All posts by danieljeyn

This is a blog about science fiction, technology, general libertarian ramblings, and other overall nerdy such pursuits.

Negative Nationalism

Orwell coined a term he called Negative Nationalism.

Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases …In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong. As a result, ‘enlightened’ opinion is quite largely a mirror-image of Conservative policy.

There is something about the terrestrial United States which seems to get people into high dudgeon. Persons who consider themselves of high moral standing vibrate with intense loathing for their own countrymen over political differences. Simultaneously, they feel pleased as punch to show obsequiousness and open-mindedness towards the culture of others.

A case in point would be the recent law passed in Georgia which severely restricts abortion rights. I’m not at all supportive of this particular law. However, I also consider that this law is subject to change by politics, and I believe it should be. I also consider that it should not necessarily reflect the state as a whole. In fact, as much as it is a symptom of political avarice of one side, the solution to the problem of bad law is ultimately more politics.

However, the reaction among many to announce their desire to boycott and punish Georgia, and anathematize all Georgians for things they themselves have no control over, suggests that the wokest among us hold this state to a standard higher than they would any other political entity other than a country in a state of war. They hold this U.S. state at a level of contempt far higher than other constituencies which in turn offer their citizens even less freedom. Especially, deliciously hypocritically, when money is at stake.

Sophie Turner instantly agreed to a boycott of Georgia over the new abortion laws when it was presented to her in an interview. Even though she’s been working in Northern Ireland for a decade which, itself, has abortion nearly banned. I don’t mean to pick on Sophie Turner, as she’s not a public policy commentator. But it is instructive at the pressure put on individuals to instantly conform to the correct opinions, whether they have deeply considered them on principal or not.

Yes, there are several places in the world where abortion is illegal. How many woke Westerners will be boycotting?

::: || :::

A few years ago when Indiana passed a “Religious Freedom” bill which allowed, in so many words, persons to deny their commercial services to people based on religious convictions. It was an overbroad law drafted with the intent of, say, allowing a Christian baker the right to refuse to cater a gay wedding.

Enter then the demands for boycotts. Including by Apple, which, in its vast commercial enterprises, will not stand for discrimination against homosexuals. Or, wait, maybe it will…

Come buy Apple in Dubai, one of the wealthiest playgrounds of the world.

But of course, you may find that Dubai, a far, far, wealthier entity than Indiana, is also slightly more problematic for homosexuality than Elkhart.

Homosexuality is illegal across the entire United Arab Emirates, punishable by death! However, each Emirate has its own legal system, with Dubai the least severe, whereby homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine instead of death. Like in many Arabic countries, homosexuality is a massive taboo and is not accepted by society.

Like abortion, homosexuality is something widely tolerated, if not celebrated, in the Western world. This is not the case all around the world.

::: || :::

Silicon Valley is not fond of working with the military. Well, okay, they’re not fond of working with the American military. Foreign military dictatorships? Just sign the check!

Furthermore, as Greg Ferenstein argues in The Age of Optimists, “the culture [of Silicon Valley] is inherently post-nationalist”

It is “based on a rather extreme idealism about human nature, society, and the future” and “reject[s] the notion that there are inherent conflicts of interests between citizens, the government, corporations or other nations.” At the same time, “They are highly, highly, collectivist. They believe that every single person has a positive obligation to society and the government can help people or coerce people or incentive into making a unique contribution.”

But the same Silicon Valley is comme ci, comme ça about working with Chinese dictatorships. From writer Roger Simon,

But where did this ability to control such a giant country come from in the first place? As Pogo would say, I have seen the enemy and he is us! Namely, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Apple, Oracle, Intel, Cisco, and all those other American high-tech companies eager to get a piece of the fat Chinese pie. The technology was taken piece by piece by the Chinese from all of them to execute, with some local improvements, the social credit system. In a certain sense, these companies provided the inspiration for it—and the impetus. The Chinese copied them. That’s what they do.

Farewell To Thrones

Game of Thrones was a grounded fantasy. Sure, there were dragons, armies of the dead, a cult of death-worshiping, shape-shifting ninjas, naked redheaded witches, etc. But they were used abstemiously. Most of the show was character driven and about power politics.

Season Eight didn’t merely alienate the fanbase. It hit them hard. Fans seem to have reacted to this climactic season like watching their team lose the championship. Some of that is a little over-hyped; mere nit-picks spun by maddening epicycloid gears of social media, whipping up like-minded discontent into a tsunami of froth. But this discontent is not unearned.

The show was always enjoyable to watch. It was endless spectacle with mostly solid story telling. But there were always flaws.

:::| Nits? Watch Me Pick Away  :::

I’d agree with the general observation that the show was nearly perfect for at least the first four seasons. I’d say that the show was only consistently logical through season two. Complaints that the season went off track in terms of logic this last year or two are generous. I’ll list some longstanding nitpicks of mine with the caveat that these are minor. They bother me if I think too much, but I can regularly choose to ignore them for the sake of spectacle.

The Ironborn may be adamant about stealing things from others, but it does present a worldbuilding problem. They are a small island with a massive navy. If they “do not sow” crops, they are going to have a terrible time finding enough linen and hemp to make all the sails and rope they would need. Building ships as we saw requires not just sowing, but also significant sewing. Especially when Euron spontaneously suggests building a fleet of a thousand ships.

The armies of the Unsullied or Golden Company are either marching or standing at attention. Watching the Unsullied march off into the desert for the first time, my initial observation was that none of them had any kind of infantryman’s pack with gear. Actual pre-industrial armies and their gear are an interesting subject in themselves. I didn’t see any water or sleeping rolls, let alone any supply wagons.

Part of enjoying the show is to just roll with all these. I can pretend that there are massive baggage wagons with water skins and sleeping rolls and medical kits which are just off screen. All the intense labor required in providing these armies which regularly get slaughtered with their weapons, armor, food, clothing, burial, etc., must also be going on behind the scenes. It must also be mentioned that labor intensity was the way of life in Dark Age and Medieval Age, and wars were costly things which required generations not just to properly supply, but often to recover from in their aftermath.

The feckless way in which armies and navies all are supplied is part of the ambience of the show. The matter-of-fact ease with which this is done precisely evokes a tabletop game. Sometimes the characters stand stock still like the carved mini-figs from the incense-imbued gaming store in the mall which probably inspired their creation. That’s just how the show was.

The use of magic, intermittent though it was, always presented a lot of problems. This was a particularly sticking bit with how the dead were raised. Were the wights moved like marionettes by the Others/Walkers? Wights seemed to have some kind of agency, but not related to the living person they once were. Was it some kind of demon working within them like the myths of revenants or vampires? Even mechanically, it doesn’t make sense how corpses with decayed or absent muscle and sinew can even move. The more you think about it, the more it is just something you have to shrug at and move on.

Of course, going into Season Eight, the cumulative plotholes and nit-picks were already piled up like so many wights who’ve thrown themselves over a cliff. Trying to bring a resolution to the show meant an inevitable clash of problems previously relegated to hand waving away.

We saw realistic close-up sword-and shield fighting. But then we also saw a shirtless Ramsey standing feet from Ironborn raiding his castle and laughing maniacally. When of course a mere slip of a sword at that point could have easily ended his life. We saw cavalry charges which made no sense, and commanders on the field subjecting themselves to danger which would have meant losing instantly.

