Star Wars Review – the Profiteer’s Awaken

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I got to see Star Wars over the holidays and unfortunately it confirmed what I’d feared, J. J. Abrams has made an even bigger mess of the Star Wars universe than the mess he made of the Star Trek universe. How can he do any worse than blowing up Vulcan you say? Well let’s just say he likes to blow up planets! The plot was way too predictable, almost a remake of the first film….and by that I mean a New Hope.

And its not as if they were short of good material for a more interesting script. One key question for the fans was whether the new film would tie into the so-called “Expanded Universe”of star wars. This relates to a large volume of material built up by other projects, TV series, web series, computer games and the novels of authors such as Timothy Zhan which expands beyond the films. The Zahn novels in particular extend matters 25 years past the battle of Endor. In these novels he introduced a number of new characters, such as Han Solo and Leia’s children, Mara Jade (who initially starts off as an enemy of Luke, but eventually becomes his wife, making her a much more credible character compared to the “good/bad guy” template of most star wars characters) or Admiral Thrawn (a military genius and major villain in the post-Emperor era).

So clearly had they simply adapted some of the expanded universe material, or built on it, a much more compelling script could have been established. And in some respect’s I would argue that what they did was simply plagiarise the Expanded universe….badly! Kylo Ren is clearly based on Darth Caedus of the expanded universe, Rey is clearly based on Raina (oh! Spoiler alert, this means they may be shown to be related in the next movie!) and the “first order” is clearly based on the Imperial Remnant of the novels.

I can only assume the plan was to rip off the expanded universe to save them the bother of having to write a script, but change enough to save them having to pay royalties to the likes of Timothy Zahn. It is, to say the least, strange to be trying to avoid spending a little bit more on a script for a film with a budget in the hundreds of millions. Its like doing the Harry Potter films, but to avoid paying J. K. Rowling her cut, changing his name to Parry Hotter and his adventures in Doghorts university and his sidekicks Helminey Vixen and Dom Working-class-weasel.

This isn’t going to go down well with fans because one of the nice things about the expanded universe is that made some attempt to fill in the enormous plot holes in the movies (some of my favourite ones here). e.g. why did the Empire collapse so quickly just because the Emperor died?

Well in the expanded universe the Empire faced almost as many internal threats from rogue Admirals and corrupt Grand Moff’s as it did from the rebels. Recall the main reason the Emperor wanted the Death Star was to keep his own minions in line. At the same time as the battle of Endor, the aforementioned Admiral Thrawn was hunting down the rogue Admiral Zaarin who had attempted to usurp the emperor’s throne. So two of the Empire’s most elite units were too busy fighting each other to fight the rebels. Inevitably, with the Emperor and Vader gone, there was nothing to hold the Empire together and it gradually disintegrated. In the Expanded universe, it didn’t disappear straight away, it took the rebels several years to push them out of the core systems and a large Rump state called “the Imperial Remnant” still existed 25 years after Endor.

Okay, still a bit rusty, but better than the movie explanation, death star blows up… likely killing all the Ewoks (a primitive race of spear throwers who managed to take on an army with tanks and guns? don’t get me started!) and rendering their planet uninhabitable….empire over, cut to the after party.

But suffice to say that the new movie has opened up so many obvious plot holes its going to be impossible to fill. Once I saw Chewbacca it was obvious that the Expanded Universe had clearly just been flushed down the toilet (oh, spoiler alert, he’s supposed to have died 5 years prior to the events in a Force Awakens…so presumably he’ll be killed off in the next movie). And the plot of the new film is so formulaic and predictable I could pretty much tell you the plot of the next two films right now.

This is unfortunately the consequences of the modern mass media. Where the plot is altered for marketing purposes (why do you think they put all those Ewoks and Droids in? So they could sell toys!). Consider the changes already made to the original Star wars films. Indeed the reaction of Star Trek fans to J. J. Abrams first film has been to devote more efforts towards “fanfiction”, essentially the fans have taken over the story.

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Such films are getting ever more elaborate. A major Star Trek feature film called Prelude Axanar” is actually being produced via kickstarter funding, which the studios are trying to stop for violating copyright.

This suing your fans is generally a bad sign. It reminds me of the fate of TSR. They were a wargaming company whose products were very popular in the 80’s, but not very profitable. Anyway a number of suits took the company over and began to aggressively market their products, including sending out cease and desist notices to fans who published their own content for free on the internet. Needless to say they quickly alienated their best customers and eventually the company collapsed, being rescued by a rival, whose first course of action was to introduce an open gaming license on their products.

