Friday, April 3, 2020

The Women of the Copper Country (a book review post)

As I've mentioned many, many times before, Mary Doria Russell is one of my favorite authors. I've read every book she's written and am fully invested in reading anything she publishes. In fact, her book, The Sparrow, is one of the three books I think everyone should read. And you should read it. Make it next on your list. Seriously.
Just be ready to cry.

All of that said, I had a really difficult time with this book, and I'm not really sure why. Well, as with most things, it was probably a multitude of reasons, the primary being that, when I first started it, I wasn't really having much time to read, so I was reading something like two to three pages every three or four days. That can make it really difficult to find your place in a book, but there wasn't really anything there driving me to get back into it, either.

Maybe it's that it resonates so much with things going on today, which may or may not have to do with why she chose to write this book at this particular time. You can look up a synopsis but, in brief, it's about a labor strike at a copper mine in the early 1900s. As with all of Russell's historical fiction, the book is extensively researched and as close to fact as you can expect to get in a work of fiction. She even tells you where she bent the facts to fit into a novel structure so that you can avoid presenting the novel as literal truth.

Being about a labor strike, there's not much positive going on in the book for the protagonist and her friends, especially in the time period that this happened. At the time, labor unions had no legal protections and, well, all sorts of stuff that I don't want to spend time writing about. It's all history, and you can look it up. At any rate, it resonates very strongly with our current political climate, one in which labor unions have the least power that they've had in almost a century and workers are constantly exploited. In fact, my wife was listening to something from a law firm just this morning where the lawyer was talking about how they hire virtual workers in other countries because they only have to pay them about a third as much and don't have to pay for health care and all sorts of other things for employees they have in other countries. It was very sad to me to listen to her go on and on about the benefits of exploiting workers simply because they don't live in the United States.

So, yeah, exploitation by the rich. The whole thing is depressing, and it really made much of the book difficult to get through. For me, anyway. My wife had much less of a problem with the book.

It does pick up... hmm... I don't know, somewhere past the halfway mark. Not that it gets better for the characters, but the pace of the book picks up, and it became a more compelling read.

I guess the real question, then, is whether I think you should the book, and my answer is yes. Absolutely yes.
Just because it's difficult doesn't mean you shouldn't read it. It's a very timely book and should be read. Just be prepared to struggle with it. And to struggle with the ending. I can't promise any good times from this one.
But, you know, maybe it will inspire some action.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Clone Wars -- "A Distant Echo" (Ep. 7.02)

-- The search for truth begins with belief.

As we discovered last episode, Rex believes that Echo is still alive. He believes that the Separatists have been using him to predict the clone's battle tactics. No one really believes him. But the clones of the Bad Batch don't really care one way or the other as long as they're going to get to take out some clankers. Yes, all of this means a rescue mission.

Well, okay, it's only a rescue mission to Rex. Everyone else is just following the signal from last episode back to its origin point so that they can figure out how it is the Separatists are so accurately predicting their moves.

There are some interesting new droids introduced in this episode, but I don't know what they're called. Kind of weird and cool looking.

And... looking back at what I wrote about this episode when it was released in its incomplete form, they made several key changes to this episode. Here's what I wrote last time:
Padme is sexy nose art on the Bad Batch's spacecraft, and Anakin is not pleased. Ah, the amusing things this show throws in and just another reason I'm still sad it ended.

Rex believes Echo is still alive and mounts a covert operation to rescue him, so covert even the Jedi Council doesn't know about it... because, well, they said "no" to the idea of the mission in the first place. And, of course, if there's something going on that the Council has said no to, it's a safe bet to assume that Anakin's involved, which he is. It's also a safe bet to assume that Obi-Wan knows about it but is standing the side. I just realized I don't know what I think about that.

Basically, Obi-Wan, by repeatedly allowing Anakin to disobey the Jedi Council without consequences, has completely undermined the authority of the Council, at least in regards to Anakin. Maybe it's no wonder things turned out the way they did?

But I digress...

Though there's not much left to say about the episode other than that it looks as if it was introducing a creepy new type of battle droid. It's too bad those didn't make it into a final version.

Oh, and Rex gets into it with one of the members of the Bad Batch.

Good stuff.

"Hope nobody's scared of heights."
"Well, I'm not scared of nuthin'. I just... When I'm up real high, I got a problem with gravity."
They took out the part with Padme as nose art. That makes me kind of sad. It was an amusing gag that revealed a bit more of the wider universe and reinforced some more of Anakin's lack of control over his emotions.

They also took out the explicit "no" from the Jedi council. At least, I think they did. I'm assuming, based on what I wrote, there was an explicit "no" attached to this, but I don't really remember. This time around, though, any "no" was only implied. Obi-Wan never actually tells Anakin the answer because Anakin sort of bulldozes over what Obi-Wan is trying to say and takes off with Rex to go on the mission.

But we do find out this time around that Obi-Wan knows that Anakin has been talking to Padme on the sly.

Mostly, I feel like they took out some of the nuance this episode originally held, which is really too bad, and it makes me wonder what other kinds of things like this never made it into other final episodes. I like nuance.
Maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Clone Wars -- "The Bad Batch" (Ep. 7.01)

-- Embrace others for their differences, for that makes you whole.

Despite being called The Clone Wars, the series doesn't much deal with the clones. Sure, they are in most of the episodes, but the clones are generally supporting characters for the Jedi, especially Anakin and Obi-Wan. Don't get me wrong, this is not something that I mind. The relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan is central to, basically, all of Star Wars, and I have enjoyed immensely the more detailed exploration of that relationship. However, the occasional episodes that focus specifically on the clones, in which the Jedi are mostly absent, are also nice, and this is one of the best of those episodes.

