Let the Star Wars: Episode VII Over-Analysis Begin!

The first official teaser trailer for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, has dropped like Emperor Palpatine down a reactor shaft. Watch it, then take a read of my shot-for-shot wild and baseless speculation.

Scene 1: We open on Arrakis, er, I mean Tatooine, probably. Planets in the Star Wars universe only have one environment, remember. We look at some unremarkable but familiar dunes while someone doing their best Benedict Cumberbatch impression says something cryptic about waking up.

Then, things immediately get interesting. A man in Storm Trooper armor missing his helmet jumps into frame, sweating profusely and in obvious distress. But the most striking thing about him is he’s black. Now, in the original trilogy, there weren’t a whole lot of black folks. In fact, aside from Lando, the only other person of color we saw was an ill-fated X-wing pilot who blew up after three words of dialogue.

The Empire was xenophobic and totalitarian, consisting of humans almost exclusively, with very few exceptions. Tolerance and inclusiveness were not their strong suit, so what is this black Storm Trooper telling us? Is the Imperial remnant thirty years after RotJ turning a new leaf? Are they making efforts to be more diverse? Has desperation forced them to fill out their ranks with conscripts? Or is this man an imposter? A New Republic spy perhaps? All intriguing possibilities.

If nothing else, the fact the very first character we see from official footage is a person of color confirms that the producers of Episode VII are committed to greater diversity in these new movies, which can only be a positive development.

Scene 2: Cut to a soccer-playing astromech droid head. Is that ball part of it’s body? Is it playing with the kiddies? Who knows, it’s cute.

Scene 3: Back to more Storm Troopers and shaky camera work. It looks like a squad of troopers standing around inside a landing shuttle waiting for the door to drop when something outside goes terribly wrong. Blasters are pulled as whatever is waiting for them outside the shuttle opens the ramp.

There’s real, palpable fear here. Between this scene and the opening trooper in the desert, this is the first time Storm Troopers have been presented in a way we can identify with emotionally. It’s the first time we’ve been asked to put ourselves in their shoes instead of viewing them as nothing more than Bantha fodder. Very interesting.

Scene 4: Back to Tatooine again where a girl in her late-teens who’s dressed an awful lot like a young, pod-racing Anakin Skywalker hops onto what has to be the clunkiest-looking swoop ever built. It looks more like a farm implement than a speeder, and maybe that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Anyway, she’s busy running from something, just like the rest. Tension is building. Something is coming, driving everyone to retreat. But what?

Scene 5: Cut to a New Republic pilot, still sporting the chevron of the old Rebel Alliance, sitting inside a cockpit. He’s a dead-ringer for Wedge Antillies, although appears too young to be Rouge Squadron’s illustrious leader. Anyway, he’s leading the charge as three next-generation X-wing fighters barrel-along at breakneck speeds just inches above the surface of a lake with their S-foils locked in attack position.

These pilots are streaking into combat, flying low across the water, likely trying to avoid detection in a scene reminiscent of the famous RAF Dam Busters Squadron.  Which shouldn’t be any surprise to Star Wars purists. The famous Death Star Trench scene was heavily influenced by a 1955 British film of the same name. The inclusion of this scene in the teaser gives us insight into just how deep J.J. Abrams’s knowledge of Star Wars lore and history goes. I puckered up watching this scene.

Scene 6: Cut again and we’re following a black-robed figure through a snow-covered forest. Finally, a new planet! Anyway, Benedict Cumberbatch says “Dark Side”  which spooks this shadowy figure enough that they pull out a lightsaber. Holy shit, it’s red, a Sith! And then, holy shit,  lightsaber cross guards! Instead of the classic, short-handled lightsaber which had been influence by the Japanese Katana, this one has a long handle with a blade and cross guards that are lifted directly from European two-handed swords wielded by medieval knights, not samurai. This is the first new lightsaber style since Darth Maul’s double-bladed saber that doesn’t scream “Gimmick!” to me, (Looking at you, Inquisitor’s spinning ceiling fan.) I really hope this new enemy’s fighting style reflects the more direct, physical, knock-down style of armor-clad European Knights to match his (or her) impressive sword.

Scene 7: We’re back to Tatooine, (Gods damn it. We’ve seen this backwater in every movie except Empire. Enough.) And now we’re given unadulterated, unapologetic fan service as the Millennium Falcon twists and turns through the desert air, barely pulling up to avoid the sand as it goes shooting past a pair of TIE fighters. It is a beautiful sight.

