Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Blinded Us With Science

Had an amusing discussion with somebody recently about the -- ho, ho -- science of Star Trek and Star Wars.

To wit: There really isn't much of that in either.

I think this is akin to the old saying, "Well, if I had known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

Simple, really. When Roddenberry set out to do Star Trek, and Lucas Star Wars, neither of them had a clue how the franchises would burst out all over and become the roaring successes they became. In fact, ST faded before rebounding, and SW's surprised GL no end. There's a story that he was agog at the long lines waiting to get in to see the first movie.

You're kidding, right? For our movie? Really?

Who could have known?

And in both cases, there was such a rapid snowball effect that subsequent efforts to rein it all in were doomed, at least insofar as story lines and What They Were Stuck With.

Anybody remember the green pooka from Marvel? The alien Odo who could liquify himself and sleep in a milk carton if he wanted?

Think about it. If you have on your space ship a device that will, with a spoken command, produce a cup of Earl Gray tea, cup and all out of thin air -- that alone makes the rest of your ship a stone axe by comparison. If you can transport matter, including humans, by teleportation, you don't need photon torpedoes or phasers banks, all you need to do is materialize anything solid into the the hull of your enemy's ship -- a styrofoam cup will do it -- and boom ...

Unless you have a monster containment field inside your Star Destroyer, hauling an enemy vessel into your cargo hold is a good way to end the movie before it gets going. All they have to do is go boom and take you with them ...

And, and of course, there is all that sound in deep vac ...

One day, you look up and realize you have this juggernaut and maybe you'd better try to give it some kind of continuity. Adjust the star dates. Come up with a reason why the Klingons evolved major head ridgery in just a few short years.

Explain how the Imperial Storm Troopers who can shoot with pinpoint-accuracy can't hit a seven-foot-tall corridor-blocking Wookie at thirty feet with twenty guys blazing away. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder could have taken turns hitting Chewy and the gang that close ...

There have been books and TV shows trying to explain the science of ST and SW's and good luck with that. Reverse-engineering, after years of listening to folks try to explain why it can't possibly work.

Had they known going in that there was going to be movies, TV, books, games, comics, T-shirts, lunch pails, coffee cups, bedsheets and pajamas enough to fill an oil tanker, maybe they would have tried to lay things out differently up front. Put more thought into stuff from the start.

Or, maybe not. Maybe that was -- and is -- part of their charm. After all, it's the story that matters, the characters, and all the techno-stuff isn't really that important. Kirk and Spock and McCoy and the rest are why we went there. How was the Vulcan going to pull the dammit-I'm-a-doctor-Jim!'s chain this week? Would Spock break down and show emotion?

Tell me you weren't thrilled to see Spock's grinning face after he thought he had killed Kirk in the duel on Vulcan: "Jim!" That, and Spock standing up and straghtening his tunic after he was cooked and blinded saving the Enterprise?

High points in the series. None higher.

It's Luke and Obi-wan, Darth and the Emperor, Han, Chewy, Leia, Landro, Artoo and Threepio -- they are why the movie sucked us in and made us care.

The essence of fiction is in the characters; how they live, how they die, and how they change along the way. All the rest of it runs a distant second.


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

It boggles my mind that people even try to do that with SW: I mean, come on, it's a fairy tale. There's supposed to be magic.

Although Eps. 1-3 did have a slightly more SF-nal air than 4-6, with the clones and whatnot... may be one of the reasons those movies really did not work for me...

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Star Wars and Star Trek are good contrasts, in my opinion one was done by people who care and the other was thrown at us in an attempt to crush our spirits and steal our souls. That would be Episodes 1-3 I'm talkin' about here.

The first three movies (episodes 4-6) were the story, period. The last three (episodes 1-3) were nothing more than free money to Lucas, trying to explain away all the cool stuff in his earlier work. Using Perry's Razor, look at how much we cared about Luke, Han Chewie & the others, look at how much WORK went into them. Now compare that with Padme', Anakin, young Obi-Wan, even the 'droids...I realy just couldn't wait for them all to die and the Republic to be dissolved. Anakin starts killing Jedi children and I don't care because I can't get into him.

Also, I don't think we NEED to know all the answers, or explain it all away. It's like it takes the magic away when you can connect all the dots. I like Dr Who for not even trying to explain it. How does the TARDIS bend time like that? How is the temporal distortion managed to be bigger on the inside? That damn Sonic Screwdriver seems to do EVERYTHING except turn screws!

Lately, Star Trek has done a good job of vaguely putting it together. Warp Core, plasma relays, a quick trip through the jeffries tube and we're back on course. I can't really get behind the idea of a "Universal Translator", though. I would have gone with a "Universal Language" the way Frank Herbert did in Dune. I thought "Enterprise" was a good way to both give us new adventures and also explain how things came to be, to a point.

Steve Perry said...

Nah, I don't think SW's ep# 1,2, & 3 were intended to suck in the money -- GL already had more money than God -- talkin' billions from the ancillary rights, way more than the movies brought in. He truly didn't need it. He was trying to do right by the fans.

