Thoughts on some old “favourties”

June 18, 2018

So, recently, I re-read a couple of books that I had read a few years ago and found interesting: “The Holy Kingdom” by Adrian Gilbert and “The Last Knight” by Norman F. Cantor. In fact, I remembered both of them so fondly that I was excited to get a chance — or, rather, to deliberately plan — to read them again. And yet, both of them disappointed me. They certainly weren’t as good as I remembered them to be.

One of the main reasons for this, I think, is that both of them are decidedly one-sided. “The Holy Kingdom” focuses on the theory that King Arthur was really two different historical figures and was of Welsh origin. The former is a very interesting idea, and Gilbert at least tries to provide good sources that theory, but it is interspersed with numerous shots at the traditional English historians for being biased against Welsh history. This might be true, but reading that makes me skeptical that the assessment is totally fair, and thus only makes me feel that in order to accept their overall views I’d need to go and do more research myself. And I don’t have the time to do that, so my reading feels incomplete, while at the same time the asides don’t add anything to the book for me. Sure, they are used as answers to the question of why no one noticed these things before, but “They just don’t want to see it!” no longer counts as sufficient reason for me. They may well be doing that, but they might also have reasons for rejecting it. I would have preferred more direct replies rather than asides saying that their opponents were just being obstinate.

“The Last Knight” focuses on the life of John of Gaunt. Or, rather, it focuses on what we can say about England in the Middle Ages based on how he lived his life. In reality, though, it far more often wants to talk about sexual mores and link John of Gaunt to modern billionaires than to really focus on either John of Gaunt’s life or on the details of medieval society. This results in the most interesting part of the book — the titular “Last Knight” — getting short shrift in what it purportedly his own book. The book is also very repetitive, saying the exact same things in the exact same way even in the span of a few pages. There is no examination in depth of pretty much anything, either the times or the people or John of Gaunt himself. There are a number of interesting links that are drawn, but they are so shallowly examined that, again, all they do is make me want to delve into the topic in much more detail, which I again don’t have the time to do, and his constant comments about elites grate after a while.

The books aren’t terrible books. “The Holy Kingdom” does make its case and the two Arthur theory is interesting, and “The Last Knight” does reveal some interesting things about the Middle Ages. But I guess I have to say that both of them aren’t the sort of work that I’m really looking for right now, or else the other books I’ve read have eclipsed them. It also might be that I’m more skeptical than I used to be and so am looking for works that really take on their opponents in the fairest and strongest ways possible. Either way, they aren’t as much fun to read as I remembered and so I don’t think I’ll feel the same zeal to re-read them as I did this time.

Next up is me reading a book that I’m pretty sure I never finished reading: an abridged version of Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. I wonder if the abridging is what is causing my struggle to read that book …

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Objectivism Alternatives…

June 15, 2018

So, Adam Lee is continuing to talk about Objectivism by looking at “The Fountainhead”, but as the series goes along there is more and more indication that he doesn’t really understand Objectivism at all, and often has no interest in doing so. In one post, he admits that he hasn’t been focusing on the interpersonal dramas and instead has been focusing on the architecture despite the fact that Rand clearly would want us to focus on the latter. I suppose he could be being sarcastic there, but since he hasn’t talked much about the relationships and has indeed talked a lot about the world of architecture, the evidence says that if he’s being sarcastic it’s because he isn’t aware of what he’s actually doing there. This is especially egregious in that post since, as someone else has pointed out, not understanding or looking at the interpersonal issues means that he doesn’t understand something that is at least easier to understand if someone actually paid attention to that.

So, I’ve pointed out in a number of comments there the errors Lee is making, which has led the usual morons to insist that somehow I’m really an Objectivist … despite my clearly being Stoic-leaning and those people knowing that I defended Kant far more strongly than I’ve ever defended Rand. There’s another regular commenter who is an ex-Objectivist who nevertheless defends Rand far more than I do. One of the almost reasonable points that was made is that the other person also criticizes Rand a lot more than I do. Since I’ve talked a bit about Objectivism here, maybe that applies here as well. So I want to reiterate here something that I have said repeatedly about Objectivism in those comment threads that, of course, the usual morons keep forgetting/ignoring: Anything that someone might find appealing about Objectivism has been done better by some other philosophical school.

Do you find Rand’s Enlightened Egoism appealing? You might want to instead look into Hobbes’ Social Contract Theory. Not only does he make a better case for Enlightened Egoism, he also isn’t bound by the strict Libertarian ideas that Rand pushes for. On the contrary, he actually advocates for strong government regulation of behaviour to ensure that it is, in fact, always in someone’s interest to keep the Social Contract, which is an issue for Rand (and, as I’ve said before, a lot of her opponents like Lee who often justify following the rules on the basis of self-interest). His view is also Psychological Egoism instead of Ethical Egoism, which thus allows for the view that we need social and legal restrictions because ultimately we don’t want to have our actions be totally driven by narrow self-interest, and that acting morally is not, in fact, about acting on our own self-interest. Thus, Hobbes does not need selfish behaviour to be seen as good and proper or even overall desirable, which Rand (and, again, some of her opponents) end up claiming, making it a view that better fits our intuitions of morality and that also can’t be used by people to justify acting selfishly and feeling themselves good for doing so.

