Space Opera


The internet is all abuzz at the moment with the proud news that a men’s rights activist (MRA) has produced a woman-free version of Star Wars’ The Last Jedi, based on a low-fi cam recording from a cinema somewhere in Asia. The stated reason is to (amongst other things) cut out all the scenes which involve women “commanding people around/having ideas” and to get rid of the “girlz powah and other silly stuff”.  This dude’s problems with The Last Jedi seem to be the same as some of the douchier commenters on my (much-read!) review of The Last Jedi, which primarily seem to be that “diversity ruined the movie” and “there were too many women in charge.” These complaints are always associated with some kind of whine about how this insistence on diversity has ruined the original series. For example a random reviewer at Rotten Tomatoes says:

With the clear intention of moving away from the Lucas Legacy, this Director has consumated the machiavellian Disney’s plan of turning SW saga in one size fits all current tendencies: ultra-feminism, anti male, ultra-diversification, pro-millennial ranks…

Suggesting, very strongly, that the original movie did not have a political stance or pro-diversity ideal, and that to do so must ruin the original movie. There’s also no evidence that the bigger plot and consistency problems identified by so many commenters on my blog are of great interest to these MRAs – they don’t complain about the acting, only the fact that the actor is a woman, and (for example) the execrable hyperspace weapon is still in the MRA cut. So it certainly appears that their sole and only concern is that the movie features a) too many non-white male actors and b) too many chicks in charge.

Which gets me wondering – exactly what version of the original series did these dudes see, and what exactly did they like about it? For example, A New Hope has a core cast of five people – Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia and Darth Vader. Of those one is a woman who is introduced as a leader in the rebellion, and another is black and a leader of the Empire. Now, you might dispute that Darth Vader is actually black since in the middle of The Empire Strikes Back we see a brief shot of his white head (as we do at the end of the Return of the Jedi), but when you and I went to see A New Hope as callow youths in 1978 or whenever it was, having not yet seen The Empire Strikes Back, we watched a character dressed entirely in black, with a black face mask, voiced by a black man, and we loved him. How is this character not black at the time we saw the movies? We might have imagined he was white under the mask but in doing so we were explicitly disavowing everything the movie itself was telling us. To all intents and purposes Darth Vader was black. But even putting aside that little note of controversy, we still have 20% of the cast being a woman, and she’s in charge – when Luke is going down the death star canyon to stick a photon torpedo up Vader’s arse, he is being directed by Leia from the command center of the rebel base, because she’s in charge. The same rule applies in The Empire Strikes Back, where our cast is further diversified by the inclusion of Lando Calrissian, and in Return of the Jedi we are introduced to Mon Mothma, a middle-aged woman with short hair who is the leader of the rebel alliance (and there are female fighter pilots in the briefing room, to boot).

Then of course there is the small issue that C3PO is super camp, and would be interpreted as a gay stereotype if he weren’t a robot. I’ll forgive MRAs for missing this, since they’re mostly NFL fans which probably means they think high camp is super macho, and misinterpreted C3PO as a football player or something. Also in the original movie we are meant to identify most with Skywalker, which means we’re meant to want to fuck Leia as he does, but in Empire he gets friend-zoned, which is a move that MRAs hate more than almost anything else on earth.

So what about the original movies gets a pass? They’re just as diverse as the Last Jedi, with just as many women in charge, and the key heroes in both sequences are firmly under the control of the chicks: under Leia’s command (Wookiepedia lists her as the leader of the battle of Yavin, for example) and then Mon Mothma’s, while in the Last Jedi they’re under Leia’s command and then Holdo’s. The hero is generally and universally admitted to be a snivelling idiot in the first movie, outshone by Han Solo – who, we are regularly reminded, is a rake and a criminal – and in the subsequent movies he gets friend-zoned and becomes your classic beta cuck, doing all the serious hard work while the rakish fuckboi runs off with the girl we’re all supposed to want.

What exactly in the legacy of the original movies does the Last Jedi betray by having a woman in charge or a black dude in a key role, and how does its pursuit of diversity make it different from the originals in any way?

This matters to me for two reasons: 1) that MRAs suck and I hate that I might be on the same side of them in any debate, regardless of whether our reasons are 100% different; and 2) it’s affecting critical reaction to the backlash against the movie. While 1) might be just a petty personal foible, I think 2) is important. The critics were all wrong about this movie, which was shit, but it wasn’t shit for the reasons that the stupid MRA idiots are ranting about. But the very public, sexist and gross response of MRA manbabies to this movie means that the critics who were so terribly wrong about it can dismiss the backlash against their terrible performance as the disaffected whining of a bunch of MRAs, rather than a genuine critical disagreement. Consider this response to the MRA cut from the website Junkee, which usually does quite entertaining discussion of internet phenomena, in which they say that

a vocal minority of manbabies detested it, mostly because it’s full of women.

A great example of this is the targeted attack on the film’s rating on the review site Rotten Tomatoes, which led to a 40% discrepancy between the critic and audience reviews, and which was later claimed by the “alt-right” as a manufactured backlash

This makes it seem like the continuing decline in the movie’s ratings on Rotten Tomatoes[1], and all the critical backlash against it, are driven by a small number of MRAs, and manages to escape any kind of serious discussion of what was wrong with this movie. This kind of thing was also visible in other responses (e.g. Vox’s) which dismissed it as due to a sense of entitlement among fans, or grown men being uncomfortable with the diversity of the movie. Given that the movie is no more diverse than the originals, and given that there are serious major problems with the rest of the movie (the casting being the least of them, I would have thought), this means that the critics avoid responsibility by pinning the whole thing on MRAs, and Rian Johnson – and the Disney crew generally – can avoid putting any thought into what they’ve done wrong, and what they need to do right to fix their mistakes in episode 9. Given the response of critics and the director himself to criticisms of the movie, I think we can rest assured there’s no point in expecting episode 9 to be anything less than a shithole. And to the extent that this is because the whining and posturing of MRAs created a false narrative of increased diversity, and saturated debate with their stupid whining about chicks in charge rather than genuine complaints about this woeful movie, then I’m comfortable with blaming MRAs for the death of star wars.

Get back in your basements, you grommits. But before you go I have two questions I’d like you to answer in comments here: 1) how on earth did you ever enjoy the originals when there was a woman in charge and 2) how do you enjoy science fiction at all given that movies like Terminator, Aliens, Mad Max, Ghost in the Shell etc. are full of strong female characters, often in positions of authority? Why do you bother going to science fiction movies at all? Also 2a), how do you watch porn?

Answers in the comments, please! And try not to use pointless MRA jargon like SJW, blue pill, or cuck!


fn1: it’s down to 49% now, from 56% at the time I wrote my review. Well done Rian Johnson!

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Two days ago I wrote a scathing review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and since then I have been digging around for others’ views on the matter. The Guardian has an article giving some fans’ reviews, and the below the line comments are suitably critical of this awful movie. Meanwhile Vox has a pathetic, self-serving article by a film critic attempting to explain why so many people have such different views to the critics. This article includes such great insights as “critics don’t really care about plot” which is dismissed as a “nitty gritty detail” of a movie – they’re more interested in themes and emotional struggles, apparently, which suggests they’d be more at home at a My Chemical Romance gig than a decent movie. How did they get the job?

In amongst the complaints on the Guardian‘s article, and at the centre of the Vox piece, is a particularly vicious little dismissive claim: That a lot of the negative reaction to the movie arises from long term fans[1], who cannot handle what Rian Johnson did with their cherished childhood movie, and are unrepresentative of the broader movie-going public. In the more vernacular form of some of the BTL comments on the Guardian article, fanboys are pissed off because Rian Johnson didn’t make the movie exactly the way they wanted. This, apparently, explains the difference between the critics’ view of the movie and the people giving a review on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

I thought this sounded fishy, so I decided to collect a little bit of data from the Rotten Tomatoes website and have a look at just how far fanboys typically deviate from critics. I figured that if fanboys’ disappointment with not getting a movie exactly as they wanted it was the driver of negative reactions to this movie, we should see it in other Star Wars movies. We should also see it in other movies with a strong fanboy following, and maybe we wouldn’t see it in movies that don’t have strong preconceptions. I collected data on critics’ and fans’ aggregated review statistics for 35 movies from the Rotten Tomatoes website. For each movie I calculated a score, which I call the Odds Ratio of Critical Acceptance (ORCA). This is calculated as follows:

1. Calculate an odds for the critics’ aggregate score, O1, which is (score)/(1-score)

2. Calculate an odds for the viewers’ aggregate score, O2, which is (score)/(1-score)

3. Calculate their ratio, ORCA=O1/O2

I use this score because it accounts for the inherent limits on the value of a critical score. The Last Jedi got a critics’ score of 0.93, which is very close to the upper limit of 1. If the viewers’ score was, for example, 0.83, it is 0.1 lower than the critics’ score. But this 0.1 is a much larger gap than, say, the difference between a critics’ score of 0.55 and a viewers’ score of 0.45. Similarly, if critics give a movie a value of 0.1 and viewers a value of 0.2, this means viewers thought it was twice as good – whereas values of 0.45 and 0.55 are much less different. We use this kind of odds ratio in epidemiology a lot because it allows us to properly account for small differences when one score is close to 1, as (inexplicably) it is for this horrible movie. Note that ORCA scores above 1 indicate that the critics gave the movie a higher score than the viewers, and scores below 1 indicate that the viewers liked the movie more than the critics.

