Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

Thoughts on STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (Spoilers)

I decided to go ahead and see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this week. I’m still not in a position to spend much on recreation, but I figured everyone needs a break sometimes, and a matinee showing wouldn’t cost too much. I had a choice between a $6.75 Tuesday discount showing at the multiplex I usually go to or a $7.75 matinee at the nearby university-area theater that usually only shows art and indie films but makes exceptions for really big movies like this. I figured out that the greater driving distance to the multiplex would probably use approximately $1 worth of gas, so it roughly broke even, and thus I decided to go to the local place.

So what did I think of the movie? It was okay. It didn’t surprise, delight, and challenge me the way The Last Jedi did, but I feel it worked reasonably well as a continuation from TLJ, even if I was ambivalent about some of its decisions. It was fairly satisfying on the superficial level of bringing resolution to 43 years’ worth of storytelling and continuity, and as a work of action and spectacle and nostalgia, which is all that Star Wars ever really aspired to be in the first place (though it’s nice when it does manage to be something more). And it mostly served its core characters well, which has always been J.J. Abrams’s strength, even if it’s often been at the expense of plot coherence or logic.

One way TRoS fell short compared to previous Abrams films is that it had a weak opening. That’s a disappointment. The Force Awakens had a very striking opening scene, and Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III had a superb, intense opening. Abrams’s Star Trek films didn’t open quite so potently as those, but they both had reasonably strong action openings that efficiently laid the groundwork for the story and character arcs. TRoS’s opening, watching Kylo Ren fight ill-defined foes in search of some ill-defined new quest dropped on us in the opening scroll, was harder to get into — even kind of dull.

Part of it is the way the transition between movies was handled. I mean, sure, the original movies — pretty much the first seven, really — all started in medias res after a sequence of events we didn’t see, and the sequels all came after fairly long gaps that left plenty of room for events to evolve before we picked back up again. But it’s different with the Sequel Trilogy. TLJ picked up almost immediately after TFA, so the usual pattern was broken (although it’s the only time that it really did match the vintage serial-chapter format the series is meant to homage, with the recap being about the previous installment rather than unseen events in between — well, unless you count Rogue One as the “previous installment” to the original film). And this time, it doesn’t really feel like a lot of time passed between movies, so having a major instigating incident like Palpatine’s return revealed in the opening scroll feels abrupt and incongruous. If you’re going to have a gap between movies with unseen events, then it should feel like a lot of time has passed and the characters’ status quo has evolved, so that having to read about it in the scroll feels reasonable. In this case, though, there’s just the one thing — Palpatine’s return. Everything else, in terms of the character arcs and the Resistance’s status, seems to be picking up a fairly short time after TLJ. Wookieepedia says it’s actually a year later, but it doesn’t feel that long, because the characters’ status is largely unchanged. There’s just not as strong a sense of intervening time as, say, between the original film and The Empire Strikes Back, or between the prequel installments.

Another thing that didn’t work well for me, sad to say, was the way they worked in the late Carrie Fisher. I knew they only had a limited amount of footage to work with in order to incorporate Fisher into the film posthumously, but I was hoping it wouldn’t be quite this limited. All Leia does is utter a few isolated, generic sentences that the other characters’ dialogue struggles to recontexualize as part of their conversations, and it’s often rather clumsy. They’re able to create the visual illusion that Leia is standing there in the scene, but they aren’t really able to sell the narrative or performative illusion that she’s having the same conversation as the other characters, and her single-line contributions are a disappointingly small piece of the whole. Otherwise, most of Leia’s role in the story is written around her absence, with other characters talking about her or reacting to/explaining what she does wordlessly or offscreen. It sadly lessens the effectiveness of Leia’s arc in the film, and though I know this was the best they could manage under the circumstances, it just calls attention to how much Fisher’s loss diminishes what we could have had. Far more effective than the scenes where Leia is supposed to be present are the scenes after her death, when the filmmakers can finally express their grief at Fisher’s departure through the characters’ grief at Leia’s, and let the audience honestly engage with that loss at last. Chewbacca’s breakdown on hearing the news is the most poignant moment in the film.

I wonder if it would’ve been more effective to establish Leia’s death at the beginning of the film — instead of trying to fake her presence, turn her abrupt and unexpected loss into the catalyzing incident of the story. If Palpatine had announced his return by killing General Leia in the opening scene, that would’ve been a far more potent beginning than just some unseen announcement to the galaxy. It would’ve raised the stakes of his return and made the story far more personal. The remaining Fisher footage could’ve been incorporated as flashbacks, or recordings that the characters were rewatching to remember her. Her link with Kylo/Ben to redeem him could still have happened, but she could’ve done it as a Force ghost.

Now, as for the big revelation/retcon that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter, I have mixed feelings. I liked TLJ’s idea that Rey wasn’t related to anyone famous, that you don’t have to belong to some elite lineage to be powerful in the Force. I mean, come on, it’s supposed to be the universal energy field that binds all life together, not some special dynastic privilege. So I liked the way Rey’s humble lineage rejected the elitism of your typical chosen-one story. On the other hand, Rey’s arc in TRoS is also a rejection of that elitism in a different way. Yes, she’s exceptionally powerful in the Force because she has the Emperor’s blood — but ultimately that doesn’t matter to her identity. She rejects the idea of heredity as destiny and chooses her own path, and that helps inspire Ben to do the same. So it’s basically the same message, up to a point. I guess it still works, though I liked it better the other way.

The idea of Rey and Ben/Kylo being a “dyad in the Force” is interesting too; it helps explain the unique bond they had in TLJ, and why they have the unique ability to transfer matter physically between their locations when they’re connected — something I initially thought was just symbolic, but turns out to be a key plot point later on, which was pretty well-done. Still, I’m not entirely clear on why they’re a dyad. Okay, it’s Palpatine’s granddaughter and Vader’s grandson, but why does that do it? It’s a little random. But the way the bond between them drives their story is effective. It is a bit reminiscent of Luke redeeming Vader who in turn destroys the Emperor, but the redemption arc is better handled here, since Kylo has been a more conflicted figure from the start and the seeds of his redemption were laid sooner.

I guess the title The Rise of Skywalker has a dual meaning: both the redemptive (and literal, physical) rise of Ben Solo, the last heir of the Skywalkers, and the rise (emergence) of a new, self-adopted Skywalker in Rey, embracing the lineage as the student and effective heir of the Skywalker siblings — and as the, I guess, dyad-sister of Ben? So she’s the Skywalkers’ heir in the Force if not in the genes.

