Star Wars Is Dead – Part 1: Fan fiction pretending to be a reboot pretending to be a finale

Okay, it’s taken me longer to get round to the first part of this series than I expected, but let’s go.

This film is a massive fuck you to The Last Jedi.

This film was filled with retcons. I was actually almost impressed with the number of retcons in this film. I was also amazed at the kind of retcons we got. Some of the retcons were of the kind we’re used to seeing, where something that was possible in a previous film is now just not possible, and next to no explanation is given. Some of the retcons were of a different kind – which I’ve been calling ‘narrative retcons’ (which may not be the best name), where the act of undoing or replacing something is woven into the narrative – this kind of retcon seemed to be used to change the direction and style set-up by The Last Jedi. I didn’t even realise such ‘narrative retcons’ were possible before watching this film.

Now, before I start going through all of the retcons in this film, I want to assert that all retcons are bad. Having retcons in your film or television series or book is always bad – having them always makes your creative work lower quality than if it did not have them. Because fundamentally, a retcon is a discontinuity. (‘Retcon’ is an abbreviation of ‘retroactive continuity’, and was originally used to describe when the creator of a creative work – whether they’re an author or a film director or a film producer – either added something into a sequel work, or said something outside of any of the creative works in the series, that changes the meaning, or the sequence of events, the history, or the underlying physics or metaphysics, seen by the audience in the creative work, so as not to contradict something that is seen in the sequel work. Retcons are an attempt at providing continuity across the series of works. Because of this we might naïvely see them as continuities, rather than discontinuities. But the very fact that we the audience have to change our understanding of a part of the original creative work, so that on second viewing of the series as a whole it appears to have a continuity, means that there IS a discontinuity in our understanding of the story. In short, a retcon asks the audience to pretend they didn’t notice a thing from the previous parts of the story. A retcon is an attempt at giving the story continuity at the expense of the continuity of the audience’s understanding. So it is a discontinuity. In addition to this, the overwhelming majority of retcons are imperfect, and in their attempt to remove an inconsistency in the story, they just end up creating one or more other inconsistencies – as was the case with this film.) Discontinuities pull the audience out of the story – whether it’s a book or a television series or a film, a discontinuity reminds the audience that the world of the creative work is not real. Discontinuities lessen the immersivity of a story – they are the antagonists of immersivity. (This is why world-building is such a big part of writing science fiction and fantasy – you’ve got to make the audience believe that the world they are reading about could be real. If there are inconsistencies in your world design, it makes your world less believable.) Every time I see a discontinuity in a film, I am reminded that I am sitting in a cinema. This is not what I want. In a science fiction or fantasy film (or quite frankly any film), I want to forget that the real world exists – for between one and a half and three hours I want to imagine that the world of the film is all that exists, and I imagine that this is what a lot of the fans of these films want. Thus, all retcons are bad.

This is why I said, in the video I made about Episode IX before it came out, that I thought there was no possibility of this film being a good film. It either had to go with what it had been given from The Last Jedi, which was shit (that’s for another rant), or it had to retcon lots of things from the previous films, which would also have been shit because retcons are always bad. Whatever this film did, it would end up being shit.

But okay, onto the actual retcons. The main thing to point out here is that this film retconned all of the big things introduced in The Last Jedi. I would have thought that anyone who liked The Last Jedi would have hated this film because of that.

Firstly, the obvious one: in The Last Jedi it’s revealed that Rey’s parents are not anyone of significance within the galaxy. It’s also implied that they weren’t Force-users. This was massively, massively retconned in The Rise Of Skywalker (fuck I hate that title). Not only were Rey’s parents not ‘nobody’, they were very much ‘somebody’ – in fact they were some of the somebodiest ‘somebodies’ in the entire galaxy, because Rey is a grandchild of Emperor Palpatine.

Now, I personally don’t dislike this idea (other than the fact that it is a retcon – I would have liked this had they done the proper setup for it, but they didn’t, and now it’s a mess), but for those people who did like The Last Jedi, this must be pretty annoying. Defenders of The Last Jedi often exclaimed that it was a good thing that Rey was not related to any of the big Force-using families – why did everyone have to be related to everyone in this galaxy? Why did Force powers have to be inherited? Are the defenders of The Last Jedi annoyed by this change?

