Thoughts on The Force Awakens

First things first: here there be spoilers.

With that out of the way, and having seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens twice now, here’s a rundown of what I thought about the movie (short version: I liked it, but wasn’t blown away, there’s some problems that needed to be addressed).

THE GOOD

1. It’s entertaining.

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Seems like an obvious thing to expect from a Star Wars movie, but it’s not. Not after all the prequels, especially Attack of the Clones. You actually have fun in the movie for a good portion of it.

2. The first act.

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I would say the first act of the movie, which comprises the introduction of our main characters in and around Jakku, it’s pretty much perfect. Up until the moment Rey and Finn escape in the Millenium Falcon, I was impressed. There’s nothing in this first act that I would change, except perhaps the stupid opening crawl, which sounded too childish and simplistic to me and bothered me right away (yes, I know it was done in the style of every Star Wars movie, but… more on that later).

3. The escape from Jakku.

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Speaking of the escape in the Millenium Falcon, I have to say this is one of the best sequences in any Star Wars movie, and certainly my favorite from The Force Awakens. Right from the start, when Rey initially dismisses the (yet to be revealed) Falcon for being “garbage” (cue OT reference), only to be forced into using it after her chosen ship was destroyed, to Rey and Finn’s celebration after finally escaping, it was a beautiful thing to behold.

4. Rey.

4. Random lady doing random things

Daisy Ridley was perfection as Rey, on par with Carrie Fisher’s OT Leia. In the prequels we had potential with Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan, but the scripts never allowed him to fully realise that potential. Rey soars high in this movie, and I would venture to say she had a better start than Luke Skywalker’s in A New Hope.

5. Finn.

1. Stormtrooper

John Boyega as Finn wasn’t quite on par with Ridley, but he was pretty damn good himself. First time I watched the movie I thought he was a tad too comical at times (even Han Solo asks him to turn it down a notch at one point), but on second viewing I’m fine with it. He is comic relief, but without sacrificing good characterisation or his own dignity. I do wonder what his role will be in the next two movies, though, as he seemed to be more of a plot device than an integral part of the trilogy’s overarching story.

6. Poe Dameron.

5. Discount Wedge Antilles

Probably the coolest, most likeable character in the movie. I’ll reserve the negatives for the next section.

7. John Williams’ score.

I placed it here because there won’t be a neutral section to this review, and this score wasn’t bad. It wasn’t memorable, however; the only new theme that stayed with me was Rey’s, and even that one wasn’t all that great. In A New Hope we had Luke’s theme, in Empire Strikes Back we had the Imperial March and Yoda’s theme, in Return of the Jedi we had Luke & Leia’s theme, in The Phantom Menace we had Duel of the Fates, in Attack of the Clones we had Across the Stars, and in Revenge of the Sith we had Battle of the Heroes. All of these themes were memorable. Rey’s was good, but on par with these? I don’t think so, but only time will tell. Besides that, the score itself didn’t have the operatic quality of the original trilogy. I think we will never get that back, Williams is too old at this point (83, the man is a machine!). The prequels also suffered from a less operatic, more standard set of scores.

8. Stormtroopers.

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It was about time that stormtroopers stopped being the butt of most Star Wars jokes and finally got some badassery bestowed upon them. Not only did we have Finn deserting their ranks (so an ex stormtrooper was one of our main characters), but overall they were more intimidating, what with flame throwing that village, slaughtering the people in it, Daniel Craig’s stormtrooper resisting Rey at first, that other stormtrooper who seemed to have a history with Finn and challenged him to a sword fight… I won’t speak of Captain Phasma because she doesn’t belong in this section. The rest of them, though, got thumbs up.

9. Kylo Ren.

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He wasn’t on the level of Darth Vader, but really nobody is. Heck, Rey told him point blank that his greatest fear was never reaching Vader’s level. Ren was, however, what Darth Maul should have been in the prequels, had Lucas given him a little bit more love. He was also interesting in how he wasn’t all badass like the other villains, but was still learning the ropes and we are just witnessing some of his potential. That he had an issue with falling to the light side was a very interesting twist, and like Luke before him his greatest test was facing his own father and killing him. By no means a perfect character, but I’m onboard with him.

10. BB8.

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Perfection. BB8 was to R2D2 what Rey was to Leia.

THE BAD

1. A New Hope Reloaded.

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Yeah, I get that these movies “rhyme” and are “poetry”, but I call bullshit on that. They don’t need to. The movie was as close as you can get to a remake of A New Hope without actually making it a straight up remake. It wasn’t just some stuff like Starkiller base being Death Star 3.0, Rey being Luke 2.0, etc., but a bunch of scenes and sequences like Maz Kanada’s place for Mos Eisley cantina, the escape from Jakku that included stormtroopers asking around for a droid, said droid containing important information to save the galaxy, Han being killed by Kylo as Kenobi was killed by Vader (after being the young one’s mentor), and even Rey hanging from a wall in Starkiller base like Obi Wan was when avoiding stormtroopers in the Death Star. There were many other callbacks, and it got to be too much. I would say that JJ Abrams was just playing it safe, if he hadn’t done the exact same thing with his two Star Trek movies. Since he was a Star Wars fan, I was banking on that to get something more original.

Nope.

2. Starkiller base.

I mentioned it already, but it bears mentioning again because of how stupid it was. So all that Star Wars can manage is to have a big, bad base as the destination for our heroes last desperate attack before facing destruction? And how did the First Order finance it? The Empire controlled the galaxy, so they could afford it, but the First Order is the remnant of the Empire, and Starkiller was far greater than the Death Star. And on a related note, how did people in the Hosnian (?) System able to witness the destruction of the Republic’s bases, as if they were planets in the same system? Should we expect a second Starkiller in Episode IX?

