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.

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.

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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!

I won it in a bet, officer, honestly! It's not stolen!

I won it in a bet, officer, honestly! It’s not stolen!

This week in Japan is Golden Week, a nearly week-long public holiday, and in honour of the fine weather my group did a two-day marathon of Star Wars role-playing using the Fantasy Flight Games system.

Our group was a good mix of five members:

  • Whitney (me), human soldier (medic)
  • Wargh, Wookie hired gun
  • RAPTOR-1, Droid bounty hunter (assassin)
  • Aleema, Twilek Jedi Sentinel (shien)
  • Jorus, Acrid[1] Hired gun

We started off running through a slightly modified version of the introductory adventure, then blasted into space and ran on an improvised adventure that rapidly went to hell through our intense stupidity. This was a marathon session so this report is a very quick summary of the main events.

Trapped on Tatooine without enough funds to get a ship, we needed work. We took a job for Teemo the Hutt, a notorious gangster from our local spaceport, Mos Shuuta. It being impossible to easily travel between spaceports on Tatooine, we needed his help. He asked us to head into the desert to find a lost droid of his that was being held by some Jawas, so we did. However on the way to find the droid we bumped into some Trandoshian slavers and killed them, releasing their slaves and putting ourselves in trouble. We found the droid at the Jawa crawler, which had been destroyed days earlier by the Trandoshians, and returned to Mos Shuuta with it [this took weeks in total]. Unfortunately, Teemo the Hutt was impatient with the time we took, and the Trandoshians were business partners of his; when we returned to town we found ourselves pursued by his henchmen looking to exact revenge for our “treachery” in killing his business partners and “stealing” his droid. We guessed he had hired multiple groups to get his droid, and intended to kill all the groups that failed.

Oops.

Surrounded by desert with nowhere to run, we soon realized we had no choice but to steal a spaceship and escape the port. Fortunately a Trandoshian slaver called Threx had arrived in town in a spaceship in need of repairs, so all we had to do was capture his spaceship and repair it and escape. We stole the part he needed from the local scrapyard and headed towards the ship. A helpful droid told us we would first need to deactivate the standard security clamps that hold all ships in port until their nominated release date; this would mean a trip to the spaceport and a spot of lying. We did this successfully but unfortunately in the process we tipped off a local to our plan, and he told some imperial stormtroopers.

Oops.

There followed a kind of hilarious chase through town during which we slowly killed all the stormtroopers. With little time before more came, we headed to the dock where Threx’s ship, the Poleaxe, awaited us, unclamped. Unfortunately we were met by four droid guards, which we killed, but in doing so we alerted Threx, who was onboard his ship. Desperate battle followed, and ultimately Wargh prevailed over Threx with a supreme display of Wookie rage. As RAPTOR-1 prepared the ship for take off, Whitney took the gun turret to kill some stormtroopers who were setting up a heavy blaster nest, and off we went.

We hit low orbit at the speed of plot, but we weren’t alone – four TIE fighters bore down on us as we raced for the jump point, and we didn’t yet have the hyperdrive converter thingamy slotted into place. Jorus and Whitney took position at the gun turrets, with Aleema and RAPTOR-1 piloting, and battle was joined. While RAPTOR-1 and Aleema cartwheeled and tumbled through the skies above tattooine and Wargh worked feverishly to install the jump-drive activator thingamy, Whitney and Jorus picked off the TIE fighters one by one. Unfortunately they didn’t destroy them fast enough, and their clutzy old ship began to take a lot of damage. Wargh managed to install the hyperspace warp-accumulator whatsit, but in the thick of combat Aleema was having difficulty determining a hyperspace path, and didn’t want to use the pre-loaded path. However, with the ship hull degrading and more TIE fighters inbound she decided not to waste any more time, and punched the hyperdrive for the pre-loaded path. They jumped, leaving the ruins of four TIE fighters scattered across a wide swathe of Tatooine space.

Decisions, decisions ...

Decisions, decisions …

Looting and planning

Once they were in the safety of hyperspace they searched the ship. The ship must have been in the middle of resupply, because although it had enough fuel it lacked significant supplies and most of the cargo had not been loaded. There was a large stock of empty food packets that were obviously designed for smuggling spice, a couple of thousand credits, and a life support system holding a mysterious plant of some kind, that was obviously not safe to simply open and examine and may even have been held in a special environment.

