JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Throwback – “Clumsy Luck”

Jan
20

“Clumsy Luck” was one of the first stories I ever posted on my blog. Back then, I had yet to figure out what my blog was supposed to be, or what blogging was supposed to be. I had imagined it would be a space to market and develop the book I was working on at the time, my first. But the blog, and my writing adventures, quickly expanded beyond that.

This story was accepted for publication on The Story Shack, but I recently received notice that the site will be shutting down for some time, if not permanently. Along with the bad news, the editor said if he resumes work on the flash fiction site, he will publish those works already accepted. I have no urge to submit this story anywhere else, so if it gets published some day on The Story Shack, then that’s where it will end up.

I also wrote this story before I really understood flash fiction. That was something new to me when I started the blog, but proved to be a good fit for blogging. The combination of wanting to develop my book and to develop my flash skills, led to The Adventures of Iric, a 20-episode flash series. What’s striking about the story below is how well it works as flash fiction, despite having been written by a flash amateur.

I hope you enjoy it.

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CLUMSY LUCK

by JM Williams

CLANG!

Bjorn shuddered as the pan bounced off the floor. He rushed down to pick it up, forgetting about the long broom in his other hand, which pushed an opened carton of milk off the counter.

Bjorn stood in the white puddle, pouting. He berated himself for always making things more difficult. Now he had to wipe the floor, wash the pan, clean up the counter…cleaning the kitchen was taking him all day. He just wanted the house to be clean and neat by the time his mother came home from work. He wanted to give her a special birthday.

Bjorn hadn’t been able to buy her a present, having wasted his allowance on toys and candy. He had tried to make something, several somethings, but they all came out wrong. He had already ripped up a half dozen ugly pictures, and smashed a disfigured sculpture. The last thing he could do for her was to clean the house. But he knew she was the kind of person that would take such an act to heart.

After cleaning the kitchen, Bjorn’s next task was to water the garden and clean the bird feeders. He found the watering can in the backyard, along the back of the house and under the wide, wooden deck. The plastic can was large and orange, with a sunflower design on its tip. After filling it, Bjorn had to heft it with two hands, carrying it to the edge of the garden.

As he stumbled through the yard, he felt the ground squishing oddly under his feet. The water in the can swished, the weight of it throwing Bjorn’s small body from side to side. Suddenly, something caught his toes and Bjorn tumbled forward. He fell right on top of the plastic waterer. It shattered under his weight, splashing him with the  cold liquid. Bjorn’s head hit the ground and buried itself in a deep hole. Bjorn didn’t bother to get up; he just laid there and cried.

“What’s your problem?” came a gruff voice from deep down in the hole.

“Huh?” Bjorn mumbled.

“I said, what’s wrong with you kid?” Bjorn could start to make out a small figure silhouetted in the middle of a long tunnel.

“Everything is so wrong today. Everything is bad,” Bjorn cried.

“You look fine to me,” the little man said.

“But I broke my mother’s watering can and I spilled her milk and I dented her pan…and, and it’s her birthday! I just wanted to do something special for her.”

“Ah…I see,” the little man said.

“Who are you?” Bjorn asked.

“I’m Gim. I’m a garden gnome,” the little man said.

“A gnome? What’s that?” Bjorn asked.

“Kind of like a fairy, but one that lives in the ground. We help the plants grow. ” Gim smiled at the boy, then raised a finger excitedly. “Wait a moment, I have an idea.”

The little man disappeared down the tunnel. After several long minutes, he reemerged with something shiny in his hands. Bjorn pulled his head out of the hole, letting the light hit the tunnel in full. He saw what Gim carried. It was a brilliant, golden ring with a bright red gemstone cradled in its center.

“Wow,” Bjorn said, staring in wonder.

“Here, take this for your mother,” Gim said. “Birthdays are special things. She is lucky to have a son like you.”

Gim offered the ring to Bjorn with two hands. The boy giddily accepted the gift.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Bjorn said.

“Just don’t tell anyone you saw me, okay?” Gim said. “It will be our secret.”

“Our secret,” Bjorn repeated.

Bjorn said goodbye to his new friend and carefully filled in the hole. He picked up the pieces of the broken water can and put them back in their place. He would apologize for that later. For now he jumped around, thinking how lucky it had been for him to be so clumsy.

THE END

Thanks for reading.

~JM

I will soon be sending out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year. It will include an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

3 Tips for More Productive Writing

Jan
15

The past year and a half has given me a few insights about writing productivity that’s I’d like to share.

1) Wake up early and keep a regular schedule.

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I’ve had a lot of free time to write after quitting my full time job in 2016 (not having full-time employment has proved to not be the boon it’s cracked up to be). I work full days at different jobs from time to time, but many days I am just off for the whole day. I have found that waking up at a regular time, as if if it is a regular work day, sets me up for success later on. For me, this is around 7am. I think it has to do with creating the right mindset, expecting a day of work rather than a day of rest.