3. The First Order.

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Not that the First Order per se was a bad thing, far from it, but to expand on my comment about Starkiller base, how did they finance it when they are supposed to be what’s left of the Empire? Shouldn’t they be in the position the Rebel Alliance was in in the OT, and the Republic hunting them down? It seemed, at best, an even match, except that the Republic fleet was mostly concentrated on one system, a la Pearl Harbor, which means they aren’t as spread out throughout the galaxy as one would think after overthrowing the Emperor and taking over a fractured Empire. That attack on Starkiller was so dismal they could only muster a few X Wings, when even in the first Star Wars the fleet that flew to the defense of the Yavin 4 base was composed of at least two different classes of fighters (Y Wings, I believe, being the other). The Republic can’t afford a Death Star, and I’m sure they would build something similar if they could, so how can the First Order do it?

4. Captain Phasma.

CaptainPhasmaTrailer

Such a great buildup for nothing. Phasma was barely in the movie, but what’s worse is how her biggest participation was getting captured by Finn and company, and then complying with their demands. I was expecting her (since they didn’t know how to deactive the shields) to use some sort of computer trickery to get the guards on them, but no…

5. Opening crawl.

“Luke Skywalker has vanished! Blah blah blah!” Ok, so? I get that he was an important part of the Alliance, but to rest on Luke’s shoulders the fate of the galaxy, to assume that if he’s gone the First Order will simply take over again, is ridiculous. The plot for this movie was too simple and stupid; in A New Hope R2’s plans were crucial because the Death Star was such a terrible weapon, but here what’s so important in possession of BB8 is an incomplete map to the whereabouts of Luke. Who made that map? Was it Max Von Sydow’s character, who lasted all of five minutes in the movie? If it was him, why not simply tell Poe Dameron? How did he, or whomever made the map, find out where Luke was? If the rumor was that Luke was trying to find the first Jedi Temple, why not raid the old Empire archives for its location, something that Kylo Ren mentions is under First Order control? Wouldn’t that make for a better quest? Let’s infiltrate the archives, which are in so and so planet (Coruscant? Moved elsewhere?), and that’s the final mission, but the horror! the First Order has also uncovered the location of the Resistance’s secret base, and are moving an all out assault that will result in a big space fight, yadda yadda yadda. This way we get rid of the stupid Starkiller McGuffin base as well.

6. The final battle.

My complaint with it is that it didn’t feel epic. The final battles of both Episodes IV and VI were grand in scale, and you felt there was a lot at stake. Not so here, even though the Resistance was at risk. It felt more like the meaningless battle at the end of The Phantom Menace.

7. The epilogue.

It just felt rushed. Like, yay we destroyed the third Death Star, but *sad face* Han is dead… but whatever, and oh R2 woke up from his coma just in time, like this was some sort of Carmen San Diego game where beating the final boss unlocks the map to find her, so let’s get this completely new girl Rey to join Chewie in searching for Luke like Chewie and Lando did for Han at the end of Empire Strikes Back, except that they actually find Luke in this movie, and very quickly, and then Rey climbs the mountain and finds Luke peeing or maybe just meditating, and offers him his old lightsaber but he’s like “nah, I’m not doing that anymore” and leaves her there awkwardly hanging with her hand extended, roll credits.

It didn’t have the force (no pun intended) of the endings of…well, any of the previous Star Wars movies. Except Episode III, that ending was rushed as hell too.

8. Not enough character development.

There was very little more that I knew about our new main characters at the end than at the beginning. I know Finn was raised to be a stormtrooper, but why did he have an attack of conscience if he was raised that way? And this was his first offense (the desertion), so during all that time he didn’t show any signs of not going along with the program. With Rey we got like five more questions for every answer about her character. With Poe Dameron we don’t know anything about him beyond being the best pilot in perhaps the galaxy, and a very likeable guy. He was the most underutilised of the three, by far. The only character that we truly understand much better at the end is Kylo Ren.

THE UGLY

Image courtesy of some spoiler loving asshole.

Image courtesy of some spoiler loving asshole.

There’s only one ugly thing, and it’s Han Solo’s death.

Not that his death was wrong. No, I’m fine with him dying, and I was actually expecting it to happen even before all those damn spoilers in the first few days of the movie’s release. My problem was with how he was treated like some disposable character, to be killed and tossed away, mourned a little, and then move on.

This is Han freaking Solo. He is the Batman of the Star Wars Trinity (Luke being Superman and Leia being Wonder Woman). He is a legend both in our real world and in the Star Wars universe. He deserved to be retrieved by Chewie (no fall into the pit), and given a proper funeral. I wanted to see Chewie go completely berserk and attack Kylo Ren in such a way that he had to retreat; Chewie could have had his own great moment right there. I wanted Leia to mourn her love at the funeral, say some powerful eulogy, and shed some silent tears for him while doing so. No complete emotional breakdown, of course, but something that went beyond a sad face. He deserved a death like Spock’s, not like Kirk’s. It would have been the antithesis of the Throne Room finale from A New Hope.

The way in which he died was a bit clumsy too. Han is a smuggler, and has been for many decades. This guy is a master of escaping ambushes, of smelling the bullshit from far away and taking the necessary measures. You could also tell, by the look on his face when Leia asks him to bring their son back, that he doesn’t believe it’s possible. He knows that Ben Solo is gone, that Kylo Ren is too powerful a presence now, and he only goes through with it because of Leia. So walking so carelessly towards Kylo Ren, without at least a hint of distrust (a distrust that Kylo Ren would have sensed, sending him to the brink of the darkside, away from the lightside forever) was just plain dumb.

Dying was fine. How he died, and the aftermath, was nothing short of insulting. I think that’s the worse important character death I have ever seen, especially in what was otherwise a very enjoyable movie (despite what this long rant appears to say).

An that’s it. Those are my thoughts on The Force Awakens. You are free to leave your own comments on the movie below, whether you agree or disagree with me and what your own thoughts are. Now let’s cross our fingers for Episode VIII: The First Order Strikes Back.

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Story: The Watcher Returns Home

Rummaging through some old website (which I made way back in 1999 to post short stories or ideas I came up with), I found this story. I’m not going to edit it or rewrite it in any way, so whatever mistakes you find are my 2001 self’s fault, not mine!

