Thursday, December 29, 2016

End of Year Bookworm Survey

I picked this up from I Am Writer...Hear Me Roar! and you should drop by and leave a comment. Alyssa has a knack for writing quick, compelling reviews. If you find my reviews long and boring, you might prefer her style. This survey is also a yearly thing hosted by Perpetual Page Turner, so feel free to pass it along or drop them a link to your own survey. 

I've included cover pics and links to the books I talk about in case you want to check any out. 



Let's go!

Number of books you read this year: ...idk, a lot I guess? But not as many as I would have liked. It never is.
Number of re-reads: Erm. No clue. Sorry. :(
Genre you read the most from: Fantasy! That one I can answer! I did fit some other genres in there, too. 

1. Best book you read in 2016? 

This is HARD. But actually I immediately thought of The Red Sea and The Silver Thief by Edward W. Robertson. While there were aspects of both which I adored, I'm going to go with The Red Sea because a) stonepunk things and b) NO GIANT SPIDERS. Seriously, what the hell is it with fantasy and giant spiders?

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2. Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn't?

And I Darken by Kiersten White. It's gender-bent historical fiction about Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Empire. I had to set it down in the first third, and while I'll finish listening to it eventually, I'm not eager to get back to it. Part of this was because I got really invested in the gay romance, and even started to read Lada as a potentially asexual character...only to learn that White regendered Vlad just to make her a love interest for the sultan.

Like I said, I'll get back to it eventually. But right now I'm not in the mood.
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Also I object to this cover because Lada is supposed to be very ugly.
3. Most surprising (in a good or bad way) book you read?

A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot was a great read and an even better listen, but I picked it up thinking it was a portal fantasy. It wasn't, quite; it was historical fiction which used time travel as a plot device to transport kids from 2000 Brooklyn to 1860's Brooklyn. It was good, just not what I expected.

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4. Book you "pushed" the most people to read (and they did)? 

The White Tree and The Cycle of Arawn in general by Edward W. Robertson. I nagged and nagged and my friend finally got it on audiobook, which I honestly wouldn't recommend, but I need someone to talk about this series with. Even if the protag is such a moody emo teenager in The White Tree. It's worth it. Read it. Read it. *whispers* reeeead....iiiiiittttt....

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5. Best series you started in 2016? Best sequel? Best series ender? 

As a whole, The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker is the best series I started. The best sequel I read is another Lindsay Buroker; Blood Charged was an action-packed magitek fantasy spy thriller and an absolute delight. I don't have a best series ender because I haven't completed a series in...wow. A while. While I'm telling you what to read, just go buy everything by Lindsay Buroker, OK? Start with Encrypted, maybe, or Balanced on the Blade's Edge if you like romance more. BUT DAMN. EVERYTHING THIS WOMAN WRITES IS GOLD.

Image result for the emperor's edge     Image result for createspace independent publishing platform blood charged by lindsay buroker

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

I'm coming very, very late to the Jim Butcher fandom, but he's new to me!

7. Best book from a genre you don't typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

I don't read a lot of romances or romcoms, and South of Sunshine by Dana Elmendorf was great. Humor, heartbreak, healing, and a dollop of Southern charm captured my imagination, even as Elmendorf refused to romanticize the setting.

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8. Most actionpacked/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Lexicon by Max Barry, holy shit. I got it because I was like "Oh hey, that's the NationStates.com guy!" I was not prepared. I WAS NOT PREPARED.

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More indie authors! And international
authors! Yay!

9. Book you read in 2016 that you are most likely to re-read next year?

Castle in the Air and The Spellcoats are two Diana Wynne Jones novels which I re-read at least annually. I'm probably going to add The Islands of Chaldea to that list, simply because it's her last book and I haven't gone back to it yet.

Image result for diana wynne jones last book   Image result for diana wynne jones last book    Image result for diana wynne jones the spellcoats

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

The cover for The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden by Emma Trevayne is perfect. It grabbed my attention in the store and it perfectly sets the tone and concept. 

