Star Wars Battlefront

I haven't played a video game in years. I don't miss it, though some of the virtual reality games I've demoed recently are so immersive that the novelty could lure me back in. Console games, though? That time of my life may have passed for good.

But then I watched this promo video for Star Wars Battlefront with my brother, and, well, my heart started to race. And then at 4:34 of the video, something happens that made me gasp, and a few seconds later my brother and I were screaming like idiots and searching online for the best deal on a Playstation 4.

I'm setting aside a bond now as a reservation for down payment when the virtual reality version of a Star Wars game comes to pass and I don my goggles and hand controllers to march into a lightsaber battle. It may be the most enticing reason for me to maintain some level of flexibility and physical agility as the years go by.

Star Wars miscellany

Given the drop of the second The Force Awakens teaser this week, I've got a bit of Star Wars on the mind. Taking a tour of Star Wars related writing I've enjoyed, let's begin by revisiting the Empire's spectacular military failure at the Battle of Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

The defenses the Alliance constructed on Hoth could not be more favorable to Vader if the villain constructed them himself. The single Rebel base (!) is defended by a few artillery pieces on its north slope, protecting its main power generator. An ion cannon is its main anti-aircraft/spacecraft defense. Its outermost perimeter defense is an energy shield that can deflect Imperial laser bombardment. But the shield has two huge flaws: It can’t stop an Imperial landing force from entering the atmosphere, and it can only open in a discrete place for a limited time so the Rebels’ Ion Cannon can protect an evacuation. In essence, the Rebels built a shield that can’t keep an invader out and complicates their own escape.
When Vader enters the Hoth System with the Imperial Fleet, he’s holding a winning hand. What follows next is a reminder of two military truths that apply in our own time and in our own galaxy: Don’t place unaccountable religious fanatics in wartime command, and never underestimate a hegemonic power’s ability to miscalculate against an insurgency.

A fun read. Given what we learned about Anakin in Episodes I-III, maybe impulsive thinking shouldn't be that much of a surprise.

Another amusing read: John Scalzi's Guide to the Most Epic FAILs in Star Wars Design.

Yes, I know, I want one too. But I tell you what: I want one with a hand guard. Otherwise every lightsaber battle would consist of sabers clashing and then their owners sliding as quickly as possible down the shaft to lop off their opponent’s fingers. You say: Lightsabers can slice through anything but another lightsaber, so what are you going to make a hand guard out of? I say: Dude, if you have the technology to make a lightsaber, you have the technology to make a light hand guard.

I wonder if this was the inspiration for the now infamous lightsaber with handguards first seen in the initial The Force Awakens teaser. Or maybe it was a suggestion from Jony Ive, though he denied being the inspiration for the cross guards in his New Yorker profile.

When you absolutely, positively, got to kill every Jedi in the room but don't want your hands cut off...

Another amusing bit from that piece:

Stormtrooper Uniforms
They stand out like a sore thumb in every environment but snow, the helmets restrict view (“I can’t see a thing in this helmet!” — Luke Skywalker), and the armor is penetrable by single shots from blasters. Add it all up and you have to wonder why stormtroopers don’t just walk around naked, save for blinders and flip-flops.

The second teaser shows what seem to be updated designs for Stormtrooper uniforms, but it doesn't appear the design flaws noted above have been solved. They still stand out in almost any environment, and visibility is likely still a concern.

To increase merchandising revenues, the Empire has adopted these limited edition away uniforms for Stormtroopers. And is that an Apple Watch crown in the center of the Empire's new logo? Where can I order my Apple Watch Empire Edition?

Also recommended, Chris Taylor's How Star Wars Conquered the Universe. Ask any craftsman or entrepreneur and they'll tell you the first draft is just a template, that much of any great work or company comes in the iteration and editing and endless revision. Taylor's book, aside from being a great history of the making of the movie, is testament to that truth. What Star Wars began as and what it ended up as are so different it's stunning.

Lastly, one of my favorite Tyler Cowen posts: the public choice economics of Star Wars: a Straussian reading.

The core point is that the Jedi are not to be trusted:
1. The Jedi and Jedi-in-training sell out like crazy.  Even the evil Count Dooku was once a Jedi knight.  
2. What do the Jedi Council want anyway?  The Anakin critique of the Jedi Council rings somewhat true (this is from the new movie, alas I cannot say more, but the argument could be strengthened by citing the relevant detail).  Aren’t they a kind of out-of-control Supreme Court, not even requiring Senate approval (with or without filibuster), and heavily armed at that?  As I understand it, they vote each other into the office, have license to kill, and seek to control galactic affairs.  Talk about unaccountable power used toward secret and mysterious ends.
3. Obi-Wan told Luke scores of lies, including the big whopper that his dad was dead.
6. The prophecy was that Anakin (Darth) will restore order and balance to the force.  How true this turns out to be.  But none of the Jedi can begin to understand what this means.  Yes, you have to get rid of the bad guys.  But you also have to get rid of the Jedi.  The Jedi are, after all, the primary supply source and training ground for the bad guys.  Anakin/Darth manages to get rid of both, so he really is the hero of the story.  (It is also interesting which group of "Jedi" Darth kills first, but that would be telling.)
8. The core message is that power corrupts, but also that good guys have power too.  Our possible safety lies in our humanity, not in our desires to transcend it or wield strange forces to our advantage. 