To provide some context, I believe I wrote this as a writing exercise for a now defunct Yahoo! writing critique group. We had to write whatever came to our minds in a certain amount of time, like half an hour or something.

The Watcher Returns Home

I

“The orders came in just a moment ago, sir. It is time.”

“I can’t believe they have approved such a nonsense. What about them?” The gray creature pointed to a rotating 3-D hologram of what humans – incorrectly – named Earth. The hologram and its projecting unit were placed in the middle of the control room, with all the Grays officers standing or moving around it. These creatures were tall and slender, their skin ranging from light gray to dark gray, depending on their age. The captain’s was dark gray, as he was the oldest officer on deck – over twelve earth’s millennia. The rest of the crew, although very young by Grays’ standards, where well over four hundred earth’s years old. Their current mission didn’t require much expertise, as relocating units was almost routine, and part of Basic Training; hence the youthfulness of the crew. However, this mission was very significant to the captain, since he had dedicated to Earth the most of his life. This planet he nurtured like he would a baby, the humans being carefully guided and taken care of.

And now, it was all over.

Again.

How could they’ve given such an order? The humans weren’t ready yet. They were still far from developing the technology necessary to move on. And now, after ten thousand Earth years, he’s asked to relocate the watching ship? He wondered what were the Council plans…

“Contact will be made official, sir. Those news also came just a moment ago.”

Oh, as if moving the watching ship wouldn’t cause enough hysteria, now they wanted contact to be made official! The humans weren’t prepared! Does this mean that the Council has finally given up on their pet project?

The captain sighed. “Alright, let’s move on. All men return to your posts! Engineering, prepare the teleportation unit at once! The Watcher will finally return home…”

The teleportation unit – a massive wormhole chain generator at the Watcher’s core – began to heat, lava starting to melt again and rise to the ship’s surface. The ship began to tremble, its huge body shaking as all systems began to come back to life. The Watcher had been abandoned for fifty years now, until the captain and his crew returned with orders of waiting for the seemingly imminent Council’s approval to relocate the Watcher to its final resting place.

The computer signaled with a beep the completion of the heating process. “Watcher’s ready, sir,” announced the rookie officer, “The tel-port unit is at full capacity. All systems are go.”

“Very well, then,” the captain acknowledged, “Begin count-down for tele-portation…”

“10…”

In Calcutta, India, a young astronomer has its first glimpse at what will be his career, as he points his telescope to the moon, and the stars…

“9…”

In China, a police raid ended the small reign of terror that a gang of kids was causing in the night streets of Beijing. The cop in charge of the operation raised his hands to the heavens thanking the Lord (or whomever watches them from the skies) for finally taking these kids out. He noticed how beautiful the night was…

“8…”

In Hong Kong, a strange oval shape of light was seen crossing the night sky by over two hundred eyewitnesses. They reported the object rising up to the heavens, coming from the horizon, and stopping right at zenith. The number of eyewitnesses has soared since it was first reported, and now it was reaching the tens of thousands, since the light object hasn’t moved from its position for over ten minutes now; it looks as if waiting for something to happen…

“7…”

In Krasnoyarsk, Russia, a couple in love embrace each other with passion in the night’s darkness, under a romantic full moon…

“6…”

In Sri Lanka, someone decides to look up, to the night sky, in just the precise moment…

“5…”

…as does someone in Kuala Lumpur…

“4…”

…Medan…

“3…”

…Bangkok…

“2…”

…Kathmandu…

“1…”

…and Singapure. And all of them watched, with either amazement or horror – or both – as the moon, shyly, innocently, and simply, disappeared.

Forever.

II

The night sky was full of stars.

They were all falling, or so it seemed. They were really synchronizing their descent, in perfect formation.

The people down below were in panic. It was the end of the world, to most of them.

“Sire, I perfectly understand that those were the orders. What I can’t understand is why.”

“The Council believes they are ready, captain. They need the Watcher to orbit another world. A new one. They have high hopes with this one…”

A new one. That meant that the Watcher wasn’t returning home, after all. But the main problem persisted. “And what about the humans? What will happen to them now, supposing that they can survive the Contact Shock?”

Contact Shock was one of the oldest recorded events in the Grays’ long history. Whenever they believed a lesser race – most of the time engineered by them – was ready to have official contact with its creators, the event that followed their descent from the skies was called Contact Shock. Most of the races – over 75% of them – didn’t survive this period, the idea of not being alone too much of a strain on their collective minds. Those who survived would begin a new and better era; those who didn’t wouldn’t last more than an Earth year. Humanity had already gone through Contact Shock once; the results were disastrous, but the Council – in a rare act of compassion and perseverance with one of its “own” (or, more likely, a victorious speech by the Watcher’s captain about giving the humans a second chance) – decided to do the wiping out process themselves, sparing just a few to begin the race anew. The first human Contact Shock occurred four thousands years ago.

“They will be relocated as well,” continued the Gray officer, “to the binary system of Udula Rhomp. Their ship is ready as well.”

“But it has never been tested before! How can the Council be sure Earth will be functional?”

“We have been testing it for millennia; granted, it was only an individual systems check, but that’s standard procedure.”

“You will relocate Earth without being 100% certain it works. With the humans inside.” The captain was definitely unhappy. He had devoted his very soul to this race, and now it seemed headed for destruction. The Council had lost all interest on them.

“Humans are not a priority anymore. But you need not worry, captain, your future assignment seems promising enough.”

And so it was. The captain sighed one final time – he had been sighing for quite awhile now – and decided to accept his new assignment with complacence. Maybe this new experiment will prove to be more successful…

Author’s note: For the sake of simplicity, the Grays speak english, express themselves like humans do, have a military hierarchy like the humans…just think of it in this way: they speak english so that you understand what’s going on; they don’t talk at all, but rather communicate through telepathy; their hierarchy is not modeled after humans, but quite the opposite – humans modeled their system after the Grays, without knowing it. Part of the genetic implant…? Imagination’s the limit.

Copyright © 2001 Samuel Pérez

Is Man of Steel 2 a test run for Justice League?

