Star Trek: Voyager

startrekvoyagerStar Trek: Voyager is the worst Star Trek show. And by that I don’t mean it’s the fifth-best Star Trek show. I mean it’s just a bad show.

And, yes, it’s worse than Star Trek: Enterprise, which wasn’t very good either. But at least Enterprise had some interesting crew and tried to do a few things, although it annoyingly ignored canon at times. Still, that’s better than Star Trek: Voyager, which was an exercise in the writers growing far too comfortable (read: complacent) with the genre and the era.

What Works
Interesting premise, flinging the ship and crew seventy thousand light years from Federation space. One query with this is that Kirk and Picard regularly had their ships flung to the far reaches of the galaxy, and always got back within forty minutes. But at least the idea is sound.

Robert Picardo is excellent as the Doctor, and Jeri Ryan strong as Seven of Nine. Robert Beltran brings a quiet nobility to Command Chakotay, but is underused (allegedly, because Beltran was so outspoken about the direction of the show). Kate Mulgrew is a good actress and was solid as Star Trek’s first commanding female officer but, unfortunately, Captain Kathryn Janeway is a terrible character.

What Doesn’t Work
Mulgrew herself described Janeway as ‘bipolar’ to explain why she was so erratic, although apparently the reason for this were different writers had different ideas on how Janeway should be portrayed, so were always pushing their own agenda given their opportunity.

The rest of the cast is bland – Tuvok (Tim Russ) was just a Spock clone without what made Spock interesting (the half-human side). Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) was meant to be killed off a few seasons in, which shows how valued he was. B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson) just seemed to run around being angry or frustrated with everybody. Tom Paris (Robert Duncan MacNeill) is likeable, but doesn’t get to do much. Kes (Jennifer Lien) walks around in a perpetually dreamy state, and Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is appalling, with little to offer once Voyager moves out of the regions he knows. All these characters become one-dimensional, even when their lives change circumstantially. They hit their beats, do their thing, and that’s it for them.

Following The Original Series, the writers struggled creating adversarial races. The Ferengi were initially laughable, and the writers could never make the Romulans work as this omnipresent threat. The Breen were often mentioned but never went anywhere. Ultimately, to create threatening aliens, the writers fell back on using a warrior archetype, which meant they just cloned the Klingons, e.g. the Jem’Hadar were just juiced-up Klingon, while the Cardassians were cultured Klingons. What helped the Cardassians come to life were two compelling characters, Gul Dukat and Elim Garak, played brilliantly by Marc Alaimo and Andrew Robinson. Through Dukat and Garak, the Cardassians gained depth. The Borg were genuinely good as mechanised Klingons. In Star Trek: Voyager, the initial threat were the Kazon, another brand of alien who were just Klingon Lite.

Initially, Janeway integrates Chakotay’s Maquis crew onto Voyager, which is meant to create conflict and tension. That’s briefly explored, but then dropped. The show then unfolds as a clone of Star Trek: Next Generation, with the crew stopping to investigate new life, new civilisations, and all that. You’d think given how far they are from home, there’d be some urgency about their journey, and that their Starfleet integrity would be tested more. It happens a few times, but never with any real complexity.

Robert Beltran was also critical of the show as it went on, saying that Janeway had grown tyrannical, that supporting characters were forgotten, and any time any situation came up, all Janeway had to do was consult Seven of Nine’s repository of Borg knowledge for a solution, thus it made the rest of them redundant.

The technobabble progressively grows out of control so that it undermines any dramatic tension. If you look at the climax of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as a comparison, we have a very simple set up: the ship doesn’t have enough power to warp away before the Genesis device explodes. Spock goes down and we see him fixing something to do with the engine. The Enterprise regains power and warps away. Nice, simple, yet compelling. We understand that. Technobabble used? Zero. In Voyager, you know they’ll get out of any situation just by spouting some meaningless technobabble. It becomes a deus ex machina. Then there’s the Borg: they were intimidating in Star Trek: The Next Generation. In Star Trek: Voyager, they’ve lost any real threat. Whenever the crew of the Voyager deal with them, it’s with complete aplomb.

Finally, I’m unsure why the needed so many time travel stories. The writers have the vastness of the galaxy, they’re in uncharted space, and they still have to screw around with time travel. That goes infinitely for the finale, which has to rate as one of the laziest and most offensive finales in television history.

How I Would’ve Done It
We can keep the premise. We can keep the bulk of the characters. Tom Paris is good, but I would’ve played on him as disreputable – always looking for an angle to try to get Voyager home quicker. Cut Tuvok’s long-standing friendship with Janeway. And cut him as a Vulcan. Make him a Romulan observer who was aboard (for their initial mission), and now has to integrate into the crew, but whose motivations and choices are often questionable, although he learns morality along the way. Harry Kim and Neelix are out. Instead, I would’ve used Nog (Aron Eisenberg) from Star Trek: Deep Space 9, who now has to embrace his Ferengi instincts to barter with people in the Delta Quadrant for supplies and resources. Atop of being a Starfleet officer, he has to learn to accept who he is.

Janeway and Chakotay can stay, but both are pushed way down the chain of command – Janeway to Lieutenant Commander, Chakotay to equal rank, more general experience, but no real bridge qualification. When the Voyager is shunted into the Delta Quadrant, the bridge crew – including the Captain and the First Officer – are killed. Janeway survives because she’s in Astrometics, and is now thrown way out of her depth because she has to take command. The crew are divided about her. Half want to uphold Starfleet principles, the other half feel they should just do whatever’s required to get the Voyager home as quickly as possible. Everybody’s unsure whether Janeway has the capability to command. It doesn’t help that Chakotay feels he should be in charge. Torres also stays, but not as this fledgling engineer, but chief engineer who’s been around, is decorated, and has the respect of the crew. Her support of Janeway validates Janeway’s standing.

Throughout, Janeway’s ideals are tested. But the Voyager is a big ship, and she has a lot of people wanting to get home, so there are times she has to compromise for one reason or another – either to keep the ship functioning, because she finds a possible shortcut, or simply because she recognizes the crew’s coming apart. Voyager (the ship) also experiences wear. Throughout the existing show, Voyager always looks pristine, but the ship would become scarred, run out of resources, and even go through stretches (as in episodes) where systems aren’t working. It’ not like they can just stop at a starbase and get a service, so keeping the ship up and running drives the urgency of their mission.

Mad Max: Fury Road

madmaxfuryroadI didn’t like Mad Max: Fury Road. There, I said it.

Lots of people did like it. Lots of people love it. And they’ll tell you how great it is. I’m fine with that, whereas if that happened with some other movies (e.g. Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Man of Steel) I might try to convince people otherwise. But, as far as Fury Road goes, I can see why people enjoy it.

I didn’t hate it, like those other movies I’ve named. I just didn’t connect to it in any meaningful way as a Mad Max movie. If it was a Furiosa movie, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s a great action movie. But it’s not. It is a Mad Max movie, and that’s the standard by which I measure it.

What Works
Charlize Theron is magnificent as Furiosa, and Furiosa is the only truly fully-rounded character in the story. The supporting characters are good. Visually, Fury Road is spectacular, bordering on awe-inspiring. You can sit there and lose yourself in the visuals.

What Doesn’t Work
My biggest query is that Max is a guest star in his own movie. People will suggest this parallels Mad Max 2 – Max is just a loner getting caught in other people’s problems. But Mad Max 2 is about redemption. Max doesn’t care anymore. He forsakes a man who begs for his help until the man promises gasoline, he forsakes Pappagallo’s plea for help, and it’s not until the end – after he’s truly lost everything – that he decides to throw his lot in for a greater good, only to be duped. The story follows him at all times. The plight of the refinery is an aside to his journey.

Fury Road is strictly about Furiosa’s plight. Max is captured at the beginning, then used in a way where he has no control over his own fate. When he finally frees himself and decides to help, it’s not for any spiritual or emotional growth of his own (although some might say he’s motivated by flashbacks of whatever horror befell his family). He is an aside to Furiosa’s journey. Furiosa is the one driving the story. This is her story. And that’s great for Furiosa. But this is meant to be Max’s story, hence the title, Mad Max. (The same problem undermined Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.)

