The Most Hits

Quiet times, at least on some fronts.  I haven’t taken my telescopes or related equipment out at all over these last several months.  But the pending conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter may spur me to action, cold weather permitting.

So this may be a time of opportunity to discuss earlier shelved commentaries.  One I have been meaning to address for a while is the usage of pinterest.  I have experimented in leveraging other social media outlets for this blog before, mostly twitter, but I found its value limited.

My latest experiment was with pinterest, a site that seems more geared to sharing fashions and recipes.  Still, its format appeared suited to photography, so I decided to leverage it whenever I posted my astronomy images.

I never expected much traffic, and still do not, on pinterest.  Some of the images have a few hundred “impressions,” most less.  But one surprisingly has had thousands of impressions:

Click to see pinterest site.

This was a Moon composite I shared a year ago.  It’s nice, but I don’t understand why this one image, or all of my posted images, has received such a disproportionate number of impressions.  I guess I neither appreciate nor grasp marketing in this realm, to know what is going to catch the eye of the random pinterest viewer.

Part of the answer is that astrophotography is an extreme niche.  If you would like to share your own experiences with astronomical social media, I would be interested in hearing them.

When Franklin Almost Met Netwon

Mr. Benjamin Franklin and Sir Isaac Newton

Happy Independence Day to my fellow Americans.  I usually don’t write about holidays, unless I can find some mild hook into the content of this blog.  My only other attempt was when I wrote about the possibility of the Star of Bethlehem being a supernova.  Consider this post then the second in an obscure series.

There are a few foundational works I wish every American would read.  One of those is the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  He was, in my view, the true “proto-American.”  From his curious nature, to how he rose and excelled at his careers, his advice to others, to his views on government and public service, his suspicions of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, to his perspective of the world at large, Franklin was of course a core contributor to America’s independence philosophy.  If you struggle with what is means to be an American today, reading Benjamin Franklin’s account of his life is a wonderful starting point.

My favorite part of his autobiography has nothing to do with America or any of the latter events of the late 18th century (and spoiler, he never really talks about 1776 directly; his narrative is like a prequel of events long before the American Revolution).  It is just one brief comment, where Franklin mentions his interest and hope as a young man to meet Isaac Netwon, while Franklin was in England:

My pamphlet by some means falling into the hands of one Lyons, a surgeon, author of a book entitled ‘The Infallibility of Human Judgment,’ it occasioned an acquaintance between us. He took great notice of me, called on me often to converse on those subjects, carried me to the Horns, a pale alehouse in ——— Lane, Cheapside, and introduced me to Dr. Mandeville, author of the ‘Fable of the Bees,’ who had a club there, of which he was the soul, being a most facetious, entertaining companion. Lyons, too, introduced me to Dr. Pemberton, at Batson’s Coffee-house, who promis’d to give me an opportunity, some time or other, of seeing Sir Isaac Newton, of which I was extreamely desirous; but this never happened.

As an American interested in science and the historical contexts of both, it would have been very cool for the young Franklin to have met the old Newton in the 1720s.  Even though this was over a half century before America’s independence and Franklin’s rise to prominence, it nonetheless would have been an unlikely crossing of two legendary men, both slightly out of their own times.

It’s also fun evidence how this one small note from Franklin affirmed Netwon’s importance and notoriety even while he still lived.

Follower Celebration – Have a Reading List!

Previously unpublished image from February 11th, 2020.

Recently, my blog crossed 250 followers.  So to everyone that has followed, thanks for being here!

I know of those 250+, you’re all here for different reasons.  So I’d like to break down my thanks by area:

  • To those that followed for the astronomy photographs and images, I hope you continue to like them.  I know my posting schedule can be erratic.  Sometimes I post multiple times a week, and then I go on a month hiatus.  It’s largely due to the weather and other factors which can make astrophotography difficult.  “Planet season” is coming up this year, so I’m looking forward to a nice stint of observing and photographing Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn as they return to the evening sky.
  • If you accidentally clicked the Follow button, I am still glad you are here, and hope you found a post or two interesting.
  • If you are a bot, спасибо, тоже.
  • If you followed for the Star Wars posts, I’m sorry but I have nothing else to say about it.

So are you at home right now and looking for things to do?  Here is a montage of my past posts on some of my main and not-so main topics.  Hope you enjoy them!

Thanks again for reading my blog, and clear skies!

What Star Wars Meant to Me

I am very aware, intellectually, that I am, emotionally, far too vested into Star Wars. But regardless, there is no denying that Star Wars was a key part of my childhood, and continues to be a significant background imprint on my life in adulthood. I was barely a toddler in my parent’s car at a drive-in for 1977’s original release of the sci-fi-fantasy classic.