2) Put on pants.

I imagine this is much the same as the previous tip, setting the mood for work. It may be tempting to stay in sweats or PJs if you are going to be home all day, but putting on regular clothes tells your psyche that it’s time to get to busy. For me, that’s pants.

3) Note your ideas when they come, not when you think you have time.

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Even though I been blessed with a lot of time to write, I don’t always have time when I need it. In a similar way, I often get ideas at the absolute worst time–in bed, in the bath, in the car, etc. I’ve found that it is critical to take note of the idea once I have the slightest chance. If I am parked for a moment, waiting to pick someone up, I jot a note in my phone or record a voice note. If in bed, I often wake up to take a note then go back to sleep. If in the bath, I just mull it over until I get out. It has been shown that writing something down helps you remember.

Now, I have a couple dozen ideas in my notes and if I every find myself without something to write, I just have to look there. Also, reviewing my story notes from time to time often welcomes a spontaneous muse and helps me bring the story to fruition. This is precisely what happened with the most recent short story I wrote, which I submitted to the previous quarter of Writers of the Future.

In the end,

it’s about generating and maintaining the right state of mind. Any writer knows that if you don’t have the right mind, you can’t write well, even if you force it. And even if you wake up early and get dressed for success, it does not guarantee that the day’s writing will go off without a hitch. But it is an easy way to set the groundwork for a good day.

Hope these tips help! Good luck with your writing.

~JM

I will be sending out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year, which will include an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

 

Thoughts on Classic Narrators

Jan
14

I’ve been working my way through H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, and was struck by a random thought. The narrative structure of the book is very similar to other contemporary works.

This is actually my first time with this particular work. I am also surprised by the shortness of it. I had been under the impression that The Time Machine was a novel, but it is in fact a novella. Only around 33,000 words depending on the source. Wells’s The War of the Worlds is only around 46,000 words. Both details have me thinking about the current demand of publishers of 80k or more words for fantasy and sci-fi books. Where does that come from? But that’s a question for another time.

For this post, I am thinking about the narrators used in The Time Machine and many of its contemporary works. The narrator takes the form of a side character who is witnessing the actions of the main character of the story. This is the same narrator used by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Sherlock Holmes stories, in the form of John Watson. Though I haven’t read it, I believe it is the same in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, accounts of the famous vampire conveyed by a third party. The same is true for Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, though you might not notice it as most of that novel is told in first-person. But this is a first-person account being heard and relayed by the narrator, who is not himself, the person who traveled back in time.

The Time Machine is similar to Twain’s work in that–at least what I have gone through so far–the narrator is not part of the actual story. He is simply a witness that relays this incredible story to us. It seems to me that classic fiction–for popular fiction for wide audiences emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries, as did the modern form of the novel–demanded very straight-forward, realistic narrators. That old writing question, that is now unnecessary but is often still asked, “How is this account delivered to the reader?,” is a critical component of classic novels. So you tend to find a lot of discovered letters, and third-party witness type stories.

We have grown a lot since that time. Now we feel no need to explain where a third-person account comes from, nor how the narrator knows what it knows. Though many would argue with me, I would even go as far to say that first-person narrators do not need to be accounted for. I have indeed written on the topic before.

It quite interesting to look back and see, what appears to be, much more rigidity than what we have in modern writing. There’s nothing wrong with having realistic narrators, especially if you’re writing historical fiction. I have even though of writing a “discovered letters” story myself. But it is not necessary. We have so many more narrative tools than they did back then.

I am having a lot of fun with The Time Machine, much more than with the last page of IT, which is becoming a major drag. Maybe I should get back to it, eh?

Thanks for reading.

~JM

I’m getting ready to send out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year. I will be including an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

Aftermath of a Bad Decision

Jan
12
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photo by Hans Vivek

It was the worst mess Jared had ever encountered–nine years as a sanitation inspector could not have prepared him for the scene. Shredded paper was scattered all around; broken bottles were shattered on the floor, spilling their contents into a thick brown pool that smelled of urine; what were once ordered stacks of books and DVDs were now collected in a heap. The only thing that wound its way through his dumbfounded mind was the memory of a feminine voice saying, “Getting a cat will only be trouble, Jared.”

*Written as a response for the Three Line Tales Week 102 photo prompt.

I’m getting ready to send out my next newsletter, in honor of the new year. I will be including an exclusive video of myself, talking Iric and future projects, as well as the usual publication highlight and writing tips. If you’d like to see all that, and be part of the “cool” crowd, you can sign up to join the RABBLE on the right side of the page!

Thanks for reading!

~JM

My Experience with Book Covers and Artists

Jan
05

I recently had my third cover made. It was a couple months ago and was for my self-published flash collection The Adventures of Iric (which is available for purchase). That was my third time working with cover artist, as I do no feel capable of making marketable covers myself, each time being a totally different experience. The three experiences differed in many ways, from the amount of control I had as the author, to the level of contact I had with the artist themselves.

