The Editor Awakens

Concept art for Star Wars, by Ralph McQuarrie

Admit it, Star Wars stinks. Sure, the original movie is a classic, and Empire Strikes Back is iconic. But Return of the Jedi hasn’t aged well. The prequel trilogy is a mess. And the sequel trilogy? Well, at least the prequels had a narrative arc. It was butchered, but it was there. The sequel trilogy doesn’t even have that (though it does look good).

George Lucas wasn’t looking to create a franchise that would span decades when he started writing the script that would be become Star Wars in the 1970s. He just wanted to make a fun space shoot-em-up. Then 1977 happened. Star Wars became an unhinged success. Of course, he would have been insane not to make a sequel. The only problem was, he didn’t have a story. Everything was hammered together as they went. Luke Skywalker was a grizzled war veteran in the early drafts of Star Wars. Early drafts of Empire didn’t even include the revelation (spoiler alert) that Darth Vader was Luke’s father.

This paste-and-glue approach wasn’t a huge problem at first, but every single movie has compounded the mistakes. Now we’ve got directors completely rethinking the story with every movie. Rey’s important. Rey’s not important. Snoke’s important. Snoke’s not important. There’s Luke lightsaber! What’s it doing in a bar? The narrative is a complete mess. Not a lick of it makes sense. What Star Wars as a franchise needed, and never got, was one solid write-through. A good edit.

So because nobody else seemed interested, I did it myself.

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On Stage with Michael Rooker

2017 New York Comic Con - Day 1

I was lucky enough during New York Comic Con to score a plumb seat: on Main Stage 1-D, in front of 500 or 500 screaming fans, interviewing Michael Rooker.

If you’ve never been to Comic Con before, let me tell you, it’s a madhouse. More than 200,000 went to the New York convention this year. For a first-timer, it is entirely overwhelming; it certainly was for me. There’s too much to see, to much to do, and the crowds are way, way too big to wade through. Getting from one end of the Javits Center to the other – the equivalent of about three city blocks – can take 30 minutes. It really is that crowded.

I’ve spoken in front of big audiences before, but I’m not sure I ever was in front of a crowd this big. Also, most of my public speaking has been related to bitcoin or markets. Bitcoiners are a passionate bunch, but not exactly rowdy. These Rookerholics, as some of his fans call themselves, are a different breed. This was a fired-up crowd before I even walked on the stage.

You can watch the whole thing for yourself here.

If you haven’t seen Rooker do one of these interviews before, understand that this is not in any way a normal interview. I was warned, specifically, beforehand: he likes to pick up his interviewers and turn them upside down. I do believe it was meant literally. Now, fortunately for me, I had seen Rooker before, at the Charlotte Walker Stalker convention. His talk ended up making it into chapter 10 of “Guts.” So I knew what I was getting into.

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The ‘Guts’ Cover, With Art by Tony Moore

This is the cover for “Guts,” coming in October. Tony Moore, who was the first artist on “The Walking Dead” graphic novels, did the cover illustration for us. We were lucky to get Tony, who is a talented and well-known artist and obviously gets zombies.

This image is a perfect representation of what the book is going to be all about, which is dissecting this popular TV show and trying to figure out just what about it has resulted in its becoming such a global phenomenon.



‘Trekonomics,’ With Author Manu Saadia

IMG_1420This week I sat down with Manu Saadia, the author of “Trekonomics.” We had a great, wide-ranging talk, about Star Trek and the vision of the future laid out by Gene Roddenberry. We talked about the elements that contribute to the economics of the 23rd and 24th centuries, and we explored how many of those elements are either with us today, or exist in very nascent form.

It’s very surprising to find that nobody’s ever written a book about the economics of Star Trek before. You’d think somebody would have. What fascinating about it is that the path to the kind of world Roddenberry envisioned will have as much to do with economics and politics as technology.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Getting to a world where people work together, and racism and poverty is a thing of the past, may not be a question of technology, but rather politics. The tools will exist, the question is how will they be distributed. Ultimately, the question of whether our future looks like Star Trek or Terminator is less about the machines than it is about mankind. Have a listen. This was possibly my favorite podcast yet: Star Trek, economics, and even some bitcoin thrown in there, too.

