Monday, May 20, 2002

Well, it's been a while. But I suppose I can spare a bit before lunch to update, now that I have some things to talk about that are worthy of updating.

To begin with in chronological order, then, the Jennifer Knapp/Jars of Clay concert. I am not a Jars fan, and I am a [nominal] Jennifer Knapp fan. Naturally I went primarily to see the guitar girl whose music graces my speakers. I can't say that I was impressed, but then again I don't like her new album all that much. She did perform "Undo Me" ... kind of ... in one of those medleys of old stuff that artists seem to be using nowadays as a way to satisfy their fans' desire to hear the old stuff. Both she and Jars were fun to watch; these are clearly instrumentalists who have mastered the fine art of playing in a visually engaging way and having a blast doing it. Both performances were hampered by the rock concert sensibility (which I dislike intensely) of having the background just as loud as the vocals, if not louder. Especially in a situation like this, where every last decibel you hear comes from the speakers and not the instrument directly, this seems like an entirely avoidable disaster in my opinion. Granted, I'm a vocalist who gets a lot more significance out of the poetry of the lyrics and the artistry of their delivery than I do from the accompaniment (and that's really the rub; groups like this don't view the instrumentals as accompaniment so much as co-equal with the solo) ... but it seems that the heart of the music, particularly in Christian music, is in the lyrics rather than the arrangement.

I do give both performances kudos for having the sense to make the event more than a fun concert. And Jars' encore was particularly tasteful. But all in all, I think the Avalon\\Zoe Girl\\Joy Williams concert at the beginning of the year was better.

Then there was Star Wars II with my Greek class, which was ultimately cool. Even if you don't know that Twilight and I used to quiz each other on the model numbers of various components on Star Wars starships, you can tell I'm a Star Wars geek by the fact that I refer to all of the movies (and always have) by number instead of subtitle. What follows will not be the end of the post, but will be (I expect) a long digression into the relative merits of Star Wars II. If you are not interested in getting an ex-hardcore fan's take on the movie, skip down.

To begin with, you should know that an appreciable part of my enjoyment was due to the fact that I was seeing it with friends. Star Wars is a social milestone in the history of my life; if not for Star Wars I would literally have no crew. We bonded first over Star Wars, and I think everybody who knows him will get a warm feeling of nostalgia if I just recall Kharmak asking "what's a wookiee?" So the fact that I saw the midnight show with my Greek class ... well, it was a symbolic statement of the fact that I am acquiring real friends up here. And any event associated with that must necessarily be remembered fondly.

However, I thought the movie was good anyway. Yes, I thought it was on par with IV, V, and VI. Before I respond to specific criticisms of the movie, allow me to postulate the following:

Film critics view Star Wars II in one of two ways. Either they come to it like any other movie, with their favorite critical theory (whatever that may be) and grade it, or they come to it with the assumption that it must be good and then try to explain away its faults on the grounds that "the fans will like it anyway," tacitly implying that the critic himself thinks it's kind of weak but hey, it's a sacred cow.

What I would like to suggest to you is that Star Wars II ought not to be viewed as primarily cinema, but primarily science fiction. World-building science fiction, in particular (hereafter "science fiction"). Science fiction demands that the audience make critical connections forwards, backwards, or laterally in time. It's a critical part of what makes science ficiton art. If you can't do that, you're no more prepared to critique the movie than someone who knows nothing of instrumental music is prepared to critique an operetta. The corollary to that is that nothing in science fiction is silent. Everything the author tells you or the director lets you see has significance to the plot or the theme. This is just a maxim of the genre; you may accept it or not. I think that most critics don't. So they see the fact that Obi-Wan Kenobi's Aethersprite looks like a Star Destroyer crossed with an A-wing is not and shrug their shoulders. Cute visual storytelling. But it's not; it's a multilayered statement of any number of things. It [should] immediately call to mind Obi-Wan's critical role in the Rebellion, the fact that the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire come out of the same entity, the fact that Obi-Wan helps create the Empire. And that in turn creates dramatic tension in the beholder just the same as a clever piece of dialogue or great scoring does.

