Thoughts on the Release of Carrie Fisher’s Autopsy Report

Life is short. Sometimes our choices make it shorter.

Carrie Fisher’s death is back in the news. It turns out she was using drugs around the time of her death. She was obviously relpased with her addictions, as I suppose all of us were afraid to hear when she re-entered the spotlight of the Star Wars universe and found herself once again the center of nerve-wracking adoration from people who never really knew her.

Frankly, I don’t know why we’re all so obsessed with the cause of death if it’s not a criminal matter. I don’t know why we need to know. When my dad died, it didn’t matter to me what had killed him, just that I had to say goodbye. It matters even less to me what ended Carrie Fisher’s life.

This isn’t because I’m calloused. It’s because it really doesn’t matter. All it can do is blunt the sympathies of those who wish to shake their heads and pontificate about drug use, or magnify the sympathies of those who feel a personal stake in her life to shake their heads and pontificate about drug use.

In the end, the sympathy you feel for Ms. Fisher should be the same for any person who leaves this world at so young an age. The sympathy you extend to her memory for her struggles with addiction should extend to those who didn’t enable your escapes from reality, but live such lives that made addiction an escape from their own reality.

Let your sympathy extend to those who use food as a medication for their frustrations; feel sorrow at those who blur the lines of themselves to step away from unfulfilling lives by any means, even online gaming. Real life is a struggle and some people don’t cope as well as we’d all hope.

Actress Carrie Fisher poses at the world premiere of the film "Dumb and Dumber To" in Los Angeles

By all accounts, she was a dynamic and funny person. She also had issues dealing with the things that made her so special.

I have a belief system that there’s something after this, and my hope and prayer is that whatever suffering drove Ms. Fisher into her addictions is gone now. Whatever metaphorical demons chased her, I hope they were burned away by the bright light of a better world.

May God have mercy on her soul, and may she be smiling somewhere, free of the pain that drove her to choices that shortened her life. That’s what I thought when I first heard of her death, and it’s what I think now.

So, once more. Rest in peace, Ms. Fisher. I never knew you, but I’m grateful you were able to make some sort of impact that won’t be forgotten for a long time.

The Last Movie

Recently I was asked, if you were about to be put to death (let’s just say that in my case it’d likely be for thoughtcrime), what is the last movie you’d request to watch?

It’s a riff on the more-traditional “what would be your last meal” sort of question (short answer: Brinner), but it stopped me in my tracks.

My initial response was “something really long” and a hearty chuckle was shared. I’m one of the great comedy minds of my generation, as evidenced each week on Words With Nerds™.

I couldn’t decide, though. I had to beg for an evening to consider.

So Many Factors

After all, there are so many questions that the basic premise raises!

In a situation like that, you’d feel arguably obliged to choose your favorite movie of all time. It follows that if this is the last piece of entertainment you’ll ever see., it should presumably be the favorite one, a teddy bear experience that soothes and lets you lose track of the running time so that you lose track of what would undoubtedly be a stressful watching experience.

Because otherwise, these sorts of questions rely on the thought that you’re at peace with being killed to begin with. I can assure you that if I knew the time of my final moment, I’d be distracted by that fact.

And I Wonder

So I wondered how I could choose. There’s the inevitable mental conflict between selecting a Batman movie and a Star Wars film. As an odd side note, I never considered Burton’s 1989 Batman, though it’s probably the moment I started down the path of being a “geek.”

The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, with their themes of heroism and rebirth, could easily distract me from thinking incessantly about the final question of my faith put to the test. I adore both films, and they’d be a reassuring pat on the butt, as it were.

Both move me to that moment of heroic emotion as well, that great feeling of victory for the righteous. Which, when I meet God, is what I hope the general feeling to be. Because the opposite would suck.

For heroism as well, I could choose The Last of the Mohicans by Michael Mann, with its bittersweet ending wrapped in both victory and sorrow. The soundtrack alone is something marvelous and the cinematography in the film is some of the best you’ll ever see.

Then my mind wandered back to Star Wars as a whole and Revenge of the Sith, my favorite of favorites, in specific.

But then I’d be ignoring The Godfather Part II! Which got ruled out immediately, because I don’t
want to go out on a down note.

