The Problem with “The Mandalorian”

Not a Star Wars Fan from the Beginning

I’m not a fan of the Star Wars movies. The original 1977 Star Wars (now known as Stars Wars: Episode 4 “A New Hope”) was a disappointment for me. Don’t get me wrong – it was a milestone in moviemaking history. The complexity of the film, the special effects, the marketing, Lucas’ separation from the Directors’ Guild, all amazing achievements.

However, as a teen brought up on Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, I was expecting something more cerebral. Something that had an important message to convey. Instead, even at the age of 14, I recognized that what I got was the King Arthur legend, in outer space.

I had been mystified at the success of the film and the franchise for decades.

The film had two sequels that were equally disappointing. Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back had some serious problems. Essentially, it was Luke in training, followed by Leia and Han traveling to the cloud city. Then in the last quarter of the film the reveal that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and Han Solo was captured by a bounty hunter. The ending was a let down as there was no goal or conclusion to the film, it was just a set up for the next one.

Then came Star Wars Episode 6: The Return of the Jedi. This was a clear market grab aimed at children with the introduction of the Ewok. The destruction of a second Death Star was a lazy callback to SW:4.

Finally, the three prequel films were an embarrassment to fans and movie professionals alike. Lucas spent three films trying to explain everything in the Star Wars universe and failed miserably.

However, what many don’t realize is that Lucas’ prequel films weren’t really about Star Wars – they were about advancing the state of the art in filmmaking. These were the first films to be fully digitally produced. Lucas essentially invented digital filmmaking – and reinvented the art of making a movie.

Back to Basics: Star Wars: Episode 4: A New Hope

After I entered the world of novel writing, I learned what makes a great story. And to its credit, SW:4 was very much on the mark. Lucas had studied at the feet of legendary mythologist Joseph Campbell. He created a set of relationships between a hero, a scoundrel, a princess, and a mentor/wizard – as well as several secondary characters. I finally understood the appeal of Star Wars.

I realized that great stories are not about world (or universe) building – but about relationship building. While creating a rich universe enhances the story, universe building alone is boring. People – humans – go to the movies, watch television, and read novels to live vicariously through the characters in the story. And to create great characters, you need to create great relationships.

SW:4 gets this right. We meet a young man with hopes, dreams, and aspirations. He’s led into a strange and exciting new world by a mentor. He meets friends and allies. He overcomes his fear and achieves a great goal. This is the basis for all storytelling, and though I didn’t get the morality play I was looking for, Star Wars was a great story and is a template for other great stories.

The Disney / JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Wars franchise has left a lot to be desired. Episodes 7, 8, and 9 were not a coherent set of films aiming for a logical conclusion to the franchise. Instead, they were a mismanaged set of films that milked the fanbase while offering no coherent storyline. They checked off a number of well-intentioned social goals, but fell into the Disney “Princess” pantheon – perfect for marketing.

The Problem with the Mandalorian

There’s a lot to praise about The Mandalorian. Jon Favreau is at the helm of this new branch of the Star Wars family tree. He’s successfully created a universe consistent with Star Wars canon, and infused high production values and CGI while maintaining the look and feel of the Star Wars films.

But the problem with the series is that it feels very much like “monster of the week.” Each episode, or “chapter” shows our hero fighting a new creature. We meet new characters, but we don’t get much interaction between them so that true relationships are built.

Lead actor Pedro Pascal is getting accolades for his performances – but it’s hard to understand why. His face is always covered by a helmet – which apparently a true Mandalorian never removes. Aside from a few lines of dialog, we never really get any idea of who “Mando” truly is. If you cannot see a character’s face, it’s hard to know who he really is. Even his body language is shunted by a clumsy suit of armor.

Favreau picks up the action of the Star Wars universe soon after the demise of the Empire in SW:6. The Rebel Alliance (as the New Republic) has reestablished dominance, but not necessarily control, of the galaxy. There’s a lot of action in this series. The lightsaber fights, running gun battles, space battles, all look great. But all these episodes have the feel of old westerns of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Unlike westerns of days gone by, Favreau has created an overarching goal which ties the episodes together: that of saving the “Baby Yoda” character. (Many friends have compared the series to “Lone Wolf and Cub.”)

There is also a ton of fan service in this show. Much of the action takes place on Tatooine – Luke Skywalker’s home planet. And one of the characters is among the few survivors of poor Alderaan – Princess Leia’s home world. For me the Easter Eggs distract from the main story.

And let’s talk about the main story. The Mandalorian goes from planet to planet looking for the Jedi who can train the child. The Mandalorian also seems to be looking for more of his kind. In fact, it seems that EVERYONE in this galaxy is the last of their kind and is seeking to be reunited with whatever remnants of their kind there is.

The loyalties and motivations of nearly every character are variable and unexplained. The Mandalorian takes on the task of delivering “the child” to a scientist – then changes his mind, steals the child, and commits to returning the child to the Jedi. Why he is so committed to this, despite the fact that his “code” requires him to stick to his bargains is not fully explained.

Other agreements also confound belief. A Marshall has Mandalorian armor which our Mando wants back. The Marshall promises to return the armor if Mando helps him kill a (Dune-like) spice worm. Much to my amazement, Mando agrees. Why Mando doesn’t simply kill the Marshall and take the armor is beyond me. Then, to double my amazement, the Marshall makes good on his promise and returns the armor after the worm is dead. This is just one clear example of the many fits of code-honor and loyalty that have no apparent reason – except to further the plot.

Conclusions

The Mandalorian is a slick production which is true to Star Wars canon and extends the universe. The single show runner Jon Favreau keeps the series consistent – both from episode to episode and true to the aesthetic of the original movies.

