Saturday, June 17, 2017

Wonder Woman (2017): Mike's Review

A couple (or maybe a few) years ago, I wrote an article for Kate about the Flaws of Wonder Woman as a character. And in many regards I still stand by the points I made. However, I feel that I was struggling to simply state the main problem: that Wonder Woman, as she existed, did not work, and would not work without a major overhaul of some sort. And my concern about that happening came down to two things:

1. After a major overhaul, would she still be Wonder Woman?  
2. Would the fans accept these changes?

And the answer to both, it seems, is a qualified yes. Wonder Woman has recently been changed quite a bit, and people largely seem to be enjoying it.

DC comics continuity has become famous for being something of a patchwork quilt draped over a moving target. The writers and the publishers are continually taking things apart, stitching them back together, and rearranging things in order to appease and attract both new audiences and longtime fans. As a result, DC continuity has seen at least five “reboots” in the last thirty years (Crisis on Multiple Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Flashpoint/New 52, and Rebirth). And in the years since my original post, Wonder Woman has been “overhauled” or “retconned” (a comic term here meaning retro-active continuity) at least three times…. Or two. Again, it’s how you measure it.

The Strazinski reboot that I mention in the previous article attempted to address many of my original points… and was met with hatred and scorn. Then Flashpoint/New 52 happened, and Wonder Woman found herself almost back to normal; but with a few twists, which were met with critical acclaim. Most of these changes were seen in the new movie, which despite my, uh, tangent, is what I’m supposed to be talking about. The film has succeeded in taking both new and old elements of Wonder Woman and fusing them in a way that works. And the current comic version of Diana is not far off from the one we see in the film.

Batman v. Superman
For a movie review, I understand I’m putting forth a lot of background information, but I want readers to understand that I went into this movie with two overriding concerns. The first was that Wonder Woman has traditionally been a difficult character to do well; the second was that despite Wonder Woman’s appearance being the best single moment of Batman v Superman, that film was overwhelmingly terrible. Man of Steel, while not nearly as terrible, still severely misinterpreted Superman and demonstrated the filmmakers' complete misunderstanding of what makes the character tick. And while Suicide Squad was fun, its lack of interior logic or believable motivations, combined with shoehorned world building, did little to reassure me that DC and WB knew what they were doing with their fledgling universe.

Wonder Woman is the savior that DC/WB has been searching for. While far from a perfect film, it avoids many of the pitfalls of previous DCEU films, and sidesteps or merely ignores so many of the things that made Wonder Woman so difficult a character to write.

As a film, WW avoids the dark and heavy tones of the previous DC films, and largely ditches their
Due to her background, it never occurs to Diana not to trust
Etta with her sword.
dark, gloomy and CGI-riddled aesthetics. The film is bright and colorful, genuinely happy and funny at times, and surprisingly moving. Aside from the villains, the characters are well-written and acted, and their motivations are pure and clear. Despite all of this, Wonder Woman’s true success is its treatment of Diana as a character and a hero, and the film’s decision to address the “girl power” aspect by nearly ignoring it altogether. Diana has no chip on her shoulder about being a repressed woman. She’s not out to prove herself to anyone, and frankly wouldn’t even understand why a man might question her abilities. The film uses Diana’s background as strength. She isn’t bothered by sexism, because for her it doesn’t exist. And she’s often able to show her worth before it has a chance to reach her.

That the film is able to do this while still taking place in a time period of reduced woman’s rights is even more extraordinary. I never felt that the film was trying to teach me that woman were equal to men, or preach to me about the evils of sexism. Instead, the film, much like Diana, seemed unaware that these were issues at all. They merely went about the business of telling the story of a hero, gender be damned.

With the introduction of Steve Trevor and his romance with Diana, I was worried about how things would proceed. Diana is essentially this statuesque Greek goddess who comes very close to embodying the male fantasy--a naive virgin eager to learn about the world from the first man she meets. I was a little afraid the movie makers would feel compelled to make Steve the assertive one in the relationship, making Diana submissive, and then try to show this in some sort of love scene.

Their relationship, however, is refreshingly even. They fall in love with each other for their own reasons. Traditional Steve was always kind of a jerk, I felt, kind of cocky. But this Steve is kind and always in awe of Diana. Their eventual love scene is handled with more class and respect than I've seen in a movie in ages (i.e., they don't show it).

