10 thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi film poster

Unlike in the last two years, when I attended midnight screenings of The Force Awakens and Rogue One, I didn’t see Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi until 2pm on opening day. But I decided to continue my tradition of posting 10 (hopefully spoiler-free) thoughts on the movie (some of which, admittedly, aren’t actually about the movie itself).

Disney could be making Star Wars movies every year until the end of time, so I don’t know if I’ll still be doing these posts a decade from now, but obviously I am this year because you’re reading it. So without further ado, here are 10 thoughts I had while watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi film poster
Star Wars: The Last Jedi film poster (LucasFilm Ltd.)
  1. I asked for a regular Coke but this feel like an extra large super size or something. The movie is 2.5 hours long so I’m going to have to ration this because there’s no way I’m leaving my seat to take a bathroom break.
  2. Leia… I’m getting emotional just looking at her. RIP Carrie Fisher. Nice touch giving Lieutenant Connix a couple of little buns.
  3. YAAAASSSS! Asian representation! Welcome to the galaxy, Rose Tico. Also, great surname (Tico, like Tico Torres, the drummer for Bon Jovi.)
  4. Luke Skywalker sure got grumpy and cynical in his old age, but it makes sense here. Rey is like a young Luke.
  5. Thanks Artoo, now I have something in my eye.
  6. People ragged on George Lucas for the Ewoks and Gungans, but at least both of those served a purpose to the story beyond making puppy dog eyes at Chewbacca. I have no issue with the porgs; there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be birds on Ahch-To. I’m just saying.
  7. AHH I DIDN’T KNOW HE WOULD BE IN THIS MOVIE!
  8. The Force Awakens was basically A New Hope, and The Last Jedi takes a darker turn like The Empire Strikes Back.
  9. Kylo Ren is way cooler this time around. Not as cool as his grandfather, but cool enough. I’m liking Hux more too.
  10. Oh man. I haven’t cried this much in a Star Wars movie since… well, ever.

The Last Jedi official trailer:

Since U Been Gone live vocal cover version

When I’m not writing, I love to sing. I rarely do this in front of people, but a little over two weeks ago, I took on Kelly Clarkson’s song “Since U Been Gone”… in front of actual people. I was beyond nervous, but managed to get through it.

Here’s the video. I know where I went wrong, so try to be gentle. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thanks to Gareth at VocalTech for the guidance, endless patience, and encouragement. ๐Ÿ™‚

Let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why

Clay gets Hannah's tapes

Let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why.

I mean, there’s a good chance you already are. It became one of Netflix’s most popular original series shortly after its debut on March 31, but soon also became its most polarising. Supporters of the show say it starts important conversations about difficult topics including suicide and bullying. Those against the show say it does this in a dangerous and/or inaccurate way.

Spoilers ahead.

What is 13 Reasons Why?

Clay gets Hannah's tapes
Clay gets Hannah’s tapes. (Anonymous Content/Paramount Television/Netflix).
The basic premise of 13 Reasons Why is this: Hannah Baker has taken her own life, but before she did, she recorded 13 tapes detailing the 13 reasons why she killed herself. Each of these tapes is addressed to a person at her school. Hannah intended for the tapes to be passed along, in order, to each of these people. As we watch the series, the tapes are in the hands of fellow student Clay Jensen.

The show is based on Jay Asher’s debut novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which was released in 2007 and already had a cult following. However, the series differs from the book in a number of ways, including the characters’ back stories and the method by which Hannah ends her life. (It’s far more graphic in the series.)

Is 13 Reasons Why dangerous?

Many experts, including Australian youth mental health organisation headspace, have issued warnings about 13 Reasons Why amid reports that counselling services have received a spate of calls directly related to the show.

Here are some of the arguments as to why the show is potentially harmful:

  • It graphically depicts suicide and rape, possibly leading to suicide contagion.
  • It romanticises suicide and presents the idea of suicide as a revenge tactic.
  • It places the blame for Hannah’s suicide on others, and does not specifically address Hannah’s mental health.
  • It discourages viewers from seeking help; the only time Hannah reaches out to someone is when she goes to the school counsellor, Mr Porter, who is unable to do anything because she sets him up to fail.
  • It does not tell viewers where they can get help if they are triggered by its content.

