Darth Vader Hardcover #1 overview

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Darth Vader Hardcover 1 is a book of introductions. If you think about Darth Vader in the original trilogy he’s more like the step dad you see once a month than a steady known reliable figure. What’s his personality like, what’s he do around the watercooler. What is a day of work like being evil throughout the galaxy?

So this book is an introduction to Darth Vader’s world, it’s an introduction to him and it’s also a great introduction to the expanded universe.

Here’s the thing about how the evil empire of Star Wars does its business. There’s a whole lot of colorful subcontracting. What’s a Sith apprentice if not an inexpensive, eager to please murder multiplier on the field of battle. That’s the question hanging over the book, is Darth Vader good at much else? Center stage are the emperor’s various other pseudo apprentices, generals and hunters. These groups have an even bigger subset of loyal underlings further down the ladder. This is a book of hierarchy, loyalty, asset placement, strategy and of all things the testing of Vader’s ability to socialize while balancing the need to keep up his reputation as capital D Dangerous throughout the empire.

This book is an introduction to Doctor Aphra who you’ll fall in love with. Like all the characters she has a dark streak though as a rogue, hers is maybe the lightest of the bunch. It helps that her constant companions are mad murder bots whose lack of scruples she comes in to restrain. She shares the reader’s knowing horror and amusement at their unfulfilled genocidal plots. Anyone who has played the Knight of the Old Republic games will be pleased with these companions.

Let’s not forget the action and the art. The book takes advantage of the iconography we love, throws in a couple favorite character pairings that we’ve never seen before, Vader and Jabba for example. It wraps all that iconography and its steady march to push out the boundaries of the infinite star wars universe with a healthy dose of action. Action is what’ll keep you turning pages. People who enjoyed the ending of the recent movie Rogue One will recognize what’s offered here with some evolutions due to the unique enemies Vader faces.

As it is an introduction, I suspect volume one will hook you. The second volume which is somehow larger and more polished brings all the threads to a smashing conclusion. That second volume is the book of conclusions and definitive statements. Reading it made me appreciate the more leisurely pace found here.

UPDATE: I made a bad video out of this information:

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The Critical Perspective is Not Enough

One of the most persistent liberal myths is that art has no moral content, that reading or watching or listening to something can never be in itself evil. This is something that can only be true if, conversely, art does not have the power to affect or change us for the good. It is only possible to believe this if you think all art is essentially meaningless and people are insensate vehicles for random information consumption…

Game of Thrones reminds us that boredom and despair are, theologically speaking, synonyms.

That’s Walther at The Week. He makes a good point about how a worldview devoid of meaning degrades music to noise. The point at the end there about boredom and despair being interchangeable speaks to an approach to media that lacks the constructive sense, the sorting of critical thought. Too often this kind of boredom is the popular approach.

I’ve written before about Fight Club Bros and how being shaken by the taboo often also shakes loose the first actual thoughts in that particular subspecies. Fight Club is confronting them with SOMETHING and they can pick up on that because the movie isn’t subtle. But being neanderthals so untrained, they mistake that spark for fire and are left staring in the dark with an elevated view of themselves. Their boredom and despair become myopia and haughtiness, Fight Club just happened to be the popular mechanism for this at a certain place and time.

Do undergraduate guys watch this movie anymore? I’ve seen the Steve Jobs mythos and Walter Isaacson’s book take its place for a certain kind.

What “turn your brain off” despair and self inflected reaching both have in common is they rob the particular artifact of its truth… and you of its good.

In the other ditch, on the far end of over meaning-making, over spiritualization and blind unmeasured exuberance for a pet hobby is the Gospel in All Media crowd.

Here’s Loftus at Mere Orthodoxy pushing back against that:

Thus, we must look to see if there are Biblical themes that we can apply and use to relevantly communicate the Good News to our neighbors who are fascinated by the show. Is one of the many characters who gets eviscerated a Christ figure? Does the darkness and despair of the series point us to our longing for a True King? Are the sorcery and swords meant to help us more deeply imagine a world in which monsters can be slain? Is there a Gospel message in Game of Thrones?

No. There isn’t.

Then there are the general wisdom considerations, the ultimate questions, the first things, the moral opportunity costs to consider. John Piper:

Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies…

It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ.

It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me…

I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television. So we have never had a TV in 40 years of marriage (except in Germany, to help learn the language). I don’t regret it.

We are not at the movies for trivia. We are at the movies for truth, visceral truth. Critical thought is the mechanism for wringing that truth out. I don’t know if I’d call them “prayers” (still need to read Larsen’s book) but truth here is an externality which his framing is getting at.

My point may sound too ecumenical for a Piper type and certainly his point about time and the criticism of the popular mode is shared by myself (read the top paragraphs again if you don’t think so).

