Category Archives: Commentary

Star Wars: My Declining Interest

Last weekend, a new Star Wars movie opened in theaters and I honestly was rather startled when I realized that I don’t particularly want to see it.  Right now, my thought is that I might get around to watching it once it comes out on DVD, although even then I’m not entirely sure.

The new movie, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is an animated feature that serves as essentially the premiere episode of an upcoming series of the same name that will be airing starting this fall on Cartoon Network.  The idea behind the series is to fill in the details of the titular war, which was initially referenced in passing during the original Star Wars way back in 1977.  The war became a key story element in the much more recent prequel movies, but most of the actual war mainly took place off-screen between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.

Like a large portion of my generation, I basically grew up with Star Wars, seeing the original film during its first run (although I didn’t really take to it until a second viewing during the reissue 2 years later).  The release of The Empire Strikes Back and especially Return of the Jedi were then huge events during my childhood.  Collecting toys and other memorabilia related to the series was a big thing, with my sister and I even maintaining our "Star Wars wall" in the basement, which was covered in news clippings and other paper goods related to the movies.  Growing up, I suspect I would have found it impossible to imagine not going to see a new Star Wars film opening weekend, much less deciding to forgo seeing it at all in the theater.

When I first heard that George Lucas was planning on returning to the Star Wars universe via television projects (both this upcoming animated series as well as a planned live action series that would bridge the gap between the two trilogies), my reaction was cautious interest and an expectation that I would probably at least check them out.  The news earlier this year that the animated series would be kicked off with a feature film also left me with the impression that I would probably end up going to see it, even despite the fact that my movie-going has been curtailed quite a bit since the birth of my son.

My enthusiasm quickly started to wane once the first visuals from the movie and series started to come out and then pretty much dropped like a stone once I saw the trailers.  Quite simply, I immensely dislike the visual style that is used for the animation.  For some reason, they seem to have gone for something vaguely resembling the Japanese-style of animation, which I’ve never really cared for all that much and which seems hugely wrong for Star Wars.  I think one of the things that has always been appealing about the movies was that, despite the otherworldly setting, the whole Star Wars universe had a basically realistic look to it.  Even at its most alien, the setting always seemed like it was in places that could really exist.  I didn’t get that feeling at all from the look of this animation, though, which instead seems exotic and excessively stylized.

Of course, I admit that this is kind of judging the book by its cover and that it is completely possible that the visual style is something that I could adjust to.  That brings me to the second problem, which is that I generally have a hard time mustering much enthusiasm for this particular aspect of the Star Wars extended storyline.  I’m not one of those that especially disliked the prequel trilogy, but I also wasn’t particularly excited by them either.  I enjoyed all three films (especially Revenge of the Sith), but have not had much interest in revisiting them.  I have seen each of the films of the original trilogy more times than all of my viewing of the prequel films combined.  I haven’t really taken any interest at all in the related merchandise (other than the soundtrack CDs) or the various novels set during that part of the story.  While the films were fun, I just don’t find the characterizations or situations all that compelling.

Related to my preference for the parts of the story surrounding the original trilogy, I will say that I haven’t completely lost interest in all things Star Wars.  While I have little interest in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, I am somewhat interested in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed video game, which is set during the time between the two trilogies.  Similarly, I am at least somewhat interested in the announced live-action TV series that will also take place during that same time period.  On a somewhat broader subject, I do look forward to the time in the next couple years when my son will be old enough to introduce him to the films, although I’m definitely more excited to share the original trilogy with him than the prequels.  I do know with some certainty that I’m going to encourage him strongly to watch the movies in the order they were released.

I’m really pretty torn when it comes to my overall feelings about Star Wars at this time.  While I still have a definite affection for it and certainly still admire the creativity and overall breadth of George Lucas’ creation, I also can’t help but feel like something that I once found extremely special has been diluted by an excess of mediocre product.  On the other hand, I also can’t help but recognize that it might be just as much a reflection of my own aging and changing tastes and priorities too.  I was 13-years-old when Return of the Jedi was released and I’m sure my impressions of all the films are inevitably colored by my stage in life when I saw them.  Had I been an adult when the original trilogy came out, I’m sure my views on those films would have been somewhat different as well.

Even taking into consideration that my views on the films are filtered through childhood nostalgia, I do still think the films of the original trilogy were simply better movies.  The original Star Wars (I’ve never been able to bring myself to call it A New Hope…) had some pretty bad acting and goofy dialog, but it also had a very tight, self-contained story and the big advantage of being an introduction to something truly new and exciting.  With The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, George Lucas wisely brought in much more skilled screenwriters (Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan) to flesh out his stories and also handed the projects off to more technically-skilled directors.  I really think Lucas is much more effective when he takes a role of creative oversight while letting others handle the details.