The show always gave and took away from realism in almost equal order.

:::| Plot vs Character + Acting = Spectacle |:::

I have not read George RR Martin’s books, although my interest in watching the series has prompted me to go back and explore much of the lore. There is naturally much in the volumes which is richer, deeper, and more consistent than the abbreviated version in the show.

I am personally fond of how he played with tropes in the fantasy genre. He includes actual extinct Earth species, such as direwolves, mammoths, wooly rhinos, etc., to correlate where fantasy authors use griffins or hummerhorns or other fantasy creatures. Dragons are depicted as if they were possibly real animals, with winged forearms, which give them an anatomy similar to that of bats, giving them an uncanny tangibility.

He hints at extinct species of humans, such as Australopithecus and Neanderthals, as being the near-human races in the background of the book, similar to ogres or goblins in Tolkien fantasy. Even Tyrion, the dwarf, suffers the indignity of what actual humans with such disabilities may suffer, playing against type.

Martin created an antithesis to the the typical morality within high fantasy. In real history, heroes are usually compromised by inevitable acts of butchery on their path to heroism. Nobody is entirely good, and even villains have humanity and shades of grey.

I’m most fond of the book version of Euron, who is a powerful warlock akin to a Sith lord, whereas in the show he’s a bit like a ridiculously camp lead singer of pirate-themed punk rock band.

I am not in a hurry to read the books because I am not a stickler that book versions of stories are the “purer” versions. As someone who has read nearly everything that Bernard Cornwell has written, I have to say that the Sharpe novels stick in my mind as much more engrossing sagas than the abbreviated movies made from them. However, the depiction of the main character by Sean Beane indelibly stamped that image of him in my mind. This is a credit to the art of making movies as well as acting itself. Actors can bring a character alive in a relatable way which is instantly palpable. Even those who prefer the books can enjoy in the verisimilitude of many of the great performances of the actors who bring the characters alive. And Game of Thrones has had so many great actors, I think the strongest reason it will endure, if at all, is how well the actors bring across the fullness of their characters. (Maybe not Euron, but they all can’t be winners.)

:::| So The Woman Demanding She Rule Everyone by Right of Her Birth Turned Out To Be Kind of Evil? Shock |:::

A lot of people were upset at Danaerys’ turn to the Dark Side. Writing-wise, I am more forgiving of this, seeing as I think it was foreshadowed as inevitable.

Why should we be on the side of the Targaryen(sp?) dynasty? Those who dip into the lore know that the founder of the dynasty conquered Westeros by using three dragons which burned everyone who defied them. They are rulers by right of conquest. This seemed to be unaddressed throughout the run, but I was pleased that, in the end, there was pushback against Targaryen entitlement.

On Dany’s first meeting with Jon Snow in Season Seven, she insisted that she ruled the Norf’ by right, in perpetuity, because her ancestor threatened to burn everyone and everything otherwise. After Dany burned the Tarleys in an obvious war crime, yes — even by Dark Age standards — I found myself literally thinking “huh, is she a villain? I think she’s a villain.”

This essay by Jennifer Wright pretty much sums it up, I think. Quoting:

In Season 2, she told the people of Qarth, “We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground! Turn us away, and we will burn you first.” In Season 3  she pledges to take what is hers “with fire and blood.” In Season 6, she implores the Dothraki to “kill my enemies in their iron suits and tear down their stone houses.” She also pledges “I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.”

Ramsey laughs. You thought this would end some other way? Have you been paying attention?

:::| Things Left Unsaid — When it Would Have Been Really Easy to Just Write Someone Saying Them |:::

In the end, that ad-hoc choosing of a king with a Witan was weak. What I saw did not make sense to what I intuitively felt. Going completely outside the suspension of disbelief, I start to think: oh, it could have made sense. The Bran as the Three-Eyed-Raven otherwise had no real effect on the story until that moment. The powers he had were vague, and his sense of personal agency was also unclear. Was he a powerful warlock? We saw his powers thus far amount to not much of consequence other than playing Raven Simulator. He did not behave in an otherwise human manner which showed he was capable of real empathy, which is something, I presume, we’d want from a philosopher king.

The show ended with three Starks in control of Westeros; Bran on the throne of the Six Kingdoms, Sansa as Queen of the Norf’, and Jon… well, exiled to the Free Folk, who of course don’t give two shits what the rest of Westeros thinks. They’ll probably just make him their honorary king and oath or not, he’ll have all the ginger minge he can eat. (More power to him.)

I applaud the plot point of ending the tyranny of proximity to Targaryen blood. It doesn’t track that the whole continent would then be fine with being ruled by Starks. It flatly doesn’t make sense that if the Norf’ is an independent [queen]dom, then why would the rest of the kingdoms allow a foreign Stark mage as their king?

Nothing came of Jon’s Targaryen heritage. It could be said that it nudged Dany to the Dark Side that he was a rival to the throne. But thematically, she seemed to be heading there regardless. Since they ultimately decided on the king with a Witan, and ultimately put a son of Ned Stark on the throne anyway, Jon was still a rival to the throne regardless of his heritage. Jon’s identity was the single largest mystery of the show for several seasons. And it amounted to nothing in the end.

We needed more about Bran as the Three-Eyed Raven and why that was so particularly important. The Witan scene was the last chance for this. I will suggest a piece of dialogue, maybe which should have been delivered by Bran in the first or second episode, before the showdown with the Night King. Imagine this dialogue spoken to Tyrion, Sam, and perhaps Varys in Bran’s spooky monotone:

I have seen the Night King. I have seen his past, and I know the vast, cold emptiness of what passes for his mind. He is the sum of all the divisions among men. He is the sum of all our wars. The Three Eyed Raven has always been the keeper of this knowledge and stands between him and his ultimate victory. The living have purchased this knowledge for the price of all our dead.

I’m not saying this is good dialogue. But I am suggesting this, or something like it, would have set up a reason for why Bran would have the potential to be a wise king. It needed to be literally said out loud as dialogue. And said to Tyrion so that there was a solid reason for Tyrion suggesting Bran as their king. These sentences stated before both the Battle of Winterfell and the fall of King’s Landing could have set up the ending we got. Which is also a nice segue to the main problem I have with Season Eight…

:::| Setting Up a Big Boss as a Metaphor For Death and Dispatching Him Like the Enemy of the Week is Lame |:::

I have no real gripe with the execution of Episode Three, The Long Night. As spectacle, I enjoyed the Hell out of it. Sure, some characters had plot armor. The tactics were jarring nonsense if you thought too hard. I didn’t have a problem with the plot point of Jon’s heroism being trammeled by a mob of zombies in his way, nor Arya’s sudden ninjitsu and rope-a-dope resolution.

However, I would only have liked some more threads connecting the story beats. Maybe having Jon conspire with Arya at some point in a previous episode, indicating that they had a tag-team plan of some kind, which we only get revealed at the end when Jon distracts the dragon so that Arya can sneak into the Godswood.

They also committed the cardinal sin of storytelling wherein those of us in the audience felt like we were smarter than the characters. Jon very clearly saw how the Night King raised the dead at the end of Hardhome. So there was no excuse that people could have thought hiding in the tombs would have been safe. C’mon, writers!