I was unclear on why Kylo repaired his mask and started wearing it again. It seemed like a regression after his “Kill the past” epiphany. Maybe that was what he wanted Palpatine to think, that he’d reverted to being an obedient apprentice while secretly plotting to join with Rey and overthrow Palpatine. That’s how I chose to rationalize it to myself as I watched. But if so, it could’ve been made clearer. It felt kind of arbitrary to walk it back, to restore the mask after the previous film made such a big deal of destroying it.

I don’t think Finn and Poe are served quite as well here as in the previous two films. They do get their moments of maturation, learning to become leaders and such, but their arcs aren’t standouts. Okay, we learn about Poe’s roguish past and how he’s grown into a leader, but that makes him more like Han Solo redux rather than the more distinctive character he was before. I liked the idea in TLJ that it was his image of himself as a great Resistance hero-pilot like Luke that made him arrogant and reckless, that he needed to have his heroic myths deflated and learn that life was more complicated than that. This retcon feels more conventional. And while it does lead to the introduction of a potentially interesting new female character in Zorii Bliss, she never really emerges as more than a means of supporting and advancing Poe’s story.

As for Finn, it’s disappointing that he isn’t paired up with Rose anymore, and that Rose herself is severely underutilized. (I mean, why is Dominic Monaghan even in this film? Why not give Rose his lines? It feels like a victory for the old-boy network at the expense of inclusion.) The new character Jannah that Finn is paired with is lovely, but is too much a mirror of Finn himself, another ex-Stormtrooper with a conscience, to be an interesting foil for him in the way Rose was. Jannah’s also little more than a plot device to assist Finn with his own actions in the story. Overall, this isn’t as strong as the previous two films at giving female protagonists their own independent arcs (the “Mako Mori test“). Even Leia’s arc (such as it is) is ultimately more about redeeming Ben than supporting Rey, and Rey’s arc is as much about helping Ben transform himself and complete his journey as it is about completing her own journey.

Still, one thing I’ll give the film is that it served the core trio well as a trio. All three films have been centrally about Rey, Finn, and Poe, but we haven’t really seen them as a group; technically Rey and Poe never even met in TFA, and Rey was on a separate journey from the others in TLJ. This time, we finally get to see all three of them journeying together and playing off each other for a significant part of the film, and their banter is a lot of fun.

Perhaps part of the reason the individual arcs of Poe and Finn aren’t that well-developed is the renewed emphasis given to some of the Original Trilogy characters in what are probably their final appearances. It’s nice to see Lando Calrissian again (and amusing that Billy Dee Williams is wearing one of Donald Glover’s Lando outfits from Solo), to catch up on what he’s been doing all this time, but that was secondary. No, the character who really shone here (no pun intended) was C-3PO. This was his biggest role in a Star Wars movie in a long time, and it was a fine showcase. He was funnier than ever in his commentary and reactions, but he also got a moment of true poignancy, when the other characters who’d taken him for granted and bossed him around and insulted him for all this time finally stopped and looked at him and gave him a choice, something they should have done all along, and he proved himself to be as great a hero as any of them, if not more so. Although the film kind of cops out later on by having R2 restore 3PO’s backup memory after 3PO insisted he didn’t have one.

It’s also weird that this trilogy (along with the prequels) has insisted on keeping 3PO and R2 mostly separate, rather than reviving the double act that made them so beloved in the OT. Sure, with 3PO, BB-8, and that new little droid that BB-8 adopted, there wasn’t much room for R2, but it’s odd how much he’s been sidelined in this trilogy.

On the villain side, Richard E. Grant is effective as the new villain Pryde, enough to make me curious to see how future tie-ins or animated series will flesh out his background (since he says he served the Emperor in the old days, meaning he was there somewhere during the OT). And though General Hux had a diminished role, it’s amusing that he turned spy for the Resistance purely out of his desire to ensure that Kylo failed. Also amusing that Pryde is genre-savvy enough that he wasn’t fooled by Hux’s “they shot me in the leg” cover story for a second.

Still, I’m not crazy about the reveal that the First Order were just Palpatine’s puppets all along. I liked the idea of the First Order as essentially Neo-Nazis — the new generation that misguidedly idolizes a past evil, that hates the progress and reforms made in its wake and wants to take things back to the good old days when their kind was dominant at everyone else’s expense. That idea gave the sequels a relevancy that this film undermines by reducing the FO to just Palpatine’s pawns. I mean, the same idea is there — the Emperor’s plan wouldn’t have worked if there hadn’t been a lot of people in the new generation who still clung to the Empire’s ways. But the emphasis was shifted here, with the FO basically rendered irrelevant and replaced as the Big Bad. It felt like a step backward.

So it seems the Sequel Trilogy echoed the OT straight to the end, with the middle film being the most challenging and unconventional and the third film being entertaining but relatively weaker and lighter. Still, TRoS did a decent enough job resolving its main character and story arcs, though it fell short in some respects and took fewer risks than it could have. It chose to emphasize nostalgia over innovation, which really is in keeping with the overall Star Wars phenomenon, since the whole thing is basically the result of George Lucas’s nostalgia for the things he liked as a child (Flash Gordon serials, WWII movies, samurai movies, Westerns, fast cars, etc.). It’s just that now it’s gotten to the point that the nostalgia in Star Wars is directed toward earlier Star Wars, since now it’s become the thing that today’s filmmakers loved as children. (It’s kind of wild how long the series has lasted while maintaining such consistency in style, right down to the near-identical opening and closing themes and credits fonts.) Still, I would’ve liked it if the series had ended in a way that looked more toward the future than the past, that expanded the mindset of the franchise and broke new conceptual ground the way TLJ did. TLJ felt like the franchise was starting to grow up, but this film took a more conventional path. It was fun, but it was less than it could have been.

Midair holograms! Who knew?

November 13, 2019 2 comments

Sometimes it’s cool to be wrong.

One thing that’s been a longtime pet peeve of mine in science fiction film and television is free-floating midair “holograms” — volumetric (3-dimensional) images made of light that just miraculously appear in midair. Star Wars holograms are a familiar example, but they’re a common trope throughout SF media. But they annoy me because they make no sense. Light can’t just appear in midair. It has to be emitted by something or reflected off of something. Actual holograms, things that literally use the phenomenon called holography, are flat sheets of photographic film encoded with laser light that’s polarized in such a way that you see a different angle on the photographed subject depending on the angle at which you view the sheet, so that a 2-dimensional film image contains 3-D information. But the image is “inside” the sheet rather than floating in midair. And the things sometimes used in the entertainment industry or museums that are called “holograms” are really just flat film images reflected off of half-silvered glass positioned in such a way that they look like ghostly images hovering behind the glass, but are still just flat projections, so the label is a total misnomer. So the sci-fi conceit of a 3-D shape made of light hovering in midair has always seemed silly to me.