I really enjoyed how the film handled Steve Trevor. While he tried to protect Diana at first, he ends up kind of chasing her around trying to talk her out of stuff.... Just to end up watching her do it and then backing her up unconditionally.

There is also an action scene at the midpoint of the movie, in which Diana first fully reveals herself as Wonder Woman, which is hands-down phenomenal. Not only was it everything I wanted from a Wonder Woman movie, it was everything I wanted from a Captain America movie. Wonder Woman’s theme music, an electric guitar and drum driven jungle rock riff, makes an impression as the best superhero theme in decades, and helps drive the action scenes expertly.

As I mentioned, however, the film isn’t perfect. The use and quality of CGI in the film is glaringly inconsistent. While at times it seems to blend beautifully, at others it is so obvious and poorly done it nearly pulled me out of the film. Diana’s powers and abilities, as well as Ares’, were equally inconsistent and ill-defined. While Diana’s new origin as a demi-god is from the comics, her powers of reflecting lightening, making a shock wave, and stopping bullets with some sort of invisible force field are all original to the film, and make little sense when thought about. And while Wonder Woman can fly in the comics, I left the film still unsure if she learned to fly or not. While these powers don’t necessarily bother me, the lack of any explanation does.

After my first viewing, I honestly considered the possibility that Wonder Woman may be the best superhero film I’d seen. However, after some thought I realized I was simply so relieved that the film was decent, and that the character was presented in a way truthful to the spirit of the source material, that I was giving the film a little more credit than it was probably due. In the end, Wonder Woman is a decent, and maybe even great superhero movie. And it may have been the shot in the arm the DC movie universe needed. But the film’s real success is found in its treatment of the main character not as an empowered woman but as a hero and, despite her origins, a human being.

Wonder Woman (2017): Kate's Review

I liked it.

Here's why:

First, the cast is excellent. The names are not top-billing; they are top-tier. Across the board, the acting is solid.

Gal Gadot is magnificent. She has more of the Lynda Carter look than any female superhero in the movies or the comics. She's beautiful but not so overwhelming, she seems unapproachable. And she has an extra dose of vulnerability, making her relatable as well as approachable. To me, surprisingly enough, the most heart-aching part of the movie is when she crosses No Man's Land alone. Maybe it's my increasing age (the theater included me, a younger woman, two younger women and their boyfriends, and about four older couples) but it tore at my heart to see her thinking she could fix the world and the town with this single noble act. Three-quarters of the way across the field, she kneels to take a barrage of bullets. She can handle it; she's a goddess; she's not going to die. And yet, she's so (temporarily) alone, I teared up.

Chris Pine is a more than decent Steve Trevor and not at all boring (Lyle Waggoner makes me so sleepy, my brain stops working). This Steve Trevor is self-effacing, passionate yet surprisingly non-argumentative. His passion doesn't stem from a need to force others to his view but from inward conviction. So he's confident in his masculinity without being condescending or demanding. (See below for comments on the ending.)

Most importantly, from a writer's point of view, there's an actual internal and external problem. The story-line is surprisingly tidy. Me, I don't think that frills are necessary. A decent arc is all a movie, novel, or short story needs.

Wonder Woman's internal arc is fairly mild, but it is established early on, built on throughout the movie, and paid-off exactly as required. The external problem is also paid-off (see below). There are no radical twists here, and there don't need to be. Tell me a story. Make it a good one. Don't try to make it something it isn't.

I admit to being initially a tad disappointed that the story was taking place in the past. But I got over that disappointment fairly quickly. And it prepared me for later outcomes.

The fight sequences are notable and fun to watch--very Matrix-y, and I thought the use of the lasso as both truth enforcer AND weapon was quite effective.

The movie resolves some of the issues Mike refers to in his critique. Since this is an origin story, Wonder Woman figuring out her motive--what do I care about and why?--becomes the plot. After the origin story is finished, of course, she will need to find additional and more concrete reasons.

Having a god be her main rival makes sense but does move the villainy way beyond someone even like the Joker. And in all honesty, I am the kind of person who likes to watch superheroes do things like rescue kittens out of trees and move people to safety when a dam breaks. However, Wonder Woman as pure goddess is a nice treat.

