Monday, 5 March 2012

An aside comment on the "Best Star Wars Film" debate

While I don’t want to wade too deeply into the argument, seemingly initiated by Kevin Drum’s rather absurd notion that Return of the Jedi is the best of the six* Star Wars films, regarding the relative merits of the various films in the series (see also: Doug Mataconis at OTB and Seth Masket), I do want to raise a minor point in response to Dan Drezner on the politics (or lack thereof) in the triology:

The conundrum that political scientists face is that even though the original trilogy contains the better films, the second trilogy has the better politics. There are no politics in Episodes IV-VI, unless one counts Vader and the Emperor’s wooing of Luke. In the prequel trilogy, however, there are lots of parliamentary machinations, tussles between the Jedi Council and the Chancellor, Anakin’s lust for power, and Darth Sidious’ grand strategy for converting the Republic into an Empire.

To a political scientist, that’s good stuff. To human beings interested in enjoying a film, it’s tissue paper without things like strong characters, a good screenplay, and decent plotting.

While I’m slightly sympathetic to Dan’s argument here, the reality is that the politics of the prequel trilogy are, in a word, silly, even leaving aside arguments about whether one would plausibly construct an elective, term-limited monarchy in which the only valid candidates for office are teenage girls, or what sane society would elect the likes of Jar Jar Binks to high office (ok, maybe that one is more credible). Sure, there are depictions of politics, but only within the context of political structures that make no sense, such as the Senate of the Republic (there’s a reason that real legislatures don’t have membership sizes in excess of the population of a mid-sized city) and the Jedi Council (there’s also a reason that real legislatures governing groups of people in the millions have more than a half-dozen, self-selected members).

Slathering on a layer of thinly-veiled BusHitler allegory doesn’t exactly help matters either, if only because in 20 years nobody will get the point Lucas was belaboring—to illustrate the point, imagine if Lucas had taken a 20-minute detour during Empire Strikes Back to establish some boring parallel between the political ascents of “black mayors” Walter Washington and Lando Calrissian, perhaps by giving Lando a bunch of long-winded, boring speeches that paralleled the racial politics of the early 1980s, and then imagine how that would play today.

The other problem of course is that the politics depicted in the prequels is boring. Politics of course need not be boring (for example, the writers of Parks and Recreation manage to make politics entertaining on a weekly basis), but in the hands of Lucas—who’s obviously more interested in the prequels in advancing plot only to serve as a scaffolding for spectacle rather than having the CGI elements there in service of a sensible plot—most of the politics gets reduced to tedious speeches and arguments in what seem to be shot-for-shot remakes of scenes from academic department meetings. In the hands of a skilled writer (or, perhaps more charitably, a writer who cared) I have no doubt the political machinations promised in the prequels might have been interesting; as presented, the Wikipedia summaries of them are positively life-like by comparison.

* Part of me wishes there were only three, but that might edge into the territory of Frequent Commenter Scott’s denial that the sport that is played in the American League qualifies as “baseball.”

Saturday, 14 March 2009

I am now Scalzi-complete (I think)

I finally got around to ordering John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars and read it last night at the hotel in Dallas. Agent is an eminently enjoyable read, and it does for Hollywood what The Android’s Dream did for government bureaucracy (which is to say, skewers it mercilessly). Definitely strongly recommended.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Revisiting the archive

Jason Kuznicki gives further consideration to the theme of “psychohistory” in Asimov’s Foundation series—although, I have to say that Asimov himself seems to have basically stopped taking the concept itself seriously by the end of Second Foundation (the, uh, third book), so I’m not sure how seriously the reader can take it either.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Streaming video onto a TiVo

Over the weekend I discovered pyTivo, a replacement for TiVo Desktop that can use ffmpeg to transcode pretty much every video format on the planet on the fly for viewing on any TiVo. There’s something fun about the prospect of “obtaining” and watching a certain science fiction television show about a guy with a funny accent who flies around the universe in a blue box with strange women without any fiddling around with conversion software… once pyTivo is set up, all you would theoretically have to do is drop the file in the right directory and it would show up as a program you could transfer onto your TiVo. Très cool. Alas, all I’ve been using it for is properly-licensed video that doesn’t feature a flying blue box.

