Tag Archive | star wars

Millions of Voices Cried Out in Terror — or, That’s Not the Force You’re Feeling, Guys

“Imagine, if you will, millions of nerds arguing about Star Wars for 40 years.”

(click to embiggen)

I’ve started this blog post many times, but I either find myself wanting to pull my hair out at the mental gymnastics the haters (who claim to be TrueFans) keep putting themselves through to try to make their arguments that up is down and two billion plus one billion equals zero… and I keep giving up. When the craziness first came to my attention, back in those bygone days when the first trailer for The Force Awakens sent them into a tizzy of anger and outrage, I figured it was just an age thing. Right? I was 17 years old when the original Star Wars came out, and I had watched the Watergate scandal unfold and take down a corrupt president a few years before. I understood that the Empire was a corrupt government founded by people who had, at one point, been treated just as any other politician proposing what ideas that some people disagreed with who turned out to be fascists who destroyed the old government, and that the Rebellion was being led by the remnants of what had been the opposition party before all of that. In other words, I understood that every single plot element in the original Star Wars was about politics.

These other folks, who whine and rage about the new movies, I just assumed they were closer to the median age of the typical internet user. Their first exposure to Star Wars had been to see it on a TV at home, possibly when they were too young to remember the first time. It was just something that was always there. Whereas I saw it as a great movie that changed the way the genre was perceived as well as creating a seismic shift in all of pop culture, to them it had always been there. And they had been too young to understand that the word “empire” was inherently political, just as the phrase “rebel spy and a traitor” was also inherently political.

Oh, how naive I was just a few years ago. I hadn’t realized that the problem was much deeper than that.

Before I go on, a few other people have examined in depth a couple of the issues at hand, and rather than try to construct the same analysis, you should go check these out:

The Beautiful, Ugly, and Possessive Hearts of Star Wars.

Biased Opinion – The Wailing Ignorance of the Star Wars Fanboys.

The latter post, by the Aaron Pound, is extremely helpful in this discussion if for no other reason the two tables showing how all of the movies in the Star Wars franchise have done at the box office, and comparing them to other franchises (expressed in millions of dollars):

Please note: when adjusted for inflation, the original Star Wars made three-and-a-quarter billion dollars at the box office—that’s $3,252,000,000! Notice, also, the big drop-off that The Empire Strikes Back suffered, and then how the number went down a bit more for the third movie, The Return of the Jedi.

Now let’s look at the other chart (also in millions of dollars):

Aaron assembled this second chart to show how a single-character movie in a large franchise fares in comparison to the main courses, if you will. The Avengers and its sequels have made a whole lot more money than each single-character movie in the Marvel universe, and so we shouldn’t be surprised when Solo made a lot less money than The Force Awakens. Unfortunately, at least some execs at Disney didn’t understand this, otherwise they wouldn’t have authorized re-shooting almost the entirety of the film, bringing the cost of making Solo up to approximately $250 million (and then spent about $150 million promoting).

For the record, I liked Solo a lot. But I went into it knowing that because it’s a prequel, it will not cover any new ground. They had to show us how Han and Chewie meet, they had to show us how Han wins the Falcon from Lando in a card game, they had to show us the Kessel run. Those beats have to be hit. And because we’ve seen Han’s story play out in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens we already know who the love of his life will be, and he won’t meet her in this movie. Right? And when we meet Han in the original movie, he’s an established smuggler and scoundrel who owes money to at least one dangerous crime lord, so we can expect that this prequel will be some sort of criminal action-adventure movie. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to make this a movie that’s going to blow anyone’s mind.

They delivered a solid heist movie that did show us parts of the universe that the other films have mostly glossed over. It isn’t a bad movie, it’s just the sort of movie more likely to make $400 million than $1 billion, which can’t justify the amount they spent making it.

The angry guys who insist that this is more proof that some how the franchise whose main movies are earning more than a billion each is betraying true fans and so forth, don’t understand how the blockbuster movie industry works, compared to, say, the book publishing industry, or the gaming industry, and so forth. A cadre of true fans can make books profitable, but any group of “true fans” in any genre is simply too small a group to generate a billion dollars in revenue for a single movie.

Because the “true fans,” the kind of fans who argue about the economics of the cloud cities or who are dying to see the back story of characters in the original films are going to number in the thousands, at most. Whereas to make the sort of money that The Force Awakens made, you don’t just need millions of people buying tickets, you need at least 100 million.

And when you consider that the so-called “true fans” who are making this argument are the same guys who are angry that one of the leads of the new movies is a black man, and are furious that the primary protagonist is a woman, and are absolutely livid that another lead character is a chinese woman—well, that just means this is an even smaller fraction of the audience than simply people who are nostalgic for the original trilogy.

And with that belief system, well, it’s clear that they aren’t aligned with the light side of the force, either. That ain’t the force you’re feeling, guys—it’s hate.