And though Revenge of the Sith ends with a note of hope still, I realized I’d have to rule it out as well. There’s a lot of darkness there. And so long as I’m ruling out darkness, I have to disqualify the original The Godfather as well as Vertigo.

Citizen Kane would seem apropos, but I’d prefer not to go out with a message of how small even the greatest of us are.

Musicals!

The only problem with indulging my love of musicals is, how to select a favorite? The field is littered with larger-than-life options that have a special place in my heart.

Singin’ in the Rain, The Music Man, 1776, Godspell (maybe it counts as an extra little prayer at the end?), my treasured Guys and Dolls.

But then I know, if it’s a musical, it has to be Scrooge with Albert Finney. It’s the one version of A Christmas Carol that makes me weep still, and reminds me of warm Christmases with my family and especially my dad singing along with “Thank You Very Much.”

But Then…

A musical is fine, but I don’t know if it can deliver the type of spiritual oomph I’d need.

I wonder if, knowing it’s your last film, you could really enjoy it?

Is this all an argument against watching bad movies since, theoretically, each one could be the last one you see?

Hot Wookiee Love

On the February 20, 2014 episode of Words With Nerds, I posited an ethical question rooted in Star Wars, the answer to which may carry implications for all of sci-fi, really.

Is it bestiality to make love to a Wookiee?

I suspect the initial response around the table would be an emphatic “no!” While I’m not arguing the merits of that answer, I don’t think that it’s as simple as it seems.

The reason is that I feel that answer is rooted deeply in our love (in the Platonic sense) for Chewbacca, Han Solo’s best friend and co-pilot. After all, Chewie is everyone’s favorite ape-dog and we’d hate to think of assigning such a distasteful notion as bestiality to the consummation of his relationships.

However, the simple fact remains that Chewbacca is an entirely different species than human. He is a Wookiee. By strict definition, to have sex with a different species is bestiality. If someone were to select any other species than human, while here on earth, we would call it that.

Intelligence As Mitigation

Granted, Chewbacca is an intelligent being. As my oft-irrational co-host argued in this circumstance, Wookiees can perform complex mechanical tasks, including the repair of a hyperdrive. By all accounts that is a difficult task requiring intellect.

I will point out, however, that Chewbacca missed a blinking red light in an open access panel at the end of The Empire Strikes Back indicating the hyperdrive had been switched to “off.” Had he looked there and flipped a switch, the light would turn green and the Millennium Falcon would have made a much cleaner escape.

So perhaps we need to allow that he’s not too intelligent. But I digress.

The baseline is that he possesses sentience. His species has mastered flight and builds complex and beautiful machinery.

Ripple Effects

To expand outward, Hutts also possess intellect. So do Rodians or any other aliens we encounter in that galaxy far, far away. If we are to judge that a human having sex with a Wookiee is committing bestiality, so would it be bestiality from the Wookiees’ point of view. Stepping further down this road, it adds an horrific extra layer to Jabba’s implied abuse of Leia in Return of the Jedi.

To step across the line using the same question in a different “reality,” let’s bring Star Trek into the mix. An Andorian and a Klingon would be committing bestiality from both perspectives if we disqualify intelligence/sentience as a mitigating factor. Worf the Klingon married a Trill female who had an asexual symbiont intellect living within her. So we go down a really dizzying tunnel in quick fashion.

Perhaps, then, we wish not to entertain the possibility of bestiality being the case here because it has a ripple effect that carries all the way into other science fiction franchises.

Never Resolved

At the end of it all, I am unresolved still. While I want to fall firmly into the camp of “it’s not bestiality if Princess Leia leaves Han for Chewie,” I cannot escape a nagging thought that genetic compatibility is a necessity to put the matter to rest.

Wookiees and humans are both bipedal, but genetically humans and apes (or in the Star Wars universe, whatever they call their shared simian ancestors) are much closer and will be always. But if a human jumps the wall at the zoo and goes to town, as it were, we’re not going to look kindly on it.

But does that leave a human off the hook who hooks up with a Twi’Lek? I’m not sure that simply because they look more human and have the right parts (that we can see) in the right places, they should escape this scrutiny.

