Star Wars NEVER made sense. Get over it.

Oh no! The Last Jedi ruins our sense of canon! Why would Luke act that way?

(For the record, Mark Hamill has walked back some of his misgivings:)

But the Star Wars saga has always been embedded in our culture despite its flaws. I don’t just mean the things that make less sense as more movies are made, such as Kenobi’s failure to recognize R2 or the one that recently popped into my head — why did the Hidden Chosen One, The Son of Anakin Skywalker, hide out on Anakin’s home planet with the last name “Skywalker”? Why isn’t he “Luke Lars” (Uncle Owen’s last name) or “Luke Smith” or “Luke Totally Not a Fallen Jedi’s Son”?

We had those problems in the original trilogy as well. Mostly the “OMG, if Leia always knew Luke was her brother, then why …” problem.

But even in the first film, we have a few issues.

Selective empathy. I think Robot Chicken put it best.

But it’s not just that. In the attack on the Death Star, we see Porkins losing his battle with gravity and joining many other longtime rebels in the great beyond. All of these deaths pass as routine. But when the hillbilly kid who just turned up at the base flies through something hot, everyone’s all, “Luke! Are you OK?”

And speaking of expendable rebels, why does Wedge get a free pass? X-Wing fighters don’t have any rear weapons, so the wingmen in the Death Star trenches aren’t really doing anything other than flying around as human shields to make it slightly more difficult for TIE fighters to take out the dude with the targeting computer switched on. But when Wedge takes a glancing blow to his ship, he gets a doctor’s note excusing him from the rest of the battle.

Stormtrooper shooting. Yes, it’s a big joke — the stormtroopers can’t hit anything.

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Which would be somewhat understandable if not for:

A. Scenes in which the targets (Luke, Han, an occasional droid) are just standing right there.

B. Say it with me now: “These blast points, far too accurate for Sand People. Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.” That’s a bit like a Delta in Animal House saying Bluto is the champion of dieting and sobriety.

“They let us go.” Oh really, Leia? That’s your conclusion, even after you just hugged a Wookiee to celebrate Han and Luke’s victory over the TIE fighters (and, given the massive explosions that TIE fighters apparently have when blasted, somehow managing to do so at sufficient range to the Millennium Falcon wasn’t melted)?

Did no one on the Death Star think to inform the TIE fighter pilots that they needed to back off? Or did they just receive a mission briefing like this:

“OK, folks, our prisoners are escaping.”

“No problem, sir! We’ll blast them out of the sky, er, space or whatever.”

“Actually, no. Go out and pretend that you’re doing that. Land a few shots on the ship’s shield and do that funky side-to-side thing that makes you really difficult to hit. But then just stop and let them shoot you.”

(silence)

“Why the hell would we do that?”

“Look, this whole thing is about to be blown up in … well, it apparently takes less than a day to get to the rebel base … so you’re just saving yourself some aggravation.”

So fret all you want about Luke’s grumpiness in The Last Jedi or Rey picking up light saber skills as quickly as … well, as quickly as Luke did. The fact is we fell in love with a flawed mythic saga because of the imaginative, immersive universe (or galaxy) with John Williams music and classic characters. The light side outweighs the dark side.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work. My next story is due in three parsecs.

 

A response to “Liberals Need to Take Their Fingers Out of Their Ears”

Dear Mr. Edsall,

Please forgive me if the salutation is too formal. I was brought up in the South to say “yes, sir” and “no, ma’am,” and while I have modernized a bit depending on context, I felt it appropriate in this case to lead with traditional manners.

I’m writing in reference to your op-ed in The New York Timesthe latest in a series of pieces in the past 15 months or so alerting “liberals” to our alleged blind spots and biases.

I should say at the outset that I’ve never understood what a “liberal” is, particularly in U.S. politics in my lifetime. To paraphrase Rebecca West, I only know that people call me a “liberal” when I express sentiments that differentiate the less fortunate from doormats or women from prostitutes. I keep hearing that the Democratic Party is going farther and farther “left,” but surely that’s a function of the old conservative “Dixiecrats” finally abandoning a party label that hadn’t made sense since Reconstruction. Social programs that the “conservatives” readily accept in Europe would be considered “socialist” here.

Your piece is frankly a confusing read. At the outset, it appears that “liberals” fail to understand their own role in creating Trumpist populism. Then it veers into a Karen Stenner’s argument about tolerance and inevitable conflict, which frankly struck me as a bit nihilistic. Next up was Eric Schnurer suggesting the “left” is ravaging the manufacturing industry, which I’d think most relatively objective economists would point out is a by-product of a rapidly changing global economy in which technology has revved up productivity. See the frightening headline “Robots Could Steal 40% of U.S. Jobs by 2030.

