Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Yondu vs. Obi-Wan (Major Spoilers)

So, saw Guardians 2 last night, and I gotta say. As a franchise, people who like pulp SF should maybe start looking to Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Star Wars. Star Wars has averaged out to be trash, coasting more on the theoretical potential of the property as it has been explored by other creative types rather than the films themselves. But more importantly, Guardians of the Galaxy has a much stronger moral core than Star Wars.

Let’s take a look at Obi Wan vs Yondu for a second. Yondu is superior by far as the older father figure mentor character.

This isn’t something I’m going to put a lot of energy into explaining or even defending, but I just want to toss it out there. Let’s even completely forget my theory that Obi-Wan is the main villain of Star Wars for a sec.

In Star Wars, Obi-Wan has been secretly watching out for Luke, and eventually he takes him under his wing. He tries to explain the situation in a way that will not hurt the young Skywalker, because while he believes in him, he does not believe in him enough to trust him with the truth. And ultimately, that’s his bad. Only when it comes down to it, he doesn’t really accept responsibility for what he has done and tries to justify rather than coming fully clean and apologizing, even when it wouldn’t have cost him anything to do so. And when knowledge that Leia is Luke’s sister would jeopardize the fate of the Rebel strike on Endor, Obi-Wan’s ghost rather casually confirms it.

In Guardians of the Galaxy, Yondu pretty much raises Star Lord after his mom dies. He’s a tough father figure, and does a lot wrong by the kid growing up, but he genuinely does care about him. Yondu is also protecting Star Lord from his father with a lie, but when the chips are down, Yondu comes clean and is honest about his reasons “I knew your daddy was bad and killed those kids, and I couldn’t stand to see that happen to you.” After all is laid bare, Yondu makes the ultimate sacrifice so that his “son” will live.

Both franchise are owned by Disney, and both are cogs in multi-billion-dollar merchandising apparatuses, so I’m not going to factor that in when comparing the two. Even with all of its flaws and cringe-points, I’m gonna have to give this one to Guardians.

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The Force Awakens to Put Me to Sleep

In all of the ongoing discussions as to whether or not Rey from the Force Awakens was a Mary Sue, I seem to have missed anyone warning me just how boring Episode 7 was.*

Keep in mind, I’m someone who loved Rogue One and has gone to bat for it a few times – it restored in me a love of Star Wars I haven’t really felt since playing TIE Fighter. That said, if I HAD seen The Force Awakens, I probably would’ve skipped out on Rogue One.

Absolutely nothing in The Force Awakens seemed to have any real weight, and everyone was just sleepwalking through their roles. Han and Chewie looked as if they couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with. With Carrie Fisher’s passing, seeing Leia show up as tired and old and barely relevant to the story is even more of a gut punch and should’ve undercut anyone’s excitement that ‘hurr hurr, she’s a general now, because women are important in sci-fi for a change!’

Despite how much he’d been hyped everywhere I’d seen in fandom, Poe felt about as relevant as Biggs did before all of his scenes were cut.

Finn’s affections for Rey can only be excused as thirst, cuz she treats him like crap through the whole movie. He’d’ve been much better as an “I seen some shit” vet who’d finally had enough. He needed a better “God is not here today, Priest” moment.

Rey was more annoying than I’d expected because I’d never heard Daisy Ridley speak before. Her character comes off as a whiny scold. I disliked her from the moment she bullied that random desert nomad guy into giving her BB-8 for no reason. We’re told over and over that she’s special, but we’re never told why. We’re told Chewie likes her, and since Chewie is Han’s morality pet and supposedly a good judge of character, we ought to like her, too.

Starkiller was just there to have another Death Star in the background. It barely felt relevant. I don’t even remember if the not-Rebels were concerned about figuring out how to destroy it; it kinda felt like “it’s all good, we’ve got this, done this twice already”, so there was no tension.

No, the big secret everyone was after was Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, because the Star Wars universe is obviously just as full as people obsessing over the canon as real life.

And what’s up with Snoke? Emperor just happened to have an ugly darkside giant tucked away somewhere to pick up the reins? No! I’d’ve much rather seen a Hellenistic Empire split between ex-governors and former moffs playing and being played by the Rebel Alliance against one another. Yet Hux and Kylo Ren are the best the Imperial remnants have to offer.

I’ve seen complaints that the characters in Rogue One were flat because they didn’t get much onscreen development. I think it worked there, though, because Rogue One relied on Tropes – you knew enough about the characters because you understood their functioning role in the story: Pilot, Heavy Weaponry Guy, Kung-Fu Dude, so on and so forth. It’s black and white cowboy hats and Henry Fonda’s blue eyes. The Force Awakens had nothing. It had neither character exposition/development nor fictional tropes to rely upon in the absence of development. As terrible as they were, the prequels were a hundred times better at character development and storytelling than The Force Awakens, and that’s saying something!

