The Rise of Sky-high Expecations

January 5, 2020

After seeing The Rise of Skywalker, I tweeted: “Actually saw TROS. First Star Wars I’ve seen in a cinema since TFA. It was good! Not sure what movie the naysayers saw or what they were smoking beforehand.”

TROS press pic

Which I’ll admit does imply I was unaware of all it’s flaws, which I was not unaware of. I don’t believe anyone could be, they’re glaring. The question is, do you care? And I didn’t.

I knew going in—based not only on the two previous films in this newest trilogy but the six preceding films of the other two trilogies—that it was going to be a shit-show of plot-driven illogical nonsense and ham-fisted retconning. What I cared about was will I enjoy it? And, for the most part, with low expectations and no stakes riding on it, I did. I even shed a single tear at Ben’s redemption and the star-crossed lovers’ solitary kiss.

What I found confusing was that all of the film’s armchair critics hadn’t gone in with the same blissfully forgiving mindset. After all, these are the people who LOVE Star Wars, right? These are people who seem to have a lot riding on enjoying it and they seem to have stacked their own decks against being able to.

Now that I’ve watched a few critical reviews of The Rise of Skywalker, I think I understand things a bit better. Of course, I agree with the criticisms objectively. As I said, the flaws are glaring. But it seems what I want and expect from a Star Wars movie is different from what other people do which is also different from what Star Wars has actually ever been in the past or even has the potential to be.

What do I want from a Star Wars movie? Friends running around going pew! pew! pew! That’s it and that’s what I got. I was happy. What people seem to have wanted instead: a deeply significant and nuanced multi-generational epic.

From a franchise that treats morality, ethics, and politics as a literal good/evil binary.

There’s lots of logical holes to pick in The Rise of Skywalker from pacing issues and illogical character motivations to seemingly arbitrary retconning. But I’ve always felt that The Empire Strikes Back was full of that stuff too. And Return of The Jedi even more so with things like the pointless sibling revelation that had no actual impact on the plot.

So what did people really want and expect from The Rise of Skywalker? Are they even aware of what this thing is they love? It’s like the shared hallucinatory head cannon of what Star Wars is, and people have internally retconned it to always have been, no longer has any relation to what actually is on the screen.

Does Star Wars have potential to be “more”? Sure. It’s got space wizards and bloodlines and characters who find the fate of the galaxy is in their hands. That is certainly a recipe (arguably concocted by Frank Herbert in his Dune series of books) for a vast epic filled to the brim with deep lore where valiant but flawed heroes navigate the “feints within feints” of clandestine amoral political forces.

But to do so Star Wars would have to abandon what the core of Star Wars is. It would have to lose being a light buddy adventure-comedy which it could be argued all three films in the Original Trilogy were to varying degrees. Of course, the Prequel Trilogy did mostly abandon this aspect for the more dour tone of a serious military and political drama where no one seems to be buddies at all. You might be aware there were a few fans who didn’t care for this direction. But there were others who did and lauded the attempt to imbue the Star Wars universe with an historic and political depth that was only hinted at in the OT. If the Sequel Trilogy has any one fundamental fault it’s been trying to play both sides of the field. The dramatic scope of a meticulously detailed nine-book fantasy epic while still being a frivolous matinee adventure in the style of Flash Gordon.

So what we have are two Star Wars existing simultaneously: Flash Gordon Star Wars and Dune Star Wars. Sometimes they are apart (A New Hope vs. Revenge of the Sith) and sometimes they coexist (The Empire Strikes Back and The Rise of Skywalker).

That isn’t to say there can’t be darkness or emotional content in our matinee serial, but despite the literal world-ending stakes the heroes face Flash Gordon Star Wars wasn’t built for deep psychological studies or complex political maneuvering. It doesn’t have the frame for that stuff and it buckles under the weight.

Similarly when Dune Star Wars tries to plumb the psychological depths and motivations of characters in this galactic struggle, it runs up against the wall of morality being a laughably reductive good/evil binary. It’s the philosophical equivalent of a cartoon Disney villain and also buckles under the weight of trying to hang a broader and deeper story upon. To me, it’s like watching the Scooby-Doo gang attempt to perform Hamlet.