It's 2017! So Wonder Woman touting female power through a sexy costume is okay, and I appreciated that her look was part culture/part practicality/part comfort. I also appreciated the movie's initial point that although the Amazonians won on the beach, guns utterly change the equation when it comes to warfare (take that, stupid Ewoks!). Finally, the lasso as only capable of producing the truth so far as the villain understands it (see below) is a cool problem that I think should always have been part of the Wonder Woman package (it allows for some great conflicts).

I'm afraid that future romance and relatability may still be struggles for Wonder Woman. But this movie succeeded at providing (what I understand to be) the classic story without apology.

*Spoilers--I Mean It--I Give Away the Ending--You've Been Warned* 

(1) Steve Trevor

I sighed a bit when I realized that Steve Trevor was going to sacrifice himself. Elsewhere I've written about how death can be a writing cop-out. However, in this case, it was fairly inevitable. Supposing that Steve Trevor bailed from the airplane at the last minute? And was rescued by the Amazonians and nursed back to health? He might live as long as Steve Rogers' Peggy Carter--but there's no guarantee; Pine gives Trevor that Kirk-like joie de vivre even in his own death. The guy lives on the edge. He was always going to die young.

In fact, he was always going to die. No matter what. Diana is going to lose him. No matter what. That's part of her heartache. That's why ultimately, she and Superman become a couple. Their human lovers die. Death is what happens when a person isn't immortal.

So I accepted his death.

From Mike: And while his sacrifice could be seen as a bit cliché, and as the man making the sacrifice in place of the woman, I saw it as Steve doing what he did throughout the film: seeing what Diana was capable of, and letting her do it while handling the stuff he could do. Diana had a god to fight, so of course Steve is going to take out the plane. Obviously he couldn’t swap places with her. 

(2) David Thewlis as Ares actually took me by surprise. Keep in mind, I was surprised by the end of The Sixth Sense, so it doesn't take much. (I thought the writers were going to pull a real switcheroo and make Ares a woman, such as Dr. Poison.)

He is kind of a side-note. As Mike mentions, he doesn't have the clearest of motivations. However, I appreciated his Loki-like persona and arguments. The movie is not a philosophical one by any means. But his argument to Diana caps off both the external and internal conflicts. I was especially impressed that he makes his case while wrapped in the lasso: he believes what he is saying. The serpent always speaks in half-truths.

We don't hear Diana's inner rebuttal, but we've seen enough to understand why she rejects Ares. She truly enjoys people--their oddities, their funniness, their differences. She likes not only Steve Trevor but Etta Candy, Charlie, Sameer, The Chief, the townspeople, babies, the person she thinks Sir Patrick to be. She is honestly invested in their troubles and in their ordinary enjoyments. Rejecting Ares may be a no-brainer but it's a definite choice, and she makes it willingly.

As an origin story, I'm not sure that I'd place Wonder Woman with Christian Bale's Batman Begins. But it deserves to be placed within the origin-story pantheon.

Ha ha. A little Greek humor there at the end.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Mike Reviews the Latest Star Wars Movie

Let’s be honest. As a Star Wars fan, I’ve been hurt before. When the Prequels first appeared, I was as happy as everyone else, and I clung to the fantasy that those movies were good perhaps a little longer than other people. Soon, however, reality snuck up, and with Episode 3, I had to admit that Lucas had, in fact, let us down.

And so, I rejoiced when George finally decided to hand over the rights. Finally! We had a chance at redemption! The inclusion of JJ Abrams was also a positive. I’ve been an on and off fan of his as well. If JJ could rein in some of his tendencies, then we might just have a chance. (For the unaware, JJ Abrams loves mysteries . . . but he doesn’t like solving them or explaining them; as a result, many of his revelations are either absent or disappointing).

But then word started to leak. Sure, the old cast would be back, but so would the Empire. And the Rebellion. And, oh yeah, peace hasn’t come to the galaxy. This worried me, because more than anything else in the original series, the thing I loved the most was the happy ending. The bad guys were beaten, the heroes had found love or closure, and some characters even found redemption. It was perfect (well, perfect enough).