Da, DA, da-da-da-DAAAA-da, da-da-da-DAAAA-da, dut-dut-da-daaaaaa! I love sf/f soundtracks

These fabulous two-disc sets have been in my collection for some time. I only yesterday realized I'd never imported them to my iTunes library!

These fabulous two-disc sets have been in my collection for some time. I only yesterday realized I’d never imported them to my iTunes library!

I saw the original Star Wars on opening night. I’ve written a few times before of being a 16-year-old geeky/nerd and my slightly older geek/nerd friends who always heard about every obscure genre movie before anyone else did who drove me down to a big theatre in a suburb of Portland, Oregon to see this thing… and it was awesome. The very next day we gathered up a bunch of our nerdy friends and made another trip to go see it. I immediately became one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans. That summer, the soundtrack came out of vinyl, so I had to buy the album. The show was such an incredible surprise blockbuster, that someone made a disco single versions of the theme that became a number one hit. A bunch of my nerdy friends spent the summer touring with the evangelical teen choir of which I was technically a member (but was not deemed worthy to go—the ins and outs of that and how it was influenced by people’s suspicions I was queer is worthy of some separate posts, but not today). And I had a very hard time getting a couple of them to listen to the album when they got back, because they’d all heard the awful disco song on the radio.

But once I got them to listen, they all loved it, too.

I played that album a lot. But vinyl records lose fidelity over time because each time you play them the physical needle that has to run through the groove to vibrate because of the shape of the groove and translate those microvibrations into sound also wears the groove smooth, slowing destroying the sound. I played it enough that, a few years later when the second movie came out and I bought the soundtrack album for it, I could hear the difference in some of the repeated themes, and bought myself a fresh copy of the first album, played it once to make a cassette tape, and put it away. I also made a tape of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack and stopped listening to the vinyl album. I listened to both cassettes often enough that eventually I had to get the albums out again to make fresh tapes.

And yes, eventually I ended up with a vinyl version of the soundtrack for Return of the Jedi. For many years after that, I would only occasionally play the vinyl albums, relying instead on the homemade cassette copies when I wanted to listen to them. I did this with a number of sci fi movie and TV series soundtracks through the 80s and early 90s: buy the vinyl album listen at least once while I made a cassette copy, then put the album carefully away and listened to the cassette as often as I liked. And I really enjoyed listening to the music for movies and other shows that I loved.

And then along came compact discs. I started buying new music on disc, and as I could afford it, if I found CD versions of favorite old albums, I would buy them. At some point in this period of time, I found a disc that was titled, “The Star Wars Trilogy” as recorded by the Utah Symphony Orchestra (the originals had all been done by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by John Williams) for a very reasonable price, and I bought it.

In 1997, 20 years after the original release of the first movie, a set of three 2-disc Special Edition sets of the soundtracks for all three of the original Star Wars movies were released, so I finally picked up the full soundtracks on CD. These sets had considerably more music than had been included in the old vinyl albums. They had also been remastered. Each of the discs was printed with holographic images of the Death Star and other ships from the universe. Each set came with a mini hardbound book with notes about the music. They were cool. I listened to them fairly frequently for a few years.

When I first acquired what they called at the time a Personal Digital Assistant (a Handspring Visor, to be specific), it came with a disc of software to help synchronize your calendar and contacts with your Windows computer. When I upgraded a couple years later, the new disc of software included a copy of Apple’s new music manager, iTunes (the Windows version), which you could use to put music on your PDA. At the time I often listened to music while working on computer by pulling discs out of a small shelf unit I kept in the computer room and stuck in a boombox we kept in there. The little shelf held only a subset of my library, as the rest of our discs were in a much bigger shelf unit in the living room next to the main stereo. So I grabbed some of the discs from the small shelf, stuck them in the CD drive on my Windows tower, and let them get imported into iTunes. That was the original core of my current iTunes library, from which I created my first playlists—imaginatively named “Writing,” “Writing Faust,” “Writing II,” “Layout An Issue,” and “Writing III.” And several tracks from the aforementioned knock-off Star Wars Trilogy disc were included, because that was the only Star Wars music disc I kept in the computer room at the time.

Many years later, I usually listen to music from my iPhone. I had thought that I had imported all of my music from disc into the iTunes library years ago, and most of the time I buy music as downloads, now. I have new playlists which include the Star Wars theme or the Imperial March. So I thought it was all good. I hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to the entire soundtracks of the original movies in years. I have continued to buy new soundtracks for movies I love. I tend to listen to them for a while, and then pick some favorite tracks that go into playlists.

Because of some articles I was reading about the upcoming films in the Star Wars franchise, I decided that I should re-listen to the original soundtrack, and was quite chagrined to discover that, even though I thought my entire iTunes library was currently synched to my phone, all that I had was the knock-off album. (And the wholly downloaded soundtracks from The Force Awakens and Rogue One.) I was even more chagrined when I got home and couldn’t find the original albums in my iTunes library on either computer.

