Friday, July 31, 2020

I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order.

I have no political opinions of any kind.





Thursday, February 20, 2020

Salman Rushdie Writes Terrible Novels But Wonderful Paragraphs

That night he talked and drank without stopping, and all of us who were there would carry fragments of that talk in our memories for the rest of our lives. What crazy, extraordinary talk it was! No limit to the subjects he reached for and used as punching bags: the British royal family, in particular the sex lives of Princess Margaret, who used a Caribbean island as her private boudoir, and Prince Charles, who wanted to be his lover’s tampon; the philosophy of Spinoza (he liked it); the lyrics of Bob Dylan (he recited the whole of ‘Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’, as reverently as if it were a companion piece to ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’); the Spassky–Fischer chess match (Fischer had died the year before); Islamic radicalism (he was against it) and wishy-washy liberalism (which appeased Islam, he said, so he was against it, too); the Pope, whom he called ‘Ex-Benedict’; the novels of G. K. Chesterton (he was a fan of The Man Who Was Thursday); the unpleasantness of male chest hair; the ‘unjust treatment’ of Pluto, recently demoted to the status of ‘dwarf planet’ after a larger body, Eris, was discovered in the Kuiper Belt; the flaws in Hawking’s theory of black holes; the anachronistic weakness of the American electoral college; the stupidity of non-electoral college students; the sexiness of Margaret Thatcher; and the ‘twenty-five per cent of Americans’–on the far right of the political spectrum–‘who are certifiably insane’.

Oh, but there was also his adoration of Monty Python’s Flying Circus! And all of a sudden he was flustered and stumbling to find the right words, because one of the dinner guests, a member of a prominent Broadway family of theatre owners, had brought along, as his plus-one, the Python Eric Idle, who was then enjoying a revival of fame thanks to the Broadway success of Spamalot, and who arrived just as Petya was expounding, to the serenely elegant sculptor Ubah Tuur (of whom there will be much more to say in a moment), upon his hatred of musicals in general; he exempted only Oklahoma! and West Side Story, and had been offering us idiosyncratic snatches of ‘I Cain’t Say No’ and ‘Gee, Officer Krupke’ while explaining that ‘all other musicals were shit’. When he saw the Python standing there listening he blushed brightly and then rescued himself by including Mr Idle’s musical among the blessed, and led the company in a rousing chorus of ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of LIfe'

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

http://amzn.eu/gRR8CqS

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Skywalker Saga - III

Star Wars fans can never forgive the prequels. 

Everyone agrees that they were disappointing. But they were always going to be disappointing. We didn't really want to know what the Old Republic looked like. 

But we have made disliking the prequels into a bit of a fetish. We have turned Phantom Menace into a code-word for a bad film; hounding, we now know, at least one of the actors almost to the point of suicide. It's hardly possible now to go and watch the film and perceive its good points and bad points. It wasn't that great. But it was never as bad as all that. 

We can never forgive them. But we have, strangely, accepted the prequels. And the bigger fans we are, the more accepting of them we tend to be. 

If you're a casual movie goer, then the Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are movies you saw nearly twenty years ago. You may even own the DVDs. But if you are a proper Star Wars fan; then you have also seen and enjoyed the Clone Wars cartoon. You are looking forward to Ewan McGreggor (as opposed to Alec Guiness) reprising the role of Ben Kenobi. And you can hardly deny then when Darth Maul appeared in the the penultimate scene  of Solo, you knew who he was. 

We take it for granted that the Emperor was called Palpatine; that the center of the Empire was called Coruscant; that trainee Jedi were called padwan; that the headquarters of the Jedi Knights was known as the temple; that the Emperor and Darth Vader were part of a secret organisation of Dark Side enthusiasts called "the Sith" and that all Sith take the title Darth. None of that was in the Trilogy. It comes out of the prequels that we all hate so much. 

Wiseacres tell us that the prequels do not form part of their "head canon" and that they are hardly more than "fan fic". But they define our understanding of Star Wars in a way that Caravan of Courage simply does not. You are free to say "I don't care about the Star Wars Universe; I only care about the original movies, or indeed the original movie." But if you are interested in the Star Wars Universe than you are interested in the prequels. 

Since the prequels were created by George Lucas, and since they represent his own long-cherished back-story they are the very opposite of fan-fiction. But if you accept the metric I proposed in my previous essay, they are Stories of the Second Kind: generated from within an established narrative; meaningful only if you are already familiar with the milieu. "How did Obi-Wan first meet Anakin Skywalker?" and "How did Palpatine turn Anakin to the Dark Side?" are without meaning to anyone without a passing knowledge of Star Wars. There will always be a small number of mainstream critics who claim not to understand them.

Episodes VII, VIII and IX are, in that sense, much less fannish that episode I, II and III. They are pitched at people who know who the Star Wars characters are, but who don't care all that much. Finn, Rey and Poe are new characters -- a hot young pilot, a reformed Storm Trooper, a scavenger with Force Powers. Only Kylo Renn really emerges from the matrix of the previous movies: he is Han Solo and Princess Leia's son, named after Obi-Wan Kenobi, trained in the Force by Luke Skywalker. But that back story only emerges gradually: he is introduced to us merely as a Sinister Bad Guy in Black Armour. By the time his identity is revealed, even a complete newbie can understand that "the guy in the scary armour is the son of the old guy who used to own the spaceship." For two films, Snoke was pointedly not "the Emperor's Son" or "a new Sith Apprentice": he was just "the big hologram bad guy." In the third film we find that he was in some sense created by the Emperor; but by that stage it no longer matters. 

What some fans wanted; and what Marvel Comics continues to serve up in an endlessly diminishing monthly cycle, was simply "What Luke and Han did next." And what fans wanted Luke and Han to have done next is same old same old: flying lightsabers down trenches and smuggling Ewoks for Jabba the Hutt, for ever and ever, may the Force be with you. 

The Last Jedi decided that "what Luke did next" was something unexpected and surprising. He ran away to Craggy Island and denounced the Jedi. Some of us regard this as an unexpected development. Some of us regard it as a personal betrayal. 



How should we watch the Rise of Skywalker? 

Does it still occupy that center ground between movie serials and fairy tales that Lucas laid claim to in 1976? Or is it primarily a new chapter in the history of the Galaxy? 

When we staggered out of the multiplex at 3AM, what did we think he had seen? Rey doing a back-flip into the path of an oncoming TIE-Fighter? Finn leading an actual cavalry charge on the back of a Star Destroyer? More lightsaber duels than you can shake a pink glowy stick at? Or the conclusion of the big war that began with the Naboo trade dispute? The end of the thousand year Sith conspiracy? A hint as to the future of the Jedi Knights? 

Well, all of the above, obviously. But which did you care about? Were you one of those who was thinking "Enough with all this silly Indiana Jones stuff: tell us the big secret of the Sith"? Or were you one of those who thought "Can we please get away from this second rate Harry Potter end of level guardian and have some more spaceships, please"? 

