Thursday, March 27, 2014

#711. Seven best elements from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's third season

Do I love Star Trek?  Is Deep Space Nine my favorite Star Trek?  Is the third season my favorite from DS9?  The answers to these questions are all "yes."  Now let's move on to the list!

  1. The Defiant - For the first two seasons of the series, anytime the personnel of the space station wanted to go somewhere, they had to take a ride in a runabout, which was DS9's version of the classic Star Trek shuttlecraft.  One of the very first things seen in the third season premiere, the two-part "The Search," was Benjamin Sisko arriving at the station in the Defiant, the first Starfleet warship.  It was Sisko's baby, something he helped develop thanks to his personal experiences during the Borg invasion that culminated in the Battle of Wolf 359, when he lost his wife Jennifer.  The thing about the Defiant, rushed into service thanks to the new Dominion threat that saw a Galaxy-class starship (the same as the Enterprise-D) destroyed by a single Jem'Hadar fighter, was that it was a little overpowered.  It was in constant danger of shorting out.  Oh, and it had a cloaking device, on loan from the Romulans.  The ship, and its successor, remained attached to the station for the remainder of the series, and was even featured in Star Trek: First Contact.  It was a "tough little ship."  And it remained Sisko's baby.  And it was very, very sweet.  Great way to kick off the season!
  2. Michael Eddington - Another addition to the series in "The Search" was the new Starfleet security chief.  This was a position that Odo briefly had to contend with in the first season, but Eddington actually worked with the constable, respected him.  And he trusted Sisko implicitly.  He was a reliable presence in the series, not overly noteworthy, until...well, he revealed himself to be a member of the Maquis, the rogue group of Federation citizens who declared open war on the Cardassians.  And how did he do it?  By setting up Sisko's girl, Kasidy Yates, for the fall.  And that made it personal.  And that made a DS9 legend out of Michael Eddington.
  3. "Past Tense" - The season had a couple of two-hour adventures, but this time-traveling trip to the Bell Riots of the early 21st century featuring Sanctuary Districts for the homeless and unwanted rang most brilliantly.  Sisko ends up having to replace Gabriel Bell after the man who would help bring about social reform is killed.  And what is the fate of Bell according to the timeline?  Oh, death.  How is he going to make it out alive?  This is sort of like the DS9 version of the original series classic "The City on the Edge of Forever."  But I'd say "Past Tense" is better.
  4. "Explorers" - One of the reasons the third season was so memorable for me was that it was to that point and even for the rest of the series the best season for Sisko material.  It found him at his most comfortable, and he couldn't get more comfortable than getting to hang out with his son Jake and working on a personal project, building a replica of an ancient Bajoran solar ship and then making the journey from Bajor to Cardassia just to prove it had actually happened.  We learn Jake's plans for the future, his father's estimation of his writing, and generally just spend time with the Siskos.  It's a sublime hour.
  5. Kasidy Yates - The Eddington affair would happen later, but both characters debut this season, so it's only fitting that their fates would intertwine again.  Yates is a freighter captain, whose brother actively plays baseball, Sisko's main passion in life.  They're positively fated to fall in love.  If they can just overcome the problems of building a relationship while both leading demanding lives!  Even if Penny Johnson didn't enter pop culture lore in this role, she would later, as the scheming wife of David Palmer in 24.
  6. Jennifer Sisko - The other woman in Sisko's wife appeared in Prophet-induced vision form in the series pilot, "Emissary," but finally appeared in the present thanks to the Mirror Universe, which saw the first of its two greatest hours in DS9 happen this season, "Through the Looking Glass."  In the Mirror Universe, Sisko is dead.  In our universe, Jennifer is dead.  Their meeting this season is our chance to see them together, in all its awkward glory, given the circumstances.  (Is that Tuvok, from Voyager?  Well, no.  Technically, it's Mirror Tuvok.)  And finally, this character enters living DS9 history.  Next time, Jennifer Sisko dies again, alas...
  7. Captain Sisko - Besides gaining a ship, Sisko also finally attains the rank of captain this season.  (Wait, did I just fill this entire list with Sisko elements?  Yes, yes I did.  Also, Bashir and O'Brien singing "Jerusalem."  Classic, classic stuff right there.)  For the first two seasons, not only was there no starship in a Star Trek series for the first time, but the lead was a commander instead of a captain.  This season corrected both of these oversights.  In the season finale, "The Adversary," Sisko is not only sporting his goatee (Avery Brooks started out with the original look to distinguish the character from his other notable TV role, which saw him star in A Man Called Hawk for a season, spinning off from Spenser: For Hire), but gets promoted, too.  I didn't mention Garak's shenanigans during the season.  I'm sure Captain Sisko wouldn't have minded if Garak just stopped trying to meddle in things, and really did stick to being a plain, simple tailor...And Odo finally solving the mystery of his people?  Say hello to the Founders.  And just try and say goodbye!
Just in sheer terms of being the best series material possible, I'd say this season at least ranks with the best ones throughout the whole Star Trek franchise.  But since this is my blog, I will just go ahead and say this is the best season of Star Trek.  Ever.  Did I mention Quark's Klingon bride?  Because that happens, too.  And the Rules of Acquisition are revised.  And Bareil is turned into a robot.  And O'Brien shifts through time.  And Kira is tricked into believing she's Cardassian.  And Nog decides to enter Starfleet.  And Jadzia meets all the previous Dax hosts.  And Odo almost ends up remaining one of them.  And...and...and...!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#709. Lemmon/Matthau: Grumpy & Odd

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.  Comedy icons.  Even more iconic together.  So I figured I'd write a little about them.  Doing the research, I learned they did even more movies together than I knew about, so I have more I'll have to experience of them in the future, but here're my thoughts on their induplicable pairings all the same:

