Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lego Easter

The Lego Easter Bunny was here and dropped these guys off




and now they're doing some Easter shopping of their own.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Doctor Who Book Review: The Also People




I bought this book because I thought I would hate it.

It's the story of the Doctor visiting an extremely thinly veiled stand-in for the Culture. Ben Aaronovitch was pretty open that "the People" are the Culture but even without his admission, it's pretty clear to those familiar with the series. The People have have the same kind of drones specific to the Culture, the same naming conventions for their ships, and are even dealing with the consequences of a war similar to the one the Culture waged with the Idirans. He didn't even bother filing off the serial numbers. And I'm fine with that. If you're going to steal, you might as well go whole hog. 


Specifically, this is the story of the Seventh Doctor visiting the Culture. This pleases me. Not only is he one of my favorites, but had this been the Tenth Doctor, the story would have been either "The Doctor fixes the Culture" or "The Doctor destroys the Culture."


Let me tell you a little about my Doctor Who background. I'm most familiar with the Doctor through the television series. I've probably seen every episode of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors. I've watched some of the Third, though I've probably missed more than I've seen. I've mostly read about the Second and First Doctors. I've watched the complete run of Nine and Ten, but only the debut of Matt Smith. (I think that he and Moffat make a quality show, but it's so far removed from what I want out of my Doctor Who that I don't to watch it.)


I've read a couple of the novels and I know of the Missing Adventures and the New Adventures but I don't really follow them. I have the old FASA RPG and the newer Adventures in Time and Space and I think I have a PDF somewhere of the Time Lord one that fell in-between.
In the past year, I've listened to two audiobooks. I loved Shada and hated Prisoner of the Daleks. It was so terrible that Audible gave me my credit back.

I think it's accurate to say that I'm more of a fan of the Culture than of the modern incarnation of Doctor Who at this point. 

So, that's how I'm approaching this book.

This review is going to have Spoilers.

You've been warned. 

SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
I MEAN IT!!!!
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS
SPOILERS

We open with the fable of a leopard caught in a trap. It begs a woman to release it, and she makes it promise not to eat her. It reneges and starts chasing her as soon as she frees it. She finds another talking animal, a hare, and it helps her get the leopard back in the pit. The hare asks her if she's going to let it out again.

And I thought, "Oh, fuck me. It's going to be that kind of story. The leopard represents the Minds, the hare is the Doctor and the woman is the biological entities in the Culture. The Doctor is going to break all the Minds and 'free' the People and then ask them if they'll let themselves be enslaved again."

I hate that kind of "my fandom is better than your fandom" bullshit, where the heroes of a setting prove how much better they are by showing up thinly veiled expatriates from a rival setting. Is there anything more juvenile than this? 

Fortunately, I was almost completely wrong in my assessment. 

The TARDIS arrives on a Dyson sphere with three companions, a man named Chris and two women, Roz and Bernice. Apparently they needed some R&R after their last adventure. And as this is the Seventh Doctor, he also has an ulterior motive.  

Kadiatu, the super-powered descendant of the Brigadier wound up on the People's sphere and the Doctor has a friendly drone keeping an eye on her. 

This is the peril of jumping into the middle of a series. Aaronovitch does a pretty good job explaining her presence, though. I didn't have any emotional investment for her, and devoid of context, the super-powered descendant of the Brigadier seems more than a little fan-wanky, but I was able to accept her and I understood what she was doing there. As an added bonus, she figures into the main plot at the end. 

I didn't think that a Culture/Dr. Who crossover could work. The science in the Culture series isn't really hard sci-fi like Gibson or Stephenson, but the science in Doctor Who is so soft that it's basically magic. Also, time travel is explicitly impossible in the Culture series.

The Culture isn't hard sci-fi, but I tend to treat it as such because it understands the scale of hard sci-fi. Space is vast. Computers think a lot faster than people. Dr. Who works on a scale of miles and minutes and the Culture deals in parsecs and picoseconds. 

Adversaries like the Daleks occasionally engage in outrageous machinations like moving planets across the universe, but most of their actions in Doctor Who are some variation of zapping someone in line of site within thirty feet. The Culture, in contrast, has been known to engage in hostilities from outside a star system. Someone in the Also People mentioned that the People could neutralize a target from 30 light years away. I can't think of any specific instance where the Culture operated at that range, but that seems consistent with how they've been described.

Early on in the book we learn that the People have a non-aggression pact with the Time Lords. The People won't research time travel and the Time Lords won't go back in time to undermine the People. The impression that I get is that the Time Lords could be assured of coming out on top of any confrontation, but it would be costly enough that they'd want to avoid it. 

While the Doctor and his companions are there, a drone is murdered. The Doctor appoints himself and his companions as investigators. We get a murder investigation, which isn't interesting in itself, but Aaronovitch absolutely nails the mannerisms of the Seventh Doctor. Also, Roz amuses herself by cracking wise about the murder victim to those who knew him. I know she's got a traumatic past, but that's pretty close to unforgivable, and as this is my first impression of her, she just comes across as a straight up asshole.

I like the governing AI of the Dyson Sphere, "God", even if I think it's a terrible name. Part of what I don't like about the direction of the new TV series is that there seems to be a mandate that no one can be as awesome as the Doctor (except maybe for Moffat's other pet, River Song, but that's a discussion for another post).  But I like the Doctor best when he has peers to play off. God is great. Not a Time Lord, not necessarily even a friend, maybe not even as smart as the Doctor, but definitely a peer.

I figured God was the villain, because Hub minds are very nearly omniscient in their places of power and it seemed unlikely that a lesser intelligence would be able to slip something past. I was wrong about that too. (Though in my defense, God seems less capable than a Hub Mind)

I like the interludes ("hyperludes") about the nature and scale of machine intelligence, some excerpts from the non-aggression treaty, the bit with the swarm, and the machine junta, the latter of which I thought was especially neat, and which ties back to the main plot. During the war, an away team of two biologicals and a drone is killed. In a near instantaneous response, the ship Mind wipes out the colony they were investigating by displacing a bunch of anti-matter down there, and then, nearly simultaneous with that, its crew of drones removes it from command.

I like that a lot. Aaronovitch clearly has some respect for the culture of the Culture. Good people do shitty things in war, and a machine that thinks like a man, only faster, can do a lot of damage before a human even realizes there is a problem. Even after this atrocity, the People want to rehabilitate this AI with PTSD, so rather than dismantle it, they give it a new life and a new identity so it can come to terms with what it has done.