The metaphorical fight against death itself should have mattered more than it did to the series resolution. It was an analogy about the squabbles of the different lords of the realm, as Jon Snow literally said in Season Seven. The show has been laboring to tell us that from the start.

The best line in the episode is delivered by Sandor Clegane in a moment of despair.

“We can’t beat them! Can’t you see that…?! It’s fighting death! You can’t beat death!”

Our main characters needed to be changed utterly after going in and coming out of the experience. Fighting and triumphing over death is just too symbolically important to be as disconnected as it was from the rest of the plot.

We didn’t get any solid reason within the story for why Bran mattered as much as he did, nor what was at stake if he was killed. Nor did we get a sense of how his survival had even changed him, if it did at all. The story needed to show the thematic connections between defeating the White Walkers, the resolution of the Westerosi civil wars, and Bran’s eventual acceptance of kingship. The show just needed more dialogue to set up that our characters weren’t so dumb. That they had reason for behaving as they did. They failed to do this and left it to us to ponder the reasons why.

The show was always fantastic to watch. In the end, though, it ended on a field goal at the 20 yard line. And it wobbled.

My Regrettable ‘The Last Jedi’ Review

When the Internet is Forever … or Regrets? I’ve Had a Few.

It’s been more than a year since The Last Jedi came out, and we’re halfway to the next chapter in the Disney sequel trilogy. My original review is still up on this site. I gave it a tepid positive review. I don’t regret all of my review. I think I very pointedly complained that it was, to be kind, a mess of meandering, mediocre movie-making. I also didn’t want to pick at too many plot points for preventing spoilers at that time.

My biggest regret is that I defended, quite incorrectly, that the movie was respectful of the Force and StarWars-y things. I have no excuse. My reasons for doing this are probably a mixture of giving the movie too much credit from past good will, and perhaps a bit of a moment of shock of looking on the bright side after watching StarWars fade like so many neuminal Lukes into dual sunsets.

The Last Jedi has become a bit of a polemic by itself. Much more iconic than its status as a part of the StarWars saga, it is now really a symbol of where entertainment is going in the conglomerate age, and how far large entities can push their fans, via social media, before they break their trust.

I will get this out of the way. I gave positive reviews to the way The Force is used in the Disney sequels out of a sense of nostalgia. While The Force Awakens also suffers looking back with a critical eye, I thought JJ Abrams at least was true to much of the aesthetic which made StarWars so memorable. I will give him that. I did enjoy a lot of The Force Awakens, and I don’t regret enjoying it for what it was. But I see Disney as having duped the fans, exploiting and mocking their nostalgia and enthusiasm. Shame on them and those who enable them.

My tl;dr gripe with The Last Jedi:

  1. The movie is not well plotted or well directed. You could excise Rose and Finn’s arc from the entire film and lose nothing in particular. The Crait scene at the end makes no sense. At several points characters go unconscious in order to transition to the next scene. Characters have to get to a particular location because the plot requires it, and they are constantly able to just be in the right place regardless of guards or distance or any other obstacles.
  2. So, if the goal was to introduce more women into significant roles, they had two new female characters in Holdo and Rose who were just terrible. Past characters from the Extended Universe (EU) of novels, comics, and games included Mara Jade, Satele Shan, Ahsoka, Ventress, etc. All were all female characters with real arcs, who fit in well with the space-fantasy genre of StarWars. These characters did not.
  3. Maybe this is 2a, but as far as the Holdo maneuver went, it really should have been a chance to give a heroic exit to Leia, excising Holdo entirely from the story. Also, it broke my disbelief very heavily that the maneuver wasn’t done earlier once all the transports were away and they were being fired on. Also, yes, it was pointless as they could have had a droid do it.
  4. Ultimately, Luke was very ill-served by this story. I could handle that this would have been Luke’s exit from StarWars. I could also accept if he were a minor character in this particular story. But they relied him as the MacGuffin for putting the whole story into motion. We spent a lot of time with him only to have him pointedly be a tragic figure, negating his previous incarnation as an optimistic cipher. They turned a classic hero story into a meditation on failure. We lost the EU, and all of Luke’s great adventures, for this?
  5. Rey is the protagonist in the story, and there was little to no growth of her as a character. They introduced her as a mystery box, but she still seems to have nothing at stake, and it’s not clear who she is as she deliberately has no back story.

The Soft Reboot Used the Original Characters for Nostalgia, but Impeached their Stories

The original trilogy (OT), the story that started all this, ended in failure. Nothing the original characters did had any effect on the galaxy. The Empire returned, the Jedi did not. All their plans turned to ashes.

Han and Leia gave birth to an emo Vader cosplayer who killed his deadbeat Dad. Luke ended in complete failure, and failed to “return” the Jedi. Even poor Akbar just got unceremoniously sucked out into space.

The New Republic failed, ending with the Empire’s successor building a superweapon which created a larger genocide than the original Death Star. In the end, when the Resistance sent out the call for help from Crait, everyone in the galaxy who said “we would have been better off sticking with the Empire” turned out to be correct. No wonder nobody answered the distress call.

Return of the Jedi Turned Out to be No Such Thing?

After Return of the Jedi, the first dialogue Luke Skywalker has in a movie is a discussion where he says “it is time for the Jedi to end.”

Technically, his first line is “go away.” Then he throws his father’s lightsaber — his first lightsaber — over his shoulder.

Just let that sink in. Disney thought they’d mine nostalgia. Then they frame their story so that the original heroes ultimately ended in complete failure with no effect on the galaxy. Contrary to the triumphal ending of Return of the Jedi.

Luke would have saved more lives, and possibly kept hope that Jedi knowledge would stick around, if he had surrendered and served Palpatine and learned the ways of the Sith. Even if he had, and ended up as an evil emperor himself, that would still be a better story, as it would give a clear course of action for the next hero in the next story.

With Luke serving the Dark Side and helping the Empire triumph, there would have been far less destruction and chaos in this fictional universe. The Empire’s infrastructure would still exist, an entire system of planets presumably would not needed to have been destroyed by the campy First Order. And the whole apparent war profiteering going on with the arms dealers on Canto Bight would have been mitigated by an Empire at peace rather than endless civil war.

Instead, they impeached all impact Luke had on the galaxy when he and his friends previously triumphed over the Galactic Empire. Now, Rey, this ungrounded mystery box, is the Last Jedi, and supposedly will be the one to bring back their return. This isn’t merely a sequel. It’s essentially a reboot of the same story as Luke’s. Which belongs in a cheap copy of StarWars, not an authorized sequel.

Had Luke trained a generation of Jedi, and then the sequel trilogy dealt with their conflicts in a new era, which Luke in the background, serving as a coda to his story, allowing him to die with some meaning, even tragically, I would have taken it for what it was. I wanted to believe very much that this would have been what we got that I suspended my disbelief and shamefully made myself feel as if it is what we got. But this was not even close. So I rescind all prizes and ribbons I’ve sent to Disney since.

It’s a Shame About Rey

One of the more outlandish theories of Rey I heard was of Rey being a chromosone-switched clone of Anakin. Not my favorite theory, still better than the worst EU. But also better than what we got.

