The Thing About Today – September 8

September 8, 2020
Day 252 of 366

 

September 8th is the 252nd day of the year. It is Victory Day in Malta, also known as the feast of Our Lady of Victories or il-Vittorja, which recalls the end of three historical sieges made on the Maltese archipelago. Specifically, the Great Siege of Malta by the Ottoman Empire ending in 1565, the Siege of Valletta by the French Blockade ending in 1800, and, the Siege of Malta during the Second World War by the Italian army ending in 1943.

 

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Ampersand Day, National Ants on a Log Day (observed on the second Tuesday in September), and National Another Look Unlimited Day (observed on the day after Labor Day).

 

It is also National Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses Day and World Physical Therapy Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1504, Michelangelo’s David was unveiled in Piazza della Signoria in Florence.
  • In 1522, Victoria arrived at Seville, technically completing the Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation of the world.
  • In 1565, St. Augustine, Florida was founded by Spanish admiral and Florida’s first governor, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.
  • In 1810, the Tonquin set sail from New York Harbor with 33 employees of John Jacob Astor’s newly created Pacific Fur Company on board. After a six-month journey around the tip of South America, the ship arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River and Astor’s men established the fur-trading town of Astoria, Oregon.
  • In 1841, Czech composer and academic Antonín Dvořák was born.
  • In 1925, actor and comedian Peter Sellers was born.
  • In 1930, 3M began marketing Scotch transparent tape.
  • In 1937, author and illustrator Archie Goodwin was born.
  • In 1938, American sergeant and radio host Adrian Cronauer was born.
  • In 1945, the division of Korea began when United States troops arrived to partition the southern part of Korea in response to Soviet troops occupying the northern part of the peninsula a month earlier.
  • In 1960, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally dedicates the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. NASA had already activated the facility on July 1st.
  • In 1966, the landmark American science fiction television series Star Trek premiered with its first-aired episode, “The Man Trap”.
  • In 1971, actor Martin Freeman was born.
  • In 1973, Star Trek: The Animated Series premiered.

 

September 8th is International Literacy Day, declared by UNESCO on October 26, 1966. It was celebrated for the first time in 1967 with the goal of highlighting the importance of literacy to individuals, communities, and societies.

Some 775 million adults lack minimum literacy skills. One in five adults is not literate and two-thirds of them are women. 60.7 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out. The ability to read would mean so much to improve their lives.

Among several other initiatives to support literacy, the UNESCO mission is supported through the Writers for Literacy Initiative by authors including Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Philippe Claudel, Paulo Coelho, Philippe Delerm, Fatou Diome, Chahdortt Djavann, Nadine Gordimer, Amitav Ghosh, Marc Levy, Alberto Manguel, Anna Moi, Scott Momaday, Toni Morrison, Érik Orsenna, Gisèle Pineau, El Tayeb Salih, Francisco Jose Sionil, Wole Soyinka, Amy Tan, Miklós Vámos, Abdourahman Waberi, Wei Wei, and Banana Yoshimoto.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Thing About Today – August 19

August 19, 2020
Day 232 of 366

 

August 19th is the 232nd day of the year. It is Afghan Independence Day, commemorating the Treaty of Rawalpindi in 1919 which granted Afghanistan independence from Britain.

 

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as International Bow Day, National Aviation Day, and National Soft Ice Cream Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1570, Italian Jewish violinist and composer Salamone Rossi was born.
  • In 1612, the “Samlesbury witches” were put on trial. The three women from the Lancashire village of Samlesbury, England were accused of practicing witchcraft, and the trial was one of the most famous witch trials in British history.
  • In 1812, the American frigate USS Constitution defeated the British frigate HMS Guerriere off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. This engagement during the War of 1812 is what earned her the nickname “Old Ironsides”.
  • In 1839, the French government announced that Louis Daguerre’s photographic process was a gift “free to the world”.
  • In 1854, the First Sioux War began when United States Army soldiers killed Lakota chief Conquering Bear and in return were massacred.
  • In 1871, engineer and pilot Orville Wright was born.
  • In 1906, inventor Philo Farnsworth was born. He invented the Fusor, made many crucial contributions to the early development of all-electronic television.
  • In 1921, screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry was born. He is best known for developing the worlds of Star Trek.
  • In 1938, actress Diana Muldaur was born. She played multiple roles in the Star Trek universe, and inspired a catchphrase for Women at Warp: A Star Trek Roddenberry Podcast“Never forget: Pulaski banged Riker’s dad.”
  • In 1940, model, actress, and Bond Girl Jill St. John was born.
  • In 1947, actor Gerald McRaney was born.
  • In 1952, actor and director Jonathan Frakes was born.
  • In 1960, downed American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was sentenced to ten years imprisonment in Moscow, Russia by the Soviet Union for espionage.
  • In 1964, Syncom 3, the first geostationary communication satellite, was launched.
  • In 1965, actress and producer Kyra Sedgwick was born.

