The Greatest Gifts

Note: This is a post adapted from yet another Dixon’s Musings post.

In light of the many miseries of the world, many often wonder where God factors into all of it.  We wonder why God allows evil men to walk among us, men who seek to slaughter, to destroy.  In a world where earthquakes rend the land and tornadoes tear up the very foundations of the places we call home, why does God not let the Earth lay at rest?  Does He even care at all?

If He is all-powerful, why doesn’t he stop all of the disasters and cruelties of the world?

It goes back to Eden.  When Adam partook of the fruit, he did more than simply sin, he did more than simply curse us.  Something that is all but forgotten these days, with the rise of secularism and naturalism, is the presence of the supernatural. All the things that we do influence the supernatural and, likewise, the supernatural seeks to influence us.  When Adam chose to disobey God, he didn’t merely do a bad thing, like a child who has fibbed or a dog who pooped on the carpet. He surrendered the world to Satan. His choice gave power to Satan to dominate and corrupt the world.

This begs the question of why God doesn’t use his unlimited power to simply stop Satan? If He is truly so strong, and the devil His own rebellious creation, why does He just say “Stop!” and put an end to it all?

For reasons beyond our understanding, it seems that God has “rules of engagement” of some form in place on Himself.  These rules seem to give Satan some degree of freedom to sow chaos where he wills (before he is finally sealed away as foretold in the book of Revelation) without interference from God. This is best exemplified in the book of Job, where the Lord allows Satan to do what he wills to Job. God then uses Satan’s depredations to show the importance of faith and the value of His promises.

Naturally, the Lord doesn’t violate these restrictions, either. He would have no grounding on which to command us to follow His commandments for our own lives. It would make God hypocritical and inconsistent to violate His own laws, thus nullifying everything in the Bible.

Yet, God refused to leave us at the mercy of a being who seeks to corrupt and destroy us, to sunder us from the One who created us.  At first, His grace and mercy was largely reserved for his people, the Hebrews. The world was wicked and corrupt, and very often not even His chosen people obeyed him. He created laws and rituals for them to obey, but the task was insurmountable for mere men.

Then Jesus came.

Once before, God had given up on humanity.  Were it not for the righteousness of Noah, all of the world would have perished.  Yet God did not destroy us and our future.  Furthermore, He set in motion a greater plan, one that would not bring about destruction, but salvation.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV)  After thousands of years of separation from him, God gave us all the means to return to Him,  He gave us a way to be absolved of our sins, to know that there is more to out lives than misery and the fear of the unknown.  To know that there is more to the universe than what we see before out eyes.

Despite our flaws and our failings, God loves us still.

Yet, Jesus’ coming is not the only proof of God’s love.

When God made us, he made us rational beings.  He gave us the ability to think and make decisions.  More than that, however, He gave us the freedom to make choices.  He gave us free will.

Our God made us free people.  He saw no purpose in forcing us to follow him, as if we were machines.  He saw no need to make us slaves to his will, compelled to act only as he saw fit.  Surely there are consequences for our actions; to sin and be in rebellion against God will lead us to an eternity none of us can fathom.  However, the existence of consequences does not make the freedom that choice grants us any less wonderful.

The fact that a God who could do anything opted to allow us to freely choose him may very well be the greatest gift of all.

So, yes, the world is broken.  There are griefs and miseries innumerable in the world.  It is also a world of beauty, a world with a savior.  A savior who would have never come had a loving God not willed it.

Merry Christmas all!

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Self-Awareness

Or, more to the point, the sheer lack of it.

I thought it would be a fun exercise to break this down. So let’s take the first tweet, which seems to assume that saying “trans women are women” enough will eventually make it true. I had actually seen this one before and mostly dismissed it as nonsense. You can’t simply declare something to be true and expect everyone around you to accept it as well. Indeed, the past few years have more than proved this to be a very dangerous approach when dealing with reality. What someone else says is true (particularly unsupported by evidence/supported only by ones feelings) is not always so.

Which leads to the small reply thread after it. Now, let me start by saying that this is the internet, and many overtures given are frequently not done in good faith. However, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that telling someone to “get fucked” in response to a (seemingly) polite request to debate the matter is probably a bad thing.