So I went to the big shelf of CDs in the living room (which my husband was actually in the middle of packing), and snagged the three two-disc Star Wars soundtrack sets and carried them up to my older Mac Pro tower (because it still has an optical disc drive). I now finally have the albums on my iPhone. Sometime after we finish the move, I’ve going to have to go through playlists to replace the versions from the knock-off album with the authentic score. Because, that’s what I should be using!

Also, clearly, after we’re all unpacked at the new place, I need to go through the rest of the discs and see what other music which I thought was in my library is still sitting trapped in a physical disc which never gets used any more so I can import them to the computers. I mean, our stereo doesn’t even have a disc player!

We have always been here, part 2

Cover, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1954.

Cover, Astounding Science Fiction, July 1954. The prevalent belief, at the time, was that the vast majority of readers were men. What does that tell us about the intention of this artwork? (Click to embiggen)

I get tired of having to defend my wish that stories include diverse casts of characters. Not just because I’m a gay man who wishes that my favorites shows, books, and stories would include people like me, but because I remember what it was like being a queer child and having no idea that there was anyone else in the entire universe like me. And therefore, I can empathize with other children who aren’t straight white cis males who never see people like themselves as the heroes of any story, and thus grow up not thinking that they have a place in this world.

But as I’ve said before, it isn’t just about having characters that various readers in your audience can relate to. It is also a matter of portraying a believable world. The real world has people of different genders, races, sexual orientations, and so on. It is simply unrealistic that a random sampling of any fictional world is going to consist solely of white, cisgendered, straight people. Especially the overwhelming majority of them male.

And there’s one other aspect, but award-winning sci fi/fantasy author, Saladin Ahmed explained it in a succinct set of tweets:

Ahmed is referring to the likely fanboy reaction to this article: J.J. Abrams says Star Wars will get an openly gay character. And the word “likely” is wholly unnecessary, as I’ve already seen angry reactions to the article around the net.

As he said, the people who object when a non-white person is cast in lead role in a movie that isn’t about race issues, or queer characters are included in a story, and so on, always argue that it’s just furthering a political agenda to include any non-white, straight characters. Especially when it comes to queer characters, they angrily ask, “Who cares who is having sex with who?”

Well, obviously, if you’re getting angry, you do.

But let’s go back to the original Star Wars trilogy, for a moment. I was in a very crowded theatre on opening weekend for Empire Strikes Back, and when Leia declared, “I love you!” then Han replied cooly, “I know!” there were whoops and lots of exclamations of, “YES!” from all over that theatre. Three years later, at the first showing of Return of the Jedi, when Leia and Han have their big kiss at the end, there were even louder cheers and clapping. So a lot of people did care about who was in love with who, who was kissing who, and so on.

I want to repeat that: fanboys cheered and applauded a kiss near the end of a special effects-laden space opera adventure story.

So, they did care and they still do care about who is in love with, who is kissing, and yes, who is wanting to have sex with who.

It goes back much further into the history of science fiction and fantasy than Star Wars, of course. The reason that those earlier examples almost never included any same sex relationships is not because there weren’t any queer writers or readers of science fiction, it was because everyone was closeted. They weren’t closeted because they wanted to be, but because they often had to be. Remember, until the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that intimate consensual sexual conduct was a fundamental freedom protected by the Constitution, same sex activity was a criminal offense in many places.

We have always been here. For instance, in the 1920s and 1930s, Edgar Pangborn wrote a lot of pulp stories in the mystery, fantasy, and sci fi genres which featured very passionate male “friendships.” The relationships were never overtly gay, but clearly were meant to imply it. He wrote those stories under a variety of pen names. He didn’t start publishing stories under his real name until the 1960s.

Jim Kepner was the publisher of one of the first magazines advocating for gay civil rights, ONE Magazine, beginning in 1953. But before that, operating under the fan name, Jike, he was an active member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society. During the 1940s he published a sci fi fanzine called Toward Tomorrow. Within that ’zine, and in other fanzines, he was only one of several fans who wrote speculatively of how society might evolve to include greater gender equality, racial equality, and acceptance of various sexual orientations.

A page from a science fiction fan zine from the 1940s, with Tigrina (Lisa Ben); not to mention Ray Bradbury. Courtesy ONE Archives/USC

A page from a science fiction fan zine from the 1940s, with Tigrina (Lisa Ben); not to mention Ray Bradbury. Courtesy ONE Archives/USC. (Click to embiggen)

Another member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society back then, Edythe Edye operated under the fan name Tigrina. In 1947, using the pseudonym Lisa Ben, she founded Vice Versa, the first lesbian magazine published in the U.S.

In 1953, when straight author, Theodore Sturgeon, explored gay themes positively in the short story “The World Well Lost,” it caused at least one editor to try to organize a blackball system to prevent it, or anything like it ever being published. The blackball scheme didn’t work. The story was published. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Sturgeon and other writers occasionally returned to the subject over the next couple of decades.