I feel I have learned a lot about getting covers made through these three experiences and wanted to share that information with all of you.

Let me begin with a short summary of the cover services you can find out there. There are generally two types of covers: stock art covers, and original art covers. Stock art refers to the pictures that are sold for use on sites like ShutterStock.com. Original art means an artist is (digitally) painting something totally new for you. Original art covers will likely set you back at least $500 as you are not only paying for design, you are paying for image creation. Artists generally get paid by time, so drawing something entirely new, then designing a cover, will take much more time than just arranging stock art. Also, you are paying for sole rights to new content, whereas stock art is available for purchase and use by many people.

Since my three experiences were all with stock art covers, I will limit my discussion to that side of the business.

On the stock art side of the cover market, there are more divergences. One such difference is the quality of the stock art used. Some artists only use free stock art sites like Pixabay. There will generally be a marked difference in quality between covers that use free stock art, and those that pay for stock images. This is because the best stock images are on paid sites like ShutterStock, and those sites also have a significantly larger library of images.

Another difference is whether the cover is premade or custom designed. Premade covers are ones that artists have already created. They simply put your name and book title on it. I am generally against premade covers since it is hard to find one that is a proper fit for the book. But it’s not impossible, and some artists do them very well.

These factors are going to affect the cost of your cover. A stock art cover can cost anywhere from $10-$500 depending on the artist, the stock art type, and the level of customization. You’re going to pay more for an artist that pays for stock art. You are going to pay more for a custom design, as it takes more time to complete. Typically, a good, original concept, paid stock art cover is going to cost you $100-200. But as I learned, you can find ways to save a bit if you’re willing to do some extra work.

Now let me talk about my three experiences with making covers.

The first was the cover for Call of the Guardian:

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This cover was paid for by the publisher, Fiction Vortex. I did not have much input in the process, other than suggesting I wanted a protagonist stand-in and a dragon on it, and a lot of fire. Boom! This is what I got. It felt a bit like playing the lottery, but I was not too disappointed. I was told by the Boss Man that if I wanted to get this artist to do something for a personal project of mine, it would likely be around $200.

The next cover was for The Nightingale (releasing in April!):

Nightingale - Front

This cover was also paid for by the publisher, Fantasia Divinty. Unlike with my first experience, this time I had more input on the design. However, I did not have direct contact with the artist; the publisher stepped in as a intermediary. There was a lot of back and forth through those channels. I suggested an initial concept, the artist sent something back, I suggested changes, and so forth.

At first it was a bit of a struggle, as I did not care for what the artist was suggesting. In particular, I didn’t care for the character models the artist was choosing. So I started digging around on stock photo sites offering suggestions. This was perhaps the biggest lesson I learned about making covers, which I will discuss in detail below.

To my surprise, though, my suggestions were rejected. It took some time for it to become clear that the artist was only using free stock art, and I was suggesting pictures from paid sites. Moreover, I eventually learned that the artist used only one specific site for their stock photos. But once this bit of information came to light, the process became much easier. I searched the site in question, and though I did not like the choices there as much as on the paid sites, I did find a few that might work. This took me several hours of digging, but I viewed this time as an investment towards having a good cover. Finally, we settled on the character model shown above.

I do not know how much the publisher paid for this cover.

These two experiences suggested to me that the most important thing for an author to do, when getting a cover made, is to be directly involved. Be involved as much as possible. I carried this insight with me when I began working with an artist for The Adventures of Iric.

I found the artist, E. Rachael Hardcastle on a Facebook group. She responded to my query about cover letters by sending me a sample and a quote. I was satisfied with what I saw, so we started working.

It took about a week to finish the cover. Much of this was due to our geographic separation and online correspondence. I gave her an idea of what I might be looking for, and she responded by tempering some of my expectations. But I knew right from the start how I wanted to work it. I asked her upfront what stock photo site she used. Then I started looking for things to use on the cover.

I sent her suggestions of art and design ideas, she either shot them down as not good or even doable, or worked the idea and sent back a concept. At first, I felt like things weren’t progressing, but she kept trying. She suggested photos to me, and I looked for more.

After a lot of back and forth, I stumbled on a paid site that gave out five free images by signing up. I don’t recall what site it was. I entered my credit card info, selected my five free images, then canceled the account. What I found delighted me. This was the image that I discovered:

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My first reaction was, “This looks just like Iric!” Having been somewhat disappointed with how the characters in the two previous covers reflected those in the books (and being told that this doesn’t really matter, as the cover is more of a concept than a honest view), I was delighted to have an image that reflected what I saw in the character. It was also proper for fantasy.

I sent the image to Rachael and she also had a strong reaction. She did her bit of tweaking and artsy magic, and delivered me this:

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In addition to adding the text, obviously, she also added a blue tint, shadows on the character’s face, darkened the hair, and many other things I would have never thought to do. It was mostly luck that the one image filled the page; usually the cover will be a composite of several images, as with the others shown above. But the end result was still a bit of a shock.