The Force Awakens is therefore another example of a script written by corporate marketeers and a triumph of style over substance….not that there was much substance in Star Wars anyway, which has always been more space opera rather than science fiction (hyperdrives? The force? Blasters? And don’t even get me started on exhaust ports!). But suffice to say the next two films will be more of the same, big explosions lots of CGI, until audiences loose interest.

Weekly Roundup

Debating the EU
I drifted through a few blogs where a number of UKIP types seem to think that just because their candidate “won” a debate with “I won’t raise tuition fees” Clegg this somehow entitles them to an “in or out” referendum. Or that it means that they will do well in the upcoming elections. I’m afraid that’s not the way it works!

Consider the situation in the US with Ron Paul. He has a habit of not just winning political debates during the Republican primaries but winning them well. While not one of my favourite people, he tends to be much better informed and well-read than other US politicians. And let’s face it, his opponents don’t exactly help matters, e.g. Rick Perry forgetting which departments in the US government he’s going close down, in the middle of a debate with Ron Paul (one could argue its not hard to win a debate when your opponents are douches like some of the circus of fools that make up the Republican primaries).

However, Ron Paul has never been able to turn such victories in the debates into electoral success at the polls. Despite numerous runs for the Republican nomination and a cult following among some of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, he has never actually managed to carry a single state. Indeed he usually struggles to get more than 10% of the vote. And this is among fellow conservatives!

Of course the reason for this is very simple. Ron Paul’s policy’s are considered very controversial and extreme (if not out right crazy), even among conservatives (His supporters are sometimes mockling called “Paulestinians” by fellow Republicans).

Similarly one could argue that many of Farage’s views are equally controversial among even Tory supporters (the Daily Telegraph recently describe him as “a buffoon”), and similarly its not very likely this will translate into electoral results. Particularly as he managed to show himself up as a bit of a fantasist, which will not play well with the moderates (who tend to ultimately decide any election) who don’t speak loony toon.

Irish Presidential Visit
The Irish president, Michael D. Higgins is paying a historic visit to the UK, staying with the Queen in Windsor castle. We even have had a state banquet with Martin Mc Guinness in attendance. I mean a few years ago news that any member of Sinn Fein was on his way to the palace would have resulted in a security alert! :))

Michael D. Higgins is not your average politician, as I mentioned sometime ago. He calls himself an intellectual (something of a contrast to most politicians, particular in America where there is rampant anti-intellectualism), a former university lecturer and a poet. One assumes that the reason why Ian Paisley isn’t attending this little do is just in case Higgins reads him some of his poetry (which would likely be like Vogon poetry to Paisley!).

Even so it is worth considering why these events are taking place. The strong cross border trade fostered by the European Union and the long, but sustained peace process has gradually enabled tensions to be defused. The road has been long. Indeed prehaps one of the reason why we have peace is that people began instinctively turning off the news when ever they started going on about the latest stage of the peace process!

Even so it does show the way forward for other parts of the world, where there is conflict between different communities. It also shows the value of institutions like the EU. In short, are Farage and his buddy Putin paying attention?

Parking on Pavements
There was something in the news the other week about a campaign by disability groups to have parking cars on pavements banned, as their members often find pavements blocked by cars. Its also a problem for parents with pushchairs (worth reading some of the comments on this page for an example of the issues faced).

I would argue the problem here is that while the majority of people do behave responsibly, e.g. parking up on the pavement, but tucking it away in such a way as too not to block the pavement. But it’s that 10% of society who are basically assholes who are the problem. I’ve seen some motorists taking parking on pavements to its illogical absurdities. By for example parking in such a way that pedestrians are practically forced to climb over their cars (often because they don’t know how to parallel park properly!). Or as they pull in, even driving along pavements, beeping pedestrians out of the way (as I saw someone do the other week). Or parking an Artic lorry on the pavement (as I saw some idiot do a while ago).

Or there was the moron in an 8 wheeler dumper lorry the other day. He wanted to turn left, but there was a queue of cars turning right. His solution? Mount the pavement, drive along it (at a corner with a blind spot, again in a massive dumper lorry with lots of blind spots!), jump back down onto the road, skipped the queue and then turned… all without without signalling! 88|

Perhaps I could propose a solution to an outright ban. Make it such that the law provides immunity from prosecution and voids vehicle insurance for any damaged caused to a vehicle parked on the pavement. Hence if someone decides to drive along the pavement or park it thoughtlessly, me and other pedestrians are legally entitled to vent our frustrations by knocking out one of his wing mirrors of our choosing. Or if someone parks a car and blocks the pavement, I’m entitled to walk across his bonnet. Or wheelchair user/passer-by is legally entitled to smash in the car window, release the hand brake and let the car roll into the nearest ditch. That’ll learn em!