It was far more common, yes, for queer characters to be portrayed negatively. In some works, you could tell how far into the depths of evil a character had plunged by how much bisexual or homosexual activity they engaged in—Dune’s Baron Harkonnen being a prime example. My point is that queer fans and writers and artists have been around for as long as science fiction and fantasy have existed. The argument about whether or not we should be allowed to participate or be portrayed has been around just as long.

Queer people have been around for as long as people have existed. They will exist in every fantasy and science fiction world. Whether they can safely live openly in those societies will vary, just as it does now in the real world, and has varied in different historical periods. If your fictional world doesn’t include us, it is unrealistic. If your fictional world doesn’t include us, you either really suck at world building or you suffer from heterosexism. If you claim you can’t include us until the right storyline comes along, you may be in denial about how much homophobia (subconscious or not) you harbor.

Not every story will include romance, obviously. I have discussed with some folks the fact that in my current series of fantasy novels, while there are several characters I know who are bisexual or pansexual, most of them aren’t obvious. There is at least one clearly identified gay couple, and several clearly identified straight characters, but that’s it2. So, I’m a queer writer who isn’t sure I’m representing queer characters enough. Therefore, I’m not saying that writers who don’t have a lot of obviously gay characters in their work are bad people.

I am saying that if you have absolutely none at all, that is just as much of an “agenda” as anything certain people accuse queer people of pushing when we ask for inclusion. Whether consciously intended it, or not, that’s at the very least enabling an anti-gay agenda.


Footnotes:

1. Yes, that is an anagram of lesbian, and she did it intentionally.

2. There are shapeshifters in my universe, and at least one shapeshifter who has appeared prominently could be interpreted as a trans character. There are other characters in the world that are definitely transgender, but haven’t yet appeared in a story3.

3. I’m not advocating quotas. As Mr Ahmed said above, quotas are bad for art, but so is monotony.

Confessions of an incorrigible shipper

Poe and Finn kiss while Rey gives Finn a congratulatory low-five (Earlier this week the writer/director of Star Wars Episode VIII re-tweeted this cartoon drawn by Jeffrey Winger (jeffreywinger.co.vu).

Earlier this week the writer/director of Star Wars Episode VIII re-tweeted this cartoon drawn by Jeffrey Winger (jeffreywinger.co.vu). Click to embiggen.

The first time I saw the original Star Wars I didn’t consciously have a strong feeling about the apparent love triangle being set up between Luke, Leia, and Han. I was frankly a bit surprised when some of my friends started talking about it. I mean, yes, there was the cute scene when Han realized that Luke was developing a crush, and he asked, “Do you think a princess and a guy like me–?” But he was so obviously teasing Luke. Clearly he wasn’t actually interested in the princess, right? I mean, what other possible interpretation could you have to that indulgent, slightly condescending smile?

And Han, being a much more experienced man, also, to my mind, knew that there was never any chance that a guy like Luke could win the princess, either. That was the other meaning of that smile. And during the dozens of times I re-watched the movie over the next three years, I was still convinced that there wasn’t going to be a serious conflict between Luke and Han trying to win Leia’s heart.

I was definitely in the minority. Lots of people expected, if there was a sequel, that a love triangle would figure heavily in the next movie.

I would like to be able to argue that I had somehow perceived some hint of the revelation that was going to come along later that Leia was Luke’s twin sister. But that wasn’t it. It wasn’t until after I first saw The Empire Strikes Back, that I realized what had been going on in my subconscious. Empire remains my favorite movie of the series for a lot of reasons, but after the first showing I had very mixed feelings about one subplot.

I was still deeply closeted at that point, but I was quite aware that I had a crush on Harrison Ford (or at least all the characters he played), while I had also very strongly identified with Luke, but didn’t have the same kind of feelings for Mark Hamill. I realized that my subconscious had been rooting for a romance, all right, but one between Luke and Han. Which in 1980, when Empire was released, was absolutely impossible in a mainstream film. Heck, even the most radical art house films seldom portrayed mutual same sex romances. They might show a homo obsessed with another man, but it was unrequited and tragic and depressing.

But that was what my subconscious saw precisely because we never saw it on the screen. I’ve written before about why queer people read same sex attraction into all sorts of characters in movies, television, and books. Because if we didn’t imagine them, we never got them. The unrelenting message of culture and media is that queers don’t exist, queers don’t matter, queers don’t love, and if they dare to, they deserve whatever horrible things befall them.

That’s why it’s homophobic when straight people roll their eyes or demand to know why we “do that” to characters who aren’t explicitly identified as gay. It isn’t necessarily malicious or intentional, but being annoyed that we dare to imagine such relationships perpetuates our erasure and is condescending at best.

But to get back to Empire, the movie did such an excellent job of portraying the complex emotional relationship between Han and Leia, that by the time of Han’s famous, “I know” answer just before he was frozen in carbonite, I was cheering for them. Of course they were in love! They were perfect for each other! At least that’s what one part of my heart said. Meanwhile, another part was mourning the loss of the love between Han and Luke that I’d hoped for, even though I knew it wouldn’t happen in a mainstream movie.

