Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why I Was Disappointed with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Disclaimer: Out of respect for those who are somehow reading this without seeing it first, I shall keep this post as reasonably spoiler-free as possible. If "as reasonably spoiler-free as possible" does not sound good enough to you, then please move on!

I appear to be in a very slight minority of people who were not OMG'd by the latest Star Wars film. There is no denying (to me, at least), that The Force Awakens has some great characters. Rey is probably my new favorite hero in the Star Wars universe. Finn and Poe are cool. And even Kylo Ren is a compelling villain. There is also no denying that the "practical" special effects are outstanding. I won't even contest the whole vaunted "Star Wars feel, man!" that many people squeal in their social media mini-reviews of the film. All of that is true, in my eyes, and very good.

So what the hell's my problem? I'm not going to get into specifics because I do want to keep this blog spoiler-free, so I'll just say this: Episode VII, when you look past all the things mentioned in the previous paragraph, tells a weak story. Too weak, for my liking.

Originality is not the beef here; it's delivery. Can you define the plot of the Force Awakens in one sentence? Um..."Freedom fighters desperately try to stop a mega-weapon from being unleashed on the universe?" Is that really fair to the best parts of TFA? Hell; that synopsis isn't even fair to the TITLE. Does a story need to be summarized in one sentence to be good? That's a whole 'nuther can of worms, but the short answer is "yes." Yes, it does. 

"They've got to set up the next trilogy!" No, they don't. "Setting up future films" is not a story. It's an excuse.

"It's supposed to be cyclical; that's a theme in Star Wars?" Stop deluding yourself. There are plenty of movies that illustrate the cyclical nature of the human experience that actually, you know, DO IT, and not just throw it out there like putting a rug over a stain on the floor. City of God is a brilliant, powerful movie about the cyclical nature of violence. But there are no cool action figures for City of God, so, you know, it's just a movie. 

"Good stories are all about character!" No. I'm so sick and tired of hearing this. Good stories are NOT good characters. The only thing that's a good story is a good story.

Is it fair to put TFA on blast for something so few stories can get right? Probably not...and I don't give a shit. The Star Wars franchise is orders of magnitude larger than virtually any other intellectual property out there. It has nearly unlimited resources. Therefore, I have set the very highest bar for it, and I'm disappointed to say, it failed to deliver. I'm glad all the kids and fanboys and families enjoyed it, and I certainly don't mean to disrespect any of them (or you, Dear Reader, if you're one of them), but we deserve better. For all that money, for all that hype, we deserve better. If Pixar can crank out movies like Toy Story and Up that are both entertaining and powerfully moving, then Star Wars can do the same.

I find your lack of story disturbing...

Friday, December 18, 2015

I Think I'm Turning Japanese

I've had something of a JRPG revival going on the past month or so. I've been logging on some serious hours on Final Fantasy XIV. On my 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles and Shin Megami Tensei IV are in heavy rotation, while on the PS Vita, I'm playing quite a bit of Persona 3. And as we speak, I'm downloading Final Fantasy X HD for it. If I commit to playing it, it will be the third time I've gone completely through the game. To date, it is the only video game I've ever had the patience and motivation to beat a second time, a distinction I intend to impress upon Metal Gear Solid V, as well, when I buy it for the PC and play through it (I own and have beaten the Xbox One version, already).

Why the sudden love for Japanese videogames? I think it has something to do with the "weird" factor. It is refreshing to have a completely different change of pace. If we're being honest here, I'm sure on some deep psychological level there's something comforting and distracting about it, too. I find it difficult to indulge in things I used to do when I was still together with my wife. Even things she wasn't directly involved in, like tabletop RPGs or World of Warcraft. I'm not trying to say I was traumatized or something and now those things bring back painful memories; that's not really fair to her or to me, nor is it completely accurate (I have no problems with watching certain TV shows we used to watch together, for example). I guess I'm trying to say that, right now, there is something especially rewarding to me about going outside of my comfort zone and discovering (or re-discovering) something different and new to me.

Going back to games for a moment, even the particular way I used to enjoy games has changed subtly but noticeably. I'm much less enthused about learning new boardgames these days; I'd rather get good at the ones I have and learn them cold. Same thing with role-playing games; my love of reading/learning new games has disappeared, replaced with an unusually strong devotion to just three titles: Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, and World of Darkness (now currently known as the Chronicles of Darkness). 

I am a big fan of change. I like watching my own brain go through new processes and approach life from different angles. It's one of my defining characteristics, I think. And, being me, I can't help but marvel a little at how my life situation is changing the way I approach, play, and appreciate gaming.