Tag Archives: Star Wars

Bowl-Shocked


In less than a year, two of my hometown teams have suffered two of the most embarrassing, soul-crushing losses in recent sports history.

In last year’s Super Bowl, it was my beloved Atlanta Falcons running the hated New England Patriots out of the building for three quarters, only to allow a historic comeback in the 4th that led to an inevitable loss in overtime.

This time, it was my alma mater, the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP championship, keeping the dynastic Alabama Crimson Tide at arm’s length for three quarters, only to allow (hmm, this feels familiar) a huge comeback in the 4th that led to an inevitable loss in overtime.

It’s one thing losing when your team is bad. You accept that they’re going to suck, you don’t get all invested in them, and you move on with your life. It’s another thing when your team makes it to some of the biggest stages in sports. You believe a little more, you buy in a little more — but it’s still possible to say such aphorisms as “win or lose, it’s nice to have made it to the big game.” I started both nights — last year’s Super Bowl and this year’s Championship Playoff — with the highest possible skepticism and grizzled resolve. I fully expected both teams to lose — that’s just how Atlanta sports go — but I was just happy to see them on the big stage.

But my teams have done something worse to me. My teams gave me hope. No, worse than that, they gave me assurance: The Falcons led by 25 points, and the Bulldogs led by 10 late in the game. That’s victory! Teams don’t lose with margins like that! In the space of a few hours, both games took me from “well, they probably lose, but it’s cool to see them in this game at all” to “hey it looks like they might have a chance” to “holy shnikes, they’re actually going to do it, they’re going to win!”

A loss without climbing the mountain would have been a lot less painful. A loss even halfway up the mountain would have been fine. But to scale the summit and be moments from planting your flag in the highest peak is the worst kind of disappointment.

So I’m bowl-shocked with the rest of the Bulldog fans out there. I’m proud of my team (well, my teams — the Falcons are in the hunt again) but I feel so hurt, and for me at least, a major part of the hurt is that I allowed the game to become more than a game. I allowed it to become a story.

Crazy, right? That the wannabe writer-guy sees story in everything? But I can’t help it. I was rooting for my teams, but even more than that, I was rooting for the story.

Take Atlanta: Consistently mediocre for years. Never won the big game, haven’t even been there in two decades. Occasionally they make the playoffs, but they go out with a whimper. Then: they’ve got a new head coach, young, hungry players, and a few veterans coming together at the right time. Who do they face off against? Only the most dynastic team in the NFL, whose current QB had four titles to his name already. Four! Most players are lucky to even have a chance at a single win.

Then, UGA: Again, some local success but never making a lot of noise outside the community. They won a title back in 1980 (the year I was born — coincidence? I THINK NOT) but haven’t even sniffed the big game since then, and it might as well be an entirely different sport these days. And all of a sudden: the team has great leadership under its seniors, who forego the NFL for one last season, one last shot; and like a bolt from the blue, new talent crawls out of the woodworks under the brand new coach. And hey fight and scrap and fight and scrap and face off again — who? Only the most dynastic team in college football, whose current coach has five championships in nine seasons. Saban wins the biggest game in the country more often than he loses it, and most teams — even great teams! — never even sniff the title bout.

Both situations are a little bit Star Wars, aren’t they?

Star Wars

Scrappy underdogs taking aim at the big, bad Empire? Going into a battle that you know in your heart doesn’t favor them? But you blink, and all of a sudden, they’re winning. And not only that, they have the Emperor on the ropes, lightning spraying from his arthritic fingers, cackling madly as he falls into the reactor. And in the final moments, the Empire is smashed, the Death Star explodes, and the Emperor is no more.

That’s how the story is supposed to end.

Unfortunately, real life is not fiction. In the real world, the Empire survives, the upstarts have certain victory snatched from their fingers, and those who have had more success than anybody has any right to take home more trophies. (Fighting, fighting, fighting the urge to go political here.  HRRRGGGG okay I’m over it.)

It’s enough to make you give up on your teams.

But also unlike fiction, these “books” don’t have endings. There’s a next year, and a next, and a next, and in sports at least, there’s nothing to stop the little guys from taking shots at the Empire, no matter how long the odds.