But once I got over my disappointment, I was totally on the Han and Leia train, and was happy to see them decades later (“You still drive me crazy”) as a realistic older couple who have had their ups, downs, and a falling out but still caring for each other in The Force Awakens.

I don’t only ship same sex couples. The first two seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I was totally a Willow/Xander shipper. I so wanted Xander to pull his head out and realize that Willow loved him. At different times in the series, yeah, I was elsewhere. I’ve written Xander/Spike fic (and if I ever finish my WIP there’s also some steamy Graham/Riley action and hot Gunn/Buffy action in there). I adore well written Buffy/Spike fic. For a while I was a Xander/Scott shipper, but have often been completely onboard both the canon Xander/Anya and Willow/Tara relationships. I realize if you’re not familiar with the show that you won’t know that half of those are opposite sex couples. In another fictional universe, I remain an unapologetic Parker/Hardison/Spencer One-true-threesome shipper!

But yes, I saw the chemistry between Finn and Poe during my first viewing of The Force Awakens, and given how many millions of other fans saw it, it clearly isn’t an unreasonable inference. I get that other people see the Rey/Finn pairing, and I’m not saying I wouldn’t be able to enjoy that, but I would really, really like for a galaxy filled with aliens of all shapes and droids and so forth the acknowledge that queer people exist, too. (Also, hey! Why can’t we have a Finn/Poe/Rey triad? Polyamory is real, too!) That’s why I enjoyed reading Rian Johnson Gets It, where I first saw the cartoon I linked above.

As Chuck Wendig said in a post I’ve linked to before regarding people who were angry he put gay characters in an official Star Wars novel:

“…if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming. And it’s a fabulously gay Nyan Cat meteor with a rainbow trailing behind it and your mode of thought will be extinct. You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.

Also, I was really pleased with this: when a fan recently asked Mark Hamill on line if Luke was bisexual, Mark replied, “His sexuality is never addressed in the films. Luke is whatever the audience wants him to be, so you can decide for yourself.”

Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons – more of why I love sf/f

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid." Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original Star Wars.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo in the original Star Wars. (Click to embiggen)

I was a high school student in the small town of Longview when Star Wars first came out. I saw it on opening night, thanks to a couple of older friends who were even bigger science fiction fans. They drove me down to Beaverton, Oregon, (which was the closest place with a full-sized wide screen and Dolby sound at the time) on opening night, insisting that I’d love this film I had never heard of.

They were right. A lot of people loved it.

It wasn’t really original. The movie was a loving homage to the pulp magazine adventure stories and serial movies of the 30s and 40s. It didn’t have anything profoundly new philosophically to say. The special effects were better than we were used to seeing, but otherwise it just told an old-fashioned story. You knew who the good guys and the bad guys were. The heroes were confronted with a series of obstacles to overcome, and they worked hard to win the day.

In that way, it was an oasis in the desert. Over a decade before the movie came out, “legitimate literature” had embraced the modernist school. Narrative (storytelling) was considered “unrealistic” and “naïve.” Modernist writers abandoned plot and character development for style and grand themes. Resolution was replaced with ambiguity.

That listless ambiguity had infected a lot of pop culture. To be fair, in the U.S. at least we had good reason to be despondent. The economy had tanked. Inflation was out of control, lots of people were out of work, and even more were under-employed. We had finally admitted what a pointless quagmire the war in Viet Nam had become, so closely on the heels of the national embarrassment of the Watergate scandal and the ouster of President Nixon (itself following not the long after Vice President Agnew had resigned and pled guilty to tax evasion charges). And victories of the civil rights movement seemed to have produced more backlash than noticeable improvements in the lives of ordinary people.

By 1977 most of popular culture had been tainted by modernist angst. Many of the films and novels of the day accentuated style, mood, and setting, and had endings that left the audience wondering what had happened.
Star Wars brought plot, heroes, and villains back in style. And none too soon, in my opinion. There’s something comforting and satisfying about a story that begins with a problem, builds to a climax, and resolves things in the end.

Not to say that some of the other types of stories aren’t fun from time to time.

Star Wars was the perfect combination of fun, adventure, struggle against a seemingly unbeatable foe, and triumph. With space ships and blasters and energy swords thrown in for good measure. It’s not really science fiction, because the attempts it makes at science are laughably wrong. It follows the conventions of 30s science fiction in that regard. It’s space opera, following the rules of epic fantasy with the accoutrements of science fiction. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

The Empire Strikes Back was a much darker story, and as a middle chapter in a continuing tale, its ending wasn’t triumphant. But it still told a really good tale. There were resolution of some issues, character arcs advanced, and the open issues were daunting problems, but with a hope that they could be resolved. It was a superior movie to Star Wars in every way, but was still firmly built from the foundation laid by the previous movie. Return of the Jedi was fun—flawed, but fun. It wasn’t as good a move as Empire, but it still worked, and it paid off in at least an acceptable way on all of the cliffhangers of the previous films. Don’t get me wrong, some of the pay-offs were fantastic, I’m just admitting that not all were perfect.