The Star Wars kid in all of us.
With this stark news, I couldn’t get excited. I refused. I was a tense, angry, frustrated fan that was still going to see it opening day . . . but there was no way I would be fooled again. I drew a line in the sand and swore that if the new movie crossed it, I would reject it and storm out of the theater. Some friends pointed out that I might be going about things the wrong way. And they were probably right.

Regardless, opening day I was there with my son. The opening scroll started, and I was a kid again, against my will. And to my surprise, I found myself happily laughing, clapping, and even cheering along with the film. As the film wound towards the final scenes, I found myself loving it dearly. But then . . . something happened.

It’s been months, so chances are you already know what happened. But just in case, SPOILERS lie ahead, young Padawan.


One of Star Wars' many Prerequisite Bottomless Pits
Throughout the film we discover that the new villain, a whiny emo clone of Darth Vader (who is oddly fun to watch), is actually the son of heroes Han and Leia. As the heroes rush towards the final battle, Han decides to try and save his son with an ill-advised heart to heart on a narrow bridge over the prerequisite bottomless pit. Things don’t go as planned, however, and the almost touching moment ends with Han being stabbed through the heart with a light-saber and then dropping into the conveniently located pit below.

I was mortified. This film, which had so skillfully coaxed out the young and exuberant Star Wars fan inside this man, suddenly, ruthlessly and traumatically murdered his childhood hero before his eyes. It’s like getting a beautifully wrapped present on your birthday just to find a decapitated head inside. My son was equally horrified. I was numb throughout the rest of the movie. Sure, there were some cool moments; I vaguely remember a light-saber fight, a big celebratory ending, and even some swelling music at some point. But my mind kept going back to that one horrifying moment, as Han tried to connect with his son, just to get a badly designed light-saber in the chest for his trouble.

The rest of the movie was a dull, emotionless blur for me. I was devastated, horrified, and angry. This wasn’t how Han decided to go out. He was a hero, dammit! He had earned a happy ending! At very least, as a rogue, hero, and true friend, he deserved to go out in a blaze of glory defending his friends: a kamikaze run for the ages. Instead we get a badly lit lifetime moment followed by millions of Star Wars fans crying out.

It’s hard to get past this moment. I’ve seen the film 3 times now, and all in all, I think my feelings for it lean positive. I like the new characters, though their pasts are all shrouded in Abrams' usual fog of mystery. The existence, motivations, and even structure of the villain is shady and unclear as is the need for the new rebellion. I’m confused why the galaxy would need a non-government run “Resistance” to fight what appears to be a rogue terrorist group. Rey, the new main character, is strong and compelling though it’s hard to imagine that the answers to her past will be as interesting as the mystery itself.

Abrams and THE star of Star Wars
The return of practical effects was welcome, and the return of old characters was wonderful. The film, on the whole, is a love letter to the old films. It’s when Abrams tries to move the Star Wars universe toward his vision that the movie struggles; not so much that his vision betrays the old films, but in that this new direction lacks the logic, reasoning, and emotion that served as foundation of the original trilogy.

In the end, it’s the death of Han and the method in which the film chose to do it that feels the most out of place. While I feel I understand the choices and what function the event serves in the story, the method in which it was carried out felt excessive and cruel. The film was looking for a shocking moment to sell it, and it found one; unfortunately, it may have lost some of the more sensitive fans along the way.

So, if you’re looking for a fun romp in the Star Wars universe, the new film may just be for you. But if the happy ending of Jedi means anything to you, you might want to stop there.

You can read more reviews by Mike (and about Star Wars) here

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Star Wars as Cultural Phenomenon: Scrubs and Phineas and Ferb

Scrubs is one of those shows that I rarely watch on purpose but always enjoy when I run across it by accident.

"My Two Dads" pits Dr. Dorian's two mentors against each other. Dr. Cox, naturally, is Ben Kenobi (all in white). Dr. Kelso is Darth Vader, all in black!

Scrubs is a natural recipient of Star Wars iconography. The essence of the show is Zach Dorian's imaginative responses to everyday life, an imagination that is heavily informed by popular culture. He demonstrates a true mix of high, low, urban, and everything else culture, distilled into one mindset.

