Discussion in 'Literature' started by Point Given
, Jun 6, 2013.
Okay, TOD-UK is currently unavailable for interview so we're gonna move onto the next interviewee.
So everybody, give a warm welcome to Cynical_Ben!
1. Tell us about your username, why you chose it, what it means, etc. And what is the best way to address you?
2. What made you sign up for the Jedi Council Forums? Do you post on any other forums?
I am honored, sir, especially since I have not been on this forum as long as many of the other interviewees.
My username consists of two obvious halves: the cynical part, and the me part. The cynical part comes from my search for a newer internet handle than the one I have used on YouTube and elsewhere, where my username is Benergizer1. I have been described as a rather cynical realist IRL (by friends, co-workers, even my parents), and I liked the rhythm "cynical Ben" had. Obviously, Ben is the name I answer to. The only people who ever call be Benjamin are those who don't know me.
I have lurked on these forums for a long, long time. The first time I ever came here was back in 2004, when I was looking for information on RotS as it was being hyped up, stumbled across this forum, and lurked on and off for almost a decade until last year when I finally signed on. I used to lurk fanfic, TV (back when LACWAC was an acronym, not just a name) and this the movie forums, then found Lit.
I've said it in other threads in bits and pieces, but the main reason I love this forum enough to log in (this is the single forum on the entire internet where I have an active account) is because of the intelligent and well-reasoned discussion that takes place here. Certain continuity wars and polarizing authors aside, Lit is a bastion of sanity for a fan like me. I'm too into the EU and lore of the GFFA to be content posting comments on Facebook or chatting up the latest rumors about Episode VII around the watercooler. I like to have discourse, I like it when people can speak their minds in a reasoned and unabridged way, and I like being able to talk about even the most obscure and unknown books with other people who have read them.
Cynical_Ben 3. Tell us how you become a Star Wars fan, and SW lit in particular.
4. What other franchises do you like besides SW and which are you most passionate about?
I have the old "one last time" VHS boxed set of the OT to thank for my fandom. My family owned it and I watched it in place of Saturday morning cartoons. I didn't watch any of the ubiquitous 90s cartoons or TV shows because I watched movies instead, the OT being chief among them, to the point where my mom gave the movies away to try and pull the plug on the obsession. Which is when I discovered that our local library had a healthy collection of novels to read. I started off reading some of the young readers' books of the era, none of which I remember all that well aside from The Golden Globe JJK novel. My actual "fan-ness" dwindled a bit, since I was the wrong age for the more "adult" novels and into other book series than the YA stuff at the time.
Then TPM hit theaters. I didn't go to see it when it came out, but my friends did and told me all about how cool Darth Maul was and how weird Jar-Jar looked and acted and the awesome fight scenes and everything else. My next-door neighbors were actually well-versed in the lore for the time; as we discussed TPM in our grade-school fashion (I was 10 at the time, shut up) they told me the rough outline of stories like Dark Empire and A Barve Like That, about stuff that happened to the movie characters after the end of RotJ. I wanted to read those stories for myself, (aside from Dark Empire because it sounded stupid) so, going back to the library, I tracked down a copy of Tales of the Bounty Hunters since it had Boba Fett on the cover and he was my favorite.
Needless to say, I was hooked.
After that, I devoured every Bantam novel I could find, getting most at the library but also purchasing some after we moved to a different city with a much poorer public selection. I kept as close to the releases as I could for a while, avoiding the NJO because creepy weird alien guys but reading pretty much everything else, right up until a few years ago when I finished the LotF series and basically burned out due to school and work taking up more and more time. I still bought a few books, but I never actually read them. Last year, as grad school wound down, I took it upon myself to go back and read through some of the books I'd missed, like Knight Errant and Mercy Kill, which led me to wonder what worthy books I might have missed in the time away, which led to me signing on here.
Other franchises, hmm. I am actually a Star Trek fan as well, I saw bits of one of the movies, I think it was either III or VI, at a friend's house when I was very, very young, and my parents would watch re-runs of TNG until I was four or five. In terms of the everlasting debate, I am firmly on the side of the GFFA, but I appreciate the fact that Star Trek has had five TV shows (not counting the cartoon) each of which had a very different and diverse cast of characters who look at and explore their universe in different ways. The thing is, I see Star Trek as such a different genre than Star Wars that I don't see any reason I shouldn't be allowed to enjoy both of them.
