Friday, December 22, 2017

5 Things on a Friday: Still Talking The Last Jedi

Happy Friday, folks!
"The beatings will continue until morale improves!"
Promotional image for Star Wars at Disney World.
Programming note: a couple of this week’s articles are about Star Wars: The Last Jedi.  These may contain spoilers.  Proceed at your own risk.

The TV ratings for this year’s Army-Navy game were the highest they’ve been in 15 years. That’s the good news, despite the cold, snow and wind that made conditions miserable and despite a game that was far less exciting than what fans expect of these two teams…
It is important to put the size of the Army-Navy game viewership into perspective: Last year’s Super Bowl attracted more than 111 million viewers; the final episode of M*A*S*H, aired in 1983, attracted 106 million. In comparison, this year's Army-Navy audience was paltry, a sad reflection of the country's attitude toward our military.

This is the arguably the dumbest thing I've read all week.  Army-Navy was not only super-exciting, it was also one of the most-watched college football games of the entire year.  But my man cherry-picks two of the most notoriously watched shows in the history of television, and he we are.
That M.A.S.H. finale?  Literally EVERYONE watched it.  M.A.S.H. had been on for a decade at a time when Americans had exactly three television networks and no way to watch anything else!
The closest that anything has come to that kind of viewership lately is Netflix’s Stranger Things, which has had an estimated 66 million viewers via video-on-demand.  That’s still just under half of what M.A.S.H. did back in 1983 because, well, the world has changed a whole Hell of a lot since 1983.
It will probably not surprise you to discover that this particular author was a Navy plebe back in 1969.  He is probably still pining for the return of Gunsmoke or Bonanza!
"I can tell you, I think it was not from this world," Fravor told ABC News. "I'm not crazy, haven't been drinking. It was — after 18 years of flying, I've seen pretty much about everything that I can see in that realm, and this was nothing close." 

