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The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.

The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.

That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.

 

 

Continue reading by clicking here. )
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“The prequels have been made. They exist. There is literally nothing you can do or say to make them go away. They may not be your cup of tea, but let’s remember: YOU can choose not to watch them! You can pretend like they don’t even exist! But being angry about it forever is going to accomplish nothing. Neither is being disrespectful. My father has done absolutely nothing to earn disrespectful tirades and personal attacks. He is a good man. He is not an evil genius plotting to ruin your life. You are entitled to your own opinions–whatever they may be, but be respectful about it. He may have made three movies you personally didn’t care about, but he was also responsible for three movies that inspired you and millions of others. So, do him and I (sic) the courtesy of having a little goddamn respect.”

–Katie Lucas (via Twitter, 4 May 2011)


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Last week, podcaster and Chicago radio producer Jimmy Mac covered the topic of being called a nerd on The ForceCast. His position was that the term nerd is derogatory and shouldn’t be used to describe fans of Star Wars. I couldn’t disagree more. 

The crowd at Wikipedia have defined “nerd” as “a term that refers to a social perception of a person who avidly pursues intellectual activities, technical or scientific endeavors, esoteric knowledge, or other obscure interests, rather than engaging in more social or conventional activities.” That got me thinking. Based on that, why shouldn’t we embrace the term nerd?

My heroes have, for the most part, been largely from the scientific, engineering, and creative communities. Many of them come from the large group of scientists, engineers, and technicians who came together and put a man on the moon in the 1960s. Those same scientists and engineers saved three astronauts when Apollo 13 catastrophically failed en route to the second planned lunar landing.

Even today, the qualifications to be an astronaut include a bachelor's degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics, as well as at least three years of related professional experience (graduate work or studies) and an advanced degree.

Wikipedia continues to explore the etymology of nerdom by describing the term’s origins with Dr. Seuss, Philip K. Dick, and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Seuss is legendary in his own right, Philip K. Dick developed the concept of Blade Runner and other science-fiction classics, and MIT is a hotbed of scientific and technological research that has produced at least 76 Nobel Laureates, 50 National Medal of Science recipients, and 35 MacArthur Fellows.

Albert Einstein singlehandedly expanded the understanding of our universe with his theories on relativity, progressing on centuries of scientific exploration from intellectual and esoteric thinkers before him. Science fiction as developed by Isaac Asimov (a scientist and writer), Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek), and George Lucas (noted for his technical innovation) is derived from these advances and evolves with the technology explored by today’s science and engineering communities.  Without nerds, I doubt science fiction or Star Wars would exist in its current form.

In a world where some kids idolize movie stars and sports figures, I find great solace in celebrating great thinkers. Nerds – the intellectuals, the scientists, the engineers, those with obscure interests – aren’t considered cool because they don’t get the hot chicks, don’t slug baseballs over the wall 400 feet away, don’t score the winning touchdown, and don’t snort cocaine off a hooker’s butt like Charlie Sheen seems so fond to do. Despite those supposed shortcomings, nerds have very stable lives and help to save others every day. Nerds develop body armor to send to our soldiers, engineer seat belts and restraint systems to keep people safe in moving vehicles, and created pacemakers and artificial hearts to extend and improve quality of life.  Nerds may not be cool, but they're much more useful to society, and the current resurgence in exploring nerd and geek culture is a tribute to that.

Any scientific advance, including those that allow us to explore this very topic, are due greatly to nerds. Nerds may not earn millions of dollars –Bill Gates and Steve Jobs notwithstanding – but the world owes them a debt that can never be repaid.

Money can’t buy happiness, unlike my constantly expanding knowledge of the universe around me. Nerds understand what makes the world go ‘round, and I am proud to be among their ranks.


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Recently, ForceCast.net started a program for publishing listener editorials about Star Wars. Forcecast.net is the center of activity for the 2010 Parsec Award nominated Star Wars-themed podcast called The ForceCast.

You can find “The Lessons of Lucasian Vision” here.  Please leave your comments either here or at ForceCast.net.


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Hide your kids and hide your wife! Here comes this year’s series of Lucasfilm rumors.