Ever since Warner Bros. announced at Comic Con that Batman would be in the new Man of Steel sequel, one thing was clear: this was not going to be a Man of Steel sequel.

Sequels to superhero franchises don’t have other superheroes sharing top billing, because then it stops being a superhero sequel and becomes a superteam movie (something only Marvel has done so far with the X-Men and Avengers movies). WB hasn’t been very subtle about it, of course, tentatively naming this Superman “sequel” Batman vs. Superman, except that now – with the official announcement that Gal Gadot has been cast as the new Wonder Woman – it’s clear WB isn’t just not making a Superman sequel, but they are actually rehearsing a Justice League movie without really calling it a Justice League movie.

This was my dream Wonder Woman... too bad WB already used her up.

This was my dream Wonder Woman… too bad WB already used her up.

We all know Marvel has the upper-hand as far as universe building is concerned, with their Avengers heroes all set up in their own movie franchises (at least those that are worth it, except for Hulk for some reason) and even expanding into outer space and the Guardians of the Galaxy. If they haven’t completely knocked out DC at this point is due to Sony holding unto the Spiderman franchise and Fox refusing to let go of the Fantastic Four, plus a certain director named Nolan producing the most lucrative superhero trilogy in history; but the fact remains that DC has fallen behind Marvel where Hollywood is concerned, and with The Avengers they have taken a strong lead. DC/WB can make up the ground if they make a Justice League movie (let’s face it, the Avengers roster is nothing compared to a Justice League roster), but rushing it could prove fatal. So now the plan seems to be that, instead of patiently positioning their pieces like Marvel did, they are going for a quick checkmate with a movie that is officially a sequel but unofficially the introduction to the Justice League characters, other movies be damned.

batman_vs_superman

You might as well put a golden tiara on top of the bat.

I’m not saying I am totally against this, I’m just worried that they are going to mess it up by cluttering Superman’s movie. Man of Steel showed both promise with Henry Cavill’s Superman interpretation and a lack of complete understanding of that character by Zack Snyder and the writing team. Still, there’s room for improvement, but will this Superman ever get that chance? He will be up against a brand new Batman, and now there’s a Wonder Woman whose exact role in this story is yet unknown, and the possibility of Flash also showing up. These last two characters deserve their own movies, so is this WB placing them in the public consciousness before that happens, or being lazy about it so people know who they are before jumping into the JL? I think there’s always a chance that all of this works out, and I’ll be first in line when the new movie comes out in a cluttered 2015, but I’m still worried.

On a last note, I don’t really know Gal Gadot, having only seen one of the Fast and the Furious movies and not remembering her at all, but at least she has the right looks (just a bit of gym work to buff up for the role). Is she leading role material, or was she cast because she is good with supporting characters and that’s enough for what WB intends to do? Can she carry a WW movie? The answer to these questions might reveal WB’s plans for Wonder Woman.

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness, with some Star Wars sprinkled in

I’ll start by issuing a warning: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

I really won’t bother with holding back on them, so if you haven’t seen the movie (unless you happen to be one of those people that don’t give a fuck about being spoiled before a movie) stop now, go watch the movie, then come back.

With that out of the way, I’ll start by talking about my expectations of Into Darkness. As you all must know by now, JJ Abrams will direct Star Wars Episode VII. He has made no secret about being a fan of Star Wars, just as he has made no secret how he has never been a fan of Star Trek; when the 2009 Star Trek alternate universe movie came out, you could tell Abrams was projecting his Star Wars fantasies into it. Sure, you can argue that the franchise needed new life, and that in order to bring it into the 21st Century moneymaking business it had to be more action oriented. However, Abrams is no stranger to intelligent science fiction, as his series Fringe showed for five seasons (let’s not get into LOST, that ended in a clusterfuck), so it was always possible to get the best of both worlds, and have an intelligent Star Trek that was also heavy in action, a la Wrath of Khan.

Well, that didn’t happen.

While I enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek, the end result was anything but intelligent: the villain was so hellbent on vengeance he did not see he actually had the tool to save his planet (the destruction of which sparked his desire for vengeance in the first place); the “science” in the movie couldn’t even make the cut to pseudo-science (and I’m not talking about the time travel); and it never made any sense to put someone so green as cadet Kirk in charge of the best ship of the fleet, no matter his movie heroics. However, it worked as an action oriented movie, and the time travel was the perfect excuse to reboot the franchise with the original beloved characters, so I was sold… up to a certain point. My hope was that the next one would focus more on the exploration part of Star Trek and be more intelligent.

st2

No, we don’t have to go to Star Trek: The Motion Picture levels for an exploration story (as much as I liked it).

So the question is: did it succeed in that?

Well, yes and no.

Star Trek Into Darkness focused just as much on the action as the first one, and it did not cover any sort of exploration. It was, as many had guessed for a long time, a sort of remake of Wrath of Khan, except with the characters switched: now it was Kirk that made the ultimate sacrifice, and Spock the one that learned the lesson at the end of the day (also, it’s now Spock who furiously yells “KHAAAAAAAAAN!!!!” when it seems that Khan has won). It might have added a bit of Search for Spock by reviving Kirk so quickly, but it was mostly the Khan story. So, on the “more exploration and less explosions” side, it wasn’t a success.

On the other hand, the ending completely opened the window into that facet, bringing the beginning of the five year mission of exploration the original series covered and – since Abrams is no longer directing – the possibility to see a shift in the themes from character driven to science and/or social driven (we saw a tiny bit of that with the whole “prime directive” dilemma in the opening sequence). Abrams can still produce and get some writers with real science fiction blood in them to work on the story.

Or, maybe, they will shed the idea completely.

Now, just because the movie was pure action and nearly no science fiction doesn’t mean it wasn’t intelligently approached. I loved the way they mirrored Wrath of Khan so intensely without making an actual remake. No, this was a well thought out story that works well on its own, but for those who know their canon it brings the idea that, maybe, the universe is ruled by fate; things didn’t happen exactly like they happened in Wrath of Khan, but the sequence of events bring very similar results.