Do you find her rational Virtue Theory appealing? Then the Stoics might be what you’re looking for, as they also define what is right by appealing to rationality, and are also Virtue Theorists. The big advantage they have — at least when you get into the Roman Stoics like Seneca — is their view of the indifferents: things that aren’t in and of themselves virtuous or vicious. Rand has issues inside all of her works with personal preferences and allowing people to do things just because they want to and happen to like it, which has pushed her into a position of insisting, at times, of insisting that even personal preferences have to have an objectively correct determination, which then leaves her struggling to justify the differences in preferences from her protagonists. This is because she doesn’t really have a notion of anything that isn’t, in and of itself, a moral position. But the Stoic indifferent angle is essentially, if understood properly, that as long as what you’re doing isn’t vicious and isn’t causing you to fail to achieve virtue, you should do whatever it is you most want. It’s okay to have lots of money as long as you aren’t getting it viciously and aren’t spending effort on getting rich that you should spend on becoming virtuous. And Stoicism also includes the idea that you should put being virtuous over anything else — including your life — without having to justify sacrificing your own self-interest by appealing to a deeper self-interest, and so more easily justifies refusing to work, say, for an immoral boss even if that might mean that you starve, which Rand has to introduce a — not unreasonable, but a bit unworkable — line that essentially has to boil down to that it isn’t in your self-interest to violate your “deeper nature”, either because living that way is the only proper rational approach or because once you let it be known that you will sacrifice that you will be taken advantage of even unto death and have no way out of that. The Stoics simply place virtue ahead of direct self-interest inherently, and so don’t have to rationalize self-interest in that way, and yet still retain the indifferents to allow you to pursue your own personal self-interest, defined by what you like, when virtue and vice aren’t direct concerns.

Do you find the “I won’t live for others or ask others to live for me” line? Then you might like Kant, although Kant is far more different from Rand than the others are. Kant’s basic morality is that you can’t never treat any moral agent, even yourself, as merely a means to an end, but always also as an end in themselves. This, then, stops you from merely using people to get what you want, and as this is the basic principle it doesn’t need to be justified in terms of your own self-interest, which Rand has to do since her basic principle is self-interest. Kant’s view is also strongly objective and also relies on reason to make most of its claims.

So I don’t defend Objectivism because I think it a good philosophy. I think that pretty much everything that might be appealing about it is done better by another philosophy (and if there are other ideas of what makes it appealing to some I’d like to hear about them so I can see if there are other philosophies that are better at that). But there are, indeed, things about it that are at least philosophically viable, and Lee and the other opponents there often attack those things in their attempts to undermine it, and don’t actually understand what those things mean. Obviously, I’m going to encourage people who like Objectivism to take up the Stoics instead, or Kant, or even Hobbes. That doesn’t mean that some of their criticisms aren’t philosophically invalid, philosophically dangerous, ignorant, or just plain wrong.

Star Wars Universe?

June 13, 2018

So, there’s a lot of consternation and discussion in the Star Wars fandom over the new Star Wars Universe in general, with issues ranging from too much of a focus on diversity and whether or not the people running it know or like Star Wars in the first place and so are making a point of redoing it to something that it really shouldn’t be. Nathan Hevenstone has written a post defending Star Wars Universes and defending the new movies. Speaking as someone who found TFA so bad that he hasn’t watched any of the following movies yet and has yet to watch TFA again despite watching all the prequels at least once a year, I want to weigh in on his thoughts.

He starts by trying to make sure that we see him as a Star Wars fan so that, presumably, we won’t just dismiss his comments:

I did not grow up with the original Star Wars trilogy. I grew up with the much-maligned Prequels. And you know something… I maligned them, too. Hell… I maligned them not very long ago, twice, on this very blog. But I went back and watched them recently and… you know what? They aren’t actually as bad as I remember them.

Yes, I’ve seen the original trilogy, of course, but I simply don’t have the connection to Luke Skywalker that so many have. However, I am a Star Wars fan. Not a big enough fan to have read and collected the lore or seen the maligned Christmas special and that stuff, but a big enough fan to have watched (and enjoyed) both the Clone Wars and Rebels animated TV shows, and a big enough fan to have been excited by Force Awakens, Rogue One, Last Jedi, and Solo.

But the thing is that having simply “seen” the OT is going to be an issue here, because the PT and ST are going to be defined by their relation to the OT. The PT was there to explain how we got to the events in the OT, and as such needed to set up the themes explored in the OT. The ST’s role — especially given the time jump it employed — is to show the consequences of the OT, and how things changed because of it, for good or for bad. It’s not a matter of having an emotional connection to Luke Skywalker that’s going to drive the complaints about The Last Jedi overturning everything good about the OT, but that it instead doesn’t respect the themes explored and introduced in the OT. And we can start with Luke Skywallker:

I know that Mark Hamill played Luke Skywalker, and that nobody knows the character of Luke Skywalker better than him. I think that if I ever want to know something about Luke, I would ask Mark Hamill first.

I also think he’s wrong about Luke’s story-arc in Last Jedi.

I absolutely loved what was done with him.

Why?

