Tor.com content by

Leah Schnelbach

Defining Heroism as Vulnerability: How Star Wars Created a New Kind of Action Movie

When I saw The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I tried to figure out what made them so much more compelling to me that the prequel trilogy. After all, I’d gone into The Phantom Menace incredibly excited to see another chapter in the Star Wars story, only to be disappointed by each film, but Force Awakens and  Rogue One both struck me as worthy successors to the original trilogy.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think both films honor a tradition from the Original Trilogy: in the midst of an often cartoonish space opera, it’s the moments of heroic vulnerability—not moments of action—that define the series. This is the emotional undercurrent that kept the trilogy so vital, and the fact that the two latest films embrace this theme is part of their success.

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Children of Women: Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From

Where Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s Canticle for Leibowitz gradually unveiled its catastrophe through a series of unreliable narrators, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road meditated on every grim reality of life after a societal collapse, in Megan Hunter’s new novel, The End We Start From, the apocalypse unfolds in the background of the story, refracted through the first few months of a baby’s life.

The unnamed narrator gives birth bare days before floodwaters begin to overtake London. Soon she and her husband are both brand-new parents and refugees seeking higher ground. This gives the story both an urgency, and a haunting, far away feeling, as the narrator can’t think too far beyond the needs of her baby, but she is also terrified at all times that he won’t survive.

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Women are the Champions of the Rebellion Now

There was a moment in Rogue One—a flawed, complicated moment, in a film which many people didn’t like—that fundamentally changed what the Star Wars saga is about.

In the final sequence, instead of focusing on individuals, the camera follows the disc with the Death Star plans pass hand-to-hand as Darth Vader chases it down. Someone watching Rogue One has almost certainly seen a Star War, and thus should know that the plans make it through. But the film approaches this moment from the point of the view of the terrified Rebels who are barely, desperately, keeping the disc one step ahead of the enemy. We see that it reaches Leia with seconds to spare, and then she flees with it. And we know that she’s going to be captured in a few minutes, but that the plans will be safe with R2-D2 by then. The Rebellion will survive. The sacrifices have worked. Leia takes the disc and calls it hope.

This is the moment when Star Wars went from being a boy’s story to a girl’s story.

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Playing a Complicated Mage: Amanda Walsh Discusses Her Role in Dirk Gently

There is so much to love about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency! One of the best aspects of the first season was the emphasis on complex, three-dimensional female characters, as Amanda Brotzman (Hannah Marks) and Farah Black (Jade Eshete) both fought evil while also wrestling with a chronic illness and terrible anxiety, respectively, and Bart Curlish (Fiona Dourif) defied every societal norm in her life as a holistic assassin. Season 2 has not only maintained that commitment to Amanda and Farah, but has now added two new, equally amazing women: Izzie Steele’s Tina Tevetino, the perpetually high police officer of Bergsberg who’s just trying her best, y’know, and Amanda’s Walsh’s chameleon-like (and Napoleonic) Suzie Boreton.

When we meet Suzie she’s the downtrodden mother to an angry teen and wife to a boorish husband, who trudged off to work each day to handle files for emotionally abusive boss. But then a strange, glamorous man walks into her life, and her life becomes considerably more interesting. I got to talk to actress Amanda Walsh about the experience of playing Suzie. There are some spoilers through the most recent episode (“This Is Not Miami”), so only read on if you’re caught up on the show!

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Growing Up While Unstuck in Time: Kari Maaren’s Weave a Circle Round

It’s hard for me to write about Kari Maaren’s Weave a Circle Round. Part of me just wants to jump and down waving it and saying “It’s just so good you guys!” until you’re all convinced to read it. But that’s not really a review? You’ve come here for critique, right? Scintillating insights into where this book fits into the larger fantasy and/or YA canon?

Well I can start with that: this book fits into the canon. This book belongs on the shelf with your L’Engle and your Earthsea. It has a lot to say about being a teenager, trying to fit in, and dealing with a family situation that, while not abusive, is certainly not supportive or nurturing. There is a great realistic coming-of-age story tucked away in this book. But it’s also about time travel, and that’s where Weave becomes a classic.

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Pixar’s Coco Celebrates Life By Diving into Death

Coco is a lovely, effervescent film about death. It explores themes of familial responsibility, death, and loss, but marries those heavy themes with musical numbers and unforced comedy. The animation is uniformly beautiful and the script is often hilarious. But before we get into the details, I’ll just tell you whether you should see it in the theater:

YES.

This is my favorite Pixar film since WALL-E, and while the story follows a fairly typical plot it’s emotionally rich in a way that recalls last year’s Kubo and the Two Strings more than any other film I can think of. Before I go any further, however, I also want to encourage you to check out Remezcla’s round-up of Latino movie critics, and what they have to say about Coco. I have lots of feelings about it, and I’ll discuss them below, but I can’t speak to the cultural details the way they can.

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MST3K Has Renewal Sign!

That’s right, Netflix has renewed the beloved show for a 12th season! This news was announced by creator Joel Hodgson, test subject Jonah “Heston” Ray, and Mad Scientist Felicia Day at the end of the annual Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon!

Hiiii-keeba! Check out the announcement below!

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Embrace the Holiday Tension with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the least of the Big Three Peanuts holiday specials. The Peanuts Gang’s take on Halloween gave us The Great Pumpkin, and A Charlie Brown Christmas became the standard by which all other Christmas specials were judged. When the Gang tackled Thanksgiving, however, there just wasn’t as much to dig into.