Story-wise, she should have been an orphan/servant in that Force cult we saw at the beginning of The Force Awakens. She could have been the mistreated washer girl. We see her at the beginning, grounded in a society, but also being on the bottom of that society: forgotten, dismissed, etc. All part of the necessary trope of the hero’s journey.

My proposal would have been to cast Temuera Morrison as her servant/mentor in the Force Cult. Perhaps a scene where he gives her some basic advice, muses on his own history as a “warrior,” and also we also see that he’s the one who has taught her how to fight with a staff.

Then, when the cult was all slaughtered by the First Order, she goes out in the desert to be a scavenger and eventually discover her destiny. This kind of quick setup could have added a lot of worldbuilding to the story with minimal screen time.

The throne room scene was the strongest sequence in The Last Jedi, and was the last moment that this movie (and the new trilogy) could have been saved. There was a storyline possibility with her joining Kylo Ren somewhat. She was a bit of a Mary Sue in the first movie, but in this, we are only told that she is vacillating between the Light and the Dark. Told, now shown.

Yet, there is literally zero worldbuilding for Rey. She grew up on a flat, completely featureless desert. We know nothing about her hopes or fears, how she can read or fly a ship or know how to live as a feral teenager. Luke originally dreamed of a wider world, but felt an obligation to his aunt and uncle who raised him. When they were killed, he instantly had a reason to enter that wider world and a very personal reason to fight the Empire. Rey has no grounding whatsoever for any decision or action she takes. The story just lurches forward from The Force Awakens to The Last Jedi with her having no moral dimension to decisions she makes.

If Rey was supposed to have a whiff of darkness, we should have seen her do things like steal BB-8 rather than just ask nicely. Rey only ever faced obstacles in theory, and succeeded at everything she tried on the first try. She only has radiated goodness in the stories thus far. And having some connection to Kylo was the only thing which could presented moral depth.

I was fine with Rey not being a Kenobi or Skywalker. I do think it redeemed the meaning of the Force to me to have broom boy at the end. But none of that in the end goes anywhere with this story.

Was it Just Rian Johnson or was JJ Abrams Our Last Hope?

I would like to defend JJ, and have hope he’ll make something worth seeing in Episode IX. (Edit: title is Rise of Skywalker? There’s your nostalgia plea.) But The Force Awakens still shoulders the blame for putting this trilogy on a dive which it could never recover from. I’ll explain:

The essential problem set up in TFA is that they simplified the story by keeping it focused on a few main characters with Rey as the protagonist. This could have been fine as the template. But they put it on a trajectory where the original trilogy had no effect on the universe. Everything they did ended in failure, with the Empire’s inheritors returning with a bigger genocide than Alderaan in the originals.

I can forgive using Luke as a MacGuffin in the first movie. But they needed a deeper story. There needed to be a generation or two of Jedi which he had trained, who operated inside the story. Not just that they all died in some throwaway line. There needed to be more of a story arc to give us genuine sense of something at stake rather than just CGI genocide happening in an expository shot.

We didn’t get anything which stands alone from the original series. And that fault was present with the TFA.

Yes, But is it Art? Subverting Expectations, You Incel!

I like artsy-fartsy movies as tone poems. But I have a problem with David Lynch as a storyteller. He only enjoys making movies like the way he makes paintings; he likes to make something you experience, or that washes over you with your own internal interpretation, giving you a take-away. Plots or satisfying stories are not his thing.

Twin Peaks new “season” I thought, was mostly a waste. Because he teases out characters and storylines as though it will go somewhere. You get a sense of a plot or a resolution, but in the end, there is none. I find this frustrating because it’s “subverting expectations” just to do it.

If you are going to do this, I can handle artsy-interpretive things. I recommend watching Twin Peaks: The Return Episode 8 as a standalone movie. None of the other episodes are necessary. It’s a completely meandering, interpretive film, mindfuck. It’s horror and sci-fi all combined. None of the other episodes explain it, and it does not lead into any other resolution. It stands alone on its own as David Lynch doing his thing as he does best.

The Last Jedi defenders are doing a rearguard action, like they’re explaining some kind of David Lynch artsy-fartsy tone poem. But it’s not. It’s a plot-driven movie with characters who are supposed to serve as the guides to a story of adventure and heroism. Giving us some sort of muddled, wet-fart characterization and plots which are perplexingly incomprehensible is not art. It’s just a shitty film. And everyone in the film industry, in the creative industry, all know it. The only people who are vocally defending this movie seem to have career incentives to do so, or otherwise fans with Stockholm Syndrome.

But Wasn’t Lucas a Gadfly Auteur Who Had a Vision?

George Lucas took a major personal risk on making the first Star Wars, and then another big risk in using that to finance The Empire Strikes Back. With both of those, he couldn’t afford complete creative control, and had to compromise more than he wanted to.

Compromise was a very important part of why the original Star Wars worked, and what the prequels lacked. It was saved in the edit. I really cannot stress how important that movie about the editing of StarWars is to any fan who is interested in the process of creativity.

He offloaded a major part of the writing work in The Empire Strikes Back to Lawrence Kasdan, and less mentioned is Leigh Brackett, who was a solid sci-fi storyteller who provided many of the solid story beats (and fantasy elements) to Empire. Sadly, she died in 1978, and didn’t help with Return of the Jedi. Yes, a female writer provided the bones for what became the primary story arc of the original trilogy. The Force may in fact be female, but it’s not the current story group who made it so.

David Lynch famously went to meet with George Lucas about possibly directing RoTJ. You can hear him speak for himself. Obviously, Lynch himself has a huge ego. But it’s pretty clear that Lucas wanted someone who would just do a journeyman job, which would be aggravating for a lot of creative people.

The Reaction to Criticism Brought Out the Worst Kind of Corporate Remoras

After The Last Jedi came and went I shrugged and realized I wasn’t interested in the rest of where this story is going. Given the shortcomings of it as a movie and story alone, I didn’t think they could really take it anywhere after all that, and closed that chapter of my mind as no longer being interested in Disney StarWars. But the fierce defense of the movie, as if it were something of object quality which was being criticized as a result of edgy philosophy — attacking the detractors as incels, MRAs, Trump supporters(?), garden-variety misogynists, and of course as racists — became part of the script used in defending this poorly-received corporate product. This has become interesting on its own, as the attempt to gaslight the public, with massive, paid media campaigns to mock former fans and customers, strikes me as a particularly terrible precedent.

My own experience online has included giving mild criticism to the current StarWars direction. In my case, a paid radio host for Lucasfilm forwarded me screenshots of a seemingly angry and mentally-defective juvenile making some kind of horrible threats in Tweets. The radio host asked me if I thought this was “OK.”

And there you have it. With Twitter, and social media in general, we have this brigading effect. Not only do people pile on, flood, dox, and anathematize contrarian opinion, but they will hold up random, bad eggs as if some barely-literate twitter person says something hateful or misogynistic, that random person’s tweet automatically counts as a press-release from your camp. This is gaslighting, and it has destroyed the integrity of genuine disagreements among fandom.

George Lucas received a lot of criticism from his fans for meddling with his own movies and doing odd things with the prequels. It’s still a worthy discussion of who really owns something which lands so large in public consciousness. I always fall on the side that it was Lucas’ right to do what he wanted with his creations, just as his fans have every right to point out where he isn’t honoring his own creations. I think he could never really reconcile that with himself, and for that reason I’ll bet it was a relief for him to offload all this to Disney.

