30 December, 2010

Why was Julie Newmar writing to Wong Fu anyway?

It's been a long vacation so far, and it's only halfway done. I have laid around in bed all day, taken my car to Nashville for repairs, and moved everything I have from a storage unit in Nebraska to a storage unit near Fort Campbell. Right now I'm in Lincoln to pick up my car and goof around for a few more days. It will be very nice to not have to drive for 12 hours once this adventure is done.

I'm somewhere in Chapter 6 of editing the book, and my goal of having the second draft finished by the end of vacation doesn't look likely. I know it's got to be done, but the sheer volume of effort to 'correct' the work outweighs (in some ways) the effort required to create it in the first place. So eager am I to try avoiding the work of editing that I've been plotting my next novel, which I'll hopefully write no later than the next NANOWRIMO.

All this notwithstanding, the end of 2010 looks like a very low-energy period for the world. People just seem to be waiting for the year to be over. I think the condition is worst for people who really want to pretend we're not at war, at least among the political junkies.

To cite an example about low-energy, I've had the above paragraphs written since the 30th or so, but had absolutely no idea what to write next. The same stuff is going on in the world, but I don't feel a major urge to write about it. I don't have any new insights or connections to make off-hand, or at least none I can think of.

I wonder if the world will be in a hot war by the end of 2011. Now that the fog of the closing year is gone, I think we're going to see a lot of people with fewer illusions about where the world's current path is leading us. Iran, North Korea and Venezuela along with their various allies and sattelites are at war with us, along with extremist Islam itself. All of these forces easily exploit the left wing in the US and free world nations in weakening our own defenses.

If you've been following the reviews of the Star Wars prequels so far, here's a link to the review of "Revenge of the Sith", a 90-minute+ review.

It has fewer things to rip apart hilariously in the third prequel, but it still finds plenty of fresh meat. It also goes on an extended (and fascinating) discussion of movie-making in general, showing repetition of shots in the prequels as George Lucas' lack of imagination. It also shows how many shots are blatantly swiped from the One True Trilogy, and goes on an extended comparison with Citizen Kane, building all three of these themes up to a point where it's time to turn off the machine and trust your feelings, and we see Luke Skywalker doing that.

In many ways the point is made by just showing clips from the earlier movies. Since this review is supposed to be about "Revenge of the Sith", which was supposed to reflect on "Return of the Jedi", those two movies are favored when clips are chosen. A random shot of Jabba looked monstrous and frightening, just what we expected from a really powerful bad guy who's been part of the story as long as Han Solo, but we'd never actually seen before. There's the scene where R2 finally reveals he's been carrying the lightsaber, which Luke catches and begins the daring rescue over the Sarlaac pit, and the excitement is still palpable. [An unused scene from "Jedi", intended for the opening, has Luke sitting and working on something we eventually see is a new lightsaber he's constructed. This was correctly removed, just as the appearance of Jabba in the original "Star Wars" was taken out.] There's nothing comparable in the prequels to such a classic action movie moment.

The pivotal point of the series is certainly the "I am your father" moment, because it came out of nowhere. In "Star Wars", Vader had been a very cool badass villain, but not the central one. Really, the Death Star was the central threat, even though it was just a tool of Grand Moff Tarkin, who Leia "expected to see holding Vader's leash." Vader's encounter with Obi-wan is dramatic, and the dialogue accounts for about 50% of everything we know about either of them. "The circle is complete", "I was the student, but now I am the master", "if you strike me down..." The point was that Obi-wan had access to some form of knowledge beyond a good blaster [Han's point of view]. We had heard it in his quasi-mystical speeches, seen it in action in Mos Eisley when he cut off a dude's arm and misdirected stormtrooper, and watched him trying to impart the knowledge to Luke. The theme isn't any different than an afterschool "believe in yourself" tv special, but the story and characters are what make it interesting. At the crucial moment, Luke hears the dead man's voice and saves the day. Vader was almost irrelevant, Tarkin was even moreso, and this was the culmination of the entire movie since Leia inputted the stolen data tapes into R2. ["Now click the application. Choose the file and copy and paste it." "Why is the screen frozen?"]