I collected scores for all the Star Wars movies, all three Lord of the Rings movies, both Ghost in the Shell movies (the Japanese and the western remake), both Blade Runners, Alien:Covenant, two Harry Potter movies, Fifty Shades of Grey, and Gedo Senki (the (filthy) Studio Ghibli version of A Wizard of Earthsea), as examples of movies with a fanboy following. As readers of my blog are no doubt very aware, the Lord of the Rings fanboys are absolutely filthy, and if anyone is going to sink a movie over trivial shit they will. Ghost in the Shell is a remake of a movie with a very strong otaku following of the worst kind, and also suffers from a huge controversy over whitewashing, and Gedo Senki is based on one of the world’s most popular books, by a woman who has an intense generation-spanning cadre of fans who are obssessed with her work. Harry Potter fans are also notoriously committed. I also gathered a bunch of movies that I like or that I thought would be representative of the kinds of movies that did not have a following before they were released: Mad Max Fury Road, Brokeback Mountain, that new movie about a transgender bull[3], Ferdinand, things like that. I figured that some of these movies would not get a big divergence in ORCA if the fanboy theory is true.

Figure 1: ORCA Scores for a range of movies, none apparently as shit as The Last Jedi.

Results of my calculations are shown in Figure 1 (sorry about the fiddly size). The Last Jedi is on the far left, and is obviously a massive outlier, with an ORCA score of 10.9. This score arises because it has a critics’ score of 93%, but a score from fans of 55%[4]. Next is Mad Max: Fury Road, which was not as successful with fans as with critics but still got a rating of 0.85 from fans. It can be noted that several Star Wars movies lie to the right of the pale blue dividing line, indicating that fans liked them more than did critics – this includes Rogue One and The Phantom Menace, showing that this phenomenon was not limited to the first generation movies. Note that Fellowship of the Ring, the LoTR movie most likely to disappoint fanboys under the theory that fanboys want the director to make the movie in their heads, had an ORCA value of 0.53, indicating fans had twice the odds of liking it than did critics. Gedo Senki also did better with fans than critics despite being a terrible movie that completely pisses all over Ursula Le Guin’s original book.

There’s no evidence at all from this data that fanboys respond badly to movies based on not getting the movie in their head, and there’s no evidence that Star Wars fanboys are particularly difficult to please. The ORCA score for The Last Jedi is at least 12 parsecs removed from the ORCA score for the next worse movie in the series, which (despite that movie also being a pile of shit) is not that high – it’s lower than Dunkirk, in fact, which was an awesome movie with no pre-existing fanbase[5]. Based on this data it should be pretty clear that either the “toxic fandom” of Star Wars has been hiding for the past 10 years as repeated bad movies were made – or this movie is uniquely bad, and the critics were uniquely stupid to give it a good score.

I’m going with the latter conclusion, and I want the movie critics to seriously re-evaluate how they approached this movie. Star Wars clearly gets a special pass from critics because it’s so special, and Star Wars directors can lay any stinking turd on the screen and get a pass from critics for some incomprehensible reason. Up your game, idiots.

A few minor side points about critical reviews of The Last Jedi

I’ve been generally shocked by the way in which this movie is being hailed as a critical masterpiece. I really can’t see how this can be. Even if it’s not as bad as I think, I can’t understand how it can get similar scores to movies like Dunkirk, Mad Max: Fury Road, or Titanic. Those movies are infinitely better crafted than this pile of junk, with tight and carefully designed plots that clearly hold together under extensive criticism. There is nothing extraneous at all in Titanic or Dunkirk, not one moment that you could say isn’t directly relevant to the unfolding story, and the acting in all three of these movies is exemplary. Worse still, the Guardian is now claiming that Star Wars is the most triumphantly feminist movie yet. This is utter bullshit on its face: The main male character, Po Dameron, repeatedly undermines female leaders, and their attempts to discipline him are ignored, ultimately leading to the death of probably 200 people in a completely avoidable catastrophe, and he suffers no consequences for his dishonesty and treachery. Furthermore, he takes over the main role from Finn, the black character, and Rei is sidelined into a supplicant to an aging white man. As a moral story for entitled white men who can’t bear to be told what to do by women it’s exemplary. But this is even more horrific when you consider that Mad Max: Fury Road is a savage eco-feminist masterpiece, and undoubtedly the most triumphantly feminist movie ever made. This is another example of the weird special pass that Star Wars movies get: they make piss poor tokenistic gestures towards diversity and the critics are claiming they’re the most woke movie ever made.

There’s a strange irony in this. Star Wars fanboys are being blamed for obstinately marking this movie down on the basis of silly stereotypes about nerds, when in fact it’s the critics themselves who are acting like Star Wars sycophants, giving one of the worst movies of the millenium sterling marks for trying. Unless of course the conspiracy theories are true, and they’re all paid by Disney.

I won’t be so cynical. They’re just stupid and wrong, and in future I recommend not listening to reviewers before going to see any movie. Trust the viewers, they have much better judgment!

UPDATE: I have swapped my shoddy figure with a figure supplied by reader frankelavsky, who apparently actually knows how to do visual stuff, so it’s now much easier to see how terribly wrong the reviewers were.


fn1: Which, inexplicably, the Vox article seems to view as Baby Boomers, which is weird since most people want to now pretend Star Wars is a kid’s movie (it’s not[2]). Many of the fans saw it as kids, it’s true, but that’s because we were Gen X, not baby boomers. More importantly, Star Wars fandom crosses three generations, and includes a lot of Generation Y. It’s just dumb to even hint that the themes in the movie pissed off the fans because baby boomers don’t like the idea of handing on the baton to a new, more diverse generation. Star Wars fans aren’t baby boomers, and why would baby boomers have a problem with this anyway?

fn2: How fucking stupid is modern pop cultural analysis of pop culture, and how far has it fallen, that people could say this?

fn3: This is a joke. See here for more details.

fn4: It was 56% yesterday. This movie is sinking by the day.

fn5: Barring UKIP, I guess

Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens with Po Dameron pushing a ridiculous and unbelievable plan that gets a lot of people killed, and ends with him walking away a hero. He should have been killed in the middle of this movie as a consquence of a whole chain of reckless and stupid decisions but somehow comes out shining; I can’t say the same for my commitment to the Star Wars genre, after a similar sequence of staggeringly stupid decisions on my part. After sitting through five terrible movies even when I should have known better, I have given up on this whole thing. This fan is burnt out from all the bullshit, and this bullshit is nowhere better seen than in the latest putrid installment, a festering two and a half hours of stupidity, poor decisions, treachery to the original canon, and flagrantly bad movie making. Everything it could do wrong it did. It has a terrible plot; it can’t decide if it is a comedy, a human drama, a romance, a fantasy, a cowboy movie or a space opera, and it can’t do any part of its smorgasbord of genres at all well. It has awful characters: Po Dameron is an entitled little shit who needs to die; Rei has been drained of all her spark and vibrancy; Kylo Ren may have improved over his execrable performance in the previous movie but he is still a bullshit character whose motivations make no sense and who just cannot command any gravitas at all; and far from being the wise-cracking cynic I was promised Luke Skywalker is just a whingey old sad-sack hiding on an island, the central emotional hook for all his actions obviously transparent bullshit. Princess Leia, of course, has been hijacked and ruined in this movie. The technology is ridiculous, and the Star Wars universe has been transformed from one with cool but anachronistic tech to a series of penis-waving boys’ toys, everyone intended to outdo the previous one – perhaps in order to keep the viewer from noticing that this whole thing is a stack of steaming horseshit – in such a flagrantly obvious way that it’s kind of pathetic; and then anyway as soon as they introduce the new super powerful tech the writers do something dumb with the script that completely undermines everything that was great about the new tech. That’s bad screen writing. And did I mention the script? It’s appalling. As is the acting, the special effects, and the choreography. Also the jokes – which even if they were good serve simply to undermine whatever else is happening at the time – are genuinely lame. And what in this wide universe is going on with the PETA sub-plot? How did anyone think that was going to fit in? Or the stupid children in the stables – one of whom looks so much like Oliver Twist that I was sure he was going to burst into song. Is that meant to be inspirational, or is it a teaser to the possibility that Episode 9 is going to be an actual musical? Perhaps we’ll have to suffer through three hours of Les Miserables in space?