God never said anything about Wookiees in the Bible. Heck, I’m afraid of the implications this has for the romantic proclivities of one Capt. James Tiberius Kirk who, in one single judgment, could be elevated from James Bond-style cad to absolute pervert. I need some guidance here!

So where do you stand?

Anakin’s Divine Origin

Strap yourselves in, we’re about to make the jump back into deep Star Wars territory. But it’s really, really, really interesting stuff to consider.

If you’re a geek.

Not so long ago, I tossed out a random thought that prequel haters who reject Anakin’s divine birth while at the same time accepting the concept of the Force are somewhat hypocritical. Jar Jar Hater in specific jumped into the fray, stating

JJH: “Having faith is not tied to one religion.”

kj: Nor is the concept of divine birth/lineage.

Let me further clarify my own response: I do understand that the Virgin Birth is very much related to Jesus Christ/Christianity. As someone who subscribes to that faith, it was also the first thought that popped in my head. I remember the collective gasp at the midnight showing when Qui–Gon received that explanation from Shmi.

Naturally, like ripples in a pond, the impact of this plot point was felt on every shore of fandom. Lucas had brought in religious notes to the Most Revered Original Trilogy, and we all spent the majority of our lives pretending we were intellectually versed on the Heroic Monomyth because he kept referencing Campbell’s seminal work in interviews about the conception points for Star Wars concepts.

Specificity

But a Virgin Birth wasn’t some fuzzy concept drawn from Eastern beliefs for which we had no proper context as children of Western culture. So I want to examine this question: Why would Lucas tie it, in the eyes of people like Jar Jar Hater, to such an easily–identifiable point of belief for a substantial portion of the planet’s population?

Or Did He?

Lucas has given numerous interviews wherein he copped to being spiritual without being religious. Now, unless he was trying to go against that basic personality trait and proselytize to the entire fanbase, we’re left to puzzle why he used such an “easily–recognizable” plot point.

My own conclusion is that it was an easy shorthand for the audience, using the presumption that they know the connotations of a virgin birth, which is safe. So it’s not so much tying to one religion as it is using a story shortcut. He wanted to communicate the idea that this kid was a child whose birth was foretold by a prophecy, and divine birth is a really, really easy way to do that.

So yes, he used an easy shortcut and relied on that shortcut to reinforce to the audience why this child was special. Is it possible that he placed it in there to shore up the idea of prophesied birth since midichlorians would be such a foreign concept to all but Scientologists?

Heck, it’s even possible he came up with the idea of midichlorians after the virgin birth part in order to try to divorce the plot point from the Christian connotations. Arguably, if this is the case, and I have no idea if it is, he did not succeed.

It’s Not a Virgin Birth Per Se

Lucas himself has said that it’s more a matter of a god/gods interacting at a base level with a human, the way Zeus used to run around knocking up Vestals all over the place. Considering the fact that there is a very strong allusion to the culture of Ancient Greece in how Anakin is raised, this would be consistent with the other elements.

In other words, some midichlorians got drunk one night and took advantage of Shmi when she was feeling a little lonesome.

Alternate Interpretations

Lucas himself opens up the interpretation of the truth of Shmi’s story in Revenge of the Sith when Palpatine makes reference to Darth Plagueis’s ability to create life by influencing the midichlorians. So even thought Shmi did not know explicitly that she had been manipulated into carrying a vessel of the Dark Side, there’s a sort of “Rosemary’s Baby” situation happening.

Of course, this relies on whether Palpatine is telling the truth. But even if he is, you’re left to wonder if Anakin was specifically conceived with the help of Darth Plagueis or if Palpatine is using a little bit of truth to get inside Anakin’s head. He would full well know Anakin’s supposed origins, and so he could tell the truth about Darth Plagueis’ abilities, even if Plagueis didn’t create Anakin on purpose.

In the book Star Wars: Darth Plagueis, James Luceno does a really terrific job of exploring the possibility while still leaving it open for people to read it how they want to read it. It’s that rare type of gem in the Star Wars Expanded Universe: worth reading, well written and leaves things open for your own interpretation without violating the text of the films.

Another interpretation is that Shmi was fibbing. This had popular support among the fanboys until Revenge of the Sith came around.