  • The Odd Couple (1968) The most iconic.  Lemmon plays a suicidal man whose pal Matthau somehow keeps him alive.  I have no idea how that's even possible, but in the logic of this collaboration, it makes absolute sense.  It was originally a Broadway play and later a TV series, but chances are you know it best in this form.
  • The Fortune Cookie (1966) Apparently this one came first, however.  So maybe by the logic of Matthau being able to save Lemmon, it was on the basis that they already worked together so well!
  • The Front Page (1974) And another one.
  • Buddy Buddy (1981) And another one!  On the road to hilarity, these two!
  • Grumpy Old Men (1993) Completely unexpected late career success for these two, doing a movie together for the first time in more than a decade, and the old spark is definitely there.  Arguably, as apparent or more than in Odd Couple.  As iconic.  A family favorite, easily, the whole reason I'm such a fan.
  • Grumpier Old Men (1995) And this one's better!  The whole joke is that Lemmon and Matthau aren't just strange bedfellows, they actively hate each other!  More or less!  At least when they're competing over a woman!  Just good stuff.  And the supporting cast, including Burgess Meredith, Kevin Pollack, Daryl Hannah, Ann-Margret, and new addition Sophia Loren, keeps up with them every step of the way.  Meredith, especially, was adept at changing his image at will.  He was, as you may recall, the Penguin in the '60s Batman series, and of course Rocky's trainer.  Here he's saltiest, funniest old man you'll ever find.
  • Out to Sea (1997) But this one's my favorite.  Maybe because it's because I'm a Star Trek whore, but it's at least a thrill to see Brent Spiner in his biggest role outside of gold makeup.  Here he's the psychotic cruise director who thinks he can keep Lemmon and Matthau in line.  He has no idea!  Of course he can't!  He sings!  He dances!  He introduces himself!  He speaks in a vaguely British accent!  He's just a genuine thrill to watch.  As are Lemmon and Matthau, all over again.  Watching Matthau dance...It's one of the things everyone's gotta experience before they die.  That's mandatory as of 1997.  
  • The Odd Couple II (1998) Their final film together (within three years both would be dead, alas) brings the whole thing full circle.  What treasures they were!  Are!  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

#706. Lord of the Rings Star Back from Then

I'm not these movies' biggest fan, but I can admire a fine legacy when I see one, and pound for pound, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy has one of the finest and most translatable casts ever assembled.  Nearly every single actor from Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King went on to other prominent, sometimes even iconic roles.

But you don't have to take my word for it:

Elijah Wood
(Frodo Baggins)

Prominent appearances since: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sin City, Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two, Wilfred (TV series)
Post-LotR Analysis: Mark Hamill Syndrome.

Sean Astin
(Samwise Gamgee)

Prominent appearances since: Jeremiah (TV series), 24 (fifth season)
Post-LotR Analysis: Arguably the most famous member of the cast before the films were made thanks to Rudy, his legacy was only bolstered by playing Sam, and so probably didn't have much more to prove anyway.

Sean Bean

Prominent appearances since: Equilibrium, Troy, National Treasure, The Island, The Hitcher, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Mirror Mirror, Game of Thrones
Post-LotR Analysis: Became hugely in-demand for supporting roles, and always steals the show; is probably responsible for the early interest in Thrones.  One of the biggest winners by far.

Cate Blanchett

Prominent appearances since: The Aviator, Babel, The Good German, Notes on a Scandal, I'm Not There, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Robin Hood, Hanna, Blue Jasmine
Post-LotR Analysis: Already a critical darling before her appearances as an elf, Blanchett's career skyrocketed afterward and is arguably the greatest beneficiary of the whole cast.  She has two Oscars to show for it, after all.

Orlando Bloom

Prominent appearances since: Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, Elizabethtown, The Three Musketeers
Post-LotR Analysis: Enjoyed a huge boom and unexpected huge success in another trilogy as the most natural of the movie stars to emerge from Middle Earth.  Has struggled since then to become relevant again, however.  (I remain a huge fan.)

Billy Boyd
(Peregrin "Pip" Took)

Prominent appearances since: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Post-LotR Analysis: Like most of the other hobbits, Boyd was a tough sell outside of his hairy feet.

Ian Holm
(Bilbo Baggins)

Prominent appearances since: Garden State, The Day After Tomorrow, The Aviator, Ratatouille
Post-LotR Analysis: Completely unnecessary.

Christopher Lee

Prominent appearances since: Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, The Golden Compass, Alice in Wonderland, Season of the Witch, Hugo, Dark Shadows
Post-LotR Analysis: Was completely rediscovered and recognized as the treasure he is.

Andy Serkis

Prominent appearances since: 13 Going On 30, King Kong, The Prestige, Flushed Away, Inkheart, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin, Arthur Christmas
Post-LotR Analysis: Became a bloody rock god.

Ian McKellen

Prominent appearances since: X-Men: The Last Stand, The Da Vinci Code, Flushed Away, Stardust, The Golden Compass, The Prisoner (TV mini-series)
Post-LotR Analysis: Modest, and certainly he had already entered pop culture as Magneto, but who's to argue with Leigh Teabing???

Dominic Monaghan
(Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck)

Prominent appearances since: Lost, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, FlashForward (TV series)
Post-LotR Analysis: Did I say Andy Serkis became a bloody rock god?  Dominic Monaghan became the bloody rock god.  Arguably far better known now for his role as Charlie Pace.

Viggo Mortensen

Prominent appearances since: Hidalgo, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, Appaloosa, The Road, A Dangerous Method, On the Road
Post-LotR Analysis: As far as disappointments go, his is a relative one, but it certainly go that much further to prove how the stars aligned for a role that originally went to someone else.

John Rhys-Davies

Prominent appearances since: The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, One Night with the King, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Post-LotR Analysis: Already a well-established character actor, he's another veteran who had very little to prove.

Liv Tyler

Prominent appearances since: Jersey Girl, Reign Over Me, The Strangers, The Incredible Hulk, Robot & Frank
Post-LotR Analysis: Low-key, as with several others.

Hugo Weaving

Prominent appearances since: The Matrix Reloaded, The Matrix Revolutions, V for Vendetta, Happy Feet, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Wolfman, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Happy Feet Two, Cloud Atlas
Post-LotR Analysis: Like McKellen, Weaving had already entered pop culture as Agent Smith, a role he'd continue simultaneously with his appearances in Middle Earth.  But playing Elrond was unquestionably a terrific way to solidify the significant upturn in his career.

Brad Dourif
(Grima Wormtongue)

Prominent appearances since: Seed of Chucky, Deadwood (TV series), Halloween, Halloween II, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, Priest, Curse of Chucky
Post-LotR Analysis: Continued being paid to be creepy.

Bernard Hill

Prominent appearances since: Gothika, Wimbledon, Valkyrie
Post-LotR Analysis: Didn't wildly benefit.

Miranda Otto

Prominent appearances since: War of the Worlds, I, Frankenstein
Post-LotR Analysis: Surprisingly little effect.

Karl Urban

Prominent appearances since: The Chronicles of Riddick, The Bourne Supremacy, Doom, Out of the Blue, Pathfinder, Star Trek, Red, Priest, Dredd, Star Trek Into Darkness, Riddick, Almost Human (TV series)
Post-LotR Analysis: Unquestionably one of the big winners, although it took a little while.  Gained more fans as the second actor to portray Leonard "Bones" McCoy.

