Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Price of Freedom

At what point does a “civilized” society actually become civilized? Because the United States most certainly doesn’t seem to be able to earn that qualification at this point in time. I don’t know what shocked me more – that we had yet another mass murder at the hands of a gunman or that at this point in time we have had 18 incidents of school shootings just six weeks into this year. Now, truth be told out of those 18 incidents, only 7 occurred during school hours, and only about half of the 18 involved students being in harm’s way. Regardless, the amount of gun violence prevalent in American society has become beyond ridiculous and anyone who does not see that this is as serious an issue that there ever has been is a bona fide moron. Anyone who thinks that we don’t need to politicize this issue and finally get down to creating and passing stricter common sense laws in regards to firearms is a bona fide moron with blood on their hands.

We are the only “civilized” society on this entire planet in which mass shootings are as common place and part of “normal” day to day living. We do not have a monopoly on mental disease; we do not have a monopoly on unscrupulous people; we do not have a monopoly on evil. Yet, a backwater aboriginal tribe in the middle of the Amazon gives every indication of being more civilized than 21st Century American Society. The difference between the US and every other country in the world are our obsession with guns and the lack of any real legislation to regulate guns. Hell, you can’t even get a driver’s license until at least age 16-18 in the United States, yet Federal Law allows to the sale of long guns to anyone, regardless of age by unlicensed sellers.

The NRA and other morons love to tout statistics like how many people are killed in automobile accidents, or by other items like knifes and baseball bats. But they leave out one very important point in all the bullshit they spout:

What is the primary purpose of a car?
What is the primary purpose of a steak or butter knife?
What is the primary purpose of a baseball bat?
What is the primary purpose of anything that has been used to kill someone else?

What is the primary purpose, no, what is the ONLY purpose of a gun?
It is to murder; it is to take the life of a living being; it is to kill.

Anyone who uses any of the above mentioned items to kill someone else are using those items inappropriately and not for the purpose for which they are designed. When someone snuffs out a life with a gun they are using the gun for the very purpose for which it was made and using it in the appropriate manner for that purpose. The fact that a thing of this nature is not the most restricted and heavily regulated by laws is absolutely unreal. The 1st Amendment gives us the freedom of speech, yet I can’t stand up and yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater without getting into serious trouble. There are limits – necessary limits – on the freedoms that form the core of our society, yet don’t anyone dare speak of limits to the 2nd Amendment.

So fine. The NRA wants unlimited guns for every man, woman, and child in the United States? Go for it. But let’s make sure we have some token protections for those who don’t have the ability to use guns.

First and foremost, let’s put TRAINED armed guards in every school in America. The number of guards in each school would be dependent on the size of the school. Small schools would need only one or two. Larger schools like Stoneman Douglas High School may require a dozen or so. Similar protection should be considered for other areas where people may be vulnerable as well – such as Day Care Centers, Amusement Parks, and the like.

Of course the question arises on how to pay for this security force across America. Well, that’s an easy one – the NRA and gun owners. We need to have an additional gun sale tax for every sale of guns in the country – public or private. We also need a tax on the annual membership dues for the NRA. We also need to institute an annual registration fee for gun licenses and ownership – just like we have a registration fee to pay on our motor vehicles every year. Anyone who owns, or wishes to own a gun must complete a safety training course, which is also to be paid for from these additional fees and taxes. Additionally, the funeral for every single person killed by a gun should be paid for by the NRA as well. If the NRA has all these millions of dollars to throw around Washington D.C., paying for the funerals for the 17 people killed earlier this week should be a drop in the bucket for the organization.

Freedom may be a nice thing, but the cost of freedom has never been cheap or easy. If the NRA and gun owners want to keep guns easily and readily available, then it’s time for the cost of that freedom to finally match up with the freedom itself.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Dumbification of Star Wars

 a.k.a. The Resistance is Futile

All right, let’s get this out of the way now – this will contain spoilers, so if you want to go into the movie with a fresh perspective, then stop reading right now! However, if you don’t mind knowing some of the things (some important, some not) that happen in The Last Jedi, then by all means, continue on!

So, first thing’s first. How did my predictions in my last blog match up against what really happened?
The death of Princess Leia/General Organa – Sort of close
Rey becoming disillusioned with Luke – Yes
Rey turning to the Dark Side of the Force – Not quite*
Kylo and Rey joining forces to take on Snoke – Sort of close
Luke is not Rey’s father – Yes (maybe)
Surprise twist that Snoke is Rey’s father – Nope
Changes in how we perceive the Force – Not really
Luke is killed off in the movie – Absolutely

*While Rey doesn’t turn to the Dark Side and join with Kylo, she does fall to temptation in an attempt to see the fate of her parents, not unlike Luke failing his test of the Dark Side Tree in The Empire Strikes Back.

