Silence

A One-Page Review of the novel by Shusaku Endo

Sin, he reflected, is not what it is usually thought to be; it is not to steal and tell lies. Sin is for one man to walk brutally over the life of another and to be quite oblivious to the wounds he has left behind.

Cover for Silence.
Silence. Ed. 2016. Published by Picador Modern Classics.

Silence is a Japanese historical novel set in the 17th century. Japan has closed its borders to all but Dutch traders. The country is closed to Christian missionaries. The new magistrate, Inoue, has led a successful campaign of persecution against Christians, causing many to apostatize—including the highly respected Father Ferreira. Two of Ferreira’s formers students, Fathers Rodrigues and Garrpe, decide to go to Japan to discover the truth of Ferreira’s fate and to minister to the hidden Christians.

The novel is told from multiple perspectives: Rodrigues’s letters, third-person, journals from a Dutch trader, and government documents. Each section increases the distance between the reader and Rodrigues.

The major theme of this book is the struggle to maintain faith while God is silent. Rodrigues witnesses horrific tortures that are not designed to kill, but to cause apostasy. In particular, if priests apostatize, it shows the inferiority of the Christian faith when compared to Japanese culture. Through his novel, Endo attempts to wrestle with why Christianity has had difficulty taking root in Japan. But he also challenges the missionary perspective of Rodrigues and the concept of what a faithful Christian looks like. He introduces the idea that Rodriguez couldn’t truly hear God in this situation until his understanding of Christianity had been challenged and stripped away.

This is a brilliant work of art that asks hard questions about faith and suffering.

Verdict: Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, Japanese culture, and thoughtful contemplation about faith. The edition I read had an introduction that explained the historical context of the story. The descriptions of the persecutions are very unpleasant, but the novel itself doesn’t go in to as much detail about the specifics.

Final Fantasy 2 – Retrospective

Final Play Time: 25:22

Overview

Final Fantasy 2 is generally disliked by fans. Square took a lot of risks in this game, and while those risks don’t really work, they I’m glad they took them. It shows the developers are willing to not just do the same thing all over again; this game presents a new world, new characters, and new mechanics, something that would be repeated with each game that followed.

Final Fantasy 2 logo
Image Copyright Square-Enix.

Story:  5

The Emperor of Palamecia has been conquering kingdoms and villages. He has led armies of monsters and the undead. Our heroes are exiles from the Kingdom of Flynn, which has recently fallen to the Empire. They are rescued by the rebellion, which is led by Princess Hilde and her father. As the characters join the rebellion, they must prove their skills in battle as they seek plans for the Empire’s secret weapon, the Dreadnaught airship.

Where Final Fantasy told the story of a time-loop involving elemental beings committed to destroy the world, Final Fantasy 2 goes for a less-convoluted and far less interesting story about an evil empire determined to destroy the world. The story is told better, but it is not engaging. I remember being in high school and staying up late to get to the next plot point in Final Fantasy 4 or 6. Playing those games was like reading a book that I just couldn’t put down. And while there are twists and turns, sacrifices, and a journey into the tower of Pandemonium itself, I never felt compelled to find out what happened next. I am glad, however, that there was a greater emphasis on storytelling in this game. And some of the story ideas and themes will return in Final Fantasy 4 and 6, to much greater effect.

The main cast and the Emperor.
Art by Yoshitaka Amano. Image copyright Square-Enix

Characters: 3

We have three main characters throughout the majority of the game: Firion, Maria, and Gus. The team is supplemented by rotating fourth characters: Mindu, Josef, Leila, Gordon, Gareth, and Leon. (The names vary based on the version of the game played. I played the PSX version.) Each character has a distinct personality, which can be fun. But the personalities are fairly broad. Firion is the hero. Maria is strong-willed. Gus is not very intelligent. The rotating characters have more distinct personalities, but just enough to tell them apart. There are no tragic backstories to discover here. The most interesting characterization, however, is Leon. He is Maria’s brother and the friend of Firion ad Gus. He vanishes after the game’s opening, only to reappear later as the Dark Knight of the Empire. He even goes so far as to proclaim himself Emperor after you kill the current Emperor. It is not clear why he betrayed his friends and joined the Empire. I wanted more from this.

Presentation:  5

Music: Nobuo Uematsu composed the music for this game, and as always, it is wonderful. The battle music is some of the best in the series, and the over world theme has a particularly melancholy feel.

