Friday, December 27, 2019

What I Loved About The Rise of Skywalker... And The Other Stuff

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS WHY DID YOU CLICK ON THIS LINK IF YOU DIDN"T EXPECT SPOILERS

Okay, that's done...

I really hate that going to see The Rise of Skywalker felt like a chore. The amount of negative press and online comments about it over the course of a week (I guess two weeks counting the leak time) had me bummed out about it well in advance, and I was well aware I could go see Knives Out instead.

On the other hand, my expectations were so lowered that I had a good time watching it where I maybe wouldn't have. Who's to say? And this is The Last Star Wars Movie Until The Next One, how could I possibly resist?

So here's the stuff I liked:

Paging Papa Palpatine


Much like in Revenge of the Sith, Ian McDiarmid was an absolute treat reprising his role as Emperor Palpatine. He was creepy, evil, and creepy evil in all the right ways, effortlessly subverting Kylo Ren's mastery over the First Order to reassert his rule as the absolute Lord of All Evil in the Star Wars universe. And he did all this while he was basically a dangling corpse on a stick!

The movie also retroactively clears up Palpatine's one big moment of stupidity, namely his attempt to corrupt Luke Skywalker to his side. Originally this wasn't obviously effective - Palpatine basically seemed to be goading Luke into killing him, on the basis that once he was on the Dark Side the Emperor would somehow be able to bend him to his will. Now, it's clear that Palpatine's goal was to fill Luke's heart with enough hate that he'd be able to body snatch him at the moment Luke struck him down - the same goal he has with Rey. From now on, Palpatine's only flaw will be that he's a bit too happy with the Force lightning, and honestly, wouldn't you be?

Eff Hux


Did anyone else get hype when the Senior Nazi shot this little weasel? Remember kids, Nazis eat their own as readily as anyone else, and no one is immune. Goodbye Hux, hope the door hit your ass on the way down.

The Final Order


Palpatine's private army can come off as incredibly stupid ("He built this whole thing in secret? All the Star Destroyers have planet-killer guns?"), but I honestly loved it because it's exactly the sort of insane evil secretive thing Palpatine's been known for through the Clone Wars and two Death Stars. And the shots of all those ships floating in a nightmare void outside of normal space were, well, chilling. It's a shame they ended up being a bit of wasted potential (we'll get to that).

The other cool thing was that we finally got to see the Sith front and center in a main Star Wars film. The Sith have always been one of the coolest things about the Expanded Universe, old and new - a cult of evil fallen Jedi and wizards out to overthrow and supplant the established order. The Rise of Skywalker is the first film that makes the Sith as a force beyond just Palpatine feel like the nightmarish horror they should be, and it was great to see.

Ben Solo


Make that Ben freaking Solo. Once Kylo Ren throws off the Dark Side he starts doing what comes naturally, and it turns out Han Solo's son actually inherited a lot of his father's charm, roguish fighting style and intermittently bad luck. (Ow.) Adam Driver absolutely nailed the transition and even though it was brief (we'll get to that) it was a lot of fun to see Ben come out to play.

And Then There's The Rest


With those pluses acknowledged, I've got to admit The Rise of Skywalker is not the best movie in the Star Wars series and is probably the worst of the current trilogy, although that doesn't make it the worst Star Wars movie either (which is a subjective thing and some might disagree). There are and will continue to be many takes on what's wrong with the film - that's Star Wars fandom - but as far as what stood out to me:

  • The pacing is completely shot, jumping from scene to scene like the editor was high on meth. They packed a million things into this film and focused on none of it, which is fine for Disney and the EU going forward but makes watching the movie feel like a roller coaster ride, and not in a good way.
  • It's hard to argue J.J. Abrams didn't just toss The Last Jedi in the trash entirely when he came on for the third movie. Rose is a wasted character, Poe has to relearn the lesson he spent all of TLJ learning (except not as well), Finn's reduced to chasing after Rey the whole film and is maybe Force sensitive for no good reason, Rey's back to being a child of destiny to the film's detriment, Snoke loses what little character he had - the fans of TLJ are pissed for a reason, is what I'm saying.
  • Poe Dameron's character does another complete swerve in this movie for no good reason. This has been a problem for Poe, period, but on the third movie it sticks out really badly and doesn't add anything to him.
  • We didn't need Jon Favreau's scene. At all.
  • How do you completely miss a second transport ship?
  • The stakes of the combat never seemed high, except for stopping Palpatine. Everything else came off as a distraction, which is bad when you're fighting a full-blown apocalyptic army.

