Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #6)

For the Grant Scotland franchise, the 2015 holiday promotion season wrapped up in the first week of January with a Kindle Countdown Deal for Spy for a Wayward Daughter. After I tell you how it went, I’ll do a little retrospective about last year’s efforts and my goals for 2016.

So, what was the plan for Wayward Daughter? Well, I decided to play this one pretty low-key and use a shoestring budget. The last promotion I did for Wayward Daughter was perhaps my worst ever, but the conclusion I drew was that it still hasn’t received enough reviews for the better marketing sites to consider it and it’s at an awkward place in the series. Advertising the third book in a series with the first two at full price and an omnibus already released is a tough sell. Interested people who see it and haven’t read the others are likely going to wait for the first one to go back on sale or for the omnibus to drop in price.

Consequently, I didn’t do too much to promote Wayward Daughter this time around. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have promoted it at all, except there were a couple of decent no-review requirement marketing sites I still hadn’t tried and also I had to schedule the Kindle Countdown Deal anyway. Might as well give it a little bit of a marketing boost. Finally, I’m still fiddling with Amazon’s internal ad campaigns, so this gave me an opportunity to do that, too.

Here’s the set up and the take away:

 

Set up:

From list price of $3.99:

From 1/1 to 1/5, Wayward Daughter went to $0.99

From 1/5 to 1/8, Wayward Daughter went to $1.99

ReadFREE.ly ad selected for 1/1: $0

eBookLister ad selected for 1/2: $25 (But I was never charged?)

Amazon DisplayAds campaign for 1/1 to 1/15: $100 cap with a $0.75 max bid per click. Also, I shifted the focus for this campaign to be “product-based” instead of “interest-based” which was what the others had been. This basically means that instead of firing the ad at people Amazon labels as “fantasy readers” or “mystery readers” it targets instead people who have bought titles that I specifically cite. So, I gave Amazon a list of books by authors I feel my stuff kinda-sorta resembles – Glen Cook, George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Jim Butcher… You know, the usual suspects.

 

usual_suspects

It would have been really cool if I had photoshopped in the faces of the authors, but there’s no way you’re getting that kind of effort out of me.

 

Total ad expenditure: $0 (plus $22.82 in resultant Amazon click-charges from ad period)

 

Results:

Sales for 1/1: 1 unit of Wayward Daughter @ $0.99

Sales for 1/2: 1 unit of Wayward Daughter @ $0.99, 1 unit of Troubled King @ $3.99, 2 units of Dead Empire @ $3.99

Sales for 1/3: 1 unit of Dead Empire @ $3.99

Sales for 1/4: 1 unit for Wayward Daughter @ $0.99

Sales for 1/9: 1 unit of Dead Empire @ $3.99

Kindle Unlimited Page Borrows during promotion period: Dead Empire (413), Troubled King (446), Wayward Daughter (43)

Amazon DisplayAds pay-per-click stats:

Impressions: 59,740

Clicks: 44

Average Cost Per Click (aCPC): $0.52

Detail Page View: 49

Estimated Total Sales: (Resulting from same user clicking the ad and then buying) $0

 

Campaign Totals:

Expense: $22.82

Sales: $23 plus about $4.00 in borrowed page reads = $27

Net: About $4.00

 

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Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There never was much hope for… wait… what’s this? Is this a PROFIT I see before me? But what do I do with it? This can’t be right. I can’t possibly actually make money – this ruins my entire “struggling author” street cred!

But my rep is probably still intact. Truth be told, my real numbers aren’t exactly that rosy. First of all, my royalties are 70% of my sales, so that knocks actual profit down to an overall minus. Second… I may have accidentally charged my wife’s checking account instead of my own when paying for eBookLister, which would be why I can’t find a record of it anywhere. Sorry, honey! Hehehe… ermmm… Thanks for the kind holiday gift, I guess?

 

SMH

SMH

 

Regardless, I’m pleased with the progress here. I feel like I may be starting to home in on some generally effective marketing strategies. While my self-publishing business lost money last year overall, I managed to lose less and less with each promotion. I’m going to go ahead and call that a positive direction.

