Far, Far Away …

Here’s a confession that will shock everyone who knows me (and probably more than a few that do not): I don’t like STAR WARS.

The Saga, I mean; I’m talking Episodes I through IX, its spin-offs, its TV series. I’ve certainly enjoyed them, but once you’ve consumed 99% of Star Wars-related content you’re kind of left with an “ehh” feeling. A couple of hours of escapism, some robots, some aliens, some mystical mumbo-jumbo made up on the fly, the end.

Oh, and there’s usually a big explosion too.

Now with that out of the way, I will admit I love STAR WARS the movie. The first one. The one I saw in 1977. I’ve seen it the most of all of them, and 43 years on I still don’t get tired of it. I speak of the one called Star Wars. Not “A New Hope” not “Episode IV”. STAR. WARS. I love its low-tech (pre-special editions, of course) feel. I love its fast pace, its leap from planet to planet, location to location. I love its iconic set-pieces which remain memorable decades later, to a degree few of the other films in the lengthy series recapture.

Star Wars is one of those movies I’ve seen so many times that I can close my eyes and roll film from beginning to end and know every shot, every musical cue, every FX shot. On my list of desert island movies, it’s near the top. If fleeing my burning home I can only save one movie in my collection, it’s Star Wars. If I’m tasked by the government to save the world, bring world peace, end climate change, by keeping just one Star Wars movie in existence and obliterating everything else, well, the choice would be easy and obvious.

STAR. WARS. Period.

Why does Star Wars still hold my imagination? I think because it was my first major gateway to storytelling and being a storyteller. I was four. I’d seen TV, I’d had bedtime stories read to me. I’d possibly seen other movies. But nothing had that impact as Star Wars did. It got me interested in stories, in sci if and fantasy and that flood of SFF films and TV that followed well into the 80s. It certainly was the most instrumental and influential piece, for me, that led me down the road to a career as a storyteller. It’s what got me into film school and that 20 year career that followed it. It’s what got me to want to tell my own stories. Magicians Impossible is hugely influenced by Star Wars in its initial incarnation, that “we join our heroes midstream” pulp vibe. Not part of a series, no prequels, no sequels, just this rich mythology world. There’s a backstory, there’s a hint of the story continuing, but really it’s just a story set in a much larger universe.

To clarify; I don’t hate the other material – I just don’t need them to enjoy Star Wars. I don’t need sequels, I don’t need prequels. I don’t need the spinoffs, the TV, the CANON. I don’t even need The Empire Strikes Back (arguably the better film) or Return of the Jedi (arguably the weakest). I don’t need Darth Vader to be Luke’s father. I don’t need to know what the Clone Wars were; they’re a throwaway line in Star Wars and that’s all you did need. I think it’s a testament to that film that we wanted to know more. It had worked its magic on us all.

Pictured: all the backstory you need.

With the sequels, things changed. When Star Wars ended, Luke and Han got their medals (Chewie didn’t, but to be fair Leia was quite short), the Rebels had won, the Empire had their white-armored butts kicked. The galaxy beyond was wide open. You got an all-too brief taste of what was to come in the ancillary materials – the Marvel comics, the serialized newspaper strips (my personal favorites), the execrable Holiday Special, and – most importantly – the action figures. The adventures they went on, in suburban sandboxes and basement rec rooms were sequel enough for me. Even when pretenders to the throne – the “Killer Bs” of Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and The Black Hole just gave the Star Wars figures more enemies and allies in their 3 ¾ inch adventures.

Heaven

Did we have questions? Sure we did. But answering them was our job, or it should have been. For a time it was ours. Luke could have found his mother. He could have tracked down the Emperor, or could have turned bad, brought back by his friends. Before we even heard of a sequel, we were going on new adventures with our favorite heroes and villains.

But what would have been really daring was to not have those questions answers. I often like to ponder a world where Star Wars was neither a flop nor a massive hit; it was something that made its money back so George Lucas could keep making movies, maybe focus on running ILM. A world where Star Wars was enough of a success for those toys and comics, but something that didn’t make enough money to justify a sequel

*Really, what would have been interesting is to have a Star Wars universe where they did make more movies but they were stand-alone ones cataloging further adventures. Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was famously initiated as an idea for a lower-budgeted sequel to Star Wars should it just do “okay”. You may have seen further adventures of Han and Chewie minus Luke and Leia and the Rebellion (maybe mishaps along the way to paying off Jabba the Hutt – who we did not see in Star Wars). Darth Vader would have remained the Bad Guy with no familial connection to Luke other than being the guy who offed his Jedi Knight father, exactly as Obi-Wan said. Vader could have been Ming the Merciless from Flash or Baltar from Battlestar, or Princess Ardala from Buck ; a foil, and a threat, and a constant reminder that these adventures were always meant to unfold in situ. That, while there was a history, it remained a history. Something as backdrop.

Episode II. Seriously.