So don’t give up on your teams, even if they lose the big game, or even if they lose a lot. Embrace the suck.

Unless you’re a Patriots or Bama fan. In which case you can GTFO.

(Image lifted from Starwars.com.)

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I’ll Get Him Sooner or Later


Earlier today, we got my son a Star Wars book for early readers that makes sound effects from the movies as you read through the story. I’ve been trying and trying to get him into it — my own fandom is desperate for my progeny to love this thing that I love — but nothing has really caught fire yet, so when he pointed to it in the store and said “what’s that, Daddy,” naturally I rushed to it. “Here it is look it’s the story of the whole movie and that’s Luke and that’s Obi-Wan and in this picture they’ve got their lightsabers and if you push that button you can hear Darth Vader and isn’t that cool???”

Maybe I laid it on a little too thick, but this time it didn’t scare him off. He thought that was pretty cool, so I couldn’t get to the checkout line fast enough. (Here, please take my money for this thing, and also for anything else that my son might want while he’s giving me this shred of dadservice!)

He kept his nose buried in the book the rest of the way through the store, the whole drive home, and for his entire afternoon “quiet time” (which used to be called “naptime” but due to negative connotations with sprout #2, has been re-branded).

Currently, it’s an hour past bedtime and I can still hear the sounds of laser blasters and lightsaber clashes coming from his bedroom.

I should be angry — he’s supposed to be asleep and all.

But I think I’ll let it slide tonight.


Terrible Reviews: Rogue One (with bonus terrible review of a terrible review)


Whether the downplaying of the formidable cast’s charismatic energies is an intentional downplaying of the potential risk to the characters that they play—whether it’s a matter of not actually allowing viewers to get too attached to characters or actors, not allowing viewers to be bummed out by bad news but rather breezing past it in a spirit of fealty not to these characters or performers but to the franchise—is the kind of corporate Kremlinology that would rightly take the place of criticism in assessing the substance and tone of the movie.

That’s culled from Richard Brody’s review of Rogue One in The New Yorker, and holy crap. I mean, holy crap. That’s one sentence. One. I challenge you to read that sentence without going glassy-eyed.

But let me circle back to that review in a minute.

I saw Rogue One this weekend. It’s good. Overhyped, I felt, but then, what in the recent Star Wars universe isn’t a little bit overhyped?

The film sort of paints itself into a corner, though. It’s branded as a stand-alone chapter in the Star Wars Universe, not part of the saga, but just a story living in that particular story world. Which … kind of … okay, I guess? It was important that we learn how the rebellion got hold of the Death Star plans, maybe? I dunno. “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” was a bit too glib for some, I guess, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell the particular story of how they came by the plans.

Except, the story’s a bit too flat, a bit too pat, a bit too much rehashing of old tropes with not enough of the Star Wars sweeping grandiosity and magic for me. I know, I know. Rogue One‘s selling point is: no Jedi, no magic, no Skywalkers, no soup for you. Still. For me, it’s a bit of a miss, but one that still hits some targets — like aiming for that one stormtrooper that’s running right at you, but missing him and hitting the big crane behind him that dumps a big load of space rocks and crushes, like, five stormtroopers instead. Except then, you get shot down by that one stormtrooper, which is totally demoralizing, not just because you got blasted, but because you got blasted by a stormtrooper.

So let me explain (and here’s where I flash the big red SPOILER sign).

The best thing about the movie is Jyn.

Wait, scratch that. The best thing about the movie is Alan Tudyk’s K2S0, but if you’ve read any other reviews, you know that already. He’s Marvin, the Paranoid Android, of HHG2G renown, but with a healthy dose of ass-kickery thrown in for good measure, and he’s an absolute delight.

But yes, Jyn.

She’s the second heroine of the Star Wars Universe under the Disney regime, which is nice. Orphaned, scrappy, disillusioned, all par for the course; possessed of a convenient-but-not-gamebreaking skillset that will allow her to go far, but not without the help of some well-placed allies. Look, as a character, she’s fine. You’ll get no argument from me on Jyn, just like you’ll get no argument from me on Rey from TFA.