I re-enrolled all three books into the Kindle Unlimited program, but I probably won’t spend any money or time advertising them over the next few months. Instead, I plan to do a cross-platform promotion for the omnibus edition shortly before or during the launch of Book Four, which is coming soon. I promise. Some other plans for marketing in 2016 include some blog tours, some press initiatives and – finally – actual printed copies. I’ve decided it’s time to stop hoping a publisher will be interested in picking up my print rights and just commit to making Grant Scotland an all-self-published venture from top to bottom. So, look for that to happen some time in the later half of the year.

As far as writing plans for the New Year, obviously Book Four takes precedence. I’ve committed myself to getting it out the door by June 1st, but hopefully it’ll be sooner than that. I’ve also started writing some more MWO fan fiction, which I’ll be adding to the site soon and I also want to at least start on a draft of a stand-alone military sci-fi tale that may be a short story or may be a novel. Not sure yet. It’s just text-pad notes and images in my head at this point, but I’ll get something down soon.

That’s all for now! Thanks for checking in. Not sure when the next issue of Notes will be, but I promise I’ll keep the blog active with other fun stuff.

Speaking of which – this week’s winner of the Grant Scotland T-Shirt giveaway is… Tara Chase! Congrats, Tara! I’ll be sending out the newsletter soon, so be sure to reply with size preference and location.

Until next time, don’t forget:

 

buffalo_bill1

“It orders the pizza and tips the driver. It does this when it’s told.”

 

 

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Confessions of a Delivery Guy

No, this won’t be some kind of exposé of the gritty underbelly of working in a pizza joint. Plenty has been written about the restaurant industry, so I’ll leave that kind of thing up to those who do it best, like Anthony Bourdain in Kitchen Confidential. Even if you’re not curious, you should still read that book. You won’t be sorry. He’s a great writer.

Instead, what I’d like to do is take a brief time-out from my writing about self-publishing, entertainment and well, writing, to tell you about my other job. I haven’t shared too much about it because frankly there isn’t much to tell. It’s about what you’d expect: assemble the order from the grill and the oven, double check them, search the order ticket for hidden clues about additional instructions, triple check the order because TRUST NO ONE, put the order in the car and deliver it. Rinse and repeat.

The people I work with are impressed when they find out I’m a writer, but not terribly curious. They don’t strike me as big readers. After I described Grant Scotland to one guy as a “detective-spy thriller set in a fantasy world” he responded with “Like Sherlock Holmes?” That one put me at a loss for words. In a way, it’s dead on and in another it’s completely off the mark. I guess that tells me that I may be throwing my net a little wide with these books, but it’s my experiment, damn it! I can screw it up as much as I want!

 

"And if I want a pony, I GET A PONY!"

“And if I want a pony, I GET A PONY!”

 

Much more goes on in the back of the store, of course, but the simple task of delivery itself is loaded with a bushel of tiny details that make it much more interesting than it appears. Did you know delivery drivers can’t just park wherever they want? I always imagined this was just an unwritten rule for delivery people – if you’ve got a giant illuminated sign on your roof you can shove your car anywhere you want as long as it isn’t blocking traffic. Turns out it’s not true – at least not in Medford. While the police are largely unconcerned with my parking habits, everyone else certainly is. I’ve gotten yelled at by everyone from building superintendents who don’t want me in their fire lanes even if I leave the car running to nosy neighbors who perch at their window and leap out to scold me if I block their driveway.

I still do it, of course, but I try hard not to. Customers don’t want me parking a block away and walking their pizzas to them in freezing temperatures. I don’t get tipped because they’re impressed with my leg work, you know what I’m saying?

 

willy_wonka_large

“Oh, you walked a mile to give me cold pizza? Please tell me whether I should pity you or punch you.”

 

So, the approach to the address is always an adventure – as is any sort of driving in Massachusetts – but the exchange at the door is usually very friendly and warm. Everyone is always happy to see me, which is nice. I can go into work feeling mighty low about where I am in my life, but after that first delivery to one of my regulars, I feel a lot better. And I do have regulars. I can tell they like me not just because they make with the smiles and small talk, but also because they tip me more now than they did when I started. So, I got that going for me.