Star Wars is poly-vocal, and always has been. The iconic Cantina in A New Hope is logically a seaman's tavern; a place to hire a ship or sign on for a voyage; but it is manifestly also a cowboy Saloon and Han Solo is clearly a cowboy. But it's a cowboy tavern where the mysterious of Knight feel quite at home. The Rise of Skywalker understands this. The scene in which Finn and Poe tease Chewbacca about cheating at chess does not quite belong in the same movie as the scene where a shriveled old Dark Lord asks his young victim to perform a human sacrifice. The intense psychological relationship between Rey and Kylo is tonally different from the action scenes that Poe and Finn wise crack their way through. ("Is this a bad time?" asks Poe, as the two of them are up before a military firing squad.) 

Poe Dameron is no Han Solo, and Oscar Isaac is no Harrison Ford. But Kijimi -- more than anything in Solo -- is the kind of world that Han Solo would have swaggered through; dark and mechanical and poor and yet at the same time, very, very cool. In Blade Runner or Neuromancer it's the whole universe; in Star Wars, it's just a place the heroes pass through. Babu Frik -- the pint-sized mechanic who rewires Threepio's brain -- is not a Jawa; but his droid shop is in the same visual space as their Sandcrawler.

Star Wars is space ships and lightsabers and Freudian father figures; but it's also greasy droid foundries and sleazy spice runners. And Rise of Skywalker has, belatedly, remembered this. 



Does Rise of Skywalker make sense? Is Rise of Skywalker supposed to make sense? Does it matter whether Rise of Skywalker makes sense or not? 

Where did all those thousands and thousands of Sith on the planet Exegis come from? I thought Sithism was a secret teaching; passed from one single master to one single apprentice for thousands of years? 

It can be explained. Anything can be explained. Yoda lied. Yoda was mistaken. The crowd are not Sith, but Sith supporters. The death of Vader ended the rule of Two. Palpatine has spent the years since his death on a recruiting drive. But it isn't explained. No-one says "But I thought only two there were, a master and apprentice..." Are we supposed to remember? To care? 

Vader thought that technology was relatively unimportant compared with the Dark Side of the Force, but the Emperor appears to have spent the last thirty years doing nothing but amassing technology. Now he has invented from nowhere a rule which says that if, and only if, Rey kills him, then his spirit will jump into her. Mind-body transfer has never been hinted at as a Sith-power before. (Surviving physical death seems to be a specific Jedi power; we were once told it was an esoteric teaching of the Whills.) Suddenly, without warning or foreshadowing, Rey and Kylo are something called a dyad in the Force. They are especially powerful and the Emperor especially needs them, or especially fears them...because I say so. That's why. 

Are we supposed to listen to all this stuff, take notes and resolve to make sense of it further down the line? Or do we listen to it, note that it makes very little sense, and conclude that "this is not my Star Wars" and that Disney have destroyed our childhoods? If we are an entirely different kind of person, do we say that all this kerr-razy science fiction is nonsense and always has been? Or do we half-listen, and hear "mystical waffle; plot device; McGuffin; cool sounding Forcey Stuff" and just kind of accept that the Force will work as the Force will work and there's no doing anything about it? 

It is incredibly cool that nine movies and a thousand generations come down to one girl representing all the Jedi and one wizened old man representing all the Sith, facing off in a cave. It's as good a way of ending the saga as I can think of. If the plot-scaffolding required to bring us to this point is a little shaky, maybe I can live with that. 

"You mean Palpatine could have brought down the Rebel Fleet with Force Lightening at any time?" 

"No, not at any time. Only when it was funny." 




There are nagging questions, and they nag a bit harder than they used to. It is necessary for the Plot that there should be a traitor in the First Order. If there is a traitor, then it has to be someone; and if it has to be someone, then it is pretty cool for it to be Hux. But it is hard to work out a process by which he could have become a traitor. The animosity between Hux and his Stormtroopers and Renn and his Dark Side could have become a rift that split the First Order. I could see Hux attempting a coup or Renn having him assassinated. But the idea that Hux would betray the First Order to the Resistance just to spite Renn fits in with nothing we have been told about his personality up to this point. 

I am sure that this kind of thing would have been a problem in Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back if we had thought about it. But we didn't. The Empire was never more than and endless succession of Storm Troopers for Han Solo to shoot and and endless succession of admirals for Darth Vader to strangle. So we didn't do a lot of thinking. Once the characters start having names you start expecting their actions to make more sense.

But not too much. The moment when Hux identifies himself as the mole is cool; as is the moment when Withnail shoots him in cold blood. It's only after we've left the cinema that we think "Wait a minute..." Can First Order officers really just execute each other on the spur of the moment? The idea that Withnail was a follower of Palpatine in the days of Empire comes from nowhere, stays around for exactly one scene, and then goes away again. It doesn't seem to make any difference to anything. 


Don't mention the Jedi books. 

They are quite a big deal in the Last Jedi. Luke is going to destroy them; Yoda steps in an actually does the deed; but then it turns out that Rey has preserved them. Luke thinks that burning the books would end the Jedi order once and for all: they are that important. Yoda seems to think that getting rid of them allows the Jedi to move forward into a new phase. But at the end of the film it turns out that Rey preserved them. This is implied to be quite a significant twist. The Resistance has everything it needs: the Jedi can continue. 

I suppose I expected Rey to use the books to become a Jedi. "Teach Yourself How To Be a Guardian of Peace and Justice"; "The Dummies Guide to Force Mastery". One could have imagined a film in which Rey is trying to learn how to be a Jedi from the dry old texts while some other Jedi -- Luke's ghost, perhaps -- seeks to move beyond the written words and create a new, more vibrant tradition. The fourth trilogy could then have been about the theological struggle between Orthodox and Reformed Jedism. 

But the books turn out to be of no significance whatsoever. Rey is seen reading them, briefly, and they contain a clue as to the whereabouts of the Sith Mcguffin. But any other plot device would have served just as well. It is painfully obvious that "Rey saves the books" was a very, very late addition to the Last Jedi and Abrams has had to think up something to do with it. 

Rey doesn't need the books to learn how to be a Jedi. Leia teaches her. 

Ah, Leia. This is very sad. Obviously, Carrie Fisher was meant to have a much bigger part in the movie. The various bits of hi-tech jiggery-pokery with unused footage and voice-overs enables them to fake her presence fairly well. If you didn't know the circumstances you would easily believe that Carrie was present, but with a reduced role. Knowing what we do, it is painfully obvious that Abrams was left with a few out-takes of Carrie Fisher saying "Yes, I think that is the case" and "No, we are not going to do it like that" and had to build complete scenes around them. (Do actors film "noddies" -- out of context reaction shots -- in the way that TV talk-show hosts do?) 

The core plot idea survives. Leia, Kylo Renn's mum, calls him back from the Dark Side; but she exhausts her strength and dies in the process. It is not a bad resolution: Luke saved Anakin; Leia saves Ben; family love is more powerful than the Dark Side. But the revelation that Leia was a Jedi all along is painfully underdeveloped. 