David Wenham

Prominent appearances since: Van Helsing, The Proposition, 300, Australia, Public Enemies, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, 300: Rise of an Empire
Post-LotR Analysis: You probably know his voice better than his face, but Wenham is certainly one of the more surprising winners from the cast.

John Noble

Prominent appearances since: One Night with the King, Running Scared, The Last Airbender, Fringe (TV series)
Post-LotR Analysis: As Walter Bishop in Fringe, Noble gained new genre significance and his true lasting legacy.  My favorite veteran because of it, actually.

(All images via IMDb)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

#704. Rediscovering Mr. Hanks

Tom Hanks has long been a favorite actor of mine.  After winning Best Actor awards at back-to-back Oscars in the early '90s, he seemed to be a lock for perennial critical darling in much the way Meryl Streep has been over the years, and his popularity looked equally bullet proof.  But he seems easy to take for granted, so I'm going to do a little stroll down memory lane, to refresh you on what he's done in his career...

Bosom Buddies (1980-1982)
The TV show that launched his career has otherwise been stricken from the record, other than periodic references to costar Peter Scolari's fate.  It aired for two seasons, debuting just a few months after I was born.  So Hanks has literally been a star of some kind for the span of my whole life.

Splash (1984)
His first big movie, directed by Ron Howard and featuring Daryl Hannah as a mermaid.

Nothing in Common (1986)
After a string of youthful-era comedies, Hanks tries for something different in this drama with Jackie Gleason.

Dragnet (1987)
The previews for this movie version of the TV series were the first time I saw Hanks.  This one costars Dan Ackroyd.  I still haven't seen it, but it's on my movie bucket list.

Big (1988)
His, ah, first big role, the breakout project that definitively distinguished Hanks from his contemporaries, the quintessential role of an outsider who somehow fits right in.

Turner & Hooch (1989)
Another early glimpse via previews, and I still haven't seen this one, either.  Hooch is a dog.  There's a hilarious reference to this one in Scrubs.

Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
Stars alongside Meg Ryan for the first time.

Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
Could very easily have torpedoed his career.

A League of Their Own (1992)
This is the reason his career ended up just fine.  "There's no crying in baseball!"  Basically a prototype Woody!

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
The second pairing with Meg Ryan and after Big, his most recognizable starring role to that point.

Philadelphia (1993)
Wins the first Oscar portraying a man dying of AIDS.

Forrest Gump (1994)
Wins the second one playing Forrest, Forrest Gump.  A lot of critics tend to call this movie one of the less deserving Best Picture winners, citing Pulp Fiction as an obvious alternative.  But as big a fan of Quentin Tarantino and Fiction itself as I am, I'd still pick Gump every time.  It's completely iconic.  And apparently this was the closest Gary Sinese would ever come to immortality.  Bet you can name his character!

Apollo 13 (1995)
Reteaming with Ron Howard for this milestone NASA film.  And yes, Sinese is in it.  And no, he doesn't get to go to the moon.  (Spoiler alert: none of them do.)

Toy Story (1995)
With all due apologies to every other Tom Hanks performance, this one solidifies his immortality.

That Thing You Do! (1996)
Hanks directed this one.  And some material was shot at Mercyhurst College, where both myself and my oldest brother would later attend.  So I'm a degree away from him!

From the Earth to the Moon (1998)
A mini-series he helped bring to life, further diversifying his portfolio.  Also, more NASA.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Chances are you have some memories of this one, but not necessarily of Hanks himself in it.  He purposefully had the most obvious elements of his role eliminated.  And that's why Shakespeare in Love won the Oscar (I'll never argue that one, either).

You've Got Mail (1998)
The third film with Meg Ryan.

Toy Story 2 (1999)
Woody's movie.  Technically the first one was Buzz Lightyear's.

The Green Mile (1999)
Based on a Stephen King (serialized) book.

Cast Away (2000)
Costarring Wilson, a volleyball.  One of my personal favorites.

Band of Brothers (2001)
Another TV mini-series.  Also, more WWII.

Road to Perdition (2002)
Critics have lately given to saying Hanks doesn't have much range.  I'd suggest this is one obvious exception to that opinion.  Another personal favorite.

Catch Me If You Can (2002)
Wears horn-rimmed glassed.  Does not become HRG.

The Ladykillers (2004)
I love this performance.

The Terminal (2004)
He takes on an accent in both of these 2004 movies.  This one is probably one of the movies where critics, and audiences, started to take him for granted, but it's actually pretty great.

The Polar Express (2004)
He plays multiple roles in this motion capture flick.

The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Relentlessly mocked for his hairstyle in the movie, but this is another Hanks standout for me.

Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
This is another favorite.  (There's a lot of them.)

Angels & Demons (2009)
By popular demand, no questionable hairstyle in this sequel that in the original book was actually a prequel.

The Pacific (2010)
A third TV mini-series.  Also features WWII.

Toy Story 3 (2010)
A lot of fans love this third entry in the series, but I find it needlessly repetitive to material from the earlier ones.

Larry Crowne (2011)
Perhaps the movie where it became incredibly obvious that neither fans nor critics still particularly thought Hanks was special.  Of course, another personal favorite.

Cloud Atlas (2012)
I was somewhat baffled by the mediocre reception to this movie in general, but then, maybe it wasn't so surprising.  More surprising was the complete apathy to the multiple and varied roles Hanks plays in it, including the first and probably only badass he'll ever do.

Captain Phillips (2013)
Basically Cast Away if instead of a volleyball Hanks is confronted by angry Somalian pirates.  But critics and audiences actually liked this one for a change.

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Another personal favorite in a role that seemed like a surefire hit all around: Tom Hanks as Walt Disney.  Does he pull it off?  He pulls it off.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Eponymous Monk Weekend Edition 4 (#s 32-33)

(click images and weep because there are only nine left)

First - Previous - Next

Four of my ebooks are free today!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

#701. Star Trek Continuum: a franchise film

Unless you have been living under a rock (which due to its popularity in these types of situations, is apparently a lot cooler than it might seem), you know that there has been a whole series of films in Marvel's cinematic Avengers franchise.  The Fast & Furious series is another recent example of characters from different settings coming together.  There was also the recent news that Star Wars, when it returns to theaters, will become the source of spinoffs, too.  In other words, the age of a unified story is at an end, although divergent plots have also been increasingly popular when it becomes clear how they fit together.  Big story, meet little story; little story, meet big story.

As a long-term fan of Star Trek, I can't help but see a giant opportunity here.  Now, you probably know where I'm going with this, considering it's in the title of the post and everything.  This wouldn't even be completely revolutionary in the franchise.  Characters have been crossing over from setting to setting for years there, even in the J.J. Abrams reboot, which saw fit to include the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, in his new continuity.