I don’t dislike the idea of this – I think had they intended this to be the case from the beginning, I think it could have been done very well. But the execution is hot trash. In TROS, after Rey finds out that she’s the grandchild of Palpatine, Kylo Ren uses the ‘true from a certain point of view’ angle (it’s pretty lazy writing to just do that one again) to show how what he said in TLJ wasn’t technically wrong. This means that Kylo Ren knew who Rey’s parents were back in TLJ – so he lied … … but … why? What reason did he have for lying at that point? As far as I can tell, there is none. (Also, if indeed Kylo Ren did find this out in TLJ, his reaction to it was remarkably unsurprised. This shows again how retcons are bad – expressions given by actors in previous scenes now no longer make sense.)

The problems go further than this. This film tries to retroactively explain Rey’s astonishing Force powers by linking her to Palpatine. Of course, one of the main criticisms of Rey from the last two films is that she’s a Mary Sue – she can just use the Force very well despite having no training. Connecting Rey to Palpatine, and indicating that that’s where her extraordinary powers come from is an attempt to un-Mary-Sue-ify Rey. But Episode VII is called ‘The Force Awakens’, and the message from that film is very much that the Force has ‘awoken’ in Rey (something which they continue leaning into in TLJ). But if Rey’s powers are inherited from Palpatine, how did they awaken? She had them all along. This change undermines the premise of this trilogy.

Okay, secondly: Snoke. This is one of the retcons that I class as a narrative retcon. Snoke remains dead in this film – they didn’t undo that. But they did undo the big thing that was done in TLJ. In TLJ, the Big Bad, the final boss, was killed using a very unsubtle play on words. This was hailed as revolutionary by film aficionados. We all expected that Snoke was going to be killed off at the end of the third film – that’s how it always goes – that’s one of the tropes of these kinds of films. Shock, he dies in the second film.

This film didn’t bring Snoke back, but it did undo the effect of killing him off. Killing Snoke meant that there was no Big Bad for Episode IX. Except … in the end … there was – this film just decided to bring back Palpatine instead. One Big Bad had been killed off, so they just brought in another one instead. The effect of killing off the Big Bad was nullified.

So this is a ‘narrative retcon’. They didn’t just straight-up bring Snoke back, but they changed the narrative to put the overarching story back into the place that it would have been had Snoke’s death not happened.

But this retcon goes deeper than this, almost in a way that suggests J. J. Abrams was insulted by the killing-off of Snoke, because this film completely removes Snoke as a character from these films. Early on in TROS, when Kylo Ren goes to visit Sheev in hospital, we see a large tank in the dark room where they keep Palpy. In this tank, we see several Snoke bodies. This means that Sheev literally created Snoke. And when Sheev says ‘I am every voice you’ve ever heard.’ (something like that – it’s been a few weeks), he must either mean that Snoke was a real person but who was Palpatine’s puppet, or Snoke was just under the direct control of Palpatine, using some other new Force power. Either way, Snoke only existed for the purpose of swaying Kylo Ren, probably only existed for a few years, and had no free agency. He effectively didn’t exist. That’s quite a monumental retcon.

Thirdly, the Holdo Manoeuvre. This was a full-on retcon. It was also a fuck you to fans, because they actually had a character ask a question that they knew fans would ask if they didn’t do this retcon: ‘Why not just use the Holdo Manoeuvre against Sheev’s fleet?’.

The response to this, from Finn, was ‘That’s one in a million.’ (something like that). This is the laziest fucking writing I’ve ever seen. He might as well have just said ‘Nah’. The Last Jedi introduced something into the Star Wars universe that was world-breaking. The existence of this as a thing that can happen means that a large number of events should have turned out differently, if this is to be a consistent universe. And the explanation we’re given as to why this thing doesn’t happen all the time is essentially just ‘it doesn’t’, which isn’t a fucking reason at all.

I have never seen such lazy fucking writing – why do you bother making films at all if you can’t be bothered to think about these things?

Those were the three big things from The Last Jedi that were retconned, but there were lots of other retcons too.

The biggest retcon of the entire film, of course, is Palpatine. At the start of this film, Palpatine is not dead. He did not die at the end of Episode VI (or he died and came back to life – since we don’t know the details the distinction is somewhat arbitrary).

Now, even before this film came out, I said, as did many others, that bringing Palpatine back was not a good idea. Palpatine being alive means that he didn’t truly die in Episode VI, which undermines the plot of Episode VI. At the end of Return Of The Jedi, all of the main characters celebrate the destruction of the second Death Star and the death of Palpatine (and consequently the fall of the empire). But this is now a hollow victory, because they didn’t truly kill Palpatine at all. This film completely changes the context and tone of the ending to ROTJ – the characters may be celebrating, but now we the audience know that they should instead be looking for Palpatine, either to kill him properly or to prevent him from coming back. The characters celebrate, but we the audience do not.

