Saturday, January 16, 2016

Star Wars – The Force Awakens, a review and literary discussion


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SPOILERS FOLLOW HERE! Don’t read if you have not seen the new movie!

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LAST CHANCE TO AVOID SPOILERS!
Lit discussion first, review second.

The general reception for the new Star Wars is strangely mixed, from what I have personally encountered. It’s strange because The Force Awakens (hereafter TFA) is an obviously great movie. Not perfect (there’s no such thing), but a much better than average movie. The writing is great, the acting is top-notch, the sets are beautiful, the costume and makeup design is fresh yet iconic, the story is compelling, the use of practical effects is Muppet-level marvelous, etc… It’s fantastic.



So why are there so many people so hateful of this movie?

I think, mostly (based on my personal discussions with people), because of the destruction of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Disney, knowing that they’d be making a Star Wars movie each year for the rest of eternity, declared that all of the previous novels, comic books, video games, and anything-else-not-the-episodic-movies was no longer canon (meaning, no longer the “truth” in the story of the series).

My sketch of BB-8!
To many fans of the novels, Disney basically blew up their home planets, as if millions of life experiences suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

When we consume media, such as novels or video games, these things become real experiences and stories lived. For readers, novels are escapes that become more real than actual life. Sometimes, characters we meet in novels feel like friends. I don’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember what happened on the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts the night the Dark Mark was seen.

Now, imagine Harry Potter was bought out and then the new owner told me that nothing in that novel was the true canon. Now, all of that was just the “Legend” as Disney dubbed the Expanded Universe. How would I feel? Probably bad. You can’t tell me that so many characters I’ve spent time with no longer exist, that what I’ve experienced for myself through reading isn’t what happened. I read it; I was there!

And, from the people I’ve talked to that hated TFA, that’s the big problem. They aren’t following the books. They aren’t acknowledging the engagement of the novels and other media that fans have been clinging onto for the 30+ years since the original trilogy. That hurts. It’s like finding out that you’ve lost 30 years to amnesia. I can understand being upset.



But—

 There’s always a but, I know. But Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill are like 60-70 years old and wouldn’t be able to accurately portray what the books have written anyway. You could recast them (and they are casting a young Han Solo for a spinoff movie) so that you could play out the novels, but doesn’t that feel like a missed opportunity to bring back the old cast to hand down the movies to a new generation?

Also, great directors, like J.J. Abrams, are artists. They deserve to create their own stories, and not be hampered down to what others have written. Besides that, movies need surprise to build intrigue. Right now, there are hot debates on who Rey’s parents are, if Snoke is Plagueis, what Luke’s role will be in the next movie, if Han Solo pushed the button on Ren’s saber, if Finn has the Force, and even if Kylo Ren is a secret plant by the Light Side.

a weird photoshop I made of Kylo Ren with a penguin head
These debates fuel excitement and fun for the fanbase, new and old, because we don’t know. If this movie had been based on the novels, then we would already know and there would be no fun in speculation. Remember the prequels? Nobody debated on if Anakin would become Darth Vader, because we already knew. Would Obi Wan live through his duel on that lava planet? Yeah, we knew. Life or death moments in movies don’t feel exciting if we already know who lives through them. The Prequels suffered for this, majorly.

And Disney couldn’t afford another prequel. I recently rewatched all of the Star Wars movies in preparations for the new one, and yeah, the prequels have some bad, bad moments that make you cringe. There are good things in those movies, but there are major issues that keep the prequels from being good. I personally believe one thing that made the writing in the scripts so bad was the forced (pun?) limitations based on it being a story that has already played out. We had already had a movie that told how Anakin’s story begins (Episodes 5 and 6), so the prequels were unable to write plots that could surprise us.

TFA could not fall into that trap. It needed to start fresh, as it begun a new era of Star Wars as owned by Disney. It played on the past bringing parallels with A New Hope, but it did not rely on them to create compelling characters.

My experiences with the Expanded Universe are as follows: I’ve read the The Thrawn Trilogy (very good books, actually) and played a few Star Wars video games that I barely remember. I’m not as attached to the EU as someone who has read the hundreds of novels, so maybe I just don’t get it, but (there’s always a but) Star Wars movies (not games or novels) are mainstream, and there’s no reason that TFA shouldn’t be considered a great movie by the average moviegoer.



My review:

I loved the movie very much. I think it's the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. The new characters were excellent, with a wonderful cast. BB-8 was the perfect new droid cast member. I thought the final scene was ingenious. Han Solo got what he deserved (a good death) (seriously, who wanted Han Solo to sit around and die of old age???). The Starkiller base was the weakest part, being that it was just another, bigger Death Star, but it wasn’t all that bad. Kylo Ren was my favorite character, and I think he’s what Anakin should have been in the prequels.

My Official Review Score for The Force Awakens: 9.6/10 



Predictions for the next movies:

Kylo Ren will be the hero in the end. He will lose his struggle against the light. In that way, he will ultimately mirror Darth Vader.