 

"Which is nice."

“Which is nice.”

 

There are all sorts of tippers out there. Some make a grand show of tipping you a dollar, others just tell you to keep the change and hand you a twenty on a twelve dollar order. And what kind of tipper am I, you may ask? Average. Thoroughly average. I was that way before and haven’t changed. Average tippers are my bread and butter. On most nights, quantity of deliveries far outweigh trying to jocky other drivers out of delivering to a known good tipper. Relying on capably delivering to average tippers makes receiving a good tip that much more rewarding. It’s gravy on the bread and butter – or like getting a free topping on an already satisfying pie, as the case may be. Additionally, shooting for quantity yields more possible repeat customers. It amazes me how few delivery drivers understand this.

Most of the good (or rather, consistently above average) tippers seem to come from the middle class. Not sure why, but I bet it has something to do with having feet in both worlds of affluence and poverty. They know I need it and they know they can afford it, maybe? Not sure. That’s not to say the poor and the rich don’t tip well – in fact, I’ve received truly great tips from both sets – but they don’t usually tip as well. Not in my experience so far, anyway.

There are some cool experiences I’ve had with my customers. I remember one time I delivered a large family-sized order of pasta and pizza and sides to a house on the day the supreme court ruled it unconstitutional for states to deny gay couples the right to marry. I can’t say for sure the guy who answered the door was gay, but he sure set even my usually obtuse gay-dar off. It was a warm, sunny early summer day and the mood of the whole house was celebratory. Again, I can’t guarantee that I know what they were celebrating, but it was kind of nice to think I was contributing to their joy in some small way. I didn’t say anything, of course, just gave him my standard best smile and bubbliest greeting. Best to keep some professional distance, I think. Try to get too friendly and things could get awkward fast. Awkward deliveries don’t seem like they’d yield a repeat customer.

And the pets are usually pretty fun, too. For some reason, I’ve always been a bit of a cat whisperer. Felines are somehow drawn to me (hopefully not because I smell like cat food, although sniffing today’s/yesterday’s shirt confirms this may be a possibility) and this provides a source of amazement from a new customer whose cat is walking right up to me and talking to me and trying to follow me back to my car. Dogs, on the other hand, are a mixed bag. Apart from being excited about the food, sometimes they like me and sometimes they want to lunge at my throat. I just watch the body language and proceed accordingly. But cats for some reason always greet me like we’re old friends.

 

"Do not trust them, daddy. They care only for their bowls. They don't love you like I love you."

“Do not trust them, daddy. They care only for their bowls. They don’t love you like I love you.”

 

There are also some bittersweet moments with customers, which was something I absolutely was not prepared for when I took the job. Apparently, there’s a lot of public housing in Medford and a good portion is inhabited by the old and infirm. Delivering to them is both rewarding and troubling and for almost identical reasons. On the one hand, they are all terrifically sweet and welcoming. Even though I’ve learned I probably shouldn’t ask “How are you?” – because they’ll tell me, although usually they spare me the details – but I still do anyway. I set up the food for them if they need it and get to leave with a feeling akin to doing a good deed. Some of the drivers hate delivering to them, because the tips are poor to middling at best, but I don’t mind so much.

On the other hand, it sucks when you lose a regular customer and there’s little doubt as to why. It’s not uncommon to pull up to public housing and see young men and women moving furniture out to the curb. It certainly isn’t moving day. The only way people move out of places like that is feet first.

One lady, who was an extraordinarily generous tipper, asked me at one point if I wouldn’t mind in the future coming in and setting up her food for her. Since I’d already done this for others I thought nothing of it and told her yes. She told me she wouldn’t ask me, except she was dying and soon wouldn’t be able to leave her bed. I didn’t know what to say to that. It surprised me. She seemed far more full of life than most of the other old and sick. So, I just offered her my sympathy and told her I’d be happy to help her out next time she ordered.