I also am big into the Timm-verse version of the DC characters. Batman: the Animated Series, Superman: TAS, Justice League, JLU, etc. As I mentioned above, I didn't actually watch the shows growing up, but when I played Batman: Arkham Asylum, I heard about how it was a reunion for several storied names in the franchise. I wanted to know more, saw Mark Hamil's name beside the "Joker" credit, found some clips of the original cartoon online and was instantly hooked. I'm not such a huge fan of the more mainstream DCU, especially since I don't read comics, but the Nolan films were terrific (yes, all three of them) and I also really enjoy the original Burton film even though it's as old as I am now.
I've dabbled in Pokemon, Transformers and G.I. Joe because they were the coolest toys when I was a kid. The one cartoon I watched as a kid (when I could get away with it) was Beast Wars, which was eclipsed by the Pokemon anime dub when it went off the air on local stations. None of those franchise has really done a lot to keep me interested later in life (except for Transformers Prime, which is excellent). Pokemon especially has the Nintendo-bred problem of trying to remain childish and simple while still catering to the tastes of adult fans, which it hasn't done as well as Mario or Zelda has, IMO. I played Silver back in the day, then picked up Black when it came out to see if it was at all changed. Turns out, it hasn't, it's just gotten prettier. I don't begrudge anyone for liking it, it just isn't my cup of tea anymore; I'm not an RPG guy and the collection aspect is pointless because I don't ever trade, which locks me out of a good tenth of the evolutions now.
The one other major book series I read in my youth that actually prevented me from reading a lot of the mid-to-late-nineties Bantam stuff was Redwall. The same friends who teased me with post-RotJ lore introduced me to the series as a logical branching-off point from The Chronicles of Narnia, and I read the entire series cover to cover inside of a year after that, and then devoured each new book as it came out. I love them still, even though the same reading drought that affected my Star Wars reading meant I missed the last few books published before Brian Jacques passed away (an event that hurt me as much as Aaron Allston's recent passing did). I still need to read four books to complete the series. I have vowed to myself that if I'm ever a successful writer, I will try my hardest to get a movie version of Redwall made, even if I have to fund it myself.
Cynical_Ben 5. Where are you from? What are some of the best parts about where you live?
6. What places have you traveled too? Any favorite locations?
I am from the American Midwest, Chicagoland in particular. You know that gag in Wayne's World where they say "Live from Aurora, Illinois!"? Yeah, that's about ten minutes drive from me (the town of Aurora, I mean). Being from Chicagoland has its pros and cons. I haven't spent a lot of time in the city itself, just for excursions and field trips and such.
I do like living here though. The weather's mercurial, so we get 100 degree F days as readily as we get -5 degree F days. Being less than an hour's drive from Chicago puts me within day-trip range of the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, the Brookfield Zoo, Alder Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Sears/Willis Tower. Chicago also has a strong cinema history, with films like Ferris Beuler's Day off and Blues Brothers being basically required watching for any resident of the suburbs and the old Supafan SNL skits are beloved even today.
But the best thing about living near Chicago is the sports mania that goes on. There's no getting around it; if you live near Chicago, 99.9% of the time you're a fan of at least one of the local sports teams. I've been to an (American) football game to support da Bears, and have been to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs lose. I grew up in the golden years of the Bulls fandom when Michael Jordon, Scottie Pippin and the gang threepeated, but oddly never became a basketball fan.
I've been around a lot of the east side of the US, but not a lot of "big" cities, nor have I ever been abroad. I visited Baltimore for a week or so, went down to the panhandle of Florida and Alabama gulf coast over two separate summers, visited friends in Georgia, and spent varying amounts of time in the other states in the Midwest (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc). I do want to travel out west one of these days, maybe to Washington state or California, and I definitely want to go abroad at some point in the future.
Cynical_Ben 7. What was your reaction to Disney's purchase of Star Wars, and what are your hopes for the ST?
8. Based on the promotional material what are your thoughts on Rebels?
Ooh, strap in, this is going to be a long one. My feelings aren't all that cut and dry, but...