Star Wars (which I hate referring to as “Episode IV – A New Hope”) still remains an especially bright shining beacon in my personal firmament. It made me love the idea of science fiction and fantasy in movies, again. It gave me a new celebrity crush (if you were a queer boy watching the first film and didn’t swoon for Han Solo I don’t know what’s wrong with you!). It gave me characters to aspire to be like: Obi Wan, Luke, Leia (yes, Leia! Seriously! Go watch those scenes with Leia and Darth, or the moment she takes the blaster away from one of the men, shoots open a vent cover, and says, “Someone has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, fly boy!” and tell me she isn’t bad ass!)…

I love Star Wars. I loved it so much that the first summer it was in theatres, I drove to a theatre in another state 13 times to re-watch it. Not to mention seeing it at a local theatre, later watching it on cable, and eventually on tape again and again. It was a life changing experience.

But I must admit that the modernists were right in some ways. The traditional narrative form is seldom the way real life works out. The difference between real life and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. In real life, we don’t always get the clear-cut endings where the heroes defeat the villains and go on to live happily ever after:

  • The friend who drove that night when I first saw Star Wars, 38 years ago, is dead. James Curtis Bruce died from complications of AIDS at the age of 36.
  • Another friend, who drove us down to see the opening of Empire, has also passed away. Lawrence Lee Church died of an anueurysm at the age of 34.

I had admired and looked up to both of them as “big brothers” during a very important part of my life. Jim was a lot like the character of Han Solo, while Larry had more in common with Yoda.

I miss them both.

Sometimes we all wish that life was more like a good, fun movie.

Of course Han shot first!

After re-editing his own movies to change the order of the shot, Lucas was spotted in 2012 wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

After re-editing his own movies to change the order of the shot, Lucas was spotted in 2012 wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. (Click to embiggen)

In the original version of the first Star Wars movie, Han Solo is confronted by an alien named Greedo pointing a gun at him. They have a conversation about the bounty on Han’s head, and how Greedo is here to collect the money Han owes. Han surreptitiously unholsters his own gun under the table, and when Greedo threatens to kill Han if necessary to take his ship as payment, Han kills Greedo.

It was a great scene, shows us a lot about Han’s personality, and was one of the many great homages in the film to scenes from classic Westerns and Noir Detective films.

Then, in later editions, George Lucas re-edited the scene so that Greedo shoots and somehow from nearly point-blank range misses. Then Han shoots after. And thus a meme was born and soon adored a million t-shirts. In more than one interview Lucas claimed that he had always meant that Greedo shot first. Or that Greedo was squeezing the trigger and Han was reacting to that as much as the verbal threat, and so on. But it made no sense to anyone. It seemed clear to everyone that Lucas was trying to make Han seem like more of a stand-up hero or something.

Despite those many interviews with Lucas, the original shooting script explicitly says that Han shoots before Greedo has a chance to make good on his threat. And George was himself seen wearing a Han Shot First t-shirt on the set of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2012. I always felt the decision to edit was extremely stupid, and thus felt vindicated by both the script and Lucas’ t-shirt shot. (You can argue that he’s embraced the controversy, or was being ironic, or maybe some fan had given him the t-shirt and he was wearing it to give Harrison a laugh on the set—whatever.)

I felt as if this particular thing had been settled a long time ago, until recently I happened across a reference to the Han Shot First “controversy” on the blog of a Sad Puppy supporter. At first he seemed to be making the case that Lucas’ decision to re-edit the scene was in response to pressure from the forces of political correctness (side note: I need to find that web browser plug-in that changes all references in articles to Political Correctness to “treating people with respect,” since the only thing that causes folks to accuse other people of being PC is when they are called out for failing to treat others with respect). But then the blog went on to claim that Social Justice Warriors prefer the second edit. He claims that he has been told (I think the actual term was “screamed at by SJWs”) that he’s an immoral person for thinking that Han shot first.

For the record, I am clearly a Social Justice Warrior supporter, and I have always argued (sometimes vehemently) that Han Shot First. And every feminist, pro-equality fan that I know personally who has ever expressed an opinion about the original Star Wars movie has also insisted that Han Shot First, and often just as vehemently as I do.

And Han shooting first isn’t an immoral choice!

He’s being held at gunpoint. Greedo makes it clear that if Han puts up a fight, he’ll kill Han. He threatens to take Han’s ship, which is his livelihood. When Han says “over my dead body” Greedo indicates he’ll really enjoy killing Han. BANG!

It’s a clear and unequivocal threat to Han’s life. He’s not just threatened with deadly force, it’s right there pointed at him. So he reacts with deadly force of his own. Is it the way Ghandi or Buddha or Mother Teresa would have handled it? No. Is it the way Sam Spade (or any other character Humphry Bogart played in many noir movies) would have handled it? Absolutely! It shows us that Han is a person that will do whatever it takes to protect himself and what’s his. It shows us he thinks on his feet. It shows us he has good survival instincts. It shows us that he can appear charming if necessary, but is more than capable of killing an opponent and carrying on.