Except there never was a next time. That was the last I ever saw of her. I still deliver to another regular in the same facility, except he’s located at the exact opposite end from where she was. I don’t know if he knew her and I don’t want to ask. I don’t think it’s something anyone there needs to be reminded of. Instead, he and I talk about the Patriots.

 

In Massachusetts, at least, Tom Brady is a uniter, not a divider.

In Massachusetts, at least, Tom Brady is a uniter, not a divider.

 

So, that’s it. I don’t have much more to say about delivery, except that it’s proven to be much more interesting, even fulfilling, than I had thought when I started. I guess I wanted to share some thoughts about that.

Thanks for indulging me! Hope you weren’t bored.

This week’s T-Shirt winner is Arthur Dampier! Congrats, Arthur! Be sure to respond to the newsletter with preferred size and where it should be sent.

See you next week, everyone! I’ll have some notes about Wayward Daughter’s New Year’s promotion for you. Until then, do the thing with the books and the food and such.

 

Notes from the Self-Pubbed (Issue #5)

Well, here we are in January and I’ve got some news from December for you. I know the last thing you wanted to do this winter was go BACK a few weeks, but just keep in mind all the holiday cheer and lights and stuff. Put some bourbon in what’s left of the eggnog. You’ll be fine.

I’ll make this one quick. There’s not much to tell, really. I ran a promotion for Troubled King and had some disappointing sales results, but there were some bright spots.

 

"Why do I even bother with you?"

“I think you should get your bright spots looked at by a doctor.”

 

Maybe so. But let’s get into the numbers, shall we? Or, as Kai Ryssdal says in his hipster way: “let’s do the numbers.” What’s with that guy, anyway? I mean, I like him, but man he comes across as a smarmy and upper crust aristocrat. Likable in that way you like a rich friend who buys you expensive and sometimes illegal stuff, but also incredibly bourgeois. When he brings Steven Dubner on, I always breathe a sigh of relief – someone who actually talks like he’s not trying to sell me something. Anyway, don’t mind me. Just poking a little fun at Kai, but I always enjoy NPR’s Marketplace. Good stuff.

Getting back to business, in mid December I ran a Kindle Select promotion for Spy for a Troubled King and scheduled advertisements with two different sites. Here are the figures from setup and result:

From list price of $3.99:

From 12/14 to 12/18, Troubled King went to $0.99

From 12/18 to 12/21, Troubled King went to $1.99

Choosy Bookworm ad selected for 12/14: $25

Awesome Gang ad selected for 12/15: $10

Amazon click-ad buy layout for 12/14 to 12/28: $100 cap with a $0.75 max bid per click.

Total ad expenditure: $35 (plus $36.09 in resultant Amazon click-charges from ad period)

Why no Facebook community ad page boosts? Got tired of throwing money at Facebook.

 

"But how will I afford my fourteenth mansion?"

“But how will I afford my fourteenth mansion?”

 

Results:

Sales for 12/14: 3 units of Troubled King @ $0.99

Sales for 12/15: 3 units of Troubled King @ $0.99

12/16: Nuthin

12/17: 1 unit of Troubled King @ $0.99

12/18: Nuthin.

12/19 and beyond: a sweaty, hot bag of nuthin.

Amazon pay-per-click stats:

Impressions: 32,211

Clicks: 69

Average Cost Per Click (aCPC): $0.52 (I had adjusted my max bid to $0.75 from the $1.00 I had used for Dead Empire)

Detail Page View: 75 (not really sure how Detailed Page Views beat Clicks, but maybe they counted DPV originating from other sources? I guess they must have.)

Estimated Total Sales: (Resulting from same user clicking the ad and then buying) $1.98

 

Horrible.  Absolutely horrible. Choosy Bookworm, although I like the guy that runs it, still seems to miss the mark. He offers specials sometimes, though, so I may try him again. Awesome Gang was certainly in my price range, but judging by the books that usually show up in their newsletters, I’m not sure I’m reaching my target audience, so I may not try them again. Still, 10 bucks isn’t too much of a risk. Amazon pay-per-click continues to disappoint. I’ll keep tweaking my aCPC downward until I can get some happy medium of exposure vs. expenditure.