Of course, at this point I expect a million voices to cry out “Whoa whoa whoa! But what about Empire? It is a perfect film. Check. Mate.”

Was it perfect though? In 2011 I wrote about all the flaws I see in Empire in a zine essay subtly titled The Empire Sucks Back. I’ll admit, it’s exactly the sort of essay I scoff at now when people lay-out all the joy-killing imperfections in TROS. But people seem to forget, or were too young to have experienced that—critical reviews aside—Empire wasn’t universally enjoyed. People didn’t, in fact, think that Star Wars needed to be anything other than a fun romp through the galaxy trading sarcastic quips and pew! pew! pew!-ing bad guys. There’s been a bit of a cultural retcon that Empire was always seen as the best Star Wars film and that Return of the Jedi, despite teddy-bear-shaped flaws, wasn’t actually greeted by many with a sense of “Finally, we’re back to what a Star Wars movie was supposed to be! A fun space adventure!”

I only bring this up to illustrate what I believe is a cognitive dissonance shared by many Star Wars fans today. I suspect a combination of childhood nostalgia, merchandise-driven Lucasfilm propaganda, and the sweet seduction of herd mentality has resulted in a fanatical belief that Star Wars movies have always been “good” movies, when I believe an objective analysis of them demonstrates they have always been flawed and messy. This cognitive dissonance, in my opinion, has coloured fans’ perceptions of the latest trilogy in an unfair way.

It’s not unfair to say that about half of each of the Disney era movies are a steaming dung-heap, but I do think it’s unfair to hold them up against movies which contain many of the same flaws and thus find them lacking.

It makes me question if many fans really love Star Wars films or if they’re fanatically devoted to an ideal based more on head canon and off-camera lore than the actual films.

 


Episode 229: So Long, And Thanks For All The Slicé

December 21, 2018

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On December 18, 2018, a full 17 months after our previous episode, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Nerd Hurdles by recording our final episode. We did it as something we swore we’d never do: a live show.

If nothing else, we proved why we never did a live show—even before having a rambunctious toddler or when Facebook and YouTube made it so easy with their livestream technology. Technically easy, that is, performing a show on live video is a definite skill we’d never developed. Respect to those who do live video shows well.

Instead we preferred to hide behind the extremely edited facade of an audio podcast. And in that spirit, above you’ll find the fully edited, audio-only version of the episode. Or if schadenfreude and fremdschämen are more your speed, watch the full, unedited, mess of a livestream below.


Episode 227: Star Trek Survey Results

January 10, 2017

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We made a survey about Star Trek. A whopping 47 people responded (including us)! These results are totally scientific and reveal the ultimate truth about who the best and worst characters are and what series is the true fan favourite. You can’t argue with the opinions of a whole 47 people.

Listen via Soundcloud (above) or the fancy “enhanced” video version on our YouTube channel (below) which features illustrative and illuminating  image pop-ups a-plenty.

See below for data! Small-d data, not Data. There really should’ve been an episode where the Enterprise was almost destroyed because someone misunderstood which data/Data was being referred to.

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Episode 226: Gilmore Girls Apoocalypse

January 3, 2017

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Jakob and Mandi discuss the end of all things Gilmore Girls… or is it? Are we going to be subjected to another glimpse of Stars Hollow life in ten years’ time? And so on and so on, forever and ever, the same as Stars Wars and Trek? And what is the cultural relevance of having seen A Year In The Life or not having seen Rogue One. Plus, 2016 takes another life.

A couple quick notes of things I meant to bring-up on the episode but forgot:

Why is it that Gilmore Girls can’t  portray any career accurately? I can only speak from experience of working at a university newspaper and being a musician, but from that I can extrapolate that they way they depict running an inn, diner or kitchen is a weird TV fantasy version as well. One thing I appreciated in A Year In The Life  was that, ten years later, Zack and Lane are still in Stars Hollow playing what they would’ve previously considered sell-out jazz in an alley. Much more realistic than hipsters booing Zack’s on-stage melt-down that breaks up Hep Alien. For a show that claims to love and honour music, the writers sure seem to have never been to an indie show before.