Kati Morton, a therapist and YouTuber, details her concerns about 13 Reasons Why in this video:

My personal thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

I liked 13 Reasons Why for the most part, but one of my friends felt it was a horrific representation. Both of us have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts. The first time I wanted to die was when I was about Hannah’s age, but as my friend and I demonstrate, I cannot claim to be able to speak for anyone else who has gone through it.

I’m wary of the fans who are borderline evangelical about the show and think everyone needs to watch it. Even though I was hooked on the series, it did bring up some unpleasant memories for me. At one point I was curled up on my bed and needed a good cry and some sleep before I could watch the rest. But teenage me also felt understood, and adult me found that comforting.

I didn’t feel like it romanticised suicide — seeing the brutal way in which Hannah ends her life and how it impacted on her parents did the opposite for me, which I believe was one of the reasons why the show changed the way she died. I also didn’t think Hannah killed herself just to get back at everyone; rather, she felt hopeless, like she couldn’t do anything right and had not one friend left in the world. And frankly, I could relate to her.

Maybe it’s over-simplistic to say that what the subjects of Hannah’s tapes did or didn’t do caused her to come to the conclusion that she had to die. Just like it’s over-simplistic to say that X, Y and Z made me suicidal. But there were things that happened to me, that piled up until life became overwhelming and seemingly unbearable. And like Hannah, I felt completely alone. So while saying “these people killed Hannah” might be an oversimplification, to suggest that external influences played no part in how she felt (and how I felt) is also inaccurate. We could all treat each other a little better because you don’t know what someone is going through. Yes, Hannah made her own choice to kill herself, and if I’d done the same it would’ve been my choice, not anyone else’s. But bullies and rapists make a choice too, and sometimes their choices have consequences like what we see in this series.

Things turned out okay for me. I eventually got a diagnosis, some therapy and a prescription. Hannah never did. Maybe she would have if she’d talked to her parents or a professional, but we’ll never know. I do think avenues for help could have been made more obvious within the show, in the same way that news stories in Australia include numbers for relevant organisations, such as Lifeline. Perhaps they could’ve inserted a news ticker at the bottom of the screen, for instance. The 13reasonswhy.info website provides crisis lines for different countries, but you kind of have to go looking for it.

I believe 13 Reasons Why does have value, but there’s no such thing as a show for everyone, and some people are safer avoiding it.

Have you seen 13 Reasons Why? What do you think of it?

UPDATE: Netflix has since announced that they’ll be adding extra trigger warnings and have “strengthened the messaging and resource language” for the most graphic episodes.

Help me 2017, you’re my only hope

fireworks

I had just woken up in my hotel room in Sydney when I heard the news that Carrie Fisher had died, four days after she stopped breathing on a flight from London to Los Angeles. While 2016 saw the passing of many iconic figures, this one probably hit me the hardest.

Like most of the world, I first saw Carrie as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

But the hilariously honest way in which Carrie wrote and talked about her battles with addiction and bipolar disorder made me admire her all the more. So I got her likeness tattooed on me in February 2015, and I’ll treasure that for the rest of my life.

If you spend half as much time online as I do, you’ll know that 2016 was widely dubbed the “worst year ever”, in part due to the deaths of so many beloved famous people. I was fortunate enough to see Prince live at Perth Arena early in the year — which would turn out to be just eight weeks before he died. No photos or recording devices were allowed, so I can’t show you anything from that concert, but by the time I left the building, he was in my top three live acts of all time.

On a more personal note, someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, but as I write this, they seem to be doing well. So I’m quietly hopeful that 2017 will bring good news for us.

fireworks
Fireworks for the New Year. Photo by Freerange Stock Archives.
While it’s easy to focus on the negatives, last year had its highlights too. I returned to full-time study with the goal of qualifying as a library technician. And after a few false starts, I began writing what I hope will be my second novel during NaNoWriMo. (I’ve had some rejections for my first novel, but I will keep trying to get it published.)

I also flexed my writing muscle for other websites:

Other highlights included:

  • Seeing 1927, my favourite Australian band, four times — bringing my total tally to 16.

