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Thursday, Feb 18 2016

The difference between Star Trek and Star Wars is you're an idiot.

Howdy fellow space fans. Are you being ridiculed for liking Star Trek or scoffed at for your Star Wars obsession? Yeah me too. It comes with the territory. I've grown to welcome it. Approximation is the highest form of flattery. There is but one mockery that cuts me like a knife and it goes like this:

"Hey, Lance, did you see the new Star Trek movie?", says one of my now former family relations.

"You mean Star Wars?", I reply, giving them at least the chance to correct their misnomer. My intention was to wait for them to admit that though they knew it was Star Wars and not Trek, they accidentally switched the nouns. Common mistake. Totally forgivable.

"Star Wars, Star Trek, whatever.", Cousin Idiot retorts, "Same difference."

Ok. Right.

"So did you start the conversation that obviously took you more energy than you anticipated investing in oxygen than it did in sincerity with the intention of turning YOUR mistake into a specific insult, are you arrogant, or just dumb?", I politely think to myself.

"Yeah I saw it.", I answer, sparing what little credibility his brain has left.

Cousin gives me the condescending thumbs up and continues to live blindly for the rest of his life, and I move on. I've heard it before, over and over.

Let me break it down for the Cousin Idiots out there. Star Trek is Science Fiction. and just because a story might involve a spaceship flown by a magic wielding marsupial, that alone doesn't make it Sci-Fi. Science Fiction, whether it takes place in space, on Earth, in the future or the past, is a prediction of events based on either the proven or theoretical laws of Einsteinian Physics. It can imagine fantastic things like time travel, but only with a reasonable explanation of how that might work. It never contains elements of religious or unexplainable intervention, and it can't involve magic. Star Wars is Fantasy. It makes up its own rules. It's not earth in the future, but a galaxy far away, a long time ago. It relies on "the force", a mystical power with unlimited potential for physical and mental manipulation, and offers no scientific explanation of itself. Harry Potter and Guardians of the Galaxy are Fantasy movies. Back to the Future, Minority Report, and The Terminator are Sci Fi. There can be a mixing of the two genres with stories like The Matrix, for example, which could have been pure Sci-Fi, but its creators decided to give the protagonist Neo a God-like ability to bring people back from the dead, defying science itself. Spoiler, I know, but pure Fantasy. (For those of you paying attention and wondering how Spock came back from the dead, he never actually died. Vulcans have the ability to transfer their soul or " Katra" to a host body before dying, and retain the ability in rare cases to be reborn.)

What I love about Science Fiction, and Star Trek in particular, is that it doesn't have Fantasy's luxury of playing God or betraying Einstein. If it wants to make us believe something about the future or the past, it has to make an effort to operate within the confines of scientific reason. The producers of Star Trek even enlisted renowned physicists Denise and Michael Okuda as consultants to the show. Every piece of their imagined technology has been refined to have a reasonable explanation of its engineering. For example, to explain the "Warp Drive" theory for its starship, the Okudas postulated how that might actually operate. Warp Drive is the theoretical engine used aboard the USS Enterprise to bend or warp space itself in a "bubble" around the ship, allowing it to travel faster than the speed of light and thus compensate for the conundrum that if you truly were to skip around the galaxy with ease, even light speed would take forever. That's what I call Science Fiction, Cousin.

I happen to be a fan of both Star Wars and Trek, and it's natural to confuse their titles. Even I switch the names occasionally, but only the names. To accidentally switch the names and then brush it off with an arrogant and ignorant response like, "whatever", makes you look stupid. I know that for certain because to fall into that trap, you must be talking to a fan of one or the other, and even if we spare your feelings, it's still ignorant and offensive. For Star Wars fans,you've lumped them in with the much geekier, canon obsessed, Trek fan base. Star Wars has a much larger, mainstream following with a broader cultural, gender and age demographic, so it's way "cooler" than being a Trekkie. The real insult is what it does to we Trek fans. Trust me, we like Star Wars, but more like the way a kid likes The Neverending Story. By lumping us in with Star Wars, you rob us of the gift of our benevolent religion, and the distinction our long and arduous commitment deserves. It's kind of like confusing a doctor with a dentist, but more like a physicist with a Phys-Ed teacher.