Because it made him interesting. People change when they get older. They don’t remain bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They grow to see reality for what it is, and some become more cynical. Young Luke Skywalker went through the hero’s journey an optimistic, hopeful youngling, ready to take on the world. But as he grew older, he saw more and more what reality really was. He became disenchanted with the Jedi, desperate to change things. And then his older self saw evil in his nephew, and for a brief moment resolved to end it before realizing the mistake he made… a mistake which created that which he sought to avoid.

I find this fascinating. It added a new dimension to the character… a growth.

There are a number of problems with this, both logically and thematically when we consider that we have to carry on from the events of the OT. First, whatever the Jedi are in the post-OT galaxy, they are what Luke Skywalker made them to be. How can Luke become disillusioned with what he himself has built? What changes would he be striving for? This might be set-up in TLJ — remember, I haven’t seen it — but ultimately he’d be becoming disenchanted with his own Order, an Order that he could change himself at any time. That doesn’t really make sense.

The only way around this is to have him still maintain his hopeful view and reverence for the Jedi but then discover that they weren’t all that he thought they were. Except this clashes with the second problem: Jedi being cynical and purportedly seeing “reality” was there in the OT. That was what Obi-Wan and Yoda thought. That’s why they didn’t want to tell Luke that Vader was his father, because they thought that knowing that might weaken his resolve but that, at that point, there was no other way to deal with Vader than to kill him. Vader could not be turned. And it seemed to them that when Vader himself revealed that Vader was Luke’s father and Luke then insisted that he couldn’t kill him and that there was still good in him that what they had most feared was coming true:

Luke Skywalker: There is still good in him.

Obi-Wan: He’s more machine now than man. Twisted and evil.

Luke Skywalker: I can’t do it, Ben.

Obi-Wan: You cannot escape your destiny. You must face Darth Vader again.

Luke Skywalker: I can’t kill my own father.

Obi-Wan: Then the Emperor has already won. You were our only hope.

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Even Vader doesn’t think that he can be turned back to the Light Side, and yet Luke believes that he can anyway. And, in the end … Luke was right and they were wrong. At arguably the most important moment in his life he gets a full-on actual confirmation that he was right about “reality” and the cynical, disillusioned Jedi were wrong. So, not only does he already have solid evidence that the Jedi are fallible and not perfect — although still a force for good in the galaxy — he also has solid proof that the cynical mindset is just plain wrong. So it’s not likely that it’s just going to be time that reverses his mindset. He’s going to need some kind of event to make that happen, something like Obi-Wan had that turned him, where he saw Anakin slaughtering younglings, attempting to kill his own wife, and screaming at him in impotent rage even as he lies dying. That’s going to take more than sensing some evil in Ben to make him decide, even momentarily, that killing him is the way to resolve this.

It would make far more sense, if you want to make Luke disillusioned, to instead of having him be tempted to kill Ben and having that trigger the issues to instead have him refuse to do so even when everyone else says that Ben cannot be saved. Luke, then, follows what he learned in the OT and refuses to kill him when he has the chance … and when he attempts to turn Ben he fails and Ben then goes on to commit horrific evils. This could shatter Luke’s confidence and upset his entire worldview, and thus lead to what Hevenstone likes about this move, but in a way that makes sense and is consistent with the themes of the OT. Heck, it can even have Luke’s return be driven by his realizing that he needs to try again, that his worldview was right and that just because he failed doesn’t mean that he was wrong. If you still want him to die, have him die to clear the way for Rey to try to finish what he started, so that it isn’t pointless.

Another way to go, if you want disillusioned Luke, is to follow on from the idea I floated in my discussion of how I would have done TFA and have Luke have a crisis of confidence in his training, or of Jedi training in general. Have him concerned that just training Force Users to use their powers is inherently corrupting, and that all training does, then, is produce stronger and stronger Sith. This concern was explored in some of the EU material (I, Jedi specifically), mostly from the angle of Luke questioning his own abilities, and not about Jedi training in general. But that concern far better explains Luke not wanting to train Rey in the first place; he feels that he cannot train her appropriately and so he might just be creating another Sith. Rey then has a path to showing him that that isn’t true, which can then, again, rebuild his worldview and explain why he then feels able to return.

Hevenstone here seems to be most excited that TLJ did something different or unexpected, but there are a lot of ways to do unexpected things that still build off of and respect the themes of the OT and the PT. What was done to Luke doesn’t seem to respect those. At all. And that’s why people hate them.

Last Jedi was entirely about failure. Literally everyone failed… even Kylo Ren. That was the whole damn point. This means that Luke Skywalker failed, as well. And that’s not a bad thing. It worked for the story. And it made Luke Skywalker human.

Everyone failed in The Empire Strikes Back, too. And yet that movie is extremely popular and well-liked and makes more sense. You can do a movie where everyone fails without turning your back on everything that came before it. In fact, the failures work better when they follow from the things you’ve already established, as opposed to happening in spite of that.

I didn’t want Luke Skywalker to suddenly appear in Force Awakens in Star Killer Base and superhero-save the poor, damseled Rey from big, bad Kylo Ren, because that would be boring. It would be useless, and would make Luke Skywalker a flat, boring, useless character who never actually grew up and went through things since Return of the Jedi. It would be horribly unrealistic for this older Luke Skywalker to be exactly the same as RotJ Luke Skywalker.

