Friday, December 27, 2019

New Year's Resolutions: 2020 Edition

Or is it New Decade's Resolutions? It'd take the pressure off to have ten years instead of a measly one.

The 2019 resolutions are here, and the series is collected here. But we start with how we performed last year:

Met: 2, 6 (absolutely!), 7, 9 (just a few weeks ago!), 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.

Missed: 1 (it's crawling along), 5, 8, 10.

Pick 'em: 3, 4.

Forward unto the dawn of 2020!

* * *

1) Submit one political theory article to a journal. (Met)

2) Complete a draft of a new law review article. (Missed)

3) Have a complete draft of something that could pass as a dissertation. (Met -- in the nick of time!)

4) Become, to my own satisfaction, passably good at Super Mario Maker 2. (Missed--got distracted and then our Switch became 100% Animal Crossing)

5) Travel to one new city I have never been to before. (Missed -- 2020....)

6) Present at a conference (any field). (Missed -- again, 2020....)

7) Regularly do the exercises recommended by my physical therapist. (Pick 'em, to be very generous)

8) Write at least four articles published in the popular press. (Missed, through no fault of 2020)

9) Seek out candid career advice from people, even when it hurts your pride to ask. (Met)

10) Attend a professional sporting event. (Met, back in February)

11) Make substantial headway at organizing a conference. (Missed)

12) See old friends at a time other than the annual new year's get-together. (Missed--2020!!!)

13) Attend a Jewish event that is not a religious service (Seder not included). (Missed--seriously 2020 can burn in a fire)

14) Donate to a political candidate who is not running for President. (Met)

15) Write an unsolicited note to an academic figure whose work I like just to say I like their work. (Met)

16) Unlock my Twitter account. (Met, and for the happiest of reasons!)

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Rise of Skywalker: Quick Thoughts

In keeping with the traditional Jewish Christmas festivities, I saw a movie last night. I actually managed to avoid most of the substantive discussions of Rise of Skywalker in advance, and what I did read sounded so muddled and crossed that I managed to come in with no substantive expectations.

Now that I've seen it, I can say one thing with confidence: Rise of Skywalker is, without a doubt, the worst Star Wars film to have Wedge Antilles in it.

Of course, that still makes it presumptively better than all the films without Wedge Antilles in them. Does it manage to hold that high ground? Here are my quick thoughts (*SPOILERS*):

  • I think the movie starts off shaky and improves as it goes.
  • The new droid gives off a real Portal vibe to me. Also reminiscent of Portal: the GLaDOS rig-up that Emperor Palpatine is attached to.
  • The almost complete omission of Rose felt like the producers were giving in to the most toxic elements of the Star Wars fan base, and I disapprove.
  • I was among those who very much liked the idea that Rey really was "no one" descended from nobody of consequence, and so I sharply disagree the decision to make her the Emperor's granddaughter.
  • More so than the original trilogy or the prequels, the new trilogy (is that what we're calling it?) feels much more like a fantasy story than a science-fiction story. Ancient artifacts giving rise to eldritch power and all that.
  • Even for a Star Wars film, Rise of Skywalker in particular badly fails what I call the "James Bond" test (the James Bond test is how early and/or how often the movie would end if the antagonists were remotely competent at aiming). 
  • That said, did you ever notice how many Imperial First Order Last Order(?) troops died because they bother to ask questions before shooting? They're always yelling "freeze" or "show me your identification". Resistance fighters just blast people without giving anyone a chance to surrender.
  • The "hyperspace skipping" move in the beginning really strained my suspension of disbelief (even granting that I'm watching a super-futuristic Star Wars film). Much like the "hyperspace Kamikaze" move Admiral Holdo did in The Last Jedi, it feels too useful (even if dangerous) not to have been seen before. Also -- TIE Fighters aren't hyperspace capable, so how are they following the Falcon? And even if they are fitted with hyperdrives, how could they track it? Finally, the whole reason Poe does this desperate tactic in the first place is because they're being followed by a huge swarm of TIEs. But after a few "skips" they've only got two behind them -- they should be able to handle those with regular turret fire.
  • Speaking of suspension of disbelief, who exactly is crewing all those Last Order Star Destroyers? This is actually one of my least favorite genre conventions -- the big organization, seemingly all-but-fallen, having a giant secret army/base/fleet in a location completely unknown to everyone (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is positively awful about this). Where does it get logistical support? What were all those crewmen doing back when nobody knew where Exogol was?
  • Another genre convention I hate: the big bad villain with hundred/thousands/millions/billions of deaths on his hands gets a redemption arc, while meanwhile, hundreds of random and relatively innocent mooks (indeed, the movie goes to some lengths to note they're mostly conscripts kidnapped as children) are slaughtered without remorse or a second thought.
  • On the other hand, great job with gender and racial equality here: I heard plenty of female voices in the random stormtrooper death screams!
  • After watching the conclusion of the narrative arc, I have to say: I really wish they had told the story of the Thrawn trilogy from the old Timothy Zahn novels instead.
  • This is all adding up to a pretty negative assessment, so I will say that I felt like the movie ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. But I still think it's probably my least favorite of the New Trilogy. And that's with Wedge Antilles in it!
UPDATE: I basically endorse Abigail Nussbaum's take.