GW announced that a new edition is on the way, and that was not a big surprise. When a game has as aggressive a release schedule as 40K, over time the rules get bloated and spread out over more and more books. Eventually, a correction is required. Sometimes, that’s a massive rules shake up, as in 3rd and 8th edition. Other times, it’s a close iteration whose main job is to do a big cleanup that addresses the problems revealed over years of play. The latter is where 9th edition 40K is landing. All the current codexes will remain valid, which is nice. They are finally fixing the ridiculous problem of having your 100 ton tank effectively neutralized by a bunch of cheap infantry dancing around it, thank the Emperor. Overall, it sounds good and I’m on board. The only bit I wasn’t psyched about is “more command points.” To me stratagems in 40K 8E are like feats in D&D 3E: a good idea that quickly spun out of control. There are simply way too many of them, and new books keep adding more and more. I’d have liked it if 9th edition trimmed down them down substantially but I can also see why that didn’t happen. It’d be difficulty to both keep all current codexes valid and have big changes in how stratagems and command points work. I do like the sound of the new campaign system though, and it’s nice to see GW continuing its efforts at diversity. Sisters of Battle look to be in the main box alongside Space Marines and Necrons (and feature heavily in the sizzle video), and the cover of the kickoff book of the new novel series features a black Space Marine. It would be cool to see that played up even more in some new Imperial Guard regiments but they’ve been married to the Cadian look for a long time now.
For a variety of reasons, I just haven’t had a chance to play D&D in 3+ years. I think this is the longest I’ve gone since getting into RPGs at age 10. With all the sensible people now sheltering at home, online gaming is booming. Suddenly, I’ve been invited to three different D&D games. People, I think, are reaching for things that are comforting and for many gamers that means going back to their first RPG. Today I’m going to jump in a game with my old college game group, which I’m looking forward to. Spent many an hour around the table with these friends, and we’ve rarely gotten to game since I moved to Seattle.
This campaign has been going for a little bit so I had to make a 5th level character. I thought I’d play a wizard and do something a little different by making him a diviner. Bill, the GM, said I could do what I wanted with his background, as long as he ended up in Ravenloft. I decided to let my Greyhawk flag fly and came up with the following.
Torsten is a Northman from the World of the Greyhawk, one of the Cruski (known to outsiders as the Ice Barbarians). A cunning boy who seemed to be touched by magic, young Torsten was sent to learn at the feet of Halfdan Hairy-Breeches, a priest of the god Vatun. Halfdan was keeper of a mountain shrine, and there a small community lived in isolation. Vatun, formerly the great god of the northern Suloise, had been imprisoned for nearly 700 years. His priests could not commune with him or receive spells. They prayed that Vatun’s brother, Dalt (God of Portals, Doors, Enclosures, Locks, and Keys), would succeed in freeing their god but they waited in vain.
When Halfdan died, Torsten left the shrine in the hands of other initiates and struck out on his own. He had developed a talent for casting runestones and followed that path into wizardry. He spent many years wandering the lands of the Frost, Ice, and Snow Barbarians, learning magic and trying to divine the fate of Vatun. He pondered on the relationship between Vatun and Dalt. If anyone could break into the prison holding Vatun, surely it was Dalt? Why had he failed for so many centuries? Telchur the Icebrother, the god said to be Vatun’s gaoler, was powerful no doubt but was that explanation really all there was to it?
After mastering divination magic, Torsten had a realization* that Vatun was not completely silent. He could communicate, with those who would listen, through the runestones. It was indirect and imprecise, but Torsten became convinced that Vatun called out to his worshipers. His research indicated that Vatun was imprisoned on a distant demiplane, so Torsten decided to take direct action and leave Greyhawk for the planes.
With the aid of Vatun’s priesthood, Torsten found a portal to Sigil, the City of Doors. From there he began to investigate various demiplanes. After several disappointing trips, including an encounter with a mad wizard on the demiplane of Leonis**, Torsten thought he had a solid lead through a contact in Sigil. Instead he walked into a trap. His contact was an agent of Belial, Archduke of Hell and an ally of Telchur the Icebrother. When he stepped through the portal, he was swallowed up by thick mist and was quickly lost. When he emerged and got his bearings, he realized the terrible truth: he was trapped in the Demiplane of Dread, Ravenloft.