BUT! Something happened. From 12/28 to 12/31, I had at least two different readers download and absolutely devour Dead Empire and Troubled King on Kindle Unlimited. At least, as far as I can tell. The spreadsheet they give me is great, but not absolutely conclusive. It looks like two readers ate them up and they both ventured into Wayward Daughter and then lost interest.

I think.

But who knows? Maybe they decided to save Wayward for another time. Anyway, anytime someone gets your book and can’t put it down for a few days can only be a good thing.

Sure wish they leave some reviews.

Ah, Troubled King. Perhaps my most noir-esque thriller of the three, but still it struggles to find a home. Wayward Daughter, I think, is a better novel but Dead Empire still clearly leads in sales, impressions and reviews. Troubled is not just that king, but also this king (meaning me, the king of this pitiful blog empire). Perhaps the new year will yield greater fortune.

 

“Or SOME fortune, at least…”

 

Great. Even my fortune teller is getting cynical.

 

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Well, I told you it would be short. That’s all I have, except one more T-Shirt winner! This week’s T-shirt winner is none other than that Valkyric muse who inspired the title to my Grant Scotland omnibus – Daria Liston!

Yaaaaaaaaaaaaay!

Let me know where I can send you my good and worthy threads, Daria, and what size you prefer for yourself or some lucky loved one!

Want a T-Shirt? Sign up for the mailing list!

Until next time, everyone! Be good and do some reviews and tips and such!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens

WARNING: This review will have NO SPOILERS and then a little later SOME SPOILERS. The spoiler section will be clearly marked. You may enter without fear. Well, none more than usual, of course.

THE REVIEW (SANS SPOILERS):

After a couple of weeks of successfully dodging comments and opinions on the film, I finally managed to get myself into the theater to watch the latest installment in this much ballyhooed and hallowed franchise. Yeah, you read that right. Ballyhooed and hallowed. Two great words that sound great together. No, no – just trust me on this. You can take my word for it. I’m a writer.

This movie is a return to form for Star Wars. After the much lamented prequels, Star Wars fans were left wondering what had happened to their beloved franchise. Much can and has been said about the problems with the prequels, so I won’t waste time with them. Suffice it to say, they weren’t STAR WARS. At least, not in the way we wanted it. Not to say they were completely awful (I mean, hey, they had Ewan MacGregor – I’d watch that guy chew gum for two hours and still think I got my money’s worth), but they didn’t give us the scrappy space opera we had been missing. The Force Awakens has delivered on that serial adventure formula that Lucas had originally employed so well, flaws and all, because that is what was called for.

Although we are given back our original heroes (Han, Luke and Leia) the action of the movie revolves around the new young heroes, which is as it should be. Although Harrison Ford and probably Mark Hamill could get away with running and jumping and fighting and yelling for a movie or two, Carrie Fischer certainly doesn’t seem at all interested in that kind of nonsense anymore – and she’s right. These characters need to bow out and surrender the stage to the young. One of the main appeals of Star Wars has always been its focus on youthful energy. Now, I know some people have complained that she didn’t even try to be Princess Leia, but mostly, the complaints revolve around her appearance. Obviously, that’s just garbage talk. People age. Get over it. We can’t all look like this into our sixties:

 

carrie_fisher

Hell, most of us can’t look like this ever. I mean… come on. In my well-informed opinion, Carrie Fischer won best swimsuit model everywhere forever.

 

Instead of giving us some kind of aged interpretation of Princess Leia, Carrie Fischer instead chose to portray a war-weary galactic leader and deeply troubled soul. I think it was exactly the right choice, but I confess I had to shift gears to appreciate it. She is no longer the feisty ball of energy she used to be, propelled across our screen by revolutionary zeal and young love. Now she is tired, sad and clinging morosely to the only thing that has never abandoned her: a long, devastating struggle that never seems to end.