    A photo posted by Lee-Ann Khoh (@leeannkhoh) on

  • Attending the midnight premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I don’t watch many movies, so actually going to the cinema is usually an event anyway.
  • The 50th anniversary of Star Trek and the release of what I consider to be the best of the “Kelvin Timeline” reboots, Star Trek Beyond.
  • Spending the holidays with my Sydney family, which includes my brother, sister-in-law and nephew.

In 2017, I hope to keep writing and improving as a writer, as well as continuing my studies. While 2016 wasn’t entirely awful for me (despite the rather dramatic blog title), I know some people who had genuinely horrific years, and I hope for a better 365 days for them too.

Happy New Year.

10 thoughts on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story film poster

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story film poster
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie poster (LucasFilm Ltd.)
This morning, I attended a midnight premiere of Rogue One, the first movie in the “standalone” Star Wars Anthology Series. I’m not going to post a proper review because there have already been plenty of those, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come. But like I did for The Force Awakens last year, I’ve decided to post 10 thoughts I had while watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (I’ve tried to keep it spoiler-free, but if you haven’t seen it and are concerned about potential spoilers, please look away now.)

  1. I attempted to pay homage to Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia and Rey in one hairstyle… I don’t think anyone gets it.

    A photo posted by Lee-Ann Khoh (@leeannkhoh) on

  2. No yellow opening text crawl. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ That’s how you know it’s not an Episode.
  3. I remember watching Felicity Jones as Ethel Hallow on The Worst Witch when I was a kid. Now she’s the star of a freaking Star Wars movie. The circle is now complete.
  4. K-2SO is like a badass C-3PO. He deserves his own spin-off.
  5. Chirrut รŽmwe and Baze Malbus make a great pair.
  6. Slightly disappointed that Ben Mendelsohn didn’t play Krennic a little more “Australian”. I think a Wolf Creek-inspired Aussie accent is long overdue in the Star Wars universe. ๐Ÿ˜‰
  7. They did a fantastic job bringing Tarkin back to life.
  8. I know it’s a space opera, but there’s something very realistic about this.
  9. Noooo Bail Organa, don’t go back to Alderaan!
  10. OH MY GOD. OH. MY. GOD. Even if the rest of the movie had sucked (which it didn’t), it would’ve been worth it just for that last scene.

Libraries and why they matter

Why libraries? Photo by Tom Grandy / Freerange Stock.
Why libraries? Photo by Tom Grandy / Freerange Stock.
One of the best things my parents ever did for me was to read to me. Despite not being voracious readers themselves, they still recognised how important it was for me.

Another wonderful gift they gave me was to take me to the library every three weeks. It cemented my love of books and stories, and that’s an integral part of who I am, even if I never make it as a successful novelist. Books have been my friends and a source of comfort during hard times. And a recent study suggests that people who read books live about two years longer than non-readers, so I think bookworms are onto a winner.

After a somewhat meandering career, I returned to the classroom this year as a Library Studies student. The other day, someone asked me, “Why libraries?”

I thought about this for a moment. I mean, I’d thought about it before applying for and enrolling in the course, but I’d never verbalised it before.

“A lot of people think libraries are just buildings with books in them, but they’re much more than that,” I said. “Libraries play an important role in the community. They provide resources and information to people who might not otherwise have access to them. I think I can use some of the skills I already have, and learn some new ones, to help people.”

I don’t know whether the person liked my response or thought I was a bit wanky, but it is what I believe so I’ll stand by it. Moreover, the library was my safe space when I was a teenager, and I know it is for many other people too.

Libraries are evolving, too, and that’s great. I love reading about libraries doing interesting things. Like the library in the US that’s doing readers’ advisory based on customers’ tattoos (which combines two of my favourite things — books and tatts). Or the library in Finland that’s installed a soundproofed karaoke booth (another two of my favourite things — libraries and singing).

Do you visit your library?

Goodbye 2015, hello 2016!

It's 2016! Happy New Year!

