Category Archives: Culture

A Cacophony of Caskett Heartbreak

There’s a TV show called Castle. It’s quite popular and is in its eighth season. I’ve written a few fanfiction stories set in the Castle universe.

If you are aware of the show, then you might be aware of the explosion of outrage on the Internet over the release of two of the actors who have been part of the show since the beginning: Stana Katic, who played Detective Kate Beckett, and Tamala Jones, who played Dr. Lanie Parish. If there is a season 9 (unknown at the time of writing), they won’t be in the cast.

Applicable Twitter hashtags include: #Castle, #IStandWithStana, #SaveCaskett, and #NoStanaNoCastle.

Tamala Jones will be missed as hers is a strong female character, still an oddity in 21st century media, and is a medical examiner to boot. Her character has had an on again, off again relationship with Javier Esposito, has lobbed more than a few zingers in Castle’s direction, and has served as a confidante for Beckett. If there is no Beckett, however, there is less need for Parish.

As for Stana Katic, in the beginning, her character viewed Castle as an irritant. Over the course of time, their mutual trust and respect grew, and they found themselves falling in love, even if one or the other wasn’t prepared to admit it. Finally, they were engaged and then married.

Stana-Nathan-nathan-fillion-and-stana-katic-26237395-542-594What’s been so engaging about the Beckett-Castle relationship is the apparent chemistry between the two actors, and the range of emotions they display so unerringly. They are, truly, a very cute couple. This relationship is a key anchor point for many viewers, who have immensely enjoyed the show over the years.

Here’s the thing, though. While the Beckett-Castle relationship has been a great story, there comes a time when a story has been told, and whatever follows is simply potboiling. That’s not to say there aren’t necessarily more Castle stories, but really, what else could you do with the Beckett-Castle relationship other than an endless cycle of bringing them together, separating them on some pretext or other, then bringing them together again.

If I was writing for Castle, I’d be chaffing at the bit to tell some different types of stories. In an effort to shake things up, they had Castle disappear for a few months (over the summer break, mind you) and reappear with his mind wiped. I found that to be a very weak storyline. Similarly, this season, Beckett left Castle so that he wouldn’t become a casualty in her investigation of the death of her former colleagues. And yet, they still saw each other every week. Inevitably, after the Christmas break, Castle and Beckett got back together again.

Let’s consider another show that I enjoy, Doctor Who. While the show was off the air for a number of years, it recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. What is it that keeps it going? A simple answer might be that it has all of space and time for its characters to explore, but its more than that. Characters come and characters go, no matter how beloved. The Doctor, the central character, has remained, but every three or four years a new actor takes the part. What keeps a series fresh is change. Fresh actors, fresh storylines, fresh villains.

If Castle is to continue with strong stories, and not just potboilers, it needs to change as well. One very pleasant surprise this season is the development of Castle’s daughter, Alexis, played by Molly Quinn, as an adult foil for her father. I can easily imagine some great stories centred around Richard Castle, P.I., working and trading witticisms with two strong women, Alexis and the intriguing Hayley Shipton, played by Toks Olagundoye. Why not?

So let’s put things in perspective. There was no “Caskett” in the early years, yet we watched the show. Personally, I preferred the battle of the sexes feel of those years. It put me in mind of the old Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn films.

Be that as it may, if you can’t imagine Castle without “Caskett”, there’s a simple solution. First, turn off the TV. Much simpler and less work than advocating cancelling the show. Second, read/write some AU fanfiction in which they’re kissing and making babies and solving mysteries and living happily ever after.

As for me, if season 9 happens, I’m certainly going to give it a try.

Too Many Fingers

If you’ve been part of a software development and/or engineering team, you’ll understand the concept of unity of purpose. The same principle, it turns out, applies to writing.

They say there are many roads that lead to Rome. If Rome represents the product you want to build, beit a smartphone app, some new whiz-bang hardware, or, let’s say, a story, there’s more than one path you can take to get there. That’s fine if you’re traveling solo. But if you’re part of a team, and different voices are calling out to take this path or that other one or that other other one, it can be a problem. You can end up with a product that looks like the equivalent of a Reaver ship, a cacophony of parts that kinda-sorta work together, but that were never meant to be components of the same whole.

