Taking a belting

This has been a good week for those that love to talk about sci-fi. Yes, dear readers, we are indeed going there. Let’s talk Star Wars.

The past couple of months have been a fascinating experiment in merchandising taken to its logical extreme. I posit that everything it is even tangentially possible to attach the Star Wars brand to has had that done to it. Every convenience store here has been done over with Leia-ed popcorn and Han Solo-ed cup ramen. There’s the ANA plane they painted like R2. There are oranges with that little robot on them. Oranges! Think on that for a minute.

The social media guy at that company that you kind of hate but has great service, and his counterpart at the government department whose mandate is so boring you almost died the last time you went to their web site, well, they’ve both spent the previous six months preparing for this moment. They are damn well going to find a way to hook their thing to the Star Wars train, no matter how forced. There was a hashtag about this. It’s a train wreck of terrible ideas.

The film itself is not a train wreck of terrible ideas. It’s really quite good. People are saying it redeems the prequels, but I’m not sure that matters so much. The Disney behemoth has grumbled into life and reduced the staggeringly complex process of producing a Star Wars movie into something that will now happen every year until we are all dead. The prequels are ancient history.

Which is funny, because at the time of their release I was way more invested in them than I’ve ever been the original trilogy. Or more specifically, with the first prequel. With the red face guy and Liam Neeson’s hair. I bought into the hype. Saw it twice in the theatres. Played the pod racing game (which was great, btw).

I have no idea if I even saw the second film. I must have at some stage, because I remember seeing the third at the tiny theatre in Ako with every other foreigner in town. Afterward, we piled into the one bar in town still open and reminisced over brandy alexanders while the snow piled up outside the door.

I have no memory of when or where I first saw the original series. They had no formative effect on my childhood. There are no piles of Star Wars toys locked somewhere in an attic, no VHS tape gone bad from multiple watchings. I must have seen them somewhere before they released the version with all the horrible CGI, but I was not a child that grew up with a lightsaber.

The closest I got was an vaguely triangular Lego space ship which I showed to my mother. “It looks like one of those ships from the start of Star Wars,” she said, and proceeded to give me a plot summary. I guess I didn’t internalise it too well, because I took the model to show-and-tell and proudly announced it was the “Darth Vader.” My teacher told me that that was a person not a ship. I told her she was wrong. I learned several important life lessons. Big day.

I’ll go and see the new one again this week, but I can’t exactly articulate why. It has some mystic holding power, this universe, and I'm always willing to pay for admission.

Anyway, what I’d actually like to talk about today is The Expanse.

The Expanse as it currently stands is an adaptation of Leviathan Wakes, the first book of the Expanse series and, look, don't we all know the Game of Thrones model by now? This is that, but in space. It’s got political drama, exploding things, impenetrable accents, but instead of ice and fire, you get ice and railguns.

I came into possession of Leviathan through a book swap with a German guy in El Salvador. The thing is, I’d been hearing the major plot points in summary every morning for the previous two weeks, so already had a mental picture of what was going on. Darth Vader is a spaceship, yeah?

Once I hit the first page, I realised I’d picked it up and thumbed through it in the Gleebooks discount bin a couple of years prior. I had ended up grabbing of Dan Simmons Hyperion instead, which at several kilograms of paper, seemed a better investment to me. It probably wasn’t.

Leviathan is one of those books you pick up to start and then realise it’s suddenly six am and light outside. And then you keep reading. The pacing is bang on, the universe is well realised, and the characters feel pretty much like people. That is, there are a lot of very broken, deeply flawed people floating about the expanse.

The show seems to have largely taken this and run with it. The dialogue is good, the casting is good, the special effects are good enough to ignore. The world they have built grows with every episode. You can grab the first four episodes on SyFy if you're in the US and somewhere else if you're not.

But honestly, the best thing about the show is, like Game of Thrones, there’s several books worth of material to riff off. You know that if they adapt it well, there’s plenty of story in there. It’s not going to do a Battlestar and veer off the road in the first season, plough into a ditch in the second season, burst into flames in the third season, discover the ditch is filled with hydrogen gas in the... you get the picture.

I think I'm just happy to have a weekly show until GoT storms back into my life next year. Next time, can we talk about how all our visions of the future suddenly have drones in them?