Call me crazy and hopelessly obsessed and delusional that I might still see official new material featuring some of my all-time characters from franchise lore, but I think Star Trek could easily embrace this new era in blockbuster filmmaking.

But don't listen to anymore of my flimsy justifications, here's the flashy concept that will never happen but still sounded pretty cool to me when I dreamed it up:

  • At the beginning of this movie, Star Trek Continuum, we are in the Mirror Universe.  It's necessary to be there because of a character who needs to be alive, one of my favorites, Charlies "Trip" Tucker III.  Trip was killed off in the series finale of Star Trek: Enterprise.  Upset a lot of fans, actually.  The Pocket Books continuity cooked up a convoluted way of explaining he didn't really die.  But he did.  So we're in the Mirror Universe.  Trip in this reality still has a relationship with T'Pol (here I'm going to assume even though it's unlikely that a lot of people cared enough about this show to remember the same things I do) and still has their hybrid daughter Elizabeth to show for it.  Except Elizabeth is kidnapped, brought across time and realities to our familiar one.
  • Wesley Crusher, meanwhile, as Star Trek Nemesis briefly hinted at, has returned to Starfleet and in fact now teaches at the Academy, and his star pupil is Miral, the daughter of Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres from Star Trek: Voyager, whom Wesley suddenly leaves with one afternoon, employing his Traveler powers.  Is he also the kidnapper of Elizabeth?
  • Jake Sisko, as he did in the classic episode "The Visitor" from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, never got over losing his father Ben at the end of that series.  He recruits O'Brien and Bashir (which finally gives us both Colm Meaney and Alexander Siddig in a Star Trek movie) and resurrects the decommissioned Defiant to investigate the Bajoran wormhole, which hasn't opened since the elder Sisko disappeared.  This is the longest sequence so far. They succeed.  Tearful reunion.  But Ben Sisko knows something's wrong.  He was going to come back anyway, and in fact had been calling to his son for weeks, in his dreams, in visions.  He knows about the breaches in time and reality.  He knows he has to do something to set things right.  One of his chief stumbling blocks, though, is an old friend, current chancellor of the Klingon Empire, Martok, who under intense pressure has had to declare a state of emergency while Miral's whereabouts are investigated.  Unlike Worf, Miral has been embraced from the start by other Klingons.  She has long been considered the answer to an ancient prophecy, after all (this is real information from Voyager, folks).  He can't ignore something so grave.  Once more, Sisko and the Klingons approach the brink of war...
  • But there's more!  Q visits Picard.  (It had to happen in the films!)  He knows and Guinan knows, something isn't right.  Picard's son, another curious hybrid, strongly hinted at to be his and Guinan's, is caught in the middle of all this, too.  Picard is worried.  He can't risk his family again.  He reluctantly has to trust Q.  Except Q tells him that he must sit this one out, trust others for a change.  (This doesn't prevent one of those franchise moments long in coming, though, the first Picard/Sisko scene since Deep Space Nine began as they discuss matters.)  And so this is when Picard realizes the responsibility he has had all along for another son, one that wasn't his own but was long under his care: Wesley Crusher.  He turns to the one man who might be able to reason with Wesley, if they can find him, Tom Paris.
  • Here's where I mess with continuity a tiny smidgen.  Actor Robert Duncan McNeill famously played a cadet classmate of Wesley's, and then a totally differently but completely similar character as Paris in Voyager.  In this movie, Paris finally admits that both characters are one in the same.  The other identity was part of his need to break away from an overbearing father, which itself is a well-established facet of Paris's.  It's only when Wesley finally confronts all the abandonment issues a dead father and his experiences with great power as a Traveler that he walks away from whatever it was he'd been attempting (either that's figured out in another draft, or fodder...for a sequel!) that he gives up Miral, and Elizabeth.  Possibly, he stole a Mirror Universe individual to finally bring that one and the regular one back, painfully, together, a matter Deep Space Nine always danced around.  (And maybe the sequel could blend these two realities!  One more time!)
  • So Miral is brought back home, war is averted.  And Elizabeth is returned home, and Mirror Universe Trip and T'Pol begin the resistance movement Spock would one day mainline at Kirk's prodding, which would conclude under the direction of Deep Space Nine characters.
  • And on a concluding note, we flashback to a totally unrelated note, back to the last time regular continuity was featured in the movies, the controversial Star Trek Nemesis.  We see Dr. Soong create B4, hear his own words, his own intentions, his own dreams for this apparently flawed creation.  And then go back to the ending of Nemesis, where B4 has become half his own brother, Data.  Picard, in a nod to words he has exchanged with Q previous in the film, provides his usual quiet wisdom, a soliloquy such as he never quite got in the movies.  I mean, you have Patrick Stewart.  Let him go the full Shakespeare.  If he's not the action hero this time, let him be the philosopher.
  • And everyone wins.  Until, perhaps, Zombie Kirk, or something.  Because we didn't have any original series actors in this thing.
   Crazy and cockamamie, I know.  But fun!  Fun thoughts for an unabashed Star Trek fan, anyway...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

(#700!) Eponymous Monk #31

(seven different replies 
and a random participant 
will be written into the story!)

To encourage replies for the above incentive, I will make this post a shockingly rare interactive one here at Scouring Monk.  As the headline reads, this is my 700th post here.  Now, I know most of my readers have only been around for a year or two of my decade-plus run, but I'd still love to hear what your favorite memory so far has been.  You can even demand that I do more like that, if for some reason I don't do it enough or haven't done it or have stopped doing it.  Your comments could very well shape the future of this blog!

But if you say you want these silly "cartoons" to end, you are out of luck.  They are continuing one way or another.  Cows gotta cud, yo.

Also, stay tuned, because there are freebies available on Friday.

And belatedly, I'm embedding some future knowledge on you fine folks, in case as I suspect there be stragglers.  After April there will be a whole format change here.  I am going to be reintegrating to some extent my many spinoff blogs.  Posts during the week will feature classic content from them. Other posts, probably limited to once a week, the continuing Eponymous Monk story.  And I will be bringing back the Best of What's Around feature, which most of my readers didn't even realize was happening when I did it during the original Direct Current phase a few years back.  BoWA will be a repurposing of my favorite material from other bloggers.  I realize blogging, especially in this community, is an essentially reciprocal event.  I don't necessarily want to do what other people do in that regard.  I can't just participate in announcements.  I crave a more critical participation in events.  I like to be creative.  So that's what's going to happen.

Things are...changing.  Are you ready?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#699. If CM Punk Really Is Done

Since January 26, 2014, CM Punk has been absent from WWE programming.