This is why development teams have an architect. This isn’t someone who designs buildings. Well, it can be if what you’re building is, you know, a building. The product architect is someone whose vision of the product carries the day. There can only be one vision, and the team has to buy into this vision. Otherwise, what you end up with is a mess.

The word “mess” has been used more than once to describe a couple of recent superhero movies: Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. The problem with both of these? Among others, too many characters. Too many future movie plotlines to set up.
Dawn of Justice
also suffers from too reaction-to-second-batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-trailer-737594
many plots grafted together, too much left out, too many unanswered questions. Why did we need to borrow from both“The Dark Knight Returns” and “Death of Superman” storylines? Each was a major story arc in and of itself and could have carried a movie.

The interesting question is, why do these films suffer from these shortcomings?

ultronThe (likely) answer: Too many fingers in the pie. While these films do have an architect (Joss
Whedon, Zack Snyder) the studios at some level placed too many constraints on the films. Rather
than being allowed to tell a coherent story and tell it well, let’s throw in a few new characters that we want to develop in future movies. Let’s introduce elements that we’re going to explore in future movies. Let’s have more than the last move: bigger, faster, louder.

This was likely one of the reasons the Bond film Quantum of Solace fell short. Forget about telling a compelling story. We need more action that the last film. More chase scenes. And so you end up with a film that has car chases, foot chases, boat chases, and plane chases. Indeed, they seem to have covered all the bases, and the movie is all the poorer as a result. Contrast that with the subsequent Skyfall, perhaps the best Bond ever, where the set pieces and action were driven by the story rather than the other way around.

So what does all this have to do with writing? (Let’s leave screenwriters out for the moment.) After all, most stories are written by only one or maybe two authors. The relevance is that a story has to have a coherent thread driving it forward. Sure, there are supporting characters, several of which can have arcs of their own, but these have to fit together into a coherent whole. You can’t just wander off willy nilly and explore every neat idea. Probably better to keep a “neat idea” file, and to keep your story lean and to the point.

This topic slides into another: How much is too much? By that I mean, I’m not a big fan of filler, even if it’s filler that doesn’t distract from the overall plot. I love a good, thick book as much as the next guy, and I’ve read some series where each book was a door stopper, and yet, I’ve been pretty sure that these stories could have been told with far fewer, thinner books.

It’s a trade off. On the one hand, it can be a real pleasure immerse yourself in the minutia of a new world. On the other hand, you can find yourself wishing the author would just get to the point. Personally, I’m becoming nostalgic for the days when the average novel seemed to be on the order of 200 pages, or even less.

Less, after all, can be more, which applies to both novel length and the number of fingers in the pie.

A Golden Age of Doctor Who

It was the summer of 1966. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass won Record of the Year that year with “A Taste of Honey”. Audiences flocked to the movies to see Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Batman: The Movie. In a couple of months Star Trek would make its television debut.

I was a kid that summer and it was my first trip to England. As we crowded around the black and white TV set in my aunt and uncle’s living room, with it’s scratchy, fuzzy picture and tinny sound, the TARDIS materialized in a desert. A man and woman exited the TARDIS, followed by the Doctor. William Hartnell, the first Doctor. My first Doctor.

Taking the woman by the hand, the man said, “Come on, we’ll find our own way back to London.”

“Fools!” said the Doctor, and went back inside.

That’s the only scene I remember from that episode. Maybe that’s all I saw. But I was hooked. This was very cool stuff. The Doctor scared the hell out of me, even though I gathered he was the good guy.

The Peter Cushing movie, Dalek’s Invasion Earth 2150 AD, was playing in England that summer. It was in colour and included Daleks of every colour of the rainbow. Not only did I love the Daleks in and of themselves, but they flew in flying saucers! I was too young to realize just how profoundly stupid the movie was. (A greater sin by far is it’s unbearable soundtrack.) At the time it just seemed very cool, and I have fond memories of it to this day.