But just now, I read about a prototype system that comes pretty close. It’s called the Multimodal Acoustic Trap Display, and you can see it in action here:

Pretty impressive, huh? Now, the light in this display is still reflecting off a solid object, but it’s a small white bead that’s levitated and moved through the projection volume by precision sound waves, so fast that it blurs out and creates persistence of vision, and is illuminated by multicolored laser light as it moves. Together, the moving bead and the shifting colors function sort of like an old cathode-ray TV screen with scan lines, except it can actually create 3-D shapes that hover in midair. The abstract published in Nature cites movie/TV-style “holograms” as the inventors’ inspiration, and they’ve actually come pretty close to duplicating them, allowing for the fact that the image still has to be contained inside a sort of C-shaped box so that it isn’t quite floating free. (The scan lines make it seem very Star Wars-y.) But it’s just the prototype, so who knows how it can be refined over time?

Of course, there still is a physical object (or several, since it can levitate multiple beads) that the light is reflecting off of, but because it’s just one or a few tiny beads swooping around really fast, most of the volume actually is empty space, with the perception of a continuous shape resulting from persistence of vision. So this is probably just about as close to the standard intangible, free-floating sci-fi “hologram” as we’re likely to get, allowing for further refinements like maybe a system that uses more and smaller beads. I’ve read before that there are some volumetric displays that project light off of a mist of fine particles, but that doesn’t seem to have the same degree of control as this, though maybe it and the acoustic-trap technology could be merged somehow. Anyway, because the beads are constantly moving around and their positions are controlled by the acoustic waves, someone could wave their hand through such a hologram or walk through it, and as long as they didn’t knock out the beads directly, they could just pass through the image without doing more than briefly disrupting it, as often shown in fiction.

So I now have to rethink my contempt for floaty midair holograms as a sci-fi trope. There would still have to be some physical object there for the light to bounce off, and it would still probably have to be confined within some kind of projector stage rather than moving freely through an area like the holograms in a lot of sci-fi (including Star Trek: Discovery). But to an extent, many of the floaty holos in sci-fi are at least somewhat more credible now. Who knows? Ryuji Hirayama and the other developers of this device have solved a number of the engineering problems that I was skeptical could be solved, so maybe they can solve others. So we may see more realistic and versatile volumetric projections in the future (and I guess we’re stuck with them being called “holograms” even though they’re nothing of the kind).

Which means that maybe I should be more open to incorporating translucent midair holos into my own SF writing, rather than going for alternatives like soligrams (shapeshifting smart-matter gel that morphs into solid lifelike objects) or the anamorphic projections I featured in “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad.” Although I rather like avoiding the standard cliches in my writing. But if science makes those cliches real, then continuing to avoid them would be…

(puts on sunglasses)

…a holo gesture.

I finally saw STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (spoilers)

January 24, 2018 4 comments

I finally got a bit of money for a writing project this week, so I decided to celebrate by finally going to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi while it was still in theaters, and before I got spoiled on more than I already have been (which fortunately was mostly little things). I gather that the film has generated some controversy, but it sounded like the aspects that were making a stir were the sort of things that I’d enjoy. And I was right. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so happy and fulfilled at the end of a movie. I’m not even that big a Star Wars fan — or at least I wasn’t in the past except to the degree that it’s been an ongoing part of my pop-culture awareness since I was 8 years old — but the recent iterations of the franchise, both theatrically and on TV, have been really well-done and have given me new appreciation for it. And The Last Jedi is probably the best installment yet. It was moving in ways a Star Wars movie has never been before (not that they’ve never been moving, just not in these specific ways). It was unpredictable in a good way, full of surprises and plot developments that didn’t “go the way you think.” It was one of the darkest, most tragic SW movies and one of the most optimistic and inspiring ones at the same time. Its action scenes were brilliant and innovative and remarkable. It was funny, sometimes a bit goofily so, but often quite cleverly. And it managed to hit all the nostalgia buttons perfectly while simultaneously challenging and deconstructing all the pat assumptions of the prior films’ heroic narratives.

If I have a problem with it, it’s that there’s simply too much going on, with all the lead characters separated on their own individual subplots for most of the film, only coming together at the climax. It’s kind of wild to realize that two of the central new heroes, Rey and Poe, never actually meet until very near the end of the second film out of three. And there were times when one or two subplots had been going on for so long that I found myself wondering, “Okay, when do we get back to Rey?” or whoever.

But most of the cast does get a lot of great stuff to do, individually or in pairs. It’s great to see Mark Hamill playing Luke Skywalker again as a mature actor, bringing much more nuance and depth and that superb voice to the role. Luke here is basically the character Obi-Wan probably should have been in the original, or might have been if what we later learned of his story had been established from the start — a scarred and bitter ex-Jedi who resists teaching a new student because of his failure with his last student who turned to evil. As it is, he shares that reluctance more with Yoda, and comes across as a more Yoda-like figure in both his eccentric, hermit-like lifestyle and his teachings about the nature of the Force. (There’s even a bit of a Dagobah callback with his X-wing being submerged once again.) Maybe that’s why it’s Yoda’s Force ghost who appears to him on Ahch-To, because of that affinity. I have to say, it was a thrill to see the return of the real Yoda, the latex puppet with a puckish sense of humor, rather than the solemn CGI sage from the prequels.

As for Rey, her interaction with Luke is effective, but it’s her bond with Kylo Ren through the Force that’s really intriguing. The way the two of them connect and try to win each other over, not through big noisy saber fights or grandiose speechmaking but through understated interpersonal bonding, is really intriguing and effective, and it shows how much this series has matured from its pulpy beginnings. It went to an unexpected place, too. Both Rey and the audience were led to expect that it would play out like the legend of Luke and Vader yet again, the heroic Jedi turning the Sith apprentice back to the light and leading him to betray his master. And it felt that way until the very end of their big, brilliantly choreographed fight with Snoke’s guards — and then Kylo pulled the rug out of all our assumptions and we realized that Rey, and we, had completely misinterpreted the future she’d seen. That’s deft. The revelation about Rey’s parentage also does a neat job of deconstructing the stock “Chosen One” narrative. Kylo literally says she’s got no special place in this story, that she’s just a random girl. And I love that. I don’t want every story to be about dynasties, hereditary lines of people who are somehow more important than everyone else. What the Resistance is fighting for, and what this film shows really well, is that everyone is important. A hero can be anyone from the big legendary mystical knight-sage to some random bomber tech or pipe jockey or a little slave boy cleaning a stable.