Another query is the lack of the mystique around the character. In MM2, we have a brilliant scene where Max is cuffed by the people of the refinery, and he casually picks the locks, frees himself, listens to them rant, and then tells them if they want to get out of there, they talk to him. This is on top of outwitting his pursuers at the beginning and capturing the snake guarding the gyro. In Fury Road, our introduction to Max is him eating a two-headed lizard, his car getting trashed, and him being used as a ‘blood bag’. The one time there’s a chance for some mystique-building – Max dropping back to intercept their pursuers – it happens off-screen.

The world is gorgeous but feels absolute, like it’s always been. The gangs are so entrenched and idiosyncratic, that you’d imagine that they’ve been like this for decades, whereas in both Mad Max II and Beyond Thunderdome there’s clear references to the world before, so you actually understand how horrible yet necessary a transformation these people have undergone to survive. That’s confronting. And cool.

In Fury Road, the Vuvalini – the old women Furiosa brings Max to – talk distantly about the ‘Green Place’. Given the age of the Vuvalini and the vagueness of their memories, the Green Place must’ve existed (at the very least) decades ago. Max would’ve been a child before the world turned to shit. It’s hard to believe he could share the same Max backstory (although there’s no reason he has to) as the original – his leathers and Interceptor might have nothing to do with previously being a cop. However, ironically, I thought the Mel Gibson Max would’ve fit much better into this story, and given the world and its problems context.

Tom Hardy – usually a great actor – also seems to struggle with the lack of dialogue, much of his emoting overdone and better-suited to a silent picture. When he does speak, he manages some bizarre accent that sounds like a mongrelized South African. The Australian accent is one of the hardest to pull off. Actors who can’t, should just leave it alone.

How I Would’ve Done It
Firstly, I’d still use Mel Gibson as Max. I understand Mel Gibson’s somewhat on the outer, and that Hollywood loves their reboots, but the original Max is an interesting character, and still has a story to share. It would’ve been interesting to revisit an older Max.

I would’ve opened with a V8 Interceptor – identical to Max’s in Mad Max 2 – pursuing a gang car. The gang car leads the Interceptor into an ambush. One gang car is destroyed. The Interceptor is run off the road. The door opens. A booted foot plants itself on the road. Somebody emerges in the police leathers. But it’s not Max but somebody about eighteen (who I’ll name Kid). The gang cars pull up. There’s a shoot out. Kid is overwhelmed. Then Max does arrive, emerging from behind a dune. The gang members are petrified. Max kills several of them. Other gang members flee. Max talks to Kid, and in him sees the son he would’ve lost. Kid is in awe of Max – Max has literally become a legend over the years. Nobody truly believes he exists (and the implication is he’s done other things to help people out since Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome). Max is more fascinated by the Interceptor and wants to know where Kid got it.

Kid offers to show Max and drives him out into the desert and explains that he wants to bring law back to the wasteland. Max finds the suggestion fanciful, but Kid brings him to a secret underground bunker filled with weaponry, cars, and other supplies. Kid explains his dad was in the army, and when things started to go bad, they took refuge in this bunker with other families, whilst resources were commandeered and militarized. But over the years, the others have died, leaving Kid alone. Recently, though, he’s heard a voice from the radio, which he shows to Max. The voice is from some faraway government installation, which has begun to airdrop supplies to remote regions, as they’re trying to restore civilization. But out here, the leader of the gangs, known as the Grand Abbott, is stealing the supplies. Kid wants to help, but it’s a question of getting Max involved. Max has stayed away from people and civilization for decades, but now must help to rediscover his own humanity.


gothamPrequels – they’ve become the rage. And we have Smallville to thank for this.

Smallville (2001) told the story of a young Clark Kent as he developed his powers and learned about his heritage and his role on Earth – the foundation of why he’d one day become Superman.

For the most part, Smallville works. Casting is great, with Tom Welling (Clark Kent) and Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor) brilliant in their roles. The writers also recognized the spirit of the Superman character, instead of making him the gloomy, mopey, emo Superman who appears in Zack Snyder’s two interpretations (Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman). Where the show can struggle is it can be formulaic (a freak of week Clark has to tackle – although this isn’t surprising with twenty-plus episodes per season), and in the continuity the canon has to recognize once the characters move to Metropolis. But otherwise, it’s definitely worth watching.

Then Christopher Nolan gave us Batman Begins (2005), which looks at how Bruce Wayne became Batman – beyond the murder of his parents which fuels him, but also looking at his physical and psychological training. Nolan also grounds the character so that everything we see could just about be possible in our world.

Gotham (2014) tells the story of the younger Bruce Wayne, picking up the story shortly after Thomas and Martha Wayne are killed, and follows Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) tackling police corruption and a city run by the underworld, as well as the emergence of villains from the Batman mythology. Effectively, everybody gets a prequel story, which sounds great in theory.


What Works
Um, nothing?

That’s harsh.

The casting is generally good. Robin Lord Taylor is exceptional as Oswald Cobblepot, the man who’ll one day become the Penguin. McKenzie is solid as Gordon, as is Donal Louge as his questionable partner, Harvey Bullock. The show looks great, too.

But that’s about it.

What Doesn’t Work
Gotham is already overrun with crime and the police department is corrupt. How much worse can it get?

Young Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) spends a lot of his time in his study, whining. Even if you knew nothing about the Batman mythology, you would’ve thought that after his parents were killed, he’d throw himself into becoming stronger so the same fate never befalls him, e.g. getting self-defense lessons, learning karate, lifting a weight or two, and so on. We’re talking about a kid who’s meant to be so messed up that he eventually becomes Batman. Wayne in Gotham is a whiny brat. I can only foresee that this Bruce Wayne will become Bratman.

Lots of the crimes that do happen are offbeat (for the want of a better word) – a precursor, no doubt, to what Gotham will one day become, although (as a friend put it) it feels more like it’s a precursor to the Adam West Batman (1966) series. For example, in an early episode, a murderer kills their victims by strapping a weather balloon to their wrists so they float up into the sky. The detective work behind investigating these crimes is banal.

Most of the villains from Batman’s rogues’ gallery are loitering around in one form or another. Bratty Wayne even hangs around with a young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who’ll become Catwoman. And all these characters revolve around Gordon. You wonder why these relationships don’t come into play when Gordon is promoted to Commissioner. It seems he knows everybody. He has a perverse friendship with Cobbeplot.

That’s not to say you can’t make these relationships work. Smallville did it, with Clark becoming friends with Lex Luthor (before he became evil), and falling in love with Lois Lane (Erica Durance). But in Gotham the use of these characters feels more like a menagerie of name-dropping.

How I Would’ve Done It
Because it’s a television series, I’m not going to look at a specific story, but setting up the world to sustain a season’s worth of stories.

Foremost, the city of Gotham needs a revamp. It needs to be beautiful, with low crime rates. It should be the city where everybody wants to live. The police department is beyond reproach. The Mayor – backed by Thomas and Martha Wayne – has a zero tolerance for crime. This set-up works better because we can see the city decline. We can see the underworld start to run the city. We can see the police department grow corrupt. This also gives impetus as to why Bruce Wayne becomes Batman – he’s trying to return the city to what it was and, by an extension of that, undo the murder of his parents. We have an arc then: what the city was, and what it becomes. We also have motivation.

Following Thomas and Martha Wayne’s deaths, Wayne Enterprise founders as there’s spills on the board with various directors trying to take control – some trying to uphold the Waynes’ benevolent programs, while others are more interested in profit. This affects the city and the incumbent Mayor.

Fast-forward a couple of years. One of my issues in the existing Gotham is Bruce just seems too young to have any direct influence on the story. Push him up to fourteen or fifteen and he can start to fraternize with adults without being considered just a brat. He has trained obsessively, running through disciplines (e.g. karate, kung fu, etc.), retaining the best instructors from around the world. At night, he goes out and hangs around with the wrong crowds, trying to understand what makes these people tick. The murder of his parents haunts him. His daredevil behavior desensitizes him to fear.

A detective is reassigned to the Gotham Police Department, and finds not that they’re corrupt, but complacent. They’ve had it good too long. This is a worry because there’s scuttlebutt of a new crime boss who’s organizing the underworld and extending their influence. As the story goes on, the detective learns about other detectives who begin to accept bribes. The crime boss’s influence grows pervasive. He gets behind a political candidate to oppose the Mayor, who’s begun struggling without the backing of the Waynes. The boss tries to eliminate his rivals. This begins a gang war – the first time Gotham has experienced such bloodshed.