Now, for people who aren't really big into wrestling, this perhaps isn't that big a deal.  You may not even know who CM Punk is.  But for wrestling fans, this has been a burning topic of discussion since that day, or rather, the following night on Raw when he failed to show up for the first time.  People figured that night, maybe he was just taking the night off.  Then he didn't show up again.  And again.  And again.  Here it is, as I'm typing this post in advance a day, March 10.  WrestleMania 30 is only a month away.  This is WWE's biggest card of the year any year, but this is also obviously an anniversary card, celebrating three decades of the event.  You'd expect one of the company's biggest stars to leap at the opportunity to participate in it.

Apparently you would be wrong.  There's always the chance, us hopeful fans keep insisting, that this is all a storyline, that this topic will automatically be moot by the time it loads, because Punk will have returned last night.  But I don't see that as happening.  It would be awesome.  (Or rather, if it did happen, it was awesome.)  But I think this is real, I think Punk is serious in taking a sabbatical or outright walking away, might be the smartest thing he ever did.

Other big name wrestlers have done this sort of thing.  Bret Hart voluntarily did so after he lost the epic hour-long iron man match to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12 in 1996.  He gave Michaels all the room he needed to establish his championship reign.  Of course, a number of ironies resulted.  When Hart came back that fall, he did so in a program with a guy named Steve Austin, whose career peak Hart would help solidify as happening just one year after a historic match at 1997's WrestleMania 13.

A match that didn't happen at WrestleMania 13, obviously, was a rematch between Hart and Michaels.  Michaels had spent the rest of 1996 as champion, except for a few months, and was still primed to defend his title at the big card in 1997.  Except he didn't want a rematch with Hart.  He chose to walk away.  That was the first of the truly infamous moments involving these two.  Wrestling fans know it from Michaels' "I lost my smile" speech he made while surrendering the title that February.

It's Austin who is the other major participant in this trend that I will talk about.  Austin did, of course, become a major star in WWE.  I'm sure you're at least familiar with the name "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.  For a couple of years, he was the undisputed top star of professional wrestling.  Then in 2002, he was asked to make way for someone else, someone completely different from him, a guy named Brock Lesnar.  He was asked to lose a match on Raw, and instead of going along with that, Austin walked away, and that was in fact the end of his active in-ring career.

Incredibly, fans finally got over that.  It helped that he embarked on a goodwill tour as a personality on Raw throughout 2003.  He didn't walk away from WWE completely.

That will probably be one of the differences between him and Punk, if Punk stays away forever, as he very easily could.

Michaels, by the way, came back, too.  He took his time getting back into the main event, where Hart once again sat in the meantime.  The two clashed again in the most infamous moment between them, the "Montreal Screwjob" incident at the 1997 Survivor Series, which directly impacted the course of both their careers as well as wrestling in general.  Hart had signed a deal with WCW, which was the whole reason it was deemed necessary to tamper with the ending of the match so that under no uncertain terms Michaels won.  But Hart and WCW were never quite in sync.  He spent a few years there, but his wrestling years came to an abrupt end due to a concussion (one of the earliest moments in any sports/entertainment medium where a concussion had a public acknowledgment and obvious effect; former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe was another pioneer of this dubious honor).  Michaels suffered a debilitating back injury not long after the match and stuck around long enough to pass the torch to Austin at WrestleMania 14 in 1998, and didn't compete again until 2002.  Austin's career benefited considerably from the controversy.  He was the embodiment of the little man who wouldn't allow the big man to push him around.

Now, Punk.  Punk has always been an interesting case.  He will probably go down in the history books as the defining star of this current professional wrestling age.  That honor would seem to wait for John Cena, the current, decade-long WWE golden boy, but it's Punk who managed to be a breakout star and major headliner in two separate promotions by playing things his own way, time and time again refusing to compromise.  His career routinely suffered for it.  WWE almost never knew what to do with him, and never seemed to worry about it.

Punk is in possession of a healthy ego.  Which, as I've actually argued here, is probably a pretty massive one. He's in possession of a sense of entitlement.  Maybe that's required for anyone who appears in the public spotlight and stays there for years.  After a small taste, some people will do anything to keep that spotlight, will even come to believe that there's no reason why their success shouldn't be greater and greater, despite the fact that for some people, any success is success, and that indeed, any success just never seems possible.

He spent years competing for one of the leading independent wrestling promotions in the States, Ring of Honor.  He was never tapped as a long-term champion.  His only reign as champion was for a few months, after he'd already signed the deal to leave and start up with WWE.  Punk's calling card was always his ability to stand out from the pack.  The pack he originally began with was one of those backyard promotions all of WWE's adult adversary warnings tell you to avoid ("do not try this at home!").  "CM" stands for "Chick Magnet."  No kidding.  He had humble origins.  But success that seemed to come so easily, he wanted more and more.

And of course he deserved it.  Those who are obviously good at something deserve to succeed at it.  It's awesome, a triumph for everyone, when true talent is not only recognized but acknowledged.  CM Punk's story is all about that.  Ego in this case is a matter of self-awareness as much as anything.

Of course, the fact is he entered WWE at a time when it was, and remains, the only major promotion in the States.  ROH hasn't reached that stage.  Total Nonstop Action, the leading contender, hasn't despite a series of bold moves and arguably being long worthy of the status (that fans still argue otherwise is really the main reason it hasn't, perhaps because after the epic collapses of both WCW and ECW, it just seems easier to keep only one thumb in the pie).  That means, basically, a monopoly.  That means WWE is in total control of who becomes a major star.

And it also has to try and make those stars.  This is an era that has proven this to be a task easier said than done.  Major stars don't just happen.  Austin took years to become one, was even told by WCW that he would never become one.  Hulk Hogan faced similar opposition in his early years (no, really!), because bigger men didn't elicit the necessary sympathy from the fans to warrant being champion for long, much less to be a good guy.  And despite that, Hogan became one of the wrestlers most associated with a heroic persona for more than a decade (before he enjoyed equal success as a bad guy!).

Hogan always played by the rules.  Austin, despite appearances in the ring contrary to this, always played by the rules (until he walked away).

Punk never played by the rules.  And that's why his path to success was all the more improbable.  Fans instantly recognized him as the breakout star of WWE's ECW revival in 2006.  They expected him to be ECW champion by the end of that year.  Instant champions like that almost never happen.  Kurt Angle, the Olympic gold medalist, is a rare exception, the more recent Alberto Del Rio another.  It takes the ability to adapt to the WWE style instantly.

Like I said, Punk always did it his own way.  WWE tested him out as a top-level champion a couple of times in 2008 and 2009.  None of his reigns in this period were very long, and none of them saw him carry any significant weight for the company.  It was just to see how he'd perform.