And then there's the death of Ben Solo, which came out of nowhere, served no Goddamn purpose and seems like it was done just because the production was over time and over budget and couldn't figure out how to get Ben off Escargot and said "fuck it". And as far as I'm concerned he's not dead, Leia or the Force just snatched him away to give him a chance at redemption without getting shot or thrown into a dark hole by the Resistance, because FFS what else do you do with Kylo Ren at this point? But even if Ben's irredeemable (and that's a whole separate post I'm not going to write), he's a character who still deserved a chance to shine in the EU. The choice to just wave a hand and end that was horrible, and fans of Reylo are quite justifiably furious. I fully expect Ben to return in the books at some point soon, although whether his story will continue forward is an open question, and I'm not optimistic. But it absolutely should.

So, yeah. Flawed film, I've seen worse, there were certainly some good bits, and it certainly brought things to an ending. Not a final one, though.

Bring back Ben Solo.

Monday, October 8, 2018

State of the Union, October 2016

We are currently governed by a Congress where the party in power won a bare majority in the House by 1.1% of the popular vote, and lost the popular vote in the Senate. The President lost the popular vote, and may have been involved in foreign efforts to influence the election in his favor. That's ignoring the party's ongoing campaign of voter suppression in key states.

This party, which came to power without a popular mandate, has now installed a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, including 4 Justices appointed by a President who lost the popular vote and 2 with credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault against them.

The open cruelty of this party has been on display since January 2017, as they've pursued a policy of non-violent ethnic cleansing that has sundered families, and seen asylum seekers and their children indefinitely detained in tent camps. They've insisted that massive cuts need to be made to programs that support the poor, even as they force through massive cuts to taxes for the rich. They've insisted on destroying the Affordable Care Act without any meaningful plan to replace it.

The party has openly worked to sabotage the proper functioning of our government at every turn. They have insulted our allies and sought the support of our enemies, even as those same enemies commit crimes with impunity, confident no response is coming from the United States. They have allowed the President and his cronies to openly flout ethics laws and profit massively from their positions, without lifting a finger to investigate.

And most recently, they listed to a survivor of sexual assault, denigrated her, ignored her, ignored anyone who would speak in support of her, ignored any evidence that backed her up, and made yet another naked grab for power. Brett Kavanaugh will be on the Supreme Court tomorrow. Dr. Blasey Ford remains in hiding.

And now, this weekend, we are seeing a report that describes a climate crisis that could hit us as soon as 2040. The report describes worsening food shortages, increased wildfires, massive coral die-off, and a rise in temperatures of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit worldwide. Steps could have been taken to avoid this decades ago. They weren't. Steps need to be taken immediately to prevent this now. They won't be. We are trapped under absolute minority rule by a party that still insists that climate change is a hoax, and will do anything necessary to prevent meaningful action against the coming crisis.

Our children - my children - will grow up in the hell we leave behind.

So as this party goes on the news and bemoans the lack of civility in our politics - as they complain they can't go to dinner without being harassed, as they attempt to paint the opposition as somehow radical and dangerous: remember that this party has been working for decades to destroy our government, our balance of powers, and our ability to simply live on our own planet.

Remember that, and fucking vote.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Doom Coming To Trumpland

So shit happened today, as it does every day since the election of 2016. But this shit may be significant. It may mark the End Times in Trumpland, the time when the red moon plunges from the sky and the ground trembles with the fearful shaking of the dreaming MAGAts. A rent has been torn in the throne of the Fool's Gold God, and the tweeting of a thousand thousand pundits drowns the air as the blue-winged flock takes flight...

Fuck. Sorry. Let me begin again.