But sold them he did. And Lucasfilm and the StarWars legacy is not in the hands of a visionary, but a large, multi-billion dollar corporate entity. There was a massive investment here, and then there an intention of having it all pay off. There is no hiding that Disney’s appeal is calculated to get customers. There is no other reason for it to exist.

Lucasfilm now, which is an entity which does hire public-relations employees who do issue press releases, seems indifferent to their employees who have open contempt for their fans. This is completely bizarre to me. This justifies to me every notion of refusing to purchase product from these people. They only tolerate this contemptible behavior from their employees, I assume, because they calculate that enough people won’t be driven away.

Corporate decision makers do love the idea of an entertainment product which appeals equally to boys and girls. They would love to sell movies, books, toys, comics, games, etc., equally among both sexes. As it has always been, StarWars had a primarily male fanbase, and entities like Twilight have primarily female fanbases. I don’t fault the mammoth corporation of Disney for trying its mightiest to make StarWars appeal to more female fans. But they’ve done it so ham handedly, so contemptuously, they’ve isolated their current fans, including their current female fans. (If 20% of their fans were female, still one presumes that they liked it the way it was.) I’m sure that George Lucas is having himself a mighty laugh.

What it Would Really Take to Get Humans to Mars

I vacillate between thinking of Elon Musk as a visionary and a Bond villain. (Can a man be both?) His futuristic visions arrive with suspiciously competent marketing. Electric cars are neat, but they’re only “green” in as much as they shift pollution to the electrical grid, done at a high marginal expense of putting big battery arrays into individual vehicles. As a sci-fi geek, I’m thrilled at his high-tech rockets. I also roll my eyes that we’re still relying on massive, contained explosions to get into orbit. What about massive airships which float gently to the edge of space, say more than 30 miles up, and then launch a craft from there via railrun? (Just as a sci-fi proposal to get craft into orbit without burning massive amounts of rocket fuel.)

Like a lot of people who are genuinely interested in the idea of long-term space travel and exploration, I probably have my eyes to the horizon, taking for granted that we will get to that level someday while being impatient  to see theoretical technology finally brought up into the big game. Even when I was young, I was more bored with the Space Shuttle than I was impressed. Partly this was because I didn’t want a ricketty, expensive shuttle. I wanted the Millennium Falcon. Now, obviously, the more I learned about science, the more I realized that the Millennium Falcon is a fantasy object, a totemistic item which cannot exist, but which we use a cipher for our imagination. But that reality aside, the fact remains is that we can do much, much better than what we have done. We won’t get Millennium Falcons. But we can do better than just using big rockets to get into orbit every time we need to do so.

My impatience with the large expense of fossil fuel just to get a single rocket to escape Earth only scratches the surface of my desideratum for space travel. There is, Musk marketing magic aside, no feasible plan to send humans to Mars except merely as a man-in-a-can, one-way stunt. I think that would be a tragic mistake to do.

First and foremost, there is a huge downside to getting humans to Mars just to prove we can do it. Any life-form from Earth which sets foot on another planet would bring, necessarily, billions of bacteria, viruses, and other flora and fauna, which would taint the research of looking for signs of life, or former life, on any planet. Even people desperate to get to Mars as a one-way trip would inevitably risk tainting future research by planting their bodies there.

Titan, Europa, and Mars all have the possibility of sustaining life or having once done so. It would be vitally important that sterilized mechanical arms sift through these environments before we plop our own bags of Earth-born protoplasm onto their surfaces. It would be un-ethical for any one human to bring their own personal cloud of billions of Earth-born microbes on to an alien surface. At least not without extreme scrutiny of the environment first to see if there is any native fauna. This scrutiny needs to be done by machines which we’ve only begun to develop.

The proven ability of humans to actually live and traverse in space has only barely edged beyond what we knew during the Apollo missions. The shuttle missions were two decades of spinning wheels in planetary orbit; burning through money and fossil fuel while hardly pushing the envelope for long-term space missions.


Mary Roach’s book Packing For Mars details the incredible difficulties humans face with even relatively local space travel. Zero-gravity is incredibly difficult for humans. Your blood doesn’t flow correctly, your digestion doesn’t work correctly, your bones leach calcium, your eyeballs swell. Even things we take for granted such as sweat evaporating, heat and exhaled carbon-dioxide moving away from our bodies, do not do so without gravity. Experiments on mice indicate that it may be impossible for mammals to get pregnant in zero-g.

Additionally, for all our faffing about during decades of building shuttles and space stations, we haven’t successfully built spaceborne habitats with any ability to sustain a living environment for long periods of time. We’ve built tiny stations which must have waste products removed, and food and air and fuel constantly replenished by rockets from Earth.

Humans have lived in space for long periods of time as games of endurance, akin to Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic or Scott at the North Pole. The persons managed to do it under extreme conditions, in extreme discomfort, and likely will have lifelong physical effects. We have not build a habitat that a normal person could live in for any amount of time other than treating it as an extreme sport and the type of thing done on a dare.

Astronauts have been highly selected, brave volunteers who chose to expose themselves to these possibly permanently debilitating conditions. They’ve had to be highly selected because we have yet to even attempt to build anything which would approximate anything like an environment suitable for humans to live with any sort of normalcy.

This isn’t even mentioning the massive doses of radiation which all astronauts have been exposed to. We have yet to perfect better shielding for any real space exploration. While it’s perfectly logical that we may yet do so, this is one of the major engineering projects which is both highly involved, and highly necessary, before we can even begin discussions of humans traveling the distance it would take to get to Mars.

The real goal for humans living in space needs to be a space-born structure, heavily shielded from radiation, which makes an effort towards sustaining a self-contained environment, artificial gravity, and the ability to move the craft (even slowly) beyond just being captured by orbital velocity. This means attempting something like a 3-kilometer wide wheel which spins at a velocity in order to create some kind of centrifugal artificial gravity, has some sort of ability to move, even slowly, and maybe has maybe the intervening wheel spokes full of algae and water in order to cycle waste products and produce fertilizer, fuel, and oxygen. This is my back-of-the-envelope suggestion for what NASA ought to be focusing on. It’s what commercial ventures will have to undertake as well if they want to beat others to colonize space.

The wheelship I reference above would be a huge undertaking, but as far as we know, it is feasible to attempt all this. We have to yet to find out how scaling up contained biospheres, solar sails, or centrifugal gravity would work, but testing all of them in functional spacecraft is preliminary to any plans for humans to land on other planets. Craft like this theoretical wheel could be a prototype for platforms to facilitate humans living in space for long periods of time.

Meanwhile, real efforts to push out into space require more advancements in robotics and material design. Highly articulated machines, abetted by better AI, could do the preliminary work of landing on planets and begin building long-term structures for human habitation. We have yet to revolutionize cheap carbon-fiber weaving, or fully develop machinery which could theoretically smelt, shape, and 3-D print construction material from, say, moon soil. But all of this is necessary to create the stepping-off point for humans being able to actually live beyond Earth. The prospect of constantly lifting off massive amounts of Earth material and supplies is incredibly expensive, and being able to repurpose the material found beyond our own planet is the key part of genuinely being able to explore space over ensuing generations.