In the end, she spent hours on the project with me. She was ready to deliver a custom cover, on her own, had I not been so involved. She sent me at least four concepts before we settled on the one above. For that service I paid around $30.

Now I am guessing the lowness of that price is partially due to the effort I put in to help design the cover. When I asked her whether she appreciated my help, she told me “I think having the authors input helped. It’s their cover and they’ll all have a vision of what they want. Finding ideal images and keeping in touch with their own ideas makes my job easier and means I can design something suitable.”

That seems to me to be the hidden truth of cover creation. I could have simply rejected the concepts and asked her to do more, without any further input. But the easier you can make the artist’s job, the more willing they are going to be to go the extra mile. Also, they might charge you less if they have to work less, just like how premade covers are cheaper than custom ones.

So the advice I have for you, as I have learned over this past year, is to be involved with your cover design. Find the stock art that fits what you want and then let the artist turn it into something that will sell.

I certainly think I will be using E. Rachael Hardcastle’s services again if I self-publish another collection. But that is something to think about later. I have too many projects, and real work, to do right now.

I hope this helps you when you are deciding about covers and artists.

~JM

Refuge — 3LineTales

Jan
05
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photo by Gemma Evans

The box truck’s paint was faded, with numbers on the side that meant nothing to Daryl. The old beast ran, which was the only thing that really mattered; that one truth had saved his life more times that he cared to count. So, he built a home inside the cargo area, a place of refuge from the maniac infested desert outside.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales week 101 photo prompt.

~JM

2017 in the Rear-View, 2018 Under the Tires

Jan
01
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2017 was mostly for my cats. I expect 2018 to be the same.

A PRODUCTIVE YEAR

2017 has been quite a busy year for me. I’ve done a lot of writing, and reading, more than I expected. While I wasn’t as successful as I had hoped, I did get a lot done.

Though I’m not exactly clear on the 2016/2017 divide, I think I wrote something like 40 short and flash stories this year, and received around 30 acceptances just in 2017. I finished the final draft of my novel In the Valley of Magic, started querying agents and publishers, though I haven’t received any positive replies. I finished a novella which will be published by Fantasia Divinity, though the release has been pushed back to April because the Editor-in-Chief has been going through some rough health issues. I’ve completed five draft episodes of Call of the Guardian, my epic fantasy series with Fiction Vortex, though we’ve also had to push back the release on that because our StoryVerse lost an author so the rest of the team has to cover the slack. Edits have started on my first and second episode, so hopefully we will go live in the next month or two. And of course I self-published my first book, The Adventures of Iric, though it has yet to sell. I need to get a few good reviews on Amazon, then things should pick up.

If I had to say where my center of gravity was this year, it was with short stories. Due to delays with my core projects, I spent a lot of time writing short stories, especially flash fiction.

If I had to choose my favorite, it would probably be “The Sorcerer”. This was one of the few stories I have written in first-person. I have written before how I think first-person should be a special case, not a default, and this story proved the perfect example. Unfortunatly, you can only read it by buying the anthology, The Great Tome of Magicians, Necromancers, and Mystics.

If I had to pick a favorite story that is available to read online, I would have to pick “The Performance of a Lifetime”. I really love this story, probably more than I should. I was disspirited that it didn’t make it into a higher-tier publication, but satisfied that I sold it for real money.

Which brings me to my biggest disappointment of 2017–no pro-rate, or even semi-pro sale. I thought for sure I would make a decent sale this year. Was it too much to expect to make it in a year? I’d love honest feedback from you guys on that question because I really don’t know how to feel about it.

I’ve got a few new stories I am wrapping up now. I think they are some of the best I have ever written. So maybe I can achieve my goal in 2018.

Which brings me to…

A FEW GOALS FOR THE NEW YEAR

There are many things I could set as goals for myself in 2018, way too many realistically accomplish. I think I will limit myself to five:

