How Is J. J. Abrams Going to Ruin Star Wars? Let Me Count the Ways
Star Wars is one of the most beloved film franchises of all time. The original movies spawned mountains and mountains of merchandise along with hundreds of novels, comic books, TV shows, and Christmas specials—making George Lucas a very wealthy guy in the process—which attests to the fact that everyone loves Star Wars, except for the people who really love it, who tend to hate it.
Let me paint you a picture of the inside of a Star Wars fanatic’s head: Imagine watching two amazing movies that created a rich universe, a fantasy worth escaping into, a nuanced struggle between good and evil whose conclusion would inevitably be even more thrilling than the adventures that preceded it. Those movies were Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and they are the only Star Wars movies worth liking. And people like them. A lot. They like them so much that even as Lucas systematically shitted on his own legacy by making Return of the Jedi and three vomit-inducingly horrible prequels, people continued to love Star Wars with the earnestness that only children should possess. A lot of this has to do with the fact that for many fans, Star Wars and their childhoods are inextricably linked, to the point where even after they realized Lucas had been making children’s movies all along, they continued to hold out hope that perhaps, just once, the creator of the Force would decide that making a well-crafted film that would appeal to adults was better than churning out another shitty, very expensive kids’ movie that moves a lot of toys off shelves. For a large part of my life, I have been one of these people.
What separates Martin’s books from the pack is that his made-up world of Westeros feels more “real” than other made-up worlds like Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Brooks’s Shannara. There’s very little magic in the series, and when something supernatural happens, everyone is freaked out and confused. The characters have sex (mostly sex that would be illegal today), get tortured, betray one another, and die incredibly easily and often for very little reason—just like real people involved in a medieval war would have. One of the first plot points is a child getting thrown off a ledge and crippled after he witnesses some nasty-ass incest; one major character gets killed on the toilet and shits all over the place as he dies. So the books are earthy, you might say. More importantly, anyone in Martin’s world who strives for nobility, honor, or any other trait lauded in traditional fantasy novels inevitably ends up impaled on a spike or crippled and humiliated by the amoral crooks who always come out on top. Like I said, this is more realistic than most epic fantasy.
Naturally, a show based on a series of books that’s full of plot twists, reversals of fortune, bloody battles, and scheming villains is gonna be a slam dunk. Throw in HBO’s typically high production values and strong performances (and lots of nudity) and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty fucking sweet franchise, son. You mentioned that you don’t appreciate the “scope, escapism, narrative skill, and subtle humor that fantasy fans eulogize,” but there’s nothing subtle about Game of Thrones’s appeal. It’s all, “OH SHIT HE’S GETTING KILLED WTF” and “AWWWW DAMN THEY’RE CUTTING HIS DICK OFF!!” If you refuse to watch that because—what? It’s set in a vaguely medieval world? There are dragons in some of it?—I don’t know what to say to you.
Yesterday we ran a piece by a writer in the UK called “Please Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones.” Today VICE US editor Harry Cheadle responds: "No, Why Don’t YOU Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones.”
Please Shut the Fuck Up About Game of Thrones
Earlier this week, Games of Thrones—the thing that people on the internet now love more than anything else in the whole world—returned for another season. For some reason, it’s a show that people have only ever felt comfortable describing to me IRL in alliterative HBO comparisons: “The Wire with wizards,” “The Sopranos with swords,” and so on. I haven’t watched it yet, and to be honest, I probably never will.
And it’s not because I don’t have HBO Go, or because every time I’ve tried to torrent something I’ve just ended up with a frozen download bar and tons of pop-up ads for dick pills. It’s because I have an innate aversion to anything that can be described as “fantasy.”
We all know the clichés of the fantasy fan: the Games Workshop employee who sighs when children don’t know how to play the game properly. The people who found their cultural Garden of Eden in the graphic-novels section of Borders some time in the late 90s. Their cultural trajectory took them from Redwall to Red Dwarf to Reddit, and now they argue loudly in small-town bars about how Bruce Lee died. They hate fashion in all its forms, yet they yearn to look different. To get around this, all of their clothing must refer to something else. Be it an oversize Alan Moore–style amulet or one of those “Afraid of the dark, Lagerboy?” T-shirts.
The mission statement of Game of Thrones, though, is that it isn’t just meant for those people. It’s for people who like True Detective, Donna Tartt, and the National. It’s sexier, it’s full of great actors, it’s about politics, and people die all the time. You can talk about it at parties, and people won’t laugh at you! But as much as its audience protests that GoT isn’t just for people who love arguing about dragons, my aversion to anything that could be described as “fantasy” runs far deeper.
In truth, I really don’t care whether Game of Thrones is more like “Mad Men with magicians” than Dungeons & Dragons or whatever. It’s a lifelong problem; the same one that made me fall asleep in the first Lord of the Rings film, walk out of the second, and completely ignore the third (not to mention The Hobbit, which was even disliked by many people who loved LOTR).
If you feel like London’s full of lonely men doing cocaine off of Drake CDs, you’re not wrong.