They also examined the droid, which they were supposed to have delivered to Teemo the Hutt had he not accused them of treachery and set out to kill them. It was a standard astromech droid, but it seemed to have had some kind of reengineering to fit it with large, powerful magnets so that it could be stowed on the outside of any spaceship, rather than stored in a standard astromech array. Obviously this would make it useful for smugglers, but why would anyone want to hide an astromech? Every spaceship had one, and there was never any reason to hide them. Mysterious…

The ship emerged from hyperspace within a day, and they found themselves on the Corellian way, where it intersects with the hyperspace path from the sector around Tatooine. This put them a short jump away from Ryloth, Aleema’s home planet, and also a fast series of jumps away from the Mid Rim. So now they had choices. They could turn around and go back to kill Teemo the Hutt, though his allegiance with the Empire and the presence of Imperial ships in the system made that plan seem a little reckless. Their ship was obviously designed for smuggling spice, so they could head to Ryloth and attempt to pick up a cargo to do a spice run. They guessed they plant they were carrying must be valuable to someone, and if they wanted they could try and find someone who could give them advice on it. The best option for that would be to find an Ithorian, and Whitney knew of a famous Ithorian xenobiologist[2] called Chutah Da, who was exploring the nearby Mid Rim on a herdship.

First they would need to get their new ship repaired. Aleema did not want to return to Ryloth, so they decided to go to Mon Gazza to use the starport there. This would bring them to the edge of the Mid Rim and near the zone of space where the Ithorian doctor was traveling, so they decided to try and pick up trade goods at Mon Gazza and travel from there to the trailing edge of the Mid Rim from the Corellian Way, to find this doctor. They hit hyperspace again.

This isn't going to work for anyone here

This isn’t going to work for anyone here

Mon Gazza: A wretched hive of scum and villainy

As soon as they arrived in Mon Gazza system their strange new droid sprung to life and began printing out a receipt-like line of ticker-tape, on which were printed numbers and ship codes. In a moment of recklessness, they decided to pursue this clue as soon as they had repaired their ship. Putting the receipt into safe keeping, they landed on Mon Gazza and negotiated port access with the local mining concern. Mon Gazza was very similar to Tatooine, a barren desert planet with little to recommend it except extensive pod racing contests and spice mines. It was as grim as the planet they had just evacuated.

As soon as they landed they found out that the port and all the community around it was in the grip of a local strongman called Xersca, who was guarded by a posse of stupid little insect-humanoids called Aqualish. After we caught him following us we visited his bazaar to have a chat with him about a mutually beneficial agreement, but during the chat he told us he had already stolen our cargo. This, unfortunately for Xersca, wasn’t exactly correct; he had sent two of his Aqualish, armed with rifles, to take the cargo, but as he was bragging about his cunning Wargh, who had stayed back at the ship to negotiate with the harbour mechanic, was beating them to death. Word of their unpleasant end reached us just as Xersca was attempting to extort us for the return of his cargo. We left him there in a state of puzzlement, with a parting suggestion that when he was ready to come to an agreement with us he could come and make an offer of payment.

Our initial success notwithstanding, we soon realized that hanging around this port was going to end in a big fight, and Xersca probably had resources he could call upon that he hadn’t yet deployed, so we decided to light out as soon as our ship was repaired. The mechanic, having witnessed Wargh killing someone who tried to cheat us, offered us a very reasonable deal on repairs, and we were able to leave after a few days. One of the Aqualish who had been sent to rob us somehow survived Wargh’s fury, but he had no useful information for us and was terrified of returning to Xersca, who he promised would kill him. We took him on board with us when we left, to act as watchman and guard when we were away from the ship. Botan the Aqualish Idiot, our first retainer!

The final act: A wretched hive of confusion and stupidity

With all the galaxy to explore and no particularly pressing goals, we decided to pursue the clues that the droid had spat out. Although we didn’t understand all the information on the strip of paper, we at least recognized a star location relatively nearby, and a code for a ship. We hit hyperspace and traveled to the destination.

At the destination we hit a star system with a seemingly unmarked spaceport floating over a distant planet. The spaceport hailed us and demanded our ship codes; we supplied the codes on the receipt, assuming that this was a shadow spaceport and that it would be dangerous to visit this spaceport without the right codes. Unfortunately the spaceship identified by these codes, the Green Arrow, was already docked at the spaceport, and so we had given our game away. Rather than streak out before we got into more trouble, we decided to bluff our way in – despite our bluffing powers being frankly terrible – and somehow convinced the traffic controller that there was some kind of error; we also managed to convince the man who met us at the docks that the other ship was an imposter.