No explanation is given for how Palpatine survived – in true J. J. Abrams fashion. All we get is a repeat of Palpatine’s earlier line: ‘The Dark Side is a path to many abilities that some would consider unnatural.’ While this is not an explanation, it does reveal another (partial) retcon. This means that Sidious used the Force to stay alive – he did not just happen to survive by natural means. In the Prequels, Sidious says that only Darth Plagueis knew of how to cheat death using the Dark Side of the Force. So apparently, Sidious figured it out on his own at some point between the Prequels and the Originals. That’s not impossible according to the Star Wars universe’s own rules, so it’s not a full-on retcon, but we the audience know that this is a recent change, rather than a fact of the universe that was intended all along, so it still sticks out.

The main side-effect of Sidious being alive is that it undermines the finality of death in these stories. This is a problem that can exist in any story that brings characters back from the dead – either by making that physically possible in the world of the story, or by pretending that they were never dead in the first place. This is advice that writers are often given. Tension and suspense are created in your story because the reader or viewer does not want the characters to fail or to lose or to die – the audience has investment in the characters. Bringing characters back to life in your story ultimately removes death as a possibility – after all, if one character can come back once, surely any character can come back any number of times. It removes the stakes, and thus undermines the tension. We no longer fear that our protagonist may die in their fight, because if they do they can just come back to life.

And this is a problem we see in this film too. Sidious dies again in this film, but is there anything to stop him coming back again? Will he just come back whenever the franchise is in trouble? Death can no longer be a permanent victory against evil – the protagonists cannot win.

More on character-based retcons: this film gave us General Pryde. This I think is by far the most interesting, and funniest, of the retcons in the film. One of the complaints about The Last Jedi was that it undermined General Hux as a threatening villain. Hux was used as a comedy character. This made it very difficult to use Hux as a true villain in TROS, because we wouldn’t have taken him seriously. I think J. J. Abrams knew this, and that’s why we got General Pryde, played by Richard E. Grant. General Pryde is just another menacing First Order commander – on paper he is no different to Hux – but because we haven’t seen him be the butt of jokes in TLJ, he can actually be menacing – we the audience take him seriously. Pryde is a replacement for Hux.

This is another ‘narrative retcon’. The existence of Pryde doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen before, nor does it change the meaning of anything we’ve seen before, but it does reverse the effect of TLJ by giving us a new secondary villain. It seems two villains from the previous film were replaced: Snoke was replaced with Palpatine, and Hux was replaced with Pryde. We now have our new primary and secondary villains.

The existence of Pryde isn’t interesting just because it is this different kind of retcon, but also because in this film, General Pryde shoots and kills General Hux. This was amazing when I saw it in the cinema (not in a good way) – they actually had General Hux’s replacement shoot General Hux! The replacement killed off the original! As retcons go, that is bold.

They killed off Pryde at the end of the film. (I don’t know why – he could have been a good villain for future films – maybe he’ll come back from the dead too.) But I wonder if there’s a hidden meaning here. The Last Jedi made Hux an unusable character; in the end it was Pryde / pride that killed him, and then Pryde / pride dies. Is General Pryde a jab at Rian Johnson? Johnson has aggressively defended The Last Jedi on Twitter ever since it came out – he has, it seems, always been proud of the film. Is Abrams saying that it was Johnson’s pride that killed Hux, and in the end pride dies because TLJ was hated by a lot of fans? I’ve heard stranger fan theories, and it would explain why this new general is called Pryde of all things.

While I’m on The First Order, there was another retcon there, and in some ways this is the worst one. In this film it is revealed that Palpatine has got a huge fleet of ships on Exegol. This fleet is bigger and more powerful than any other ever seen at any other point in the Star Wars films. Every ship in it is both a Star Destroyer and a Death Star (I’ll come back to that issue later). This fleet is more powerful than The First Order fleet was even before the destruction of Starkiller Base (gosh that seems like a long time ago now), since every five ships of this fleet is essentially another Starkiller Base. This fleet is part of what’s called The Final Order.