Tone: I’m sure it is due to the music, but this game feels darker. The world feels empty. This emptiness escalates after the Empire unleashes its second super-weapon, the Cyclone. Many of the towns you visited before are destroyed. By the game’s end, only two cities remain: Flynn and Mysidia. In the end, there is nothing for the world but to rebuild. Even friendships are left in ruin. The music and the story fit together well. Intriguingly, so do the mechanics (see Gameplay).

Design: The world is smaller than it initially seems, but you spend a lot of time running back and forth between the rebel base and new locations. The missions are clearer in this game than Final Fantasy 1, though the backtracking gets old after a while. The dungeons are designed well, but there is a distinct pattern of treasure being on an opposite path or opposite side of a room than the stairs to the next level. Curiously, there are many doors that lead to empty rooms. This makes the game more frustrating, but I think these rooms may have been designed for extra grinding.

Gameplay: 5

And here is the real reason this game is hated: the levelling system. It is brutal. Gone is the XP-based system of FF1. FF2 uses a system that is based around actions taken in battle, both your actions and the actions enemies take against you. If you want to get better with swords, use swords in battle. If you want stronger magic, use the spells you want to improve. It gets a bit trickier with HP/MP. When you start battle, the game records your current HP/MP stats then compares them to your end-of-battle stats. So, if you want to gain HP/MP, they must decrease in battle. This led me to waiting until after battle to heal. It also meant I used magic far more than I normally do. I tend to conserve magic-replenishing items, but in this game, I spent a lot of time grinding for gold so I could buy more ethers to refill my magic.

In theory, it is an interesting system. I like The Elder Scrolls games, and they also have a level system based around the skills you actively use. It encourages you to find your play style and stick to it, and it even forces a bit of role-playing. But the system in Final Fantasy 2 is almost more difficult to use and figure out. For example, I tried to increase my Evasion stats so my characters would be harder to hit. By game’s end, I only had one character with an Evasion of 6; the others were either 4 or 5. From the research I did online, this is a low number, and Evasion is super important in this game. I think I spent three hours trying various methods to try to increase this stat, and I could never see any progress. Everyone stayed where they were. In the end I made it work, but it was still frustrating trying to figure out how to increase this one stat.

Also of note, the difficulty would spike suddenly when entering new areas. I frequently thought I had the game figured out, only to cross into a new section of the map and get killed in a few hits. And worse are the dungeons early in the game when you have low MP, but encounter Adamanoises (turtles) that have a high physical resistance but low Ice magic resistance. I think it was Kash’ion Castle that I got to the boss, beat it, then realized I didn’t have enough magic to easily get out of the castle. Nor did the game let me use Warp. I had to use the Memo Save (temporary save) after each battle (unless I did I made a few inexcusable mistakes) and slowly make my way back to the world map for a regular, permanent save. I frequently found myself unprepared for these difficulty spikes, and started micromanaging my stats as much as possible. I tried to do as much of this as possible without using the exploits in this version of the game. This meant I didn’t target my own teammates.

But the mechanics are interesting in that they make you feel like the characters. These characters are not warriors. They have to prove themselves to the rebellion. And, with that in mind, the game makes you prove yourself by making you just as unskilled as them. You can develop your characters however you want, but you have to be patient and train for it. However, it really helps if you figure out how the game calculates your stats, so you can try to be strategic both in and out of combat.

Personal Enjoyment: 4

I was excited to play this game, but the mechanics really wore me down over time. I probably could have finished the game sooner, but typically waited until I was in the mood to grind before playing it. I didn’t spend too much time grinding for stats. I spent most of my time grinding for gold. And each time I entered a new area, the difficulty spike was very discouraging. But despite this difficulty, I was shocked at how easy the final boss was: Two hits with a Blood Sword, and he was finished. After hours of struggling through the Jade Passage and Pandemonium, I was expecting more of a fight. It was my own fault, though, for using the Blood Swords.

Overall, there were a few times the game was fun. I definitely enjoyed that the storytelling was more dominant and that more effort was given to characterization. As always Uematsu’s music is a joy to listen to. I’m glad to finally cross this game off my list, but I doubt I will ever come back to it.

Final Rating: 4/10

Final Fantasy 2 end screen

One Page Review: Bastion

A one-page review is a short review that I write by hand on a single page. Once I get to the end of the page, I end the review, polish it up, and post it.

