Star Wars & Cyclical Storytelling

Watching people turn on The Force Awakens has been pretty interesting over the last few weeks. It was all breathless anticipation for a bit, giddiness when it was released, and then the backlash immediately started to make itself known within a few days.

In the interest of full disclosure, I loved it and will probably see it again before it leaves theaters. My faith in any project involving JJ Abrams has been reinforced with Adamatium – whether it’s the new Cloverfield movie (that somehow managed to stay under wraps this entire time) or something he dreamed up with a 6 year old kid over lunch. Doesn’t matter, I’m in. So feel free to begin sharpening up the knives if you wish.

The main complaint I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is basically a reboot or re-telling of A New Hope (Episode 4). I feel this is misguided for two reasons…

#1 – It’s not like A New Hope was some incredible original idea that no one had ever had before, it’s the hero’s journey and coming of age. George Lucas was studying Joseph Campbell while writing Star Wars and was interested in the myths that are present in all cultures. Lucas was also basing the story and structure off the old serials he’d grown up with as a kid. Saying that TFA isn’t original is a gigantic “Duh!” moment because neither was ANH – it was a tried-and-true story structure and path that hundreds, if not thousands of authors have used throughout time.

#2 – It’s supposed to similar.

Okay, so the second point might seem a little simple, but stay with me for a moment… Star Wars is nothing if not cyclical. Luke learns the ways of the Force from a master Jedi and is then tempted by the Dark Side – the same way that his father was. Luke breaks the cycle and brings balance to the Force where his father succumbed to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. In TFA, we’re catching another person learning the ways of Force, but the villain is at a slightly different place in his path. Rey is obviously strong in the Force and is able to use her powers by the end of the movie – Kylo Ren is still fighting with his final turn to the Dark Side. Instead of getting yet another bad guy who’s driven from the get-go, we have someone who is still somewhat on the fence and we get to see his final turn – a bit like the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Then there’s the little matter of Finn and who exactly he is and whether he’s on the path to becoming a Jedi as well. This adds in something new that hasn’t been present in either of the other trilogies – another Jedi beyond the master/student or hero/villain form that’s worked in the previous 6 movies. That’s a huge difference going forward.

As for the other criticisms, I don’t know what to tell you other than there’s some fans for whom nothing will ever be as good as the original trilogy. I can understand that since there’s a special place in my heart reserved for that summer when my parents got HBO and they were running Star Wars pretty much around the clock. But at some point, you have to admit that a lot of the criticisms are fairly petty and fall flat. At best, TFA is a solid to really good movie – at worst, it’s damn sight better than The Phantom Menace, which gives a some hope for this upcoming trilogy.


40 (crash&burn)

too much beer and not enough sleep tearing at the seams with a switchblade,
you’re getting too old for all the old games – time to find some other pastime to wast time
don’t stand too long, your knees will start to hurt
don’t sit too long, it’s gonna kill you in the end
but doesn’t everything?

push the controls forward and watch the earth fill the windows
staring into an eternity that’s so unsure but comforting
these wanderings don’t mean much now, but maybe it’s a comfort
to know that nothing lasts forever … especially you.

The Truth

“Everyone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea. They talk about their ‘morning ritual’ and how they ‘dress for writing’ and the cabin in Big Sur where they go to ‘be alone’ – blah blah blah. No one tells the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver.” – Amy Poehler (via Austin Kleon)

Writing is hard, it’s fun, it’s drudgery, it’s discouraging, it’s life-giving, it’s soul-sucking, etc, etc, etc. Suffice to say it’s a lot of things. On bad days, I wonder why in the world I continue doing it. On good days, I can’t imagine not doing it.

The trouble is, I’m not so sure that the choice is mine to make. Without writing, without an outlet, I get emotionally and artistically constipated. Now, maybe that’s a little too vivid for those reading this blog… oh wait, I’ve forgotten that this place got so dusty that I’d be surprised if bots were still stopping by here. Anyways…

It’s like eating vegetables, particularly the green ones that are the most nutritious. I do it because if I don’t, things will go badly. Along the way, I tend to find these moments when life changes – like when I found the perfect way to bake Brussels Sprouts and began to enjoy the little green buggers. Other times, it’s just something that needs to be done.

It’s like a really good job. Sometimes it’s amazing, sometimes it’s horrible, and most of the time it’s at least pretty good. I don’t get to choose which bit comes along next, I just punch the timeclock and see what happens next.

Oscar, you were never a “good dog”

Let’s face it buddy… we’ve all known this was coming for awhile now. Friday is the day when we say our good-byes for good – and just like I promised you a long time ago, we’ll be there with you until the end.

You see, the problem is that I can’t really explain any of this to you… That your back legs aren’t working and getting worse because of some nerve problem in your back. That the lump on your jaw is more than likely cancer. That there’s nothing we can do about any of it.

Well, I guess there’s something we could do about it. I’m sure there’s a vet out there who’d take the money and start sharpening their scalpel with visions of a boat payment in their heads. But you’re 11 years old buddy – that’s more than a lifetime for a breed that’s noted for cancer and short lifespans. There’s no way to explain what you’d be going through… for what? A few more months? A year? In pain, limping around, sick? We can’t do that to you – we refuse. To go from one of the most active, athletic dogs I’ve ever seen (I used to joke we could race you if only you’d run in a straight line) to gimpy, swaying shadow of your former self is painful enough – watching you go through the aftermath of several surgeries that wouldn’t guarantee anything is more than we can bear and could ever inflict on you.

So I guess it’s time we were honest with each other, right? I mean, if we can’t do it now then what’s the point, right?

Oscar, you were never a “good dog”.