 

August 19th is World Humanitarian Day.

It is an international day dedicated to recognizing humanitarian personnel and those who have lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored resolution, honoring the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.

A Brazilian national, Sérgio Vieira de Mello dedicated a lifetime spanning over thirty years in the United Nations, serving in some of the most challenging humanitarian situations in the world to reach the voiceless victims of armed conflict, alleviate their suffering and draw, attention to their plight. His death together with 21 colleagues shocked the humanitarian community and robbed them of one of their most outstanding humanitarian leaders and intellectuals.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Thing About Today – February 23

February 23, 2020
Day 54 of 366

 

February 23rd is the fifty-fourth day of the year. In Japan, today is The Emperor’s Birthday, a celebration of the reigning emperor’s birthday. Emperor Naruhito as born on this date in 1960.

In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Banana Bread Day, National Dog Biscuit Day, and National Tile Day.

 

My favorite banana bread recipe is very simple.

  • Start with 3 or 4 bananas. The best bananas for this recipe are overripe and soft. Peel them and mash them up in a mixing bowl.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of baking soda and mix thoroughly.
  • Mix in 3 eggs, 1/2 cup softened butter, and 2 cups of flour.
  • Pour the mixture into a greased loaf pan.
  • Bake at 350°F for 50-60 minutes.

The bread is good cold, but it’s even better warm with a pat of butter, a dab of honey, or (even better) homemade honey butter.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 1455, the Gutenberg Bible was reportedly first published. This was the first Western book printed with movable type.
  • In 1820, a plot to murder all of the British cabinet ministers was exposed. It became known as the Cato Street Conspiracy.
  • In 1836, the Siege of the Alamo began in San Antonio, Texas. After thirteen days of minor skirmishes, the siege would give way to the Battle of the Alamo.
  • In 1886, Charles Martin Hall produced the first samples of aluminum from the electrolysis of aluminum oxide. He was assisted by his older sister, Julia Brainerd Hall. The element was named aluminium, based on the mineral alum, and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) adopted the name as the international standard in 1990. In 1993, they recognized aluminum as an acceptable variant.
  • In 1889, Victor Fleming was born. He directed 1939 films The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.
  • In 1903, Cuba leased Guantánamo Bay to the United States “in perpetuity”.
  • In 1905, Chicago attorney Paul Harris and three other businessmen met for lunch. While there, they formed the Rotary Club, the world’s first service club.
  • In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that established the Federal Radio Commission. Later replaced by the Federal Communications Commission, the organization was created to regulate the use of radio frequencies in the United States.
  • Also in 1927, German theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg wrote to fellow physicist Wolfgang Pauli to describe his now-famous uncertainty principle for the first time. Related to quantum systems, the uncertainty principle states that the more precisely the position of some particle is determined, the less precisely its momentum can be predicted from initial conditions, and vice versa.
  • In 1930, Gerry Davis was born. He was a script editor on Doctor Who, co-creator of the Cybermen with Kit Pedler, and reportedly originated the idea of the title character changing faces to accommodate replacement of the lead actor.
  • In 1940, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio was released.
  • In 1941, Plutonium was first produced and isolated by Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg.
  • In 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, a group of United States Marines and a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman from the 5th Marine Division reached the top of Mount Suribachi. Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press captured the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning image of the group raising the American flag.
  • In 1954, the first mass inoculation of children against polio using the Salk vaccine began in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
  • In 1981, actor, producer, and screenwriter Josh Gad was born.
  • In 1983, actress Emily Blunt was born.
  • In 1997, the NBC network aired an uncensored presentation of Schindler’s List. The film was watched by 65 million viewers.
  • In 2008, a United States Air Force B-2 Spirit bomber crashed on Guam. This was the first operational loss of a B-2 since the aircraft’s maiden flight in 1989.