When I first hears about the purchase, I was disbelieving. I always figured that Star Wars would becomes a family dynasty, where George kept control of it until he either retired or passed away, and one of his kids would take the reigns and re-shape and re-make it to how they saw fit. The absolute last thing I thought he/they would do is sell one of the most beloved and storied science-fiction franchises in history to someone else. Star Wars is George's bred and butter, I thought, why would he kill the goose that's laid him so many golden eggs in the past? And the fact that he sold it to Disney of all people, a corporation that's been sucking the life out of franchises for decades now, scared me.
When the sale was announced, I was still in grad school and thus in a "research your own conclusions" mode, so rather than humor the rumors about the acquisition and the motives and such behind it, I dove into the news articles and tabloids on my own to try and glean George's motivations and whatever glimpse I could get at the future Disney would offer. I wanted to know why any of this had happened.
What I found was that George was tired. Tired of the constant badgering by fans, tired of the bad reviews and bad parodies, tired of having the one movie from the beginning of his career define who he is and what he did. Right or wrong, it was never about the money, this decision he made; he gave pretty much all of the billions Disney gave him for the sale away to charities, something he's done a lot lately. I found I had a hard time hating or faulting a man who 1. no longer wanted to be the face of the franchise but 2. wanted to see the stories and universe continue for the sake of the fans. So he gave the reins over to the most qualified people he knew and rode off into the sunset.
As for the Disney part of it, the more digging I did, the more assured I became that this was the best thing that could have been done for the franchise. Cutting through the PR speak and the propaganda minister-levels of "it's okay, settle down, no need to panic" of the initial videos and announcements sent out, I could see that one thing stood out to Kathleen Kennedy as the most important part of making new Star Wars films: telling stories worthy of the ones that came before. It has been hammered again and again, any time anyone from Disney or Lucasfilm talks about Episode VII or the future: the story, the story, the story.
That's what giving Disney and KK control over the franchise did: it injected new life, direction and enthusiasm into the franchise. Promising new stories, a new focus on inter-story continuity, bringing in storied writers and directors who love and appreciate both the universe and the act of storytelling itself, it would be hard for a fan to hope for more. Star Trek's reboot tried to do much the same thing, but the problem with that was they didn't start from the top; the same executives who oversaw the franchise decades ago, the same company is in charge, there's just a new coat of paint over it. Star Wars is a complete overhaul, taking out the engine, the dashboard, even changing the tires.
The issue this brings up, though, is the fears about an EU apocalypse, where old novels and such are ripped up and thrown aside wholesale, a scrap here and there being used for the new paper-mache collage. I myself would be upset and possibly angry if that happened, depending on how far they took it. But I would also be willing to accept it. I'm not going to lay down a qualifier for that statement, since anything like that would be subjective. Saying "only if they're good stories" is dependent on what I feel are good stories, and depending on how attached to various novels and characters I am and how large nostalgia looms, there's no way that Episode VII could measure up while in that mindset.
However, again, I would be willing to accept a large portion of the post-RotJ EU stories being re-interpreted, tinkered with, or even blown away entirely. Why? Because I feel like it can be done better, and I feel like a lot of people seem to miss the point of what an EU "reboot", for lack of a better term, would be trying to do. The EU exits to support and flesh out the universe of the films; over time, with so few films and other materials to go on, it's branched out into its own beast, telling its own stories about the Big Three, about Wedge Antillies and Rogue Squadron, about the New Jedi Order and their struggles. The dynamic changed for a lot of fans; now they think it's the films that are in some way subservient and dependent on the books because the books came first or because they book are better (not the least because of the lackluster nature of the Prequels), that for a story to "exist in canon" it has to fall on some convolution hierarchy of legitimacy in storytelling that was erected because there were too many contradictions between sources for everything to fit on an equal line.
An EU "reboot" would be bringing it back to its roots, to simplify that tie-in relationship again. Canon levels have always confused the crap out of me, they seem very arbitrary and forced and yet still soft and spongy to suit an editor's taste when necessary; I hope that they'll be gone for good. Wipe away the old continuity system, start again clean, bring some of the old stuff back in a new way once the initial dust has settled; that's what makes the most sense, and that's what I see them doing.