The short-to-long term future of humans expanding through our solar system seems to ultimately rely on two main inevitabilities.

First, robotic forms, either as our inheritors our as our avatars, are going to be our foremost leading edge when exploring other worlds.

Second, biologically, we’ll either be finding better ways to replicate our own bisophere beyond our world, or genetically modify ourselves to better adapt to different gravity, radiation, temperature fluctuations, etc. All of which we’d have to endure with long term space exploration.

Almost certainly, humans will use all these different paths.

When humans expanded and colonized our own planet, we did all of these things. Humans adapted their bodies over generations as they spread out into different regions of the planet, creating slight differences which we unscientifically have categorized as races or ethnicities. Skin pigmentation changed to better adapt to the sun in different environments as humans wandered into different continents. Our layers of fat adjusted over time to temperature, as did density of bone or muscle, or the ability of our blood to carry oxygen at different elevations. All of this was genetic adaptation over the slow process of hundreds of thousands of years.

Our need to have better technology to live in new environments has always been part of the human story. There are very few environments on Earth in which naked humans could survive. All evidence points to humans wearing clothing and building tools from the earliest hints of homo-sapien cognition. We built tools to adapt to new surroundings, from the cro-magnon to the Internet age, from the atl-atl to air conditioning.

Humans didn’t simply fling themselves to Australia or Greenland and survive. They learned over time how to live with what was there. (And when environments like Greenland changed over time, they mostly became simply inhospitable to human habitation.) Humans avoided living in environments like the Sahara or Death Valley until relatively recently because the environment is so hostile to our needs for life. Even now, we only have little more than symbolic human colonization of Antarctica, which is a relative Eden compared to the cold, dead, distant, airless, radioactive, ⅓ gravity environment of Mars.

I’m as interested as anyone else at the prospect of moving beyond our home planet. It will be space stations as stepping stones, and better and badder-assed robotics to get us there. The idea of colonizing Mars is a wonderful fantasy which Elon Musk is selling to an eager public. It is just that right now — a fantasy. But the effort to actually, seriously, get us there, requires a lot less-sexy endeavors which are often quickly elided when discussing what needs to be done. Bring on the robots. Bring on the zeppelin orbital-craft launchers. Bring on the wheelships.

Novel — Ghosts of The Sith

The entirety of my small novel Ghosts of the Sith is now available after completion and some heavy editing.

View or download this as an ePub document. I recommend reading the ePub version of this story for easiest reading experience on a tablet or a touchscreen. If you are unfamiliar with ePub, you can open the files with a free e-reader such as Calibre. By default, Windows opens ePub format in Edge. This is just an OK reading experience, but I would recommend using Calibre or any other dedicated e-Reader instead. If you have a Mac or an iOS device, iBooks is the best way to read ePub format, no question.

View this on the web published at GoogleDocs. To enable comfortable reading, I highly recommend using Reader View with Safari or Firefox. I recommend using the extension Mercury Reader for Chrome and other available browsers. If you are using Chrome on mobile, you can enable an experimental setting for easier reading. For Android, I overall recommend using the built-in Reader mode in Firefox. Safari on iOS has built-in Reader mode.

The Last Jedi Thoughts

Two years already since The Force Awakens. How time flies. I know I don’t update this website very much. And there has been some fascinating sci-fi released since then. Ex Machina (see it!) and Alien: Whatever (avoid it!).

I heard a lot of preliminary buzz about The Last Jedi ranging from people squealing that this was the best Star War since The Empire Strikes Back or, alternatively, that this was the worst thing ever. Nowadays, with billions of dollars at stake, and social media a kind of catnip for toxic people, anything popular is curated by some of the worst impulses of the human animal.

But here we are. The technological advancement that has made Twitter and GIF memes possible, also lets us seamlessly make our dreams into simulated reality. When Star Wars arrived in 1977, the special effects pioneered by Lucas’ creative team made a whole new world of make-believe possible. Lucas himself once said that “…a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.” We went from that to a bouncing, animated Yoda sword-fighting with Emperor Palpatine in an embarrassingly short span of time.

The appeal of Star Wars wasn’t just the fantasy of cool ships and laser swords and pyu! pyu! It was a story with characters on a mythical journey. Periodically, the flow of StarWars™ product ever since has periodically been isolated from the human story, telling more and more formulaic stories that are about spectacle more than story.

I liked The Last Jedi. As a fan of the series, I probably am willing to like it too much. Similarly, I am likely to be disappointed if it were to burst some canon bubble I carry around in my head which is baggage from previous StarWars™ product. But on its own, it is a singular vision of a fantasy series, and it comes close to being a very good movie. I do think it is its own worst enemy, and there are numerous reasons why it’s not that good of an actual movie. I’ll get to that.

I’m going to separate my opinion on this. Because there really are two parts to having a reaction to this movie. There is the StarWars-y mythology thing, and then there is the way it succeeds or fails as a movie. The Last Jedi, in my opinion, succeeds very well in being StarWars-y mythological thing. But it has much to be desired as a movie. I will extol the virtues of the former, and decry the latter, anon.

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If They Should Buy Wars, Please Let These Wars Stay

The dominion of us Nerds are divided on the Star-Wars-y worthiness of The Last Jedi. I thought it was a triumph of recovering the greatness of the original trilogy, and has done so far more than any other product has done since then.

I think a major problem with the prequels and the subsequent other media from the subsequent era, is that George Lucas essentially wrote Star Wars into a corner. What The Force Awakens began, and what The Last Jedi finalized, was breaking out of these corners. I’ll list here my rundown on the painted corners from which Rian Johnson has thankfully liberated this saga.

The Rule of Two… Who Cares?

In the original era, Darth Vader was referred to as “Dark Lord of the Sith” without further explanation of what that was.¹ The original trilogy had established only that there was a Dark Side and a Light Side, and that Vader was once a Jedi, and the rest was left open. This was expanded somewhat in the subsequent Expanded Universe novels and comics, which explored the idea of “the Sith” as an order like the Jedi. The Phantom Menace introduced the Sith as the baddies directly opposing the Jedi. It established that “there are only two, a master and an apprentice.” It established that the Sith were a secret order, with a sort of self-defeating org-chart with masters pitted against their apprentices who were always plotting to usurp them. These were very specific plot devices for the prequel era.

¹I think this was the comics. I don’t believe that “Sith” was uttered in the original trilogy.

This limitation was the easiest one done away with in the The Last Jedi. Kylo Ren is not a Sith. Snoke is not a Sith. Or at least they do not say he is a Sith anything. And it doesn’t matter. The issue is thankfully dropped and not mentioned again. Hopefully not ever. Let the past go.

Midichlorians and the Force Are… Who Cares?

Once again, The Force Awakens began to get the Force right, and The Last Jedi completes the rehabilitation of the concept. Luke has more than a few scenes in which he goes into detail on what the Force is, expanding on the lessons we got from Obi-Wan and Yoda in the originals. Once and for all, this movie buries the notion that the Force runs only in a bloodline. Other Star Wars stories with multi-generational Jedi and Sith presaged that the universe is completely at the mercy of either genetically gifted wizard-monks who kidnap children, or psychopathic sorcerer-tyrants who kill children. What a depressing prospect. Maybe it is time for the Jedi to go after all.