And I’ll go ahead and insert here the obligatory: the cast is diverse, which is a good thing. Female lead? Non-white males in major roles? Villains portrayed by the white dudes who would otherwise be excluded? Check, check, and check. Disney is making sure to show us that there are other things besides white guys in the galaxy. Some people might call that pandering, but for my money, there’s nothing forced about it. And that’s a welcome change.

The problem comes in, not with the actors playing the parts, but the characterization of  everybody else in the movie. I’ll be honest: I’ve entirely forgotten their names, and that’s not just because it’s two days after the fact and I’m up way past a martini. It’s because the characters are entirely forgettable.

There’s the captain of the ship, who’s tasked with bringing Jyn to a rebel leader for some help. He’s about as bland as they come, with hints of a dark past, but don’t go looking for any fleshing out of that dark past, because this is a stand-alone movie.

There’s the comedy-relief rock ’em sock ’em duo of Donnie Yen and another scraggly guy with a big heavy blaster. Yen is a blind monk who desperately wants to be in touch with the Force, and he kind of is, but not really? And his buddy is … well, he’s along for the ride, but we don’t particularly know why, and we won’t be finding out, because again, this is a stand-alone movie.

And there’s a defected Imperial pilot, who of course helps the ragtag band of adventurers sneak into the heart of the Empire to do the thing, and while it might be nice to find out why he defected or what he hopes to accomplish outside of suddenly-coming-to-his-senses-and-laying-down-his-life-for-the-good-guys, we won’t be finding that out either, because, as has been established, this is a stand-alone movie.

Look, it’s serious-spoilers-for-real time again, but remember how we established earlier that this movie painted itself into a corner? By dint of its placement (before episode IV, but after the prequels, which will not be mentioned) it practically shouts at you that none of these characters will have relevance outside of this movie. Which is shorthand for saying that they aren’t gonna make it out alive. I know, right? It’s a shock, except that it isn’t, because if Jyn and whoever the rest of these scrubs were actually played a role in the events that followed Rogue One, then where were they and why have we not heard of them in episodes IV through VI?

And therein lies the problem. We know from the start that they won’t be making it out of this — or even if they do, they retire to the edge of the galaxy and sip on blue milk for the rest of their lives — and so their stake outside of this movie is nil. Which means that, as far as an audience is invested in them, we have to make it count right away, right now, in this movie, in this moment.

But it doesn’t count. There’s no backstory for any of these guys except the standard Empire is evil, let’s band up and take them out because this is a movie and hey why not. Donnie Yen’s blind kung-fu master is awesome for a few fight scenes, but he gets himself killed because of course he does; he’s a blind man in the midst of a nutty laser battle. Then his buddy gets himself killed avenging Yen because what else is he gonna do? Imperial defector plays his role, too, and so does Captain NoName, and the bodies keep piling up.

Jyn, at least, has a lovely character arc established, and damn, if we don’t feel something when she goes. Problem is, what we feel is frustration, because we’ve been made to care about this heroine who then gets wiped off the table with all the ceremony of swatting a gnat.

So, Rogue One kinda sucks.

Except it doesn’t. It’s fantastically paced, visually striking (the overall drabness of the film as a whole contrasted with the final battle on a tropical beach planet? Superb), and witty — if mostly in the guise of the humble droid. It’s firing on many of the same cylinders as TFA, which, given it’s the second iteration of the franchise under Disney rule, isn’t surprising.

But TFA has something that Rogue One doesn’t, and that’s the give-a-fargo factor.

Rey and Finn, Han Solo and Chewbacca, Luke and Leia, Kylo Ren and Snoke? Yeah, I may be missing some backstory on some of them (*glares hard at Rey and her deliberately mysterious past*), but I know those details will be given to me in future chapters. These characters are woven from a larger tapestry, they expand beyond TFA, and that means I don’t mind being strung along a little in TFA because there’s a payoff coming. Jyn and captain guy, kung-fu dude and heavy blasters, K2s0 and imperial defector pilot? This is all we’re getting of them. There’s no more to come, so I’m not nearly as invested.