  • Read more. I didn’t finish as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. Part of the problem, at least in the past couple months, was slogging through Stephen King’s IT, which, despite being decent and despite my love of the story, just doesn’t keep me as engaged as other works. But I’ve told myself I need to finish it, so I will. Next in line will probably be The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I hope will read faster.
  • Finish Call of the Guardian Season 1. So technically, I only have a contract for the first season, but the StoryVerse head and I have already discussed a second, and my series is plotted for two seasons, so I fully expect a new contract with the current one is done. I can also already think of a few spin offs if this thing keeps going. What I’d like to see most is my book physically on the shelves at major bookstores. That is what Fiction Vortex does when the seasons are complete, and I’ve seen a fellow writer find his book at Barnes and Noble. That would be my first big release.
  • Write a Second Novella. I really enjoyed writing my first novella, The Nightingale, for Fantasia Divinity. It felt more reasonable than the novel, an easier beast to handle. I think I finished it in less than a month. It didn’t hurt that I was riding a muse the whole time. I already have a couple ideas for novellas tucked away. I think it will be better to try writing one of those than another novel, especially if I am working full time and also working on Call of the Guardian. However, I think I will shop any new novella around before settling on a publisher.
  • Get a Pro-rate Sale. One sale of a SF/F work at a rate of 6c/word or better is considered a pro-rate sale by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA). One sale makes you eligible for Associate Membership, which opens up a lot of resources and also can be put on your CV and submissions. This is still my main writing goal, and probably will be until I achieve it. On the positive end, I have a couple new stories that I think have a decent chance of making it.
  • Take More Time for MyselfThe past year was a bit hectic. When I wasn’t working, I spent most of my free time doing the blog or writing. That left little time for me. I didn’t take any trips this year besides a quit trip home that was long overdue and necessitated due to my parents’ ailing health. It wasn’t a personal trip. Even another hop over to Japan would be nice. Heck, even a road trip across Korea would be fun. Haven’t done that in a couple years either. Writing is important, but I think I need to realize that this is going to take a lot more time that I expected. I am not going to become a household name overnight, so there’s no need to write myself into an early grave with stress and disappointment. I need a better rhythm. I need to take it slow.

A FEW PARTING WORDS

I’ve read a lot of the New Year’s messages from the blogger’s I follow. It seems everyone has had some successes in the past year, to varying degrees. It is nice to know there are other people out there working hard like me, and finding a win here and there.

For anyone who has engaged or debated me here, or on the Facebook page, thank you. It has been great talking with all of you! I think next year is going to be a good one. I, for one, am going to hit the ground running.

I am wishing you guys all the best in the Year of the Justifiably Defensive Lobster!

~JM

REBLOG: The Adventures of Iric Review

Dec
30

Thank you, Victorique, for the great review. I am surprised I got off so well. For those who don’t know, she is usually very hard on books! A 4 of 5 is a great score from her.

I really like this anthology. It doesn’t need you to constantly change characters, but each chapter is indeed a story. Resembles a serial in its own way but very much is still made up of pieces that all together work. Each one telling a little more about Iric as he begins to experience life. From […]

via Adventures Of Iric — Dreamingmtthoughts

REBLOG: Man vs. Self – A Guide to Writing Internal Conflict — R. Morgan Stories

Dec
28

Here’s a great rundown of psychological struggles for you characters that I couldn’t help but share. R. Morgan does a great job distilling concepts like gestalt down into digestible bits. Some of you might recognize the must vs. need conflict, which I think is very similar or the same as the “truth and lie” concept in character arcs. All in all, a good post that might be a”good starting point for a character who seems to have no or very little development.”

~J.M.

A psychological point of view to writing internal struggles

via Man vs. Self – A Guide to Writing Internal Conflict — R. Morgan Stories

The Last, Last Jedi Review

Dec
26

So here it is, the review to end all reviews (of The Last Jedi). Major SPOILERS ahead!

I’ve been waiting to write this review–even second-guessing whether I should do it–for some time. I have let it stew in my head, but now it’s all about to burst.

Part of it is the toxic response many folks out there have made to the poor audience reviews of the film. They blame neo-nazis and crazy, irrational fans instead of accepting that some people might have genuine issues with the film. You’d be surprised, reading many of the professional critiques of the film, that it has many, many problems. Big problems.

Even so, the film is not without its merits. It is, in fact, a decent movie, if far from the A-grade many critics have given it. At the scene-level, the film is spectacular, both visually and narratively. It is at the larger scales that the movie starts to break down. Lazy storytelling, plot holes, and contractions that break down the entire Star Wars universe.

Let me be frank, I didn’t mind most of the story decisions Rian Johnson made. I didn’t mind Snoke’s unceremonious end, the destruction of the Resitance, or Rey’s parentage (though, as someone pointed out to me, the latter requires you taking Kylo Ren at his word and believing him to even know the honest truth of the matter–I wouldn’t be surprised to see J.J. Abrams undo this in the next film). I am more than willing to accept (especially given the disappointing, derivative nature of The Force Awakens) that sometimes Star Wars needs to go in another direction. My issues with The Last Jedi have less to do with the story than with the execution. As I mentioned, on a small scale, it works. But in the context of the entire film, or more importantly, the entire saga, not so much.

Let me warn you, this is going to be a long post. First I am going to offer my own review of the film, primarily looking at many of the key problems with the movie that the critics have ignored. After that, I am going to examine the split between critical and audience reception and try to suggest what I think happened there.

So strap in for the ride.

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This guy really should have been the titular last jedi.

Let me start with the good stuff. The cinematography, effects, music–all the things that Star Wars is know for–are exemplified in The Last Jedi. The acting is commendable, but not perfect. Scene by scene, the film shines. You can read about this stuff in any critic’s review of the film, so I will limit my discussion here to a couple great scenes.

