn’t accept anything else. Some fans have this crazy idea that if they didn’t get what they expected, the film is bad. So, even if they’re given something better, they reject it.

2. The Mysterious Snoke

Supreme Leader Snoke is an immensely powerful Dark Force master who leads the First Order, which is he Galactic Empire reborn. He was only seen as a hologram in The Force Awakens. We knew nothing about him other than snippets here and there (and most of those were in The Last Jedi). Like with Rey’s parents, fan theories ran wild about him. They expected to have their questions answered in this film.

Then Kylo killed him. The end.

Fans lost their minds. They decried their unanswered questions. They called it a wasted opportunity. To which I say, “Before the prequels, did you ever want to know the Emperor’s backstory? I doubt it. He was there to serve as an irredeemable villain to help propel the other characters’ stories. Snoke serves the same purpose” Again, fans were too married to their theories and expectations.

3. They Ruined Luke Skywalker and then Killed Him!

In this film, Luke Skywalker, the childhood hero of a generation, is a bitter and cynical old man who has cut himself off from the Force. During a flashback we see he had a fleeting moment of weakness and nearly killed Ben Solo (aka Kylo Ren) when the villain was his student. He refuses to help Rey or the Resistance because he blames himself for Ben turning to the Dark Side and helping the First Order to rise.

Many fans said this ruined their childhoods. Their hero was gone. He had lost his happy ending from Return of the Jedi. They probably even preferred the old Expanded Universe (now Legends) version of Luke who is overpowered and perfect.

I’m sorry, but the new film version is more interesting. It makes sense that he would do this. Plus, by the end, he becomes that legendary hero again, but not how you would expect him to. It borders on being a meta-commentary, now that I think about it. Luke uses the Force to astral-project himself across the galaxy to help the Resistance and make Kylo Ren look like a chump. But it strains him so badly he “dies” (i.e. is raptured to the Force like Obi-Wan and Yoda). His story espouses some of the richest and most interesting themes I’ve seen in a Star Wars film in a long time. It’s far from a disservice to the character.

4. So-Called Social Justice Themes.

This has been both criticized and commended. The problem is I think both sides are reading into things. I’ll tackle the most frequent examples:

a. Vice Admiral Holdo and Feminism

Some call this a third-wave feminism film because, as they see it, all the men are weak and all the women are strong. Their go-to example is the new character Vice Admiral Holdo (played by Laura Dern). For whatever reason, she refuses to tell hotheaded flyboy Poe Dameron her plan to help the Resistance escape the First Order, often berating him for stepping out of line. Poe leads a mutiny because of this, although it’s shut down by General Leia after she awakens from a coma.

This was seen as a woman in power emasculating a man for being angry and pushy among other stereotypes third wave feminists throw at men. I didn’t think that at all. Call me naïve, but all I saw was a conflict between an older, cool-headed leader and an impulsive youth. I didn’t care that the person in authority was a woman. Given their personalities, it was natural for them to clash. This is writing drama 101. The problem is no reason is given for her to keep her plan a secret, which gives viewers leeway to read into it. That’s a story problem, though, not an ideological one.

Canto Bight Casino and Decrying the Rich

Finn and a new character named Rose (more on her later) go on a side quest to a casino planet to locate a computer hacker to help the Resistance. The place is the Mos Eisley cantina meets Las Vegas. There’s gambling, drunkenness, animal exploitation, and slavery. The money that flows into this place was garnered from arms dealing. In fact, the merchants on this planet sold weapons to both the Resistance and the First Order, essentially fueling the war to maintain their market.

Some saw this an SJW commentary on the “one-percent,” who are exploitative and unscrupulous.  In other words, all rich people are evil. I, on the other hand, didn’t get that message. What I got was, “War profiteering through arms dealing is wrong, especially when they sell to both sides.” Capitalism isn’t inherently evil, but it can be used for evil purposes, as seen here.

c. Rose Tico and Diversity

Rose is Asian. Finn is black. Poe is Hispanic. Some have sarcastically called these characters “diversity hires” or said it was about time Star Wars didn’t have all white characters (to which I say, did you forget about Lando Calrissian?).