Luke explicitly says the Force belongs to everyone and that everyone is a part of it. There is not even a hint of the dreaded “M” word.

Slight spoiler here: we learn that Rey is at least neither a Skywalker nor a Kenobi. The theme that the Force comes to anyone, and that a random person from nowhere can in fact be a hero, gets right back to Joseph Campbell’s original mythology. I wanted to stand up and cheer when it became clear that the build-up and fake-out mystery of who Rey is was resolved with a shrug. Much, much better plot point than her being part of a dynasty or someone who was conceived or created or cloned for some kind of destiny set out for her ahead of time.

Snoke is… Who Cares?

One of the corners into which the prequels had painted the story is that Emperor Palpatine, who was almost created as a one-off baddie in Return Of The Jedi after a brief cameo in Empire, becomes the main villain of the whole saga. To his credit, Iain McDiarmid took advantage of the scenery-chewing required and was always entertaining as Palpatine. But the story got pretty stale pretty quickly, with the Jedi playing Wile E. Coyote to Palpatine’s Roadrunner.

There is no background given to us going into this movie for who or what Snoke is. I liked to entertain the theories that he was an old Sith, or some kind of malevolent undead entity. He obviously is introduced as an Emperor stand-in for the soft reboot in The Force Awakens. In the The Last Jedi, the Snoke theories are all pretty much just similarly ignored and the plot drives right past him. It doesn’t matter, and he’s not the main point of the story. Thank the maker.

Everything doesn’t have to tie together. We no longer have to think about grade-school Darth Vader building C-3P0, baby Boba Fett, or Obi-Wan commanding an army of Jango Fett clones. Things are set back to being a vast universe in which our heroes only play a small, but significant, part.

Jedi are No Longer Super Heroes

This is probably one of the changes which is the most controversial. It takes away something which has been extremely popular for StarWars™ product over the last couple of decades: the Jedi as having super powers. This started with The Phantom Menace when we see Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon cut through enemies with no tension, or sense of danger, or anything at stake. We saw them effortlessly make superhuman CGI flips as though they were weightless animation. We saw them using lightsabers as acetylene gear. Thus began the era of animated, ridiculously overpowered Jedi, whether it was Starkiller in The Force Unleashed video game throwing around TIE Fighters, or Anakin and Obi-Wan effortlessly skipping over a lake of lava in the course of an insanely obviously computer-generated lightsaber fight.

Let me stick to that one, as it is commonly cited as one of the highlights of the prequels. The Anakin vs. Obi-Wan fight is to me the height of this ridiculous phenomenon in the live movies: there is no sense that either participant had actually expended physical effort, possessed an inner ear for balance, or was once in any way terrified of the molten rock and heat around them. Only when the plot demands it does Anakin get burned by the lava. Until then, there is no sense that either character is doing anything other than controlling a bloodless avatar in a computer simulation. Neither seems to suffer from the heat or caustic gasses one would be subjected to over a flowing lava stream. The animated series, sad to say, only continued this super-power trend, and made it worse over time.

For what it’s worth, I think the Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul fight in The Phantom Menace is by far the best fight scene in all the prequels. Every other attempt to create overwhelming (but perfectly coordinated) chaos in every battle scene in every subsequent movie is just CGI cacophony. Obi-Wan facing down General Grievous looks far less convincing than Luke facing down the Rancor.

In The Last Jedi, Luke actively mocks the idea that he can be some savior facing down the First Order with his “laser sword.” We knew then that we weren’t going to get a CGI Luke Skywalker floating up, cutting Imperial Walkers in half, or combining with Rey to double-team Snoke in some massively coordinated melee. I’m sure this rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way based on a lot of the backlash there has been. Luke’s place is thematically consistent with where Obi-Wan was in A New Hope. And it makes Luke’s decisions, both heroic and ill-considered, to have more consequence. Most importantly, it is consistent that Luke Skywalker knows that the legend of heroes will matter much more than what the heroes do themselves.

I agree it would have been fun to have seen a Luke in his prime, kicking some butt. Well, we’ve had years of comics and novels about the further adventures of Luke Skywalker. It’s too bad that all we get with Mark Hamill is the grumbly, bitter Luke. But those movies or TV shows would have had to have been made years ago. So as a torch-passing performance to a new cast, I thought this was an excellent use of Hamill as Luke, and, as cannot be said enough, was thematically consistent as well. That’s all I will say about Luke’s fate. See it for yourself to see the twists.

Luke also addresses another major plot hole the prequels steered us into: namely that the Jedi were failures. Luke points out that the Jedi were fooled and defeated by Darth Sidious. They inadvertently trained Darth Vader. They arguably did as much damage as they did any good in the galaxy at the end of their run. Luke is wary of any power wielded by Force users, which is of course the big lesson that should have been learned by the prequel events.

And it of course fits perfectly with a lesson on human nature. Good and evil at war within a human heart is very much a theme of classical heroes and villains. The Last Jedi wonderfully recasts this entire moral story. It’s taken a long time, but suddenly the moral metaphors in the SW universe mean something to people who may use the Force, but are still human, and neither all-powerful nor invulnerable.

What we really got in The Last Jedi more than anything was a development of the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren. Which is as it should be. The crux of their relationship, including Kylo’s entreaties that they rule the galaxy together, is thematically similar to what we’ve seen before, but it is a different form. I’ll address this more on the issues I have with the movie’s pacing itself, but the scenes with the two of them were very much the climax of the story that was being told here, and the best parts of the movie.

There are fans who would have preferred that the Jedi-as-super-hero trope continue on. If Episode IX were to include a light-saber fight between a bouncing, weightless CGI Maz Kanata, and a bouncing, weightless CGI Snoke, there are fans who would have clapped and shouted and justified it as the best thing ever.

The Universe is More than Just Remixes on What We’ve Seen

The B-story adventure in Canto Bight had some fun parts, although I know a lot of people found it over the top or silly. (I think this is definitely part of what needed fixing with editing or pacing, as I say below.) As for the premise of the expansion of the fictional universe into the territory of casinos and politics and war profiteering, I think it was necessary. After all, the series is based around stories of war. We’ve already seen developments which should be plenty depressing on their own, considering the way that endless war and genocide has been a plot device throughout the series.

I thought the expansion of the universe into some weird tangents was a great choice. It remixed some of our expectations and gave us a moral weight to the actions we saw. We can see that the war affects other people in the galaxy in other ways. And we see that there is a moral dimension to the Force, as we get a sight that even a slave child in the stables has a spark of the Force within him.

A political dimension to the Star Wars universe is also nothing new. The points made about war profiteering may rub some fans the wrong way. I can understand some of the complaints that it wasn’t a point that they would choose. I don’t entirely agree with making war profiteers out to be a villain, either. (In the real world, it’s not such an easy answer.) But then again, I respect the film for having a point of view. This makes this universe more lived-in than just a Jedi vs Sith role-playing game. And thankfully, if we’re going to get political allegories, it wasn’t horrifying Asian stereotype-creatures with names that are puns for American political leaders.

