WE’RE CLONING WHO?? Nerd Rage #189

WE’RE CLONING WHO?? Nerd Rage #189

We discuss Kavanaugh and the US Open, along with Star Trek AND Star Wars! Just ignore that whole cloning thing…

Also, someone was tipsy. In vino veritas!

Enjoy!

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Harmony and Free Will

I love Star Wars; it is not a stretch to say that it was the defining element of my childhood, far and above anything else. I wasn’t good at making or keeping friends. I didn’t have much interest in physical activity. No other franchise could grab and hold my attention the same way Star Wars would.

Whenever my mother’s siblings would visit us, I would arrange my Star Wars toys in my bedroom as a museum they could visit. I would watch the movies whenever they were on TV. I remember every summer, TNT would air the trilogy in a solid block; it was the only night my mother would let me stay up into the wee hours of the morning. I watched them on VHS. I played Star Wars: Tie Fighter and Yoda Stories obsessively.

When The Phantom Menace came out, I loved it. It was the first new Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi, a movie that was released six years before I was born (a concept I still didn’t get at that point). All I wanted was new Star Wars, and Episode I delivered for me. It wouldn’t be until I was in my twenties that I would realize how flawed Episode I was. I did not understand how poorly paced it was, how it focused on superfluous elements like politics, how tonally jarring and annoying Jar Jar Binks was.

But there was one thing I was lost on from the very beginning: the prophecy. Leaving aside the incredibly questionable decision to turn Anakin Skywalker from just a tragic hero to tragic Space Jesus™, I did not understand what it meant by bringing balance to the Force. How do you balance something by destroying half of it? The prophecy stated that the Chosen One would bring this balance by destroying the Sith. For years, I could not wrap my head around concept.

Space Jesus
“Are you saying this…boy is to be out lord and savior?”

Indeed, it was only recently that I rethought it in such a way that it finally made sense.

You see, balance in this case doesn’t mean Yin and Yang, light and dark balancing each other out.

It means harmony.

Balance means allowing the Force to flow through the universe, uninterrupted. There may be light and dark elements contained within, but those elements are not discordant. The life cycle naturally involves death and rebirth. However, there are not forces within the stream disrupting it, causing strife and suffering.

This, of course, was the central goal of the Jedi, both on an individual level and on the whole:

There is no emotion; there is peace.

There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.

There is no passion; there is serenity.

There is no chaos; there is harmony.

There is no death; there is the Force.

The Jedi, in their purest form, seek only to maintain the harmony of the universe.

For the Sith, this was antithetical to their creed:

Peace is a lie. There is only passion.

Through passion, I gain strength.

Through strength, I gain power.

Through power, I gain victory.

Through victory my chains are broken.

The Force shall free me.

For the Sith, the ultimate outcome of their actions, intentional or otherwise, would sow chaos and discord. The Sith would bring strife upon each other and war upon the innocent. At their very worst, the Sith would destroy entire worlds, stripping them clean of life and leaving wounds in the Force. And all the while, the forces of light and dark would battle against each other, dragging countless souls into the conflict.

Invasion_of_Alderaan
This wouldn’t be the last time Alderaan would burn at the hands of the Sith….

As ill-conceived as it was (from a storytelling and lore standpoint), the crux of the Chosen One prophecy is that this cycle would stop. The darkness seeded into the galaxy during the first great schism of the Jedi would finally come to an end with Anakin Skywalker. Even if there was still darkness in the galaxy (and there certainly would be), the destructive horrors perpetuated by the Sith would finally come to an end. After nearly thirty thousand years of conflict, there would be harmony again.

Which brings me to The Last Jedi.

“Oh no, haven’t you already spent seven hours talking about The Last Jedi?”

I would spend seven more, too. In a sad way, it’s precisely because there’s something I dislike so vehemently (Episode VIII) in a thing I love (Star Wars) that makes me so engaged in the topic. I wouldn’t talk about it so much if I didn’t care so much on every conceivable level, be it about in-universe canon or storycraft. It is fascinating, in its way.

The thing about The Last Jedi is that Rian Johnson took the simpler interpretation of balance being “light and dark” when trying to explain who Rey is. Supreme Leader Snoke says that she is the light that has risen to face Kylo Ren’s darkness. She is who the Force has chosen (after a fashion) to balance him out. There are plenty of things I could say about this, I could even say it was not a terrible creative choice, but there is one thing that stands out to me.

If Rey has in fact been chosen by the Force to be Kylo Ren’s opposite, to be the light to his dark, then Rey, in fact, has no agency. She is not in control of her destiny because she is a vessel for a greater power, a power that seems to be giving her no choice in the matter. This upends the storytelling in there Star Wars saga in a very fundamental way.