Poe clashing with Leia and Holdo and having to learn the downside of being a macho hotshot space jockey was effective, but it was Carrie Fisher as Leia who really stole the show, and it makes me so sad that we’ll never get the third film that was supposed to focus on her as much as The Force Awakens focused on Han and this one did on Luke. Still, it helps that Leia has so many other strong, rich heroines to follow in her footsteps now, rather than being unique. And this movie did give her a hell of a swan song. It sure faked us out that she was going to be killed off early in the movie — and then just as it had started to sink in emotionally that she was gone, we got that amazing moment that finally, finally answered the question of whether Leia can use the Force, and in the most superheroic-looking way possible. It’s been a long time coming, but wow, what a payoff.

Finn’s little side trip to Canto Bight with Rose Tico was fun too. I’ve seen reviewers call it one of the weaker parts of the film, a sidebar that slows things down, but it was actually really important, because it was the part of the film that did the most to explore just what it is the Resistance is actually fighting for. As Rose said at the climax, it’s not just about destroying, but protecting. That’s a really important statement. I also liked how this and the later Crait sequence revolved around animals, around connecting with nature and listening to it, as the path to success. It reminds me of the sort of thing Star Wars Rebels is doing with the Loth-wolves. Plus the creature designs for the horselike Fathiers and the catlike, crystalline Vulptices were really good. The Porgs were okay, too.

Oh, plus the Finn subplot ends up giving Captain Phasma the big moment she was deprived of in TFA. We finally get some payoff for all the setup for her character, with Finn getting a final battle with her as his personal archnemesis, and getting to deliver a pretty cool hero line at the end there.

The first really wow-inducing scene in the movie is Paige Tico’s sacrifice in the bomber. That’s a very different way of depicting a Star Wars action scene, really focusing on the heroism of one of the background rebels who are usually treated as faceless cannon fodder. We never really learn anything about her beyond her determination and self-sacrifice, but in a way that’s all we need to know, and her action drives a lot of what follows by motivating her sister Rose, without whom Finn would’ve deserted and the plan to shut down the hyperspace tracker would never have been formulated. (I was so moved by Paige’s heroism that I didn’t even stop to wonder how dropping bombs could possibly work in weightless space.) The sacrifice of Vice Admiral Holdo later in the film is also one of the most powerful moments, and the way the effect of her action is depicted visually and acoustically is extraordinary. It’s notable that both women’s quiet, powerful, almost unwitnessed acts of self-sacrifice are in contrast to Poe Dameron’s pursuit of the more conventional, flashy, masculine hotshot fighter hero narrative, are ultimately more effective than his efforts, and are arguably the avoidable result of his arrogance, certainly in the former case.

Not that this film is lacking for flashiness. I’ve already praised the fight choreography in the throne room, and the idea of setting the Crait battle on a salt plain makes for some inspired and unique visuals, even if they did have to toss in a slightly stilted bit of a random soldier commenting on the salt for the audience’s benefit. It also allowed for a subtle clue about Luke’s climactic trickery, which is one of the things I was spoiled on in advance, so I was able to notice a certain lack of footprints.

John Williams’s score was great too. TFA’s score didn’t stand out to me the first time I saw it, though I noticed its character themes more on a second viewing, and I’ve really come to like Rey’s theme. But this was a really strong and impressive score. Like so much else about the film, it did a great job balancing novelty and nostalgia, bringing back all the familiar themes from past movies and combining them with effective new motifs.

I really love the way this film managed to balance two things that might seem contradictory — honoring the past and the nostalgic elements that bring us back to Star Wars again and again, and taking a critical look at the franchise’s past assumptions, deconstructing their simplicity, and responding to them with a more thoughtful and nuanced point of view. Perhaps that’s because the deconstructions don’t invalidate what came before — they just show that it’s only a small part of something bigger and more complicated. To really honor the positive values and the spirit of hope that the heroes of Star Wars fight for, and to understand the stakes and the cost of their fight, you have to look beyond some of the more superficial elements like the traditional action cliches and Chosen One narratives. And the more traditional aspects of the stories and their newer elements can come together harmoniously, as Leia did with Poe, and as Finn did with Rose.

It’s that harmonious blending of old and new elements that makes The Last Jedi so intensely satisfying, because it fulfilled both the part of me that thrilled at nostalgia for the characters and adventures of my childhood and the part of me that needs something fresher, more adult, and more thought-provoking. Rian Johnson really pulled off a remarkable balance here.

Looking back on a slow year

December 30, 2017 2 comments

With 2017 coming to a close, I realize that I haven’t announced a single new writing project all year. I’ve had only three projects come out in 2017 — Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations — Shield of the Gods in June and Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference and “Abductive Reasoning” in August. (Also, Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown and “Twilight’s Captives” were nominally January 2017 publications, but they both came out in December 2016.) The last announcement I made of a new project was for “Abductive Reasoning” in November 2016, more than a year ago.

So what gives? Don’t worry, I haven’t retired from writing. But between one thing and another, it’s been a very slow year for me. The main problem is that Simon & Schuster has been renegotiating its license for Star Trek tie-in fiction, and for some reason, it’s taking an astonishingly long time to get resolved. I would imagine that the arrival of Star Trek: Discovery has created complications and/or distractions that delayed the process, but beyond that, I really have no idea why it’s been taking so long. I heard a month or so back that the deal was close to being finalized, and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get back into Star Trek soon, but even so, it will still be quite some time before anything new gets announced to the public.

In the meantime, I’ve been pursuing a number of other options, mostly original fiction but one tie-in project as well. There are a few things I’ve actually made progress on, but this year has been a perfect storm of delays. There are two or three exciting new projects I’d expected to be able to announce — and to get paid for — by now, but they’ve all taken months longer than expected to reach a point where I could talk about them, a bizarre coincidence. On the plus side, those projects look like they’re finally coming together now, and I should have some interesting announcements to make in January. Meanwhile, I’ve got an upcoming opening to submit my long-simmering spec novel to a prospective publisher, but I’ve got to make some changes to it to fit the parameters, and I’m working on those now.

As far as this blog goes, I expect it to get a little more active in January, since I’ve been working on a new set of reviews of a vintage SFTV series. That should be ready to go very soon. In the meantime, my autographed book sale is still going on. I called it a holiday sale to get attention, but really, it’s open all year round, as long as anyone is willing to buy.

By the way, though it’s been a slow year for me in terms of selling (or at least announcing) new work, the same doesn’t necessarily go for my recent work. In particular, it seems that Patterns of Interference has been #1 on the Locus Media & Gaming Related Bestseller list for two months running, in November and December. I’ve even beat out the Star Wars novels, though apparently it was a close call in December. Thanks to David Mack for pointing these out to me. And thanks to my readers for buying my books. I hope you’ll be as generous with the new stuff I have coming next year.