There is nothing more immature than being given a chance to make your argument and immediately shut it down. And really, this is the crux of the problem with so many debates today; it is not only that people don’t want to listen, they don’t want to persuade either. They think that merely stating their case is enough for everyone else to shut up and accept it. They make no room for people being apathetic, let alone people actively disagreeing or being hostile to the idea. They presume that there is no such thing as a rational or sincere counter-arguments to their beliefs and so choose to act like an ignorant child.

Of course, the problem is further compounded by folks like the quote retweet I took this from. Too many people in the world see this sort of immature behavior and, instead of calling it for what it is, reinforce it, calling it good and right.

Pay close attention to the words chosen, however. “the correct way to debate with a transphobe.”

As though there’s a debate.

As though this person isn’t making the enormous assumption that the person who asked to debate is somehow irrational and not worthy of attention.

Well, maybe, just maybe, Dirak is getting shit because Dirak had a shitty opinion to begin with.

I’m sure that there have been many less polite responses to the original tweet, but given that Dirak responds to the polite ones like an asshole, maybe nothing about this reaction is surprising at all.

Maybe we should stop acting like being stupid children in response to opinions and people we dislike is somehow the height of rhetoric.

Then again, we’re all stupid children now.

Just Watching…

Just a few passing observations:

Have you ever read something and immediately something bothers you about it? You can’t place your finger on it, of course, and on the surface it seems innocuous, but it’s still wrong. That’s what this tweet is to me.

“Invisible and neglected.” What do these words even mean? As a general rule, Sikh’s tend to stand out in their communities. So they’re not invisible. And neglected by whom? I don’t see anyone in the United States who’s obligated by law to look out for and cater to the Sikh community. Or the black community. Or the gay community. It’s almost as if you’re responsible for looking out for yourself.

But “representation matters,” right? Everyone (except whites/men), must be pandered to and catered to. It’s not enough that you be allowed to live your life; no, you must force others to see you and celebrate you, even if they’d rather do neither. Even if, for all intents and purposes, you’re irrelevant, you must make people look at you and your causes so you can feel special.

So, trans representatives and Sikh mayors: that’s great, you achieved something, be proud of that. But let’s not pretend that “representation” is what everyone is so happy about. It’s vain narcissism, coated in layer upon layer of feel-goodism, to the point that we no longer recognize it. A Sikh mayor in Hoboken or a trans representative in Virginia doesn’t make a difference, not on its own.

It is not what they are that matters. It is what they will do with their power.

~ It feels like Dr. King’s dream is all but dead these days. All everyone ever talks is what folks look like on the outside. No one cares about “who” anymore; it is all about “what.” Black? Trans? Atheist? Hispanic? Gay? Muslim (in the most reductive, meaningless way)? It does not matter if you are an utterly awful person, as long as you fit the mold of being an Oppressed Minority™, you have a place in “society.”

Meanwhile, if you’re white (and especially if you’re white and male (and triply especially if you’re white, male, and Christian)), you’re pushed to the back. You’re assumed to be racist. You’re automatically a monster who needs to literally kiss the ass of every “minority” on the street to begin to make up for something you can’t help.

It is almost as if segregating and slandering people on the basis on that which is uncontrollable is a bad thing. It’s almost as if there was a whole movement to end this sort of thing….

~ Periodically, Shannon and I will talk about the old days of online conservative activism back in 2012. We talk about the comradery, about the joy of finding like-minded individuals across the nation to connect with. And we talk about how it slowly sort of fell apart. How we saw the reality of certain individuals and groups. How what was once an alliance of happy warriors descending into vain infighting and back-biting. About how far too many people were invested in keeping things as they were rather than trying to build (or rebuild) something.

A year into the Trump era and things seem to be only worse. Plenty of people and commentators who I’ve liked and respected over the years have revealed themselves to be hateful and spiteful and petty. They hate Trump so much, they’re willing to sabotage him rather than fight for their supposed values.

For all of his faults, Trump is still better than Hillary, and certainly supports more rational policies than the left. Indeed, there are plenty of Trump policies and acts one could point to as objectively good things. Yet apparently hatred of Trump has eclipsed these facts. Few people out there anymore are actively promoting conservative values if they hate Trump; they are just hating Trump.

Welcome to the brave new world, where everyone fights for their own stupid egos.

~ It has been a century since the Bolsheviks turned Russia into a hellhole. Yet people, especially the young, act as though there are no lessons to be learned from this. Only if we tried it ourselves, the socialist dream would be fully realized and we would have perfection. Will it really take coming face to face with actual famine to understand what it means?