But what’s confusing is that Snoke, who apparently created the First Order, was a literal creation of Palpatine. Everything Snoke is and was was given to him by Palpatine. So was the First Order just part of the Final Order all along? As far as I can remember they have the same uniform. And when Palpatine reveals his fleet, thereafter there appears to be no difference between the First Order and the Final Order. General Pryde somehow gets from a First Order ship onto a Final Order ship – we never see how, and no-one in-universe seems to question it, so apparently none of them see any difference between the two. The Knights of Ren (when they make an appearance) also apparently switch from the First Order to the Final without any confusion. As far as I can tell, the First Order and the Final Order are one single organisation.

And this makes me wonder: do the people in the First Order know that they’re part of the Final Order? Some of them must do, surely, but apparently not Kylo Ren, otherwise he’d’ve know that Sidious was alive since Episode VII. This is a massive great inconsistency right in the middle of the film.

Also, how on earth does the Final Order survive out there on Exegol? They appear to have thousands of enormous ships. I know some people have done calculations for how many people must be on those ships – I can’t remember what they’ve said, but it could easily be tens of thousands on each one. There are potentially tens of millions of people living out there on Exegol, waiting for Sidious to do whatever he’s going to do. How do they live? Exegol doesn’t look like a planet that produces much food. And are all of these people people that they’ve taken from other parts of the galaxy and brought to Exegol to be trained as Stormtroopers? Is this film telling me that Sidious and his gang were able to bring tens of millions of people to Exegol over the years, and no-one either followed them or tried to escape once there? No-one sent out a covert signal to the rest of the galaxy?

Also among the retcons were the Knights of Bloody Ren. They’re back … although actually, are they? Have we ever even seen them? I think we saw them in a flashback in TFA or TLJ – they didn’t really do anything – they just stood there, as far as I can remember. I think that’s all we’ve ever seen of them. And I think we only see them in two scenes in this film – once on Kylo Ren’s First Order ship, and then once on Exegol, fighting Kylo Ren. This is sort of a retcon, in that they’ve been retconned into existence after being conspicuously out of existence. I’d reckon they were included in this film just because fans would have questioned it if they weren’t, but their inclusion is just baffling. We still know nothing about them. We don’t know who they are or what they want. And we can’t figure out what they want here, because their decisions don’t seem to make any sense. In the previous two films we were given the sense that they were very loyal to Kylo Ren, even though we never saw them. In this film, apparently, even though I don’t know how they know that Kylo has changed sides, they somehow do, and instead decide to serve the Emperor – so apparently not that loyal to Kylo in the end. So in the end, the Knights of Ren were completely fucking pointless. We still don’t even know what ‘Ren’ means.

And then finally (yes, we’re finally there), there were some retcons to Luke and Leia. Leia was now a Jedi all along, apparently, which explains how she was able to train Rey, but is not sufficient for how she was able to survive in space without any kind of spacesuit. Luke was also made more Jedi-master-like in this film, perhaps in a direct response to fans.

Furthermore, as part of this film’s ‘fuck you’ to TLJ, when Rey throws her lightsaber into a fire, Luke catches it, and they have him say the line ‘The weapon of a Jedi deserves more respect.’ – that’s a direct response to fans hating it when Luke threw his lightsaber over his shoulder in TLJ.

I’m sure there are more retcons than that, but those are all the ones I wrote down. You see why now I’m having to write out my thoughts on this film over several blog posts and videos – this blog post is almost 4000 words long, and this is just the retcons in the film.

These retcons alone mean that this film is incoherent, and the Star Wars universe is broken. This is not a universe where things make sense. You cannot anticipate what characters might do, because it is not based on the things that have so far been possible in the universe, any reasonable approximation of realistic logistics, or previously established character traits and motivations. It all just happens. Any future films and television shows cannot receive any of the benefits of being part of a shared universe, because they aren’t – a shared universe depends on consistency.

If there had been no other problems with the film, the existence of all of these retcons alone would have made it a disastrous film. As it was, there were loads of other problems.

A New Year’s Day Tradition

Over the last five years or so I have gradually developed a number of my own traditions around Yule and the new year. One of these is that on New Year’s Day I try to do lots of the activities that I want to do throughout the year. If I want to do lots of writing that year, then I do some writing on New Year’s Day. If I want to make lots of videos for my YouTube channel that year, then I do something related to making videos on New Year’s Day (it doesn’t have to be actually recording a video – I could just do something that’s useful generally, like learning more about how to light videos).

Now this isn’t about New Year’s resolutions – I don’t do New Year’s resolutions (because I think if a resolution is worth making then it’s worth making at whatever time of year you happen to think about it). This tradition isn’t about getting a head-start on New Year’s resolutions. Instead it’s just about having a good start to the year. If I want to do lots of writing in a given year, then if I do lots of writing on the first day of the year, by the end of the first day the year’s going very well – 100% of it was spent doing the things that I wanted to do.