By the way, that’s not exactly the bridge of the Enterprise in the picture up top, but it’s close. It’s from the exhibit at Star Trek: Mission, the convention at the Jacob Javits Center this past weekend. It was built by James Cawley and his team, a group that’s been making Star Trek fan films for about 15 years.

A Seven-Shows-in-One Epic Story

RickThis is going to be the best “very special episode of” ever.

Who doesn’t love a good crossover? You know, like Ray Romano showing up on King of Queens. The doctors from St. Regis having a drink at Cheers. Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies appearing on Mister Ed.

I guess that was on my mind lately. I was wondering – as many have – if there was any way to connect the cast of The Walking Dead with the spinoff show Fear the Walking Dead (I recap both shows for the WSJ, as you can see here and here, so I tend to think about them quite a bit.) The former is set in Georgia, and the latter in Los Angeles, and in case you don’t know, the trains aren’t running. So having these two groups of apocalypse survivors meet is pretty unlikely, but not impossible. Maybe it would have something to do with the cast of Z Nation? After all, they’re in the same zombie boat, and trying to get from the east coast to California.

Then it occurred to me that there are a bunch of shows I watch that could conceivably be crossed over. Besides the three zombie shows, I also like Mr. Robot, Orphan Black, and Humans. Could there be a way to write one story that combines characters from all those shows? Just for fun, as a sort of as a writer’s exercise, I tried to dream up a way to do it.

It all tumbled together quickly. Within an hour had the outline of one story that connects every show I follow on a regular basis. Essentially, it’s this: A hacker society knocks out power across the country, which releases deadly rats from a genetics lab that spread a zombie plague. The only way to stop it is for the scientists at the lab to get back the one man who is immune, but he’s clear across the country.

You can see where it’s going if you watch the shows. What’s more, it works out in a way that is actually pretty organic. It connects several completely separate shows (well, sort of completely separate) and doesn’t violate the internal logic of any of them, I think, taking only minor liberties.

I even figured out a way to get a Rick and Morty cameo in there.

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I Know How to Write the Screenplay for ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’

Dear Hollywood producer, I know how to make Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance into a film.

I first read the Robert Pirsig novel about a quarter century ago. Over the years, I’ve gone back to it again and again, re-reading it, then re-reading it again, every time drawing new insights from it. I’ve surely read the book more than a dozen times, I don’t know, I lost count; at one point, I was reading it once a year. I also read all, I think all or most of the books that Pirsig references in the book: Walden, Tao Te Ching, Plato’s Phaedro and The Meeting of East and West, a philosophy book by a little known Yale professor, FSC Northrop, that Pirsig mentions only once, but notes it was a critical book for the narrator. I found it by chance in a used-book store. Took me nine months to read it; it literally was the densest book I’d ever picked up. Very time-consuming, but valuable read. So you can see I’m serious.

I also spent a lot of time trying to write screenplays. For some odd reason, I thought this was a realistic career path for me. I probably wrote ten or so. Never sold any of them, didn’t try hard enough reckon, but I did learn at least how to write a screenplay.

All of this makes me the perfect person to tackle a Zen screenplay.

Now, Zen is one of those books that seem impossible to translate onto the screen. Indeed, any filmed version of this novel would fall short of the book itself, unless you wanted to make a 12-hour film with endless flashbacks and exposition. But I do think there’s a way to make a good, solid, even commercial film out of the book that would do justice to Pirsig’s story and philosophy (I know Pirsig himself isn’t interested).

I’m not sure if I’ll ever find the spare time to actually write this screenplay, so I might as well just flew out my general ideas here, for posterity’s sake.

