Like the Greatest of Trees…

The Old Republic was the Republic of legend, greater than distance or time. No need to note where it was or whence it came, only to know that… it was the Republic.


Once, under the wise rule of the Senate and the protection of the Jedi Knights, the Republic throve and grew. But as often happens when wealth and power pass beyond the admirable and attain the awesome, there appear those evil ones who have greed to match.


So it was with the Republic at its height. Like the greatest of trees, able to withstand any external attack, the Republic rotted from within though the danger was not visible from outside.


Aided and abetted by restless, power-hungry individuals within the government, and the massive organs of commerce, the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic. He promised to reunite the disaffected among the people and to restore the remembered glory of the Republic.


Once secure in office he declared himself Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace. Soon he was controlled by the very assistants and boot-lickers he had appointed to high office, and the cries of the people for justice did not reach his ears.


Having exterminated through treachery and deception the Jedi Knights, guardians of justice in the galaxy, the Imperial governors and bureaucrats prepared to institute a reign of terror among the disheartened worlds of the galaxy. Many used the imperial forces and the name of the increasingly isolated Emperor to further their own personal ambitions.


But a small number of systems rebelled at these new outrages. Declaring themselves opposed to the New Order they began the great battle to restore the Old Republic.


From the beginning they were vastly outnumbered by the systems held in thrall by the Emperor. In those first dark days it seemed certain the bright flame of resistance would be extinguished before it could cast the light of new truth across a galaxy of oppressed and beaten peoples…

Old-timer Star Wars fans like myself might recognize those words as the prologue from the novelization of the first film, Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker (as it was then known), credited to George Lucas but actually ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster, copyrighted 1976. I’ve always loved this passage, in particular that line about the greatest of trees rotting from within. So very evocative.

Just something I’ve been thinking about lately…


Giving Letterboxd a Try

I need another social-networking site eating up my already limited free time like I need a hole in the head. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to give Letterboxd a go after learning about it on Michael May’s Adventureblog. It appears to be along the lines of Goodreads, only for movies. So, if you have some voyeuristic need to explore my dubious tastes in cinema, hop on over to my profile and take a look around…





Parting Words


“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people. I believe that people are more good than bad. I believe tragic things happen. I think there’s evil in the world, but I think at the end of the day, if we work hard and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time. That’s what this presidency has tried to be about. … at my core, I think we’re going to be OK. We just have to fight for it, we have to work for it and not take it for granted.”

— Barack Obama at the conclusion of his final press conference as President of the United States,

January 18, 2017




Letter to the Outgoing President


A couple weeks back, I did something I’ve never done before: I sent an email to the President of the United States.

I didn’t expect a response. Honestly, I didn’t even expect that he would see it with his own eyes, as opposed to some anonymous staffer. Nevertheless, as I contemplated the waning days of Barack Obama’s presidency, I experienced a sense of personal connection and impending loss that was unlike anything I’ve ever felt for an an outgoing president. I felt compelled to reach out and say a few things to the man.

History and hindsight will be the ultimate judges of whether Obama was a good president, and what lasting impact his presidency may have. Personally, I think the future is probably going to look upon him quite favorably. (If anyone reading this happens to disagree, well, in the immortal words of The Dude, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.) I won’t pretend I wasn’t occasionally frustrated or disappointed by him. He flat-out failed to deliver on one of his campaign promises that meant a lot to me: Our extra-national gulag at Guantanamo Bay remains in operation, its handful of remaining inmates trapped in a legal Phantom Zone and the very existence of the thing a blot on America’s moral character. But given the resistance he faced in Congress to quite literally everything he proposed, I really can’t lay the blame for this one at his feet. Also, I wish he’d been more effective at selling his administration’s achievements and countering the other side’s non-stop avalanche of disinformation that’s led to some people actually thinking, among other things, that “Obamacare” and the ACA are two different things. But again, that’s not all on him. The Democrats in general have failed on this point. Finally, I wish he hadn’t been so doggedly determined to keep reaching across the aisle when the Republicans made it very clear from the very beginning that they were not, under any circumstances, going to work with him. There were times when he looked like Charlie Brown chasing after that damned football, with all of us knowing that Republican Lucy was just going to jerk it away and send him flying through the air again. It was embarrassing, frankly… and watching good progressive ideas get whittled away compromise by compromise (and still failing to pass) was pretty damn infuriating. But it was his belief in the inherent goodness of people, and in their willingness to listen to a rational appeal — his optimism that he could bridge the partisan divides that had opened up during the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations — that drew me to him in the first place. As satisfying as it might have been to hear him tell Mitch McConnell to go screw himself, that’s not the man I originally voted for.