Bastion title screen
Image copyright: Supergiant Games, 2011.

Bastion was the first game developed by Supergiant Games. You play as The Kid, who awakens to find his city, Caelondia, destroyed by the Calamity. The game is an action RPG on an isometric grid. You make your way to the Bastion, the place where survivors are supposed to gather in case of emergency. If the Kid can collect the Cores from the ruins of Caelondia, he can restore the city. Along the way, he discovers additional survivors, including Rucks, the narrator; Zulf, an ambassador from Ura; and Zia, a Uran raised in Caelondia.

The visual design is beautiful. Each level is meticulously detailed. Pieces of the stage appear as you walk. The music is wonderful and truly adds to the world building. The gameplay is easy to pick up, but the isometric map can make targeting difficult. And late in the game there is a platforming section that can be a pain to navigate due to the layout. But for the most part, the perspective works and allows you to see an amazing amount of details.

The Kid returns to Bastion to talk to Rucks.
Image copyright: Supergiant Games, 2011.

The game has a surprisingly deep characterization and story. A new game plus mode opens up new gameplay options, so even after you beat the main game (which I did in about 8 hours) there are plenty of challenges to keep you busy. And the game gives you some choices late in the game that affect the ending.

All in all, if you are looking for a unique action RPG with great designs, amazing music, and dry sense of humor, check this one out.

Verdict: Highly Recommended for action RPG fans.

My Revised Star Wars Prequels Pitch

While the Spanish Dub / English Sub experiment with the Star Wars prequels was fun, the movies were still not as satisfying as I wanted. I like what George Lucas was trying to do with these movies, and I like how the expanded universe (both Legacy and Canon) have tried to honor what he did with these films by filling in the blanks.

With that in mind, I decided to join all the other people who have tried to re-envision the Star Wars prequels. I don’t want to be cynical about it, though. Again, I think Lucas had a good story that he was trying to tell. I just think it needed to be re-structured with clear plot points along the way. So, I present my prequel revision. This is my attempt to tell the story that George Lucas was trying to tell. For me, this is a revision not a re-imagining.

Episode 1 – The Long Night

Last_Stand_On_Ord_Mantell_art
From Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: Last Stand on Ord Mantell

In the revision, episode one will be a completely different film. There is growing unrest in the Republic as planetary factions become increasingly distrustful of Republic economic policies. Many systems believe the Republic is failing and that individual systems should set their own policies. Sort of a Federalist/Anti-Federalist vibe here. Into this environment, Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi have a standalone adventure. Through this adventure, we learn Qui-Gon’s back story. Qui-Gon first trained under a rather unorthodox Jedi master. This master challenged Qui-Gon’s understanding of the Force, the Jedi Code, and the Order’s place in the Republic. However, his master vanished and was presumed killed on a covert mission to system Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are currently in. Yoda took over Qui-Gon’s teaching, but Qui-Gon never forgot what his previous master taught him. Like his master before him, Qui-Gon continues to be unorthodox, though less antagonistic. He sometimes finds himself at odds with the will of the Jedi Council.

As to what Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon investigate, I admit that I haven’t come up with something I’m satisfied with at the moment. The situation deteriorates, however. Against the Jedi Order’s recommendations, the Republic chooses to use economic sanctions to keep the peace. This fails and a few planets secede from the Republic.

Along with the Jedi/Republic plot is the story of another master and apprentice. Darth Plaguies and Darth Sidious have manipulated Republic economic policies in a centuries-long Sith plot to destroy the Jedi. They aim to bring back the Sith Empire. In typical Sith fashion, Plagueis starts to pit his apprentice Sidious against his prized assassin, Maul. Plagueis also has an interest in ancient Sith alchemy, and has been trying to recover Sith teachings on manipulating the Force to create or influence life. He believes that by manipulating the Force, he may be able to create an army of unstoppable Sith Warriors.

Sidious kneels before Plageuis
From the cover to Darth Plagueis by James Luceno. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

In the end, Plagueis underestimates Sidious’s cunning. Sidious and Maul turn against Plagueis. With Plagueis dead, Sidious becomes the new Master with Darth Maul as his apprentice. What Sidious does not know is that Plagueis had been successful in his experiments.

The Republic now stands on the brink of war. The Republic has no standing army. It must rely on the Jedi to resolve the Separatist threat and keep more planets from leaving the Republic. If the Separatists become aggressive, however, there is nothing the Republic can do to stop them.