But the overarching plot line is slow to develop. The planet-hopping creates a sort of vagabond feel to the series reminiscent of the old “Kung Fu” TV show. The fact that the Mandalorian helps the wayward remnants of the Empire’s citizens adds to that feel (Episode 4 looked like a remake of The Magnificent Seven). Each episode appears to be an excuse for elaborate action and fight sequences.

In short, The Mandalorian is an exercise in world building, but not relationship building. We barely care about anyone in this show. Characters could easily die or be replaced and we’d never know the difference. Even Pedro Pascal is disposable as the Mandalorian since he’s enshrouded in armor and (almost) never reveals his face. Even the central relationship between Mando and the child is weak at best. At the end of the day, there’s hardly any reason to watch The Mandalorian – except for the action.

One saving grace is the series’ coherent story line. That, at least, is better than the Star Trek universe is doing. But that’s different review.

Shadow in the Cloud

Chloe Grace Moretz portrays Maude Garrett, a young woman in World War II who has a secret courier mission: she has a package that must be delivered aboard the B-17 bomber “The Fool’s Errand.” The men on board treat her dismissively and confine her to the below-belly gun while one of them promises to take care of the package.

No sooner are they in the air when Garrett notices a man-sized rodent stripping away parts of the plane. It’s a “gremlin” – a mythical creature known to plague flight crews. She attempts to shoot it down when a number of Japanese jets appear. She shoots one down and loses track of the Gremlin.


I’m a big fan of Moretz’s and have been following her career since I first saw her in “Kick-Ass.” She’s always played the sort of spunky under-girl. And she’s often quite athletic.

Here, she takes on a role that requires her to be in mid-frame, alone, for more than half the movie. The first half of the film shows Maretz’s Maude fighting three enemies: the misogynistic airmen on her ship, the Japanese airships, and the rodent-like gremlins which are taking her airship apart. She endures broken bones, humiliation, and losing her turret.

The film is less of a blockbuster and more of a show case for Moretz’s ample skills. There are plenty of plot holes in the script. But it gives Moretz the chance to exude glee, anger, disappointment, pain, determination, and a host of other emotions – all in the first half of the film where she is the only on-screen character. From the midpoint on, she is an action hero of the first order. And in the final scene, a highly protective mother.

To say that Maretz carries this film is an understatement. It’s all her. Like Brie Larson in “Room”, Maretz must hold the audience’s interest and attention the entire duration of the film. It’s no small feat and Moretz delivers in spades.

Moretz has caused significant ripples in the movie industry. She openly criticized the producers of one of her films for asking her to wear “chicken cutlets” and a push-up bra in a film – when she was only 16 years old. She refused, and speculation holds that she’s been blackballed ever since. This may well be true, as “Shadow in the Cloud” is quite a “B” movie, released out of Australia/New Zealand. Her roles since emerging as a young adult have been few, far between, and un-worthy of note.

While “Cloud” is not a big theatrical film, it is a major role for Moretz. She’s a true, rare talent. I’m hoping this film will expose her exceptional acting skills to other producers and directors who can appreciate her talents. As I said, I’ve watched her grow up on screen since 2010’s “Kick-Ass.” She is an unstoppable force. Given the opportunity, Moretz could rule Hollywood.

The King’s English in America

Is Spelling Important?

I think of Mom literally every time I use spell check. All through her life she was embarrassed by her spelling. She even suffered bullying and ridicule because of it. Until the day she died, she found it difficult to write a letter for fear that she’d humiliate herself through a misspelling.

King James I commissioned the King James Version of the Bible in 1611

Lately, I’ve realized how bad my spelling is and how lazy I’ve become thanks to computerized support. I think about how it would never have been a problem for my mother if she had a computer to correct her spelling for her.

And I wonder how unimportant spelling must be if we have computers blithely correct our writing for us. If you can write a document with lousy spelling – then have a computer repair it – it is no longer is necessary to learn good spelling.

English as a meta-language

Allow me to extrapolate in a science-fiction-like way into the future. We’re all hammering away on keyboards using phonetic spelling, misspellings, non-grammar, and then the computer fixes it and sends it to someone else.

They then respond in their own phonetic misspelling way and have THEIR computer fix the spelling and sends a response. Can you see how spelling (and by extension) grammar become unimportant? In fact, only computers begin to speak this higher-level language using spelling and grammar that humans don’t. Formal spelling and grammar become a sort of meta-language.

The King’s English

This is not without precedent. In the 1600s the English court system required the use of the King’s English. This was a problem because uneducated commoners did not speak “proper” English and had to have barristers represent them. This is one reason the USA does not have a language requirement for citizens – because it would disenfranchise those with a lower level of education or immigrants.

We’re even seeing a repeat of that today. Modern legalese is so complicated that the average citizen not only cannot make sense of it – but needs a lawyer (barrister) to interpret for them. Additionally, legal documents that we agree to simply by using websites, software, or opening a package are so long and complex that nobody reads them (Terms of Service, etc). 

Are we already there?

And look at how we communicate online. Nobody worries about spelling or grammar in social media. It’s almost laughable when some pedant corrects a misspelling or grammar mistake. And for good reason – it just doesn’t matter. How elitist one must be to think they’re better than others because they are a great speller. How elitist is our print media since it prides itself on grammar and spelling when 90% of people don’t know or care about either.

The only places we seem to care about spelling and grammar are in publishing. If you’re publishing a resume, book, article, or some other, you’re expected to use proper English spelling and grammar – AKA The King’s English.