 

Star Wars: Episodes VII-IX (and beyond?)

Last Saturday brought us news from usually reliable IESB.net – though that link might still be broken – that Lucasfilm was working on a new Star Wars trilogy.

From IESB.net via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

What do we know? First of all, these new film will have nothing to do with the live action television series currently in development. That show already has over 50 scripts ready to go and plenty of pre-production time and money has been spent on artwork and storyboards. Once that show goes into production, Lucasfilm hopes to be able to produce at least 100 episodes since that is the threshold for syndication in the United States.

Too early for story details but one thing that our source is certain about, they will not be prequels but instead sequels. It’s not for certain if they will be the long awaited Episodes 7, 8 and 9 but could instead be Episodes 10, 11 and 12 or possibly even further out in the Star Wars timeline. And by giving space in the timeline, possibly even as far as 100 years or 1,000 years in the Star Wars universe future, Lucas avoids having to make these stories “fit in” with what the previous stories have told.

Okay, look, IESB usually has a certain degree of reliability in these circles, but I doubt it. This pops up every year and each time is immediately debunked by Lucasfilm. In fact, Bryan contacted LFL, and predictably they said:

“This is, of course, completely false. George Lucas has lots of projects keeping him busy right now – including plenty of Star Wars projects – but there are no new Star Wars feature films planned.”

George Lucas has gone on record himself that there would be no more feature films. That would be the end of it, except IESB is playing the conspiracy card by claiming that LFL will debunk it, but they “will stand 100% behind our source.” You do that, guys.

 

Indiana Jones in 3-D

Here comes the next series, this time with the Indiana Jones quadrilogy going 3-D just like Star Wars. Once again, from Lucasfilm via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

This is completely false. Right now, we are totally focused on bringing Star Wars to 3D, and we have no plans to do an Indiana Jones conversion.

Just as I thought. I would have put more faith in this story since LFL is already in the 3-D process with Star Wars, but Bryan has a good point on that.

[...] I don’t think Indiana Jones lends itself as well to 3D. Star Wars is an effects extravaganza, Indiana Jones, for all its adventure, is pretty straight drama. It would be a lot easier to convert, I suppose, because there isn’t as much to convert.

But with as many hands in the Indy pie (Paramount, Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, etc.) I wouldn’t expect that LFL would be able to unilaterally decide to do this. In addition to the official Lucasfilm comment, it’s common sense that this wouldn’t be happening.

That should be the end of that. Until next year, anyway...


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For those of you watching Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a point of contention has been the character models and, in particular, how one of them is dressed.  Enter Exhibit A:  Ahsoka Tano.

Ahsoka Tano, Padawan to Anakin Skywalker, has spent the last two seasons adventuring around the galaxy in a tube top, tights, and knee-high boots. According to various sources, including the official site and Star Wars Insider magazine, Ahsoka is among the characters getting a revamp. 

 

I feel this is a great direction for the series. It makes Ahsoka look older and more believable as a Jedi fighting in a war. I mean, granted, there have been a few costuming gaffes in Star Wars history, most notably the infamous Snow Bunny Padmé from the Tartakovsky Clone Wars short cartoons.

Skintight clothing in a blizzard?  Somehow, I can't quite believe that.  But the current Ahsoka model stretches my suspension of disbelief to its limits as that poor little teenager tries to save the galaxy in tights and a tube top, which is apparently the only thing in her wardrobe.  Either that, or The Gap had a sale and she stocked up.

Okay, okay, I'll stop picking.  I can only hope that this change in The Clone Wars is permanent.


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Tiffany Vogt at Airlock Alpha recently asked, “Is Religion Killing Good Sci-Fi Shows?”  In her article, she uses three recent series – Lost, Caprica, and the Battlestar Galactica reboot – to prove her point. Now, before I go too much further, I have to admit that I haven’t watched Lost beyond the first season, although I do have the complete series set waiting on me to dive in. I also haven’t had the chance to watch Caprica beyond the pilot, although I do hear mixed reviews from friends.