Episode 2 – Attack of the Cones

The Separatists are now led by a council composed of Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation, representatives of the Banking Guild, and the mysterious Count Dooku. The Trade Federation insists that Gunray is acting on his own. The Separatists engage in their first military campaign against the Republic: the invasion of Naboo. The Separatists reveal their droid army, and easily conquer the planet. An assassin attempts to kill Senator Palpatine of Naboo. The Jedi council sends the newly knighted Obi-Wan in search of the assassin while Qui-Gon goes to Naboo. Neither Jedi has taken on an apprentice. Obi-Wan’s arc unfolds in much the same way it does in Attack of the Clones. He discovers the Clone army that was ordered by Sifo-Dyus (which was Sidious masquerading as a Jedi). He is imprisoned on Naboo, meets Count Dooku, and learns that Dooku was Qui-Gon’s old master.

Dooku Interrogates Obi-Wan
From Attack of the Clones. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

Qui-Gon, meanwhile, attempts to get Queen Amidala to safety. As in the original Phantom Menace, they run the blockade, end up on Tatooine for repairs, and discover a TEENAGE Anakin. Qui-Gon is amazed at how strong Anakin is in the Force. Qui-Gon gains Anakin’s freedom and, after getting Amidala to Coruscant, takes Anakin before the council. The council refuses Anakin as a Padawan. Palpatine also briefly meets Anakin, and is extremely impressed with him. He senses Anakin’s power, but also senses something dark, something familiar.

Palpatine manipulates Amidala to cast a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Valorum. The movie culminates with a massive droid/clone battle on Naboo rather than Mustafar. Qui-Gon rescues Obi-Wan while Anakin helps Amidala retake her throne. Darth Maul appears, and the two Jedi fight him. Dooku reaches out to Qui-Gon, revealing himself telepathically through the Force. He urges Qui-Gon to join him. Qui-Gon, in a moment of shock at sensing his old master, is killed by Darth Maul. Obi-Wan fights and kills Darth Maul. Dooku escapes as the Separatist army retreats from the planet.

Darth Maul fights Obi-Wan
From The Clone Wars animated series. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney.

Maul’s presence has now alerted the Jedi that the Sith have returned and are somehow involved in the Separatist movement. Obi-Wan takes on Anakin as his apprentice to honor his fallen master. The Jedi Council does not approve, but they don’t forbid it. Anakin and Amidala begin a forbidden romance, though are not married at this point. Palpatine is elected chancellor of the Republic and is granted executive orders to fight against the aggression of the Separatists. He has the clone army at his command. The executive powers given to Chancellor Palpatine are not without precedent in the Republic, but in the past they had been used for economic aid or disaster relief. This is the first time they have been used for war.

Before the final credits roll, Dooku meets with Sidious and reveals that Maul died at the hands of the Jedi. He reveals that the Jedi now know the Sith have returned. Sidious appoints Dooku as his new apprentice. Dooku also mentions a powerful young man, Anakin Skywalker, to Sidious. “At his core is a great darkness, though I sense the Jedi could extinguish it.”

“Yes,” replies Sidious. “He could be a powerful ally. We must watch him closely.”

Episode 3 – Revenge of the Sith

This movie unfolds much like the original. Anakin and Amidala were married in secret between eps 2 & 3. Major changes to this movie are that Amidala reveals the marriage to Obi-Wan late in the movie. This leads to a growing suspicion in Anakin that Amidala is seeing Obi-Wan behind his back. Amidala isn’t killed, but when Anakin uses the Force against her, it creates complications with her pregnancy. She is left in extremely fragile health, and, in the end, retires to Alderaan with Leia. She will die within two years. Palpatine is disappointed at Anakin’s defeat and the loss of his body. He hopes Vader’s strength in the Force will make up for the loss of his body.

Sith Lord Darth Vader with his Clone Army
From Revenge of the Sith. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

It is never explicitly stated, but Anakin was the first and only Sith Warrior created by Plagueis. Plagueis created him in secret and had planned to pit Anakin against Sidious. However, Plagueis died before this could happen. Instead the Jedi found Anakin and planted seeds of the Light Side that eventually flourished in Luke and Leia. Sidious grew to suspect who Anakin was, but the Anakin’s defeat at the hands of Obi-Wan limited Anakin’s abilities.

