Star Wars – Who Are The Last Jedi?

I’m thrilled by the announcement of the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi.

Since childhood this saga has held me captive. As a young boy in primary school myself and my friends waited eagerly for the release of The Empire Strikes Back. We’d devoured the first film, then simply referred to as Star Wars, and couldn’t wait for the follow up.

At the time the rumour mill had suggested there would be 9 films in the series of which Star Wars was the 4th.

The prequel trilogy was fun to watch but didn’t much feel like Star Wars, for me. A little too polished perhaps. But with The Force Awakens I leaped right back to my childhood and relished every moment. Strong characters, fantastic action sequences and the promise of some wonderful story-telling with the characters that I’d grown up with.

Whether the last Jedi refers to a single or plural Jedi is mouth wateringly enticing. It’s probably a little too obvious that Rey or Luke should be portrayed as the last of their kind. Perhaps also a little too obvious that Finn should emerge as being force sensitive and play a pivotal Jedi role. I don’t know.

I’d like to think that Kylo Ren’s character mellows somewhat. They went to great lengths to reveal his identity in The Force Awakens and show a vulnerability that is uncharacteristic in ‘bad guys’.

Rey, on the other hand, was a tough cookie throughout. Little is known of her history and this intrigues me. She may just be somebody who has a particular axe to grind with the Jedi and could fall under the dark spell of the mysterious Snoke. Is Snoke Sith? I’m really not clued up enough on this to offer any thoughts. I’m sure there’s a dedicated forum or twenty out there with plenty of insightful speculation.

So roll on December and the next instalment of the Skywalker Saga.

The image of Rey against the sunset was created using Photoshop.

Three teen fiction topics that need more attention

I’ve been watching a number of teen movies lately. They are, to my taste, average despite the underlying story being quite intriguing. My understanding is that they are all adaptations of novels.

I’ve nothing against vampires and werewolves et al, but I do wonder whether or not the entire vampire / werewolf scene has been milked dry.

I love everyday life being a bit different. I love that theme in any story, and that is of course the crux of many of these tales. Somebody has a normal life until something far from normal happens or befriends them. Or, as popularised by stories such as The Hunger Games, life is ordinary but set in a grim, dystopian world of constant struggle.

For a long time films have been as important to me as books. Good film adaptations such as Stephanie Meyer’s Hunger Games trilogy, are compelling. Not least because they are well acted and well produced. Jennifer Lawrence cannot, for me, put a foot wrong. But I’m becoming disillusioned by the glossing of the movie scene. I’m tempted to call it over-production but I really don’t know enough about film production to offer that kind of a criticism.

I do feel that films / stories in the mainstream could be a lot grittier and dispense with the Hollywood gloss.
Kes, for example, has no gloss. It’s an old story and very much of its time, but it’s also a very real tale of a young boy in a working class setting. I do class the book as a teen book and I remember with some fondness reading it in school.
Lad: A Yorkshire Story offers similar vibes and is superbly acted.
I also remember reading Orwell’s 1984 in school. There were some parallels between the two stories for me that centred around oppression but of course in almost every respect they were quite different. I think these stories are wonderful for young adults to read. There are many more.

Some concepts could be really well handled by some good young acting talent in today’s films. To that end there are some intriguing concepts that I think need exploring a little further. Here are just a few.

  • Stories that scare but are not necessarily horror and don’t necessarily involve monsters
  • Stories that centre on the real life struggle with poverty and prejudice
  • Stories that involve serious adult issues such as domestic violence and alcoholism

I’m not suggesting that story time should be transformed into a lesson in morals and standards. I just think that there is an appetite for this level of grit in teen fiction that borrows directly from real life.

I am by no means an oracle when it comes to teen and young adult fiction so I would be keen to hear from anybody who can pick out stories that focus on the things I’ve listed.

Writing for film

I have always wanted to write and produce a film. A short film, ideally. I have no shortage of ideas but I am not in the slightest bit movie minded in terms of crafting such a thing.

My chosen style or genre would lean toward the supernatural. Something that might be lazily interpreted as horror but is in actual fact rather more psychological than gore. I avoid blood and gore in films. To me they are just pantomime.