I think it all gets to the heart of what I don’t need in my stories these days, which is a deep and detailed exploration of backstories. The dramatization of backstories has, to me, become the worst thing about popular genre entertainments today. We’ve become accustomed to expecting to have all those questions answered in some official capacity. We can’t just imagine what was and what might be. It has to be part of a canon. You rarely can sell a fantasy or sci-fi book without having some plan in place for a second, a third, a series of books to follow should the first hit. And I have to confess that my fandom brain is the same as my writer’s brain; I only need one very good bordering-on-great story. I don’t need the same wine in a different bottle. I need that pure experience, that, when the book is closed and the house-lights come back on, I feel like I was on a journey.

If a film hits me so hard that I can walk out of the theater on a total high, I don’t need to see more of the same. I didn’t need more adventures of Robocop or Neo or John McLane on-screen, because I already have those in my mind. It’s what was in my mind after seeing Star Wars. I had my toys, I had adventures with them. They’re a part of who I am.

I recognize that creative work is a hustle. It’s about the paycheck, about spinning gold when you have the materials and the interest. It’s about paying those bills and socking some away for your golden years. But writing to me has always been an intensely personal experience, driven by a lot more than just dollars and cents.  

Every Star Wars fan has their “era”, the era where they discover it (and when and how they do). If you discovered them on video, where you could pop your VHS or DVD into the machine and watch one after the other, it’s different than if you had to wait three years between chapters. When the Prequel trilogy came out, by and large the older fans weren’t too crazy about them (and I say that very, very diplomatically).

Exhibit A

But if you were five or six when Star Wars came out, you were pushing 30 when The Phantom Menace arrived. The Prequel movies weren’t going to be your favorite ones. You’d grown up and come of age in a decade of Dragonslayers and Terminators, Robocops and Predators, Goonies and Gremlins, Alien and Aliens.

But now, the kids who were five or six when The Phantom Menace arrived, are now in their mid-late 20s, and have the same nonplussed reaction to the Disney films we older fans had to the Prequels, because they LOVE the prequels.

And now, everything’s different. It’s bigger, and smaller at the same time. With Star Wars you have this huge volume of movie and TV and video games and comic books and toys and novels. It’s everywhere. There are Original Trilogy fans, there are Prequel Trilogy ones, and there are Sequel Trilogy ones. That fandom has become a lot more fractured as a result. There’s fans that up and hate everything Disney has done with the property. There are fans that worship the Prequels. There are fans that ceased being fans after Return of the Jedi left theaters. For me, Star Wars: The Saga is essentially a big carnival midway. There’s rides, there’s games of chance, there’s food. You can’t take in it all, so really you should just find what booth appeals to you and focus on that. For my part, I’m a fan of a lot of the ephemera from the Original Trilogy; the Making of books, the Art of books, the Illustrated Screenplays. I love the collected editions of the Newspaper strips and the Marvel comics. I’m less enamored with the Prequels and while I’ve enjoyed the Sequels, I feel exhausted by the overkill. By the end of 2019 we’d had five Star Wars movies in as many years. Star Wars used to be more of an event. Now it’s just another film series.

You can only pick one.

And yet, while I’ve become largely indifferent to “Star Wars: The Saga”, I remain ride-or-die with Star Wars the movie; that singular experience. That type of movie experience that comes along with less frequency now than before. And at the risk of sounding like one of those old guys, I have to say that unless you were there in 1977, seeing it on the big screen with no knowledge of what was to come, and no idea what it would all lead to 42 years later, you didn’t really see Star Wars at all. At least not the way I saw it.

And that’s okay.

Top 10

Without preamble, my Top 10 movies of the teens.

10. Boyhood

A bold experiment that shows just what film can do that no other art can.

9. The Irishman

Scorsese’s masterful swan-song and farewell to the genre that made him.

8. What We Do In The Shadows

A Spinal Tap for the teens, this one still makes me laugh my ass off.

7. Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood

Still can’t believe how much I enjoyed this one. Surprisingly sweet too.

6. Cloud Atlas

It’s a big sprawling mess of a movie the likes of which we’ll never see again.

5. Headhunters

The twisty film/novel that made me want to write something just as twisty.

4. The Social Network

Biting satire that became re-life. Delete social media. You’ll feel better, trust me.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The movie I never get tired of watching. Anxiously awaiting the Criterion treatment.

2. Mad Max Fury Road

The one time this decade a movie overdelivered on what I was hoping to see.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

The story of my life and that’s not an exaggeration. Also Llewyn is the cat.

I could elaborate on these films, individually, for days. But all I will say is each of them surprised me, moved me, and reminded my why I fell in love with the movies in the first place (a love that sadly has diminished since the start of this decade).

See you in 2020.

Summertime Rolls


So I haven’t updated my website or social media in a while. Actually, I’ve taken a temporary – possibly long-term – hiatus from social media in general. My New Year’s resolution for 2019 was to spend more time living in the moment. To put the phone and tablet and internet down and focus more on the here and now.