In the end, Luke as son of Plagueis’s Sith warrior, helps Anakin fulfill the destiny that Plagueis had intended: the death of Darth Sidious. However, rather than ushering in a new Sith Empire, Anakin destroys the Sith just as he helped destroy the Jedi, leaving the future of the Force in the hands of Luke Skywalker.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Death Star throne room.
From Return of the Jedi. Copyright Lucasfilm and Disney

While I know Lucasfilm has said the Star Wars saga films (Episodes 1 – 9) are films about the Skywalker family, I think it would be more interesting if the saga films were key points in the history of the Force. While other movies, books, comics, and shows could tell stories with or without Jedi and Sith, there is something satisfying about the saga films dealing with turning points in the Star Wars universe. The prequels are about the Sith destroying the Jedi and the Sith Empire finally destroying the Republic. The original trilogy is about the final downfall of the Sith at the hands of the non-Jedi freedom fighters with the help of the last Jedi. And it looks like this sequel trilogy (7-9) is about the future of the Force: What happens now that Jedi and Sith are gone?

So, obviously, we need saga films that explore the history of the Jedi and their conflict with the Sith. If you are interested, Lucasfilm, I have a pitch for Knights of the Old Republic. . . .

Star Wars Revenge of the Sith – Spanish Dub/English Subtitles

Overview

The Clone Wars have been raging for three years. The Separatists have boldly assaulted Coruscant and abducted the Chancellor. Anakin and Obi-Wan engage in a daring rescue that will set into motion the end of the Clone Wars, the rise of the Galactic Empire, and change the Jedi Order forever.

Revenge of the Sith blu-ray
Revenge of the Sith blu-ray cover. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm

Story:  8

It’s hard to know if this movie would be as good without the context of episodes 1 and 2. I almost wonder if I could do my own “machete” order that starts with The Clone Wars animated series and continues with Revenge of the Sith. Context aside, this movie tells a clear story of Anakin’s manipulation and fall. Palpatine preys on Anakin and works to drive a wedge between him and the Jedi  Order. And while this is the culmination of Palpatine’s conspiring, I think the fall of the Jedi Order and the Republic are clearly communicated in this story. I would love to tweak some things, but of all the prequel films so far, this one works the best with minimal (though still occasional) bad dialogue.

Characters:  8

This is Anakin’s story, and with the Spanish dub, it really works. The dialogue and the performance align better than they did in Attack of the Clones. There are a few missed opportunities to drive home Anakin’s mental and emotional struggle (and it would have been nice to see more wedges placed between Anakin and the Order in the last film), but overall, this story works.

Padme, unfortunately, has very little to do but be the pregnant wife and victim. The strength and drive of the character from previous films is missing. Her character beats fall flat, and Portman’s performance seems weaker than anything we’ve seen of her up to this point. Maybe she saw that the end of her contract was near.

Ewan McGregor is great, as always. Ian McDiarmid turns in a memorable performance, and while he goes often goes over-the-top, it at least works for the dialogue he had to quote. But, British over-the-top can still be fun. And I think this is where the characters largely succeed in this movie: they are fun where before, they weren’t.

Themes: 8

While the rise of tyranny is a strong theme in this movie, I was actually more engaged in the tension between the Jedi and the Sith. While the Sith are still somewhat enigmatic, mainly being characterized as “virtually identical to the Jedi,” the Sith don’t seem to have the detachment of the Jedi. The Jedi and Sith seem to be opposite extremes. And while there is truth in Yoda’s advice that death comes to all and Anakin should learn to let go, not recognizing the pain in Anakin pushed him further toward the Sith. This was a grievous struggle for Anakin. Palpatine effectively maneuvered him into a place where his idealism came into conflict with Jedi teaching. Dooku was a Sith Lord, and so he should die because Jedi kill Sith. But Anakin regretted this action. In an attempt to redeem himself, he urged Mace Windu to take Palpatine prisoner so he could be put on trial. Mace refused, revealing to Anakin that his idealism may have been misplaced.

I still think, however, that the believability and tragedy of Anakin’s fall would have benefited from more information about the Sith and their disagreement with the Jedi about the nature of Force.

Presentation: 8

This movie starts strong with one of the best depictions of full-on space warfare I’ve seen in a Star Wars film. It reminded me of those moments in the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the camera would zoom over the caverns of Isengard to Gandalf, then down the side of Orthanc into the orc forges. The perspective shifts from high-level to personal, connecting to Obi-Wan and Anakin in their fighters. In fact, Lucas may have been paying a slight homage to this. Even the music starts with a dominant drumbeat.

