atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,


Yesterday night, it rained.

I had to work, and all the way there I kept seeing lightning flashing in the clouds. "Uh oh," I said to myself. "Five bucks says the rain is pounding down just when I have to get out of the car."

Well, I got lucky and it wasn't...but around 10 minutes after I entered the building, the storm finally hit...and it hit with a vengeance. The entire store resounded with the noise of raindrops pounding on it, and a quick peek out the front doors showed rain thick enough to cut with a knife.

"This," I said to myself, "must be what a monsoon looks like."

It's been a rather damp spring. We had a week of rain at the beginning of May. I'm pretty sure that the farmers are all bitching about there being too much rain. Farmers always bitch about the weather. The weather could be 100% perfect for the entire growing season and they would still bitch about it, because their yields would be so high that they wouldn't get much for their crops. The weather will never satisfy a farmer, because there's no way it can be right.

As far as making bets with yourself, I realized that when I make a "Five bucks says...." statement the condition for victory is usually rather strict. That is not how to propose a wager; the way to propose a wager is to maximize your possibilities of winning rather than narrow the conditions for victory.

Incorrect: I'll bet $5 that we have a cool and cloudy morning, followed by a brisk but fair afternoon, with a 40% chance of precipitation by nightfall.

Correct: I'll bet $5 that there's weather tomorrow.

And from I got a wonderful pair of lines:

Person A: Well, I've got $20 which says you're wrong.
Person B: I'm not intimidated by you OR your strange talking money.

In general I don't enjoy making actual bets. The problem I have with gambling is that I might lose--and considering my luck with random number generators, the correct phrase there is "probably will" rather than "might".

Money is too hard for me to come by for me to enjoy risking it on rolling dice or drawing cards. I've seen how my luck works. It's true that "the dice have no memory"; they rapidly forget that they screwed me the last time I rolled them and screw me again.

Star Wars

Yesterday, while trying to fall asleep, I had occasion to think about the Star Wars series of movies, and I realized something:

The newer three movies are terrible.

I honestly don't know why it took me so long to figure that out. Other people have said as much.

The second trilogy of movies ("Phantom Menace", "Attack of the Clones", and "Revenge of the Sith") just don't have the power that the first trilogy ("A New Hope", "Empire Strikes Back", and "Return of the Jedi") had.

The first problem is, I think, the writing. The story just wasn't as interesting; where the decline and fall of the Republic should have been riveting, instead it was rife with hackneyed cliches and idiot traps.

An "idiot trap" is a plot point which requires that the characters be incapable of sentient thought, or at least that they have an enormous blind spot. Let's have some examples:

* Even though they are the closest of friends, Obi-Wan Kenobi never twigs to the fact that Anakin Skywalker is married, much less involved with someone.

* No one ever suspects Palpatine of being behind the resurgence of the Sith, even though his plan for galactic domination requires dozens of lackeys and right-hand men. The secret is kept perfectly secret until he reveals himself to Anakin.

* the Jedi learn of the existence of the Clone Army through a incredible series of coincidences, all starting with a basic mistake: Anakin lets a droid keep watch on Padme (who has already had at least one attempt made on her life) instead of keeping watch himself--and the droid in question is "asleep at the switch" at a critical moment.

* No one--not even Yoda!--so much as suggests that Anakin's nightmares about Padme's suffering may somehow be the doing of the Sith.

* Anakin is suspected of being the Chosen One, the one who will "bring balance to the Force". No one thinks, "Y'know, hmm, the Jedi--the GOOD GUYS--are the only real practitioners of the Force in the galaxy. If someone brings 'balance' to the Force, won't he be adding a lot of EVIL to the equation?" This was obvious to me the first time I heard that line, yet the possibility never even occurred to the undisputed masters of the Force??? (By that I mean Mace Windu, Yoda, Ki Adi Mundi, et al--the members of the Jedi Council.)

There are none (at least, none this bad) in the first trilogy. The plots of all three movies are character-driven. But the second trilogy?

In the second trilogy, everyone knew where it had to end; so there was little room for the characters to grow. Turning a sympathetic character (Anakin Skywalker) into a monster (Darth Vader) without turning the audience against the movie which portrays these events requires walking a very fine line. The writers chose instead to make events drive the plot, rather than the characters. In this way they were able to retain the sympathies of the audience, but they also ended up making poorer films.

The scene which shows Anakin's descent into evil in the most brutally honest way is the one in which he tells Padme about his destruction of the tribe of Sand People who kidnapped his mother. It's not a pleasant scene; but to properly show his transformation into Darth Vader, both "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith" would have had to have been written like that scene. The audience would have hated the movies and the character, though.

If the entire Star Wars franchise had started with "Phantom Menace", it would never have gotten off the ground. If "Attack of the Clones" had been the first movie, there might have been one or two sequels. If "Revenge of the Sith" had been first, it might have made it to "Return of the Jedi".

"Phantom Menace" had far too much exposition in it. If you look at "A New Hope", the audience is expected to accept a large number of facts without explanation; but in "Phantom Menace" the story required a lot of explication before any of it would make sense. In many respects I think this was an error in judgment; you can get away with exposition in a novel, but in a movie it's sheer suicide to present it all in one blob.

"Attack of the Clones" had its own problems. The growing romance between Anakin and Padme--there was no tension or anything to it. The scene in her lakeside hideaway was so boring I found myself counting the little peanut lights on the theater stairs rather than watch the movie! The characters were in love because they had to be, in order to produce Luke and Leia...but the actors were unconvincing and the scenes were ill-fitting. It's possible to fit romance into an SF saga set in a far-flung interstellar republic--and make it interesting!--but the scenes were jammed into the movie like bullet points into a bad PowerPoint presentation.

Finally, in "Revenge of the Sith", we see Anakin's fall from grace, and we see him turned into Darth Vader...why? Because he has a couple of bad dreams! He utterly ignores the advice of his friend and mentor--and the advice of the person considered to be the wisest of the Jedi!--and instead turns to Chancellor Palpatine for help. (And still the Jedi do not twig to his relationship with Padme!) Anakin has a couple of bad dreams about Padme dying, and this is what leads him to betray the Jedi?

And Anakin doesn't even struggle! We see a little bit--a promising bit--just before he cuts off Count Dooku's head, but that's all we ever see. There's no drama when he swears fealty to Palpatine--he just does it. Palpatine orders him to go to the Jedi temple and kill everyone there...and Anakin just goes and whips out his lightsaber.

The final big fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan--that had a lot wrong with it, too, but the biggest problem I had with it was Anakin's injuries. From the first trilogy I had expected Anakin to have been seriously fucked up; recall Obi-Wan's line, "He's more machine, now, than man...." Instead he loses his arms, legs, hair, and epidermis, but is otherwise intact. With the medical technology they have in that world, such injuries shouldn't require him to wear that suit and mask all the time. Darth Vader should have been a head and most of a torso, at best--he should have been artificial from maybe mid-abdomen downward, with one whole arm and the other one prosthetic--that would have made more sense to me.

In "A New Hope", and even "Empire Strikes Back", Darth Vader has a palpable air of evil around him. That changes in "Return of the Jedi", but that change is character-driven and it makes perfect sense. But even after Anakin swears fealty to Palpatine--even after he has betrayed Mace Windu and the Jedi!--Anakin does not seem evil at all. Hayden Christiansen plays it like a petulant child rather than a man who has made a conscious decision to ignore all the moral upbringing he's had since age 10, and who has taken an active part in the destruction of the Jedi, who helped him escape the life of a slave on a desolate rock at the fringes of the Republic. There was a lot of dramatic power that these movies could have had, and did not.

What a waste.

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