As for Khan himself… where to begin?

Khan TV khanintodarkness

We were all expecting this “John Harrison” character to be Khan all along. I actually went into the movie having almost gotten rid of that idea, though, just as I had almost shed the notion that Robin and Thalia Al Ghul would be in The Dark Knight Rises by the time I entered the theater. That helped, of course, when the time came for the revelation. For some reason, even after Kirk tried unsuccessfully to beat the hell out of Harrison, I wasn’t really thinking of Khan, the guy with the superhuman genes and intellect. All the ingredients were there, and yet I didn’t bother to put two and two together until it was already too painfully obvious, and that was because Benedict Cumberbatch was playing a different sort of Khan than the one I saw in Star Trek II. This was Khan before he was desperately looking to avenge himself to Kirk (sort of like what happened in 2009’s Star Trek with the villain), a Khan that was coldly calculating and biding his time to save his crew and screw Admiral Marcus. Cumberbatch did to Ricardo Montalbán with his take on Khan what Heath Ledger to Jack Nicholson’s Joker, and it was awesome to behold.

o-DR-CAROL-MARCUS-STAR-TREK-570

Dr. Carol Marcus, 2013 and 1982 versions. Whomever made this, God bless you.

To complete the mirroring of Wrath of Khan was Dr. Carol Marcus. She’s still years away from building her Genesis device (if she’s ever going to build it in this timeline), but she’s already an amazing physicist that, uh, knows how to deactivate torpedoes and shit. I half expected her and Kirk to get it going at some point to plant the seed for the future David Marcus. Plant the seed, get it? Cuz… bah.

I should mention that Kirk’s death to save the Enterprise moved me as much as Spock’s did in Wrath of Khan. I was literally holding back tears at that point, and given how Spock at least stayed dead at the end of that movie, I thought Kirk might as well, since this was alternate Wrath of Khan and all. It didn’t happen, and although that bothered me from a dramatic standpoint, without him coming back the five year mission that I have been waiting for would never happen. For that reason only I can forgive the sleight of hand.

So yeah, it’s a great movie, enjoyable as a popcorn flick and as a Star Trek movie (though there are plenty of trekkers pissed off by it, can’t be helped). What bothers me about the whole situation is how Abrams – unwittingly, yes – was so disrespectful to the Star Trek franchise as a whole. What he made in both 2009 and 2013 were starwarised versions of Star Trek. To top that now he’s actually jumping ship to direct Star Wars. I know he didn’t mean any of it, but it feels very much like a rebuff. The Star Trek franchise has looked up to Star Wars at various points in its history, beginning with The Motion Picture, which was hyper budgeted and filled with unnecessary special effects as a reaction to 1977’s A New Hope. Even in the video below Star Wars ends up pwning Star Trek.

And now Abrams is spurning Star Trek in favor of its arch-nemesis. Star Trek should be better than that. It can be better than that. I just hope that whomever takes over the helm of the franchise treats it with the respect it deserves, and while I think that Abrams was disrespectful I hope he remains as a producer. The man can work his magic even when his heart is not 100% into it.

As for Star Wars, I’m sure he will work perfectly for Episode VII; he will be to Star Wars what Peter Jackson was to The Lord of the Rings: a fan who also happens to be a talented director working on his dream project.

So now, after all the explosions and screams and deaths and rebirths, can we finally, and boldly, go where no one has gone before?

A (brief) look into the character of Sigrdrífa, plus final Cover!

Sigrdrífa is a shieldmaiden. She is a Norse warrior in search for battle and glory. She is inspired by the valkyrs of myth, those women warriors who searched the battlefields for the slain and worthy to enter Valhalla, and join Odin’s army, the Einheriar.

I think my fascination with the valkyrs stems directly from Richard Wagner’s magnificent theme from his opera Die Wälkure. You know the theme, the one that shows up in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, or in countless other movies. The opera version, containing the singing of the valkyrs with their “hoyotohos” battlecries, is even grander than the “mainstream” version most people have heard. This is music that evokes a thousand images and feeds the imagination. It’s music that makes you want to write about it.

So here I am, writing about it.

I still do not know exactly what story will come out of it, but I can show you one image that has come out of it; here’s José Vega’s finished cover artwork:

Samuel-Perez---book-cover-final-highrez

For more on José Vega’s art you can visit his webpage below.

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Chapter 4: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga, Part 2

After the series of sick murders I presented in the first part of my Völsunga Saga post, these last few points will seem tame by comparison; but before we get to them, I found I had forgotten one last idiotic “for the fuck of it” murder to include previously, so here it goes:

Gudrun, that lovely mother who fed her own sons to their father for revenge’s sake, is the one character who constantly avoided death, despite her actively seeking it after getting fed up with all the bullshit in her life. (Probably the gods having some fun at her expense). After the offspring cooking episode she tried to commit suicide by throwing herself to the sea, but all she managed was to be washed away on some shore, being found by some other king, get married for the third time, and suffer her daughter Swanhild’s murder by… because… I don’t even remember. Doesn’t matter anyway, we all know everybody dies in this saga. The important thing is that Gudrun had Swanhild’s brothers (man, this woman had so many children as backup, no wonder she didn’t give a fuck if she killed a couple here and there) avenge her, a task that would also mean certain death to them. So, basically, she also had them killed.

Anyway, here’s what the saga has to say about their quest for vengeance:

And now, as they went on their way, they met Erp, their brother, and asked him in what wise he would help them.

He answered, “Even as hand helps hand, or foot helps foot.”

But that they deemed naught at all, and slew him there and there. Then they went their ways, nor was it long or ever Hamdir stumbled, and thrust down his hand to steady himself, and spake therewith-

“Naught but a true thing spake Erp, for now should I have fallen, had not hand been to steady me.”

A little after Sorli stumbled, but turned about on his feet, and so stood, and spake-

“Yea now had I fallen, but that I steadied myself with both feet.”

And they said they had done evilly with Erp their brother.

Seriously, I’m not making this shit up.