I have a small problem with the ending. Earlier in the book, the drone baby-sitting performed a routine scan on Kadiatu and gets nailed by what amounts to a virus created by her unusual brain patterns. The Doctor uses the same virus to disable the ship Mind that is behind all the trouble. (He suggests interfacing with the Mind to speed up communication in a scene I otherwise like, because the Mind points out the Doctor can't think as fast as it can, and the Doctor agrees, but says he thinks faster than he can talk, and he can talk pretty fast.) Thing is, the drone mentions that it was only vulnerable to Kadiatu's virus because it wasn't expecting something like that from a simple organic. Not only should the ship Mind be expecting some kind of trickery from the Doctor, but it's also orders of magnitudes more sophisticated. 

And the simple explanation is that the Doctor somehow enhanced the Kadiatu's virus. I'd certainly buy that. Same virus, run through a Time Lord's Fourth Dimensional brain. Works for me. I would go so far as to say that this is what the author intended. I would have been happy if he had either explained why it worked against the ship Mind or if he hadn't mentioned that it shouldn't have worked against the drone. That's a minor complaint, though. 

I really liked it. I thought I would hate it and I was wrong. It works as a Doctor Who story AND a Culture story, and I really would have thought them so different as to be irreconcilable. 

Josh's Second Annual Roger Zelazny Haiku Month

Last April, I posted one Zelazny-themed haiku for every day of the month. They were silly and kind of crappy and haiku only in the loosest sense, (they generally had the right number of syllables, mostly distributed correctly, but rarely had any of the other criteria such as seasonal references or cutting words). However, I enjoyed the process. This worked out pretty well last year, so I'm going to do it again, one a day for every day in April.

Here's last year's collection of haiku to whet your appetite.

In April, I will
post one Roger Zelazny
 haiku every day. 

Roadmarks was fun to
read. Want to know why? Timyin 
Tin was fucking great!

(Also, he and Archie exchange haiku during their fight.)

Archie:

"It looks as if white 
flowers fall upon my shroud. 
Your hands are so pale."


Timyin Tin:  

 "To leave the world in spring, 
with flower guards to honor: 
it must be peace."

Lord of Light haiku?
Just say Mahasamatman. 
You're already done!

And thousandhp posted this in the comments section. It was much better than anything I wrote:

Kalkin's Chariot
Breaking Gods against its wheels;
Yama, reins in hand.


Hey, my copy of
Wilderness finally came.
Now to review it!

Typical Josh post:
"Merlin sucks. Blah blah blah blah."
Pretty much just that.

Naked Matador
Medusa meets Hemingway
How awesome is that?

The only way to
improve Godson was to make
it a musical.

Only Zelazny
says things like "Jacobian
Demigod". (Starships)

Jack of Shadows. Lord
of Shadow Guard. Walker in 
silence and shadows .

Black, the demon horse
is neither demon, nor horse.
(It's complicated)

Kalifriki has
one too many syllables
for a good haiku.

I thought I was smart
to read just one chapter of
October per day.

(But I really wasn't. Turns out that's the way everybody reads it.)

I loved Donnerjack. 
But nobody else did. It
was awesome. Le Sigh.

Note to Hugh Glass: Aim
more carefully. Also, you
should pick better friends.

Oddball immortals
and green-eyed gods. No one else
could write them better.

Francis Sandow. Host
to Shimbo of Darktree. Half
God, half scaredy cat.

Creatures of Light and
Darkness. Fathers who are sons.
(Set's his own grandpa)

Fred Cassidy. The 
Eternal Undergrad. I
think each school has one.

No love for "To Die
in Italbar"? I like it 
more than "Eye of Cat."

The world databank
in Legion would need a
zillion punch cards.

Mafia clones in
space. ("Today We Choose Faces") 
Less cool than it sounds.

The Amber novels:
Sometimes sibling rivalry
just goes way too far.

Loki Seven Two 
Eight One. Roger commits world's
first mechanicide.

Was Benedict as
good as they say?  Corwin still
has all of his arms.

In Autumn's dark chill
In the Lonesome October
The Great Game is Held

A brotherhood of
gods. The Lokapalas are
never defeated.

Post-modern fable
of Kit, Mari, Fuji and
apotheosis.

To deliver him, 
Dara was Oberon's tool.
Merlin's just a tool.

Green-eyed ubermench 
sought for literate sci-fi.
Smokers only please.

Hey, I wrote thirty
haiku about Zelazny.
Only took a month!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Gravity Falls Review: The Deep End

I was a little bit disappointed with Bottomless Pit!, but Hirsch and company bounce right back with "The Deep End".

A heat wave has struck Gravity Falls, so the kids scrape Stan off the floor and head to the local pool. Once there, Mable instantly falls for yet another boy, and Dipper continues crushing on Wendy, who's working there as the lifeguard.





The pool is looking for an assistant lifeguard and Dipper jumps at the chance, because it means sitting next to Wendy all day, even if his boss is the rather intense Mister Poolcheck.




(Interestingly, Mister Poolcheck was part of the angry mob in the previous episode.)

Dipper gets the job and he and Wendy have a ball making mischief.

Stan finds the perfect pool chair, but Lil' Gideon steals it out from beneath him. I'm no fan of the two Gideon-centered episodes, but he works great here. I just feel like his schtick wears too thin as the focus of an entire episode, but as in "Irrational Treasure", he's pretty entertaining in a supporting role.




Mabel gets closer to her mystery boy, who is actually a trapped merman by the name of Mermando. He became seperated from his family and trapped in the pool and can't escape on his own. Mabel vows to rescue him.

"You're like the coolest guy I've ever met. And you can play at least one chord on the guitar."

Things are falling apart for Dipper. Stan's fight with Gideon escalates and he serves a short stint in pool jail, though, thankfully, not in solitary.

Dipper is tasked with restoring order and has to work a night shift. Unfortunately, that's the night that Mabel (among others) breaks in to the pool to orchestrate Mermando's escape.

She abandons her first plan, which was to build him artificial legs out of fish sticks and



instead, steals a cooler and a cart and sticks Mermando in it.


Dipper catches her in the act, and though Mabel tries to bluff her way out,



Dipper notices something amiss. She flees and he takes off in hot pursuit.

