Inevitable but Spoiler-Free Thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens

(photo by Annie Leibovitz, who is as good at her job as always)
Oh yes, that will do.  That will do nicely.

I don't have the blind, seething hatred that a lot of people seem to have for the prequel trilogy, but a couple of fun characters and decent action scenes aside, they really weren't very good.  I came away from all three thinking that George Lucas greatly miscalculated, maybe even misunderstood, what it was that made the originals so beloved and doubled down on the CGI and heavy-handed metaphor, and overexplained backstories that barely even needed underexplaining in the first place.

The Force Awakens, on the other hand, did pretty much everything right, especially in establishing the balance between the Star Wars we've known before and the story we'll be getting moving forward.  There's no question that new characters like Rey, Finn, BB-8, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, et al are the focus of the story and will presumably remain as such throughout this third trilogy, but story does well by our love of the original characters.  Their stories are advanced along in a logical manner and, crucially, they all have stuff to do rather than just playing the "Hey, it's that guy / gal / robot / drooling beastie."

Getting back to the new characters, our new leads - Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac as Rey, Finn, and Poe, respectively - are just spectacularly fun, and I'm more than happy to turn the keys of the franchise over to these three for the foreseeable future and see what sort of adventures they get up to separately and in any combination.   And like most people, I'm sure, I totally want a BB-8 of my very own and suddenly that toy one you can control with a phone app doesn't seem so expensive anymore.

Kudos, too, to the special effects team for giving us back the feeling that all of these spaceships, creatures, environments, etc. actually have weight and could exist somewhere.  My biggest complaint about the prequels is that everything looked like a video game because CGI was really not as far along as Lucas and the ILM folks seemed convinced it was (and, really, still isn't, but it is getting better... the film has two major CGI characters, and while one of them looks fantastic the other was still a little dodgy).

People expressed concerns when Disney bought the franchise, and again when J.J. Abrams was named director, and yet again when they remembered what things were like the last time we got a new slate of Star Wars movies, but for my money all of those fears were unfounded.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is exactly what a Star Wars - or, indeed, any action-adventure flick - should be, and that's a damn fine night out at the movies.

Mike Quackenbush on The Art of Pro Wrestling

If you're a fan of professional wrestling, or if you wonder what it is that makes a person become a fan of professional wrestling in the first place, you owe it to yourself to watch this short talk from Ignite Philly 16 (an event comparable to TED) by wrestler/trainer/promoter/author/podcaster Mike Quackenbush.  Watch it right now (I'll wait):

I've tried to explain (and, yeah, justify) my love for pro wrestling through the years to numerous people, and I've hit on similar points to those that Mike brings up, but he brings it all together in a way I've always wished I could (and now don't have to, because I can just send them the link... thanks, Mike!).  I was particularly enamored of the way he compares wrestling to live-action comics, and especially his description of it as "performance art," which is easily one of my favorite comparisons ever (my very favorite was said to me recently by friend Jenny, who called it "violent ballet").

Yes, it's unbelievably larger than life, and yes, results are usually pre-determined, but those factors only take away from the artistry and athleticism if you allow them, too.  Besides, everything - even sports - is better with a narrative.

It's a bird, it's... no, wait, it's just a bird.

My social media feeds this morning are about a 50/50 split between people talking about the latest mass shootings and people debating the Batman vs. Superman trailer that was released last night.  It's hard for me not to see a correlation there.

(I'm not trying to trivialize the latest in a seemingly unending string of tragedies, mind you, that's just how my mind works.  Often to my chagrin.)

Hollywood is giving us Dark Serious Superman because Dark Serious heroes seem to sell movie tickets.  Light-hearted Green Lantern movie tanked, Dark Serious Batman movies made billions, so they tried Dark Serious Superman.  Although people are still complaining daily about Dark Serious Superman a few years after the movie came out, enough tickets were sold that we now get Dark Serious Superman 2: The Dark Seriousening, Now With Extra Batman and Hey, Look, it's Wonder Woman.  The trailer promises even more of the wholesale destruction that people claimed to hate about that first one even though they dismissed similar levels of carnage in Avengers movies because those were just bug people and robots.

Hollywood says people can't "relate" to Superman as he used to be on the page (which is why the Superman on the page now isn't even as he used to be on the page).  Grant Morrison once wisely said that he thought that was really sad, because we should all be able to relate to Superman because he is "who we are when we dream," and that if we can't dream that grandly anymore it's really quite sad.

I agree with the excellent and brilliant Mr. Morrison, but I think the reality is that we can't dream anymore.  American society has a hard time relating to a character who is that selfless and heroic now because, frankly, we don't believe in heroes anymore. 

We're skeptical and cynical. 

Old heroes are often proven to be frauds at best, monsters at worst. 

New heroes are torn apart by the people and the press mere seconds after they step forward.

Innocent people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colors, and creeds are killed at home and abroad every single day by acts of war and terror. 

And no, I don't believe we're hearing more of these stories now just because they get ratings and page views, I think we're hearing more of them because they happen more.  It's a sad state of affairs.  I try to remain optimistic, to fight the cynicism I feel inside of me, but some days it just gets to be too much.  The dream continues to slip away.

My favorite professor, the late, great Welch Everman, used to tell his classes that pop culture was important because it says about us only and exactly what we want it to say about us.  If our pretend heroes seem less than heroic now, it's probably because we don't believe there are many real ones out there anymore, maybe even that we don't deserve them.

This looks like a job for Superman.  Too bad he isn't coming.