If you’re reading this, you’ve made it into 2016. Here’s to happiness and exciting new beginnings. ๐Ÿ™‚

My 2015 in review

Despite falling into a bit of a holiday depression towards the end of the year, 2015 was actually pretty good to me — particularly from a writing perspective. I finished the first draft of my first novel in July, and went on to do another two redrafts before the end of the year.

I spent six months of the year doing the Write Your Novel program with the Australian Writers’ Centre, and my fellow students have now become my writing group. They encourage me, support me, and give me incredibly useful advice and feedback on my work. I hope I do the same for them, and that we’ll continue to help each other for many years to come.

I also started singing in front of people! First it was just my guitar teacher, but one evening, I signed up for live band karaoke at a local pub and haven’t looked back. I think I started because it dawned on me that I’ll probably have to talk to groups of people if I get my book published, and before that happens, I should at least be able to stand in front of them without passing out. But I also found singing a lot of fun. Although I still don’t know if I can talk to a group without music.

Other highlights include:

My goal for 2016

My biggest goal for 2016 is actually a goal I’ve had since I started reading chapter books at the age of six: to be a novelist. So I plan to polish my manuscript and start pitching my novel to agents this year. And then to publishers directly if I don’t manage to get an agent.

Hopefully in a year from now, my soul won’t be completely destroyed by rejection. ๐Ÿ™‚

I also want to start writing my next novel. I did begin a new story during NaNoWriMo, but other things got in the way of me finishing it. And I’m now pretty sure that particular story is actually a short story, rather than a novel. I’ve got some idea of what I want the next novel to look like, but I need to put pen to paper.

So that’s my plan for this year. It’ll take perseverance and self-belief, but the same could be said of all goals worth achieving.

How did 2015 treat you? What are your goals for 2016?

10 thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster

Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster
Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie poster
As you’ve probably heard, Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens just came out. As a Star Wars fan who went by the pseudonym Kenobi in high school and now has Princess Leia tattooed on her thigh, I was counting down the days until I finally got to see this highly anticipated movie at a midnight screening in Perth today.

I decided against doing a proper review because a) that would likely include spoilers, which most people who are planning to see the movie are trying to avoid, and b) there are already plenty of reviews by actual movie reviewers.

Instead, here are 10 thoughts I had while watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’ve tried not to give too much away, but if you’d like to be completely surprised and you haven’t seen it yet, then stop reading:

  1. Got my stormtrooper 3D glasses on and a Padawan braid in my hair. I feel like a little kid again. This is gonna be great!
  2. That score, that yellow opening crawl… It’s like coming home.
  3. Jakku looks a lot like Tatooine. And Lor San Tekka reminds me of old Ben Kenobi. And I see the old “hide it in the droid” tactic is still in play.
  4. Finn is an intriguing character. I wouldn’t mind an origin story about the new generation of stormtroopers.
  5. It’s the Millennium Falcon! We are home.
  6. Rey kicks some major butt. I think she’s my new idol.
  7. That blue lightsaber is the one Obi-Wan Kenobi gave to Luke Skywalker in A New Hope, right? The one Luke lost in The Empire Strikes Back when Darth Vader cut his arm off? Did someone go scavenging around Bespin and find it? Was Luke’s dead arm there with it?!
  8. There’s a lot of deja vu in this movie.
  9. The acting is pretty damn good, though.
  10. Did they really make Mark Hamill lose weight for this? He’s in a robe, not a catsuit!

I’m not sure you can tell by those 10 thoughts, but I actually loved The Force Awakens. Then again, I loved the prequels (Revenge of the Sith is my favourite Star Wars film) and the fourth Indiana Jones movie, so make of that what you will. ๐Ÿ™‚

4 out of 5 stars.