So, in the end, I think my predictions came fairly close to some of the major themes that occurred during the movie, which makes me more surprised than anything. But there is a lot to discuss and explain on why TLJ might just go down as the weakest of all eight (nine if you include Rogue One) of the current Star Wars movies to date. I’m still struggling over my feelings about the movie and as much as I don’t want to say “disappointed” I struggle to find another word to match my first impression of the next segment of the Star Wars saga. I really wanted to like this movie as much as I did the latest two Disney productions. I was hoping for at the very least a great experience. However, I think the fears I had mentioned in a blog post prior to the release of The Force Awakens came to be realized in this outing.

If people thought that The Force Awakens was derivative of A New Hope, then one can most certainly see that The Last Jedi is derivative of The Empire Strikes Back, not that it’s a bad thing, but unlike Episode 5, which is considered the best in the saga, Episode 8 falls far short of that distinction and does almost nothing to advance the franchise in any meaningful way. We have the Resistance being discovered and evacuating their base; we have a new Force user going to a remote planet to train under an aging Master; we have a Great Space Chase; we have a land battle that is highly reminiscent of the Hoth Battle; we have characters heading out on a side journey (a la the trip to Bespin); and a betrayal that costs them dearly.

Unfortunately, there the comparisons can stop. What we end up with in The Last Jedi is nothing more than a generic Sci-Fi action flick, rife with plot holes galore and one that practically thumbs its nose at the pre-established lore that made Star Wars the popular franchise it is today. No movie is perfect, and I am sure that we can find plot holes of all sorts in any movie we pick. For the most part, these can be glossed over or are barely noticed during the course of a film. I must admit, that I hardly take note of any in most of the movies I have seen, and it’s not until it is pointed out in a review or someone else mentioning it that I even know there was a plot hole to begin with. With Episode 8, however, some of the plot holes were so big and bad, that for the first time in my experience, I felt like I was slapped in the face right there in the movie theater when they happened. The real tragedy is that the first one occurs right in the beginning of the film and essentially is the catalyst for every single other one to occur. In fact the very premise of the entire story of the movie only occurs because the very first plot hole. If it wasn’t for that, there would be no movie. But that’s not the only thing that jarred me out of the experience during the show.

Star Wars movies have always contained a bit of humor spread throughout the action. For the most part, the humor fit right in with the scene and worked brilliantly. Then along came Jar Jar and the Slapstick follies of Episode 1. Fortunately, George learned his lesson after that, and Jar Jar’s screen time was noticeably reduced in the two follow ups. The humor in Episode 7 got back to the roots of the original trilogy. However, some of the humor in this movie felt far too juvenile. The extended joke in the opening scene started off well enough, and fit in perfectly with the established characterization of Poe Dameron, but then it devolved from there, and afterwards I was waiting for a token fart joke or two to make an appearance in the movie.

The next head shaking moment comes at the end of the battle as the Resistance makes its escape. Moments before, we saw the outcome of the scene in the trailer where Kylo Ren is about to fire upon the command vessel, killing his mother, Leia. He relents and cannot pull the trigger (a great moment in the movie), but immediately afterwards, two First Order fighters fire upon the bridge, killing everyone, ejecting them out into space, including Admiral Ackbar (wasted potential there to give the character a larger screen presence in the movie – thumbing that nose) and Leia Organa.

Here I thought my prediction had come to pass and that indeed this was how they were going to kill Leia off. A fitting and noble end for the Princess turned General. On the one hand, they probably should have finished her off her as Leia have very little to do in the rest of the movie aside from a tender moment with Luke at the end, but from the standpoint that this is Carrie’s last movie, as a fan I liked that she was still there. But, I think death would have been the more noble move, especially when we get to see how she is “rescued.”

When I got home, I had a Mythbuster moment and had to look up how long a human can survive in the vacuum of space and much to my surprise learned that it was indeed plausible for her to have survived for the amount of time she did. However, she quite wouldn’t look as good as she did in the movie, but we can chalk that up to a necessary and typical Hollywood trope. Consciousness, however, would only have lasted a few seconds, so the fact that she used the Force to return to the ship would receive a solid “Busted” in this case. At the end of the day, the scene just took on an air of cheesiness I was wondering if I had suddenly been thrust into the B-movie or bad fanfic dimension. It just looked bad.