This was actually the second Doctor Who feature film. Later, my family caught the first one, also starring Peter Cushing as “Doctor Who”, at a drive-in sometime later. And, for me, that was about it for the good Doctor until TV Ontario acquired the rights in the early ‘70’s. The first episode of Doctor Who to air was the first of the multi-Doctor episodes, “The Three Doctors”. TVO had a guy, Doctor Dator (real name), who introduced the episodes, provided background we might be missing, and gave us some food for thought.

The Three Doctors 1But with “The Three Doctors”, we come to the crux of the problem with classic Doctor Who. It was profoundly unwatchable by anyone over, say, eleven years old. Why? It might have something to do with the scripts, the acting, the sets and the special effects, but to name but a few things. You can find fan videos on YouTube of higher quality than many episodes of classic Who.

To be fair, Doctor Who was produced with little budget and probably less time. I recall an interview with John Cleese who said something like, “British television is terrible. If you finish, [your production] that’s cause for celebration. If it’s good, well that’s something else altogether.” Still, one can only go by the end product, and the end product was not good.

Nevertheless, I continued to watch it. Why? For me, it was the rich backstory. Time Lords, an ancient race whose citizens could regenerate a new body. The TARDIS, with a small exterior and an essentially infinite interior that existed in a different dimension. That darned chameleon circuit that got stuck in the shape of a police box. The Daleks. The Cybermen. All of that.

I was fond of the first four actors to play the Doctor and the unique, perfect personalities they brought to the part. But then, for me, things started to go from bad to worse. Peter Davison came along and although I’d loved his work on All Creatures Great and Small, I thought he was miscast here. The 6th and 7th Doctors, I felt at the time, were simply embarrassments. I could scarcely bear to watch them. In retrospect, I came to realize that this was unfair. They were fine actors; the problem was with the source material. I stopped watching regularly sometime during Peter Davison’s reign. Sporadically I’d tune in, but was always disappointed. And it seems that the public agreed, because the ratings slid to the point where the BBC finally cancelled the show in 1989.

I read a fair number of Doctor Who books in the years that followed. Some of them were surprisingly well written and complex. I remember being blown away by “The Infinity Doctors” in particular.

The good Doctor sputtered to life briefly in 1996 in a one-shot made-for-TV movie. This was a British-American collaboration that just didn’t work. Unfortunate because Paul McGann was a great Doctor and he was very popular. Can anyone count how many times he’s reprised the role in Big Finish audio dramas? Do you remember how the Internet melted down following his surprise appearance in “The Night of the Doctor”?

Then we come to 2005, and the rebirth of the series. Russell T. Davies brought to the screen an invigorated Doctor Who that was good in every respect. Good scripts, good acting, interesting stories, and arcs that spanned the whole of a series. Are you afraid of the big Bad Wolf? My favourite scene in the ten plus years since Doctor Who’s return is when Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS, into the Time Vortex itself, and returns the TARDIS to the future to rescue the Doctor.

Davies gave us the Time War and introduced us to Rose Tyler and Captain Jack Harkness, two of the most beloved characters in the series. And he reintroduced a new, young, sharp-tongued Master. Most of all, he saved Doctor Who from oblivion. So, when Steven Moffat was announced as the new showrunner, he had big shoes to fill.

But fill them he did, bringing us to what I would argue is the golden age of Doctor Who. How did he do that? I think there are three dimensions to his success: the stories, the characters, and the dialog.

Let’s consider these in order, starting with stories.

Moffat had already penned two of the most beloved Doctor Who episodes: “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink”. Just a few years ago, FilmCritHulk wrote an essay, WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH DR. WHO, in which he said of “Blink”, “ONE OF THE BEST HOURS OF TELEVISION. PERIOD.” (FilmCritHulk writes in all caps, because, well, HULK.) Like much of his writing, this essay is literate, insightful, and entertaining. Stop and read it if you haven’t.

Moffat brought us the brilliantly conceived, multi-series spanning River Song story arc. It all began with the Davies-era episodes  “The Silence of the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”. Here the Doctor meets River for the first time. For River, it’s the last time. As she’s about to sacrifice herself, she realizes that, through the whole of her relationship with the Doctor, he’s known how she’s going to die. What a moment.

