Friday, April 11, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Theology of Battlestar Galactica

As I've mentioned before, I'm also a fan of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, in no small part because of the intelligent way it deals with politics and religion. I've previously reviewed The International Relations of Battlestar Galactica, about the politics of the show. Here is a review of a book that deals with religious aspects of the show, Kevin J. Westmore's The Theology of Battlestar Galactica.

As a fan of Battlestar Galactica, I already knew that the show dealt with complex issues of religion in faith. However, I hadn't realized how sophisticated its treatment of religion really is until reading about it from a bona fide expert on the subject.

Friday, March 14, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Yoda arc (addendum)

That is why you fail, Yoda
I realize that I was quite tough in my review of the Yoda arc yesterday. I felt my questions were justified given the high standards set by the The Clone Wars. That said, I feel like the Yoda arc is an overly complicated attempt to explain 1) the differences between Yoda's in the Prequel Trilogy or the Original Trilogy, and 2) the phenomenon of Force Ghosts. This is a noble goal, I think it only fair to explain how I would have approached these issues. After all, it's easy to be critical but harder to be constructive.

One of the most important principles in science is Occam's Razor, the strategy that scientists should choose the simplest explanation that best fits the available evidence. I also think this principle applies to storytelling. Simpler explanations tend to work better.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Yoda arc (Season 6, Episodes 10-13)

Yoda, in touch with nature
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuing. With that said, on to the Yoda arc...

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I know many fans are already calling the Yoda arc - "The Lost One", "Voices", "Destiny", and "Sacrifice" (Season 6; Episodes 10-13) - one of the most important stories of The Clone Wars. For me, it seems a case of style over substance. I get the sense that The Clone Wars team wanted us to believe that these episodes explained key aspects of Yoda's character and the Force, but there were just too many plot holes and questionable choices for me to become fully invested. However, ignoring the story, the episode features some interesting abstract imagery and symbolism, as well as some innovative ways to allow viewers to see fan-favorite characters one last time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Disappeared I & II (Season 6, Episodes 8-9)

Jar Jar Binks, superhero?
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuing. With that said, on to the Disappeared arc...

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The Disappeared arc ("The Disappeared" Part I & Part II) does not have a complex plot or character developments. It features Jar Jar Binks, which is ordinarily enough to doom it from the start. However, "The Disappeared" is a fun ride in the style of Indiana Jones. The arc uses Jar Jar well and even gives him some nice character moments. Visually, this episode is a treat and highlights how far animation techniques have progressed in this show. Ironically, I found myself enjoying this pair of episodes more than any other arc in Season 6.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Clovis arc (Season 6, Episodes 5-7), Part II

The most interesting politician in Star Wars
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Clovis arc...

*   *   *   *   *

The Clone Wars has had a mixed history with telling stories about politics, but the Clovis arc ("An Old Friend", "Rise of Clovis", and "Crisis at the Heart"; Season 6, Episodes 5-7) finally gets it right. While stories about intergalactic politics will never be the most popular amongst fans, the political decisions in this arc actually seem to matter. More importantly, this arc keeps the focus where it should be: on the characters, particularly Clovis. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé get some much needed development. We also get a few fun chase scenes with everybody's tenth-favorite bounty hunter, Embo.

I split the review into two parts. Part I was posted yesterday; Part II is below...

Monday, March 10, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Clovis arc (Season 6, Episodes 5-7), Part I

The most interesting politician in Star Wars
In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Clovis arc...


*   *   *   *   *

The Clone Wars has had a mixed history with telling stories about politics, but the Clovis arc ("An Old Friend", "Rise of Clovis", and "Crisis at the Heart"; Season 6, Episodes 5-7) finally gets it right. While stories about intergalactic politics will never be the most popular amongst fans, the political decisions in this arc actually seem to matter. More importantly, this arc keeps the focus where it should be: on the characters, particularly Clovis. The relationship between Anakin and Padmé get some much needed development. We also get a few fun chase scenes with everybody's tenth-favorite bounty hunter, Embo.

I split the review into two parts. Part I is below; Part II will be posted tomorrow...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Order 66 arc (Season 6, addendum)

A serial killer or zombie?
Since posting my review, I've tried to think about how to fix the problems in The Clone Wars Season 6's Order 66 arc with as little editing as possible. I hit upon the unlikeliest source of inspiration: Star Trek: Voyager. During the second season episode "The Meld" (see here for an excellent review of the episode), a crewmember on board the starship Voyager killed a fellow crewmember and soon reluctantly admitted his guilt. He explaining his motivations - or lack thereof - he said that he feels compelled to murder and cannot resist the urge, even though he knows he gets no long term satisfaction out of it. So, in one sense, he was programmed due to his psychology and biology, but was still forced to wrestle with the moral consequences of his actions.

If Order 66 had to be a biological program, I'd at least have liked something more along those lines. Make the Clone Troopers conscious of their actions but also irresistibly compelled to kill Jedi. That way Fives' struggle would still have meaning because the clones could then try to resist Order 66, even if most of them would have failed. Morally they'd still be interesting characters. Because of this, the execution of Order 66 would still have its tragic meaning because it would still be a betrayal. However, given the clones' programming, we'd also still be permitted to feel some sympathy for the clones' plight even as we abhor their actions.