That last bit was maybe a little too cruel on ol’ George. I will give him this: Star Wars was always political. The metaphor of the Death Star was clearly a weapon of mass destruction, and the mechanized Empire was not-even-subtly a stand-in for 20th century fascist regimes, down to Nazi and Japanese-Imperial uniforms. Lucas himself also intended his films to directly point fingers at the USA and the Vietnam war for that matter, made more explicit as a metaphor with the Ewoks in Return of The Jedi. (I, like, many others out there, will fast-forward through all Ewok scenes if I am to re-watch any of ROTJ, anyway.) For that matter, when Ronald Reagan went with the metaphor and analogized the Soviet Union with the Empire, that was hardly out-of-bounds, either. In the 1970s, the Empire was a buzzingly obvious metaphor for evils in the real world.

To keep the Star Wars universe updated while also mining nostalgia, there was always going to need for an overriding political metaphor for the villains which would meet some kind of emotional impact on the audience. World War 2 was very much still in living memory during the original trilogy, although today it is less so. I personally thought that the First Order with their full-on Nazi drag act in The Force Awakens was stretching it a little bit. The world faces dangers from conflicts like Daesh nowadays, or bloody border wars in ethnic conflicts. In this, I thought Kylo Ren was a good successor to Darth Vader. He was wonky, unstable, more full of anger than competence.

I heard another take on the First Order from Mr. Sunday Movies which I do think is interesting. The original Nazis were scary evil and scary competent. The “alt-right” guys in their Nazi T-shirts and bad haircuts are scary in an unbalanced, desperate way. Hux, then, is more of a LARPer of an original Imperial Moff rather than a cool, competent ruler. In that sense, it works.

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So the Mythology is Awesome, But is it Any Good?

In the age of the internet, I’m doing what nobody regularly does. I have a split opinion — a shade of “gray,” if you will, rather than pure black or white. I am firmly on the side of approving of how Rian Johnson handled the mythology of Star Wars, preserving what is awesome about it. And I mean “awesome” in the dictionary meaning of the word.

The movie, The Last Jedi, however, is just not a great movie. I certainly may hold a more critical eye than others, but I’ll be as objective as I can without spoilers. The flaws I find may not bother others, and it may be much more fun for kids. But that doesn’t make it immune from criticizing the things which tax our patience or halt our suspension of disbelief. The original trilogy was insanely popular not because it was a “kid’s movie,” but because it was entertaining for a wide audience on different levels.

Now, this brings up all kinds of objections. People will say, sure, “b-b-but the original had plot holes! So this film has plot holes too, so it’s exactly the same in quality as the first one!” I can say The Empire Strikes Back is a classic that everyone compares every other sci-fi action movie to because it is a master class on pacing and editing. People can reply, “yeah, well, uh, that had flaws, too, and people didn’t like it at the time, either, so… no one can say The Last Jedi isn’t as good!”

There is a role for opinion and then there is a role for taste. But there are objective things that can be measured.

The first problem with the movie which I think most people will notice is simply the running length. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s a lot to sit through. And there are several scenes which don’t really pay off for the story, which I believe would make the movie much more enjoyable had they been excised.

A theme that runs through the movie is failure and redemption. “Let the past go” is something which is important to Luke, as he is trying to excise the legacy of the Jedi’s horrible mistakes.

A chase plot sets the pace and ticking clock that frames the movie’s drama. With this setting and this conflict, different efforts to find a way out of impossible odds meet with degrees of failure or success. The chase parallels Rey’s time on Ach-To with Luke, and eventually these events link up, bringing our characters more and more successes and failures.

The problem with the story here is tone. There is a sense of desperation and a need for characters to risk their lives or to even outright sacrifice them. This is played for tension. But there are also moments where characters clearly need to sacrifice themselves and we can see it coming for quite a while.

Are we supposed to be horrified at the deaths, or ignore them as ships blow up left and right? Should we feel tension when a character seems about to die, or should we feel numbed because of the rate of destruction of everything else? I found myself frustrated when characters would fret about saving a single other character while ships or people are literally being blown to pieces around them. It’s not a spoiler to say, no, of course not everybody dies — we all knew that was going to happen. As if, well, our heroes really, really messed up and got a lot of people killed for no apparent reason.

The tone would definitely be helped if a few scenes were removed or excised altogether. I would have given editors a goal of removing at least half an hour from the movie to make the story flow in a tighter way. Some scenes linger simply because there is a desire to introduce more characters for no good reason. (Or to sell the toys? Such cynical thoughts do cross one’s mind.) Since Captain Phasma is in the trailers, I believe it’s not a spoiler to note that she is in it for a couple of extended sequences. She serves utterly no point other than to have a battle which is completely distracting to the plot. It is also edited in strange ways.

Now, granted, that is my critique of the main chase story. I think that there is a truly great story within this film about the arcs of Luke, Rey, and Kylo Ren. Luke’s final scenes in the film are, I think, some of the best things ever in Star Wars. By contrast, a lot of the prelude to this with the actions with the other characters was, frankly, padding.

I can handle plot holes such as wondering why the bombs in space want to fall downward. We get it: it’s mainly a WW2 metaphor, and whether we are given an explanation or not, we can imagine that there probably is one that we don’t need to be concerned with. I can’t criticize the movie for having physics that doesn’t make sense. That’s always been Star Wars. This is fantasy, not hard sci-fi.

Other plot holes that just speak to bad editing are little more jarring. “Wait, did that person just drag his injured friend two miles? That would take a lot longer, wouldn’t it?”

The movie, as everyone can tell from previews and the trailers, starts at exactly the ending of The Force Awakens. We don’t know, say, how long exactly it took Rey to travel to Ach-To, but even if it is a number of days to pad the events, it’s still not much time. The chase sequence at the beginning of the film has an exact timeline, so we know for a fact that the whole movie seems to take place in a matter of three to four days. (I lost count.) So that does not leave a lot of time for Rey to make the, er, progression, she seems to do. By the end of the movie, it’s still at most a week after Han’s death and her fight with Kylo Ren.

I will gladly praise Daisy Ridley’s charisma in playing Rey, and I think the character is absolutely perfect for what she is. But it’s not hard to make the Mary Sue critique for some of how she was introduced. It’s a minor gripe, as I think a lot of plot holes like can easily be fixed by a simple line or two of exposition. My grip is that this exposition is never offered.

Rey turns out not only to know how to fly the Millennium Falcon, but she’s incredibly good at it? It wouldn’t have hurt to indicate that she had worked as a pilot on Jakku on the weekends. It turns out that she is incredibly competent with her sword and staff and requires no training whatsoever to use a lightsaber competently? It wouldn’t hurt to note that she received specific melee training back on Jakku, for instance. Because if a person can become a Jedi in a matter of days, it sort of takes away from how special it should be.

This is a critique that is more applicable to The Force Awakens, of course. But it’s still relevant to this movie, as we see a lot happen in a very compressed period of time. Ironic, then, that we get some important speeches about the importance of learning from failure. This is hard to do when you go from being a scavenger to hopping around the universe, training as a Jedi, and killing many people, all in less than a month.

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I am disappointed in how it seems the Disney/Marvel machine might be churning these movies out without as much careful editing and pacing as I would like. But this movie may get a lot of guff it doesn’t deserve from people more upset about the necessary re-set of the Jedi mythology. There are a lot of places they can go to from here. They can tell stories without some of the constraints from previous incarnations. Let the past go.