Of course, if I got SciFi HD I might not be tempted go to such lengths to watch the blue box show a few weeks before they show it. But the picture quality on regular SciFi blows, as does the editing for time. Thankfully the better angels of my nature have stopped me from succumbing to any temptation to see the adventures of the man in the flying blue box before being supplied to us Americans in edited form.

Monday, 17 September 2007


My OTB co-blogger Alex Knapp writes:

I am still baffled and amazed and thinking about “Blink”, which is not only the best episode of Doctor Who that I have seen to date, but also stands as probably the finest one-hour episode of television science fiction that I have ever seen…

Indeed, it’s probably my favorite episode of the series thus far. More Sally Sparrow, please.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Stargate math

The following equations hold:

Jewel Staite > Paul McGillion
Amanda Tapping > Torri Higginson

So, by the transitive property, we would expect:

Stargate Atlantis Season 4 > Stargate Atlantis Seasons 1–3

But for some reason I’m not holding my breath…

Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Your sci-fi geekery quotient for the week

A few sci-fi items worth a look:

  • Steven Taylor has links to video and stills comparing the “old” and “new” special effects in the newly remastered Star Trek episodes. I’ve gotten to see some of the new episodes in syndication and they look very good; it’s a shame we’re not getting them in true HD, at least in St. Louis, but I suppose that will follow in due time. (I hold out no hope at getting them unedited except on DVD.)
  • Ilya Somin further chronicles the massive plot holes in the six Star Wars films, while the Baseball Crank looks at the problems of the second trilogy (Episodes I-III) in greater detail.
  • The “original, unbelievably crappy trailer for Star Wars.” Certainly it sucks by today’s standards… then again, most 1970s trailers suck by today’s standards.

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Why Gaeta is a Cylon

Duke alum Allison Clarke has seven good reasons why you should believe that Felix Gaeta is a Cylon. I’m still not entirely convinced that Ron Moore wants to go that way, but if he does the necessary clues have certainly accumulated over time.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

New Ron Moore Q&A

Ron Moore has a new Battlestar Galactica Q&A up at his blog, with a few teeny spoilerish things about Season 3 and the (to me, at least) quite fascinating story of how he washed out of Navy ROTC in college.

Monday, 13 March 2006

Trapper Markelz on the BSG finale

One of the benefits of the ever-expanding blogosphere is that someone else will take care of the heavy lifting for you; case in point, Trapper Markelz posting his thoughts on the BSG season finale saves me from having to put together a six-page-long post covering the same territory.

I just wish I could delegate my scholarly activity in the same way…

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Frak me

Well, I have to say that (the season finale of Battlestar Galactica, for those who don’t get the reference) came pretty much out of left field. There are definitely a lot of very interesting directions they can go in from here—and curse Sci-Fi for making us wait for seven months to find out where they decide to go with this!

Elsewhere: Steven Taylor has some additional bullet-point thoughts, while Timothy Sandefur ponders the question of whether Laura Roslin’s effort to steal the election was “right.”

Friday, 3 February 2006

For your amusement

It’s Serenity, but with Muppets.

Saturday, 28 January 2006

Black Market (Galactica 214)

From the ashes of a Battlestar Galactica episode that even series creator Ron Moore was unimpressed with comes a discussion of the actual economics involved from Timothy Sandefur and Allen Thompson.

Wednesday, 18 January 2006

Other bloggers returning from haitus

Fresh on the heels of the Mungowitz comes the return of Battlestar Galactica head honco Ron Moore to blogging. As they say, Woot!

Monday, 9 January 2006

Trapper on BSG

Trapper of the Unofficial Battlestar Galactica Blog shares his thoughts about the new BSG episode that aired Friday night (while I was, alas, stuck watching college basketball in my hotel room after stuffing myself beyond all reason at Maggiano’s in Buckhead for want of the Sci-Fi Channel). Last night, after having seen it on TiVo delay myself, I was struck by how much more compelling it was than its Sci-Fi Friday companions. And I was also cursing Ron Moore for making me wait until this Friday to see it all resolved!