The first is the bomber attack on the First Order dreadnought at the start of the film. So many behind-the-scenes documentaries have been done on the George Lucas and the first Star Wars, that it is now well known that he based his spaces battles on old World War II films. The effects team even copied these films shot by shot. So I was a bit excited to see that old war spirit once again evoked in the new film. The bomber scene felt very much like a fleet of B-17s flying over Germany while being harrased by flak and Messerschmitts.

The second scene worth mentioning is the fight in Snoke’s throne room. There is a lot of plot building that goes on in this scene, but for me the best part is having two jedi fighting side by side. It was reminiscent of what made the prequels fun to watch. And, of course, the scene is visually stunning with bright colors and visceral action.

That scene centers on two major plot twists, Kylo’s betrayal and assassination of Snoke, and the two young force users maintaining their allegiances to light and dark, despite heavy-handed attempts to lead the audience to expect otherwise. Which sums up one of the biggest problems with the film as a whole: way too many red herrings and surprise twists.

I made the snarky comment elsewhere that this film single-handedly makes a cliche of the unexpected plot twist. Almost every major and sub-plot line ends with some sort of twist, to the point where it becomes tiresome by the middle of the movie. The rebels make their escape–nope, secret tracking device. Luke is going to train Rey to be a jedi–nope, he’s just a grouchy old man. That rogue Finn and Rose pick up at Canto Bight, who starts out sketchy but redeems himself several times–he betrays them, for no clear reason since a thief of his caliber doesn’t seem to be in need of funds. Luke Skywalker facing down Kylo Ren–nope, that’s just a force projection (almost as bad of a twist as having the whole story be a dream).

Now there’s nothing wrong with a plot-twist. The Empire Strikes Back had a couple whoppers. But doing it again and again feels horribly lazy.  Empire–which is the obvious comparison for The Last Jedi, as it was the middle film of a previous trilogy–has only two major plot twists, Lando’s betrayal and Vader’s reveal. Also, both twist are strongly hinted at throughout the film. It is clear from the beginning of the movie that Vader has some sort of relationship to Luke, though we do not know what it is. And when the main group arrives at Cloud City, one of the first things to happen is that C3PO gets blown up after stumbling on something he shouldn’t. It is clear that something is not right, and Han has repeatedly stated that Lando couldn’t be fully trusted. So it comes as a surprise, but not out of the blue, to see Lando side with Vader.

The problem with many, if not most, of the twists in The Last Jedi, is that they are not even hinted at. Instead, the audience is led to believe something so strongly, and given no evidence to suggest otherwise, that the twist comes across as a cheat, not a proper red herring. Doing this repeatedly is not only trying on viewers, it feels blatantly dishonest. It feels like a lazy way to get an emotional reaction from an audience. It’s all smoke and mirrors. And the brutal truth about smoke and mirrors is that showmen rely on them when there is no real magic.

Another comparison with Empire is equally telling. The older film only has four major blocks of scenes: Hoth, the asteroid field, Degobah, and Cloud City. And yet, so much is done within those limited locales. The Last Jedi is stuffed full of subplots, locations, characters, action–to the point where it is hard to follow everything.

The key violator here is the whole Canto Bight subplot, that serves no real purpose other than to earthenize pod-racing and show off come nice CGI. Nothing is done there, that is key to the plot, that couldn’t have been done on one of the ships in the fleet. One review I read suggested the importance of the scene was in seeing the sort of people who supported the First Order. One does not need to understand the supporters of a group that is willing to press a button and destroy an entire populated star system. They are clearly meant to be a representation of evil; let it just be that way.

The Canto Bight scene also shows the grey politics of the time, in that the same people who supply weapons to the First Order also sell to the Resistance. Besides the point that this is just not logical, the First Order is clearly powerful enough to stop any double-dealing, Star Wars has never needed modern moral allegory. In fact, people go to Star Wars to turn off the real world. It is fantasy escapism at its best. Yes, the Empire of the original trilogy (and the First Order) were derived from the nazis, but in a very extreme, even ridiculous sort of way. Even the politics and economics in the prequels were there simply to set the plot, never as an allegory for the modern world. Whenever a writer or filmmaker tries to show the moral ambiguity of the Empire–such as with Claudia Grey’s Lost Stars–it falls flat. It cannot help but fall flat. Once you have a group of people who allow the death star to destroy an entire planet, there is no going back. Trying to show moral justification (“they’re all rebel terrorists”) just comes off as absurd.

I would have much preferred all the time wasted on action and CGI in Canto Bight to have been used for some proper character development. As it stands, the most unjustifiably neglected character in the new trilogy is General Hux. Who is this guy? And what allowed him to drop to the level of mass planeticide? He is essentially the stand-in for Tarkin in this trilogy. One of the most interesting Star Wars books I’ve read in a long time was the book Tarkin by James Luceno, which explained the Grand Moff’s origins. The work helped to flesh out what had been a largely cardboard (but fun) character. Hux deserves equal care, and it would be much more enlightening to see how one one person can choose to join the side of evil, rather than some boring diatribes on weapon sales.