So, Rogue One, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t measure up to The Force Awakens. It just doesn’t. It’s a good Star Wars movie — I might even say it’s a decent movie in general — but TFA, for all its recycled tropes and paper-thin homages to the original films, is better in every phase of the game.

Still, Rogue One is way better than the prequels. Which isn’t much of a yardstick, but anyway.

Which brings me back to the review I quoted at the top.

The review is subtitled “Is It Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise,” and I know that the hotness these days is provocative, clickbait-y titles, but holy shark. Maybe The New Yorker‘s target demographic is a bit more intelligent than the average bear, but just try re-reading that sentence. Try it. That single sentence has more tentacles of dangling modifiers and criss-crossed clauses than Cthulhu, and more self-important verbal masturbation than Donald Trump’s twitter feed.

“Corporate Kremlinology”? “Time to Abandon the Star Wars Franchise”? Did I just watch another bit of fluff in the Star Wars Universe or a goldfingered treatise on socioeconomics in the alternate realities of a fascistic puppet regime?

Star Wars, for all that it’s a product of our times, and as such, has meaning beyond itself, and everything is symbolic, and yadda-yadda-English-teacher-babble blah blah blah. Fine and good. But sometimes? Sometimes we go to the movies to watch the rebels stick it to the Empire, whether the narrative is “perfect” or not, whether the movie delivers in all respects or not.

So can we maybe cool it on the microscopic overanalysis of a film which is, at its heart and core, just a bit of fluff and filler? A plate of cheesesticks and mozarella, delivered to us to keep Star Wars in our hearts in anticipation of ep VIII next year? THINGS DON’T ALWAYS HAVE TO MEAN THINGS.

TFA is a more perfect piece of the Star Wars Universe than Rogue One. It handles its characters better, it plays on the motifs of the saga and panders to its audience better. It’s a bloody fantastic aperitif for the banquet that looks to be in the making. (I watched it again this afternoon. It’s still awesome. When Ren freezes that laser blast in the beginning? The literal darkness overtaking Ren before he kills his father? Rey summoning Luke’s lightsaber right past Ren before their climactic duel? I STILL GET CHILLS.)

But that doesn’t mean that Rogue One is part of the prequel dumpster fire. It isn’t. It’s savvy and sharp and compelling like TFA, it’s got shout-outs and nods to the old, grizzled fans like myself while delivering enough of its own punch to stand outside of the saga as a whole, albeit less strongly than I’d like.

All of which is to say, it’s not a perfect film, by any stretch. But it’s a damned good time, a thrilling bit of escapism. And given the 2016 we’ve all been having, a bit of escapism is exactly what we need, no matter how flawed.

I give it three out of four Imperial AT-AT Walkers in smoldering ruin.

Constrained by a flat and inexpressive script, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” lets neither its characters nor even its special effects come to life.

PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN OLLEY / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES / LUCASFILM LTD. / EVERETT

Anyway. I know some people out there (including my dad!) think that Rogue One is basically the best thing to come out of Star Wars, but it didn’t do it for me. Your thoughts?


May the Fourth Be With You (And Also With You)


Know what I like best about the “religion” of the force in Star Wars? It doesn’t take sides.

I mean, let’s be honest, the Force is religion. This guy or that girl or some other dude or your long-lost father is strong in the force for reasons never stated and certainly not comprehensible (and you can GTFO with that midichlorians sharknado). If the Force is on your side, you can perform straight-up miracles, like levitating your Orange Crush across the room because you’re too lazy to go get it during the commercial break in Coruscant’s Next Top Jedi, or force-choking your idiot friend who won’t shut up about how Han shot first.

The miracles are cool and awesome and super. But what I actually like best is that the Force is an equal-opportunity personal savior. The Force is perfectly happy serving Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker or Kylo Ren or Rey WhoTheHellKnows. Everybody and anybody can call on the Force to bless themselves or anybody else.

Maythe4th

“May the Force be with you.”