There is a level of passion and excitement on the screen, which makes me think Lucas’s heart was more fully in this film, that this was the movie he wanted to make, but felt the others needed to provide context. This movie has great action choreography, a tighter pace for the storytelling, and more gorgeous cinematography.

Anakin walks to the Senate building
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Commander Cody recieves Order 66
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Ki Adi Mundi betrayed
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Lord Vader enters the Jedi Temple
Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Personal Enjoyment: 8

After the disappointment of Attack of the Clones, I was worried about Revenge of the Sith. These concerns were unfounded. Apart from the occasional off line and some over-the-top performances by Natalie Portman and Ian McDiarmid, this movie was far stronger that the previous two. However, being so close made these occasional moments stand out. They left me wishing for one more script draft and one more take on a few scenes. That said, I was eager to continue the saga after finishing this film. If I had more time, I probably would have jumped right in to A New Hope. George Lucas left me wanting more, and that is certainly a great way to end this trilogy.

Final Rating: 8/10

The Dark Tower Book 2: The Drawing of the Three

A review of the book written by Stephen King

The Drawing of the Three cover

Overview

Having confronted the Man in Black, Roland continues his journey to the Dark Tower. After being brutally attacked by lobster-like creatures from the sea, Roland is mortally wounded. He must now face the prophecy left to him by the Man in Black: he must draw three companions. But these companions are from different time periods in another world—our world. A mysterious door appears on the beach, beckoning a dying Roland to enter.

Story:  7

The Gunslinger was essentially a collection of related short stories. The Drawing of the Three wasn’t originally written as short stories, but it achieves a similar effect, though each drawing becomes more and more interconnected with Roland’s world. It’s an interesting effect, as though King transitions us from the format of The Gunslinger to the format of The Waste Lands. The Drawing of the Three, then, is that middle story, that moves us collection to novel. This transition also stalls the story progression. As we move from “Roland” to “Roland and crew,” we spend extended time just getting to know these new characters (and we have one more character to get to know in book three). So, the entirety of the movement in Roland’s world is a few miles on a beach. There is progress as Roland meets and recruits his companions, but we feel no closer to finding the Dark Tower and discovering what evil is destroying Roland’s world.

Characters:  8

  • The Prisoner: Eddie Dean – A drug addict, Eddie makes a great foil for Roland. Where Roland is grim, serious, and humorless, Eddie is laid-back and a bit sarcastic. Roland quickly recognizes that Eddie has a strong mind, but he is a prisoner to both his addiction and his devotion to his brother.
  • The Lady of Shadows: Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker – An African-American woman with a split personality. Living during the Civil Rights era, Odetta Holmes has seen great injustice. Due to two violent assaults, she has manifested a second personality, the evil and cunning Detta Walker. Neither personality is aware of the other.
  • The Pusher: Jack Mort – A greater evil than Detta Walker, Jack Mort is an accountant whose hobby is stalking people and pushing them to their deaths.

While I thought the characters in The Gunslinger were not up to Stephen King’s normal standards, the characters in The Drawing of the Three were stronger. In fact, Eddie’s section was hard for me to put down. He has a great interplay with Roland. They become comrades who, while not quite understanding one another nor always agreeing, learn to work well together.

(O)detta is harder to like because the Detta persona is difficult to read. I didn’t enjoy being in her head. She is an extreme caricature, a stereotype. I could never quite decide if this was interesting or in poor taste. It is an interesting concept, however, that the two personalities must be brought in to balance. It is actually through Jack Mort that this happens. My only disappointment is that we don’t get to see much of the new (O)detta, now dubbed Susannah. That has to wait until The Waste Lands.

Overall, I have few complaints about the characters introduced, though I still miss some of King’s supernatural characters. I loved when Roland and the Man in Black had their meeting. I enjoy the otherness of these supernatural, though malicious, characters. When King digs in to human evil, it cuts too close to reality for my taste.

Themes: 7

Roland needs companions. It is too long since he has had peers who could challenge him and question his single-mindedness. Roland learns quickly that he cannot journey to the Tower without these comrades. Eddie challenges Roland in interesting ways, not least of which is calling Roland out as a “Tower junkie.” But I can’t help but wonder why the Man in Black prophesied the Drawing. As a reader, I want Eddie and Susannah to be able to trust Roland. But I also have to keep in mind that he willingly let Jake die. Eddie and Susannah may help Roland find redemption for things he has done in the past, but I don’t think the Man in Black intends this.

