Dusting off the ole Soapbox

Hello friends and the two other people who read this blog.

It’s me, the most inconsistent blog post writer.

It’s been a while since we at the Soapbox published anything. That’s a mighty shame.

A lot has changed in the past years. We’ve grown a lot, bumped around the world a bit, and the world has certainly bumped back. We’ve seen a mighty few things change in the past year. For starters Donald Trump became president. What a weird sentence. Even though I worked for Marco Rubio’s senate reelection campaign in Florida (I will describe this more in future posts), I couldn’t help but sit in front of the TV for several hours the next few days as we cleaned out the campaign office, thinking to myself that I had fallen into a different reality where Thomas Wayne was really Batman and broccoli a delicious food.

I wasn’t the only one either.

Since that time I’ve had several adventures in campaign work, campaign like work, civic engagement, flying lessons, and so much more. I’ve learned a good many things along the way and I want to share all the lessons learned as best as I can. But for now I want you to know that I and the others here at the SoapBox Guild will continue our ramblings, late night discussions, observations, and silly back and forth. The world has gotten weirder and that’s why we are resurrecting this old throwback. It seems that the times have caught up with us.

Everyday presents a new political situation that people can’t wait to talk about. Everyday a new comedy. Everyday a new tragedy. This world we live throws some incredible loops our way. Friends, Americans, few faithful followers, lend us your eyes a few more minutes. Let this place be to you a haven of joyful weirdness in a world gone mad. We’ve got many new things to talk about, tales from work, life, friendship, and a list longer than Anna Karenina. So I’m blowing off the dust of this ole Soapbox. Get some popcorn, coffee, and a slice or two of avocado toast we’ve got some wild geese to chase!

Armia Krajowa

So, as we all know, Ted Cruz dropped out last night, which means, barring a miracle, that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee.

Meanwhile, the smart money says that the delegate math for the Democrats indicates that Sanders isn’t going to win the primary delegates, which means that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Hillary Clinton isn’t going to be the Democratic Party nominee.


For everyone who actually cares about the Constitution, for everyone who actually cares about the free-trade regime that has done more for the prosperity of the world than anything other than the Industrial Revolution, for everyone who actually cares about maintaining the alliances that have managed to keep wars to the regional level for the past seventy years, for everyone who gets that no one is above the law, this Presidential election is something akin to the situation that Eastern Europe faced during the late 1930s.

That is to say, trapped between power-hungry, amoral authoritarians who believe they are the embodiment of the national will, and all who oppose them are to be swept aside with no care for their good. Fortunately, our situation is better because there is still something resembling the rule of law in this country, which means we face neither Holocaust nor Holodomor–but it also means that, morally speaking, we have both more and less wiggle room to operate in. More, because neither is genocidal; less, because our lives are not immediately at stake.

So, what to do?

The answer is to follow the Poles.

Yes, you heard me right. Follow the Poles. The one country in Eastern Europe who, when faced with the choice between Hitler and Stalin, said “Neither,” and then fought them both as best they could after the dictators partitioned them again, and never really stopped, even after the Soviets finally took over in 1945. The country in Eastern Europe that came the closest to keeping its honor, even if many individuals ended up choosing to round up Jews or anti-Communists.

This going to be a dirty, nasty, campaign season. People will demand that if you aren’t for their candidate, you’re for the other one, and will heap opprobium upon you–never mind the fact that their candidate is just as bad. It will also be a dirty, nasty four years, as the powers of the Presidency are turned upon the personal enemies of the executive. The country will be brought closer to its ruin, and the world will be further destabilized.

So, politically speaking, when given the choice between the devil or the deep blue sea, I choose neither, that I might not have to choose in a more personal way later. So that, in the end, there can be people who say “We tried to stop the trainwreck, instead of trying to steer it into people we despised.”

So, therefore, this election season, I choose the Armia Krajowa. The men and women who spat in the face of those who would make them choose between evil and evil.

What’s your choice?

Giving Justice to a Movie

Note: Spoilers. Lots of spoilers.

So, as we all know, the latest superhero movie came out recently, and as usual has caused something of a furor. To begin with, the “Batman vs. Superman” fight has been argued over in comics shops ever since DC developed something that might actually be called a “fandom,” which attracted a lot of attention. Throw in the fact that the movie reboots Batman again, introduces Wonder Woman, is a sequel to the rather controversial Man of Steel, and was directed by Zack Snyder, and you have trouble a-brewin’.

I should note that before you get into the meat of this review, you should read this. The sensibility of that review will heavily inform this one.

To begin with, the movie does have its issues. Plotwise, claims that it seems more like an introduction to some kind of DC movieverse than a movie in its own right have some substance—the “Lex Luthor is looking for metahumans” subplot has virtually nothing to do with the main plotline of the movie by itself, and the sequel hook at the end is ridiculously blatant.

Characterwise, Lex Luthor degenerates, over the course of the movie, from a compelling character who almost directly quotes Reinhold Niebuhr and might have a valid point about checks and balances to an utter psychopath and plot device. This decision rings true to the source material, but is also utterly disappointing from a storytelling standpoint and the promise shown at the beginning for a discussion of power and what to do about it.

Senator Finch embodies some of the worst stereotypes of politicians, saying that she wants to do something about unchecked power but refusing to actually do what would be required to check that power, in the apparent belief that government rests on something other than force.

Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, unfortunately, is essentially a plot device in this movie, serving primarily to introduce the “Lex Luthor is studying metahumans” subplot and as an aid in the fight against Doomsday. However, while showing slight “grrl power” tendencies, she manages to get over them, and with hints at a backstory that involves World War I at the very least, shows a lot of potential for being a very interesting character in her own right.

Lois Lane also suffers slightly in this movie, primarily serving to move the plot along by being kidnapped in Africa as part of Luthor’s plot to discredit Superman, investigating a questionable bullet found there that leads her to Lex Luthor, getting put in peril by Lex Luthor in order to draw out Superman, intervening at the end of the Batman/Superman fight, and then dumping Batman’s Kryptonite spear into a flooded stairwell and nearly dying trying to retrieve it when Doomsday shows up in order to add dramatic tension. Fortunately, she does undergo some character growth in her own right, realizing that she’s made some bad decisions and that being a reporter does not mean that you know everything.

However, our two main protagonists are presented quite well. Bruce Wayne/Batman, played excellently by Ben Affleck, of all people, is an odd mix of his initial incarnation in Detective Comics and Christian Bale’s portrayal of the character, but it’s one that works quite well. Hardened by years, if not decades, of fighting crime in Gotham City, and having come face-to-face with powerlessness in the face of almost god-like power in Metropolis during the fight between Superman and Zod, he represents the skeptic of unlimited power and the real-world of fighting injustice, where the lines get blurry. He also, in the ease with which Lex Luthor manipulates him into fighting Superman, represents the limitations of that worldview.

Clark Kent/Superman is also very well done, although thanks less to Henry Cavill than to the writers. He is young and idealistic, determined to right all wrongs and use his incredible power for the good of all. However, he also has the arrogance of youth and power, failing to consider the potential consequences of his actions when saving Lois Lane in Africa and attempting to dictate to Batman because he thinks the latter is terrorizing the people of Gotham with the connivance of the local police, failing to realize that perhaps he doesn’t understand everything that’s going on.

I’m not going to go into the plot, beyond the fact that it presents one of the few halfway-decent reasons for Superman and Batman to get into a brawl that I’ve ever seen. In terms of thematic material, however, there’s a lot to work with.

The first element is dealing with the aftermath of the fight between Zod and Superman in Metropolis. Oft-criticized in certain circles for the amount of collateral damage incurred, the movie presents the event as the origin of Batman’s animus against Superman, as well as that of much of the country. Left unstated in this movie, as in the last one, is the fact that Zod’s objective was not “Kill Superman,” his objective was “Destroy Metropolis, then the world,” which meant that there was virtually no way for Superman to avoid incurring massive civilian casualties. I can understand that people directly affected by such events might not see that; people separated from the events by a screen should be able to consider this carefully. However, at least this view is presented as being wrongheaded.

The second theme is that of power and its limits, its uses and abuses. While this is obscured by the fact that the most plain-spoken expounder of this idea turns out to be a psychopathic nutbar, the fact is that the core of this movie is about power and its uses. Superman is the most physically powerful being in the setting until Doomsday shows up, but Lex Luthor is able to put him in a nearly impossible position by pushing his buttons properly, and Batman is able to reduce him to human limits with the proper preparations. Senator Finch represents the most powerful government on the planet, but she is unable to control a determined, demented fanatic like Luthor, while the nuclear might of the United States government is powerless against Doomsday—or, for that matter, Superman. Batman is the scariest thing in Gotham, but Superman drop-kicks him in their first meeting without mussing his hair—a fact that leads to Superman abusing his power by demanding that Batman cease his crimefighting activity, with no prior interaction beyond a thinly veiled lecture based, as nearly as the viewer can tell, purely on his own presuppositions.

The third and final theme is that of fear. Those that are fearful of Superman are proven wrong. Batman uses fear in order to do good, but the reaction it engenders demonstrates that it is easy to cross the line in doing so. Lex Luthor has no fear, and it leads to him nearly destroying the world. Superman is scared of himself and what he can do, and that allows him to do what he needs to do, and it is when he has no fear that he does foolish things.

All this goes to say, that while Batman vs. Superman is a disappointing movie, it’s not a bad one, and it’s worth the watching. And there’s a lot to be said for it.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

Not a Trump Card

So, it’s Super Tuesday tomorrow—that day when a whole bunch of states vote, one of which I grew up in, another of which I went to college in, and another of which I am going to graduate school in.

And I would like to make a request of everyone I know who will be voting in the Republican primary—I will not speak of the Democrats, because I consider Sanders and Clinton to be equally dangerous to the republic, each in their own way.

I am requesting that, tomorrow, you vote for either Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. I do not make this request because I think they are awesome, because I’m not sure about either. I am making this request because they are the only two people who can derail the Trump train.

Kasich and Carson can’t do it. Neither will pull off more than 10% of the vote in any of the states voting tomorrow.

But, you may justifiably ask, what is so important about stopping Trump?

Before I get into that, I will admit that it is true that all the right people utterly despise Donald Trump. The fact is that those people also utterly despise Ted Cruz, and their feelings towards Marco Rubio are frosty at their warmest.

I will also point out that there are certain ideas I am not using when I make this request. First, I believe in innocent until proven guilty, which means I am not convinced that Donald Trump is a racist. Nor am I convinced that he is Hitler or Mussolini. Nor, in fact, do I believe that he will start a great many wars. Nor do I believe that he would go after me or mine. It is not even his tendency toward serial monogamy that causes me to say that he must be stopped.


This much I do know.

I do know that he is unwilling to repudiate the support of David Duke, who is an anti-Semitic white nationalist.

I do know that he believes that America has insufficiently broad libel laws—that, or he does not understand American libel laws—and that he has promised to sue people who speak or write falsely about him. Given that his behavior in the past has indicated that he finds quoting him to be speaking falsely, this is not at all reassuring.

I do know that he has attempted to use eminent domain laws for his own private gain, and that he supports Kelo vs. New London, which was a Supreme Court decision (decided by four leftists and Kennedy), that stated that the government could take private property and give it to other private persons in order for them to engage in commercial development.

I do know that he is yet another Northeasterner who does not believe that the people closest to the problem are the best to solve the problem.

I do know that he is blatantly arrogant and willfully ignorant.

And, finally, I do know that the level of adulation his followers have for him is utterly terrifying. It’s like watching the 2008 election all over again. The only reason someone hasn’t written a Lightbringer editorial about him is because he scares off pretentious leftist New Age types. It is precisely the kind of behavior that the men who founded this country were frightened of, and they understood more about government than, I suspect, almost everyone who ran for president this year—and Trump does not seek to dissuade his followers from it, he revels in it.

Vote for one of the sons of immigrants, who prove by their lives that America can assimilate all who come to its shores if it is only allowed to do so, and not hampered by diversity theorists.

That is all.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

The Non-Endorsement of the Guild

As was promised on Wednesday, this is the post in which the Guildmaster declares his official non-endorsements. He is also going to talk in the third person, because it is fun to indulge in such tomfoolery on occasion.

To begin with, the Guildmaster does not endorse any of the three Democratic candidates. The only one he would have considered endorsing was Webb, and the Democratic Party has declared that it does not want him. The Guildmaster sympathizes, as the Democratic Party does not want him, either.

Clinton gave us Libya and believes she is above the law, Sanders does not understand economics, and O’Malley was the mayor of Baltimore. Need the Guildmaster say more? No? Good.

Also, as a point of clarification, the Guildmaster also does not endorse any of the third-party candidates for President, finding them to be obviously more interested in making a statement than in accomplishing anything, given the American electoral system. He does, however, encourage all persons who want to shake up the system to vote for third-party candidates for local offices.

Now for the Republicans. The Guildmaster does not endorse anyone who was in the last undercard debate, for much the same reasons as his non-endorsement of the third-party candidates. He also does not endorse Trump, as the man is the very definition of a RINO, and will end up doing more harm than good to the nation. Carson is not ready for prime time (said with regret; the Guildmaster liked him), Kasich is in the same situation as Webb, Christie is personally obnoxious, Bush is unelectable, and Paul’s foreign policy renders him unelectable and unnominatable at this time. Perhaps later.

This leave only Cruz and Rubio to consider. The Guildmaster endorses neither of these, but he also will not not endorse them. While concerned about Cruz’s ability to be a team player, either with his colleagues or the country, he also notes that all the right people despise Cruz–which is to say, leftists and Republicans who seem to think the proper place for the party is to be the loyal opposition. Rubio he finds to be far more likable, and probably electable, and conservatively principled, but he is concerned that Rubio is too easy to bamboozle into doing silly things. However, these two are the least bad options.

Thus spake the Guildmaster.

‘Til next time.

Did You Observe the Same Content?

First, my apologies for failing to post on Saturday. It was a weird day.

Second, this blog will make its official non-endorsements for the presidential campaign on Saturday.

Third, actual post content.

So, this is another post dealing with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it is also about Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie. The movie is a travesty that is only watchable as satire, and even then it’s not that great). One could be forgiven for wondering what these two things have in common, beyond having “star” in the name, and the answer is this: that both are heavily criticized, albeit from differing ends of the politicocultural spectrum, for concepts, ideas, and events that are nowhere to be found in the content or are badly misunderstood, while simultaneously having some elements that are worthy of criticism.

What sparked this was an infographic I saw a couple of days ago comparing Rey from TFA and Luke from ANH in an effort to explain why Rey was a Mary Sue–and, from the comment section below, the implication that the reason she was so written was due to…FEMINISM (dun dun duuuuuuuun). Now, my thoughts on Rey’s status as a “feminist” character can be found here, but suffice it to say that I do not believe she is.

However, this is an entirely different question from whether or not she is a Mary Sue (here defined as a wish-fulfillment character who can do no wrong), particularly as compared to Luke Skywalker. This is an entirely valid comparison to make, and said infographic has some reasonably valid criticisms in the matter–for example, pointing out the differences in initial reaction on the part of certain characters to Rey and Luke, although I think said difference is slightly exaggerated. For that matter, Rey’s insta-gunslinging skills when attacked by stormtroopers are slightly questionable, and missed completely. (Although Luke also has some of those…)

Even so, some of them are bughouse nuts. For example, in comparing Rey to Luke, it mentions that Rey takes down four guys, while Luke gets whacked by Tusken Raiders. This would be grounds for a charge of comparative Sueness, except for the part where the former event never actually happened. What happened was that Rey beat up two unarmed sneak thieves of comparable height and weight with her metal stick.

Others take something that happened and rip it entirely out of context. For example, the claim that she knows more about the Millennium Falcon than Han does overlooks the salient point that Han is not a mechanic, and never has been. Rey, on the other hand, is. It would not be surprising that she would know more about the mechanics of the matter, and one should note that she doesn’t even question the idea that Han should fly it if he iis on board. Now, if she were better than R2-D2 at mechanical matters, this would be a valid point, but that idea is never presented to us. Then there’s the claim that the first time she flies, ever,  she outflies TIE fighters, whereas when Luke is sent on the trench run in ANH, he was “flight experience.” The fact of the matter is, however, that if you watch the movies, Luke and Rey both have experience flying ground speeders, and one should note that Rey never fires a shot while flying the Falcon. Then, of course, we have the “Beat Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel and does stuff with the Force she shouldn’t be able to do.” First, we don’t really know how much training it takes to do anything with the Force (remember, the EU is gone); second, Kylo Ren relies more on raw power than skill (seriously, Darth Maul would have had him for a snack, and Obi-Wan would have taken him to the woodshed); third, as someone else pointed out, Rey never does anything she hasn’t already seen someone do.

I could go on here, but you should get my point. This then brings us to Starship Troopers.

Again, there are a lot of things that can be said against the work–its view of life as a never-ending Darwinian struggle for existence, for example, and the interesting question of whether the franchise should be limited to former soldiers, its militaristic overtones, and its tendencies to drive its points home with a sledgehammer–but much of the criticism is bonkers.

For example, the claim that it is a “fascist” work. One can say a lot of things about the society Juan Rico grows up in, but fascist it is not, unless one believes all non-communist societies are fascist. There is no racism, dissent is tolerated, there is no sign of a charismatic supreme leader, and there is voting–it is simply required that a person put their neck on the line before they can help decide which direction the ship of state should sail. While there is public corporal punishment for heinous offenses, and the military uses tactics that could be described as “area bombing with infantry”, I find it rather  difficult to believe that a flogging is more cruel than sticking someone in prison for years on end, or that Britain and the USA were fascist states during World War II.

I have also seen claims that it portrays a “military democracy,” which it manifestly does not–the military itself works the same as any other military; claims that the book agrees with the notion that one should not actively train a dog to be housebroken and then shoot it if it’s not housebroken, when it is being used as a comparison to how the court system dealt with juvenile offenders after they became adults, and a negative one at that.

Again, I could go on, but I trust the point is well taken. Both of these works experience criticism that is not simply a matter of interpretive difference–e.g., is The Force Awakens a feminist movie, does Starship Troopers  promote Social Darwinism–but is the product of failing to engage with the actual content of the work instead of what one believes the content of the work would be if it were badly written/advocating for one’s particular ideological bogeyman.

This in and of itself would not be much of an issue, were it not for the fact that engaging in those sorts of criticism tends to weaken the percieved validity of criticisms with an actual basis in reality, and the fact that this also tends to bleed over into how people observe events in real life, as can be seen whenever someone discusses why they hate Candidate D or R with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns, and you realize how frequently it comes from things said candidate never actually said or did, or things that were taken violently out of context.

I should not have to explain why this is a bad thing.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness


The Guild Awakens (Part Three)

Having discussed the plot and characters of The Force Awakens, there remains but one thing to discuss: the politics.

Now, in any sane universe, this topic would not even be up for discussion, beyond “Oh, right, the Republic/Rebellion/Resistance is good and the Empire/First Order bad, how very American.”

Unfortunately, we do not live in a sane universe, and there has been a certain level of controversy (thankfully largely confined to the fever swamps of the Internet) over certain characters that get to certain…broader cultural issues.

This, by the way, has nothing to do with the BoycottStarWars hashtag that a couple of idiot white supremacists tried to start due to Finn being played by a black man. Shocking, I tell you. Absolutely shocking. Next thing you know, people will start being judged by the content of their character.

No, this has to do…mostly with Rey. Because, apparently, either she’s too feminist or not feminist enough. This latter bit, fortunately, is largely confined to people on Tumblr who like playing oppression Olympics.

The former, however, I have seen in certain conservative circles, and having watched the movies I find myself asking whether they watched the same movie I did. We went over her somewhat improbable skills last time, but to reiterate, she’s this generation’s Chosen One and has been living as a scavenger for a very long time. It should also be noted that she messes up badly more than once, particularly when she accidentally lets the monsters loose on Han and Chewbacca’s ship.

The key to this issue is her interactions with Finn, beginning with the not particularly improbable scene where she takes on two thieves with a stick (if you think this is the first time she’s had to fight off malefactors, I want some of what you’re smoking), then her and BB-8 chasing him down, then the hand-grabbing during the attack on the scavenger camp and her reaction to it, the repair scene on the Millennium Falcon, then the scene where Finn tries to back out of the quest and she doesn’t.

To begin with, I’ve heard more than a few complaints about how the interrogation scene, where Rey is asking Finn how he got Po’s jacket, is handled–the words “blubbering coward” have been used. No, Finn’s not John Wayne–or Po–but honestly he seems more annoyed than scared. More along the lines of “Why’d you whack me in the face with a stick and why won’t you let me get a word in edgewise” than “please don’t hurt me I’ll do anything!”

The facts that Finn grabs Rey’s hand twice during the attack on the scavenger camp, the fact that Rey is displeased by this and expresses it, and that eventually she grabs Finn’s hand have also been taken as evidence that there is third-wave feminism in this movie. To begin with, the latter event never happened–she held out her hand to Finn when he was thrown to the ground by an explosive blast. Going further, it is entirely in character for her to be annoyed with Finn–she doesn’t realize just how serious the situation is, and she has, let me repeat myself, been taking care of herself for almost a decade. Furthermore, I believe that Finn grabs her hand a third time while the monsters are running loose on Han and Chewbacca’s ship, and she does not object then.

Now, the repair scene on the Millennium Falcon, when she knows what she’s doing and Finn doesn’t, can be much more easily understood as a feminist scene, and arguably has some distinct overtones thereof. That having been said, viewing it in this light overlooks the following scene, when the dynamic duo believe they are about to be boarded by stormtroopers, and Finn, not Rey, comes up with the idea to flood the ship with gas. They have different skill sets, no more no less.

The “back out of the quest” scene argument has a lot more merit–Finn definitely comes off worse than Rey, here. On the other hand, when the First Order shows up, he stops running. Also, in this regard, The Force Awakens is no worse than A New Hope–see Han Solo vs. Princess Leia.

Speaking of this, we have the relationship between those two, and its breakup. There are some of who have claimed this, also, is feminist, as Han goes back to smuggling and Leia goes back to fighting, and claim that Han is presented as the reason the marriage fell apart. While the first part of this has merit, the second does not–each one blames themselves for the wreck, and explicitly does so. There’s also the Luke issue, but that’s almost expected of Jedi Masters who lose their students–see Yoda and Obi-Wan.

In other words, just based on the obvious things that happen in the movie, we have a “it’s feminist because the Chosen One is a girl” at most.

However, I will go a step further, and say that Rey’s entire character arc is a kick in the teeth to third-wave feminism. Here’s what I mean. When we meet Rey, she is a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man–or anyone else, for that matter. However, she does not find the need to denigrate Finn, we immediately see her latch on to the first father figure she can find (Han), and she goes to another man (Luke) to train her in how to use the Force.

In other words, she begins as everything third-wave feminism claims to want, and we find out that is not what she wants to be. Admittedly, we have two more movies to work in, and the tide might shift a bit. But as it stands, it’s awesome.

As a side note, my favorite commentary on Rey as a character comes from Alicia Cohn, who essentially summed up her character arc as one which a girl becomes a woman not by discovering sex, but by discovering virtue. Personally speaking, I’m down with that.

In summary, if you haven’t watched this movie, do so. You’ll not regret it.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

The Guild Awakens (Part Two)

The promised second part.

So, now let’s get to the characters. As mentioned, these are where Star Wars stands or falls, so let’s see what we have to work with here. As in the last post, here there be spoilers.

To begin with, our villains are at least…interesting. General Hux is a more bombastic version of Grand Moff Tarkin, while Snoak fills in very nicely as the Emperor. Captain Phasma is slightly disappointing, and one hopes, if she is seen again, that she is more effective.

Kylo Ren, however–Kylo Ren is very interesting, as far as villains go. While it’s obvious that he’s a Darth Vader wannabe, he is presented as such rather than as some kind of replacement, and his emotional state is presented as being detrimental to him. Also, killing his father, Han Solo, does not actually resolve his emotional turmoil. He’s also more than a bit of a show-off and a braggart. In other words, a perfect villain for the current age–he’s every would-be alpha person out there. We also have the question of how Snoak got him to turn on his fellow apprentices and Luke.

Our Heroes, unsurprisingly, are far more interesting.

Chewbacca is still loyal to Han after all these years, albeit slightly snarkier. BB-8, in the meantime, fulfills the droid companion role wonderfully, being just enough like R2-D2 to fulfill his purpose, but not enough to cause someone to yell “retread.” R2-D2 and C-3PO mostly serve as reminders of how much time has passed and how devastating previous events were to everyone.

Han and Leia’s relationship is very interesting, and is one of the controversial parts of the film in some circles. It’s fairly obvious that Ren’s defection to the Dark Side destroyed their marriage, albeit with a healthy dose of lack of communication. What’s interesting is that neither blames the other for any of what happened, and when Han tries to take responsibility for Ren’s defection Leia immediately puts it on Snoak. You get the impression that they really do care about each other, which makes Han’s death scene even worse.

Han by himself, however, is worth watching. While it’s pretty obvious that he’s taking over Obi-Wan Kenobi’s role from A New Hope, he does it in his own way, going over his initial disbelief into what happened over the course of the original trilogy.

Luke is basically a nonentity in this movie, functioning primarily as a McGuffin.

Now we’re at the main cast, which we’ll go over by order of appearance.

Po is just a joy to watch, and I would have liked to see more of him. While he is very much the Ace Pilot, with a combination of exuberance and steely determination, he also has a surprising grasp of human nature, as seen in his first conversation with Finn, and can gain and keep loyalty easily, as see with BB-8 and Finn, while giving it in return.

Finn is also fun to watch, and actually undergoes a character arc over the course of the movie. While the initial incident in the village seems a little off–why would this cause someone conditioned to kill to freak and run?–the revelation that he was a sanitation engineer makes it make more sense. His initial determination to run comports quite well with the decisions of a certain Corellian after he defected from the Empire, as well as his tendency to run his mouth and his tendency to come up with interesting plans. Also, the running gag of him grabbing Rey’s hand when they need to get out of the way immediately is hilarious, and foreshadows that he is not, in fact, a self-centered jerk. Speaking of Rey, it’s interesting that she provides the reason for his undergoing the same transformation Han went through in Episode IV, although not surprising–aside from Po, she’s the first human contact outside of the First Order he’s ever had. Also, his shift is a little abrupt, but when by the end of the movie he takes out a lightsaber he has no clue how to use (although he’s a dab hand with a blaster) and prepares to take on Kylo Ren, he’s come a long way, and it’s awesome.

Now for Rey. Rey is controversial in certain circles, for reasons both good and lousy, but she is definitely an interesting character, and also undergoes a significant arc. To start off, she’s a scavenging loner stuck on a backwater planet, determined to wait for her family and take care of herself, which she is eminently capable of doing. That having been said, much like Finn, she won’t leave someone in the lurch if they need help, as seen with BB-8, and is somewhat more enthusiastic about the mission than Finn is. However, we also see her looking for a father figure and finding one in Han, as well as trying to run when confronted with force visions.  The scene where Kylo Ren is interrogating her is fantastic, and her escape from the base, albeit interrupted by the arrival of Finn, Han, and Chewbacca, is hilarious and cool. When she grabs the lightsaber after Finn drops it due to getting slashed down, it also shows just how far she’s come. These last sentences, by the way, also bring up one of the good reasons for her to be slightly controversial–namely, her omnicompetence. She can fly ships, gunsling, do stuff with the Force, wield a lightsaber and beat Kylo Ren, and fix literally anything, which have brought up accusations that she is a Mary Sue.

This is an understandable charge, but a mostly wrongheaded one. She can fly a ship, but there are some…teething issues; the pistol shooting can be chalked up to the Force; she doesn’t really do anything new with the Force; Kylo Ren had taken a bowcaster shot to the gut and a lightsaber to the shoulder, and also has no clue how to wield a lightsaber; and the fixing everything can be chalked up to her time on Jakku, where new stuff is unavailable and parts are scarce. She’s slightly more omnicompetent than Luke, but not by that much.

In other words, The Force Awakens gives us a passel-load of actually enjoyable characters, and the one’s we don’t enjoy are the one’s we’re clearly not supposed to enjoy. None of them actively make the movie worse, even if they don’t add that much.

Anyway, it turns out there’s going to be a third part to this post.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

The Guild Awakens (Part One)

Hey y’all, we’re back, hopefully for good. My apologies for the long hiatus, but it’s been an interesting five months, what with graduate school and all. So, I figure that I should reintroduce this thing with a bang.

So, as we all know, the long-awaited Star Wars sequel came out recently, and has elicited much comment from all and sundry, some of which has been utterly pretentious, some of it hopelessly biased, and some of it relatively sane. I hope this discussion will be the third. We shall see. There will also be multiple parts to it, because I have a lot to say about this movie.

Since it has been over a month since this movie came out, spoilers will abound. You have been warned.

We’ll start this off with discussing the plot of the movie, mostly because I’d rather get the parts I find kind of obnoxious out of the way first, and focus on the good bits later.

The fact is that one of the criticisms of this movie which is eminently fair is that it seems like too much of a retread of A New Hope. Desert planet? Check. Scrappy youngster? Check. Giant superweapon? Check. Poorly defended weak spot? Check. Dead mentor figure? Check. Trench run? Check.

While I find this to be a bit obnoxious, these did not kill my enjoyment of the movie for several reasons. First, originality is overrated, and it should be pointed out that the deservedly-reviled prequels were much different from the originals. Second, playing it safe is underrated–to put it bluntly, you need audience members in order to keep getting movie contracts. Third, there seemed to be a kind of rightness to the cyclical nature of the threat here, an expression of time as a wagon wheel, not a spinning wheel or a line. Maybe I’m overthinking this a bit.

Also, there are several rather large plot holes in this movie, primarily centered around the Starkiller Base. First, why would you hollow out a planet in order to make a superweapon? Just build another Death Star, it’ll be cheaper and take less time than drilling what looked like a ten mile-diameter hole through thousands of kilometers of rock, never mind the thousand mile-diameter spherical chamber where the planetary core used to be. Good night. Snoke should not be nearly so cavalier at the end of the movie when the base explodes. That thing probably consumed the lion’s share of the First Order’s resources for years just to construct, never mind the time and effort expended on figuring out how to split the beam of solar energy into five parts or the people and ships stationed on it.

Second, why does no one seem to know about this? Again, you’re hollowing out a planet and firing a star out of it, the resource and research expenditures couldn’t help but be noticeable. Aren’t there any spies for the Resistance in the First Order?

Third and finally, why isn’t there a regiment of stormtroopers garrisoned right on top of the thermal oscillator thingamabobber? That seems like something you should perhaps protect from infiltration.

Anyway, enough about the Starkiller. We also have the questions of how Anakin’s lightsaber was recovered from Bespin, why the New Republic isn’t kicking the First Order around like a soccer ball instead of bankrolling a scrappy band of volunteers, and why Luke flipped out and left instead of trying to fix what went wrong–including, say, killing Kylo Ren. While there are numerous explanations–respectively, the Force, war weariness, and the fact that Ren is Luke’s sister’s and best friend’s son–getting an in-movie explanation for any of this would have been really wonderful. (Although, in fairness, these might be answered in the next movie.)

Leaving aside, of course, the question of just how Po got off of Jakku. My guess is that he hired a smuggler, but it would have been nice to get an explanation for that. (Although at least we got how he survived the crash–the same way Finn did.)

Which brings up the question of why a sanitation engineer was conditioned to kill from a young age and was taken along on the obligatory war crime scene mission. While there is some precedent for this–the old Marine Corps dicta of “Every Marine a rifleman”–even the Marines don’t believe in “Every Marine an infantryman.” I’ve heard good explanations for this, mind, but they require a knowledge of military bureaucracy that is not generally possessed among Hollywood writers.

All of my complaining aside, the fact is that this movie makes much more sense than Episode I (what did the Trade Federation hope to gain by that blockade, exactly?) and almost as much sense as Episode IV (why not do orbital bombardment with Star Destroyers–or, for that matter, mount engines on asteroids and crash them into planets at relativistic speeds?) We have compelling A and B plots–the search for Luke and the Starkiller base, the first of which the audience is invested in because of Luke, and the Starkiller base because we are invested in the universe. We also have multiple subplots going on in this movie–Rey and Finn’s character arcs and relationship arc (which is not necessarily a romantic one), Po and his droid, Han Solo and Leia’s falling out and getting back together, Kylo Ren and his inner turmoil–some of which are more compelling than others, admittedly, but they’re enough to give this movie a recognizably human dimension in addition to the grand spectacle.

However, let’s face it, plot has never really been Star Wars’ strong suit. For that, you have to go to the characters, which have always been where the franchise rises or falls–if you don’t believe me, compare Obi-Wan, Padme, and Anakin in Attack of the Clones to the same characters in Revenge of the Sith. That’s what the next post is going to be about, and if you were put off by the negative tone of this section, the next one will be much more positive.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness

When is it a Fallacy? (Part Two)

So, this is a continuation of the series started with last week’s blog post regarding logical fallacies. Today, I’m going to discuss two of them: the strawman and the appeal to nature.

The strawman is when you set up a version of your opponent’s argument that is as illogical and insane as you can make it while still having some sort of relationship to reality. Examples include the dismissal of Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “pushing Granny off a cliff” or the notorious Obamacare “death panels.”

This one is almost always a fallacy and is almost never useful in any sort of debate, even between candidates during election seasons. The only exception is when your opponent manages to strawman himself, or when you are attempting to present the strawmen of both sides in an attempt at humor. Otherwise, skip it.

The appeal to nature, on the other hand, has a bit more nuance to it. Essentially, it’s the idea that if something occurs regularly in nature, it is therefore good, while if something does not occur regularly in nature, it is therefore bad. This, by the way, is technically different from just calling something “unnatural,” which generally means using something for a task it was not made to perform, but that is another story for another day.

Calling this a fallacy does have a lot of grounding in reality. After all, eating fecal matter, rape, murder, theft, and wastage of resources all regularly occur in nature, while mercy, charity,  and the like are rather uncommon–especially for those outside the group, or on the bottom of the social hierarchy. For that matter, using leeches to bleed people is technically natural, as that is what leeches do.

However. The fact of the matter is that while the appeal to nature is not very good at figuring what is right or wrong behavior to engage in, it does actually have a place in debate, and that is when you are debating what should be done about something.

Here’s what I mean. The fact of the matter is that a lot of ideas that people enact, like abstinence-only sex education and socialist economics, ignore basic facets of human nature–the former ignores the fact that teenagers are often horny and short-sighted (although arguably all sex education ignores this to a certain degree), which can cause their horniness and short-sightedness to have worse consequences than if they had been recognized and allowed for, while the latter ignores the human desire for power and control over others, which allows said desires to run wild and free under the surface of the society, which results in having the people in charge being experts in intrigue and backstabbing as opposed to keeping people happy.

Now, I should point out that most policies, laws, customs, mores, etc., are attempts to overcome various facets of nature. However, if you set up your attempts to overcome nature in a way that ignores nature, you will fail. So, in other words, the appeal to nature is not fallacious if you are using it to point out that a particular policy will not result in the desired outcome.

‘Til next time,

Lowell Van Ness