Don’t Let the Hype Get to You

I’ve been meaning to review Winter and Six of Crows, and then I watched the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, and I noticed I had a theme with all three of these stories: hype.

Let me go ahead and clarify: I ENJOYED ALL THREE OF THESE THINGS. This will not be about big disappointments. But there were some minor problems I had with all three.

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First, Winter. Though there was a lot of hype surrounding this one, it was just from everyone who loves The Lunar Chronicles, which includes myself, so a lot of the hype I had put on myself. Cress was hands-down, my favorite read last year. Every page was just like YES, this book is PERFECT. So I thought with 800+ page Winter, it could only get BETTER, right?! OK, maybe not.

Again, I REALLY liked this book. I gave it 4.5 stars and put it in my top 10 faves of the year. But I can’t lie, that book dragged for me a bit. I think Meyer could have cut at least 100 pages, possibly more. Before Winter, I thought I could have read a 400-book all about the Lunar Chronicles gang playing Scrabble and been thoroughly entertained, but maybe I was wrong. When the characters were just waiting for things to happen, I got restless. I wanted things to move forward, not stand still. And in case you think I’m ALL about the action, that’s not true either. I actually got confused quite a few times during the action sequences. Though I will admit, that’s the case with almost every action sequence in almost every book. And while everyone went through something in this book before they could get to their happy ending, I just didn’t feel quite as much emotional resonance as I wanted. Maybe that was my own fault. Brittany talked about how she possibly created distance between herself and this finale, and I think I might have done that too.

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Then Six of Crows. Again, there was hype, but a lot of it self-made because I LOVED the Grisha trilogy and I love Leigh Bardugo. I figured that Six of Crows had to be even better than the previous books, because that’s how it works, right? Writers only get better? I enjoyed the book. I gave it 4 stars. But it did not feel tight to me. Like Winter (though shorter), I felt there were pacing issues. I didn’t feel it was a very good set-up for the actual “heist,” and then the whole “heist” (honestly, it doesn’t feel like a real heist) itself felt kind of weak to me. Not gonna lie. This didn’t feel anything like Ocean’s Eleven to me. I mean, I have no problem with things not going perfectly, but everything felt way more half-hazard than I think it was supposed to.

And then there were 6 main characters, and I actually liked about 3 of them. The other 3 were fine, but I could have lived without them. Really, the book could have been all about Inej and Kaz and that would have been good for me. They were the only ship that even made sense to me. And speaking of things not making sense, I could not keep any of the nationalities or any other cultural details straight, which seemed strange since I have read the other books and I don’t recall being confused with them.

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And lastly, Star Wars. Most of the movie was pretty solid. I loved how it felt like the original series, except updated, and it was going really well. I liked the characters, the pacing was good, etc. Then at some point kind of close to the end, it’s like… I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint the moment it stopped working for me. But by the end of the movie, I realize that I had a pretty good time but nothing impacted me the way I thought it should have. I’ll talk spoilers in white in the next couple paragraphs; highlight to see…

One thing that took me out of the movie relatively early on was when Han & Leia’s kid who’s the bad guy (I honestly don’t remember his name) took off his mask the first time. I was immediately like you are not their kid, I don’t believe it. He just didn’t look like their kid to me or feel like him to me. And he seemed to behave completely differently without his mask. The character in general felt a little inconsistent. And we never really get to know him, so when we get to that moment between him and Han, I don’t care if he wants to go home with Han and be redeemed (of course, it was pretty obvious to me that he didn’t). I don’t feel betrayed when he kills his dad. It just doesn’t click for me.

And then the “climax” happened, and I put it in quotes because it wasn’t all that exciting. Han and Chewie getting on the Millennium Falcon? That was exciting! Blowing up this massively destructive weapon planet? Eh, who cares? I mean, you know the good guys are going to win and they didn’t even bother to make you feel tense about it ever at any point. I guess Han’s death was supposed to make things feel hopeless but it didn’t. And after the “climax,” Rey goes off to find Luke (no explanation why it’s her), and they just stand there and stare at each other as she holds out his lightsaber and… the end. That’s the end of the freaking movie. I was waiting for the big reveal that Rey is Luke’s daughter (she has to be, right? Is anyone with me on this?) or at least something and I mean, Luke doesn’t utter one single syllable in this movie. It just ends, period. (Actually, if this was going to be the way it ended, it didn’t cut soon enough. My husband and I had the conversation that it would have been better if we see Luke, and then cut, as opposed to the ten seconds of him and Rey staring at each other that we get.)

Look, I know no story can actually be perfect. But I also look for emotional resonance, for great character growth, and I look at story pacing. All three of these stories are part of larger stories that I adore, and when I don’t get all three of those things lined up the way I expect them to, I can’t help but be a little disappointed.