Recently I watched The Human Centipede. It was billed as ‘truly terrifying’ and ‘the stuff of nightmares’. I think I spent more time laughing to myself than being truly terrified. I certainly didn’t suffer nightmares. A genuinely chilling concept let down, in my opinion, by bad staging and truly awful acting. So much more could have been done to increase the hit on the senses with that story. I don’t know, perhaps the version I watched was heavily censored. It’s entirely possible. The BBFC aren’t known for their respect of adults actually being adults.

Transformation is something that chills me. It always has done.
The werewolf scene in the front room from American Werewolf in London is a masterclass in cinema. The hideous transformation of Jan Francis’ Mina character in 1979’s Dracula is truly disturbing. The wonderfully tense blood test scene in The Thing that led to the transformation of one of the characters is, for me, unrivaled to this day.

Many modern films target immediate shocks as their route to un-nerving the audience. It’s not uncommon for us to witness somebody turning a corner and seeing some hideous demon flash up on screen momentarily. In Drag me to hell the lead character turns over in bed to see the nightmarish vision of her demon lying alongside her. It’s pretty chilling and immediately effective but a short lived horror. When the film is finished you’re left with little to process and very little to unsettle you. At least I was.

For my own project I’d like to conduct a little research into how the human mind works and processes such things as grief and lonliness. Fear of loss and isolation are amongst our greatest fears. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change. These are all legitimate fears.

Religion has a major place in the lives of many people. It acts as a support, a crutch, to those who have a strong faith. What if that was tested? What if all that is deemed good and right, is shown to be anything but. What if you’re trust in Christ, for example, was shown to be misplaced.

These are things that intrigue me.

Piper Laurie’s character in Carrie was perfect. Recently ressurected by (the gorgeous) Julianne Moore to great effect, Carrie’s mother is the original religious nutcase. Self-harming is just one of her means of punishing herself for her perceived failings. It’s brutal viewing and very effective. There are no monsters and no ‘flashed up’ demons. It feels very real. As if the people living next door to you could be going through the same thing.

Julianne Moore photo from Carrie

I like this more than anything else in cinema. I like truth in film. To horribly paraphrase Hemingway; all writing is good if it is true. It’s this truth that I seek in a story.

M.R.James is a huge influence on my ideas for a story. As is Lovecraft. James’ fireside style of writing as if it were to be read aloud is extremely seductive. Lovecraft’s detail and elaborate portrayal of a netherworld containing that which should not really be known is and always has been hugely inspirational to me.

Photo of MR James

[M R James]

So in short I want to place real people into a real scenario that could well happen to anybody. Ghosts are real in that any form of spiritual afterlife has never been proven or disproved. Monsters less so. Monsters are useful for upsetting children effectively. But not adults. For me adults need reality or the perception of an alternate reality. We as adults need something to get our teeth into that could very well happen to us. And this is my starting point.

First I will write, then I will refine and ultimately I will plan a short film. 30 minutes or so. And then I will figure out how to shoot it!

 

Applying expression to a character with no mouth

One of the most beautifiully played out films I ever watched is Wall-E.
I think it’s a real masterclass in character design and emotion.
Watching the two main characters Wall-E and Eve (“Eeev-a”) develop their relationship from their initial, less than rosey start, is a joy.

wall-e

As a writer and character designer what I take from this is the enormous challenge in applying mood and expression to a character with limited facial features. It’s almost all in the eyes.

Wall-E will ‘slump his shoulders’ (lower his neck) when deflated and sit upright (raise his neck) when excited or shocked. There’s clever use made of the hands as well. We often see Wall-E ‘fiddling’ his fingers. Most notably when he’s watching the old movie. His adoration for the images on the screen is played out beautifully with the marriage of the eyes and the hands.

My current children’s story about a lonely lunar repair droid borrows heavily from Wall-E.
I was determined to draw Floyd without a mouth. Speech isn’t important to him as a repair droid. I wanted to display his mood without using a mouth.
As the story develops and another character appears all of the speech is handled by them. Floyd can remain mute and we see his reaction in his eyes, hand gestures and general body shape.

I fired up Quicktime and recorded a short video of me sketching out some ideas for Floyd using Mischief on a Mac with a Wacom Cintiq.

Great fun. More on Floyd soon.