This man gave us until the end of the day to sort out why this imposter ship had “the goods” that we were meant to be carrying, and to get “the goods” back or we would have to pay for them. We stupidly agreed.

This led to a confused and chaotic few hours on the spaceship, which ended with us entangled in a three way battle between a large gang of mercenaries and a small gang of extremely deadly pirates from the Green Arrow. During this battle we managed to get a couple of people killed, steal some kind of arm-mounted laser shield that seems like it might be worth a lot of money, and get the entire area of space station around Dock 67 completely trashed, probably somehow killing 20 or 30 people who were sucked into space during the explosive decompression that our stupidity caused.

Ooops.

Fortunately we got out safely, and were in hyperspace before the spaceport authorities could catch us. In the melee we managed to learn that the mercenaries attacking the Green Arrow were from Dash Corp mercenary group, and the goods belonged to some scary guy called Saba. Then we were out.

The universe is dark and full of terrors. It also, apparently, is full of idiots. Let’s hope we can do better next time …


fn1: Jorus was played by Little A, a Japanese occasional member of our group. The Acrid are a species our GM made up for Little A, which speak heavily-modified galactic standard, so that basically the only PCs in the group who could communicate with Jorus were those whose players spoke Japanese. Little A, with no real English background, did a great job of keeping up. I wish I could do so well in Japanese! In the end it didn’t matter because we created so much chaos that even in our native language no one knew what was going on. At least Little A had an excuse!

fn2: Somewhat remarkably, Whitney’s one rank in Xenobiology proved extremely useful in this adventure!

[This review contains SPOILERS so please don’t read it if you haven’t seen the film].

I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Sunday, and really enjoyed the spectacle and the homecoming feeling of it, but reflecting on some of the things that niggled at me during the movie, I have decided now that it wasn’t a very good or indeed necessary addition to the series. There were many things to like about it: the first battle of the TIE fighters with the millenium falcon, much of what Kylo Ren does and his velvety Sithlord style, the spectacle of the space battles and the pace were all great. I must confess to nearly shedding a tear when Han Solo and Chewbacca emerged, and I thought it nicely reproduced the riotous colour and fantastical nature of the original series without overdoing CGI or grotesqueness. I thought all the main characters were great, really enjoyed Han and Leia’s gentle brokenness, and appreciated BB-8. I also appreciated the modernization and diversification of the cast, with a lot more women in positions of power and influence and a wider range of non-human races in the Republican forces, and I thought a lot of the dialogue hewed closer to the original spirit, without the heavy doom-laden pretentiousness (and humourless weakness) of the prequels.

In short, on a superficial level it was a great Star Wars movie and it seems to have earned great reviews (and a metric crapton of money) from a wide range of sources on that basis. But on reflection, there were a couple of major flaws with the movie that left me disappointed. Here I will present my main three criticisms of the movie, summarize a few more minor complaints with the content, and give my final feelings about this new series of three movies.

There was no narrative purpose.

Why was I in the cinema watching this thing? The prequels had an obvious purpose, which was to tell the story of the rise of the Empire and overthrow of the Republic, track Vader’s fall from grace and the destruction of the Jedi, etc. In a narrative sense it was necessary, though obviously once we had watched these crawling abominations we all agreed that from an artistic perspective these movies were not only a disaster, but risked wrecking the legacy of the originals. So in this new set of movies, we need a reason to be watching. But what is that reason? At the end of Return of the Jedi we are led to believe the Empire is broken, peace has been won, and the order restored, but at the beginning of this movie there is some sinister new evil force afoot that isn’t just a remnant of the old Empire – it is much more powerful. Our escaping stormtrooper makes it out to be some kind of panopticon in its powers, and it seems to be able to build a death star that dwarfs even the supposedly unprecedented engineering feat of the last one. It appears that in a short space of time everything that happened in the original movies has been not just undone but seriously stomped all over, and yet still this time there is a Republic (not a Rebellion) and the war is ongoing. We are given no reason to understand how this happened, or why we should be throwing in our lot again with the same crew of people who somehow allowed this to happen. Implicit in this collapse of the Republican peace is a big question – will this galactic war ever end? When we joined the original crew in A New Hope we did so on the assumption that somehow they would prevail, as good always does in these kinds of movies, and there would be an ending. But now that victory is not just under threat, it has been comprehensively undone. So why should we suffer through all this stuff again – just to see it fail again? What are we doing here …?