But, from my experiences with Battlestar Galactica, from the 1979 and recent versions, along with entertainment like Quantum Leap, the Stargate franchise, Star Wars, and Star Trek, I have to argue no. The first thing we have to do is eliminate the “us vs. them” concept of religion and science-fiction. The important part isn’t the gadgets or technology, it’s the story. That’s what religion is based on, isn’t it? Read any holy text and you’ll find it chock full of parables with a lesson attached, much like Aesop’s Fables. Even the trope of preachers delivering the typical fire and brimstone sermon focuses on telling a tale and learning a lesson from it.

So what is science-fiction? It’s the same thing: A story with an embedded lesson or speculation on a topic with a setting different than ours. Star Wars has a mythic story arc based around the Hero’s Journey with a focus on the mystical Force, which may or may not be religious in nature. Did the element of the Force ruin Star Wars? No, it didn’t, and most detractors argue that the series wasn’t harmed until 1999 when George Lucas tried to put a scientific spin on it.

Here comes the counter-argument: Star Wars didn’t tell a story without the Force and then tack it on at the end as a convenient way out of the plot. Fine. What about Quantum Leap?

Quantum Leap tackled this overall concept by changing the setting every episode for five years, while skirting the core issue of whether it was God, Fate, Time, or a botched science experiment that was responsible for bouncing Sam back and forth within his lifetime. The only real matter was that Sam was putting right what once went wrong, and the concept of potential religious ties came second. It only really came to a head in the finale when Sam came face-to-face with what may or may not have been God, who told him the truth about his Leaping. What that a cop-out? I don’t think so at all. First, it was supposed to be a turning point for the series, leading to a sixth season with harder trials for Sam without a guide. Second, as a finale, it works because Sam finally confronts what’s been happening over the last five years and grows from the experience. He gained the confidence to take on the extra challenge that lay ahead of him, whether we saw it on screen or not.

Battlestar Galactica in its original form made no claims to be anything but a show based on religion. Every episode made reference to gods and faith; entire episodes were based around the Colonials battling an incarnation of the Devil and interacting with Beings of Light with god-like powers. The quest for Earth was based on divine prophecies and guided by the Lords of Kobol. The reboot may have been rooted deeper in scientific storytelling, but it did not refute the genesis of the story. Characters on both sides of the conflict prayed to deities and talked about faith. Roslin had drug-induced hallucinations that showed the Colonials and Cylons the path to Earth, and even if the quest was undertaken as a hollow pursuit, it became a voyage of exploration for the psyches of each character. Some characters gave up along the way, some tried to use failures and setbacks as tools for personal gain, and some, like Admiral Adama, discovered potentials that they did not know existed. Even the concept of “what has happened before will happen again” is based in mythological roots of destiny and fate that reach back beyond the religions of Ancient Greece.

Star Trek, which has always shunned religion, even took a stab at religion in a seven-year arc with Deep Space Nine, which I argue is the best of the franchise. I can’t forget the religious threads of Babylon 5, either, but having only seen the series once, I can’t comfortably explore that territory.

I think that most modern views on science fiction are built around the staples of Trek and Stargate, which have inflicted considerable and irrefutable damage with numerous stories of persons with godlike powers who are evil or corrupted, and I believe that to be one of the longest tentpoles in the “us vs them” philosophy.

Religion is, at its base, a mythology. Faith is man-made creation, built around believing in that mythology and adapting it to everyday life. Science-fiction, part of the larger genre of speculative fiction, is a mythology, whether it tells of trips through a portal that takes you to a different planet or a quest based on faith. I can’t speak for Lost, but Galactica has always been an exploration of the human condition through the strength of faith, and I don’t believe that following that exploration to Ronald Moore’s conclusion ruined the journey.

We’re not talking about proving the existence of God here, but rather the basis of sci-fi which was exploring new fantastic frontiers with the power of human ingenuity. I, for one, want to see more science-fiction that goes back to the human condition, which includes faith and religion. Removing faith and religion only serves to strip an aspect from humanity that feeds into everyday decisions, and an exploration of that result ignores crucial motivations. Faith and religion need to be a core element in explorations of human nature because they are a core element in each man, woman, and child, even if they don’t believe in a higher power.