It should go without saying that I was a child of Star Wars. There were few popular culture forces (no pun intended) that were more significant to me than those mere three movies. Except for one, no other movie, no music, no television show, certainly no books, made an impression upon me as a young boy in the way that Star Wars did. The only other contender for my childhood attention, and for being instrumental in the development of my ways of thinking, views, and philosophies, was Doctor Who. The Time Lord is another matter entirely which I will not get into now. But I do consider Doctor Who and Star Wars to be the twin pillars of my boyhood foundation.

It is with this background that I felt compelled to write a little blurb. It is partially related to my blog, for Star Wars, being as important as it is to me personally, is a core reason why I took an interest in the stars and in the universe and astronomy. It was certainly not the only reason, but it is hard to deny that it did have an influence, and I wouldn’t have this blog today if it wasn’t for that impact. No, in this aspect it is not about Death Stars and space cruisers and X-Wings and TIE fighters duking it out in the vacuum of space. It is about the imagination angle, of being able to freely travel amongst limitless stars and their worlds. To fantasize about a reality where space travel was the norm, to wonder about the many planets and adventures that awaited anyone with a starship willing to explore them; this was a little dream of mine. It may be a small aspect of Star Wars, but again, it’s a part of me that this fiction built.

One Hero

Where to begin this conversation? I think you need to start your understanding of Star Wars at a very core and simplistic level. What is Star Wars? If you strip everything away, i.e. the episode numbers, the novels, the video games, the comic books, television shows, and all the toys and merchandises throughout the decades, what do you have left? Star Wars, at its most fundamental, was a movie trilogy. And if you want to go further, and strip things back even further, you can contest, very strongly, that Star Wars was a single classic and culturally-impactful movie. Everything else that came after was a variation or a slight extension on that one movie. Yes, you can argue that The Empire Strikes Back may have been the better movie in story, characters, and plot, but it doesn’t change what Star Wars was at its genesis

Now you could pull this contraction back a little, and recognize that the original three movies, plus the prequel trilogy, were the anthology of Anakin Skywalker. Combined, they were a set of six movies telling of the rise and tragic fall and eventual redemption of a single hero. And that hero was not Luke Skywalker, or Princess Leia, or Han Solo, or Ben Kenobi; the character most central to Star Wars was Anakin.

Anakin’s story ended in Return of the Jedi. The story had a beginning and an end, which of course was a little complicated, because the episodes went 4-5-6-1-2-3. But be that as it may, it was still the story of one storyteller, George Lucas. There was obviously an ensemble group of many people who contributed to the Star Wars imprint upon our culture, but Lucas was the center of it all. And just like any novel, or other movie, or any series of any genre (think Tolkien for The Lord of the Rings or Rowling with the Harry Potter series) these are the works of artists. Their works, as their own, have a great authority and credibility to them, that make us, the consumers of their works, greatly appreciate and want to invest in them. We want to follow their creations, to believe in the characters, and to imagine and fantasize about their worlds and fictional realities. It’s a wonderful relationship, when great storytellers can do this and inspire hundreds, thousands, millions around the world, in all different countries and within many different cultures.

Expanding Expectations

For most, the first movie and maybe the first trilogy and possibly the second trilogy are all that is sufficient to consume and be satisfied with Star Wars. But then there are those like me, who even at an early age wanted more. The movies, of course, were considered the one true “canon,” and anything else created around the movies were effectively interpretations and even opinions of that canon. Now I have never been a big fan worrying about canon in fiction, as it is largely meaningless and irrelevant. Its only point of relevancy is in keeping stories internally consistent and believable to their audiences. In our example of Star Wars, if one novel claimed something about one character, and a second novel made a contrary claim to the first, only the movies would be considered the standard by which to determine the correct interpretation. Again, we are talking about the canon of fiction, and it is only an attempt to keep the past, current, and future stories relevant and consistent.

I jumped slightly ahead in bringing up the novels of Star Wars. Past the movies, there was a whole group of novels and video games and comics that were eventually called the “Expanded Universe” of Star Wars. Back in the 1990s, I read about 25 of those novels. I started with The Corellian trilogy, and then read other trilogies and books, like The Jedi Academy trilogy, the tales of the bounty hunters, and of course the Timothy Zahn trilogy. The Zahn trilogy is referenced quite a bit even today because it was a great post-Return of the Jedi story as well as for the villain it introduced, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Expanded Universe content was great for fans like me who wanted to keep abreast of the Star Wars universe during the hiatus of the movies. And it is important to note here, even though these extra stories were not considered canon, they still either directly or indirectly received the blessings of George Lucas. This is very key, as it goes back to the consistency and believability of the stories regardless of whether or not they sometimes contradicted each other. The fans knew, or at least I knew, that Lucasfilm was ultimately trying to expand the Star Wars universe with good stories, in ways that would make fans anticipate and want more future content.