On a final note, Captain Phasma was a hell of a wasted character. How great would it be to see a Star Wars movie where the dashing rebel pilot ends up stuck with ice queen stormtrooper captain lady?

“Take the helmet off.”
“No…”
“I said take it off!”
::pretty dame under the stormtrooper helmet::
“I can see why the Empire would want to hide a pretty face like that.”
“Sh-shut up!”::angry blushes:: “I’ll have you executed when we get back to the Star Destroyer!”
“IF we get back to the Star Destroyer…”
::giant space monsters show up that they have to fight together before they fall in love::

Anyway…

@corduroyalist summed it up quite well: I found force awakens a disjointed pointless movie with the trauma of watching Han Solo be a loser & then die.

 

Rogue One Review (With Spoilers)

Star Wars Rogue One did something I did not think was possible: it made me feel excited about Star Wars again. Like, “I want to go out and grab a Star Destroyer model to build after I finish my next Gundam” excited.

I actually enjoyed Rogue One more than the last four Star Wars movies I’ve watched, at let me tell you, I’ve skipped a couple.images

Okay, yeah, it was not really pulpy, and as dumb as it sounded when those sites said “this is the first Star Wars movie about war”, they kind of had a point. This was not the Star Wars of the original trilogy, or the plastic and cartoony prequels and their spin-offs – this was expanded universe Star Wars: the Star Wars of TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces. In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

There are no super powered characters here – folks rolled their stats 3d6 in order, and the casting choices reflect this. One of the striking things about Rogue One is how rough everyone looks; I mean, it really says something when Forest Whitaker is not the ugliest dude in your movie. Unlike TFA with all of the pretty but bland people, Rogue One’s cast is, while not traditionally beautiful, striking. Jeffro mentioned Jyn Erso having a fish-face, and once someone points that out, you can’t not notice it. I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound mean to Felicity Jones, but the huge eyes, trout-pout and buck-teeth that together give her a touch of the Innsmouth look, give Jyn Erso a really distinctive appearance that’s in stark contrast to Daisy Ridley’s more generic Hollywood features. Jyn’s not a sexy, ass-kicking conventionally attractive Mary Sue who can do anything better than everyone else; she’s a weird, awkward girl who tries really hard and doesn’t give up, and you end up liking her for it.

It was kind of awesome having a Spaniard playing the male lead; every time he spoke, I kept thinking “My name is Inigo Montoya; I am looking for the plans to the Death Star!” The chemistry between Cassian and Jyn was subtle, never ham-fisted, but there were plenty of little moments, little glances that made me smile. I’ll admit, I was moved as Inigo and fish-girl held hands and embraced, watching the mushroom cloud of destruction roll towards them.

The rest of the characters filled the party nicely, again harkening back to the movie’s strong tabletop feel: Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist, Guy-Who-Likes-to-Play-the-Robot, and Guy-Who-Wants-to-Play-Eastern-Martial-Artist-in-Every-Game-Regardless-of-Genre. Seriously, the Force Monk is something I’d only ever really seen back in the 90s at the FLGS with people playing d6 Star Wars. His character worked, though, and frankly is far more like what one expected of the Jedi and wanted to see than what the prequels gave us.

Rogue One handled Vader much better than I could’ve expected. We got to see Darth Vader’s castle from Leigh Brackett’s Empire script, which was neat. We also get enough bits to reinforce the impression from New Hope that Vader thinks the Death Star is a dumb idea and Tarkin is an idiot who’s going to screw everything up. When Vader actually fights, he looks cool – he’s not jumping around flying all over the place like the prequels, and he’s not using the Force to throw hunks of trash at people like Empire. Vader was well done.

There were a few really bad spots, but most are easily forgiven with an eye roll (the criminals from the cantina running into Jyn and Cassian in the alley, R2 and C3PO’s cameo). Tarkin was not one of them. They really needed to find a better way to include Tarkin than having a body double with a creepy Peter Cushing Gollum face CGed onto him. While CG has reached a point where it can create photorealistic faces, it has not reached a point where movements and expressions are not noticeably and horribly out of place. CGI-face Leia was weird, but thankfully only one scene. Speaking of Leia, having her at the battle and having her Corvette be an escape ship smacks of continuity snarl (the next cut of New Hope will have Vader saying “You expect me to believe you’re on a diplomatic mission?! I was on your ship at the Battle of Scarif not 20 minutes ago!”) Also, would’ve been nice to have some bit about the rebels evacuating Dantooine and moving their base to Yavin 4, but that’s not as bad as the somewhat rushed denouement that leads straight into New Hope.

