The Perils of the Inner Critic

One of the downsides of being a sci-fi author, or any kind of writer really, is how critical we become. We’re so used to being harsh with our own creations, questioning ourselves, our creative decisions, plot lines, finding and fixing plot holes, etc., during the creative process that we end up doing it with the work of others, and it’s not really something we can control. I now get as thoroughly irritated by reading poorly edited prose in mass-market novels as I used to get watching a war movie filled with historical inaccuracies (spending a fair chunk of your adult life in the Army will do that!). I get equally irritated by watching movies where things don’t make sense, where the plot holes are big enough to fly a Death Star through and the scriptwriting is terrible. It explains why I’ve rarely stepped into a cinema in the last few years. Paying high prices for the privilege of a two-hour assault on my visual and auditory senses (and sometimes olfactory if another patron bathed in scent instead of actually washing), just doesn’t appeal anymore. I now wait until movies make it to Netflix, or in some cases, buy the DVD once it’s been discounted.

Case in point: last night, my wife and I watched the latest Star Wars installment for the first time. I wasn’t particularly interested after reading the reviews, but she wanted to see what it was all about and since it was on Netflix, all I had to lose was two hours of my Saturday evening.

When Star Wars Episode IV first came out in 1977, it left the teenaged me with a sense of wonder and awe. The Empire Strikes Back did the same, and I remember Return of the Jedi with fondness, notwithstanding the Ewoks. The less said about the three prequel movies, the better, although I did enjoy the final scenes in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader, and of course, Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine was a treat to watch throughout. He was probably the best thing about the prequels.

What can I say about The Force Awakens? It had none of the charms of the originals, although it felt more authentic than the three prequels. I suppose feeling wonder and awe at my age is a sensation harder to come by, though I’m still charmed by the originals when I watch them. It was fun to see Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke and Leia again, the thirty plus years since we last saw them etched on their faces, just as the years are etched on mine. The visuals were well done, especially when it came to those that harkened back to the original movies. The Force Awakens is peppered with sly and not so sly references. But sadly, I found myself mocking a lot of the film.

Plot holes big enough to fly a Death Star through? Check. Nonsensical behavior by central characters (I’m talking to you, Kylo Ren)? Check. Characters who do things they shouldn’t be able to do? Check. No actual science in the fiction? Check. I know you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but the writers need to help me a little with that. In The Force Awakens, they pretty much failed. Granted, a dear old great-uncle of mine, now long gone, called Star Wars (the original) a modern fairytale, and he was right. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction, it’s fantasy in space. But even so, the latest installment failed to generate that sense of wonder and left both my wife and me shaking our heads at more than a few parts.

However, I have to wonder whether I’m judging the latest Star Wars harshly because it has, at least to my eyes, a multitude of massive flaws in the plot and characters, or because I’ve become overly critical as a byproduct of my turning to writing as my main occupation, or because the passage of time makes the originals seem that much better. Or perhaps it’s all three, or even for reasons I’ve yet to articulate.  And it saddens me to some extent.

The movie has been critically acclaimed, made oodles of money and I know plenty of people who absolutely loved it. In a sense, I envy them and wish I wasn’t the odd man out. Part of me desperately wanted to immerse itself in the story and revel in a return to that galaxy far, far away. But watching Kylo Ren’s childish temper tantrums – Darth Vader would have been appalled – watching Rey do things no teenaged scavenger should be able to do and especially watching a superweapon the size of a planet suck in an entire star to power it, not to mention Han Solo’s pointless death? Sorry. Those things just knocked me out of the story and killed it for me. I need a modicum of believability nowadays, some science in the fiction and some sense to the characters, their behavior, and their motivation.

Of course, the above is merely my opinion, and I always try to keep in mind Dirty Harry Callahan’s immortal words concerning opinions. I’ll watch the sequels once they hit Netflix in the next few years and hope they reignite my love for Star Wars.  I might even re-watch The Force Awakens at some point and see if it wasn’t just a matter of my feeling overly cynical last night.

In the meantime, the little ironies of life march on, seeing as how my editor is doing to Howling Stars what I did to The Force Awakens last night, and I’m trying to write a sci-fi cop story with three-dimensional characters and no plot holes, which is harder than you might think.

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