Ben Kenobi says it. Anakin Skywalker says it. Emperor Palpatine says it. Princess Leia says it. Yoda says it. Darth Vader says it. Even Han Solo says it, and he is an explicit non-believer on the subject.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a tree-hugging freedom fighter, a power-crazed space slumlord, a half-insane cave monkey or a floppy-haired debonair space ace, you can call on the Force to help you out, and if you’re lucky, it just might save your ass.

What does this mean?

Well, if the Force is an explicit metaphor for religion, I think it shows that religion, faith, belief, are much like a lightsaber. Be it red, yellow, green or fantastic purple, it’s just a tool. It isn’t intrinsically good or bad. It just is, and whether it’s a symbol of good or bad depends entirely upon the person wielding it.

And if the Force isn’t religion, well, that’s okay too, because it’s still just a tool. Like the hammer collecting dust in your garage, it doesn’t have a stake in whether your house stays in good repair or if it crumbles to dust. It’s there to bang on some nails if you want to, or to go smashing up some drywall if that’s your thing, or, hell, it’s even happy just hanging there watching dust motes swirl in the stale air.

*makes the jump to lightspeed without plotting coordinates first because that’s the way we do it in the new era of Star Wars*

 


71 Ways The New Star Wars is Exactly Like the Original Star Wars


My wife and I went to see Star Wars VII again the other day. (It holds up just as well on the second viewing. In fact, it’s maybe even more enjoyable, because you start to pick up on things you missed on the first go-round; like the training droid Luke used in Episode IV that Finn tosses aside while hunting for parts in the Millenium Falcon.) We went specifically to give the film a close viewing to see if we could discern any more about what’s going on with Rey, what’s going on with Kylo Ren, and — well, honestly, it was just so good we both wanted to see it again.

We noticed on first viewing that the new film is very much an homage to the first film, sharing not just similar themes and plot arcs, but often very specific details in common. So we came home and watched episode IV again, just to contrast and compare. And because we’re both that guy when it comes to movies and stories and nerd stuff, we took notes.

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Seriously, a lot of notes.

Here, then, are 71 ways that Star Wars IV: A New Hope and Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens are basically the same movie.

There are spoilers below. These things are not necessarily in order (but a surprising number of them are).

