Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Spoilers)

Did you read the spoiler warning?

Because there are spoilers.

So just … y’know … be careful.

I’m going to talk about what I loved, and then I’ll talk about what I hated. If you want a plot description … that’s what Wikipedia is for.

The first half of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a perfect blend of new character introduction, old character reintroduction; nostalgia and freshly awakened wonder, to the point where one of the story’s massive weaknesses can be pretty well ignored.

And then we get Starkiller Base.

But I’ll get to that later.

Here’s what I loved:

Daisy Riddle as Rey, a Force-sensitive resident of the planet Jakku who ekes a living by scavaging parts off downed Imperial Star Destroyers and Rebel ships; John Boyega as Finn, a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience on his first mission, and becomes a hero after overcoming his fear; and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron, the Resistance’s top fighter pilot. They don’t exactly fill the same shoes as Han, Leia, and Luke in the original trilogy, but they come close.

Maz Kanata, on the surface, could be easy to dismiss as a second-class Yoda: they’re both long lived, both short, and both earth-toned; she’s not a Jedi, but she’s experienced in the Force. Oh, and she’s got a lightsaber — which she gives to Finn when Rey refuses it.

BB-8 steals the show. He’s like R2, but cuter, and far more emotive. I was prepared to hate him, but he’s like a cat housed in a robot, and I can’t get away from how awesome he is.

How is it possible for C-3PO to become even more annoying, and why does he insist on talking about his red arm. Also, since BB-8 is actually a droid with the Resistance, does he really need C-3PO to explain that R2-D2 has been on shut down for ten years or so?

Wait, wait, you’re asking — what is this First Order? Didn’t the Empire collapse? Yes, and there’s now a Republic, and a Senate, too. The First Order is the remains of what used to be the Empire, and from dialogue in the film, it seems they and the Republic aren’t at war, maybe a cold war? — Hux mentions that the Republic is secretly funding and supporting the Resistance, which supports this theory.

Now we get to the stuff I didn’t like. Look, after Star Trek Into Darkness, I can’t say I expect originality or thoughtfulness, necessarily, from JJ Abrams, but what the hell was Lawrence Kasdan doing?

The opening crawl of this film promises that we’ll be looking for Luke Skywalker, who vanished many years prior, the cause of his retreat we later learn to be the betrayal of his student, Ben Solo (Ben Organa?), the son of Han and Leia, who was turned to the Dark Side by the First Order’s Supreme Hologram Snoke. And for the first half of the film, we look for Luke, and on the way, our new heroes (Stormtrooper turned Rebel Finn, scavanger Rey, and hot shot pilot Poe Dameron) find each other, as well as Han and Chewbacca, the Millennium Falcon (great introduction, and the only one that didn’t feel forced), General Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2, and some old standbys like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb (who only appears in the background).

And then, again, we get to the Starkiller Base, which is basically a planet turned into a Death Star, because no one in the Empire or First Order can be bothered to study history and keep thinking super-weapons are a brilliant idea: no, really guys, just build more Star Destroyers. Somewhere there’s a financial guy screaming “ROI YOU NERF HERDERS!” And no one on the writing staff, apparently, could think of a convincing threat more severe than yet another spin on a Star Wars super-weapon — but isn’t the threat to Luke enough? If the First Order gets to him first, he’s dead, and the hope for the resurrection of the Jedi is gone forever — how is THAT not a much bigger threat than a new take on a Death Star?

The entire thing — the entire Starkiller — is a total distraction. What purpose this part of the plot served, I don’t know, and there was nothing in it that (well, except the Falcon jumping out of lightspeed into an atmosphere and crashing through a forest) couldn’t be transferred to the First Order’s Star Destroyer, and worked just as well. Big climactic space battle? Resistance X-Wings attacking a Star Destroyer instead of a planet.

Starkiller Base was only one thing.

The movie starts with Poe Dameron retrieving a fragment of a map from Max Von Sydow, an ally of the Resistance whose past is never really explained — it’s okay, though, he dies pretty quickly and the story forgets about the map about an hour later so who cares.

But the map makes no sense. We know from the previous films that the Old Republic (which the Empire replaced) existed for thousands of years. And before that? Probably space travel for thousands of years before the Republic became the galactic political force. So in thousands of years, are you telling me that a complete, charted map of the galaxy doesn’t exist, especially with how quickly the Falcon seems to hyperspace from location to location? So if you’ve got a map of the galaxy lying around, and you’ve got a fragment from Mr. Exorcist, wouldn’t it be simpler to take your fragment, plug in some astromechs, and have them just see where in their galactic maps the fragment appears to align with charted stars and planets?