This isn't just because of Fisher's absence. I can't help thinking that if Leia was a fully trained Jedi who had nipped off to Ilum and created her own lightsaber; and if she had then rejected her calling, like Ahsoka... I can't help feeling that it would have been foreshadowed. Some talk about whether she would go back to her former calling when Luke dies; some moments of introspection; some flashbacks. Or, else, the revelation that Leia was a Jedi would have been presented as a big secret that is dramatically revealed. But it is presented as something to be taken for granted; something we already knew. When Luke hands Leia's lightsaber to Rey, I didn't think "Aha!" I thought "Whoah...did I miss a bit?" 

Leia as an actual Jedi with an actual lightsaber is another of those things which is just a bit too obvious. A bit too much what I would have put into a Star Wars role-playing game. Yes, in Return of the Jedi Luke says that she will one day learn to use the Force like he can: but the idea that she positively decided that she would be more use as a politician is more interesting. And more like Leia. 

And anyway: isn't it a rather major plot-point that Jedi have to be celibate? 




Lando Carlrission was interesting for exactly fourty five minutes in 1980: an ex-friend and an ex-enemy of Han Solo, gone straight, turned traitor. "I'm sorry. I had no choice, they arrived right before you did."He doesn't get any actual scenes in Return of the Jedi; he's just a warm body; a generic rebel keeping the Falcon's command seat warm while Han is being cooked by the Ewoks. The younger version we meet in Solo is quite a bit more interesting; and I deeply enjoyed the Marvel Comics version who is perpetually rushing into adventures while dictating the text of his own autobiography. 

He pops up in the second act of Rise of Skywalker, shoots a storm trooper with a bow and arrow, passes on the next clue in the treasure hunt, and is gone. He comes back for the final final final battle, taking the Falcon and impressively recruiting a fleet of some thousands of ships from all round the universe in a matter of minutes. 

Even if hyper-drive is now conceived of as instantaneous cross-universe teleportation -- and if it does work like that it's hard to see why anyone would kill time playing chess during voyages -- surely it doesn't take no time at all to launch one of those big ships? And how did Lando come up with a million billion trillion volunteers in three minutes, when Leia couldn't muster a single one at the battle of Crait? 

But I was very happy with Lando's remarks about having helped Luke when he was chasing a "Jedi Hunter" across the universe. I don't know what a Jedi Hunter is, or what he was hunting decades after the last Jedi was dead. But I do like the idea that, as well as running a Jedi school and hanging out with puffins and amphibious nuns, Luke found some time to hook up with old mates and go on adventures with them. 

And that's the real trick, isn't it? All the stuff which fans wanted turns out to have happened. Han Solo spend time zipping about the universe doing dodgy deals in the Millennium Falcon. Luke took his lightsaber on as many Jedi missions as your heart desires. Leia was a padwan and then a Jedi. But all that obvious stuff happened between the movies and we can fill in the details as we wish. 

Lucas arguably spoiled The Old Republic by putting it on screen. Disney has very wisely left What Luke Did Next where it belongs; in our collective imagination.

We may eventually be able to forgive them.


I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order. I have no political opinions of any kind.

If you are enjoying my essays, please consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Skywalker Saga - II

If Star Wars Episodes I - IX made up a single story, whose story would it be? 



Back in the day, George Lucas said that when the Saga was complete, it would be clear that the story had been told from the droids point of view. 

This could certainly be said to have been true of A New Hope. We start in the middle of a big battle between two spaceships; we focus down on two robots that the human combatants hardly notice. We keep focused on them was they end up with the SECRET PLANS of the EMPIRE'S ULTIMATE WEAPON and as they precipitate Luke's encounter with Ben Kenobi. Threepio saves everyone's life when they are trapped in the garbage masher; Artoo accompanies Luke on his final X-Wing mission. 

The droids defined Star Wars. Having robots as main characters was one of the film's unique selling points. People talked about "Star Wars robots" long before they knew what a Jedi Knight was. I remember being surprised every time I saw Threepio on the big screen He looked like a living,  walking toy; an image on a bubble gum card; a full sized Mickey Mouse at Disney World. He's a stooge, but he's a wonderful stooge, a straight man who keeps on stealing the scene. 

The droids have less and less to do in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. They are present, but awkwardly present, in the prequels: shoe-horned in to fulfill a contractual commitment. Threepio feels like a series of cameos; Artoo like a cute, bleeping sonic screwdriver. 

But one of the nicest things about Rise of Skywalker is that Threepio gets some time in the spotlight. It feels like we've got our old buddy back, for the first time since Return of the Jedi. His presence affects the whole tone of the first half of the movie; puncturing every pompous or melodramatic exchange with a self-deprecating one-liner. And for the first time, he has agency and subjectivity. When he has to sacrifice his own life -- or at any rate his memories -- to save the Rebellion, he is allowed to volunteer; to form an opinion of his own; to say goodbye to his friends. No-one says "He is our toaster and we can take him apart if we want to." He still defers to "Master Luke" and "Mistress Rey", rather in the way Basil Brush used to talk about Mr Roy and Mr Derek. But Rey and Finn and Poe appear to treat him as a person. A person with his own foibles and weaknesses, but a member of the gang. 

Some people were very annoyed with Solo because it included a droid -- a lady droid at that -- who was actively campaigning for droid rights. I never pay any attention to anyone who uses words like "PC" and "SJW". But I did think that the L3-37 plotline risked releasing some political worms that ought really to have stayed in the can. 

I never had too much difficulty accepting a world where Luke Skywalker's farm machines had personalities and could answer him back. That's a fait accompli from the beginning. The Millennium Falcon's engine talks to Threepio; it is entirely likely that Aunt Beru's blue milk jug talks back at her. That's how this world works. You can't laugh at the Flintstones and also wonder if the American Humane association has okayed the working conditions of Wilma's vacuum cleaner. Yes, the sale of Threepio and Artoo looks a little like a slave auction; but it looks a little like a used car dealership as well. But a character like L3-37 forces us to think of droids not as "machines that can talk" but as "people who happen to have metal bodies." At which point it is hard not to say "Waa...Luke Skywalker, to a goodie, is a slave owner!" And then the whole saga falls to pieces. 

"But Artoo Deetoo and See Threepio positively want Luke to buy them" Well yes: but "a caste of slaves who by their nature want to be slaves" is a politically problematic idea in itself. Ask J.K. Rowling. And Douglas Adams demonstrated that "we have bred an animal which positively wants to be eaten" does not necessarily solve the moral difficulties about meat eating. 

Threepio's story arc addresses the question much more subtly. When we met him, he was more or less a willing slave. There was no big moment when anyone said "This is wrong!"  No story in which Threepio became radicalized. Threepio campaigning for Droid Rights is impossible to imagine; like Jeeves joining a trades union. But by the end of the series, Threepio is regarded as a person. By the audience; by the other characters; and most importantly, by himself. 



So: if the Skywalker Saga isn't about the droids, then whose story is it? At one time, when he was most under the influence of Joseph Campbell, George Lucas would certainly have said that it was the story of Darth Vader. For a decade he felt that the Trilogy satisfactorily told the story of the Redemption of Anakin and couldn't be expanded on. Then he -- unwisely, in some people's eyes -- decided that the older story, of the Fall of Anakin could be told as well. 