Nobody expected Luke to appear as the superhero that solved everything. That being said, being the main character of the OT and arguably the most powerful Jedi, we definitely expected him to be as “badass” if not more so than an untrained Rey. But even simply putting him into an Obi-Wan or Yoda role works, too. And, again, no one expected Luke to be exactly the same as he was on RotJ. But Luke in TLJ is nothing like RotJ Luke, at least at first. And if you’re going to do such a dramatic shift, you need to show us how that happened. You need to show the events and their impact on the character, and can’t just have the character show up and suddenly be radically different with no explanation beyond “He got older”. Like it or not, we had a starting point with Luke. If you want to break away from that starting point, you have to show us exactly how that character got to where they ended up. Hevenstone, I think, misses this because he is treating the ST more like a set of standalone movies than as movies that continue from the OT and so have to continue their themes.

This doesn’t mean that they can’t be subverted, however. It just means that if you do that you have to show your work.

I’m also glad that Rey was nobody. I love that she’s not related to Luke or Han or Palpatine or Kenobi or any other “important person”. I love that the Force doesn’t give a crap what your name is… it has different criteria for choosing you. Anyone can be Force-sensitive, and that’s awesome. I also love that Snoke was just a plot device… a reason to bring Rey and Kylo together.

The problem is that this only provides more evidence that Rian Johnson’s main focus was on simply destroying what had come before and replacing it with something he liked better rather than building on what had come before and what people had liked, because here he not only isn’t consistent with the OT/PT, but he’s even inconsistent with TFA.

The main personal mystery for Rey in TFA is her family. Who were they? Why did they abandon her? This drives her original montage and is reflected in her recurring dream and is pretty much why her getting Luke’s lightsaber is interesting. So TFA sets this up as a Chekhov’s Gun: due to the time and focus spent on it, when we finally get the answer it’s going to be something interesting. Except that the reveal is that it is, in fact, entirely uninteresting. This would be an interesting twist if the reason fans thought that she was part of one of the main families was just fan speculation, but it isn’t. Fans thought that her background would be important because TFA spent a lot of time hinting that it was. So the movie turning around and saying “Fooled you!” is not going to go over well. Sure, you got us, after spending lots of time deliberately misleading us and lying to us. Well done. So now I’m not going to trust anything you try to set up for later movies ever again. Good job.

The same thing applies to Snoke. The movie itself tries to make him mysterious and hint that he’s important. He’s likely how the First Order came to be in the first place — from TFA — and is the key in charge. He’s also from an alien race that we haven’t seen and is visually impressive. For him to be reduced to a mere plot device completely ignores the set-up in TFA, and makes all of that retroactively pointless. Again, TLJ isn’t even consistent with TFA, let alone the OT/PT.

And I’m super glad Rey and Kylo did not “get together.” Kylo is evil. I want Rey to kill him, not shag him.

While I don’t like the idea of Rey and Kylo getting romantically involved, this statement again just reflects a complete lack of understanding of the themes of the OT/PT, or at least a desire to undo all of them and make Star Wars over into something else that he might like better.

The overarching theme of the PT/OT is that no one is just evil, and no one can’t be redeemed. Luke’s entire arc shows him going against the beliefs of everyone around him that Vader was just evil and had to be killed to, instead, redeem him at the end. This is the climax of the PT/OT. This is what they all built towards. This, ultimately, is the underlying message of the movies. And not only do we see this through the main story, but also through the minor character arcs. Han Solo starts out as a mercenary-type only interested in his own benefit. Leia herself comments on that more than once, that Han is just that way and can’t be changed. Luke, at least, still somewhat believes in him and is disappointed in him when he thinks Han will just run off. And, in part because of that disappointment, Han does return to help the Rebels out, and eventually volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to help destroy the Death Star, and even risks the thing he loves most to help with that. Han moves from an irredeemable and incorrigible self-interested smuggler to someone “respectable”, fighting for a cause, which is one of the reasons that reverting him in TFA rubbed so many people the wrong way. Even Lando can be said to get a mini-arc with that, starting out as self-interested “I have my own problems!” to, again, risking his life for a cause greater than himself and his own. The overarching theme of the PT/OT is redemption, and so if you insist that Kylo can’t be redeemed something has gone seriously wrong.

This doesn’t mean that Kylo has to be redeemed at the end. From my setup of TFA, you can have Kylo fail to overcome the Light Side and thus be returned to the Light. Or you can have him succeed and Rey be forced to kill him. Or you can have him succeed and escape to reform the Sith, and end up with a KotOR-type situation of a battle between the Jedi/Republic led by Rey and the Sith/Empire led by Kylo. But the key is that you have to respect the message that we’ve all already seen that complete, irredeemable evil is, at least, very hard to come by in the Star Wars universe. Kylo being that sort of evil by default doesn’t respect that, especially since in TFA he was already established as not being irredeemably evil.

And I don’t care if Rey is a “Mary Sue”. I don’t care that she got so good with the Force so quickly. That doesn’t bother me at all because I straight up love her character. I think she’s a bad ass that I’d love to hang out with and even learn from. And all of that is in part because I think Daisy Ridley is an amazing actress.