Spoilery thoughts on STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, with spoilers, in case you were wondering (Spoilers!)

December 31, 2015 5 comments

I was going to see The Force Awakens on Tuesday (which is discount day), but I did so much writing the night before that I couldn’t shut my mind down and hardly got any sleep, so I was in no condition to drive on Tuesday. I was going to wait a week, but I realized that the earliest 2D showing on any given day was cheaper than the 3D showings on Tuesdays, and I decided, what the heck, I didn’t see any of the other Star Wars movies in 3D. Plus I needed groceries and wanted to check out the new Kroger next to the theater (which turned out to be a huge shopping complex with a food court on one side and a mini-department store on the other). So I went this morning, and now I’ve finally gone from the avoiding-spoilers side to the talking-about-spoilers side. So if you’re afraid of spoilers, be warned there are spoilers here. Have I said “spoilers” enough yet? Spoilers!

Just to provide a little extra spoiler space (Spoilers!), here follows a brief anecdote of a good deed I done did on the way to the theater. As I was driving on a one-way street and came toward a red light, a car coming through on the cross street from my right started to turn the wrong way onto the one-way street. It turned out to make a full U-turn in the middle of the intersection, though I’m not sure if that was the driver’s intention or their correction after realizing their error. Either way, it wasn’t right. But anyway, the driver of the car ahead and to the right of me got out to yell at the other driver. I noticed an object fall from the yelling guy’s car, and realized it was his cell phone. So I rolled down my right-side window and yelled, “You dropped your phone, sir, you dropped your phone!” The guy picked up his phone and got back in. He didn’t thank me or anything. But if he was angry enough to get out of his car to yell at another driver, imagine how angry he might’ve been if he’d later discovered that he’d lost his phone. Maybe the favor I did was ultimately for someone else.

And now for something completely spoilery:

I’ve never been a huge Star Wars fan. The original trilogy was part of my childhood, along with the NPR radio series, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, and Han Solo at Stars’ End. And I still have a near-complete collection of Marvel’s original SW comic, which is just about my favorite iteration of the franchise. But it’s just something I watch and find moderately entertaining and well-made; it doesn’t have the same meaning for me that Star Trek or Doctor Who does. So I was able to come in without a lot of baggage or demands. Probably a good way to approach any movie.

Still, it was a lot of fun to see “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and that fanfare and the opening crawl — although I was a bit disappointed that the crawl was such clean digital text instead of physically printed text scrolled over by a tilted camera, since I’m that old-school. The opening line “Luke Skywalker has vanished” is a great way to start. And I liked how the opening shot evoked the nostalgia of the original film’s opening but brought an impressive new visual and stylistic twist, with the Star Destroyer in silhouette, and then the very Abramsesque montage shots of the Stormtroopers.

I knew to expect a lot of nostalgia and homage to the original trilogy, but I’m okay with that. I think George Lucas has said that he wanted the prequel trilogy to “rhyme” with the OT, to have some similar beats in a different way, but I think this film achieved that more successfully, mixing the old with the new. I could see the resonances, but I feel they were remixed in a fresh way… err, for the most part.

In particular, J.J. Abrams (who cowrote with Lawrence Kasdan as well as directing) has always been good at focusing on the emotional core of characters and their journeys. People make fair complaints about the plot logic in his stories, but I’ve always appreciated how deeply his stories are grounded in character and emotion, which makes them work despite the holes. It’s exactly what this franchise needed after the sterility of the prequels. I love the freshness of focusing on a Stormtrooper who has a crisis of conscience and deserts. It’s nicely subversive. Until now, Stormtroopers were always faceless myrmidons who could be disposed of without qualms, but now we get to see one as a person (John Boyega’s Finn), and it’s great. (The Clone Wars achieved something similar with the Clone Troopers.) It does make it a little incongruous, though, when Finn is whooping it up at his success at blowing away his fellow Stormtroopers during his escape with Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac). Still, for a Star Wars movie to even touch on the idea of violence as a difficult thing to bear on one’s conscience is a major step forward, however inconsistently it’s handled. (This is one reason I liked the Marvel comics so much — the characters there expressed a regard for life that they never expressed in the films.) I’m not sure whether it’s a bug or a feature that we never get an explanation for why Finn had a conscience despite his lifelong brainwashing. It might’ve been nice to know what made him different from the others, but on the other hand, it’s nice to have a character just intrinsically have a sense of decency despite every effort to destroy it.

Finn and Poe bond pretty well in their brief time together, and Poe is reasonably charismatic and irreverent, but he doesn’t leave as much of an impression on me as the other characters, since he’s basically just a hotshot pilot and good guy, and because he’s missing for so much of the film (indeed, he was originally intended to stay dead). But after recently seeing Isaac be so effective as the bad guy and Domnhall Gleeson as the nice guy in Ex Machina (which is a fabulous film, by the way, go watch it), I was unsure how well they’d pull off the role reversal here. But Isaac was totally without the creep factor that seemed such an indelible part of his Ex Machina character — and just to get a bit ahead of the chronology here, Gleeson’s General Hux was startlingly evil and terrifying in his Hitleresque speech to the masses. They’re both quite chameleonic actors, and I’m most impressed, even if Poe is not the most impressive character on Isaac’s resume.

Speaking of lacking impressions, I’m afraid Captain Phasma didn’t live up to the hype. Or maybe she did, since she was touted as the new Boba Fett, and Boba Fett was a character who did and said so little that it always bewildered me that fans made such a big deal out of him. But I quite liked Gwendoline Christie in Wizards vs. Aliens (nope, never seen that thing with the thrones), and I wanted her to get more to do here. Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of her.

Of course, our main heroine is Daisy Ridley’s Rey, who was quite effective. Ridley is beautiful, but that’s not what she’s here to be, and she did quite well as the resourceful scavenger who’s had to pick up a lot of skills to survive and who turned out to have the makings of a hero without realizing it. (I’ll let my pal Keith DeCandido tear apart the stupid and sexist “Rey is a Mary Sue” meme.) I like her offbeat approach to problem-solving, like pulling the fuses in the maintenance ducts to open or lock doors. Her knack for piloting is nothing unusual in a franchise that’s largely about ships and pilots, and adds credence to the suspicion that she may be of Skywalker blood. She’s maybe a little underdeveloped as a character, but much of her story is clearly being held back for the next two movies. The original film at least told a complete story with closure for everyone (except poor Chewie not getting his medal) while still leaving room for more. I liked Rey in the present, but I would’ve liked more answers about her past.