At the end of his quote Piper stumbles upon one of the greatest things about small “t” truth in art, the very stuff of it, that it is shared. He learned German! Is there a better example of squelching alienation like learning the very language of others.

This truth is social, it’s between us and in us. It binds us in a unique and yes, ecumenical way.

As to the value in the production of the pictures, I think of Hail, Caesar! not Game of Thrones. Not everything is sex and death. These unique trades can be good in their own way. Cables and stands, lights and rigging, apple-boxes and car crashes.

Critical thought is discussion itself. Sorting and confronting. “Prick him and he bleeds movies” cuts me but could I counter that you might as well be saying “Prick him and he bleeds milkshakes, lawn chairs, washing machines and refrigerators” all four of those things as a time commitment are real competition. But it’s not that those are the only things, as certainly movies are not the only thing (treating them that way can be bad for movies). I could tell you a lot of good things about movies because ours is a world of abundant good. As my long-suffering friends could tell you, I match that enthusiasm bloviating on the virtues of the modern utilities and a good chocolate dairy product.

I want to roll back and agree with Piper, Walther and Loftus. You need to take the time to know what the truth is (to Piper) so that you can make a moral determination (to Walther) that is measured, not naive or counterproductive (to Loftus).

So, the critical perspective is not enough.

BUT, it is a grace upon grace, a truth upon truth. An icing of excess, the stuff of society and civilization.

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What you can do, do

You can be good. You can do good.

Grabbing a milkshake and just talking, sitting, enjoying the sun and caring about another person.

Let me let you know, the little things matter. We live in a world where people are lonely, not just weirdos, outsiders and aberrations. You and me, everyone needs people:

I think there’s a fundamental crisis of loneliness in our time that we don’t know how to think about. The average American had 3.2 friends in 1990. I mean Aristotelian friends: people that when you’re happy, they feel happy, and when you’re sad, they hurt, not because they choose it, but just because they love you. The way we parent. When my daughters or my son, when they hurt, I don’t make a choice to hurt, I just hurt. I love them.

The average American who had over 3 friends 25 years ago has about 1.8 friends today, halving in 25 years. Forty percent of Americans have no confidantes. We can’t make sense of how bad that ache hurts and how much people are projecting onto politics a hope that we could solve deep crises of the soul and of local community

That’s Ben Sasse.

There’s an essay floating around about how “the 90s were better” because we were better people then. Technology was less isolating, and our worlds were at once smaller, more manageable and as a result grander and happier. That’s what that author thought and what Sasse’s reference seems to suggest.

I’m here to tell you that nothing has changed, not really. People aren’t different. We don’t need different things. Morals, like our very nature, are immutable and whether we recognize the truth of their external weight on us does not affect them one bit. Our vices though, our normative action and general transgression changes over time.

In the past, the physical world forced forbearance. In the way you try not to make conflict with your coworkers but more oppressive, every waking moment. All this contact with other people though…. might have been good. In a world where we as a default opt out of every relationship, more unhealthy behavior occurs than a world with this “oppressive” structure. Well that’s the theory.

But the moral weight is still there and knowledge of a moral standard demands choice. Even if the shape of our reality makes every relationship an opt in relationship we should never stop trying to opt in. If people matter, we need to make them matter.

So drink some lemonade with that kid from church who wants to pick your brain. Ask to cook your family members dinner  (or just order a pizza and lounge) . Sit and Talk. Enjoy the weather. Go for a walk. Swim out to a raft and lie on your back. Look at the stars, the clouds, passing people or cute dogs. But please do it with someone and care about them.

Make the time, make the choice and make the world just a little bit brighter.

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Some Nice Things About a Movie You Didn’t and Won’t See: Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur

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So right off the bat, if you are thinking of going to see King Arthur go read Sonny Bunch’s review. It’s one of those rare thumbs down reviews that absolutely sold me on the movie. It’s not a good movie. It’s not a guilty pleasure.

I liked it. It’s definitely not “so bad it’s good” rather it has some drawback that make it “not for everyone” and if the box office opening weekend is any indication, everyone seems to agree.

It’s like Hot Topic! It’s got style! (but probably the wrong kind)

Keep in mind that I also like Battleship. Certainly it’s playing at that level but it rises above in action moments that never quite get to Sherlock Holmes’ coherence but the sensibility is there.

Where it falls behind battleship is in the thematics. You can certainly believe Peter Berg’s movies are jingoistic or uncritically nationalist but they at least have a perspective. King Arthur is pure reaction. To its credit, an ambition that never finds it’s footing: the knights of the round table are multi-ethic… well just because! Because people of every race can be poor and really good at fighting??? Why do they even like Arthur? They’re his boys, he is cool and has the coolest most powerful sword. What do we even know about the knights of the round table by the end of this? Their race and the one fighting thing they are good at. That’s it.