Image result for the accidental afterlife of thomas marsden when does it take place

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Grumpy old ethermancer from The Silver Thief by Edward W. Robertson. She's old, but she's still kicking ass, taking names, and schooling the protagonist on why he sucks. You never see a crochety old female mentor, either. She's tricksy and grumpy and amazing and complicated. Plus, reading about an 80-something woman fighting demons is simply delightful. She is never named, known only as "The Keeper." 

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12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand is beautifully written, with spellbinding fantasy segments interspersed with reality. The fairy-tale style of the fantasy sections juxtaposed with the bleaker, choppier voice of day-to-day action complement each other beautifully. Both styles are spoken by the same narrator, too. It's lovely.

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13. Most thought-provoking/life-changing book of 2016?

Some Kind of Happiness, again. This is a real genre-bender, set in contemporary America but with fantasy elements woven in. The protagonist uses her imagination to process reality, and reality seems to change to suit imagination, until they blur together. Magical realism? Maybe that's a good label for it. It's also one of the best books I've encountered about depression and anxiety. Especially for young readers -- the protagonist is eleven and has been depressed most of her life. This book could really help some kid who can't put a name to their feelings, and is evocative for anyone of any age who's been through something similar. 

14. Book you can't believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence. I'd been reluctant to pick it up, and when I did, I found it was both scary with horror elements but also way lighter in tone than his previous novels, with a feckless, annoying, very fun-to-read protagonist. 

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15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2016?

From Some Kind of Happiness, pgs. 49 and 50
The orphan girl felt something deep inside her unraveling, sliding up her throat and out her mouth. She gagged. The snake set her down in the dirt and spat a coil of darkness into her palm. "There," the snake said. "I cannot remove all of it. It is lodged too deeply. I am not powerful enough. And besides, it is not my darkness to fight [...] First you must give it a name," said the snake. "Naming a thing takes away some of its power and gives it to you instead."
Also, "Have you dwelt on the nature of duckhood?" from The White Tree. The friend I got to read that has given me no end of grief over that scene (which I probably deserve), and we've gotten a great deal of entertainment out of it.

16. Shortest and longest book you read in 2016?

No idea. :(

17. Book that shocked you the most?

Lexicon. Jfc, that ending.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

My one true pairing is a non-canon couples/swinger pairing and I will ship it until my last breath. In the Dragon Blood books by Lindsay Buroker, Ridge and Sardelle are a couple and Cas and Tolemek are another couple. There's hate-flirting and skinny dipping and Ridge is strongly implied to be bi and I want them to be a nice polyamorous square. Buroker keeps lampshading the sexual tension and my shipper brain CANNOT EVEN.

19. Favorite platonic character relationship of the year

Dante and Blays from the Cycle series by Edward W. Robertson. Also I think their combined powers of snippiness would be too annoying for anyone else to tolerate. I also really liked Dante and Winden's relationship.

20. Favorite book you read in 2016 from an author you've read previously

Claire Legrand is one of the authors whose books I will blanket-buy and blanket-recommend. So, Some Kind of Happiness again even though it was drastically different in tone from her previous books.

21. Best book you read in 2016 that you read based SOLELY on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure:


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22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

I don't really get fictional crushes. 

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

Flowers of Dionysus by Ty Unglebower, an indie author and a friend of mine. It's a magical realism novel (or contemporary with fantasy elements, if you will) about a small community theatre and all the ensuing shenanigans. It's got a lot of heart, it's accessible to non-theatre folks and resonant with theatre lovers. Also, I gave input on the cover, so yay. :) AND THE COUPLE I SHIPPED GOT TOGETHER, which almost never happens, so double yay!

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24. Best worldbuilding/most vivid setting you read this year?

Stonehill Downs by Sarah Remy took the standard fantasy pseudo-Europe setting and made it unique and evocative, just one corner of a varied world. You can practically feel the bleak wind on the downs and imagine yourself in Avani's little shack. There's a bit of a Nordic noir feel to it which I liked.

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25. Book that put a smile on your face/was the most FUN to read?