Really, one thing I kept thinking while watching this movie was that I was more interested in the stuff that happened before this movie. Kylo Ren turning on Luke, Rey’s backstory, Finn’s backstory, etc. I wouldn’t mind seeing those stories told. Maybe that’ll be the next animated series after Rebels. Or maybe it’ll be in novels.

Kylo Ren wasn’t quite as iconic a villain as Darth Vader, but then, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? He’s a wannabe Vader, but he doesn’t quite have it down yet. But Adam Driver does a reasonably good job as a more angry and turmoil-driven villain than we’ve seen before; again, Abrams makes sure to ground it in emotional conflict, particularly family issues. Now, the one thing I did get spoiled on (because I read something I should’ve known to avoid) was THE big spoiler about who Kylo Ren was and what he did to Han Solo. So I knew that was coming. Even so, the way their relationship was revealed seemed a bit awkward. When Supreme Leader Snoke just casually up and said “Your father, Han Solo” in the middle of a conversation, I was thinking, “Dude, spoilers!” I would’ve expected that reveal to come more dramatically, like maybe between Han and Leia when they were reunited. Anyway, knowing what happened at the big moment didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the scene, because knowing it was coming gave it weight, and I was able to focus on the parts I didn’t know, i.e. how it happened, what was said, how it was set up. And that was done very well. Some good dialogue and acting there.

It was okay to see Han and Chewie again, still up to their old tricks. But Han was never a favorite character of mine. And they did seem to show up kind of randomly, though not as randomly as the Falcon just happening to be there on Jakku. At least we got an explanation later for how they found it. Harrison Ford did a good job, and it’s clear that Kasdan still loves writing Han. But really, it took this long for Han to try using Chewie’s bowcaster? It was nice to see Leia again too — and by the way, Internet, Carrie Fisher looks great. But it’s frustrating that we saw so little of Luke, and that we never got to hear his voice, which of course is Mark Hamill’s greatest asset as an actor. I hope he’ll have a big role in the next film.

Oh, of course I should talk about the real star of the film, BB-8. Well, the star of the first act, anyway. He is a very well-designed and well-executed character. Giving his head the ability to tilt in all directions makes him much more expressive than R2-D2 ever was. He’s a lot of fun. And he has a pretty good “voice” treatment too — distinct from R2, a bit more organic-sounding, but definitely much better than that irritating “wah-wah-wah” voice used for Chopper on Rebels.

Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata was pretty good as the Yoda-ish figure of the film, though I wonder if she could’ve been done as a puppet instead of by performance capture. I guess they wanted to get her facial performance onscreen as well as her voice. Anyway, Maz being a thousand years old is interesting; it means maybe we could see her on Rebels at some point. And Max Von Sydow’s Lor San Tekka might also appear as an associate of Bail Organa’s, say.

Storywise, I could’ve done without another plot revolving around a giant planetkiller weapon. That’s a well we’ve seen returned to a bit too often now. But as with Kylo, maybe the attempt at imitation is kind of the point — the First Order is trying to preserve the Empire, and all the Empire really had going for it was destruction. They’re trapped by their need to emulate the past, just as Kylo is.

Now, a lot of people have complained about the destruction of the Republic capital and the Hosnian system being visible across space from Takodana. It’s true that this is a trope Abrams has used before, in Star Trek when he showed Spock Prime seeing Vulcan’s destruction from the surface of Delta Vega. I always took that as symbolic, but it’s more literal here. Still, I’m not too bothered. It’s no worse than the question of how the Falcon got from Hoth to Bespin without a hyperdrive in The Empire Strikes Back. I’ve seen it theorized that maybe Hoth and Bespin were in the same star system, or maybe around the two stars in a close binary, say. A similar explanation could work here. Maybe “the Hosnian system” is a term like “the Jovian system” for Jupiter and its moons. And maybe Takodana is in the same star system and wasn’t targeted because it’s neutral. Anyway, Star Wars has always been space fantasy rather than science fiction (in Lucas’s own words), so it’s never really tried to be plausible. It’s an annoyance, but a minor one.

The bigger problem with the destruction of the Republic capital is that it’s so cursory. There were going to be scenes of Maisie Richardson-Sellers as Leia’s envoy to the Republic, someone we’d know and have some reason to care about when the planet was destroyed, but her appearance was reduced to a brief shot without dialogue as she saw the beam coming in. And since we never really see the Republic as an actual factor in the story, and since none of the characters have any personal connection there that we know of, its destruction hardly seems relevant. Still, getting to see the people on the surface at all is an improvement on the destruction of Alderaan. And so is the visual effect. I’ve always hated that the destruction of Alderaan was represented by a quick, instantaneous “poof,” a jump cut from a shot of the planet to the same kind of liquid-fuel explosion used for spaceships blowing up. I always felt it should be more like the effect of the wave-motion gun in Star Blazers or the destruction of the Genesis Planet in The Search for Spock — a slow, roiling upheaval that took time to build to a full eruption because of the vastness of the thing being destroyed. And we finally got that here, both with Hosnian Prime and at the end with Starkiller Base. So I appreciate that, at least. If it had to be a replay of something we’ve already seen, at least they handled the details better this time. (Although, no, we didn’t need another scene of X-Wings in a trench. That was just self-indulgent.)

Let’s see, what else… I like the way the climactic fight made it look as though Finn was the hero who’d save the damsel in distress from the bad man, and then turned it around and had Rey turn out to be the hero. I personally didn’t need that point made, I’ve seen (and written) plenty of female action heroes, but maybe it’s a statement that was necessary for a large part of the action movie audience. And it’s a trick Abrams has pulled before, in the climax of Mission: Impossible III. Although it goes farther here, since it’s not a temporary role reversal, it’s the emergence of the trilogy’s true hero.

See, this is why I don’t get the “Mary Sue” claims. A Mary Sue would overshadow everyone else from the start. Rey has a learning curve, and the fact that she’s the real hero of the story doesn’t become evident until the third act. Everyone treats her like the traditional damsel — Finn holding her hand, Ren kidnapping her and strapping her into bondage — and she subverts the role as much as Leia did in 1977, but this is the version of Star Wars where Leia turns out to be the hero and Luke ends up half-dead. (Okay, yes, Rey was coded as the Luke surrogate from the start by being on a desert planet and connecting with the cute droid. But no analogy is perfect.)