I suspect producer Dave Filoni and scriptwriter Katie Lucas decided on the "zombie" route because it does absolve the clones of responsibility. The Clone Wars is a kids' show and there are many kids who buy Clone Trooper costumes, toys, etc. For some kids, the Clone Troopers are the heroes of the story, not the villains. It probably would have been quite traumatic if these kids realized they were idolizing the moral equivalent of the Wehrmacht. In terms of responsibility to their primary audience, The Clone Wars team probably made the right call, even if it makes for poorer art.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

CLONE WARS REVIEW: Order 66 arc (Season 6, Episodes 1-4)

In honor of the release of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on Netflix, I've decided to review Season 6, the previously unreleased "Lost Missions." Overall, this is some of the best we've ever seen in the series. Even when I had complaints about plot elements, the characterization is rich and animation gorgeous. These reviews are meant more to think critically about the plot and character elements in the episodes, so there are spoilers - I strongly recommend readers watch each episode before continuingWith that said, on to the Order 66 arc...


*   *   *   *   *

The Order 66 arc (Season 6, Episodes 1-4) builds upon what made the Clone Troopers such fascinating characters in the series, but unfortunately it also undermines that in an important way. As suggested by the title, this arc is intended to serve as an explanation for Order 66, for why the Clone Troopers suddenly turned on their Jedi compatriots after receiving an order from Emperor Palpatine. In short, the clones were programmed with a sort of tumor. As an explanation, I find it extremely unsatisfying. However, the second half of the arc focuses on Clone Trooper Fives and his reaction to the discovery. It's a great character moment and raises some great questions about the nature of individuality amongst the clones.

Monday, March 3, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Honor Among Thieves

 I've had the privilege of receiving advance reading copies of several upcoming Star Wars novels and permission to share my thoughts with readers. I will be posting exclusive reviews on Poli-Sci Jedi. Feel free to share, but if you do so please cite Poli-Sci Jedi as the source.

This review is about Star Wars: Honor Among Thieves (Empire and Rebellion), due to be released on March 4. The book has been marketed as an adventure starring Han Solo, our favorite Star Wars scoundrel. Enjoy!


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"Honor Among Thieves" is the second in DelRey's "Empire & Rebellion" Star Wars novels set in the Original Trilogy era, this time focusing on Han Solo. This is also the first Star Wars novel from S.A. Corey. Here are my thoughts:

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Maul: Lockdown

I've had the privilege of receiving advance reading copies of several upcoming Star Wars novels and permission to share my thoughts with readers. I will be posting exclusive reviews on Poli-Sci Jedi. Feel free to share, but if you do so please cite Poli-Sci Jedi as the source.

This review is about Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown, due to be released on January 28. The book has been marketed as an adventure starring Maul and an interquel to Darth Plagueis. Enjoy!


Maul: Lockdown was a book I anticipated with a mix of hope and dread. Maul is one of my favorite Prequel characters and I was also excited to see Darth Plagueis again. However, Joe Schreiber is best known to Star Wars fans for his Deathtrooper horror novels, which might suggest that the book would be a shallow bloodfest. While Maul: Lockdown isn’t a perfect Star Wars novel, I was relieved to find that it succeeds more often than it fails.

Friday, January 10, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Elysium


Another non-Star Wars movie, Elysium tries very hard to provide social commentary about immigration and inequality, but in the end I don't think it succeeds even as well as Star Wars at explaining larger Truths about humanity and politics.

Director Neill Blomkamp made gained international fame with the underground hit District 9, which combined special effects and strong acting with a nuanced social commentary about interracial relations in Blomkamp's native South Africa. Elysium continues many of the same themes but also suggests that Blomkamp might be adopting the worst tendencies of Hollywood.

As a standalone science fiction movie, Elysium is pretty decent. It's a fast sci-fi thriller about a man (Matt Damon) who seeks a better life on an orbiting station called Elysium. Earth has fallen into dire straights while the wealthy seek refuge in Elysium. There are some pretty bold plot twists and the movie manages to be an entertaining ride. However, the movie promised to be more than just another sci-fi action movie. Unfortunately, it proves to be less compelling as social commentary.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Starship Troopers

On a superficial level, Starship Troopers is a book about humans fighting alien bugs. Heinlein depicts a surprisingly convincing depiction of an interstellar war with futuristic technology. As an action/adventure story, the book works quite very well.

However, Heinlein also uses the novel to explore the relationship between citizens and government. The book is a surprisingly deep exploration of what it means to be a citizen in a political community. Starship Troopers is set on an Earth with a quasi-democratic government. Only individuals who have served in the military are permitted to vote and participate in governance. The rest of the populace, "civilians," are allowed to engage in commerce and lead productive lives, but are notably second-class citizens.

The plot follows Juan "Johnny" Rico, a young man from a wealthy civilian family who joins the Mobile Infantry. The infantry uses advanced combat spacesuits that also doubles as a portable arsenal (including tactical nukes). Johnny goes through basic training. Eventually, he is thrust into a real war when a race of bugs begins attacking Earth cities.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Tears in Rain

I don't normally post non-Star Wars book reviews, but I found Rosa Montero's Tears in Rain to be such an unexpected delight that I thought I'd post my review here as well. It's a spiritual successor to the movie Blade Runner, in which a replicant detective must investigate a vast conspiracy. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ethnicity and Xenophobia in Star Wars

An alien in the Empire?
I'd been planning on writing a post about ethnicity and Xenophobia in Star Wars for a while, but recent news made this a higher priority for me. In particular, ForceCast Episode #276 had an interesting discussion of xenophobia in the Empire. The discussion was sparked by the picture on the right, which shows an Imperial Inquisitor from the upcoming Star Wars: Rebels animated series.

What's wrong with this photo? Well, the Inquisitor is an alien, a Pau'an to be precise. However, the Empire as depicted in the Original Trilogy clearly had strains of xenophobia. Imperial ships were only staffed with human crews. White, male humans. Hearkening back to my posts on Images of Power, the Empire was clearly not a friendly place for aliens.