~ I guess I shouldn’t end this on a sour note, so have an arrangement of one of my favorite pieces of music:

The Defenders of Shannara

Warning: spoilers ahead.

When I was a child, I was enamored with my parents’ bookshelves. At least, if their covers were any indication. However, many of those books were old and brittle and, in my young hands, probably would have been destroyed seven times over. So I’ve never read most of them.

As I recall, it was my mother’s fantasy books that most caught my eye. In seventh grade, I began by reading The Hobbit (borrowed from the local library, of course). This, naturally, lead to The Lord of the Rings. But there was a series of books I wondered about more than them. A trio of big, worn, black paperbacks that dominated the shelf. Their font was evocative, their covers imaginative.

The Sword of Shannara

The Elfstones of Shannara

The Wishsong of Shannara

Next to them, The First King of Shannara, The Scions, The Druid, The Elf Queen, The Talismans.

What were these books? What was this Shannara? Fresh off of Tolkien, I delved into this new land.

In a weird way, had I not just come out of The Lord of the Rings, I might have noticed more easily how Terry Brooks did a soft rewrite of the trilogy in The Sword of Shannara. I might have noticed how familiar the scenarios were, how similar the characters were, how obviously ripped off the quest was. But I didn’t. I loved it. And when The Elfstones of Shannara diverged so completely from its formulaic predecessor, I was hooked.

I’ve read every book in the Shannara saga, from the Word & Void trilogy (confirming long-held suspicions I had about the universe), to the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and now to The Defenders of Shannara trilogy.

And it pains me to say how disappointed I am in this most recent set.

Brooks’ writings were always grim compared to Tolkien. The protagonists often suffered severe setbacks, and without fail, some would die. Darkness was always present and often stuck closer, due to Brooks’ more contemporary writing style. You were always emotionally close to those who were suffering. The Defenders books aren’t much different, but something was missing. The preceding trilogy, The Dark Legacy, had hints of this, but it became very apparent this time around.

First, the minor details. The writing in this trilogy feels very lazy. Information is very frequently repeated. Plot and character points get drawn out over very long stretches for no particularly good reason. Very frequently, the reader is simply told how a character is impacted by events (for the rest of their life!) rather than having an action or a conversation convey it.

Because nothing says “life-changing event” like being explicitly told someone has just endured a life-changing event.

Then there’s the matter of the characters. In almost every series (with maybe the exception of the Legends duology), there’s a character I connect with. A character I care about. A character I want to see surmount the odds and succeed. Most of the time, there’s more than one. Not this time. I found I couldn’t connect with any characters. Paxon Leah is bland, and spends half his trilogy feeling more like a background character than the main focus. Leofur Rai is much the same, feeling like a Mary Sue with daddy issues, rather than a well-written character with daddy issues. Almost none of the secondary cast get particularly fleshed out either, often appearing (and then dying) in the same book.

The only character who feels particularly fleshed out is the villain, the unimaginatively named Arcannen (did he give himself that name or were his parents really weird?). And even then he is unconvincing. He feels like such a small man, with excessively big ambitions. If you took Jabba the Hutt, gave him Jedi powers, connections in the Republic government, a desire to take control of the Jedi, and put him in charge of whorehouse (full of unwilling slaves), that’s Arcannen. He never feels big, powerful, or important, except in his own mind; this makes his villainy boring and cartoonish.

None of the character arcs (what few there were) come to a satisfying conclusion either. I won’t spoil any of these details, but I came away feeling ultimately disheartened and even a little hollowed out. There are too many bad happenings and very little to lift the reader up in the end. Everything may not be awful at the conclusion, but there’s no real triumph. There’s no real bright point to feel like all the struggling was worth it.

Which brings me to the plot: go back and read the paragraph on Arcannen.

He is the primary mover of the entire trilogy. And I’m never drawn in, never convinced he’s a real threat. A nuisance, no doubt, but it feels like he’s only so dangerous because the plot demands he must be. In general, the plot just meanders about, never really going anywhere…at least nowhere that warrants such a lofty title as “The Defenders of Shannara.”

And finally there’s the matter of the gay subplot…because of course there is. And, as with most gay subplots, it adds very little to the story except to stick out really obviously. Indeed, it only exists in the third book, with characters only introduced in the third book. So there’s no build-up, no attachment. They’re just there and the reader seems to simply be expected to empathize just because. No effort is made to make the relationship relatable. It is, technically, plot-relevant, but it sucks a lot of the energy out of Paxon’s journey, a journey which already lacked energy.