But Punk didn't really happen as a WWE phenomenon until he finally did what he'd done in ROH in his final months, break the fourth wall.  In one of the most famous promos in wrestling history, Punk said he'd be walking away, regardless of whether or not he beat Cena at the 2011 Money in the Bank.  Even if he became champion.  He'd had enough.  It was classic bait-and-switch.  His hometown crowd in Chicago ate him up all night at Money in the Bank.  The fans sold that moment into becoming as legendary as any other hallmark moment in wrestling history.

And of course he came back.  He soon enough started a year-long-plus reign as champion.  Punk never did have a signature program during this time.  Most of the spotlight remained on Cena.  Punk did whatever he was asked, he was the company man during his reign as champion.  And then he lost the title, and started playing by his rules again.

A year later, Punk could have main evented WrestleMania 30.  He and Daniel Bryan have equal cause to call themselves true breakout, major stars in WWE, a status that hasn't happened for anyone in years.  Daniel Bryan's career parallels Punk's in a lot of many ways, but he's had a comparatively rapid ascent up the ladder compared to Punk.  He made his WWE debut in 2010, lost his job after a controversial moment in the ring, but was resigned thanks to popular demand.  From there, he did whatever the company needed him to do.  He didn't start to distinguish himself until he was made champion for the first time.  The more he proved himself at the highest level, the more WWE had to wonder if his small stature was something that didn't have to stand in his way after all.  And so that's the question the company faces today, regardless of where Punk stands.

Except it's Punk who's the most charismatic star from recent years, Punk who has the ability to pull off a wide variety of matches and can talk his way around any subject, play any role, be the hero and villain, sometimes at the same time, the way Austin used to.  Except while Austin had the benefit of always having the company's full support...Punk never has.

He is, after all, a punk.  No major wrestling star has changed his look so often. Punk's trademark stringy locks were shaved by the time the company considered keeping him in the main event.  He's played around with his facial hair so many times, his most recent mutton chop look is the first time I realized he could easily succeed Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, is perhaps the only credible personality who could at the moment, the cynical loner who sometimes plays along, but only when he gets what he wants.  And when he doesn't, he walks away.

Punk hasn't spoken about his motives since his disappearance in January.  In fact, he hasn't really spoken at all.  Maybe it's ego.  Maybe he desperately needed his body to rest.  Maybe he was dissatisfied with other decisions WWE had been making at the time.  Nobody knows.

But the one thing fans ought to know is that unlike Bret Hart, unlike Shawn Michaels, unlike Steve Austin, Punk's walkout comes at a time where he could very well say he's done everything he needs to do, but can still do more if he wants to.  He could be a bigger star.  Hart didn't become a bigger star.  Michaels didn't become a bigger star (although inarguably his 2002 comeback made him beloved for the first time).  Austin certainly didn't become a bigger star.

It's a turning point.  He decided to take the opportunity to once again do the unexpected.  This punk most definitely plays by his own rules.

Punk is the Ric Flair of this era.  Flair was the only WCW star WWE allowed to be exactly as he always was when he wrestled for them.  They let him keep his name, his reputation, everything.  Flair's WWE success was instantaneous.  In today's landscape, the curve is wider, but Punk kept everything, too, and it's telling that his signature moments in ROH and WWE are exactly the same, but fans have never held that against him.  He's always had the perfect wrestling instinct.  And he's improved.  That's incredibly rare.

His reputation will grow.  Perhaps especially if he has truly walked away forever.  CM Punk will have done what no other wrestler before him could.  He took control of his own destiny.  And not just on January 27, 2014, but for more than a decade before that.  That just doesn't happen.

You're looking at an emerging modern legend.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

#696. Seven characters who explain Lost

I love Lost.  Lost was immensely popular even though it routinely baffled its fans.  The only thing that stains its memory now is that in its conclusion, Lost managed to remain true to that trend.  More people seem to think that it never really explained everything and therefore ends up being unsatisfying than those who think it did and therefore remains immensely satisfying.

So here I am making another attempt to clarify matters.  I've always believed it was the characters and not the elements around them that define Lost.  I mean, I thought that was always pretty clear.  It was their journeys that gave meaning to anything that happened.  But the characters also explain those sticky elements, too, and so here I will try to explain the series by explaining the characters, and how they define those elements better than it sometimes seems.