So far, I haven’t used any names from the Batman canon, outside of Bruce Wayne. These would all be new characters. The established characters regiment the universe, where – at this point – the universe should be nebulous. This gives greater license to maneuver. Then those existing characters can gradually be seeded in as Gotham continues to devolve, with a view that the universe grows more colourful and idiosyncratic as it goes on.


creedpostersmallerI’ve always loved fight movies, even though the fight genre is usually formulaic and predictable, e.g. an underdog will enter some sort of fight game, come good, and – more often than not – win.

This is where the recent Southpaw (2015) – starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, and Forest Whitaker – didn’t work. Gyllenhaal played Billy Hope, an undefeated champion sitting on a 44–0 record. When a personal tragedy derails his career, he enlists trainer Tick Wills (Whitaker) to help him train, regain his title, and get his life back on track and rescue his daughter from welfare.

This story is the antithesis of the fight movie formula. Hope sits 44–0. He’s not an underdog. He shouldn’t even need to seek out anybody to train him. All he has to do is get back in the ring and apply the skills that got him to 44–0. It’s the other guy – regardless how well-credentialled – who should be the underdog.

This is something Stallone understood through his Rocky series. Through every movie, he cast himself as the underdog. In Rocky he is a bum versus the great Apollo Creed. In Rocky II, Apollo claimed he went easy in the first fight (somewhat validated by his behaviour in Rocky) and is determined to make amends, and Rocky struggles with the vision in his right eye, forcing him to fight right-handed. In Rocky III, Rocky is deemed too old and too domesticated to face the younger, hungrier, and more powerful Clubber Lang. In Rocky IV, we have a freak of genetic engineering in a seven-foot-tall Russian, Ivan Drago. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky is now retired, old, and facing an undefeatable champion. Only in Rocky V is he pitched as the favourite, yet Stallone handicaps Rocky with brain damage, retirement, and sneak attacks (whenever Tommy Gunn gets the advantage, it’s because Rocky’s walking away and Gunn ambushes him).

Something else that’s needed in the fight genre are stakes. Again, Stallone always has stakes on the line – usually self-respect and the pursuit of survival. In The Karate Kid, Daniel fights to earn respect from the crew who bully him. In Warrior, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton) fights to provide for his family (mortgage is outstanding, and his daughter needs open heart surgery). Southpaw got this right, with Hope needing to get his life back on track so he can rescue his daughter from welfare.

Stakes are the reason we believe that our hero is taking the action they’re taking, why we root for them to succeed, and why we worry about them failing. In real life, it might be enough that somebody wants to be the best. In a story, we need a more tangible form of motivation.

That’s where Creed fails.

What Works
Stallone. Stallone is brilliant in Creed, trying to carry on now that his wife, Adrian (Talia Shire) and best friend Paulie (Burt Young) are gone. He also has a battle with cancer – an engagement with his own mortality. Probably the best thing about Rocky in this movie is the tactical advice he offers as a trainer to Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) following each round during Adonis’s fights. One of my queries on the Rocky series is Rocky’s sole strategy seems to be to stand there and have his head punched in until his opponent exhausts himself, and then Rocky knocks him out. It’s good to see Rocky strategise.

What Doesn’t Work
Nothing else really works. Some of it (e.g. some of the training sequences) border on laughable.

Adonis is the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed and, for reasons never truly explored, wants to become a fighter. Mostly, it’s because it’s what he’s meant to be, I guess. The weight of carrying the Creed name should threaten to asphyxiate Adonis, but it plays no real part other than to be a novelty, and to later get Adonis a title fight. Apollo’s death in the ring should cast a shadow, but only exists as background. So the stuff that could’ve been interesting isn’t.

Living with Apollo’s former wife, Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad), Adonis works in a securities firm, seeming – from all appearances – to have a cushy life. I guess you could make an argument that the story is about finding yourself, about chasing your true calling, but it’s hard to empathise with Adonis, or invest in his dreams, because he has no stakes. The pursuit of his dream is nothing more than an indulgence. If he’s not a rich brat, he’s a well-off brat. If he fails, he has a wealthy guardian to fall back on.

Although he’s embarrassed in an early sparring session, you also never get the feeling that Adonis is troubled in his bouts. He’s brash, cocky, and sure of himself. Compare that to the original Rocky, where Rocky has a heated exchange with Mickey, who tells Rocky he had the talent to become a good fighter and instead he became a leg-breaker. Had. Just in that exchange, we learn so much about Rocky and his relationship with Mickey. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that layered in Creed. From the moment Adonis decides to box professionally, you just know he’ll fight the champ.

How I Would’ve Done It
I would’ve ditched the illegitimate angle. Adonis could’ve been the legitimate son of Apollo, perhaps born six or seven months following Apollo’s death. Adonis pursued a career in boxing, showing a wealth of talent, and climbed as high as tenth or so in the world. But he never fully realised his abilities, and lost a string of important fights. He became a journeyman (as a boxer) and got involved with the wrong crowd, getting arrested several times. Finally, when his friends – headed by a minor gangster, Eight-ball – commit an armed robbery, Adonis is looking at possible hard time. Mary Anne Creed appeals to Rocky to help straighten out Adonis – Rocky owes her, after all, because he didn’t stop the fight in which Apollo was killed.

Rocky and Adonis form a begrudging friendship, where Rocky learns that fear – because of what happened to Apollo – has always undermined Adonis. In big fights, Adonis has been afraid to commit . Rocky trains and nurtures him and Adonis begins a climb up the ranks, until Rocky gets him a shot against the champion. Unfortunately, Adonis’s friends continue to have a hold on him, and try to leech from him, and Eight-ball tries to get Adonis to sign a contract. Feeling that debt to Apollo, Rocky intercedes and, later, is ambushed and beaten. Adonis goes to see Eight-ball. They argue, fight – Adonis runs amok – until Eight-ball draws a gun. Adonis surrenders himself but says he’ll never sign, and he’s done with the crew. Eight-ball realizes he no longer has a hold on Adonis, and lets him go.

Adonis learns that there’s some things worth dying for (family, loved ones, pursuit of dreams) and goes on to fight the champ.

MovieRant: Star Wars – The Farce Awakens

farceawakensMovies such as Star Wars: The Farce Awakens make me angry.
It’s endemic of contemporary Hollywood: looks great, slickly directed, wonderful special effects, but thin on story, driven by contrivance and, hey, that’s okay apparently, because that’s the standard nowadays, and you should just accept that.
That’s no reason to give a movie – or any story – a pass mark.
I have a number of issues with The Farce Awakens, and yet this blog is by no means exhaustive. Every time I think I’m done with it, something else pops to mind. So, for now, this is it (and this’ll contain spoilers):

