Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

Review: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” by Alan Dean Foster

Title: The Force Awakens
Author: Alan Dean Foster
Series: Star Wars: Episode VII
Rating: ***
Publisher/Copyright: Del Rey, 2016

Okay, let me be incredibly clear about this: the rating above applies to this novelization only! I loved the movie, with just a couple minor quibbles to complain about. It was incredible. This book? Sadly mediocre.

Hey, look at that! I managed to make this review almost spoiler-free even without trying to!

Thirty years after the events of The Return Of The Jedi, it seems that the more things change the more they stay the same. The Rebellion has become the New Republic, now the dominant power in the galaxy…at least for the moment. After the death of the Emperor, the Empire fell prey to numerous revolutions and uprisings, signing a peace treaty with the New Republic before melting away and reforming in the Unknown Regions as the First Order. Now, faced with a Senate that is unwilling to risk war and mounting evidence of First Order skulduggery, Leia Organa has formed the Resistance in the image of the Rebellion of old, a private military force to keep an eye on their old enemies. This would be so much easier if Luke was anywhere to be found, but in the wake of a particularly heart-wrenching family tragedy both he and her husband Han have disappeared….

I’m not sure what happened here. Alan Dean Foster is an accomplished author, both of original works and novelizations of films. As I noted above, I absolutely loved the movie. So what went wrong with the book? Let me put it this way: if I hadn’t seen the movie already, this would prove far from satisfactory. While I projected the amazing performances from the film onto the characters as presented in the novel, even managing to carry that through the “deleted scenes” as it were, they would have been fairly uninteresting if I were experiencing them here for the first time. The writing was fairly (though not completely) emotionless when it came to exploring the characters, or perhaps it just pales in comparison with the onscreen performance backed by John Williams’ score. (EDIT: I think this was a huge part of my issue. A number of my favorite moments in the film weren’t captured in full effect here, possibly because Foster was working from a screenplay and not the finished film, which would of course not reflect any added nuance of character injected by the actor. Other scenes are more fully rendered.) Part of the problem is that we almost never get into their heads. That’s why I was so excited to get my hands on this–there are a number of places in the movie where I really wanted to know what a given character was thinking. Normally, this would be the province of the novelization. Not this time. We get a couple snippets of thought, but mostly obvious stuff. Was this a forced tactic by those in charge of maintaining the secrets yet to be revealed? Maybe. I’ll admit that I was hoping for more clues on certain theories, especially Rey’s backstory.

Of course, there are good things to find here too. Numerous sequences that were cut from the film, such as more with Leia, Rey’s first encounter with snow, or a scene where Unkar Plutt tracks down Rey and the Falcon on Takodana. Usually these scenes offer illumination to other moments in the film, such as Rey reminding herself to flip the safety off on her blaster before firing. Too, Foster puts in a valiant effort when it comes to making other elements feasible. Starkiller Base gets a pseudo-scientific explanation for its power and firing mechanism, and Finn has trouble figuring out which tools Rey needs because of their disorganization, not because he’s unfamiliar with mechanics. Then too there are a few more hints regarding the resolution of certain mysteries. Kylo Ren finally realizes Rey’s true identity just before they commence their battle (meaning he’s still one up on us), and Snoke drops several more hints regarding his origins that still fall far short of revelation.

Bottom line: I’m not telling you to give this one a miss, but I am telling you to see the movie first. That experience will add some much-needed flavor to this one.

CONTENT: Mild to no profanity. Mild violence, occasionally heart-wrenching. You know the part I mean. Little to no sexual content.

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Books, Novels, Reviews, Star Wars

Review: Fringe (2008-2013 TV Series)

Created by: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, & Alex Kurtzman.

“Endless Impossibilities.” That’s what Fringe (*****) offered, and that’s what it delivered for five straight seasons of programming. If you’re a longtime reader you know of my love for good science fiction, and this series did not disappoint. In fact, it was by far one of my absolute favorite series all the way through its run, and I recently worked through the entire series again so my wife could see it. She loved it as much as I did, so I can confidently tell you that its appeal goes beyond uber-geeks.

Fringe is the spiritual if not actual successor to The X-Files, which I am somewhat ashamed to admit I have not yet watched all the way through. (Cut me a little slack, I was way too little when it first started! It’s on my to-do list….) In fact, they briefly make reference to the old X-designation” as having been the FBI’s standard practice for dealing with unexplainable phenomena before Fringe Division was created. I’m pretty sure the two mythologies are incompatible, as aliens play little if any role in Fringe, but it was a fun moment nonetheless. Regardless of any ties between the two, the shows have a number of similarities including complicated mythologies. Instead of Scully and Mulder going rogue and investigating things their superiors would rather sweep under the rug, in Fringe the FBI has set up a whole division to investigate “the Pattern,” a series of unexplainable or “fringe” events that have been recently escalating in frequency. To this end, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) is assisted in her investigations by Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a proverbial mad scientist who doesn’t believe in the word “impossible”–or that there is any conundrum an acid trip won’t help him unravel. Walter is mentally and emotionally unstable for reasons it will be far more fun for you to discover yourself than for me to reveal to you here, and is only allowed out of the mental institution where he has lived for twenty years because his estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) has agreed to be responsible for him. Peter is a borderline-genius himself, and once conned his way into MIT–he even managed to get a couple papers published before he was found out. Secondary characters include Agent Astrid Farnsworth (Jasika Nicole), who usually gets stuck babysitting Walter in the lab; Agent Philip Broyles (Lance Reddick), the head of Fringe Division; Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo), Dunham’s partner and friend; and Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), the CEO of the multi-national mega-company Massive Dynamic who always seems to know more than she’s telling (“What do we do here at Massive Dynamic? The better question is, what don’t we do…”). There are a score of wonderful guest appearances as well, from Jared Harris to the legendary Leonard Nimoy. I will also say that the quality of the acting is phenomenal, with several of the castmembers portraying multiple distinct versions of their characters (alternate universes, remember?)

When I watched through this series the first time, I was watching it as it was broadcast over a five-year period. I greatly enjoyed it, but you forget things after that long. Watching it through the second time, knowing where things were headed, I could see so much more depth and interconnectedness. The writers had to have the entire story arc of the show in mind from the beginning, because the entire plot of Season 5 is hinted at and rooted in an episode from Season 1! So watching it the second time and catching all the setup for later things was great. I do wish they would have had longer to set up their endgame–they were kind of forced to just jump into it by the threat of imminent cancelation–but overall it worked out well. Season 1 and to some degree Season 2 are mostly episodic case-of-the-week things, but gradually the show morphs into a serial adventure with most of the cases intimately connected. Major elements involve alternate universes and time travel, which I always find fun.

I jokingly say that one thing I wish they had explored was the origin of the giant floating letters that always set the scene during the show (see example. And no, its not mispelled, that’s how they spell it in the alternate universe….) Another thing I wish had been included was an explanation for how they always manage to get between New York and Boston so quickly. The show bends the laws of physics all the time–just acknowledge the fact and give us a throwaway line!

There are a number of comics based on the show. I reviewed one set of them here, but haven’t managed to get my hands on the rest. I’m a bit sad about this, as the others are by all accounts of a much higher quality than the mediocre ones I did manage to find….

Content: When this was broadcast it was rated TV-14, and I think that’s fair. The show can be fairly violent, and at times quite gruesome with the aftermath of whatever fringe event they are investigating. Mild language, typical for that rating slot. Occasional sexual content, nothing too explicit. This is more prevalent in the first couple episodes….I cynically atribute this to trying to draw people in and grab their attention. They do say sex sells…..

Leave a comment

Filed under Films, Reviews