This tradition is about making the first day of the year the example day for the rest of the year. If all the days can be like the first day, then it will be a good year. My aim on this New Year’s Day is to do a lot of reading, and maybe go through a lot of my old writing notes and scan in anything that only exists in paper form.

Star Wars Is Dead

Two days ago I went to see Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.

Now, for well over a year, my plan has been that after this film came out I would make a video on YouTube about it. As I said in my recent video Star Wars Episode IX: A Morbid Fascination, I thought it was very unlikely that this would be a good film, so I thought I was going to be making a single video about this film – mostly about what made it a bad film.

Now, this is a bad film, but now that I’ve watched it there’s so much to say about this film that I’ve realised I’m going to have to make multiple videos about it. If I tried to make one single video going over everything in the film that was bad, it could easily be two hours long. It often takes me an hour to record a fifteen-minute video – I don’t really want to spend eight hours trying to record a two-hour video – I think I’d die from the effort.

So I’m going to have to make several videos about it. In order to give some structure to the videos, I’m also going to write posts about it on here (the first of which is this) – a lot of the things in this film that were bad were bad in various different ways, so grouping them together into videos is going to be difficult, and I’m going to try to use these posts as a way of structuring the videos before making them.

But anyway, onto the actual film.

This film was a mess. It was a mess of retcons, deus ex machina, fake-out deaths, pacing problems, suspense problems, arbitrary nostalgia, and nihilism. It is just astonishing how much of this film was trash film-making, trash world-building, or trash story-telling. Things just happened – there was no reason for them to happen, no need for them to happen, and no meaning to them.

This film resorted to the most basic of fantasy tropes. I remember seeing in a headline for a review before the film came out, someone said that it had a ‘video-game plot’, and that was very true: a series of levels for the main characters to pass, a series of battles for them to win, all essentially disconnected from each other, before going on to fight the boss at the end. The film was stuffed with nostalgia and fan service – not necessarily bad things on their own – in fact many of these moments were quite good – but they were just disconnected moments, and they did not redeem the film as a whole, and often just seemed completely out-of-place.

This film tried to be a massive course-correction, but with only one film left in the trilogy, it was too late. Had they decided to make this a four-film series, or even a six-film series, they might have been able to do it. If they wanted to course-correct, then it was a bad decision to limit this series to only three films. Almost every decision they made in making this film was the wrong one. As much as I didn’t like The Last Jedi, this film would probably have been better if they’d continued in the direction that that film sent them – it still wouldn’t have been good – it would have just been not as bad.

I originally wanted to call this series (or rather the one video that it was supposed to be) ‘Star Wars Is Dead’ because I suspected that this film would be another outright disaster, like The Last Jedi, and that the franchise would be seen as no more special than, say, the DC film universe, or the X-Men film universe. It would just be another generic sci. fi. / fantasy film series with no greater status than any other. But while this film was an omnishambles, and while I think many of the fans of the franchise will abandon the franchise because of this film (those that didn’t leave after The Last Jedi, at least), I’m not sure whether the franchise will continue to have appeal for very casual viewers – it might, and if it does, perhaps Star Wars is just in a coma.

At the end of this series I’m going to return to this idea of whether Star Wars is dead, but first, we’ve got to go through this trash-fire of a film in detail.

The Emperor Has A Small Penis

written by me, Benjamin T. Milnes, based on The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen

The Emperor had an enormous penis.

That’s what he said, at least. Only the Empress and the Emperor’s concubines – all eighty-eight of them – had ever actually seen it, and they dutifully repeated the Emperor’s own claims about it. And the Emperor himself repeated his claims every chance he had – he would shout it from the walls of his palace – sometimes three, four, five times in a day. He claimed that it was twenty-four and a half inches long – longer than that of any emperor ever before – longer than that of anyone else in the world. He claimed that it was so great in girth, that he could not grasp it even with both of his hands.

Mind you, his hands were very small – that everyone could see – small and fat. Indeed, many questioned, if his hands were so small, surely his penis must be small too? The only thing that wasn’t small about the Emperor was his waist. The Emperor was fat and old, with a face like a pouting pig.

You might think that no-one would believe such unbelievable claims about the size of the Emperor’s penis, but some people did! I’d say at least three out of every ten people believed it – it was even more when the Emperor had first ascended to the throne. Those who believed it were, unsurprisingly, the Emperor’s supporters – those who liked the Emperor’s policies (or at least, who liked the idea of the Emperor’s policies – once implemented, those policies actually cost the Emperor’s supporters).