 

In 1932, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry was born.

Before she began her quintessential run in the Star Trek franchise, she had some success with stage, film, and television, including comedy training from Lucille Ball. She started with Star Trek with The Cage, the rejected first pilot in which she played first officer Number One. She was romantically involved with series creator Gene Roddenberry and made the transition to the series as Nurse Christine Chapel, a role that carried into the motion pictures as well.

She provided several voices for Star Trek: The Animated Series and breathed life into the outrageous and iconoclastic Lwaxana Troi. She was also the regular voice for computers on Federation starships for every live-action series through Star Trek: Enterprise and most of the films through 2009’s reboot, a role that inspired the Amazon Alexa.

She appeared in several other non-Trek acting roles, but her status as First Lady of Star Trek was the backbone of her legacy. After Gene Roddenberry’s death, she brought two of his ideas to life with Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda. She was also the creative director for the Gene Roddenberry’s Lost Universe comic book series.

Her final role was as the Enterprise computer in 2009’s Star Trek. She died from leukemia at the age of 76 on December 18, 2008.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The Mystery of the Missing Doctors

The Mystery of the Missing Doctors

 

Funko Pops are the Beanie Babies of the early twenty-first century.

I say that as a statement of fact, not as a slight or insult. Created in 1993, Beanie Babies were a fad collectible from the late 1990s. They weren’t toys in the normal sense, and are collected more for their trading value and the overall cuteness factor. I have several of them, most of them celebrating milestones in my life because they were inexpensive and heartfelt gifts from friends and family. I cherish them because of those intended purposes.

Funko Pops are very similar. They’re difficult to play with, but they serve as inexpensive gifts for the pop culture fiend in your life. The line spans thousands of characters over a wide variety of franchises and licenses. From a collecting perspective, while they’re certainly not as advanced and playable as standard action figures, they do provide an easy way to celebrate particular fandoms.

I don’t collect a lot of Funko Pops. I don’t have any problem with people who do.

My main point of contention is with the Funko company itself, or rather with how they treat licenses that they create for.

 

Here it comes: Oh, god, he’s going to talk about Doctor Who again, isn’t he?

Yes, I am.

The franchise hardly needs any introduction. It’s a cultural touchstone that has existed for 56 years with fourteen actors in the title role. There are a lot of collectibles on the market to celebrate this franchise, among them Funko Pops.

But I feel like Funko is doing fans of this show (and their product line) a disservice with their offerings.

Funko Pops based on Doctor Who started hitting shelves in 2015. Thirty distinct Pops were released that year, focused mostly on the revival era of the franchise. At this point, the show was between Series 8 (during which Peter Capaldi debuted as the Twelfth Doctor) and Series 9 (during which Jenna Coleman departed). The revival Doctors were highly represented and the classic era got some love as well. The modern companions were fairly well represented as were the monsters. The TARDIS herself got two releases.

Twelve of the figures – forty percent of the year’s figures – were exclusives to geeky stores (Hot Topic, Barnes & Noble, GameStop, ThinkGeek, FYE) and major conventions (San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) and New York Comic Con (NYCC)). The SDCC Twelfth Doctor in the spacesuit commands over $200 alone on the secondary market.

2015 (Thirty releases, twelve exclusives)

  • Ninth Doctor (x2)
  • Tenth Doctor (x4)
  • Eleventh Doctor (x3)
  • Twelfth Doctor (x3)
  • Fourth Doctor (x2)
  • Sarah Jane Smith (The Hand of Fear)
  • K-9
  • Rose Tyler
  • Jack Harkness (x2)
  • River Song
  • Weeping Angel
  • Dalek (x3)
  • Cyberman
  • Adipose (x2)
  • The Silence
  • TARDIS (x2)

The line slowed down considerably in 2016. Six figures were released and all of them but one were Doctors. Only one was exclusive.