Who shot first?

Not everything was bliss with Star Wars from the fans’ perspective. Many portions of the prequel trilogy were not well-accepted. In addition, Lucas had a near-aggravating tendency to want to continually meddle with his original works. This gave rise to the special editions in the mid-1990s, around the 20th anniversary of the original film’s debut. Much of the latter un-favorability in fan reaction towards Lucas stemmed from his decisions during this era. But after much hindsight, I really believe that much of what Lucas did during this time could have been ultimately forgiven by the fans, if only Lucas had recanted on one sole item. Forget about Jar Jar and midichlorians and a gross overuse of CGI.

There was only one true sin to all the remakes and editings and post-original trilogy content that Lucas was responsible for. That the creator of Star Wars himself felt it necessary to change the character of Han Solo was something that I do not understand to this day. For many, Solo was Star Wars. In a galaxy filled with creatures and wizards and fantastical space armies, Solo the smuggler represented perhaps the most grounded character outside of Luke in the original movie. Whereas Luke was the untested nephew of a farmer who had never seen the galaxy before, Solo offered a glimpse into a very believable underground that engulfed the characters and events that we were just starting to learn about. And in this regard, it was totally believable that a smuggler such as him found it necessary and proper to take the initiative to kill the one who had come to kill him. Yes, Han shot first. This may have been the single most important early scene in the entire movie. It revealed Han’s world and character in a way that could never be described directly by spoken words. And this made his own journey and transformation by the end of the film all the more amazing for the viewers to see.

So why did Lucas find it necessary to edit his original film so that Greedo shot first? Based on what I remember of his interviews from that era, I recall he was trying to soften the character image of Solo for the more contemporary and younger audiences that would be seeing Star Wars for the first time. For whatever it is worth, it certainly seems shortsighted in hindsight, and I really do believe that is the one single unforgettable edit that makes many view Lucas unfavorably to this day.

This is the Star Wars that I knew. For everything that I can say about it, the good and the bad, but mostly good, it was an overall very positive impression upon me and I’m sure upon many others.

Contemporary Matters

If you have been following Star Wars news for any recent length of time, then you should know where this discussion is heading. Earlier this decade, George Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney, prompting a big shift in mindset for the fans, as the original creator of the Star Wars mythos would no longer be involved in the creation of future content. Why is this relevant? Because now the onus was put upon the new owner of the Star Wars intellectual property, to make the case for why fans should still follow the continuing stories within the Star Wars universe. Up until this point, all Star Wars movies and extra materials had either the direct or indirect concurrence of the man who began it all.

Maybe you do not see this is a big deal. Maybe you take the mindset that it was merely time to pass the torch on to others to continue the work. I agree with that to a point. You need to ask yourself, do the new owners truly understand what Star Wars is? This is a question not just of today but when Star Wars was sold to Disney. All content since the purchase has to have been viewed with this mindset.

The official episodes aside, I was fairly optimistic after the release of the standalone movie Rogue One. Perhaps there were points to criticize with that film, but I viewed it all in the context of Disney’s first attempt to reimagine the Star Wars brand in their own way while still remaining true to the original source material. By this test, Rogue One passed very well. It was an interesting take on the events leading up to the first Star Wars movie and it did not contradict prior plots or characters in any noticeable way. There were known issues with the directorial path of the movie, but in the end, you can liken the final result to that of an airplane’s crash landing where everyone survives. It worked, but it just barely avoided disaster.

Now we get to the sequel trilogy. Were the first two movies of this new trilogy consistent and faithful with the original source content? The first movie, The Force Awakens, also known as Episode VII, was a fledging disappointment right at the very start of the film. I think this has to do with my expectations from the Expanded Universe. In all those stories (which Disney has demoted to “legacy” status) that took place after Return of the Jedi, there was an assumption that the defeat of the Emperor was a real turning point for the course of any story thereafter. The evil Empire was over, and in its place was a fledging New Republic. The first critical mistake with The Force Awakens was the complete disregard for this assumption.