That you like the actress does not mean that the character is good, or fits in with the trilogy. You might be impressed with her “bad ass” abilities, but the movie does nothing to establish why she should have them, and her doing that implies that she doesn’t need training despite the fact that an important plot point in TLJ is her trying to convince Luke to train her. That you can look past that for reasons external to the work itself is fine, but pretty much indicates that the character itself was at least done poorly. It is entirely likely that they could have given us a better and more consistent character that you still would have liked.

Now, admittedly, I didn’t like Rose Tico when I first saw Last Jedi. But you know what? After seeing all the hate she’s gotten, she’s now one of my favorite Star Wars character, literally just to spite all of you assholes who harassed Kelly Marie Tran off Instagram because you couldn’t handle Rose’s existence. I mean okay… after thinking about it more, I think I genuinely do actually like the character of Rose Tico. I hope they flesh her out more, because right now there isn’t much to her, but there is potential, and I hope they run with that potential. And it helps that Kelly is a really good actress, as well.

So, here you admit that your like was driven by the overblown reaction to her, and now you want to say that the character is, on further reflection, actually good based on … what? You didn’t like her at first and became sympathetic due to the reaction, and now say that it’s a good character. How do you know that you aren’t just rationalizing the character because you now want her to be a good character? I’m certainly not willing to think that any of your assessments here, at least, are in any way credible given the starting point.

But Last Jedi continued the Skywalker saga in a way I loved, and a way I most certainly would have asked for had I known to.

And how do you know that the alternatives that continued the saga in a more consistent way wouldn’t have been what you would have asked for if you had known? This, again, smacks of rationalization, not analysis.

And speaking of asking for a movie…

That is an argument I see thrown against Solo: A Star Wars Story time and time again. “Who asked for this? Nobody! That’s who!”

What a seriously pathetic argument.

The only movies that nobody ever asked for are the movies that don’t exist because nobody’s thought of them to begin with. If a movie was even conceived, at least one person asked for it. And if a movie’s reached the point that it’s in theaters, then, clearly, a lot of people have asked for it. Every movie ever made, good or bad, released and unreleased, has been asked for by far more than one person.

And…

Hello! Nice to meet you! My name is Nathan Hevenstone, and I asked for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Did you? Did you really? Did you ask for it before it was made? Did you ask for it when TFA came out? Or are you now insisting that you asked for it just because you want to try to refute a pathetic argument with an even more pathetic one?

Look, most of the people saying that no one asked for Solo will base that one of a couple of ideas. First, the idea that they should spend more time and effort establishing the ST before trying to shoehorn in a full on universe, because the success or failure of the side movies will depend on how well-received the ST is. Second, that they should stop trying to mine the OT era for ideas and instead focus on building up their own universe. Prequels work best when there is an underlying mystery to resolve, where we really, really want to see how things got that way, and both Rogue One and Solo suffer from not having really interesting questions at their heart. Now, that doesn’t mean that they are bad ideas, but, yes, there is going to be an underlying reaction to them of wondering what in the world they’re supposed to tell us that’s interesting. On the other hand, movies set in-between RotJ and TFA would tell us things that we don’t already know and that could impact the ST — which is where the focus is and has to be right now — and our understanding of it.

I’m not at all opposed to a Star Wars Universe of movies, but to avoid burn-out the movies have to be picked for maximum appeal. I don’t think Hevenstone gets that:

And you know what? That’s what I want. I’m sick of the Skywalkers. Their story is over, and it should stay that way.

Except … it isn’t over. Luke was the Last Jedi and Leia was an important figure in the Rebellion. Unless you’re going to have them never have kids — despite inheritance playing a role in Jedi powers in the OT — they are going to be important and will have a key role and great influence in what comes next. The ST was going to have to address them, and it doing so by wiping them all out would be kinda depressing for a Star Wars movie. So, again, Hevenstone has to be ignoring what happened before to insist that it is over. Of course, it might be over now — with Luke and Leia both dead — but that’s one of the criticisms that people are making about TLJ.

I agree with him that there are other stories to explore — although setting things among the non-Jedi users in the context of a Jedi/Sith war while ignoring that is likely to be … problematic — and that some of them can be explored in movies. But the movie elements have to be driven by what is maximally appealing, and thus what most people want to see. A lot of the things he wants to see are not of this sort. For example, who the heck are “The Ones”? Why should anyone care about them? And the backstory of the Sith and Jedi might be too convoluted for a movie or even for movie trilogies. At any rate, the fans aren’t upset about there possibly being a Star Wars Universe. They’re upset about those things happening when the main movies aren’t very good and seem to be spitting on the franchise. They’re upset about people who don’t seem to care about the original franchise wandering in and insisting on what it should be now, both in terms of things like diversity and in content.

And while Hevenstone might insist that he’s a fan, someone who spells “Leia” as “Leah” — twice — is someone that we should at least be suspicious of [grin].

At the end of the day, Star Wars had a context. It had themes. It had things that people liked about it. The ST seems to, more and more, be either trying to ape those themes without understanding them or to in fact want to try to toss them all aside because they don’t like them. This will annoy the fans who liked what it had and now note that it’s not there anymore, and doesn’t look like it will ever be there again. People like Hevenstone may like the changes, but they always seem to like that it was changed more than the specific changes themselves, and that raises the question of whether they even liked the originals, or if all that’s happening here is that they really wanted something other than Star Wars and are trying to change Star Wars into what they wanted while trying to keep the name. And any Star Wars fan — even if they want that new thing — should not be happy with Star Wars getting converted to something that it wasn’t to satisfy those sorts of demands.