The comparison of Dr. Cox to Kenobi and Dr. Kelso to Vader is doubly interesting because it remains flexible. Just as Vader proves ambiguous in later movies, Dr. Kelso proves to have multiple sides. His bottom-line ideology is based on reality: treating patients costs. Dr. Cox, although the more likable . . . ah . . . appealing man, is too adamant, too much a zealot. While adopting Dr. Cox's patient-oriented philosophy, Zach eventually becomes more well-rounded than his chosen mentor; his compassion will eventually enfold even Dr. Kelso.

The imagery is great! As Zach says, "It's an old story." And I love Dr. Cox's beard!!

I had never seen Phineas and Ferb. Ah, the life of a person without cable. 

My favorite part of "The Chronicles of Meap" is when the evil (random) carpet guy keeps saying, "But that's another back-story. Well, that's another back-story." It reminds me of superheroes--you want to "get" this character? Here's a billion back-stories!

I also like Ferb's British accent: "Well, it occurs to me that perhaps not all of the modifications I made are technically street legal." And I love Phineas's nonchalant attitude towards being threatened: "Hi!" 

There's multiple sci-fi references: Back to the Future, Star Wars (of course), and Star Trek (slingshot around the sun, universal translator) plus ET. Regarding Star Wars, there is the non-round space station, "I am NOT your father," not to mention the Yoda-like fighting of Meap!

Like any good cultural phenomenon, Star Wars has seeped into our lives; although this list has addressed many deliberate uses of Star Wars, it ends with shows that take the movie's influence for granted. Doesn't everybody know what a light-saber is?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Star Wars Visits X-Files

"Small Potatoes" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" are two of X-Files' funniest episodes.

Darin Morgan stars in "Small Potatoes" (written by Vince Gilligan) and wrote "Jose Chung's" (starring, well, everybody). Morgan's stories inject an everyman quality into X-Files, even into the edgy Mulder.

"Small Potatoes" begins with multiple Star Wars references (we even get to hear the theme: da dum dadada DA dum). After all, Eddie "wooed" his high school girlfriend by transforming into Luke Skywalker. However, in all honesty, Star Wars is only slightly referenced (directly; more on indirect references later). In fact, "Small Potatoes" is one of X-Files' human interest episodes; although the concept (a man can transform physically into others) is fanciful, the explanation/pay-off is not rooted in either futuristic science or government conspiracies.

Joseph Campbell's Monomyth
It is rooted, rather, in the human dream of transcendence.

Eddie IS Luke Skywalker, albeit an unsuccessful one who never gets off Tatooine. He wants to be called to greatness/adventure, only it doesn't seem to ever quite happen. The twist: when he does cross the threshold (becomes Mulder), he discovers that Mulder has disappeared into Tatooine's basement.

Applying Joseph Campbell's monomyth here is apropos. Star Wars IV's success can be traced to its homage to Campbell, specifically Campbell's interpretation of the ancient hero's classic journey. Humans love the hero's arc and tell it over and over again, much as Eddie (and his high school girlfriend) went to see Star Wars over and over again.

At the end of "Small Potatoes," Eddie advises Mulder to "live alittle." After all, Eddie made more progress with Scully, simply by talking to her, than Mulder had in four years. Even Mulder confesses, "I'm no Eddie Van Blundht" (the "h" is silent).

The episode truly is more about the emotional aspects of the hero's journey than that same journey's fantastical accompaniments.

In comparison, "Jose Chung's" is chuck-full of sci-fi references, starting with Star Wars, specifically the opening shot of the Star Destroyer! Another ship, the Millennium Falcon, appears in Blaine's bedroom. In keeping with the Star Wars references, this episode focuses on the fantasy or space opera side of sci-fi rather than the hardcore side of sci-fi.  

X-Files, surprisingly enough, usually relies on the hardcore side. In this case, the fantasy side shows through. Roky is obsessed with the mystical side of his imagined aliens, who speak using "thees" and "thous." Lieutenant Shaefer creates a Close Encounters of the Third Kind mountain out of his mash potatoes (and there's a film completely rooted in  non-reality). And Jose Chung ends by contemplating why we humans love to look to the skies: What hopes and dreams do we hope to satisfy? We may love sci-fi for its fast travel and medical advances, but what's the other, deeper, reason?