It would have made much more sense, along with being a telegraphed intention to longtime fans, if the New Republic was the backdrop for the entire sequel trilogy. The prequel trilogy took place in the context of the Old Republic that had lasted for countless millennia. The middle/original trilogy was all done within the context of the Empire. And so the sequel trilogy could have logically followed to be taking place within the assumption that the new Republic, the benefit derived from the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, was the new reality for the next chapter of the story. It would have made even further sense because of the many decades that have passed in our real-time, to see a new generation that did not remember life under the old ways. It would’ve made for some interesting storytelling.

Instead, Episode VII introduced a rehash and reboot of the old Empire versus Rebellion scenario. From the first scrolling text of Episode VII, I immediately had a depressing feeling that all the gains from Episode VI (Return of the Jedi) were swept aside for reasons unknown, and I couldn’t believe that any storyteller who truly understood Star Wars would do that.

Be this as it was, at the time I did not consider this a fatal course. I was willing to give the new trustees of Star Wars the benefit of the doubt that The Force Awakens was setting up a truly riveting and engaging trilogy. There were a lot of unknowns and questions introduced in the first movie of the sequel trilogy and I just had to believe that there were going to be major payoffs to those set-ups in the second and third films.

Fool Me Once, Shame on You…

As of this writing (September 2019), the last movie of the trilogy is still several months away from release. While there was some hope after the first movie, it was abruptly squelched by the second movie, and I would say fatally. For The Last Jedi, Episode VIII, dealt for me the tragic blow that voided my interest in anything that will be produced as “Star Wars” from here on out.

From the beginning of The Last Jedi, it simply did not feel like a Star Wars movie. Starting with an awkward in-space flat comedy routine, much of the ensuing space battle and dialogue were unlike anything we saw in any prior Star Wars film. Star Wars has always been a space opera, and all of the prior movies kept to this format. Some parts of Star Wars, as in any property, have to be kept sacrosanct. To give an example of what I mean, if Episode IX’s music score were going to be all dance hip-hop instead of orchestral, what would your reaction be, even if you really like hip-hop? Whatever your impression, you’d have to admit that it would not be Star Wars. The Last Jedi broke much Star Wars structure and convention in the same way.

A Trap Worth Setting

And much could be said of all these internal inconsistencies throughout the movie, but others have documented this far better at other locations on the Internet. Still, I will give just one example of what I felt was a glaring opportunity for a wonderful interjection of original Star Wars material bridged into the contemporary story.

The character of Vice Admiral Holdo was not only unnecessary, but a true missed chance to leverage one of the most memorable classical characters. Instead of her story arc, which felt like a befuddled attempt at contemporary political commentary, the character of Admiral Akbar was both present and available for a compelling, non-divisive, epic conclusion to his own story arc. It’s worth pointing out that Admiral Akbar, who first appeared in Return of the Jedi, and despite his relatively minor role, became a beloved character from the original trilogy. He is precisely the type of character that should have been leveraged more effectively to invoke nostalgia and to help build the foundation of new Star Wars material in the Disney era.

Instead of killing him off without even a thought and barely a notice, it should have been him who took over Resistance command when General Organa was incapacitated. Now before I go on, I should note that there were a number of flaws with how the story got to that point. Leia’s resurrection in space, as well as how the ship chase came about, were problematic in the overall context of the story’s plot and Star Wars canon. But for the purposes of this small argument, let’s assume that it all made sense, and the First Order chasing the single remaining Resistance capital ship is the moment of story we wish to improve.

It would have been Admiral Akbar’s prerogative to attempt several daring escape plans that could only stem from a venerable military mind like his. Attempt one would fail. Attempt two would fail. These would have been the “B” plot worked alongside the “A” plot of Rey and Luke. And then finally, realizing that there was no other option, Admiral Akbar would make his final command decision, to buy time for the fleeing Resistance ships to reach the planet Crait. He would set a trap of his own for the First Order, which would allow him to steer the capital ship back towards their star destroyer and, in conventional fashion, ram his ship into theirs. It would have been a glorious scene that would have left me, and I’m sure many others, crying that one of our favorite characters gave his life in such dramatic fashion so the good guys could retain hope.

Maybe my Akbar story arc would not have worked for reasons I have not thought of. But still, something like this or very similar could have been written by any well-versed story writer with a deep understand of Star Wars context. If I could do it, why couldn’t Disney hire one of the best and brightest in Hollywood to think of something along those lines?

Repeated Mistakes

Just as Lucas had his one core infraction for altering the character of Han Solo, so Disney has made their fatal mistake with The Last Jedi and their treatment of Luke Skywalker.