At this point, though, the fate of the EU is small potatoes to me compared to whatever else is coming. I did not see a future in the EU as it was; before the Disney purchase I figured that without a new tentpole series to support the brand, new stuff would slow down to a trickle anyway. The post-RotJ era had lost all of its steam, all sense of direction and purpose, it only existed or pushed forward because someone told them they had to. When someone's going through the motions, it shows up in their writing, and the EU has been largely going through the motions for years now and took my enthusiasm for the era with it. Aaron Allston's passing only reenforced that for me, he was the one author to try to rise about the material based in that time and actually care about telling a worthy story. And now he's gone.
Things are different now. The post-RotJ era is getting an injection of life not seen since the NJO ended, maybe since the end of the Bantam era. But it's more than that. People are excited about Star Wars again; rumor sites are blowing up all over the internet and every time an agent or casting call so much as brushes up against the leading edge of an old RotJ VHS tape, it makes the news somewhere as a casting rumor. I don't know what to expect from Episode VII or how to feel beyond cautious anticipation. We just don't know enough yet for me to make a judgement call on it for good or ill.
For perspective, here's a blog post I wrote way back in November 2012, right after the purchase was announced. My opinion is largely unchanged, even though some of what I predict in my "worst case scenario" (giving comic rights over to Marvel for instance) have come to pass. That doesn't change things enough to give me pessimism injections. I still think the Disney purchase was the best decision George could have made and I remain cautiously optimistic, not just for the ST, but for the franchise as a whole.
Short answer: I wrote an article about this as well.
Longer answer: I'm excited. The creative team behind Rebels look like about as good as one could hope for in an animated TV show these days (throw Bruce Timm in there and I would have squealed like a little girl). I was never a stalwart fan of TCW when it was airing; I stopped watching around the third or four season when the writing became so inconsistent that it made my brain ache.
People give TCW a soft pass for storytelling because of various reasons, budget limitations, "it's supposed to be an anthology", etc, but I don't. TCW did not have a myth arc, and it did not tell an overall story in a cohesive fashion until the fourth and fifth seasons. Don't give me the "there was a plan" banthacrap, when George came in and started giving them story ideas that plan went right out the window, don't pretend it didn't. And it's not just the overall story; episode to episode was inconsistent as well, sometimes within the same multi-parter. Visually, TCW was a great show, but in terms of characterization and storytelling, it was maddeningly inconsistent, especially when it came to tone and target.
But this isn't about TCW, is it? This is about a new show made by the old animation team but an all-new story team, including one of my favorite TV writers of all time. Rebels has already given us the most diverse main cast of any Star Wars movie or TV show ever, and while I expect the stories to start out relatively simple and easy to understand, nothing particularly dark or challenging, a show isn't a movie, it doesn't have to go buildup-climax-resolution n the first five episodes. I'm willing to play the long game and see what the first season of the show brings to the table before I make my call.
I used to say this about TCW, that it could have been one of the greatest animated shows ever made if only the writing had been better. I don't hate TCW, I loved it enough to be hurt when it wasn't better. Rebels might just be that show I hoped TCW would become.
Cynical_Ben 9. What are some of your favorite pastimes/activities?
10. What are your favorite non-SW TV shows/movies?
Eh, just reading and writing, mostly. I don't read as much as I used to, though, it's mostly writing, and most of the writing is Star Wars fanfic. I play video games now and again, but it's all singleplayer stuff, no MMOs for me. I used to play guitar, but I wasn't very good at it; I have this thing where my brain works faster than my hands can move, it leads to typos whenever I'm writing or sending an email, and it means I'm a half-measure or more ahead of the song I'm trying to play, and my fingers can't keep up.
Oh man, that'd be a list and a half. My tastes are rather random and eclectic. TV shows, as I mentioned, basically all of the shows in the DCAU are amazing. I also love the old Muppet Show from the 70s and 80s, some of the best sketch comedy of all time IMO. Spectacular Spiderman, certainly, as well as the old Poirot show from the BBC. Oh, and Arrow. Basically I only really start watching a show and get invested in it if I enjoy it, so there's a huge chunk of shows I've never watched because I'm not sure I'll like them, but there's also a lot of shows that I've been meaning to watch and will probably be on this list, but I've never actually seen. I despise sitcoms on principle, though.