The resolution of the search for Luke is too sudden — R2 had the info all along, he was just taking a really long nap? And he woke up for no clear reason (although at first I thought it was in response to Chewie’s grief). I’ve read that he just woke up slowly after overhearing C3PO talk about the map, but they could’ve hinted at that by showing a standby light start to blink on R2 at the end of that scene, or something. Honestly, of all the returning characters (discounting the cameos of Ackbar and Nien Nunb), 3PO and R2 are the ones the story could’ve most easily done without. I didn’t feel their brief appearances really added all that much. Though R2 at least got to be a Macguffin of sorts again, even if he was a Macguffin nobody knew they should be after. (Which, if you think about it, is probably the best position to be in if you’re a Macguffin.)

You know… while a lot of what George Lucas has said about the franchise recently has been pretty ridiculous, he has a point about how he always tried to feature new and different planetary environments rather than rehashing old ones. Here, aside from the Tatooine-like desert planet, most of the worlds were forested and hard to tell apart. The only thing that set Starkiller Base apart from Takodana or the Resistance base planet was that it was snowing. It wasn’t as visually interesting as the mix of worlds we got in the OT and the prequels. (And when we did get a forest moon in ROTJ, it was a stunningly massive redwood forest. It was the ultimate forest, just as Tatooine was the ultimate desert and Hoth was the ultimate ice world. The worlds here looked kinda like Planet Vancouver.)

Still, I’ve never understood fandom’s criticisms of Abrams as a director. I’ve said how much I like his emphasis on character and emotion, and I think he’s a good director stylistically as well. In fact, I felt this didn’t seem to have enough of his usual style and sensibility, as if he were trying to conform more to the Star Wars house style. I would’ve liked it to have even more of an Abramsy feel.

Or maybe it’s just that John Williams was doing the score instead of Michael Giacchino. I have to say, I didn’t find any of the new musical themes to stand out as much as the old ones. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have the new themes burned in my mind from years of listening to the soundtrack albums as a kid, but the score felt underwhelming except when it quoted the greatest hits. And I was disappointed that the end titles didn’t conclude with the main theme reprise like they did in the OT. That’s as important a musical bookend as the opening theme. (But then, I was the only one who bothered to stick around to the very end of the credits.)

Speaking of which — the coolest thing in the credits was learning that a lot of the background voices were done by cast members from The Clone Wars, including showrunner Dave Filoni, sound editor Matthew Wood (Grievous/droids), Dee Bradley Baker (the clones), Tom Kane (narrator/Yoda), Matt Lanter (Anakin), Cat Taber (Padme), James Arnold Taylor (Obi-Wan), and Sam Witwer (Darth Maul, and now Palpatine on Rebels). Since Rey’s Force vision included a voiceover by Ewan McGregor and archive audio of Sir Alec Guiness, that means all three Obi-Wan actors’ voices are heard in this movie.

I guess that’s enough for now. This has been really long. Question: Is it worth seeing this again in 3D?

Oh, all right, let’s talk about the STAR WARS trailer…

December 3, 2014 10 comments

Everyone else is talking about the Star Wars trailer, so I might as well put in my two cents. Not so much about the trailer itself, since you can’t tell much from a teaser trailer, but about the reactions I’ve been seeing.

First off: Okay, the crossbeam lightsaber is a bit hard to justify rationally, but let’s face it, lightsabers are not a plausible weapon to begin with. A beam of energy acting as a solid blade? How’s that supposed to work? It’s magic. Here’s the thing a lot of people don’t seem to get: Star Wars is not science fiction. Lucas has never claimed that it is. His own term for it is “space fantasy.” The reason he created it is because he couldn’t get the movie rights to Flash Gordon. The opening line of every movie, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” is telling us up front that it’s a fairy tale. It’s not supposed to be a plausible universe, it’s supposed to be a wild adventure fantasy in the vein of the movie serials Lucas enjoyed as a child.

But fortunately the new movie isn’t just looking backward. No more all-white casts like in the bad old days. Our first look at the new generation of Star Wars establishes it as a diverse generation. Who cares if one of them is (at least dressed as) a Stormtrooper? What matters is that they’re there. Inclusion is a good thing, and still far too lacking in feature films.

The other main thread of complaint I keep hearing is about the fact that J.J. Abrams is directing, co-writing, and co-producing. A lot of people are expecting this to be like his Star Trek movies. Here’s why that doesn’t follow:

On Star Trek, Paramount gave Abrams and Bad Robot free rein to recreate the franchise however they wished. They’re making it on behalf of Paramount, but the “Supreme Court” of Abrams, Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have had pretty much total control over it, and Abrams is the top man. Even though he’s not directing the third film, he’s still producing it, and that means the buck stops with him. But on Star Wars, Lucasfilm executive Kathleen Kennedy is the one in charge. Abrams is hired talent working for her, for Lucasfilm. He’s only directing this one movie, while Kennedy is producing the whole series, including Episodes VIII & IX (slated to be written and directed by Looper‘s Rian Johnson) and some standalone spinoffs (the first two of which are slated to be directed by Godzilla‘s Gareth Edwards and Chronicle‘s Josh Trank).  And he’s been hired, not to reinvent the universe his way, but to make a new installment that’s true to the existing universe, a universe that Kennedy is now in charge of maintaining and advancing. Kennedy, by the way, is the woman who’s produced most of Steven Spielberg’s films and the Back to the Future trilogy, among plenty of others. Think about that. Star Wars is now in the hands of Spielberg’s closest collaborator.

Also, Abrams made his Trek films along with the “Supreme Court” members listed above. But he’s co-written The Force Awakens along with Lawrence Kasdan, and he and Burk are producing it along with Kennedy and Kasdan. Just to be clear, that’s Lawrence Kasdan, the guy who co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Frankly I’m amazed I’m not hearing more chatter about that from Star Wars fans. The guy who wrote the best movie in the franchise is back. How is that not exciting?

So yes, of course, The Force Awakens is going to be an Abrams film with his voice and sensibilities, but only insofar as it meshes with Kennedy’s vision. Think of what happened to Edgar Wright on Ant-Man. He spent years developing that film, but when he couldn’t come to terms with how the Marvel Studios executives envisioned the film, he was let go. The same would’ve happened to Abrams if he’d tried to make a Star Wars film in a way that Lucasfilm and Kennedy were unhappy with. After all, this film is the foundation of a whole new series of films that Kennedy is responsible for developing and producing, and that Abrams will have no hand in beyond how he sets the stage in TFA. That tips the balance of power more toward Kennedy.