The underlying assumption here is that “liberals” clustered in “blue” states lack the capacity or the will to understand Middle America’s concerns. You could probably come up with some evidence of that, sure. I’ve often joked that The Washington Post views everything south and west of the Potomac, even those of us just a few miles away, as a giant experiment in anthropology.

But these “liberals” have made a considerable effort to understand what’s going on, before and especially after last year’s election. Much of that effort has bordered on self-flagellation.

Why? Well, to paraphrase another Southern centrist now labeled “liberal”: “It’s the empathy, stupid.”

It’s also empathy based on a long-term view. You mention “Republican strengths” in your second paragraph, and you include: evisceration of key regulatory policies, economic growth, the Dow Jones, the unemployment rate and the new tax plan.

Unfortunately, “liberals” understand that any gain from all of these things is short-lived. Without those regulatory policies, climate change will continue unabated, eventually plunging coastlines underwater. The tax plan forces graduate students to include their tuition waivers as income, effectively reducing access to postgraduate education that would drive future economic growth as the world automates.

It’s too facile to dismiss these concerns as elitist East Coast-ism. If you’ve spent any time in the blue states and cities, you know that a lot of us are from somewhere else. I’m from the South, born and raised to be suspicious of “Yankees” and social programs. I went to summer camp and learned muscular Christianity, in which we would all grow to be good little Christians by beating each other up in preparation for the real world.

As I’ve grown older and moved northward, I’ve realized a few things. First of all, no matter how hard we work, we can’t predict the future and guarantee our financial success. I went into journalism, an industry that has sharply declined thanks to the Internet siphoning away readership and ad dollars. Others went into manufacturing, where their jobs have been lost to automation.

I’ve also realized that these “Yankees” ain’t such bad people. Living in a cold city fosters a mutually reliant community — in short, a sense that we all have to pull together to face whatever difficulty is in front of us. They’re also not ignorant about the rest of the country, in part because many of us are from the rest of the country. I’m not the only Southerner in Northern Virginia. Everybody here is from somewhere else.

And the most “elite” of these Yankees, you’ll note, are voting against their self-interests. Does a “limousine liberal” benefit from the GOP tax plan? Most definitely. And they’re not the ones who’ll lose access to health care. They’re not the ones whose water will be poisoned.

These elite blue-staters are in pain right now not because of what they will experience. They’re in pain because of what others will face.

And they grasp the problems in the red states with greater acuity and greater empathy than the populists.

The populists, you see, are lying. And the blue-states know that.

The blue-staters know that the promises of manufacturing jobs are hollow. They know that today’s young people are emerging into a “gig economy” that leaves them without employer-sponsored health insurance, which means they’re one bad diagnosis away from bankruptcy. They know the populists’ weeping for the decline of traditional moral values is a bunch of poppycock — for goodness’ sake, the Democrats just tossed Al Franken, and Alabama is about to elect Roy Moore.

So while I appreciate your concern for liberals misunderstanding America, may I humbly suggest that what we need instead is better communication so that we Americans are less susceptible to demagogues? The Democrats, quite frankly, need a lot of help doing that.

You see — the problem isn’t with liberals’ ears. It’s with their mouths.

I wouldn’t be a good Southern gentleman (albeit a modernized one) if I didn’t thank you for your time. Thank you for reading.

Best wishes,

Beau Dure

 

 

 

Europe vs. America

I spent the first 27 years of my life in the United States, most of it on the East Coast.

I had never been across the Atlantic. I’d never been farther west than Texas.

The East Coast, I’d covered. I knew everything from Florida to Maryland pretty well. I’d been farther north a few times. But aside from that, just one trip to Texas and one to Chicago.

Now I’ve been to England multiple times. Italy for two weeks. Germany for two weeks. Ireland for a week. France for a day. (And in the other direction — China for three weeks, plus several trips to previously unseen parts of the USA and Canada.) And over Thanksgiving, either Spain or Catalonia, depending on how (or if) they vote.

barca

That’s probably not enough to qualify as an expert on Europe as a whole. Of course, there’s some diversity here — Frankfurt and Barcelona are as different as Boston and Atlanta. But it’s enough to have a few observations, and it’s enough to respond to this Irish traveler who’s been in the USA for a year and notes 17 cultural differences.

I’ll start with his list (not all of it):

1. Americans are way too sensitive
2. Everything is “awesome” 

He mentions “political correctness” here, but he’s not really talking about Woke America. He praises our efforts to respond to hate speech — and yes, for all our anti-immigration bluster, you can make the case that we’re actually far more welcoming and far more of a melting pot than most European countries.

