May the 4th Be With You: Star Wars Thoughts

Today is May 4th, which is known to some people as being Star Wars Day.  (May the 4th be with you.  Get it?)  I love the original Star Wars movies, even if Return of the Jedi deserves its less than stellar reputation.  The first three prequels I could do without, even though Revenge of the Sith was actually fairly good.  Of the three sequels, The Force Awakens was good.  The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker were both overstuffed and forgettable.  Solo was adequate.  I liked Rogue One.  It was the only one of the new films to really seem to get what Star Wars was all about.

If I had to rank them all, I think it would go something like this:

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. Rogue One
  3. New Hope
  4. The Force Awakens
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Return of the Jedi
  7. Solo
  8. The Rise of Skywalker
  9. The Last Jedi
  10. Attack of the Clones
  11. The Phantom Menace

I’m not going to rank the two Ewok movies or The Holiday Special.  You have to draw the line somewhere.

Looking over the franchise as a whole, I think Star Wars shows the danger of overexplaining.  In a New Hope, it didn’t matter whether or not we actually knew what the Kessel Run was or the exact details of The Clone Wars.  They just sounded cool and they sparked our imaginations.  We also didn’t know how the Empire came to exist or how Darth Vader could be both Luke and Leia’s father.  We didn’t know how the Force worked, exactly.  Nor did we know the exact details of how the Jedi were wiped out.  We really didn’t need to know.  We just accepted what the films told us and then let our imaginations fill in the missing pieces.

Then the prequels came along and suddenly, we discovered that everyone in the Star Wars universe was obsessed with trade routes and suddenly, The Clone Wars lost all of their mythic grandeur as we learned, in pain-staking details, every reason why the wars began and how they ended.  They just became another collection of CGI space battles.  And then Solo showed us the Kessel Run and we discovered that it really wasn’t anything that special.  Probably the only prequel (and sequel) that didn’t diminish the other films was Rogue One.  In fact, Rogue One brought some of that epic grandeur back to the films.  With its scenes of Death Star destroying entire cities and planets, it actually made A New Hope more effective.  After watching Rogue One, it’s not as easy to mock the Empire’s super weapon.

Today’s big news is that Taika Waititi will be directing the latest Star Wars film.  Waititi was the first director to actually understand what to do with Thor (who, up until Thor: Ragnarok, had been Marvel’s least interesting hero) and, of course, he also directed JoJo Rabbit.  My hope is that Waititi will be given the freedom to bring some new life to Star Wars.  I think he’s capable of bring some wonder back to a universe that could definitely use it.

May the force be with him.

Lockdown Journal: 4-15-20

The days are blending together and right now, there’s no end in sight.

In a time of crisis, people have to be able to trust that there’s someone looking out for their interests.  What makes this crisis so difficult is that many of us no longer have that feeling.  We don’t know how bad things actually are.  We don’t know how close things may be to reopening.  We don’t feel like anyone — in the government or the media — is willing to be honest with us about the situation and it makes us all feel even more alone.  It’s hard to trust Trump’s positivity because we know that he’s loathes the idea of acknowledging that there’s a problem that he can’t solve on his own.  It’s hard to trust the media’s negativity because the media has been telling us that the sky is falling for three years now.

Unfortunately, the election is not going to change that.  Even if Biden defeats Trump, it’s going to be hard to trust a media that has such a clear rooting interest in one party.  In 2016, we had a terrible choice.  In 2020, we’ve got another terrible choice.

I wish I could be more positive tonight but realistically, I can’t be.  Fortunately, there’s 7 Police Academy films on Netflix, just in case I need to remind myself that things could be worse.

Lockdown Journal: 4-13-20

Lisa and I are currently watching something called Tarzan in Manhattan.  It’s a late 80s tv movie where Tarzan goes to New York and teams up with a private investigator played by Tony Curtis.  Jan-Michael Vincent is in it, as well.  It’s pretty bad but at least I know what I’ll be reviewing for the Shattered Lens tomorrow.  As bad as this is, I’m glad that we found it before we forced to resort to binging our way through the Police Academy movies on Netflix.  That day will come eventually but we’re still trying to hold it off for as long as possible.