Anakin Skywalker is the one who will bring balance to the Force. Palpatine is the Sith Master who takes him as his apprentice and turns him to the Dark Side. The first trilogy ends with the birth of Anakin's son; and each of the three films of the second trilogy drive Luke and Darth Vader into confrontations: in the Death Star trench, on Cloud City, and in the Emperor's Throne room over Endor. At the end of the trilogy, Vader comes back to the light and gives his life to destroy the Emperor. He saves Luke; but he says that Luke has also saved him. In the Force Awakens, Luke says that as a result of Palpatine's fall the Force was indeed balanced for many years. A widespread fan interpretation said that Anakin's role as the Chosen One was precisely to kill the Emperor. Only by becoming a Sith Apprentice could he get close enough to the Sith Master to slay him; by turning Anakin to the Dark, Palpatine was ensuring his own destruction. (Gosh! How ironic!) This was the plot of the Dark Empire comic book, incidentally: Luke goes over to the Dark Side, or pretends to go over to the Dark Side, in order to destroy a resurgent Palpatine. 

So; where is Anakin-Vader in Episode IX? Kylo still has his melted mask, a holy relic. The third trilogy is full of the twisted remains of the second; wrecked Star Destroyers and Walkers in Episode VII; a wrecked Death Star in Episode IX - to say nothing of old lightsabers, old X-Wings and old droids. But the message of the movie appears to be that Anakin's sacrifice made no difference. He didn't defeat the Emperor. He didn't end the Sith. Palpatine got knocked down, but he got up again, a hundred times more powerful than before.

Vader is present in episodes VII - IX only as a memory, a reputation, the reputation that Ben Solo is trying and failing to live up to. In Galactic terms the main upshot of the original trilogy is to facilitate the unlikely liaison that produced Kylo Ren. If Leia hadn't put the plans into Artoo Deetoo, she would certainly have never met Han Solo. 

I suppose we could say that the Star Wars saga is the story of how a child was conceived by the midichlorians and of all the implications that single event had on the Galaxy, even unto the third generation. But that's unsatisfying; because the significance of Anakin is taken for granted and not explained. We never find out, really, what bringing balance to the Force means; we never find out who made the Prophecy and when. The Phantom Menace stepped back from the story of the Empire and the Rebellion and asks us to look at in the context of a wider struggle between Jedi and Sith. It's a very different proposition to the original trilogy, but it is an intriguing, evocative space opera in its own right. But the prequel trilogy is full of set-ups that never pay off. Return of the Jedi can't tell us what it means for Darth Vader to be the Chosen One because Lucas didn't know there was such a thing as the Chosen One when he made that movie. The Rise of Skywalker could have pulled the two trilogies together; but it chose not to. There is a broad hint in Revenge of the Sith that Anakin was created, not by microscopic Force pixies, but as the result of evil Dark Side magic carried out by Palpatine's very-nearly canonical master, Darth Plageus. If the Skywalker Saga were a single story, then don't you think that the reborn Emperor, facing Vader's grandkid in a Sith arena, might have mentioned it? "I made Snoke just as my master made Vader" But he doesn't. And now we will never know. 

Lucas reportedly wanted the third trilogy to be set in the microverse of the midichlorians, so we dodged a bullet there. 



So, then. The Skywalker Saga is about Luke Skywalker. Isn't that obvious? Episode I shows how his parents met; Episode II shows how he was conceived; Episode III ends with his birth and his fostering with Mime the Dwarf. (Check this - ed.) Episodes IV, V and VI shows how he learned his true identity and became a Jedi. Episodes VII, VIII and IX show him as an old man, passing the baton on to the next generation. A baby, a hero, the object of a quest, a mentor and a very active ghost. The saga ends in his childhood home; he appears with Leia as a Force Ghost in almost the final shot. Star Wars, the Skywalker Saga is Luke's tale. 

But Luke's Tale is an oddly unsatisfactory narrative: neither a story of great victory nor of terrible, tragic defeat. It's a sequence of apparent victories that turn out not to amount to anything. 

Luke is never as crucial to Rey as Ben Kenobi was to Luke. Pretty much Obi-Wan's life work was as Luke's guardian; saving him from Anakin and watching over him for two decades on Tatooine. Until he met Ben, Luke knew nothing of the Jedi or the Force; we can be pretty certain that if he hadn't met Ben that day he would have lived and died a moisture farmer, or been drafted into the Imperial navy, or murdered by Vader. Rey can use the Force before she knows what it is. Much of the advice that Luke gives her is bad. Old Ben remains the archetypal Jedi, the Jedi that Luke and everyone else aspire to be. Old Luke, is if anything, the Jedi that Rey has to avoid becoming. True, if not for Luke, Kylo Ren might have turned her to the Dark Side; but then, if not for Luke, Kylo Ren might not have existed. The best we can say is that, on several  crucial occasions, Anakin's family held back the tide of the Dark Side, in preparation for the moment when Palpatine's own bloodline would end it. If Luke hadn't been there at the battle of Yavin, the Rebellion would have ended there and then. Luke's presence on the second Death Star held up the Emperor's schemes by twenty years. Luke's self-sacrifice prevents the First Order from destroying the remnant of the Resistance on Crait.

We are told that for two thousand years the Sith preserved themselves by passing their teaching down the generations: from master to apprentice, master to apprentice. Luke's Jedi school is an abject failure. Ben Solo turns to the Dark Side; and all Luke's students are killed. But it achieves one thing: Luke passes Yoda's teaching on to Leia; and Leia is able to pass it on to Rey. Luke is the conduit by which Palpatine's granddaughter becomes the Last Jedi. Master to apprentice. Qui-Gon to Ben, Ben to Luke, Luke to Leia, Leia to Rey. 

That's sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it, and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day.

For a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. And then they all died. And for forty years, the Jedi ceased to exist. The Jedi teaching was preserved by just one individual: she will always be remembered as the founder of the New Jedi Order.

"How did the founder come by the name of Skywalker, Master?"

"That is a very long and very strange story, youngling."

"Please tell it to me again."

"Very well. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, there was a slave, and her name was Shmi..."

The Empire Strikes Back changed Star Wars. The Return of the Jedi changed the Empire Strikes Back. The prequels changed the trilogy. The sequels changed the prequels. And the final scene of Episode IX changes the nine part saga. It's called the Rise of Skywalker because it's the story of how Rey chose her name. The trilogy of trilogies is now the story of why the last and first Jedi Knight came to be called Skywalker. "The Skywalker Saga". It's Rey's story now.



I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order. I have no political opinions of any kind.

If you are enjoying my essays, please consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)

Sunday, February 02, 2020

The Skywalker Saga - I


IV 

A Farm Boy intercepts a message from a Captive Princess. He is trained in ancient mysticism by a Veteran Hero, and fires the shot which saves the universe in the final battle. 


