Archive for Scotch Tape and Popsicle Sticks

The Book of Lando

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It doesn’t come up a lot here on the blog, but one of the things I’m known for on Twitter is being a big fan of Lando Calrissian. He’s stylish, he’s brave, he’s got one of the only four-syllable last names—what’s not to like? At first glance, though, he and I don’t have a lot in common. I’m not a slob like Han is but I certainly wouldn’t call myself fashionable, or even all that concerned with how I present myself. I’m pretty reserved socially and I don’t chase women (or men, or blobs), nor do I really aspire to. I do enjoy poker but I’d describe my playing style as chaotic neutral—and gambling in general seems pointless to me.

So what is it about this guy that’s driven me to latch onto him? Well, for one thing, I think Lando’s actually a pretty widely misunderstood character. The flirting and the gambling most people know him for, to pick a random metaphor off the top of my head, are like capes: ornamental details calculated to cultivate a certain impression while also concealing what’s really going on underneath. » Read more..

Mile Wide, Inch Deep: Why The First Order is Already Defeated, They Just Don’t Know it Yet

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One of the biggest early distinctions between the Expanded Universe and the new canon was how quickly the Empire appeared to collapse. This was partly due to Timothy Zahn and others having a freer hand in interpreting Return of the Jedi‘s happy ending than Chuck Wendig did when writing Aftermath, but more broadly, the EU and its foundation in the worldbuilding of West End Games tended toward a “maximalist” view of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

This means, speaking very roughly, that the million worlds or so which comprised the Empire were treated, for the most part, like a million Corellias—the Empire was a tightly-knit society with a largely cosmopolitan shared (read: imposed) culture linked by a pervasive HoloNet. A hardened state whose leader was genuinely supported by most of his people, and who had a million Corellias’ worth of capital ships floating around to do his bidding. The tactical significance of Palpatine’s death was in the blow to Imperials’ morale and cohesion, but the vast majority of them remained Imperials. Their defeat was a fifteen-year game of Risk: countless military engagements and a slow chipping away of territory and resources until surrender and extermination were the only choices left.

In the new canon, on the other hand, “galactic society” is a much looser concept, and the Empire was more akin to a house of cards. While initially popular, of course, and still performing the role of a benevolent leader when necessary, Palpatine saw the Death Star as a means of keeping everyone in line, not just a fringe of Rebel hotbeds. He strung the Imperial Senate along for twenty years on the expectation that Krennic and/or Tarkin would eventually deliver his trump card, and when he dissolved and arrested the Senate only to lose the Death Star immediately afterward, in a sense, that was the ballgame. Dissent was everywhere now, and while the fleet was indeed mighty, no canon military force could have maintained order on a million unruly worlds at once. » Read more..

Bugs in the System – The Great Unspoken Subplot of Star Wars

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As a general rule, I try to stay away from retrospective pieces here at Eleven-ThirtyEight. Sometimes, like with David’s excellent Jaxxon piece on Monday, there’s a new hook that makes old information freshly relevant, but by and large my feeling is that Star Wars material released prior to the Disney era—and certainly the original trilogy in particular—has had its time in the sun and continuing to poke at it years or decades later is tantamount to navel-gazing and doesn’t really advance the conversation. That can be fun, don’t get me wrong—but it’s not something I’m interested in doing here.

Sometimes, though, new stories create a fresh context for that old material. Luke’s behavior in The Last Jedi might create a new lens through which to view his training, for example, or a pending film might prompt the revisitation of related material from the Expanded Universe. Even if you discount Legends, Star Wars remains a gigantic body of work and there are always new threads, new patterns, that can be isolated when the moment is right.

Despite the scattershot nature of the eight saga films’ release timeline, despite being written out of order and across multiple generations and largely on the fly, one such thread has lingered in the background since the very beginning. It has a logical starting point in Episode I, pays off in Episode VI, and most impressively, continues in a sensible and compelling way in the sequel trilogy—all with very little in the way of open acknowledgement from the creators. This thread, to my mind the great unspoken subplot of Star Wars, is the quest for the perfect soldier. » Read more..

In Defense of Bad Decisions

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A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the real world, a human being exists in a superposition. Their capacity for love or hate, honesty or guile, can evolve wildly over the course of their lives, or even from day to day. The second you try to nail someone down, best-case scenario, all you’ve really captured is an echo. Worst-case scenario, it’s an outright fabrication.

Star Wars has a reputation for grabbing an extra-thick Sharpie and drawing hard, clear lines between good and evil, but I would argue that that’s a function of aesthetics more than storytelling—you know immediately that Darth Vader is evil, until suddenly he’s not. You know immediately that the Republic is a good thing, until suddenly it’s an Empire. You know immediately that stormtroopers are bad guys, until one of them has second thoughts.

So when two “good guys” come into conflict, who exactly are we supposed to root for?

The Last Jedi delights in forcing these questions on us, making us second-guess who the hero is and what that role really requires of them—but while Luke Skywalker is the marquee Questionable Hero, the one who has engendered far more interesting debate, for my money, is Poe Dameron. » Read more..

Let the Past Die: The Last Jedi Flings the Torch

—this piece contains major spoilers from The Last Jedi

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When Rian Johnson was announced as the director for Episode VIII, I recall one of my first thoughts being “oh shit, the ‘Ozymandias’ guy”. While I had seen Looper and liked it well enough, Johnson’s work on Breaking Bad was the most interesting to me in light of this job—what would a TV director do with Star Wars?

So it’s fitting that one of the easiest comparisons people are making to The Last Jedi is ’33’, an early episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica that sees the heroes’ fleet hounded indefinitely by the Cylons with no escape in sight. We knew the Resistance’s escape from D’Qar would be an early set piece in the film, but never in a million years would I have expected that escape to be the entire film. Though maybe that’s on me—The Empire Strikes Back is mostly about the heroes running away as well.

Nevertheless, it felt like a bold decision in a film full of bold decisions. Both supporters and detractors can generally agree that The Force Awakens was the safe version of a new Star Wars movie—it needed to be loved by as many people as possible or the whole operation would have been limping right out of the gate. But The Last Jedi expands the cinematic (and tonal) language of Star Wars enough for both of them. Actual, non-Force-based flashbacks, time lapse shots, X-Men-style telepathic conversations, and that crazy lightspeed ramming sequence are just some of the new ideas Johnson injects into the saga here, and while one or two of them may not be well-regarded in the final analysis, you have to give the guy credit for daring to try. » Read more..

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