Torsten’s immediate goal is to escape from Ravenloft. From casting his runestones, however, he has come to believe that fate cast him here for a reason. Perhaps the road to Vatun leads through Raveloft.
* The Discovery feature from his Hermit background.
** A little nod to my own D&D book Vortex of Madness.
Back in 2004 my friend Rick and I started playing Blitzkrieg Commander, a WW2 miniatures game descended from Rick Priestley’s Warmaster rules. We followed it through a second edition, and through follow-ups Cold War Commander and Future War Commander. Then the games were sold to Pendraken, an English miniatures company, and a third edition was promised.
In 2017 I went to my first (and sadly only) Salute in London. This is the biggest miniatures convention in the UK and a bucket list event for lead heads. One cool thing about the show is that some vendors will let you pre-order things on their websites that you can then pick up at their booths. I took advantage of this to pre-order Blitzkrieg Commander III from Pendraken and some minis from Bad Squiddo (female Viking and Soviet sniper minis, yes please).
I stayed on in England for another ten days or so, visiting the amazing Tank Museum at Bovington among other places. I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the internet while traveling so I missed the rising criticism of the just-released Blitzkrieg Commander III. There were problems with both the rules and the army lists and the fanbase was pretty salty about it. Pendraken decided they had to address the issues and after running a poll made a stunning announcement: they would fix the game and give everyone who bought BKCIII a free copy of the new edition.
I’m a publisher. I know how much it costs make, print, and ship books. This was a promise that would cost Pendraken $10,000 easily but they were committed to Blitzkrieg Commander having a future.
Yesterday I got an unexpected package in the mail. I thought it might be Saga: Age of Magic but found a copy of Blitzkrieg Commander IV, hot off the presses. I was surprised because I wasn’t even sure if Pendraken had my address, as I’d ordered it for pick-up at Salute. The new edition is full color (thus making the printing even more expansive) and nicely laid out.
Really, I can’t say enough good things about how Pendraken has handled this. It is above and beyond what I could have reasonably expected from a game publisher of their size. So thank you, Pendraken! I look forward to trying out Blizkrieg Commander IV. If you’re interested in checking it out, you can order it here.
Last week I got the new edition of the Prince Valiant RPG in the mail. I wrote a short adventure for its Episode Book on the invitation of Stewart Wieck. It was a small project but it had been cool to do something with Stewart because we’d never worked together. When I was in college, I was a regular reader of White Wolf Magazine (which he edited) and it was one of the first places I tried to get work as an aspiring freelancer. White Wolf had line reviewers at the time and I was very keen to take over the reviews for the Pendragon RPG. Someone else got the gig and I never did end up writing for White Wolf Magazine. In the ensuing decades my path and Stewart’s never crossed again professionally until the Prince Valiant project. I was pleased to get the chance to work with him after all those years. Like everyone else, I was shocked when he died suddenly last year. Getting the Prince Valiant books then was very much bitter sweet. It was good to see the game back and be a very small part of it, but it brought back to mind Stewart’s passing so the moment was tinged with sadness.
Then just scant days later the news of Greg Stafford’s death broke. Greg, of course, was the designer of Prince Valiant and so much more. His Pendragon has been my favorite RPG for decades. There’s a reason I wanted that line reviewer gig! It’s fair to say no other designer in my field has had a greater influence on my work than Greg Stafford. He and I first met at GenCon 1990. I swung by the Chaosium booth to get the new edition of Pendragon and there he was. I was a nobody at this point, just a random fan as far as he was concerned. When I ventured some opinions on the Matter of Britain though, he seemed genuinely happy to engage. We had a long talk about Mallory, the the Vulgate Cycle, and other Arthurian topics and I was thrilled. In later years I got to meet him again, this time as a colleague. We were friendly but not close. Part of me held back, I think, because getting to know your heroes doesn’t always work out so well and I wanted to maintain my admiration. This was probably a stupid thing to do. At the end of that first conversation, Greg said, “Let me sign that book for you!” I’m not an autograph seeker. They are not generally things I value, but I wasn’t about to say, “No, don’t!” to Greg Stafford. Now I’m glad I have it.