She makes to the lake, but the cart overturns. Dippers asks her "Why do you even need the cooler?!"

"I needed the cooler to save my new friend because he needs to go home and he's really nice and we combed each others' hair and he needs to be in the cooler because he breathes water because he's a merman!"



And that's what I love about the show, because the characterization for those two is so great, that those lines seem exactly how they should respond.

But, with the cooler overturned, Mermando is suffocating on land. Mabel begs Dipper to give him reverse CPR,




and Mermado comes around. The first thing he asks is "Why didn't you just roll me into the water?" which is something I really like in entertainment. People make mistakes or don't always make the optimal choice in an emergency, even when that choice should be obvious.

Mabel appeals to Dipper's basic decency and he gives Mermando the megaphone, even though it will mean his job. Before, he goes, he bids farewell to Mabel.


Mermando: I have never met anyone like you.

Mabel:
Same here. Except for a zombie, a gnome and a couple of cute vampires.

Dipper: I don't remember the vampires.

Mabel: I don't tell you everything.

and then they kiss.

"awwww..."

And then we get a Free Willy leap on the way to freedom.





In the end, we learn that, even though Stan snuck in overnight to claim the chair, Gideon anticipated this and coated it with glue, thereby getting the last laugh. The closing credits roll on the poor boy in pool jail.

Wonderful characterization, funny lines, physical comedy (I still giggle thinking of Mermando getting pecked by that woodpecker), solid subplots that intersect with the main story.

I liked this one a lot.

What do you drink when listening to Roger Zelazny?

I received an email the other day in reference to the Roger Zelazny drinking game.

And it's not as much a drinking game (I don't think anybody drinks while they read a book, after all) as it was an excuse to highlight what I saw as the recurring elements in Zelazny's work, in what was hopefully an entertaining and humorous fashion.

I wrote it, I amended it once or twice and didn't really think much about it until I got the email pointing out that if you enter "Roger Zelazny" on Drinkify, a site that recommends drinks based on what you're listening to, it suggests

 “The Roger Zelazny”

    6 oz. Chilli pepper Vodka

Serve neat. 

At first I thought that the site might just return something generic for any query not in the database, but when I tried the names of some people I know in real life, it directed me to a blank page, so it would appear that someone did actually enter Roger Zelazny in at one time.

So, now everyone knows what to sip when listening to those audiobooks.  In case you were wondering.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I wish DC would stop paying people who hate Superman to write stories about Superman

Surprisingly, this post is not about Orson Scott Card.

(But he still sucks.)

It's about the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us and the comic tie-in.






Injustice is the upcoming fighting game starring a bunch of DC super-people. The plot of fighting games tend to be pretty superficial. Mostly they serve as a paper thin rationale to answer the questions posed by ex-drama students, who might suddenly ask "What's my motivation here?" when Zangief pulls Dhalsim into a spinning piledriver.

So the bar for fighting game storylines is generally pretty low. We just want something that will give us an excuse to believe that these people would be fighting each other. Prize money, pride in your nation, proving you're the best around and nothing's ever gonna keep you down, revenge, rivalry with another combatant, these are all fine.



I'm a guy who loves the cheesy backstories of video games and owns White Wolf's entire line of Street Fighter: The Story Telling Game. It doesn't have to be Hamlet; just give me a semi-plausible fig leaf of an explanation and I'm happy.

Hell, in Marvel comics it's almost de rigueur for superheroes to fight each other when first meeting. That's like how they shake hands.  In Justice League Task Force, the reason you're not really fighting your teammates, you're actually fighting their evil android duplicates created by Darkseid. Fine, great, whatever. I'll buy that. It's no more ridiculous than any number of canonical stories. Parallel universe counterparts, clones, training simulations, again, whatever. Excuses abound. If I believe a man can fly and shoot death rays out of his eyes, I'll believe that there's a reason where he might be fighting Batman.

Much like Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

Now, hold that thought.

Non-comic book writers, when they do write stories about superheroes, have two types of stories they like to tell.

The first is some kind of regulation/registration of super heroes, which I first encountered in the 1981 Days of Future's Past X-Men story arc, and then once every year or two right up until the present day.

And Wikipedia has helpfully compiled a list, so I don't have to look for examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registration_acts_(comics)

As you can see, there are a ton of these.

For some reason, this is something that people outside of comics think that never occurs to comic book writers, while in reality, it's one of the hoariest of comic book cliches.

The other thing they think of is making Superman evil. An evil Superman in an Elseworlds is only slightly less common than a dead Spider-man in an issue of "What If?" There are literally hundreds of variations on this, but they're all mostly the same story.

It's not a good story, by itself, or a bad story. Much like anything, it depends on how its told.

However, I tend to be suspicious of people whose only idea for a story about Superman is one where Superman turns evil, because I think an even more essential element to the character even than his great power is his great goodness. The central premise of these evil Superman stories really seems to come down to the belief that Superman is only a hero because he doesn't know any better, because he's never faced any challenge or tragedy, and that his naive idealism is so brittle that it will crumble with one good shock.

A story with an evil Superman can sometimes work, if you contrast the man he has become against a character who has been defined by a lifetime of good deeds.  Take the Justice Lords two-parter in the JLA series. But if your story opens with Superman suffering some tragedy and going, "I guess I'm evil now," so you can write a story where you destroy the character twice, once when he betrays his values and again when he's beaten down by tougher stronger, better heroes who stood tough and didn't break when the going got rough, well, pardon me if I don't want to pay my money to read your story.

Greg Rucka said something once that really gets to the core of Superman: Pet peeve time: for the contingent out there who sneer at heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman and Captain America, those icons who still, at their core, represent selfless sacrifice for the greater good, and who justify their contempt by saying, oh, it’s so unrealistic, no one would ever be so noble… grow up. Seriously. Cynicism is not maturity, do not mistake the one for the other. If you truly cannot accept a story where someone does the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, that says far more about who you are than these characters.

And part of this is because it's not easy to write an entertaining Superman story without subverting some aspect of his nature. I don't personally like Joss Whedon's work, but I've heard from several people who usually like his stuff that they thought Captain America was boring in the Avengers, whereas I thought he was great in his own movie. I was talking about this with some friends, and I think the core of the problem is that Whedon, like a lot of other writers, just doesn't know what to do with a Honest-to-Goodness, Lawful Good, Twenty-Million-Die-By-Fire-If-Am-Weak, Super Hero. (And note that's not my usual dig against Whedon. It's a lot harder to play goodness straight than it is to deconstruct it.)