Or so I remembered.

But rewatching it, I found that the show packed a surprising amount of depth in between all the Snoopy shenanigans and toast-buttering montages. In fact if you look closely enough, I think you might find a statement about what it means to be an American.

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5 Things I Love About A Wrinkle in Time’s Second Trailer

I love A Wrinkle in Time. It was my first sci-fi—before AWIT I exclusively read realistic dramas about horses and/or dogs (who usually died by the end)—so encountering a world just adjacent to our own, in a story that merrily hopped across planets, discussed religious faith, philosophy, the concept of individualism, was thrilling to me.

To say I’m excited for Ava DuVernay and Jennifer Lee’s take on it is a vast understatement. I’ll attempt to sum up why I’m jumping up and down in anticipation below, with a list of Five Things I Love. Join me, won’t you?

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Hey, Prospective Authors: You Have Plenty of Time. Just Keep Writing.

Forbes published its annual “30 under 30” list, mere days after the 2017 National Book Awards hosted its annual “5 Under 35” celebration. So it’s safe to say that this week has generated a perfect storm of ANXIETY from prospective writers and artists who feel like they’re already aging out of relevance.

You’re not, though—none of us are. Here’s the proof:

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The Birth of Spielbergian: Close Encounters of the Third Kind at 40

If I say “Spielbergian” to you, what do you see? A human face, agape with awe, staring at an alien, a dinosaur, or the Ark of the Covenant? Beams of multicolored light? Children gleefully embracing the unknown, while their adult guardians cower in fear? “Spielbergian” is a feeling. It’s the nebulous, free-floating awe behind 89% of J.J. Abrams’ lens flares. It’s been name-checked on everything from Tiny Toon Adventures to Angels in America. And it was born in an optimistic alien movie in 1977.

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The Mentally Ill Hero: How The Tick and Dirk Gently Give Unbalanced “Sidekicks” Center Stage

Mental illness doesn’t go away. While it has finally become more common to discuss mental illness publicly, as people join in awareness days and campaigns on twitter, it’s still rare to see an honest, realistic portrayal of mental illness in pop culture, something which may stem from the fact that it isn’t “fixable.” Like chronic pain, mental illnesses can be treatable and manageable, but they also tend to be a permanent part of a person’s life in a way that Hollywood, with its love of neat endings, doesn’t often depict. Instead we get the version of illness seen in Girl Interrupted, Benny & Joon, Silver Linings Playbook—eruptions of emotion, hallucinations, and suicide attempts. Some television shows are doing a better job: Bojack Horseman’s exploration of depression; You’re The Worst’s insistence that romantic love can’t “fix” mental issues; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s realistic treatment of anxiety balanced with the lightening effects of musical numbers.

Two current shows (possibly my favorites on TV right now), are handling mental illness in really interesting ways, especially since neither inherently demands a focus on mental health issues. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a wacky detective show that bounces between sci-fi and fantasy tropes, while The Tick is an update on a thirty-year-old superhero parody. But in both cases the writers are highlighting issues of mental health in subtle, sensitive ways that illuminate the reality of living with those conditions, without vilifying them or making the characters seem tragic, and in both cases that choice has added depth and heart to shows that could have been silly.

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Simulacra Suburbia: Duplex by Kathryn Davis

Isn’t it funny the way time passes? The way it rolls out slow like honey from a bear until suddenly you’re a grownup and everyone around you is dying and you don’t recognize your face in the mirror? But when you think about “yourself” if you think the pronoun “I” it’s still the young you, isn’t it? The one who first got their shit together, started out into the world. “I” apart from my parents, my brothers, my classmates, my teachers. “I.” And then time unfurls around you and ticks by so fast you can’t see it, and the thing you think of as “I” is now a past version of you, unrecognizable to the people you know now.

Kathryn Davis’ Duplex is a thorny book the revolves and revolves around time, what it does to people, and the ways we remain unchanged. It’s probably one of the most unsettling books I’ve ever read.

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Celebrating Sincerity with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown first aired on October 27th, 1966, meeting CBS’s demand for another Peanuts holiday-themed special that could run annually, like the previous year’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. CBS reportedly went so far as to say that if Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez couldn’t deliver a hit, they wouldn’t order any future Peanuts specials. Luckily The Great Pumpkin was a success, and even added a new holiday figure to the American pantheon, as many people assumed the Great Pumpkin must be a real folk tradition.

I revisited the special recently, and found a much weirder, darker world than I remembered…

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Stranger Things Season 2 More Than Lives Up to Its Predecessor

Is this season of Stranger Things as good as last season?

Yes and no. While there were a few things I found disappointing, overall I think this season is even better than last season, and if you liked last season, I think you’ll love most of the new episodes. The monsters are even scarier, the friendship between the kids gets even deeper, and the new characters add wonderful elements to the stew. Rather than feeling overstuffed, Hawkins seems like a much more real town than it did last time, which raises the stakes. Plus we get to see more of Eleven’s past, and delve a bit more into the shadowy secrets of Hawkins Power & Light, and yes, we get to go back to the Upside Down.

But first, I know what’s important to you, so let’s get down to brass tacks: Is Steve Harrington’s hair still magnificent?

Reader, it’s even better.

[Note: Spoilers ahead for the entirety of Stranger Things season 2.]

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