2020: There Will Be An Ending

The Schlock Mercenary mega-arc will draw to a close this year.

The arc began when Schlock enlisted with Tagon’s Toughs in the strip dated June 12, 2000. That means it’s basically everything that has appeared on this site so far. It will end with closure, resolution, satisfaction, and a big, all-caps “THE END.”

I’ve been saying this for a while now, and every time I say it somebody pops up and says “wait, what?” So I’m saying it again, but this time around there’s an air of urgency.

You probably have questions. I shall attempt to FAQ you some answers.

Q: When will it end exactly?
A: I’m not telling. Before October, though.

Q: Will all the books be put into print?
A: Absolutely! That’s pretty much our highest priority.

Q: Why are you doing this?
A: Because everybody—the characters, the readers, and okay mostly me—deserves the opportunity to close the book and have a nice rest.

Q: What are you going to do next?
A: My current plans are to explore the true meaning of the word “sabbatical.” Those plans depend on how the finances shake out.

Q: Will there be more stories in the Schlock Mercenary Universe?
A: Yes. Lots of them. We can talk about what kinds of stories they’ll be when I start telling them.

Q: Will there still be daily comics at schlockmercenary.com?
A: That kind of depends on how I arrange things for the sabbatical. I’m sorry if that sounds ominous.

Schlock Mercenary is one of the longest-running things I’ve done with my life. I’ve been a husband and a father for longer, but my career at Novell only ran for 11 years. Taken in its legally-defined entirety, my whole childhood only ran for 18 years, and I can’t remember the first four of those, so it’s more like 14.

I am forced to concede the point that it’s unlikely I’ll launch anything that runs longer than Schlock Mercenary’s 20 years. There are too many different things I want to do, and in twenty years I’ll be 71 (or dead, because there’s a happy thought.)

So here we are, at the start of a shiny new year, and I’m talking about endings. There will be plenty of beginnings for me this year, and you can rest assured I’ll talk about them when the time comes.

Frozen II

I don’t think Frozen II is going to get sing-along screenings, but I’m okay with that. To my mind, if there’s a weakness¹ with Frozen, it’s that one of the songs was so iconic, so memorable, and so infectious it unfairly raised the bar on the rest of the franchise.

Reset that bar, and Frozen II stands up just fine. The music perfectly suits the story, and the story is complex enough to give people (including parents and their children) interesting and important things to talk about after the show is over. Oh, and Olaf’s recap of the first film calls to mind Michael Peña’s recaps in Ant Man, demonstrating that there’s more than one way to entertainingly and unreliably re-narrate.

Taken together, I think the Frozen films suffer from a worldbuilding problem: specifically, the first film was written without the sequel in mind, and the worldbuilding that made the second film so very interesting raises the “wouldn’t someone have mentioned that?” question with regard to the first film.

Put another way, they created a fascinating setting, and it’s so immersive I want it to hold up like a proper epic fantasy rather than than a couple of animated musicals.

Worldbuilding notwithstanding, Frozen II clears my Threshold of Awesome. I’m “I remember every Peter Cetera² music video” years old, and Kristoff’s musical number alone was enough to lift the film over the bar for me.

¹ There’s more than one weakness, but this review isn’t about the first film.
² Cetera was the bassist and lead singer for Chicago in the 80’s, and did well as a solo act. Kristoff’s number sounded like a callback to Cetera’s entire catalog of ballads, and I loved it.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

NOTE: This review is as spoiler-free as I can make it. I’ve included no plot points beyond the most basic ones, like “this is a Star War” and “it has a third act.”

I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in IMAX 3D. The show ended less than an hour ago, and I’m currently nursing¹ a headache while revisiting the logic behind my decision.

Mostly it was about timing. The 3:20pm show was the most convenient for me. But let’s face it… this film promised me lots of big landscapes, and starscapes, and sith-capes, so I figured that a screen which played those to their fullest effect would ensure that even if I didn’t like the story I’d be able to enjoy the visuals.

I enjoyed them both!

But to my surprise, my biggest complaint, the one thing keeping this final Skywalker-infused installment of the Star Wars saga from clearing my Threshold of Awesome, was the editing.

Well… not the technical bits of the editing so much as the way the editing was used to influence the pacing. The first half (at least) of the film raced from scene to scene, switching from thread to thread, without giving me time to process. Lots of scenes, not enough sequels.

TERMINOLOGY BREAK: “Scene/Sequel” format was described sixty years ago by Dwight Swain². In his terminology, “scene” is a unit of conflict, and “sequel” is linking material in which the reader (or viewer) has time to process the previous scene, and is made ready for the next one. “Scene” might be a car chase. “Sequel” would be sitting on the back bumper of the ambulance talking about what happened, perhaps while watching one of the cars burn in the background.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker kept changing scenes on me before I was done thinking about them. We’d jump from location to location so quickly I began to wonder if some poor editor wasn’t told to shave 20 minutes off the film by chopping 20 seconds from the end of sixty consecutive scenes.

It was exhausting.

Fortunately, the final act of the film seemed to be paced in a more viewer-friendly way. It completely changed the flavor of the film for me. At the halfway point I was worried that I was going to exit the theater asking myself “what even WAS that?”, but by the third act I was no longer worried. It was a Star War, and it was turning out to be a pretty good one³.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker does not clear my Threshold of Awesome, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. I look forward to seeing it again at home, where I can pause the show for twenty seconds about sixty times.

¹ 500mg acetaminophen, 120mg caffeine
² In Techniques of the Selling Writer, by (you guessed it!) Dwight V. Swain
³ Pretty good, but nowhere near my favorite. My favorite Star War is The Mandalorian, for which I shall soon be composing a review…

Knives Out

I’m late to the party on this one, I know. Here’s a short summary: Knives Out is the most fun I’ve had at a murder mystery in recent memory, and I spent several minutes combing my memory for contenders.

Sandra and I saw it together, and were both quite pleased at our selection of date-night films. Knives Out clears my Threshold of Awesome, and I think it may end up as one of those “comfort food” films I must own on Blu-Ray for watching again and again and again.

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