Sunday, August 14, 2005

Stick to football, Gregg

Readers familiar with Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback series (once of Slate, then of, now of know that his TMQ columns are always filled with digressions into stuff that has nothing at all to do with football. Case in point is this season's first column, in which Easterbrook decides to talk about Star Wars:

Meanwhile the final Star Wars had 100 times the special effects of the first movie from 1977, yet maybe one percent the originality or writing quality. We forget there were jokes in the first Star Wars! Obviously George Lucas forgot. It's disturbing that the mechanistic aspects of big-studio movies -- special effects, cinematography and sound effects -- just keep getting better, while the writing just keeps getting worse.

Well, that's not an uncommon opinion, but there have indeed been jokes in the Star Wars prequels. That Easterbrook doesn't find them funny (quite a few of them, I will admit, are not) doesn't make them not-jokes. (I did find a few of them, like Obi Wan tossing aside the "uncivilized" blaster, fairly amusing.) But even so, a lot of humor would have been out of place in Revenge of the Sith, a story where evil becomes triumphant. I guess that's too subtle a point for Easterbrook.

Then there's this:

And yours truly found it incredibly offensive that Revenge of the Sith depicted Darth Vader murdering children. George Lucas became one of the richest men in cinema history by selling billions of dollars worth of movie tickets and toys to children. In the final installment, Lucas raised his middle finger to the parents who paid for all those tickets and toys by gratuitously depicting children being slaughtered. You don't have to be a Freudian to suspect Lucas was saying, "Hey parents who made me super-ultra-rich, here's what I think of your kids."

Yeah, Gregg. Lucas included that scene just because he hates children and likes to wallow in stories in which children meet bad ends. This is so ineffably stupid as to not really bear further comment, except that I will note that George Lucas is a student of folklore, and the old stories that Star Wars is meant in part to imitate often include children coming to bad ends. (There's a particular bit in the Arthurian legend that would make Easterbrook weep, I suspect.)

And I should also point out that Lucas does not depict the children being slaughtered. He cuts away before the slaughter, and when we return to them, they're already dead. I'll grant Easterbrook this, though: he's the first person I've seen who condemns Revenge of the Sith for being too dark.

At last, we get this incredibly stupid paragraph:

My departing Star Wars complaint concerns the point that it's fine for sci-fi to be improbable, but not fine for special effects to violate laws of physics. Consider the Jedi light sabers, which throughout the Star Wars flicks are depicted as deflecting blasts from lasers and other energy weapons. Jedi don't carry sidearms because if anyone shoots a weapon at them, they use the light saber to deflect the shot back at the person who fired. But in order to intercept a laser or other energy beam that travels at the speed of light, the Jedi knight would need to move the light-saber generator, and thus his own arm, faster than the speed of light. Are we supposed to believe that during light-saber fighting, a Jedi's arms constantly jump in and out of hyperspace? And if the Jedi's arms really were moving faster than light we wouldn't see them, yet we do. Einstein showed that as matter -- in this case the Jedi's arm -- approaches the speed of light, it acquires infinite mass. Are we to believe that Jedi are so incredibly strong, their muscles can push an object with infinite mass? If so, a Jedi could push entire planets. If robots, storm troopers, droids, clones and other bad guys of the Star Wars universe shot at you with a laser whose bolt travels at the speed of light, you would be toast long before you could move the arm that holds the light saber into position to deflect.

Well, Gregg, then how is it that people in Star Trek are always dodging phaser or disruptor blasts? In fact, shouldn't Easterbrook be lodging this complaint about every SF-film ever made that has featured blasters, ray guns and the like in its action sequences?

Sure, technically, Easterbrook is right: the Star Wars films ignore the laws of physics in depicting Jedi lightsaber prowess. They also have explosions that emit sound in space. They also have FTL travel. They also have this mystical thing called "The Force". They also have planets whose cores are made of water. They have space stations the size of moons being able to destroy entire planets. And so on. Easterbrook wrote this bit not to lodge a serious complaint about Star Wars, but to exhibit his own intelligence. Sorry, Gregg, but intellectual chest-thumping doesn't impress me.

Now, if Gregg Easterbrook wants to discuss how NFL teams blitz way too much on passing downs, I'm all ears.

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