And then there’s the two-parter that kicked off Series 6: “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”. Here Moffat raised the show to new heights with a complex, dense story, the likes of which Doctor Who had never seen. Steven Moffat clearly isn’t one to underestimate the audience. And what can you say about the Silence, the scariest things we’d seen since, well, that other Moffat creation, the Weeping Angels. At the end of the two-parter, we were left with our jaws dropping as a young child begins to regenerate.

the-night-of-the-doctor-regeneration-elixir.pngIn “Name of the Doctor”, we were floored again when we learned that there was a previously unmentioned incarnation of the Doctor in between the 8th and the 9th. Then there was the seven minutes of sheer genius that was “Night of the Doctor”, in which Paul McGann reprised the role of the 8th Doctor. But “Name of the Doctor” and “Night of the Doctor” were just the buildup to the already classic 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor”. The War Doctor, along with the 10th and 11th Doctors, come together, and in saving Earth from the Zygons, they discover the key to saving Gallifrey from the Daleks.

What about characters? Steven Moffat has given us some wonderful, fleshed out characters. Let’s start with River Song, Amy & Rory, and their complex relationship. River, the daughter of Amy and Rory, grew up with them. They were all children together (time travel — you’ve got to love it). And then there’s everyone’s favourite Victorian trinity, Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax. The hilarious thing is, among the other hilarious things, that Victorian Londoners are more concerned with the fact that Vastra is a woman than that she’s a Silurian.

And what about Clara? Yes, well… Clara’s not so clear cut. I think the “impossible girl” arc was a bit forced. Possibly Moffat was under some pressure to follow up on the highly successful River Song arc. But still, Clara turned out be the companion most able to play doctor about as well as the Doctor himself. That was her arc, bringing her from babysitter to time traveller in her own stolen TARDIS with an immortal companion.

Let’s not forget Missy, without a doubt the most delightful incarnation of the Master in the history of the show. In this incarnation, she seems to characterize herself as a mischievous close friend to the Doctor rather than his arch enemy, and she brings out some of Moffat’s most witty writing.

Which is a nice segway to the third dimension of Doctor Who’s current success: dialog.  

It’s well worth watching Moffat-written episodes a second time as brilliant lines are tossed about so quickly it’s easy to miss them the first time. Consider this bit from “The Witch’s Familiar” in which Clara and Missy discuss the problem of rescuing the Doctor. It might not be the most ingenious bit of dialog he’s written, but it’s the tone and wit that sticks with me (see what I did there?).

“He’s trapped at the heart of the Dalek empire,” said Missy. “He’s a prisoner of the creatures who hate him most in the universe. Between us and him is everything the deadliest race in all of history can throw at us. We, on the other hand, have a pointy stick. How do we start?”

“We assume we’re going to win,” said Clara.

“Oh. Pity, really. I was actually quite peckish.”

“Can I have a stick too?” Clara asked.

“Make your own stick.”

What else was it that FilmCritHulk said about Steven Moffat? Oh yes: “STEVEN MOFFAT IS A GENIUS — SOMETIMES IT IS THAT SIMPLE.”

There are other factors in Doctor Who’s current success, of course. Success, it became quickly apparent, breeds success. As the newfound quality of the show became apparent, they were able to attract A-tier talent. Neil Gaiman was brought on board to pen “The Doctor’s Wife”, an episode that was an immediate classic. Carey Mulligan was the lead actor in “Blink”. Game of Throne’s Maisie Williams played Ashildr for several episodes of series 9. David Tennant, an actor with the chops to play a critically acclaimed Hamlet, was hired to play the Doctor.

Even if Steven Moffat is a genius, genius isn’t constant. Not everything under Moffat’s watch has been golden. Series 8 was weak all around in my opinion, though the show rebounded strongly in series 9. The episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” wasn’t penned by Moffat but was produced on his watch. I thought this episode was ridiculous. So, Clara is lost in the TARDIS and the Doctor can’t just ask the TARDIS where she is? The TARDIS is essentially infinite in size, so what exactly is gained by having a couple more people look for her. And scavengers at that. Seriously? Of course they’re going to misbehave.

Ah well.