I was really hoping they’d address, or acknowledge, Lorelei’s mental health issues in A Year In The Life and, for a hot moment, it looked like it was finally going to happen when Emily tricks her into attending therapy with her. But the moment passes and Lorelei is left to carry on blissfully unaware of her narcissistic personality disorder, or whatever it is the jumble of anti-social traits the writers have given over the years add up to. Emily does call her out for steamrolling through peoples’ lives but Emily’s opinions of Lorelei have long been positioned to be either ignored or viewed in reverse. And while I can understand why the producers don’t want to diagnose their lead manic pixie dream girl as mentally ill, but if she isn’t then… she’s just a living nightmare and every act of inter-personal destruction she’s committed over the course of 7.5 seasons is, at best, normalized and, at worst, romanticized as a quirky ideal.

 

 

 

 

 


Episode 225: Netflix and Quill

December 20, 2016

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Since having a baby (the titular Quill), we watch a lot more Netflix and get out to the movies a lot less. So no timely Rogue One or Fantastic Beasts reviews (probably to the relief of many listeners). Instead we talk Orphan Black (yay), Star Trek: Enterprise (ehh), For The Love of Spock (guh), Gilmore Girls (yah) and Captain America: Civil War (good lord).


Episode 224: Super Gotham

November 17, 2016

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This week we talk about a couple DC television shows, the fabulous Gotham and the pretty good Supergirl. But not The Flash or Green Arrow because we’re not super dedicated nerds and just watch whatever superhero shows Netflix throws in our laps. As some listeners have noted, we’re not even aware of the bronze, silver and gold eras of Batman. We can only assume the only true Batman, Adam West, is in the Platinum era.


Episode 223: Marvelous Marvels of Marvel (Luke Cage, Deadpool)

October 26, 2016

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In this episode Jakob and Mandi chat about the marvelous marvels of the Marvel universe. Well, Luke Cage and Deadpool at least. They also discuss Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3 and Bones Season 11.


Episode 222: Breast Feeding

October 14, 2016

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Mandi and Jakob had a baby. It’s been… an experience. From the terror and trauma of childbirth to the trials, tribulations and total hell that is breast feeding, it’s been a month-long journey on a hard road paved with scabs and slick with numerous bodily fluids. Parenthood is, apparently, a complete horror show.

On the plus side, they’ve watched a lot of the underrated Star Trek: Enterprise.


Episode 221: Hurdles Beyond

August 31, 2016

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Popular guest host Kathie rejoins Jakob and Mandi for an impromptu episode to talk about Star Trek Beyond. They all saw together a few weeks ago and have varying opinions about the latest Star Trek fan-film, some of which they’d forgotten already.

Making It Out Alive

By Jakob

As often happens, as soon as I hit “stop” on the recorder, I remembered what I mean to talk about on the podcast. It ties in to the premise of my previous blog post, which was how Hollywood movies, especially franchise films, have taken on the characteristics of fanfiction. I’d written the piece just previous to seeing Star Trek Beyond (because I didn’t expect to see it until it made its way to Netflix) but if I had, it would’ve been a prime example of the phenomenon.  And not just because Simon Pegg, an avowed Star Trek fan, co-wrote the script making it literally a fanfilm.

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I’m pregnant. Please don’t ask me if it’s a boy or a girl.

August 30, 2016

Pregnant banner

Our world is a place where we face a lot of social pressures, a lot of pressures to conform. I can think of many examples from my own life where I felt like I was less valuable for not fitting into the role that society seemed to expect from me. Many of these feelings connect directly to gender roles, gender stereotypes and gender expectations. I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned to value the things that make me unique, I have come to embrace non-conformity as though it was a choice, my choice, but it was not and never has been. I march to the beat of different drum because I can’t hear any other drum beat. And now, I’m finally happy about it. I love the things that make me different.

But now things are changing. I’m pregnant. Soon, we’ll have a baby. I’ll be a mom. I think parents want what’s best for their children and while I think that we’ve come a long way, in terms of gender roles, I think we still have a long way to go. Here’s how I know. We are obsessed with gender. Obsessed. 90% of people who speak to me about my pregnancy ask if it’s a boy or a girl. It’s a ubiquitous question, it would seem, that people ask without even really thinking about it. Along the lines of “how was your summer?” But before we really get into why I find this question problematic, I think we’re going need to establish a bit of common understanding first.