Stewart and Greg were both people who burned brightly in our industry and left behind important legacies. Through their work and their games, they will be remembered for many years to come. Princes Valiant both.
I was looking forward to the movie Dunkirk. If you know me at all, you know I’m a history nerd and World War 2 is an area of particular interest. There aren’t that many big budget WW2 movies being made these days, so of course this one had my attention. Many friends were thus surprised to see my short assessment of Dunkirk after catching a Sunday show at the IMAX theater here in Seattle.
Dunkirk hot take: if you want Churchillian propaganda writ large, you’ll like it. If you want something that resembles history, skip it.
Many of these friends also saw the movie and found it well-crafted and emotional. Some pointed out an article about a Canadian veteran of the evacuation who said, “It was just like I was there again.” If a man who was there had that reaction, what was my problem exactly?
Beware, spoilers follow!
The movie is well-shot and dramatic. It does a good job of making you feel the fear of being on the beaches, dodging bombs and hoping you can make back across the channel to safety as the German grip tightens. In that way it’s quite effective and if you haven’t read more deeply about Operation Dynamo, you can be forgiven for thinking that movie paints an accurate picture of how it played out. My problem though is that it doesn’t.
Here’s the story you will come away with from the film Dunkirk. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are trapped on the beaches. There is something called a mole that larger ships can dock at but they can’t get close to the beaches because the water is too shallow. There aren’t that many larger ships helping with the evacuation. The Royal Navy has held them back. Those that do come are bombed or torpedoed. The RAF has sent over a few planes but not enough. Very few soldiers are being evacuated. But then, a call goes out. The little ships mobilize. Plucky civilians take their yachts and pleasure craft across the channel. They can make it to the beaches. Hurrah and huzzah, the day is saved!
Now this is a movie purportedly about the operation as a whole. It is strange then that for most of its running time you see not even one soldier get back to England. We are shown one larger ship that seems to sail away successfully. The Germans sink every other one. The Royal Navy looks completely inept. The RAF not much better. Their contribution is entirely represented by one flight of three Spitfires.
The reality of Operation Dynamo was starkly different. This was an incredibly complex and difficult operation and the Royal Navy and RAF both deserve more credit for its success than they are given here. 70% of the troops evacuated left from the harbor (most via the mole) on larger ships. 39 Royal Navy destroyers took part. Yes, 8 of the more modern destroyers were pulled back part way through, but hundreds of larger navy ships transported troops home. The little ships, most of which were crewed in full or part by Royal navy men or reservists (the Canadian veteran above was one of them), were largely used to ferry troops off the beaches to waiting destroyers and transports. The call to civilians only went out part way through the operation and the numbers of troops the little ships brought home was small, less than 10% of the total. 16 Royal Air Force squadrons flew 3500 sorties during Operation Dynamo, though much of their fighting was over the channel and thus not visible to the waiting troops. While all this was going on the French were fighting to hold the Germans back. The Belgians too for the first few days of the operation. The British lied to both nations about their intentions. With the exception of one brief scene at the beginning, none of these battles beyond the beach are shown.
Most of the myths about Dunkirk go right back to the war. Churchill himself pushed the little ships narrative and you can certainly argue that building what became known as the Dunkirk spirit was important for the morale of a nation reeling from an unexpected defeat. It isn’t 1940 anymore, however, and there’s no reason to be furthering wartime propaganda in a 2017 movie. This is my fundamental problem with Dunkirk.
We waited to go see Rogue One until Kate was home for Xmas break. I managed to avoid spoilers too. And speaking of, this post will have some, so if you haven’t seen Rogue One and care about such things, stop reading now.
Overall, I enjoyed Rogue One. It was a more successful film for me than The Force Awakens. The story was sensible and the movie felt like Star Wars. Donnie Yen stole the show with a cool character who brought some Hong Kong action to the party. And the call backs to the original Star Wars were well chosen and narratively appropriate. “Here’s why the call sign Red 5 is available for Luke,” for example.