There is little hope in Leia’s world and Fischer realizes this and plays the character the way she absolutely must be portrayed – with a steely resolve you can almost see she silently wishes she didn’t have. I applaud her performance and I hope Abrams and his writers give us a bit more in the following films, although I entirely agree that the main focus should stay mostly on our new young heroes. After all, unlike the more cerebral Star Trek, Star Wars is serial sci-fi about the adventurous and idealistic youthful spirit struggling against the jaded and cynical old guard.

As for Harrison Ford, he instead chose to play Han as simply an older version of the young scoundrel he was in episodes IV, V and VI. This was the absolute right choice and he was as entertaining and compelling in the role as ever. Although his approach differed from Fischer’s, they both turned out to be equally appropriate and expertly delivered from two film veterans long removed from their original roles, but certainly no strangers to them. Although their screen time spent together seemed a little awkward, a friend of mine pointed out that it absolutely should have been, given what had transpired in their backstories. He was right, but don’t tell him I said that.

And as for handling the fill-in-the-gaps backstory to bridge episode VI and VII, I think the writers handled it quite well and didn’t rely on an abundance of exposition. There was certainly a little bit, but that’s hard to avoid given how much time has passed for these characters. After all, there’s a lot of ground to cover.

I can’t talk anymore about the film without getting into spoilers, so I’ll sum up the non-spoiler section by saying – go see the damn movie. Also, I promise that you will see the excitement, energy, enthusiasm and magic represented the way they had been in the original movies. In fact, you may even feel it again. John Boyega’s character is a wonderful foil for this. Several times I thought to myself while watching him that his character is experiencing Star Wars for the first time for our sakes, reminding all the “Old Guard” Star Wars fans what that had felt like. It was a nice touch and I believe the capstone to my main reason for enjoying this movie – I could feel the science fiction fantasy of the franchise return and it made me feel a little like a kid again.

 

Like this, but without the chocolate. Okay, that's a lie. There may have been chocolate.

Like this, but without the chocolate. Okay, that’s a lie. There may have been chocolate.

 

REVIEW (AVEC LES SPOILERS):

The movie did have a few problems though, didn’t it? There was at least one major plot hole (how did the Republic command staff suddenly know they were the next target and what the countdown would be?) and a few tiny annoyances. Did we really need a planet-sized Death Star? I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek humor of the Republic’s leaders as they were gathered around the strategy table discussing how “there must be some sort of tiny hole we can shoot that will blow the whole thing up” but I hope Abrams and company were just giving the old mega-big-planet-destroying-space-station battle axe one last hurrah before moving on. It kind of felt like that to me, so I forgave the rehashed plot of the original. After all, I believe they needed to revisit the original formula again in order to effectively “reboot” the franchise.

But let’s talk about this sort-of-reboot a little. Who will be our new heroes this time around?

I thought John Boyega’s Finn was great. He’s a coward who finds that he’s not cowardly because he fears danger – he’s cowardly because he has a heart. And then, of course, that he’s not cowardly at all. He’s just decided to stop following orders and chart his own course. When he discovers he doesn’t need to keep running away to stay on that course, a hero is born. Why did he take up the lightsaber when Rey wouldn’t? We kind of know why she didn’t, but we never really know why he did. I guess you could say he did it because he loved Rey and understood he needed to carry it for her for a while, but I wonder if more is going on there.

As far as Oscar Isaac’s Poe Damaron goes… meh. He’s ok. He’s a great combination of Han, Luke and Wedge Antilles. I mean I like him, and I thought the actor did a fine job (although maybe slightly too exuberant – exuberant was for Finn. As a veteran pilot Poe should be a little more reserved, I think) but I just didn’t find much compelling about him. Still, he’s a serviceable action hero who I wouldn’t mind seeing impress us more with his derring-do.

But how about that wookie, huh? I don’t think I’ve seen Chewie as expressive as in this movie. Hats off to Peter Mayhew for somehow managing to communicate a cagey, sensitive and yet always-ready-to-brawl character even more ably than ever through a thick carpet with eye holes.

Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was perfect casting, in my opinion. His natural inclination toward slightly unbalanced, emotionally distraught but incredibly talented and energetic characters made him a clear choice. I wanted MORE of him. So glad he got to take off the mask, because the dude’s face speaks so loudly it’s impossible to look away.