Seriously thought, I think the problem here is that there has been this new urban planning movement which on the one hand seeks to make cities more pedestrian friendly, but also assumes that cars and pedestrians can mix. By for example creating “shared space” junctions without any defined right of way or traffic lights for pedestrians or cars. Or as noted allowing cars to park on pavements.

The problem is, this works okay if everyone is nice and courteous and paying attention (i.e. not walking along texting…or worse driving and texting!), but that isn’t always the case!

Wiki fools
1st of April is the usual day of those infamous April fools. I’ve noticed Wikipedia has developed a habit, not of putting up prank articles, but putting up genuine articles on the 1st of April, just labelling them a little differently.

For example, on the 1st of April on of the featured stories was the case of Batman suing the Commissioner (not Batman suing commissioner Gordon, but a tax case from 1953, filed by a Mr R. L. Batman) ;D

Or how Amy Garnett is the UK Rugby’s most often used hooker (that’s the female Rugby team in case you’re not getting that one).

Or the described the founding in 1935 of the Reserve Bank of India as an attempt to control all the money in the country (we’ll that’s generally what central banks do!) :))

That the 1833 convention in Texas was an attempt to stop evil. Or how the Duke of Alba lost his glasses.

Or my personal favourite, that by launching Gmail Google gave people the ability to store 1GB’s worth of spam :>>

It burns!
A wee funny story. I happened to burn my hand 88| a few nights back while cooking spuds. Nothing too serious but a little sore for a while. I occurred to me, what if I need to go to hospital?

I’d had a glass of wine, so not enough to have contributed to the accident but enough to rule out driving, and at that hour of the night, difficult to get a cab. So I’d likely have to get an ambulance. That would be difficult given that the 999 operator would be getting an Irish guy on saying “sure I been cookin the spuds and I burnt meself”. No doubt they’d assume it a prank call and hang up. It would be like me ringing the police and complaining that someone was after robbing my lucky charms :))

Tories all at sea on wind farms
An interesting article by former energy secretary Chris Huhme regarding wind energy. He points out that the Tory policy regarding wind power, where they have cut and are often openly opposing onshore wind farms, makes no sense. It effectively amounts to a policy of higher bills. The only energy source that can hope to compete with Natural Gas on price is onshore wind.

Nuclear is too expensive (as I’ve discussed before). Their efforts to save on bills by cutting energy efficiency tariffs (or “green crap” as Cameron prefers to call it) will actually in all probability increase bills in the long term.

And this is particularly relevant given that a few years ago the Tories effectively committed to an energy policy that amounted to a new dash for gas. But with events in Crimea, one must wonder where this gas is going to come from? There are alternatives to Russian gas, as I evaluate on my energy blog, but all of them are long term policies which will only work with a mixed energy grid, i.e. getting as much as we can from renewables, which means more onshore wind, and greater energy efficiency (which means those green tariff’s they hate and more).

Marathon cancelled…for lack of water…seriously!
Sheffield council hardly covered themselves in glory recently. They screwed up in the provision of water supplies to a half marathon they were organising in the city (blaming a private contractor, which sounds suspiciously to me like they tried to save a few pennies too many). Yet rather than just assume that runners would have the good common sense when told of this to either back out, if not able, or source they’re own water (e.g. carry water, or nip into a shop on the route, or have one of their mates in the crowd get water for them), they decided (as a result of a “risk assessment“…or SAPS as I called it, standing for Save Ass Policy Scheme) to try and cancel the race, leaving thousands of runners who’d been training for the event in the lurch.

Of course inevitably many of the runners simply said sod it and took off running. Now you’d think the council would leave it at that and retreat with their tail between their legs. But inevitably the called out the police to set up road blocks and try to stop the runners. The police only relented when their own “risk assessment” concluded that it would be more risky to stop the marathon, plus where would they put 4,000 runners they’d have to arrest and don’t they have some actual real criminals to go chase.

Now this would be excusable if we were in the middle of summer, but of course it was a chilly wet April, hardly the sort of conditions where people are going to faint. I mean its not as if they were holding it in Bahrain or something! But the problem with these “SAPS” is that they are motivated by a fear of what some ambulance chasing lawyer might convince a judge to rule, rather than anything based on common sense.

All in all, if Sheffield council can’t organise a marathon one has to worry if they are competent and capable of running anything else. I hope the electorate in the city take note of this incident and remember it next time there’s an election.