2016 (Six releases, one exclusive)

  • Twelfth Doctor
  • Eleventh Doctor (x2)
  • Tenth Doctor
  • War Doctor
  • Davros

The following year brought a major shift in the line as only three figures were released, and all of them were exclusives.

2017 (Three releases, all exclusives)

  • Clara Oswald (SDCC, later Hot Topic)
  • Rory Williams (Hot Topic)
  • First Doctor (NYCC, later Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million)

In 2018, Funko moved back to six releases. Half of the line was sent to exclusive markets, including to Emerald City Comic Con (ECCC).

2018 (Six releases, three exclusives)

  • Amy Pond (ECCC, later Hot Topic)
  • Thirteenth Doctor (SDCC, later BBC)
  • Vashta Nerada (NYCC, later Hot Topic)
  • Thirteenth Doctor
  • Clara Memorial TARDIS
  • Missy

Finally, 2019 brought five new figures, two of which were exclusives. This year’s lineup was exclusively targeted toward Series 11 of the revival era.

2019 (Five releases, two exclusives)

  • Thirteenth Doctor
  • Reconnaissance Dalek
  • The Kerblam Man
  • P’ting (SDCC)
  • Tzim-Sha (NYCC)

Funko has released 23 figures based on the Doctor, but only 8 Doctors overall. The product line is heavily weighted toward the revival era, with only two Doctors and two companions representing the first 42 years of the franchise’s existence. Technically, Davros could represent the lone enemy from the classic years, but he has also appeared in the revival era which blunts the impact of that figure’s representation.

The problem is that we are missing six Doctors for a complete lineup of the show’s regenerating hero.

Funko has had problems completing lines in the past: Back when they had the Star Trek license, they created Pops for The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Star Trek Beyond. They completed the Enterprise crew for Beyond, but fell short with Next Gen and The Original Series. Specifically, they left out Beverly Crusher and Katherine Pulaski (both women and doctors) and only Kirk, Spock, and Scotty made the cut from the original NCC-1701. The rest of the franchise – Deep Space NineVoyagerEnterprise, the other twelve movies – didn’t get any love at all.

It’s not the only franchise line to fall to the wayside, either.

It would be understandable if Funko didn’t have the money or resources to complete the Doctor Who line, but that doesn’t jive with how they treat other popular franchises. Consider the various chrome sets (Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc), the flocked versions, the sparkly “Diamond” glitter versions, the Rainbow Batman set (commemorating Batman’s 75th anniversary and Detective Comics #241), the DC Comics Lantern figures (Wonder Woman, Superman, and others became members of various Lantern Corp for a spell, prompting new Funko Pop molds for collectors), and the new Star Wars Skywalker Saga sets (which are really just repainted leftovers).

It also doesn’t pass the smell test when considering how many are coming out this year alone – an entire Mortal Kombat line, Miami ViceThe Dark Crystal, more Star WarsFrozenOverwatch, and the list goes on – and how many are stacked up on store shelves in the meantime. Just like Beanie Babies, these things seemingly reproduce like tribbles.

The evidence is clear. After an impressive debut followed by lackluster follow-up and lack of representation for classic fans, it’s apparent that Funko is failing fans of Doctor Who.

 

So, what can they do to fix it?

The obvious solution is to create the figures, but given that the market is saturated and (subsequently) distribution is scattershot, big-box brick-and-mortar storefronts are not the best option. I wouldn’t recommend convention exclusives either, since that approach tends to overinflate the price for anyone who cannot make the trip to San Diego, New York, Seattle, or other major conventions. I got lucky when shopping for the First Doctor because I found one on eBay that was missing the NYCC sticker and had a dented box, but not everyone has that.

Funko has worked with widely accessible storefronts such as Hot Topic, GameStop, Entertainment Earth, and Amazon. One option is to sell the missing Doctors through one of those more focused retailers. Another option is to use the online Funko Shop to “pre-order” the figures and judge how many to make. Six months later, distribute the figures to the buyers with a few left over for stragglers (which can by sold via the first option).

If this proves profitable, it could open the way for more companions, more monsters, and more Doctor Who in the Funko line.