I mean, seriously, such a huge deal is made about why they need “the rest of the map” by both sides that it’s like, “How exactly are you guys making sure your calculate your light-speed jumps so you don’t jump too close to a star, or into a supernova, eh?”

This leads to the third big thing that I disliked about the film. I’ll call it deus-ex-astromech. The film established that after Luke vanished, R2-D2 went into low-power mode. Well, after Starkiller base has been killed, for no apparent reason, R2 powers up and provides the rest of the galactic map which leads Rey and Chewie to find Luke within about two minutes.

Where’s Han? Oh, he’s dead. Killed by his bratty kid. And given how much you probably know Harrison Ford wanted Han to die in Empire, and then Jedi, you probably figured that JJ Abrams promising to kill the character was the only way Ford agreed to come back.

Finally … Captain Phasma, who we first meet when she lectures Finn on removing his helmet while on duty, and who then disappears pretty much entirely until near the end, where Finn, Han, and Chewie take her prisoner, get her to take down Starkiller Base’s shields, and then throw her down a trash chute; so much for the bad-ass Captain Phasma, this First Order loyalist doesn’t even attempt to resist, or die for the cause.

You may think I hated the film from this review. I didn’t. I liked it just fine. But I wanted to love it … and I just don’t. I remain ever optimistic about Episodes VIII and IX, as well as for Rogue One, which’ll be in theaters this time next year. And I look forward to seeing more of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker in the next films … even with the knowledge that, like his smuggler friend, he might get killed off.

Thank you, George Lucas

George Lucas: the man who gave us Star Wars, and the Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi; Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Temple of Doom, and the Last Crusade. And also The Phantom Menace, and the Crystal of the Kingdom Skullfuckery or whatever, and Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, and made Han not shoot first, and Jabba oddly walk-on-able, and removed ghost-Sebastian Shaw. And I don’t care. I will always love George Lucas for those first six movies. He can do wrong, but before he did wrong, he did great. The reason people are so excited to see The Force Awakens isn’t some reaction to how much Lucas disappointed so many of us with the prequel trilogy, it’s because of how he thrilled us with the Original Trilogy, and I hope George knows that this, all of this, this fury for The Force Awakens, is in celebration of his artistry. Thank you, George Lucas. Not for Jar-Jar, certainly; but for R2 and C3PO, and Skywalkers, and Solos, and Darth, and banthas, and wampas, and rancors, and all of those little weird aliens and rusty starships. Thanks, George.

Walk to Congressional Cemetery

Wednesday I dropped $100 on new walking shoes — the first new shoes I’d bought in probably two years. Saturday, I put those shoes to their first major test — a walk from my apartment in Woodley Park to Congressional Cemetery, located on the west bank of the Anacostia in what can only be described as East East Capitol Hill. I’d never been to Congressional Cemetery before, and wanted to scratch it off my “to see” list.

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Of course, by the time I got there — about two and a half hours, and six and a half miles — I was pretty exhausted, so instead of an indepth exploration, I walked around a bit, rested, and then was off again. My plan was to walk to Farragut Square and catch a bus home, but instead, I caught the Metro at Capital South, giving me a total walk for the day of about eight miles. Not too bad. Some of the gravestones I took photos of are below.

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And I’m pretty sure I caught some Star Wars fans checking out my awesome C-3PO and R2-D2 t-shirt!


And then I had sort of an awkward encounter. I was a few blocks from Capital Hill South when a woman walking two Corgis turned onto the street ahead of me. Who doesn’t love Corgis, right? So I called out to her, “They’re beautiful!” and asked if I could take their picture. Which became super awkward when she posed, and I took a photo … of her Corgis. So, basically, I just became the cat-calling creep … who then ignored the pretty lady in favor of her dogs. I don’t think either one of us walked away from that feeling uplifted, and I just feel … mortified. I think I ruined her day. My deepest apologies, if you are reading this: you are lovely, and your puppies are lovely.

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STAR WARS TRAILER

New Star Wars trailer! New Star Wars trailer! It’s so easy to get caught up in it — OLD HAN and STILL LOOKING YOUNG CHEWBACCA — it’s easy to forget how much positive press The Phantom Menace received, almost two decades ago.

But I will remain optimistic until December.

(Also, does it seem weird to anyone else that Chewbacca basically doesn’t age?)