(Black Library, would you like a haunted house story?)

Today Donald Trump tweeted this:


In essence: Donald Trump admitted the meeting his son had with a Russian attorney during the campaign was to get dirt on his opponent, Hillary Clinton; claimed the whole thing was legal and went nowhere; and denies knowing anything about it.

Take a moment to let the idiocy of denying knowing about a "totally legal" meeting sink in. Took me all day. Good? Okay, let's move on.

Donald Trump is admitting that his son met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with close ties to the Russian government, to get information on Hillary Clinton. This is, to my knowledge, the first time he's acknowledged that, although it's been known for months that the original stated purpose of the meeting was false. (Said purpose being to discuss adoption in Russia, a story apparently concocted personally by Donald Trump on behalf of his son.)

This alone is problematic, since it's illegal for a campaign to accept "anything of value" from a foreign national. The Trumps claim nothing of value came from this meeting, which might be believable except for a few things:

1. the Democratic National Committee's servers were hacked,

2. those servers contained damaging material in email that was subsequently released to the public, influencing the election,

3. those servers also contained election analytics data, which was not released to the public, but which the Trump campaign appears to have acted on during the election,

4. Donald Trump has subsequently done everything feasible to end any investigation into these points, and

5. Donald Trump has lied to the American people around 4,500 times just since he took office.

So it's possible Trump's tweet is an admission that his campaign was seeking information of value from a foreign national. Collusion is not a technical crime, but that is collusion. It is also a crime, if anything of value was provided.

And Trumpland continues to shake, because what sparked Trump's admission were rumors that he was concerned his son, Donald Jr., is in legal jeopardy. Because Donald Trump Jr. testified to Congress, under oath, that his father had no knowledge of this meeting. Which, to be clear, took place in Trump Tower, which Donald Trump was in at the time.

So the statement was already hard to believe, but now it appears that Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, is ready to state that Donald Trump was aware of the meeting in advance and approved it. Which means Donald Trump Jr. may have lied under oath to Congress. Which is a felony. That also means Donald Trump was fully aware his campaign was reaching out to a foreign national for information of value.

And now the doom becomes clear: Trump may have committed a felony during his campaign by colluding with a Russian national.* If so, his defense hinges of denying any knowledge of it. But that defense hinges on 1. Michael Cohen not having any evidence to the contrary, and 2. every other party with knowledge of the meeting backing Trump.

One of those parties is Trump Jr., but he may have committed a felony of his own in lying to Congress, if Trump did have knowledge of the meeting. And so the Trumps find themselves under a pile of horrors:

1. If Trump Jr. is found to have lied under oath, he faces felony charges.

2. If Trump Jr. is prosecuted, Trump can pardon him - but accepting the pardon means Trump Jr. must admit guilt, which means he has to state affirmatively that his father had advance knowledge of the meeting in Trump Tower.

Which puts Donald Trump in the position of potentially having to convince his own son to go to prison for a felony in order to save his own skin.

And this is one of the better scenarios Trump is facing. If Michael Cohen produces evidence, or evidence is obtained elsewhere, that Trump knew about the meeting, he ends up in significantly greater legal jeopardy, and his son still faces prosecution for lying plus whatever charges Trump gets hit with.

This is not necessarily the end game for Trump, mind. He's unlikely to be prosecuted in office, and a compliant GOP Congress might be willing to accept a President who's committed felony election fraud. But it might be less likely to let that same President pardon his son for the same crime.

*I'm ignoring the potential felony payoffs of multiple sex workers. And the potential host of felonies laundering Russian money. And the potential violations of the emoluments clause. And the child rape accusation. And the spousal rape accusation. Just like the Republican Party.

Image courtesy of BoingBoing.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

On Andrew McCabe

So, Andrew McCabe.

As best I can work out from the news, Andrew McCabe authorized the release of some information about the investigation into Hillary Clinton during the election. This was, apparently, something he had authority to do. He then reportedly showed "lack of candor" during the subsequent investigation by the Inspector General, which was what led to his firing yesterday.

The firing might have been justified, it might not have been. It's impossible to say without seeing the IG's report, which hasn't been released.