Guess what? I don’t care. A character’s skin color doesn’t matter to me. I barely acknowledged their ethnicities when I saw the film. They were just cool new characters. Unless viewers are looking for diversity because they think they can only relate to characters who look like them, I doubt anyone cares. This isn’t Star Trek where the diversity was meant to be a statement about humanity of the future evolving past prejudices. Even then, it was only brought up when it was necessary. In these new Star Wars films, nobody makes a big deal about the characters’ ethnicities. Only fans do.

There you have it. My rebuttals to the major complaints against The Last Jedi. That isn’t to say it’s a perfect film. I do have some story issues with it, but they’re minor by comparison to the good stuff. This is a challenging film, so I can understand why some people don’t like it, but I think that’s what makes it as good as it is.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? Why or why not? What’d you think of The Last Jedi?

What I’m Thankful for This Year 2017

Happy Thanksgiving, bub!

Happy Thanksgiving, True Believers!

It’s that time of year again! As usual, I list the many things I’m thankful for since, well, that’s what Thanksgiving is about. It’s not just food, family, and football. Admittedly, this list only changes a little bit from year to year, but I’m thankful for the same things every Thanksgiving.

So, with that, here’s my list for 2017.

  1. God the Father
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. The Holy Spirit
  4. My salvation
  5. The Bible
  6. My wonderful family
  7. My two nephews
  8. My amazing friends
  9. My equally amazing writer friends
  10. The Fort Wayne Ballroom Company (FWBC)
  11. My “dance family” at FWBC
  12. That I continue to perform at FWBC’s showcases and other events with wonderful instructors/partners
  13. Ballroom/social dancing
  14. For all the conventions I attended this year
  15. My car, which I named Silver Sable (235,000 miles and still going!)
  16. My church
  17. My gaming consoles and video games
  18. My book collection
  19. My movie collection
  20. My laptop
  21. My music collection
  22. My new podcast, Kaijuvision Radio
  23. My day job
  24. That I’m 2+ years ahead on my student loan repayments!
  25. My cosplays
  26. That I’m a published author
  27. Hades Publications, which published my first novel and still has me under contract
  28. CreateSpace, which publishes my self-published books
  29. That I’ll have a new co-authored novel coming out soon! (More on that later)
  30. My strong sense of justice
  31. The house I live in
  32. My talent for writing
  33. all for One Productions
  34. Volunteering for afO
  35. My YouTube channel
  36. For being part of the team writing at Children of the Wells
  37. That I’m creative
  38. My intellectual mind
  39. My poet’s soul
  40. My warrior’s heart
  41. That I can read
  42. My iPhone 7S
  43. That I’m an American
  44. That I’m a Hoosier
  45. Summertime
  46. October (the “sweet spot” of autumn)
  47. Changing seasons
  48. Christian Gamers Guild
  49. GameChurch
  50. Theology Gaming
  51. My sense of humor
  52. The North Webster Community Public Library
  53. The Constitution, which lists my unalienable rights.
  54. My “superpowers” (rarely get sick, my “BS” sense, look much younger than I am, heal fast from injuries).
  55. My health
  56. Netflix
  57. That I got to meet Stan Lee this year
  58. My camera
  59. My knack for photography
  60. Pretzels
  61. Exercising at the gym.
  62. My comic book collection
  63. Chimp’s Comics
  64. E. Comics
  65. My board game collection
  66. My nerdiness
  67. The police and their service
  68. The military and their service
  69. My journal(s)
  70. My website (NathanJSMarchand.com)
  71. My fandoms
  72. Gen-Con
  73. The family pets
  74. Bookstores
  75. Spaghetti
  76. Highland toffee (the family recipe)
  77. Amazon.com
  78. Movie theatres
  79. My college degree
  80. Running water
  81. That I’m tall
  82. That I still have all my hair
  83. Football
  84. (Most of) My coworkers
  85. The generosity of others
  86. The TUFW Alumni and Friends Center
  87. That I attended TUFW
  88. The YMCA
  89. For living in the countryside
  90. Plumbing
  91. The Internet (though I sometimes wonder if it’s that great…)
  92. My big tax refund
  93. Facebook (again, sometimes I wonder if it’s worthwhile…)
  94. Holidays
  95. Family reconciliation
  96. My intelligence
  97. Arizona Tea Herbal Energy Tonic (cheaper than any energy drink!)
  98. YouTube (though again, it’s merits are often debatable)
  99. Candy
  100. And finally…MORE STAR WARS!