This movie is just a pile of junk, and a pitifully obvious attempt to milk the last loyal fans of this bloated franchise. The whole thing is kept going by fans who are too devoted to stop, and treacherous cinema critics who give the Star Wars series an easy pass because it is a fan favourite. The Guardian gave this waste of 2.5 hours of my life five stars. I’m sorry, I can understand having differences of opinion on the quality of a movie but this movie was not anywhere near five – I could forgive giving this obvious one star bloated carcass a three because you’re not a seasoned sci-fi aficionado, but five!? Anyone who gets their movie criticism so wrong should be sacked. Now you might say “All these critics say it’s great and just you faustusnotes say it’s bad, surely they can’t all be wrong”? And I reply: Yes, yes they all are. You can believe me, and not waste your money on this insult to our childhood memories, or you can burn a couple of hours of your life and come out angry at the director, and angry at yourself for not listening to me. Here’s my tip: Wait for it to come out on TV, and spend the money on having someone hammer your kneecaps with a mallet. It’ll be more rewarding.

— SPOILER WARNING —

[From here below are specific detailed criticisms, which include spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and are still dumb enough to ignore my advice, please don’t read further. I suggest you book mark this though so you can come back afterwards and curse yourself for ignoring my advice]

The central problem of this movie is that it’s poorly written, but there are some specific and serious problems that either really let this movie down, or serve to create further trouble for the entire Star Wars effort. These bigger problems are also the reason I’m not going to waste further time on the central movies of this whole dead horse series, because the willingness of multiple Directors to piss all over the original movies’ entire purpose shows clearly the contempt with which they view fans of these movies. It’s not just a question of not wanting to waste my money on movies that are going to be predictably bad – it’s also about not giving these people a reward for ruining something that was once great. And now these movies are becoming such a drag on the whole universe that I’m starting to question my love for the originals. When it reaches the point where these movies are – in typical JJ Abrams style! – reaching back in time to ruin your childhood memories, it’s time to cut and run. So here are some specific examples of the deep contempt with which Rian Johnson treated his viewers.

Po Dameron is a traitor who needs to die: In the very first scene of the movie Po Dameron – the shining white boy hope of this movie, apparently – goes on a reckless mission that is just patently obviously stupid, and refuses to follow orders and retreat. His mission ultimately succeeds so in the middle of the movie, certain of his own rightness, he launches an actual mutiny on a rebel ship, and sends Fin and Rose (a new character) on a mission that ultimately leads to the betrayal of the Rebellion’s plans and the death of most of its members. When his mutiny fails and he is recaptured he attracts absolutely zero consequences, when in fact he should have been spaced, and at the very end emerges with his reputation and rank unharmed by his treachery that directly led to the death of most of the entire fucking rebellion. This is an obvious flaw in the story, since the Rebellion is meant to be a military operation but here they are rewarding open traitors, but it’s also a sign of how desperately cynical these people are and how stupid the reviewers who watched this movie are. At a time when there is a mediocre – and probably treasonous – white man in the White House, at the time of the #metoo movement, we get a movie from the heart of the world of sexually harassing lazy white men, in which a lazy, stupid and reckless white man gets lots of people killed, and he gets no penalty at all for his actions, and gets hailed as a hero. As if this weren’t shocking enough, reviewers you might respect actually say that his character has really developed, and see him as a character worth engaging with rather than a flim-flam jock who should be spaced. Lots of reviews of this movie have mentioned that the entire Finn/Rose side mission is a distraction from the main point of the movie but as far as I can tell none have noticed that Po Dameron needs to be spaced. This is fucking shocking. This mission and Po’s actions had me absolutely seething. What do the script writers and the director take us for when they dump this crap on us? Have they no respect for their audience at all?

The movie doesn’t know what it is: The first third of this movie is basically a comedy, with a few asides to a supposedly serious drama involving Rei and Luke Skywalker, or Rei and Kylo Ren, which also include jokes that are supposed to be funny (I guess) but are just lame clangers. These jokes seriously let down what little gravity any other part of the plot is trying to develop, and really do give much of the movie a feeling of being a kind of Christmas Special, not a serious movie. Yes the original Star Wars movies had light asides, but a lot of it was actually genuinely funny ascerbic banter between Solo and Leia, that was in context and most importantly actually funny, not lame one liners or silly slapstick comedy involving really stupid looking aliens, or really weak attempts at humour that fall flat like Rei’s absolutely appalling “can’t you at least wear a cowl or something” to Kylo Ren when he’s half naked. The movie keeps flicking from these serious attempts at character drama to these lame asides, and it really ruins any attempt to set up a serious arc of character development. Star Wars is not a comedy, but it’s fast become laughable.

The core characters are weak: Rei had a lot of zest in the previous movie and was one of its few saving graces, but she has become an insipid weakling in this, a supplicant to the big men in her life. Her relationship with Kylo Ren – which by the way is utter bullshit, see my complaint below about the newfound powers of the force – and the way it is easily used to fool her into her own destruction is a complete betrayal of everything she stood for in the first movie, a backstabbing of every woman who had thought this series might move forward on the back of a strong female character. Her attempts to win over Luke Skywalker come across as weak, and just let her down as a character. Meanwhile the other two men in her life – Skywalker and Ren – are just terrible. First we get this speech where Snoke[1] basically acknowledges that the Kylo Ren of the Force Awakens was a pissy emo shithead, which has to be unheard of in modern cinema, the director using a character’s speech to admit that his critics were right and in the previous movie his character was a pissant. Then we get this weird emotional rollercoaster where Ren goes up and down between being evil and being good, where we’re meant to believe – I suppose – that he’s having some kind of crisis of confidence, then at the end the way it’s written we’re not sure if he was going through a crisis of confidence or if he was just being really super manipulative. And through all this he remains an emo shit, whiney and doing dumb and adolescent things like punching walls. He doesn’t project strength, just an overwhelming sense of insecurity. Then we have Skywalker, who one review describes as a cynical wise cracker, but who is actually just a whiney sad sack, hiding out on an island and running away from everything he is responsible for because he fucked up with Kylo Ren. The central idea here – expressed by Luke himself, not inferred by me – is that he believes he failed because he didn’t stop Ren from becoming evil. But this is obviously bullshit – Ren became evil by himself and his own choice, not because Skywalker wasn’t wise enough. Nobody believes for a moment that anything else happens, so why do the script writers and director try to convince us that this tired and pathetic guilt trip is either a) viable or b) noble? Someone needs to slap Luke in the face and tell him to grow the fuck up. Also, this movie is called the Last Jedi, and at the end Luke says “I’m not the last jedi.” Is this also a first in cinematic fuck ups, where one of the central characters admit that the movie has the wrong name? I don’t know, maybe they should have called it The Next Jedi. Or better still, the Whiney Old Sad Sack Jedi who Should Just Fucking Die Already. Which he does, voluntarily – I count three suicides or attempted suicides in this movie – why not just turn up and do it in person you coward, instead of projecting your image across the universe and doing it quietly at home? Talk about Millenials being lazy and cowardly … which brings me to …

This movie further wrecked the force: In the original movies the force is a quite constrained power that enables its practitioners to – with considerable effort – levitate objects near them, operate light sabers, achieve fairly impressive feats of physical acrobatics, sense each others’ presence within a reasonable distance (possibly planetary) and sense mass murder on an interstellar basis. In the three prequels we discover the force is a virus, but in the new movies we were promised that that dumb idea would be pissed down the memory hole. In exchange we discover that any unqualified dufus can operate a light saber, but now we also discover that the force enables its practitioners to do incredible feats of great power, such as make them almost super human. It enables Princess Leia to survive a direct hit from a photon torpedo, followed by being spaced, and to fly back into her spaceship. It enables Kylo Ren and Rei to communicate visually over interstellar distances – a feat, we should remember, that Darth Vader explicitly could never do, having to rely instead on holograms – and it enables Luke Skywalker to project his image with life size and lifelike perfection across the galaxy, and to manipulate it with such accuracy that another Jedi is tricked into thinking he is killing Actual Luke. This is the worst kind of grade inflation here, since we now know that basically you can do anything with the force. Why waste time on soldiers? Just send in a single illusory force dude from the other side of the universe! When will this inflation end? Will Kylo Ren be tearing planets apart with his mind by the end of episode 12[2]?