And more importantly, it sets things up so it is both a genuine surprise when Han flies in to the rescue at the end, while at the same time making it believable that he would find a way to fly in through all that ship to ship fighting and get where he needed to be to save someone that he’s decided is a friend.

I can be the kind of person who believes that non-violent solutions are better than resorting to senseless violence, and at the same time recognize that in some circumstances, violence may be the least worst option. So, yeah. Han shot first. And it was a right thing to do. It doesn’t make him a saint. But not all heroes are. And we can cheer for flawed heroes when they do the right thing.

Getting nerdy as f— about things we love

"I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love."

“I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love.”

I always thought I was one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans. I was 16 years old when the first movie was released, and I saw it with two slightly older friends one of whom was a hard core science fiction/fantasy fan who subscribed to magazines and fanzines no one had heard of and was always talking about the intricacies of how this make-up artist did that thing, et cetera. Our small town in southwest Washington state had only two theatres back then and seldom got anything new, so these friends were always driving down to Portland, Oregon to see movies none of us had heard of.

They convinced me to go see this movie that they thought might be good on opening night. My mind was blown away. We hadn’t expected it to be so awesome. The next day we convinced several of our friends to caravan down in several cars to see Star Wars in a big group. They were equally as mind-blown.

We took another group of friends down a couple weekends later. Over the course of the summer of ’77, I drove myself and various friends down another 13 times to watch Star Wars again. The movie finally opened at one of our small town theatres in August, I think, and some friends who had refused to take the long drive to see it finally went with me to watch it on a fairly tiny screen. By that point, I not only knew every single line of dialog, but I could engage in trivia battles with my friends.

I organized excursions to go see each of the two sequels on opening day. For Return of the Jedi, two of my best friends and I got up at 4am to drive down to the big theatre in Oregon where I’d first seen Star Wars and Empire and we sat in line all day. I was 18th in line that morning for the first showing to the film.

I’m always a little amazed when I realize how many friends I have, now, who were too young to have experienced the movies the way I did. To them, Obi Wan, Luke, Leia, and Han weren’t cool characters in this awesome movie, they were beings of legend on a par with Santa Claus or Moses. And thus many of those friends have gone through all the phases of believing in the original tale, learning that it is a story that someone somewhere made up, becoming a bit cynical about the process of making movies and selling toys, and so on. Which isn’t to say they they don’t love the films. A lot of them revere them, and defend them as a treasured part of their childhood.

I didn’t go through those phases with this particular story. I was old enough that I could see which parts of the movie were homages to the old Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon serials, which parts of the movie harkened to Westerns, and so on. That didn’t make me love the story any less, by no means. Look how many times I drove to watch it!

I didn’t own my own copy of the movie on VHS tape until I was nearly 30 years old. It was one of the first movies I bought after finally getting my own VCR. (That’s another thing, I’m old enough to remember when VCRs were a new gadget that only really well-to-do people could afford to own.)

To this day when I watch the original movie, I find it a little jarring to see those words “Episode IV – A New Hope” appear at the top of that initial screen crawl. That wasn’t there for that entire first run of the movie. It was added when the movie was released on home video, and in the re-release to theatres just before The Empire Strikes Back came out. It doesn’t matter that for 37 years that movie has been referred to as “Episode IV: A New Hope,” my visceral reaction is, “No. That isn’t the real name. The real name of the movie is simply ‘Star Wars.'”

I’m not recounting all of this to disparage anyone else’s appreciation of the film, or to try to prove that I’m more of an authority than anyone else. I chose my opening sentence to this post with a purpose. It implies something that I now want to make explicit: I always thought I was one of the world’s biggest Star Wars fans, but I’m not the biggest. I can’t be. I have seen people very literally insist that they will cease to be friends with people if those people spoil the new movie for them.

And that’s simply insane.

Seriously, you are the sort of person who will discard another human being because they slip up and mention something about a movie?

I love Star Wars. It changed my life. It changed my view of storytelling. It set a standard that I still measure other stories against. And I’m a storyteller myself, now, who believes that storytelling is not merely fundamental to the definition of human, but that it is a transformational force which can move the world. I believe all of that, but I’m also able to understand that a plot twist is not more important than a human being. A literary surprise should not be more valuable to you than the love or affection you feel for another person.

I’ve made ludicrous statements myself, such as that I can’t be friends with someone who thinks The Phantom Menace was a good script. I’ve said things about movies or books or shows that I love and people who don’t share my enthusiasm which were insensitive at best, and outright cruel/pure assholery at worst. And then felt like a complete heel when I realized how I sounded. So I recognize that people might be being just a little hyperbolic. I realize that maybe these same people would regret it if they really did ostracize someone for “spoiling” the movie.