In many ways, both episodes tackle the same questions raised in Fanboys, although from a very different angle.

And, of course, both are just gosh darn funny. From "Jose Chung's":

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Star Wars in Disney--Well, Pixar: Toy Story 2

MIKE SAYS Toy Story 2 is, on its own, a great film.  An extraordinary film, actually, especially for a children's movie.  Add it together with the other movies in the series and you get one of the most well-rounded, tightly woven and best-written trilogies ever made.

While -he film is by and large its own, self-contained and original story, the chance to play with Star Wars references, especially with the robotic Zurg, was just too good to pass up. Perhaps the coolest thing about this reference was its rarity.  At the time, pop culture references were fairly new, especially a direct shout out.  Disney and Pixar certainly led the charge on this, with Aladdin, Lion King, and others.

Since then, pop culture references have become rather commonplace, almost expected, and they have lost  a lot of their former luster.  While the references were fun surprises, it's important to note just what these references communicated:  the people who made this movie are products of the same culture as the audience themselves;  this is a film made by and for film junkies.  Which just makes it feel all that more personal.

Writing this review from the perspective of Fatherhood is difficult;  I love the film, and I would list it among the best children's movies of all time.  At the same time, I could probably go another ten years without the need to watch it.  This is probably due to my children watching it repeatedly.

But I still identify with the film:  The idea of nostalgic value being more important than monetary value, and the idea of preserving important aspects of our childhood.  For me, Star Wars will always be one of those childhood memories that will always have a special place in my heart.  Which may be why the Toy Story movies resonate so well:  they tap into those memories that most powerfully take us back to childhood.  

KATE SAYS this film is brilliant. It is one of those movies that has everything: a strong story with an actual ethical dilemma; clever dialog; engaging characters; and lots of spot-on cultural allusions that nevertheless don't overwhelm the story.

One of those great Pixar moments that make you cheer while
breaking your heart.
Before I get to the allusions, I must make a few shout-outs.

First, the story. The strength of Toy Story 2 is that Woody's dilemma is a real one. The "bad" side is not immediately obvious. The pros for going to the museum, lasting forever, giving generations of children (in the broad sense) something to look at and delight in combine to form a powerful argument. Woody has to fall back not on some easy answer but on his own sense of ethics. He also has to think outside the "box" (ha ha; sorry, more on this later) to deal with Jessie and Bullseye. Considering that this is a child's film, the philosophical debates at work are quite impressive.

Second, the dialog. It's hilarious and full of puns. At one point, Woody cries, "Stinky Pete, you're out of your box!" a great riff on "You're out of your mind." Also, like the first movie, Toy Story 2 contains neat little jokes that may go over a kid's head but make an adult yelp with laughter: my favorite from Toy Story is Rex's explanation of his origins:
REX: And I'm from Mattel. Well, I'm not really from Mattel, I'm actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout.
The excellently cast Wayne Knight.
The characters are just as strong as in the first movie. I love the "cameo" of the "Cleaner" (he's the guy from the Pixar short who plays chess against himself). Naturally, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are excellent as well as lovable John Ratzenberger, but I have to give huge shout-outs to newcomers Kesley Grammer and Wayne Knight. Wayne Knight is so perfectly drawn and voiced, I feel like I'm watching, well, that guy from Jurassic Park.

Speaking of Jurassic Park . . . but no, I'll let you find that awesome movie allusion yourself.

There are, of course, a number of great Star Wars references. The opening sequence is more generic sci-fi than Star Wars-specific. However, there are a few very Star Wars-y moments and sounds. And it is just about the longest set-up for a truly great pay-off I've ever seen in a movie. The pay-off doesn't come until almost the very end with the release of Evil Emperor Zurg (played by James Earl Jones' sound-alike, Andrew Stanton). It is totally worth it!

This kind of thing--constant allusions to outside media and current events--has become de rigeur in movie and television scripts in the last few years. Such allusions run the risk of eclipsing the story, but Toy Story 2 combines its allusions so effortlessly with plot, characters, and gentle spirit, nothing is lost.

And what a great way to put one's Star Wars knowledge to use! I've always said it's worthwhile knowing one's popular culture!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Star Wars as Comedy: That 70's Show & Friends

KATE SAYS everybody does the scrolled words!