IV-VI 
A Young Man, the son of an Ancient Hero, is trained in ancient mysticism, but recklessly confronts the evil Dark Lord before he is ready. He discovers that the evil Dark Lord is in truth his father. He tries to bring his father back to the light; and seems to fail. But when he is brought before the Dark Lord's Master to be killed, his father has compassion, turns against his Master and slays him. The Young Man is reconciled with his father and lays him to rest. 

I - VI 
A long prophesied child, the Chosen One, is discovered and trained in ancient mysticism. But a parallel, evil stream of ancient mysticism is working behind the scenes. The Chosen One is initiated into the evil cult; he wipes out the good mystics and helps the head of the evil cult become ruler of the universe. The Chosen One's children are hidden from him. But when they grow up, the Chosen One's Son confronts his father, and causes him to turn back to the light and to kill the leader of the evil cult. The Chosen One and his Son are reconciled, and the Son lays the Father to rest. The long prophesied child has ended the evil cult; the prophecies have come true, after a fashion. 

I -IX 
A long prophesied child, the Chosen One, is discovered. He is initiated into evil mysticism by the Dark Lord, and he helps the same Dark Lord rule the universe. But he has two children of his own, a Son and Daughter. The Son confronts his father and causes him to turn back to the light, and to kill the Dark Lord, at the cost of his own life. But the Dark Lord soon recovers from his death, rejoins the rest of his evil cult, and starts building a powerful, non-mystical army. The Chosen One's Son tries to create a new order of good mystics. The Chosen One's Daughter has a son of her own, who joins the new mystical order. But the Dark Lord corrupts him. He too turns evil; and slaughters the new order of mystics. The Chosen One's Son, now the last of the mystics, runs away, intending that the teaching of the mystics dies with him. But the Dark Lord had a consort; and children; and one of his children had a child of his own. The Dark Lord's Granddaughter has inherited his mystical powers, but seeks to use them for good. She finds the Chosen One's Son, in his exile, and persuades him to train her in good mysticism. The Chosen One's Evil Grandson tries to turn the Dark Lord's Granddaughter to evil; while the Dark Lord's Granddaughter tries to turn the Chosen One's Grandson back to the light. The Dark Lord intends that his Granddaughter should replace him. But at the very last moment the Chosen One's Evil Grandson comes back to the light; and gives his life to save the Dark Lord's Granddaughter. She kills the Dark Lord (with the help of the spirits of every good mystic who ever lived). The evil cult, and all the children of the Chosen One are dead; but the Dark Lord's Granddaughter takes on the Chosen One's name in memory of him. 




The opening seconds. 

The logo, shrinking into space. The fanfare; the march, so heroic it is almost whimsical. The scrolling text, slanted away from the audience, slowly receding into space. The music quietly going "twinkle twinkle" in front of a screen of black stars.

Someone must paint them, I suppose. That could be a job on What's My Line? "I'm the guy who paints the stars in Star Wars." And then a space ship flies across the screen. This time we start with the baddies. 

That's what they all have in common; all nine films. Doctor Who doesn't have the same title sequence it did when I was a kid nor even really the same theme music, and that makes me sad. Every Star Wars movie starts like every other Star Wars movie, and so did many of the computer games and this makes me happy. This is the last time we will ever see a Star Wars movie with exactly this beginning and that makes me old. 

We start with Kylo on a quest to find the Emperor. We see him cutting people down with his lightsaber. And almost immediately, while we are still in a prologue, we see the Emperor. 

Not dead. Lit in such a way that the theaters have to warn epileptics to stay away. And in a sentence the last two movies are overwritten. I was worried about Snoke. The guidebooks and novels said he was some kind of baddie. Not a Sith. Some other kind. 

My friend thought that should be enough for me. He's a baddie; that's all you need to know. But I thought that the first film set Snoke up as a mystery; and a mystery needs a solution or else it's a cheat. 

"I made Snoke" is an explanation and a back story but it changes everything and not for the better. It removes something from the Force Awakens that was rather clever. The First Order were wannabe baddies, Nazi cosplayers with some big ships to back them up; keeping the Empire going even though they knew it had lost. Kylo Ren was a tragic kid with impostor syndrome who wants, slightly ludicrously, to be the new Darth Vader but realizes he'll never be good enough to be that evil. But the First Order is now the Emperor's pet project; Kylo Ren is now the Emperor's special pawn. 

In the Last Jedi, Kylo is said to have turned to the Dark Side because Luke Skywalker recklessly drew his lightsaber when he perceived his pupil's potential for evil. That was interesting; unexpected; challenging: a failure of the Light gives birth to the Darkness. "The clone Emperor's puppet put a mole in Luke's Jedi school" is just that little bit more obvious. 

This may be the third time that a military conflict between fascists and liberals has turned out to have been part of a Sith plot to rule the universe. A third of A New Hope was given over to a thrilling battle to escape the Death Star: but it turns out that it was always Darth Vader's plan to let Leia escape so he could find the location of the Rebel's hidden fortress. We know that Luke's Jedi Dad fought in the Clone Wars. We are coming to the end of a very good 133 episode cartoon series about those same wars. But they were only ever a trick to get Palpatine elected president of the galaxy. He is in fact running both sides. 

Maybe that is the point. The Message even. Star Wars was originally going to be an oblique critique of American foreign policy, and maybe the very first film kind of was, so we are allowed to look for an allegory without spoiling the fun. In the foreground, there will always be good people fighting against bad people; blowing up space stations; swinging across chasms and falling in love. But behind the curtain, the forces of Evil are always running the show. Wars will only end when Evil itself is routed out. It is rather feeble to say "The cartoon villain from the previous trilogy was planting evil thoughts in Kylo's head." But if you flip it round and say "Kylo had terrible thoughts and urges; and he went on a quest and found those thoughts and urges personified as a scary old guy in a black cloak" it sounds a lot better. 



Scrolling text. Scrolling text slanted away from the audience. Scrolling text receding into space. "It is a period of civil war. Brave rebels, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory over the evil galactic empire". 

Even in 1977, it was incredibly anachronistic. That was the point. In the 1930s movie serials had used printed captions to bring audiences up to speed on what had happened in the previous episodes. Flash Gordon used silent-movie style captions; Flash Gordon's Trip to Mars awkwardly used panels from the original cartoon strip. But the rather ambitiously titled Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe had a slanting crawl, just like the one in Star Wars. 

It never served any particular purpose. It told us that the Empire are the baddies and the Rebels are the goodies, but we would have worked that out for ourselves -- just about at the point when the big guy in black armour walks in and starts strangling people. It tells us that the Princess has stolen plans in her possession; but Darth Vader's men are telling him that the Death Star Plans are not in the main computer from the moment the curtain rises. We would have understood Star Wars just as well if we had not been told up front that the DEATH STAR is the Evil Galactic Empire's ULTIMATE WEAPON.

But the crawl still wrong-foots us. It says to us, before anything else has happened: hey! You are coming in part way through this story. We'll try to fill you in along the way, but you won't understand everything. That's fine. You're not meant to. 

We never saw the beginning of Star Wars. We had always come in half way through. 