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A Far, Far Better Resting Place for Jim Kirk

William Shatner made a surprise appearance on my show, The Markets Hub (, last year. He was in the Wall Street Journal newsroom taping an interview for his new (at the time) book, and one of our producers thought it would be exciting to have him walk onto our show live.

You can watch the video here; Shatner comes on right at the 16:00 mark, and if I don’t seem all that surprised, trust me, it was just because I was keeping cool. Capt. James Kirk was a childhood hero, and to have the guy who played him come onto my set unannounced was an out-of-body experience.

Also, and much to his credit, he actually talked about the markets with us.

Anyhow, as you may imagine, I had Capt. Kirk on the brain a lot after that appearance. I started thinking Kirk deserved a better send-off than the one he got in Generations (as a truly deranged Trekkie, I will watch just about any Star Trek story if I come across it on TV, but Generations is pretty lame when you think about it). I started thinking if J.J. Abrams could screw with the Star Trek universe to launch his silly re-boot (see my take on that one here), then why couldn’t we redo Kirk’s finale tale? That’s when this Kirk story started forming in my mind.

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The Star Trek Reboot, Rebooted

I’ve watched the 2009 Star Trek reboot many times, too many times (It’s on TV every other week, seemingly). I’ve grown to both hate it and have an unhealthy fascination with it. It’s not a good movie. But you can see where it could have been a good movie, and that’s where the fascination lies.

The movie actually has a lot going for it. The special effects are superb without seeming cartoonish (like the Star Wars prequels or Avatar). The sets are well designed, the casting is good to even inspired, the movie’s fast-paced, doesn’t take itself too seriously, has fun with itself, and throws a ton of welcome homages and references to the original series.

It’s just the story that’s an absolute wreck.

Really, there’s so much going on in this movie, and it moves so fast, you don’t even really notice at first one key thing: the plot is absolutely incomprehensible. It literally makes no sense. Let’s review it, in detail.

Okay, look, I can’t do that here. It’s too convoluted and it’ll take too long (Red Letter Media does a very good job of breaking it down, anyway). Besides, I only want to bash the story as a setup for my alternate story. So I’ll assume you’re familiar with the plot. If you want to debate me on this its putridity, have at it.

Here’s just one example of a plot hole you could, well, pilot a starship through.

– We’re supposed to believe that the Romulans, who have mastered faster-than-light travel, who have mining ships that can wipe out half a dozen Federation starships at a clip (at least in this movie they do), can’t see a supernova coming in time to evacuate their home planet? Huh? What? Does that seem, you know, logical? The entire plot hinges on that point. If the Romulans evacuate, Nero’s family lives, no revenge story.

Just unbelievably lazy writing. Really, people should get arrested for taking that out in public.

I don’t have a problem with Abrams doing the whole shattered timeline thing so he can rewrite the history and characters the way he wants. I could even accept him destroying Vulcan and killing off Spock’s mother, if the story made sense. Any sense.

Now, here’s my alternate plot, which keeps to the idea of what Abrams was trying to accomplish, but in the service of a decent story that actually better illuminates the backstories of Kirk, Spock and the rest.

Ready? Here we go, Star Trek 2009, reboot take two. Action!

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The ground was hard.  It was October.  The leaves were dying and falling, the days were getting shorter and cooler.  The Indian Summer had abruptly ended, and the earth turned cold and rough.

“I’m a little cold,” Lori said.  Jake pulled off his jacket and put it around her.  “Thanks.” They sat on the brittle ground in a hillside clearing, the town laid out in neat little rows below them, lights dancing, the stars splayed across the sky above them.  A line of trees loomed behind them, disappearing into the blackness that covered the hillside.  The air was cool and clear, the stars brilliant and filling the sky.  The dusky Milky Way stretched across the celestial ceiling like a canyon.

“It’s quiet up here,” she said.  “Remember the first time you took me up here?”

“Course,” he said.

“You were very proud of yourself,” she said, smiling, “thought you’d found such a great spot.”

“It is a great spot.”

“It is a great spot.  But you didn’t discover it.”  Continue reading “Fast”