Many others have discussed this as well, but it is so relevant and important in the context The Last Jedi’s flaws, that it is worth restating again. How did the most optimistic character in this story universe go from seeing the good within such a dark agent of evil (Darth Vadar) to believing that he had to kill his own nephew in cold blood over a dream? True, there was precedent for this, as we saw in the prequel trilogy, as well as Luke’s own failure from his visions at Dagobah, but it still didn’t fit the character of Luke. And keep in mind that we are talking about an older, mature Luke, the Jedi Master, who already underwent his trials. In the prequel trilogy, Anakin was seduced by the dark dreams planted upon him when he was still young and impressionable and did not know how to deal with them.

In the context of Kylo Ren, I am sure all fans of Star Wars knew that Luke would be dejected and demoralized for his own failure, regardless of what we think of this as a reflection of the writing of Luke’s character in Episode VIII. But you also have to admit, that there was quite a bit of bait and switch between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. I would even go so far as to call it false advertising given the cliffhanger of the first movie. For we saw Master Luke in his light side robes, and you probably thought the same as I did, that he would fit in perfectly with the Jedi Council in another era. Yes, Luke had a final journey of his own to make and to ultimately save his friends one last time, but then we were treated by the most grievous of insults to every longtime Star Wars fan.

First was the casual tossing away of his father’s lightsaber. Now this did not make sense even with regards to these new movies. Do you recall how much of a reverence and special significance the lightsaber was given when Rey found it? Regardless of how you feel about the lightsaber apparently taking on some form of sentience, you knew that in the story there was a respect for the article and where it came from and its significance to Star Wars. This is where we get to the true crux of the issue of subverting expectations. For there is a line between good storytelling and insulting your most loyal longtime fans. I would’ve thought that for a corporation of Disney’s size and resources, that staying on the proper side of that line would have been easy and of course the safe alternative.

The second heinous act committed at the very beginning of the movie was the actual bait and switch. For no reason at all Luke decides to change from his venerable Jedi robes and into the attire of a hobo. It was a trick, almost as if the intent was to purposely alienate those who respect Star Wars classic material. We waited over 30 years to see Master Skywalker in action, and this was the best Disney could come up with?

If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy!

It has been said that the director of The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson, wants half his film’s viewers to love it and the other half hate it. As a personal goal for his own works that is clearly his prerogative to hold such a philosophy. But is Disney really okay with that? Was it Disney’s implicit goal to alienate a sizable portion of its fan base?

Count me in the camp of the alienated. A consistent and well-thought trilogy story, this new movie series from Disney is not. The Last Jedi broke my interest in new Star Wars content. I will always have my memories of the original movies and the extended content that spanned over three decades. They are good memories to have and my only altruistic regret is that the current generation of young fans will not have the same experiences with Star Wars.

Will anybody care in 40 years what happened to Rey, Finn, Poe, or Ben Solo? These are not iconic characters. They are the creation of a collective, uncaring hive mind mentality indicative of a large corporation that pushed cautioun when it did not need to and was ideological when it should have focused on mythology.

No Expectations

I have no plans to see the next Star Wars movie, Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker, in theaters within the next few months. I am sure I’ll eventually see it, but I am in no hurry. In fact, this is the very first Star Wars movie that I have actively checked to see what the latest leaks and theories are on the story. I did none of this during the prequel era nor for Episodes VII and VIII. For all those movies, I wanted to go into the theater with no expectations and to be entertained, to learn a new chapter in the Star Wars saga. But all that is ruined now. I care nothing for these characters nor the convoluted story they’ve been part of. Who is Rey? Is she is a Skywalker, a Kenobi, a reincarnated clone of Anakin, or the nobody Episode VIII claimed her to be? The key failure of this trilogy was its inability to get the core fan to invest into understanding the main character’s plight and story and struggle…because she had no plight and struggle! In some ways it is remarkable that Disney, with all of its resources, could not come up with a halfway interesting main character for one of the most important intellectual properties that they now own.

As I stated at the beginning of this conversation, the burden was on Disney to give fans a reason to remain vested in the new Star Wars. That reason never came about and they squandered their chance.

It is time to take the advice of Kylo Ren and let the past die. Unfortunately for Disney, this advice comes to their detriment, at least for my minuscule corner of the Star Wars fan base.

Always pass on what you have learned.

Star Wars was truly special 40 years ago. Kids and kids at heart were inspired by it, loved it, invested their time into it, and cared for it. The canonical arc from that time was unique and not replicated since. I don’t need any new Star Wars material to validate my original interest in the real Star Wars. It remains foundational to my perspective on science fiction, fantasy, and imagination, and I require no further advice on how to reinterpret or reform a legacy that does not beckon for alteration.