It feels like a family story

I hate the way the prequels decided to keep everything in the family, and even though they preceded the original movies they still managed to find ways to include people connected to those original movies – C3PO, Boba Fett’s dad for Christ’s sake – rather than finding a new cast and drawing them together into the story of Vader’s downfall and the rise of the Empire. It’s even worse in this new movie – we get the entire original cast back, Kylo Ren is Han Solo and Leia’s son, and the entire movie is structured around the quest for Luke Skywalker (who I bet turns out to be Rey’s dad). Also, Kylo Ren is a Vader fanboy, even though he is not related to him, which undermines his character by making him into some kind of pimply evil boy wannabe rather than a serious threat, but also reminds us that nobody in this story can be independent of the originals. Couldn’t we have an evil guy who didn’t give a toss about Vader, and who was not related to the original cast, so that those cast members could just do a cameo to anchor us to the previous stories before we go off on our new journey? There are stars without number in this galaxy, and more humans than grains of sand on Dune, yet somehow the same four people really count for the entire future of the galaxy? This risks turning the whole thing into a sitcom or soap opera, rather than a galaxy-spanning epic.

It copied too much from the original

Sometimes it’s a good idea to copy the plot for a sequel from the previous movie. The best example of this is Terminator 2, which is an excellent movie that basically precisely follows the plot of the original movie, with The T-800 in the role of Kyle Rees. Even attacks on police stations and overturning trucks occur in the exact same sequence – you’re watching the same movie, but loving its freshness and brilliance anyway. But this doesn’t work in The Force Awakens, somehow. It has a lot of similar scenes and the key details are the same. For example: A droid lost on a desert planet brings a plea for help to a young dreamer desperate to escape; they escape from the desert world in the Millenium Falcon, chased past star destroyers by TIE fighters; everyone is looking for a lost, old Jedi who is hiding from responsibility in shame at his failed pupil; Han Solo and his young supplicants make their plans in a pan-galactic bar; there is an attack on a death star, including x-wings flying down a tunnel to put precision ordnance on a weak spot; a major planet is destroyed by that star destroyer simply to send a message; while the young idealist looks on, her elderly hero is killed in a sacrificial scene by an evil sith lord. The only thing JJ Abrams really did was change the faces, and move the elements around a bit. But while the power of the scenes copied for Terminator 2 was in their visual impact and style, the power of many of these scenes in A New Hope is in their emotional impact and freshness. We don’t get that same impact the second time round, because they aren’t fresh anymore. Sure Solo’s death is pretty shocking, and the lead up is visually cool, but the rest of these moments don’t hold the same power the second time.

How this is all going to go wrong…

None of these aspects of the movie would be a problem in isolation – they might even be good points – but in total they give the impression of a movie that has been made more so that we can wallow in the past glories of the original series, rather than that we can carry that series forward. It’s a homage to the joys of the original more than anything new, and worryingly it is in its newest elements that it is weakest. Of course I’m happy to see a well-constructed homage to the original series, but there were many aspects of this new movie that weren’t well done. For example, in the original Millenium Falcon traveling at light speed takes time – long enough for a game of chess and a bit of Jedi training – but in this movie people zip about the galaxy as if they were popping out to the shops; in the original Vader was an indestructible, intense and unstoppable force for evil who cut his own son’s hand off, but in this one Ren can be taken on by some random stormtrooper who picked up a sword. In the original the Empire can make a death star that is capable of destroying planets but is vulnerable to a carefully-placed proton torpedo; in this one the death star is the size of a planet and actually channels the raw power of suns, but is just as vulnerable as the original; in the original the Millenium Falcon is picked up by a Star Destroyer because it was on its way to Alderaan, but in this one it is nabbed by Han Solo’s freighter because even though it had been lost for 10 years he got an alarm as soon as the engine turned on and was able to instantly get to the right place at the right time to find it. We overlook these weak points because they’re being blasted at us at a million miles an hour by JJ Abrams’ tight-paced directing, but there are a whole series of major flaws in the story that bode ill for the future of this series. In combination with the nostalgic turn through memory lane and the dependence on scenes and tropes from the original, it makes me think that this movie is more a series of set-pieces tied together by a weak plot than a legendary adventure. If so, once Abrams’s homage shtick starts to wear thin, I fear things will unravel badly. Remember, this is the JJ Abrams who made the absolutely terrible Star Trek reboot with the flamingly bad time travel story; if you doubt that his directing is weak, you can check out the long list of problems with the new Star Wars movie here. This doesn’t bode well for the next two movies.