We can’t ignore the science in science-fiction, that’s true, but not every human being is motivated purely by science, and I refuse to believe that the answers to the speculation will all immediately come from science. The religious belief that Earth was the center of the universe motivated scientists to prove it otherwise. The same stands true in part for scientists seeking life on other planets or exploring the mysteries of evolution. Religion and faith are powerful motivators and cannot be ignored or cast aside. 

Books like Contact, a well-regarded science-fiction story written by a scientist, have made me realize that neither brute force method of science or religion have all the answers to the questions about humanity. I believe that an exploration based in logical reasoning with an open mind and a faith that not all the mysteries have readily observable answers will reveal more than either approach would by itself. After all, theological exploration by the main character in Carl Sagan’s only fictional work didn’t destroy the story. It made the story complete.


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Ah, the internet. As [livejournal.com profile] duncatra  points out on her Star Wars news site Club Jade, the vast ethereal series of pipes and tubes is “a wild and crazy place, populated by people who are perhaps a little unknowledgeable about the basics of a civil society.” Of course, one of those basics in civil society is that you shouldn’t exactingly copy someone else’s work without crediting them. From a copyright perspective, it is illegal. From any other perspective, it’s definitely vaults over the party foul line, straight over the “not cool” zone, and lands right smack in the middle of the actions I think should reserve you a place in Shepherd Book’s “special hell.”

I didn’t know about it, but apparently there are folks out there who can’t think originally and leech off other people’s RSS feeds, throw a fancy HTML/CSS skin on them, and call the content their own. But there are others who run sites that physically snag various people’s postings word for word and pass them off as their own. To his/her misfortune, one of these types ran afoul of Dunc. You see, the owner/operator of SWTORstrategies.com copied at least 17 posts written by Dunc – and numerous posts from other Star Wars blogs – without attributing the work. The posts linked back to Club Jade, but made no mention of the author.

Dunc makes a great point in her post about the function of a “via” or “source” credit, which you see a lot in blog posts. “Via” or “source” is equivalent to a thank you these days, and is not a “written by” credit. It’s where you found the information and wrote your own copy based on that raw data. It’s a very clear distinction.

The “author” at the site, “sQren”, has been somewhat hospitable about removing posts after the source author complains, but this really shouldn’t have been an issue to begin with. Somewhere along the line, people made the leap that everything not directly associated with a big name corporation is fair game for use. Plagiarism is not just limited to copying information from encyclopedias for a term paper. Any time you copy without attribution, it’s wrong.

Some folks in the comment thread on Dunc’s post commented that this violation of intellectual property was akin to the rash of file sharing that has the MPAA and RIAA up in arms. I say yes and no. With file sharing, the participants are gaining content without paying for it. In this case, they are gaining content without paying for it, and passing it off as their own. When you illegally download a Metallica song, you’re typically not claiming that you wrote or performed the song. Here, sQren was indirectly claiming that he/she wrote the original content in each article.

Similarly, another reader pointed out that this strategy does provide more visibility for the people who work on the content.  I contend that such visibility is meaningless if the content is not properly attributed. After all, if I visit SWTORstrategies and read a well-constructed post without attributions, how do I know that Bryan Young or Dunc wrote it originally?  Without attributions, I have no choice but to believe that sQren wrote it.  I would have no reason to visit Big Shiny Robot or Club Jade because everything points to sQren being the final source for everything I need on that topic, which robs those violated by this thief of my patronage. These talents in the blogosphere do this for free and for the passion of their fandom. The only reward they get is the good feeling for helping fellow fans. Because of this, some people claim that this doesn’t really matter. If that’s true, then feel free to write my doctoral thesis for me when I eventually go back to school. It’s the same difference.

It’s not the motivations that I’m concerned about when it comes to plagiarism in the blogosphere. I’m concerned about the hard work writers put forth that is disregarded for someone else’s convenience. Our end goal is to have worked on something for someone else’s enjoyment, whether it’s a blog post, an article for a podcast, or a 50,000+ word novel. Plagiarizers disregard that hard work – let’s not kid ourselves, it’s hard work to write anything coherent; the longer the word count, the harder it gets – and take it as their good fortune that someone else pushed the boulder up the mountain for them. 