To that end I’m spending a lot of time at the local pool with my child. He’s currently enrolled in swimming lessons which means a daily visit, followed by some recreational time. We’ll head home for lunch, but have frequently found ourselves back at the pool in the afternoon. And why not? The weather is hot, sunny, and dry, so what better place to spend it than at a nice clean municipal pool a five minute walk from our doorstep.

The other reason for the radio silence; I’m writing a new book. One that’s occupying much of my non-parenting time. I’m keeping mum on the details for now, but as it’s set in a pre-internet era, that’s one reason why I’ve given social media the boot. Call it method writing, but I’m trying my hardest to engage with the world in a similar pre-internet era. I keep up with email, because I have to, but I couldn’t tell you what the latest daily outrage on Facebook or Twitter is these days because i haven’t looked at any of it since late March.

[In fact, my advice to writers, artists, all creative types is to ditch the social media entirely but that’s another story for another day. But I will say that your future as a creative DOES NOT depend on social media, and if it does, you probably didn’t have that much of a future at it. The work is what matters. The work. The work. THE WORK.]

As of this writing it’s July 8th. Summer is just getting underway. And I have no plans to return to the daily grind (outside of writing that is – I’m on track to finish the first draft of this new novel sometime in early-mid August) until after Labor Day. Hopefully by September I’ll be able to spill some news on (among other things) the MIXTAPE TV series, this new novel, the relaunch of the MIXTAPE comic, and the future of the MAGICIANS IMPOSSIBLE series.

So until then, have a safe, happy summer. It only comes around once a year. Enjoy it while you can.

Throwing The Book

Companies amuse me. When they’re not being outright evil they’re instead being incredibly stupid. Like “leaving money on the table” stupid. Case in point:

It’s not what you think it is

Okay, I’ll admit right upfront that in the grand scheme of things this is a drop in the ocean. But the news that IDW has cancelled the “Classic GI Joe” run of trade paperbacks is disappointing. When I re-ignited my interest in the comic and Larry Hama’s continuation of the classic 80s comic book series – the first book I ever bought on a regular monthly basis – I happily shelled out my $30 a couple times a year to grab the collected editions. I no longer buy monthly comics, and my comics buying over the last few years has diminished substantially. but I was and remain happy to keep supporting the publishers, writers and artists by buying the books. With this cancellation/postponement/whatever I’m kind of stuck.

But not really. There are smaller collections comprising 5 issues each that I can go back and buy to fill in the gaps, if I want to shell out the cash for them. problem is they’re pricey even compared to the bigger collections, and a couple are out of print, which means paying astronomical amounts on the secondary market just to find out what happens next.

What did happen? Beats me. Maybe they felt the return wasn’t worth the investment in bigger trades. maybe they felt since they were reprinting them in smaller blocks anyway, that market could be satisfied (and they could of course make more money that way).

It’s stuff like this that has actually had the unexpected yet welcome benefit of spurring me towards e-books and my local library. I’ve read almost 30 books since Christmas and have no plans to slow down. Maybe rather than forking over money to companies that don’t need it, I’ll just shove it towards my local library instead.

Shelf Life

Hello everyone and welcome to 2019. I’m still mired in writing my next book so things will remain on the quiet side for now. But I did want to update everyone on the really fascinating subject of What Brad Has Been Reading In 2019.

I’ve mentioned previously that 2018 was a rough year for me. A year full of upheaval, and disappointment. but it wasn’t until the Christmas break that I realized just what I had been missing, and that was the simple joys of reading. Not to say i didn’t read anything in 2018 – I did, but it was difficult to focus what with all the stuff swirling around me. Like trying to focus on your fishing pole when a storm is moving in. You get a tug on the line and want to reel that sucker in, but the wind is picking up, you hear the thunder and see the flashes of lightning and, well, next thing you know the fish has gotten away. I was reading, but it was reading divided between comics, and books, and stuff online, and magazines, and newspapers and, well, you get the point.

So, over the Christmas holiday leading into New Year’s I resolved to get back into reading in a serious way. Serious as in; If I’ve finished work and have free time I’m spending it with a book, not a TV or computer screen.

How’s it been going? Well, as of this writing – January 16, 2019 – I’ve read a total of 7 books this year. I read all of them quickly too. They were a pretty varied bunch but definitely leaned in one direction over another.

An interesting biography about a frankly not-so-interesting person.
A fascinating biography about five very interesting persons
More a novella than a novel, and a minor King.
I used to play a computer game based on this book series
Really fascinating subject matter, I tore through this beast in three days.
A sequel to Below the Root
Yes, that Justine Bateman. not so much a biography as a look at fame through the eyes of a person who once had an abundance of it.

That’s my year of reading so far. It doesn’t include things like graphic novels (in my case, the most recent Paper Girls and Walking Dead trade paperbacks, and Vol. 3 of Star Wars: The Collected Newspaper Strips). I’ll update more of my reading adventures as the year progresses. but until then, I have writing to do. Ta.