The Queen’s Gambit – Ep 1: Openings

SPOILERS AHEAD

My daughter Amber recommended The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) to me because she knows I loved the period piece “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and am a chess nut. Good call on her part. After watching Episode One “Openings” I thought I might write a series of reviews of the show discussing its use of story devices and comparing it to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

The Prologue

Episode one opens with Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) waking up, dressing while someone rustles in the bed, taking some pills, rushing from her hotel room, and bursting into a chess match for which she is late. A gaggle of reporters are taking flash photos of her as she shakes her opponent’s hand (an annoyed middle-aged white man) and apologizes profusely for being late. Then, as the chess clock ticks, we flashback to her childhood.

A lot happens in this opening. It establishes our hero as a chess celebrity, a drug abuser, somewhat promiscuous, and possibly under some sort of chess trial. This man is apparently important and she is very differential to him. It sets up a bunch of questions in our minds (who is this woman, who is this man, why is she taking pills, what is the nature of this chess match?) This is a teaser and leads us into the backstory of our hero. It might also be considered a proper prologue setting us up for the main story.

The Ordinary World

As our story begins, we meet young Beth (Isla Johnston) as a nine-year-old child at the scene of a car crash which kills her mother. She’s taken to an orphanage (they assume the father is previously dead) where she’s given a nice cot and meets the folks who will be taking care of her as well as some other orphans – one in particular is Jolene (Moses Ingram).

This is clearly a period piece as all the cars are 1940s style and the police uniform is from the same era. This shot is designed to set the stage for our hero’s Ordinary World.

Jolene is Beth’s first mentor. The mentor character is typically the one who helps the hero understand their new situation or Special World. Jolene explains that the pills she’s given will make her “feel good” and not to overuse them. Jolene also notices the effects of withdrawal when Beth stops taking the pills, and explains that as older children, they’re likely “lifers” at the orphanage. Jolene is not so much a mentor as an “expositioner.”

This is an interesting device since we’re actually being introduced to Beth’s Ordinary World by showing her walking into a new situation after having lost her mother (notice how often heroes are orphans – especially in Disney tales). We see this displacement often in storytelling – it creates a fish out of water effect. Mind you, this is not the Special World of the story – but just the baseline world our story is taking place in. By having Beth enter a new situation in the opening of the story, she needs Jolene to explain everything to her – and to the viewers as well. Soon, Beth will cross over into the actual Special World of competitive chess.

You might compare this to Karate Kid (1984) where young Daniel has just moved from New Jersey to California with his mother to start a new life. It’s not the Special World of the story – but allows us to get a lot of backstory because he’s the new kid in town. In Daniel’s case the Special World is that of competitive karate.

We also see a bit of foreshadowing in the form of the drugs the orphanage staff feed the children. All the children are given green pills (the same green pills we see in the opening scene of episode one).

Next, we’re treated to a flashback as Beth remembers her mother burning books and pictures after her father tries to convince mother Mary to come home with him. We see Beth clutch her mother’s bound dissertation on mathematics. Then, we see tear-streaked Mary looking in the car’s rear view mirror saying “I’m sorry” to this younger Beth.

This is classic backstory exposition. It implies mother Mary is a math genius and that she may have some emotional or mental health issues – possibly setting up the mystery of how the accident occurred. Both of these are foreshadowings of Beth’s drug abuse and genius-level chess abilities.

The Call to Adventure and the Refusal of the Call

Beth is given the task of cleaning the teacher’s erasers and goes to the basement to do so. There, she sees the janitor Mr. Shaibel playing chess alone. Beth has never seen chess and demands to be told what it is – Shaibel refuses and sends her away.

Here, the “call” is the chess board reaching out to Beth and capturing her interest. It’s also a “call” to the mentor. And in a twist to the classic monomyth, it is the mentor who refuses the call to adventure. He sends the hero away. And she must return to make the mentor take up the challenge to train her.

This also calls back to the “reluctant mentor” we see in Karate Kid. Mr. Miyagi is approached by Daniel to teach him karate, and Miyagi refuses. (When the teacher is ready, the student will come.) This is also Beth’s introduction to the Special World. Mr. Shaibel is her new mentor and he will guide her into the Special World of competitive chess.

The Meeting with the Mentor

That night, we see Beth wrestling with her thoughts and she takes some of the green pills she’s been palming. While in bed she imagines the chess board on the ceiling. The next day she returns to Shaibel’s basement and explains that she understood what she saw (this piece moves like this, that one like that. “You learned all that from watching me?”) and now the mentor is interested. Shaibel gruffly allows her to sit at the board and he begins playing her – but he always plays the white pieces. Eventually, he gives her his personal copy of “Modern Chess Openings” and allows her to alternate playing both black and white pieces.

Beth has become indoctrinated into competitive chess and Shaibel has recognized her genius. He accepts her as an apt pupil and comes to realize she is worthy of his mentorship. As mentors do, he is passing on his wisdom and gives her a personal gift that will allow her to traverse the Special World. Compare this to Obi Wan Kenobi’s gift of the lightsaber to Luke Skywalker and taking Luke on as a student of the Jedi way.

Crossing the First Threshold

Later, she is introduced to Shaibel’s friend – Mr. Ganz, the head of the chess team at the local high school. He challenges Beth and loses with Beth predicting “mate in three.” We also see Beth beat both men at simultaneous chess. Beth even leaves the table, calling out her final moves destroying Ganz without looking. Ganz arranges for Beth to play simultaneous chess against the boys on his chess team. She wins all the matches with ease. She relates to Shaibel how poorly the boys played and how surprised she was at how easily defeated they were.

Beth has crossed the first threshold – she’s met her first adversaries and conquered them. Now, she will have more trials and new oppositional forces.

We’re also seeing something terribly important, subtle, and necessary in this story – the education of the audience in chess terminology. In order for the viewer to understand how gifted Beth is, we must be told enough about the game so that we can appreciate it when Beth does well – or perhaps later when she fails.