Aside from the too long joke scene, and the “I’m not dead yet” scene, the opening action of the film was spot on and set my hopes up high for the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, it was also the first plot hole slap that broke me from my emersion. Now, I’ve never been in the military, and I can’t say I’m a great student on how disobeying orders on the battlefield might be handled, but it seems to me that when an officer on the field ignores a superior’s command and as a result gets most of his squad killed for little to no tactical advantage, as well as puts the entire army, including the high command, in serious jeopardy for doing so, one would receive something more than a demotion and a slap on the wrist.

Poe should have been locked in the brig and a court martial convened for his actions. What transpires after this battle pretty much sets up the premise (that other things in the movie continue to compound) that the Resistance leadership has no idea what they are doing from a military/tactical standpoint. There is apparently much ado about the bulk of this movie being focused the women in command of the Resistance. I didn’t have a problem with that at all. It just continues what was established in the original trilogy. However, where the movie goes wrong (aside from having mostly humans in command and relegating just about every alien to cameo appearances), is just how much in your face it became. At one point, I ended up counting every single female character that appeared on screen. By then it just felt like to me that Disney was trying to say “Hey, look – there’s women in Hollywood. Look how many women we have in our movie.” At the end of the day, it defeated the purpose. Coupled with the stupid decisions made by those in command throughout the movie, and the complete waste of Phasma (the first female antagonist in the movies, and one with excellent potential at that) any point that the production was trying to make was significantly weakened by the poor delivery.

So the next major plot hole to pull me out of the experience was Finn and Rose heading off to Canto Bight to find the code-cracker in order to help rescue the Resistance from the Great Space Chase. Ultimately, a side trip that turned out to be completely unnecessary (and only occurred because of the first plot hole) except for the fact that the writers wanted to include commentary about war profiteering. Another message lost on poor delivery. But anyway, there are our heroes, on the run from the law, because well, stupid decisions seem to be the norm for the Resistance in this movie, and as luck would have it, they are jailed with someone claiming to be able to crack First Order codes. Now, never mind the fact that they were there to find a bonafide code cracker (who they did locate before being arrested), who was highly recommended by Maz (in a very brief cameo) as the only one who would be able to help them save the Resistance. So what do our heroes do? Take the jailbird with them solely on his word and that he was able to unlock the doors of some backwater jail. Let that sink in for a moment, cause I was still trying to figure that one out until the end of the movie (or one of the ends, I should say), when it finally made sense. It was simply because the filmmakers needed some dramatic tension during the ending battle.

Now this little side trip was set up because the character of Laura Dern (Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo), who takes command after Leia is incapacitated, continues theme that the Resistance is militarily incompetent. Essentially, during the length of the Great Space Chase, the surviving Resistance command decided they would head for an old Rebel base to make a last stand. However, they decided to tell no one else of this plan despite the fact that Resistance ships were being picked off one by one as they ran out of fuel (Apparently there is no inertia in this part of space). So of course, the rebellious fighter pilot, who got most of the Resistance pilots and bomb squad killed, but was still walking around free as a bird decided to come up with a plan of his own (go find the code cracker) and lead a mutiny aboard the command ship. Again not having a military background, I can’t say for certain the effect that this would have had on the morale of the troops, but I would think this bit of information is something that might have been a good idea to share with the troops so everyone sees that the leadership is in firm control, has a viable plan, and no one need to despair.

There was absolutely no good reason to keep secret the plan to head to the old rebel base, except of course it is required for the side story, and the rest of the plot holes in the movie. It’s funny that I saw the movie at the time I did, because the conversation between Poe and Holdo about the plan after his failed mutiny reminded me greatly of conversations about having faith in both Miracle on 34th Street and Elf. Again, just another jarring moment that takes me out of the immersion of the movie. Having faith in regards to Santa Claus is a good thing. It’s sheer idiocy when lives are on the line in a war.

But wait, there’s still more regarding the Vice Admiral that just gets better! Thanks to the writers of this film, we know have been graced with the “Holdo Maneuver.” That’s right folks, space battle will never be the same again when one can simply take a starship, point it at the enemy, and just enter Hyperspace to wipe out everything in front of it. Now we see where the Rebellion went so wrong, not once but twice, when it came to fighting both Death Stars in the original trilogy. Simply point a large enough ship, set it into Hyperspace, and there would have been no need for those dire space battles to begin with. How many lives could have been saved had the Rebellion done that?