Moral of the story? Have lower expectations, I guess. Though I think that’s nearly impossible when you’re dealing with franchises you already love. But it’s not always going to bigger and better the next time. Professional storytellers are not flawless storytellers, and I know this. At the end of Winter, the characters were where I wanted them to be. At the end of Six of Crows, I can tell that Kaz’s upcoming arc is one I’m going to want to stay tuned for. At the end of Episode VI, I saw my old “friends” and am hopeful of what is to come with the new ones. I may want a little more, but what I got was still good.

How do you deal with hype? Were you mildly (or maybe even majorly) disappointed in anything you were highly anticipated lately?

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Re-watch Review: Star Wars, Episodes I-VI

My husband and I took a few weekends to re-watch all the Star Wars movies, and it was quite overdue for us to do so. The last time I remember re-watching any of the Star Wars films was when they re-released Episode I in 3D for the theater a couple of years ago. Yikes! I had kept putting it off when my husband suggested it because he wanted to watch them in story order, not filmed order, and I wasn’t exactly excited to see Jar Jar Binks. But I decided it had to be done and we finally got through them all.

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By Jeffrey Brown

This re-watch really renewed my love for the original trilogy. I grew up watching the first three movies but  couldn’t keep much of it straight as far as what happened when, except I could remember the Ewoks made their appearance in the last movie. When Episode I released I was 12 years old, which was the perfect time for it to be released and for me to love it. I didn’t even hate Jar Jar. And that epic light saber battle with Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul! I was so into it. Episode II: Attack of the Whiny Anakin Clones came out three years later, and then I was a senior in high school when they released Episode III, and I went to the midnight showing with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and a couple of others. By that point, I think my original love for Episode I had diminished some as my taste refined, but I just had to see what could very well be the last Star Wars movie ever at midnight.

There are some things I still like about the prequels, but overall, they definitely lack the charm of the original trilogy. The prequels often times get overshadowed by flashy effects (that aren’t really all that better than the original effects), lame dialogue, and stiff acting. And no one in the prequels has the charm of Han Solo.

hansolo-smileI’ve always liked Han Solo, but this re-watch made me like him a lot more. I think Carswell Thorne from Cress has something to do with this… but his quips! His expressions! Spot on every time! I liked Luke and Leia a lot more than I remembered as well.

In story order, my rating and mini review of each film… (BTW, there are spoilers, but if you haven’t watched Star Wars yet, what are you waiting for?!)

Episode I: The Phantom Menace: 3 stars

starwars-episodeII still have a bit of affinity for this one, I think because it was the first one that I got to see released to the theater (for its first time anyway) and I was just the right age when it released. I think Amidela is a strong and interesting character, and I also like Obi-Wan quite a bit.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones: 2.5 stars

starwars-episodeIII fell asleep during our rewatch of this one, and I didn’t care, because it’s my least favorite. The love story between Anakin and Padme is just so BLEH. Actually, it’s kind of icky. And Anakin is so annoying in it. The other story line with Obi-Wan was fine but yeah, this one just doesn’t offer much to me. Unfortunatley, I was asleep during the best part, when Yoda has his awesome light saber dual with Count Dooku.

Episode III: The Return of the Sith: 3.5 stars

starwars-episodeIIIEpisode III is definitely the strongest of the prequels, and I would have given it four stars if the acting in this one wasn’t so wooden. Seriously, it’s like they suddenly forgot how to. But this installment is a pretty powerful one. Just as Anakin starts becoming likable, he gets mixed in with Palpatine and he turns to the dark side. It’s heart-breaking. But Padme dying due to a lack of will to live… really? Having twins isn’t good enough of a reason to live?

Episode IV: A New Hope: 4 stars

star-wars-episode-ivA New Hope is a lot of fun, but it’s serious too. Luke loses the only family he has ever known, and this is what moves him to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi. The movie has its flaws, but I think it’s really, really good it is for its time. And there are so many great lines in this one, especially from Han!

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: 3.5 stars

star-wars-episode-vI do enjoy The Empire Strikes Back quite a bit, but it does feel just slightly transitional as the second movie in a trilogy. Still though, I can’t complain about much here. It’s still fun but serious and a good story all in one!

Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi: 4.5 stars

star-wars-episode-viThe Return of the Jedi is my long-time and all-time favorite. I’m not sure if it’s the Ewoks or the fact that it’s the happy conclusion or what, but I’ve always enjoyed this one the most. This time around I came to appreciate Luke’s overall story arc and how he stands up to Darth Vader in this one, but he also still recognizes the fact that he’s his father. I really wish he had chopped off Darth Sidious’ head, though watching Darth Vader throw him down was also pretty satisfying. Did I mention the Ewoks?