    What are you thankful for this year?

My Interview on Geek Devotions

Me and my Kaijuvision Radio co-host, Brian Scherschel, were interviewed on Geek Devotions as the grand finale for their King of the Monsters Month. The show’s host, Dallas, is one of our biggest fans and has been name-dropping us all month in his videos and podcast. I’d also contributed to a video game stream he did as part of King of the Monsters Month a few weeks ago. Learn how and why we started Kaijuvision Radio as we geek out about Godzilla!


Polarization: The Insidious Plague of ‘Us Against Them’

Brace yourselves. War is coming.

Not just any war—a flame war. Many are already being waged.

All joking aside, I’ve noticed that since the last presidential campaign season, during which people dug their heels into the ground for whatever candidate they supported, the tendency toward polarization has spilled over into other areas. In particular, seems to have become more prominent in the fandom/nerd/geek community. No longer is it a friendly rivalry where people can agree to disagree. No, now those who disagree must be smeared and the supposed “right opinion” presented with pretense.

Image courtesy of www.patheos.com.

While these “factions” have existed for years (Marvel or DC? Star Trek or Star Wars? Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat?), I’ve never seen such vitriol in the past. Divisions have even formed within fandoms, and thanks to the anonymity of the internet, a “civil war,” of sorts, has waged.

The situation that brought this to my mind is Capcom’s newest fighting game, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. Because the game wasn’t living up to everyone’s expectations leading up to its release, interest waned for the game. Then another company, Arc System Works, announced a similar game called DragonBall FighterZ. It was then the camps formed. Hardcore MvC fans held out for the former game while defectors, “casuals,” and DBZ fans formed around the other game. They created copious memes, both photos and videos, denouncing Capcom or MvCI and proclaimed Arc Systems and DragonBall FighterZ the greatest things ever. Personally, what passing interest I may have had in the DragonBall game was killed by their pretentiousness.

I follow several YouTubers, like Maximilian Dood, who make videos on fighting games, and they soon found themselves enveloped in the firestorm. Max in particular has said he’s been accused of being both a shill and a hater. In other words, both sides dislike him. He’s actually taken what I think is an honest and realistic approach to things. When MvCI was released, he criticized some aspects but praised it for others. I’m sure that drove some people on both sides crazy.

What gets to me is how quickly people rally around what’s honestly unimportant things. These are games. They’re entertainment. It’s not life or death. And yet the human desire to fit in and belong to a group compels them to form factions and fight for their cause, no matter how trivial.

This needs to stop.

Not just in fandom circles. Everywhere. For everything.

I heard many stories about families dividing over politics last year. Groups and movements have sprung up over the years that claim they want to bring equality, but all they do is create hate for “the other side.” What they don’t realize is movements based on hate can’t last. All they do is create a self-perpetuating crazy cycle. But all it takes is one person to break it.

Be that person, True Believers.

Have you witnessed polarization over things besides politics? Where? Why? What have you done to break the crazy cycle?

Wish Fulfillment in Stories

Image courtesy of www.luckymoney.net.

While working on my new podcast, Kaijuvision Radio, I re-learned that one of the appeals of fiction—particularly genre fiction—is wish fulfillment. Not just for readers/viewers but for creators as well.