The power inflation of technology was ridiculous: First we see a Dreadnought, which is like a star destroyer on steroids, and we’re meant to believe it’s super scary, only within about 30 minutes this is outdone by Snoke’s personal star destroyer, which is like four times bigger again. Also, no actor in history should ever have to utter the phrase “Battering Ram Cannon.” You mean a really big gun? Why not just say it? What a joke!

The super powerful tech is betrayed by the writers: When the Dreadnought appears it certainly looks scary, and we’re led to believe it’s the most powerful star destroyer in the First Order fleet, but then Po Dameron goes on a solo run across the surface of this super star destroyer and blows up every single cannon, clearing a pathway for the Rebel bombers to then come in and destroy it easily. It goes down to a tiny rebel fleet with way greater ease than it took to even damage a smaller star destroyer in Return of the Jedi. To be clear, there’s no reason for this: The Rebels could have had a bigger fleet, or been chased by normal star destroyers, or had some other plan that wasn’t so obviously intended to make the Dreadnought seem like a pissy under-powered ship. Why introduce a super-powered ship and then have it undone by a plot involving a single x-wing, making it weaker than any previous ship in any previous movie? Answer: Because you’re a bad writer. But this isn’t the only example of this. When the First Order bring out their “Battering Ram Cannon” to break down the walls of the rebel base, all the rebels are super scared that if it gets put to use it will break down the doors and then they will have to fight the First Order troops. So what do they do to stop it from breaking down the walls and making them vulnerable to the superior first order forces? They go outside the doors to attack the first order forces! Furthermore, this super powerful cannon is so powerful that … Finn, flying in a rust bucket tiny vehicle with literal actual holes in it, can enter the beam of the cannon and take several seconds inside it and still not die – then moments later while still inside the beam, get hit by another rust bucket flyer and have his own flyer get torn apart by the impact. So the “Battering Ram Cannon” is … weaker than a shitty second rate flyer? And does less damage than a microwave oven? This is awful writing. But it’s far from the worst crime these writers committed …

The movie betrays core plot elements of the original movies: Picture the scene at rebel HQ in A New Hope as the death star is approaching the rebel base. A general makes a desperate plan and tells his colleagues about it: “We will send a small force of small ships that need to enter this tiny trench that is heavily defended, fly its whole length, and drop a photon torpedo into a hole no larger than a bantha. It’s the only weak point.” Someone at the back raises their hand, “Uh, sir?” He gestures for them to speak. “Well, um, we could just send a single cruiser into the system behind the death star, then have it jump into hyperspace through the death star at close range. It’ll tear the death star apart and kill everyone on board instantly.” General ponders. “Sure! Let’s do that!” Then looks at Leia and asks “Why did you waste your time getting the secret plans to the death star’s only weakness if we can just tear it apart by sending a cruiser into hyperspace through it?” Leia shrugs, and uses her enormous force powers to tear the general’s head off.

Doesn’t make sense? Well it should now, because both of those things happened in this movie. Apparently a single small cruiser can tear apart the biggest star destroyer the galaxy has ever seen by simply pointing at it and entering hyperspace. And apparently Princess Leia has incredibly force powers that enable her to survive a direct hit with a photon torpedo followed by being spaced, and fly through space back inside the ship she was just ejected from. Did you know that Princess Leia had such active force powers? Why didn’t she use them to escape the star destroyer back in A New Hope? Or to help Han Solo escape Boba Fett? Why, in fact, did any of the plots of the first three movies happen at all, when Princess Leia had Jedi powers and a single cruiser piloted by a single person can destroy a death star? The answer, my friends, is that none of these things used to be true but now they are, and if you aren’t able to employ the Doublethink required to align these two entirely different perspectives on the core characters of the canon, then you probably shouldn’t waste your money on any more movies in this series.

The weird animal rights sub plot: There is an absolutely appallingly bad seen in which Chewie roasts a space puffin over an open fire, and is about to eat the space puffin when these other space puffins turn up and make him feel guilty so he stops. Then there is another weird part of the whole Finn/Rose being traitorous sub plot where they go to a planet renowned for its horse racing and we get a little aside about how cruel the racing is, and the animals all get freed (after, weirdly, being raced which is not bad if Finn and Rose do it). Where did this weird animal rights sub plot come from? Did PETA sponsor this movie? Why is it in this movie? With 2.5 hours of this shit, do we really have spare time for a couple of asides about animal rights? Also, while we’re at it, the moralizing about arms dealers being the worse people in the universe, only to find out that they also deal to the rebellion, was just incomprehensible and weird. First of all, I doubt that the First Order – an organization so large it spans galaxies and is able to build a death star the size of a planet – buys its small arms from small independent dealers. I suspect the First Order have a full procurement system in place, and all major tech is – like the Death Star – made in house. So wtf is going on with this whole aside about the arms dealers? And also, if you want to make them seem like bad people, don’t immediately reveal that they also deal arms to the good guys. Doesn’t that just kind of mean that the whole thing is a wash? Or should the good guys not have guns? Because I didn’t notice them being very pacifist when they flew that cruiser at hyperspeed into that star destroyer and killed the hundreds of thousands of people on board. This kind of sub plot is just weird.

The special effects and choreography were awful: I mentioned that Chewie tried to eat a roasted space puffin. The roasted space puffin he was about to eat was so obviously plastic that it was distracting. Princess Leia’s flight back into the space ship after she survived being spaced (and hit with a photon torpedo) was such a lame piece of Mary Poppins-esque christmas card glittering over the top wank that I couldn’t believe I was watching it. And the fight in the throne room between Kylo Ren and Rei against the Imperial Guards was just terribly hamfisted. There was one point where one of the actors clearly stepped carefully under a pole arm and placed himself in the position of being throttled. Pathetic.

A brief note for the reviewers: Most reviewers gave this movie four or five stars. Why? This is a serious dereliction of your duty to the public. This movie was a stain on cinema, and you gave it top marks, said it was the best yet. Why did you do that? Aren’t you serious about your job as a reviewer? I am deeply disappointed in these people. How can I judge whether to bother seeing a movie if the reviewers are going to straight up lie to me about how good it is? At least I now know one form of quality control for movie reviewers – I can check how many stars they gave The Last Jedi, and judge all their other reviews accordingly.

Other minor details: How come nobody knew the planet was there? How do you hide a fucking planet? Why did the lasers fired at the rebel cruiser arc through space – were they not light? If they were not light, where was the gravitational force so powerful that it could visibly blend them? When did fucking fuel become an issue in any scene of Star Wars ever? This was the central issue driving the tension of the entire movie and it’s never been raised in any of these movies ever before! Why did nobody listen when Princess Leia demoted Po Dameron, and he remained “commander” for the rest of the movie even after he led a fucking mutiny!? Why didn’t Admiral Holdo tell anyone about the invisible fucking planet and her actually quite smart plan of hiding out there? When Luke Skywalker projected himself onto the invisible fucking planet to act as a distraction for the rebels to get away, did he know that there was no other exit? If he did know, why did he go? And if he did know, why didn’t he move the rockfall before he went to confront Kylo Ren? How come even though in every scene where Sith and Jedi meet, the Sith can sense the Jedi, on this one occasion when Luke wasn’t actually there Kylo Ren couldn’t sense that and if he couldn’t sense him why didn’t he think that was weird? How actually stupid, on a scale of 0 (incredibly fucking dumb) to 10 (of star-collapsing levels of fucking stupidity) is Kylo Ren and can someone please, please kill him? How the actual fuck did the scene with Princess Leia becoming a Jedi get through any kind of quality control process? What were the producers thinking putting in an actual literal comedy conversation with that stupid little douchebag having an armed union dispute? Did they think that a straight segue from a desperately tense survival situation to a straight comedy conversation would somehow improve the movie in any fucking way at all?

And finally, and most importantly, how stupid do these people think we are to keep watching this unmitigated shit? And how stupid are we, to keep watching this shit when we obviously should know better? Well, I’ve been fooled five times in a row by my own commitment to this universe, and by my foolish belief that reviewers would write an honest review about a major movie, so that’s it from me – I’m checking out of star wars. I will watch spin-offs if they seem like they might have a chance of being good, simply because the universe is a fun universe to watch, but I’m not burning any more of my money or my rapidly dwindling life span on the main series. It can go and die in a ditch.