  • Jack (see also: Hurley, Michael, Mr. Eko, Claire)  This is the lead character of the series.  He's also someone who believes he's forever defined by a tragic past that he's always interpreted as being his fault, but it really wasn't, and so he's spent his life torturing himself, never forgiving himself, and needing redemption for it.  Isn't that the whole series in a nutshell?  Jack's father was always hard on him, claimed his son just "didn't have what it takes."  As the lead character and most obviously heroic of the series, is that how you would describe Jack?  As someone who had no idea what to do?  Right from the start, right after the crash, he's the one who sets out to rescue everyone.  His mirror opposite, Ana Lucia, ended up with a far different fate for her camp of survivors because she couldn't do the same.  And who could?  His journey on the island and even off the island, his decision to return to it, are not really about the island itself, but his continuing inability to let go.  If his father was right about anything, it's Jack's need to continue pressing the issue when it seems like he should just walk away.  He doesn't walk away from the Others, when he becomes their prisoner.  He doesn't walk away from Juliet.  He doesn't walk away from the island.  He doesn't walk away from Jacob.  There's always unfinished business, at least in Jack's mind, something to fix.  Usually when he tries to hard to fix something, he ends up breaking it again.  And that's the whole thing about the island, too, isn't it?  The Others were only there to protect it.  That's why Jack's father makes such a compelling and early and appropriate manifestation of the island (or the Smoke Monster, if you will).  Even though Jack tends to break things he fixes, he's far closer to the final mend than anyone else.
  • Kate (see also: Sawyer, Sun) Jack's perfect accomplice also punished herself the most out of anyone.  She always believed in herself, but she also constantly punished herself.  Every time she had a good thing, she let it slip away.  It's the whole reason the island had to wait so long to find another protector, because no one had enough confidence in themselves to just do what had to be done, to stop questioning everything.  Kate was pretty heroic.  She's one of the few characters who when considered in full would probably make for a pretty easy villain in any other context, but when given her shot at redemption, looks exactly like a hero.  She never understood the point of the island, either.  She only went back out of a sense of guilt, something she thought she owed someone.  If you want a character who represents that disappointment fans have in Lost, Kate's your girl.  Her life was constantly disappointing her, but in large part because she kept letting it, kept provoking it, even if she never thought she was.  She couldn't let go.
  • Locke (see also: Walt, Aaron, Man in Black, Boone) The character, I think, who most ends up disappointed fans is Locke, who early on seemed like the one with the most to gain and who had gained the most.  But then he gave us a perfect illustration of what kept happening to prevent a happy ending.  He was never satisfied.  He always wanted more.  Even when he had far more than he could have hoped for, he wanted more.  He tempted fate, just like Kate, just like Jack, but the key difference is he was always told he was special.  Instead of being happy with that, he kept pushing the envelope.  When you push the envelop, you sometimes end up tearing it.  That's what happened with Locke, and with everyone else (even the whole Dharma Initiative) who thought they had it all figured out but were constantly surprised to learn they didn't.  
  • Desmond (see also: Jin, Juliet) Here's the character those frustrated fans ought to value a little more.  Desmond's the one whose story ultimately transcended the series, whose defining moment had nothing to do with the mysteries of the island, but a personal triumph that was in no way negated by his further adventures.  His was a love story, filled with magic.  He's the one that shows what's possible when you don't obsess over what can be done but rather what needs to be done, overcoming every seemingly insurmountable obstacle along the way.  Needless to say, but he's always been a favorite character of mine.
  • Jacob (see also: Daniel) Even though Jacob is the important figure of the whole story, it's not really about him, and so it's entirely appropriate that it takes so long to meet him.  Events eclipse him, even though without him they would never have happened.  He's the embodiment of the maguffin, which is not to say he's ultimately pointless, but that if you don't worry so much about the great mysteries of the island, you see that they're really just another of the series of human woes that the series is really about.  That dazzling light, those incredible properties, that's just something he protected, which is to say the ability of the island to force people to be honest with themselves, to find peace.  The island is not a magical wonderland.  It's a horror movie.  Peace is far more difficult to find than you'd think, even with an island imbued with everything you need to achieve it.  What would happen if the rest of the world had equal access to it?  Just ask Jacob.  He believes in the island, but he also needs to protect it.  What more do you need to know?
  • Ben (see also: Sayid, Shannon, Ana Lucia) A character who never asked for trouble, but trouble keeps finding him.  Basically, the human condition for all the cynics, the opposite of Desmond (appropriately, they both represent the last vestiges of the Dharma Initiative).  After a while, even if Ben is not really a villain, even he begins to see himself that way, believes he deserves all the bad things that happen to him.  And so he continues to plot and calculate, thinking there's no point in trying to avoid his fate anymore.  Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the alternate character studies from the final season.  Because before that, who would have believed that the erstwhile Henry Gale could actually be redeemed?
  • Richard (see also: Charlie, Rousseau) Richard Alpert was one of the more fanciful and therefore instantly charismatic additions to the series, seemingly integral but always peripheral.  No doubt he saw all these properties in himself as well.  He was, in the end, the embodiment of the human connection we all crave but frequently fail to make, sometimes quite spectacularly, the necessary bonds that formed in the very first episode and remained strong despite every obstacle to the very end, cutting through every other element.  Even polar bears.   

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

#694. You Were My Brother!

I'm one of the crazy people who loves the Star Wars prequels.

(I've admitted this before.  Don't act so surprised.  I'm not on any mercy mission here.)

I love them for a variety of reasons.  One of them is surely because I loved the original trilogy so much growing up, but that particular prerequisite don't seem to hold much water with other fans, and so when I talk about the prequels, I usually have to explain more than that.  This time I'll be talking about Obi-Wan Kenobi.

The prequels are often seen (when not completely dismissed) strictly as the story of how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.  Even people who generally hate them begrudgingly admit that maybe Revenge of the Sith is not as terrible as the other two (especially The Phantom Binks).  In truth, that's my favorite of them, too, and the basis for everything I will eventually focus on later.

I will continue to argue, however, that one of the reasons the prequels get such a bad rap is that they came in at the start of a new movie era.  The originals, did, too, only they were the ones to usher in that era.  The prequels were released at a time when numerous blockbuster franchises competing for attention had just become a thing.  Today we wouldn't really bat an eye at it.  We've very comfortably slipped into a time when most of them can very easily be hits at the box office and still be talked about kindly by the fans afterward.  This wasn't always the case.

The Phantom Menace was released in 1999.  Fans had been waiting nearly twenty years for another Star Wars.  It was going to be a massive hit one way or another.  In that sense, instant success regardless of the actual response was another thing Star Wars pioneered.  The problem it faced that year was that The Matrix was also released.  The Matrix stole the zeitgeist.  It didn't have something blatantly uncool like Jar Jar Binks running around.  It defined cool the way that Star Wars previously had.

And then Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy debuted two years later.  For some people, these films immediately supplanted not only The Matrix but also Star Wars as the new cool. I mean, they even gave the arguably much bigger phenomenon Harry Potter a run for his money.  When the two Matrix sequels were finally released, they had lost the zeitgeist just as they'd stolen it from Star Wars.  There are always a number of ways to explain why something is a failure, and most of the time people quickly agree with the first person who says it's the material itself, but I happen to favor the lemming effect.  Once a reputation is soiled, it's hard to clean it up.  Once someone says something's bad, everyone else just sort of takes it for granted that this is exactly the way it is.  They internalize the thought process, assume they came to the conclusion themselves.

(And will continue to believe that years later.  Because most people never really reconsider things.  Not for nothing, but I know I'm capable of this.  When I first saw the video for U2's "Beautiful Day," I became convinced that Bono and the rest of the band had jumped the shark.  I totally gave up on the band.  Some time after, I became a bigger fan of U2 than I had ever been before.  And loved the song and the whole album around it.)

Getting back to my intended point a little, when Jackson's original Tolkien trilogy came to an end, one of the highlights of Return of the King was the moment where Sam tells Frodo that he can't carry the ring, but he can carry Frodo.  It was the ultimate statement of the fellowship they alone had carried from the first film.  It was the last great moment of the trilogy.

Revenge of the Sith ends on a comparable note, also in a setting of molten lava, when Ob-Wan and Anakin are dueling what had until that point been one of the most legendary unseen moments in Star Wars lore, the fight that ends their friendship and ruins Anakin's body, forcing him into his iconic Vader apparatus.

And near the end of it, Obi-Wan utters the words: "You were my brother!"

And so I want to talk about that.  I think it means a little more than it seems to on the surface.  I think it resonates through the whole prequel trilogy.

For Obi-Wan, he basically means it literally.  In that moment, this is the greatest betrayal of the whole Star Wars saga, and on the basis of that understanding, this is easily one of the elements that elevates the rest of the material, for me, far above the common estimation.