I thought a lot about King’s portrayal of Detta Walker. What I have come to realize is that King often shows hatred as caricature. This is seen in Detta Walker’s personality, which Eddie himself calls out as a cliche. But I’ve seen King use similar cliches in other books, and they always seem connected to people who have given themselves over to hate. (Margaret White in Carrie and Sylvia Pittston in The Gunslinger come to mind. Both justify their hate with religion.) With this, King seems to say that we become the worst version of ourselves when we hate. In fact, we become a cartoon, something that isn’t real. To paraphrase how Roland puts it, they become “what is always said or believed by people who think only a little or not at all.” There are may portrayals of evil in King’s novels, but he seems to consistently show the evil of hate as something that makes a person less human and less real. They become a cliche.

Style: 7

King’s style is more confident and natural. His characters are presented clearly. The division of the book into “shuffle” and “drawing” sections was an interesting way to tell shorter stories in our world and connect them with Roland’s world. However, I think Detta can be off-putting. I like the idea of exploring the rage caused by racism and this was certainly a striking, memorable way to do it. I just don’t enjoy being in that head space.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

One thing that I always loved about the concept of The Gunslinger is the promise of Western-as-fantasy. While I have yet to finish The Dark Tower series, it is moving quickly to fantasy and hardly any Western tropes to justify the Western classification. The first book had endless deserts. It felt like Leone with a dash of Lovecraft. Roland pursued a man in black who wronged him. It was a story of revenge, a full-on Western trope. But this book felt more like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and vague memories that at one time, this was a Western. Roland pursues a magic Tower. This is more of a fantasy trope than a Western one. Perhaps this changes in books 4-7.

While there’s nothing wrong with this change, the difference is so striking that it is entirely possible to love one and not the other. There are thematic and tonal promises in The Gunslinger that are not continued here. And while I preferred the style and characters in this book, I prefer the tone and dark, Western tropes of The Gunslinger. Neither book completely delivers what I think this concept—and King’s talent—are capable of.

Final Rating: 7/10

Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones – Spanish Language Dub

Overview

This is part two of my experiment to see if the Spanish Language dub of the Star Wars prequels make these movie more enjoyable. In the previous post, I evaluated The Phantom Menace, and found that I liked the movie better. My problem with the prequels rests more on the dialogue and performances, so I theorized that the Spanish voice actors might do a better job delivering the lines. However, since I don’t speak Spanish, I have to watch the movies with English subtitles. Sometimes bad dialogue is easier to swallow if performed well or read.

So, how did Attack of the Clones hold up?

aotc-bluray
Attack of the Clones blu-ray cover. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Story:  7

After Senator Amidala narrowly escapes assassination, Obi-Wan and Anakin are assigned protection duty. While Obi-Wan investigates the source of the hit, Anakin guards Amidala as she returns to Naboo for safety. However, Anakin is at the mercy of a growing obsession with Amidala. The two soon fall in love—causing Anakin and Amidala to compromise their professional duties. But before these two can fully sort out their feelings, Obi-Wan’s investigation uncovers a conspiracy that threatens both the Republic and the Jedi Order, and plants the seeds to change both institutions forever.

Let’s start positive. Ewan McGregor is good, and the Obi-Wan plot is interesting. Maybe this is my preference for investigations, but it was fun trying to put the pieces together with Obi-Wan. Unfortunately, he comes across as a bit of an idiot when trying to find Kamino in the Jedi archives. These scenes were a bit of a misstep, but Obi-Wan tracking Jango Fett and discovering the Clone Army propel this movie along. As a long-time Star Wars fan, it was fun to finally learn what the Clone Wars were after their tantalizing mention in A New Hope, something I had wondered about for years. (Along with the Journal of the Whills, which had an interesting name drop in Rogue One).

Now for the bad . . . . The love story does not work. The Spanish language dub cannot save it. By using the English language dialogue, the film fails to salvage this story. The disconnect between the dialogue and the music made this excruciating. The love story between Amidala and Anakin is essential to the prequel story, and it just does not work. I never once believed these characters liked each other, let alone fell in love. In fact, the line delivery in the Spanish dub, when combined with Christiansen and Portman’s performances, almost changed the way I perceived these two characters.