But no-one else believed it. It was so obvious that he would want to boast about something like that. The Emperor was petty, petulant, and pompous in all that he did. And if it was true, it wasn’t difficult to prove! ‘Show us the penis!’ the Emperor’s opponents said.

Those who did not believe the Emperor’s phallic claims were baffled by those who did. It was so obvious that the Emperor was making it up. But the Emperor’s supporters were insistent. Like the Emperor himself, they too claimed that it was the size of his penis that gave him his divine right to rule as Emperor; it was the size of his majesty’s wang that had brought great wealth to the empire over the last few years; and lesser kings of vassal states obeyed the wishes of the Emperor because they were in awe of the size of his imperial schlong.

The great city where the Emperor resided was always bustling. People from all over the world came to the city. One day, two swindlers came to the city, and they had a cunning plan to get a lot of money. They told everyone they met that they were the greatest weavers in the world, and that they could make the finest silk brocades and damasks using colours beyond all imagination: bluish copper, fuchsia gold, emerald-orange, and topaz-white. Not only that, but they said that the fabric they made possessed magical qualities: the cloth would be invisible to anyone who was not loyal to the Emperor, or to any man whose penis was indefensibly small.

‘What a brilliant material!’ the Emperor thought when he heard of the master weavers’ claims. ‘If I wore a suit made of this material, I would be able to tell who in my empire – including those in my own government – are not loyal to me. I must have this fabric woven for me at once.’ So the Emperor gave the swindlers a great sum of money for a bolt of this material.

The swindlers got to work right away – at least, they pretended to. They set up two looms, and pretended to be hard at work at them. They moved their hands as though to send the shuttle back and forth, and moved their feet as though pushing down on the treadles, but in reality there were no threads in the looms, and they produced no fabric at all.

‘I want to know how much progress they’ve made on the fabric.’ the Emperor thought after a few days had passed, so he sent one of his ministers to where the swindlers worked to inspect the cloth.

I will say at this point that almost no-one in the Emperor’s government liked the Emperor. The Emperor was petty, changeable, and above all stupid. The Emperor had no idea how to rule his empire, and it was all his ministers could do to prevent the Emperor from implementing policies that would see the end of the empire’s prosperity. The Emperor was an annoyance – one that his ministers could do without. Most were not loyal to him, and a number of them were plotting to remove the Emperor, and place someone more competent on the throne.

The minister that the Emperor sent to inspect the fabric was one such person. When the minister walked into the room where the swindlers sat at their looms, the minister could see no fabric. ‘It is because I am not loyal to the Emperor.’ the minister thought. Not for a second did the minister wonder if he had a small penis, because he, like the Emperor, was quite convinced of the massiveness of his dong. ‘I must pretend that I can see the cloth, otherwise these master weavers may tell the Emperor that I cannot see it, and he will discover our plan to overthrow him.’

The swindlers requested that the minister come closer to the looms, so that he might see the intricate patterns they had woven into the fabric. They asked if he admired the way the fabric shimmered in the light, and the way the colour changed as you moved around the room, all the while pointing at empty looms.

‘The fabric is most exquisite.’ the minister said. ‘The colours are so vivid, and the patterns are so beautiful. I shall tell the Emperor that the fabric is of extraordinary quality, and that you are making excellent progress.’

‘We are glad to hear that.’ the swindlers said, and the minister returned to the palace to tell the Emperor what he had seen.

Now the swindlers asked the Emperor for more silk thread, so that they might continue their work. The Emperor eagerly gave it to them, but they did not use any of it. They kept it, so that they could sell it later, once they’d left the city. And they continued to work at the empty looms.

After another few days had passed, the Emperor sent a second minister to the weavers, to see how they were getting on. Like the first minister, this second minister was also planning to depose the Emperor, and was also assured of the vastness of his pisser. But this second minister was older than the first; he had been part of the government for decades. He was more astute, and more sceptical of the claims of these weavers.

When the older minister walked into the room where the weavers sat at their looms, he too saw nothing, but he was not fooled by the swindlers. ‘There is no fabric.’ the older minister thought. ‘They are trying to deceive the Emperor.’ But the minister, having no loyalty to the Emperor, saw no reason to tell the Emperor of this deception – the minister would gain nothing by doing so. ‘I must pretend that I can see the fabric, otherwise these swindlers may tell the Emperor that I cannot see it, and he will believe that this means I am disloyal, and he will discover our plan to overthrow him.’