You might be thinking this is a bad thing; a sign of someone living in a fantasy world. While I acknowledge that’s true in some cases, I’d also argue that it speaks to a deeper, nobler desire within people’s hearts.

In the podcast, my co-host, Brian Scherschell, and I were talking about the alien invasion plot in 1966’s Invasion of Astro-Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero). The heroes, most of them non-military types, band together to repel invaders from Planet X. The audience is able to see themselves in those characters and live vicariously through them for 90 minutes because they understand what it means to protect what is theirs. For those living in countries that have been successfully invaded, it’s satisfying for them to defeat invaders. Americans, on the other hand, have a huge independent streak in them, and they will do what it takes to preserve their freedom.

Wish fulfillment can also come in the form of seeing characters do things one wishes he could do but can’t, which makes it a form of escapism. These could range from things that are impossible (flying like Superman, for example) to things that are possible but unlikely (like captaining a ship). In these cases, the stories could become inspirational. One can’t soar under his own power like Supes, but one could become a pilot. One may not be a ship captain, but he could become one, even if it’s only on his own private yacht.

I realized recently that even romance stories have elements of wish fulfillment. The audience wishes they could have relationships as exciting, sensual, and committed as the ones in those tales because it seems impossible to find true love in real life.

It’s in these cases that wish fulfillment speaks to someone’s inner character and desires. Maybe they can’t “leap tall buildings in a single bound” but they can still be heroic, even if it’s in a small way. They know something isn’t right in the world and want to make it better. They could volunteer at a soup kitchen or go on a missions trip. They can love the way they want to be loved. They can make their wishes a reality, and by doing so, inspire others.

I’ve heard countless stories of people who became engineers, doctors, and writers because of Star Trek. They saw characters like Scotty doing cool things in the Enterprise’s engine room and decided on their career field. Now, while they aren’t exploring the galaxy, they’re creating fantastic new technologies. That’s the inspirational power wish fulfillment can have.

It can also be a mirror into oneself. If one finds himself reveling in Superman’s abundant superpowers because he wants to have power over others, it should give him pause for concern. I’ve known people with power fantasies like that. It always makes them weaker because they don’t aspire to do greater things. I pity them.

What do you think, readers? Is wish fulfillment in fiction good or bad? Why? What are some examples from your favorite stories?

Upcoming Book Signings for 2017

Hello, True Believers! It’s October, and the nip in the air signals the oncoming end of 2017. But it also signals Halloween and the holiday season. This is one of my favorite times of the year.

My book signings have been a bit sparser this year, but I do have two more coming up in the next few months. One I’ve been committed to for several months and another that I just applied for. Here’s all the pertinent info.

Fantasticon Fort Wayne, Oct. 28-29

I’m returning to my new “hometown” comic-con! Once again, I’ll be joined by my co-authors/collaborators Nick Hayden and Eric Anderson. Nick and I will hopefully have copies of our new book, Zorsam and the God Who Devours, which we co-wrote with Aaron Brosman, available for purchase. The guest list will include several actors from The Walking Dead, a few comic book artists, and a replica of the Optimus Prime truck from the Transformers movies (if you can call that a “guest.”

The venue will be the Grand Wayne Center in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. Admission is cheap, so don’t miss it!

According to the show’s website:

Fantasticon is a mid-size show created for true comic book and pop culture collectors and fans. The fans that come to our shows are true collectors that are looking for those rare items for their personal collections. Most leave very satisfied as we pride ourselves on having great dealers and artists at our shows. If you collect it, you will find it at a Fantasticon Show.

It’ll be a great way to your Halloween weekend!

Seventh Annual Allen County Public Library Author Fair, Nov. 11

Another returning favorite. I’ll be one of 70 local authors attending this event at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana. There will also be author-led panel discussions (fingers crossed that I get in one) on various subjects. Best of all, admission is free!

You can learn more about the event and the library here.

See you around, True Believers!