Either way, the hole in the collection is painfully obvious. Doctor Who shouldn’t go the way of Star Trek or other incomplete franchise lines. It is a cornerstone and gold standard for science fiction television, and each of the incarnations of the titular hero has a dedicated fan following.

Funko should respect that history and those fans. They should complete the timeline of the Doctor.

Star Trek at Fifty

 

Star Trek at Fifty

st-tos-remastered

 

Happy 50th anniversary, Star Trek!

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s continuing mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

My first memories of Star Trek are spending mornings with my parents on weekends watching back-to-back reruns of the original series and Lost in Space. They must have known that they had a fan on their hands when I asked my dad one day if we could construct the Enterprise out of Legos. We didn’t watch much of The Next Generation in first-run syndication, but we watched every one of the movies with the original crew at every possible chance, and I caught up later after Star Trek: Generations and my good friend Ryan McCarthy rekindled my passion for the franchise in the mid to late 1990s. After that, it was almost appointment watching for each series and film.

There was a rough time in my fandom in the era around the end of Star Trek: Enterprise and the debut of the JJ Abrams films, which I credit to a wave of “true fan” negativity that spread virally through the internet. With the resurrection of the franchise under Abrams, I was able to overcome my conflicted emotions and determine that it really didn’t matter what other fans thought. I realized that my fandom is mine alone, and my passions cannot be helmed by the fickle attitudes of the internet.

I often used Star Trek quotes in my essays for school and college, and I patterned my writing style off of the authors I read as I grew up, including so many in the continuing voyages.

Star Trek truly helped form me into the person I am today.

 

My favorite series is Deep Space Nine, followed by The Next Generation and Voyager in a close second. I truly believe that Voyager gets a lot of undeserved flack for its seven-year run. It had a lot of problems, especially in the strict adherence to the Trek writing formula, but it also returned to the core of the franchise in exploring the unknown. I wanted more conflict between the Starfleet and Maquis crews, and I wanted Voyager to be less pristine after all of the conflicts. They made a big deal out of conserving power and replicator rations, but the ship was nearly always flawless. I always point to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica as an example of what I expected, but with a much lighter story.

Deep Space Nine was unique because it turned the tables on the Trek formula in exploring the human condition by bringing the galaxy’s diversity to the characters. I loved the explorations of faith and religion, as well as the link to faith-based conflict and the American fascination with war. My single contention with DS9 is how the Bajoran story was left unresolved: Instead of ending the series with Bajor finally being admitted to the Federation, the show ends with the resolution of the Dominion War, which was not part of the overall premise.

My least favorite series is Enterprise, mostly because of the chaotic mess that it was. In an added moment of truth, I have yet to sit down and watch the entire animated series.

My top films are The Voyage Home, The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, and Star Trek Beyond. My least favorites are The Final Frontier, Into Darkness, and Nemesis. Between those poles, the order shifts around substantially. The Motion Picture does the most amount of moving because it’s a beautiful picture and among the most Trek of the franchise, but it’s also very slow and deliberate. It is very much a Robert Wise film.

My favorite captain is Sisko because I see a lot of myself in him. He’s emotional and conflicted, but he’s also willing to go against the Starfleet bureaucracy to get things done. Picard and Janeway are close seconds.

My favorite characters are the Prime Universe Spock and Data, though the Kelvin Universe version of McCoy is rapidly climbing the ranks to join them. I admit that Spock and Data have suffered a bit in my eyes with their latter appearances. Without a doubt, my least favorite character is Voyager‘s Kes because of the sheer amount of untapped potential and wasted story in that character. She could have been so much more.

My favorite ships are the Defiant and the Enterprise-D.

I also have two favorite Star Trek podcasts. The first is Women at Warp, which is a podcast that explores the Trek universe from a woman’s point of view. It has helped me to see many aspects of the franchise from a different point of view, and they are always respectful and thoughtful with their analyses. The second is Mission Log, which is an excellent episode-by-episode review of the franchise with some additional supplemental material from the Roddenberry archive. One of my favorite elements of this show is producer Rod Roddenberry’s journey as he comes to terms with his father’s legacy.