The New A/S/L

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I lost my job a year ago today. No fear: I’ve been reemployed since September 2nd. As a fortuitious coincidence, the week before I went from being gainfully employed to being gainfully desperately looking for work, I bought an Xbox One and two games: Battlefield 4 and Titanfall. As much as I wanted to love Titanfall — where you control really cool mecha and stomp your enemies from the map — I actually wound up playing a hell of a lot more Battlefield 4, which is, for me, anyway, one of the more challenging shooters out there.

Battlefield4_myview2 Sunday night I was playing on Pearl Market, which, if you’ve ever played BF4’s expansions, you know as a chaotic map of narrow alleys and wide streets, steep stairways and windows overlooking the field of combat, and roofs towering over all. In game death is all around you, and this round, sadly, we were losing — and it was not remotely close. Still, everyone on my squad was using their microphones, and we were coordinating quite well.

And then this guy joined. And instead of, y’know, “There’s a dude crouched on that ledge” or “Let’s push on objective A” or even “THEY’RE EVERYWHERE WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE” …

… he starts with, “What’s your name? Where are you from?” and then the next thing I know, his grandfather’s on the microphone explaining how they just got broadband internet in his remote Alaska village and he’s paying $300 goddamn bucks a month for it and I’m just staring eyes wide as I try to slay our opposition because, dammit, I love this map, and very few servers have it on rotation anymore, and what the hell is this?

It’s the new age/sex/location. That’s clearly what it is. Which for you young whippersnappers, is what you used to type into an AOL chatroom. It was the text-version of today’s Tinder.

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Julia’s Empanadas Casts Shade

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Currently Shenanigan’s Irish Pub, the green structure that reeks of fake-Irish has previously been McNasty’s, Angry Inch, and, taking a page from Harry Potter, the Leaky Faucet. It’s also one of the 25-Douchiest-Bars in DC, per Complex. I don’t know if Julia’s Empanadas put up this sign recently or not, but I only noticed it today: pointing and laughing at their neighbor’s name change, it reads: “We don’t change often/We got it right the first time.”

Exploring Klingle Road

Klingle Road runs west to east across upper northwest Washington, DC, with many interruptions: it starts just a little east of MacArthur Boulevard, branching off of Macomb, and runs into Arizona. It resumes on the other side of Battery Kemble Park, and runs here from Foxhall Road to New Mexico Avenue, a whole two blocks. It resumes for a much shorter stint — about a block — between 39th and Massachusetts. If it continued from here, after a block, it would then run through the National Cathedral’s Close. But it doesn’t, resuming its onward march from 34th Street to Woodley Road, where it sort of continues, but only if you turn and travel for a short distance on Woodley before making a left. Here it ends again — sort of.

Entrance to Klingle

An ugly gate, decorated with “Road Closed” and “Pedestrians Prohibited” signs, bars the way. It’s possible to enter the closed portion of Klingle by making your connection through the Tregaron Conservancy Trails, which have no signs barring pedestrian access, if you feel more comfortable.

Imagine a road running through a flood zone which has not been maintained for a quarter of a century. Portions of Klingle, especially where I first entered, looked as if they could be used again almost immediately. On other sections, however, fully 3/4ths of the road had eroded and collapsed into the Klingle Tributary.

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My personal favorite part of my exploration was where Klingle runs under the Klingle Valley Bridge/Connecticut Avenue Bridge. I’ve lived in DC for almost seven years and have walked across that bridge I can’t even count how many times.

There were sections of Klingle where the road had practically become one with the stream, and I had to jump from dry pavement to dry pavement — as I’m a bit on the heavy side, this probably looked as awkward as it felt, and it felt like I was going to slip and go down hard and wet (that’s what she said?).

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This was one of the few examples of the remaining street markings.

After exploring Klingle, I meandered through Rock Creek Park to Adams Morgan and walked downtown. I noticed quite a few people looking at my chest — maybe because they were admiring my man boobs, or maybe because they really loved my Dark Lords t-shirt. Or maybe both!

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We’ll see where I go exploring next week!

Do We Stay or Do We Go Now? #WMATA

“Is this the Blue Line?” we wondered, my friend (also my neighbor) and I, Saturday night at Metro Center waiting for a train to Virginia to attend a friend’s housewarming.

The train itself just said Special. We’d been waiting for ten minutes. There was a Silver Line train pulling in when we’d arrived, and a few minutes later an Orange Line train. The board, where incoming trains are listed with their estimated time of arrival, said the next Blue Line to Franconia-Springfield was still eleven minutes away.

This was potentially the first Blue Line train.

Let’s go, we decided. Even it was Orange or Silver, we could get off at a later station and at least be a bit closer to our destination.