It's for those reasons that this story strikes me less as a reason to explain why these superheroes would be fighting each other and more of an excuse to shit all over Superman by someone who hates him.

I knew Ed Boon wasn't going to give us All Star Superman, but Jesus, this one is so bad that the comic makes me not want to play the game. It's so bad that when I read I read the original description of the plot I thought it was a joke, because it was such a collection of the worst of the 90s over-the-top grim n' gritty women in fridges bullshit that the only way it made any sense was as a parody.

The Joker steals a nuclear bomb, and then kidnaps Lois Lane and implants a trigger in her chest (a development of which Chris Sims wryly observed: "I mean really, you'd think that if the Joker enrolled himself in medical school, let alone made off with a nuclear warhead, Batman would try to be on top of that situation"), then gives Superman a dose of kryponite-spiked fear gas so he'll see his (pregnant, of course) wife as a supervillain and fly her out in to space to her death. Then her heart  stops and sets off the nuke in Metropolis.  Then Superman goes crazy and takes over the world because he had a sad.

That expression is begging to be made into a poster


The trope of murdering of a female character to spur a male character has a name, and is covered here.

I'm a big fan of Kingdom Come. Lois Lane had been murdered in that one too, well before the story began, when the Joker gassed the Daily Planet. Everyone Superman loved, everyone that anchored him, snuffed out, just like that. And he tracks down the Joker, to bring him to trial, and then, when the Joker is killed in the street before he can be tried, Superman arrests Magog, the Joker's killer and sees that he is tried. When Magog is acquitted, Superman hangs up his cape and retreats from the world.

Instead of, you know, taking it over. 

It reminds me of a line from the review of the last episode of the Legion of Super Heroes series on the Legion Abstract. "... I'd like the Legion's final villain to be someone other than my favourite superhero."

I'm kind of amazed that this series got made at all. Comics are on the decline, and this game is going to be the most exposure that most people get to Superman until the movie. Is DC really okay with its flagship character going crazy and murdering a bunch of people? DC Women Kicking Ass covers the comic  and, if possible, hates it more than I do.

On top of all this, it's got a bunch of my pet peeves. The Joker. Jesus. Clowns are terrifying



but that's all he's got going for him. It's been my experience from working with crazy people that they poop in the closet, masturbate at inappropriate times and occasionally try to stab me, but being crazy didn't give them the wherewithal to perform open heart surgery or mastermind the theft of a nuclear warhead, even considering that didn't have to work around the Joker's liabilities of looking like a grinning anorexic albino in a purple suit.

And also we get the lecture from Batman

Superman: I think an objective evaluation would show that killing the Joker would save more lives in the long term.
Batman: No! Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny!
Superman: ...
Batman: Murder is like kryptonite-laced crack. Once you kill one person, NO ONE CAN EVER STOP!!

Now, this argument has come up several times from Batman, and it's hard to refute it, because, as every child knows that police officers who kill someone in the line of duty instantly turn into serial killers. 

Christ, that's ridiculous. 

Though a close second is something that has to be the idea has insinuated itself into every message board on the Internets, the idea that "Batman can't kill the Joker! He'd just take over hell and come back with an undead army!" which apparently is something that happened at some time or other, and is now being treated as a inviolate and unassailable fact rather than the idiotic element from a single story that it is. Some days, it's hard to love you, internet.

It's a shame, because the game looks exceedingly well put together, and the promotional campaign has been absolutely top notch. I guess I'll do the right thing and not spend $60 on a game I won't have time to play anyway. I'll make a stand. For Justice! 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Roger Zelazny Book Review: My Lady of the Diodes





I've mentioned from time to time that one of the many things I respected about Roger Zelazny is that he so seldom went back to the same well twice. (I'm just the opposite. I so rarely have a good idea that when I actually do have one, I flog it for whatever it's worth.)

Zelazny was a brilliant writer, and he apparently almost never cannibalized his unpublished work. He had so many ideas that he didn't need to. Look at the Dead Man's Brother. I didn't think it was his very best work, but it was a fully written manuscript that sat fallow for a quarter century, and it certainly had its share of characters and dialogue that could have been ripped out and recycled for a new story.

I think it's this tendency that makes "My Lady of the Diodes" even more of an oddity. Zelazny says in the introduction to the story that he forgot he wrote this story until a fan contacted him about it and provided a copy. That makes perfect sense. In fact, I think it might be the only way the existence of the story makes sense.

The gist is that Danny Bracken, a disgruntled computer engineer, had been screwed over by his former employers, so he built a female AI to help him plan some retributive robbery against them. He feeds all the data he can get into Max-10, "Maxine" and she walks him through the perfect crime.

They have a believable rapport and the banter during the introductory robbery is fun to read, though it seems at the end Danny speaks one of Maxine's lines and she speaks one of his. It reads the same way in both copies I have, and I have to assume that it was just an error that was never caught during proofreading.

Danny has already hit his old company a couple times and is in the process of doing it again when the story begins. It's when he rolls into the next town that his plan hits a snag. Seekfax, his old company has not failed to notice that they are being robbed with alarming regularity.

A reporter interviews him at a conference that he's planning to hit, but there is something familiar about her, and he realizes what it is when she absently corrects him on the model number of a particular machine. She is Sonia Krondstadt, girl genius, an engineer for Seekfax herself.

Danny falls for her and she for him and they consummate their relationship on the bed above Maxine. Maxine is not happy about this, but seems to get over this as they plan to steal the Seekfax 5000, the very machine that Sonia has constructed as a countermeasure against Danny and Maxine.
 
But Hell Hath no Fury like an artificial intelligence scorned. Just as Danny has fallen for Sonia, Maxine has fallen for the 5000 and betrays Danny in a fit of petulance.


"Better step on the gas."

I did, still looking back.

"I can't outrun that Mercedes with this truck."

"And you can't take this curve with it either, Danny boy, if you stepped on the gas when I told you to- and I'm sure you did. It's doubtless a reflex by now. Humans get conditioned that way."

I like that bit. They crash, Danny jumps free and he and Sonia picks him up and the pair of them live happily ever after, building computers together.