‘Is it not a beautiful fabric?’ the two swindlers asked, lifting up the non-existent fabric and showing it to the minister.

‘The fabric is most exquisite.’ the older minister said. ‘The colours are so vivid, and the patterns are so beautiful. I shall tell the Emperor that the fabric is of extraordinary quality, and that you are making excellent progress.’

‘We are glad to hear that.’ the swindlers said. The older minister returned to the palace, and told the Emperor what he wanted to hear.

Everyone in the whole city was talking about the magnificent fabric, but they did not all say the same things. Those who were opponents of the Emperor were not fooled by the swindlers. They did not believe that this fabric had magical qualities – let alone such conveniently specific qualities as identifying who among the population was not loyal to the Emperor, and who had a small penis.

Those who supported the Emperor thought quite differently. They believed the swindlers, and saw this fabric as an opportunity. If the Emperor wore a suit made of this fabric, they would know, for certain, who opposed the Emperor, and they could see that those people were less vocal about their opposition in future.

At last the Emperor wished to see the fabric for himself, so he went to the room where the two swindlers sat at empty looms, surrounded by (what he thought were) eighteen of his most loyal ministers.

‘See, your majesty.’ one of the two swindlers said, pointing at the loom. ‘Are not the colours so vivid? Is not the pattern so intricate?’

The Emperor stared, open-mouthed, at the loom. He slowly realised that he could not see anything on it, but he did not understand – the fabric was only supposed to be invisible to men who had small penises – and he was quite convinced that his whacker was sufficiently whopping to be able to see the fabric – and the only other explanation was that he was not loyal to the Emperor – but he was the Emperor – how could he not be loyal to himself?

The Emperor asked the two master weavers about this. ‘It is because you are the Emperor, your majesty.’ the master weavers said. ‘Can one be loyal to oneself? It is a meaningless question, thus the fabric will be invisible to you.’

The ministers who stood around the Emperor – most of whom knew that there was no fabric – were amazed that the swindlers were able to get away with such a ludicrous reason, but they were glad that they did. The Emperor turned to his ministers and said ‘What do you think of the colours? What do you think of the pattern?’, pointing at the empty looms.

‘The colours are most vivid, your majesty, and the pattern is most intricate.’ the Emperor’s ministers chorused. None of them could see the fabric, for there was nothing to see, but none wanted the Emperor to see that they were disloyal, so they played along with the swindlers.

The Emperor turned back to the master weavers. ‘Your fabric has my approval. I shall make you the Imperial Court Weavers. You must make a suit for me out of this fabric, and I shall wear it in a great procession through the city.’

The swindlers agreed to do so, and they stayed up long into the night, pretending to lift the fabric, cut it, and sew it together into a suit. Many people looked in through the windows to watch the master weavers work. When morning came, the swindlers set down their scissors and needles and at last said

‘The Emperor’s new suit is ready now.’

The swindlers walked to the imperial palace, pretending to carry the suit with them. They went into a hall where the Emperor waited, surrounded by all his ministers. The swindlers held up their arms as though they were holding something in their hands and said ‘Here, your majesty, these are the trousers! This is the coat! This is the cloak! They are as light as air, and when you wear them, it will feel as though you are wearing nothing at all, but that is just another of the fabric’s magical qualities.’

The Emperor turned to his ministers. ‘What do you think? Is it not the most beautiful suit in the world? Do I not have the most brilliant taste in clothing?’

‘Yes, your majesty.’ the Emperor’s ministers said, though none of them could see anything, as there was nothing to be seen. ‘No Emperor before has ever had such fine taste as you.’

‘Let us assist you in putting on the new suit, your majesty.’ the swindlers said, and they went to the Emperor’s dressing room with the Emperor.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s ministers made preparations for the great procession. Guards stood along either side of the wide street that the Emperor would walk along; trumpet players stood on the steps that led up to the entrance to the imperial palace, ready to play a fanfare for the Emperor when he walked out. The bearers of the canopy waited outside the great doors to the palace, and the people of the city pushed against each other as they tried to get a place at the front of the crowd along the sides of the street.

‘I am ready.’ the Emperor said, standing behind the doors to the imperial palace. ‘Does not my suit fit me marvellously?’ the Emperor asked the master weavers.

‘Most excellently.’ they said, and they left the Emperor, exiting the palace quickly, with a plan to leave the city as soon as possible, with all of the money and silk they had received from the Emperor. ‘That was even easier than the last Emperor.’ one swindler said to the other.