A UFO as seen from a Navy fighter plane.
[O]ne of the first meetings to visualize The Force Awakens happened on January 16, 2013 at Skywalker Ranch with George Lucas himself… The idea was that, 30 years after the fall of the Empire, Luke had gone to a dark place and secluded himself in a Jedi temple on a new planet. The paintings show Luke meditating, reassessing his whole life.
Apparently, the initial plan for Star Wars: Episode 7 was that Luke, over the course of that movie, would rediscover his vitality and train this new Jedi. So basically, what we got from the Rey/Luke storyline in The Last Jedi was initially supposed to be the bones for George Lucas’ Episode 7. Imagine an alternate universe where Episode 7 was Luke reluctantly training a new Jedi – it would be completely different.
What’s interesting about this is that most of the fanboy outrage online has been directed at Director Rian Johnson’s take on Luke Skywalker.  But that take derived from George Lucas’s original idea.
In reading about this, it’s possible to envision a trilogy in which the bare bones of the ideas from Ep.’s VII and VIII are interchanged, making The Last Jedi Ep. VII (as the article says) while saving the whole deal around Han Solo’s death, Kylo Ren’s irretrievable fall, and Starkiller Base for Ep. VIII.  That said, I strongly doubt that a new trilogy as envisioned by George Lucas would have involved an older Han Solo, or that actor Harrison Ford would’ve worked with Lucas if it had.
I’ve been giving an overview lecture on World War II to the 6th grade history class at Bridgeport’s Six-to-Six Magnet School ever since my daughter Hannah was a part of that class a few years ago.  Hannah’s teacher mentioned during a conference that she didn’t feel comfortable talking about the military aspects of the war, though she understood that they were important.  So I volunteered to guest lecture, and that’s how it’s been ever since.  
I get to be an actual historian exactly once a year.
I developed the following presentation for this particular class.  It’s updated this year to include Benjamin O. Davis ’36, the Tuskegee Airmen, and a bit about the role of airpower generally, especially the differences between fighters and bombers.  
Click here to view the presentation & lecture notes.
Folks have told me that the class itself is too complicated for 6th graders, but having taught it a few times, I can assure you that this is not the case.  We don’t get 100% retention, but my students get to put faces to names, they get an idea of where the key countries are in Europe, and they hear specific ideas explained at least once, and that’s the goal.  For the record, no one yet has struggled with the idea that “Combined Arms” means that all the branches have to work together.
The class takes between ninety minutes and two hours depending on questions and includes a practical demonstration of the effects of envelopment and economy of force used to achieve local superiority (mass) in combat.  No, I don't phrase it that way.  To do it, I have two sets of five students line up, facing off to show parity.  Then they do it again in unbalanced lines, allowing one side to outflank the other while a small force fixes the enemy main body in place.  Students invariably find this enlightening and entertaining.
But the notion that The Last Jedi did Luke Skywalker dirty in order to advance Rey’s plot ignores the fact that Hamill gets the biggest heroic moments in the film. In a nuanced and often brilliant analysis of the highs and lows of The Last Jedi, freelance writer Jay Allen tweeted: “Luke - the hero, the POV character - is a bitter old man consumed by self-hatred, and he is never redeemed. Victory is accepting his failure.” Acceptance of failure—something Lucasfilm is quite familiar with—is an overtly stated theme of The Last Jedi, but is Luke never redeemed? In Hamill’s best live-action performance yet, Luke rallies when he needs to and pulls off the most powerful Force-using move we’ve ever seen in this franchise—a galaxy-spanning feat of astral projection. Luke had to hit rock bottom, green milk and all, in order to soar to new heights. This story was always going to end with Luke reduced, Yoda-like, to a pile of clothes. But far from advocating the end of the Jedi, Johnson’s film firmly underlines how they will carry on—even without Luke…
The Yoda scene, too, nimbly side-steps the nostalgia swamp by having the little green puppet advocate for moving on from the past. “We are,” he says, “what they grow beyond.” He might as well have been an older Star Wars fan talking about the new.
So… don’t take it seriously?
No problem.
* * *
Programming Update:
It’s been a busy week on the blog, though not by design.  The Last Jedi came out, and I belatedly realized that I needed to do at least one post about it.  But I already an entire week’s worth of posts programmed, and that left me scrambling.  
If you missed anything, we had:
1. Advertising Update on Sunday.
2. Quick Thoughts: The Last Jedi on Tuesday.  
Star Wars was the most widely read post of the week.  This did not surprise me.  In fact, that post did so well that I spent yesterday’s commute putting a new Star Wars tab together for the blog’s header.  I don’t consider myself a Star Wars superfan by any means, but we’ve done an astonishing amount of Star Wars news and conjecture here over the years.  It was interesting going through that to see how views on it have changed since The Force Awakens debuted.
Spoiler Alert: The Force Awakens was much better and much more warmly received than I think most older fans were expecting.
For what it’s worth, there’s one more Star Wars post coming.  Probably gonna put that out on either Sunday or Monday.
The Army Football Previews always do okay, but they’re never as popular as the Quick Takes after the games, and that annoys me.  First, because the Previews take 10x as long, and second, because I assume that people watch the games…?  So we all know what happened, and yet hundreds of people invariably come here to get my take on it.
It’s flattering, but I don’t understand it.  I’d also hoped that the AFP would outperform the Star Wars Quick Take, but that didn’t happen, either.
Finally, my memoir continues to outperform expectations.  #SBRLLR did a bit more than 70 readers in its first day, which is not bad at all.  A project like that is never going to outdraw Star Wars, but I find it comforting to know that friends and family seem to be getting something out of it.  Readership has been growing slowly but surely, and the project itself was designed as a slow burn.  Hopefully it’ll continue to grow.
For what it’s worth, everybody likes the second chapter.  That starts next week, and I’m hoping it will help the memoir pick up a bit more speed.
Next Week:
We’re doing another College Football Preview tomorrow for this week’s bowl games.  The last one massively outperformed expectations, so this is just doubling down on what worked.  We’re back on Star Wars either Sunday or Monday, depending on how Army’s bowl game goes, and I think we’re gonna do one more Army Football Preview next week in order to take a look at the 2018 schedule.  Assuming we do #SBRLLR on Tuesday and 5 Things on Friday, that makes next week a busy week, too.
Come back often and early, and buy the stuff my advertisers are selling.  Daddy needs a new pair of shoes!

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