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Renew this

We may not get a full third season of Arrested Development, but I’ll take a third season of Battlestar Galactica as a nice consolation prize.

Saturday, 1 October 2005


Ok, so there’s this movie out. I think you’ve heard of it. You should go see it.

Then (and only then) should you read Julian Sanchez’s review and Amber Taylor’s spoilers. They’ll still be there when you get back from the theater.

Oh, one more thing: Firefly Kaylee > Serenity Kaylee.

Monday, 26 September 2005

The perfect shill

Hei Lun of Begging to Differ was equally unimpressed with the hidden quid pro quo connected to the free passes to see Serenity. Quoth Hei Lun:

I’m not saying that I’m highly principled and not-for-sale at any price, but it’d sure take more than $9.75 for someone to tell me what to write on this blog.

It’s not quite $9.75 in this neck of the woods (Southpoint, which I assume is the most expensive place in Durham, is $8.25 after 6 p.m., and $6.25 before 6), but, yeah, my price is a bit higher than that too. Plus I really didn’t want to drive to Raleigh during rush hour tomorrow afternoon…

Monday, 22 August 2005

Know your current (and future) Cylons

Steven Taylor asks for thoughts on who the remaining Cylons are; assuming Galactica Boomer wasn’t lying in “Resistance,” there are apparently seven human-form Cylon models remaining to be unmasked. The eliminated prospects all seem quite logical to me at least. At this point, the leading contenders for Cylonhood seem to be Gaeta and Cally, but there are plenty of other prospects out there too.

Monday, 8 August 2005

Lose yourself

Today’s Clarion-Ledger has a piece on network TV’s current science-fiction renaissance, led by the quasi-sci-fi ABC series “Lost.” Sci-Fi Friday also gets some good pub.

Monday, 1 August 2005

Silly quiz thing

þ: Kelley of Suburban Blight:

You are a bit naive, but full of energy and potential. Your optimism and good will are what make you likable to your peers.

You have a tendency to become obsessed with unattainable members of the opposite sex.

Sounds about right. And, given these results, I suppose I can kiss tenure and promotion good-bye.

Tuesday, 19 July 2005

Does this mean I'm going to marry an alien chick?

Seen at Planet Debian:

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

I am John Sheridan, although I don’t have the thing for quoting Lincoln and Tennyson he has apparently. A related discussion is going on here; I’m sure Dan is very confused about who this “Zathras” character is, though.

Sunday, 17 July 2005

Galactica in the NYT Magazine

Via Slashdot: a feature article on the return of Battlestar Galactica to the airwaves, describing the roles of Ron Moore and Richard Hatch (not the nekkid guy from Survivor) in keeping the series alive. Probably not anything new for those fans of the new show who frequent the fan sites, but a good overview for those not properly initiated.

Friday, 15 July 2005

Sci-Fi Friday returns tonight

A reminder to all the sci-fi fans in the audience (Hi Dad!): Sci-Fi Friday is all-new starting tonight, with the season premieres of Stargate: SG-1 (now featuring Beau Bridges and Ben Browder), Stargate Atlantis, and the show all the attractive libertarian women are raving about, Battlestar Galactica. Good thing I have no social life, or otherwise I’d have to put it on hold for this event.

Sunday, 26 June 2005

Lining up the redshirts

The Baseball Crank notes that Joe Biden is throwing his hat—or at least his hairpiece—into the ring for 2008, while the SoCons are apparently in the market to coalesce behind a single Republican contender already, according to this piece linked by John Cole—after all, there’s only 1,226 shopping days left before the next presidential election. All hail the permanent campaign.

Of course, the drawback of predicting the “redshirts” at this point is that, unlike in Star Trek (or, in general, when using the Law of Economy of Characters*), you don’t know who is going to buy it until after the fact.