You were an underwear eater. A food thief of the highest order. You were a sock slurper, a diaper destroyer, and a cat box cleaner. Your farts could bring tears to a glass eye. Your breath could melt through concrete. You were a neighborhood ne’er do well who would take off at a moment’s notice. You seemed to live to cause mayhem and confusion.

I clearly remember the day Kim and I went to see if you were the dog for us. We walked down a dirt driveway towards a tall fence originally intended to contain horses. Without warning, your goofy head appeared above the top of the fence – jowls flapping in the breeze, tongue lolled out to a degree Gene Simmons would’ve been envious of, and a general expression of goofiness on your face. I knew at that moment you were coming home with us. Considering how the next few months went, I couldn’t help but wonder if we’d been snookered…

You were afraid of everyone, which was odd considering the warm greeting you gave us as complete strangers. I tried to see that as being chosen as your humans, but it seemed like we were chosen as marks for a long con. You were scared of the stairs inside the house but not the stairs on the back deck. I spent months carrying you up and down the stairs until one day you accidentally chased the cat and then suddenly realized you’d traversed the stairs without assistance. Even for a breed of dogs known for being quirky, you took quirks to a new level.

You made quite an impression at our first Christmas party as a married couple. At the height of the party, you moved to the middle of the living room – directly in front of the tree – and proceeded to squat and drop your own personal yule log in the middle of the carpet while guests alternately gasped and laughed. No one ever accused you of subtlety.

Except when it came to food. When it came to stealing food, you went from dumb to a mixture of Einstein, MacGuyver, and a Navy SEAL. You once ate an entire plate of brownie bites and then, while we were cleaning up and worrying that you’d drop dead from the chocolate, you ate an entire plate of mini-cheesecakes. You awoke the next morning with no ill effects except some extra-strong gas. I began to think of you as indestructible.

Which you had to be in order to eat and pass the amount of underwear and socks which you ate throughout your life. It didn’t matter if they were fresh from the wash or out of the hamper, it was all fair game to you. The most ambitious attempt was the burp cloth which you horked up a couple years ago after a friend visited with her baby. The most stylish was the leather glove you somehow grabbed from my mother and then proceeded to devour like a prime fillet steak.

Of course, indestructibility has some limits… When you started getting bored and lonely, we brought home a puppy as a friend. Over the next seven years, Mia became your constant companion, playmate, and stoolie (she always came running to our sides when you were getting into trouble, which was somewhat helpful). That first year was rough since she’d chosen you as her favorite chew toy and left little scabs all over you as she’d clamp on with those razor sharp puppy teeth. I’ll never forget the day I walked in to see you two cuddling… only to notice, on closer examination, that she was gnawing on your back paw while you tried to ignore her. At that moment, you taught me something about love.

Then we really tested your patience by bringing Kaelin home. The week we spent in the hospital hadn’t gone quietly with you and Mia barking all day and night, driving the neighbors more than a little crazy. The new baby was fun for awhile because she was a source of food what with all the spills. You also discovered how to get into the diaper pail, which was always good for a clean-up. I always looked at it as payback when Kaelin would try to climb on top of you gleefully saying “Pony! Pony!” while you shot me nervous looks.

You loved to ride in the truck. You also liked to drink any leftover coffee that was left in the truck with you. You loved to sneak into the front seat while we were gone, only for us to come back out and see you sitting proudly up front and waiting for the next adventure.

The story goes that you were a pure-bred boxer puppy that came down with pneumonia. Rather than pay the vet bills, the breeder was going to put you down – but a kindly vet tech took you instead and nursed you back to health. Considering all the trouble you’ve been through the years, I’ve always wondered if that tale was true or had been carefully invented to ship you out quickly and quietly.

But I kind of like that story because it fit with how you lived your life. It was almost like you knew from the moment we met that you were playing with house money – living on borrowed time. If there was a chance, you were going to take. If there was food, you were going to eat it. You had more zest for life than most people I’ve known… and I’ve had the pleasure of knowing some pretty zesty people. Life was rarely dull with you around.

Honestly, I never worried much about the story. Kim loves to collect strays. Stray pets, people, friends. I liked to joke that Kaelin was the only one born into this family, the rest of us are here because Kim has a big heart. And patience. Which is the most important thing you taught me. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be able to function as a parent. After all, my daughter might’ve just cut her own hair but at least she didn’t crap in the middle of a Christmas party, right? And how about love? The way you loved Kim was amazing. You were supposed to be my dog, remember? Nope. You chose Kim as your human and that was that – a mama’s boy to the core. You were never far from her side if you had any choice about it.

Of course, you never really made peace with the cat – or maybe it’s more the cat never really made peace with you. From the day you met Bootsy, you wanted to play with him and he wanted nothing to do with your drooly jowls. I’d like to think one of the highlights of your life was the day you managed to sneak up on him while he was sleeping and stick you snout right into his belly and get four or five good sniffs before he managed to run away. Perhaps there was never peace, but you two had established diplomatic relations the past couple years – an uneasy detente. Then again, you nearly went sprawling across the floor trying to chase him one last time the other night. Maybe it was your way of saying good-bye.

I can’t imagine a day without waking up to your goofy face and swampy breath. That you’ll never paw at your metal dish in order to call our attention to the fact that you’re ready to eat (we always joked about you ringing the dinner bell). That I won’t have to tell Kaelin to be careful climbing out of our bed so she won’t step on you. That I won’t get to see you trying to pretend you don’t understand me when I say to get off the bed.

Oscar, you were never a “good dog”.

You were the best.

Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for making our lives a little more colorful, a little more interesting, and a little more loving for the last 10 years. We’ll never stop loving you, nugget.