Thursday, September 21, 2017

Clone Wars -- Season Six: The Lost Missions

So it is with no small amount of sadness that I've arrived once again at the end of The Clone Wars. I'm not going to go back through all of the stuff I've previously said about the abrupt ending of the series... even though I want to. But that's a rant I've already been on, probably more than once, and you can go back and find those posts if you want to.

The real question is whether you should take the time to watch "The Lost Missions," especially considering they didn't actually air on the Cartoon Network along with the rest of the series. Can they be that important?

In a word? Yes.

I think there are four "must see" arcs in The Clone Wars for any Star Wars fan who is interested in going beyond the movies. Two of those arcs are in season six, the first being the opening arc of the season dealing with Order 66 and the second being the two-part Yoda story that ended the season. Even if you don't watch any of the rest of Clone Wars, you can probably get enough out of these two stories to make them worth watching on their own. You won't regret it.
Unless you make the mistake of watching the Jar Jar arc, then you might regret it.
Unless you appreciate that story for the Indiana Jones nods.
Or if you like Jar Jar, which I do.
But I still found that particular story trying. Except for the Indiana Jones stuff.

Overall, The Clone Wars is a really excellent series. There are some episodes and arcs that are... less good, but, on the whole, other than the stumble with season four, it's worth your time if you like Star Wars. Or, really, even if you don't. Despite being animated and despite airing on Cartoon Network, it's not some kids' cartoon. It deals with mature issues, and it's one of the best animated series I've ever watched. You should check it out.

There are a few more episodes that were never finished (due to cancellation!), but they're available on  the Star Wars website in their unfinished form, and I'm going to check those out. At some point, I'll have an update on those.
And I'm going to get back to Rebels. Not that I meant to get away from Rebels, but time has been limited. I'll pick back up on reviews for those soon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Sacrifice" (Ep. 6.13)

-- Facing all that you fear will free you from yourself.

[Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on this, the LAST, episode.]

A bit of foreshadowing for your final episode? Yes, please.
This, the final released episode of The Clone Wars, doesn't exactly have what one would call "closure." In fact, it might ask more questions than any other Star Wars anything. Maybe, it's hard to tell. And there will be spoilers here so, if you think you might possibly watch this episode, you should stop reading now.

First, Darth Bane. That's really all I'm going to say about that since I'm only bringing him up because Mark Hamill voiced him.

Then all the other stuff...

Yoda is faced with one of those "would you kill Hitler as a baby" kind of questions, except it's not Hitler, it's Anakin. During a confrontation with Darth Sidious, Sidious tells Yoda he can spare the galaxy from what it's going to face if he will just allow Anakin to die. Of course, it would be Yoda's first step onto the path of the Dark Side to do so... I want to leave it at that, but I'm sure you all know which way that went since we already know Yoda didn't go to the Dark Side, and we all know that Sidious and Vader conquered the galaxy.

During the episode, Yoda is told, "There is another Skywalker." Now, here's the thing: The Clone Wars is canon. That means it's Star Wars fact. Which begs the question: What does that mean, there's another Skywalker. Is it a glimpse of  the future when Yoda will tell that to Luke and it will mean something real? Does it mean there will be another Skywalker and that it's referring to Luke? Or does it mean there is another Skywalker at that very moment? In which case, is it referring to Padme or to some other unknown Skywalker?

We don't get an answer!

And with the series cancelled... Well, this episode in particular makes me wish Clone Wars had kept going. As I've said before, Rebels just isn't the same.

With that, I would say that this two-parter is definitely top five for story arcs. One of the top four, actually.

"We have failed to break Master Yoda."

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Comfort of Lies

Remember The Matrix? Great film, right? Well, it is as long as you pretend the two followups don't exist. Once you embrace the entire trilogy as one story, it kinda sucks. Okay, more than kinda. But, you know, it's okay to pretend; it's only a movie.

But let's explore that idea a little more.
And, you know, if you haven't seen The Matrix... Well, you'll just have to try and keep up, because I'm not explaining the movie in this post.

As you know, Neo has to make a choice, the choice between Reality and the fabricated world of the Matrix. One is real; one is a lie. The choice is symbolized by the two pills pictured above, the red pill or the blue pill. Of course, we all know which choice Neo is going to make, because the movie would be over if he were to choose to stay in the Matrix. Besides, it's the choice we all tell ourselves that we would make. Of course we would choose to forsake the lie!

But, man, Reality really sucks. (Much like the reality of the subsequent two films.)

Which brings us to Cypher. Cypher, having lived in the real world for quite a while, decides he doesn't like it. He decides he would rather live in a comfortable lie than continue to struggle through Reality. Remember, Reality sucks.