Now some of you might be thinking, Aren’t you this big self-proclaimed Trekkie?! Why yes I am, and who says you can’t love Star Trek and Star Wars? They’re very different. To me, Star Trek is a TV series that had some OK movies (I say OK to average out the range from truly awful to pretty awesome movies they have) that focuses on questions of humanity in our ever-changing times. Star Wars is a film franchise that tells the story of a family, of Jedis, of good versus evil. They are different and they are both good at what they do. Star Trek is my favorite, if I have to choose, because of the incredibly rich story arcs the shows offer me. I think the Star Wars films tell an overall great story, and I do think they are better movies than the Star Trek movies. And now, I’m really excited about Episode VII coming next year! I do hope J.J. does a better job with Star Wars than he did with Star Trek, but I think he will. He’s more of a Star Wars fanboy anyway. And I doubt he’ll do worse than Episode II.

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Funny if you’re a geek. 🙂

What are your thoughts on Star Wars? Which movie is your favorite? Who’s your favorite character?

Science Fiction World Building

In science fiction, the story sometimes takes place on a world or galaxy we don’t know. Other times, it takes place on our world (or includes our world), but it’s set in the future and the rules have changed. Either way though, the building of the world for a good science fiction story is key.

To create a world or galaxy from scratch, like George Lucas did with Star Wars, is pretty amazing. I remember when Episode I came out, and I got one of those picture encyclopedia things about the movie. I was fascinated to learn that Amidala’s hairstyle, clothing, makeup, all stood for something in her culture. It wasn’t just random, but there was this whole other story behind what she wore and the rituals she performed. I didn’t know it yet, but I was intrigued by world building.

Queen-amidalaSome stories that use our world also create new worlds and alien species, such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Ender’s Game. Sometimes they choose to focus on one other species, like Ender’s Game, and in this case, they are viewed as an enemy. In Babylon 5, there are more species, and a handful of them are ones Earth has made peace with, though unfortunately there was war before peace when it came to some, and still quarrels within the alliance they have formed. And then with Star Trek the number of species out there seems as infinite as the galaxy, from the Klingons to the Vulcans to the Cardassians to the Breen to the Xindi, some who are friends, some who are foes, some who have played as both.

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The Xindi are especially unique because they have five different species within their own kind.

But there’s more to the world building than the aliens, of course. They create Earth histories that gap the period of time between now and then, and these gaps always seem to include wars. World War III is a common one to be seen, but there’s also wars between us and aliens, and then one that I find particularly fascinating in the Star Trek universe: the Eugenics War. Which if you think you know about Khan from Into Darkness, check out The Original Series’ episode “Space Seed” and the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to learn more about his past and his involvement with said war.

khan-crewThen there are the stories that feel closer to our time and that take place on Earth, but society has changed. The Island and Gattaca are two great movies (that will be discussed in more detail in a future post) that answer “what if” questions. Fringe focuses on strange things happening in our current world, and leads both the characters on the show and us to believe that there could be a lot more to what’s possible in our world than what we think of on the surface.

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Some creepy creature the Fringe team found.

Then there’s Firefly, which doesn’t focus on aliens but humans, but they travel in space and have been spread across the galaxy, and war has separated people to either side with the Alliance or with the Browncoats. The story has a Wild West in space feel to it and Chinese and American cultures, as the only superpowers left, have blended, which also adds an interesting element to the world of the show.

kaylee-parasolAnother great thing about science fiction is the technology. It can play a significant role in the world of the story, and even influence the technology of our world Who doesn’t want a lightsaber or wish they could just teleport to their destination? Star Trek, and I’m sure other science fiction stories as well, have actually influenced our progression of technology, which I think is awesome.

star-trek-techBut I feel all this barely scratches the surface on world building elements, as well as the great worlds seen, in science fiction stories. So I ask you: What science fiction story’s world building has captured your attention the most? What elements of world building in science fiction do you particularly enjoy seeing?

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Sci-Fi Month Intro Post!

It’s November, which means it’s Sci-Fi Month, hosted by Rinn Reads! I was very excited when I found out about this event, as the sci-fi genre has been creeping into my life in the form of movies and TV for well over a decade now. It all started with…

star-warsOf course! I thought it was a lot of fun! And then one day I caught a marathon on TV of this show…

The-Twilight-ZoneAnd fell in love with this particular kind of science fiction that examines humanity. Then while dating my husband he introduced me to…

Star-Trek1We watched the original series while dating, and after TRYING to watch the first few episodes of The Next Generation (those first few episodes really are pretty bad), we put the rest of the series on hold until after we married. But now I’ve seen it all and love them all! But in the meantime, we were introduced to…

fireflycastSuch a unique and awesome (but sadly short-lived) series! Then after we finished Star Trek, we watched…

babylon5It’s crazy underrated. I mean seriously, how many TV shows do you know of where the creator/writer of the show had the entire series plotted and planned out beforehand? Amazing story and character arcs in five seasons (or four… the fifth season sadly didn’t live up to the rest of the show in terms of great stories). And currently we’re watching…

