Why I Hope "Star Wars" Doesn't Go Gray

The first three Star Wars movies—Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi—forever set our expectations as to what a Star Wars movie should be. There's a feel and a flavor to the original three movies that we look for whenever we hear John Williams' score kick in. It's a futuristic movie with throwback sensibilities.

Yes the heroes are rescuing the princess, but the princess is a bad-ass and part of the team, not an object to be retrieved. It's got classic sword fights but the swords aren't made of steel. It's got WWI dogfights but they're in space.

These movies have samurai and wizards and pirates and side kicks and romance and bravery and humor and everything you'd expect from a classic movie.

So why do people hate the prequels?

They've got a bad-ass queen instead of a princess, same futuristic swords, same dogfights. Same samurai, wizards, side kicks and romance. pirates...were there pirates? I don't remember.

I could probably quote the first three movies to you verbatim. We used to have them playing over and over again in the engineering lab in college.*

I can't even quote you the plot for Attack of the Clones. I don't think I've seen it since it was in the theater.

Why is that?

It's not that the prequels were bad movies in and of themselves. The over arching plot of government manipulating wars to control people is as important as it was interesting. The settings were fantastic, and truth be told, I think the acting was more than adequate. George Lucas makes everyone in a Star Wars movie jump through hoops with the writing, and I think the actors took a lot of flack for what they had to say rather than how they said it.

Yes you can violently disagree with me on any of these points. But even if I give into your opinion, I don't think any of these things were movie breakers. But I think I do know what did break them.

Star Wars was a tale of redemption. It was a tale of good and evil. It was about pure evil becoming good, and pure good fighting the fall to evil.

That resonates with people. We're all either trying not to fall or trying to come back. If you're in a bad place and you feel you can't be forgiven, well *spoiler alert* here' s Dark freakin' Vader turning back to the light. You're not even trapped in black suit.

If you've ever been on the brink of losing it, while you really want to stay good, you've got Luke. Anyone not had that “Looking at the glove” moment when you realize you have to get your cool back before you go too far? Or is that just me?

Then there's Han. A self-serving criminal who will shoot first and not worry about the questions until he meets a strong willed woman with a cause. Through her he sees a new path and takes it.

Great stuff.

So what do we have in the prequels?

In the prequels we have all that Obi-Wan regretted in the originals. The good guys are largely lacking in compassion, and largely self serving. The ones who aren't are swept along with events. The heroes are heroic, but they can't win. The bad guys are playing both sides of the chess game, and the end is a foregone conclusion.

The prequels are brilliant really. They can also match our real life experiences if we choose to look at things from a certain point of view.

But is it a fun point of view?

Do you want to see the movie where good triumphs over evil or where good falls to darkness?

That's why I think on a visceral level people hate the prequels. **

So what does this mean for the new movies?

Well, that kind of depends where they go with them.

The Force Awakens was just Star Wars with a slightly darker flavor to it. Are old heroes aren't doing that well, and that takes away a bit from the stories of the new heroes. Eventually your brain relegates Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie to smaller parts, but this isn't what you'd hoped for them.

But it does still seem to be good vs bad, with either destruction or redemption hanging in the balance for a lot of characters. Finn is the new Solo, trying to overcome a shady past and earn trust. Rey is the new Luke, gifted with powers she can use for good or evil.

For some, “The Force Awakens” might not be the Star Wars movie they wanted, but ultimately, unlike the prequels, it felt like a Star Wars movie.

In less than a year, we'll get to see “The Last Jedi,” and it seems like they may be embracing a concept from the vast body of work now considered to be “non-cannon.” And that is the concept of the Gray Jedi.

The Gray Jedi uses both the light and dark sides of the force. The Gray Jedi is good or evil depending on what said Jedi thinks will get the best outcome. It's Star Wars mixed with Nietzsche. It's the “Will to power” brought to the “Journal of the Whills” as Star wars was originally titled.

In a world where the only people who are considered evil are those who would claim that an action could be called good or evil, the Gray Jedi will be popular. Today we equate judging actions with judging people, which paints any sort of morality as devoid of compassion.

That topic is a pretty deep dive, and I'm not going to take the plunge here.

My point is, what will happen to the new Star Wars movies if they go there?

My theory is, they're going to lose the “Star Wars” feel. The simplicity will be gone. The good guys vs bad guys let-me-focus-on-how-good-the-popcorn-tastes feeling will be gone. The “I am your father” twist in Empire was powerful because we were so used to a straight road that a sudden massive complication threw us off completely.

It's not going to feel like Star Wars. And then no matter how good it is,some people aren't going to like it.