"The Bad Batch" introduces us to four new clones: Hunter, Wrecker, Crosshair, and Tech; clones which are not quite "right." As we saw somewhat early on in Clone Wars, the clones sometimes suffer mutations. Generally speaking, those clones are kept around in menial position, like janitor, or scrapped completely; however, there are sometimes "positive mutations" which makes those clones valuable assets, thus the Bad Batch.

I'm going to say that I enjoyed these four much more this time than when I watched this episode in its unfinished form. At the time, I felt like this was dangerously close to being nothing more than an X-Men knockoff, a way of adding some variety to the very static clones, but I think, now, that it's a little more than that. Not to mention that it allows them to tell this story about the clones without the need of including any Jedi in it. On the surface, there's this idea of accepting those who are different in some way, but I think the actual thrust here is being accepting of those around us whom we deem "normal." Or, maybe, that's just me, but I know I have my issues in dealing with Regs, so that's what struck me about this episode this time around.

And, now, my thoughts back when I watched it the first time, more than two years ago:
It's been a while since we've had Cody and Rex together in an episode. Thinking back on it, it seems that it's been that Cody has been missing for a while. Or not mentioned. Rex pops up here and there, but I can't remember the last episode with Commander Cody. Sure, yeah, I could go look it up, but it's not that big a deal, just an idle curiosity now that they're teamed together again.

Against our old pal Admiral Trench... who just keeps coming back. He's worse than Grievous.

They're joined by a squad of defective clones, Clone Force 99. If you remember way back to season three, you might remember clone 99, for whom the squad is named. These are clones who didn't turn out quite right but who have beneficial, let's say, mutations. Sort of like the X-Men of clones. Basically, they have a special mission, and they need a group that is a bit... unconventional. You can't get more unconventional than Clone Force 99.

Of course, things go to hell almost immediately.

And then we have an echo of an old character long thought dead...

That's all I'm going to give you. The hint should be enough.

"It's not that they win, it's how they win that worries me."

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Clone Wars Season Seven: Some Thoughts

The Clone Wars has been one of the finest animated TV shows ever created. Not because it's Star Wars but because it actually deals with some of the difficult questions in life, usually without flinching, and in a way that kids can usually understand. It's a very adult show made with the knowledge that kids would be watching it. It didn't "dumb down" for them, but they did make it to be accessible to them. It didn't restrict itself to being episodic, unlike Rebels, which held to that formula steadfastly.

Look, I'm not saying that Clone Wars is, like, Animaniacs or anything, but I do actually find myself wanting to go back to Clone Wars more often that I want to sit down and watch a bunch of Animaniacs episodes.

I've already talked before about what happened to Clone Wars and the final half season, season six. Also, I watched and reviewed the unfinished episodes provided on back when they were released on there. Now that Disney+ is available, they've gone back and finished the animation on those episodes and added a few more to round out this "final" season of the show. I say "final" because I'm really hoping that if it does well enough, Disney will decide to continue the series.

Or maybe they don't need to? I haven't watched Resistance yet, so I don't know if it's a successor to Clone Wars or Rebels, though, looking at the animation, I'm going to guess Rebels.

What I'm saying here is that I want a Star Wars show that tackles difficult topics, tells meaningful stories, and remains fun to watch. So far, only Clone Wars has accomplished that. Maybe The Mandalorian will rise to it, but I'm kind of doubting it. It's going to be a fun romp, but I don't think it's going to be a show that embraces moral dilemmas beyond the basic conflict of the bounty hunter turned protector.

All of which is to say that I'm excited to get back into Clone Wars for this final season.
And, just to note, with the episodes that I've reviewed in their unfinished formats, I'll provide those reviews along with any new thoughts I have.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Rebels: "Family Reunion -- and Farewell" (Ep. 15&16)

-- "You chose to be a Jedi."

I'm going to close out the last two episodes of the series in one post. In part, because it's one two part story but, also, just because I feel like it. Not that I would do it this way if these were two separate episodes, but they aren't, and I feel like wrapping this up by watching both episodes in one sitting without pausing in between to write up part one before going on to part two. So there you go.

Yeah, so I'm glad I did it that way. There was no real break between episodes.

And, well, it wasn't really the ending I expected.
Not that I had any real expectation, but it certainly went in a direction I hadn't contemplated.

I guess here's the problem:
Rebels created some very compelling characters that couldn't be left in limbo during the time frame of the original trilogy. Rogue One dealt with that issue by killing all of the characters it created, appropriately so, but I can understand not wanting to just erase all of the characters from Rebels, especially after already killing off Kanan.

But, then, what do you do with all of them?
Well, actually, some of them you do kill.
And the rest?
You have to give them a reason to not be around for the events of the original trilogy.
Which explains the death of Kanan.
And I suppose that's all I can really say.
Except, hey, oh, exciting news! It was recently announced that Ahsoka will be back for season two of The Mandalorian. I'm super stoked about that.
Otherwise, you just need to watch the final story arc of Rebels. I'm sure some or all of these characters will be back in some way or another, though. Actually, I know that Hera has had some further development in the comics and stuff, which I'm vaguely curious about, though I doubt I'll pick any of that. Gotta choose your poison and all of that.
Anyway... Good wrap up to the series. Now I'm eager to get to the newly completed and released final season of The Clone Wars.

"Fine, I'll do it, just call off your dog."

"In my experience, when it comes to Jedi, the worse the plan, the better the result."

"I serve the Empire until the end."
"So not much longer then."

"And remember, the force will be with you... always."