Some reviewers have suggested one needs to see the movie twice to appreciate and understand it all. When did that become a good thing? A movie should be a complete and proper experience when only seen once, because most people will only see it once.

This, of course, is the reality of modern blockbuster film-making. It is especially true for franchises with large merchandising bases (looking at you Transformers, and the two million robots you tried to stuff in that second film, the first I film I ever felt like walking out of). But a good film is one that gives you time to pause and consider what has happened, to predict what will happen. There is no time to breathe in The Last Jedi.

But for me, the biggest problem is how the film fits within the entire saga. A film should not be judged on its own, but must be viewed in the context of its series and of the entire tradition of film. Two story choices Rian Johnson made with The Last Jedi retroactively break the entire franchise.

The first, and most obvious, is the light-speed kamikaze attack by Admiral Holdo against Snoke’s flagship. Not only is it illogical to think that the rebel flagship would not have autopilot (other ships all do), and thus require a pilot to simply push the throttle ( a droid couldn’t do it, by remote?), but this is also a very old and tired cliche in science fiction. The captain going down with the ship, setting a collision course, and all that. Worse, it directly contradicts the whole theme of the moment, that every rebel life is important and should be protected. What’s the difference between losing a few bomber pilots and losing the Resistance’s second-in-command?

But the biggest problem with this scene is the logical loophole it sticks us in. “Llightspeed” travel, which is clearly faster-than-light travel, is never explained in the prior films. I’ve always figured it was some sort of wormhole based transiting. But The Last Jedi has decided to show there is real physical movement tied with the lightspeed jump. This has irrevocable and damaging consequences.

No large space battles could exist in a world where a single fighter could kamikaze into a cruiser and destroy it. A couple fighters, based on the laws of physics and momentum, could have blow Snoke’s giant flagship apart. It would take only a few more to cripple, if not destroy, the death star. And before you say the rebels’ morality wouldn’t allow them to risk even a single fighter pilot on a kamikaze attack, remember that they left Admiral Holdo to go down with her ship (I mentioned how that undermined the whole moral theme). They also sent groups on suicide missions at the end of A New Hope and Rogue One. History has show that when resistance groups get backed into a corner, they are more than willing to make sacrifices for large gains. Rain Johnson has created a universe where no big naval battles, one of the linchpins of Star Wars, can logically exist.

Not to mention that dropping out of lightspeed, though atmo and next to a planet, would have done huge damage (sorry Force Awakens).

The second illogical and game-breaking choice is in allowing force ghosts to have a physical impact on the world. If Yoda can call down lightning on a tree, how is Kylo Ren still alive? Hell, how did Vader survive after Yoda was gone? And what about all the past, unmentioned jedi who became force ghosts? The thing about power that the prequels were supposed to teach us is that it gets abused.

And there is Luke Skywalker’s illogical character arc for the past two films. Little can be said that Mark Hamill hasn’t already. But suffice it to say, it makes no sense for a character who risked his life and the fate of the Rebellion on the hope that Vader could be redeemed, to fall into a sudden homicidal fit at the first sign a child might be influenced by the dark side. I understand that Rian Johnson needed to force Luke Skywalker off the stage to make room for the new characters, but it ended up feeling nothing but forced. And being force-fed something, especially something you don’t like, really sucks.

Many critics have praised The Last Jedi for being unexpected and surprising. But perhaps the most surprising thing about The Last Jedi is how unsurprising it actually is. If you look at whole film, it follows Empire’s plotline rather closely. The Empire destroys the last sanctuary of the Rebellion, the last great hope runs off for jedi training, a dramatic betrayal shifts the momentum in the Empire’s favor. The film starts with the rebels on the run and ends with the imperials securely on top. That’s the same general plot in both films.

Perhaps more significantly, is how true the film is to the trailers. The interesting thing to see when the trailers came out was how everyone expected them to be a trick, edited in creative ways to lead the audience to false expectations. There were no real fake-outs. When Luke says “It’s time for the jedi to end,” he is being very literal, not hinting at the need for some new sort of grey order. The trailers show Kylo Ren to be the dark and Rey to be the light, and the film follows that. How much more pleasing would it have been for Kylo to be redeemed and Rey to have fallen.