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker contains comic relief to die for. Wacky team dynamics, stoic assassins, and the ever-effervescent Maldynado -- a warrior-caste man's man turned male escort -- had me grinning and shaking my head. I love Maldynado. He's a runner-up for my most memorable character. Also, the comic relief in that series tends to actually be competent as well as funny, and to hide surprising depths. I'm curious to hear more of his story. Such as, how do you go from being the scion of a famous family to being a prostitute? I need this answered...

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry?

A Wish After Midnight is genuinely upsetting in spots. This is when I turn the audiobook off, calm down for a bit, and then return to it.

27. Hidden gem of the year?

I'll give this one to Flowers of Dionysus, because it's indiepub, it's about theatre, and it deserves to be more well-known. And I'm not just saying that because I know the author. It's a good book. Read it.

28. Book that crushed your soul?

Lexicon. It's not often that I read a book thinking everyone died in the end, read the epilogue, and then wish everyone HAD died in the end after all. Again: I WAS NOT PREPARED.

29. Most unique book you read in 2016?

The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemingway was a dimension-hopping, aliens riding space dragons, sorta-kinda-vampiric take on the Holy Grail legend. Definitely unique and a refreshingly different spin on the mythos.

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30. Book that made you mad? (whether or not you liked it)

The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. Link to my review presented without comment.  I also got really annoyed at Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, partially because of the narrator reading it but also because of things fundamental to the book that I disliked. 

Whew, hope that wasn't too long! If you made it this far, the next section of the survey is about blogging life and looking ahead. 

1. New favorite book blog that you discovered in 2016? 

Sheena-Kay Graham's blog is a nice blog. Hop over for some posts about books and writing!

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2016?

My favorite book review is probably The Book Blogger Platform, since I don't get much chance to read or review nonfiction. My favorite movie review was Rogue One. I miss doing movie reviews.

3. Best discussion/non-review post?

My post about how examiner changed hands and deleted all my reviews and how frustrating that was has been both popular and useful, as several other people have commented to share their own experiences with the change. 

4. Best event that you participated in?
If this counts, I had a short story in the launch of the "A Bit of A Twist: Read on the Run Anthology." 

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life? 

Taking book recs from people and reading them and then making them read the books I like. And talking about them. Also I tweeted to an author and they replied, and I was WAY too excited. :)

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?

I like writing long, detailed reviews because in-depth analysis is always kind of hard to find online. But I've been hesitant to write long stuff or write too many reviews because I worry they won't be read. I think posting consistently is probably the main thing, and I should just write whatever I feel like. 

7. Most popular post this year on your blog?

My most popular month has been this December, which has been my most-visited month of all time. The most comments have been on my post Examiner is gone and so are all my reviews. The most pageviews have been on Book Review: The Greenstone Grail by Amanda Hemingway.

8. Post you wish got a little more love?

I just want to hear everyone's thoughts on Rogue One, honestly. I also want more people to understand why I don't like King Arthur. :) And also the post The Last Time I Voted, We Thought This Was the Worst It Could Get.

Looking ahead...

1. One book you didn't get to that will be your #1 priority in 2017?

Conspiracy, the next book in The Emperor's Edge. Ha ha, to be honest I have a hopeless TBR pile but if I think about that I might cry. One book at a time...also Goldenhand...and Fire and Stars...and...and...and...

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2017?

The Wound of the World by Edward W. Robertson, the next one in the Cycle of Galand series. I KNOW IT TECHNICALLY CAME OUT AT THE END OF DECEMBER. I DON'T CARE. I'M SO EXCITED I'M GOING TO SCREAM. I needed this to look forward to in 2017. 

3. Debut you are most anticipating?

I think The Reader by Traci Chee. I got it for Christmas and am SUPER EXCITED to start it. Not a 2017 debut but I don't really keep up with new book news. And the cover is just gorgeous!

Image result for the reader traci chee

4. Series ending/a sequel you are most anticipating in 2017?

The book has been written, but I'm anxious for Raptor by Lindsay Buroker to be made into an audiobook so that I can listen to it. 

5. One thing you hope to do in your blogging/reading life? 

Apart from reading ALL THE BOOKS? Continuing construction on my depleted reviews section and blogging more often generally.