Rey will fall to the dark side, as she is the new “Anakin.” I predict this because she would have likely slaughtered the defeated Kylo in her rage had the planet not broke apart and separated them.

Rey is a Kenobi, mostly because of her accent. However, I believe there will be a character who has the last name “Skywalker” by the end of this trilogy. I don’t think Star Wars would end the Skywalker lineage with Luke.

Supreme Leader Snoke is Darth Plagueis, yeah! I believe this theory. I believe he created Anakin Skywalker by his Sith powers (remember, he had no father), and I believe he may have also created Rey. Darth Plagueis is the Sith Lord who trained Sidious, AKA Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine believed he killed his master, but Plagueis had control over death, and so lived (notice his broken face). For those who are confused, there’s a scene where Palpatine and Anakin talk about the story of Darth Plagueis in the prequels:


My last prediction is this: Jedi Academy. I think that this trilogy will end with Luke Skywalker having fulfilled his mission from Yoda, to pass on what he has learned and restore the Jedi Order. I don’t know if Luke will live until the end of the movies, but his influence will at the school for Jedi.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fallout 4 DLC Desires


Fallout 4 is probably my new favorite game. I love the Minecraft + Bethesda RPG feel of it. I love collecting literally EVERYTHING. I love the settlements and power armor. Everything. As a rabid fan, of course I want more. I wanted to give my opinion on what I want to see come from the downloadable content for this game. 

Here are my ideas: 



New Structure Types: Concrete, Glass, and Plastic

Concrete – Gives us the ability to build walls, floors, and ceilings in the design of bricks or gray concrete.
Glass – Allows us to build our own custom shaped greenhouses, window walls, planetariums, or even aquariums. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could make a glass structure filled with water?
Plastic – I want to be able to build a 1950-futuristic building using the plastic resource.



+Just for Fun

Fixed item placement on consoles: When I place a Giddeyup Buttercup, it sinks through the tables, floors, or shelves. I want this fixed so I can decorate more! I want to be able to display my “Gilded Grasshopper” without it sinking into the ground.
Settlement Protectron: I want to be able to build one protectron in each of my settlements. I want to be able to choose the model and also wire it to “auto-start” when my siren sounds. I want to be able to improve him with upgrades, all of which give my settlement bonuses to defense.
Settlement Distress Beacon: It would be fun to have a device that allows me to have my settlement get attacked. Maybe this distress beacon calls raiders, synths, or super mutants to try and steal your treasures. Basically, it taunts enemies to coming and attacking. I know it could be exploited for easy money, but perhaps enemies called by this simply do not drop weapons or armor.
Settlement High-Pitched Beacon: This would be similar to the Distress Beacon, but only it draws in animals. So, basically it would give you a button to call deathclaws, mirelurks, yao gai, and molerats to come and try to kill you.



Pets

I know you can purchase Junkyard Dogs for your settlements, but it would be cool if you could get other pets, such as cats. These pets would give a bonus to your happiness score as well as secondary features.
Cats – Owning a cat gives you the “Cat Reflexes” perk, allowing you to take 5% less damage from falling.
Goldfish – Owning a goldfish gives you the “Aqua Man” perk, allowing you to swim 5% faster.
Pet Molerat – Owning a pet molerat gives you the “Digger” perk, allowing you reap one extra unit of concrete from producing resources. Also, if you pet it regularly, you’ll be healed of your molerat disease if you caught it.
Bighorner – Bring one back and acknowledge New Vegas. Owning a pet bighorner gives you the “Big Fella” perk, buffing your resistance to staggering by 5%.



New Settlement Objects

Mannequins: You can place clothes/armor/weapons on them for display.
Weapons Racks: Display your weapons.
Model Display: Display the robot models that you can find.
Other models: There are small models of several things that are already in the game. The small ship inside the canned food place. The tiny house. I want to be able to make them.
More Mounted Heads: We need mounted deathclaw, yao guai, and mutant hound heads (also, mirelurk queen and radscorpion claws!).
Buses, cars, trains, etc.: I want to be able to place a bus hanging off my roof with a bed inside.



A New Radio Station with Three Dog

Character-wise, this doesn’t make sense. Three Dog wouldn’t abandon the Capital Wasteland. No! ….But I don’t care. DC isn’t that far from Boston, and Three Dog was the BEST radio host. The ones since have been good in their own ways, but Three Dog is the king and I want him back. That voice actor absolutely rocked that role. So, maybe he wasn’t careful with his info, but he’s still fantastic! MORE THREE DOG, PLEASE!