Part of Star Wars’ appeal to the audience is the fact that all of the characters within the movies are making choices. They are independent actors, choosing their actions not because the narrative demands they do, but because they want to. One of the core aspects of well-crafted stories is that the characters act because they have the motivation and will within the narrative to make the decisions that drive the story. Barring stories where the goal is to show that mortal men cannot escape destiny and/or the will of the gods, this is more often than not true.

Anakin Skywalker chooses to pursue his own selfish goals; he is the ultimate cause for his own downfall. There is never a point where an outside force beyond his ken is making him marry Padme, or making him choose the Sith over the Jedi. There is no element that creates attachments for him or makes him fearful of losing those things he loves. All of that, in the end, is Anakin’s doing.

AnakinVaderVision-GOM
Anakin contained the seeds to be either a hero or a villain.

The same applies to his son, Luke. Luke chooses to pursue the path of the Jedi. He chooses to fight for the Rebellion. He makes the most important choice of the saga when he chooses to try to redeem his father, the most hated, evil man in the entire galaxy, simply for love of family. The choices of these two Skywalkers in their respective trilogies are the why of Star Wars.

It is not hard to see these two characters making different choices, as well. One can very easily see and believe Anakin Skywalker choosing to instead let go of his affections for Padme and dedicating himself wholly to the Jedi. If circumstances had even been slightly different: if Qui-Gon lived, if Obi-Wan had been a better mentor, if Anakin himself had held himself more accountable…. Luke, on the other hand, could very easily have taken Vader’s hand in Cloud City. It is entirely believable in that moment of deep doubt and confusion, Luke could have made the choice to follow his father, a man he’d idolized all his life, because it was the only option that made sense to him. There is never a point where the narrative of either the original or prequel trilogy makes it feel as though Anakin and Luke are forced to act in a particular way. Their choices naturally flow.

What about Rey? Perhaps this is just a case of unfortunate implications and not intended at all, but it seems to me that her destiny is set, that there is no real choice for her.

As I’ve discussed in both my Last Jedi Rant series and on our Star Wars episode of Nerd Rage, Rey always seems to make the “right” choice, the “good” choice. Despite two big opportunities to break this mould in The Last Jedi, she simply seems to “revert” to the good choice. She doesn’t question her path when she discovers Luke’s deception nor does she seem to meaningfully consider Kylo Ren’s offer to join with him and forge a new course. Part of me can’t help but wonder if this is a consequence of Snoke’s assertion that she is the light opposing the dark. For me, at least, there seems to be a subtle implication that she may not be able to do wrong at all.

Whereas Anakin, even though a character who seemed to rise in opposition to darkness, made terrible mistakes, Rey seems to make none. Luke spends his movies making difficult choices, choosing to be the light rising in opposition to the Emperor’s darkness, but this role just seems to fall into Rey’s lap. Rey feels like she is getting pushed around by the universe instead of forging a path through the tempest. Even when she does make a choice, notably when she goes to confront Snoke on the Supremacy, it never quite feels like she is a free moral agent. Her destiny feels laid bare, thus robbing her journey of all emotion and potential.

Kylo's Offer
What if Rey had instead chosen to follow Kylo on his new path?

Star Wars, when you dig a bit, has always been about individuals making choices, for good or ill. For every Sith who chooses to destroy, there is a Jedi who chooses to meet them. The Force does not create heroes and champions, nor does it create villains; those individuals choose to use their gifts, they consciously choose harmony or discord.

Rey does not feel like she fits into this paradigm, leaving both her character and the story around her feeling…empty.

The Power of Fan Films – Part 2

I said there was going to be a second one, didn’t I?

Tie Fighter – short film

Not to be confused with the classic 90s video game of the same name, OtaKing77077’s film is a delight for the game’s fans. But not only is it an homage to the game, it is also an homage to the stylings of 80s anime. Yes, that’s right: it’s a fan made Star Wars anime. And it shows off the might of the Empire in all the right ways. Amusingly, there’s an assault transport in the thumbnail, but not in the actual movie.

I suddenly feel cheated (the assault transport is one of my favorite ship designs from Star Wars: Tie Fighter).

Kara

Kara is in a weird place for me. On the one hand, it has a few noticeable weaknesses, most notably the CGI. Given the prominence of these scenes, it can’t really be given a pass. Also, some of the plot elements (when did those stormtroopers land, why isn’t there a bigger force of Imperials attacking this Rebel base?) feel flimsy. Kara’s strength comes in from the fact that it is short and it is concise. It hits the right beats and pulls the right emotional strings to be a solid film.

Star Wars: Emergence

Strangely, Hoshino was not the only fan film to come out last year featuring a blind Jedi. Mercifully, their plots are very different. Hoshino primarily looks into the past and the “how” of her blinding; who she is today is largely left up to inference. Emergence deals with the present, and how the padawan copes with her sudden disability. This is an exemplary demonstration of the idea of “show, don’t tell” as we embark on a journey not just in the physical world, but through the Force.