How about you, intrepid reader who made it (or skimmed it) to the end of this post? :) Any favorite books or future goals? 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Audiobook Review: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

I realize I'm coming a few decades late to this series, but whatever. I got The Sword of Shannara on audiobook in preparation for a long car trip. Here are my thoughts. Spoilers, but again, this has been out for years.

Let's see how many times I can misspell Allanon, shall we?

Summary

When an evil scary undead lich bad guy Druid threatens the Four Lands, the last heir of the line of Shannara has to retrieve the only thing capable of defeating him: a magic sword. Unfortunately, said magic sword is being held by the bad guy himself. So the good Druid Allanon assembles a team of would-be heroes to sneak into enemy territory and steal it. 


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Audiobooks and Annotations: Scott Brick and Terry Brooks

As you can see, the image above is for the 35th anniversary edition annotated by the author. It was the only copy the library had on audiobook. And yes, every single footnote was marked by a shift in narrator as Terry Brooks's voice broke in to explain something or comment. 

Fans may appreciate these annotations (in the voice of the author, no less!) but it was supremely frustrating for a first-time reader/listener. I got pretty good at fast-forwarding, but I also listened to some of the annotations. My favorite comment was the revelation that Brooks had originally planned to kill off most of the cast but decided not to: firstly because his editor didn't want him to, and secondly because he decided to make the book friendly to all ages. That helped me better understand the tone and many of his narrative choices.

However, the annotations were often pointless and annoying. Nine times out of ten, Brooks starts an annotation with something along the lines of, "Over the years, I've gotten many questions from fans about this passage..." and ends it with saying, "What do you think?"

What is the point of providing annotations if you're not going to explain anything? When he's not doing that, he's just using annotations to reiterate in different words what just happened. 

In conclusion: annotated editions for first-time readers are definitely not a good choice, but even if you're a fan I wouldn't seek out the annotated edition. It doesn't contain the meaningful insight or answers you're probably looking for. There's nothing here that you can't find in interviews with Terry Brooks. 

The Book Itself: 3 stars; basically, your mileage may vary.


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I won't be re-reading this, but I'd recommend it to someone with different tastes if I thought they might like it. I'm also willing to give the rest of the series a fair shot.

This is a fantasy classic, so I'm glad I filled my Fantasy Geek TBR requirement (Achievement Unlocked!). I originally grew interested in the series after watching the MTV adaptation, which takes place some 20+ years after the events in The Sword of Shannara. I didn't go into the show with high hopes, but I was pleasantly surprised -- it's up there with my favorite filmed fantasy, and it was a skillfully done adaptation.

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I didn't even mind the teen love triangle, for once. It was kind of cute.

I knew the book was a different story and that writers tend to improve their craft over time. But this is one case where I definitely preferred the adaptation to the source material. 

Despite having to listen through the annotations, I'm really glad I got it on audiobook -- because otherwise, I don't think I would have made it past the beginning. The two brothers are charming (particularly the grumptastic human one) but it's a fairly slow start. The lack of action doesn't bother me; what bugged me was the endless pontificating and moralizing. Monologues. Ugh.

Part of this is a medium thing. Actors can do things in Shakespearean monologues. The camera can do things in film. Monologues are about performance. Luckily, I had Scott Brick to perform it. 

But my issues with this section weren't limited to writing. I could tell the decade this was written from the anti-war and pro-environment messages. Which was fine. I could also tell the decade by the marked difference between this and the show: in The Sword of Shannara, the Druid Council is made up entirely of men, while the show adaptation goes out of its way to explain that it was a gender-inclusive council. The show also includes female characters in government, in the military, and as two of the three main characters. 

It was easy to shrug off the thoughtless sexism as a product of the time period, especially since I know the series gets a lot better about diversity as it goes on. What was harder to sit through were the long, preachy speeches and arguments from Allanon and Shea. It was pretty hard to hear Allanon lecture about how the Druids were the guardians of equality and knowledge and humanism when they only allowed men. I thought my eyes were going to roll right out of my head. 

*looks knowingly into the camera*

The narrator voiced everyone well, but his Allanon was hands-down the best. I could have listened to Scott Brick read the phone book as Allanon. He made those long monologues bearable.