So Cypher cuts a deal with the machines and betrays his friends so that he can re-enter the lie, the Matrix.

The general reaction from the audience at the time was one of bafflement. How could he choose to go back into the Matrix knowing it was a lie? How could he?! But, you know, he tells us all the reasons as he's making the deal. He misses the... comfort... of it. The taste of food (rather than protein mush), the feel of the sun and the wind (rather than the blotted out sky), the ease of living as opposed to the constant life-threatening struggle that was Reality.

And, man, I empathize. Reality sucks, especially this current reality where we (in the United States) live on the teetering edge of authoritarianism and fascism. I get why so many people are choosing to believe the lies Trump pushes. It gives them comfort. It's their blue pill. If they can just believe in Trump enough, they can pretend he's not a racist douche bag and, if he's not a racist douche bag, then they, also, are not racist douche bags. And no one wants to be a racist douche bag. I mean, heck, even the white supremacist Nazi assholes try to pretend that they're not racist douche bags; that's why they go with all the "white pride" shit instead. But they're only fooling themselves.

To be fair, it's not like those on the Left aren't sucking on their own blue pills by continually talking about how we've forgotten the "white working class." This, also, is an appeal to racism and white supremacy. "C'mon white people, we're on your side." Seriously, no one forgot the white working class. In all seriousness, the white working class is doing just fine. The white working class, no matter how they feel about it, is still doing better than people of color. Any color. We need to stop talking about the "white working class" and how they feel left behind or whatever bullshit they want to call their racism. All they're really saying is, "We're worried our superior position is in jeopardy." And everyone else is trying to make them feel better about it while people of color are still getting the shit end of the stick.

Let me give you a practical example of the systemic racism in the system:
As I'm writing this, hurricane Irma is losing power, but the damage has already been done. There are about 45 known deaths to the storm and much of Florida is without power at the moment. Of course, just prior to Irma was Harvey. Harvey is responsible for 70 deaths and major flooding in Texas. These two storms caused huge amounts of destruction and have dominated the news for weeks.

However, in the midst of this, Mexico suffered the worst earthquake its had in a century, leaving around 100 dead. The media barely mentioned it and isn't talking about it anymore. And the news hasn't even mentioned that 2017 has been a harsh year for monsoons (hurricanes) in south Asia. The worst year in decades. So far, there have been almost 1300 confirmed deaths due to these storms and over 40 million people affected, including the destruction of more than 700,000 homes and a massive loss of crops due to flooding which is likely to cause food shortages. But, hey, they're not white, so, you know, big deal.


Look, I'm not diminishing what's happened to people in Houston and in Florida and in the Caribbean. What has happened has been horrible, but it doesn't make it less horrible to remember that other people are suffering, too. Except that, for some people, it does make it less horrible, because, to them, having bought into the Lie, they believe it's Us against Them, anything that happens to Them is okay because they deserve it. Or, maybe, not quite deserve it, but they don't deserve the special protection that white people ought to have from these kinds of events so, somehow, when it happens to white people, it's more tragic. Like when the Greeks only wrote tragedies about nobility because it wasn't tragedy if it happened to the common man.

But we're all common men.

The Lie is that we're not. The Lie is that it's Us (whites) against them (people of any other skin color).

Let me put it another way, to paraphrase Yoda:
My ally is the Truth, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, binds. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Truth flow around you. Here, between you, me, the brown person, and the black, yes, even between all others and the white.
The Truth, what Reality really is, is the we are all us.

We are all us.

(And I didn't even mention the blue pill of climate change denial.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Destiny" (Ep. 6.12)

-- Death is just the beginning.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

I have a question:
Why is Yoda's starfighter so much smaller than everyone else's? The lightsaber thing doesn't bother me, because lightsaber's need to fit the hand of the wielder, but the starfighter thing...? I mean, if starfighters can be smaller, they should be smaller. It makes them harder to hit. I guess the better question, then, is, "If they can make starfighters the size of Yoda's, why do the other Jedi have such large starfighters?" That seems to me to be a design flaw.

And, yes, that has nothing to do with the episode other than that Yoda's starfighter is in the episode, but it's a question that has bothered me for a while. Because the real reason is aesthetics, but I can't get behind that from a practical standpoint.


Yoda continues his journey, the quest he's been sent on by Qui-Gon Jinn. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to go back and watch the previous episode.

Significant things about this episode:
Yoda fights... well, let's just say it's a scene very reminiscent of that one with Gollum from LotR.
Yoda discovers some things about himself. (This is the good part.)
The priestesses are very Spirited Away.

The failing of this episode is that it's too short. Way too short. I think they could easily turn this one into an hour show and make it awesome and surreal.