We can see this in such movies as Top Gun (1986) – where Maverick evades and defeats his opponent by performing a maneuver that causes the enemy to fly past him. This is critical in the climax of the film where Maverick saves his buddy using the same technique. In both cases, it’s imperative that the audience have a basic understanding of the hero’s prowess so that we can appreciate it later. To do this, the storyteller must interweave education of the audience with the hero’s journey.

Note that one of the openings Shaibel teaches Beth is the titular Queen’s Gambit. I have no doubt we’ll see this mentioned again and it will likely be critical to the story’s climax (see Chekov’s Gun).

The Missing Inner Quality

In the final scene, Beth is watching a movie with her fellow orphans and sneaks away to steal a screwdriver from Shaibel’s toolbox. She unscrews the lock to the infirmary and takes a giant jar of the green tranquilizer pills. She gulps down a handful of them. As she turns to escape with the jar in her arms, her teachers and friends all find her standing on the chair caught red-handed. She succumbs to the overdose of pills muttering “Mom?” as she passes out and falls to the floor, dropping the jar which shatters and floods the room with the pills.

This scene does double-duty. It exposes Beth’s missing inner qualities – drug addiction and the loss of her mother – and provides a cliffhanger so we’ll tune in next week.

These missing inner qualities of Beth’s are the true essence of this story. Beth will have an outer journey as she becomes a chess master. But she will also have an inner journey as she overcomes her drug addiction and comes to grips with her tragic loss. Hero’s journeys are always two-pronged: the outer tangible goal and the missing inner quality. The hero may or may not achieve the outer goal, it really doesn’t matter. But for the audience to achieve catharsis, the inner missing quality must be resolved.

This is a classic cliffhanger. We will tune in next week to see how Beth survives this – we know she will since we saw her in the future during the prologue. I’ll be here next week to look at more structure and story of “The Queen’s Gambit.”

Star Trek:TOS – The Worst to Best Episodes

Overview

Screen Shot 2020-09-20 at 10.33.35 AMI wrote a little program that sorts episodes based on my opinion of each. Remember the old website “Hot or Not” – where you’d be shown the pictures of two people and asked which is hotter? The same idea here.

There are 79 episodes (78 if you consider the two-part “The Menagerie” as one) and the program asked me 400 questions to determine the order.

I broke them down into the four categories: Worst, Mediocre, Good, and Best. Let me know if you agree with my list.

The Worst

  1. Catspaw – The crew of the Enterprise encounter two aliens from another galaxy with magical-seeming powers
  2. Spocks Brain – an alien female beams aboard the Enterprise and after incapacitating the rest of the crew surgically removes Spocks brain. Captain Kirk and the crew have just hours to locate and restore it before Spocks body dies. The episode is widely regarded as the worst episode of the series.
  3. The Tholian Web – Captain Kirk is caught between dimensions while the crew of the Enterprise works to retrieve him. All the while the Tholians are weaving a destructive energy web around the Enterprise.
  4. Day of the Dove – an alien force drives the crew of the Enterprise into brutal conflict with the Klingons.
  5. That Which Survives – the crew of the Enterprise visit an abandoned planet guarded by a mysterious woman.
  6. The Omega Glory – Captain Kirk must find the cure to a deadly disease and put an end to another Starfleet captains cultural interference.”
  7. The Cloud Minders – Captain Kirk races against time to acquire plague-fighting minerals from a world suffering from a grievous social class disparity.
  8. A Taste of Armageddon – the crew of the Enterprise visits a planet engaged in a completely computer-simulated war with a neighboring planet but the casualties including the Enterprises crew are supposed to be real.
  9. The Alternative Factor – the crew of the USS Enterprise encounters a “reality jumping” madman. It is the first Star Trek episode to deal with a parallel universe.
  10. For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky – the crew of the Enterprise rush to stop an asteroid from colliding with a Federation world but discover the asteroid is actually an inhabited ship.
  11. Wink of an Eye – normally invisible time-accelerated aliens take over the Enterprise and attempt to abduct the crew for use as breeding stock.
  12. The Paradise Syndrome – an alien device on a primitive planet erases Captain Kirks memory and he begins a new life with the planets indigenous people modeled on Native Americans.”
  13. Whom Gods Destroy – Captain Kirk faces off with a deranged shape-shifting starship captain determined to control the universe.
  14. The Apple – the crew of the Enterprise visits a planet whose inhabitants live only to serve a machine.