Fringe-season2Most of these movies/shows will come up again in my posts this month! And now I’m starting to gain interest in sci-fi books as well, though I think the only true sci-fi book I’ve read so far is Ender’s Game. I liked it pretty well and I’m planning to check out more sci-fi books! But since I will not be reading anything new this month due to NaNoWriMo, I will have no new reviews of sci-fi books to share, and will be focusing exclusively on the movies and TV shows that made me fall in love with the genre over time. Here’s my personal schedule of posts that you can look out for:

November 7: Elements from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine I Want to See in Books

November 11: Ender’s Game movie review

November 18: Memorable Characters of Sci-Fi

November 22: Science Fiction World Building

November 27: My Top 3 Earth-Bound Sci-Fi Movies

And since I love to share Trek with all and didn’t want to re-write the post for Sci-Fi month, I thought I’d take this chance to refer anyone new to my post from several months ago about how to dive into the world of Star Trek, Your Star Trek Introduction, in case you’re interested!

If you’re participating in Sci-Fi Month as well, leave a comment and let me know! And if not, I hope you’ll enjoy some of these posts!

What’s your favorite element of science fiction? 

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The Ides of March: A Tale of Three Betrayals

For The Ideas of March (a little late… sorry about that), I wanted to discuss some betrayals portrayed in movies. I considered forming a top 10 or 5 list, but decided that this time I just wanted to focus on three betrayals, not necessarily a top 3, but three that just interest me in one way or another.

1. Mondego Betrays Dantes: The Count of Monte Cristo

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Their relationship before betrayal: Best buds.

The motive: Though Dantes is as poor as dirt, he seems content with his life and seems to have favor: he gets promoted on his ship and he has a very lovely lady who wants to be his wife. And Mondego, who is much wealthier, just can’t stand it that he is so much more miserable than Dantes.

The execution: He frames Dantes for treason, with a little help, and Dantes is shipped off to Château d’If, an awful prison for men who did not actually commit any crimes. Dantes stays here for many years before he is able to find a way to escape.

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The kicker: Mondego steals Dantes’ girl!

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The aftermath: Dantes finds a group of sea-baring smugglers and joins them. He befriends Jacopo, whose life he spared, and together they go to find a treasure, with which Dantes uses to create an elaborate scheme to fool Mondego and exact his revenge.

I am only scratching the surface of the story. I haven’t read the book, so all my knowledge is based on the movie, but I think it is a great story. Definitely check out the movie if you haven’t seen it!

Great Quote: “How did I escape? With difficulty. How did I plan this moment? With pleasure!” – Dantes

2. Steve betrays Charlie, John, Rob, Lyle, and Left Ear: The Italian Job

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Their relationship before betrayal: Partners in crime.

The motive: Steve wants money and doesn’t care about his fellow partners in crime, who prefer comradery among one another  and stealing without guns.

The execution: He and some other guys (who we never see again and presumably don’t get a cut of the gold) turn their guns on Charlie and company after a successful heist.

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The kicker: Steve kills John in this process. And he doesn’t even know what he wants to do with his money.

The aftermath: Charlie and company recruit John’s daughter and expert safe-cracker, Stella, for a job to steal the gold back from Steve… and succeed.

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What is it about a heist movie that makes you like characters who commit crimes? It helps, I suppose, when they live by their own code of ethics, like not using guns and remaining loyal friends to one another. And it hurts them when someone turns on them and betrays them so that they can have ALL the gold to themselves.

Great Quote: “Same old Steve huh? Always thinking defensively. That’s why you’re always number two.” – Charlie

3. Anakin betrays the Jedis: Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith

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Their relationship before betrayal: Anakin was a Jedi, training under Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The motive: Anakin knows he is very powerful, and he believes that the only way he can save his wife, Padme, is by learning about the powers from the Dark Side of the Force.

The execution: This betrayal is much slower and more gradual. While Anakin is annoying and whiny for two films, in the third film, he becomes really likable. He seems to be on the right path, but as he grows fearful, his mind becomes susceptible to what the Dark Side wants to offer him.

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The kicker: He kills younglings!

The aftermath: Anakin is fully consumed by the Dark Side, and lava, thus becoming Darth Vader. And ultimately, Padme dies, and his two children are separated and sent to two different families.

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Even though anyone who has seen the Star Wars prequels knows this is coming, it is still something else to watch it unfold before your eyes. The moment I first saw the Vader mask clip over Anakin seriously gave me chills.

Great Quote: “You were the chosen one! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them. You were to bring balance to the force, not leave it in darkness… You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you.” – Obi-Wan

What are some other great betrayals we’ve seen in movies that interest you?