In the end, Obama did not change the country as much as many of us hoped he would. Partisan tribalism is worse than ever, everybody is pissed off about everything, and “post-racial America” turned out to be a cruel fantasy. Indeed, his mere existence in the Oval Office seemed to draw out the very worst elements of this country from whatever dank hole in which they’d been hibernating. There’s no question in my mind that the incoming administration is the product, at least in part, of a backlash against whatever social progress the Obama administration did manage to foster. And all of that is immensely disappointing. I really hoped eight years ago that we were more evolved than that as a nation, and I can’t help feeling like we let him down, not the other way round, because we just weren’t ready for what he represented. But no matter what happens in the next four years, the Obama administration will always be a turning point in this country’s history. He was the first non-white president, and nothing is ever going to change that; I’m still proud of him for that achievement, and proud of this nation for taking a step forward by electing him. I hope I live long enough to see another such step forward, whether it’s another person of color or a woman, or perhaps even both.

I’m proud of him for much more than being an interesting statistic, though. Of the four presidents I’ve seen in my adult life — indeed all the presidents of my lifetime — Barack Obama is the one I most admire as a human being. His intellect, his sense of humor, his down-to-earth decency (so wonderfully evidenced by the photo above)… the fact that his administration remained scandal-free for eight years, that I didn’t have to make any excuses for him as I so often have for the last Democratic president… his dedication to his wife and children, the very embodiment of family values… and the dignity and unflappably cool head he so consistently showed in the face of unprecedented disrespect and obstruction from his political opponents… by all those measures, I would say Obama has been an extraordinary president. And I’m going to miss him.

Thanks, Obama. Sincerely.








It Was One Movie…

Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in "Star Wars"

“We’d done this little low-budget film. They’d even flown us economy to our location in London to save money, and we lived off a per diem that came nowhere near the vicinity of luxurious. We’d done a cool little off-the-radar movie directed by a bearded guy from Modesto. A thing like that wasn’t going to make people want to play with a doll of you, was it?

It was one movie. It wasn’t supposed to do what it did — nothing was supposed to do that.  Nothing ever had. Movies were meant to stay on the screen, flat and large and colorful, gathering you up into their sweep of story, carrying you rollicking along to the end, then releasing you back into your unchanged life. But this movie misbehaved. It leaked out of the theater, poured off the screen, affected a lot of people so deeply that they required endless talismans and artifacts to stay connected to it.

Had I known it was going to make that loud of a noise, I would’ve dressed better for those talk shows and definitely would’ve argued against that insane hair… ”

— Carrie Fisher, The Princess Diarist



Review: Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? by Alan Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A recent discussion with a friend regarding what I disliked about the film Man of Steel led to us reminiscing about the Superman comics we’d grown up with, which led in turn to him recommending this collection of stories from the 1980s that I somehow missed back in the day.

Briefly, in 1986, after decades of publication and hundreds of issues, DC Comics announced plans to reboot Superman… to toss everything that had come before and start over at issue #1, the destruction of Krypton, Ma and Pa Kent finding the baby in the crashed spaceship, the whole thing. But before that new series debuted, the publisher saw an opportunity that’s rare in ongoing comic-book titles, the chance for closure, to provide a definitive ending to the classic era of the Man of Steel… or, as he was once known, the Man of Tomorrow.

The two-part tale that lends its title to this collection, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” (originally published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583), is flat-out brilliant. Written by comic legend Alan Moore (Watchmen) and structured in the form of a flashback (from the futuristic year of 1997!) narrated by Lois Lane, the “last” Superman story tells of Kal-El’s old enemies and allies coming together for one final confrontation, with fatal consequences for many of them, including — apparently — Superman himself. While there are plenty of deaths and an overall elegaic tone, the story never gets too heavy, and it ends on an absolutely perfect note, quite literally with a wink and a smile. For older fans who loved the Superman of an earlier era, it’s a wonderfully satisfying, nostalgic conclusion. The art by Curt Swann and George Perez is perfect as well, clean and bright, a touch old-fashioned perhaps but very pleasing, and exactly the way I remember Superman comics looking when I was a kid.