 

I’d watch this guy watch grass grow for two hours and leave the theater impatient for the sequel.

I’d watch this guy watch grass grow for two hours and leave the theater impatient for the sequel.

 

I don’t know about Kylo. Do I want him to be redeemed or do I want him to break his mother’s heart as fully as he did his father’s? I’m honestly conflicted. On the one hand, redemption offers some measure of happiness with which Leia can gracefully bow out. On the other, if she eventually dies knowing she’s lost everything in the name of the Republic (father, mother, home, son, husband and eventually brother – come on you know that’s going to happen)… it’s just so riddled with pathos it makes me shiver.

Okay, I’m definitely leaning in that direction. Who knows, maybe Rey is her one measure of light in a galaxy dominated by death and destruction? She clearly has some emotional attachment to her, but who is Rey?

Before I delve into that, I just can’t resist mentioning a quick note about Poe, Finn and Rey. I believe there’s going to be a love triangle there, but not like the one we experienced in episodes IV, V and VI. There’s going to be some gay/bisexual themes here. Poe and Finn were far too excited about each other for there not to be some attraction beyond simple comrades-in-arms companionship, in my opinion.

And why would it be like that? Because JJ said to the haters “Oh, you don’t like a black stormtrooper? Well, let me fix that. There, now he’s black and gay. We good?”

Why? Because fuck you, that’s why. No further agenda.

I’m sorta rooting for that, but I honestly don’t care. I don’t care if any of the characters are hetero or gay or somewhere in between. I just don’t have a horse in that race. It’s a sci-fi serial adventure series. Romantic sub-plots are about as interesting to me as droid comedy. Which is to say, they are decent filler and probably necessary, but I couldn’t care less.

I don’t have anything else to say about it. We’re moving on.

Getting back to Rey, I have a hope for who she is, but no clear evidence to support it. I’d like to think she is the child of Luke and some unknown woman (didn’t Luke get it on with a woman who was force immune in one of those Zahn novels or something?) Anyway, perhaps Rey’s mom is someone who has been hitherto unknown in the films and to us viewers and will only emerge in the next movie or the one after as a major character who further complicates the axis of conflict. JJ has been known to be unafraid to introduce a strong, powerful and morally ambiguous woman into his works before:

 

Hello, Lena. Hello, Alias. Miss you, love you.

Hello, Lena. Hello, Alias. Miss you, love you.

 

But whatever might be her origin, Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a fun character to watch – as well as a compelling one. I don’t say that lightly. The scene where Finn leaves her to light out for the Outer Rim instantly triggers her suppressed fears and memories of abandonment. She’s going to have a heavy emotional journey to trek as well as a physical one. I’m betting she’s being set up as being even more powerful in the force than Anakin and she’ll be forced to choose whether to use that power to redeem Kylo or destroy him.

God damn, that’s going to be good stuff. And will the galaxy change because of it? Recent history in that universe suggests not, but we know the Republic had lasted for thousands of years before Palpatine made his move. Surely some lasting stability can be found again. But did lasting stability ever come about after the fall of the Roman Empire? Surely, a case could be made for Pax Britannia and, later, Pax America (for however briefly that existed) but certainly nothing matched Rome’s hundreds of years of dominance…

Okay let’s step away from that.

Point is, if Kylo and Rey unite to defeat Snoke (that was Andy Serkis? Holy crap!) and then co-found the new Jedi Order together, turning the plan of Darth Vader on its head and redeeming not just Luke but also Leia and ushering in a new era of hope, would that be an ending we would even crave?

Perhaps, but certainly not one that would preclude further Jedi adventures, of course. It’s a serial adventure, after all. What use is peace? But certainly, the galaxy must return to some semblance of stability, else why bother fighting at all?