I’m reminded of the show Person of Interest, which did something similar. The damaged and mildly unhinged Root flirts with the cold, unfeeling Shaw for an entire season before it ends with a lesbian kiss and Shaw’s capture. The problem is that this element adds nothing to the show. We’re supposed to care about it just because, not because it’s convincing or enamoring. Indeed, the relationship causes both characters to act completely out of character when it comes up.

While it’s no secret I’m no fan of this sort of thing, I’m also willing to accept that it exists as long as it serves the story. My mother is much the same way, yet amusingly, came up with the best solution to the PoI dilemma. It’s already established that Shaw has a personality disorder that prevents her from empathizing with others (though this is, on some level, her deeply suppressing her emotions so she doesn’t feel pain). To have her reciprocate Root while remaining basically the same otherwise, was completely out of character and confusing. Rather, what should have happened is that Root’s affection should have gone unrequited until she ultimately ends up dying towards the end of the series. Create a scenario where Shaw is forced to confront her conflicting/repressed feelings, a trauma on the level of what made her the way she was to begin with.

We already care about the characters. Now make me care about how you’re shipping them.

In Defenders, I don’t even care about the characters, so why would I care about how you’re shipping them?

In the end, I’m disappointed. Defenders of Shannara was perhaps the weakest entry in the saga. Almost every series (with the notable exception of Word & Void) has a central quest, or several concurrent ones. There are always compelling characters working together toward a common, positive goal, even when separated from each other by the entire length of the Four Lands. Defenders has none of that. It’s aimless and meandering, leaving the reader feeling like more has been lost than has been gained. My hope is the coming Fall of Shannara (I already have the first book) is a step up again, a return to some of what made Shannara great…even with the promise of the end.

The Power of Fan Films – Part 2

I said there was going to be a second one, didn’t I?

Tie Fighter – short film

Not to be confused with the classic 90s video game of the same name, OtaKing77077’s film is a delight for the game’s fans. But not only is it an homage to the game, it is also an homage to the stylings of 80s anime. Yes, that’s right: it’s a fan made Star Wars anime. And it shows off the might of the Empire in all the right ways. Amusingly, there’s an assault transport in the thumbnail, but not in the actual movie.

I suddenly feel cheated (the assault transport is one of my favorite ship designs from Star Wars: Tie Fighter).

Kara

Kara is in a weird place for me. On the one hand, it has a few noticeable weaknesses, most notably the CGI. Given the prominence of these scenes, it can’t really be given a pass. Also, some of the plot elements (when did those stormtroopers land, why isn’t there a bigger force of Imperials attacking this Rebel base?) feel flimsy. Kara’s strength comes in from the fact that it is short and it is concise. It hits the right beats and pulls the right emotional strings to be a solid film.

Star Wars: Emergence

Strangely, Hoshino was not the only fan film to come out last year featuring a blind Jedi. Mercifully, their plots are very different. Hoshino primarily looks into the past and the “how” of her blinding; who she is today is largely left up to inference. Emergence deals with the present, and how the padawan copes with her sudden disability. This is an exemplary demonstration of the idea of “show, don’t tell” as we embark on a journey not just in the physical world, but through the Force.

It is also worth mentioning the strength of the special effects in this one as well as the original soundtrack.

Jakku: First Wave

The shortest film in my selections, this may also be the most powerful. The stories told within are all encapsulated in the first few seconds: these men are about to die. Everything about First Wave is done perfectly. The acting is solid. The stories plausible. The finer details, such as the background audio of the fighting outside, are all there. And it is all done in three and a half minutes.

The Power of Fan Films

With the release of “The Empire Strikes Back – Revisited,” I’ve been in a bit of a Star Wars mood. Given that Revisited is a fan project, my mind has lately turned to thinking about other fan projects. The fans are the biggest part of why Star Wars survived its drought years between Episode III and Episode VII.

It was not only fans watching The Clone Wars or Rebels that kept the franchise afloat, however. It was fans creating new things: new stories, new tales, new places, new characters. This zeal is what kept Star Wars alive more than anything.

Now, I want to share some of that creative brilliance with you.

Days Past

Honestly, I actually ran across this film while searching for some of my old favorites. It’s not really much of a surprise I didn’t know about it before, given it came out at the beginning of the month. But I’m glad I found it.