The Mediocre

  1. Fridays Child – the crew of the Enterprise become entangled in a planets tribal power struggle. Adding to their difficulty is the presence of the Klingons and a woman (Julie Newmar) who does not want her unborn child.”
  2. Turnabout Intruder – a woman switches bodies with Captain Kirk and then tries to take over command of the Enterprise.
  3. The Lights of Zetar – strange incorporeal aliens threaten the Memory Alpha station and the Enterprise.
  4. And the Children Shall Lead – the crew of the Enterprise find children with great powers at their disposal.
  5. The Empath – while visiting a doomed planet the landing party is subjected to torturous experiments by powerful aliens.
  6. The Way to Eden – the Enterprise is hijacked by a hippie-like group obsessed with finding a mythical paradise.
  7. Elaan of Troyius – the Enterprise ferries a spoiled princess whose betrothal is hoped will bring peace to a star system at war.
  8. Wolf in the Fold – a series of horrific murders of women on a world where such things never happen points to Mr. Scott as the prime suspect.
  9. A Private Little War – the crew of the Enterprise discovers Klingon interference in the development of a formerly peaceful planet and joins them in what becomes an arms race.
  10. The Mark of Gideon – a race of aliens from an overpopulated planet abduct Captain Kirk to solve their problem.
  11. Where No Man Has Gone Before – after the Enterprise attempts to cross the Great Barrier at the edge of the galaxy two crew members develop powerful ESP abilities which threaten the safety of the crew.
  12. What Are Little Girls Made Of? – Nurse Chapel searches for her long lost fiancé and uncovers his secret plan to create sophisticated androids for galactic conquest.
  13. The Man Trap – the crew visit an outpost on planet M-113 to conduct routine medical exams on the residents only to be attacked by a shapeshifting alien who kills by extracting salt from the victims body.”
  14. Requiem for Methuselah – the crew of the Enterprise encounters an immortal human.
  15. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield – the Enterprise encounters two survivors of a war-torn planet each half black and half white each committed to destroying each other.
  16. The Galileo Seven – First Officer Spock leads a scientific team from the Enterprise aboard the shuttlecraft Galileo on an ill-fated mission facing tough decisions when the shuttle crashes on a planet populated by aggressive giants.
  17. The Immunity Syndrome – the crew of the Enterprise encounters an energy-draining space-dwelling organism.
  18. Is There in Truth No Beauty? – the Enterprise travels with an alien ambassador whose appearance induces madness.
  19. The Savage Curtain – aliens force Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock to join forces with beings who appear to be Abraham Lincoln and Surak to battle villains in a contest between good and evil.
  20. Platos Stepchildren – the crew of the Enterprise encounter an ageless and sadistic race of humanoids with the power of telekinesis.”
  21. By Any Other Name – beings from another galaxy commandeer the Enterprise in an attempt to return home.
  22. Bread and Circuses – Captain Kirk and his companions are forced to fight in gladiatorial games on a planet resembling the Roman Empire but possessing mid-20th century Earth technology.

The Good

  1. Arena – while pursuing a Gorn vessel for an apparently unprovoked attack on a Federation outpost Captain Kirk is forced by powerful entities to battle the opposing captain.
  2. Return to Tomorrow – telepathic aliens take control of Captain Kirk Dr. Ann Mulhall (Diana Muldaur) and First Officer Spocks bodies in order to construct android hosts.
  3. Obsession – Captain Kirk becomes obsessed with destroying a deadly cloud-like entity that killed a crew he was on in the past.
  4. Who Mourns for Adonais? – the crew of the Enterprise are held captive by an alien who claims to be the Greek god Apollo.
  5. The Squire of Gothos – the childish but powerful ruler of the planet Gothos captures the crew of the Enterprise for his own amusement.
  6. The Conscience of the King – Captain Kirk crosses paths with an actor suspected of having been a mass-murdering dictator many years before.
  7. I, Mudd – The crew of the Enterprise has a second encounter with the conman Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel) first seen in the Season One episode “Mudds Women”. Mudd is now the supreme ruler of a planet of androids who cater to his every whim.`
  8. Mudd’s Women – the Enterprise pursues a vessel and rescues its occupants Harry Mudd an interstellar con man and the three mysteriously beautiful women he is transporting to become the wives of dilithium miners.”
  9. Charlie X – the Enterprise picks up an unstable 17-year-old boy who spent 14 years alone on a deserted planet and lacks the training and restraint to handle his superhuman mental powers wisely.
  10. Miri – the Enterprise discovers an exact duplicate of Earth where the only survivors of a deadly man-made plague are some of the planets children.”
  11. Errand of Mercy – with a war with the Klingons declared Captain Kirk and his First Officer Mr. Spock attempt to sway the incomprehensibly placid population of a planet near the Klingon border to resist an invading military occupation.
  12. The Corbomite Maneuver – the Enterprise encounters a massive and powerful alien starship and its unusual commander.
  13. Assignment: Earth – engaged in “historical research” the USS Enterprise travels back through time to 1968 Earth where they encounter an interstellar agent planning to intervene in 20th-century events. Kirk and Spock are uncertain of his motives.
  14. The Devil in the Dark – Captain Kirk and Spock face off with a deadly subterranean creature. They are called to investigate a mining facility on a planet and go on an away mission to the facility to try to resolve the issue.
  15. Spectre of the Gun – having been found trespassing into Melkotian space Captain Kirk and members of his crew are sent to die in a re-enactment of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
  16. Operation — Annihilate! – the crew of the Enterprise must find a way to exterminate behavior-altering parasites that have taken over the bodies of residents of a Federation colony.
  17. The Return of the Archons – the crew of the Enterprise visit a seemingly peaceful planet whose inhabitants are “of the Body” are controlled by an unseen ruler and enjoy a night of violence during “festival”.
  18. The Gamesters of Triskelion – Captain Kirk and his companions are abducted into slavery and trained to fight as gladiators for the gambling entertainment of three disembodied beings.
  19. Shore Leave – the crew of the Enterprise visits a bizarre planet where the fantasies of the landing party become reality.
  20. Patterns of Force – the crew of the Enterprise tracks down a Federation observer on a planet dominated by a “Naziesque” regime.
  21. Dagger of the Mind – the Enterprise visits a rehabilitation facility for the criminally insane where the chief doctor has been using a device which destroys the human mind.
  22. The Enemy Within – while beaming up from planet Alpha 177 a transporter malfunction causes Captain Kirk to be split into two people one “good” but indecisive and ineffectual; the other “evil” impulsive and irrational.
  23. The Ultimate Computer – the crew of the Enterprise race to disable a rogue computer in total control of the ship.
  24. Court Martial – Captain Kirk stands trial on charges of criminal negligence after jettisoning a manned pod during an emergency.
  25. Tomorrow Is Yesterday – the Enterprise is thrown back to Earth in the 1960s where the US Air Force detects it so the crew must find a way to correct the damage to the timeline.
  26. All Our Yesterdays – Captain Kirk Spock and Dr. McCoy are trapped in two timeframes of another planets past.”
  27. This Side of Paradise – the USS Enterprise visits a planet where the inhabitants are under the influence of strange plant life.
  28. Journey to Babel – the Enterprise must transport dignitaries to a diplomatic conference.
  29. The Naked Time – a strange intoxicating infection which lowers the crews inhibitions spreads throughout the Enterprise. As the madness spreads the entire ship is endangered.