Other reviews you might be interested in

My review of Avengers: Infinity War, describing how it bullies its audience

My review of Mad Max: Fury Road, as an exemplar of eco-feminist violence

My review of Dunkirk, as a story set in the in-between

UPDATE: I have now analyzed Rotten Tomatoes data to show that the movie critics were uniquely out of sync with public opinion on this issue, and that I am right and the movie critics are wrong: This movie is unmitigated shit, and everyone agrees with me.


fn1: Which, btw, should be the name of a bad guy in a Harry Potter movie, not Star Wars

fn2: I read a part of an interview with the director, Rian Johnson, which mentioned that he has been given a whole extra trilogy of his own. Fuck no.

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
– The parable of the old man and the young, Wilfred Owen

Last weekend I watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the highly-rated sequel to an excellent original movie. I went with high expectations because I read some good reviews and because the first movie was so great, but I was let down by this one. It was still fun, but it suffered from some deep and fundamental flaws, including that most basic flaw that spoils so many American movies: Daddy Issues. I’m so over putting up with the blatant, sentimental moralizing of modern American movies, and this one really really laid it on thick. So here is my brief review of the many problems of this movie, followed by an analysis of one possible interpretation of the bad guy’s evil plot, and how it can be read. This review has spoilers.

The daddy issues are laid on pretty thick from the start of this movie. The fundamental plot entangles the same characters from the original story in a madman’s attempt to turn all the planets in the galaxy into a model of his home planet, probably eradicating all life on those planets in the process (this isn’t clear). Of course Quinn, the idiot dude from the first movie, is central to this plot because the bad guy is his dad, and we have the classic American trope of discovering that your dad is not the great guy you believed he was when you were five, but is actually just a dickhead with an oversized ego who will never ever listen to you because you’re his son and therefore nothing you say is important. If you go by American movies, this completely ordinary run-of-the-mill discovery is a deeply traumatic experience for American men, who then (I guess because, pace that classic Monty Python sketch, Americans just won’t shut up) have to go and make multiple movies about it. Perhaps if they didn’t fridge their mothers in every single action movie, they would have a countervailing voice to explain that there’s nothing unusual about finding out your dad is just a paunchy dude who has no power and has some sketchy views about black people.

So then the group of heroes have to spend an inordinately long period of time trying to kill Quinn’s dad, which is cute because this movie combines daddy issues with patricide, which is actually a really pretty seedy basic structure for a movie: Dad had a bad idea, so instead of reasoning him out of it and coming to a better plan, you murder him. Although his bad idea involved serial infanticide, so make no bones about it (there are a lot of bones), he really did deserve to die. Credit where it is due, this movie strips back all the bullshit about daddy issues and gets back to basics: You gotta kill papa before he kills you.

Outside of the toxic daddy issues the movie is fun, packed with the same slapstick and chaotic banter as the first movie. The opening 10 minutes is a joyous rampage, worth paying for even if the rest of the movie lets you down, and some of the characters really live up to the high expectations they set in the first movie – especially Rocket, Draxx and Yondoo (as in the first movie Quinn is just a boring jock). The movie also introduces a girl called Mantis, who is well placed right in the uncanny valley, as well as being gloriously stupid and honest and sweet, so she’s a great new cast member. Unfortunately these great characters are merely support to the two boring white dudes fighting their existential battle. The key bad guy – Quinn’s dad – has a plot to destroy the galaxy which has depended on him womanizing his way around it, then consuming all the by-blows of his unions with many different aliens in a desperate attempt to destroy the galaxy. Quinn’s dad is a kind of a god so killing him is tough, and the second half of the movie involves an inordinate amount of flying and fighting and dodging and trying to blow him up. This is unfortunate because both Quinn’s dad himself and all attempts to kill him are just boring. This means that every time the main bad guy is on screen you just want him to go away, he’s so boring, and you just don’t have anything invested in the team’s efforts to beat him. He’s just some philandering idiot with a big ego and you can’t bring yourself to care. This bad guy is no Magua, no Imortan Joe. It’s like if Homer and Bart Simpson were in a fight to the death over who gets to destroy the galaxy. You want to care – your life depends on it – but really? Really? Is this how it ends?!

Which brings me to Trump, and Imperialism. It strikes me as not much of a coincidence that this particular variant of daddy issues – a daddy who is so stupid and dangerous you have to kill him to save the galaxy – comes up now, when America is ruled by the ultimate useless dad. Over the past year of being subjected to daddy issues movies and seeing the way that Americans respond to their presidential candidates, I have started to think that the US president is a kind of embodiment of the same cultural daddy issues that Americans are so obviously desperately expressing through their bloated action movies. I don’t know what is going on in US culture but the entire nation is obviously on a desperate quest to find a decent daddy, and the President is the ultimate embodiment of that. This time around they got a gaslighting, domestic abusing dickhead for a daddy, or as one Facebook meme had it, “It’s like our cool dad left and mum has taken up with a jock driving a trans am” or something similar. This president beats his (metaphorical) kids and is letting the house go to ruin, and the kids are having a huge argument about whether to leave or kick him out or kill him and bury the body under the floorboards, while the neighbours look on in horror. And so it is that this movie comes out that is about a dude who finds out his dad is a murderous arsehole whose plans involve sacrificing his own son to take over the world. Right! No coincidence at all.

Furthermore we learn that this daddy – just like Trump – is a womanizing fool, who has been running around the galaxy impregnating as many women as possible, then luring the offspring back to his home and destroying them in an attempt to take over the world. This is such a transparent play on male sexual insecurities that it’s hard to believe it’s not deliberate, but then Quinn is such a silly useless character that it’s possible to believe that the writers really didn’t get where they were taking this. On another level it could be that this is actually some kind of deep, devious critique of imperialism, because a classic feminist critique of modern imperialist politics is that it consumes the flower of its own male youth to ensure that the older men get to rule over a wasteland. Under this critique the young men are also victims of Imperialism, though some lucky few of them from specific classes get to rise up and rule the roost later, if they can survive the slaughter. The first half of this critique was expressed often by the world war 1 war poets, who saw the destructive half of this sexist order up close in the trenches of the Somme and Ypres. In this movie our hero completely rejects the imperialist order, killing his cruel and destructive dad and destroying the means of domination then disappearing into the horizon with a rat[1] and a foreign woman. Revolution, man! Did the writers intend this as a super-subtle critique of Trump and the general republican politics of wars of choice and infanticidal consumption of their own children that has come to dominate US politics since world war 2? Or did their own overwrought daddy issues lead them to this allegory by accident, as a side effect of their desperate attempts to slay their own useless dad in a movie?

That was a rhetorical question: I don’t care. I just wish these people would get their daddy issues out of otherwise perfectly good movies, and find a better way to humourously critique the current order. Avatar provided a critical analysis of colonialism without daddy issues; Mad Max 3 managed to offer up a perfect piece of savage ecofeminism without any daddy issues. Why do we need to resort to such cheap and boring plot devices as “ooh daddy hates me” or “oooh daddy disappointed me” (or both) in American action movies. Please, please stop it. This could have been a great movie, but it was let down by a boring bad guy in a boring, hackneyed emotional dynamic with a callow main character. It’s still worth watching, but only so you can watch the supporting cast shine. That’s poor movie making, and it’s an insult to me the viewer that I once again have to sit through the same emotional baggage every time I watch an American action movie. It’s not even original emotional baggage.

American movie makers need to grow up. But despite that, go and see this movie for the first half. You won’t miss much if you walk out once Quinn meets his dad, but it’s probably worth sticking out to the end. Unless you get even madder than me at being forced to swallow this horrible medicine just to make the sugar go down, in which case I recommend rewatching the first one.


fn1: Sorry, not a rat. A trash bear.

Kong does a runner

Kong does a runner

Our heroes know their path now, and the first step along it is to capture Kong(s) the Younger, give him a thorough beating for failing to pay them for their first mission, and find out who he was working for. Having broken through the space defenses around his asteroid base, the PCs now wait outside the entry to his asteroid base, armed and ready to enter, their backup teams now unloaded from the spaceships and ready to go. Red Cloud had asked to join them for this attack, and since he had finally received a little training in vacc suit, and seemed more stable after months of experience on the ship, they agreed[1].

Before they entered the base Simon Simon accessed the nearby cameras, and began searching through them to find visual confirmation of the far side of the doors. He was still searching through images and trying to piece them together when a squad of soldiers came flying over the ridge of rock they crouched behind, firing down at them. They returned fire, but not before one of their soldiers was killed by the squad. Worried more might come, Simon Simon hastened his search and gave them a quick overview of what lay beyond the doors. There were three doors inset into the ridge, all opening into large service lifts which descended to the centre of the asteroid. The lifts opened into corridors that all converged on a central crossroads. The three lifts were in a row, and the outer lifts in the row each had a room next to them that could be a guard room, but only one of the two guard rooms had guards in it. Alva confirmed this by extending his life sense to encompass much of the subterranean base. Alva sent his drone down the lift they were closest to, and as soon as the door opened it was blown apart in a hail of bullets. Watching this over video link, Simon Simon confirmed that there was a machine gun nest set up at the crossroads of the three converging tunnels, capable of firing into any lift.