Thoughts on “The Real Ghostbusters”

June 11, 2018

So, I finished watching “The Real Ghostbusters”. And, at least at first, it was surprisingly entertaining to watch.

The key conceit of the show is that this follows the adventures of the “real” Ghostbusters, whom the movies are based upon. This is, in fact, explicitly mentioned in-show. As such, they can do a lot of things with the characters and even shift their roles around a bit without really impacting the movie universe or limiting it in any way. This is how Winston gets character development into a more rounded character, and one with more direct roles and strengths than you see in the movies, like his love of mysteries, baseball and automobiles and auto mechanics. It also lets them make Peter a bit less shady, show more heart, and explain why he tended to be a bit of a grifter in the movies (his father was like that, only much worse). They can go into Ray’s background a bit more, and develop the romance between Janine and Egon, and, yes, even develop Janine’s character a bit more.

The format lends itself to a wide variety of situations, as it did for “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo”. Since they’re tracking ghosts explicitly but are experts on all sorts of supernatural phenomena, there’s a lot to work with there. They were able to get in a Star Trek parody by having a ghost appear on a space station, did cartoon worlds multiple times, did superheroes twice, and managed to fit in vampires and werewolves, again the former multiple times. They were also able to tap into a wide variety of mythical ghost legends — like the origin of Hallowe’en, again done multiple times — and classical hauntings, like haunted houses. And yet they were often able to bring a new twist to them, like having a house haunted by a ghost who only wanted to tell his beloved niece that he loved her one last time, or a house haunted by a mystery writer who wanted her last story to be finished. And there was generally plenty of room in all of these for snark, humour, parody and heartwarming moments.

I suppose I must comment on the shift in the character of Janine, at the rest of the executives, into a softer, more appealing, and less abrasive character. I, personally, like the softened Janine better, but concede that, yeah, she’s not really Janine anymore at that point. It would have worked better if they had done that from the beginning instead of shifting to it after the first season or so, even though that let JMS write an episode explaining it as her wishing changes to herself because Egon, at least, never noticed her otherwise, which was a good episode. That being said, I think the shift was a good idea, as it actually gave Janine a distinct role in the show, that being of the more kind and concerned person on the team that was lacking. Cynical and sarcastic Janine was entertaining, but the cast already had more than enough snark, and just having her be there for the snark battles with Peter and the love interest with Egon wasn’t really going to do much. Sure, I think they underused her after the shift, but it did give her a distinct personality and role that we could relate to, whereas snarky Janine was more one-dimensional.

Also, people ignore that Peter himself was softened at the same time, being far nicer to Slimer and, in general, far less shady and money-obsessed than he was in the earlier seasons, which I think was a good thing.

I think that Egon, though, was the character that advanced the most. He pretty much became the main leader character of the team, mostly because he was the one who knew everything about the ghosts and so always came up with the plans. He developed his own sense of humour and even snark, and was generally entertaining. I think his development explains why Peter faded into the background a bit more in later seasons when in the movies he tended to be the focus character.

The show, however, went completely downhill when it became “Slimer! And the Real Ghostbusters”. Not only was there more of a focus on Slimer in the main show — which took away from what was really interesting — it also played havoc with the episode lengths. At first, they went with one Real Ghostbusters episode that was about five minutes longer, but that didn’t work because they usually didn’t have enough episode to fill out the time, so it seemed like it dragged. Then, they did two Real Ghostbusters shorts, but that didn’t work because they were too short and so didn’t have all the elements that made the show entertaining in the first place. By the time it reset to normal length episodes, they seemed to be mainly out of ideas and the creative spark seemed to be lost. There were still some good episodes, but overall it really lost the magic that it had had in the earlier seasons. By the end, like with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, I just wanted to get through the rest and move on to something else.

Still, it was entertaining enough, especially the early episodes, which are often fantastic. And since this was already a re-watch, I will almost certainly watch it again at some point.

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Summary

June 8, 2018

So, the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup last night, in a close 4 – 3 game to take the series in a not-so-close 4 games to 1. Since I picked Washington, this leaves me for this season at a sterling 14 – 1 for the year, with my only blemish being that I didn’t pick Vegas to beat L.A. in the first round. Since Vegas had home ice advantage in the finals, home ice advantage finishes at 10 – 5, getting the last three series wrong and only being a game over its 9 – 6 record last year.

My stellar result this year is entirely in line with the idea that the less I follow hockey during the season the better I do at predicting playoff series. As I now find it more and more difficult to actually watch the games, I pay less attention to hockey overall, and that has built from season to season. And I’ve gone from 8 – 7, to 10 – 5, to 14 – 1. It will be interesting to see what happens next year, because I cannot imagine that I’ll pay more attention to hockey next season than I did this season.