"Disappoint us not, little green one."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Angel Island (part two)

America's issues with immigration go way back before Joe Arpaio. In fact, they could be said to have started right here in California. And, really, for all of the same issues. In a nutshell, the Chinese and other Asians flooded into California during the gold rush, much like people from the rest of the world. And there was plenty of cheap labor for them, especially with the construction of the transcontinental railroad. However, when the gold rush died down and the railroad was complete, there was a glut of available bodies in the labor market, and white dudes got scared of losing their jobs, which was the same sort of fear as it is today, considering the Chinese generally did the kinds of low-paying jobs that whites wouldn't take.

But fear is fear.

Or something like that.
All of this lead to the Chinese Exclusion Act which lasted for six decades. Sixty years! During that time, because the Chinese Exclusion Act lead to discrimination against all Asian immigrants, Asians trying to come to America were detained at Angel Island. For weeks. At least. For comparison, European (white) immigrants coming into the United States through Ellis Island had a processing time of a few hours; Asians coming in through Angel Island had a processing time of almost a month. The men were detained in the building pictured above and WERE NOT ALLOWED TO GO OUTSIDE for the duration of their "detention." Now, while I said that the processing time was generally about a month, it was often quite a bit longer than that. Months. Sometimes more than a year.

It wasn't so bad for the women and children... unless you count the part where they were taken away from their husbands and fathers and kept somewhere else. But, hey, they were allowed some brief moments outside.

To deal with the loneliness and depression, the men carved poems into the walls of the detention center.
And here is a translation of one of the poems:
"It's useless to be friends with those of narrow mind."
And, you know, narrow-mindedness is a hallmark of conservatives. It's a fear thing, actually, because fear makes people narrow minded, unable to see possibilities, and conservatives tend to live on fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of others.
That's not an opinion, by the way; it's what research shows.

One of the things that's been said quite a bit by those on the Right who support all of Trump's #fakepresident racist immigration policies (not to mention the Nazis and white supremacists) is, "It's not like we haven't done this kind of thing before." As if a past misdeed makes a future misdeed okay. In fact, the acknowledgement of a past misdeed, like Angel Island or the Japanese internment centers during WWII, should be motivation to not repeat the same mistake.

It's to cut out all of this white supremacist and Nazi bullshit.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Voices" (Ep. 6.11)

-- Madness can sometimes be the path to truth.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

Sometimes the way we answer questions is to merely remove the question one step back. This is the problem with, say, crediting aliens for creating life on Earth, or, at least, human life. The question then gets pushed back to, "Well, who created the aliens?" It's a poor way to answer a question, basically, a cop out. I feel like that's what they're doing in this arc with the question, "How do Jedi talk from the dead?"

I also feel like this is a question that doesn't need to be answered, not in any concrete way. I mean, how do the Jedi do anything? The Force. It's a mystery to those of us (all of us) who aren't Jedi. Just leave the answer at that. It doesn't need an answer.

Having said that, I think this is a really great episode and an important arc. Top 10 for sure, probably top five.
Yes, I'm biased because it focuses on Yoda, a character who really, despite always being around, hasn't received enough attention throughout the series. Just casually thinking back, I can only think of one other arc that focused on Yoda as a character.

There is a thing I like very much about this episode: It highlights the way in which people, even Jedi, are unable to think outside of the boxes they've put themselves in. When Yoda is troubled and brings his question to the Jedi Council, most of the Jedi but Ki Adi Mundi in particular, dismiss what Yoda is saying as something that is impossible. They've already decided their answers on the subject because they're certain they already have all the answers. Ki Adi Mundi goes so far as to assert that Yoda must be under the influence of the Dark Side and, mostly, the other council members don't reject that notion.

Which, of course, means Yoda has to rely on Anakin for help, seemingly the only Jedi other than Yoda who doesn't get trapped in dogma. Which isn't really a great thing for Anakin in the end, but being trapped in dogma isn't a good thing for the Jedi, either, considering what's in store for them.

Anyway... This is another of those arcs that real Star Wars fans should watch. Which is not to imply that you are not a real fan if you don't watch it, but, if your interest in Star Wars goes beyond the movies, this is an arc you should see.

Oh, one last thing...
There is a question that everyone asks (I use "everyone" loosely.): Why Dagobah?
Why did Yoda choose, of all places, to exile himself on Dagobah? This episode gives some insight into that.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The New Civil War (ongoing) and Magic

A few (I use the term loosely) years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the Magic card game from Wizards of the Coast. At this point, I really haven't played any since sometime shortly after writing those posts, something which makes me sad on one level, but it is what it is. You have to pick and choose what you make time for in life, and Magic just isn't in the cards at the moment. But that's beside the point...