It's going to feel like an episode of “Babylon 5” or “Star Trek Voyager.” Those are great shows, but if you feel like watching Star Wars, don't watch Babylon 5. It's like if you're primed for pizza and then the plans change to fish and chips. Fish and chips are great, but not if you're in the mood for pizza.

If they go this route, if they don't keep to the original Star Wars vibe, these are not going to be movies you watch over and over again, memorizing every line. They might be fine movies in their own right. But they're in danger of falling into the same trap as the prequels.

The good news is, you have a say in what is considered cannon in any media you consume. The reader is as much a creator as the righter; the person in the theater controls what is acceptable and what isn't.

If in your mind, Han and Leia lived happily ever after, and “The Force Awakes” is a bunch of crap, then it didn't happen. It's just a story told using those characters that someone put on film.

Read a Star Wars book that doesn't feel right? Heck most of those aren't even official cannon anymore. Just drop it off at Goodwill and forget about it.

The consumer has the final say as to what stories it includes in the cannon we create in our imaginations. You can even like a story without thinking it fits. Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster is one of my favorite books of all time, but it doesn't fit on several levels.***

One way or another, “Star Wars” is going to go on—probably long after we're all long dead now that Disney has it.

I'm just saying it would be nice if when they make movies with “Star Wars” in the title it would be great if they were Star Wars movies.

If not, I guess we'll take what we can get.

*Along with The Smokey and The Bandit moves, The Cannonball Run movies, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the Hunt For Red October. We had a VCR hooked to an orange and black monitor from a Commodore 64 and an old boom box. That plus a lot of coffee, pizza, Pepsi products and some Jolt Cola for the longer nights and Gavascon for what we did to our stomachs made for good times.

**That and the ending was too short and made no sense whatsoever. If they had done something with the Emperor pulling the life from Padme' to save Darth Vader, that would have been great. As it was, it wasn't.

***The sexual tension between Luke & Leia is so wrong once you know they're brother and sister, but this book predates that revelation.

On the The Grand Tour and The Stig with the Fake Mustache

Enough time has passed now that I've been able to watch The Grand Tour as a show, not as an emotionally charged event of epic proportions. It's not longer has to carry whatever expectations I was laying on it's back, and can take an honest look at it.

What I've discovered, is that Jeremy Clarkson was right when he said it's “Top Gear in Witness Protection.” The three blokes from England are really doing the same shtick wearing a fake mustache so that the BBC won't sue them.

And it's this mustache—and other bits of disguise—that have garnered most of the criticism of the first series.

For instance, Celebrity Brain Crash is a poke at the fact that the BBC won't let them do the celebrity interview segment. Or more likely, they realized that segment killed the momentum of the show in the old Top Gear and said “how can we memorialize the segment.” It's taken a lot of heat in reviews, but I think it's because it's such a tone shift from the rest of the show.

No, James May is not stupid enough to have to ask “Does that mean he's not coming on?” every time the guest meets an obviously fake and horrible end. And of course the stars obviously aren't really killed off. So the segment pulls you out of the normal mode of the show. It's no longer some guys throwing the bull, and you're hanging out with them. It's as if you're in your garage with your friends, drinking some beer, leaning on the Plymouth Fury you're restoring, and three of your buddies spontaneously stared doing pantomime. No matter how good it is, the question that comes to mind is “Why?”

I'm not saying they should lose the skit, because honestly watching James May calmly cleaning Daniel Ricciardo off the tent window just doesn't get old. But I think it's this Top Gear yet not Top Gear flavor that's making people not like it. It's familiar, yet totally not. Once people get used to it, it might take less criticism.

But one segment that definitely is suffering from a chaffing mustache is the segment with “The American.” When I first watch the series, I knew this wasn't working but I hadn't nailed down exactly why.

If you go back and watch Top Gear, they so much herald the stick as an inhumanly perfect driver, that you might not notice they treat him as a tool instead of a person. He's something weird that you just happen to be able to stick in a car and get good lap times. If you want to say he has webbed buttocks, his legs are hydraulic and he sleeps upside down like a bat, no problem. He doesn't care. He doesn't hear it. Richard Hammond once said that speech to the Stig sounds like “a quacking noise.

According to Wikipidia—which is on the internet so it must be true—the character was forged from an inability of finding a driver that could speak well on camera. They created the Stig so that the driver wouldn't have to speak.

So now fast forward to the Grand Tour. “The American” is none other than Mike Skinner, a successful race car driver with his own radio show on SiriusXM. He can speak perfectly well on camera. You might not believe that watching the Grand Tour, but it's true.

You would think the Grand Tour would be pleased with having a driver who really could be a fourth commentator, but they've the track tests amazingly the same as before. Clarkson does the commentary, while Skinner quips off redneck jokes to fill in for whatever the Stig had on the radio. The pacing is exactly the same.