And it's a fine story. A trifle insubstantial maybe, but that's okay. Not every story has to be Divine Madness.  The thing that gets me about it is that it feels like Zelazny already told it. Flowers of Evil from Roadmarks seems like a better developed version of Maxine, and the tale of Jenny's progression from Devil Car to Last of the Wild Ones strikes me as the same story, but better. I don't like to speculate about an author's motivation, but taken in light of his introduction to the story, it really seems like he wrote the story, forgot about it completely and wrote those other two stories without specific recollection of this one.

Though I'll admit that it's certainly possible that the connections aren't as strong as I'm imagining, as Zelazny did include Last of the Wild Ones and My Lady of the Diodes together in the Unicorn Variations collection. In a body of work as large as his, of course some works are bound to be reminiscent of others.

Bottom Line? I liked it okay, but I liked those other two stories much more, which colors my opinion.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Attack of the Super-Duper Cute Bears!: Watching Return of the Jedi with Lily


Lily was looking forward to this one, because she had heard that it had Jabba the Hutt. I asked her why she was interested in seeing him, and she said it was because she knew he was "blobby" and that she likes "blobby" people, which also explains why we're so close. 

Someone I used to know had an uncharacteristically cogent observation about Return of the Jedi. "George Lucas could have given us anything, and he gave us Ewoks."

I think that really sums it up. It's fairly well-known among Star Wars fans that Ewoks were originally supposed to be Wookiees, and making them babbling arboreal midgets is the very definition of missed opportunity. (Though speaking of Wookiees, "Wookieepedia" is an awesome name for the Star Wars wiki). Only slightly less well known is the fact that the word "Ewok" is never spoken once in the series and yet it's a household word. Jen, hardly the biggest Star Wars fan in the world, knows what they are.

Now, mind the Ewoks are not an inherently bad concept. I mean savage, man-eating pygmies almost invisible in their natural habitat? They could have been terrifying if they were presented in the right way, like furry versions of the Predator. But they weren't and we got a bunch of yub-yubbing Teddy bears. The gulf between how cool they could have been could have been and how lame is they are is so vast that the difference in scale becomes a difference in kind.

Yub Yub


Also, Wicket the Ewok has a middle and last name. It makes me wonder if his mom took his dad's last name when they got married.  What the Fuck, Lucas?! Way to sell the myth of a galaxy far, far away.

As an aside, does anyone else remember the blacked out images on the back of the Jedi action figures? On the back of the packaging for the figures, they used to have a lineup of all the figures available for that set, and the Ewoks were so super sekrit that the images were blacked out. As a kid I assumed it was a printing error, but now I see that it must have been they were trying to keep a lid on what an Ewok was.

Okay, enough about the fucking Ewoks.

I was listening to the Return of the Jedi radio play a couple days before I saw the movie and it's really pretty good. The dialogue is generally improved over the the movie. I'll include a little commentary on the play as it relates to the movie throughout this review.

Radio Play: The radio play begins with Luke narrating the creation of his new lightsaber. I think it was a bit better than the movie opening, with its incongruous Wizard of Oz homage. This page says that someone named Joshua Fardon played Luke Skywalker and he really sounded like Mark Hamill.

I like radio plays. Because everything is done without visuals, the format lead to awesome lines like C3PO "Yes, Jabba the Hutt would be the huge, sluglike individual on the dais" or a cackling Palpatine on the Death Star exulting "Splendid! The son has struck off the father's hand!" The temporarily blind Han works, because he, like the audience, needs someone to explain to him what's happening. It was a pretty interesting cast, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role, Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson!) as a random droid in Jabba's palace, Ed Asner as Jabba and John Lithgow as Yoda.

Oh, here's an interesting bit of trivia:&nbspAlso introduced in the storyline is a brief appearance of a dancer named Arica in the palace of Jabba the Hutt... a character whose true identity is that of popular Star Wars Expanded Universe character Mara Jade, established to have been present there in the Timothy Zahn-penned novel trilogy starting with "Heir to the Empire". Yay for continuity porn!

The scene in the movie where Vader goes to oversee construction of the Death Star really works well. It has a zillion stormtroopers in the docking bay and "The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am" really sets up the Emperor as a figure to be feared. It's this scene that makes me think of Vader as the Imperial version of Harvey Keitel's character from Pulp Fiction. He's the guy they send in to clean things up when the situation is messed up beyond repair. And if you're the officer in charge, the last thing you want is this hyperventilating asshole showing up and bossing your troops around and probably strangling a bunch of people. (From the abridged script: Commander: "Greetings Anni. I’m so glad you could come here and kill those of us who fail you.")

I love it that Wikipedia has a List of Star Wars superweapons.

The first two movies were these epic adventures, this just seemed like someone's game session gone awry, the rescue attempt in the beginning in particular. Contrived way to get everyone in the party in the mix? Check! Needlessly complex plan that implodes almost immediately? Check! Chucking the plan and just killing everybody when that happens? Check plus!

Radio Play: I thought the radio version of Jabba's Palace was better than the movie. There was a quick scene with Han and Boba Fett after Han is thawed out with Han taunting Fett that he didn't really do all that much to capture him ("All you did was fetch and carry me") and Fett kind of shrugging it off "Tomorrow I'll collect another bounty and you'll be dead." I really liked that. He seems scarier because it's all business to him.

Leia as the Mighty Boushh is a gimmick that was surprising to an eight-year old Josh, but not something that holds up on subsequent viewings.

Lily liked it, though.



(I know the image is oriented the wrong way. Just tilt either your head or your computer.)

The Rancor looks like it came from the Land of the Lost, and I still feel bad for the Rancor Keeper when it dies. 




Lily was unimpressed with the Sarlaac. "It's just a mouth in the sand."

Radio Play: When Boba Fett falls into the Sarlaac, somebody yells "No one could have survived that!" which is a phrase that always makes me smile, because it's so awesomely corny and it means of course he survived it. The EU tells us that he blasted his way out almost immediately. (It also tells us that some 20 to 30 aliens survive the exploding sail barge, so take that for what it's worth.)

Radio Play: Flying away from Tattooine, Leia says "I'm going to find some clothes that don't require a cabaret permit," and Han is like "Hey, you're not going to throw those away, are you?!" *smile* "We'll see." I thought that was kind of cute.

As the Millenium Falcon was departing, Lily asked "Is the movie over already?" In doing a little research for this piece, I've found that this is not an uncommon question among kids, and it kind of highlights some of the structural problems with the movie. It's really almost three movies, one on Tattooine, one on Endor and the other on and around the Death Star. 