For those of you haven't realized it, yet, this post is going to be an analogy. Maybe an extended metaphor. I'm telling a story to make a point.

Before I go on, I should point out that one of the things I liked to do was make working, even winning, decks out of cards other people believed were worthless. In fact, my signature deck was built around
because one of the guys in my gaming group dismissed the card as a curiosity and nothing you could use to build a deck around. And everyone agreed with him. So, well, not only did I build a deck around it, I built a champion deck around it.

Back when I was into tournament play, I was responsible for having two different deck types banned from our local tournaments in north Louisiana. The first deck was organized around this card:
Chains was a card I was immediately drawn to (for reasons I'm not going to try to explain, since it would take more time than it's worth to get the point across to people who don't understand the game) when the Legends expansion came out, though it was mostly deemed a useless card by everyone else. Once I was able to gather the cards I needed for the deck (actually a difficult process where the Legends expansion was concerned), I put it together and took it to a tournament.

Without going into detail, each opponent I played, once I got the combination of cards out that I needed, cried foul. The tournament judge had to come over each time and verify that what I was doing was not, in fact, cheating and that the cards were operating as designed. Each opponent I played got all pissy about losing to the deck I was playing and, basically, accused me of not playing fair. Basically, because I had put together a card combination that no one else had thought of and created a deck no one had a counter to, I had done something that wasn't fair. One player quit in the middle of our match and stomped out of the store vowing never to come back because the judge wouldn't side with him against my deck, and the final player I was to play, the match for the tournament win, forfeited without playing a single game. He had watched my last couple of matches, knew he couldn't win, and didn't want to play against the deck I had.

Of course, my deck was banned after that from future tournament play and, several weeks later, WotC restricted the use of Chains because it was too powerful. The card everyone thought was useless. And the dude who stormed out? He was back the next week and expressed to me his admiration for the deck. No one, however, ever suggested that my win be declared illegitimate due to the immediate banning of my deck or the later restriction of the card.

The other deck I had banned was a deck built around creatures called thallids. Again, I'm not going to get into the mechanics of the deck, but let's just say it was a slow build deck and the issue around it was that it caused long games. When you're trying to keep a tournament to a reasonable length of time, decks that cause long games are not looked upon favorably. And, yes, I built the deck because it was general consensus that you couldn't win a tournament with thallids.

One thing of interest about that tournament:
The guy I played the championship against also had a slow build deck, so our championship match took a long time to play. He had, however, gotten a lucky break in the second game and won a quick victory so that we were tied one to one going into the third game. My deck was such that, though, if you hadn't beaten me by turn four or five, there was no way you could, so we played on and on until I could get to a point where I could wipe him out. The spectators started getting antsy because the game was taking so long and started urging one of us to forfeit. The other guy refused and, being the rules lawyer that he was, everyone knew there was no point in trying to convince him to surrender even though it was painfully obvious that he was going to lose. Eventually. So everyone started trying to convince me to quit and let him win, the logic being that since everyone knew I was going to win, I could forfeit and claim, "I was going to win, anyway."

Yeah, that didn't do it for me, so we played until the bitter end, and my deck was banned from future tournaments. Don't worry; it would have been banned even if I had forfeited.

This is the part where I get to the point:
No one that I beat came back later protesting that their losses had been unfair because my decks ended up being banned. No one came back saying that the tournament outcomes should be re-decided because of any kind of unfair advantage that I'd had.

But, see, white supremacists have lost two wars, two very major wars, and here they are whining about how unfair it's all been that they're not being allowed to "win." They're like little cry baby spoil sports who can't take their losses and realize that no one else wants their white supremacist bullshit.

Or, to flip the analogy (because I can do that sort of thing), I didn't whine about how my decks were banned and keep bringing them to tournament after tournament demanding to be allowed to play with them. No, I went home and came up with new deck ideas.

A good example of how pissy and whiny they are happened this weekend (as I write this) in San Francisco. After being denied all of their tools of violence and ways to broadcast their violence, the white supremacist ninnies called their event off all together. No one barred them from holding their "rally," but when told they couldn't bring their guns and other weapons and paraphernalia, they called the whole thing off (more than once), and played the "Fine! I'll just go home, then, and never come back!" card. [Many of them have said that they want attempt to come back to San Francisco (like it's some kind of threat?).] And everyone shrugged and said, "Okay, go." But the fact that they chose to not hold their rally shows what their true intent was all along: to incite violence. Being barred from that, they had nothing to say.

But they're not going to come back next week and say, "You know, that was well played. We lost fair and square." No, they're going to whine about it and talk about how they were treated unfairly and barred from holding their rally, and their #fakepresident Trump is going to support them in their whining. It seems even Magic players are more mature, much more mature, than white supremacists.