Today marks the end of one long wait and the start of another – with The Force Awakens finally here (my review is further down this page, be warned, whilst I won’t be going out of my way to spoil the film, I cannot guarantee no spoilers), I feel it’s a good time to reflect on that journey.

When I first heard that Disney had purchased Lucasfilm and were planning on making a new trilogy, I will admit to skepticism. Whatever you may think of the prequel trilogy (and indeed, the original trilogy), the six films that comprised the saga tell a complete story – the rise, fall, and redemption of Anakin Skywalker (with of course, several other themes running parallel to that).

As time went by, and trailers began to emerge for The Force Awakens, I found my concerns gradually being replaced by a sense of hope and anticipation. The trailers revealed a less flashy and more lived-in feel to the universe JJ Abrams was trying to build, and the news that he wanted to build sets and use make up and physical props more than CGI was encouraging. There was something about seeing familiar settings and characters that evoked the charm of the original trilogy, rather than the bland imagery of the prequels.

With each new trailer, the Star Wars fan in me grew more excited. I was also remarkably impressed at how few spoilers there were – the trailers gave us new clips and moments without actually giving anything away – and everything about them heightened the desire to embrace my inner Jedi.

In the final few days building up to the film, I felt like a kid at Christmas. I even had a Star Wars Advent calendar that I was using to countdown to the big day!

As this was going on, another sci-fi saga was quietly going about its business, slipping under the radar as Star Wars hogged the limelight. The news that a trailer to Star Trek Beyond would debut before The Force Awakens was very cool to me – and it was yet another reason to look forward to the 17th December. I managed to resist watching the trailer online, so my first dose of it was on the big screen.

If you don’t want any potential spoilers for Star Trek Beyond, stop reading round about now.

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Obviously there’s quite a lot going on, no context to place anything in and the trailer is less than two minutes long, so giving away major plot points at this stage is impossible anyway. What I will say is the film appears to retain the fun spirit of the first two, but with a different director (Justin Lin replaced JJ Abrams for obvious reasons) the style feels different, with more colour and vibrance. The Enterprise appears to once again get her ass kicked – the crew is stranded on the frontier, and beyond that, I have no idea. Personally, I feel it looks good, but we shall have to wait and see.

So, on to the main event. The Force Awakens. What do I think?

Final warning, if you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now.

Still here?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here we go.

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The film is a visual feast from the moment it starts, yet not in an in-your-face sort of way. This is a lived-in universe, with physical objects you could reach out and touch, rather than the CGI-laden prequels. Everything – the sets, costumes, puppets and the odd burst of CGI work here and there – is done with great care, reverence and attention to detail.

After all the theories about who the bad guy really was and about who, if anyone, would die, the film gives us what is effectively A New Hope, but reworked and brought up to date. There is an early revelation about Kylo Ren’s true identity, and a confrontation near the end of the film based on this that you half-suspect is coming, yet it still manages to hit you where it hurts.

Of the newcomers, it’s actress Daisy Ridley as Rey who steals the show. After all the (admittedly small) pointers in the trailer that point to John Boyega’s character being the next Jedi, instead it’s Rey who has a strong connection to the Force, and Ridley portrays her journey from a lonely scavenger to budding Jedi brilliantly.

Boyega also does well. Like Rey, Finn is trying to find his identity, having abandoned the life he knew. Despite some outward signs of fear, Finn is very brave, loyal and determined, eager to prove himself.

Oscar Isaac plays Poe and it’s hard to really judge his performance because we don’t see too much of his character. The X-Wing vs TIE fighter moments we’re treated to are breathtaking and beautiful and we’re also treated to what could best be described as a homage to A New Hope’s trench run.

Kylo Ren is played by Adam Driver and his character is perhaps best described as a Sith who lacks discipline. He is full of angst and anxiety and is being pulled in different directions – Driver does a pretty good job with Ren – a pity he wouldn’t have been old enough to play Anakin in the prequels, he would have done a good job!

So, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. They both did well at playing their respective characters – both Han and Leia are weary of everything, which is hardly surprising given what they’ve been through. Mark Hamill isn’t in the film long enough to establish anything!