3. All you need is gold, gold! Gold is all you need!

This is somewhat connected to the first point about murder being meh, and the weregilds. It’s just funny how everything can be solved with gold. Like this:

So Grimhild comes to hear where Gudrun has take up her abode, and she calls her sons to talk with her, and asks whether they will make atonement to Gudrun for her son and her husband, and said that it was but meet and right to do so.

Then Gunnar spake, and said that he would atone for her sorrows with gold.

Or this:

Now thought Atli the King that he had gained a mighty victory, and spake to Gudrun even as mocking her greatly, or as making himself great before her. “Gudrun,” saith he, “thus hast thou lost thy brethren, and thy very self hast brought it about.”

She answers, “In good liking livest thou, whereas thou thrustest these slayings before me, but mayhappen thou wilt rue it, when thou hast tried what is to come hereafter; and of all I have, the longest-lived matter shall be the memory of thy cruel heart, nor shall it go well with thee whiles I live.”

He answered and said, “Let there be peace betwixt us; I will atone for thy brethren with gold and dear-bought things, even as thy heart may wish.”

I won’t even bother putting those two examples in context; just bear in mind that while both involve Gudrun, they are different instances of losing family to different kings. All that gold, however, wasn’t enough to salvage her mental stability; I mean, Atli tried, and the thanks he got in return was eating his own sons, and drinking their own blood. The ungrateful bitch!

goldgoldgold

The solution to all problems.

4. Speaking of ungrateful bitches, Brynhild is a BITCH.

The first thing that caught my attention about Brynhild was that she’s the Brunhild of Wagner’s operatic masterpiece The Nibelung Ring, being the title character in The Valkyrie. She is the main inspiration for my own Sigrdrífa – in fact, while there is a valkyrie called Sigrdrífa in Norse Myth, she is sometimes associated with this Brynhild.

The second thing that caught my attention about Brynhild was how much of a fucking bitch she was.

Brynhild was an awesome warrior, and as it usually happens with awesome female warriors, they get to set the rules about who can and cannot marry them. Her father can’t simply marry her off to whomever he pleases; the man who wants her hand must earn it. Sigurd, the greatest of the Volsungs and first husband to Gudrun, meets Brynhild while he was still single and available. He immediately falls for her, but of course Brynhild being a woman (and thus excessively complicated) she says nay to his advances. It’s not that she doesn’t like him back, it’s just that… well, she’s a woman. Things must be complicated. They do pledge love for one another but without the marriage or even the sex to make it worthwhile (yes, Sigurd was badly friendzoned), but eventually he meets Gudrun’s family, and Gudrun’s mother puts some sort of spell in him that makes him forget all about Brynhild and marry her daughter. Eventually Brynhild and her conditions for marriage reach the ears of Gunnar, one of Gudrun’s brothers, and he decides to take her; but unable to pass the test they put a spell on Sigurd that disguised him as Gunnar, and Sigurd beats Brynhild’s test, winning her for Gunnar.

To make a long story short, Brynhild eventually realizes the deception, and gets very angry at both Gudrun and Sigurd. Here’s what Brynhild says to Gudrun when she was about to tell her the truth of what had happened: “Ask such things only as are good for thee to know – matters meet for mighty dames. Good to love good things when all goes according to thy heart’s desire!”

Well, Brynhild, if you had followed thy own heart’s desires when you had the chance, you wouldn’t be in this pickle now, would you?

That’s not the bad part, though. It’s perfectly understandable that she would be pissed at realizing just how stupid she was for rejecting Sigurd, it happens to all of us at some point in our romantic endeavors. What doesn’t happen to most of us is how she went batshit crazy and eventually caused the deaths of Sigurd, Guttorm (one of Gudrun’s brothers), and started the chain reaction that would end with the destruction of all of Gudrun’s kin, the end of the Volsungs, and Gudrun’s own batshit craziness.

All of this because she played hard to get.

Bitch!

Bitch!

And there you have it, the things that I learned from reading the Völsunga saga, which was – basically – that Norsemen, despite their apparent overall craziness, are not really that different from us. They just took it to the extreme. Will I take it to the extreme with Sigrdrífa?

Stay tuned!

NEXT TIME: A look into the character of Sigrdrífa

A look into the art of Sigrdrífa: Interview with José Vega

Back in January, when I posted the official announcement for the Sigrdrífa novel, I included the first sketches for the character drawn by artist José Vega. Since then the character has been developed and the cover finished. That final version won’t be released yet (after all, there is still plenty of time before the actual novel is released), but I will present here part of the progress, plus a short interview with José.

José Vega

José Vega

Q: What got you into art?

A: Well I was not the typical artist who has been drawing and painting since being a kid. I got introduced to drawing in senior year by a friend and we used to redraw anime drawings back in the day when DBZ was popular. I decided to go to the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale where I got exposed to different types and realms or “art” from Animation, to 2D Illustration, traditional painting and 3D. I got my major in Media Arts and Animation and started working as a 3D Visualization Artist doing architecture and Interior Design. I was more into the 3D world building models due to my work and because it was a more technical approach, however I was always a gamer. I loved games and I always liked to see “The art of________ ” of the games that I liked and the more I looked at those books the more I got into the pre-production process of making games. So after a few years I lost my job due to the recession, moved around the states till I ended up back in my island (Puerto Rico) where I grew up and after a year of having digital painting as a hobby and doing it more and more I decided to go for it. I started getting more involved in communities, forums and with other artists and my passion for 2D Digital Illustration grew to the point where I am at now. Still evolving and defining.

Q: Any particular influences on your style?

A: Well, I was always attracted to the games I played like Blizzard games, Halo, Soul Reaver, many others. But I can recall 2 incidents in specific where it influenced my art in a tremendous way. The first was when I first started getting serious about my artwork and polishing my skills to become a professional. I found out about Feng Zhu video tutorials from his school. And by that time he had about 30 episodes of small and short tutorials on different topics on Digital Painting. And I remember watching one in the morning and one at night before bed for like months, even though I had watched them already. I learned a lot and my artwork took a leap forward due to the videos. The other incident was in early 2012 where I decided to go for a month to Canada to the Imaginism Studios workshop. It was an intense and remarkable experience. It was all about Art and friends. The lessons I took about foundation, rendering, style, imagination, etc., were very, very important in creating what I am right now. It was a great experience.