Now, it looks like SWTORstrategies has started doing their own work instead of copying off their neighbors. Nevertheless, I firmly support Dunc’s efforts to bring these thieves into the light of day via social media. Consider it a little guerrilla-style effort to let the SWTORstragtegies folks know that what they do is not welcome. By Dunc’s suggestion, if you have a Twitter account, you can participate by tweeting the following: “Hey @swtorstrategies, how about you write your own posts? http://bit.ly/bSZSaC / http://bit.ly/brVG40 #plagiarism”.   Just like this.  Is it overkill?  Maybe, but plagiarism is something I'm incredibly sensitive to, so I'm not likely to show them much mercy.  The point is to get it all over their replies feed so that they can see how unwelcome their strategy is.  Hopefully the point will get driven so far into their brains that they never, ever consider it again.

Is it really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? Probably not, but as Dunc so eloquently puts it, “[I]t’s not just about copying and pasting – it’s about having the decency to not take someone else’s work and pass it off as your own. And I’m not going to let that fly just ‘because it’s the internet.’ It doesn’t matter what the subject is: There’s no suitable excuse for plagiarism, particularly when it’s this pathetic.”


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Whenever you hear people start talking about Star Wars, there are varying general degrees to which people enjoy the saga. Some people only recognize the original trilogy (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi), while some add in the prequel trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith). Some fans add in the new animated series The Clone Wars, which takes place in the years between episodes two and three. Finally, there are those that include what is known as the Expanded Universe (also known as the EU).

Not to get too deep into the nitty-gritty details, there has been so much material published regarding Star Wars, from the films to novels, comics, and games, that there are varying levels of what is considered canon or official story. There are five levels of canon that establish the continuity. In order of precedence, continuity is established by films and their novels, then television series, then the combination of novels, comics, and games. The second to last in precedence is material that “may not fit quite right” and can used or discarded as seen fit. Finally, there is a category called “Infinities,” which is essentially made of “what if” stories, such as Luke freezing to death on Hoth.

Why does the Expanded Universe matters to me? Well, I never saw the original versions of the classic trilogy in theaters. In fact, my first experience with Star Wars was sometime around 1986 when my parents went out and the babysitter who was watching my sister and I asked if I had ever seen it. When I told her no, she put the pan and scan VHS tape on, which I fell asleep to after watching R2-D2 and C-3PO bicker in the desert. In fact, I never seriously watched the entire trilogy until after Easter 1993, when my parents gave me a copy of the trilogy novelizations and the paperback of Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn, which was the novel that revived the Star Wars franchise after nearly a decade of silence.

Before that point, Star Wars was just an action movie trilogy with cheesy dialogue – let’s face it, the fans are responsible for elevating those classic stilted lines to pop culture status over the years – and great special effects. After reading Heir to the Empire and the novelizations of the films, I found a hunger I didn’t know existed, and I became a frequent patron of bookstores and public libraries in a search over the next decade for all of the Star Wars novels I could read. I also sought out the games and comics and even the extra cheesy Ewok TV-movies because the depth and detail that those sources could provide in addition to the films was, quite frankly, inspirational to me. I saw how the myth arc grew beyond what I experienced on a seventeen-inch television screen to the unlimited expanse of my imagination. More than that, reading Tim Zahn, Michael Stackpole, Aaron Allston, Kevin J. Anderson, and other various authors as they took on the heroes and villains of the galaxy far, far away was what gave me the writing bug. I cut my teeth by writing Star Wars fanfiction, which of course no one will ever see due to how truly, truly horrendous it is.

In 1997, I finally got to see the classic trilogy on the big screen with the release of the Special Editions. Yeah, Greedo shooting first is a terrible thing, but to me, those movies were magical. I relished the changes George Lucas made and just had fun. After all, that’s what those movies were to me in the first place. I even saw each of the prequels on opening night, with their computer-enhanced effects and corny dialogue. For me, it was the same magic, although I grant you at a lower quality.