No, I think the problem was that after the first three movies came out, people began to think that Star Wars was supposed to Mean Something. That somehow, it wasn't just enough to be entertaining, it *had* to Mean Something; else why is there Jedi religion in the U.K. now?

Other than that there are a lot of idiots out there, I mean.

And because the new movies *had* to be important, the sense of fun in the first three movies got lost. There wasn't anybody to root for, because nobody was having a good time. Pretty sad when you are pulling for Darth Maul because he was the most interesting character in the movie.

Jar-Jar, for all that everybody over the age of seven hated him, was no worse than the ewoks, and an attempt to do a CGI character who worked. That he didn't wasn't because they didn't try. And having him sound like the bastard son of Stepin Fetchit and a newt didn't help.

Expectations were astronomically high, and I think that didn't serve Lucasfilm well, trying to live up to those expectations. It got in their way. What should have been a romp became pedantic, and I think the explanation of the Force via midichlorons was a monster mistake. I wouldn't have touched that one with a ten-parsec pole.

Like going back in and CGI-ing the shootout between Solo and Greedo in the remastered "A New Hope," so that the Rodian shot first. Absolutely a mistake -- the nature of Han Solo was that he'd drop the hammer if he needed to, and making that PC was jsut wrong. it undercut his character.

The only one of the last three episodes that really worked was Anakin-into-Vader, and by its nature, it had to be extremely dark -- Anakin gets chopped and barbecued, the princess dies, the little Jedi kids get slaughtered, the other Jedi get slaughtered, and the Empire rises. Anybody who didn't see all that coming ten parsecs away wasn't paying attention. I thought it paid off, and was as good a wrap-up as you could get.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

>"I thought it paid off, and was as good a wrap-up as you could get."<

I disagree, I think they could have wrapped it up with WAY more intelligence. I agree that it needed to be dark, this movie heralds the end of the Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire, akin to the end of the Renaissance and going backward into the Dark Ages. But you have to admit, the delivered product didn't deliver. F'rinstance:

1: The mounting tension between Obi-Wan and Anakin. I think a better approach would have been for thier relationship to have grown really close in the first two movies, a true mentor-desciple relationship, and for some reason Obi-Wan had to desert or betray Anakin for whatever higher ideal/greater good. Maybe strand him on a moon whilst he was wounded, something like that. Trick the audience into thinking...Maybe..Just maybe, he won't turn into Vader after all. Even though we KNOW he must.

He is initially seduced by the darkside because of his supposed love for Padme', he wants to save her but thoughtlessly abuses and near-kills her anyway? It doesn't fit, at least not for me. In all fairness I can see what Lucas was shooting for, I just think he missed wide and high of the target.

2: Yoda. I was happy to see his lightsaber skill, no question there. But...Is it just me, or did he seem more wise in the first movies? The final three films he came across as nothing more than a haughty, backwards-talking snot creature with a laser sword. He could sure dish out the verbage when Luke was jogging through Dagobah, but all he does is state the obvious and hang with the Wookies. Which I also disapproved of. I loved seeing them in the movie, but Yoda, who can't bring himself to associate with other intellectual beings deigns to dine with (according to Empirical data) the slaves? I don't buy it.

Also, a Wookie uprising from slavery to the Empire would have been a nice touch, no Yado introduction needed. In the stories, Han is the one who saves Chewie from a slave ship which brings about thier relationship. Oh, and Han was a supposed pilot for the Empire at the time, before realizing it was just evil.

3: How Vader gets his armor. This could have been turned into a kind of finality, the completion of the metamorphisis. I was playing with an idea about the Emperor saving him, but before he saves his life he drags Anakin/Vader's torment out some, telling him that he must "Suffer to understand suffering", and bringing him over through a series of rituals and oaths of fealty to the Empire. As a reward, he is slowly fitted with the dark armor we know so well, and we get to watch his transformation as the machine torturously integrates itself with the man. Or what's left of him. When it's over, his mind is unquestionably GONE. He is a thing of the Dark Side.

Instead, right after he gets his helmet his first words are "How is my woman? Are we good?" and like some sissy little nancy-boy, he breaks down into sobs upon hearing the news. It just kills the whole Vader image I grew up fearing as a kid.

So much good material to work from, and TONS more of it on places like www.theforce.net. The fans are the one resource George never taps or really seems to care about. I personally am so vocal about it because of the time and emotion I invested into this series as a kid. To me, Star Wars DID mean something, and it must have to millions of other people as well or it wouldn't be the cultural icon it is today. The ideals are pretty simplistic, all the good guys on one side, all the bad guys on the other. The Force is basically "Religion's Greatest Hits" and you have variants of every hero and antihero. The brash Rogue, the Damsel in Distress, The Dark Figure, the Wise Old Man, Laurel and Hardy, you name it. These characters appeal to a way broader spectrum than most sci-fi stuff out there today because we can find someone we identify with. We can see ourselves doing some of these things.