Two things jumped out at me about this scene. First, the Falcon has a new sensor dish to replace the one Lando lost inside the Death Star II. It’s rectangular instead of circular, which makes sense. Han was always tinkering with and upgrading his ship. So not only did he take the opportunity to mount an entirely different, and probably better dish, but it’s lower-profile, making a repeat less likely. This again shows us the detailed knowledge of the characters and the world that Abrams and his team are bringing to bear on this relaunch. It’s the sort of detail that leaves me feeling very encouraged.

Second, as far as I can see from their split-second fly-by, the TIEs chasing the Falcon are old-school TIE/ln units from the Galactic Civil War. Even by the end of the war, they were being supplanted by TIE Interceptors. Thirty years on, the original TIE would be obsolete in the face of new threats like the next-gen X-Wings we’ve already seen and no longer fit for front-line service. So, who’s flying these TIES? Is it a sign that the Imperial Remnant is so desperate and starved of resources that they’re forced to use outdated equipment? Or are these salvaged units being operated by forces outside either the Empire or New Republic?

But what really jumps out at me about the tone and overall presentation of this trailer is the threat everyone seems to be facing. Instead of the Empire being the all encompassing evil in the galaxy, the two Storm Troopers scenes suggest that whatever is coming is a threat to everyone and everything equally. Are we getting set up to see the New Republic and Imperial Remnant burying the hatchet and fighting a common enemy?

And think of what is missing from the footage. No original characters. The closest we get to seeing Han, Luke, or Leia are the beauty shots of the Falcon. And for a Star Wars movie, there wasn’t a single scene out in space itself. How curious.

What did you think? Let the endless speculation commence in the comments!

Welcome to Jurassic World

Pretty Scientist Lady: “We have our first genetically modified hybrid.”

Chris Pratt: “I’m sorry, come again?”

PSL: “Well, we’re a theme park, right? Not a wildlife preserve. Our customers expect thrill rides, big production shows. The whole enchilada.”

CP: “And?”

PSL: “And we were having trouble with the T-Rex. It wasn’t smart enough to train, and its arms were too small to hold the t-shirt cannon for the afternoon show we’d written for the kids to watch while their parents were sucking down $15 margaritas. ”

CP: “…”

PSL: “So we engineered some nice long arms and hands with opposable thumbs so it could work the trigger, then grafted in a velociraptor brain so it could work with our animal trainers. Boom, problem solved.”

CP: “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?!”

PSL: “It’s really an amazing scientific achievement.”

CP: “You know what? I’m out. I’m going back to working with a psychotic, heavily armed raccoon. Here, keep the vest.”

Bill Cosby and Our One-Way Relationship with Celebrity

So Cliff Huxtable has gotten himself into a little hot water. We all know what for.

Predictably, Cosby’s supporters and fans, (and a certain subset of people who just don’t like women complaining about sexual abuse), have jumped to his defense, describing the accusations as baseless and a grab for money or exposure.  Many people are trying to frame the scandal as simply being an example of he said, she said, and are very, very concerned about the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

If it was one woman, fine, hold your judgment. If it was two, er, okay. But it’s not, everybody. It’s over a dozen at this point. From totally different backgrounds. Is Janice Dickenson doing it because she “Wants money like the rest of them?” She certainly doesn’t need it. Have any of them asked for money?

No, they’ve come out and exposed themselves to public scrutiny and all of the fear and risks that go along with confronting a man with as much power and prestige as Bill Cosby holds in Hollywood and the larger culture. Some of them have been making the same claims for decades, but we all ignored them because we didn’t want to believe America’s surrogate father, was capable of such abuse.

Many of us still don’t want to believe it. A peculiar thing about celebrity, especially one as prodigious and long-lasting as Bill Cosby is the audience develops a one-way relationship with the entertainer, to the point they see them not as a character, or a comedian, but as a real person (which they obviously are) who they know at a personal, even intimate level (which they obviously don’t).

I’m not saying that performers don’t have a relationship with their audience. The best ones, the most popular and enduring ones certainly do all they can to cultivate and maintain their image and interact with their fans so that we will continue to invite them into the privacy and safety of our homes. The mistake so many make is believing that the persona celebrities wear in public, while they’re “on the clock” so to speak, is the real person. It may be a part, but it’s never the whole story. This is why so many of us believe we know Bill Cosby. He’s been a part of our lives for decades. And we know Bill couldn’t have done these terrible things.