The Young Punks of Disneyland
I’m standing in front of Space Mountain worrrying I won’t be able to find the Neverlanders Social Club. It’s an ordinary Sunday in Disneyland in November—sunny and beautiful in that Californian way and packed to the gills with tourists—and I’m concerned I’ll miss them in all the hubbub. They told me they’d be decked out in their Disney gear, but a lot of people here are wearing park-themed merchandise. Then I see them coming and realize there was no way I could have missed them.
There are more than 30 Neverlanders moving toward me as a pack, cutting a path through the crowd. They’re wearing handmade mouse ears and hats, and many of them are covered in tattoos—they look like one of the minor gangs from The Warriors, or some cult in a postapocalyptic wasteland where Mickey Mouse is worshiped as a deity. Each member has a patch of a character that represents his or her personality—the 30-something couple who founded the club, Angel and Cindy Mendoza, are Donald and Daisy Duck.
Everyone is staring as I walk with them to It’s a Small World, a boat ride at the tip of Fantasyland. As we round the Matterhorn Bobsleds, “regular” park-goers snap photos of the Neverlanders as if they’re celebrities. People point; parents tell their children to take note; jaws drop. Angel says with a shrug that they’re used to this commotion by now. When you’re the biggest Disneyland fans in the world and wear that love on your sleeve—literally—you’re bound to get some odd looks.
Sci-Fi Doesn’t Have to Be Dominated by Horny Bro Wizards
In a genre where supposedly Anything Goes, where the boundaries of narrative and potential reality are not only immaterial, but also intended to be shattered with pure acts of what-the-fuck, I’ve always been baffled by how 90 percent of science fiction works seem exactly the same—a glorified romance novel, unnecessarily set in a world where, like, computers can erase minds.
A LIST OF THINGS I NEVER UNDERSTOOD OR LIKED ABOUT SCIENCE FICTION
Why so much goddamn talking? The Earth is being pressed upon by black magnets piloted by a race of people made of lasers from the eyes of God, and here’s a four-page scene featuring two dudes having a conversation about who stole who’s Space Lamborghini. Dialogue is fucking stupid 90 percent of the time in the first place, but when written by someone with Asperger’s it becomes instant skimming material. Please stop.
Having a Premise
The worst thing about most science fiction is how the author gets an idea they like, and then that’s the book. Like, there’s an underwater city ruled by a blue cube that holds its citizens in eternal fear threatening to explode the glass walls that contain them if they don’t work tirelessly on building a machine gun powerful enough to kill the moon, but then people just run around trying to figure out a way to stop the cube’s cruel reign, and nothing interesting happens besides the idea on the back of the book. Call me a dick, but I don’t want one fun idea, I want 500.
Generally Shitty Writing
I imagine the thinking behind a lot of science fiction is that the ideas and conceits are so fantastic that it doesn’t matter how plain the writing is. I guess the crudity is supposed to be part of the appeal, but sometimes it’s nice to not feel like I could read one out of every 18 sentences and still get the same feel out of the book. Why can’t the language be as weird as the ideas?
Anonymous Failed to Bring Down the British Government with Fireworks
Last night was fireworks night, which meant that members of Anonymous descended upon London once again to take part in their global Million Mask March. The event invited everyone to a “tea party,” the purpose of which was “to remind this world what it has forgotten, that fairness, justice, and freedom are more than just words.” Other Anonymous bugbears included the mainstreammedia blackout and the whitewashing of world issues—legitimate, if fairly nebulous, concerns.
I didn’t know of any other tea parties where everyone wears masks and remains nameless, unless it’s the kind where you end up covered in a bunch of semen, so I decided to go and check it out.
According to the plan, Trafalgar Square was the launchpad for a march bound for Westminster, where everyone would shout at Parliament. Rather than going home when they got cold, the idea was that everyone would stay for an entire day. At least, that seemed to be the idea from the Facebook call out, which said, “NOTE: This will be a 24 hour event, please be prepared to peacefully assemble for up to 24hrs.” (Spoiler: This didn’t happen.)
Amid the throng, I was a little disappointed when I asked Jerry here what he hoped the march would achieve. “Nothing,” he replied. “It needs a lot more people. That’s why I go around with the billboard. Most people don’t understand what’s going on in the world.” His friend Mindy butted in. “We want to make a loud noise,” she said. “We want change—genuine change!”
Already it seemed clear that the marchers were operating at cross-purposes.
There Was a Harry Potter Craft Fair
When nerds aren’t fighting each other on the battle lines for the glory of being the “ultimate fan,” they relax within safe havens like the “Harry Potter Store,” in Los Angeles, CA. Whimsic Alley, as it’s officially called, has been haunting the streets of Wilshire Blvd for longer than you’re guessing. Hidden between a sports/karaoke bar and a deserted Blockbuster Video, it’s just like the real Wizarding World, if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was a codename for the Great Recession.
Despite it being years since the last book hit shelves, or the last movie hit theaters, its frequently unshowered followers still pack the halls. Just recently they showed off their yarn-soft sides in the Etsy-be-damned Harry Potter Store Craft Faire.
For a brief period of time I sold wands at this store. I was in between adult jobs and thought I’d add a dose of whimsy to my life. The turnover rate for employees has been so high however, that I walked in undetected by any of the wand-wielding staff, a truth I found equal-parts relieving and disappointing.