Rounding out this trade paperback are two additional stories by Moore that are unrelated but have a similar tone and theme to “Whatever Happened.” In “The Jungle Line,” originally published in DC Comics Presents #85 with art by the great Al Williamson, Superman has been infected by an extra-terrestrial fungus. Delusional and not trusting himself to fly safely, he drives south, intending to die well away from anyone who might be hurt by his super-powered death throes. But the jungle he finds himself in is home to another denizen of the DC universe, the hideous but kindly Swamp Thing, who makes telepathic contact with the stranger in his realm and tries to help him fight the ravaging hallucinations.

Finally, in “For the Man Who Has Everything” from Superman Annual #11 (art by Dave Gibbons), the Man of Steel is held captive by a telepathic alien plant that grants the illusion of the victim’s greatest desire… in this case, a “normal” life on an unexploded Krypton. While his friends Batman and Wonder Woman fight to save him in the real world, Kal-El comes to realize the “life” he’s living is nothing but illusion…

Taken together, these four stories all form an interesting meditation on the core of the classic Superman’s character: his desire for a normal human life as a husband and father balanced against his superhuman nobility and sense of duty. Unlike more modern superhero stories, which would present these ideas with clenched jaws and grim self-loathing, these tales have a lighter touch, more humor and optimism, and a sense that, while Superman may wish he had a different life, he’s not all that unhappy with the one he’s got, because he’s serving a purpose. It’s a refreshing change from the modern superhero idiom, and a lot of fun to read.

View all my reviews



In Memoriam: Carrie Fisher


Millions of voices suddenly cried out in sadness… and were suddenly silent… something terrible has happened.

— Random Facebook comment

Except… we haven’t been silent, have we? The outpouring of condolences, remembrances, and genuinely heartfelt grief at the passing of Carrie Fisher has been truly remarkable, even after a year that claimed such beloved public figures as David Bowie and Prince. Even now, nearly three weeks after the fact, I’m still seeing comments, blog posts, and memes about her death… and her life. People are using her likeness for Facebook profile pics and Tumblr avatars. And speculation about how  Disney/Lucasfilm plans to proceed with upcoming Star Wars films without her has grown so intense that Disney actually felt compelled to issue a statement on Friday that they have no intentions to create a digital stand-in for her, as they did for a brief scene in Rogue One.

One of the most surprising aspects of all this, at least to me, has been the little-c catholicism of Carrie’s mourners, who range far beyond the expected legions of Star Wars fans to include a lot of people who couldn’t care less about the galaxy far, far away. But of course there was a lot more to Carrie Fisher than just Star Wars. She appeared in 40-something feature films, some of which are non-Star Wars classics in their own right (The Blues Brothers, When Harry Met Sally… ); she wrote four novels and three works of memoir, all of which were best-sellers, as well as a successful one-woman stage show, Wishful Drinking; she was a respected screenwriter, having adapted one of her own novels — Postcards from the Edge — into a feature film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, as well as doing uncredited “script doctor” rewrites on who-knows-how-many films, including the Star Wars prequels; and she was a vocal advocate for causes relating to mental health and drug addiction, the twin demons she herself battled throughout her life. In recent years, she also had a lot to say about body shaming and how our culture (especially fanboy culture) doesn’t allow women to age with grace, which won her even more admirers. And yet… it was a film role she took on when she was only 19 years old for which she’s ultimately going to be remembered, a surreal and ironic fact that Carrie was well aware of. If you’ve read her memoirs or seen her interviews, it’s plain that she spent a lot of time struggling to figure out where Leia ended and Carrie began, and vice versa. It’s an interesting question for any actor who is so strongly associated with a single role, but it’s also one worth asking of fans: Who exactly are we mourning, Carrie Fisher or Princess Leia Organa?

I fell in love with Princess Leia when I was seven years old. Big deal, right? I think it’s safe to say that most men (and not a few women) in my general age cohort would say the same thing. The character’s prominence in the coming-of-age of Generation X is an utter cliche at this point. (Can you believe it’s been 20 years since that Friends episode about Ross’ gold bikini sex fantasies?) But just because an idea is hackneyed doesn’t make it untrue. Leia was my imaginary girlfriend — well, one of them, anyway — for most of my childhood and adolescence.