The thing I think held Rogue One back from greatness was the character development. Jyn Erso is the heart of this story and her character arc is not convincingly portrayed (by the writing, to be clear, not he acting; I thought Felicity Jones did well with what she had). At the start of the film she is supposed to be an apolitical rogue who is uninterested in the rebellion. She then does a complete 180 in no time at all and with little exploration of why that is. She feels like the wrong character to deliver the big speech about hope at the rebels’ all hands meeting.
While I generally try to avoid trailers, I saw one of the Rogue One trailers ahead of another movie earlier this year. It had Jyn delivering this fantastic line: “This a rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” This is missing from the film and I think that is telling. It’s like they wanted to dial Jyn back to make her conversion more believable, but it doesn’t work. Han Solo showed his roguishness all the way through Star Wars. He helps the rebellion for money, and goes so far as to take it and fall out with Luke before having a change of heart. Jyn’s character is underdeveloped from the start and has no crisis moment. We can guess that she is willing to undertake a suicide mission to make her father’s sacrifices mean something but this isn’t dramatized in any way.
Similarly, I thought Saw Gerrera (whose name I thought was Sol for the entire movie) had a death that did not square with his character. Here’s a guy who has fought the empire for decades, who was so hardcore he broke with Mon Mothma and her crowd because they were too wishy washy. When finally presented with a chance to destroy the Empire’s secret weapon, he says, “Nah, I’m good. I’ll just stay here and die.” This makes no sense at all. I understand if they didn’t want another character hanging around in a movie with too many already but at least give Saw a death worthy of his convictions.
Ironically, the attempt to give the secondary characters worthy deaths is what leads to two other minor problems. First, the third act is too long. Second, the important message Rogue One must get through to the rebel fleet is not actually important. The fact that the shield gate must be destroyed is not news to the fleet. There are only two ways the Death Star plans are getting off that planet: in a ship or by transmission. Either way requires the shield gate to be destroyed, and indeed the fleet had already been trying to do so before getting that message.
I do give Rogue One big points for taking the story to its logical conclusion. Having all the main characters die is bold for a Star Wars movie. Hell, even Seven Samurai (a clear inspiration) had some survivors. I would totally watch a buddy flick about Chirrut and Baze (Donnie Yen and and Wen Jiang) but I consider a prequel to a prequel to be unlikely.
One test I have as to how much I liked a movie is whether I want to watch it a second time. For me The Force Awakens was one and done. It was fine but didn’t draw me back. Rogue One I can see watching more than once. That’s a pretty good result considering the smoldering wreckage that George Lucas left the franchise after the prequels.
Like many long time Warhammer 40K players, I’ve been enjoying the Horus Heresy books that Forge World is publishing and I’m glad 30K is now supported as an era of play. I have Salamanders and Word Bearers forces for 40K but I’d like to do something different for the Heresy era. I picked up the Battle of Calth game some months ago primarily for the minis (though the game was actually good too, as it turned out). Now I’m pondering what legion to choose for my 30K army.
For the last couple of years, I had been planning to do the Alpha Legion. I like their backstory and iconography, and their Rites of War gives them some cool options. I may go ahead with that but I’m doing my due diligence and looking at other options. These are the other legions I’m considering:
Imperial Fists: A surprise to me actually, but there is a big point in their favor. I really like the look and feel of the breacher squads and the Imperial Fists have a special rule called Resolve of Stone that makes breacher squads sing. The yellow armor isn’t my favorite but I think it could be reasonable if muted. Other Imperial Fist rules are also solid and they have a special knight troop type that are proto Black Templars. I’ve never had much interest in the Fists before but they have become a contender.
Iron Warriors: This legions makes a hell of a gun line with their two unique troop types, the Siege Tyrants and Iron Havocs. 30K Iron Warriors are also completely immune to morale tests caused by shooting, which is killer. And of course you can have giant robot bodyguards in the shape of the Iron Circle. So yeah, super appealing to me and I love the idea of a legion of siege masters. There are only a couple of downsides. First, the Iron Circle models are hellaciously expensive. Second, I have never liked the color scheme of the Iron Warriors. At all. The black and yellow stripes do not do it for me. Now I could just make up a chapter of the legion with a different look, so that could be worked around.