Doctor Who has never enjoyed such storytelling, characterization, acting, sparkling dialog, and all around fun. Steven Moffat has one series left, then its up to Chris Chibnall.

He’s going to have some big shoes to fill.

Writing Miss Fisher

This is one post where I’m not going to pretend to have the answers. Not that I would pretend. Not usually. Rather, I’m going to be asking a lot of questions.

Let’s start with this one: Do you watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries? It’s a remarkable show set in Melbourne, Australia in the roaring ’20’s.

miss-fisher-s-murder-mysteriesPhryne Fisher is something of an oddity in her 1920’s setting, being a beautiful, wealthy, independent woman who’s intelligent and driven. Not to mention fearless. Fisher is not one to hide behind the coattails of a man, as she’s rather adept at hand-to-hand combat and carries a pistol in her handbag. She is, in addition, forthright and flirtatious, and enjoys brief flings with attractive, muscular men.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Miss Fisher is the actor who plays the titular character. Essie Davis conveys volumes with her posture, gait, eyes, voice, and phrasing.

And now comes the big question: How would you capture that in writing? Is it even possible to capture in writing some of what is conveyed in moments in visual media, or must we simply concede that visual and written media are different, each with their own strengths and weaknesses?

Of course, the logical thing to do would be to read one or more of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books to see how she did it. Succumbing to the inevitable, I downloaded an e-version of Cocaine Blues to my tablet. Say what you will about e-books, when it comes to instant gratification, you can’t beat them.

At any rate, Greenwood makes no mention of what Fisher does with her eyes. Nor voice. Nor posture. Her personality is well captured in other ways, though. In one notable scene, a constable expresses to Chief Inspector Jack Robinson that they could arrest Fisher and take her down to the station. Wearing only a lounging robe, Fisher steps out of the robe and, completely naked, tells the inspector that if she is to be taken to the station, it will be like this. Classic.

But suppose you wish to capture the  subtleties of Davis’ performance in writing? Consider the scene in the pilot episode where Fisher first meets Inspector Jack Robinson. The scene takes place in a bathroom where a man was found dead. A chalk outline is all that remains of the victim. Fisher has wheedled her way past Constable Hugh Collins to have a look for herself. A knock on the bathroom door shortly after, and Fisher admits Collins and his superior, Inspector Jack Robinson.

After surveying the scene quickly, Fisher summarized her findings. “Given the lack of blood stains, I assume it wasn’t a violent death, unless it was strangulation. But the fetal position of the victim outline, although not terribly well executed, indicates a degree of pain rather than the flailing limbs one might associate with a struggle. Then of course there’s the fact that death occurred after breakfast according to Mrs. Andrews which suggests something ingested. All wild surmise of course.”

“Of course,” Robinson said. “Now…”

Miss Fisher interrupted. “Do you have a card? In case I need to call the police? Because I’m a woman alone, newly arrived in a dangerous town.”

Handing her his card, Inspector Robinson said, “I plan to make this town less dangerous, Miss Fisher.”

“Good,” said Miss Fisher. “I do like a man with a plan, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.”

This is what the characters said, but by itself, this doesn’t at all reflect what actually passes between the characters. Let’s add some annotations.

After surveying the scene quickly, Fisher summarized her findings. “Given the lack of blood stains, I assume it wasn’t a violent death, unless it was strangulation. But the fetal position of the victim outline, although not terribly well executed, indicates a degree of pain rather than the flailing limbs one might associate with a struggle. Then of course there’s the fact that death occurred after breakfast according to Mrs. Andrews which suggests something ingested. [Robinson and Collins share a glance. Robinson nods his head slightly, tacitly conceding that Fisher has a good point.] All wild surmise of course.”

“Of course,” Robinson said. “Now…”

Up until now, Fisher has been lecturing on her findings with the tone of an expert speaking to her pupils. Then, in the blink of an eye, she completely changes gears.

Miss Fisher interrupted. “Do you have a card? In case I need to call the police? Because [Fisher pauses, adjusts her hair, then purrs the rest of the sentence, large, liquid eyes wide, making eye contact with Robinson.] I’m a woman alone, newly arrived in a dangerous town.”