So why do I care about this now? Recent events in the new cartoon series, The Clone Wars, have been in conflict with the novels, comics, and games that have come before. Of course, the animated series takes precedence on the continuity scale, since George Lucas is directly involved. He’s even mentioned that doesn’t pay attention to the Expanded Universe, which has led some people to the conclusion that the EU doesn’t really matter anymore. Some people have taken to publicly celebrating every time The Clone Wars supersedes previous works. In fact, certain podcasters in the Star Wars fan community have gone as far as to describe the authors of EU works as “hacks”.

That’s the most painful part. I mean, if New York Times #1 bestselling authors are now considered hacks – someone who writes low quality work for pay – then what must my fellow fans think of struggling wannabe fiction writers like me or other fans? It’s insulting and only serves to drive unnecessary wedges into the fandom. Fighting amongst ourselves within the community serves nothing more than to divide us. We would be better served to acknowledge that some people accept the entirety of Star Wars as it stands, where others build their own canon based on what they enjoy within the franchise.

The EU is important to me because it represents a source of inspiration and motivation, but more than that, it represents a time of drought from 1983 to 1999 when we didn’t have anything but the original trilogy to enjoy. Just because we live a time of great prosperity in the franchise doesn’t mean that the classics don’t have a place. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean that those who enjoy it are any less of fans than those who watch the films.

We are all fans, and Star Wars is forever, no matter how we enjoy it. Our responsibility is to respect our fellow fans and pass the magic on to future generations. Only then will it live on in our hearts and minds.


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In case you missed it, the official site announced that the six live-action Star Wars films will be returning to your local theater, this time in 3-D starting in 2012.

My immediate response was one of apathy.  However, after a few hours of thought and sleep, I’ve slightly adjusted my position.

First, in the world of 3-D films, I’ve only been able to see the effect once or twice.  The first one that came to mind was during the stellar Space Station 3D IMAX film, which I caught last year.  In that documentary, there is a long shot along the axis of the International Space Station that looks out into the depths of space, and that shot stood out very well behind the 3-D glasses.  I remember taking off the glasses to look at the screen and get the full effect of what technology was doing.  Unfortunately, the only other time the effect returned was when the astronauts were demonstrating weightlessness with a ball, and that was intermittent for me.

The second time I saw a 3-D effect work was at the fun but intellectually vacuous 4-D “ride” based on A Bug’s Life at Disneyworld, and that was during the typical “coming right at you” moments.  I tried watching Up in 3-D, mostly because that was the only way our local theater presented it, but nothing ever looked three dimensional.  I know there were moments, because the audience was “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing at those points.

My second big concern is in the technology side.  If a movie is made in 3-D from the ground up, the effects tend to work better than if the movie is 2-D initially and rendered to 3-D later.  Unfortunately, the Star Wars saga was born in 2-D, which makes me apprehensive at the quality of the end 3-D result.

I think my problem with 3-D is because I know that it’s a visual trick.  In the sparse moments when I’ve forgotten where I am with a 3-D movie, the effects work, but if I’m thinking about the movie and the experience, all I see is a flat screen.  So, the next response is, “don’t think about it.”  Space Station 3D was a documentary about something I know quite a bit about, and honestly, was a significant chunk of eye candy.  Like I’ve already said, A Bug’s Life 4-D was low on substance, lasted about five minutes, and was broken up with the “fourth dimensional” effects of rumbling chairs and blowing air to represent things that happen to the viewer in the show.  Both instances involved distraction from thinking too much about the material presented on screen.  The problem is that I can’t switch off the analysis during Star Wars movies.  They’ve been a big part of my life since I was kid, and it’s hard to separate that.

Now, I don’t want to seem like I complete “Debby Downer” on this.  I am excited for the saga to get another big screen release for another generation of children, but if Lucasfilm uses the current 3-D technology, I won’t play.  I would love to see the films again with the theater experience, but I don’t want to sully that experience by filtering the imagery with 3-D glasses that don’t work for me.  Like any other visual filter, the glasses tend to remove a portion of the vibrancy that I expect on the silver screen.  Watching the 3-D films without the glasses is completely out of the question for obvious, headache inducing, reasons.