Days Past is a look at the relationship between a teacher and her pupil after the fall of the Republic…but it’s not what you expect. There’s not much more I can say without spoiling the plot. However, I would like to give this film credit for the quality of its set; it looks so authentic. Additionally, the character work is phenomenal, and the actors deserve a great deal of credit for bringing them to life.

DARTH MAUL: Apprentice

One of the big problems with the lightsaber duels in the Prequels is their choreography. Wait, just hear me out for a second! The problem is that the movies are overly focused on being flashy and cool, to the point where the fights are no longer convincing. Now, that’s not to say that this fan film does not do that; it does. I would like to note the one Jedi who flips into a shot for no reason whatsoever. Indeed, the entire point of the film is to be a cool, flashy lightsaber duel between a group of Jedi and Darth Maul.

But there’s something about the way it is handled that feels more…real. Not every strike is well-practiced and coordinated. There isn’t nearly as much pointless posturing between combatants. There’s even a bit of emotional pull (though nothing like Days Past). And if you don’t care about any of that…Darth Maul.

Hoshino

Something I’ve observed is that fan films tend to be much better when they’re shorter. If they go above the twenty minute mark, their quality starts to decline. I presume this is because the limitations inherent in any fan production start to catch up with them. They have all that time to fill, but only one or two writers, a limited number of crew and actors, limited special effects, limited budget…

Hence why films like Hoshino tend to be so good. The actual movie is only six minutes long, but it is so focused that it feels longer. Its characterization is splendid and it tells its tale so effectively. It has very little action…and it does not need it. The characters drive the story and that is wonderful.

TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story

Everyone loves Jedi. They have special powers and laser swords and lots of authority. But Jedi aren’t the only denizens of the galaxy, are they? There are trillions of people in Star Wars; what about their stories? TK-436 tries to tell one of those stories.

Now, I could nitpick the technical details in the special effects. Lasers aren’t always colored correctly, X-Wings flying around with their wings closed…but I would be missing the point, wouldn’t I? No, instead, I’ll just focus on the emotional tale of a stormtrooper forced to confront his past in the middle of a grim battle on a distant world.

I think I’m going to have to make another post. I didn’t talk about nearly all the fan films I wanted to…

Can and Should

A man was fired recently. Contrary to what the left would have the general public believe, it is not because he was sexist, or racist, or opposed the shallow vanity that passes for diversity today. No, he was fired only because he dared to have a serious, nuanced opinion that did not conform exactly to leftist groupthink. It did not matter that his opinions largely matched up to the left’s; that he did not toe the line exactly was the problem. So Google, one of the greatest tech giants in the world, fired him.

Now, you might say, “Google is a private organization! They can do whatever they want!” Which they can. But that’s a non sequitur. That they are free to practice whatever hiring and firing decision is not the point, nor am I advocating for restrictions on this. Lord knows if I don’t think that Christian groups should be forced to have gay and Muslim leaders, than no one ought to be forcing Google to hire or retain employees against their will.

However, that does not mean Google did the right thing (indeed, they may have done something very bad, as it turns out).

Indeed, this is a major problem with our society. We equate the freedom to do something with its rightness. We fail to differentiate between the words “can” and “should.”

Can we fire this person? Yes. Should we fire this person? Probably not.

Can we force this baker out of business for refusing to bake a cake that goes against their beliefs? Probably. Should we ruin this person’s livelihood? Probably not.

Can I get blasted drunk this weekend? Yes. Is this a terribly good idea? My hangover will probably tell me no.

Can I sleep around? Yes. Should I run the risk of diseases, pregnancy, or emotional turmoil? I’m going with no.

Can I strut around like I know everything the world has to offer? Yes. Should I, given I’ve only lived a bit north of a quarter century? No.

The problem is that we don’t treat ourselves and our freedom with any real respect. We, as a society, earnestly believe that because we are free to do something, there is nothing wrong with actually doing it. We believe that there should be nothing restraining us from any action, good or bad.

I don’t believe that. I believe that one of the goals of life should be to lead a dignified and respectable life. We ought not be going around behaving stupidly and foolishly. We should not go around heedless of others and even ourselves. Bear in mind, I’m not advocating for leading dull, uninteresting lives (I know I do, and I’m not necessarily proud of that). Sure, we’ll occasionally do wild, crazy. even stupid things. We will do mean and unkind things. We might even think those things worthwhile, that the costs associated with those actions are outweighed by the (perceived) positives. Should we make a habit of it, though? Should we turn those things into our lifestyle?