With that in mind, a fan's response to several specific critiques. I hope you will not find any spoilers in what follows, and will understand that "you" refers to film critics directly and not you, the reader of this blog:

1). The movie is preoccupid with politics and has too much exposition. In the first place, Star Wars I-III are political history. They're docudrama. If that's not what you were looking for, sorry, but that's what they are. This is why we're cycling through characters like there's no tomorrow: Qui-Gon, Jar-Jar, Darth Maul, Jango Fett, Nute Gunray ...they played their part on the historical stage and then they disappeared into the background. History is not always the story of characters, and in the case of the history of the Clone Wars and the fall of the Republic, it won't do to focus on individuals the way it did for a study of the Galactic Civil War and the fall of the Empire. In point of fact, the unifying theme of I-III has nothing to do with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, or Padme Amidala. It has to do with Palpatine. All of this is nothing more than a footnote to explain how Palpatine singlehandedly destroyed the Republic and created the Empire. As for the idea that there's too much exposition ... I disagree. It seems to me that the phrase "too much" implictly invokes a ratio. 70% talking, 30% showing, or something like that. But in fact all of the exposition given here connects to at least one other fact the movie assumes its audience will be intelligent enough to pick up on. And that means that the ratio of told:shown drops dramatically.

2). The romance is awkward and unbelievable. Well, maybe maybe not. We're talking about someone who's been in politics since she was 14 (she's now 24) and someone who's been in Jedi training since he was 9 (he's now 19). Both, in all likelihood, skipped the part of life where you learn how to deal with the opposite gender. Both are insanely skilled overachievers and know it. Both lack parent figures (Obi-Wan, as you know from IV-VI and just watching him, hardly cuts it as a father figure whatever Anakin says). I happen to know that late-teenage overachievers who know they're in the 99th percentile of humanity and are starving for intimate relationships say and do impossible things in romantic situations. I go to an entire school full of such individuals and have done such things myself. I know girls who get wooden and artificial when they're straining to stay rational in the face of tidal-wave emotions. In short, I argue that Lucas isn't out of touch with the realities of young romance so much as too in touch with it - this is a romance I find entirely believable, but not a kind that is particularly photogenic. And that I think is what people are actually complaining about.

That's enough about Star Wars II for now. I can give you a more complete analysis of the movie if you want, but you'll have to ask me.

Finally, as to going home ... ahhhh, going home. How delightful! We saw Star Wars II with the crew and Twilight's dad and had a rousing discussion about it afterwards while agreeing we did actually enjoy the movie quite a bit. Then we went to my place and had the second ever Classical Phoenix Earth session. The DM called it "really really cool," which sentiment others have echoed. Twilight even said I was "born to do this," and even Cloud (who was not there, of course) said that just the character sheet looked incredibly cool. This was all incredibly gratifying, of course, and we had some innovations too which went off as "mind-numbingly cool," in The DM's words. One was the introduction of the literary cutscene: short short stories about what's going on elsewhere, to allow me to vividly describe the world and even tease the players with plot development. And the other was the straight-faced opening, narrated from the perspective of a real character in the world. All of this is new and experimental but went off great.

And the session was just really cool, too ... nothing went as planned, but that's the essence of Phoenix Earth and I apparently improvised without a hitch. And now the players have brought great misfortune on their heads and it's not my fault! And even more importantly, the party was tougher and more wily than I could have anticipated. This campaign is going to be great fun.

The IG session was great fun too. Our new party, with Kathelia included, finally got somewhere in Antarctica (yes, Antarctica) and had a good old-fashioned dose of horror. The session was a little rushed but that's ok, and ironically enough both sessions ended in cliffhangers. Oh, it's going to be fun when I get back!

And to top it all off I have the first four campaigns of Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles and my own DVD of Moulin Rouge! Ahhhh ... sure there's no time to watch 'em, but at least they're there! Just get to the end of the week ...

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