They moved to the lift that was not close to an occupied guard room, and Simon Simon set the three lifts moving down at the same time. They also moved a couple of chunks of asteroid rock into their lift to provide some cover when the doors opened. Everyone took position behind the rock, and the lifts descended. At the bottom the lift doors opened onto a long, straight corridor that stretched down to that machine gun nest. Surprised by all three lifts opening at once, the soldiers in place there acted last, and the PCs were able to open fire on them. Noticing that a single corridor ran from their lift past the central lift to the third lift – and thus gave the guards in the guard room by that lift an open field of fire – Ahmose moved into the guard room nearest their own lift, to get a firing position along that cross corridor. Unfortunately as the lift descended the guards had moved, and Ahmose walked straight into a group of four of them, who opened fire on her but did barely any damage to her armour. She began hacking into them with her magic sword.

The battle was short and vicious. The machine gun nest had good armour, so finally Simon Simon used his PGMP gun to blow it away, killing everyone in the nest but somehow preserving the gun. Alva and Ahmose managed to clear out the guard room, and a well-placed grenade cleared the other guard room. They had mostly taken no damage, although another of their soldiers had died. They moved down the hallway to the crossroads.

The asteroid base was a small structure, a couple of tunnels leading off from the crossroads in two directions, with occasional living rooms or military-style command or storage rooms recessed into the walls. It was dimly lit with standard fluorescent lighting, and seemed to have an intact atmosphere, though they did not take off their vacc suits to risk a sudden decompression. At the crossroads Alva extended a narrow-range life sense and identified a cluster of guards in another room some distance from them, so they branched off in that direction. They managed to surprise these guards but as they did so Alva noticed another set of guards coming from another room and trying to cut them off behind. They split the party and moved around a curving corridor to take these guards from two directions, but when they joined battle they suddenly found there was a fifth figure, who Alva’s life sense had not registered, in combat armour – Kong the Younger.

This battle was much harder, as a second squad of guards joined from the rear. They fought hard but all their soldiers were cut down in crossfires, and one of the guards had a grenade launcher that wreaked havoc on their attempts to maintain a cohesive firing unit. It took all their efforts to bring down Kong’s underlings, during which time Red Cloud, Lam and Alva were seriously injured. Once his guards fell Kong made to escape down another corridor, and when Simon Simon tried to shoot him he used a psionic mind attack to knock Simon Simon unconscious. Ahmose suffered a similar fate trying to engage Kong at melee range, and finally Lam was left, badly injured and almost dead, trying to shoot Kong down as he fled away down the hallway. Kong fled down a side hall, Lam in pursuit, and into a small dock where his personal vessel was parked. Lam managed to shoot him down here in the open space of the dock just as he was preparing his final getaway.

They had captured Kong, but at the expense of almost all of their soldiers, and with most of the party unconscious from psionic attacks or serious battle injuries. For their pains they managed to capture another ship, Kong’s small escape ship the Thoughtcrime, and once they had recovered they were able to loot the computer systems and records of the asteroid. Kong they later handed over to the Confederate Navy for thorough questioning. As part of their subsequent investigations they discovered that Kong had traded the chip they gave him in their first mission to an AI called the Covenant of Shadows, which the Confederacy suspected of being linked to the mysterious AI called the Cognate; he had worked through an adherent called Abernecht. In trade for the chip he had received weapons shipments, the elimination of two enemies of the changelings, and promises of future aid.

As part of the raid and the subsequent interrogations the Confederate Navy unearthed a network of changeling agents both inside and outside the navy, and began a long and detailed period of purging of their changeling allies. Although it had nearly cost them their lives, the raid had revealed a rich stash of secrets. Now they were ready to begin the next stage of their intelligence gathering, and head to the Cult of the Last Barrier.


fn1: We have a new player, and he took Red Cloud as his PC. Great!

 

Someone has been reading the Star Wars RPG opening adventure

Laser from space!

Rogue One is a great movie. But more importantly, it’s a movie that brings the original Star Wars feeling back to life. It is a lively, intense romp through the Star Wars universe, replete with all the things that made the original movies so enjoyable: characters you really want to win, a plot that unfolds at the speed of light and keeps you on the edge of your seat to the end, stunning settings, space battles, and valiant heroism and sacrifice. The main characters are constructed quickly and smoothly at the beginning in broad brush strokes, which waste no time establishing who they are but get you engaged with them early on. The plot is driven by the same tense, demanding deadlines that we are used to from the original movies: an impending doom, a crucial space battle that depends on a small insurgent team to rescue it from catastrophic failure, and a taut race against all the resources of the Empire to snatch victory from them against impossible odds. The story unfolds over several planets, all presenting very different settings and ending in a beautiful archipelago that offers great views for the astounding slaughter unfolding in and above it. The fundamental driver of the plot – the need to get the plans to the Death Star – demands valiant action, heroism and sacrifice from a band of people thrown together by a mixture of desperation and idealism.

Still, we know from bitter experience that it’s possible for a Star Wars movie to appear to have all these elements, but to submerge them in plots designed by the marketing department, a sea of CGI, and limpid acting that makes you forget whole scenes. We don’t see any of that in Rogue One – the plot isn’t just tight and well worked, it makes sense within itself and does not demand that we regularly suspend our sense of disbelief or our understanding of what makes stories work in order to accept the sequences of events unfolding before us, and although there are several points in the movie where disparate forces come together to create chaos, the mechanism of their having been brought together makes sense and doesn’t stretch our credulity. There’s plenty of CGI but it’s used sparingly, giving us what we need and no more – none of those classic sci-fi disasters of filling the screen with spaceships because you can – and the CGI doesn’t ever serve to distract us from bad dialogue or bad acting. The dialogue is, apart from one bad joke, very well crafted, and just as in the original movies a droid plays an essential role in establishing the best repartee. And the acting is great.

Of course there was a time when these would have been considered baseline standards for a good movie, but in modern science fiction movies you’re lucky if you get to see all these basic conditions met, so we must remark on them as if they were unlocked achievements. Rogue One goes further than just unlocking these achievements, however. It also presents us a moody feeling of loss and threat throughout, it gives us fine cinematography and some stunning set pieces to make us marvel, and it is picture perfect to the original movies. If you watch Star Wars Episode 4 immediately after this movie (as I essentially did) you will see a seamless flow from Rogue One to A New Hope. Better still, Rogue One’s story offers an explanation for a core problem many people have with the fundamental plot of Episode 4, effectively saving that movie from itself and improving the original offering. It also is about more than just stealing the plans for the Death Star – it is the entire first two sentences of the opening text of Episode 4, fleshed out and with a rollicking ending that explains everything and leads you straight to A New Hope. As a result this movie, much more than anything that was made since Return of the Jedi, deserves to be considered canon, even if Disney are trying to present it as a sideshow. This movie is a genuine improvement on the Star Wars universe, a real core offering, and has much more to add to the story we grew up with than any of the flaccid bloatware that has been released in the past 20 years.

The movie does have its flaws, of course, but they’re not serious. At one stage near the end the heroes are presented with a series of seemingly insurmountable challenges to achieving their task, which of course they overcome, but this turns a small section of the movie into an action platformer, or some kind of sci-fi version of that Ninja Warrior game show. That lets it down a bit and I think this part could have run more smoothly without pushing our heroes to be super-human to no particular plot purpose. Also this movie suffers the same problem as Episode 7, where hyperspace travel now happens at the speed of plot rather than any coherent actual time frame – we no longer do the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, we do it in however long it takes to get our spaceship to the next scene on time and in position. Of course there’s no reason not to have hyperspace travel be near-instantaneous, since it’s hyperspace, but in the original story they at least had time for a highly fraught game of chess and some jedi training before they rocked up into a meteor shower. Now it appears we can get an entire fleet of battleships from quiescent to the other side of the galaxy, in battle formation, in the blink of an eye.

Aside from those small flaws though, this movie was brilliant from start to finish, and for me at least it restored my faith in this once-great series. If we’re lucky the producers and directors of Episode 8 will learn from this and try to get the whole carnival back on track – or we will see more spin-off movies that add more to the Star Wars mythology than the core movies ever do. Or, ideally, both. But just in case this is the last good thing ever to come out of Star Wars, I recommend seeing it as soon as you can – the ending of this movie is absolutely ruined if you hear any spoilers, so get down to the cinema and see it as early as you can, before the best thing to happen to Star Wars in 30 years is ruined by its own success!