The Best

  1. The Deadly Years – strange radiation causes members of the crew of the Enterprise to age rapidly.
  2. Metamorphosis – a shuttle crew from the USS Enterprise encounters a man out of history and his mysterious alien companion.
  3. A Piece of the Action – The Enterprise visits a planet with an Earth-like 1920s gangster culture with Runyonesque dialog and costumes.
  4. The Trouble with Tribbles – In this comic episode the starship Enterprise visits a space station that soon becomes overwhelmed by rapidly-reproducing small furry creatures called “tribbles”.
  5. Amok Time – The episode features First Officer Spock returning to his homeworld for a brutal Vulcan wedding ritual. It is the only episode of The Original Series to depict scenes on the planet Vulcan.
  6. Space Seed – the Enterprise crew encounter a sleeper ship holding selectively bred superpeople from Earths past. Their leader Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalbán) attempts to take control of the Enterprise.”
  7. The Enterprise Incident – the crew of the Enterprise are on a secret mission to steal a Romulan cloaking device. A sub-plot is a romance of sorts between Spock and a Romulan commander.
  8. Mirror Mirror – a transporter malfunction that swaps Captain Kirk and his companions with their evil counterparts from a parallel universe. In this “mirror universe” the Enterprise is a ship of the Terran Empire a conquering and murdering organization where officers are assassinated as punishment and as a means of promotion.
  9. The Changeling – The crew of the USS Enterprise deals with a life-destroying space probe originally launched from Earth. The plot contains similarities to the later 1979 Star Trek film.[1]
  10. Balance of Terror – the Enterprise battles a Romulan ship after investigating an unidentified assailant who methodically destroys the Federations outposts at the Neutral Zone.”
  11. The Doomsday Machine – the starship Enterprise fights a powerful planet-killing machine from another galaxy.
  12. The Menagerie – Spock abducts his former commander Christopher Pike locks the Enterprise on a course to the forbidden planet Talos IV and turns himself in for court-martial where he presents an elaborate story explaining his actions.
  13. The City on the Edge of Forever – after a heavily medicated Doctor Leonard McCoy (DeForest Kelley) travels back in time and changes history, Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) follow him to correct the timeline. In doing so, Kirk falls in love with Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), but realizes that in order to save his future, he must allow her to die.’

Star Trek First Frontier – Review

One of the groups of fan fiction filmmakers has released their feature Star Trek film “First Frontier.” It took five years to produce and violates many of Viacom/CBS’s guidelines for a fan-fic-film:

1: It’s 70 minutes long (the limit is 30 minutes)
2: They built their own set
3: They use professional actors
4: They use non-CBS props and costumes

Some of the interviews I’ve read indicate that the writer/producers feel they were grandfathered in – but that designation is a bit in the gray space.

The Plot

The setting is 10 years before Kirk and friends launch on their 5-year mission. Commander Robert April is having family issues as he and his wife are trying to work out their marital problems. April is being offered command of a Constitution class starship, but he flatly refuses.

Meanwhile, a deadly alien force is killing people in the solar system – just because. And they are on their way to Earth with designs to kill everyone. It is up to April’s friend Captain Colins to take a not-quite-ready NCC-1701 Enterprise out to prevent the deadly force from succeeding. For some reason, April is on board the Enterprise to help Colins get the Enterprise ship-shape.

Long story short – Colins is incapacitated and it’s up to April to take the Enterprise and it’s not-quite-ready crew into the unknown to save the Earth.

The Good

ST:FF is more like Star Trek: The Original Series than anything we’ve seen since Star Trek: The Next Generation. In addition to capturing the technology of the 22nd century, the look of the original pilot(s) [The Cage/The Menagerie and Where No Man Has Gone Before], the pholosophy, and the general atmosphere of the original, the special effects are modern and yet still true to the orginal.

The acting is quite good and consistent with what we became enamored with in the late 1960s Star Trek universe. Certain elements relating to women as being weaker than men and gender issues are updated for modern tastes. I believe even the costumes (though very true to the ST:TOS pilots) were upgraded to be less obviously exploitive.

I believe this production built their own sets. And they are beautiful. The sets look like our familiar Enterprise, but somehow fresh, clean, and new. Special attention was paid to lighting the sets that made the bridge bright but not garish.

The script calls back to many of the same themes that made Star Trek iconic. We have a conflicted captain, an existential crisis, modern themes of the roles of men and women (in the workplace as well as husband and wife working in the same office space).

To the writers’ credit, this script felt very much like classic Trek. The word choices, the conflicts, the characterizations all reflect the original series and could easily have been written by someone of that era. The Star Trek Continues and Star Trek: Phase II fan-fic episodes included veteran Star Trek actors, writers, and directors. Still, ST:FF supersedes them all by having a script that captures the essence of ST:TOS.

The Bad

A big complaint of mine with the production of ST:FF is the audio. There’s a mish-mash of ST:TOS and ST:TNG music. And it seems as if the music is unrelenting. It is constantly running. At times when silence and just the humming of the engines would be both familiar and suspenseful, there’s a soundtrack and a cacophony of beeps and bleeps playing over the dialog.