But I Digress…, Episode 40 – My Thoughts on Star Trek: Discovery

“But I Digress…” Hosted by Nathan Marchand It’s been a while, but since Star Trek is one of my all-time favorite franchises/fandoms, I thought I should weigh in on the premiere episode of the newest Trek series, Discovery. Is it worth breaking down the paywall? Watch my review to find out!

Here’s the Star Trek Continues episode I mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMasS…

Here’s the YouTube channel for my podcast, Kaijuvision Radio: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSI2…

Please subscribe, comment, and share! 

Creativity Thrives on Limitations

I wrote this blog a head of time because I’m at Gen-Con 50 this weekend. Come visit me at my table in Authors Avenue!

Wise words.

Reboots are all the rage now, especially at the cinema. I’ve heard it said that the biggest reason for this is because it allows creators the “freedom” do something new without the constraints of continuity; they don’t have to be limited by what has come before. In other words, they can do whatever they want.

But is that such a bad thing?

Case in point: the infamous Spider-Man storyline One More Day. The creators at Marvel Comics (the supposed “House of Ideas”) had complained for years that they wished Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) hadn’t married Mary Jane Watson back in the mid-1980s. Why? Because they claimed they couldn’t think of enough good stories for a married Spider-Man. Seriously. Did they think all of life’s excitement was gone after getting married? Must stories always include sexual tension and unrequited love? Anyway, to “remedy” this, they didn’t just have them get a divorce. No, that meant they didn’t love each other. Instead, Peter and MJ made a literal deal with the Devil to erase their marriage from continuity. To save Aunt May’s life because she was dying from a gunshot meant for Peter.

Dumbest. Idea. Ever!         

I quit reading Spider-Man comics after that. From what I’ve heard, Peter Parker, now a 30-year-old single, spends a lot of his time whining about being alone. (Cue eye roll).

Most fans hated this story, and rightfully so. It was a character assassination done by the creators to serve themselves and not the readers. All because they didn’t want the constraints of writing a married Spider-Man.

Recently at a Children of the Wells creative meeting, my friend/collaborator Nick Hayden mentioned that writing for our serial, with all its continuity and parameters, forced him to be a better writer. It required that he keep consistent with what was written before and follow the rules we’d set down for the world. In many ways, since not all of the characters he created and since the ones he did create had changed since he last wrote them, he was a caretaker for these story and characters. They weren’t entirely his, so he had to be more careful with them. Beyond that, though, it required that he dream up ideas that worked with what had been written before as opposed to going with whatever came into his head.

There are constraints in most creative endeavors. Even improv comedy has to have parameters. It gives the performers a framework from which to work, a way to focus their creativity. If they were sent on stage with no direction, they’d either come up with nothing or not say anything funny, most likely.

Are there times when creators should start fresh? Yes. But that should be done in such a way that respects what came before, respects the characters, and respects the readers.

Do you think creativity thrives within restrictions? Why or why not?

In Anticipation of Gen-Con 50

Image courtesy of DDO Players.

Next week is the biggest convention I attend as an author: Gen-Con. The show is celebrating its 50th anniversary. That’s an incredible run! The show gets bigger every year even without having huge celebrity guests all the time. They sold out of four-day badges a month ago!

As usual, though, the show snuck up on me. Yes, I paid for my table months ago, but since I have this crazy habit of keeping myself constantly busy, I don’t think about what else I could do at the show until it’s nearly upon me. I like to enjoy the cons I table at, so I try to attend some of the events at the show. The problem is Gen-Con is so huge, many of the events sell out months ahead of time. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of other events to attend, but it is a bit disappointing to see some of the more interesting things sell out that far in advance.

Another bummer is the fact that I won’t be staying at one of the adjacent hotels to the Indiana Convention Center like I’ve been doing for several years. Let’s just say things didn’t work out for that to happen. So, I had to get a room at a hotel seven miles away, which means making a potentially long commute every day to the convention. I’m not looking forward to that.