It's impossible to become a Trek fanatic overnight, or even in a year. It's a journey, and there's enough of it to spend an entire lifetime exploring. The original Star Trek television series that I think even my cousin recognizes began in 1966, and introduced our patron saints, Captain Kirk and his pointy eared sidekick Spock. Since that time, it's spawned 6 different TV series over 30 seasons for a total of 725 hour long episodes. We will also be marking its 50th anniversary with the release of the 13th feature film later this year. Even if you binged watched it 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, it would take you almost 19 weeks to complete. The incredible thing is that every piece of it ( aside from a few discrepancies only we doctorates are qualified to debate) is connected in a cohesive timeline that spans from around 2060 to almost 2400 AD, and we patiently await its inevitable future and beyond. Star Wars just released its 7th film since 1979, and aside from 2 animated series and an embarrassing Christmas special, that's it. It takes a holiday weekend to become an expert. Mathematically, that proves the level of sheer time commitment a real Trekkie fan dedicates to become official. I easily rank in the upper echelon, and I have yet to see every TV episode. I'm close, but the closer I get, the more conservatively I ration what little is left, like a senior citizen saving for a Florida retirement.


Tuesday, Aug 11 2015

Secret Cinema: Star Wars

So this really sucks because I don't have pictures to go along with it, but I experienced something very Star Wars nerd should. It was an epic night in London centered around the Star Wars universe, and a night I'll never forget.

So there is this thing in London called "Secret Cinema". Basically, this company renovates an area in town to look like a scene from a movie, and invites thousands of people to come and watch that movie in this environment. Sometimes, the patrons are involved in the scenes playing characters and what not. This goes on every weekend for 3 months during the summer then they tear it down move to a diff part of town and do it again the next year with a different movie. This year it was Star Wars.

After you sign up and pay the nominal ticket price of 80GBP, you are given access to the "Top Secret Rebel Website". When the website gave me a character description based on a personality test, I knew this was about to get pretty interesting. I also had to bring a costume with me to go along with my character. (Essentially I was Han Solo, they called it "Mercenary") When we arrived at the top secret location day of, it was a giant abandoned warehouse, the outside read "Earth Transport Station". Once inside, us "rebels" were given more instructions from one of the actors, then taken into a large room which they had gone into great detail to look like Mos Eisley. I mean, everything looked super authentic, from the sand on the ground to the two moons of tatooinne. You could use your earth credit card to buy things like Banta Burgers and other Star Wars related pun foods and beverages. There was even a cantina band playing, you can guess what song played the most. At one point, Luke, Ben Kanobe, and the droids came wizzing by on the land speeder. I can't stress enough the amount of detail that went into this.

Couple hours in this room we went into another room (btw there is about 4000 people there we were told), in this room actors in the scaffolding above reenacted several scenes from episode 4, including a large (had to be to scale) x-wing fighter appearing out of the ceiling and destroying the death star (projection on a different wall). It ended with the awards ceremony on the stairs at the end of the room just like episode 4.

After this we are separated into pods of about 1000 into another room where we are finally seated and watch episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back. During the movie, the actors would come out and reenact certain scenes from the movie right in front of us as it was happening in the movie. Once the movie was over, they threw a rave type party till the wee hours in the morning, and re-opened Mos Eisley for more food and beverages.

Again, sad I do not have pictures to go along with this story, they made us turn our phones off and seal them in these bags in order to prevent us from taking pictures (for trademark reasons I'm sure). Definitely one the best experiences of my life, despite the fact I lost my debit card somewhere in Mos Eisley.