Going back to Phantom Menace, one of the first things Obi-Wan says after meeting Anakin for the first time is a fairly dismissive comment about "pathetic lifeforms," which is his way of linking the boy with the annoying Jar Jar.  Yes, even in Phantom Menace people know that Jar Jar is annoying.  That's the whole point of the character.  In that moment, Obi-Wan is just like any other Jedi.  He doesn't see Anakin's potential at all.  He's nothing like his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn.  (This in itself might be jarring, because in the original trilogy, the older Kenobi is basically on par with Yoda, who is the closest match to Qui-Gon the saga has.)

It may need reminding that in Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan himself is still only an apprentice.  That's one of the major points of the prequels, the extended apprenticeship the Jedi experience in order to be fully sanctioned as a knight.  It's something Luke Skywalker experiences in the earlier trilogy, but it's perhaps all the more shocking to learn that the very young Anakin is still considered too old and that Ob-Wan, who at this point is probably about as old as Luke will be when we first meet him, is still just learning the craft.

All of this is to say that as far as he is concerned, once Anakin actually is inducted into the program, they are more or less on equal footing.  (Que the epiphany that even in that, there's poetry in how the final duel plays out.)  Despite his misgivings, Obi-Wan ceases to consider Anakin anything other than a brother Jedi-in-training.

Which is to say, they grow up together.

By the time of Attack of the Clones, they're still working alongside each other.  This is not like the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan in Phantom Menace.  They're still on equal footing.  By the time of Revenge, the distance has widened a little, but that's because everyone has begun to sense the danger Anakin represents and is no longer keen to advance him so quickly.

But as far as Obi-Wan is concerned, Anakin remains a brother Jedi.  It was never really for Obi-Wan to consider the nuances of the prophecy concerning Anakin, and he never really did.  He accepted the interpretation at face value.  In some ways, he actually was in awe of Anakin, considered it a privilege to work alongside him.  If that's never really clear until the climactic moment in Revenge, consider this the moment where that's corrected.

All along, especially throughout Clones and the first few acts in Revenge, Obi-Wan and Anakin are inseparable, the way we only imagine Luke and Han Solo are in the original films.  Han was always far more cynical about the whole relationship than we can sometimes think.  They spend more time apart than at each other's side.  That's probably why it's so easy to view the first trilogy in such rough terms.  Even the parts that work together don't really work together.  In the prequels, everything is too streamlined, it seems.  I've argued in the past that this is because we're in times where the old ways are still functioning.  It's Anakin slowly smashing them apart, moreso than Palpatine, that creates the conditions necessary to produce a guy like Han Solo.  Anakin is not Han Solo.  He's not Luke, either, and neither is Obi-Wan.

Their dynamic, then, is the whole basis for the prequels.  If you view it through that prism, does your opinion change at all?

To me, the prequels were never meant to be carbon copies of the originals.  They had their own story to tell.  The originals were about a classic heroic journey.  The prequels were the far less explored villain's journey.  If there's a hero to root for in there, it's an equally tragic one.  And that hero is Obi-Wan, the one who never saw it coming, was blinded the entire way by a friendship that once established he never questioned.  Yes, he gets the big triumph at the end, but clearly he still loses.

Tellingly, whenever Anakin foreshadows his fall, Obi-Wan isn't present.  Those moments are reserved for Padme, the slaughtering of the Sand People, for instance.  It was Qui-Gon who understood everything about Anakin, from the start.  Yoda and the rest of the Jedi, including Obi-Wan, only considered the elements of the prophecy, good or bad.  Obi-Wan's imperfections, or perhaps his purity as a hero, rest in what he's missing, just as Anakin's journey depends on what he's missing, too.

Obi-Wan initially views Anakin as just another tag-along.  Qui-Gon saw far beyond that from the start.  Padme makes the observation in Clones that mentors have the ability to see the flaws in their pupils that the pupils otherwise overlook.  Qui-Gon questioned where Obi-Wan went with the flow.  He even became good friends with both Anakin and Padme, and not only didn't see their relationship develop, or that Anakin's dark side was slowly emerging.

The flaw in the whole Jedi philosophy was also something Obi-Wan unwittingly uttered, that "you're either with me or against me" is a Sith concept, but it's the Jedi who reject those among them who go against the regular order.

I'm not here to argue that Obi-Wan was basically an idiot, who didn't see what to others (especially the audience) might have seemed pretty obvious.  Every other Jedi, including Yoda, didn't see it coming either.  Something about Sith lore blocks Jedi awareness.  I'm here to say that Obi-Wan took certain things for granted, along with every other Jedi.  He was the quintessential Jedi, in fact.  And he thought Anakin was, too, or wanted to be.  And he considered Anakin to be his brother.

So he was betrayed on all accounts.  By the time he had to do something about it, he didn't hesitate to butcher Anakin.  This is easily one of the most shocking moments in the whole Star Wars saga, even if you know it's coming from the moment they clash for the final time in A New Hope.  Tellingly, of course, in that moment, Anakin describes their relationship in very different terms.  He describes it simply as mentor/pupil.  The worst thing about how Revenge ends is that Obi-Wan never figures out where he went wrong.  He believes for twenty years, even, that he was still right.  That's why he initially describes what happened to Luke's father as a betrayal.  Because for Obi-Wan, that's the only description possible.

And by that point, just before he dies, Obi-Wan has reduced the whole thing to the only thing that still makes sense to him, that it's not really about friendships at all, but about the Force.  The very thing he was focused on all those years ago when he dismissed the little boy he first met as just another straggler his mentor had picked up in their travels.

But, that's not what he really thinks.  He's still protecting himself.  He's more honest with Yoda, more honest with Luke.  The old Obi-Wan, which is to say the young Obi-Wan, really was far too focused on his studies and his wishful thinking and his best case scenarios to even consider such honest moments, to consider himself on par with Yoda, for instance, or to speak so honestly, to think so honestly.

When you think about the prequels like that, I think they become less about what they weren't and more of what they were, a character study in the Star Wars saga.  Two character studies.  Of a pair of brothers.  And a betrayal.

To the common assessment, the prequels were a mess, a vision George Lucas had that was flawed in too many ways.  For me, all of these elements explain everything far too well.  They're too calculated to be considered mistakes.  They were deliberate.  In their own way, they became, for me, at least as iconic in the whole saga as the first three films.  Even the execution is knowing, the so-called wooden acting.  There's a formality built into this vision of the old Republic, that without it an important piece of the puzzle is missing.  Qui-Gon has always been one of my favorite characters.  He's an anomaly in every way, and with good reason.

Obi-Wan and Anakin, both should have taken so much more from their fallen champion.  The fact that they didn't leads directly to that molten lava.

"You were my brother!"

Monday, March 03, 2014


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