The Force Awakens, turns over and thinks about getting up

As with Star Trek, JJ Abrams took on an inheritance that had lost all its creative spark and re-energised it. He has done this more successfully than with Trek – as long as you concentrate on the characters and not on what’s going on around them. He doesn’t add much that is new but he takes the existing shapes in the toybox and rearranges them into fun new patterns. The Force Awakens was fun to watch, those two hours passed very quickly, and I can still remember the plot, which is a lot more than I could do less than 24 hours after any of the the last three.

We have a fantastic female hero with her own agenda that does not include saving the galaxy; we have a pretty good flawed male hero who is a deserter and just wants to get away. Personal agendas just happen to collide into galaxy-saving goodness. The end of Return of the Jedi was not a happy-ever-after for everyone; we can understand how Han and Leia have drifted apart. Sadly, that is how many couples very easily react to heartbreak. In short, our good guys manage to be good and flawed and interesting, which prevents them from being overshadowed by the bad guys (a flaw of episodes 4-6) and makes us care about them (one of the many flaws of episodes 1-3).

The bad guys are less successful, but they are bad enough to swing it. Kylo Ren is a nice try at a new Vader but … not quite. He just walks up to people. He doesn’t stride, loom, or possess a scene just by being there. He is not the biggest guy in the room. This may be deliberate: he is young; he still has his grandfather’s tendency to tantrum (though unlike his grandfather, he does something about his grievances instead of just whining about them); his reach exceeds his grasp. The most memorable baddie to me was the carpet-chewing, implausibly young General Hux. On the one hand, I like to see a senior bad guy officer who obviously considers himself the equal of the Vader-figure and doesn’t live his life in fear of Force-choking. On the other hand, that fact alone diminishes the impact of the Vader-figure.

These are quibbles. Take home message: characters good.

But when you look at what is going on in the background …

Okay. Abrams simply does not get planets. This became apparent in his first Trek movie where the entire destruction of Vulcan thing made no sense whatsoever. It becomes even more apparent here. The death planet draws its power from its sun; we see some kind of solar filament extending out through space to do just this. (It is fully charged when the sun goes out. Does the sun recharge? Does it find a new sun? We see it fire once, then start to recharge prior to a second firing, so something must have happened.) The filament does not wrap itself around the planet; therefore, the planet does not rotate on its axis. (It would wobble badly if it tried.) Despite this, it is always facing the right direction for wherever it wants to shoot at. (Which could be anywhere in the galaxy. Maybe it’s at the end of the galaxy? Is this why its death rays are visible wherever in space you happen to be? Is it on Terminus? Is the First Order in fact the Foundation? Discuss.)

Next, the Republic was the political successor to the Empire, so it ought to be the one that inherited all the Empire’s resources: the star destroyers, the TIE fighters, the stormtroopers. So why is the Republic (well, okay, the Resistance but they seem contiguous) the one that is just as ragtag as the Rebel Alliance of old and the First Order is the one able to carve out entire planets into death weapons?

I suspect Abrams is drawing on the audience’s experience of the real world in which the Soviet Union fell (hooray!) and was replaced by something almost as big and unpleasant (boo!). So, in The Force Awakens, the Republic ought to be the one with the death planet while Leia’s Resistance continues as before.

These to me were the two biggest things that just did not make sense, and if I chose to dwell on them they would spoil the memory. So I won’t. I’ll just remember Rey and Finn and Poe and BB8 and look forward to seeing where their paths take them in the next movie.

Some final thoughts presented as bullet points:

  • Leia’s hair continues to defy. Never mind what – it just defies.
  • Stormtrooper armour keeps out smoke but not gas, so it is therefore slightly less good than the standard NBC battle kit available to modern NATO forces.
  • The lightsabre that belonged to Luke and his father before him was lost in The Empire Strikes Back when his father cut off the hand that was holding it, over a very long drop. Luke then made himself a new one.
  • Jakku is Tatooine by any other name – they could have varied it slightly.
  • The supreme evil behind the First Order, the next Palpatine, is called … Snape? Scrope? Scrote? Hang on, I’ll just look him up: Snoke. For crying out loud. “All hail the power of Snoke!” Really?
  • X-Wings and TIE fighters are capable of hyperspace travel, but fly not much faster than WW1 biplanes when engaged in atmosphere combat.
  • Max Von Sydow is still alive?! Good grief, how old is he?

More than Writers

More than Writers is the blog of the Association of Christian Writers, with daily posts on any aspect or aspects of writing and faith, in any degree of combination. I have the pleasantly mind stretching task of thinking of something for the tenth of each month, and so far have produced:

I’m form blasting, daddy

image from www.hormelfoods.comI’ve learned a new word. Rather, words. Form blasting. The deliberate mass spamming of contact forms on websites.