That was Leia, though. I met Carrie Fisher in 2012. The occasion was an award presentation for her mental-health advocacy, followed by a book signing. And while she couldn’t avoid discussing her role in Star Wars during the course of the evening — I imagine not a day passed when she didn’t talk about it, in one way or another — that wasn’t the focus of this event, and I was under no illusion that the person up there on that stage was the fictional princess of my youth. Her voice was wrong for one thing; age and cigarettes had changed it, roughened it and given it a phlegmy undercurrent. She was smart, sarcastic, and deadly quick with her wit, just like Leia. But she was also self-deprecating, a bit rambling, a bit vulgar, a bit fragile. Kind of weird, to be honest. Not in an unappealing way, just in a way that was very unlike Leia. I found myself liking her, and wishing I could spend a lot of time hanging out with her and hearing all of her wild stories three or four times each.

Later, when I stood in front of her while she autographed my copy of Postcards from the Edge, I was struck by how tiny she was. In some weird way I still can’t put my finger on, she reminded me of my mom. I don’t remember what I said to her, but I know I was trying not to say the obvious Star Wars fanboy things. I must’ve mentioned my own fiction-writing ambitions, based on the kindly encouraging words she scribbled in my book. But then she looked up at me with those deep brown eyes that were so familiar to me from hundreds of viewings of the Holy Trilogy, and I saw them glittering with the same warm, mischievous energy they displayed in Return of the Jedi when she throws Han Solo’s infamous “I know” back at him… I fell in love all over again.

I’d met quite a few celebrities by that time, and largely gotten over being starstruck. I rarely have a problem talking to actors I’ve admired since I was a kid. But in that moment, I became hopelessly tongue-tied. Because suddenly after an evening of listening to Carrie, I was looking at Leia. She lived inside Carrie after all, just as Carrie lived in her… just as somewhere inside me there’s a seven-year-old boy who dreams of heroically swinging across a chasm with her in my arms, and a ten-year-old boy who wants a girl to look at me the way Leia looked at Han in the carbon-freeze chamber, and a thirteen-year-old boy who… well, I’ll leave that one right there. Ross wasn’t the only one who responded to that damn bikini. (Although, if you want to know the honest truth, I’ve always thought she was at her prettiest in her snow-bunny outfit from Empire. Call me weird.)

The point is, in the end, Carrie and Leia were very hard to parse out from each other. And I can honestly say, sincerely, without intending any sort of stalkerish overtone, that I loved both of them, fiercely.

I finally got around to seeing Rogue One on December 23rd, a week after the movie opened… the day Carrie Fisher had a massive heart attack on an airplane midway between London and LA. Anne and I had both shed a few tears at the movie’s end and were feeling a little raw as the house lights came up. (If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand.) While the closing credits were still rolling, and the familiar Star Wars title music still thundered through the theater, she pulled out her phone and called up Facebook to see what had been going on while we were in the galaxy far, far away. The first thing she ran across was the news about Carrie. It was totally unexpected, and it hit me like hard piledriver punch to the gut.

At that point, details were sketchy and people were trying to be optimistic, but to borrow a certain well-known catchphrase from a certain space-opera franchise, I had a bad feeling about it. Somehow I just knew. Quite literally moments after seeing Carrie’s digitally resurrected youthful self on the movie screen, I was confronted with the certainty that we were going to lose her, if not that day, then very soon. I don’t mind admitting that I went to the theater’s restroom, locked myself into a stall, and had a brief, sobbing breakdown. Because Carrie Fisher wasn’t just some actress to me, not just another celebrity I feel compelled to eulogize on my blog because I liked their work when I was a kid. She wasn’t even merely a childhood crush, although she certainly was that, and a middle-aged crush as well. She was a charming, complicated mess of a human being whom I’d met and spoken with and responded to and felt genuine affection for. She felt as real to me as members of my own family. As my friend Jaren put it, she was like that cool girlfriend your older brother had once, the one you’ve kept tabs on all these years because you just couldn’t help yourself.

And now she’s gone.

I’m sure that someday I’ll be able to watch Star Wars or Rogue One or any of her movies again without thinking that. But for now… my princess, my Carrie, is gone. And I feel a cold twinge inside whenever the thought occurs to me.