I hope, at least. Because here’s the thing: if you really love Star Wars that much, you should love the fact that other people love it. And maybe they don’t love it exactly the way you do. And maybe they love it so much that when they talk about it they reveal some details that you think of as spoilers, where as they think they’re just telling you it was awesome. It’s fine to let people know that you would like to be spoiler-free. And clearly, if someone tells you the ending for the malicious and intentional purpose of upsetting you, they are being an asshole and maybe you would be better off without them.

I try, myself, not to mention plot twists or reveals and the like of anything I’m watching or reading. I constantly bite my tongue about which clone is my favorite in the series Orphan Black, for instance, because merely mentioning my love of the character could spoil an important plot-twist that happens near the beginning of the second season. Even though it has been out for years, now, there are still friends I’m trying to get to watch the show, and I don’t want to ruin the joy I felt when that reveal happened.

But it’s just a story. It isn’t actually a matter of life and death. And just as we hurt people when we make disparaging remarks about things they like that we don’t, we also cause pain when we piss all over someone else’s enthusiasm. We shouldn’t do that. Especially about things they love.

I’m trying to learn not to do it. Won’t you join me?

We’ve always been here, even in a galaxy far, far away…

A few weeks back when one of the serious news sites reported that people of color have only recently become involved in reading comics and science fiction, Arab-American past Hugo-nominated science fiction author Saladin Ahmed shared this historical photograph showing a bunch of African-American kids reading comics in the 1940s.

A few weeks back when one of the serious news sites reported that people of color have only recently become involved in reading comics and science fiction, Arab-American past Hugo-nominated science fiction author Saladin Ahmed shared this historical photograph showing a bunch of African-American kids reading comics in the 1940s.

So, one of the official new Star Wars universe novels came out last week, STAR WARS: AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig, and it is getting flooded with one-star reviews. About a third of those reviews are along this line: “I don’t like the inclusion of so many gay characters because my personal opinion is that sodomy is not normal and I am tired of the liberal media trying to make me accept this lifestyle.”

Jim C. Hines has a post more thoroughly discussing the various negative comments, if you want to read it. But I think his best comment is:

Oh, dear. A galaxy that includes countless species and droids and races acknowledged the existence of homosexuality? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? Can we PLEASE get back to giant slugs with a fetish for other species, green muppets, blue elephant people, and giant walking carpets? You know, characters who are normal.

Conservative pundit Earl Hall (here’s a DoNotLink link if you want to subject yourself to it) weighed in (including a really bad attempt to write some Yoda dialog), asking why there are suddenly so many gay characters everywhere: “Is there all of a sudden way more LGBT people in our population than we once thought? Is this really about diversity, or is it more about forcing a story line and lifestyle down our throats?”

First of all, yes, Mr Hall and all the bigoted one-star reviewers: there are more queer people in the population than you thought. But it isn’t suddenly. I’ve quoted before the CDC study in the 1990s about sexual activity that found that while Americans would rather admit to being heroin addicts than bisexual, if you just went by their sexual activity rather than asking them to identify their sexual orientation, about 45% of the population regularly engaged in sexual activity with both men and women. That and other studies indicate that only about 6% of the population engages primarily in sexual activity with members of the same gender. But that means that just (45% + 6 % = 51%) a bit over half the population of the planet is non-heterosexual.

That means that in the U.S. about 19,800,000 (that’s more than nineteen million) people are exclusively gay, while about another 148,500,000 (that’s over 148 million) people are bisexual/pansexual/whatever you want to call it.

And worldwide, the combined number would be 3,570,000,000 (that’s more than three-and-a-half billion) non-heterosexual people.

So, yes, a lot more than you think. And we’ve always been here. There was a wonderful scholarly article I read once that was dissecting clues in various documents and diaries and so forth from the 1890s that put forward a really good argument that men were having sex with other men more often in the U.S. in the 1890s for at least part of their adult lives than was happening in the 1990s. Just as an example.

Wendig has a couple of great responses:

If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.

And a bit later in the post:

And if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming. And it’s a fabulously gay Nyan Cat meteor with a rainbow trailing behind it and your mode of thought will be extinct. You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire.

Wendig also points out all the women and people of color appearing prominently in the trailers for the new movie, in case that kind of inclusion also upsets the one-star reviewers.

Finally, one last note about all those one-star reviews. Amazon’s algorithms push books to the top of recommendation queues based in part on the number of reviews, total. It does not take into account whether the reviews are good or bad. The algorithm cares only that lots of people feel strongly enough about a book to review it. And sales statistics seem to bear that out: readers are more willing to take a chance on a book that has lots of reviews, negative or positive.

I suspect a lot of those people read the negative reviews, see what the reasons a person dislikes a book are, and say, “Well, they may not like books like that, but I do!”

Regardless of that phenomenon, there’s an actual campaign on some conservative fan sites asking people who haven’t even read the book to go give it a one-star review. I don’t think the understand that just means that more people who haven’t heard of the book will have it recommended to them by Amazon.

But then, bigots have seldom been known for the brilliance.

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