So how do I feel about the film? The visuals are incredible, the music evokes memories of the original saga, and the performances are excellent. I need to see it again, to properly take it all in, but I can honestly say that I loved it. The Force has truly awakened!

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(what I think of Idazmi7’s latest rant)

As some of you who read this site and blog may be aware, I do from time to time indulge in online discussions regarding Star Trek vs Star Wars. You may also be aware that I’ve sparred with Idazmi7 before, on a range of versus-related topics. The latest ‘debate’ has been more of a mudslinging contest, with Idazmi7 accusing me of deleting posts of his (particularly posts concerning our argument over warp strafing).

I ought to make it abundantly clear that I have at no point deleted any of his posts. I am unsure as to whether I even could (to my knowledge, only the poster of the video can delete posts made to it), and at any rate, I see no need to even make the attempt. Idazmi7’s ‘points’ around warp strafing were easily refuted and quite frankly, I would rather they stayed up – they stand as testimony to how flawed his arguments are.

This hasn’t stopped Idazmi7 from continuing to make his allegations. Unsurprisingly, he hasn’t been able to prove anything, and equally unsurprisingly, this hasn’t stopped him from refusing to recant his allegations. At this point, he has backed himself into a corner – withdrawing his claims makes it pretty clear he was in error to make them – plus he loses face – continuing with them makes him look stupid.

This also begins to stray into libellous territory (or it would, if Idazmi7 was in an actionable situation). Allegations of what is effectively dishonest behaviour on my part is something I take very seriously, it’s not appreciated, and I am unimpressed by it. Rest assured, I am prepared to let the claims stand without providing a counterpoint.

So why is Idazmi7 doing this? In my view, it’s a smokescreen to distract from his own arguments and conduct. If he can cast my behaviour in a negative light, it would also, by extension, make my arguments look bad. It’s basically an ad hominiem attack, only a cleverer one than usual. It’s still not especially smart, and ultimately pretty obvious, but it’s a notch better than a lot of the efforts I’ve seen.

I’m not sure what Idazmi7’s end game is. His position is untenable, obvious and flawed. He hasn’t accomplished anything beyond making himself look bad. He hasn’t scared me off, or had me scrambling backwards. I can only chalk this off as a desperate gambit.

I have suggested to him that he repost his warp strafing arguments. I am not the least bit concerned by them and I would rather they were up, so everyone can see how flawed his position is.

There is little question that the dominant subject in the news of late is IS. They seem to be all anyone is talking about, whether directly or indirectly (such as discussing Syria, refugees or Islam in general). As ever, this is another front of the war for hearts and minds, one with profound implications for us all.

The stabbing at a London Underground station has the potential to be quite pivotal, as, in what was a moment of pure horror for anyone there, one man – a Muslim man – shouted at the attacker ‘you ain’t no Muslim bruv’. This gesture has been trending on Twitter and hopefully will continue to do so. Here’s hoping it also has an impact upon communities as well.

It would be all too easy to give IS exactly what they want right now. After the attacks in California the calls to place tighter controls on immigration (specifically from Syria) are going to reach fever pitch. Britain is now bombing ISIS targets in Syria, joining that already messed up and complex web. This is perfect for IS, who will be using these actions as a recruitment drive, with one eye on future generations too – however many IS terrorists we kill, we won’t kill the ideology with bombs.

At what point do we stop playing into the hands of extremists?

I’m staring at a blank page, fingers poised above the keyboard, wondering what I will say to you as I write this. Right now, you are five years old, you are almost unbelievably sweet and adorable – except I do believe it, since you’re my little girl, daddy’s little princess.

Do you drive me mad sometimes? Of course you do – that’s what kids do to their parents. You’ll get upset over how your gloves feel over your hands, you’ll need to be cajoled into seating down at the table at dinner time, and you won’t go to sleep when you’re told – bedtime is apparently just an extension of playtime!

Yet, these are things easily forgiven, as you’ve not only given me the best memories of my life so far, but I know there are many more happy milestones to come.