But c’mon guys. These women are too numerous to ignore any longer. It’s not one man’s word against one woman, it’s one man who has enjoyed many, many years of a position of considerable power and influence against a dozen, maybe as many as twenty women. It requires believing these women, each and every one of them, are willing to not only manufacture stories about a beloved entertainer, but to put themselves and their families through the harsh spotlight of media scrutiny and exactly the sorts of ridiculous public judgments and character-assassinating accusations certain corners of social media have been flinging . And for what? Some remote chance of a future settlement? Out of spite?

Right. Maybe that’s true of one or two of these women, but ALL of them? Don’t be fools.

Obviously, Mr. Cosby is due a full and fair trial before any decision of guilt or punishment is passed in a court of law. But in the court of public opinion? Sorry, but I think we’re past the point where we can ignore these accusations any longer. A long way past.

Stop Apologizing, Democrats

Here’s a few things every politician, and certainly every eligible voter should be keenly aware of:

-A majority of Americans support raising the minimum wage.

-A majority of Americans support overturning Citizens United.

-A majority of Americans support Same Sex Marriage rights.

-A majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

-A majority of Americans oppose new wars in the Middle East.

-A majority of Americans support the health reforms of the ACA.

-A majority of Americans support equal pay for women.

-A majority of Americans support a woman’s right to choose.

-A majority of Americans support stricter gun control, (I’m not one of them, but it’s true, so it goes on the list.)

-A majority of Americans support raising taxes on the wealthy.

-A majority of Americans support extending unemployment benefits.

-A majority of Americans support a federal jobs bill.

-A majority of Americans support immigration reform.

-A majority of Americans support alternative energy initiatives.

Yet a minority of Americans just handed the Senate to the GOP and grew their majority in the House, just to add insult to injury.

Why?

There are a number of boring reasons that contributed to the electoral bloodbath last week. First, mid-term elections are traditionally a difficult time for the party of the sitting President.  President Obama saw six Senate seats slip away in 2010. In 2006, George W. Bush watched his party lose six seats in the Senate and thirty-one seats in the House. In 1994, Bill Clinton saw eight Senate seats evaporate. In 1990, Bush Sr. lost one. In 1986, Reagan watched a whooping eight seats fly the coop.

Secondly, the GOP enjoys some structural advantages built into our electoral system that most Americans don’t realize heavily favors their party, regardless of public opinion or voting patterns. This is especially true in the Senate.

You see, the Senate was designed from the onset not to be democratic. Our two-chambered legislature was designed to try and balance popular opinion with the concerns of smaller, less populated states. The Senate’s make-up of two Senators from each state, regardless of how many people actually live there, was intended not to be representative as a means of protecting smaller state interests from being railroaded by a handful of large states.

As a result, when a person in Wyoming (pop: 576,000) votes for their Senator, their vote carries weight equal to sixty-six voters from California (pop: 38 million). It’s no secret that more rural populations tend to vote more reliably conservative, while urban residents even in heavily red states, tend to vote more reliably liberal. This division has only accelerated in recent decades, and its distorting effects on the make-up of the Senate means Democrats have an uphill battle to holding the upper house even from the start.

But I don’t believe that either of these reasons fully explain what happened last Tuesday night. While an energized GOP base turned out in great numbers to punish the Democrats for, well, doubling the DOW, lowering unemployment from 10% to less than 6%, and slashing the federal budget deficit by almost two thirds, the rest of us watched and listened to a Democratic party that apparently didn’t know or didn’t believe the polling of public opinion on all of the issues at the top of the page and spent their campaigns distancing themselves from their own positions and accomplishments. As a result, the message the majority of the country got from them was that Democrats are too afraid of political backlash to fight for their own principles.

The Democrats have, over generations, just gotten so used to their brand being tarnished with accusations of communism, being weak on defense and foreign policy, tax-and-spend, bad for the economy, and on and on, that they have somehow missed the fact that their platform is not only popular among their voters, but actually has either a majority or plurality of support among even self-identifying republicans on many issues.

If you want to beat the GOP in 2016, there’s only one thing you have to do.

Stop apologizing for being Democrats.