Handing her his card, Inspector Robinson said, “I plan to make this town less dangerous, Miss Fisher.”

“Good,” said Miss Fisher. “I do like a man with a plan, [Fisher glances at card.] Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.” [Fisher eyes Robinson up and down, smiles, then saunters out of the room, hips swaying slightly. Robinson and Collins follow her with their eyes, then Robinson takes a breath and surveys the crime scene with fresh eyes.]

Well, that captures the feel of the scene a bit better, but you can’t leave it like that. Since most of the unspoken communication comes from Fisher, perhaps it would would be best to describe the scene from Inspector Robinson’s point of view.

After surveying the scene quickly, Fisher summarized her findings. “Given the lack of blood stains, I assume it wasn’t a violent death, unless it was strangulation. But the fetal position of the victim outline, although not terribly well executed, indicates a degree of pain rather than the flailing limbs one might associate with a struggle.”

Robinson kept his face even. He’d learned that it was best to let witnesses and suspects talk when they were inclined to talk, and to pay close attention. There was always time for questions and clarifications after they’d said their piece. Still, this woman was something different. Clearly intelligent and surprisingly, perhaps refreshingly, direct. He found that he was becoming genuinely interested in what she had to say. With some bemusement, he realized that she had taken on the tone and body language of an instructor lecturing to her student.

Continuing, Fisher said, “Then of course there’s the fact that death occurred after breakfast according to Mrs. Andrews which suggests something ingested.”

Robinson glanced at Collins, who’d been taking notes. As their eyes met, Robinson found himself nodding slightly to Collins; they had both come to the same realization, that Fisher was making some valid points

“All wild surmise of course,” Fisher concluded.

Robinson wasn’t about to concede that an amateur, and a woman at that, had made some astute observations. “Of course,” Robinson said. “Now…”

Miss Fisher interrupted. “Do you have a card? In case I need to call the police?”

At this, Robinson noted, Fisher’s voice and posture changed completely. Moving closer and adjusting her hair, she proceeded to purr her words, her eyes large and liquid, keeping full eye contact with Robinson. It was with some effort that he kept his face impassive.

“Because,” Fisher continued, “I’m a woman alone, newly arrived in a dangerous town.”

Handing her his card, Inspector Robinson said, “I plan to make this town less dangerous, Miss Fisher.”

“Good. I do like a man with a plan,” said Fisher, pausing to read the card, “Detective Inspector Jack Robinson.”

Surprised by her boldness, Robinson noted how Fisher eyed him up and down, smiled alluringly, then sauntered out of the room, her hips swaying slightly. Without realizing it, Robinson followed her with his eyes, as did Collins. When she was gone, he once again surveyed the crime scene, this time from a fresh perspective.

I could live with that as a decent stab at capturing the scene, but still, you have to be careful how much time you spend on things like eye contact and introspection, for you run the risk of boring your readers. In TV and movies, a glance or a change in expression can occur in a second and it can speak volumes. To express the same thing in writing may take, well, volumes. You need to balance pacing and characterization, and this is where beta-readers can help.

In a similar vein, consider Phryne Fisher’s wardrobe. Fisher sports an amazingly diverse wardrobe and somehow looks good in anything. Her wardrobe nearly becomes another character in the show. But here we come to the same question as before: how do you translate this to the written word? How much space in a short story or even a novel could one sensibly allocate to describing a character’s clothing, and the impact it has on those around her? What vocabulary would you even use? Personally, I’d be at a bit of a loss having to describe in detail 1920’s era women’s fashion.

Questions, questions. But this makes for an interesting thought exercise, and hopefully gives us pause to consider adding some more subtleties to the way in which our characters interact.

Why the Force is With Us

When Star Wars burst onto the scene in 1977, no one had seen the like. It reminded me of an old Errol Flynn movie, but with special effects that blew past the bar set by 2001: A Space Odyssey nearly a decade earlier.

There was the princess who’d been captured by an evil sorcerer; the young hero whose destiny lies beyond the farm on which he’s been raised; the wise old wizard; and there was the rogue, the mercenary, who, beneath the crusty exterior, was deeply human.