I’d also like to talk a bit about the win itself. I wanted Washington to win this series, mostly so that Alex Ovechkin would finally win a Cup. For a long time, his teams didn’t do all that well in the playoffs despite having great regular seasons, and there was a lot of talk that Ovechkin just couldn’t win the big games. This is despite the fact that, in general, as far as I can recall he didn’t actually do that badly in the playoffs, playing reasonably well, at least offensively. Some of the times they lost to Pittsburgh it really did come down to a duel of who scored more between himself and Sidney Crosby. So while it wasn’t really fair to blame him for their struggles, for the most part we were wondering what it would take for Ovechkin to win one and if his leadership was to blame for the Caps’ struggles in the playoffs. That Crosby managed to win multiple Cups only added fuel to that fire.

And that’s the comparison that both Ovechkin and Crosby have had to live with their entire careers. They came into the league at the same time and were both seen as generational players, and both have lived up to their billing. In terms of regular season success and regular season awards, Ovechkin has more than held his own against Crosby, but has faltered badly when it comes to playoff success and Cups, which is arguably the only success that really matters. To be honest, despite being Canadian and so supposedly having to prefer Crosby to Ovechkin, I’ve always preferred Ovechkin, mostly because he’s always seemed so very into hockey. He was the first to turn the shootout competition into more of a show than a simple demonstration of skill, and always seemed so happy and excited just to be playing the game. He often celebrated goals by his teammates more than they did, and it didn’t seem to be attention-grabbing, but instead real zeal for the game. And while you could blame Crosby’s more low-key reactions as Canadian modesty, it was still nice to watch someone who just really, really loved the game and loved to play it.

So, while Ovechkin didn’t play badly in the playoffs, what does seem to be different this year is that he really, really bought into the idea that it was all-hands-on-deck and everyone had to come up big at both ends of the ice for them to win it all. He was blocking shots, playing defense, and not just focusing on outscoring his opponents. And I think this even helped his teammates, because while he was focusing on doing everything it shattered the idea that his job was to score the goals and their job was to get out of the way and try to prevent them. If Ovechkin was going to try that hard to prevent goals, they really were going to have to try equally hard to score them. Sure, Ovechkin still scored the most goals — but didn’t have the most points — on his team, but even in last night’s game they got big goals from Devante Smith-Pelly — who scored as many goals in the playoffs as he did during the season — and Lars Eller, which was the Cup-winning goal. The Caps didn’t rely on Ovechkin to score the big goals for them, and that’s one of the reasons they won the Cup this year.

Another reason is the reason I picked them to win: resilience. For a lot of their previous runs, it always seemed that the breaks went against them and when that happened they folded. Not this run. They went down 2 – 0 to Columbus — losing both games at home — and rallied to win that series. They toppled their nemesis Pittsburgh. They won the first two games of the series in Tampa, lost the next three, and shut out Tampa in the last two games to win that series. They lost the first game against Vegas, and then won the next four games. Even last night, they hit at least two posts, were up 2 – 1 only to have Vegas storm back to take a 3 – 2 lead, and just kept coming. After that first series, they really believed that they could overcome everything, and as it turns out that’s exactly what they did.

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals, and hockey will return in October.

Thoughts on Darth Plagueis

June 6, 2018

So, recently, I read the Star Wars Legends book “Darth Plagueis” by James Luceno. I’ve liked a lot of his stuff before, so it was worth giving this a try. Anyway, the book follows Darth Sideous’ mentor Darth Plagueis, his researches into life and death, and the relationship between the two, including the reasons for the main plot that Sideous follows on with in the PT — that leads to establishing the Empire — and how that all gets started.

What’s good about the book is that it does, indeed, fill in a number of details about how that all works and worked out, including why Naboo had a 14 year old elected Queen at the time, as well as what this was all supposed to achieve, and why there was taxation of trade routes and why that all mattered … and, in fact, why that dispute would lead to civil war. In short, the taxation of trade routes was a minor issue, but Plagueis and Sideous had already manipulated things so that the galaxy was being divided up into factions based on self-interest, and the Naboo situation struck directly at those divisions of self-interest. The taxation wasn’t that important, but which of the two sides managed to “win” was, as the other side would feel hard done by which would cause issues.

It also goes into the backstory of Sideous a bit more, showing how he progressed from a minor political figure on Naboo into becoming a Sith Lord. I think this has all or mostly been eliminated by the new works, but it was interesting, even if Sideous’ specific background isn’t all that interesting for a Sith Lord, paling in comparison to characters like Bane or Vader or Revan. It also goes into the backstory of how Sideous found Maul, which again I think has been eliminated by new media, but is interesting enough.

The main problem with the work, though, is that while it helps establish Sideous as a villain by making the overarching villainous plot make sense and by filling in the details — and also by showing the political machinations required to pull it off — it also hurts his character because most of the plot was devised by Plagueis, not him. Sideous shows some but limited political skill throughout the entire book; the big moves are all orchestrated by Plaugeis. This, of course, can explain Sideous’ at least potential mistakes and why he didn’t foresee the end that befell him, but in terms of the overarching plot it seems that for the most part his role is like what would happen if Darth Maul had killed Sideous and taken over his plan: Sideous runs the plan that was already set into motion by Plagueis, but for the most part is only slightly more competent at those sorts of manipulations as Maul would be. I really would have liked that to be more of a partnership than it was, with Plagueis having more Force knowledge while Sideous had the political knowledge, and Sideous deciding to take out Plagueis when he thought that Plagueis had no more to teach him.