For as close as it is to the original, it's the most broken part of the show. And here's why:

“The American” is not an anonymous, imaginary, inhuman character. It's a real person the audience expects to have depth. So the segments feel like they've stolen that depth from him, primarily as a shot at America. And the fact that Mike is somehow complicit in this is even more depressing.

Now I can hear Clarkson answering,”No, no! That's really all he's got. You're expecting an American to have deep, majestic thoughts like he's from Britain and they just don't have it in them.”

Even if that were true—which it isn't—Clarkson and May have said that they agonize over every word in the show. "TV is writing' they say. So one way or another this mess with “the American” is intentional.

And it's got to stop.

What I'd like to see is a take on the American that's less jingoistic, less “A Stig That Talks,” and very much less “Top Gear.”

Have Jeremy be quite for a change and let Mike do the talking on the lap. Let him give real opinions of the card instead of being forced to call everything communist.

Present him as a real person who has a chance to be a part of the friendship of the original three.

You know what, this is just hitting me now like a slap to the face. This is why “The American” doesn't work—at least for Americans.

The fantasy of watch Top Gear or the Grand Tour, is that we're hanging out with the presenters. We're leaning the hood of that Ferrari while they talk about it. Any they're happy that we're with them. The fantasy is we're buddies.

Now we see how an American would be treated. Not as a buddy, but as comic relief.

I get the distinct impression that I, the viewer, would be as quickly dismissed as a no-nothing redneck as Mike Skinner. And knowing that I know a lot less about cars and driving than Mike reinforces that point.

It takes me out of that fantasy, and sends me back to my easy chair, just watching a show that's sometimes about cars. And it makes me think, “I'll bet those other guys wouldn't treat me like this.”

Build A Spartan Foundation Logo Contest Winners: Shuta Multimedia Vlog Episode 163

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In this video, we are introduced to the newly formed Build A Spartan Foundation: A non-profit organization dedicated to the support of the Mid-Valley School District in the areas of Academics, Arts and Athletics. The Foundation funds innovative programs that offer Mid-Valley Students unique depth and breadth to their educational experience.As we work to build a substantial endowment, we understand the importance of educating the youth of our future.

And yes I did copy that right from the mission statement.

And yes I'm allowed to do that because--and this is one of those full disclosure kind of things-- my wife and I are on the board of directors.

President Donald Healey Jr. is the master of ceremonies at this event, which presented the prizes to the winners of our Logo contest. The students were asked to draw a Spartan that represented their grade level. There were three categories: Elementary, Secondary, and High School. The winning drawings will be incorporated into our logo. Each won $500 which was donated by an anonymous donor. And the winners were:

  • Chase Bilinski - Elementary
  • Vanessa Mancuso - Secondary
  • Nicole North-Mozda - High School

We sincerely thank them for sharing their talents and their efforts with us.

Look for a lot more from the Build A Spartan Foundation in the near future!

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Splashin' With Compassion 2017: Shuta Multimedia Vlog Episode 162

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For the fourth year the Friends of Shannon Mcdonough have held Splashin' with Compassion. Held at Montage Mountain, this polar plunge raised over $10,000 for young adults with Cancer.

It's an amazing event run by amazing people, and a great time was had by all!!! Yes, even bythose who leaped into the icy water. And by icy I'm not kidding. It was right around 32F out, with a wind chill of 25F and flurries from time to time.

We're talking cold here folks!

List of those who took the plunge:

  • Just the Two of Us
  • Wishing on a Cure
  • Casandra, Steve, Brent, Bob, Jim, Chelar, Joannie, Kara, Kristine, Nicole and Sue
  • Clare, The Chickens, Capsizer, Uncle Pat and Friends
  • Team Rempeladi
  • Mari, Bob, A shark, and two guys
  • Debbie, Jeff, Another Shark, and a couple
  • No name, but it was for her birthday
  • Bob, FOSM, and Jack
  • Kanya and Kaylee
  • Spices
  • a couple of guys, a guy in a suit coat, a girl with fairy wings, and a girl in a pink bikini
  • Team Keys
  • Corey
  • Team Hooters

Note: I only had the vlog to go by, as something happened to the written list of participants. So this list is really sketchy. Next year I'm going to photograph the list used by the D.J.

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Santa's Train Comes to Olyphant 2016: Shuta Multimedia Vlog Episode 161

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For the 20th year, Christmas has come early to Olyphant, as we welcome Santa Claus on his Train! This year Santa is riding Steamtown's newly restored #26 Steam Locomotive, which was a special treat! There were gifts for the children and food for all ($1 for the adults, and children ate free) at the Legion Hall afterwards. The Christmas spirit was in the air, and a great time was had by all!

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