World Building Mechanics

Open-World > Linear – I want the DLC to be set in an open area to explore. This is why Point Lookout was better than Operation Anchorage. Bethesda RPGs are meant to be open.
Quality over Quantity - Getting 1-2 larger, meatier DLC experiences would be preferable to getting 5 smaller content packs.
Legendary Mode – I want a difficulty that is harder than survival. I want enemies that are actually challenging.
Moral choices matter less than choices in playstyle. I don’t care if I have to make “good” or “evil” decisions, rather than be given the choice in how I complete missions. I want stealth players, speech players, and tank players to all have options. I want to be able to win by poisoning wine or simply going behind the NPC’s back.
A story that doesn’t revolve around robots, synths, aliens, or ghouls. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of those stories. I just want to see DLC that adds a new type of enemy. How about giving the player power armor that makes you function as if you were on land, only underwater? What about creating the opposite of the Brotherhood of Steel, like a Brotherhood of Nature. They use rads to bond themselves with natural things to make animal or plant-human-hybrids.
New random encounters/events. Some of the best ways in which Bethesda games shine is due to random encounters that you meet while aimlessly exploring. Like, once, I was just flying in my Jetpack around Boston, and I met two copies of the same person on a building, arguing about who was or was not a synth. It left me with the choice of who lives (which I figured out with a speech check). But that random encounter had nothing to do with any quest. It was just a cool thing I discovered randomly. I want more of that.
Story: A Salem Witch Trial I felt like the Witch Museum was a missed opportunity. Also, the interior looks nothing like how it does in real life. Where are the crappy animatronics? Where are the witch statues? I want a DLC story focused on witches. I want there to be a new, uncovered, “basement” in the museum, where the crappy animatronics have been placed. I want a new trial.



Powered Up

New Power Armor customizations – We’ve collected a million units of power armor. Give us some nifty upgrades, even useless visual ones. Such as, let us plate our power armor in gold (so we can display all of our extras in ridiculous ways). How about Winged Jetpacks, so we can glide? How about arm upgrades with “Magnetized grips” so that I can climb the sides of buildings? Arms that let us shoot shock wave? How about Super Mario Bros. Movie-style rocket-jump boots?
A power-armor obstacle course/racetrack. This was almost teased with the Atom Cats.

Finally, my last idea for Fallout 4 DLC is this:
Vertibird Power Armor Delivery You should be able to store a set of power armor in a vertibird and have it delivered to you no matter where you are in the Commonwealth. I LOVE how power armor works in Fallout 4, but the one downside is having to fast travel back and forth when the going gets tough. Wouldn’t it be great if I could just call in my power armor to come to me when I need it? The Batman Arkham games have this idea, sort of. Bruce Wayne calls in for parts or his Batsuit and it rockets to him. That would be cool in FO4.



Well, thank you, dear readers. Leave feedback in the comments or add your own ideas. In the small chance that Bethesda Games Studios sees this, THANK YOU for making my new favorite game of all time. I love every aspect of it and I’m hungry for MORE MORE MORE!

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Some of the big things I did in 2015


Saw “Impractical Jokers” at the Peabody Opera House
Sculpted a Nintendo statue that went viral
I participated in a friendly Smash Bros. Tournament
I taught Social Science at my school
I bought Oxyborb.com back
I went to Wizard World Comic Con
I hunted Amiibo during the craze
I beat the Witcher 3
I began a reread project of A Song of Ice and Fire
I went to a music festival called SOHO
I went on a solo tour of Springfield and took pictures with Abe Lincoln
I worked on my book and edited several books for other people
I saved a kid from choking
I had a college buddy pass away. The first person to read my book, actually.
I went on a float trip that was a bit of a disaster
I saw the new Polar Bears at the Zoo
I went on a crazy road trip to Chicago and stayed at a different house each night
I wrote in a journal consistently every single day
I had my first jury duty
I bought my first Halloween animatronic
I had one total sick day at work
I played in a pumpkin patch and carved a jack-o’-lantern
I was a monster in a haunted trail
I bought a nativity set (a Christmas gift)
I saw a Jesus Circus
I took two friends Christmas shopping
I saw a new Star Wars movie
I went out to Silvercreek with awesome people from work
I saw a friend I haven’t seen since SIUE
I met a bunch of cousins’ children
I bought a boomerang
I played Fallout 4 and love it
I went to a Farmer’s Tan Market show

2015, overall, was a great year. It's also was very transitional for me. I had some job promotions, responsibility changes. I tried a lot of new things and went outside of my comfort zone. I kept up with my blogging and writing, although my editing of my novel had a pause during which I had to write a million lesson plans. I went on a few adventures, the best of which was my road trip to Chicago. 2014 I was a little reclusive, but 2015 I learned how to balance myself. I made new friends. I took chances on people. I dove into social situations where I didn't know anyone.

Looking forward to 2016, there are a world of changes at hand, and I don't mean "New Year's Resolutions that I say I'll do but never end up doing." I have major goals that I have to complete, not out of desire but out of necessity. I don't think these changes will be too hard, but they will be interesting. Most of my challenges waited on me paying off my car loans, and I'm almost there. I should hit it by January. Party!

Anyway, happy new year to you.