What’s that you say? Holdo was the first to come up with the idea? Sorry, but that’s highly unlikely given that Hyperspace travel has been around for several millennia at this point in the lore. Plus, what was with all the sudden realization on the part of the First Order and Resistance when Holdo turned the ship towards the First Order Fleet. It seems to me, that everyone knew what she was about to do, which then would have to say that this is something was that either done or seriously planned in previous military encounters. No doubt about it, it made for a great scene on screen, but the whole concept is ludicrous taken what is established about Hyperspace travel, and all those previously mentioned space battles we have enjoyed in the previous movies.

There’s also been a lot of talk about the length of the movie, and funnily enough, towards the end, I got the Return of the King feeling of the movie having a few too many endings. This is the first time I was waiting to the end of the movie to arrive, and was disappointed that we had yet another scene to get through. It just went on and on and on. What made it worse was that by this point we had been subjected to such bad scenes, including that plot hole of a betrayal scene where Benecio’s character suddenly knows what the secret plan of the Resistance had been with no possible way to know it. But of course, we needed that dramatic tension to set up the derivative of the throne room scene in Return of the Jedi where all looked hopeless and Luke was about to turn to the Dark Side of the Force, where in this case it was Rey in Snoke’s throne room.

And here, let me take another side track. I have read where Billy Dee Williams would love to return to reprise his role as Lando Calrissian (as would many Star Wars fans). At one point, the writers were going to make Benecio’s character Lando, but wisely chose not to. However, the perfect opportunity for Lando to return would have been to make him the expert code breaker that Finn and Rose were looking for. Another lost opportunity to bring back another character and tie this trilogy into the original. At the end of the day, the whole betrayal scene was completely unnecessary and the story would have been better served with the heroes bringing Lando back to save the Resistance, only to get caught anyway as they did.

In the end, this movie could have been better served by being a generic sci-fi space action movie, which is a shame. There were very many good parts of this movie – the scenes with Snoke, Rey, and Kylo were superb, as was Rey’s time on Luke’s island hide-away. I know Mark Hamill wasn’t happy with the characterization of Luke in this movie, and I did have some similar issues, but those were minor and I thought it was a pretty good job that was completely overshadowed by the sheer terribleness of much of the rest of the writing in the movie. Taken on its own this would have made for an entertaining Sci-Fi action flick where the plot holes wouldn’t have had as much of an impact. However, these movies simply cannot be taken on their own. They are part of a saga with a past and an in-depth lore (and it’s that lore that makes it great, like many others – Star Trek, Tolkien, etc.) I guess at the end of the day, I do have to say I was disappointed with this movie, despite those very good parts. The writers were just not up to the task of encompassing and honoring all that rich story and lore that came before it, and they should have admitted to themselves that they were not up to the task and passed that job on to someone who could have done a much better job at it. Instead, The Last Jedi just becomes a weak point in the Star Wars saga that ultimately shows little to no respect for the reasons why Star Wars became and is Star Wars, and loved by millions across the world.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Last Jedi Predictions

So, do I need spoiler tags or something for this entry even though I don’t know if anything I am about to write is a spoiler or not? Well, here goes anyway.

First let me say that I have not yet seen the eighth installment in the official Star Wars saga franchise, so everything I am about to say is either conjecture, or something I would like to see when Erin and I head off to the theater on the afternoon of December 21st, 2017 to see The Last Jedi. These predictions are based solely upon what we have seen in the official movie trailers, snippets of various interviews, and my own (perhaps not so) logical reasoning based on some obvious real world circumstances which we are all familiar with. Obviously, I know some people who have already seen the movie, and all I have heard thus far that it is a great addition to the saga and perhaps the best one yet.

I kind of find it hard to believe that it has been two years already since Star Wars has made a triumphant return the big screen and I wrote about my thought and feelings in a couple of blog posts back when the Boo and I were going off to see The Force Awakens. I find it hard to imagine that the second installment of this sequel trilogy will measure up to the previous offering, and the even better standalone offshoot of Rogue One, which I still consider the best Star Wars movie I have seen yet. Unlike last time though, I have been determined to avoid spoilers and looking at the plot of the movie which should now be readily available on Wikipedia and the like around the Internet. I want to go into this one with a fresh perspective and see how it unfolds and what kind of impact it leaves on me not knowing what is going to happen next. Part of that is because I just don’t feel the same anticipation in watching The Last Jedi as I did for those previous two Disney installments. Despite the initial reports from those above unnamed people I know, I just don’t have that sense of “OMG! Star Wars is back!!” like I did for Episode 7 and Rogue One. I don’t know why exactly, it’s not like the movies are already taken for granted even though we already know we will see a Star Wars movie every single year for the foreseeable future. I think it might be partly because of the inevitability of what most likely will transpire in these next two installments of the movie and ending of the Age of the Classic Star Wars franchise as the new crew takes the helm for future adventures. Not that it won’t be fun and exciting, but I guess it just means I am getting older and all those things I loved as a kid are falling by the wayside of age and time.