Critics of the recent Star Wars projects often bring up the idea that George Lucas should be working on telling other stories, including possibly the "small films" that he has sometimes talked about wanting to do.  I admit that I’m now finding that I am wondering if Star Wars might be the one and only great creative concept that Lucas really has.  Sure, he has done a few other projects that have had some success.  The Indiana Jones films are the most obvious, although I do tend to think that a lot more of the credit for the success of that series really should likely go to Steven Spielberg than to Lucas.  American Graffiti, which was Lucas’ one big hit prior to Star Wars is his one other pretty much unquestionable personal success, but it was a very early work that is also pretty clearly autobiographical in nature.  I’m not really sure how likely he is to have another story of that kind in him, particularly at this late stage of his career.

Regardless of what Lucas does going forward, I do think his place in film history is pretty secure.  Weaknesses aside, the Star Wars saga is a pretty remarkable accomplishment that really has been tremendously influential and is also likely to ultimately survive the test of time, at least to some extent.  His companies have also been responsible for a great deal of innovation in film, including significant advances in special effects, sound, digital editing, computer graphics (a lot of people don’t realize that Pixar was originally a division of Lucasfilm), and digital photography.  Even as I think he may be overextending Star Wars itself, I can’t see anything he does ever erasing or even substantially diminishing those accomplishments.

As a concluding note, I suppose my commentary in this post has been kind of all over the place, but it really is a reflection of very conflicted feelings.  The original motivation to post this was really the fact that I wanted to want to see the new film, but I just don’t.  In many ways, Star Wars has been an important cultural component of a large portion of my life.  I can’t help looking at my fading interest with a bit of wistful sadness.

Los Angeles Freeway Construction – A Rant

I think Caltrans is specifically conspiring to make it as difficult as possible for us to get home from Orange County on a Sunday night.  Last night, we had dinner with friends at Downtown Disney (which was very nice), but it ended up taking us close to 2 hours to get home to Van Nuys, mostly due to multiple construction projects.

We left the Disneyland Resort a little before 11pm and traffic on the North 5 was moving along at pretty much full speed until just past the 91 interchange, where it came to almost a complete halt.  I wasn’t able to see the brake lights until we were too far past the 91 to cut over to it as an alternate route.  The big problem at this point was that they were doing construction work that had all but the far left lane closed.  This brought traffic to a near stand-still, even fairly late at night.

While in this, I heard a traffic report on the radio indicating that there was a Sig Alert at the Slauson exit a bit further north, so I definitely wanted to get off the 5.  I decided to try and exit at either Auto Center Drive or Beach Blvd. and then cut across surface streets to the 91.  It turned out that the Auto Center Drive exit was closed completely, but there wasn’t a "ramp closed" sign until you were pretty much right at it.  That actually resulted in me merging to the right at one point into a lane that was about to end, because I didn’t realize the exit ramp wasn’t accessible.  I then continued to stay as far right as I could, since there were no signs indicating where I needed to be to get off at Beach, assuming that exit was even opened.  It did turn out to be opened, but it took us about 20-30 minutes (I lost track of the exact time) or so to go the 1-2 miles from the start of the construction zone to the exit.

The Beach exit actually drops you onto Auto Center Drive, just a bit north of the exit for that road specifically.  You then turn onto Beach at the next light.  When we got to Beach, we found that it was actually closed as well at that intersection.  That meant that we then had to turn on Stanton instead and then cut over to Beach near Knott’s Berry Farm in order to backtrack over to the 91.  Just to further my rant against road work, I should mention here that we did get stuck behind a sweet sweeper for part of the way as we went down Stanton.

The 91 was basically smooth going.  We then got off on the N-710 and found that they had the 2 left lanes closed on that road as well.  Fortunately, we were only going a short distance there (up to the 105) and traffic is generally light enough on the 710 that time of night that the construction didn’t slow things down that much.  It didn’t take us very long to get onto the 105-W, which we then took over to the 405-N.

The 405 wasn’t too bad through the LAX area, but then slowed to a crawl right around Culver Blvd.  Yes, as you probably guessed by now, Caltrans had a couple lanes closed for construction between Culver and the 10 interchange.  That stretch of road is pretty bad even under the best of circumstances (this is one of the busiest stretches of road in the country), so traffic was once again barely moving.  Obviously, this wasn’t as bad as it could have been during rush hour, but it still took quite a while to get through there.  To make matters worse, I was starting to need a restroom pretty badly, which helped to make the rest of the drive even more miserable.  With the traffic largely stopped, it would have been incredibly difficult to force our way over to the right to get off at any of the exits.  In addition, it was after midnight by this point, so I think there was little chance that there would have been anywhere opened with public restrooms that were both available and safe to use.

Once we got past that construction zone, fortunately traffic was moving pretty much full speed the rest of the way.  By this time, we were all pretty completely wiped out and miserable, of course.  In fact, I ended up getting home and sending a note off to my boss at work that I was planning to come in late this morning (they owe me a few hours anyway…), so I guess I should probably head there once I finish typing this.

I certainly do see the need for construction work on the freeways, and I understand why Sunday nights are a good time to do it, but last night certainly was frustrating.  I couldn’t help but think that there must have been some way that they could have better planned the projects so that someone driving a fairly common route (Orange County to the San Fernando Valley) wouldn’t keep continuously finding construction zones pretty much everywhere they turned.