I can’t remember which blogger I follow who said it first, but I would much rather watch more movies about the characters from Rogue One than any of those from the originals, prequels or new trilogy. Which is a shame, because like so many RPG stories, this one ended in a TPK. In a way, I’m sad, because while this movie made me excited for Star Wars again, I don’t know what else there is to look forward to. I really don’t care about Episode VIII, and I find the promises that subsequent stand-alone films will focus on Han Solo and Boba Fett less than intriguing.* Now, if they announced a Marek Steele movie, I’d be all about that. For now, though, I’ll just have to wait and wonder. And check out how cheaply I can find a decent Star Destroyer model…

*:One interesting tidbit was the hint that there was another jedi out there and that jedi was a woman (and therefore could not have been Obi Wan Actually the Main Villain of Star Wars Kenobi). This could be interesting or terrible. Given how most of the movies have treated Jedi, I’m leaning terrible, but Rogue One was good enough that I may cross my fingers.

Brief Addendum:

Why I liked it better than Empire:

  • Seriously, the Battle of Hoth was the only good part of Empire, and Rogue One had its Battle of Hoth as the climactic ending instead of the first act.
  • Empire’s pacing is a damn mess and its timeline makes next to no sense
  • Despite all the love for the romance between Han and Leia, it drips with a lot of bad cheese and still has a lot of cringe; Jyn and Cassian were nowhere near as cringy
  • Star Wars becoming terrible can be pinpointed to the moment when Darth Vader started to use the force to throw giant hunks of trash Luke. From that moment forward, the Force stopped being mystical and became about moving garbage by pressing down-to-forward + punch. Blind Force monk felt way more true to the mystical rather than mechanical concept of the Force

Why I liked it better than Jedi:

  • C’mon, bro, we all know Jedi was trash!
  • Just Kidding
  • (Not Kidding)

More Hugo Recommendations: Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form

Star Wars: Tie Fighter – Paul Johnson

Modern Educayshun – Neel Kolhatkar

I haven’t decided on an episode yet, but I’d also recommend iZombie.  It’s kind of like a cutesy gender-flipped Forever Knight that has been dipped in Crossing Jordan, and that appeals to me in ways I can’t quite articulate.  It is also one of the first things I’ve seen that has managed to make zombies interesting.

Quick Musings on the Depiction of Women in Science Fiction

Just some brief brainstorming as I work on my write-up for Ross Rocklynne’s “The Bubble Dwellers”…

The depiction of women in “classic” science fiction film is radically different from the depiction of women in the pulps.  You might even say the gulf is astounding. ::rimshot::

I can’t remember the names of all the bad black and white sci-fi flicks from the 50s I’ve watched with my dad, but for some reason while Hollywood was content to again and again show us shrieking lady scientists who are told by some square-jaw that they’re wrong about something (even when they were right) because they were a woman, science fiction writers in the magazines were cranking out all kinds of badass babes of whom Princess Leia was a cut-rate knock-off.

If you go just by what you’d see in the movies, you could easily conclude that old sci-fi was kind of stupid and bad and all the women were shrill Faye Wrays in need of rescuing.  That could not be further from the truth.  There have always been kick-ass women in sci-fi, and no, Joss Whedon didn’t invent them.

If anyone says  to you “Yeah, but it would be nice to have the woman save the man for a change!” you can tell them that space princesses have been leading armies and cutting their way through enemies with light sabers to save their beloveds since the 1920s.

maza

Women Have Always Fought… With Lightsabers.

The Empire Strikes Back is a Terrible Sequel and Obi-Wan Kenobi is the Worst Dude in the Galaxy

I ended up getting enough spoilers for the Force Awakens that I was not so interested as to beg my family to put off seeing it a few days while I was out of town.  I’ll probably end up seeing it the way I saw Attack of the Clones – via the Red Letter Media Review.  But when I was still thinking I might see it over the holidays, I went back and rewatched the original trilogy*; there are some things that really stick out like a sore thumb!

Before you get too mad, re-read the title.  Note that I don’t say it’s a terrible movie, but a terrible sequel.  Okay, so why do I say Empire is a terrible sequel?  Because in the context of what we know about Star Wars from a New Hope, it barely makes any sense.  I’ll get to the gaping plot holes in a minute, but let’s start with the biggest problem: George Lucas’ twist that he knew was coming all along but really didn’t which retroactively makes Star Wars make less sense.

Empire begins with Vader looking for Skywalker.  He’s all “Growl, I sense young Skywalker is with the rebels!  Moogah boogah!”  All of a sudden, Vader knows who Luke is and is looking for him.  In New Hope, Vader didn’t know him from Adam, and there was no indication that he actually realized who was flying the X-wing that blew up the Death Star.  He merely notes that the force was strong with this one, the way the Red Baron might’ve remarked upon the skills of a pilot who dodged his shots in a WW1 movie, but that wasn’t any indication that he even knew that it was the same kid who’d shown up with Ben Kenobi.  If anything, Vader should’ve been holding his grudge for Solo.  Vader sensed Kenobi on the Death Star without a whiff of Luke in New Hope.  In Empire, Vader is like a bloodhound with an old sock.