We're Off To See The Wizard, the Evil Wizard of Doom

The plot is an episodic journey story as the gang travels into enemy territory to seek the magic sword. It's classic fantasy, with fights, tombs, and monsters to get through along the way. Menion Leah, the brash and irresponsible wannabe-adventurer, is my favorite. Brooks seems to like separating him from the group and forcing him to grow the hell up through everything from misadventures with tree-sirens to accidentally rescuing kidnapped princesses to fighting serious battles and helping refugees. He's a lot of fun.

The group does get split up in the third act, with each faction taking on some subplot to stop Evil Bad Lich Wizard Guy. Shea, our intrepid hero, ends up in the company of a troll and a thief. Apart from Menion, those two were my favorites. Keltset, the troll, is mute. Shea originally assumes that because he is dumb, he is unintelligent, but his companions quickly disabuse him of this notion (which is nice). Keltset is intelligent, has super strength, is quick on his feet, and expresses his caring for his friends nonverbally. 

While we get hints to his mysterious backstory -- he seems to have been some kind of war hero -- we never get the whole tale, and (surprise, surprise) Brooks's annotations are not helpful in the slightest. 

Also surprise surprise, Keltset dies, because of course he does, he's my favorite character. I mean, I would tag this as a spoiler, but...this book was written in 1977. He dies being crushed under tons of rock as he holds up the collapsing ceiling for his friends to escape. It's one of the gorier deaths.

So About That Ending...

I didn't like the ending much. The climax was...anticlimactic. Spoilers ahead, but, you know, this isn't exactly a secret.

It turns out that the Sword of Shannara's power is revealing the truth. Shea panics when he realizes that that's all it can do. However, he still sticks the bad guy with it. The sword reveals the truth to the Evil Lich Wizard Guy that he's actually dead (and has been dead for a really long time, so...should probably stop walking around and commanding armies of darkness and whatnot). Bad Guy dies. That's it. 

I felt it was an anticlimax. Others may feel differently. I suppose it was clever. 

I also disliked it because several other fantasy novels seem to have latched onto this idea and used it. Books that have followed in its footsteps have been even less effective. The Sword of Shannara makes miles more sense compared to books like Eon and Inheritance which have co-opted its resolution. The sword kills the bad guy because it makes him realize he's supposed to be dead. 

The other books hinge on magically forcing the villains to acknowledge the truth of their actions...but making someone experience empathy is not the same as making them realize the truth. They already know the truth of their evil actions. They just don't care. That is why they are bad guys. 

I know I shouldn't blame The Sword of Shannara for this, but I also sorta feel like it's at least a little bit responsible for a number of cheesy endings.

One Last Thing About Allanon

Allanon is described as being a tall, dark figure with dark clothes and a dark face. However, it's unclear what exactly Brooks means by "dark." Often, it seems to refer to his facial expression being figuratively dark and grim (that's pretty much his main mood). But it might refer to his skin color. The show cast Maori actor Manu Bennett, who is fantastic in the role. I, personally, pictured Samuel L. Jackson while listening, perhaps because Allanon is the Nick Fury of this universe.

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Conclusion

This book is beloved by many. It also established many classic fantasy tropes that are still in use today. You can see the influence of Tolkien, but it's not a Tolkien imitation. It's a decidedly boys'-club adventure story, but a fun read regardless. The only female character is a sweet, understanding princess who's always there for her love interest to cry on her shoulder or whatever, but she's also fairly interesting. Allanon is cool. Friendship is magic. 

Still, I was decidedly underwhelmed. 3/5 stars to the book. 5/5 stars to the audiobook. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Survey: Reading Habits, Libraries, and Diversity in Books

Myself and a friend created a survey to gather information on reading habits, libraries, and diversity in books. We have received 35 responses in a relatively short amount of time, and would be thrilled to get to at least 50. 

I have an absurd love for graphs and data analysis and statistics. So, please, indulge my love of statistics and take the survey. :) If you're comfortable, feel free to share it on social media and with your friends.

As for why we've made a survey, we're hoping to lay the groundwork for an initiative focusing on adding more diverse books to the collections of rural libraries. While acquisitions of new and diverse books are a priority for libraries, such efforts are often limited by funding and resources. We hope to eventually raise funds for donations of books to libraries in our area. 

Anyway, please do us a solid and take the survey. I believe it does require you to be signed in to a Google account, which is inconvenient, but if you do have a Google account and want to take the survey, it would really help us out. We're particularly looking for responses from teens, readers of Young Adult literature, and people from rural areas. 

Any responses you give will be greatly appreciated! (As you can see, I've obnoxiously linked every instance of "survey" in this post to the appropriate form.)


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Monday, December 19, 2016

Rogue One: A Not So Spoiler-Free Review

My mind is still kind of blown after this movie, which I got to see as a double feature with friends on Saturday. I'll try to be coherent. I managed to review Moana with minimal typos, after all. ETA: Also I added a couple of things for the new year, after having a bit more time to process.

PROCEED WITH CAUTION. SPOILERS AHEAD. 

...Seriously, I can't review and critique this film without spoiling several important things. Very important things. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Spoilers are fair game past this point. 

Ahem. 

A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY...


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DAH-DAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!

It's a very minor thing, but they didn't use the iconic "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" text, or the scrolling prologue. I know it's a bit annoying to have to read as soon as you walk into a movie, but I was expecting it. And it seemed for a second that they had thought about doing it, and even had a place to put said text -- but decided to cut it at the last second. 

It would have been kind of nice to have that bit of context. Since Rogue One is tied far more to the original trilogy -- stylistically, chronologically, thematically, and character-wise -- than any of the other auxiliary Star Wars spin-offs, I felt the lack of text was a design failure in a movie that otherwise linked itself to the OT across the board. 

Back in 1977...

This film made an effort to evoke the classic Star Wars style, from costume designs to hairstyles. Some people even had 70's sideburns. Since the end of Rogue One bookends the beginning of A New Hope, it makes sense that they tried to keep it stylistically consistent with the original trilogy. 

I'm not sure how many practical effects vs. CGI effects were used. One of the best things about the original trilogy was its creative use of practical effects, mask and cosmetic work, and puppetry. The CGI of Rogue One was present, notably in recreating faces of characters like Tarkin and Leia. But explosions, aliens, and other effects appeared to be done with "practical magic." I think they struck a happy medium with this film. 

Speaking of 1977: The Mission and the Death Stars

The goal of this movie is for Jyn, Cassian, and their friends and allies to steal the plans to the Death Star. Jyn's mission is personal: her father is the Imperial scientist who designed the Death Star. Her father sent her to live with a rebel after Imperials killed her mother and took him captive. Jyn learns that her father agreed to build the Death Star so that he could sabotage the project, building in a critical design flaw that would allow it to be destroyed. Jyn must steal the plans so that the rebels can destroy the Death Star, redeem her father, and put an end to Imperial tyranny. 

To state the obvious: Rogue One answered the question that fans have been raging about for years. Why does the Death Star have such a critical flaw? It was intentional. The killer is inside the house.

To dig into this a bit: Another thing fans tend to complain about is the fact that A New Hope, The Return of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens all involve trying to destroy a Death Star (or, in the case of TFA, a Death Planet). People like to complain that it's overused. 

Allegory Things and Other Parallels

I'd like to remind those people that Star Wars was created in 1977 in the middle of the Cold War, when the fear of nuclear annihilation was constant. The Death Star has the ability to destroy planets. Its "test runs" in Rogue One are akin to the destruction caused by atomic bombs. Since the creation of the atom bomb in the 1940's, the technology has only grown more destructive; today's nuclear bombs are several orders of magnitude more powerful than those dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. As the Star Wars movies have gone on, the Death Stars have also become more powerful. 



Rogue One repeatedly states that such a powerful weapon should not be in the hands of anyone, especially not the Empire. It rejects the notion of peace through fear. Like in history, the scientist who creates a planet-destroying weapon regrets doing so. Unlike in history, this fictional Oppenheimer works in a key to destroy his own creation. Strip away the sci-fi setting and you'll find a powerful commentary on nuclear proliferation. 