Obama vs. Clinton and the Primary System

I’ve been resistant to delving into political topics on this blog, mostly out of fear that I might expose too much about my own ignorance. :)  I do tend to follow political debate (particularly at the national level) quite a bit, though.  As a registered Democrat that will almost certainly end up supporting and voting for whichever candidate becomes that party’s nominee, I have certainly been taking a lot of interest in the 2008 primary season.

I disagree with the increasingly widespread commentary accusing the Democratic Party of self-destructing simply because both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are still active candidates with more than 3 months remaining before the party convention and with several states still having yet to have their primaries.  As I see it, the Democrats are prompting a fair amount of criticism and doomsday predictions simply because the candidate selection process is working essentially as designed.  This primary instead seems to be illustrating how the basic method being used to select candidates usually doesn’t work very well and has largely become an outdated relic of a very different time.

I think that the result of the Republican nomination is much more troublesome, although very typical of the process for both parties during the typical modern election, including all the ones since I’ve been eligible to vote.  John McCain was widely accepted to have clinched his party’s nomination after the March 4th round of primaries, even though the primary season still had several months to go.  Much has been made about the voters of Florida and Michigan being disenfranchised in the selection of the Democratic candidate due to those states violating party rules regarding scheduling, but it is that really worse than the fact that the Republican primaries in 10 states have ended up being basically irrelevant?

The extended, highly staggered primary process made quite a bit of sense in a time when traveling from state to state could take days or weeks and when 24-hour news networks and the Internet weren’t available as a means for the candidates and parties to get their views, positions, and even personalities quickly and widely disseminated to every part of the country.  In today’s era of air travel and mass communications, though, campaigning for a simultaneous, nationwide primary would certainly be feasible and would avoid large portions of the population from being essentially disenfranchised from the selection of the candidates.  There might be a grain of truth in the concern that such a system could pretty sharply reduce the importance and influence of smaller states and rural communities, but the current system usually seems to have largely the opposite effect, which really seems to make even less sense.  I really hope that this year’s primary will prompt some serious discussion of this long overdue change.

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Work/Life Balance and "Loving Your Work"

Over the last few days, several of the technology-oriented blogs that I read have included some spirited debates about the work/life balance and whether or not loving your work essentially equates to a workaholic devotion to it.  This is an issue that I have spent a lot of time thinking about and working out for myself during my career and that has even contributed to something of a career change several years ago.

The online discussion was prompted by a recent blog post by Jason Calacanis, the founder of "human-edited" search engine Mahalo.com.  The post focused on various cost-savings tips for people running technology start-ups.  Most of the items in the post were pretty innocuous suggestions about things like office furniture and equipment, but there were a couple entries that could easily be interpreted as saying that a start-up should have no use for anyone that would in any way prioritize their personal life over their work life.

The most controversial item was the following:

“Fire people who are not workaholics…. come on folks, this is startup life, it’s not a game. go work at the post office or stabucks if you want balance in your life. For realz.”

He later attempted to soften it a bit by changing "are not workaholics" to "don’t love their work" and then crossing out "it’s not a game" and "if you want balance in your life. For realz."  He also wrote a pretty lengthy follow-up post that did help to clarify his view a bit and also shared his own general approach to his work.  Particularly in that follow-up post, he seems to be basically suggesting that unless you let your work largely dominate your life, then you must be working only out of necessity rather than actually loving what you do.

Even though my experience with working at start-ups is limited to a short stint at a tiny game developer that ended up folding pretty dramatically about 4 months after I started,   I believe that Calacanis is almost certainly correct that a pretty intense career focus is probably necessary to survive during the very early years at most start-ups.  Where I take exception is his apparent view that pretty much total devotion to work is a requirement to be able to say that you "love" your work.  I don’t believe that having a life balance and actually loving what you do are mutually-exclusive.

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Super Bowl Sunday

I’m not a football fan.

I have found that making that simple statement can sometimes cause people to brace for an expected tirade on various perceived evils of that sport and professional sports in general.  That isn’t going to come from me, though.  My views really are as simple as the statement.  I don’t have a dislike or moral objections to the sport.  I’m just not that interested in it and generally tend to get bored pretty quickly when watching it.

For me, Super Bowl Sunday has never been that big a deal.  To be honest, I pay so little attention to the sport that I often don’t even realize the championship game is coming up until the last minute.  There have been a number of years where I didn’t even know who was playing by the time the game started or, occasionally, even until I read about the results.

That isn’t to say that I consciously avoid the game at all.  Some years, I have watched all or part of the game, although usually while doing other things and basically paying only a bit of attention to the game.  There have even been a couple years that I have gone to Super Bowl parties, but mainly for the socializing rather than the game.    If I’m around the house, I’ll often have the game on in the background, although it is pretty rare that I’m at home all afternoon on a Sunday.

Although I don’t always think of it, I also will usually set the DVR (or in the distant past, the VCR) to record the game, just in case something interesting happens.  If nothing else, there are usually some neat commercials that air during the game, so it is fun to go back and look at the ones that got some attention.  Of course, that is not as big a deal now that they have started making all the commercials available online after the game.

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