Monday, Oct 20 2014

New Lightsaber

A long time in the future, in a galaxy far, far, away, astronomers in the year 2008 sight an unusual gamma-ray burst originating from somewhere far across the universe.


Tuesday, Sep 3 2013

Minorities and Women in Star Wars

This past weekend I attended Dragon Con, a conference in downtown Atlanta for us nerds. I didn't go to many panels but I did attend a panel called "Where are the women and minorities in Star Wars", which I found to be interesting.  The panel discussed the current role of women and minorities in Star Wars, any future involvement by W&M1 in Star Wars, as well as "alternate universes" had certain characters in the franchise been a woman or different ethnic group.

The first image that came up when searching for princess Leia, thankfully NOT the golden bikini
As typical of any discussion involving race, I was really intrigued. The discussion eventually got "off topic" to the point where we were discussing the systemic causes of the lack of W&M in media in general, and how the perceptions of W&M in society would have to change in order for there to be some equality on film as well.  We noted how in comic books and movies, if there is a lead female role, she is always very busty, gorgeous, and showing a lot of skin. Staying within the realm of Star Wars, let us look at Princess Leia, who, especially at the time of the movie release (1972), was a strong role model for women. A headstrong woman who didn't take a lot of crap and was willing to stand up for what was right.  She made it very clear she didn't need a man and was very capable of handling everything on her own. One of the panelists noted how inspirational the character was to her and how it helped shape who she is today... that is until the release of Episode 6: Return of the Jedi.  (SPOILER ALERT: although if you haven't seen this film yet, something is wrong with you and you probably don't get half the things on my blog anyway) In this third outing of the iconic franchise, only a few minutes into the film, our heroine is captured by Jabba the hut and is forced to be one of his slaves and wear the "golden bikini", a scene/image that just about everyone is familiar with today. The panelist noted how after that film, that was the lasting image that everyone was left with in their heads of Princess Leia, in a bikini. It seemed to have really upset her and I can see why.  If the lasting image of every black man on film was them stealing a car, I'd be upset too.

Baddest man in the galaxy
As far as minorities in the original series, we have Lando Calrissian, who, in this bloggers opinion is definitely the baddest man in the galaxy! (Billy Dee was actually at DragonCon this year but it cost 40 bucks to get a picture with him. I like him, I guess just not that much lol) You also have Mace Windu, one of the members of the Jedi Counsel. While Mace Windu was a respectable good guy, Lando was a gambling man turned into the administrator of Cloud City (a job no doubt he won in a card game soon after loosing the Millennium Falcon), who sells his own friend up the river.  In earth time, the portrayal of these characters are roughly 25 years apart. Could the drastic change in the primary African-american role be due to a change in times or possibly pressure on the studio to have a positive black role model?

Furthermore we discussed the lack on inclusion of the other minority groups, Asians and Latinos specifically. There were no major roles given to either group in the Original trilogy, and sub-major roles given to Jimmy Smits (as Bail Prestor Organa of Alderaan) and Temuera Morrison (as Jengo Fett) in the second trilogy. Did this lack of representation lend itself to the lack of support by those communities? Is this lack of representation due to the lack of support by those communities? Star Wars (as if it were an entity able to defend itself) could also note its diversity in alien life forms. Different aliens from all over the galaxy can be seen in the film (in the cantina scene alone), does this "diversity" make up for the lack of actual diversity? Can you use computer generated and puppet aliens as a substitute for not using real people from different backgrounds?

The discussion then turned to what-if's. What if Luke Skywalker, for instance, had been a Afrian-American in the original trilogy, how would that had effected the franchise? Aside from the obvious revelation that both Anakin Skywalker and Princess Padme Amidala would have had to have been African-American as well, would dialog have been changed? Entire scenes? The films cult following and effectively the net gross income? (and I mean all of those both positively and negatively. I.E. the movie could have grossed more and had a bigger cult following.  In the comments below discuss, and also discuss who would have been a good cast at the time for a black Luke and Leia).