As you said (and it's absolutely true) anybody who didn't see all that coming ten parsecs away wasn't paying attention. I just would like to have been paying attention, and they do such a good job that I STILL don't see it coming from ten parsecs away. Give me a good story over CGI any day.

Remember: All it took the first time was a good script, some mirrors and a rubber mask.

Steve Perry said...

Nope, you are wrong, buffalo-breath.

In order for the first three movies -- 4, 5 & 6 to work, you had to have 3 retro-written to include all the stuff it did; more, you had to have Anakin/Vader have a really good reason to turn to the dark side. Only thing that made sense was his fear of losing Padme. Everything in his life is central to that and he'd do anything to keep her-- that's what truly makes him Vader, not the slaughter of the sand people for killing his mom.

Anakin didn't get the Jedi lesson, in this case, very much a Buddhist trope -- right out of the Four Noble Truths. Non-attachment.

(Luke didn't get it either, but at least he didn't flip to the dark side.)

Like I said, this is what they were stuck with. Anakin made a deal with the Devil to protect his woman and as such deals tend to go, he got burned, in more ways than one. As Vader his story ends in redemption, when he sacrifices himself to save his son, but his fall was based on love and fear.

By the time he injures Padme, Anakin is already mostly gone and Vader has risen in all but form.
By his choice, he's doomed her and himself.

Yoda? I never got past Frank Oz's Cookie-monster voice, and I never thought he was a benign little guy anyhow. Yoda didn't get to be top Jedi Master by being Mr. Nice Frog -- his agenda, first, last, always, was his duty to the Jedi. Got to remember these guys are essentially samurai, none of them think twice about lopping a bad guy's head off if he crosses them.

And what the first movie took was the magic of those characters together -- the script was not great, the dialog wooden, it was full of holes, but it was *fun* and not pretentious.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Look Steve, if you would stop snorting Geritol for five minutes maybe you would see my point.

I knew the Jedi were based on the Samurai, Star Wars is a remake of an old Akira Kurosawa film.

I see you reaching for resolution in the final three films, but millions of Wookie lovers are against you on this: Whatever the reason, they just threw a bunch of money, CGI and marketing at the last three films and didn't come up Snake Eyes. You think the dialog was wooden in the originals? The delivery in the Attack of the Clones wasn't exactly Shakespearean elocution, and you didn't need a map to see what was going on. I could have missed the last movie and not missed anything at all. Anakin is growing dissatisfied with the Jedi council and further from Obi-Wan? He get's his hand cut off and there are millions of stormtrooper-like clones just standing around with thier flys unzipped? The Emperor is following his career with "Great Interest?" Where, oh where is George Lucas going with all this?

C'mon Steve, I realize you're used to swallowing alot of pablum these days, but you must have found just a LITTLE of this stuff undigestable.

Steve Perry said...

Ix-nay, Kid. You are but an egg --
and you need to wait for the fullness of time to grok it.

The Hidden Fortress gave us Artoo and Threepio -- the rest of it is a blend of Saturday morning serials and Hero's Journey tropes, all archetypes.

I'm not talking about episodes one and two, which I'd wish into the cornfield, but the wrap-up with the fall of the Republic. That it was obvious what they needed to do, and what they did? So what?

There are only three plots, and if GL was going to redeem the series with the last episode he did, he had to include all the stuff that was in it -- it was what he was stuck with by the nature of the series. Easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback.

In a perfect world, GL would have made them in order and ended on a high note, but starting in the middle of things is a time-honored way of telling a story. Not knowing where it was going made it trickier.

He spent five movies setting up what happened to Anakin, and when he started, he didn't know a whole lot of what we all came to learn -- Luke and Leia were sibs? Nobody knew that in A New Hope. Nobody knew that Darth was their father, nobody knew that Obi-wan had filleted and roasted Darth, nobody knew *any* of that, not the actors, not the writers, nobody, and once it took off, they had to scramble and back-fill.

In A New Hope, there was some real wonder about who was gonna get the girl, and even the actors didn't know. (Though on-set there wasn't any doubt -- Ford and Fisher were breaking furniture all over the place. Fisher says she kept a dairy, and I'd loved to read that.)

I don't believe for a New York second there were nine episodes laid out in GL's mind when he made the first movie. That's the spin now, but if you go back and look and listen then? No way.

Given that, and what happened with episodes one and two, I thought episode three paid off. Everything that needed attention got it, all the loose ends were tucked into place. The movie is essentially over when Obi-wan leaves Anakin broiling down by the river -- the Anakin-in-to-Vader scene was just long enough -- any longer would have been overkill.

It's like Chekov's gun on the wall, and it went off just fine.

Of course, my brain isn't pickled with Nazi beer, so I can see this.

Dan Moran said...

You two are friends, right? Because "penis breath" is in an upcoming post, I'm guessing ...

Steve Perry said...

Oh, yeah, Bobbe and I are cool. I play the old fart to his young snark; all in fun, as I attempt to educate him in the ways of the world ...