The opening crawl isn't there to give us information. It's there to tell us how to watch the movie. Read it as if it was a fairy tale, says the opening caption. Read it as if it was a 1930s cliffhanger movie serial says the crawl. 

Can one film be both things at once? we ask

Just wait and see! says George. 

Star Wars is full of traps and escapes. But it doesn't end on a cliffhanger. It ends on a high-note. The universe has been saved and everyone gets medals. (Nearly everyone.) This is not how individual chapters end; this is how whole sagas end. Star Wars was the final episode of a serial. We missed most of it, but we came in at the end and worked out what was going on. 

We expected Star Wars Two to start where Star Wars One ended. That's what the Marvel Comic did. Everyone steps off the pedestal and locks up their medals and Luke Skywalker flies off on a new mission to a water world and Han Solo flies off on a new adventure involving a giant green rabbit. (Beneath the Planet of the Apes began with Charlton Heston kneeling on a beach, yelling at a statue. You could watch the first two Ape films back to back as a single five-hour movie, although I wouldn't recommend it.)

But instead of Star Wars Two there was Star Wars Episode V: the Empire Strikes Back. And suddenly, Star Wars is not the end of the saga, but the middle. Lucas swears blind there are going to be twelve episodes. There is still a fanfare, a blue fairy tale caption, a yellow logo, and that all-important scrolling text.

If this were really a serial, that text would tell new viewers what they had missed; recap the plot of what-is-now-called A New Hope. Instead, it told us what we had missed: what had happened while we were away. The Star Wars universe had moved on in our absence. The Empire has forced the Rebellion into retreat; Darth Vader knows Luke Skywalker's name; there is a new base on Hoth.  It is, in short, a dark time for the Rebellion. If Star Wars made us feel we are seeing the end of a serial of which we missed the first episodes; Empire Strikes Back makes us feel we have skipped a few chapters and have some catching up to do. 

There were, incidentally, those who said that the unconventional structure of Empire Strikes Back which opens with a climax and ends without a resolution, felt a lot like seeing the second half of one film and the first half of another. And that, in the days of Saturday Morning Pictures and continuous performance was what audiences often did.

But we did eventually go right back to the beginning and find out how the story had started. Didn't we?

There is certainly a film labelled Episode I and it was definitely marketed with the slogan "Every saga has a beginning..." But The Phantom Menace doesn't stand in the same relationship to A New Hope that, say, Planet of Peril does to Battling the Sea Beast. It is not an earlier chapter of the same story. It's a different story, set in an earlier period of the same history. It shows us some of the characters when they were younger. It shows us how some of the conflicts began. But we don't come in at the beginning. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon's mission is already underway when the film opens. The saga begins with a crawl telling us stuff which has already happened. Chaos has engulfed the Galactic Republic, apparently. And we are assumed to already know what a Galactic Republic is. 

It would be an interesting exercise to imagine how the Phantom Menace would have been constructed if it really had been released, in 1976, to a world which knew nothing of the Republic or the Jedi or the Force. My guess is that it would have been told from Anakin's point of view. We would have met the strange boy with the strange parentage on the strange planet; and marveled at the aliens and the robots and the two suns; and only learn about the Jedi Knights and the Trade Federation when Obi-Wan arrives bearing the letter from Hogwarts school. And that might have made a better movie.

And now Rise of Skywalker is the end of the saga. Kind of. 

If we were still following the metaphor of the movie serial, there should have been one last caption. After Rey takes the name Skywalker the words "THE END" should have appeared in big yellow writing on the screen. Or maybe there should have been a green slide that said "...And they all lived happily ever after." But it isn't and they won't.

All the Skywalkers are dead and all the Sith are gone, but Rey still has a lightsaber and she still has the Jedi books. Episode VIII hinted that the Jedi were coming to an end and the mystery of the Grail was going to be revealed to anyone and everyone. That has not happened. Rey either will or won't start a new Jedi school; and she either will or won't repeat Luke's mistakes; and there either will or won't be more Dark Side users for them to contend with. It may take 28 years. It may find Daisy Ridley sulking on a lost planet at the other side of the universe. But sooner or later the saga will continue.

Stories have endings. History goes on forever.

Rise of Skywalker was true to its B-Movie roots. There was quicksand and secret McGuffins and last minute reprieves from firing squads. There were cliffhangers and implausible escapes from cliffhangers. Some people were annoyed when Chewbacca was definitely killed and then turned out to be perfectly all right after all. This suggests they haven't seen a lot of Flash Gordon. But Star Wars is no longer a movie serial. Star Wars is a fragmentary future history. The nine movies would be better described as Volumes or Chapters or Scrolls than Episodes.

But the opening crawl still has a purpose. The nine films together entirely fail to add up to a single, coherent narrative. The text introductions give us a sense that we are dropping into and out of the action; seeing The Star Wars Galaxy in a series of disconnected glimpses. I dislike the timelines of history and maps of the Galaxy that you can find in some official and semi-official guidebooks. I don't want to know that there was a Sith Empire 2000 years ago or that the various planets have known locations relative to the "outer rim" and the "core". I enjoy starting in the middle. And would there have been so many comics and books and films and RPGs if there were not so many gaps to be filled in?

Star Wars came forty years after Flash Gordon. Rise of Skywalker comes forty-three years after A New Hope. The children who paid a tanner each week to see the adventures of Flash and Dale at their local fleapit are nearly all dead. Even the ones who watched on BBC 2 during the 1976 Christmas holidays are well into middle-age. Story-so-far captions no longer signify that we are in the realm of Republic Serials. But they do signify that we are still in the realm of Star Wars.

Scrolling text. Scrolling text slanted away from the audience. Scrolling text receding into space. "The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE."


I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order. I have no political opinions of any kind.

If you are enjoying my essays, please consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)

Monday, January 20, 2020

Doomsday Clock #12

When I was a kid, my mum used to say "If you make a funny face and the wind changes, it will stay like that forever." 

When I write a critique I try to start with what I honestly felt about the book or film I am talking about. I try to catch what was in my mind when the credits were rolling or when I had just turned over the final page. First reactions may not always be right, but they are always true. "It grossed me out"; "it embarrassed me"; "I was bored"; "I didn't understand it" are the most truly true things you can ever say about a work of art. "I found the tunes catchy; I was singing them all the way home" is the best thing you can possibly say about a musical. If you say "I shouldn't think the writer meant me to feel disgusted. I probably misunderstood. I will try and manufacture a response more in tune with what I imagine the writer wanted me to think," then you are no longer providing an authentic response to the work. 

I try to apply this to my essays on the Bible and my essays on old comic books equally. 

"This shocked me," "This confused me," "I laughed at this" can't be the end point of a critical essay. But it should usually be the starting point.

This may be what the people who say that we should "accept Talons of Weng Chiang for what it is" have in mind. And they are not quite wrong. It is valid and useful and important to say "This is a tongue in cheek pastiche of a Victorian penny dreadful. It's awfully well done and I found it exciting and funny". You can then say "But the depiction of Chinese people in it was horrible," and then go on and ask the hard questions. Some of us feel that some kinds of critics jump straight into the exegesis without having spotted what kind of work we are talking about. I have myself more than once read essays on old 1960s Doctor Who and wanted to cry out "You do get that this was a Saturday tea time adventure serial for kids, don't you?" 