I still recall with crystal clarity the day you were born. You were so tiny, so precious, so beautiful. I have never felt so emotional and happy as I did in that moment that I got to see you for the first time, and from that first little cuddle we shared, I’ve never wanted to let you go. So many of the best moments for me have been when you would lay your head on my chest and drift off to have a little nap, even snoring away contentedly on daddy, feeling snug and safe in my arms.

At this stage of your life, people might say you’re not where you should be at school. I say that’s a load of tosh and that you are exactly at the stage you should be at. You’ve learned so much and every day you learn a little bit more. Every child learns at their own pace and besides, it doesn’t matter how bright or clever you are, what matters to me is that you are happy. I’m not exactly the smartest man in the world, and at one time I wished I was smarter, fitter and well, better than I am, but I’ve come to learn that I’m fine the way I am. I’ve learned to be comfortable in my own skin and I hope you learn this lesson faster than I did. As a happy and content five year-old, you certainly seem to have learned it already!

You have a wonderfully creative mind and I hope this stays with you. Your imagination is a powerful gift and can be the source of so many amazing journeys. It makes me smile watching you line up your little toys for a race – then we have the epic battle between your evil pony(s) and the good guys! Especially funny is the spider game – I will walk my hand toward you like a spider, you will offer it catfood, and the spider will recoil in terror.

Another moment I will cherish forever goes back to when you were two. In your bedroom you had a net basket that held, among other things, your Toy Story figures. You proceeded to get them out, one by one, telling me who each one was, until you got to Rex. At this point, you stopped, looked at me and said ‘rawr rawr rawr!’ It was a brilliant, wonderful, spontaneous moment, and it still makes my heart swell when I think of it.

When you started nursery (and you looked simply too adorable in your little uniform), you went straight on in, without fear or hesitation. I was so proud of you for that – you took it completely in your stride. You also had your mother and I in stitches when we collected you – you told us you had bacon ice cream for a snack!

Another one of your early quirks was to go very shy whenever my mum and dad paid us a visit. You’d usually bury yourself in daddy’s arms for a few minutes, before warming up to them – this trend would continue for a little while, though you’ve since grown out of it!

You’re a constant source of surprise, but the best one has to be the deliberate (and very patient) prank you played upon me as a five year old – I’d come home from work and your mother and I had gone upstairs. You were babbling away downstairs and then all of a sudden went quiet. I thought nothing of it – sometimes you played quietly – and went to open my wardrobe. Inside was you, hands held up like a monster, wide-eyed too! You scared the life out of me, in an hilarious and completely unexpected way! I have to admit to being very proud of you for that!

I’m also pretty chuffed that you found Star Wars at an early age! Though you seemed to love and admire the bad guys… Darth Vader in particular!

Oh madam. You are the brightest star in my life. I love you, and I will always love you.

As 2015 slowly winds down (I’ve started to write this at the end of November), I find myself moved, as always, to compose my thoughts on the year gone by and jot them down. Where to begin?

Work

It’s my professional life that has seen the most change this year, with drama from the start. My manager at my (then) job in office supply retail resigned at the end of January, having had enough (understandably!) of the company’s ineptitude. I don’t exaggerate when I say he was sorely missed, not just by me but by everyone, and I consider him to be a friend as well as a manager I respected. His departure from that place sparked my own quest to leave, and I had several interviews – including one with a pretigious London department store, a job I came very close to getting, but agonisingly, just missed out on.

I won’t lie, missing out on that particular job hurt, and it still does. It would have been a remarkable thing to note on a CV, and I would have been honoured to work there, even despite the stress and hassle of traveling into London every day.

My now former employers slipped further and further into decline, with head office taking forever to appoint a new manager to the store. This left myself, another team leader and a part-time sales manager to somehow juggle the responsibilities of a general manager on top of our regular duties, and whilst we did have sporadic support from other stores, the area manager paid very little attention to our plight, and visited us just once. He left us to sink without offering any help, and I am very, very disappointed in his attitude to our situation.