Which brings me to my second biggest complaint – the audio was randomly variable. This film needs a serious overhaul in audio editing. There are times I cannot hear the actors’ words because of all the noise. And some actors seem closer to the microphones while others are further away – making it hard to hear important plot points.

While the practical effects are quite good, some of the interior-shot CGI left much to be desired. Some of the sets were green screen backgrounds and the actors had that “halo” effect that is a distraction. Also, there were problems with scale (especially surrounding the shuttlecraft – sometimes the shuttlecraft dwarfed the actors).

The alien being was particularly bizarre harkening back to 1950s horror films and Outer Limits. The eyes were especially confusing as they seemed to jiggle around on the alien’s head. It’s not clear if this was intentional or designed to reflect a 1960s special effects aesthetic. This alien didn’t seem to belong in a Star Trek universe. It seemed more like a Dr. Who reject.

The Ugly

ST:FF stayed scrupulously close to canon – except where it didn’t. I got the impression that the Federation had not yet ventured far out into the void. Yet, there were a large number of aliens on board – and even in command of the virgin Constellation class starships. I seem to recall that it was quite novel for Spock, an alien, to be on the bride of the ST:TOS Enterprise. Yet Capt. April’s Enterprise was quite literally crawling with them.

Many of the Hollywood and the fan-fic Star Trek franchises suffer from a nauseating amount of fan service in the form of call-backs to ST:TOS. In particular, we see tribbles, Tranya, Romulan Ale, etc… scattered randomly around the sets of modern incarnations of Star Trek. We don’t see a lot of that in ST:FF.

But there are an alarming number of “stolen” themes. April hides the ship in asteroid field noting that “we won’t be able to see them, but they won’t be able to see us either” which echoes Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. The alien ship must lower its shield before it can fire its weapon – much like the Romulan cloaking device of ST:TOS. The all-evil, unconvinceable aliens remind me of the Borg. Even the final line of the film is a cut-and-paste from earlier Treks. These are just a few of the many “feels” that were borrowed from other Star Trek incarnations.

Conclusions

Perhaps my biggest complaint is the aliens and the general theme of the episode. The aliens are pure evil with no clear motivation. We never really see a conversation with them. Gene Roddenberry insisted that aliens have some sort of humanity such that we could identify with them. These aliens are bent on the destruction of anything in their path – for no apparent reason.

In both ST:TOS and ST:TNG we would often see Kirk or Picard debating with the alien force. There was always a human element to the conflicts with alien forces. The captains often wondered if perhaps, this was a misunderstanding and that the enemy could be turned into an ally.

But here, the alien is a mere prop to allow us to establish Capt. April and his crew as the first Five Year mission. There is no real moral to this story. While April finds his place in the stars, there’s not real point to the story. And as such – it falls flat as a proper Star Trek story. As much as I liked Star Trek First Frontier, I think they squandered a huge opportunity to capture the essence of Star Trek – our humanity.

You can watch the full feature on Youtube.com here: Star Trek First Frontier

Agile Writer Adenike Lucas Publishes “Birthright”!

Congratulations to our own Adenike (Brandi) Lucas for her publication of “Birthright”!

Lucas let me know back in May and with everything going on, it slipped my attention to send out a notice.
Check it out on Amazon:

Meet Medallion. The great niece to Mary; a distinguished woman with a vast family fortune. Mary wants to pass the family traditions of healing to Medallion, but Medallion is distracted by the torrid affair she’s having with Rodney, her husband Waymen’s work rival. Medallion is pregnant with her first child and doesn’t know if Rodney or Waymen is the father and uses the revelation as a way to keep at least one of the men by her side.

Medallion’s married life is tumultuous, but Aunt Mary believes some time spent at the family home, Glory Hill Plantation, could be just what the young couple needs to rekindle their love and bond over their new baby. Unfortunately, time spent at Glory Hill could possibly be the end of their marriage and their family when a mysterious woman makes friends with Medallion. 

In 1858, Sunta, the youngest of seven enslaved women on Glory Hill Plantation dies while giving birth to her son Elijah. Only wanting to be with her first born, Sunta waits in The White, a space between the realm of life and where the ancestor’s dwell. When the reunion she longs to have with Elijah never comes, she finds her way back to the realm of life clinging to a soul she thought belonged to her baby. Now back on Glory Hill with the child she thought she lost, Sunta makes the choice to take them back to The White where they can both rest in peace. 

Birthright is the story of legacy. Follow Medallion as she learns the power her ancestors possessed also lives within her. Before her powers can be bestowed, she has to learn the power of love and sacrifice which will keep her family together. With the help of her Aunt Mary, her husband Waymen, and her new friend Nurse Jackie, will she finally make the sacrifice of love, or will she allow her selfishness to rip her away from her true destiny?

Experimenter (2015)

Experimenter (2015)
Director: Michael Almereyda
Writer: Michael Almereyda
Stars: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, John PalladinoAnthony EdwardsJim Gaffigan 

Peter Sarsgaard plays Dr. Stanley Milgram who in 1961 performed a series of experiments where unwitting subjects asked another person questions and shocked them with up to 450 volts of electricity for each wrong answer. The fact was, that no one was actually shocked. The “shockee” (or learner) was behind a wall and the “shocker” (or teacher) was instructed to continue to shock the learner as long as they got the answer wrong.

In the experiment, the “shockee” would complain loudly of pain, even begging for help. If Experimenter_Posterthe “shocker” asked the director to stop, they would be blithely asked to continue. The conclusions of the test were that people would do what they were told in the face of authority.

The show is shot in a unique fashion. They purposely used flat murals and old 16mm backgrounds to simulate driving giving the film a period-piece feel by using period filming techniques. Also, there’s a scene where Milgram is talking to the screen while walking the halls of Harvard – with an elephant walking behind him. Possibly that’s the “elephant in the room?”