It is also worth mentioning the strength of the special effects in this one as well as the original soundtrack.

Jakku: First Wave

The shortest film in my selections, this may also be the most powerful. The stories told within are all encapsulated in the first few seconds: these men are about to die. Everything about First Wave is done perfectly. The acting is solid. The stories plausible. The finer details, such as the background audio of the fighting outside, are all there. And it is all done in three and a half minutes.

The Power of Fan Films

With the release of “The Empire Strikes Back – Revisited,” I’ve been in a bit of a Star Wars mood. Given that Revisited is a fan project, my mind has lately turned to thinking about other fan projects. The fans are the biggest part of why Star Wars survived its drought years between Episode III and Episode VII.

It was not only fans watching The Clone Wars or Rebels that kept the franchise afloat, however. It was fans creating new things: new stories, new tales, new places, new characters. This zeal is what kept Star Wars alive more than anything.

Now, I want to share some of that creative brilliance with you.

Days Past

Honestly, I actually ran across this film while searching for some of my old favorites. It’s not really much of a surprise I didn’t know about it before, given it came out at the beginning of the month. But I’m glad I found it.

Days Past is a look at the relationship between a teacher and her pupil after the fall of the Republic…but it’s not what you expect. There’s not much more I can say without spoiling the plot. However, I would like to give this film credit for the quality of its set; it looks so authentic. Additionally, the character work is phenomenal, and the actors deserve a great deal of credit for bringing them to life.

DARTH MAUL: Apprentice

One of the big problems with the lightsaber duels in the Prequels is their choreography. Wait, just hear me out for a second! The problem is that the movies are overly focused on being flashy and cool, to the point where the fights are no longer convincing. Now, that’s not to say that this fan film does not do that; it does. I would like to note the one Jedi who flips into a shot for no reason whatsoever. Indeed, the entire point of the film is to be a cool, flashy lightsaber duel between a group of Jedi and Darth Maul.

But there’s something about the way it is handled that feels more…real. Not every strike is well-practiced and coordinated. There isn’t nearly as much pointless posturing between combatants. There’s even a bit of emotional pull (though nothing like Days Past). And if you don’t care about any of that…Darth Maul.

Hoshino

Something I’ve observed is that fan films tend to be much better when they’re shorter. If they go above the twenty minute mark, their quality starts to decline. I presume this is because the limitations inherent in any fan production start to catch up with them. They have all that time to fill, but only one or two writers, a limited number of crew and actors, limited special effects, limited budget…

Hence why films like Hoshino tend to be so good. The actual movie is only six minutes long, but it is so focused that it feels longer. Its characterization is splendid and it tells its tale so effectively. It has very little action…and it does not need it. The characters drive the story and that is wonderful.

TK-436: A Stormtrooper Story

Everyone loves Jedi. They have special powers and laser swords and lots of authority. But Jedi aren’t the only denizens of the galaxy, are they? There are trillions of people in Star Wars; what about their stories? TK-436 tries to tell one of those stories.

Now, I could nitpick the technical details in the special effects. Lasers aren’t always colored correctly, X-Wings flying around with their wings closed…but I would be missing the point, wouldn’t I? No, instead, I’ll just focus on the emotional tale of a stormtrooper forced to confront his past in the middle of a grim battle on a distant world.

I think I’m going to have to make another post. I didn’t talk about nearly all the fan films I wanted to…

What’s the Deal With Star Wars?

Rogue OneA lot of people seem to hate Rogue One. They seem to think that it’s schlock, a shameless, nostalgia-filled cash grab. These people are right, really. Disney has access to an entire franchise and to go back to the time-period from where people derive their fondest memories is transparently about money. They know the emotional pull of the original trilogy for many fans and wish to draw upon that wellspring of good will.

However, just because the detractors are right does not mean that we, the viewing public, are getting the short end. It seems foolish to fault Disney (or any company, for that matter) for trying to make money, particularly with the most lucrative franchise in history. Likewise, complaining about nostalgia when Rogue One is set literally a week before A New Hope is somewhat ridiculous. It would be like setting a movie in World War II and then complaining that it contains Panzers and Adolf Hitler. The setting means that visuals and locations are obviously going to repeat; repetition is not inherently a bad thing.

Rogue One, frankly, is a success by any reasonable standard. It’s a well-paced movie, with emotional pull and excitement. The plot is well-written, avoiding the common pitfall of getting bogged down in any one spot, and feels like a unique tale. The characters are a somewhat weak point, with the heroes, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, both falling short of being well-rounded. However, they’re balanced out by a superb supporting cast that has all the heart that they lack.