Raven Guard: I like the Raven Guard for many of the same reasons I like the Alpha Legion. They are sneaky and great at infiltrating. They have brutal snipers. They also have access to some unique equipment like the Darkwing pattern Storm Eagle Gunship. The Mor Deythan Strike Squad and Dark Fury Assault Squad models are also badass. Their advantage over the Alpha Legion is that I think they’d be easier to paint. And yes, friends, I’m likely to outsource a lot of the painting, but it’d be nice if it was a paint scheme I could handle for some units and the Alpha Legion teal is tricky. The downside of the Raven Guard is primarily cost. That Darkwing Storm Eagle alone is over $200 and I’m but a humble RPG publisher.
So that’s what I’m looking at. I really need to decide what legion is mine before I start assembling the plastic minis. How I build even basic troops will be colored by that choice.
What to choose? Loyalist or traitor? The galaxy hangs in the balance!
Word spread fast among the punk community this weekend: legendary Government Issue frontman John Stabb had died after a battle with stomach cancer. I know this means nothing to most of my readers, who are gamers not punks, but let me try to explain why it meant something to me.
I seriously got into punk rock and started going to shows in 1985, when I was 15 years old. I had a lot to learn and dove right into it. I devoured fanzines and scoured the record stores of Boston and Cambridge for records I had read about. I started with class of ’77 English stuff like The Clash and The Damned, then moved on explore everything from The Avengers and The Weirdos to Crass and Conflict to the Big Boys and The Dicks. And, of course, I soon discovered DC hardcore. Washington had a relatively small scene with a huge and outsized influence on the punk scene worldwide. Minor Threat and the Bad Brains were soon on my turntable, along with the classic document of early DC hardcore, the compilation Flex Your Head. It was there I first heard Government Issue. Shortly thereafter I got an LP called Four Old Seven Inches, which collected up early Dischord Records EPs that were already impossible to find. This is how I heard the first Government Issue record, 1981’s Legless Bull, as well as EPs by Teen Idles, State of Alert, and Youth Brigade (DC, not CA).
If there was one thing that became abundantly clear to me it was that punk bands did not tend to stick around very long. They burned bright and then broke up. This seemed particularly true of DC bands. I consider it a minor miracle that I actually saw Marginal Man and remain bitter that Embrace broke up mere weeks before they were supposed to play Boston with Dag Nasty. What made it worse from my perspective was that 1983 was an amazing year for hardcore, and while so very close to it (seriously, what is two years in the scope of things?) I had missed it. “Oh, you wanted to see Articles of Faith, Minor Threat, and Negative Approach? Sorry, kid!”
Imagine my delight to discover that Government Issue was still active, releasing records, and touring. I quickly gobbled up their LPs Boycott Stabb, Joyride, and The Fun Just Never Ends. By the time they came and played at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge, MA in the summer of ’86, I was primed and ready. GI did not disappoint, playing a ripping and lengthy set to a frenzied crowd. John Stabb was the maestro of this chaos. He cracked wise and didn’t seem to take himself seriously, but his performance was intense. I loved it.
A year later GI was back at T.T.’s and I was there on the stage, camera at the ready. This was another stellar show. After a long set and an encore, the crowd was still hollering for more. Stabb was hyped, ready to go, but drummer Pete Moffett was exhausted. He was practically pleading with John to end the set. Stabb managed to rally him and they played another 3 or 4 songs.
A month or so later I moved to New York City to go to college. The place I had gotten the film from the show developed gave me doubles for free, so I mailed a few pics from the show to Al Quint, who did the Suburban Voice fanzine (and now does the Sonic Overload internet radio show). In my brief note I suggested that one of the photos might make a good cover shot. A few months later Al sent me a copy of the latest issue and there was my photo.
Government Issue continued to record and tour, and they did something most bands can’t manage over a nine year career: remain vital. There was a progression from record to record, but they maintained their edge. Their 1987 record You is pretty far from Legless Bull but it is one of my favorites. It’s melodic and catchy, experimental in places but still punk rock. Same for Crash, their final record. I saw GI several more times in this era at CBGB and the Pyramid Club. They were always great, except that last time at the Pyramid when it felt like there was tension in the band. And indeed, not long after GI broke up.
Five or six years ago John and I became friends on Facebook. We were never friends in real life (though he did tell me he always liked that Suburban Voice cover shot), but it was good to keep up with him through social media. I saw his posts around the holidays about being ill. Then he revealed that he’d been diagnosed with stomach cancer. There was a huge outpouring of support from the punk scene, with benefit comps and a GoFundMe campaign to aid with his medical expenses. We all hoped he could beat it, but cancer is a fucker. In just a few months John had gone from being sick to being dead.
A few years ago I backed a Kickstarter for a documentary about the DC punk scene called Salad Days. John Stabb and other members of GI appear in it, of course, because you can’t rightly tell that story without them. In 2014 there were two nights of shows at the Black Cat in DC to celebrate the film (which I recommend if you haven’t seen it) and Government Issue re-united to play one of them. As a backer I was able to nab tickets to the shows and planned to fly to DC to attend. Unfortunately, I was simply too broke to afford to do so and I had to sell my tickets. I was sad about it then. Now that I realize this was my last chance to see John Stabb perform, I regret missing these shows even more.
Punk rock continues on, as it did when D. Boon and Joe Strummer and Poly Styrene passed away. John Stabb will be hard to replace though. What I loved about him is that he was a glorious weirdo in the best way. To him punk rock was being yourself and doing what you wanted to do. In the scene there were always fashions and trends that came and went. I think he saw that there was a certain conformity in the scene’s non-conformity. Get your leather jacket, get your studs, get the right punk haircut. Stabb didn’t give a shit about any of that. “There’s a hole in the scene,” he sang, “where the brain used to be.”
There’s another hole now, John. We will miss you.
[I took all the pictures in this post and I have a bunch more from that era I really need to get scanned.]
There are more game conventions and events than any one person or company could possibly attend each year. There are some that are must-gos for Green Ronin, like GenCon and GAMA Trade Show. Other than those bedrock shows, the cons I attend vary from year to year. I’ve never gone into how these decisions are made and a recent Facebook thread made it clear to me that people have some misconceptions. Let me clarify a few things.
First, I love to travel. Game industry wages being what they are, I don’t have the money for many actual vacations. Conventions then provide a great way to see more of the world. I can do a one day show in London like Dragonmeet and then have a few days to enjoy the city. My best overseas trip (a week in Finland) was thanks to the amazing Ropecon. So traveling for me? Not a hardship.
So what does it take to get me to your convention? Three things:
1) A plane ticket.
2) A hotel room.
3) A date that works with my schedule. I do have to spend time at home writing and running the company, so I can’t do everything, as much as I’d like to.
The following aren’t required but they are big plusses:
1) An interesting location, particularly if its overseas.
2) One or more locals to show me around. Always better than a guidebook.
3) Good food, particularly local cuisine I can’t get every day in Seattle.
And that’s it really. I don’t have speakers fees. I don’t demand you pick all the cashews out of the nut assortment or that you remove all the red M&Ms from the candy dish. My most outrageous demands would be a chance to play some games and trips to nearby museums or historical sites.
In short, if you’d like me to come to your con, ask me! Nicole will usually come with me if possible, so really you get two Ronins for the price of one.
And Poland, China, Australia, Japan, and the Czech Republic? Call me. 🙂
My wife is likely wiser than I am. Her attitude about The Force Awakens is that it’s a pretty soap bubble and she doesn’t want to poke it. And that is a totally fair way to approach. I, of course, have been thinking about it so I thought I’d jot down some observations.
First, the good things.
It’s better than prequels. This may seem like a low bar. Indeed I’ve joked elsewhere that Abrams merely needed to step over it. Still though, it is worth acknowledging that The Force Awakens was much better than any of the wretched and best forgotten prequels.
The new cast is excellent. This is probably the biggest win for the new movies. Rey, Finn, and Poe are good characters and very well-cast. The torch being passed to them seems in good hands.
It feels like Star Wars. This is something that could easily have gone wrong but it didn’t.
The welcome return of humor. And I don’t mean fart and poop jokes. Force Awakens had nice touches of humor that felt right at home with the original trilogy.
No fucking Tatooine. One of the things that bugged the shit out of me about the prequels was how it returned to Tatooine again and again. This was supposed to be a backwater planet that Luke could grow up on in obscurity, not the center of many important events of recent history. Now I’ll grant you that Jakku is an awful lot like Tatooine, but at least it’s a different planet with its own implied events. Star Wars has a whole galaxy to play with, so I hope this trend of creating new worlds continues.
Now on to the not so good things.
Finn needs more backstory. If the film is to be believed, Finn was a happy cog in the First Order machine until he experienced the brutality of battle. Then he instantly flips sides and becomes a renegade. And if the blood of his dead friend was that horrifying to him, it surely does’t stop him from killing often and with enthusiasm for the rest of the film. I like the character, but I wish the movie spent a little more time building up his defection.
Gwendoline Christie was wasted. I remember when she was cast, but I didn’t realize she was Captain Phasma while watching the movie. Phasma was a nothing of a character with little to do. I understand she’s in the sequels, so hopefully they do something better with her.
The politics are muddy. I guess Abrams and crew were gun-shy of spending too much time explaining galactic politics after the prequels, but I would have appreciated a better explanation of the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance. It was more like, “OK, these are the new Empire and Rebellion respectively, and go!”
The map to Luke is a weird macguffin. Who made the map? It’d have to be Luke, right, because no one else knows where he went. But he’s not buried treasure, he’s a living Jedi master. Is his plan to just wait on a rock until someone shows up? Weird. Also, the heroes are totally cavalier about what they have in their possession. They tell everyone they run across, “Oh, we have a map to Luke Skywalker!”
Space is meaningless. Abrams has had this problem before, in the Star Trek movies. Basically, the very concept of space seems to be an inconvenience to him. Distance doesn’t matter. You can get anywhere in the galaxy in like 5 minutes. And yet there is apparently an entire sector of space no one knows anything about.
Smart characters acting dumb. It doesn’t even occur to famed smuggler Han Solo to disguise or conceal the droid the entire First Order is looking for? Veteran General Leia Organa doesn’t even try to evacuate her base when the planet it’s on may be blown up imminently?
Ren’s hero worship makes little sense. OK, so Kylo Ren idolizes Darth Vader. He even has Vader’s mask as a keepsake. But surely, being the son of Han and Leia, he knows the final chapter of Vader’s story, right? The one where he kills the Emperor, redeems himself, and becomes a happy force ghost. If his great idol ultimately turned away from the Dark Side, how does Ren square that with his adulation?
AFDS. Look, it’s Star Wars. I expect a certain amount of callbacks to the original trilogy. There will be Jedi mind tricks and someone will have a bad feeling about this, but seriously, another fucking Death Star? This was the point of The Force Awakens in which my eye rolling began in earnest. There are other epic threats they could have imagined. One of my friends called the use of the third Death Star mythic. I call it lazy, and the implication of this repetition is…
The original trilogy means nothing now. The Force Awakens very consciously reestablishes the status quo from the beginning of A New Hope. There’s a new Empire and new Rebellion, a new Obi-wan and a new Dark Vader. This means that the events of the original trilogy were essentially pointless. The defeat of the empire was a hollow victory.
So overall, I give The Force Awakens a B-. Maybe it’s the palette cleanser people need after the prequels to set the stage for newer, more exciting movies. I hope that’s the case. I think the new cast could do a lot if they get the scripts they deserve. What Star Wars desperately needs now is some original ideas. It’s hard to remember how different Star Wars was when it debuted in 1977 but it pushed the envelope in so many ways. I hope the new caretakers of Star Wars do not content themselves with telling the same stories over and over again. There’s a galaxy of possibilities out there.