You may recognize "peace through fear" as the principle behind Mutually Assured Destruction. You may also realize that MAD only works if nuclear weapons are in the hands of people wise, stable, or informed enough not to use them. You may also realize that we just elected Trump.

In short, I'm glad this movie was made now, and I'm glad it came out in December, because despite its many throwbacks to the 1970's it is still a very important movie for this place and time.

Another thing that struck me was the portrayal of the ancient Jedi city: a sacred city in a desert/arid landscape, fought over by multiple groups. I'm not saying it's a direct Jerusalem allegory, but the parallels are there if you want to make them. 

Rogue One also featured several disturbing sequences of urban warfare in said city. Imperial tanks and troops battled robed and turbaned extremists, both groups wearing masks or coverings that hid their faces. Civilians, whose humanity was emphasized by their visible faces, died in alarming numbers. This film was being created as the conflict in Syria raged, and I saw it shortly after the fall of Aleppo. I'm not sure whether the urban warfare and the eventual destruction of the city were meant to reference or comment on Syria, but in light of recent events it was impossible for me not to notice those parallels.

Many Bothans Died

So...everyone dies.


Everyone.


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Game of Thrones? That's cute.

The sacrifice of so many greatly raises the stakes for A New Hope. You get the sense that Jyn and the others' stories aren't over; even after they die, their mission to destroy the Death Star continues. 

But I'm going to critique this movie even though everyone dies. Because everyone dies, it's important to look at how and when and particularly why they die. 

For example, Jyn's orphaning is a little too convenient. Her father is confronted by Imperials as she and her mother run. Her mother sends her on to the hiding place and, for reasons unknown, goes back to her father. There, she pulls a blaster and attempts to kill the director of the Death Star project. This gets her shot. 

It felt like she was killed off so early, and so pointlessly, just so that young Jyn could watch her mother die in her father's arms. It also made me think less of her for abandoning her young daughter. Until she fired, I seriously believed she would try to shoot her husband (because, you know, that would actually make sense and stop the Death Star project). Instead she came off as selfish and foolish.

So much of Star Wars is about fatherhood that emphasizing the father-daughter bond makes sense in the world. Jyn's quest to redeem her father by destroying his invention also parallels Luke's quest to redeem Darth Vader. But at the same time, these tropes are rather predictably gendered. For instance, the mother could just as easily have been the scientist, while the father was killed early on. If one of the hero's parents has to die, it's usually the mother.

Rogue One's handling of disability was more cringe-worthy. We meet Cassian as he's talking to an informant -- a man with a damaged or amputated arm. When the alarm goes off, the informant panics, saying that there's no way he'll be able to climb out and escape because of his disabled arm. So Cassian kills him. 

He is the figurative puppy that Cassian kicks to establish that he's Not Very Nice. Much like how the mother is fridged five minutes in, a marginalized minority character acts as a prop to another character's story.

Later, Rogue One kills off another disabled person in the exact same way for the exact same reasons: so that the abled people can escape. Jyn's adoptive father is a rebel extremist who uses oxygen like Darth Vader and has had both legs amputated. He uses prosthetic legs to walk, and they look pretty advanced. Yet, when the shock wave from the destroyed city threatens to kill them all, they leave him behind because of the assumption that he won't be able to keep up. Jyn grabs his hand and doesn't want to leave him, but otherwise no one else even fucking tries to help him. 

Everyone is expendable in this movie, but the disabled people are even more expendable. They're killed so that the able-bodied people have time to escape -- so that they don't drag on them or slow them down. 

I don't care that the rebel guy urged them to run on: that only reinforces the notion that the lives of disabled people are inherently less valuable or worth saving, and even we know it. It lets the heroes feel ok about doing something shitty, and the audience feel ok about watching them do the shitty thing. 

If it had been just one instance of this, I'd wince and move on. But the first act kills off two disabled guys in the same way. 