Outside the doors to the palace, the fanfare played. The doors swung open, and the Emperor strode forward, in full view of all of the people of the city. They gasped in shock.

The Emperor, of course, appeared to be wearing nothing at all, because he was wearing nothing at all. Whether a person believed that the Emperor was wearing something or not did not matter – none of them could see any clothes … but they saw something else instead …

The Emperor had a small penis.

… I mean, it wasn’t just small – it was practically microscopic. None of the people who lined the street had ever seen such a small penis in their lives – they didn’t even think it was possible for someone to have such a small penis. It was like a grape and two raisins … … an almond and two walnuts … … a lentil and two peas … … a grain of barley and two grains of r- you get the idea.

The Emperor had been lying for years, though of course his opponents had always suspected it. Those among the crowd who opposed the Emperor at this moment burst out into laughter at the Emperor’s tiny tool.

The Emperor’s supporters did not. They glowered at the Emperor’s opponents.

‘The Emperor has a small penis!’ his opponents called out. ‘He has been lying to us for years!’

‘No he doesn’t.’ his supporters responded. ‘The only way you could see his penis is if you are not loyal to the Emperor, or if you yourself had small penises – if either is true, your opinion is worthless.’

‘But don’t you see?!’ said the Emperor’s opponents. ‘He’s not wearing any clothes! There never were any clothes! There never was any magical fabric!’

The Emperor’s supporters refused to consider the possibility. ‘He is wearing a magnificent suit!’ they said. They knew that they could not see the suit, but they also knew that they were loyal to the Emperor, which meant that they must have small penises. They did not want to admit such a thing, so instead they pretended to see it. ‘We can see the suit. Therefore we must all be loyal to the Emperor, and we must all have big penises. It is all of you who must have small penises!’

But the Emperor’s supporters did not realise – the Emperor’s opponents all knew that the Emperor’s supporters could in fact see the Emperor’s yoctoscopic yoghurt-slinger, but since they also knew that the Emperor’s supporters were all loyal to the Emperor, they knew that the only reason why they would not admit that they could see the Emperor’s petite pink oboe was because they feared it would suggest that they had small penises.

‘It does not matter whether you think there is a suit there or not.’ the Emperor’s supporters said. ‘You can see that the Emperor has a small penis! You KNOW that he has been lying to us!’

But the Emperor’s supporters did not believe it.

I wish I could tell you what happened next in the story … but I do not know. Did fighting break out between the Emperor’s supporters and opponents. Did the Emperor command his guards to seize all of those who said they could not see the suit as traitors? Did the Emperor realise that in fact he had been fooled, and that he wasn’t wearing any clothes? Did the Emperor’s ministers ever succeed in their plot to overthrow the Emperor? I don’t know. I don’t know how this situation could be resolved. How do you convince people to change their minds, when they will deny the obvious and inescapable truth before them, that the Emperor has a small penis?

A dictionary of vocables

Vocables are fun. Vocables are those words that aren’t quite words like ‘ah’ and ‘oi’ and ‘huh’. They’re normally an approximation of a sound we make in conversation to convey a specific idea.

To me, every vocable has a very specific meaning, and I choose which vocable I use at a specific point in a piece of text very precisely.

So I thought I’d write down what I think lots of different vocables mean in a kind of short dictionary of vocables.

Ow, Argh – Pain
Aw – Adoration
D’aw, D’aww – Excessive Adoration
Ew, Eww – Disgust
Oh – Realisation
Ooh – Titilating Realisation
Ah – Exciting Realisation, Disappointment, Awkward Realisation
Ahh – Nostalgia
Aah – Relaxation
Uh, Um, Er, Erm – Hesitation
Om, Ohm – Meditation
Aha – Surprise
Ha – Cynical Laughter
Hahaha – Continuous Laughter
Bhahaha, Phahaha – Explosive Laughter
Haha – Are you an idiot? No-one laughs like that.
Mhm, Mha, Mwahaha – Evil Laughter
Heh heh, Hehe – Aspiring Evil Laughter
Teehee – Mischievous Laughter
Oi!, Hey! – Critical Interjection
Ey, Eh – Knowing Suggestion
Meh, Eh – Indifference, Apathy
Psst – Whispered Interjection
Pfft – Cynical Rejection
Hmm – Thought
Mmm – Deliciousness
Huh – Confusion
Arr! – Pirates
Zzz – Sleep