Shouldn’t we have enough self-awareness to realize when we are making mistakes? Or is that sort of self-reflection outmoded too?

The Music of Stormblood

Spoiler warning: Though it has been about a month since Stormblood’s release, it feels prudent to place this here….just in case someone reads it.

It actually took a long time for me to warm up to Final Fantasy XIV. It’s not that I thought the game particularly bad at the outset (around 2.1), only that it didn’t capture my imagination. It was the music that turned the game from something of a slog to a joy. Sure, I had enjoyed music in the game prior, but it was the introduction of “Tricksome” for The Wanderer’s Palace HM that triggered something in me.

This was followed by the phenomenal soundtrack for Heavensward, which prompted me to start a playlist of my favorite tracks from the game (many thanks to Mekkah Dee for these uploads). Now, with the release of Stormblood, there’s a whole new soundtrack to enjoy.

Rhalgr’s Reach

The first major settlement the player reaches after entering Gyr Abania, the Reach is the home of the Ala Mhigan Resistance. For an organization that has only met with minimal success after two decades of occupation, I must admit that the theme is far more upbeat than anticipated. On the other hand, it instills the player with hope; great change is coming to Eorzea and we are at the forefront. One cannot help but be encouraged listening to this.

Yanxia

Before we can liberate Ala Mhigo, however, we first travel east, to distant Othard, to help our longtime ally and friend Yugiri liberate the nation of Doma. A good deal of the music in the east, from Kugane to the Azim, has an exotic feel to it, clearly inspired by the cultures of the orient. However, the theme that most drew me was that of Yanxia’s nighttime theme. A slow, somber piano piece, it almost feels a more fitting theme than the normal daytime theme.  The people of Doma have lost much in the quarter century of Garlean rule, a feeling far better reflected in the night. Yet even amid the ruins of a nation, the music carries with it a hopeful air.

The Temple of the Fist

While I am skipping ahead a bit to cover this one, I prefer the final two tracks of this group where they are. The Temple of the Fist is the former home of the Fist of Rhalgr, the order to which the Monks of Ala Mhigo (and, by extension, any Monk players) belong. If there’s any word that describes this theme, it is adventurous. It’s the sort of music that belongs to a temple hidden deep in a vast wilderness, where adventurers brave many great perils to reach it and the treasures hidden inside.

Actually, leaving aside the matter of Rhalgr’s Reach just below, that is precisely what the temple is. It is a theme that carries a feeling perfectly.

The Lochs

The liberation of Doma finally brings the player back to the Ala Mhigan front, where the Eorzean Alliance takes advantage of the Empire’s divided attention to strike straight for the city itself. At the very gates, we are greeted with this militaristic theme. Looming before the gathered forces of five nations, the imposing silhouette of the most impressive city state in the realm (at least to me). After a long journey fraught with peril and hard-fought battles, the end is in sight as we fight for the future of….

Ala Mhigo

Twenty years: that’s how long the Empire has occupied this part of Eorzea. How long it has been since people like those of Little Ala Mhigo fled from the invaders. Since the Empire erected Baelsar’s Wall, hiding its deeds from the world to the west. Twenty long years since a proud people were laid low by the mightiest nation in the known world.

No longer.

Liberty or death!

What’s the Deal With Star Wars?

Rogue OneA lot of people seem to hate Rogue One. They seem to think that it’s schlock, a shameless, nostalgia-filled cash grab. These people are right, really. Disney has access to an entire franchise and to go back to the time-period from where people derive their fondest memories is transparently about money. They know the emotional pull of the original trilogy for many fans and wish to draw upon that wellspring of good will.

However, just because the detractors are right does not mean that we, the viewing public, are getting the short end. It seems foolish to fault Disney (or any company, for that matter) for trying to make money, particularly with the most lucrative franchise in history. Likewise, complaining about nostalgia when Rogue One is set literally a week before A New Hope is somewhat ridiculous. It would be like setting a movie in World War II and then complaining that it contains Panzers and Adolf Hitler. The setting means that visuals and locations are obviously going to repeat; repetition is not inherently a bad thing.