My opinion is tempered with the fact that George Lucas is an innovator.  If anyone can create a method for three-dimensional filmmaking that is revolutionary, it is Lucas, and to paraphrase Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, I’ll be watching the developments on this project with great interest.  If it looks like something I can enjoy, my butt will be in the seat for all six films.  Until then, I have no choice but to remain cautiously optimistic.

Either way, we all know what the end result will be:  A metric Bantha load of money deposited in the Lucasfilm coffers as fans either re-live or discover Star Wars again.
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Originally submitted and posted on September 16, 2008 in response to the September 12, 2008 episode of The ForceCast


Jason, Pete, Jimmy, and the crew,

On the September 12 show, you asked for opinions about Jar Jar Binks, and I’d like to share mine with you.

In the movies, Jar Jar is portrayed as a bumbling idiot and an outcast in his society. He’s a klutz and responsible for making an annoyance of himself in Otoh Gunga in a vain attempt to fit in. Why do I love him? Because I personally identify with him. Jar Jar Binks in 1999 is me in 1999, when I was getting ready to graduate high school.

Jar Jar was in the wrong place at the wrong time, looking for breakfast when the Trade Federation invaded Naboo. He was confused by the goings-on around him, not sure why giant vehicles are plowing through his home, and not sure why some arrogant off-worlders are pushing him around. The thing is that Jar Jar Binks is pure of heart, even if he’s somewhat dim intellectually. He offers what he has, quite selflessly, and tries his best to help with the search for a hyperdrive and the Battle of Naboo, even if the tasks are well beyond his capabilities.

Later, as we know, he becomes a senator for Naboo, is bullied by Palpatine into declaring a state of emergency, and is the catalyst for the Clone Wars and the Purges. The reason he was selected by Palpatine is that he was a target of opportunity.

Star Wars fans don’t like him because he talks strangely, is somewhat slow, and not what we expect from the other street-smart characters in the saga. I identify with him because he is so willing to help out if given the chance, even if it is clumsily. I embrace the diversity that Jar Jar brings to the Saga’s table because he isn’t the same character as any random Jedi or smuggler.

To think that fans would shun this character because he is different than the norm saddens me, because wonder what they would think of any person who is clumsy, mentally challenged, but pure of heart. If they are willing to throw away the Gungans, or even one character for this, then do the fans have the grasp on diversity that we give them credit for?

While Jar Jar Binks is far from my favorite, I find him to be one of the strongest characters in the Star Wars universe. He may not have the Force, and he may not be good in a firefight, but he is like the focus of the Saga, Anakin Skywalker, in his purity of heart and passion to do the right thing.

I have grown and matured in many ways since the release of The Phantom Menace, but I still admire Jar Jar Binks for doing the best with what he had to offer the galaxy. He’s not a racist, and he’s not annoying; Jar Jar is a test of our acceptance for what others have to offer, which is the same lesson Qui-Gon tried to teach Obi-Wan. I hope we can learn the same lesson.
 

womprat99: (Default)

Previously posted on February 24, 2009

On February 4, 2009, famed movie critic Roger Ebert launched his rather scathing review of the movie Fanboys. For those who don’t know, Fanboys is a film about Star Wars fans by a Star Wars fan. If you’re thinking Trekkies, then do yourself a quick favor and watch the trailer.

Trekkies was a focus on Star Trek fandom, highlighting the really wacky things they do. When I saw that film, I didn’t feel happy that someone was examining Trek fans. In fact, I wanted to melt into my chair and disappear. Trekkies implied that every fan of Gene Roddenberry’s franchise was a Starfleet uniform wearing social introvert who still lived in their parents’ basements with about fifty cats. Need I remind you of Barbara Adams, the alternate juror for the 1996 Whitewater controversy who wore her Starfleet uniform to the trial?

Apparently, this prejudicial mindset carries over to all science-fiction fandoms.

To quote Ebert’s review:


A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It's all about them. They have mastered the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. Anyone who would camp out in a tent on the sidewalk for weeks in order to be first in line for a movie is more into camping on the sidewalk than movies.

Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. If you are Luke Skywalker and she is Princess Leia, you already know what to say to each other, which is so much safer than having to ad-lib it. Your fannish obsession is your beard. If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to.