Or must it? Lucas, despite his glaring faults, had brilliantly buried a message in episodes IV – VI that forces of diversity and change were far healthier to a society than stubbornly clinging to rules set in stone. He seemingly reversed this in the prequels, but I would argue that the same message was still there. The revolution in the prequels was, after all, one from above and not from below. It was not a grassroots uprising, but it was clear that the old ways were no longer working. Our heroes in that movie struggle to hold on to what they believed was right – the status quo, if you will – but it clearly was not. Even Anakin, our tragic hero, wanted only to stop things from changing and in doing so was instrumental in being the most devastating force for change of all. Did the Empire have to happen so that change and painful growth might occur? I hope that is one of the questions Abrams addresses in the next films.

Maybe it did. Maybe it didn’t. Maybe that’s too heavy of a question for a serial adventure story. Probably is. But I’d like it if the writers tossed a stone or two in that pond, nevertheless. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll intimate a notion I’ve expressed can be found in other stories – that the result of any change is immaterial.

There is no rest. There is no peace. There is only the struggle and what part you decide to play in it.

Too much? Probably. But I’ll be looking for it anyway.

And, finally, Mark Hamill’s appearance – I just loved it. I loved how the movie ended. It actually ended with a call to adventure! How incredibly fucking awesomely inventive and appropriate! Star Wars is an adventure series! It’s an apropos invitation to STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT EPISODE!

The lightsaber is being offered to him! But will he take it up? Will he take up the sword? My god, I almost wanted to weep with the simple beauty of it. I nearly swooned. In fact, I think I did. I chair-swooned. It’s a thing. You can look it up.

And you know that fucker isn’t going to take it. You just know the little weenie that’s always been inside of him is still going to whine about “it’s just such a long way from here” and “how am I ever going to explain this?” or some kind of new topic to mewl about. He’s going to try to avoid that call again, but we know he won’t do it for long. Look at his face. It’s filled with the aged wariness of his old mentor, but also the gleaming thirst for action of the young Skywalker.

 

The expression on his face is the Star Wars equivalent of "shit's about to get real."

The expression on his face is the Star Wars equivalent of “shit’s about to get real.”

 

But what really makes that ending scene so great? The lightsaber isn’t so much being offered to Luke. It’s being offered to us.

Perfect. Majestic. Magical. Will you take it up? Will you return to the Star Wars universe to witness these new adventures?

You’re goddamn right I will.

 

Reaction to reactions –

Ok, after finishing my first draft of the review, I went and read some reviews I had been avoiding until now.

First off, I don’t feel people should be disappointed in not having an opportunity to see Han and Luke buddy up again. THAT MAGIC IS GONE! Let it go! The scene between Han and Leia should have reinforced this! Too much water under the bridge! The torch has been passed (is passing) to a new generation. Rey and Finn and Poe are the buddies you should be watching. Come on. Let it go, people.

“Doesn’t even give us a fraction of the whole story” is something I’m hearing. To quote Carrie Fischer from her commentary about the first Star Wars movie “It was just such a strange movie.” Nobody got the whole story! That’s one of the things that was compelling!

As for the derogatory remarks about how a janitor would know so much about the workings of a space station… Holy shit, no pun intended. Janitors know more about how things work than any goddamn internet writer ever will – myself included. Enough said from me. My man Mike Rowe can give you an earful if you need more.

Finally, there’s some disappoint about Kylo not being able to handle Rey and Finn in a fight. People seem to forget two facts about why Kylo Ren didn’t come across as more powerful during that duel. One, he was fucking injured. HE HAD BEEN SHOT BY A WOOKIE BOWCASTER. Not a thing the majority of people would be able to survive, much less shrug off and go hunting for a fight. Two, he was clearly not as powerful as people believed, or at least, not very disciplined. He admits this himself and also is accused of it by Rey. I don’t understand. Did some people just not watch the movie? Pee breaks. Maybe it was pee breaks.

Ok. That’s it. This was exhausting to write, but I started as soon as I got home from the movie and just couldn’t stop. Hope you muscled through it and found some stuff entertaining.

Remember – sign up for the mailing list and you’ll be entered to win a free Grant Scotland T-Shirt! I’ll be giving away another one later this week.

So long!

Watch it and talk about it. Read it and review it. Order it and tip it.