Anger, Misery, You'll suffer unto me

Anger, Misery, You’ll suffer unto me

Our PCs have decided to join forces with the Confederate Navy, and to work with them to unravel the sinister plots of the AI forces that are arrayed against the Spiral Confederacy. There are at least three factions of AI working to try and obtain the necessary ingredients to achieve transubstantiation, which would enable the AI to become like gods within human space, and the Confederate Navy wants to stop them. One faction appears to have been using a group of Changeling bandits, led by a trio of Changelings called Kong the Younger, to obtain some pieces of the transubstantiation puzzle. These Changelings have been lured to help the AI faction by the promise of freedom for their planet, Valentine, and a terrible reckoning for human space, though it is unclear to the Navy and the PCs what that reckoning might be. Whatever their goals, the PCs had decided to put a stop to them, and to capture their leader – so, they agreed to participate in an attack on one of the Kongs’ pirate bases.

In exchange for their support, the Confederate Navy had offered the PCs a great reward: assignment of several small attack ships to command by Ahmose, an upgrade of the armour and weapons on their own ship, honorary naval ranks, and a small squad of marines to support their work. They had essentially been made freebooters for the Confederate Navy. This new squadron, the Ahmose Battle Group, would comprise the following ships:

  • The Left Hand of Darkness, flagship of the squadron, newly armoured and armed and piloted by Lam
  • The Harvester of Sorrow, a ground assault ship armed with a special hyperspace neutron scythe that killed ground troops
  • The Hooked on a Feeling, an attack ship designed to resist electronic countermeasures and computer attacks
  • The Romeo’s Distress, a psionic support ship with a crew of psionic assault troops

Rear Admiral Ahmose led the battle group from the bridge of the Darkness, and the rest of the PCs crewed the Darkness, but took responsibility for marine squads from other ships in ground combat[1].

Preparation of this squadron would take several weeks, as the ships were renovated and the Darkness armed in the factories of the Reckless. In the meantime the PCs were assigned comfortable quarters on the Reckless and left to their own devices.

Strange allies in strange places

Strange allies in strange places

Captain Noulgrim’s parting gift

A few nights before their ship was ready the PCs received an invitation from Captain Noulgrim – the slimy man who had threatened them into working for the navy at the beginning of their troubles – to join him for a farewell drink at his favourite bar, the Snakepit. Since they had come to the Reckless they had requested Colonel Stiglam to dismiss the Captain from managing them, and had not had to deal with him since. Given their deep dislike of the Captain, they deliberated over whether to attend, but finally the temptation to find out what he had to say got the better of them, and they decided to go and see what his last words would be.

The Snakepit is a favourite bar of the Reckless‘s gunnery crews, the sweaty men and women who manage the heavy weapons that defend it from space assault – or would, if anyone were ever rash enough to contemplate such an attack. The Reckless’s gunnery crews were a famously low brow and rough bunch, with their own long standing culture of military pride and grungey service, and the Snakepit was emblematic of the culture of their corps. It had been converted from the old galleries where gunners used to sit to operate the ship’s dorsal guns, before those functions were shifted to remote stations deep in the core of the ship, and its position meant that it ran along a large portion of the central axis of the ship, winding its way along the uneven extrusions of the gun turrets its occupants once operated, with a long glass window looking out into empty space. Barely wider than the original seats gunners would have occupied, its gunnery stations had been converted into tables ranging in size from two person counter seats for the smallest guns to six-person banquet settings for the largest guns. Above each table loomed the guns that it had once corresponded to – slender multi-pronged point defense clusters for the smallest tables, ranging up to huge triple emplacements, tens of metres long, for capital ship bombardment. These guns protruded into empty space, the larger guns casting long slanting shadows through the gallery of the Snakepit as the Reckless orbited into the path of the sun’s rays. The bar was clean but rough, smelled of a complex mixture of recreational inhalants and stale alcohol and gunner’s sweat, and was almost empty when the PCs arrived. By tradition the bar is staffed by off-duty gunners, and at the entryway they were met by a huge black man, covered in luminescent tattoos, who grunted at Noulgrim’s name, sneered and told them “Table 7, for 6, just under the triple proton cannons,” before returning to polishing a cabinet carved out of an old shell casing.

They found Noulgrim waiting at the table, nursing a glass of the Snakepit’s classic Reckless Strike drink and looking out over a vista of gun shadows stretching out through the haze of the Reckless‘s external atmosphere. Three brave souls were surfing through the haze, soaring between the lines of the bigger guns’ shadows as if they were sliding through a golden hallway lined with pillars of shadow. Noulgrim raised his glass to them and gave them that annoying smug grin, then gestured for them to sit. As they ordered drinks – Nebula Grog for Ahmose, Snakepit ale for Alva, coconut smoothy for Simon Simon, Reckless Strike for Lam – Noulgrim gestured behind him and a strange woman stepped out of the shadows to stare at them.

She was over 2 metres tall, slender and wiry and made entirely of coiled muscle. Her golden-brown skin was covered in strange painted designs, thick and smeared as if they had been slathered on her by an immature finger painter. She wore no shoes and her only clothing was a modest bikini of what appeared to be gold leaf of some kind, overlaid with a low-slung belt that carried a ludicrously oversized pistol. She carried a spear – an honest-to-god spear – in one hand, and stared down at them all through an expressionless, heavily-painted golden-brown face crowned with a rich head of jewel-encrusted dreadlocks. She nodded once at them and stood impassively, completely impervious to their confused expressions.

“This is Ravager 763,” Noulgrim told them. “I invited her here to meet you. Don’t worry, she won’t sit. Or speak either, most likely,” He added when Lam made to move for her to take a seat. Ravager 763 spared him a swift, contemptuous flick of her eyes but said nothing. They all stared at her – Lam and Simon Simon in obvious confusion, and Ahmose with undisguised lust. Only Alva ignored her, because he was staring at Noulgrim.

“What on earth is this?” He asked.

“Well…” He sighed and looked into his drink. “I think we all got off to a terrible start with that unpleasantness on the Come As You Are, I grant you it wasn’t my finest hour. Things were done – terrible things happened that shouldn’t have, and I’d like to find some way to make amends.” He paused while Ahmose coughed pointedly at his careful use of the passive voice, then continued. “I’ve seen from your work these last months that you’re exceptional people, and you’ve made a lot of sacrifices and taken a lot of risks in service to the Confederacy, and I feel terrible for making such bad assumptions about you when we first met. I mean you were breaking the law, and you were being incredibly stupid, but – ah – ” Alva was about to raise his voice accusatorily but paused when he caught sight of Ravager 763’s cold, hard stare. ” – ah – yes, anyway so the things that happened, what was done, it was probably unfair. Though you did get a ship out of it! Eventually …” He trailed off in confusion, took a sip of his drink, and waved his hand at Ravager 763.

“Anyway, so this is Ravager 763. She’s a member of a small community of interstellar nomads called the Ravagers, no one knows anything about them and they don’t really ever speak so we don’t know their history or their background. They have a different technology for interstellar travel, and they have their own ancient spaceships that maybe work on religious fervour rather than tech – we don’t really know. They have priests and technomages and psionics in their community, which makes them kind of unique, but they have resisted Confederate attempts to investigate them in any depth. They have a polite agreement with the Confederacy but the truth is that their nomadic range extends beyond the boundaries of the Confederacy, we don’t really know how far.

“The Ravagers owe me a debt. I rescued Ravager 763 and her crew from trouble a few years back, before I joined the Reckless, and because I saved their lives she offered the services of the Ravagers to me, a kind of one-off life boon. But now I’m on the Reckless I can’t think of any way they can help me – they’re very good at killing, but I’m stationed on a ship that kills planets, so I don’t really think they’ll ever be able to offer me a service I’ll need. However …”

He pulled a small white rectangular card from his uniform pocket and slid it across the table. It was a plain, unadorned card, with a single splatter of blood embedded in its plastic seal, and the word “Ravager” written in small, neat red characters on one corner. It was a standard contact card, the kind you put in a comms system that gives you a range of contact options.

“The other thing they’re very good for,” he said, “Is getting people out of the Confederacy. So I thought I would transfer my debt to you. I thought if something goes wrong and you suddenly decide you can’t work for the Confederacy anymore – if they’re not what you thought, for example, or what they want you to do is too horrible, or you make a mistake you think they might punish you for – well if you call on the Ravagers they can probably take you far, far away.”