The whole film is a lot of unflattering contrasts. A street rat becomes a king. That contrast COULD WORK. What kind of connection is there between the street and the throne? What can you learn among the people? Well, nothing according to the movie. Arthur’s bloodline makes him a really good small businessman (not joking). So heredity management skill and always being right when he makes smarmy predictions is why he should be king. If this sounds like some arbitrary hero’s journey garbage, it is.

An earthy boxer (shot doing physical tasks with his superiorly self trained muscles) gets to wield crazy magic (that makes those muscles and that work ultimately meaningless). Formally speaking, going from foot chases filmed with gopro style on person mounts to a fully CGI video game cut scene finale where Arthur fights this guy:

…it works against itself. The 300 sequel used the more free floating, 3D model orbiting speed ramp camera present here to better effect. With it, they covered a greater distance and went places that would have been physically impossible (across dangerous digital seas and shipwrecks) but in King Arthur’s finale the camera rotates around a fixed point. It’s cool and I like it but it goes faster than any  other speed ramp I’ve ever seen. Even in video games.

The strength of the speed ramp is in awe. We are slowing down a moment, making it last forever. The choice to do battle in 300 is as much the point as what comes next, letting that readying moment last forever makes sense from a “cool” as well as pacing and story perspective. King Arthur uses it more as a fast forward for parts of a fight that the cooler more powerful character can skip through easily, that it judges too boring to look at. The mechanic doesn’t make sense in any logical sense as whatever powerset is imputed by the sword really doesn’t show up until this end sequence.

Some of the best kung fu films have plain camera work that show acrobatic symbolic action. They do this by physically training actual people and cheating the hits with exaggerated acting. King Arthur wants to use CG and ramping to show us as much of a “literal” uncheated money shot hit as possible, over and over and over in quick succession. It’s new but I can’t say it works artistically like those old classics.

Some more clashing sensibilities: the streetwise language and the high fantasy mirror universe stuff. Like, how is the subquest in the mirror realm even in the same movie as the shakedown street hustle fur smuggling/prostitute wrangling that came before it.

This is a movie that wants all these tonally grounded modern characters and also a level up mission where the hero fights giant rats and bats. How is the first thing he says when he gets back to his boys not “there’s fucking giant rats in a mirror realm, magic is real and holy fuck we need to ride some bats or something when we get the chance. Do the bad guys have giant bats?”

The movie is too much.

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Some Stuff About Truth, Art, Violence and that New Netflix Stand-up

“Reality has a conservative bias” you’ve heard it and you probably hate it. How presumptuous! That accurate perception and accurate belief cosanguinate. “Reality has an X bias” more like it!  Anyone with a truth claim necessarily has some belief in that truth and some starting proposition, some base perception from which they get that truth.

“Oh,” the conservative says, “but truth claims are conservative” and here we are.

If then Art with a capital ‘A’ seeks to get at or reflect, discover or illuminate a capital ‘T’ Truth then of course it too is conservative.

You’re angry, I understand. You don’t like the word ‘conservative’ and you don’t like the presupposition, the interior logic or the ultimate conclusions here. Could a self styled anti-conservative somehow, and dear reader I too am shocked to say this, accidentally further things that the conservative would term Good, True and Beautiful.

Well I’m here to say that all artists to whatever degree they are good, truthful and equipped to deliver beauty do just that and often intentionally as they perceive various truths in the universe around them.

An example, the ESPN documentary OJ: Made in America. In an interview with The Ringer/Channel 33 we hear from the director that he was dispassionate, strongly so, about the OJ trial. Through sheer will, craft and professionalism. Through the habits of docu filmmaking developed over a career and an awareness of the stakes, the weight of the interviews sitting down the road, and the audience built through the 30 for 30 series. Through these things we got something intensely truthful.

Good art is good. Of course I mean “well made” on the front end of that tautology. In accurate perception, the possibility, the suggestion of right belief about these things.

Earnest truthful art, no matter the source, is among one of life’s common graces.

Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, who as a Christian I say he was without the full spiritual revelation of the closed biblical canon, the artist through seeing truthfully, can tell truthfully. The limits of experiential wisdom are pretty well sketched in that old testament book. 10/10 highly recommend.

To digress a little about the wisdom literature and that ancillary effect of art, the moral imperative most obviously seen as The Very Special Episode. These episodes are clearly trying to teach something. But what if it happens by accident:

I wouldn’t be the first to note that Breaking Bad doesn’t have a glowing, triumphant portrayal of what the drug trade does to a life however maximally abstracted Walt’s place in it rests for most of the series. Let’s not forget that masterpiece The Knick from which I’ve learned much much more effectively about the personal thrill, boredom, crisis and crash of drug abuse (however high functioning) than all of those DARE classes.