I won’t have any “new” books with me, but not because I haven’t been writing. No, my next book, Zorsam and the God Who Devours, which I co-authored with Nick Hayden and Aaron Brosman, just won’t be published in time for the convention. It’s still a few months away. (More on that later).

On the bright side, I’m happy to announce that I’ve been invited to be on a panel! (G-Fest must’ve been the start of some good luck for me). Specifically, it’s the Christianity and Gaming panel put on by the Christian Gamers Guild. I’ve attended that panel most years I’ve gone to Gen-Con, so it was a surprise and an honor to be asked to be on it. I’m not sure what to expect. It’s only the third time I’ve ever been on a panel. I’m excited.

Other than that, I’m eager to meet all my Gen-Con friends in Authors Avenue again, and, of course, all of you wonderful readers!

See you in Indy!

Do Fans Always Know What’s Best?

Image courtesy of Lean Pathways.

In 2015, my friends Nick Hayden and Tim Deal produced an episode of their podcast, Derailed Trains of Thought, about who “owns” a story. This included the writer, the audience, and the publisher. That planted a kernel in my head that has recently bloomed. It has to do with whether the fans of something—particularly in the creative fields—know what’s best for what they like.

The most immediate example I can think of is taken from this video on Linkin Park (produced before the sad death of frontman Chester Bennington). The host mentions that the band, which has experimented with different sounds in all of their albums, was constantly being asked by their fans if they’d make something like their first album, “Hybrid Theory,” again. This prompted an angry response from Bennington, who more or less said that was a great album but that the band was working on new things now.

Honestly, I sympathized with Bennington. It can be annoying when you’re trying new things but your fanbase just wants you to keep making all the same stuff. If I had readers coming up to me, saying, “Why don’t you write more books like Pandora’s Box?” I’d be vexed. I decided a long time ago that I didn’t want to be a writer who got pigeonholed, as many have been. It’s why, believe it or not, many authors use pseudonyms if they write something outside their usual genre. The publisher thinks that readers won’t buy the book because it isn’t the same stuff they’re used to seeing from that author. Now, some authors are such huge names they can get away with it now (like, say, Stephen King), but they’re exceptions. It is something I’ve considered doing, though. I have some ideas so divergent, seeing my name on the cover might disinterest readers.

The problem is fans can like something so much they just want to keep getting more of the same. But no matter how much an artist tries to refine it, it gets stale. Instead of branching out and taking risks, they play it safe. That might bring them money, but it won’t help them grow as artists. Changing things up, though, could scare their fans away because it isn’t the same. People like familiarity and often oppose something new. Just talk to any Whovian (Doctor Who fan) whenever a new Doctor or Companion is introduced. Many won’t like them at first, if at all.

Am I saying artists shouldn’t listen to their fans? No, not at all. There are times when an artist could stray so far off the beaten path he produces something that ceases to resemble what he created that made his fans like him in the first place. Or it’s just plain bad. Believe me, I’ve often said that I could write a better script than most people in Hollywood when lamenting the dumb decisions made in films and TV shows I like.

The other problem, though, is the creator may hear what fans want and try to give it to them, but they end up not liking it. Now, this could be because the creators misunderstood what the fans wanted (i.e. the demand that DC/Warner Bros. make a Superman movie where he “fights” a villain, which resulted in the oft-criticized Man of Steel), but more often, I think, fans realize that what they wanted wasn’t what was best.

In the end (hey, an unintentional Linkin Park reference!), it boils down to trust. Fans need to trust creators to know what they’re doing and that the creators are taking their thoughts/ideas into consideration. Creators need to trust their storytelling instincts and abilities and not be people pleasers. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. Even the best-reviewed films have detractors. Even literary classics have readers who don’t like them. That’s why my mantra has always been, “Story is king.” Whatever is the right thing to do for the story, whether that’s what the fans or creator want, is what’s best.

Do you think fans or creators know what’s best for stories? Why? What are some good and bad examples of both?

A Man from Another Time Exploring Another Universe