Anyway, I don’t understand the opinion some people have that Abrams’s sensibilities are inappropriate for Star Wars. His approach has always been to blend big, extravagant fantasy action with relatable, character-based drama. To me, that seems perfect for Star Wars. The problem with the prequel trilogy, with Lucas writing and directing the films himself, was that Lucas never really cared about characters. Abrams always puts characters and emotions at the center of everything, even in the midst of the big flashy action. If anything, the main problem with his series Alias was that it was too tightly focused on characters and relationships, so that all the big worldshaking spy schemes and master plans all ultimately revolved around the family lives of a few core characters to a degree that would’ve made Charles Dickens say “Okay, that’s a bit contrived.” But that’s perfect for Star Wars, a franchise where the big bad turned out to be the hero’s long-lost father and it was their family bond that ultimately saved the galaxy, and, oh, the leading lady is the hero’s sister too. SW is big, broad melodrama and has never pretended to be anything else, just as it’s never pretended to be naturalistic or scientifically plausible.

If anything, Abrams’s main shortcoming as a Star Trek director was that, while he handled the character side well enough to make the stories feel grounded, he treated the universe and its rules too fancifully. Star Trek has always at least nominally tried to be a naturalistic, plausible universe, though it’s often fallen short on the plausibility side. But Abrams has treated it more like a fantasy universe where physics works in whatever way is convenient to the plot and where starships can hop across the galaxy in seconds. In other words, he’s treated Star Trek like it was Star Wars. But now he’s doing Star Wars, and that seems like a natural fit to me.

Of course, there’s no sense in judging a movie good or bad based on its teaser trailer. But it seems to me that fandom today is dominated by voices that look for excuses to criticize and carp, and usually those excuses don’t hold up to analysis. And that’s frustrating. Fandom is supposed to be about enjoying stuff and being excited by stuff. Fandom is love, and love should be optimistic. Even when you’ve been burned by love in the past, even when you’re afraid to take a chance on love again, it’s still important to let it give you hope.

Granted, I myself only like Star Wars rather than loving it. But I love Star Trek, and that love makes me want to see the best in it, even when it disappoints me. Because forgiveness is part of love too. I wish more fans would remember that.

What would SFTV have been like in the STAR TREK universe?

One of the characters in my novel Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock was Clare Raymond, the 20th-century housewife from TNG’s “The Neutral Zone,” and while working on scenes involving her thoughts and recollections, I got to wondering what mass-media science fiction would’ve been like in a universe where there was no Star Trek TV series in the ’60s. I vacillated between positing a reality that simply lacked such a series altogether and inventing a substitute series that could go in its place and fill the same role. (I was tempted to use Astro Quest from the CSI episode “A Space Oddity”. Galaxy Quest wouldn’t have worked, since it was supposedly made in the ’80s.) I ended up going the former route, but I didn’t really develop it in detail.

But the subject recently came up in a thread on the TrekBBS,  and I got into a more in-depth analysis of the subject, which I want to repost here.

The thing is, Star Trek had such a major influence on popular culture that it’s hard to imagine how different the media landscape would be without it. Star Trek did a lot to make science fiction a more respectable genre in the mass media. It pioneered or popularized many aspects of the modern fandom experience — conventions, fanzines, even slash fiction. The success of ST in syndicated reruns proved that reruns were more viable than broadcasters had thought and led to a rise in rerun use and a decrease in season lengths. Later on, TNG’s breakthrough success in first-run syndication paved the way for the syndication boom of the ’90s.

So without Star Trek, there might never have been a Xena or a Babylon 5. Not to mention all the shows that have spawned directly from Trek veterans like Michael Piller, Ron Moore, Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Rene Echevarria, and so on. There’s no telling if they would’ve ever gone into SFTV if not for ST. If it hadn’t existed in the ’60s, then SFTV and first-run syndication in the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s would be a lot sparser. Heck, without B5 breaking new ground in serialized storytelling, we might not have as many of the heavily arc-driven shows we have today, in SF or otherwise. It’s a ripple effect.

Without ST, sci-fi would probably have maintained a reputation as kid stuff, since the most successful exemplars of the genre in TV would’ve been Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. I think my conjecture in Watching the Clock that the bionic shows would still exist is pretty sound, since they were based on a novel and weren’t really seen as hardcore sci-fi; series producer Harve Bennett wasn’t an SF-oriented type and wasn’t very familiar with Star Trek prior to being pegged to produce the movies, so his ’70s career wouldn’t have been affected much by the absence of ST. Ditto for Bionic Woman creator Kenneth Johnson, who went on to do The Incredible Hulk, V, and Alien Nation. If Roddenberry hadn’t made his mark in SFTV, maybe we’d look back on Johnson as the man who proved that science fiction could be an adult genre, though that proof would’ve come along much later. And we might’ve still gotten Earthbound genre shows like The X-Files and Buffy.

And would there even have been a Star Wars without Star Trek? In the Trek Nation documentary, George Lucas says he’d attended some Trek conventions before creating Star Wars, and he says ST helped pave the way for SW by proving that sci-fi could be successful — and that it could be produced impressively on a tight budget. So without ST, with mass-media American science fiction in the ’70s lacking that one massive success story, would any movie studio have been willing to take a chance on Lucas’s idea to do a Flash Gordon pastiche as a big-budget movie? If they had, it probably wouldn’t have been called Star Wars, a name that I’ve read Lucas chose because it evoked Star Trek. And it might’ve been a much smaller, lower-budget film, and there would’ve been less of a pre-existing genre fanbase for it. And its effects might not have been as sophisticated, since the FX studios for Star Trek pioneered new techniques on that show. Without Star Wars as we know it, there wouldn’t have been an ILM, let alone a Pixar. Sci-fi and fantasy wouldn’t have become the giants in the motion picture industry that they are in our world; the films and franchises that would never have been made are too numerous to list. Nor would there have been a Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or Jason of Star Command. And without Donald Bellisario cutting his genre teeth on Galactica, there might never have been a Quantum Leap.

So probably the biggest SF fan community would be for Doctor Who, and maybe Blake’s 7 would have a big following too. England would most likely be seen as the vanguard of science fiction in popular culture, though SF would be seen as a genre characterized by cheap production values, and thus would have trouble gaining more than a niche fanbase in the US.

And what about all the people inspired to become scientists and engineers because of Star Trek? If that show had never existed, then modern technology might be less advanced in some respects. There might not have been as much incentive driving people to invent flip phones or pad-style computers. Which might explain why some aspects of technology do seem to have advanced more gradually in the Trek universe itself, although its 20th century clearly had much more impressive progress in crewed spaceflight and genetic engineering than ours.

So all in all, as utopian as Star Trek‘s 22nd through 24th centuries are, it looks like their 20th and early 21st centuries would’ve been rather deprived where mass entertainment was concerned. Maybe that’s why ST’s characters are mainly fans of detective fiction and Westerns and gothic romances and the like — maybe science fiction never really caught on outside its particular niche audience.