#FridayReads: Revenge of the Fifth Edition

Later this month marks the 40th Anniversary of my favorite thing ever, Star Wars. Now, pretty much every day is Star Wars day for me, but as May 5th is known as Revenge of the Fifth in the fan community, here’s a special edition (don’t worry, not that kind) of #FridayReads. Enjoy!

There are several things I want out of Star Wars movie novelizations: insight into the characters via inner monologues/descriptions of feelings, a few extra tidbits/tangents that shed light on a background element in the movie (character, droid, place, etc.), and writing that is decent or better. The novelization for The Force Awakens was a bit disappointing on the characters’ inner lives bit, which I imagine is because they’re keeping a tight lock on things to avoid spoilers for the upcoming saga films.

the rogue one audiobook

Rogue One doesn’t have such compunctions for obvious reasons if you’ve seen the films, and so far the novelization has met or exceeded my expectations on all fronts. The audiobook is extremely well-produced to boot, with sound effects and background music at appropriate points. The story follows the movie perfectly, of course, but I appreciate the little glimpses we get into Cassian, Jyn, and their growing friendship/feelings for one another.

We get quite a bit from Chirrut and Baze’s points of view, which was something I didn’t expect and am enjoying quite a bit (and we should get even more with the Guardians of the Whills comic series!). Director Krennic also makes POV appearances, and I like that his scheming to maintain power and control over the Death Star is a main focus of his inner thoughts. Plus, it’s very interesting to see Darth Vader through his eyes—there’s a lot of disbelief and resentment until he experiences Vader’s power first-hand.

Jonathan Davis’s reading of the story is  fantastic. He makes his voice sound like exactly like Cassian, Chirrut, Galen, and even Tarkin. His Jyn is a little off, but it’s a truly exceptional male narrator who can pull off sounding like a woman without making her also sound like a child. They put his voice through a modulator to create K-2SO’s voice, which is a nice touch.

The only point the background SFX became an annoyance was while they are leaving Jeddha to head to Eadu. There’s a constant, high-pitched whining in the background through that whole scene meant to duplicate the way ships sound in hyperspace, but my god was that irritating. I almost fast-forwarded through that, but it’s an important scene so I broke it up over days and suffered through it.

This has been my first Star Wars audiobook (books are my big collection so I usually just buy the hardcovers and read them the old-fashioned way). I’d definitely recommend this as an entry point into the canon beyond the films. I’ll certainly be checking out more Star Wars audiobooks for my daily commute.

 

May the Fourth Be With You!

photo of me with a jawa and a Tusken raider

On my recent vacation to Tatooine.

A long time ago, in a town far, far away, I discovered Star Wars. I was ten, my brother was nine. We were at my grandparents’ house, where the adults were doing something that necessitated sticking us in the tv room upstairs to watch movies.

It was 1997, and the Star Wars trilogy was airing in advance of the theatrical release of the Special Editions. In our channel flipping, we stumbled on Return of the Jedi. The movie was half over when we happened on it—already the gang was on Endor, chasing down Stormtroopers on speeder bikes.

We were transfixed. When my parents came up to get us so we could go home, we didn’t want to leave. Luke was fighting Darth Vader and Han and Leia were trying to blow up the shield generator. We had to know what happened next.

My dad, perhaps incredulous that we cared so much about a movie that was already fifteen years old, told us that we had it on tape.

“What?!” we both asked, surprised and delighted, but slightly distrustful.

“Yes, we’ve got the whole trilogy on tape,” my dad repeated, trying to hurry us along.

It was too late to watch the rest of the movie when we got home, but the next day, my dad dug out bootleg copies of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, taped off the tv at some indeterminate time in the past. He couldn’t find A New Hope, but we took what he offered.

a Star Wars movie poster with various autographs

I’ve been collecting signatures on this poster since I was 14. My most recent acquisitions are Wedge, Biggs, and Gold Leader (Dutch).

And we watched those two movies over, and over, and over, and over.

It wasn’t until the Special Editions came out in theaters later that year that we were able to see A New Hope. My dad took us to the theater to see it.