I get that someone's first reaction might be "The silly caricatures of Chinese people freaked me out so badly that I couldn't see anything else in the story." There is more than one authentic response to Talons of Weng Chiang, just as much as there is more than one authentic response to Paradise Lost or My Struggle. 

This essay is not about Talons of Weng Chiang. 


Imagine three stories. 

STORY ONE: A dead child is discovered, carefully laid out on a table in a Mayfair pub. The child is of European appearance, but is dressed in traditional Indian clothes. There are no marks on his body, and he has been dead for several months. Absolutely baffled, the police ask Mr Sherlock Holmes to investigate. 

STORY TWO: One evening while Mr Sherlock Holmes is in Sussex hunting for vampires, a news reporter -- in reality Moriarty in disguise -- offers Mrs Hudson a large some of money if she will provide incriminating evidence that Dr Watson is carrying on a clandestine love affair with Mycroft. 

STORY THREE: Sherlock Holmes starts to wonder how there can possibly have been such a large number of bizarre murders in a single city over such a short space of time. It gradually becomes clear that most of Holmes' cases have been created, or at any rate heavily fictionalized, by Dr Watson in order to help the public understand Holmes' methods. Holmes -- ventriloquized by Watson -- wonders whether, in the future, any of these fake cases will be turned into plays or even moving picture stories. 

For the sake of argument, let's call stories of the first kind "Open", stories of the second kind "Closed" and stories of the third kind "meta". 

A story of the first kind creates a new situation, and then shows the reader how an established character reacts to it or deals with it. The story is about the new situation much more than it is about the character. Sherlock Holmes can solve as many different murder puzzles as writers can devise; and the mystery of the Indian Prince could be perfectly well investigated by some other detective.

A story of the second kind generates a new situation from within a pre-existing structure: the writer looks at established characters and comes up with a new way for them to interact. "The baddie tried to convince the goodie that the goodie's friend was in love with the goodie's brother" is, of course, an intelligible narrative; but the particular interest of this story depends on us already knowing and caring about who Holmes and Mycroft are.  

A story of the third kind is a story about other stories; it is a piece of literary criticism masquerading as a narrative. "What if Watson was falsifying Holmes' career?" is only an interesting question if we already know and love the Holmes canon. "What if Some Guy's friend were writing inaccurate short stories about his career?" would be of hardly any interest.

Most series fiction on TV -- Doctor Who, Star Trek, Columbo -- deals with stories of the first kind. The writer creates a new monster, a new planet or a new crime and then imagines how the Doctor, Captain Kirk or Columbo would deal with it. Soap-operas, on the other hand, are almost by definition stories of the second kind: the established characters are the starting point, and the writers try to come up with new ways for them to come into conflict or misunderstand each other. And while stories of the third kind are rather rarer in mainstream fiction, anyone writing Sherlock Holmes stories or Superman stories or Doctor Who stories is sooner or later going to be very tempted to write a story about how those kinds of stories work.

Traditional, jobbing writers have tended to think that proper stories are always stories of the first kind. Fan fiction writers are much more likely to write stories of the second kind. But as culture eats itself and all writing turns into fan fiction, stories of the second kind become more and more common. In the olden days, Doctor Who writers were discouraged from using established villains as points of departure. The writer pitched an idea about time travelling terrorists or a funeral planet and the script editor said "Hey...we could put the Daleks in that as well." But fan pitches always take "what if..." questions as a point of departure. What if the Daleks went after the Key to Time? What if the Guardians and the Time Lords came into conflict about who controls the timelines. If Major Clanger and Papa Smurf had a fight, who would win? 


My honest and authentic reaction to the final installment of Doomsday Clock is utter bafflement. I don't fully understand what is supposed to have happened; I don't fully understand why I am supposed to care. And I don't know who half the characters are. I have re-read it; and re-read the issues which preceded it; and even read the episodes of Batman and the Flash which form a kind of prequel; and I am still confused. So I cannot offer you an assessment: all I can do is share my confusion.... 

The final panel ends with a boy arriving at a house, claiming that a friend of his father has promised that the couple who live there will take care of him; and that "Jon" calls him "Clark". He looks a little like a young Clark Kent, but he has the Doctor Manhattan hydrogen symbol on his forehead. I had to spend several minutes flipping through pages to work out what was going on here. The child is the son of Mime and Marionette; the couple who adopt him are Dan and Lauire, Nite Owl and Silk Spector from the original Watchmen. One of the first questions raised in issue #1 was why Doctor Manhattan wouldn't kill Marionette while she was pregnant, when he has had no compunction about killing humans in the past. It turns out that his time sense told him that her child would make Laurie, who he used to love, very happy some day. In the space of two or three panels, Doctor Manhattan has taken the child of Mime and Marionette, brought him up, and transferred his powers to him. (Mime and Marionette also have another child of their own, so that makes it okay.) 

Doctor Manhattan understands that the Watchmen world is grimdark and that the DC Universe is hopeful because of the existence of Superman; and that what makes Superman a hero is having loving parents like Jonathan and Martha Kent. His tinkering with time -- including moving the power battery a few inches so Alan Scott never becomes Green Lantern and the Justice Society never comes into being -- has made the DC Universe grimdark like Watchmen. He is now making the Watchmen universe more hopeful by supplying it with a Superman. That's why he takes the child and gives it to Laurie and Dan. Why it had to be this particular child and why it had to be those particular parents I am unclear about. I get that Superman is a Hero because he was adopted and brought up by a good, salt-of-the-earth Smallville couple. But surely any empowered child and any loving couple would have done the trick?

Halfway through the comic we get to the meeting between Superman and Doctor Manhattan that we've been building towards since issue #1.


Superman confronts Doctor Manhattan on Mars. Doctor Manhattan admits that he's the one who has been editing DC continuity; removing the Justice Society from history and causing the death of Superman's parents and generally getting poor reviews from the fan community. "I am the one who you are going to destroy" says Doctor Manhattan. "Or I am the one who is going to destroy everything." "Maybe there is a third choice" says Superman. The third choice is, and stop me if you have heard this before, Love. Superman points to the picture of Jon and Janey at the fairground before the accident. 

So Doctor Manhattan destroys the universe.

Like, totally. Black page. Another black page. A whole page of black panels. And then blow me if we don't go into a whole "destruction of Krypton" sequence (drawn in the style of John Byrne) and lots of little panels of Superman arriving on earth in lots of different times and places. Because in every parallel world there has to be a Superman.We go right back to the scene in issue #1, where Pa and Ma Kent drive their car into a tree right after Clark's high school prom; but this time Superboy is there to save them. Because now Superman isn't the first Superhero on earth; he can be inspired by the heroes of the past; and thus become a much happier hero much earlier.

"Because the Justice Society exists again, so does Superboy and because Superboy exists again so does the Legion. As the metaverse reforms, time catches up." 