My hope is that for the next two movies we will follow a dark and bitter story in which Skywalker’s anger at Solo’s death leads him on a path of ruin into the dark side and out again, perhaps redeeming himself and uniting dark and light side at the end. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though: I think JJ Abrams is going to come unstuck once he runs out of nostalgia to back him up, and is going to make two increasingly woeful and hole-filled movies that betray the original three movies just as surely as the prequels did. Of course I’ll watch them anyway (or at least, the next one); but I wonder if perhaps it might have been better to take this series out the back and put it down long before now.

Christian doctrine summarized

Christian doctrine summarized

Today’s news brings us reports that the Church of England’s gentle attempts to frontload the new Star Wars movie with a one minute long advert for their brand of authoritarian fantasism have fallen flat, in what everyone (even Richard Dawkins, apparently) is calling a defeat for free speech. In a stunning moment of unexpected bravery from our corporate overlords, the bosses of three different cinema chains have told the CofE to get fucked. Rather than being horrified by this slow slide into oppression, I am very happy, and extremely angry that the CofE felt they had the right to pull this nasty piece of totalitarianism on the British public. Before you start hyperventilating, dear reader(s), let me explain …

I’m not an easily offended man, I think, and I think I’ve been on the record as supporting free expression for all religions. I’m an atheist but I don’t subscribe to the “Militant Atheist” school of “thought”, which holds that religion is a childish emotional prop and that society should and will grow past it. I respect individual religious belief, I think religions should have freedom in public life and I’m not especially bothered by the special place that some religious institutions hold in public life – e.g. the christian churches of various denominations in various nations, Islam in Turkey, etc. In the modern era I really don’t see religion as a big threat to our continued progress towards enlightenment, and I have no problem with its open expression and with its historical contributions being recognized. I’m also, I think, on record here as saying I suspect that a lot of the militant atheist spokespeople are sexist, racist bigots who are especially fond of using their atheism as a cloak for their obvious anti-Arab or anti-Islamic racism, and I don’t think that their aggressive tactics do atheism any favours. To the extent that atheism is a movement (it’s not) we don’t need these people as our chief representatives. However …

The Church of England, because it has a huge and privileged position in the British intellectual world. It is the establishment church, meaning the head of the church is also the head of a nuclear-armed state. It owns most of the publicly-run schools, and I can personally attest to the way it used those schools to exclude other religions from discussion, to misrepresent them and to force us to learn and recite its doctrine. It gets free public air time for Sunday worship and special events that no one else gets, and its religious events are the key public holidays, during which time it gets almost untrammeled access to both state and private television and radio. Despite this near constant exposure of a large portion of the population to its propaganda message, and despite the fact that the major media organizations treat the corrupt content of that message with kid gloves, it is still losing the intellectual battle with atheism, agnosticism and who-gives-a-fuckism. So, having lost that battle, and aware of that, they are now going to start forcing adults who have graduated from their schools and escaped their slimy clutches to sit through a minute of unbridled power worship before they can enjoy some actually good fantasy.

Why should we put up with this? Why should I be forced to endure that horrible piece of authoritarian “poetry” when I have already been forced to recite it every morning for the first 17 years of my life? If I am not voluntarily reciting it then there is a simple reason: I think it sucks and I don’t want to. So don’t make me read it again, if I never have to read that horrible little cry for help ever again in my belief-free existence I will be a happy man. And most importantly, what gives the church the arrogance and sense of superiority to think that it’s okay for them to afflict me with this crap during my daily activities? Every time I go to a hotel in the English speaking world I’m given a free bible [another public service extended exclusively to the christian church by private companies], hasn’t the church worked out that if I wanted to read that prayer I would?