One of the panelists was a professional actress. She discussed her disdain for casting calls only for "Caucasian" females. She implied that she attends those auditions anyway and hopes to "wow" them all the same. I thought that was really awesome.  Sometimes, even though a role calls for a particular "look", a different look can be substituted for flare or popularity. For instance, Queen Latifah starred in the movie "Last Holiday", a remake of a 1950 British film where the star role was given to a white male. The 2006 version grossed $7 million under budget. Could the 'failure' of this film be tired directly to the conversion of the main character to a black female? Would the movie have been more popular if the lead role was kept a white male? Another British comedy that was remade recently was the film "Death at a Funeral". While both films had very similar dialog and plot (substitute a few racial jokes by Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence), the American version hit a much different demographic by replacing the core cast with African-Americans. As I often do, I take many small polls amongst my friends and record the data in my head, and from my "studies," very few of my white friends had even heard of this remake, let alone seen it.  With an almost all black cast, this movie almost completely stuck to its core demographic, much like almost all Tyler Perry produced media. So the question still stands, how do we hit all demographics equally? Is it cast alone or is there a subject matter that is equally appealing to all groups?

Will smith and Kevin Klien in Wild Wild West, 1999
I brought to the group's attention, specifically, the movie "Wild Wild West" (1999), which stared Will Smith as the lead role of James West, traditionally a white male. The movie was met with a lot of criticism and scrutiny, and subsequently failed at the box office. When asked why he felt the movie failed during an interview, Will Smith sarcastically replied that the writers didn't know that "Jim West was notorious for being white." While a hilarious quote, Smith is hitting on the subject at hand. Could the failure of this movie be directly tied to the decision to cast the lead role in a different ethnicity than originally intended? During the discussion of this specific movie, we began using the terms "hit the mark" and "miss the mark", more specifically, when the studios "miss the mark" does that lend to them not wanting to try casting lead roles to females and minorities? Much like the president of the United States, sometimes too much blame (or even credit) is given to the person for the success (or failure) for a particular event.

Moving forward, what can Hollywood, and the Star Wars franchise specifically, do to engage more audiences and improve up the role of women and minorities in film? Well, as usual, I said all that to say this.

I love Star Wars. It's one of my all-time favorite film series. When I watch Star Wars, I don't gravitate to Lando Calrissian more so than other characters. Generally speaking, I don't do that with media at all; could be a sign of the times, or could be that I tend to gravitate towards people in life and fictional characters that I want to be like, and never have seen my skin color as a barrier to that goal. Now, as an adult, I am well aware that (sadly) situations still occur where ones skin color can become a glass ceiling, keeping one from achieving his or her goals.  Speaking specifically on Hollywood, as long as studios primarily cast white males as the protagonist, W & M will continue to "suffer", but until society changes its perceptions of who can be your "hero", segments of society will continue to follow suit. Hollywood could try and be a pioneer in this area and try to change the hearts and minds of people, but with their focus being on dollars, I do not see that happening anytime soon. The central cast in the Star Wars franchise will continue to be white. You can say because its already "cannon" and therefore you can't change it. The fan base the franchise needs to keep, the "fanboys", will not allow it. As the Star Wars universe continues to expand (pun intended) there will be more W & M added, and hopefully grow the fan base more than it already is, giving this blogger more costume choices come next Dragon Con. If we are to see a change in our society's perceptions of W & M, it is going to have to start somewhere. I challenge Hollywood to be that start, and I'm not talking Tyler Perry films or any movie with all-black casts. We need to see dominant male roles in non-historic movies. During my parents childhood they always had a dream of one day having a black president. Well, this nerd has a dream of seeing a well-received and accepted black Superman in his lifetime.

1. I will refer to the phrase "Women and Minorities" as W&M for the rest of this blog.


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