We watched a little of Trump’s daily press briefing today.  A lot of people are upset because Trump said, incorrectly, that he has absolute authority as President.  It’s amazing to watch the people who celebrated eight years of “I have a pen and a phone” suddenly discovering why checks and balances are actually a good thing.  One would hope that they would continue to remember it even after they return to power but I doubt they will.  They’re not really upset about the potential usurpation of power.  They’re just mad that Trump is the one doing it.  America deserves better than it’s getting from both its leaders and its media.

Other than Trump’s press conference, the big political news is that Bernie formally endorsed Joe Biden today.  They had a live stream conversation, during which Biden appeared to be reading from a teleprompter.  Say what you will about Bernie, and I think I’ve made it clear that I don’t agree with him about much, but Bernie doesn’t need a script to have a conversation.  It may not matter, of course.  Trump is such a divisive figure that the Democrats may not need a good candidate to beat him and there are a lot of people who will happily vote for anyone but Trump.  But I still can’t imagine actually being enthusiastic about Biden on any level other than the fact that he’s not Trump.

In the UK, Boris Johnson is out of the hospital.  That’s some good news to end on.

Lockdown Journal: 4-8-20

Allen Garfield died yesterday.  He may not have been a household name but he was one of the best character actors of the 70s.  He rarely had the lead role.  Instead, he was usually the obnoxious foil to the main character.  Invariably, he played people who you would not want to have to sit next to on an airplane.  He played Barnett in Nashville and he was Gene Hackman’s sleazy rival in The Conversation.  He was 80 years old and, because of a stroke that he suffered in 2004, he was retired from acting.

The singer John Prine also died yesterday, again of COVID-19.  We’re losing a lot of voices as a result of this pandemic.

Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign today.  Joe Biden’s been running for President since before I was born.  I guess his dream is finally going to come true.  If Biden wins, it will be due to voters rejecting Trump and not due to any great enthusiasm for Joe Biden as a candidate.  The thought that we can’t do any better than Trump and Biden is not a happy one.

Despie my feelings about the presidential race, today is the first day that I’ve felt really confident that, eventually, things will get better.  I just hope that everyone reading this is staying safe.

Chag sameach all.


Lockdown Journal: 4-6-20

I’ve been so preoccupied with how things are going in the States that it’s just now registering with me that Sir Keir Starmer is the new leader of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn, I presume, is returning to the backbenches.  The American media, for the most part, seems think that, just because Starmer identifies as a socialist, that means that he’s as far to the left as Corbyn.  (Most Americans assumes that the Tories are just as conservative as the Republicans and that every member of Labour is somewhere to the left of Bernie Sanders.)  Going from Corbyn to Starmer is a huge change.

Starmer, I imagine, will be solid but uninspiring leader.  He looks the part and he might bring back a few voters who defected over the Tories, though I’d be surprised if he ever made it into Number 10.  He seems destined to be a rebuilding leader, someone who can presumably repair some damage and lay a foundation that will eventually lead to another Labour government.  It’s hard to imagine him inspiring the same type of emotions that Corbyn inspired.  People either really loved or really hated Jeremy.  Sir Keir Starmer, on the other hand, inspires admiration in some but no real passion.  He’s the type of leader who you elect when you’re looking for someone to bring some normalcy back to the place.  He’s your proof that the inmates are not running the asylum.

The future’s hard to predict, though.  Coronavirus can change everything.  Right now, Boris Johnson is in the hospital and in intensive care because of COVID-19.  I hope he recovers, just as I would hope that Jeremy Corbyn (or Sir Keir Starmer, for that matter) would recover if he was ill.  If something does happen to Boris, it’s hard to say who will step into his place or if that person will be able to hold together the coalition that put Boris into power.

In less grim news, I discovered that I can watch 1st and Ten on Amazon Prime.  1st and Ten was one of the first sitcom to ever air on HBO.  It was about a fictional football team and it featured O.J. Simpson as T.D. Parker.  In OJ: Made in America, there’s a short scene of O.J. recording promos for the new season of 1st and 10 and getting annoyed with his co-star, Marcus Allen.  Ever since I saw that clip, I’ve been wanting to watch an episode of 1st and Ten.  Last night, I watched an entire season and it was almost indescribably bad.  It was, however, interesting to see O.J. play a good guy.  It was a reminder of the affable image that Simpson once had.