It would be fair to say I was unhappy at this point. The month of February was a long one, as was half of March. We struggled – I struggled, and felt there was nowhere to really turn. The area manager was useless and uncaring, and this was also the case with the company as a whole.

Then things began to turn around. The new manager started, and for a time, things began to improve. The store got organised again, and I felt I could flourish once more. Oh how wrong I would prove to be.

Without going into specifics (former colleagues may be reading this and I don’t want to land anyone in it), it was suggested to me that certain (untrue) suggestions had been made about me. I had to explain myself to the area manager in person (which I did, and was no bother), and afterward, I asked my manager to have a word with the person who had made these suggestions. To my knowledge, he never did.

Ultimately, leaving was as much for the sake of my sanity and health as anything else. Stuck in a job with no prospects and an atmosphere that was becoming poisonous, combined with a head office that had no clue how to run a business, I realised I had to leave, not only for the sake of my career but for my well-being. Leaping into the unknown was risky, and to be honest, I feel very bitter about the circumstances, but I had to act in my best interests, and I did just that.

The upshot of it all is that I have ended up in a career that plays to my strengths, even if at first I wasn’t at all sure of the industry. My former colleagues and manager have repeatedly told me I’m a good salesman, and you know what? I am.

I’ve heard several stories come out from my former employers, regarding how the store has been over the course of the past few months. If I ever needed validation of my decision to go, these stories are very much it!

As the new job has progressed I’ve sharpened and honed my salesman skills. I am bloody proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish so far there and I look forward to seeing what else I can do!

Personal

I am fortunate that, after what was a difficult year last year, 2015 has been kinder on the personal front. My loved ones and friends are healthy and I had the pleasure of meeting an old friend earlier in the year for a few drinks and merriment! My wife is well and my daughter continues to astound and amaze me. She is now at school proper – where has my little baby gone? Her personality is shining through now – she is a very relaxed and chilled little girl, with a wonderful creative streak – she likes to draw, she likes to bake (yes, she loves making cakes and biscuits!), and she likes to make her ponies… erm… do battle?!

It’s been the love of my family that helped me get through the tough times earlier in the year. I owe a lot to them this year – more so than usual. My wife, my mum and my dad have in particular shared my tumultuous journey and got me through it. Without them it would have been all too much for me.

Despite the tension, stress and pressure at the start of the year, I feel like the shackles have come off this year. Being free of my thankless role with my previous employers has given me a new lease of life, and I feel like I’m appreciating the world around me a little bit more. I enjoyed a wonderful trip to the Tower of London earlier in the year with my mum, wife and daughter, and back in May had a much-needed week in Yarmouth with my wife, daughter, step-daughter and granddaughter. These were much needed family occasions that gave me the chance to recharge my batteries and get myself back into a good place (my little girl got her first experience of a horse and carriage ride too!)

2015 can best be defined as a transitional year. It started out tough – very tough. It’s ending on a positive note. I have to be happy with that!

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Yes, he really did say that. Leaving aside whether there is or is not a good argument for Britain getting involved in the mess that is Syria, this kind of comment is beyond the pale.

What he’s basically saying is ‘if you’re not with me, you’re against me’. Where have we heard such rhetoric before?

There’s a case to be made for strikes against ISIS. The world cannot sit by and passively watch as they tighten their grip on the region. Equally, lessons need to be learned from the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan. Action without due consideration for the consequences and without a plan for the aftermath will only lead to disaster.

The other problem is whether bombing alone can actually achieve anything, and the issue of arming other groups is a thorny one – America armed Osama bin Laden and look what happened there. Plus, different groups have different aims in Syria – some of which are very much not compatible with one another.

That all being said, I don’t agree with Corbyn that diplomacy – or at least, diplomacy on its own – will resolve the crisis in Syria. As horrible as it might be, sometimes a military solution is required, and ISIS aren’t about to sit down with anyone. What I do agree with is Corbyn sticking to his principles – that is rare in politics. He is also letting his party members vote whichever way they wish, which is commendable. Cameron’s hostile ‘you’re my enemy if you’re not my ally’ approach is divisive and threatening. I know who gets more respect from me.