But anyway, let’s get on with my predictions of what will happen in Episode 8, and see how close I come to reality.

First things first, I think it’s inevitable that we will have to face the death of Leia. The production has stated that they will not replace Carrie Fisher or digitize the performance of the character. It is a shame as, from my understanding, Carrie was supposed to have a major role in the plot of Episode 9, which had to be re-written to exclude the character of Leia Organa. The interesting thing here is how they are going to handle killing her off. Obviously, the movie was in the can when Carrie passed, so there would not have been a death scene filmed, unless (apply Tin Foil Hat), the production was misleading us all along and were going to kill off Leia from the very beginning in this episode. But I don’t think we will see a Han Solo type of demise here, and more than likely it will be something off screen, so to speak.

Now obviously, the movie trailers have set us up to consider some very interesting scenarios – Kylo blowing up the command ship Leia is on during the battle between the Resistance and First Order. We also get to see a conflict arise between Rey and Luke, and the possibility that Rey turns to the Dark Side and joins Kylo Ren. What is noticeably absent, however, is any mention or further information about the Knights of Ren who only made that brief appearance in Episode 7.

I kind of suspect that we may see a shift in how we think about the Force – the Light and the Dark, and the production may be taking a page from the Extended Universe. We may see something that gives some nods to the video games The Force Unleashed and Knight of the Old Republic. Where we see some very powerful force users and see them embrace both the Light side and the Dark side of the Force. All through Episode 7 we see Kylo struggling with both of these, and I think in Last Jedi, he may finally accept and embrace the fact that he is more powerful by drawing upon both Light and Dark, and convinces Rey of the same thing.

In the trailers, we get to see Rey come face to face with Snoke. However, what we don’t know is how much use of flashbacks and Force visions will be made of in the movie. We were introduced to Force visions in The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke thinks he is fighting Darth Vader on Dagobah, and later as a mental projection of his friends being tortured on Cloud City. We were introduced to them in the last movie, and I think we will see more during Rey’s training in the ancient Jedi temple. What I also think we are going to see is Rey becoming disillusioned with Luke and the concept of the Jedi, and thus making her more apt to join forces with Kylo Ren.

In fact, I think the climax of the movie may be Kylo and Rey joining forces and taking on Snoke so that they can then become the most powerful Force users in the galaxy and can shape the things to come to their own designs (not unlike Anakin’s desires in Episode 2).

I think there is a very likely possibility that Luke is killed off in this movie. The trailers make an obvious attempt at trying to lead us down that path, which could naturally be by design for the shock value, but this could be one instance where there is no deception and that what we are lead to believe may happen in the trailers is actually going to come to pass. In every Star Wars movie to date, one or more major characters are killed off or incapacitated in each one. To me it kind of makes sense when you take in the early reports that Leia was going to have a bigger role in the final installment. Rey and/or Kylo kill Luke, and in Episode 9, it is Leia who brings both of them back to the Light side of the Force. Now of course this might have changed now that we will see Leia’s last appearance in a Star Wars film, and that the original plan to kill off Luke is changed and Luke survives to take on what would have been Leia’s role in the final movie.

The only other real question that may still be left to be answered is that of Rey’s parentage. In The Force Unleashed, Vader hunts down and kills one of the remaining Jedi Knights who is in hiding, but discovers that the Jedi has a son who is extremely powerful in the Force and takes him in as his apprentice. I think the movies will lead us down a similar path. In the Extended Universe novels, Luke meets and marries Mara Jade, a former Imperial Pilot. I don’t recall if they have children, but I believe they do, just as Han and Leia have a son that turns to the Dark side of the Force. As much as it is the current belief with fans right now, I don’t think we will see confirmation that Luke is Rey’s father, though I think it ultimately needs to come to pass so that fans can see (in some aspect) the return of another beloved EU character in the form of Mara Jade (like Grand Admiral Thrawn has now returned to the official canon of Star Wars in the animated series Rebels). I think that question is still left to be answered, or perhaps may be answered at the very end of the movie – perhaps with a shocking twist that Snoke is actually Rey’s father. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

Well, at any rate, in less than 24 hours from me writing this final sentence and getting this up on the Interwebz, I will know how close (or how far) my predictions in this blog are. It will be extremely interesting to see if I was able to hit upon the right note in something.