Characters:  5

Anakin is written with no subtlety. The voice actors playing Anakin and Amidala do the best they can, and while their deliver is much better, they are working with horrible dialogue. To make matters worse, Hayden Christiansen chose to play Anakin as obsessive and frustrated while Natalie Portman played Amidala as uncertain and confused. The obsession and frustration combined with his frequent outbursts makes Anakin feel like a sexual predator who is manipulating the woman he is supposed to protect. Amidala never really seems to be in love with him, and so her growing acceptance of their relationship seems almost psychologically abusive. At times, I wondered if Anakin was using the Force to manipulate her. I don’t think this is what George Lucas was going for, and it was incredibly disturbing. For this reason alone, I don’t think I can watch the Spanish dub again. With the lines spoken in English, they come across as bad performances, which is much easier to take.

Themes: 6

I enjoy the recurring conflicts between Jedi, Sith, and Mandalorians in Star Wars. This played out again and again in the Legends stories, and thematically appears here with Jedi, Sith (Sidious and Dooku), and Mandalorians (the clones based of Jango Fett). This is a millennia-long conflict, and the Clone Wars mark the long-sought victory of the Sith and Mandalorians over the Jedi. Although, again, it isn’t quite as simple as the Mandalorians have split into factions, most for peace but one in particular for war. But that isn’t in this movie, and I don’t know how much of these ideas were in Lucas’s mind.

Beyond these themes, I don’t know that there is much to work with here. This movie seems less interested in saying something than paying homage to some of George Lucas’s film influences. Sometimes identifying these influences helps pass the time when the story drags. There is an interesting story underneath all this, a story about the rise of tyranny in times of threat and uncertainty. There is something brilliant about storytelling deep, deep beneath this. Unfortunately, I sometimes think this is more fan theory and wishful thinking than something that is actually on the screen. As with The Phantom Menace, I appreciate this film more and more as I think about it. And I will continue to do so as long as watch it as little as possible.

Presentation: 6

The cinemagraphy in this movie is good. Just look at these shots.

Anakin on Naboo, morning.
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Anakin questions Jawa
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.
Amidala embraces Anakin, Tatooine
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Additionally, Lucas pays homage to a lot of influences in this movie. First up is Christopher Lee, which makes a nice bookend with fellow Hammer Horror alum Peter Cushing.

Count Dooku talks to Sidious
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Then, of course, there is Jango (Django) Fett, which brings in a bit of the Western vibe (which The Clone Wars explores further in “Death Trap” episode.

Boba Fett mourns his father
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

The Geonosian arena feels very Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Geonosis Arena
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

We get a bit of a Blade Runner tinged Noir with the neon lights of Coruscant.

assassin-coruscant
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

And some of the battle scenes at the end of the film have a war documentary feel.

Clone Army
Attack of the Clones cinematography. Copyright Disney and Lucasfilm.

Certainly, few films look like this. Few films look this diverse. Lucas is really flexing his visual presentation muscles here. It’s just a shame that the character moments and pacing aren’t as developed in this film. Maybe that’s not fair. I’ve definitely seen worse, but it feels bad because I think he was close to making it work.

Personal Enjoyment: 4

The Spanish dub of The Phantom Menace went from annoying to watchable. The Spanish dub of Attack of the Clones didn’t provide much in way of improvements. This romance in this movie still doesn’t work, not because of the performances, but because of the script. The love story is essential to Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, but at no point did I believe these two characters fell in love.

The movie also felt too long. The imprisonment and showdown on Geonosis takes over an hour! Often, pacing issues and length are more a consequence of not engaging with the movie, and that was definitely present here. I wanted to give up when I saw I still had an hour left and this was after having to slog through every scene with Anakin and Amidala, watching poorly written dialogue be delivered as best possible by two actors who had no chemistry or experience delivering lines this bad. It is because of this movie that the Machete Order doesn’t work for me. The movie looks good, there are interesting homages with the camera work, and Obi-Wan’s investigation is interesting. Everything else falls flat. I want to be positive. I want  to say the Spanish language dub covers a multitude of problems. But I can’t. Maybe with a different script, something could be salvaged. With the current script, though, it just doesn’t work.

Perhaps one day I will see what R. A. Salvatore did with the novelization. Until then, Attack of the Clones goes on the Rifftrax shelf.

Final Rating: 5.6/10