One can argue the Jedi are the source of all strife in the Star Wars universe, playing the key role in Lucas's critique of fascism or religious fanaticism.

Matthew McConaughey watches the new Star Wars teaser

There are no words.

Whoever created this clip may have singlehandedly launched the next angry Hitler video meme. 1 I look forward to what is sure to be a burgeoning industry of McConaughey sobbing in reaction to Jonny Ive material science promo videos, the next trailer to Pitch Perfect 2, and so on. Sobbing McConaughey is the new Kevin Durant “You're the real MVP.”

I don't own Interstellar on Blu-ray, can someone now cut the same clip of McConaughey crying, but this time swap in The Phantom Menace? What better way to demonstrate The Kuleshov Effect?

  1. I absolutely adored all the angry Hitler videos, but one advantage of the McConaughey clip as a video reaction meme is its short duration. You can claim fair use, I suspect. The angry Hitler videos were fantastic, but the clip is so long that all those videos are pulled off of YouTube by the lawyers. For my next startup, I may just buy the rights to that angry Hitler clip from the movie Downfall and launch a website and app for easily cutting in your own subtitles. If you want to write me a $10 million check for that you know where to find me.

Second Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser

The second teaser for this Christmas' release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has dropped.

If we're being honest, this teaser and its predecessor aren't really all that remarkable. They're largely just montages of random characters, spliced in some random order, like the famously opaque teasers for the next episode of Mad Men. 1

  1. The studios forced showrunner Matthew Weiner to have bumpers teasing the next episode, against his wishes, so he countered by assembling them in such a non-linear, random fashion, almost like some William Burroughs narrative deconstruction, that essentially they give away nothing.

In fairness, teasers often contain the most minimal of narrative coherence and are merely meant to whet one's appetite with any seemingly finished footage. In essence, teasers are meant to, umm, tease.

But if I'm being honest, this trailer excited me more than the last one, largely because it includes more familiar callbacks than the previous one. Star Wars is a shockingly enduring franchise. Even my nephews who haven't seen a single Star Wars movie love the franchise and know most of its characters. Through cartoons, toys, books, and other forms of merchandise, the story has become one of the defining mythologies of modern entertainment. It has both a grandeur of scale and yet an intimacy that characterize some of history's most operatic epics. Not even three cinematic duds in a row were enough to kill off the franchise, it is that indestructible.

Given our long and deep collective history with the saga, anyone cutting a trailer can tap that mother lode of nostalgia with the gentlest of tugs. Just hearing the first cue of John Williams elegiac Star Wars score and seeing a desert landscape are enough to summon an image of a young Luke Skywalker, standing in the sand, staring out towards the horizon of Tatooine, wondering if there's anything more to his life than working his Uncle's farm.

Christmas can't come soon enough.

Star Wars in our world

Photographer Thomas Dagg has transplanted objects and characters from Star Wars into black and white photos of everyday life.

See more at Dagg's gallery. That center image doesn't look that unusual at all to a New Yorker. Just this past weekend in New York City I rode the subway with a fully grown adult in a full Captain America outfit, and no one paid him a second glance (granted, New York Comic Con was in full swing, but New Yorkers know to expect the unexpected any time of the year on the subway).

Instead of fooling their children into believing in Santa Claus, some parents should see if they can convince their children that we live in the Star Wars universe, just a few galaxies over.

How to watch Star Wars

I missed this when it first came out, but Machete Order is an impassioned argument for the proper order to watch the Star Wars movies.

Now I’d like to modify this into what I’ve named Machete Order on the off chance that this catches on because I’m a vain asshole.

Next time you want to introduce someone to Star Wars for the first time, watch the films with them in this order: IV, V, II, III, VI

Notice something? Yeah, Episode I is gone.

Episodes II and III aren’t exactly Shakespeare, but standing next to the complete and utter trainwreck that is Episode I, they sure look like it. At least, III does anyway.

I have not watched Episode 1 in a long time, it was indeed a dull piece of cinematic drama.

Still, I found it not just tedious but curious. At its core was a detailed examination of economics, of the power dynamics of insterstellar trade and politics, and thus it seemed miscast amidst the other Star Wars movies which centered more around two hero's journeys, one of the father, one of the son.