As for movies, I'm a classical guy, and by classic I mean era not genre. Give me The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, Stagecoach, The Philadelphia Story, Sullivan's Travels and Bringing Up Baby before any of today's dramas or "comedies". I'm a sucker for Westerns and war movies, but again, it's mostly the older stuff where the focus can be more on the characters and not on pretty pictures of stuff getting blown up or people getting shot. Movies like The Longest Day and Tora Tora Tora, or Rio Bravo and High Noon.
Oh, and of course Godzilla. Terror of Mechagodzilla, the original Gojira, and Godzilla vs Destroyah are my favorites, but there really isn't a true Godzilla movie I won't sit and watch. Riff on it, certainly, but I'll still enjoy it.
Cynical_Ben I suppose the Broderick film doesn't count as a true Godzilla film then?
11. How would you rank the 6 Star Wars films?
12. What are your favorite novels, books, and short stories, both in and out of SW?
Pardon my French, but hell no. And not just because I have people say I look like Matthew Broderick. That movie is an abomination that should not exist and yet does, like an Old One only even more insanity-inducing.
1. ESB. It's the most in-depth and mature story, it has the best character work and dialogue, it gives us our first look into how this mysterious "Force" works. and it has the best lightsaber battle of all six films, bar none.
2. ANH. A pure joy of filmmaking, snappy and breatheless, with great action and setpieces across the board, some terrific acting and great effects, even after all these years. Only its lack of real character progression holds it back, something the sequel fixed.
3. RotJ. A trifle more flawed than either of its predecessors, weighed down by the opening section in Jabba's Palace that too often comes grinding to a halt. Still has great action setpieces, a terrific lightsaber battle at the end and a satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker story arc.
4. RotS. A very flawed but still watchable and enjoyable film in a lot of ways, mostly because of its uncompromising embrace of the darkness inherent in its own subject matter. The best acting and writing of the three prequels, as well.
5. TPM. Visually, this film is terrific, its production design, effects and direction are all stunning. The problem is everything else, especially the acting and writing; there isn't a single actor who gets away from this film unscathed by its blandness.
6. AotC. What can I say? It's wooden, badly written, poorly edited, and even the effects are staring to look a wee bit dated. The "romance" makes me throw up in my mouth a little whenever I see it on screen, and basically drags what could have otherwise been the #5 film down with it.
I covered a lot of them already, but Redwall would have to be up there, as are the Lord of the Rings books and The Chronicles of Narnia (A Horse and His Boy is my favorite, actually, and the one I think would make the best movie out of the lot). I also love C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy, and Edgar Allen Poe's work pretty much as a whole, though Murder at the Rue Morgue is a favorite. I do enjoy a lot of classic literature like Shakespeare and Jane Austin, but I wouldn't put those works up with my favorites. For short stories, I've actually always liked the original Secret Life of Walter Mitty short story ever since I read it in high school, recent attempts to "update" it notwithstanding. I'm not as up on classic science-fiction as most people here are, though the original Who Goes There? is terrific. Asomov's stuff is good as well, but nothing's ever jumped out at me from it.
For Star Wars books, all four of Stover's novels are right at the top, alongside Starfighters of Adumar, Iron Fist, The Unifying Force, Heir to the Empire, Hard Contact, Kenobi, I, Jedi and of course Last Man Standing. I don't have a ranked list, since I don't feel a numeric ranking does works by different authors in different series' credit.
Cynical_Ben 13. What are your favorite novels, books, and short stories, both in and out of SW?
14. What are your favorite SW video games, and what other video games do you like?
I think I did this one already.
My favorite Star Wars game of all time is Rogue Squadron for the N64, followed close by Rogue Leader for the Gamecube. Both games in the Battlefront series are old friends of mine, and of course both of the KotOR games as well. I like Empire at War too, even though it's not a very good game in some ways.
For non-Star Wars games, I'm terribly fond of most of the N64 library, even the games that suck. That was the system I grew up on, and nostalgia tends to hit me hard when I'm playing most games. Donkey Kong 64, Banjo-Tooie, Mario 64 and Star Fox 64 are all in my top ten, if not four out of my top five. For more recent games, I'm thoroughly enjoying Just Cause 2, and I love all three of the Batman: Arkham games. I'm not an FPS guy, but I loved Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Oh, and Portal 2.