That being said, the book at least spells out a clear goal for the Sith, something that they wanted to achieve, which is more than we can say for the PT (beyond “rule the galaxy”).

Darth Plagueis was a decent book, and I’d likely read it again.

Thoughts on Winchester

June 4, 2018

So, the next inexpensive horror movie that I watched was “Winchester” Surprisingly, this is the first movie that I don’t really have anything deep to say about it, thus why it’s the first to get the “Not-So-Casual Commentary” tag instead of the “Philosophical Writer’s Guide” tag. In general, it’s just a decently done movie, with nothing that really stands out about it, good or bad.

Again, this movie might be relatively recent, so I’ll continue below the fold to avoid spoilers:

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Lists …

June 1, 2018

So, I’ve been recently redoing my schedule to try to fit more things into it. I’ve also been trying to plan out things so that, eventually, I can talk about them on the blog. And I’ve started to get onto a kick of either finishing things or, at least, trying to make sure that I get things finished that I’ve wanted to get finished for quite some time. Long-time readers of the blog will remember the various pages that I made to list these things out, and so I’ve decided to update those lists with an organized set of things that I want to do. This will help me keep track of what I want to do next — so no hemming and hawing over what I’m going to do next when I finish something –, give the people reading the blog an idea of what I’m going to talk about at some point, and in some sense have this out in public which then gives me some incentive to actually finish it.

So, first, let’s talk about books. I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately, reading through a ton of non-fiction books and, in particular, a number of Pierre Berton books. I plan on commenting on them at some point when I get a chance — although the stack is getting larger and larger — but for now I’ve added a bunch of historical books to the list, which tracks non-fiction books. I think there are three books there that I haven’t read — “History’s Greatest Battles”, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and “Guns, Germs and Steel” — but I’ve been wanting to re-read “The Holy Kingdom” and “The Last Knight” for a while and I re-read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” pretty regularly, and “The Storm of War” fits nicely into the WWII mindset. After that, I have to catch up on my philosophical reading, but I haven’t made that list yet because these books will take me a few months to read — non-fiction takes longer to read than fiction — and after that I’ll have to see if I’m ready to pick up more non-fiction or if I want to read some fiction at that point.

Next are TV shows. I only have time to watch half hour long shows in the evenings, which is why I’ve been commenting on cartoons a lot right now (also why I did comedies like Wings, Cheers and Frasier). So I’ve listed the last set of cartoons for now: “The Real Ghostbusters”, “He-Man” (all of the series), and “She-Ra”. After that, it’s “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, which I’ve watched but never talked about. After that … I don’t know.

I’ve also wanted to watch or re-watch some hour long shows, and I’ve carved out some time to watch them … while playing games on the weekend, which gives me about two disks a week. Right now, “Knight Rider” and “Airwolf” are going in that slot, and when they’re finished I don’t know what I’ll do yet. But at that pace it will take me months to get there, so I have time.

For both of these, once I finish off the current lists I might well go back and re-watch things that I just want to watch but either have already commented on or don’t want to comment on, so I may not use the next things to generate content for the blog. But, for now, I will comment in some way on all of these shows.

And speaking of video games, I’ve created a new list for my planned video games. Right now, it’s all of the Persona games except for Persona 5. I have a lot of candidates to play after that — including Persona 5 — but at six hours a week I estimate that just playing those four will take me until about Christmas. Let’s see how I feel at that point.

So, that’s it so far. There may be other lists coming if I think them useful, but these are the ones that I already had and did find useful at some point, so I figured it made sense to use them. You can watch the lists to see what gets added, what gets removed, and what gets completed.

Final Thoughts on My Persona 3 Replay

May 30, 2018

So, I finished my replay of Persona 3 FES, taking about 50 hours to finish it.

I’m still amazed by how good that game actually is. Yes, the combat and even the S-links can drag at times and be boring, especially when you can only play for a few hours. It took me well over two hours just to finish the last month before the final battle, and all I was really doing there was finishing S-links and trying desperately to get Mitsuru’s finished before the end of the game (which I did manage). That’s a bit long considering that I wasn’t doing much and wasn’t even running dungeons.

But the gameplay is still entertaining. The story is still great. The characters are still interesting. The backstory works. The S-links work, and are tightly tied into the ending, and FES adds the follow-ups at the end of the game that really bring them home. The parts that drag fade into the background of the satisfying experience you get at the end of the game when everything comes together. I’ve put over 250 hours into Persona 3 FES — which doesn’t count the hours I’ve put into plain Persona 3 and P3P — and it’s still worth replaying.

How come no other game in this genre has been able to do that?

Anyway, after this I’m probably going to go back to the beginning and play Persona, since my PSP is now repaired.

Thoughts on “The Unwilling”

May 28, 2018

So, I now return to talking about horror movies that I picked up cheap and watched for the heck of it. This time, it’s “The Unwilling”. The thing about this is that this movie has a lot going for it. It has a good cast, a good premise, and a title that can have a clever double meaning. However, it doesn’t really manage to leverage those benefits and so seems to fall short of its potential.

Again, I think this is relatively recent, so I’ll continue below the fold:

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