The movie also contains all of the elements that Star Wars fans had been clamoring for (or at least I have) since Return of the Jedi. Sure, a lot of these, from the diverse backgrounds of the main cast, a lovable (if quirky) droid, and the backdrop of a war between good and evil, are identical to the original trilogy, but that is the Star Wars formula. That is what works. It is little surprise that combining these elements competently managed to make a movie worth watching.

Honestly, Rogue One does many things right which the previous year’s The Force Awakens failed at. Bear in mind, it is a good movie. From a technical standpoint, it is good, not bogging down with a plot that’s reasonably engaging. The new characters in particular stand out; Rey, Finn, and Poe are all great people who you can connect with. The original trilogy characters are likewise allowed their moments, without really overshadowing the newcomers.

The problem is that The Force Awakens tries too hard. It is obvious that this movie is playing off of nostalgia. It has been thirty years since the Battle of Endor, but everything sort of feels the same. There are X-Wings and Tie Fighters, there are Stormtroopers, the Millennium Falcon is still flying…somehow. The movie starts with a shot of a Star Destroyer, which four previous films (III through VI) did as well. For some strange reason there’s still a Rebellion, now called the Resistance.* Each of the original cast not named “Luke Skywalker” is given a very deliberate introduction meant to tug at our memories.Old Han and Chewbacca

The worst offender in all of this is the plot. While I did say before that it was well-executed, this does not excuse it from being lifted, largely, from the plot of A New Hope. The story starts with a violent attack by the Empire/First Order, then shifts to a humble main character on a desert planet accidentally stumbling upon a destiny greater than anything they imagined. The heroes travel to a hidden Rebel/Resistance base (mercifully after a second act that is actually different from that of Episode IV) where they learn about a new superweapon that can destroy entire planets. The third act then combines the second and third acts of ANH, where the heroes infiltrate the Death Star/Starkiller while a small fighter fleet faces overwhelming odds to end the threat.

On the one hand, Star Wars did return from a ten year hiatus from theaters. Creating a movie that is familiar is not an unwise decision. On the other hand, it so blatantly copies A New Hope, it barely qualifies as a new tale at times.

For the record, I am not trying to trash The Force Awakens. I still think it was a good movie. The problem is that it had its flaws, worse flaws than Rogue One had in some instances, yet there are people out there who think that Rogue One is substantially inferior. Perhaps it is not the greatest film of all time, but a bad film it is not.

Again, Rogue One had a lot more nostalgia bait than The Force Awakens, but it belonged there. Yavin IV and the Death Star, X-Wings and AT-STs, even Grand Moff Tarkin and Mon Mothma are all in the movie because they belong there. They aren’t thrust in there purely to tickle our fancy; their presence is natural in the setting. Sure, some elements, like not-Ackbar Admiral Raddus, AT-ATs, and the last ten (really cool) minutes of the film are obvious nostalgia plays, but most of it is not, or at least is not treated as such. For that, I think Rogue One deserves to be praised, rather than be cast out and spit upon like a heretic in a Vatican conclave.

The Last JediIf anything, my chief concerns are what The Last Jedi and next year’s Han Solo spinoff will look like. My earnest hope is that Disney will try to break away from the formula. The new films will grow stale very swiftly if they continue on the course of utilizing nostalgia and lifting plot elements wholesale from previous films. Even if such story-telling is working, it will only last for so long. The amount of criticism levied at Rogue One is already evidence that nostalgia is starting to lose its effect. Ensuring a stable and enduring legacy for the future of Star Wars demands creativity, even when following certain basic structures.

With Disney at the helm, Lucasfilm has so far managed to do a surprisingly good job of reviving Star Wars. Despite its popularity, it was hurt severely by George Lucas’ missteps in creating the prequels. What remains to be seen is if Star Wars will continue to be good, or if it will, due to a dearth of true creativity, sink into being “just another franchise.”

*Yes, I know that the Resistance was formed long after the Rebellion became the New Republic, it just seems a bit off at first glance that Leia would go rogue and form Space Hezbollah** to fight Space Nazi Germany.

**I’m not commenting on the nobility of actual Hezbollah one way or another.

The Clone Wars

It’s no secret I’m a total nerd; how do you think I ended up doing this show?  One of the nerd things I do regularly is think about Star Wars.

Sometimes I think about Star Wars too much.  When that happens, it (very rarely) comes out as a video.  One of those rare moments has finally come; I’ve decided to take a look at the Clone Wars.  Not the cartoon series, but as a plot element and an event within the Star Wars universe.

So many aspects of the prequel trilogy went wrong and I think it’s helpful to explore these elements.  Not only does it help us to recognize the problems present in the prequels, it also to deepen one’s understanding of what we’ve ultimately been given and even come to terms with it.  After all, whether we like them or not, we’re stuck with the prequels, flaws and all.

At any rate, enjoy my look at the Clone Wars: