My problem with Clone Wars, in less than 700 words

Part of the real problem I have with the Clone Wars series concept is making the good guys out of the clone troopers —”today we fight for all our brothers back home,” and all that shit. It’s like doing an origin story on the actual stormtroopers and making an animated kids series that says, hey, the Gestapo wasn’t so bad. They had pals and feelings too. No, sometimes evil is evil. Or rather, an interesting series could be made to show there is more to it than that (well, not the Gestapo angle) and the duality of man and that “Jungian thing,” to quote Private Joker, and all that. And if there is, it could make for a rather interesting series; but it takes a hell of a lot better storyteller than the 21st century George Lucas to pull that off.

No, it’s easier to market a bunch of Clone Troopers™ talking helmets and lunchboxes and toy guns and color-accented white armor. Sure, every once in a while Yoda will say something sage or Yogi Berra-like, such as “fight for us now they do, but always in motion is the future,” and “go to that restaurant, no one does; too crowded it is.” Still, that hasn’t slowed down the sales of Clone Trooper toys and gear and Halloween costumes and shit. Everytime I see a kid with this stuff in Target I want to tell them, um, son, these are the guys that will later burn Luke’s aunt and uncle to death.

I get that Lucas wanted to show that Luke Skywalker’s daddy was a fallen knight who was a great fighter but had poor control of his temper and even poorer judgement in aging supreme chancellors. I understand Lucas’ overarching theme that “the film is about human frailties; it’s not about monsters,” as he noted regarding Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi in the 1985 documentary “From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga.” But I fear the Clone Wars revision goes too far in making Anakin out to be a good (and marketable) guy with just a few minor problems that can be fixed with some psychological and pharmacological help and, oh, what’s that? He cut off Mace Windu’s arm, killed a bunch of children, and then choked his wife? Well, I guess he’s a rotten guy after all. I think it’s a bit of a bridge too far, and it’s too tough a nut for Lucas to crack, especially for what he has insisted is a kids’ saga. If you’re talking Sméagol and Gollum, well, now you’re onto something, and something perhaps intended for more mature fantasy-saga audiences. But no one is out buying build-your-own Gollum’s lightsabres for their 7-year-old at Toys Я Us (well, that might be something I might buy). Anakin’s much more marketable as a lovable, James Dean-ish good guy with a dark streak rather than as, say, Hitler Jr.

It’s all so much revisionist (fictional, of course) history. It amazes me how much of the original trilogy isn’t in the new trilogy. Hell, it amazes me how much of the Phantom Menace isn’t in the other two flicks in that half-saga, though, I’m not complaining about the sudden diminished Gungan/Jar Jar Binks factor (though I wince every time I am reminded of the Clone Wars series’ Ahsoka character — is there really a major character in that series nicknamed “Snips”?). It’s like, every once in a while I need to hiccuup and go, oh, yeah, Liam Neeson was in that, and five years after an amazing performance as Oskar Schindler, no less.

I imagine, in 30 years or so, a cryogenically prolonged George Lucas will come out with a prequel to the prequels to show that Emperor Palpatine really wasn’t such a bad guy when he began, that he was just a humble politician that wanted to serve one term and save the Galaxy from some fascist socialist politician spending his children’s future away on Valorumcare, but got too caught up in his own Second Amendment Remedies, and then once he met Darth Plagueis, watch out.

(This started out as a screed in less than 400 words, but I digress.)

Hokey religions and Star Wars Day are no match for Kung-Fu Kenobi at your side

You may find my lack of faith disturbing, but no amount of Jedi mind tricks is going to get me to buy into the concept of May 4 as “Star Wars Day,” as in, it’s “May the Fourth Be With You,” often closely followed by “Get it?” Charming, to the last. But let’s call that a pun too far, shall we?

No, if you really want to do it, Star Wars Day should be every year on the Wednesday before Memorial Day, which in 1977 was May 25: the day the original Star Wars was released and began to change the world for Hollywood, not to mention the worldview for millions of Generation X kids like me. (And, hey, no kidding, I looked up “Star Wars Day” on Wikipedia, and see that the Los Angeles City Council beat me to the punch by three years. And here all I knew from the L.A. City Council was from L.A. Confidential.)

(Aside I: It’s “Star Wars,” or if you’re picky, the “Original Star Wars.” None of this Episode IV or A New Hope crap needed for explanatory purposes — those are subtitles, and using them buys into George Lucas’ neverending, profit-mongering revisionism; see: Greedo shooting first; see, also: the computer-animated Clone Wars series, which further entrenches Anakin Skywalker as a good guy product line along with his annoying teenage girl sidekick. Like those jawas, I can’t abide those Clone Wars. Let’s see, Anakin’s good, but then he’s eventually the worst person in the galaxy, going from a sort of bratty John Wayne to a sort of galactic Hitler; good luck explaining that to a hero-worshipping 3½-year-old like mine, but I digress).

(Aside II: There’s a reason why experiencing the saga from episodes IV to VI, and then from I to III, works as a cohesive and satisfying narrative, and why I’m planning on having Icepick Jr. watch it that way (as best as I can control these sorts of things). Though in a bout of drinking inspiration one time, my friends and I thought it would be great to watch the entire saga Quentin Tarantino-style by shuffling the six DVDs and watching them in random order. I’m not sure we got very far with that concept that night, and I think I’ll stick with Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars and Kung-Fu Kenobi’s Big Adventure for my Obi-Wan/Pulp Fiction mash-up fix, and yes, I am digressing again.)

I was a few months away from turning 5 when Star Wars came out, and I saw it in the theater multiple times over the next 2 years. It was re-released in 1978 and 1979, and, oh yes, I went in for repeat viewings; apart from the occasional commercial-filled and edited-for-TV broadcast of a film, that was virtually the only way you could see a movie again and again in those days before Betamax and VHS, before the cable TV boom, before the dark times, before the empire (OK, I’ll stop).

The 1979 re-release was in anticipation of The Empire Strikes Back coming out in 1980. I’m almost certain they tagged a sort-of trailer for Empire onto the ′79 Star Wars re-release (though, hell, I could be remembering this as a trailer tacked onto any other flick released in the months before Empire’s premiere).

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‘Round and Round’ was my 13-year-old anthem

Calif boy, 13, aims to be youngest on Everest peak

(h/t a Facebook friend who is actually someone I don’t mind newly sort-of keeping up with from high school).

On the one hand, I want to say, good for you, plucky Millennial from the great abbreviated State of Calif! Your future as a leader and inspiration is secure! When I was your age, I was trying to score a Ratt T-shirt and avoid getting beaten up by big, fat kids who either later became illiterate drop-outs or scored jobs at IBM; I forget which.

On the other hand, I want to say to his dad, WTF? To think, I thought I was a pushy Papa for trying to get my 3½-year-old son to hit a curve and to keep his batting stance more like a left-handed David Wright and less like a left-handed Brandon Inge, even though he likes it. (Icepick Jr. sure can drop down and nail those low-and-outside pitches, though, but I digress).

Meanwhile, the Calif Kid has already Klimbed Kilimanjaro … at age 10. Which, naturally, leads me wonder if he discovered and can explain what the frozen leopard was seeking at that altitude.

At age 10, I was still wondering how Leia could be Luke’s sister and did that make the banter and smooching in the first two films less PG-flirty (to my fragile adolescent mind) and more icky incesty? And should there be a fourth film, would we discover Han Solo was secretly her uncle? But I digress.

A silent generation’s warrior proud

Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

—Sen. John McCain, Nov. 4, 2008

In the end, Sen. John McCain gave perhaps his best speech of his campaign in conceding sometime after 11 p.m. last night, immediately encouraging healing the divisions of a long race and pledging to work together with the new president. He quieted supporters who booed the new president, and came off, at long last, as the classy veteran he had been before the Republican National Convention.

In losing, the McCain of old, the honorable statesman, was free once more. It’s weird, but it’s almost like that scene at the end of Return of the Jedi when Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask and reveals the good man underneath all the harsh exterior. Except for, like, the burning-his-face-in-a-volcano part. And the whiny Anakin-ness of the prequels. And the asthmatic mask. And the choking of the rebel officer. And the always dressed in black like a Morissey fan. And the abject evilness for 30 years. And … well, let’s say we just forget I made this comparison. Move along. Move along. (Though, shit, I wasn’t the only one to think of this comparison, showing that us Star Wars geeks are legion, and I’m not even touching (for now) CNN’s Princess Leia-like hologram.)

Instead, recall that earlier I compared McCain to another venerable senator who tried but fell short of the White House. I meant, and still do mean, the comparison to Henry Clay as a compliment.

It’s odd, but since the Republic Convention in August, we’ve seen an angry, bitter McCain that observers hardly recognized. And this despite, as Christopher Beam noted in two articles on Slate, McCain himself holding back on some attacks (perhaps leaving it to his surrogates, “rogue” or not). As Beam wrote, it almost seemed “there was a hint of repentance about negative campaigning.” Last night’s speech perhaps signals a return to the self-styled Maverick of old, instead of a misdirected candidate and his rogue sidekick.

McCain is still a great hero who merely peaked at the wrong time — removing all other candidates, if you offered me a choice eight years ago between Sen. McCain and then-Gov. George W. Bush, I’d have voted for McCain every day of the week and twice on Tuesday.

McCain’s defeat all but assures that the country will never elect a president from the Silent Generation, the first generation (as defined by Strauss & Howe) that never had its own chief executive. That hardly diminishes the accomplishments of the generation of those born in the middle of the Roaring Twenties through the Great Depression and World War II, the generation of Martin Luther King Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell, Jesse Jackson, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Elvis Presley, George Carlin, Paul Newman, and Sen. John S. McCain. Read the rest of this entry »