What he’s saying is that friends don’t give each other constructive criticism. We’re not straight with each other. That’s hard for me to judge because Europeans generally aren’t going to issue blunt corrections to tourists. You’d have to work someplace to see the difference.

3. Smiles mean nothing
6. Cheesy in-your-face marketing

Let me put it this way: I’ve never going to tell a random woman to smile more, because that’s patronizing and sexist and everything else that’s wrong, but I will tell my sons.

There’s nothing wrong with spreading good cheer. England, frankly, makes the effort. Even their advertising has a friendly tone, while ours usually makes us think about death or illness.

So we smile and exchange pleasantries. Then our ads and our media make us think we’re going to die if we don’t purchase whatever’s for sale. Surely there’s a better balance here.

4. Tipping
14. Always in a hurry
7. Wasteful consumerism
15. Obsession with money

I’m glad European food-service folks are paid well enough that they’re not relying on us for tip money. We’re jerks. On more than one occasion in the USA, I’ve left a tip on another table, knowing that the dirtbags who dined there didn’t leave anything.

And sure, we don’t need to be rushing around as much as we do. Europeans are more patient than we are, and that might explain why they’re not rushing out to buy more crap that ends up in a landfill or in the ocean. (Also noteworthy: Fresh fruit is cheaper in Barcelona than it is here. Legos and other plastic toys are more expensive. That seems like a good thing. Fruit fuels healthy bodies. Legos are great, but when you have a gazillion of them, maybe it’s time not to buy more.)

But I’m still perplexed by the European habit of not bringing the check when diners are obviously finished dining. What exactly is the point of that? You can leave it and say “no rush,” as a lot of Americans do.

5. False prices on everything

Yep. Europe is way ahead of us in terms of getting rid of pennies. Don’t tell me something $9.99 when it’s actually $10.49 with tax. Charge me $10 or $10.50 with tax included. My wallet thanks you.

8. American stereotypes of other countries
16. Thinking America is the best

Yeah, this times 1,000. Granted, we stereotype within our own country. I’ve seen Northerners who think gay people are in imminent physical danger at a women’s soccer game in North Carolina. I’ve spent the last 20 years realizing everything my fellow Southerners told me about the North is wrong. (Except about the cold.)

11. Religious Americans

Americans are more in-your-face about religion, even compared with heavily Catholic areas in Ireland (or Spain, I’d say), our correspondent says. Yes, they are, but what bothers me more is the ignorance. In the USA, the louder someone is about religion, the more likely it is they have the zeal of someone who knows nothing beyond a few feel-good slogans (many of which make them feel good because they can look down on others). I doubt you’ll see a creationist billboard in Germany.

12. Corporations win all the time, not small businesses
13. A country designed for cars, not human

His point here is that in any European town, you can walk around and find a nice place to eat or get coffee. I suppose that’s true for the most part, though it’s tough to generalize. If you walk in New York or Boston, you’ll find places — and frankly, I don’t care if it’s Starbucks. Maybe I’m risk-averse, but sometimes, I like knowing what I’m going to get. And there are subtle variations — I was thrilled to go to a Dunkin’ Donuts in Barcelona because I knew from experience elsewhere that European Dunkin’ Donuts offer far better variety than what we have here. (Also — have you ever had Fanta orange in Europe? It’s simply wonderful. In the USA, it’s just generic syrup.)

Outside big cities, do we have any idea? When I went to Ireland, there was no way I could’ve walked from one of our B&Bs to the town center. Where I live in Northern Virginia, I can easily walk to a strip with banks, restaurants (local and corporate), shops (again, local and corporate), etc.

But I’d have to agree that Europe generally makes it easier to walk to a grocery store. Our grocery stores are the size of aircraft carriers, surrounded by parking lots the size of San Marino. In Barcelona, they had plenty of smaller stores (some local, some corporate) with all the variety you could really need.

That said, I’ve never been in a part of Europe that has single-family homes. I’d have to assume they exist. In Barcelona, I didn’t even see townhouses — everyone lived in an apartment. That was convenient, but I also didn’t get much sleep Saturday night thanks to the neighbors and people out in the street.

And, quite obviously, mass transit is better elsewhere. Maybe New York can compare with what you have in London or Barcelona, but Washington’s way behind. English soccer fans can usually hop on a train, go to their team’s away game, then return that day.

16. Unhealthy portions

No kidding.

Stuff he didn’t cover

We need universal health care. I’d love to have more train travel, but I understand how that can be difficult without overuse of eminent domain.

We don’t need Europe’s provincialism. Ours is bad enough.

Last but not least — we need English toffee. And American dentists to clean up the mess.