This is baffling to me because Star Wars has always treated disability better than this. Darth Vader is a FUCKING QUADRUPLE AMPUTEE with lava-gas-seared lungs covered in burn scars who needs a mask to breathe and he's a cyborg AND HE KICKS REBEL SCUM ASS. The asthmatic hiss of his breathing -- the thing that signals to us that he is, in fact, disabled and that the suit is a life support device -- is one of the most iconic things in the entire franchise. 


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Pictured: A disabled badass.

Luke, THE HERO, has his hand cut off. Prosthetics are readily available to him even with the rebels' presumably less advanced or less-funded medical centers. Hell, even Han is temporarily blinded. And while this is played mostly for comedy, he still plays an important role in the fight over the Sarlacc pit. But my point is: We have canon science fiction technology in this universe and this movie still chose to kill off these characters in this bullshit way.


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Pictured: A disabled hero.
ETA: And while I'm on the subject of Vader and disability in Star Wars in general: Unlike other f/sf which uses magic or technology to "fix" and erase a disability with no costs, consequences, or upkeep, the Star Wars movies show Vader performing necessary maintenance on his suit and body. We also see Luke fiddling with his prosthetic hand occasionally, pulling a glove over it, flexing it as if feeling the difference between it and his unamputated hand, giving it the odd loaded look, etc. 

These brief shots show that the hand isn't just a magical "fix" which erases his disability; it still affects him even if it's not the focus of the films. At the climax, it's the sight of Vader's own prosthetic hand which recalls Luke to his better self and reminds him to have compassion for his father. 

Star Wars has also done a decent job of conveying details about Vader's disability without catering to the abled gaze. The shots of Vader's assistive tech maintenance are brief, conveying information without being voyeuristic. They remind us that under the scary black suit and billowing cape, he is just a man, and it's that man Luke seeks to redeem. 

With Rogue One, there has been an obscene amount of fan clamoring for more shots of Vader in his tank. With absolutely no due respect: fuck off. Seeing that would convey no more information about Vader and his routine and his humanity than we already know, and the motive for this fan outcry is all too easy to discern. It's all about the visual. It reflects the morbid fascination of the abled with disabled bodies: as grotesque things to gawk at. It's voyeuristic and gross

ANYWAY, getting back to Rogue One: The other disabled guy in the film is a blind warrior monk. He dies being shot after transmitting the plans to the rebels. But "blind warrior monk" is basically its own category with its own set of tropes. Particularly "blind Asian warrior monk/Kung Fu master." It's one of those disability tropes that people consider "not a real disability because he's so badass," so it doesn't tend to be treated like other disabilities in fiction. And predictably, he had more agency over his fate and his death had more meaning in the narrative than the other two. 

OK So I Cried

I'll admit getting teared up a bit at several points. I will say that I was already emotionally "warmed up" by Moana and the short beforehand. But I didn't actually burst into tears until Chirrut walked across the field chanting "I am one with the Force the Force is with me." 

The Music Was Good

I did miss the classic soundtrack, even while I appreciated the musical quotes and nods to the source material. We got the March and a smidge of the heroic theme. The soundtrack also sounded like classic Williams even while being different from what I expected. It made me want to go listen to all the movie soundtracks -- even those from the godawful prequels, because the music is their only redeeming quality.


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Well, one of the only redeeming qualities.

Violence

It's got "war" in the title, but there were lots more bombs and grenades and shooting and shouting and such than in most Star Wars movies. Maybe avoid seeing it in theaters if loud noises and war/battle scenes upset you. 

Also I do not know that I would take a kid to see this movie. Actually, I definitely wouldn't take small kids to see Rogue One. Teens? I'm not sure. I'm of half a mind that this ought to have been rated R. Not only is it extraordinarily violent, but the characters, themes, scenes, and other elements are far grimmer than what PG-13 suggests.

I AM UNCOMFORTABLE

There's a scene involving an octopus-alien-thing. And tentacles. And tentacle mind-rape. And I WAS UNCOMFORTABLE. I've spent way too much time on the internet. But it would have helped my discomfort if the actor had NOT been making an O-face. Gah. 

Conclusion: IT'S A PREQUEL THAT DOESN'T SUCK!!! OUR PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED! MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!