Rogue One, frankly, is a success by any reasonable standard. It’s a well-paced movie, with emotional pull and excitement. The plot is well-written, avoiding the common pitfall of getting bogged down in any one spot, and feels like a unique tale. The characters are a somewhat weak point, with the heroes, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, both falling short of being well-rounded. However, they’re balanced out by a superb supporting cast that has all the heart that they lack.

The movie also contains all of the elements that Star Wars fans had been clamoring for (or at least I have) since Return of the Jedi. Sure, a lot of these, from the diverse backgrounds of the main cast, a lovable (if quirky) droid, and the backdrop of a war between good and evil, are identical to the original trilogy, but that is the Star Wars formula. That is what works. It is little surprise that combining these elements competently managed to make a movie worth watching.

Honestly, Rogue One does many things right which the previous year’s The Force Awakens failed at. Bear in mind, it is a good movie. From a technical standpoint, it is good, not bogging down with a plot that’s reasonably engaging. The new characters in particular stand out; Rey, Finn, and Poe are all great people who you can connect with. The original trilogy characters are likewise allowed their moments, without really overshadowing the newcomers.

The problem is that The Force Awakens tries too hard. It is obvious that this movie is playing off of nostalgia. It has been thirty years since the Battle of Endor, but everything sort of feels the same. There are X-Wings and Tie Fighters, there are Stormtroopers, the Millennium Falcon is still flying…somehow. The movie starts with a shot of a Star Destroyer, which four previous films (III through VI) did as well. For some strange reason there’s still a Rebellion, now called the Resistance.* Each of the original cast not named “Luke Skywalker” is given a very deliberate introduction meant to tug at our memories.Old Han and Chewbacca

The worst offender in all of this is the plot. While I did say before that it was well-executed, this does not excuse it from being lifted, largely, from the plot of A New Hope. The story starts with a violent attack by the Empire/First Order, then shifts to a humble main character on a desert planet accidentally stumbling upon a destiny greater than anything they imagined. The heroes travel to a hidden Rebel/Resistance base (mercifully after a second act that is actually different from that of Episode IV) where they learn about a new superweapon that can destroy entire planets. The third act then combines the second and third acts of ANH, where the heroes infiltrate the Death Star/Starkiller while a small fighter fleet faces overwhelming odds to end the threat.

On the one hand, Star Wars did return from a ten year hiatus from theaters. Creating a movie that is familiar is not an unwise decision. On the other hand, it so blatantly copies A New Hope, it barely qualifies as a new tale at times.

For the record, I am not trying to trash The Force Awakens. I still think it was a good movie. The problem is that it had its flaws, worse flaws than Rogue One had in some instances, yet there are people out there who think that Rogue One is substantially inferior. Perhaps it is not the greatest film of all time, but a bad film it is not.

Again, Rogue One had a lot more nostalgia bait than The Force Awakens, but it belonged there. Yavin IV and the Death Star, X-Wings and AT-STs, even Grand Moff Tarkin and Mon Mothma are all in the movie because they belong there. They aren’t thrust in there purely to tickle our fancy; their presence is natural in the setting. Sure, some elements, like not-Ackbar Admiral Raddus, AT-ATs, and the last ten (really cool) minutes of the film are obvious nostalgia plays, but most of it is not, or at least is not treated as such. For that, I think Rogue One deserves to be praised, rather than be cast out and spit upon like a heretic in a Vatican conclave.

The Last JediIf anything, my chief concerns are what The Last Jedi and next year’s Han Solo spinoff will look like. My earnest hope is that Disney will try to break away from the formula. The new films will grow stale very swiftly if they continue on the course of utilizing nostalgia and lifting plot elements wholesale from previous films. Even if such story-telling is working, it will only last for so long. The amount of criticism levied at Rogue One is already evidence that nostalgia is starting to lose its effect. Ensuring a stable and enduring legacy for the future of Star Wars demands creativity, even when following certain basic structures.

With Disney at the helm, Lucasfilm has so far managed to do a surprisingly good job of reviving Star Wars. Despite its popularity, it was hurt severely by George Lucas’ missteps in creating the prequels. What remains to be seen is if Star Wars will continue to be good, or if it will, due to a dearth of true creativity, sink into being “just another franchise.”

*Yes, I know that the Resistance was formed long after the Rebellion became the New Republic, it just seems a bit off at first glance that Leia would go rogue and form Space Hezbollah** to fight Space Nazi Germany.

**I’m not commenting on the nobility of actual Hezbollah one way or another.