If Our Democracy Is to Work the Way It Should…

President Obama’s Farewell Address tonight had a number of memorable passages as he tried to put an epilogue on the past eight years, but to me there were none more salient or moving than his words about race, reflexive partisanship, and the tendency to demonize “the other”:

…if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”


For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.


We have to pay attention and listen.


For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.


For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.


So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

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Friday Evening Videos (New Year’s Eve Edition): “Don’t Stop Believin'”

Oh stop. I can feel your eyes rolling from all the way over here.

I’m very well aware that this song has as many detractors as fans, and that it and Journey in general are routinely derided as “soulless corporate rock” (whatever the hell that means). I don’t care, and I’m not interested in debating it. Not now, not on the final night of this year, above all others. From the deaths of Bowie, Prince, and Princess frickin’ Leia to that god-awful endless election (I think everyone, no matter which side you were on, can agree that the election was a shit-show of historic proportions), 2016 has left me most definitely not in the mood for a debate. About anything. Here, at the end of this annus horribilis, more than ever, I’m missing my youth and the boundless possibility it seemed to contain, the certainty I used to have that everything would just somehow turn out all right. I’m exhausted, and I’m testy.

If you don’t like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” well… that’s your concern, I guess, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about that. Personally, it’s always been one of my favorites, going back to the days when I listened to it from a cheap K-Tel collection on a beat-up portable cassette player while I read comic books in our haystack. Even before I had any real understanding of what the lyrics were about, I responded to the sound of the song in that ineffable, near-mystical way that you simply do with some pieces of music. I loved the piano opening and that dramatic rising guitar thing following the first verse, and the soaring vocals that are both easy to sing along with and entirely beyond the range of most normal humans. Now that I’m older, I love the goofy optimism at the core of the song’s lyrics.

I’ve read some counter-intuitive arguments that this is actually a depressing song, that the story told by the lyrics is one of people consoling themselves while on a tawdry and unsatisfying quest for love. Or at least for sex. I guess that’s one way to read it. It’s not mine. I see this song as an ode to the indomitable human tendency to keep trying, to keep reaching, to keep hoping, in spite of disappointment and even though time and the culture around us and the world itself just keeps moving indifferently forward. As we crawl from the smoking crater of 2016 into the uncertain landscape of 2017, that’s a message I need to hear.  Maybe you do too.

I’m not going to bother with the usual historical background on this one, other than noting that this performance is from 1981, the year the song itself was released.

Happy New Year, everyone.


Friday Evening Videos (Bonus Edition): “Father Christmas”

It’s a little after midnight as I write this, and outside the rain that’s been falling all day has finally turned to snow and the world  is growing quiet and indistinct. Anne went to bed several hours ago, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

Even though I’ve been relatively cheerful this holiday season — a nice change! — I find that I’m very tired tonight, emotionally worn out. I think we all agree that 2016 has been a real drag, and I think we’re all eager to see it finished. Also, I’m worried tonight… about Carrie Fisher, my beloved space princess who had a heart attack on an airplane yesterday even as I was watching the latest Star Wars film, Rogue One… and about my cat Evinrude, who’s not been feeling well today but can’t tell me what’s wrong. Fitting, then, that the song I’ve had running through my head for much of the day is Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas.”

You may have heard that Lake died a couple weeks ago, on December 6, following a battle with cancer. I was rather pleased that many of the online remembrances of him used this song, rather than something he did with the prog-rock band he co-founded, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. “Father Christmas” is often remembered as one of ELP’s, but in reality, Greg wrote and recorded it as a solo project. It was released in 1975 and reached number two on the UK charts. I don’t know if it charted here, but I remember hearing it on my classic-rock radio station in high school, and thinking it was lovely. It’s got a melancholy, world-weary tone, but it ultimately ends on a hopeful note, which for me is a perfect holiday song.

The version of it I’m going to present tonight isn’t a video per se; it’s a recording of a live performance at St. Bride’s Church in the City of London, back in 2011. Lake and his fellow musicians are accompanied by the church choir; the guy playing flute is none other than Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull.

“I wish you a hopeful Christmas,
I wish you a brave new year…
All anguish, pain, and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear.”

Merry Christmas, everyone.