Experimenter re-raises some old questions about using human subjects in psychological experiments. Since the subjects were “fooled” into the situation, they had no control over how they were treated. And, they may have suffered adverse affects due to the stress of hurting another person under perceived duress.

This film went to great pains to show that “no one was harmed” in the study. They even went so far as to show Milgram enjoying an episode of “Candid Camera” where people faced the back of an elevator to induce conformity. (Interestingly, there was no mention of his friendship and collaboration with high school chum Philip Zimbardo of the famed Stanford prison experiment from 1971. The two were fans of Alan Funt’s show).

In the end, Experimenter is an interesting look at the work of a man who uncovered startling truths about the psychology of modern man. It begs the question – is there a ‘banality of evil’ in each of us. Unfortunately, the story is told as a fictionalization that makes us very aware that we’re looking at a movie. Ironically, it casts some serious shade on a 1975 fictionalization of Milgram’s work staring William Shatner (The Tenth Level). Milgram was apparently so upset with the work that it threatened his marriage.

To this day, Milgram’s work is required reading in psychology curricula – despite the fact that modern standards would never allow their reproduction. Many scientists dispute the results – despite Milgram’s repetition of the experiment in several countries which all come to the same conclusions.

Is there a “banality of evil” in each of us? This film doesn’t try to answer that question. It only attempts to set the record straight on Milgram’s research methods and their benign effects on its subjects. However, it is notable that Philip Zimbardo who came to similar conclusions as Milgram after his Stanford prison experiment, now proclaims a “banality of heroism” in each of us and is a leader in the Heroism Science community.

From a storytelling point of view, Experimenter is very non-standard. It straddles the line between documentary and fiction. Having the protagonist talk to the screen gives us an immediacy you don’t normally get in a movie. But it also opens the opportunity for Milgram to be an “unreliable narrator”. So, it comes off as a sort of “Milgram apologetic” – validating his work.

  • Recommendation:
  • See it now
  • ✔️See it eventually
  • Good cure for amnesia
  • Skip it

Agile Writer Ken Hubona Does it Again: Shades Released!

David Quinn isn’t about to get drafted into the Army. Let someone else slog around the jungle to fight Lyndon Johnson’s war. But his student deferment is about to run out, and the Navy and Air Force recruiters are already swamped with panicked college boys in the same pickle. He can’t run to Canada. That would kill his dad. And getting a conscientious-objector deferment practically requires being a priest. So when a recruiter shows up on campus pitching the sizzle of naval aviation, Dave is seduced by the golden wings, ultra-cool aviator shades, and the promise of a jumbo jet career as a Pan Am captain. It is both his way out and the glamorous career he deserves.

 

But he lands in a remote outpost, where he struggles against a demanding superior, aging aircraft, and his own fears. When his dogged ambition inflicts devastation, he has to face the kind of man he has become, profiting from war while others suffer. Now, he must make an agonizing choice.

 

SHADES is a story of ambition and friendship, sacrifice and loss, and ultimately, discovery and hope. In the worst of times we find the best in ourselves.

 

Author Bio:
Ken Hubona earned his Navy wings in 1969. Stationed in the Philippines, he deployed to bases throughout the Far East, including Da Nang and Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam, and logged carrier landings aboard the USS Constellation, USS America, and USS Shangri La. This novel was inspired by that experience. He now lives and writes in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

 

Get the Paperback or Kindle at Amazon.com.

 

Public Library Shuns Writer

From Publishers’ Weekly:

“YA author Julia Watts has been removed from the slate of authors participating in LitUp, a teen literary festival sponsored by the Knox County (Tenn.) Public Library that was inspired by a teen book festival of the same name launched last year in the Kansas City area. Knoxville’s inaugural LitUp festival is scheduled to take place on October 13 with a full day of programming, including appearances by 10 YA authors, a mix of regional and national names.

“According to Watts, a local indie bookseller who is involved in the LitUp festival’s planning65133-v1-245x asked her in July to be one of its featured authors. “My name and photo went up on the website,” she said. Last Friday, however, that same bookseller called Watts to tell her that she was no longer slated to appear, as, after Googling her name, a member of the organizing committee had expressed concerns that she has also written erotica.”

I’ve seen this before. When a public organization or non-profit decides they don’t like what an author has written, they withdraw support. In this case, Julia Watts is in every way a “legitimate” writer. While she’s written erotica (which is essentially pornography in print), she was not presenting that content. She was presenting her traditionally published YA/LGBTQ fiction.

This is a case of confusing the author and the art. There is no law against writing pornography. Generally speaking there is a difference between erotic romance and erotica.

While I don’t allow erotica in my workshops (I tell the writers no worse than “R-rated” content, please), I have never turned an author away for their content. I wonder if this library would have turned Shel Silversteen away for writing for Playboy? I certainly think not.

Shunning authors for any reason is unacceptable. Content does not maketh the man*. If an author has a catalog that includes works that are essentially illegal, that is one thing. But shunning an author for artistic expression is the worst form of censorship.

Read More at Pubisher’s Weekly

* I hope you will forgive my appropriation of the cliche and its associated gender bias.

Some Definitions

“Erotic romance, according to a definition from the Romance Writers of America, refers to “novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the love story, character growth, and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline.”

“And erotica? “Erotica is just people doing it,” says Cordelia Logan, who has written 19 stories under five pen names and is beginning to focus on BDSM. (To maintain privacy, she declined to reveal her pseudonyms.) “[Characters] are having sex in interesting ways and with interesting people,” she says. “There’s not a lot of character development. The plot revolves around how these people are going to do it, and what’s getting in the way.”

From Publisher’s Weekly