Lily asked "Why is Leia naked?" when we first see her in her metal bikini, and that element just doesn't seem to belong in the same movie as the Ewoks.

The scene on Dagobah

Yoda: Your father he is. Told you, did he?
Luke: Yes.
Yoda: Unexpected this is, and unfortunate.
Luke: Unfortunate that I know the truth?
Yoda: No! Unfortunate, that you rushed to face him! That, incomplete was your training! That, not ready for the burden were you.

I'm going to be as generous as possible here and accept Yoda's claims that to he was going to tell Luke that Vader was his father after his training was done. Doing it when he abruptly quit his training and ran off to confront Vader would have been the wrong time, so it's not so much "I'm sorry that you know" as much as "I'm sorry you had to find out like this."

That's overshadowed by the scene immediately following it, where Obi Wan tries to weasel his way out of the whole thing, "I didn't tell you an outright lie when I was trying to set you up to murder your father, so why are you getting so bent out of shape about this?" He should have just accepted that he was wrong, said he was going to tell Luke when he was ready and left it there. Trying to skate by an extremely dubious technicality is douchery of the highest order.

None of this occurred to Lily, however. Her first thought on hearing that Luke and Leia were siblings was to ask, "Does that mean Luke is a prince?"

What I didn't say: "No, actually the throne of Naboo is an elected position, not a hereditary one. Leia is considered a princess because she was adopted by Breha Organa, Queen of, and Minister of Education to Alderaan, and wife of Bail Organa, Alderaan's representative to the Senate," 

What I did say: "You bet!"

Lily liked seeing Mon Mothma, exclaiming, "A girl. Finally!"

Endor: I can almost imagine Chewbacca's player, when he gets the party snared in the net, saying, "But I was just role-playing my character!" 

"It is against my programming to impersonate a deity," (Radio Play: "Let me open you up and fix that.") This has been the source for countless jokes. Is this really a problem with protocol droids? I'm sure that my friends and I can't be the only one to observe that's an awfully specific prohibition. (It's possible that this falls under the umbrella of some broader behavioral guidelines, but the way it was phrased doesn't suggest that.) I'm sure the EU explains this somewhere.

Luke: Leia, do you remember your mother? Your real mother?

Leia: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.

Yeah, like when you were seven minutes old. Come on! Yes, I know the prequels weren't yet written, but I wish they would have made at least a token effort to explain this part. 

Lily, unfortunately, loved the Ewoks.

Lily: I think the bear has a crush on her.
Me: It's called an Ewok.
Lily: Awww....the Ewok is cute.
Me: *Twitch*
Lily: It looks like a little Koala!

Later on, when an Ewok was tackling a stormtrooper, she pretended the stormtrooper was saying, "Ah! Get those super-duper cute bears away from me!"

And while I'm bitching about Endor, let's talk about the Tarzan yell. What the fuck was that about? I do have to respect Lucas, who must have been getting crap from fans like me for years and instead of giving the fans what they want, instead doubles down and gives us TWO Tarzan-warbling wookiees in the prequels.

I like Nien Nunb. He's Lando's goofy little alien sidekick. Admiral Ackbar ("It's a trap!") sounds more like Grover than Yoda ever did in the radio play, but the designs for both of them were top notch in the movie. (Speaking of Nien Nunb, I always think of this account of one of our Star Wars games when someone mentions Sullustans. "Well, the rebel base was compromised, so I went to a club and got lots of lap dances, while the Wookies hung out at the bar and killed Sullustans." The ideas our group came up with make Luke's plan for rescuing Han look like the heist from Ocean's 11.) Jen asked "Who's that?" when she saw him, and then cried a little when I said, "Do you you mean his species or his name?"

Speaking of Admiral Ackbar, Lily and I came up with a joke. (Though we came up with this independently, I can't imagine we're the first or only ones to make this particular joke.)

Knock Knock.

Who's there?

Admiral Ackbar.

Admiral Ack-

It's a trap!




Jedi's kind of crappy in a lot of ways, but the assault on the Death Star is really spectacular and off the top of my head, I can't think of a better space battle before or since. The music that accompanies it is my very favorite piece of work in a series distinguished by its excellent music. Wikipedia has a really good 
article on the subject. And there's Wedge as Red Leader! Hi, Wedge!




I kind of recall Lucas saying that arc of the movies was always about the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Sure, George, and they were always brother and sister. That said, I do think that is the element that works best in this movie. I like the scene where Luke and Vader are riding the elevator (In the special editions, the Girl from Ipanema is playing) up to Palpatine's throne room. 

Mark Hamill is certainly not the best actor in the series, but he has matured over the course of the trilogy, and he sells Luke's quiet conviction that his father can be redeemed. I didn't appreciate it as a kid, but he's on the Death Star as distraction, and he's there to redeem his father. He has no reason to believe either of them are going to live through this.

Radio Play: Palpatine was hamming it up. He was like Raul Julia in Street Fighter. It made Ian McDiarmid's performance in the movie look positively restrained. I could imagine him in the studio, milking the giant cow when he was delivering lines like "So the Jedi SUMMONS his lightsaber and it FLIES to his hand!" I thought he was going to break into song.

The prequels were an even greater missed opportunity than Jedi itself, but there is one element that adds to the appreciation of original trilogy. When Luke is being electrocuted by the Emperor, it parallels the scene when Anakin had to choose between helping Palpatine or helping Mace. He made the wrong choice then and it damned him. He makes the right one now and it redeems him.

Vader is played by Sebastian Shaw, but his power to absorb kinetic energy does him no good here.



Uh oh. I got your X-Men in my Star Wars. Wow, this is getting geeky even by my standards. Time to wrap it up.

I asked Jen what she thought and she said "Luke seems less whiny." It's an okay movie with a couple brilliant parts, but resent it for not delivering on the promises of Empire. Was it good? Sure. It was good. Was it great? No. And I was looking for a clever way to end this post and I couldn't think of one, but that's the perfect metaphor for Jedi. Sure, it ends the series and wraps up most of the loose ends. But it doesn't do so in an interesting or meaningful way. "First it started to fall over, then it fell over."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter: Watching the Empire Strikes Back with Lily





We continued our Star Wars viewing with the Empire Strikes Back. As with Star Wars, I hadn't seen it in ages. I had watched it once since Lily was born, but before that, I hadn't seen it since the Special Editions were released in theaters. It was always my favorite, but I found myself wondering if it was as good as I remembered or if that was just rose-colored nostalgia. So we watched it...