Q: If you could pick a film or franchise in which to work on as art designer, which one would it be?

A: WOW, this is a very hard one.

Ok so after thinking a lot I think it would be AWESOME for me to work in a new series for the Legacy of Kain games, Soul Reaver. It is a game series that I enjoyed a lot when it came out and it has been a while since they make a new game.

Q: What was the process behind the design of Sigrdrífa’s cover?

Character concepts

Character concepts

A: Well after reading the author’s description of an idea, usually what I do is do some research. And the first thing I look for is for a good color palette. There are a lot of ways I can go for that but after finding that then I start with more specifics like, research on armor, book covers, composition, etc. Once I have all that gathered up I start sketching, making thumbnails to play with composition and placement and look for the best possible image and design, which in my opinion is probably the hardest part because once I have that its all about rendering and spending time with the image.

Background sketch

Background sketch

Cover background, finished version

Cover background, finished version

For more on José Vega’s art you can visit his webpage below.

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NEXT TIME: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga, Part 2

Chapter 3: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga, Part 1

Oh God. Or gods. Either way, there’s something to be said about the customs of people around the world and history. The spartans, for example, are known for being really hardcore in their customs, gaining such a reputation that now “spartan” literally defines a very harsh way of life. On a slightly lesser degree the same can be applied to the samurai. Even today we have some pretty messed up customs and yet, reading the Völsunga Saga for research purposes I couldn’t help but be amazed at the… insanity displayed in its pages. Here’s a rundown of some of the tings I learned while reading the saga of the Völsung family:

1. Murder is like… meh. 

There is a separate category for this that involves children, so for now we will focus on wanton killing of adults. We get the first one right off the bat, on the first page (second paragraph) of Chapter 1:

Now it is to be told that, on a time, Sigi fared to the hunting of the deer, and the thrall with him; and they hunted deer day-long till the evening; and when they gathered together their prey in the evening, lo, greater and more by far was that which Bredi had slain than Sigi’s prey; and this thing he much disliked, and he said that great wonder it was that a very thrall should out-do him in the hunting of deer: so he fell on him and slew him, and buried the body of him thereafter in a snow-drift.

A “thrall” is a slave, or servant. Now, of course we all know that, historically, slaves are the lowest of the low, but killing one for out-doing you at hunting – especially when it doesn’t seem anyone else actually saw it happen – is pretty messed up. I was still quite innocent at this point and attributed it to Sigi being a very sick person and a very big asshole. Boy oh boy, was I wrong! Some of the characters that show up later will make Sigi’s murder seem almost justifiable by comparison.

At this point let me note that the Norsemen in general – at least a millennia ago – didn’t have much moral regard for human life. They had what they called “weregilds”, which were monetary values appointed to a person in case of injury or murder, according to their place in society’s hierarchy. I’ll give you examples in modern terms: let’s assume I kill a janitor, a profession which would probably land him/her in the (upperish) poor class. If the weregild system was enforced in my country, and the janitor’s weregild was $500, that means I would have to pay his or her family $500 as compensation. If I couldn’t pay that amount then I would be banished. If, instead, I managed to kill the Governor, the weregild would probably be something like $100,000. (I’m not taking inflation into account here).

That'll be $400 for Mr. Smith's uncle.

“That’ll be $400 for Mr. Smith’s uncle.”

This is important to explain, to a degree, the way they behaved with regards to killing others. They just didn’t give much of a fuck.

2. Killing your own children for revenge’s sake is like… meh.

Point 1 established how human life wasn’t worth much more than a few coins (well, kings were worth a lot of coins). Point 2 will show that even motherly love isn’t strong enough when vengeance is required.

There are, at least, three instances in the Völsunga Saga in which a mother killed or had someone else kill their own children for the sake of revenge. Let’s see Murder Mom #1: Signy.

Signy was King Volsung’s (the Volsung) daughter. She had nine brothers, eight of which were killed by her husband, King Siggeir, along with Volsung himself. The why of this isn’t important to this story; what’s important is that one of the brothers – Sigmund – survived with the help of his sister, and hid in the forest. Signy, of course, wanted revenge on her husband for slaying most of her kin, and she’s counting on her brother Sigmund to achieve it. When one of her sons with Siggeir turns ten years old she sends him to Sigmund to help him out (in secret), but the boy turned out to be kind of a wuss, and Sigmund informs her of this. Now let’s quote from the book:

Then said Signy, “Take him and kill him then; for why should such an one live longer?” and even so he did.

So this winter wears, and the next winter Signy sent her next son to Sigmund; and there is no need to make a long tale thereof, for in like wise went all things, and he slew the child by the counsel of Signy.

Got it? You better, or you die.

“Got it? You better, or you die.”

This wasn’t even actual revenge, just a complete lack of morals and love. She was killing her two sons because they were useless to her designs. Since they were Siggeir’s also I guess she hated them, but it is never stated that way. She just doesn’t care at all. Siggeir’s reaction to his sons’ disappearance is never followed up. Those poor kids apparently had no one who cared for them.

Anyway, Signy solved the useless sidekick problem by having a witch transform her into someone else, then go to Sigmund, seduce him, have him fuck her brains out for three nights (seriously), then go back, have a bastard incestuous son, name him Sinfjotli, and when he turns ten send him to Sigmund to pass the test of usefulness. He, being of pure Volsung blood, of course passes the test, but since things are never easy the kid had to endure torture along the way:

… and he was hardly yet ten winters old when she sent him to Sigmund’s earth-house; but this trial she had made of her other sons or ever she had sent them to Sigmund, that she had sewed gloves on to their hands through flesh and skin, and they had borne it ill and cried out thereat…

(Oh, I guess that explains their uselessness; they were busy feeling excruciating pain)

… and this she now did to Sinfjotli, and he changed countenance in nowise thereat. Then she flayed off the kirtle so that the skin came off with the sleeves, and said that this would be torment enough for him; but he said-

“Full little would Volsung have felt such a smart this.”