While I defend Ebert’s right to his opinion, I have to take issue with the content. My interpretation of his words is that being involved in fandom means that you are enabled to be a social introvert. Furthermore, it enables you to have shallow relationships built on nothing more than your love of a facet of popular culture. Forget trying to build anything meaningful in a relationship because you’re incapable of doing it.

Roger Ebert, you’re doing it wrong.

In fact, Ebert went on to state:

[Fanboys] is a celebration of an idiotic lifestyle, and I don't think it knows it.

While it is true that some science-fiction fans have trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality, I argue that the majority of Star Wars fans do not share that problem.

First, let’s take a look at the 501st Legion, an international fan-based organization dedicated to constructing and building screen-accurate villain costumes from the Star Wars universe. At first glance, with over 4200 active members in 40 countries, one might think that this is just a worldwide Trek-esque Starfleet uniform party. That’s why they need a second glance.

From their charter:

"...The Legion is a volunteer club formed for the express purpose of bringing together costume enthusiasts and giving them a collective identity within which to operate. The Legion's aims are to celebrate the Star Wars movies through the wearing of costumes, to promote the quality and improvement of costumes and props, and most importantly to contribute to the local community through charity and volunteer work..."

The 501st proudly contributes to charity organizations, and maintains a list on their website of groups they’ve worked with. In fact, they are famous for working with the Make-A-Wish foundation and terminally ill children.

I wonder what part of putting a smile on a young cancer patient’s face as they get to “meet” Darth Vader is idiotic. Anyone want to answer that for me?

The 501st works other events, such as conventions, for free. All they ask is that any money offered for their work is donated to a charity in their name.

Next, I focus on an astromech droid. In 2005, Jerry Greene worked with the R2 Builder’s Group to fulfill a little girl’s wish. Her name was Katie Johnson, and she had brain cancer. Her wish was to have an R2-D2 with one caveat: she wanted it pink. Soon enough, R2-KT was born.

R2-KT exists to entertain children and raise awareness for pediatric cancer. Money raised in events with R2-KT goes to Make-A-Wish and the Children’s Cancer Fund. Building on the penchant for Star Wars fans to collect, R2-KT has been made into a Hasbro action figure and a coin, the proceeds again going to charity. As of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, R2-KT also entered the official canon, which is Lucasfilm acknowledging the efforts of their fans by making an icon part of history.

Again, Roger Ebert:


"Fanboys" is an amiable but disjointed movie that identifies too closely with its heroes. Poking a little more fun at them would have been a great idea. They are tragically hurtling into a cultural dead end, mastering knowledge which has no purpose other than being mastered, and too smart to be wasting their time.
When a movie's opening day finally comes, and fanboys leave their sidewalk tents for a mad dash into the theater, I wonder who retrieves their tents, sleeping bags, portable heaters and iPod speakers. Warning: Mom isn't always going to be there to clean up after you.

I have news for you, Roger. It may be fun for you to poke fun at Star Wars fans as we tragically hurtle toward a cultural dead end, but rest assured that we are above that. Being a Star Wars fan is not about knowing how many midichlorians Anakin Skywalker has or how many parsecs -- an astronomical unit of length -- it takes to make the Kessel Run. Being a Star Wars fan is about embracing the spirit of George Lucas’s vision and running with it.

I am a naval submarine officer, a faithful husband, a physicist, an engineer, a struggling author, a writer for a podcast, an Eagle Scout, and a college graduate nearly twice over. I’m also a Star Wars fan and a proud science-fiction geek. Believe me when I tell you Star Wars isn’t a lifestyle, but merely a facet of one. It’s a common ground and a solid foundation to start building relationships that mean something beyond the fantasy of pop culture.

If you spent any time at all with Star Wars fans, you would understand that we’re not about running around in costume for the hell of it or endlessly spouting lines from the films. We have social relationships that run deeper than movie scripts, most of which are developed and maintained for life. We believe in friendships that are maintained not only for the purpose of having them, and we don’t knife each other in the back when it’s convenient, unlike other fandoms.

I only wish that people could understand it instead of cowering behind their fear of diversity.

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