...and it was better than I remembered. I think it may be one of the very best science fiction movie ever made.

I don't want to say that this is the best of the series because it was the movie in which George Lucas was the least involved, but rather because he stuck to his strengths. He's credited with the story, and even his detractors admit that he's a great idea man, and here he delegated the screenplay and the directing to those who would do a better job. I don't want to rag on the man, so let me say that he still had perspective when he was producing Empire.  And it's awesome because of it.

Seeing the movie again reminds me of how influential it was on my childhood. On some level, I think of each costume change as a different person. When Han puts on his fur lined coat to look for Luke, in some way I perceive him as a different character entirely. And I know exactly why this is, because they were separate characters in the toy line. Funny how this lingers with me, though.

Speaking of the toys, I was huge into Star Wars, like every other boy in the 1980s. (Maybe girls were too, but I thought they were icky back then) I remember reading about Mnemonic devices around the time of the movie and I saw a toy called Cap 2 and I told my Grammy that the way she could remember was to visualize two bottle caps. I can't remember if I got the toy, but I still remember that mnemonic device twenty years later.

Vader orders Julian Glover to destroy the shield generators on Hoth. Though he was thwarted by the Doctor at the tail end of the 1970s, this time he remembers to bring his AT-AT.


Man, Scaroth really was scattered all over the place.

To digress for a moment, I've always like the AT-AT. (Here's a link to one made out of Legos!) Like so many things in Star Wars, they're striking and instantly recognizable. They're referred to as "Imperial Walkers" in the movie, which I think is a better name, because AT-AT just sounds silly if you say it out loud.

It's not the most practical weapon (AT-AT stands for All Terrain Armored Transport, which is clearly bullshit, because in a race up the stairs, it's coming in third after ED-209 and a Dalek), but my understanding is that they're intended as terror weapons to demoralize opposing armies/civilian populations, and it's no stretch at all to believe that.

NPR put together some radio plays adapting the movies, and I want you to remember that next time somebody talks about cutting NPR's funding.  For some basic details on the plays, go to this link: Star Wars Radio Plays.

I was listening to the radio play for Empire, and it's a lot of fun. Brian Daley did the work on them and I think he did an outstanding job adapting a series renowned for its visuals to a medium where he couldn't depend on those visuals at all.

In Echo base on Hoth, a nameless Lieutenant tries to convince Han not to go out after Luke.

    Han: It's cold out there.

    Lieutenant: (Deadpan) I'm aware of that, sir. I joined with the Rebels because I notice things.

    Han: If Luke dies out there, Chewie's going to get mad. Do you think General Rieekan wants a quarter ton of Wookiee rampaging through his base?

    Lieutenant: (Deadpan) I'm reasonably certain he doesn't, sir.

It's not that funny on its own, but the delivery made me laugh.

The scene with the tauntaun was as gross as I remembered. "And I thought they smelled bad on the outside."

As an aside, the Video Game based on this (Star Wars Trilogy) was awesome and the Hoth levels were the best. My college had a copy in the lounge and always set it to free play during finals week. Also, the old Atari game was a lot of fun, and we got a huge amount of play time out of it back in the day.



I didn't notice this during the game, but the bridge of the Ravager from KOTOR II was clearly modeled on the bridge of Vader's star destroyer. I don't mind, because it's an awesome design.

Yoda worked much better than I had been fearing. I mean he's a Muppet with the voice of Grover, neither of which is a recipe for gravitas. The lighting on Dagobah helped, but I think the thing that really made him work is that he really does sound wise. Too often, what passes for wisdom in the movies are simply Sphinx-like aphorisms "When you doubt your powers, you give power to your doubts", but Yoda really seems ancient and sad.




Unfortunately, Ben and Yoda are part of where the problems begin to creep in. Spinning a bunch of lies in order to get a kid to kill his dad is a pretty shitty thing to do, regardless of your "point of view".

When Luke is taking off for Cloud City and Obi Wan says "That boy is our last hope", and Yoda is illuminated by the light of the engines (love that part) and says, "No. There is another."


Jen asked me if fandom knew at this point that Luke and Leia were siblings. I said that I'm pretty sure that Lucas didn't know it either. He was clearly making up portions as he was going along. Otherwise, the bit where Leia sticks her tongue down her brother's throat would have been handled differently, and Ben would have left a lot more ambiguity in his statements about Vader. I don't think there was any specific person attached to Yoda's line. It's cool and it's deliberately vague, so they could plug in the appropriate character when they figured out who it was going to be.

Jen thought that Han was being a jerk when Leia tells him that she loves him and he replies, "I know," but I still like that line.

There's a weird transition in Cloud City that gets me every time. Luke walks in, a door drops down and cuts him off from R2 and then it immediately cuts to a platform rising up beneath Luke. He walked in, then rose up and it's like there's some intermediate step missing there.

Vader was a beast in this fight. I didn't appreciate until this viewing, but Vader is just slapping the shit out of Luke. It was like watching Mike Tyson go ten rounds with some guy at the gym. I remembered the battles in the original trilogy being kind of lackluster compared the wuxia spectacles of the prequels, but this one was tremendous. Pay special attention next time you watch. Luke has both hands on his lightsaber and he's swinging for the fences and Vader is parrying these ferocious cuts one-handed. He smacks Luke around a couple times just because he can and when he knocks him into the carbon freezing chamber and says, "All too easy," it really seems like it was.

I can't think of a time when I didn't know that Vader was Luke's father, but I probably didn't know it going in the first time. Lily did, unfortunately. She had been at summer camp and one of the other kids there had spoiled it for her. When I mentioned this on Facebook, my friend Dave asked if I were considering legal action.

I'm glad we got to show the trilogy to Lily, but there was no way she could have the same experience I did as a kid.  The gap between movies worked. It allowed the mythology to build. That was part of the reason why the early Dark Tower books worked and the later ones didn't. With the Dark Tower, there was an average of five years between installments for the first four books then bang-bang-bang (I'd say no pun intended, but that's a lie) all three of them come out within months. There was no time for the concepts inside them to build up resonance.