  • Premise: Luke Skywalker has vanished.
    This is the best the collective talents of Lawrence Kasdan, Mike Arndt, and JJ Abrams could come up with.
    Luke Skywalker has vanished.
    I can just picture the trio sitting around a table, and one of them (probably JJ) saying, ‘We need to grab everybody immediately. We need to shock them. How about we begin the story and Luke’s vanished?’
    Dramatic, maybe. Intelligent?
    Er, no.
    Examine this premise in greater detail: so Luke’s trying to establish a new Jedi Order. Kylo Ren (who I shall now christen Darth Tantrum), falls to the Dark Side, and with the help of the First Order kills the Jedi (wow, original). Disconsolate, Luke vanishes.
    So, the heroic Luke Skywalker decides that while the First Order is establishing itself as the new dark threat, as Darth Tantrum terrorises the masses, as planets are being destroyed and Luke’s friends are getting killed, Luke’s going to leave Rey (who looks as if she’ll be his daughter) on Jakku with that monster thing that was paying her for scraps (he’s the one Rey’s handed to in the flashback), and go on a search for the first Jedi temple (according to Han), because somehow this is what the galaxy needs right now (but at least it sounds mystical). Moreover, it’s somehow wiser to plant Rey on a planet open to First Order traffic, rather than take her with you, given nobody knows where you are. I know which I think is the better hiding place.
    But wait, there’s more.
    There’s going to be a map to Luke’s location which the Resistance and the First Order are fighting to get (why they don’t just look up the first Jedi temple is beyond me), and which is in the hands of Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow), who Darth Tantrum slays, even though later he abducts Rey because she’s seen the map and he thinks he can draw it from her.
    Then, when we get the map (I can’t make this stuff up), it’s like a jigsaw piece which fits in only one spot on a galactic map, and presumably you could just overlay on an existing map to see exactly where it is. (It’s probably not meant to be that simplistic, but that’s how it came across.)
    This is what we’ve been waiting for.
    Foundations are important to me in building a story, and this is not a strong foundation. Personally, I found the premise grossly insulting, and a contrivance to generate a story that’s not a logical evolution of the timeline from the original movies, but simply a way to try and shock and wow audiences from the get-go.
    As an aside: In Return of the Jedi, Luke and Leia have a conversation about the Force, where Luke says, ‘You have that power, too. In time, you will learn to use it as I have.’
    No, apparently Leia didn’t. You might argue she has and we just didn’t see it. Well, if she had, then she’d also be a target of the First Order, wouldn’t she? (Which really suggests that Leia should’ve been the target of Darth Tantrum, and not the powerless Han, and the movie might’ve made more sense. Of course, Harrison Ford wanted to be killed in Return of the Jedi, so now belatedly he’s gotten his wish. Watching this, I know how he felt.)

  • Myth: In an interview, JJ Abrams explained his logic behind The Farce Awakens:

      ‘… the thing that struck me the hardest, which was the idea that doing a story that took place nearly 40 years after Jedi meant that there would be a generation for whom Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia would be as good as a myth.

      ‘They’d be as old and as mythic as the tale of King Arthur. They would be characters who they may have heard of, but maybe not. They’d be characters who they might believe existed, or just sounded like a fairy tale.’

    This sits at the core of your story?

    King Arthur (according to medieval histories) fought in the 5th and 6th centuries, so he’s had some time to cede into legend and myth. Luke fought the Empire thirty years ago, and he’s already a myth? In thirty years, he’s ‘as old and as mythic’ as a fifteen-hundred-year-old legend? Not to mention:

      1. For much of that interim, Luke (and his friends) have still been running around.
      2. So Luke helped overthrow the Empire … which transitioned directly into the First Order. How exactly would you become a legend when your victory was redundant?
      3. Rey thinks Luke Skywalker is a myth, but hasn’t heard of Princess Leia or Han Solo, yet has heard of Han Solo the smuggler? Um, sure.

    Does anybody else think this premise is just a little bit insane?

  • Setting: Set thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the Empire still seems to be very much in control of the galaxy. There’s a reference to the ‘New Republic’, yet Princess Leia still leads a rag-tag resistance, so I’m unsure how that reconciles.
    You might suggest that the First Order have just been established under the auspices of the Supreme Leader Smeagol.
    But, wait.
    The First Order conscript kids from an early age, then brainwashes them into serving the First Order as Stormtroopers. We see there’s tons of Stormtroopers. Tons. And if Finn’s in his twenties, they must be, too (although Finn says this is his first mission, so there’d have to be Stormtroopers who are older). So this practice has been going on a while.
    In Rey’s flashback, she’s a little girl when Darth Tantrum attacks, so at least ten years have elapsed since that memory and events that the movie’s text-crawl establishes (so, back to the original point, I can only guess Luke’s been vanished about ten years, and Darth Tantrum’s been in training that long).
    And the First Order has, as a whole, had the time to build a Starkiller weapon. We never see the Republic, but we see the First Order is as magnificent and dreadful as the Empire, so this is the only sense of proportion we get.
    Which begs the question …
    What the hell was the point of the original movies if circumstances are just the same? What the hell was the point of Luke Skywalker confronting Darth Vader and the Emperor, and the assault on various Death Stars, and celebrations on multiple planets at the end of Return of the Jedi, if everyone and everything is largely just still in the same position at the beginning of Farce?
    It invalidates everything the first three movies are about, which is grossly insulting. Of course, JJ Abrams is good at that. In his Star Trek reboot, he wiped out ten movies and five series so he could launch Star Drek and insult a fanbase that has been building for fifty years.
    We don’t see anything new in Farce. It’s not like the First Order is an evolution of the Empire, or is some perverted schism, or that it’s a completely different threat (as posed).
    It’s just the same Empire, repackaged.
    Which leads to …

  • Derivative: Tell me what movie this is: A droid containing secret information falls into the hands of a young farmer who’s strong with the Force. Drawn into an unwitting battle against the enemy, the young farmer must return the droid to Princess Leia, so the information can be used in the fight against the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy launch a powerful weapon, a station capable of destroying a planet. However, the Resistance discover a vulnerability in the station. They launch a team of x-wing fighters to exploit the vulnerability and destroy the station.
    It’s the plot from A New Hope.
    And it’s also the plot from Farce, which entirely recycles A New Hope, just with a few different turns.
    There are even greater derivatives throughout: the antagonist is related (Darth Vader/Darth Tantrum), we’re setting up a familial battle (Vader-Luke/Tantrum-Rey), the lone Jedi begins the story in self-imposed exile (Obi Wan/Luke), etc.
    These aren’t homages. A homage is Finn accidentally triggering the chess game on the Millennium Falcon. Then we all think, Oh, how cute, the chess set from the first movie. That’s a homage. These are narrative choices designed to manipulate you into thinking they’ve tapped into the Star Wars universe the prequels missed. In reality? It’s just glorified recycling, reminiscent of any bad Hollywood sequel which’ll rehash the events of its predecessor.
    It left the story feeing flat, stale, and trodden.
    As an aside: after losing two Death Stars, the Empire is apparently still building weapons replete with vulnerabilities so they can be destroyed.
    I can just imagine the First Order’s hierarchy conversation with their engineers:

      Engineer: ‘We’ve just finished our new weapon, sir!’
      General Hux: ‘What’s it do?’
      Engineer: ‘It harnesses the power of a sun so that we can destroy a planet, or even multiple planets, sir.’
      General Hux: ‘Excellent! Any vulnerabilities?’
      Engineer: ‘No, sir. We learned from the assaults on the two Death Stars.’
      General Hux: ‘That won’t do at all.’
      Engineer: ‘No, sir?’
      General Hux: ‘No, not at all. Go back and implement a vulnerability.’
      Engineer: ‘Sir?’
      General Hux: ‘Our enemies must have a chance, however slim, of destroying our weapon.’
      Engineer: ‘But, sir …!’
      General Hux: ‘Now!’
      Engineer: ‘Yes, sir.’


  • Protagonist: Whose story is this? If I asked you, whose story is being told in the originals, you’d answer, ‘Luke Skywalker.’ Sure, there’s a supporting cast, and some of them have their own arcs, but they all exist to serve Luke’s story (except in Return of the Jedi, where they’re largely just given filler duties whilst the important story plays out between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor). If I asked the same question about the prequels, you’d say, ‘Anakin Skywalker.’ It’s not very well done, but it’s true all the same.
    But here?
    The story begins with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clearly being established as the hero of the piece, but is then shunted off to Finn (John Boyega), which then interchanges with Rey (Daisy Ridley), although they’re countered by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), until Han Solo (Harrison Ford) arrives, and then it becomes about him. Let me throw in BB8 (BB8) also, who plays an important role in the first two acts, and then disappears for the third. (At least R2D2, who begins A New Hope, is right there until the end, and is referenced during the assault on the Death Star.)
    lacks focus, flitting between characters, trying to develop them equally, and never letting you know through whose eyes you’re meant to be seeing this galaxy and living these events. Even if the story was meant to be a transitional piece from the original characters to the new characters, we still needed to be following somebody through it all.
    You might argue that it’s an ensemble piece, like Avengers. The difference in Avengers (as an example) is that all the primary characters are equally weighted, and have equally important stuff to do, and equally contribute to the victory.
    Throughout Farce, we see hints it’s meant to be Rey’s story, yet Farce still tries to ally with this ensemble philosophy, which often leaves the narrative feeling unbalanced.
    As an aside: The characters felt orchestrated to fill niches (e.g. dashing, hopeful, idealistic), but (and some may disagree) were bland outside of those characteristics. Look at it this way:

    • Poe: fast-talking, defiant, brave
    • Finn: afraid, good-hearted
    • Rey: clever, yearning.