So through all these rabbit trails we finally arrive at the most recent Netflix stand up comedy specials by Louis C.K. and Dave Chappelle. While I’ve already gone on too long, I’d like to say something about the conservatism and the underlying theme of some of their hotter topic jokes.

That theme is violence. Chappelle ends a story about an almost certainly fictional transgender hollywood executive with that character throwing their excised member onto the table as a power move. C.K. goes on an extended riff about how abortion really is killing (though killing he thinks should be allowed). The underlying truths here, conservatives often painfully have to point out, convince and cajole.

The flowery language of identity cannot paper over the real harm, the hard chop choices of matching the biological with psychological.

Children with fingers and toes, little people who feel pain are literally ripped apart overwhelmingly for reasons of convenience.

There’s no debate about the physical truth of what’s happening. The observation is truthful, so the window for true belief gets just a little more open.

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Match Trap (why nonsense podcasts are bad)

So I’ve been reading The Complacent Class by Tyler Cowen. One of the main topics or observed developments he discusses is Matching. From dating to home buying to religion. Like becomes like like. People find their people.

The downside of this, expedited by technology, is segregation. Segregation by social class, wealth and ultimately race. It’s all very good (not the segregation! the observations) and you should go read it. It’s easy at maybe 200-300 pages.

So I’m thinking about matching and I start thinking about all those monkeys on typewriters. This is not matching, this random noise. Out of hand I reject the underlying implication of the monkey/typewriter scenario because of my creationist priors. Order does not come from chaos. Monkeys do not have the creative impulse like us, those who were breathed into life by our God.

So I’ve got a matching problem. It’s hard to remember things. I can’t quite match what I have with what I need but what I do have is A LOT. A lot of information.

So no monkeys, just to be clear again, it’s people who generate large sums of this information. I’m about at the following cap on twitter, 5000 people for a small time rando like me. That’s not people who care about my banal garbage, no that’s the people whose banal garbage I sign up for.

So this is my dilemma, (I’m not even talking about twitter just the number of information channels there is really clear): Every day I make a puzzle.

The puzzle has a thousand pieces. Each piece comes from another discrete puzzle of a thousand pieces. Each piece fits with every other piece if you try hard enough.

This sounds like noise and noise will drive you crazy.

But

There’s something else here. There’s matching. That unguided creative impulse, a shade from madness.

The information mosaic is oppressive. But like those hour long improv comedy podcasts that eventually yield a single good nugget of laughter, rare is the beauty and more beautiful for it.

But is it worth it? Could a machine even sort it? Do I enjoy the chaos?

Incomplete and superfluous is what these creations are. What springs from the depths our own specially, personally curated hive minds.

All these fragments come pouring out late at night and my problem, I can’t even remember. Isn’t that my problem.

What would be there that matters, is lost. Our manufactured chaos is not so different after all.

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Comics I Care About: March 22nd 2017

Every week a lot of comics come out. Of those comics there are a handful I’ll buy and hopefully like. A smaller more select set of comics are the ones that build some anticipation before Wednesday rolls around. Their history leaves you thinking about what will come next and their ongoing story has stakes, implications or simply a quality throughline you want to see developed.

Here are the comics I’m looking forward to this week:

HULK #4

On the recent Logan segment of the First Things Podcast an offhand wish about superhero content in genre clothing (why are there no legit self contained episode to episode case based legal/law enforcement Marvel tv shows?!) was brought up and discarded. Daredevil it seems, is too busy punching to actually do lawyering. So what kind of hero would be both really good at punching but incredibly reticent to punch things because of the possible life altering implications and collateral damage they could cause…. Sounds like a hulk. Since we’re only 4 issues in, this first case hasn’t even wrapped up yet. Based on one panel of goofy super powered (afflicted?) clients in Jennifer Walters’ waiting room I think I’m going to be enjoying the little world buildy gems in this book for many issues to come. Jennifer is also relatable, they don’t always treat the Hulk thing as an asset. Equal parts public figure trying to keep her head down and alienated coworker back from rehab, I really hope it doesn’t all fall apart for her. You could say I’m invested.

UNWORTHY THOR #5

Shout out to my favorite chunky body positive white man Odinson, his good good big horned goat and uhh a lot of other characters. You’ll want to read from the number 1 not only because it’s beautiful but also because most books would kill for even one of the little supporting character moments peppered throughout. It’ll keep you guessing. Not telling every little detail makes me eager to come back to learn something new with each issue. (I still don’t know why he’s unworthy tho)

SPIDER-GWEN #18

When will the Spider-Man kissing crossover arc finally end? This issue! They absolutely have not sold the relationship at the heart of this arc as anything substantial. It’s convoluted. Makes me think the kiss will end up as another one of those “lol i kiss a lot of people” referential in-canon jokes about the long list of dead end character pairings we endure.

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