It goes on. "Every time there is a change in the metaverse, the multiverse grows. To preserve every era of Superman." In 1938, Superman was the only Superhero, and that had implications for his character. In 1968, he was one of thousands, and that had implications for his character as well. Over the years, DC has rebooted the character many times, giving us a singular version who can work in a contemporary comic. The DC:52 reboot, largely regarded as a failure, decreed that Superman was a relatively recent arrival on Earth, and that humans still treated superheroes with suspicion. Fans felt that this produced a version of the character too far from his roots. So: it was Doctor Manhattan messing with the timeline that created the DC:52 version of Superman; and now Doctor Manhattan has set things right. But that version, along with every other version, still exists as a parallel world. (Doomsday Clock, uniquely, takes place in "the metaverse"; the universe of which all the other worlds are copies. Future DC comics will, I suppose, take place in one of the parallels. The Clark Kent of mainstream continuity is never going to say "And then there was that time I met the big blue naked guy on Mars.") There are lots of parallel worlds we have never heard of. "On July 10th 2030 the Secret Crisis begins, throwing Superman into a brawl across the universe with Thor himself and a Green behemoth stronger than even Doomsday who dies protecting Superman from these invaders."

Please, please, make it stop.  

Final scene. Doctor Manhattan and Ozymandias in front of the Washington Monument. Ozymandias thought that the only person who could stop the Watchmen universe degenerating into atomic war, again, was Doctor Manhattan. But he knew he couldn't ever persuade him to come back and do it. So everything which has happened has been a plot by Ozymandias to engineer a confrontation between Manhattan and Superman, because he, Ozymandias, could see that Superman would be able to persuade him, Doctor Manhattan, to save the world. By saying "all you need is love", apparently.

Doctor Manhattan destroys every nuclear weapon on earth and then "gives his powers" to the Earth, and to the boy, and then ceases to exist. The Watchmen universe has its own Superman. DC Continuity is restored to something like the Silver Age Multiverse. And we never have to waste any of our lives reading drivel like this as long as we live. 



In or about 1983, Roy Thomas decreed that Jack Kirby's Eternals should become a part of the Marvel Universe. Roy Thomas believed everything should become part of the Marvel Universe which is  why Spider-Man met Conan the Barbarian and SHIELD fought Godzilla. He put his plans in motion in Thor #283 under the headline "They said it couldn't be done!" To Marvel's credit, Thor #284 included a letter from a fan beginning "What they said was that it shouldn't be done..." 

The incorporation of Watchmen into the DC Universe is something which should not have been attempted. And no-one should have tried to tell us what happens after the final panel of the final page of Watchmen #12. Anyone who sees a novel with an open-ended conclusion and thinks "I know, let's close it off!" didn't ought to be writing fiction in the first place. But having made the bad call, it beggars belief that Geoff Johns could have written a comic so unremittingly, tediously boring. (The aforementioned Eternals/Thor crossover climaxes with the Destroyer walloping Arishem with the Odinsword, which may shit on two different Kirby koncepts but is nevertheless, kind of kool.) Characters called Ozymandias encounter characters called Luthor and someone called Batman meets up with someone called Rorschach but there is no sense of magnitude or audacity. Just pages and pages of exposition. No-one is having any fun. For goodness sake: if you are going to mix up incompatible settings, at least give us a double page spread of Superman with Captain America's shield in one hand and Thor's hammer in the other. 

Doomsday Clock is a narrative of the third kind: not a story, but an essay. It is completely uninterested in the themes and questions raised by Alan Moore in the original comic. But it doesn't have anything particularly interesting to say about the DC Universe. Superman's story has been told in lots of different ways over the years, and the different versions of him are all equally valid. We can like the muscular liberal pulpy version from the 1930s and the smiley campy cartoony 1960s version as well. Hold the front pages. 

A story which deconstructed the characters of the DC Universe in the same way and to the same extent as Alan Moore deconstructed his own Watchmen characters might have been worth telling. But while Watchmen leaves the whole idea of Superheroes in ruins; Doomsday Clock asserts the primacy of Superman (and therefore DC Superheroes) over everything else. 

I suppose that is what we would expect. On the last page of Watchmen, Alan Moore tells us that Ozymandias appears to have successfully saved the world from nuclear war; on the first page of Doomsday Clock Geoff Johns tells us that the ploy didn't work and the world got blown up after all. So naturally, the end result of Doomsday Clock is to reconstruct the idols that Watchmen had so comprehensively torn down. 

There could, in fact, be some interest in a Watchmen sequel of the second kind -- one which looks at the characters who Alan Moore left alive at the end of his epic; looks at the situations they were left in; and then imagines what would have happened next. Did Robert Redford really become president? What did Laurie do after Doctor Manhattan left earth? Did Ozymandias live out his days in peace? How was Rorschach remembered? What would it be like to be born ten or twenty years after the giant squid destroyed New York? 

And with very fine irony, the final installment of H.B.O's Watchmen TV series came out in the same week as Doomsday Clock #12. It turns out that you can shit on Alan Moore's legacy but nevertheless create a compelling story. 

All the objections still apply. It is wrong to take over someone else's characters without their permission -- while, indeed, they are alive and begging you not to do so. It is silly to write sequels to works which require none. But "this should not have been done" and "this is artistically bad" are two different propositions. 

Yes: I know. Alan Moore is not the first writer to have been screwed by his publisher. Young writers often are. If there was a loophole in his contract then there was a loophole in his contract. 

When Len Wein created Swamp Thing, he knew he was creating a new entry in DCs roster of narrative workhorses. He must have fully accepted the possibility that other hands -- Alan Moore's not the first -- would take over his character when he was done with it. But still. Alan Moore had his first big success by dissecting someone else's creation. 

Jerry Siegel and Joe Simon could not possibly have envisaged anything like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? when they created Superman. But by 1986 Superman had grown way beyond his original creators; and DC Comics were paying them a moderately generous stipend. But still: one of Alan Moore's most fondly remembered works is the hypothetical final chapter in the life of a character he never created. 

Alan Moore did not, in the end, write a deconstruction of Captain Atom and Blue Beetle. But he  wanted to; and if he had done so, he would have been the last in a long line of distinguished creators who have ripped Ditko off. And of course, the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a very interesting new thing created entirely out of already existing old things. There isn't a single character that Alan Moore hasn't borrowed from another creator. That's kind of the point of it.

It is wrong for H.B.O to "borrow" Watchmen to create a new artistic work of their own. It is equally wrong for DC to have done so. Doomsday Clock is a catastrophic artistic failure; H.B.O's Watchmen TV series is a resounding artistic success. But both are moral offences. What we said was that they shouldn't be done.  


Two wrongs. That was what my mother used to say. "Two wrongs don't make a right."


I'm Andrew. I like God, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wagner, folk-music and Spider-Man, not necessarily in that order. I have no political opinions of any kind.

If you are enjoying my essays, please buy me a "coffee" (by dropping £3 in the tip jar)

Or consider supporting me on Patreon (by pledging $1 for each essay)