“Is this the Blue Line?” we asked a group of four college-aged kids already seated. Perhaps thinking we were tourists — despite the Maryland sweatshirt I was wearing, strongly implying that I’m a local — one of them proclaimed that if the train didn’t proceed to Arlington Cemetery after Rosslyn, we’d know it wasn’t Blue.

And we’d have to choose: get off and wait for the Blue Line train eleven minutes behind us, or risk that we were actually on an Orange or Silver Line train, and have to backtrack.

McPherson Square and Farragut North. No on board announcements.

My brain kicking into motion, I pulled up the Metro app on my phone as we pulled into Foggy Bottom. Opened the Rosslyn station. The only Blue Line train coming was headed in the opposite direction. Decision time was coming: jump off at Rosslyn? Or take a gamble?

And then: an announcement – “Next stop, Rosslyn, final transfer point to the Orange and Silver Lines.”

And the glorious realization – that announcement would only come on a Blue Line train! A special unmarked Blue Line train …

And our friend’s housewarming was amazing. She has the best cats ever. They’re like big fluffy pillows who say “Hello stranger! I will jump into your arms and rub my face all over your face forever and forever!” And then, because it took us an hour and fifteen minutes to go from out apartments to Woodley Park to Braddock Road to our friend’s place, we caught a cab home. I may have had a cat stuffed under my sweatshirt.

(No.)

Andy Harris: still kind of a dickhead

As I do every election, I went to my polling place and voted last night.

One of the measures I voted for was Initiative 71, the legalization of marijuana. The thing with being a resident of Washington, DC though is that even with our local government — our ANCs and our city council and our mayor — Congress can basically overrule everything, because we’re the Original Continental Colony.

And while I’m sure some Republicans (Rand Paul, right? He’d be okay with it) are cool with the denizens of Washington, DC governing themselves, others feel we just can’t handle that responsibility. Oh Maryland, my Maryland, why do you keep electing Andy Harris? (You’ll remember: he’s the guy who ran against Obamacare and then threw a hissy-fit about his own government provided health insurance taking a month to kick in).

Stop Hating on ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

If you’re wondering why there are videos on the news and social media of people dumping buckets of ice water over their head, they’re doing it to raise awareness about ALS, more popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The idea is that, if challenged, you either dump a bucket of ice water over your head, or you donate money to ALS research. Considering ALS has raised $17 million during the same period where last year they raised $1.3 million, I’d call this a rousing success.

But of course there are haters. Check this piece in The Washington Post:

The Ice Bucket Challenge – the charitable cause to raise money for ALS – is the current rage chilling American spines. The challenge offers participants two choices: 1) Donate $100 to help fight Lou Gehrig’s disease or 2) Dump a bucket of cold ice water over their heads. Many participants do both.

According to the New York Times, more than 1.2 million videos of people dumping water on their head have been posted to Facebook. I decided to calculate how much water has been consumed in the process.

If an average bucket contains 4 gallons of water, about 5 million gallons of water have dunked heads from coast to coast. That’s the equivalent of about 120,000 baths or, in weather terms, over half an inch of rain falling on a 300 acre slab of land. Think of a summer downpour dousing the National Mall, or for west-coasters, Disneyland.

Four gallons of water poured over one’s head does not exactly equal a national emergency, although if you live in California where there’s a drought, it should probably get you beaten to a pulp. Per the Washington Sanitary Commission, here are some common activities and how many gallons of water they cost:

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So basically, the water cost is easily recaptured in shortening shower times, reducing the amount of times you flush (I know, yucky), or using the dishwasher or laundry machines less. These, honestly, are all things we should be doing because fresh water is a precious resource and we need to treat it as such. In this case, I just find it difficult to get worked up about.

Planet Lucy

I went to catch the early show of Lucy this morning at Mazza Galleria. Excepting the woman who brought her kid to the movie and then realized this wasn’t a non-violent film and raced out (as opposed to all of Luc Besson’s other children-appropriate films such as The Professional or La Femme Nikita, which teach valuable trades), the film was fun, interesting and strange: picture a science-fiction themed shoot-’em’up nature documentary. That’s really the closest I can come: one moment, people are getting shot, the next moment, oh look, it’s a cheetah chasing a deer. Worth waiting to see on DVD or streaming, though.

Hot Tub Time Machine II – basically just Back to the Future rebooted

In continuing my theory that Hot Tub Time Machine is basically Back to the Future rebooted with a hot tub time machine instead of a Delorean time machine, John Cusack is filling the Crispin Glover role by not returning, as with BTTF 2 the sequel goes to the future, and the second sequel (appears to be set up at the end of the trailer) will apparently take us well back in time to the War for Independence.