The lockdown continues but so far, we’re all keeping our spirits high down here.  Lisa and I have agreed that we’re not going to worry until we find ourselves with nothing left to watch other than the Police Academy films on Netflix.  Once that happens, it’s scary to think about what might follow.


Lockdown Journal: 4-4-20

It was another cold and rainy day today.  The temperature has not gotten above 49 today.  It feels like strange weather for this time of year.

Today is Andrei Tarkovsky’s birthday so Lisa and I watched Stalker.  It was the first time for both of us to watch it, though we’ve had it on DVD for a while.  We found it at the Movie Trading Company, one of the many business that I hope will still be around when and if we ever get to go out for fun again.

After Stalker, I watched King Solomon’s Mines.  No, not the good version from 1950.  Instead, I watched the Cannon version that starred Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone.  I wrote and scheduled a review of it for Through the Shattered Lens.  Up next: Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold.  

The news continues to be dominated by negative stories.  It gets frustrating because there are positive stories out there if you look for them.  But maybe it’s for the best that people should be scared right now.  It’ll keep them inside.  If the media solely focused on the 98% who recover from the virus, you’d probably have a lot more people going out and spreading the disease.  If everyone — even those who are considered to be at less risk — is scared that they’re going to die, it might save at least a few lives.

Back in 2016, Lisa and I always used to joke that we were making plans to leave the country if either Trump or Clinton won.  We haven’t made that joke yet about having to choose between Biden and Trump, mostly because we couldn’t flee the country right now if we wanted to.

Lockdown Journal: 4-3-20

Right now, Lisa and I are watching Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel.  It’s the first time for her and the first time in a long time for me.  Movies, books, and music are all providing us with a welcome distraction at this time.

After spending the first part of last month telling people that masks were useless, both the government and the media are now saying that wearing a mask when you go out is essential.  On twitter, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias, who was one of those saying that people should not be panicking about masks in March, tweeted out that he ordered his masks back in February.  Around the same time that Vox was telling people not to worry about masks, the surgeon general’s office also sent out a tweet, telling people that they were wasting money on masks.  The more you dig into it, the more it seems that the many of the same people who told everyone not to get a mask were, at the same time, hoarding masks for themselves.  That’s one of the many scandals of the pandemic and it should not be forgotten when (if?) all of this ends.

(Fortunately, because we trust neither the government nor the media, we do have masks down here.)

In sad news, Bill Withers died on March 30th.  In good news, murderer Ira Einhorn died today in prison.  Sometimes, you have to take the bad with the good.

Today, it turned cold.  The temperature plunged from 70 to 48.  It’s supposed to rain for the next few days.  Fortunately, we were already planning on staying inside for the foreseeable future.

I Slept Through Most Of The Oscars

It wasn’t intentional.  I hadn’t gotten much sleep since Friday and, even before the ceremony started, my eyelids were getting heavy.  I dozed off immediately after Brad Pitt won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

The first time I woke up, Eminem was performing and I saw an unimpressed-looking teenager sitting in the audience with yellow-green hair.

“Who’s that?” I asked my girlfriend.

“Billie Eilish,” she replied, “She was like a few months old the last time Eminem was relevant.”

The sight of a three hundred middle-aged white people bobbing their heads to Eminem put me immediately back to sleep.  I did wake up in time to see the big four awards — director, actor, actress, and picture.

Parasite‘s a good film and Bong Joon-ho is one of the world’s great directors, so I don’t have any complaints about it winning.  Joker would have been a disaster if not for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance so, again, no complaints.  As for Renee Zellweger, I’ll just take everyone’s word that she’s great in Judy.

Terry Jones, RIP

I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died.  Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old.  It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.

When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones.  I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group.  (My favorite was Eric Idle.)  But it was sometimes easy to overlook  Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones.  He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle.  Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen.  Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation.  Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”

It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him.  It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes.  I learned that Terry Jones was a key player.  Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films.  On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.

Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group.  Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history.  Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.

On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history.  The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.

With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:

Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.