Review of Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman
Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee. Photo: Hannah McKay/PA Wire/AP
I was in a hotel room in Melbourne when the news broke that a sequel to Harper Lee’s literary classic To Kill a Mockingbird was being published. I was equally excited and nervous, and pre-ordered Go Set a Watchman despite my misgivings:

  • Almost as soon as the announcement was made about a new book, there were allegations that Harper Lee was being taken advantage of in her old age and failing health. The manuscript conveniently resurfaced after the death of Lee’s sister Alice, who had protected Harper for years. (EDIT: Jamie Ford has blogged about the timeline of events leading to this new book’s publication.)
  • Although promoted as a sequel, Go Set a Watchman was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird. Upon reading this manuscript, Lee’s editor suggested she write a more interesting novel from the young Scout Finch’s perspective, and thus Mockingbird was born.
  • Go Set a Watchman has been published as originally written, without revisions. As a writer myself, I can tell you that if I published a novel without revising it a few times, it would be far from the best it could be.
  • In the week leading up to Go Set a Watchman’s release, reports began to emerge that Atticus Finch had grown into a racist old man.

Go Set a Watchman, set in the 1950s, takes place some two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout, who now goes by her birth name of Jean Louise Finch, is returning home from New York to Maycomb, Alabama to visit her elderly father Atticus. She is greeted by Henry “Hank” Clinton, who courts Jean Louise during her trips home and wants to marry her. Hank has become a surrogate son to Atticus since working with him at his law firm. Jem Finch, Scout’s brother, died two years earlier.

At times the manuscript takes a meandering path to get to the point. It’s not until Chapter 8 that Jean Louise discovers a racist pamphlet in Atticus’ house and learns that both Atticus and Hank are members of the local White Citizens’ Council. This is where the story really begins. It’s a story of loss and disillusionment — Jem and Dill are gone (except in flashback), and the people Jean Louise has left have betrayed her idealistic notions of them.

Unlike Mockingbird — which sizzled with Scout as its sharp, wide-eyed narrator — Watchman is told in the third person, creating a certain distance between the characters and the readers. Watchman is not badly written, but it lacks the magic that made Mockingbird so memorable and engaging. I believe Watchman is a gathering of Lee’s ideas, which were yet to be crafted and polished. There are references to events in Mockingbird, but also discrepancies (such as the verdict of Tom Robinson’s rape trial), indicating that Mockingbird’s plot was yet to take shape.

It’s also worth nothing that characters change as the stories we write evolve, and Watchman represents a story in its infancy, before the author was even sure what story she wanted to tell. I’ve just completed the first draft of a novel, and by the time I’m ready to pitch it to agents and publishers and pray for a contract, it will probably look very different. Kate Grenville, one of Australia’s most successful authors, has been known to redraft her manuscripts 27 times.

So my advice — should you choose to read Go Set a Watchman — would be to read it not as a sequel, but for an insight into the writing process. It’s basically an early draft of what was, and is, a great book.

3 out of 5 stars.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository. That means I get a 5% commission if you choose to buy a book through one of these links.

Goodbye 2014, hello 2015

On New Year’s Eve, this quote attributed to Brad Paisley began doing the rounds on my social networks:

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

For me, 2014 was a year that began with tentative optimism and ended up being marred by illness and isolation. But things improved in the last quarter of the year when I picked up the guitar and reconnected with some friends who told me my presence had been missed. And as I write this post on the last day of my holidays, I’m hopeful about what the future holds because I know myself better than I did before. I know I can be pushed without breaking. And if I need to, I can push back.

From a writer’s perspective, I had some of my work published. “The History of February 14” was published by Every Day Fiction, “Honesty” appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, and I reviewed an intriguing production of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” appeared for Perth Walkabout. I also took three creative writing courses that all helped me in their own way. And after a couple of false starts, I finally made solid progress on my novel.

I was also introduced to Anne Lamott’s hilarious book Bird by Bird, which I highly recommend if you’re a writer looking for inspiration. It’s more of a pep talk than an instruction manual, but sometimes that’s exactly the kind of push you need.

Life rarely goes according to plan, but there’s nothing wrong with drawing a map in pencil. So here’s mine for 2015:

  • Finish drafting my manuscript. This will require discipline and possibly the support of a workshop group.
  • Launch my new business. The logo is currently being designed, but I suspect the hardest part will be fighting my fear of self-promotion.
  • Keep playing guitar, singing along to the radio, and seeing live bands. Apart from writing, music is what has kept me alive since I was a child, and I will never apologise for doing what makes me happy.

My 2015 book begins now.

And if I lose my way, I can always turn to Anne Lamott for inspiration. ๐Ÿ˜‰