Category Archives: Entertainment
After forty-one years and counting of the Star Wars franchise, which has brought us ten movies, seven television series, and God knows how many books, comics, works-in-progress, and various other media artifacts, I still maintain that the pinnacle of them all was the second movie (Episode V), The Empire Strikes Back. I will take that statement as self-evident 🙂 and thus I don’t intend to make that argument here. Rather, I recently wrote a post about space in which I mentioned time dilation in The Empire Strikes Back, and said that that would be material for another post. This is that post.
I watched The Empire Strikes Back when it came out in 1980, the summer after my junior year in high school. It was long-anticipated, and as I’ve mentioned before, some loud-mouthed acquaintances, having read the book before the movie came out, spoiled the big reveal about Darth Vader being Luke’s father. Despite this, I found I enjoyed the movie enormously, more even than I had the first. I think this is a good demonstration of an argument made by the Plaid Adder, a blogger I follow. She says that if a reveal is properly done, then a spoiler–finding out about it ahead of time–doesn’t, in fact, spoil the show. This was definitely the case with me and Empire.
Anyway, I don’t know when I got to thinking about the specific issue I want to discuss today, but it gradually presented itself to me over the course of a few years. I don’t think I was aware of it at the time I watched the movie for the first time; but I think I had the matter articulated by the time I was in college. To make it clear just what I’m talking about, let’s have a quick recap of the relevant events of the movie.
Star Trek, of course–what kind of question is that? Actually, if I’m going to write an essay, I should have more to say….
Star Trek, in its original incarnation (which I will henceforth refer to by the standard fan abbreviation TOS for “The Original Series”) began its prime-time network run on NBC in 1966, at which time I was three years old. Its last season ended in 1969, at which time I was six, and about to begin the first grade. I know Mom and Dad watched it, so I no doubt did, as well. I’ve seen every episode multiple times since, and given that, it’s hard to sort out any genuine memories of the series’s original airing.
It doesn’t really matter, though. Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, TOS was more or less constantly in syndication somewhere on one channel or another. Every time it was available on any of the channels we got, I always watched it. For reasons that are obscure, certain episodes (e.g. “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “A Piece of the Action”) were in very heavy rotation, whereas others (such as “Errand of Mercy” and the insanely elusive “The Mark of Gideon”) were rarely if ever aired. I made it my goal to watch every one of the original seventy-nine episodes at least once. I set this goal at the age of around twelve or thirteen, and it took into my mid-twenties to complete it, but complete it I did. In the meantime, my involvement with Star Trek was expanding far beyond watching reruns.
Someone I follow on Tumblr had a post recently discussing what makes for good writing in a fan fiction context. The conclusion was “good technical skills”. The idea is that, while writers and readers of fanfic may have different criteria of what makes a fic “good” than do the gatekeepers of “mainstream” fiction, and while those differing criteria are valid, good technical skills are universal, allowing you to develop the story you want to tell and to say what you need to say. Technical skills may not be the end-all and be-all; but you have to be able to control what you’re saying if you want to get anything across to the reader. I totally agree with this.
Anyway, I reblogged and added a response dealing with an aspect of fanfic that I think isn’t often realized or understood. It occurred to me that it might be worth putting up here, too, especially since I’ve been discussing pop culture–which of course includes fanfic–in the course of writing my series “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality“. I have edited it very lightly for publication here, but it’s substantially the same as the original form. Enjoy!
This is a follow-up of sorts to my recent post on aliens, robots, and perpetual motion. There, I rather harshly criticized the tendency of many science fiction (henceforth SF) writers to portray robots, androids, and sometimes aliens as being capable of functioning with no energy inputs of any kind. It gets a bit irritating for those of us who are scientifically inclined, and it would be nice, once in a while, to see someone actually address the issue—having a robot being charged, for example.
Despite this, I have still enjoyed many books, movies, and TV series with such perpetual-motion robots. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation throughout its run, despite the fact that Data never once was shown being charged. I also have read all the robot stories of the granddaddy of robot stories, Isaac Asimov. Even he, to the best of my knowledge, never explained how robots are powered (I am open to correction on this if anyone has any references). Certainly, Asimov knew better. The thing is that, as he himself pointed out, the appeal of robots in fiction is not mainly about how they work, but our fascination with human-like beings we ourselves have created. It is the mixed fascination and fear, expressed as far back as Frankenstein—fascination that we ourselves become like God; fear that our creations will rise up against us. The very play that gave us the word “robot”, R.U.R. (an abbreviation for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”), by Karel Čapek, expresses this fear explicitly—the robots rise up and overthrow mankind.
The point is that sometimes SF gives us potent themes that are more important than details that get the science exactly right. This leads to the topic I want to talk about here: What should one expect from good SF in terms of scientific accuracy? That is a long-debated topic, and I make no claims to come to a definitive conclusion here; but I do want to look at some of the things that work for me, personally, at least.
In the course of this reconsideration of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, we’ve looked at all the major aspects of production except for what some consider the most important, the director. I don’t really have any strong feelings either way with regard to the auteur theory–I think there are cases to be made both ways. In either case, the director is certainly one of the most important aspects of any film; and the director chosen to helm STTMP was the distinguished veteran filmmaker Robert Wise.
Robert Wise was a Hollywood veteran of long standing, who had worked in almost all cinematic genres. He won Academy Awards for West Side Story and The Sound of Music. More germane to the present consideration, he directed the movie widely considered to be the best science fiction movie of the 1950’s, The Day the Earth Stood Still. He also directed the science fiction thriller The Andromeda Strain. Unlike later directors who often stamped their personality onto all their films, Wise had a reputation as a consummate craftsman who worked with what he was given to make the best movies he could. Wise had not been familiar with Star Trek, but he had been a favorite director of Gene Roddenberry. Thus, after several possible directors were discussed, Wise was chosen to direct Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
I just wanted to note an upcoming change here at the Chequer-Board of Nights and Days. As you can see at the top of the screen (for now), one of the pages is labeled “movies”. Some years ago, for some reason or other–I don’t remember why–I began posting movies to the site. They were mostly B-movies, with a mixture of serious movies, comedies, documentaries, and made-for-TV content. The number expanded to the point that I organized all of them on a single page so that visitors could browse the selection and watch what they wanted.
Alas, YouTube videos (which is what most of them were) are an ephemeral thing. They’re always going up and down, and many of the videos I had posted–probably the majority–had become dead links. I’ve been too lazy to do anything about it, but I’ve gotten back to active blogging lately, and I decided that I needed to clean out the underbrush. Thus, I will eventually be deleting the “Movies” page.
Why “eventually”? Well, counterintuitively, it’s actually almost as hard and time-consuming to get rid of all these posts as it was to put them up. I could just delete the page, but that would leave up all the dead-link posts, and then I’d not have links by which to easily find them again. Thus, I’m having to gradually go through, post by post; see if the link is dead or not; if the link isn’t dead, and if I want to save the content, then I need to save it at my YouTube channel, or download it with converter software; then I have to delete the blog page; and eventually, after doing all of that, I’ll delete the “Movies” page. Whew! I’ve deleted probably twenty or thirty items so far, but there’s quite a bit to go.
The whole concept was a noble attempt, and I hope some of you got some enjoyment out of it; but it just isn’t worth the effort to maintain (I’d have to be fixing links and adding and removing pages all the time), and I need to focus on other things. The library remains open, however, and I’ve added a few items lately, so feel free to check it out at any time!