Let’s talk about sex vs. gender. So sex refers to chromosomal traits, male, female, intersex. Chromosomes, DNA, dictate what we look like and sex chromosomes dictate, among other things, what our genitals look like. Most people have genitals that are easily distinguished. A male sex chromosome results in a penis. Female sex chromosomes result in a vagina. Gender, on the other, is a social construct, it’s about behaving in a certain way that a culture has decided is either masculine or feminine. It’s being a “boy” or a “girl”, a “man” or a “woman.” Our society says that there are certain ways we behave that make us one or the other. I think this creates an incredibly narrow view of who we are, or who we can be as people. I think we are ready to value a much broader spectrum of humanity, and I think we have already begun to.

MandiPigeonNow back to babies. Babies do not exhibit gender. So when people ask if I’m having a boy or a girl, I think what they’re really asking is if the baby is male or female, because it’s really too soon to know anything about the baby’s gender and we won’t for quite some time even after it’s born. Now, why is it seemingly so important to everyone to know what a baby’s sex is? Are they really desperately curious to know what my baby’s genitals look like? Why? If you think about that objectively it’s actually pretty creepy. I think the truth is that most people see sex and gender as interchangeable synonyms. And for most of the population, particularly all the cis folk out there, they really are. But for trans, gender queer and gender non-conforming folk and folk who never felt like they fit into society’s expectation of their gender, there’s a lot more going on. My guess is that people think they will know something about who the baby is going to be if they know its sex. And when a baby is in utero, its sex is one of the few distinguishing things we can find out, but I don’t think it tells us anything about who this unborn person is going to be, and to imagine otherwise does them a disservice, it limits them. Why are we so anxious to fill this blank slate for them, before they’re even born?

Don’t get me wrong, if you fit nice and snuggly in society’s expectations of gender, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, if my baby fits nice and snuggly into society’s expectations, that’s great too, but, if they don’t, wouldn’t it be glorious for this baby to be free to figure that out on their own? To find their path and have it be valued for whatever it is, right from the beginning, to hear that there are many different ways to be a human and that they are not contingent on what one’s genitals look like. That sounds beautiful to me. It sounds like it doesn’t take anything away from anyone else and like it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Does this mean I won’t let my child play with trucks or wear pink or take risks or play it safe? Nope. What it means is that I want to let them fill in their own slate, and I want to celebrate their uniqueness along the way. Will it be easy? No. We have lived in, and been formed by this gendered society, and it will be a constant challenge to not gender our child based on their genitalia. But I know it’s worth it. I know young people that have struggled for so long to find a path to their true selves, and who have had people who love them try to steer them off that path at every turn. I want my baby, my child to have every opportunity to create their own path and to take us along on the journey, wherever it may lead.

And you, my friends, can help. Please don’t ask me if my baby is a boy or a girl. Not now, not once it has been born. Take some time to reflect on why you want to ask the question, what would the answer mean to you? Why is it important? Feel free to engage me in conversation about this choice, but please know that it comes from a lot of thought and is not a decision made on a whim. If you would like to challenge the ideas I’ve presented here, please be sure to put in a lot of thought and research of your own. When we fit easily into the world, when it’s set up for people like us, we experience privilege, and sometimes that can make us blind to the struggles of those who don’t fit, those for whom the world has not been tailored. If you are someone who finds that gender roles and expectations suit you pretty well, your personal experiences may not serve very well as an argument against what I’ve proposed here. This is an argument for valuing a minority, and it cannot be informed by the experiences of the majority.

This is not meant as an attack or judgement against anyone. If you are someone who has already asked me this question, this is not an attack on you, not at all. I appreciate your interest in our family, in this new human, whomever they may become. I know you will care for them. This is a good chance though, to expand your thinking, and why not? It’s so interesting to think about things in new and different ways. I for one am always enthusiastic to learn how to navigate the world in a more inclusive and respectful way, and I am honoured when people offer me the opportunity to share in that journey. I hope you will share in this journey with us.

— Mandi


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