And of course, there is Kylo Ren’s character arc, which we are led to believe sunders tradition, but doesn’t. This is particularly the case with the “rule of two,” a cornerstone of Star Wars lore. Even as Kylo tells us to cast out old ideas such as the sith, he acts just like one. We are teased to believe that Kylo will be redeemed and join Rey on the lightside, that he kills Snoke to make it happen. But no, Kylo stays on the dark side. What he has done, in fact, is the same thing that countless sith have done before him, the basis of the rule of two. When a sith apprentice becomes strong enough, he will usurp and kill his master, taking his (or her) place. This is clearly what Kylo had in mind when he killed Snoke and asked Rey to join him. Rey, being the newbie, would be his apprentice (he made the same overture in The Force Awakens). Kylo’s wants or actions have no bearing on Rey’s decision to reject the offer. Her rejection is not part of his arc. Kylo’s character arc is characteristically sith. Things could change in the next film, if for instance, he decides to go it alone and not take an apprentice (but what about all those Knights of Ren who are supposedly out there somewhere?). But nothing unconventional happens with Kylo Ren in this film, despite how hard the director tries to trick us into believing so.

In the end, what we got were a bunch of little plot twists, but an entirely predictable and telegraphed larger story.

And yet, this film has received rave reviews from critics. But why? If you actually look at the text of some reviews of the film, it might leave you a bit confused. While many reviews simply ignore all of the flaws and blatant plot holes in the movie, many other acknowledge severe issues with the film and still give it high scores.

Ethan Sacks of New York Daily News notes “a solid, but not spectacular, first half of the 2.5-hour movie” and yet gives the movie 4 1/2 of 5 stars. That’s almost a perfect score. It’s 90%, an A-. Professors reserve such grades only for the best work, not something that is simply “solid,” certainly not for a student who “overplays his hand.”

Peter Howell of the star argues “The film’s paunchy middle section includes a trip to a casino that might better have ended up on the cutting-room floor. The unnecessary padding accounts for the 152-minute running time, a franchise record, which will test the patience (and bladders) of even the most devoted followers.” And yet, he too, gives the film an almost perfect score, at 3 1/2 of 4 stars.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says     “The midsection sags and, other than the heroes’ desperate attempts to survive, there’s no central story line to pull the various satellites of action in its wake.” No central story line to pull it all together? That’s a huge fault. But he still gives the film 4 stars.

Matt Seitz of RogerEbert.com gives the film a perfect score despite the arguing that “There are spots where the film can’t figure out how to get the characters to where it needs them to be and just sort of shrugs and says, ‘And then this happened, now let’s get on with it.'” How can a film whose plot points do not work be perfect?

Audiences were less enthused about the film. Some have (at times viciously) attributed this to over-attached fans and a toxic fandom. Others have attributed this to an Alt-Right conspiracy, which certain outlets were all to happy to jump on. Many folks seem incapable of attributing the poor audience reviews to a genuine dislike of the movie and a reaction to real problems with the film.

But such a general dislike, in fact, seems to be the case. Many fans simply don’t care for the film. This is shown in the film’s horrible second week earnings, the lowest for any Star Wars film ever. An article in Forbes notes that “no other movie has come anywhere close to the picture’s $151.5 million 2nd weekend box office razing, there’s no movie comparison that gives its record-obliterating failure proper context.” The report also mentions that “only a handful of movies—The Last Jedi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2, Batman v. Superman among them—have ever shed $100 million or more in box office totals from one weekend to the next.” The Last Jedi has a viewership decline in its second week almost as bad as Batman v. Superman (68.9% drop verses a 69.1%). There is no conspiracy simply affecting a Rotten Tomatoes audience score; there is genuine dissatisfaction with the movie itself. Though you’d be hard-pressed to read about in much of the media.

So what exactly is going on? Why did the critics give the film such a higher score than the audiences? One theory I read suggested that Disney exerted influence on critics to coerce higher review scores. With the acquisition of Fox, Disney is one of the most powerful entertainment companies in the world. By threatening to withdraw ad revenue and screenings for critics, Disney could surely force the hand of many companies, particularly those whose main station is online. Of course, this is a stretch and there is no evidence of it. I highly doubt this to be the case, but I’d believe this before I’d believe the entire audience backlash was fabricated. One is simply more logically, and logistically, plausible.

If not conspiracy, then what? My best guess is that the sorry state of blockbuster films in recent years have led critics to feel relieved with even a “pretty good” film in The Last Jedi. Despite its problems, the newest Star Wars is far ahead of its contemporary competition. But a film should not, nay cannot, be analyzed on its own. A film, like any work of art, is part of a long tradition and fits into a context of relation with other works of its kind. And unfortunately, when compared to film tradition, and the saga in which it is a part, The Last Jedi is far from perfect, if not deeply flawed.

In the end, reviewing is a subjective art, and that might be all there is to it. Some critics might have favored looks over logic enough to render high scores. One even could question how I could rate the film at 7/10 with all the negative comments I’ve made. In the end, it’s all just a feeling.

All lot to be said about a oddly controversial film. Again, not a bad film, just not the miracle of film-making that many critics would have you believe. Where does it fall in the franchise? Behind A New Hope, Empire and Rogue One for sure. I also prefer Return of the Jedi, but I have an unhealthy attachment to that film that is not based solely on merit.

Well that’s my rant. Hopefully you reached the end. This should be the definitive review to end all reviews.

Thanks for reading.

~J.M.