Oopsie, meant to say comics and graphic novels for #13. Um....
Cynical_Ben 13. What are your favorite comics and graphic novels, both in and out of SW?
15. What changes, if any, would you make to the post-ROTJ EU?
lol I'm dumb
No worries. It's a pretty short answer anyway. I'm not a comic guy, Star Wars or otherwise. I read the first two trades of the Walking Dead but I honestly wasn't that big a fan; it's just a soap opera with zombies. I read The Killing Joke in a bookstore one time, that was alright. A friend gave me the first Boba Fett-centric trade and the first Republic trade, which are both okay I guess, but that's pretty much all of the comics I've read.
Ooh, except for Calvin and Hobbes, does that count?
First: do whatever it take to keep Denning from being the main author of every series that takes place in the time period. Get Luceno back into the era, throw money at Stackpole or Zahn or someone to take the reins. Or, better yet, ban all series from the NJO onward that are longer than a trilogy and have an editorial mandate that authors can only use up to two of the SkySolos per book, not including the droids. Force it into a more Bantam state of mind, where each author had their own corner of the sandbox and they could play as they wanted without putting up a tentpole nine-book series that everything else then has to feed off of.
And for the love of all things holy give Stover whatever he needs to write as many more books as he can. Heck, clone the man and have him write both his own books and Star Wars books at the same time.
If we're talking in terms of chopping out the old instead of just spitballing about what I would have done, I'd strike down everything post Vision of the Future. Yes, even the NJO, because as great as that series is, it's almost too much so for its own good, with all of that character development and stuff. With the ST coming, it would be far easier to make things fit if there was nothing but void between the end of VotF and Legacy (hey, another comic I haven't read!). It leaves plenty of room for the ST to work, leaves most of the ugliness of the post-NJO undone, and though we'd lose books like Traitor and Mercy Kill, we'd also have a lot more room for entirely new stories with whatever cast and characters the ST brings about, ringing in a truly new era of the EU rather than just trying to patch the old and new ones together.
It's not a perfect solution, but it's what I'd do.
Cynical_Ben 16. What person involved in SW would you want to meet most, dead or alive, and why? (ie actor, writer, director, artist, etc.)
17. Who are your top 10 or so favorite SW characters?
Ugh, man, I don't know. I'd like to sit down with George Lucas and chat about making movies in general, not necessarily about Star Wars. Filoni, Weisman, Zahn, Stackpole, even Denning, I'd like to meet all of them.
Wait. No. Aaron Allston. Next question.
Urg, I hate lists. Okay, top ten, in no order whatsoever except stream of consciousness.
!. Han Solo
@: Boba Fett
#: Wedge Antillies
$: Booster Terrik
%: Hondo Onaka
^: Mara Jade
&: Leia Organa
*: Face Loran
(): Obi-Wan Kenobi
Cynical_Ben 18. If you could choose one Force power to have IRL, which one would it be and why?
19. If time travel were possible, what is the one period of time/year/specific event you would want to travel to most?
Telekenisis, obviously. It's so utilitarian and flexible, I won't have to cross the room to swipe at my cat for climbing up the TV cords anymore.
I'd love to see the 1985 Bears win the Superbowl, since that's such a huge event for local sports fans, including me. I'd also love to see the end of WWII, watch the final surrender take place on both the European Front and in the Pacific. I'd like to see the Magna Carta signed, the Declaration being ratified, the meeting between Lee and Grant to end the Civil War... Being a history buff, there's a lot of stuff I'd like to see for myself.
Cynical_Ben Okay, I'm gonna do some rapid-fire questions for a bit. One-word or phrase answers will suffice.
What is your favorite food?
Least favorite sound?
Favorite non-Bulls basketball player?
Rapid-fire? This whole interview has gone blisteringly fast!
Anyway, I just have to contribute one comment one question number one: when he first joined, I always read his name as Cyclical Ben. Not sure why. I guess I thought he either comes around every other epoch, or perhaps really likes Big Ben the clock...
Misa ab iPhono meo est.
Just going by the tagging process, I've learned there's a good amount of people with cynical in their name. Who knew?
Also, skywalker#s finished her interview even quicker.