 

I am very excited for the future of the franchise, including the greenlit fourth Kelvin Universe film, and I am happy to see the return of Trek to television with the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery. The future is bright, and it has the potential to inspire future generations as it helped inspire me.

My deepest gratitude goes out to the casts and crews, authors and artists, game studios, and my friends and family for keeping this ship flying for fifty years. May she continue to boldly go for many more.

 

startrek50th

 

Best Day of Television

A meme has been making the rounds on Facebook about getting children into nature, claiming that kids “don’t remember their best day of television.” Thankfully, many of the people in my geeky circles have torn it apart with their best life-changing television memories.

Photo originally posted by the Children & Nature Network page on Facebook
Photo originally posted by the
Children & Nature Network Facebook page

 

Mine was May 23, 1994. The episode was “All Good Things…”, the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was the first time I had ever seen a television show do what is now considered a proper wrap-up of story lines from the series, and it still ranks up there with “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen” from M*A*S*H as one of my favorites farewells in television history.

While the Children & Nature Network has a point in unplugging kids and getting them into the world around them – I spent a great deal of time in nature and away from tech in my youth over many years working on my Eagle Scout award and as a volunteer Trail Patrol member at Antelope Island State Park – this meme easily glosses over the effect that good television has on people. Good stories, regardless of medium, transport your imagination away from the burdens of reality and allow you to dream and hope, and fosters creativity.

Yes, even kids can understand the burdens of the real world and create imaginative wonders to solve them. Anecdotally, I know a successful filmmaker and writer who escaped abuse at home through the wonders of Star Wars. A more concrete example is the duo of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the high school teens who created Superman to battle the social injustices of the 1930s.

My love of speculative fiction stems from being introduced to Star Trek and Lost in Space by my father, and the plethora of action, adventure, and science fiction that dominated the 1980s television landscape. My imagination is still fueled by those memories to this day.

In the end, kids will remember their best days so long as those days are spent seeking their bliss. The trick is finding out what fuels their passions while guiding them into the world at large. All things in moderation.

 

Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015)

It’s difficult to fathom right now, but a legend is truly gone.

Leonard Nimoy, icon of the stage and screen, has died at the age of 83.

Similar to most fans of his work, I knew him best as the stoic Mr. Spock in the Star Trek franchise. In that role, Nimoy portrayed a half-human, half-Vulcan science officer who was (supposedly) devoid of emotions and driven purely by logic. Ironically, he was the lens through which the show could analyze the human condition. His character acted in concert and counterbalance with McCoy’s emotion and Kirk’s authority, and became an Aristotelian trifecta by embodying logos, punctuated by pathos and the ethos of expertise and (later) command. Spock was perhaps the most well-rounded and defined character in the franchise.

Mr. Spock helped me in my youth as a role model for my awkwardness and gracelessness in social situations. Spock was an outsider among the Enterprise crew, but was well-respected for being an expert in his field and was also a valued friend. He was my favorite original crew member.

Of course, Mr. Nimoy was more than Spock. Beyond Star Trek, he was an accomplished actor, both on screen and stage as well as off screen with his fantastic and easily recognizable voice. He also was a director, producer, writer, singer, poet, and photographer.

I had the chance to see him on a panel at Dragon*Con, and his candor and humor was admirable. He sparred quite well with William Shatner on that stage, and his passion for life was palpable.

He was a quick wit, a true artist, and a kind soul.

It’s easy to say that he will be missed. It’s hard to quantify just how much.

 

Spock Chair

Darth Maul and the Hollowness of Death

Entertainment Weekly recently posted an exclusive video that announced the return of Darth Maul to the Star Wars universe.  For those who either missed or refused to watch the prequels, Maul was a Sith Lord—the same kind of baddie as Darth Vader—who used a double-bladed lightsaber.  His first on-screen appearance was in The Phantom Menace in 1999.

In that film, a three-way lightsaber duel ended with Qui-Gon Jinn impaled through the chest and Darth Maul toppling into a deep shaft, deftly cleft in twain by the blade of Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Last January, viewers of the cartoon series Star Wars: The Clone Wars were introduced to Maul’s brother Savage Oppress (pronounced in typical Star Wars ­style as sah-VAHJ OH-press), who was a proposed apprentice to help Count Dooku overthrow his master and take control of the Dark Side of the Force.  At the end of that trilogy of episodes, viewers were told that Darth Maul was out there in the incredibly vague somewhere in the galaxy, and Oppress had to go find him.