    And they just played to these types throughout, with no real dimension outside of these characteristics.
    The antagonists weren’t much better. Supreme Leader Snoke was just big and evil and Voldermorty. General Hux was a waste of Domhnall Gleeson. Adam Driver tried, but never really got out of emo mode. Also, given the age breakdown of two of the antagonists (and the third being a hologram), it just felt like we were at some Youth Empire Rally, with no real credible weight behind this threat. The original movies might’ve used a succession of little-known actors in those command-positions for the Empire, but at least they had presence and gravity.
    The best (new) character was BB8, a great addition to Star Wars pantheon of droids (although he was something of a rip-off of Wall-E with the expressive face). However, I’m unsure of the practicality behind a rolling metal ball. Sure, it’d work great on soft surfaces. But what happens when BB8 has to roll on concrete or metal? Besides being noisy, it’d be damaging to his body. Some might consider this a nitpick, but if you’re going to create a universe like this, it has to have some internal consistency as to how it works, and whether it would work. This just wouldn’t work.

  • Convenience: So Poe releases a droid, BB8, containing the secret information which just happens to come into the possession of Rey, who just happens ( or will happen) to be related to Luke; Finn just happens to rescue Poe who tells Finn about BB8, and Finn just happens to encounter Rey, and in fleeing a threat they just happen to run into the Millennium Falcon, which just happens to be on this planet (the odds of which seem slimmer given it has been, according to Han Solo, stolen repeatedly), and they take off into space and, IN ALL THE INFINITY OF SPACE, they just happen to run into Han Solo, who takes them to a planet where Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre just happens to be, and the lightsabre just happens to call to Rey.
    Then look at the close: Finn, who has practical experience with the First Order, takes Han and Chewbacca down to the Starkiller, claiming he can deactivate the shield. He can’t. It was just a ruse to get down here so he could try rescue Rey. Finn says when he was stationed here it was in sanitation, which is great, because he’s been wallowing in shit for about one hundred minutes up to this point. Problem, though? No. Han, Chewbacca, and Finn just happen to run into the Cylon, Captain Phasma (seriously?) who just happens to have the authority to deactivate the shield (you’d think it would be a little better safeguarded than that), and then they go to look for Rey – who the WHOLE base is looking for – and she just happens to be climbing a wall right behind them (and then, somehow, they end up on the other side of her, although a trench separates them), and even though Darth Tantrum senses Han Solo on the base, Tantrum just happens to walk right past him, so they can just happen to have an excruciatingly, painfully predictable confrontation on the bridge, and then when everybody returns to the Resistance base, R2D2 just happens to wake up, right then, to give them the information they need to continue the trilogy.
    Whilst some convenience has always driven the Star Wars universe (and it gets worse as the series goes on and they try to tie everything together), this is just lazy.
    There’s simply very little causality in the way JJ Abrams develops his stories (his two Star Trek movies overflowed with coincidences to drive the plot). Tom Clancy said, ‘The difference between reality and fiction? Fiction has to make sense.’
    Farce doesn’t even try to make sense.
    As an aside: So Han Solo volunteers to deactivate the shield around the Starkiller by jumping through the shield at light speed and getting to the shield controls? Um, excuse me? If you can just jump through the shield at light speed, WHY DO YOU NEED A MISSION TO DEACTIVATE THE SHIELD? Why doesn’t everybody just jump through the shield at light speed? Why don’t they get a big bomb, put it on a big ship, jump it through the shield at light speed and target the oscillator? In fact, since Han and Chewbacca blow up part of the oscillator with their munitions, why not launch a ground assault?
    Again, people might suggest this is a nitpick. But you know what the beauty of A New Hope is? The mission is clear. Fly down this trench and fire a missile down this port, and it’ll start a chain reaction. Totally straightforward. Similarly in Return of the Jedi: fly into the Death Star and hit the reactors. Here, though, it’s fire at the oscillator, and hope you can damage it enough to cause a chain reaction – which then only occurs after Han and Chewbacca have used their munitions, and then Poe’s flown inside it and shot the hell out of it. You never get a sense of scale, of what’s required, as occurs in A New Hope. It’s more like The Phantom Menace when Anakin accidentally launches himself into space, joins the fray, does some spinning (because that’s a good trick), and then blows up the Control Ship, which deactivates the drone armies. Er, what does what now?
    And furthermore: Luke, Jedi Master, turns around and expresses shock when Rey arrives and offers his lightsabre. I guess a Jedi in hiding wouldn’t sense a big ship holding somebody strong in the Force landing on his planet seemingly only a short distance away?

  • Dumbness: I don’t want to go through all the mind-bogglingly dumb moments. But I’ll give you two handfuls of examples:
    • Finn decides he can’t participate in the slaughter of the villagers (and even though Darth Tantrum sees this, does nothing about it), but later when Finn’s escaping with Poe and manning the guns of the TIE-fighter, he merrily blows up Stormtroopers, officers, and an assortment of other people. Fine, he might be defending himself, he might be fighting for his freedom, but it seems an amazingly easy transition for him.

    • Rey thinks Luke Skywalker is a myth, hasn’t heard of Han Solo the Rebellion General, but has heard of Han Solo the smuggler, has heard of the Millennium Falcon, yet doesn’t know she’s on the Millennium Falcon. In all the years the ship’s sat on Jakku, its name has never been mentioned. Or she doesn’t know what it looks like, since ‘Han Solo the smuggler’ is such a legend? Okay.

    • This one is a little offbeat but you set up a world where Rey has to scrounge for rations. She has flour, which she dumps into a tray, and then inflates into bread. I did notice when Rey was making her bread, a fleck of flour missed the tray (and hit the counter instead). In the grand scheme of things it mightn’t mean much, but if you want me to believe the circumstances of the world, characters can’t be so careless with such hard-won rations.

    • Rathtars (big space monsters) get loose on Han Solo’s freighter. They eat everybody the moment they encounter them. So this is the rule that’s been set up: Rathtars eat somebody the moment they encounter them. Until one picks up Finn and drags him through several corridors, giving Rey time to rescue him. Seriously, how stupid is that? Yet, again, it might seem a nitpick, but in establishing the rules of a fictional world, you’re telling us how that world behaves. You can’t then change it later to suit you. That is just dumb and lazy.

    • Or how about Rey defeating Darth Tantrum in a lightsabre battle? Sure, we saw Rey swing her pike and incapacitate a couple of thieves trying to steal BB8, but Tantrum has been training in the Force, and has presumably trained with a lightsabre. For that matter, even Finn took it to him. How can he be so weak?

    • And on this, how strong is Rey? I can understand the Force flows through her. Fine. But it not only flows through her, but she exhibits very specific talents, e.g. the Jedi mind trick she uses to persuade the Stormtrooper (James Bond‘s Daniel Craig) to let her go. What’s the best Luke did without instruction? Levitate his lightsabre from the snow? Rey does that (overwhelming Darth Tantrum in the process), focuses so she’s infused with the Force and can overcome Tantrum, and the aforementioned Jedi mind trick – all without any sort of instruction.

    • Or how about the embarrassing silliness of Han Solo enjoying shooting Chewbacca’s bowcaster – haha, that must be funny, right? Right? Just like so many other one-liners and witticisms they tried.

    • How do friendships work in this story? On the Resistance base, Finn and Poe encounter one another and hug like they’re the fondest of friends – the way Luke and Han do in A New Hope after they’ve blown up the Death Star. Poe and Finn aren’t fond friends to the extent that they should be having an exchange of this depth (even if the movie is trying to tell us otherwise). Then, later, after Han dies, the Millennium Falcon returns to the Resistance base and Han’s oldest friend, Chewbacca, walks past Han’s wife, Leia, leaving Leia to mourn Han’s passing with … Rey? What the hell …? Nobody thought maybe Leia and Chewbacca should express a moment of mourning?