Most people understand that if you have told someone something a certain number of times and they still don’t believe it or don’t want to hear it, it’s time to stop yelling at them. Apparently the luminaries at the head of the Church of England have yet to learn that lesson, and think they have some special right to lambast us with their brand of patriarchal authoritarianism just once more, because that one more minute will get us back. The thought of sitting there, waiting to watch something I really want to watch, while for one minute this old man lectures me on how much I should love a god I don’t believe in, makes me so angry. It’s a direct reminder that these evil old men still own my society; an attempt to force me back to being my 8 year old self, shivering and powerless in assembly hall while I wait to be free of their pointless rituals. How dare they do this?

Some random dude at the Guardian is complaining that the real reason the cinemas refused is because they’re scared the illuminati might force us to listen to a muslim prayer in the future, and then they’ll be forced to play it if they also play the christian one. For me personally a passage from the Quran is largely meaningless, and if I listen to it it won’t make me angry because I have no historical association with Islam (though I guess this depends on the prayer they choose!) But for the record I think that Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and everyone else should steer well clear of my precious pre-Star Wars advertising time. I also really want to hope that this is not the reason the cinemas said no, but rather that they, like me, are horrified at the thought of allowing any church to preach to us for a minute before a movie. I’m glad they don’t need the money that badly!

The sooner the Church of England is out of schools and television altogether the better. It’s a dying institution that is propped up by the state and the buttresses of history, but its days are numbered. This desperate, mean-spirited lashing out at non-believing adults needs to be stopped early, and rather than seeing this decision as “nonsense on stilts” or some kind of blow to free speech we should recognize that it is a huge victory for modern values over superstition and authoritarianism. Well done those British cinema chains, and shame on the Church of England for thinking that such a move would ever be okay.

Yesterday’s role-playing was a session of Saga edition Star Wars, set in the era just after the clone wars, and my character was a Rodian scout – that is, one of Gredo’s race, pursuing essentially the same trade and with probably just as much aplomb and skill.

My character, Seredo, was joining an established group, who were on a mission to rescue a turncoat admiral from an imperial prison. The prison was hidden in a treacherous fungus forest on the planet of Feluchia, and the majority of the group had already made landfall and been caught in a firefight with stormtroopers. I had been sent separately, hunting a criminal who was in turn stalking the group, and so I reached the firefight halfway through. This gun battle was taking place across a stream, and involved a couple of stormtroopers, some speederbikes and our party: a human jedi, a protocol droid, and a wookie. Seredo’s aim was to enter the battlefield secretly and use stealth to ambush two stormtroopers who were trying to alert a star destroyer to the group’s presence; unfortunately, Seredo did a Gredo, and fumbled his entrance – instead of sneaking onto the battlefield, he stumbled into a thicket of puffballs, which exploded in clouds of different coloured spores, giving Seredo a rockstar’s entrance to the scene. Still, he was able to pick off one of the stormtroopers and provide covering fire for the jedi and the droid, who were able to kill the others.

Having joined up, we then had to enter the prison block. Being star wars, this was going to have be done only one way: by stealing a scout walker. Our session had to finish after four hours, so we didn’t complete the task, but we’re halfway through: the Jedi is on the roof of the scout walker, I’m between its feet, and the wookie has been spotted. The best laid plans of men and walking carpets, etc.

Playing Star Wars is fun. Blasters, prancing jedi, droids and speeder bikes – it’s just like being there. One of our players has a weird little wookie-head-shaped device with 10 buttons, that when you press it makes various wookie sounds, and it comes with a code so that you know what button to press at what time. Every success and setback is greeted with its own roar of glee or outrage. There are outlandish aliens, stormtroopers to kill, and all the dubious and seedy characters of a universe that is, essentially, a fantasy realm with spaceships wrapped around it. Fun! The system is a variant of d20,  simplified a little and with some additional deadliness built in – it has a kind of wound system that makes it a bit nastier to play with blaster weapons, and it’s probably a bit faster than standard d20. So it’s a good balance of crunch and swashbuckling. Of course, being d20 it still takes a bit of time to get anything done. It’s also nice to be playing a PC that can actually do something useful, even if it is only at a Gredo-esque level of ability. So, there’ll be more of Seredo’s exploits in a month or so, when we return to the planet of Feluchia and find out whether he’s going to end his reptilian span prematurely under the feet of an AT-ST, or whether he’s going to ride one to glory freeing imperial slaves …

The Australian census is due soon. In 2001, 0.37% of the population wrote “Jedi” as their religion. Will Yoda triumph this time around?