As Jeffro has pointed out, making Vader Luke’s father makes Obi Wan Kenobi a liar; this is a big deal, but I’ll tackle it after a few plot holes.  The telescoping of time in Empire muddles a lot of things.  We never really get a good idea of how long Luke trains with Yoda.  Is it a day?  A long weekend?  Because we don’t know the distances between Bespin, Hoth and Dagobah, we can’t really say how the characters get places and when.  Though hyperdrive is often referred to as Light Speed in the Star Wars universe, it’s pretty clear that it’s faster-than-light.  How does Vader reach Cloud City before the Millennium Falcon?  Does Boba Fett relay the Falcon’s warp coordinates so that the imperial fleet can re-route and somehow get their first?  Why did they even need to hire Boba Fett, he doesn’t even do anything!?  Why do so many Star Wars fanboys obsess over a background character who dies like a bitch in Jedi?  Anyway, somehow, a single-occupant fighter manages to get from a backwater swamp planet to Bespin in like a day because Luke’s spider-sense was tingling.  The time thing would not be so jarring if I wasn’t constantly reminded of the fact that the entirety of Star Wars: TIE Fighter takes place between the evacuation of Hoth and the order to build a second Death Star.

The iconic light saber fight between Vader and Skywalker introduced one of the many elements that would eventually make the Star Wars universe completely terrible: using the force to throw garbage at each other during a sword fight.  How did I forget about that?

Also, they really dropped the ball on that whole “no, there is another” reveal.  Nothing in Jedi indicates that Leia would’ve been able to stop the trio of evil Luke, Vader and Palpatine.  But that’s on Jedi, not Empire.

Really, though, this post is about Obi Wan Kenobi, so let’s move on to him.

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You may have thought the Star Wars Saga is about Anakin or Luke or the Skywalker Family.  You’d be wrong.  Star Wars is about Obi Wan Kenobi the way that the Tale of Heike is about Taira no Ason Kiyomori: it is the chronicle of the destructive and lingering ripples, even beyond his death, of one man’s dedicated craptacularness.  Obi Wan Kenobi is a terrible person and this is the tragic story of the ruination of all he touches.

When we’re first introduced to Obi Wan Kenobi, he is the whimsical moral center and sage of a fairly rote bildungsroman who guides the youth on his path to manhood.  But that’s all tossed out and retconned, largely by Empire and Jedi, but even moreso by the prequels.

Obi Wan tells Luke Vader killed his father.  Empire makes him a liar, and Jedi shows him refusing to own it.  Far worse than the midiclorians is Ghostbi Wan in Jedi coming up with a simpering justification filled with moral relativism as to why he lied.  He doesn’t say “Look, Luke, I lied, I’m sorry” but “In a way I was kind of telling you the truth.”  The one thing that the prequels succeed at is justifying this by showing Obi Wan Kenobi to be a horrible person.

Even though Yoda doesn’t call him on it, Obi Wan lies about being trained by him RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM!  We never see Kenobi under the tutelage of Yoda but under some mysterious shmuck who would use his Jedi powers to con merchants and cheat at games of chance.  Obi Wan spends most of the prequels being an angry and jealous asshole.  We can conclude that he was lying even about ever being Anakin’s friend in New Hope based on what we see in the prequels.  The events in the life of Luke Skywalker are set in motion by an elderly Obi Wan Kenobi who clearly sees an opportunity to get back at Anakin AND drag his kids into it.  “Strike me down and I shall become more powerful than you can imagine.”  He’s martyred himself in front of Vader’s kid; Skywalker doesn’t know what a shitty dude Kenobi is, so naturally it will polarize him against Vader.  I’m also pretty sure that Yoda didn’t want Luke to know about his sister because it would lead Vader to her; hardly seems a coincidence to me that Kenobi lets it slip RIGHT AFTER YODA DIES!  Kenobi, knowing that Luke’s sister is alive, is going to make sure that Vader and Palpatine have leverage against Luke.  What a guy!

Obi Wan as the overarching villain of the Star Wars saga may sound like some “Ron: the Deatheater” shit, but go back, watch the movies and think about it: IT MAKES TOO MUCH SENSE!  The problem is that it’s ENTIRELY ACCIDENTAL!  You know you’ve made a huge mistake when the character you’ve tried to make the moral anchor of your story is so wafflingly written that his being a villain is more than just plausible.

Anyway, big announcements and reveals tomorrow.

*:VHS Original edition.