This is all fundamental stuff, elements as old as stories themselves. And yet the movie seemed breathtakingly fresh. Star Wars was all anyone talked about that summer. Then came The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983, and we breathed a sigh of contentment. It was over, and it was brilliant. But along with contentment we felt regret that it was all over.

falconTime passes. Thirty plus years. And now we have two teaser trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the first, we see some people we don’t know, some X-wings, a cloaked figure who is presumably a Sith lord, and then, there it is: the Millenium Falcon, looking as if it’s just burst from its cage, reveling in its freedom as it twists and turns in the air, only to level off to face incoming TIE fighters. Was there anyone not at least a little misty-eyed at the sight of the Falcon?

The second teaser ups its game. There’s the awesome shot of the Star Destroyer, crashed in the desert, then Luke Skywalker’s voice-over. People are starting to get excited. Then we have more action shots, and finally, there they are, Han Solo and Chewbacca. Commence total freak out.

But why did the trailers have this effect on us? What makes Star Wars so good? Why do we care?

To answer that question, it helps to look at The Phantom Menace, painful as that might be. In particular, it’s well worth looking at the series of seven YouTube videos in which RedLetterMedia deconstructs that movie. It does so while making you alternately laugh out loud and cringe with horror, as a LucasFilm employee seemingly did at an early screening of the movie. The most telling part, and it’s been a while so I’ll try to get this right, was while interviewing Star Wars fans about the original series characters. They were able to describe Han Solo etc. and ascribe to each a unique personality. They were then asked to describe Qui-Gon Jinn. The interviewer was met with a blank face. Upon being reminded that he was Obi-Wan’s mentor there was an “Oh”. And they were stuck. They couldn’t say a thing about him. “Stoic” said one.

The reason we love Star Wars is that we love the characters. We know who they are and we care about what happens to them. What does happen to them is on one hand a simple adventure, but on the other a multi-level story of good versus evil, the capacity for both within us, and in the end, the possibility of redemption and forgiveness even if you have fallen to the dark side.

And let’s not forget one of the most beloved characters of the series: the Millenium Falcon, the flawed and faltering ship (“Would it help if I got out and pushed?” Leia asked. “It might,” said Han.) that nonetheless digs deep and always brings our heroes home. The Falcon has a most definite personality, and we rooted for her as much as for Han, Leia and Luke.

In another blog, while reviewing the rebooted Star Trek, I reported that it was like seeing an old friend you thought you’d never see again. After early showings of Trek, people were reportedly weeping as they left the theatre. They were tears of joy. Watching the Star Wars trailers had a similar effect, because honestly, most of us thought we’d never see these characters again. Now we can see them and hear their voices, and suddenly the world seems a brighter place. We walk around with smiles on our faces. And in this world where darkness seems to creep closer to us every day, something, even a movie trailer, that casts a warm ray of light is most welcome.

He Was Spock

Leonard Nimoy was many things, actor, director, photographer, author, even singer. But above all, for those of us who knew him only by his work, he was Spock.

SpockThe genius of Nimoy was that, when he played Spock, the actor seemed to disappear. There was only Spock. And we loved Spock. Spock was supremely logical, but let the mask of logic slip just enough to let us know when he was angry, bemused or exasperated. He, Kirk, and McCoy formed the perfect trinity of logic, intuition and emotion.

Nimoy made an appearance via Skype at last summer’s Ottawa Comiccon, an appearance that Karl Urban (McCoy in the new movies) crashed, to Nimoy’s amusement. I wish I could have been there. I recently visited Los Angeles, and saw the handprints left by the cast of the original Star Trek. Nimoy’s of course, formed a Vulcan greeting. Though at one time he wrote I am not TOS SidewalkSpock, he came to embrace the role for which he was so loved, and later wrote a  book called I am Spock.

My favourite Spock episode? The Menagerie, in which Spock, still loyal to his former Captain, risks his career to help return Pike to a planet declared off-limits by the Federation. Another favourite was his fabulous return to the role in Star Trek, the 2009 movie. Then there’s the the famous Audi commercial he filmed with Zachary Quinto. What a great sport he was.

What else is there to say except