With Star Wars, kids spent three years (and a year is longer for a kid than an adult) debating if Vader was really Luke's father and why they would be going back to Tatooine. I love the internet, but it was different back then. Even if we had waited for a couple weeks or even months between movies, it wouldn't have been the same experience. I mean Lily had a t-shirt with Yoda on it for a good year before she ever saw the movie.



I enjoyed watching the first two movies, but I don't know how I can continue this with Jedi. There's a line from an excited nerd in one Simpsons comic, "This will make the Empire Strikes Back look like Return of the Jedi!" One or two things looked fake to an adult living in 2013, but this was still one of the best movies ever made. And sure, it's not unusual for a series to undergo a little bit of a decline. Return of the King won Best Picture, but I'm inclined to believe that this was awarded for the trilogy as a whole. (I happen to think Two Towers was better but not leaps and bounds better as was Empire over Jedi.) I mean, I guess I'll watch it and I'll try to appreciate the good parts.

Ultimately, I love it because the movie is full of real people doing real things, an element lacking in the prequels. Rogue 2 breaks into a smiles when he hears Han respond to his call, and that's exactly like what a real person would do there. Or when Chewbacca is flipping out on Cloud City and Boba Fett goes to shoot him and Darth Vader, who is standing next to him, just pushes the barrel of his gun down. He seems to be saying, "Relax, it's just a Wookiee." Or Han, butting it and offering his arm to Leia when he sees Lando offering his.

Okay, stay tuned for the recap of Jedi, whenever I get around to it. And may the Force be with you, always.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A long time ago in a galaxy with a six-year-old: Watching Star Wars with Lily



It's hard to find something to say about Star Wars. It's been so influential on my life (one of my earliest memories is seeing it at a drive in with my parents before they split up) and on film making, and, really, my generation as a whole. I can barely get through a conversation without dropping a Star Wars reference. We had previously tried to watch the movie as a family about a year ago, but Lily was just a little too young to appreciate it, so we shelved it after the trash compactor scene and never got back to watching it. We gave it another go last week. 

My friend Dave says the special editions show Lucas beginning to lose his mind, but they're prettier. (Personally I'm holding out for the EXTRA special edition, where Alderaan shoots first.) We didn't watch those. This was the original, Han-shoots-first, no-New-Hope-at-the-beginning-of-the-crawl version of the film. And it kicked ass, thank you very much.

Somebody pointed out that the original is the only Star Wars movie that doesn't take place in the Star Wars universe, and I think that makes a lot of sense. It stands on its own. I think that Empire is a better movie, but it wouldn't have been possible without Star Wars. The Expanded Universe, which is what the vast body of novels and comics and trading card minutia is called, is something of a mess. Take a random alien from the cantina. Odds are, somebody wrote a story about his twenty years of bounty hunting.

My favorite story about the EU is sadly apocryphal, but it's too amusing not to share. When Princess Leia first meets with Grand Moff Tarkin, she sneers at him, "Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader's leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board." 

The way the account went is that there was allegedly this story where the author established that Tarkin suffered from "Tarkin's Syndrome", a disease that caused him to exude terrilbe body odor. Again, it's not true, there is no such story, but that's the kind of literal-minded explanations for things that don't need explaining that you find in the EU.

Speaking of Tarkin, Peter Cushing was wonderful. "Jesus, Vader, stop strangling all my dudes!" 


Sir Alec Guinness was awesome too. Seeing him again reminded me that Ewan McGregor did a great job emulating his mannerisms.So many of the quotable lines are his and it's strange to go back, and hear him talking about Mos Eisley being a wretched hive of scum and villainy when the line has been so riffed and referenced almost everywhere.  Lily says Ben is her favorite character after Princess Leia.

Speaking of whom, Carrie Fisher was really pretty excellent too. It's hard to believe that Princess Armadillo from the Planet Badactoria was supposed to be her mom.  Lily has welcomed her into the Princess Pantheon. She's right up there with Wonder Woman as "Princesses who aren't too fancy". 

 

She's not a fan of Chewbacca, however, whom she describes as "The gorilla that looks like it had its face cut off."

My friend Eric is fond of observing that Lucas's directing consists of "Faster! More intense!", but this was back when he was pretty good. He was never Stanley Kubrick, but he was once a competent director of actual human beings.

 

The music! That era was really phenomenal for movie music. I'm a big fan of John Williams. Back when I was doing surveys in college, my last name was too ethnic, so I had to pick a fake name and I went with John Williams.
 

It's really amazing how well nearly everything in the movie has held up. It doesn't look like a product of a specific era, and it looks "lived in" something that Lucas has said was one of his goals. The effects have heft. The movie was made on a shoestring, and I think that working around these limitations is what gives it such enduring appeal.
 

Lily really likes the trash compactor monster. (Feel free to drop by and tell me what its actual name is.) We were playing Akinator the online 20 questions came where a genie tries to guess what you're thinking. Lily tried to stump him with the Dianoga (oh, I already looked up the name. Too slow, nerds!), but he was too smart for us. 

She knew there was more than one movie, but she didn't have any ideas about what they contained. We had the following conversation.

Me: Everyone from Star Wars is coming back for the second movie!
Lily: Yes! Is Luke coming back?
Me: Yes.
Lily: Is the princess coming back?
Me: Yes.
Lily: Is Chewbacca coming back?
Me: Yes.
Lily: Is the mean guy coming back?
Me: Yes.
Lily: Is the guy who got his arm cut off coming back?
Me: You mean Ponda Baba. And no. Nobody gives a shit about him. Also, you are so my daughter.

Bonus! Links to some of my favorite Star Wars sites:

The Nitpicker's Guide to Star Wars: We kid because we love.

 

Star Wars Technical Commentaries: An actual astrophysicist looks at the science of Star Wars and tries to explain away some of the problems. Worth it for this quote:"If a source is uncomfortable or incongruent at face value, it is often possible to add background circumstances to alter its significance and give a more realistic perspective.", which is very similar to my stance and what the author did for the novelization of Revenge of the SithIt's all good, but of particular awesomeness is the page where he points out the destruction of the second Death Star would have depopulated Endor: Endor Holocaust

50 reasons why Return of the Jedi sucks: It's certainly the weakest of the trilogy, but I have new affection for it in the wake of the prequels.

Abridged Script to the Phantom Menace: There are abridged scripts for all of the movies, but I think this is the funniest.

We've already watched Empire, so keep an eye for the post on Lily's impressions.