That 70's Show is one of those shows that I enjoy but don't watch that often. However, I happen to adore Kurtwood Smith and consider Debra Jo Rupp one of the funniest comediennes on television. Interestingly enough, she shows up in our other sitcom as Phoebe's sister-in-law.

Subsequently, my favorite episodes from That 70's Show highlight the dad and mom characters. And Smith makes an awesome Obi Wan Kenobi. In general, I think the "adults" on the show far funnier than the "kids" though Topher Grace does make a good, believable Luke.

Regarding Friends . . . well, Mike will have to speak to the Princess Leia fantasy. In general, I like Friends' episodes that highlight Monica and Chandler far more than I like episodes that highlight Rachel and Ross. This episode happens to fall in the season where Ross and Rachel eventually break up (for the first time) because of their ridiculous, infantile personalities. So it's kind of hard to watch.

Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it; Friends is so well-written, it is hard not to enjoy. And the episode did send me back to Return of the Jedi for possibly the first time in about 20 years.

And . . . I decided that although Return of the Jedi is better by far than Lucas's prequels (the story is at least a narrative about individuals rather than a badly-written "political" drama), I still hate the Ewoks. Even as a teen, I found the idea of winning a war with teddy bears absolutely ridiculous. As an adult, let me tell you, wooden spears and Tarzan ropes will NOT win against armor and freaking big guns. It just don't happen.

Outside their relationship to Star Wars, however, both sitcoms hit a nerve/raise an issue with me: the idea that sci-fi is ONLY the province of geeky males. I suppose this is true enough to make it sitcom fodder (even on Big Bang Theory, for shame). But since I'm a fan of such writers as Connie Willis, C.J. Cherryh, and Diana Wynne Jones, I get tired of the assumption that women are NEVER interested in sci-fi.

And yet . . . having written the above, I have to admit, I prefer my sci-fi people-oriented to machine-oriented (although I still consider Iron Man one of the best of the Marvel movies). And I completely support the idea that woman/male interests are not merely due to social conditioning; brain-wiring, hormones/physical development are also factors.

On the other other hand, rather than argue that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I agree with those who contend that men are from North Dakota and women are from South Dakota. Or, at least, North Vulcan and South Vulcan.

MIKE SAYS this post is so late, I probably shouldn't comment on it. I could go on explaining a whole lot of stuff, or, I could apologize, so, I'm sorry!

The Friends episode took me back;  the Ross/Rachel relationship was the talk of the hallways in school, and the whole will they/won't they thing was the stuff of legend. After watching the episode, I'm not sure what surprised me more: how much I remembered of what was going on, or just how much they crammed into one episode!  Each character, with the exception of Phoebe, had their own little arc, though the Leia fantasy was little more than a running gag.  Star Wars in general wasn't really mentioned.

 As far as the Princess Leia fantasy goes, well, to be honest, my first viewing of this episode back in the 90's may have been the first time it ever occurred to me to think of Leia or the golden bikini in that way.  And in the years since, well, Carrie Fisher isn't really my type.  As such, I can't really speak to the whole gold bikini fantasy other than this:  For most guys my age, Leia was the first character we saw in such a state of undress, and well, she kicked some serious butt in the meantime. So it's easy to see how that might be the first real fantasy of a lot of guys... though I think it'd take a pretty adventurous and non-judgmental woman to fulfill that for them.

That 70's Show has become a favorite in my house in the last few months.  Not only is it witty, fun, and nostalgic, but it's great to see how some ideas, worries, and dumb decisions really are timeless.  The episode about Star Wars strikes me on numerous levels.... like the shoe string budget of the dream sequence.  The cool thing is that I actually owned the remote control light saber that Eric uses in the sequence (which was a model of The Return of the Jedi saber).

Between the two episodes, Star Wars fuels fantasies that affect how we see the world, which is really what fiction and film is all about.  The whole point is that we might be able to see our lives in more exciting way, and see news ways of facing our fears.  Star Wars is one of the best ways to do this, especially for those whose lives aren't nearly as... fulfilling.

The best advice that I gleaned from these episodes may be this:  If you ever fantasize about being a character in Star Wars, it may be better for everyone if you keep it to yourself.