So, apparently this means that Darth Maul does indeed live and, by some miracle, survived being cut in half by a lightsaber and falling several stories.  Insert exasperated sigh here.

Supervising director Dave Filoni told Entertainment Weekly that it makes sense in terms of Star Wars lore:

Fans will note that there is precedent for this kind of resurrection. “The Dark Side of the Force is the pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural,” Darth Sidious says in Revenge of the Sith. Sidious and his master found a way to use the Force to cheat death—that’s how he was able to keep Vader alive after that little swan dive into a lava field. Couldn’t Maul have picked up on some of that too? Says Filoni, “He’s suffered through a lot to keep himself alive and implemented the training of his master to do so.”

There’s also significant financial interest for Lucasfilm in this move.  The episode(s) pertaining to Darth Maul will be aired in early 2012, and, by a cosmic coincidence I’m sure, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3-D is premiering February 10, 2012.  It goes without saying that I’m annoyed by publicity stunts written into entertainment to drive interest in a related property.  Anyone else remember the martial arts episode of Star Trek: Voyager called “Tsunkatse”?  WWE Wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a guest star, and both WWE and Voyager were on UPN.

This entire mess—and yes, I’m calling it a mess—brings Star Wars into the realm of pointless character resurrections to drive sales.  It also revives the eternal frustrations I have with Star Wars fandom.  Since Maul was by far one of the coolest and most bad-ass characters in the prequel trilogy, the news that he would return to the franchise was understandably received with fan praise.  At the same time, others started to look at how this affects the overall quality of the franchise and aired their opinions.  In response to critical fans, some blogs, including Star Wars Underworld, questioned the “fandom” of people with differing opinions.  While I appreciate a discussion on how they plan to resurrect a character and do it well, it’s certainly not the first time that the Star Wars social media sphere has played the card of questioning how someone can be a fan of something while being critical: the hosts of The ForceCast did it numerous times before I stopped listening to the podcast back in May.

While other subsets of science-fiction and fantasy fandom can somewhat easily accept both positive and negative criticism toward the franchise of their choice, some Star Wars fans tend to follow the line of reasoning that if “you’re not with with us, you’re against us.”  It’s all fun and games until you disagree with Uncle George and refuse to drink the blue milk, and I’ve already seen backlash from refusing to buy the Star Wars Blu-Rays and my decision not to support the 3-D re-releases.  Having intelligent discussions about the positives and negatives of a franchise is one thing, but I cannot support attacking each other for having differing opinions.

The bigger problem I have with this is an issue that has plagued comic book franchises for decades, and that is in the pointless death and resurrection of characters.  In real life, religious beliefs aside, death is pretty permanent.  In storytelling, death is a result of failure, the completion of a heroic journey, or the motivation to start that journey.  In a smaller subset, that death results in a significant change of character dynamics—such as regenerations in Doctor Who, or the evolution of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings or Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars—but those deaths still carry the impact of the end of a journey and how it affects the characters around them.

Simply put, to reverse a death negates that impact and cheapens the victory for the winners.

In The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul’s death marked two important character changes:  First, it displayed Obi-Wan Kenobi’s maturity and readiness to be promoted from apprentice to Jedi Knight; second, it marked the beginnings of Anakin’s destined path.  The death of Darth Maul was a very important turning point for the Jedi themselves, as they discover that the Sith had indeed returned.

While I look forward to finding out how Filoni and company accomplish this feat, I am very skeptical about the Star Wars franchise as a whole at this point.  If Filoni proves me wrong and does this well, I will be quite amazed.  On the other hand, if this turns into yet another cheap comic book return—Superman wasn’t dead, after all, he was just resting—to sell tickets to yet another release of the Star Wars movies, then I’m done with The Clone Wars.  I have supported the show since it was announced, but for me, it would be that damaging, and since George Lucas has final approval on the show, the blame would lie solely with him.

Come 2012, we shall see.