  1. Opening shot of a ridiculously big starship flying over an alien planet.
  2. A robot that talks only in bleeps is prominent, especially in the opening scenes.
  3. The robot is given a super-secret map by its owner.
  4. The bad guys invade. They wear masks and believe in a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy.
  5. The bad guys pretty much rout the rebels they’re attacking.
  6. The Big Bad Guy (henceforth BBG) shows up, intimidates a ton of people, but doesn’t actually do any fighting himself.
  7. BBG straight-up murders a defenseless man because he doesn’t like what the guy has to say.
  8. The robot narrowly escapes capture by the faceless bad guys.
  9. The robot is separated from its owner.
  10. The robot becomes stranded alone on a desert planet
  11. This desert planet should, by all accounts, cripple the robot’s wheel-based propulsion, but doesn’t, because movies.
  12. The bad guys begin a hunt for the robot on the desert planet. You’d think they’d be able to use scanners or scopes to find it, but movies.
  13. The robot’s first encounter is with a scavenging alien critter who wants to sell the robot (maybe for parts).
  14. A young, somewhat dashing hero-type liberates the robot from its captors.
  15. This hero is exceptionally dusty, because he/she does dirty, manual labor to scrape out a meager existence.
  16. The robot follows the hero home like a little lost puppy.
  17. This hero’s parents are absent.
  18. The hero discovers that the robot is involved in the rebellion and gets hyped.
  19. The robot’s secret cargo points the hero toward an ancient, long-lost Jedi Master.
  20. C3PO slaps R2D2 around, perhaps a little more than is necessary.
  21. C3PO thanks the Maker, and it feels a little forced and weird.
  22. The hero drives a red, hovering vehicle.
  23. The hero gets attacked by local brutes.
  24. The hero is revealed to have a convenient set of piloting skills.
  25. The hero is presented with Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber by a mentor figure.
  26. The BBG is revealed to have once been a good man who was later seduced by evil.
  27. The BBG is a little more consumed than his cohorts with finding the robot.
  28. The BBG force-chokes a subordinate officer over losing the robot.
  29. Extreme and gratuitous violence by the bad guys drives the hero to leave the home planet.
  30. The BBG personally tortures a captive from the earlier raid for information.
  31. The hero escapes from danger by Jedi mind-tricking a hapless stormtrooper.
  32. There is a bar full of weird aliens of dubious persuasion.
  33. A hero seeks passage off the planet and away from the Empire with a pair of shady guys.
  34. Han Solo’s debts catch up with him.
  35. Han straight-up murders a dude to escape capture or death himself.
  36. The female lead finds herself in the hands of the enemy.
  37. The interrogated female has “considerable resistance” to the BBG’s mind probe.
  38. The bad guys reveal that their newest base of operation is also a weapon capable of blowing up entire planets.
  39. The bad guys blow up entire planets, partly out of revenge, partly as a show of force.
  40. Shady aliens in the bar rat the hero’s presence out to the bad guys.
  41. The Millenium Falcon is where the Band of Heroes comes together.
  42. The Millenium Falcon, on first sight, is described by the hero as, basically, garbage.
  43. Han Solo bristles at the heroes’ unrecognition of the Millenium Falcon’s awesomeness.
  44. The hero escapes the desert planet aboard the Millenium Falcon.
  45. The Millenium Falcon, soon after escaping the desert planet, is caught by hostiles in a tractor beam, and the heroes find themselves in an unfriendly situation.
  46. The captured prisoner sasses the BBG interrogating him/her, and pays a price for it.
  47. Chewbacca punches out a bad guy captain to gain access to a restricted area on the enemy base.
  48. The Band of Heroes goes looking for the captured female on the enemy base.
  49. The BBG “senses the presence” of the mentor/father figure in the Band of Heroes.
  50. The captured female turns out to be just as capable of kicking ass as her “rescuers”.
  51. Han Solo has a bad feeling about this.
  52. A Stormtrooper, probably named Wilhelm, dies to the sound of a well-known film scream.
  53. The mentor/father figure separates himself from the Band of Heroes to disable a critical part of the enemy base.
  54. Heroes shoot the controls to a mechanical door; this causes the door to operate in their favor.
  55. The mentor/father figure engages in dialog with the BBG about his wicked ways.
  56. The mentor/father figure deliberately lowers his guard to the BBG.
  57. The BBG then straight-up murders the mentor/father figure.
  58. The Millenium Falcon goes to pieces inside (circuitry bursting into flames etc) during an escape attempt.
  59. A high-ranking bad guy doesn’t entirely trust the BBG.
  60. The rebel base is disguised in a series of caves and ruins on a forest planet.
  61. The rebels hold a big-ass strategy meeting to figure out how to destroy the bad guys base/weapon.
  62. Han Solo offers the hero a job as an alternative to going on the quest.
  63. A member of the Band of Heroes bails out of the quest to save his own skin.
  64. The rebels attack the bad guys’ base/weapon in tiny fighter ships as opposed to bringing in heavy artillery.
  65. The attack is focused on a video game weak point in the base’s construction.
  66. There is a minute-to-minute countdown all through the final sequences as the big bad enemy weapon prepares to fire.
  67. The BBG points out to his cohorts (and himself) that the Force is strong with the hero.
  68. In the final skirmish, the villain is neutralized for this battle — but not killed.
  69. The ally who left for selfish reasons comes back to aid the hero at the enemy base.
  70. The enemy base/weapon is struck by a few strategically well-placed shots from an ace pilot.
  71. The enemy base/weapon explodes in dramatic fashion.

So, this is all good fun. Of course, the films are also very different. The hero is not a whiny teenager but rather an ass-kicking desert girl. The villain is dark and terrifying, but is also incredibly vulnerable. The plot lines are more layered, more intertwined. And, my god, the film and its special effects are absolutely gorgeous.

It’s clear to me that this film is a sort of love letter to fans of the original series who were disillusioned with the prequels. “Look,” Episode VII says, “We see and respect the source material that you love so much, and we’re going to treat it lovingly and with respect.”

Only a year and a half until the next one.

See something we missed? Something we got wrong? Let me know below.

*Runs away making lightsaber noises*


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