    • And what’s with this magnificent Starkiller weapon? The beauty of the Death Stars is that they were just space stations – effectively, they’re the equivalent of big spaceships. The Starkiller is built into a planet and can fire through hyperspace to gather energy from a sun. It can’t fire until it’s gathered all the energy. Why? Depending which sun it targeted (its size, its age, etc.) wouldn’t each sun have a different yield? Does it really matter if you fired the weapon half-loaded? Wouldn’t that do sufficient damage? Also, if you could gather the energy from a sun, that’s a weapon in itself. Target a Republic system, shoot the sun until it goes nova, and that destroys the system. But the Starkiller then fires the energy back through hyperspace to destroy planets. And whilst the New Order were building this weapon ON A STATIONERY PLANET, nobody got wind of it, despite the Republic being aware of the New Order threat. And, for the hell of it, let’s again mention that the New Order build a fatal vulnerability into the Starkiller. This whole Starkiller debacle smacked to me of somebody who decided they had a great visual for a weapon, and they reverse-engineered it into the story, whether it was going to be work or not because, hey, the visual is so damn great!

    I need to stop there because, as I said, I could just go on and on, and there’s not enough space on the internet.

  • Questions: The Farce Awakens poses lots of questions, which is fine because they’re trying to use them as hooks to keep audience engaged for future instalments. Unfortunately, I left the cinema with the impression that they weren’t aware of all the questions they’d posed, and events that (try to) power the story are orchestrated because that’s simply the position things need to be, rather than there being a logical, motivated cause, or a justifiable narrative evolution. Again, this is just lazy.

If your defence of Farce is …

  • It’s better than the prequels …
  • A movie’s quality isn’t measured on a scale. It’s either good, or it isn’t. Being better than something else doesn’t make it good in its own right. People said this about Jurassic World: ‘It’s the best of the sequels.’ Yeah, but it’s still terrible, dumbly plotted, with shallow characters, and bereft of logic.

  • They’re setting up the universe …
  • A New Hope set up the universe and told a rollicking good story in the progress. Farce has six movies that’ve set up the universe. This movie didn’t need to be feeling its way. Even though the prequels hurt the franchise, the filmmakers could afford to show some daring.

  • They played it safe.
  • This is what a lot of people have said to me:They played it safe. By mimicking the arc from the original movies? That’s not safe. That’s hackneyed. Moreover, it seems their premise will be that Rey trains in the Force, Tantrum (who’ll return with bits of body armour) will officially get anointed a Sith Lord, they’ll fight, and Rey will redeem Tantrum. This isn’t original. The Star Wars expanded universe books (the books written to follow events after the original movies) involved a plot where Han and Leia had twins, they trained in the Force, one turned to the Dark Side, yada yada. In setting up this new trilogy, the filmmakers said they were abandoning the canon from the books. Yeah. Right. Rey and Tantrum mightn’t be twins, but they will be some sort of family (allegedly cousins, as one of the new Star Wars games had dialogue where Tantrum called Rey ‘cousin’). Now maybe they’ll shock us. Maybe Tantrum will be possessed by the Force spirit of Emperor Palpatine. Or maybe Tantrum and Rey will flip sides throughout the next movie. Or maybe we’ll learn that Luke planned much of the contrived events we witnessed (e.g. the Millennium Falcon being there on Jakku, his lightsabre waiting for Rey, etc.). But right now, the events of Farce are playing out the arc of the original movies.
  • As an aside: You know what else the filmmakers could’ve done? They could’ve forgotten ‘safe’ and simply written a strong story. That would’ve hooked people. Write and film something that people want to see because the story engages them, rather than playing on the marquee to draw them in. This is why I respect Marvel. They’re arguably the only studio putting real thought behind their blockbusters and infusing them with strong plotting and valid motivation. And how well have Marvel done? It’s shocking that Hollywood isn’t following their lead.
  • And furthermore: ‘Safe’ doesn’t mean good. If you check the dictionary, ‘safe’ isn’t a synonym for ‘good’.

  • We needed a soft reboot after the debacle of the prequels.
  • No, we didn’t. The prequels made a ton of movie. Arguably, Star Wars would be the strongest brand in (film) existence. Film a rock for two hours, brand it Star Wars, and it’ll be a blockbuster. Also, let’s not forget the chronology of the stories: the prequels come before the original movies. The original movies are much beloved. You’re following the events of the original movies. Hence, it’s unnecessary to soft reboot. You would only really need to do that if the events of Farce followed the prequels. This argument is a cop-out, a way to justify Farce‘s many issues.

  • This is the best Harrison Ford’s been in decades!
  • Good for Harrison Ford. It doesn’t mean the movie is good.

  • What do you know? It rates 88% on Rotten Tomatoes!
    In discussing various movies with people, they’ve countered my arguments by pointing at internet ratings. This, as far as I’m concerned, is the biggest admission of defeat you could make. If you can’t articulate specifically why a story is good, then there’s a great chance you’ve fallen into the slipstream of fanaticism (or fanboyaticism), which is to love things unquestioningly, and defend them through a mindless hive mind.

  • You still don’t know anything. It’s making heaps of money!
  • Again, how strong is this brand? In today’s movie-going, you don’t necessarily have to be good, just popular.

  • It’s setting up events for the next two movies – it’ll do its own thing then.
  • Yet again, how? They’ve set up a familial conflict between two people strong in the Force. Does that sound familiar? Where do you think they’ll take that? Remember: foundations. We know what these foundations build. I hope they surprise me.

  • It’s just a movie. Why’re you so critical?
  • Everybody has a bullshit meter, a point they switch off and can no longer accept the events in a story. People have become a lot more tolerant because of the way movies have evolved. That doesn’t mean you need to forgive things that look good but are bad.

  • You’re a bastard and I hope you get eaten by a rathtar!
  • It would probably try to carry me away first.

The Farce Awakens just isn’t very good. Arguably, it feels less like a Star Wars movie (and the Star Wars universe) than the prequels. But (some say) people were wounded by the prequels, their faith in there ever being a good Star Wars movie left on life support. And here comes Farce, using the original characters, seeming to hit the right beats, and instead of questioning it critically, analytically, their relief has mislead them into thinking it’s good.
It really isn’t.
Look around the net. Look on YouTube. Now that the enthusiasm and hype surrounding Farce‘s arrival is gone, people are starting to deride the film as thinly-plotted, driven by convenience, with shallow characters, and a derivative storyline.
JJ Abrams makes beautiful films. When I watched Star Trek in an advanced screening, I marvelled at how he’d reimagined The Original Series. He’d even made those silly colourful tunics they originally wore look classy. But as that movie went on, convenience drove the plot. It felt like an assemblage of scenes with no logical evolution, contrived to connect through sheer coincidence and absolute chance. The Farce Awakens is no different (if not worse). Things happen because JJ needs them to happen, rather than through any causality and/or logical evolution. And it gets offensive, it really does.
The original trilogy was the vision of one man. Sure, he had people around him who challenged him, or who later helped him articulate his vision, but it was George Lucas’s story. (I’ve always asserted this is why the prequels struggled: nobody challenged Lucas, nobody forced him to go away and rethink and hone his ideas, the way they did when he was a nobody making A New Hope.)
Farce felt like a movie made by committee, a mishmash of ideas perfumed with nostalgia and which’ll try to carry you away into thinking it’s a good movie, or its weaknesses should be forgiven because it’s well-intentioned, it’s not as offensive as the prequels, and it promises so much for the future.
I wanted to like this going in. I wanted to love it.
But my reality is it’s not a very good story, and that story isn’t very well told.

Postscript: I have to apologise for the length of this blog. It would be longer if I gave myself more time. Every time I thought I was finished, something else would pop into my head. But I think you get the idea!

The Other Me

Originally, when I started The Other Me, I began the story with my first actual panic attack (at 19), thinking that (for a blog) that was the best place to jump in. When I’d finished serialising my adult life, I went back and covered my younger years, where I’d experienced neurotic symptoms that foreshadowed that first panic attack.

Last’s week blog was the last one (before that first panic attack), so the story’s complete.

For now.

Thanks to everybody who stuck with The Other Me. I really appreciate it. I hope it’s been entertaining, and also given you an insight into neurosis.

In the new year, I hope to still blog about neurosis (and other things), and one day I hope to compile The Other Me into an ebook.

Hope you all have a safe and merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

When I was fifteen, I got a casual job during the holidays working for Kmart, working from 5–9 Mondays and Tuesdays. I kept working when school restarted, going to school from 9–3, then rushing home so I could get changed, catch a lift to the station, and catch a train to work. When daylight savings ended, so did the Monday and Tuesday shifts, and with it my job. Kmart kept me on record and called me the following Summer school holidays, but by then I had my broken arm. That was it for my working life.

The only additional learning – if you could call it that – I did outside of high school was a modelling course when I was eighteen, and a drama course when I was nineteen. The modelling I got into through a relative, who thought I’d be good at it. I did okay throughout the course, but didn’t have the gumption afterward to pursue it. Same with the drama. Same with everything.

This haphazard existence made family life tense, because being unemployed with no real prospects is going to do that. My three brothers had all finished high school, and were working. I had lots of cousins around my age, and they were either working, going onto tertiary schooling, or completing secondary schooling. I was doing none of that. I was doing nothing.

My parents saw me writing and on some cosmetic level they respected the endeavour I put in. From breakfast to evening I typed away – sometimes these uninterrupted twelve hour sessions. It was quite an effort, and you have to appreciate effort, even if it is the effort of a madman.

They also saw the stacks of typewritten paper I produced. Unfortunately, they couldn’t read it themselves – my mum has basic English reading skills, but not good enough to follow the plot of a book that was going to be the NEXT GREAT FANTASY EPIC; my dad could barely read English at all, (although he reads tons of books in Greek).

Moreover, they had less understanding about the business side of writing than I did. They thought I’d write something, advertise it, and sell it – the way you’d advertise and sell a car. It was a foregone conclusion to them, but when it didn’t happen they must’ve wondered what the hell I was doing, and whether I’d ever build a life for myself, or sponge off them forever.

Having the broken arm with the nerve damage gave me leeway, but the further I got away from that, and the more I wrote without going anywhere, the higher tensions escalated. My brothers might’ve even resented me and the free ride I was getting. I wouldn’t have blamed them. I would’ve resented me, too.

Gradually, my general unease evolved into a general malaise of edginess which only exacerbated everything else – the swinging moods, the social dysfunction, the occasional obsessiveness, and the constant fear about one thing or another.

Surely this wasn’t how everybody else felt?

For a little while, like a month or so, I cut myself. I’d do it in the bathroom with a razor (not a razor-blade, but a cheap disposable razor), slashing my already scarred right arm. I was never sure why. If I wanted to do real damage, I could’ve found a razor-blade, but the razor itself let me abrasion myself pretty good. That’s what I was: a self-abrasioner.

The one thing about the cutting was that it made me feel dark. It seemed such a logical thing to do. And it made me the centre of attention – not for my family, from whom I hid the results. But from friends. Like in my modelling class. One time I showed up and the other students saw my right arm was covered in abrasions and I told them that I’d put my arm through a glass window, because I couldn’t tell them what I’d really done.

They looked at me like I was mad. That was good. I wanted them to think I was mad, because that’s the way I felt in my head. You people: Normal. Me: Mad. This was the only way I could articulate that to others. Maybe there were no words, just actions. I guess that’s the way suicide works – when words are no longer enough.

When I was eighteen, I got a tattoo – a smiley face on my right shoulder. Again, it was another of those things where the idea just popped into my head. I knew it had to be something meaningful – that was why I chose the smiley-face. My philosophy was I always needed to carry a smile with me. During an argument with John, he asked if I was on drugs (no) and said that I used to be such a happy kid. I couldn’t remember that. I could never remember being happy.

If nothing else, my writing continued. Writing was the only time I was at peace. I would sit at my typewriter and immerse myself in my fantasy world – where I controlled everything – until I was lost to everything else. One time while I wrote, I casually butted out a cigarette in an ashtray overflowing with butts, emptied the ashtray into the metal wastepaper basket that sat at the foot of my desk (well, my table – it was a converted kitchen table), and kept writing. Several minutes later, smoke rose from the bin – I hadn’t butt out my last cigarette properly, and it had set alight the paper in the bin. I hadn’t noticed. That’s how much I got into writing.

After a session of writing, I’d be spent. It was like I’d exercised for hours. Sometimes, afterward, I’d be jittery, like I’d invested myself too deeply and I couldn’t shake loose, or hadn’t left enough reserves for myself. Then I’d watch some TV, or play a computer game, and try to unwind. The next day, I was back at it.

I finished Book One of my fantasy series a couple of months short of my nineteenth birthday, feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Finishing a book – regardless of whether it’s good or bad – is an effort. Here I was, with a four-hundred-page novel.

Surely, it had to lead to better things?

And that was it, my teenage years, which were pretty normal.

Normal as hell.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

From about sixteen, I began going out. Whenever I did, I tried to look cool – just like any other teenager. I spent a lot of time on my hair, and sometimes blow-dried it, although the hair-dryer – in combination with the gels and mousses I used – always made me feel sticky and stifled. That was something that seemed to be developing as I got older, a physical hypersensitivity to external sensation – not that I thought much of it.

I also had good facial growth. Some people said I looked like George Michael, although that was never my intention. Whenever I went out, I’d shave a few days earlier, timing it so that my growth would be just the right shade to look my best – teenage vanity at its best.

Clothes were something else entirely. My wardrobe was modest, but I tried to look good – even if it meant discomfort (which it often did). Like my overcoat: that came everywhere, even inside clubs or parties in garages where wearing an overcoat was suffocating. It became my trademark. Jeans were something else. Putting them on for the first time, they were always stiff and scratchy. Sometimes, I’d put them over my pyjama-pants and bounce around like I was doing aerobics – just to loosen them until they were comfortable. Then I’d remove my pyjama-pants and put my jeans back on. I still hated the initial feel of them. It was like pulling sandpaper over my legs.

I liked getting ready to go out.

I liked the thought of going out.

But being out terrified me.

I projected confidence, but had none. When I was out, my heart thumped, there was flightiness in my stomach, and I was fidgety. Everybody was a threat. I wasn’t paranoid. That wasn’t it. But there was a potential for danger everywhere. The scale heightened whenever it involved people who looked … well, scarier than your normal person.

This is the teenage world. There’s always somebody wanting to fight or beat somebody’s head in. My parents were always reciting News where people got attacked. They used it as validation: go out and you might get beaten up. You might have an accident. Something horrible might happen.

Danger everywhere.

I also couldn’t relate to anybody. That had been the case at high school, but now it was worse. Whenever I talked to people, I was shy and awkward. I never knew what to say, never knew how to respond, and kept feeling I would blurt something totally inappropriate – well, not just inappropriate (I’m sure every teenager worries about), but something heinous, something unpardonable. If somebody told me there’d been a tragic accident in their family, I had the impulse to shout, Good! Great! You deserve it! Or maybe drop my head and butt them between the eyes and shatter the bridge of their nose. These weren’t things I wanted to do, but just what popped in my head. I had to warn myself over and over to make sure I didn’t do any of these things.

Because of this difficulty relating, my circle of friends didn’t expand and I never had a real long-term girlfriend, because I couldn’t connect with anybody and stay connected with them. It was bad enough being the author of the NEXT GREAT FANTASY EPIC – being an aspiring writer, and particularly of fantasy, wasn’t a selling-point amongst teenagers – but if I told girls what was going on inside my head, they’d think I was crazy. Half the time I thought I was crazy.

The way I handled all this was to drink. Drinking and being a teenager are synonymous, but I did it to cope. It was the only way I could feel at ease, the only way I could relax. If I didn’t drink, then I had to confront the way I was feeling, and the way I was feeling had a cumulative effect – it just got worse and worse.

This was probably the reason my best friend, Stan, and I got along so well – because we were so alike. My issues weren’t as specific as his, but we both felt like social misfits. When we went out we both drank to cope, relax, and enjoy ourselves. But whereas I remained meek Stan was invincible. One time, some try-hard pulled a knife on Stan and Stan reached out and closed the knife on the try-hard’s hand. Another time, a car pulled over by us in the middle of the night, and its two occupants – a pair of freak shows – gave us a hard time; Stan walked over and stared at them, just glowered at them, until they shut up and drove off.

I could never do that. I wasn’t sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line I became meek. As a kid, I’d stand up to bullies, be the first one off the high diving board, jump ramps on my bike, climb the framework of houses under construction and do lots of crazy stuff. I lost that fearlessness as I got older.

Stan and I went out regularly, despite our mutual social awkwardness and my underlying fear of everything. When we heard about parties, we’d travel as far as it would take to get there, catching lifts, taking trains, or even walking; at the end of the night, we’d walk home – regardless of the distance – or even hitch.

Other times, we went to clubs. There was a makeshift club, called Kasey’s, that operated out of a nearby reception hall every other month. Stan’s older brother worked as the bartender on some nights, so Stan and I always got free drinks – order a couple of beers, hand over a ten dollar note, get ten dollars (and sometimes more) back in change. If it wasn’t Kasey’s, we went to clubs in the city – we both looked old for our age, and were never carded.

When I was eighteen, I was at Kasey’s one night and got in a wrestle with a guy I knew – it was one of those playful things that grew semi-serious. I fell, and he kneed me in the bridge of my nose, breaking it. Afterward, he apologised, and everything was fine. The break was small and a specialist manipulated it back into place.

No problems.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

I finished the first book of my series shortly after returning from holiday – not a bad accomplishment for a seventeen-year-old dropout. It was written by hand, and took up two-and-a-half A5-sized exercise books. Immediately, I redrafted, beginning in a new exercise book, one that was A4-sized (I was moving up in the world, after all) but it felt redundant. I’d done the handwritten book. My productivity tapered until I wasn’t doing much of anything for the next month or so.

Then I felt like I was losing myself.

One night, I went out with my cousins. We were coming home from a bar when we saw a warehouse on fire. We pulled into an opposing driveway to watch the fire-fighters battle the blaze, and were talking when I sheared in two. My consciousness slid to the left, but funnelled until I was losing awareness of my surroundings, my thoughts, even myself. I had to shake my head – as if trying to clear a fog – to ground myself.

Over the next month, this happened repeatedly. I felt like I was slipping out of reality. I thought maybe I was being possessed and started reading the Bible. I also thought that my deteriorating physical condition – since breaking my arm, exercise had gone out the window; and I was smoking and drinking whenever I went out – might be a contributor, and began to exercise.

Something else that occurred to me was I had all these ideas in my head – for my book, for other stories – and I wondered whether my imagination was running rampant and I was losing touch with reality. I needed to find a way to get this stuff out, or it would consume me.

I had to write seriously. If not because of all this other stuff, but because the desire was building up in me. And I wanted to tell my fantasy epic. I wanted to get it out on the page, because if I could do that it would become part of fantasy canon.

I went to a typewriter store to look at the manual typewriters. That was all I could afford, but it was enough. I found a second-hand clunker that had a lovely tap-tap-tap feel whenever I hit the keys. That was important to me. It had to sound right, to feel right.

In fact, the whole back room – which I’d infested, and little by little was taking over – had to be that way. I rearranged everything – couches, chairs, bookshelves, TV, C64 computer. Then I cleaned up. I tried to keep things neat. But all it took was one thing out of place, and that was an invitation to lose all order. Then books wouldn’t be put back, papers wouldn’t be filed, nothing would be returned to where it belonged. There’d be anarchy, and anarchy always clouded me in a way I felt I couldn’t write.

Damn anarchy.

But that stuff aside, I wrote every day. I worked on short stories and on part one of my fantasy epic. The short stories were good in that they were small, self-contained entities. I could write them, be done with them, and move on.

The fantasy epic was something else entirely.

I called my book The Warriors’ Triangle, because it involved three warriors – one, the young, inexperienced King of Men through whom the story is told; the King of Elves; and a Half-elf warrior – on a quest to regain these mystical crowns that would bring hope back to the people and prosperity to the land, (a la the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend).

First, I drew a map. This involved spreading four by four A4 sheets across the pool table and drawing everything in – the kingdoms, the forests, the mountains, lakes, rivers, all that. There’s something … Godly about creating a world. Oh wait. Map-making-slash-world-building was therapeutic. It gave me control. I taped the sheets together, and stuck the map on the wall above my writing desk. The map allowed me to see where my characters were and where they were heading at any given time.

There were lots of false starts to the writing itself – lots of times I got a hundred pages in and felt I didn’t have things right. On those occasions, I contemplated finishing the book and fixing everything in the rewrite, or just starting over. I took the latter option on each occasion, doing that maybe four or five times. I’d rather get it right from the onset, than keep going with something that wasn’t right.

When I finally developed some momentum, my second-hand clunker bit the dust. Damn. Still, I’d gotten months of service out of it, but now it was back to the typewriter store. I bought a new manual typewriter this time. It didn’t have the same tap-tap-tap feel of its predecessor. It didn’t even get close. Nor did it have the same type-face. That meant I had to start my book again. Again.

I worked for a year, and had no more spells of losing myself. And although I still smoked, and drank too much when I went out (like most teenagers), I exercised regularly, playing tennis weekly with a cousin. I wasn’t in awesome shape – as I was just before I broke my arm. But I was in good shape.

As I neared the completion of the book, I became aware that I had no idea what to do with it. Where did writers go with their books? I looked at some of the fantasy series I owned, and found out they were published by Doubleday. So, there was a place to begin. Well, begin isn’t right, because that would suggest I’d go somewhere next, and my book was going to be accepted first off.

I never expected anything different.

The Other Me

‘Normal as Hell’

The Arabs were coming! 427 million of them!

Almost a year after breaking my arm, I’d gone with my parents on a holiday to Canada and to Greece. Now we were staying at my parents’ village in Greece at our cousin’s farm. I’d awakened in the middle of the night, terrified that 427 million Arabs were about to invade.

The village was tiny and sat in the mountains isolated from civilisation. It was maybe half a kilometre long, and comprised a single road with houses on either side. There was probably only a population of six or seven hundred. There was no way we’d be able to contend with 427 million Arabs.

I considered waking a Canadian guy I’d been hanging around with. He’d have no idea what to do, but at least then I’d have an ally. But, again, it was the middle of the night. I knew the house he was staying in, but didn’t know the people there. What was I meant to do? Wake them all?

I woke my dad.

I wanted to tell him about the Arabs, but then felt embarrassed. Instead, I told him I wanted an escort to the toilet, which was outside and at the end of a yard filled with the farm’s animals. A few days earlier, I’d come out of the toilet and found myself face to face with a cow. It had stared at me. I stared back, then turned and ran for the stairs. The cow chased me.

Stupid cow.

My dad escorted me to the toilet as my mind nailed the incongruities of the threat. 427 million Arabs? Attacking a remote village in Greece? The terror simmered. What I needed to do was go back to sleep. Things would be okay in the morning.

They were. I tried to piece together what happened. I’d gone out and had a few beers – just a few, as I also had a bad flu. The last few days, I’d been reading a spy thriller about a politician’s daughter who’s kidnapped and sold into white slavery. I rationalised I’d woken up, delirious, and my mind had still been trapped in the remnants of some dream fuelled by the book I’d been reading.

That was the best explanation I had. I didn’t want to tell anybody else – friends I’d made in that village, or my parents – because it was embarrassing. People would think I was mad.

Best to try forget it.

But something similar occurred about six months later, back at home, when again I woke panicked in the middle of the night. A friend, Carl (and Carl wasn’t a very close friend) wanted us to wallpaper 349 million houses.

The enormity of the job staggered me. How long would it take? If you did one house a day, and a house every day of the year, that would be 365 houses, leaving the figure still in the 349 million mark. This was going to be impossible.

I woke my brother Nick, who slept in the bed next to mine, and tried to tell him what was happening. But even as I spoke, I realised the absurdity of it all.

Nick told me to go back to bed. When I woke in the morning, the episode was so dim I thought it had to be a dream. But my brother brought it up the following day, asking me what had been going on. I played dumb, telling him I couldn’t remember. He said I must’ve been drunk. I had been out that night and, in fact, the circumstances were similar to what had occurred with the Arabs: I’d had a few beers, and was suffering from the flu. Was this delirium again?

It occurred again about a month later, but not as bad. I awoke panicked. Something about a lottery and millions of dollars. Now, though, it was immediately apparent this couldn’t be real. I was able to settle and go back to sleep, thinking nothing more of it.

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