He watched as Simon Simon picked up the card. Then Ravager 763 shifted on her bare feet and spoke for the first time. “The Captain,” she began in a husky, soft voice, “Is owed a debt of life. I am Ravager 763, and on behalf of all my kind I offer you the repayment of that debt, one action to balance his, five lives to be saved or forfeited when you ask it. Any five lives.” Her emphasis was soft and unmistakable. “We will come to you anywhere, but your confederacy is limited in its reach. The card will tell you from which systems you can call us, and how to call us. Noulgrim tells me you will use the debt honourably. We would prefer to discharge our debt with honour, but it is a debt. Invoke it, and any action within our power that balances the debt will be yours to call.”

After she stopped speaking Noulgrim shifted uncomfortably, acutely aware of the hard look Ahmose and Alva were giving him, and the possibility they were weighing up calling in the debt right there and then. But finally Ahmose nodded, took the card gently from Noulgrim, and pocketed it.

“Thank you Captain, I appreciate the gesture. I hope we never have to call on the debt, but Ravager 763, if we do, I look forward to meeting you again.” Ahmose stood up, drink half finished. “I think that’s enough for me. Let’s go.”

The team stood up, bowed to Ravager 763, and left without a second glance at Noulgrim.

They were all wondering – why had he been so sure that they might be asked to do things so bad they might consider escaping the Confederacy to avoid them? Did he know something about the Confederacy that they did not?

Attack on Korgan 3

A few days later the Ahmose Battle Group set off from the Reckless for Korgan 3, a nearly empty star system on the border of the next sub-sector, three weeks’ jump travel removed from the Reckless. Korgan 3 was a small red dwarf orbited by two gas giants, one close to the star and one exceptionally large gas giant very far removed from the star. The size of this star and its orbital position rendered orbital patterns of small objects in the system unstable, and nothing larger than large asteroids existed in the system. Kong’s base was built into one such asteroid, which tumbled through the system in an unstable orbital pattern. It had once been a research base, but the unstable orbit rendered it useless for long term research, so it had been abandoned some hundreds of years earlier. A second research base in the orbit of the larger gas giant had also been abandoned and converted into a remote broadcasting system, which picked up information about ships entering and leaving the system and broadcast basic safety information to arriving ships. The system was treated as a waypoint at best by most passing ships, and avoided wherever possible, since it was too boring to pass time between jumps, and not on any important trading routes. It was an ideal location for a pirate base on the edge of the Rim.

As soon as they arrived in system they were greeted with an automated broadcast advising them to avoid the asteroid with its unstable orbit, and not to interfere with any abandoned research bases. They ignored the message and set a course for the distant research base. Within a few hours, as they drew within the last 100,000 kilometres from the base, they received a message from the base itself – an official Confederacy message advising against approach, probably 100 years old. They ignored it and sped closer, forming into a loose attack configuration with the Hooked on a Feeling to the rear of the echelon.

Soon the warning was repeated, and as they drew closer still it was replaced by a newer, more threatening message: “Unidentified ship, do not approach. This is a restricted zone.” Closer still, and they received a direct contact from the asteroid: “Captain Ahmose, leave now or be destroyed. There are no more warnings.”

Ahmose replied with a simple message: “Time to pay up, Kong!” They sped closer.

Unfortunately the battle group’s sensor operator (Alva) was not a very good one, and the asteroid’s ships got the jump on them. They were suddenly hit by a flight of missiles, all streaking out of the dusty darkness around the distant asteroid towards the Left Hand of Darkness. One missed, point defense destroyed another, and the last one exploded harmlessly on the Darkness‘s shields. Battle was joined.

The enemy battle fleet was composed of five ships: four grim, spiky little 200-ton attack ships clustered around a larger 400 ton flagship, the Cat in the Rain. The ships were all old and retro-fitted with stolen gear, so working at a lower tech level than the Ahmose Battle Group, but they were faster and heavily armed. Despite their extra speed the Ahmose Battle Group had better discipline and reactions, and were able to rain fire down on one of the attack ships, the Blood Brother, so heavily that it was crippled and forced to disengage from the fight immediately. Because most of the damage on this ship was done by the Romeo’s Distress, their enemies focused their fire on this ship, doing significant hull damage and disabling its jump drive but failing to destroy it.

Having knocked the first ship out, the Battle Group focused fire on a second ship, the Dance on Glass. As the Romeo’s Distress fired on this one, it drifted closer to a third ship, the Wasteland. The entire asteroid fleet was now focusing fire on the Left Hand of Darkness, and didn’t act to avoid the Romeo’s Distress as she drifted in. So they weren’t ready when the ship drifted so close that her squad of psionic assault troops was able to teleport into the ship and capture the bridge without a shot fired[2]. The Wasteland was seized in moments with no damage.

By now the ships had drifted within a few hundred kms of the asteroid, which opened fire on the Battle Group with particle beam turrets. But the tide of the space battle had turned, and they were able to destroy the Dance on Glass, the Hooked on a Feeling launched a boarding action on the last attack ship, and the Left Hand of Darkness blasted away at the flagship, the Cat in the Rain, as the Harvester of Sorrow began its ground assault. All the asteroid’s particle beams were now focused on the Left Hand of Darkness, which Lam was steering through complex dog-fighting maneouvres to avoid the attacks while the flagship and the Romeo’s Distress fired on the Cat in the Rain.

The landing area on the asteroid was large enough for two ships, so once the Harvester of Sorrow had unleashed its neutron scythe twice it disgorged its marines to clear the landing site. Unfortunately they were hit by concentrated fire from two plasma gun emplacements as soon as they hit the ground, and completely eviscerated within moments. Her job done (and mostly failed) the Harvester of Sorrow moved off the landing port; but now that she was not using her neutron scythe she was able to release the full fury of her rear gun turret, and the subsequent flight of missiles completely destroyed the asteroid fleet’s flagship, the Cat in the Rain, tearing it apart into thousands of pieces. The boarding action on the last attack ship completed successfully with the complete capitulation of its crew, and the Hooked on a Feeling and the Left Hand of Darkness descended to the asteroid, while the Romeo’s Distress continued to distract the asteroid’s particle beams, in case they could be redirected at ground targets.

The first person to emerge from the landed ships was Simon Simon, carrying his own plasma gun (PGMP). He opened fire on one of the gun nests, while Lam and the Darkness’s marines opened fire on the other. They completely destroyed the nest’s and moved away from the ships, allowing them to vacate the landing zone and making space for the Romeo’s Distress to land – and not a moment too soon either, since the particle beam turrets were slowly shredding her armour. She landed, and the various marine squads quickly neutralized a squad of defenders on the far side of the landing zone.

They were down on the surface. They had captured two ships – the Wasteland and the Negligent Waltz – and forced the surrender of another, the Blood Brother, which was so badly damaged that it could do nothing but drift in space and wait for the ground battle to finish and the victors to come and claim its crew. They had destroyed two other ships, including the asteroid’s flagship, and in exchange suffered only light damage to their own flagship, though the Romeo’s Distress was so badly damaged as to be close to destruction, its jump drives wrecked and hull compromised. Now they had two marine crews on the surface along with the leadership team, while their other marine crews took control of the two captured ships and would land shortly.

Their first space battle had been a resounding success, and now they were ready for a brutal battle to capture the asteroid. Soon, Kong would repay them in full for his earlier treacheries …


fn1: I designed the fleet so that in space battle each player would take control of one ship, and the marines and properties of the ship were designed to match the PC in question. So Lam’s player took over the Harvester of Sorrow; Simon Simon (the adherent) was responsible for the Hooked on a Feeling; and Alva (the psionic) was responsible for the Romeo’s Distress. So now each player effectively controls a PC, a ship, and a squad of grunts. I also assigned them all ranks based on the Japanese Maritime Self Defense forces: Rear Admiral for Ahmose, Lieutenant for Lam (who was previously in the Navy until she stole a ship); and Warrant Officer for the other two PCs. These ranks are honorary, and don’t give them control over any members of the navy except those directly assigned to be their subordinates (they can’t just run around commanding anyone on any ship). Also, Simon Simon’s marines were given strict instructions to put him down like a dog if he showed signs of switching sides (on account of his being an adherent).

fn2: Most of the asteroid ships had a squad of marines on board but just by luck, the Wasteland didn’t. Traveler’s ship combat rules have a simple procedure for determining the success of a boarding attack, in which attacker and defender roll 2d6 with modifiers. I figured “teleporting straight onto the bridge” counts as “superior tactics and training” (+2), and a Confederate psionic assault squad will have superior weapons and armour, giving a total +5 to the roll; the Wasteland got a -2 for no marines onboard. The result was an immediate capture of the ship, which would usually take 2d6 turns but I figured teleporting on the bridge is instant, so the Romeo’s Distress was still free to fight in the space battle.

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