What can be said is that Donald Trump has had a hard-on for McCabe for months now, 1. because McCabe corroborated James Comey's damaging statements on Donald Trump in the obstruction investigation in front of the House Intel Committee, and 2. because Trump apparently believes McCabe is a pro-Clinton plant, due to his wife running for office as a Democrat.


What can also be said is that Andrew McCabe was fired for lack of honesty, by an Attorney General who perjured himself in front of Congress, under the apparent direction of a President who lies to the American people on average four times a day. He has been denied his pension while Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI while he was part of the Trump administration, continues to draw his.

McCabe's firing came on the same day that House Democrats revealed letters from a whistleblower alleging an effort by Trump administration officials to purge the State Department of career employees out of fear that they were secret Obama loyalists.


And it has been followed by statements from Trump which just about confirm that McCabe's firing was retaliation for his statements supporting Comey's testimony.



And that has been followed by Trump's lawyer, on behalf of the White House (until it wasn't), calling for an end to Robert Mueller's probe into Russian collusion, obstruction of justice, and God knows what other crimes.

Regardless of whether McCabe deserved to be fired fast enough to deny a 21 year FBI veteran his pension, after what by all accounts were years of distinguished service, is almost beside the point when the sitting President is so grossly, obviously attacking a witness in a case that puts that same President in legal jeopardy.

Donald Trump is unfit for office. And I hope yesterday's naked cruelty is part of what finally brings him down.

Below: Andrew McCabe's statement on his firing.



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

After Ragnarok (Spoilers for Thor: Ragnarok)

Hela awoke in pain.

The right side of her body was in agony, every nerve and muscle screaming in torment. She gritted her teeth and forced herself to sit up. That simple movement nearly caused her to lose consciousness, but she was Hela, and her will was strong.

She looked down, and a hiss escaped her teeth at what she saw. The half of her had been burned to the bone, and what was left of her flesh and muscle looked like cooked meat. She raised her right arm, forcing near-skeletal fingers to flex and form a closed fist. Satisfied, she called a sword and used it to prop herself up onto her feet.

She looked around for the first time, taking stock of her surroundings. The landscape was blasted and filled with a sulfurous reek. A poor showing for Asgard, she thought.

She remembered Surtur driving his blade down, the last attempt to dodge the enormous flaming sword as it bit home. Obviously less than successful, but that was of no consequence. She lived, and she was Hela, and she stood on Asgardian soil. That would be enough.

Hela closed her eyes and drew upon Asgard's power, willing herself whole again.

Her eyes flew open when nothing happened.

This was not Asgard!

She sought around herself, and now the landscape became clearer. A blasted wasteland, yes, and a very familiar one.

She was back. Back in the hell that Allfather Odin had banished her to, so many millennia ago.

She reached out instinctively, her senses questing for the weak point that she had found, that had granted her her freedom, her kingdom, her empire, everything that was rightfully hers... and found nothing.

Was she too weak? Or was that door simply gone, as if it had never been? Impossible to tell.

Hela raged. She screamed, cursing all the gods, her family most of all. She struck the ground, splintered sword after sword. And when she had nothing left she fell to her knees.

All of her rage was futile. Nothing she did had the slightest effect.

Of course not.

She was Hela, but she did not live.

And this was no Valhalla.

For the first time in her long existence, Hela suffered a single tear to fall from her eye.

Behind her, something chuffed.

Hela turned her head and felt a hot breath on her healthy skin as Fenris Wolf licked her face. She reached up and stroked the great wolf's muzzle, joy and astonishment lightening the weight of her despair. It looked at her with its old eyes, the glint of the Eternal Flame no longer present.

She rose to her feet again, and looked behind Fenris. Ranks of soldiers stood there, soldiers she recognized. The Einharjar of her youth, the warriors who had pledged to her above all others and followed her in defiance of the Allfather. They were dead, as she was dead, but their swords were sharp and their armor was strong.

As one, they put their fists to their breasts, and bowed to her.

Hela stood in the reeking waste and she smiled.

This was no Valhalla.

But perhaps it could be better.