We already knew the characters from watching Empire and Jedi, but we soaked up that movie like sponges. The trash compactor scene scared me, but I wasn’t willing to admit it. And I will always remember the thrill I felt leaving that theater, like I had found religion or the secret to eternal youth.

That Christmas was the best Christmas I can remember. We got a (legal) copy of the trilogy on VHS, Star Wars Quiz Whiz, and Star Wars Monopoly. My grandmother began a tradition that has lasted into the present by buying me the Star Wars Hallmark Keepsake ornaments for that year. I’m sure we got other presents–Lego sets, video games–but the Star Wars presents are the ones I remember best.

From then on I had no interest in playing “house.” I wanted to be Princess Leia going on adventures with Luke, Han, and Chewie. I wanted to fly an X-Wing and train to be a Jedi Knight. I called my brother a scruffy looking nerf herder. I pretended my dog Maverick was Chewbacca.

Twenty years later, these films still transfix me. I still want to be Princess Leia and fly an X-Wing and wield a lightsaber. When the world feels devoid of light I only have to pop in A New Hope, learn the ways of the Force from Obi-Wan Kenobi and fight the bad guys in my little snub fighter to remember that resistance is never futile. Resistance and persistence create change, make a better world.

In my most desperate hours, I will always have Star Wars to remind me of this truth.

Happy 40th Anniversary, Star Wars, and May the Fourth Be With You.

Narrative and comedy in ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’

I wanted to watch The Men Who Stare at Goats for one main reason.  And if you guess because Ewan McGreggor is in it, you’re right.  Kind of.

Mr. McGreggor certainly isn’t ugly, but his main attraction for me was that he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.  And The Men Who Stare at Goats is basically a two hour Star Wars joke.

And I’m okay with that, because I’m the kind of Star Wars fangirl who gets X-wings tattoos, dresses up like Mara Jade at Star Wars cons and covers her office in wall-to-wall posters (my favorites being a Celebration IV exclusive print of Vader killing the Emperor, a Japanese poster of R2-D2 jetpacking over a derivative of Hokusai’s famous “Great Wave off Kanagawa” painting and a map of the galaxy that came in one issue of Star Wars Insider many many moons ago).

After the movie (Men Who Stare at Goats, not Star Wars) ended, I had a feeling that it wasn’t really a very good movie, but I thought it was awesome anyway.  The main problem I had with Goats is not that it’s one giant Star Wars joke (that part was awesome), but that the story never quite got off the ground.

I’m going to blame the complex narration and use of extensive flashbacks for that.  Ewan McGreggor narrates the story from the present.  He tells us how his wife left him and he went off to Iraq and met George Clooney’s character.

And then, throughout their journey, we get flashbacks to the 1980s when the army was playing around with making these psychic super warriors.  Sometimes we get flashbacks within flashbacks.  Eventually everything gets wrapped up, but the problem is that we’re following two, and sometimes three story lines, as the flashbacks comprise at least half of the movie.

McGreggor and Clooney do a lot of sitting around, which is when Clooney tells McGreggor his story.  Even though we don’t see them sitting around a lot because of the flashbacks, it’s kind of tiring to have them sitting in the desert alone for so long.  That being said, the flashbacks are done extremely well and are easy to follow.

In one sense too much is going on, and in another sense nothing is going on, and it creates frustration for the viewer.  I do admire director Grant Heslov’s ability to navigate these multiple layers of narration, but I don’t think they quite work here.

Another problem is that this movie is based on a documentary (you can read about it on Wikipedia here), so it’s trying to impose a narrative structure on a story that doesn’t necessarily have any.

Again, the plot does accomplish what it sets out to do in satirizing the ridiculousness of the military and war in Iraq, but it still falls flat, perhaps because it’s trying to do too much.  Or perhaps because it’s a comedy, so you can never be sure what’s included solely for comedic effect, or how much of the movie is based on the “truth.”

In the end, I think it’s worth watching for the acting (which is excellent), the Star Wars jokes and the layered narrative, but considering the title is The Men Who Stare at Goats, there were not enough goats!

A version of this post originally appeared on my now-defunct metafiction blog, The Narrative in the Blog, in March 2011.