For a while I’ve been vaguely puzzled by the amount of messages caught in my spam filter that have been sent via my own website’s contact form.

“My name is Dennis and I was very intrigued by benjeapes.com Great content! I can tell that you are a major leader in your field or will become it soon :)”

And other such inspiring messages clearly written by someone who has spent hours poring over my humble offering. Tweak my SEO, buy social media hits, redesign the site … those are the main ones. It’s not a great headache as Gmail’s spam filter really is pretty good. It baffles me more than anything else. One reason I have a contact form on my website is so that I don’t have to publish my email address, and hence (in theory) I get to reduce spam, as people who want to talk to me will have to take the time to enter a message in the form manually. But apparently that happens anyway.

And then the other day I read this one (which was also caught in the filter).

Why are you reading this message? Are you wondering what I want? I just wanted to show you that we have just succeeded in the first rule of advertising.. Getting people to READ our ad. Now let’s make the next 500,000 of these messages YOURS! Form blasting is the most effective direct marketing tool online today. Find out more here: http://spammers-R-us.com

And there it is. Form blasting. There really are people paid to do this kind of thing.

So out of interest I visited spammers-R-us.com (note: not their real name; they’re not getting even that minuscule amount of publicity). The page extols the virtues of form blasting as a communication method.

What are “contact us” pages? Virtually any website has them, it’s the method any website will use to allow you to contact them. It’s usually a simple form that asks for your name, email address and message and once submitted will result in the person or business receiving your message instantly! Unlike bulk emailing, there are no laws against automated form submission and your message will never get stuck in spam filters. We can’t think of a better way to quickly reach a large volume of people and at such a low cost!

So, just in case there are people out there who are considering falling for this kind of thing – maybe researching form blasting, weighing up the pros and cons, wondering if these people are bona fide or not – here’s why it might not be a good idea.

Because it’s spam. Pure and simple.

Ah, but it’s not spam, is it? At least, not according to their FAQ.

Q: Is form blasting spam?
A: No, in fact there are no clear laws against automated form submissions. After all, the only reason why a business would have a contact form on their website is to get in touch with customers and other businesses. Also, with form blasting the impact of spam filters is minimal and you will get your message out successfully to more people than you would with a mass email blast.

Let us unpack this.

there are no clear laws against automated form submissions

True. So form blasting is technically legal. Do you really want to engage future customers, build a relationship of trust, starting from the point that what you’re doing is technically legal? Does that really sell your company as one that is worth doing business with?

After all, the only reason why a business would have a contact form on their website is to get in touch with customers and other businesses.

And the only reason I have a letter box in my front door is so that people can post things to me. The concept of unsolicited mail still applies. I expect to receive letters, bills, contracts, cheques, bank statements … the usual treeware-based paraphernalia of life in the early 21st century. Unsolicited mail still goes straight into recycling, unopened.

And consider that, like mine, the point of having the form may be to avoid receiving spam in the first place.

Look also at that curious use of the word “business”. I’m not a business. I’m a writer with a full-time day job. I like people to buy my books, yes, and I engage in a certain amount of self-publicity. The website is one example. Through this I earn a little money and declare a little tax. But I’m not a business.

Doesn’t matter to spammers-R-us.com. I’m a contact form, that’s all. That is how well spammers-R-us.com choose their targets, boys and girls.

Also, with form blasting the impact of spam filters is minimal and you will get your message out successfully to more people than you would with a mass email blast.

spam filter

Ooh, look! It’s my spam menu! And that’s your message in the background! Can you guess what I’m doing to it? Can you?

So despite this categorically not being spam, they are aware that spam filters present a problem. How strange. Even stranger is that most of these that I get end up in my spam filter anyway. Funny that. So, potential customers of spammers-R-us.com, spammers-R-us.com is lying to you. Almost (almost) every message I have seen like this has been caught by Gmail’s spam filter. Those that aren’t, I mark as spam for Gmail’s benefit. And bear in mind that one of the keys to Google’s success is that its products learn.

And even if I do see it, am I going to use your services?

Or let’s put it another way. If you actually do offer a service that I am likely to want – stranger things have happened – and you don’t spam me, then one day, who knows, I might (might) do a Google search, and find you, and take what you have to offer. A mutually beneficial relationship – your services for my money – might ensue. Might.

But if you form blast me, even if you are offering something I want, then by the Nine Gods, by  Grabthar’s Hammer and by the surly beard of Mrifk himself I swear I will never, ever use your services. If you’re offering something I want, so are others.

So: you don’t form blast, you might get my money. You form blast, you absolutely won’t. Your choice.

Don’t form blast. You’re better than that.