Sinfjotli on his way to Sigmund's earth-house

Sinfjotli on his way to Sigmund’s earth-house

Yep.

So now that she has her brother equipped with their scary son, revenge is eventually achieved, but not before… wait for it… more sons are killed!

Two other sons of Signy and the king discover Sigmund and Sinfjotli as they enter the palace to slay Siggeir, and they tell their father. So of course Signy goes to Sigmund and says:

“Lo ye! These younglins have bewrayed you; come now therefore and slay them!”

Sigmund says, “Never will I slay thy children for telling of where I lay hid.”

But Sinfjotli made little enow of it, but drew his sword and slew them both, and cast them into the hall at King Siggeir’s feet.

At least Sigmund tried to be decent this time.

The cake, however, is taken by Murder Mom #2, Gudrun. In fact, when I read the creative way in which she did it I laughed, not because by then I had become a monster like these guys, but because I had recently seen an episode of South Park in which Cartman does something very similar (so similar I wondered if Parker and Stone were deliberately parodying Gudrun, but more possibly it was the Shakespearean clusterfuck Titus Andronicus).

Here’s a very short summary of what happened: Gudrun’s family had been almost completely annihilated, the last of her kin falling in battle (or killed as prisoners) to King Atli. Obviously revenge was imperative. I’ll let the book take over and tell the rest:

But Gudrun forgat not her woe, but brooded over it, how she might work some mighty shame against the king; and at nightfall she took to her the sons of King Atli and her as they played about the floor; the younglins waxed heavy of cheer, and asked what she would with them.

“Ask me not,” she said; “ye shall die, the twain of you!”

Then they answered, “Thou mayest do with thy children even as thou wilt, nor shall any hinder thee, but shame there is to thee in the doing of this deed.”

(Very mature way of accepting your own murder)

Yet for all that she cut the throats of them.

How you like my cooking, honey?

How you like my cooking, honey?

Then the king asked where his sons were, and Gudrun answered, “I will tell thee, and gladden thine heart by the telling; lo now, thou didst make a great woe spring up for me in the slaying of my brethren; now hearken and hear my rede and my deed; thou hast lost thy sons, and their heads are become beakers on the board here, and thou thyself hast drunken the blood of them blended with wine; and their hearts I took and roasted them on a spit, and thou hast eaten thereof.”

It just occurred to me that this is the emotional equivalent of the Japanese kamikaze; it’s ok to die so long as you take the enemy down with you.

There’s still some other things I learned reading their crazy story, which I will address in the next chapter.

NEXT TIME: some sketch progressions by José Vega!

Chapter 2: Entering Valhalla

Norse mythology has always held a certain fascination to me. Now, while technically that’s true of most mythologies from around the world, Valhalla and friends have a special place thanks to their intrinsic coolness and inevitable tragic endings. It’s no coincidence that Stan Lee and Marvel Comics added Thor to their superheroes roster (Thor being, incidentally, my favorite of the Norse gods). Not only did they have consumate warriors, giants, dragons, elves, dwarves, trolls, and tricksters, but those gods were destined to die in a grand final battle, and they knew it. These are gods devised after a manner of people who not only did not fear death, but actually welcomed it. Their Ragnarök was a sort of beautiful tragedy, where death and oblivion meant the most glorious ending to one’s life.

Thor battles the serpent Jörmungandr. At the Ragnarök, they kill each other. Thor also had considerably more clothes than as depicted.

Thor battles the serpent Jörmungandr. At the Ragnarök, they kill each other. Thor also had considerably more clothes than as depicted.

It is this world that I have chosen to tell the story of Sigrdrífa. All the elements of modern fantasy are encapsulated in Norse mythology, and masters like Wagner and Tolkien drew from its legendary sagas to build their own epic stories. While I am not contemplating having Thor, or many of the gods, make an appearance in this novel, there will be plenty of fantasy to go around. And violence. And murder. And sacrifice.

Remember, this isn’t a happy place. Beware the faint hearted.

NEXT TIME: What I have learned from reading the Völsunga Saga

Chapter 1: The Swarm

Christmas 2013 Sigrdrifa logo

One of the side effects you get from having an active imagination is the swarm of ideas that float around your mind day and night, chaos desperately seeking for enough order to make sense of itself. I guess that’s why writers, painters, sculptors and artists in general become what they become; they need to channel those swarms into something congruent in order to be happy. I have had that swarm… uh, swarming around me for well over a decade now, and it’s annoying. When I was a little kid I already had some ideas floating around, sure, but after putting them into paper in a half-assed way they stopped nagging me. It was upon reaching adulthood that they became powerful enough to force me into doing something about it.

Sigrdrífa is one of my first serious attempts at doing something about it.

Not that I haven’t tried before. I have plenty of material slowly detaching itself from the Swarm and settling down into something a bit more controllable. In fact, Sigrdrífa isn’t even the biggest idea I have that is leaving the Swarm, although it has the potential of becoming something huge. What Sigrdrífa has that the others don’t is commitment; I’m making the production of this story public, as well as setting a deadline (Christmas 2013, as you can see from the promotional banner above). I will blog about its progress as it occurs: its ups and downs, the writer’s blocks that I’m sure to find along the way, the eureka moments that break those blocks, and so forth. I’ll make the readers privy to that process, which means I’ll have to hold myself accountable to the success or failure of the project.

And I’m not doing this alone.

sketches for sigrdrifa

Mr. José Vega will also be a part of this project as its cover artist, and he will be sharing his progress as well. The sketches you see above are the very first ideas that made it into paper. In the meantime, you can check his amazing artwork at his Art of José Vega webpage, and follow him on his Twitter handle @iarte7.

You can also follow me at @Samtertainment, and of course follow this blog.

What will Sigrdrífa be about? You guys can probably get some rough ideas from the name itself as well as those sketches. For more information, however, stay tuned!