[[Also worth pointing out, I think, that the end of "Star Wars" is the only real use of three-dimensional space I've noticed in every spaceship flight in the entire series. Han Solo drops down from a roughly-90 degree angle relative to the surface of the Death Star in order to knock out Vader and the other TIE fighters chasing Luke down the trench where the 2-meter exhaust port lies. The obvious question would be why didn't Han or any of the X-wing fighters just drop down and hit the port that way instead of wasting the lives of Red Squad and Gold Squad making that suicide run? They obviously had no problem making it to the Death Star's surface before the Empire had time to scramble more than token resistance, so the Rebellion's strategy basically involved keeping a lot of pilots and ships in a kill zone for several minutes longer than they had to before accomplishing the mission. Fortunately they had plenty of time for that, because the Death Star was nowhere near the Rebellion's home base on Yavin.

[[But no one ever thinks three-dimensionally after Han's stroke of genius. The second Death Star's weak spot is in the center along a series of tunnels. You could argue Han does that when he flies the Falcon into the asteroid field in "Empire", but that's all. In the prequels, cgi ships move vertically through the Coruscant skyline, but they're indistinguishable from the ones moving horizontally. Even when Anakin and Obi-wan are jumping between buildings in "Clones", the speeders they hit are always ones moving parallel to the ground, not vertically or diagonally. I'd say Han earned his medal and promotion for his brilliance at the end of "Star Wars".]]

Anyway, the Force and its mystical aspects are developed or implied, but not dominant in "Star Wars", just as Darth Vader is a dramatic villain but not the only one or the major one. Since he's the only one who survived, it was a natural he'd return for the sequel. Luke's connection to the Force is developed right away in the sequel (rescuing himself from the wampa - can you believe I didn't have to look that up?) and, if Lucas and the others chose to continue it, he'd still have the sense of something to prove implied by all the discussion of his father in the first movie.

It's generally agreed that Lucas is the one who decided Vader would say he was Luke's father. Leigh Brackett's original screenplay for "Star Wars II" had the Jedi ghost of Luke's father training him on Dagobah with Yoda. After she died, Lucas revised it a few times before giving it to Lawrence Kasdan with the "I am your father" scene included. Other than the ending and details like Lando being a clone, the overall plot in the final movie is unchanged from Lucas' original outline that Brackett wrote her script from. Lucas and Brackett agreed that the Emperor and the Force would be developed much more in the second movie. I suspect the Clone Wars was the more interesting thing to Lucas, as the original conception of Lando shows. Lucas' view of the backstory may have shifted constantly - especially given all the revisions from conception through the original movie becoming a hit - but it's very extensive, and unquestionably his.

[An e-book is available here and it's quite fascinating; much of my commentary on Star Wars comes from here: http://www.secrethistoryofstarwars.com/ ]

Although Lawrence Kasdan and director Irving Kershner made "Empire Strikes Back" the movie it was - usually against Lucas' will - the overall achievement is Lucas'. "Return of the Jedi" couldn't help but *work* with the build-up it got from the first two movies, and even though in the opinion of many it didn't work very well, in the opinion of people who like that sort of thing (which is most of us) they like it very much. The success of the original trilogy and all the endless discussion since 1977 about prequels led to the prequels. Can't replace Luke, Han, Leia or Vader as the main characters for future movies, so prequels were the easiest options. The Emperor wasn't originally intended to show up until the 9th movie.

[I should compliment everybody involved for how well the Emperor was done in "Jedi". Darth Vader had spent three movies as the ultimate badass, but there was no question he was dominated by the Emperor. After Luke finally delivers the smackdown we've waited three movies to see, he's won everything his story arc requires, turns away from the Dark Side and he's a Jedi like his father, and the Emperor drops him in an instant. In a galaxy populated with scum and villains of the galaxy, the Emperor showed up at the last minute as a ringer.]

See? Didn't have anything else to write, so I went on about Star Wars for a little while. Here's a short film featuring some of the best-known anonymous actors of our time.

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