Conclusion

So really, this all goes toward saying that “I get it” about Jar Jar Hater’s complaint, I just don’t give it much weight. Lucas’ intent certainly wasn’t to make a clearly Christian reference. The worst you could accuse him of is using a lazy way to communicate Anakin’s importance.

I know full well who’ll jump all over that comment, but don’t care. Lucas has been many things, but intellectually lazy has never been one of them.

The Batman Blogs: The Villains

Is there anything better than a great villain?

Batman has had his share of terrific villains. Anticipating a certain commenter’s video reply, Egg Head does not count in that list and never will. I’m a reasonable man, but I’m not budging on that.

Batman’s villains are reflections back on the main character, showing what he could be if not for a few different decisions or circumstances. When you’re dealing with a character already straddling the line between law and anarchy, you get some interesting results.

The most interesting thing about Batman villains is that, whereas our hero wears a costume, they often wear their psychological issues as physical attributes. Two–Face wears his black–and–white view of the world on his face; he can never get the two to reconcile. The Riddler is an egomaniac with great intelligence; he is a scrawny wimp, the prototypical nerd. Catwoman is voluptuous and sensual; she is the feminist using sexuality as a weapon.

So after looking at what the different iterations of Batman tell us about our mind-set through time, can his villains do the same?

While it would be fun to continue run through the whole roster, I’m going to focus instead on the two best villains to demonstrate the evolution of our perceptions of evil. It’ll keep things brief(er) and they’ve both been reborn in Nolan’s reinventions, making them the most relevant to the conversation.

Joker: 1989

The Joker is the exception here; he puts on paint.

I’ll be fair to the 1960s show from here on out, and at least mention it. The Joker in the TV show wasn’t frightening; he was a challenge to be overcome. Perhaps that is a larger statement of the cocksure nature of our society at the time: we needed to believe no one could ever pose an insurmountable challenge to us.

Later re-imaginings of the character have deformed him. The comic books in the 1980s had him become a failed comedian turned to criminal acts to pay the bills, the “victim” of a heist gone wrong at the hands of Batman. This was the first time the character became physically deformed (at least that I know of) and made it not paint, but chemical staining that turned his skin white; the 1989 movie picked this up and ran with it. The Joker became a narcissistic career criminal who lose his sanity in the face of his deformity (get it?). The deformity was expanded by having his face get torn by a bullet and a permanent smile grafted onto him.

Jack Nicholson’s Joker was Moriarty to Batman’s Holmes. They were engaged in a game of wits motivated as much by pride as competition. the game itself was thrilling, regardless of the outcome. This pairs with the interpretation of Batman for this time, a man sure of his role as the hero strong enough to withstand his schemes.

Joker: 2008

Twenty years later, Nolan’s treatment of The Joker returned to the paint but retained the deformity, but it simply is. As our world has become more sinister and chaotic, reasons for evil have become secondary. We’re all accepting that even if we get an explanation of causation, there are some levels of evil we can never comprehend truly.

Whereas Nicholson’s Joker was evil, he had cartoonish methodology. Deadly hand buzzers, conversations with corpses and mime-act assassinations had a dramatic flair to them that showed us evil as frightening, but recognizable.

By contrast, the newest imagining of The Joker is anarchic. He relies on subtler machinations, using charisma to appeal to the baser emotional sensibilities of people, his philosophies spreading like an infection from within. It’s not any accident that in The Dark Knight, The Joker is referred to as a terrorist. Much like al Qaeda leaders like bin Laden, he gathers his followers from among the disaffected, themselves unaware that they’re nothing more than fleshy tools. He has sold them on the idea of a greater cause, when the cause itself is merely a talking point for his own gain.

And of course, there’s the layer where The Joker here actually is a solid representation of the Devil. But I’ve spoken about that before.

Two-Face:1995

And then there’s Harvey.

I have to admit that growing up, Two–Face was more of a personal favorite than The Joker. The character always seemed so sad; by his nature, he was aware that what he was doing was wrong. But his anger at his shattered sense of what justice cripples him as much as his scarred visage.

I remember a story where he had his ex-wife in their burning home, and wound up with her and Batman dead to rights. Mrs. Dent (and Batman) escaped. The last panel showed Two–Face holding the scarred side of the coin; he’d broken his rule because he couldn’t kill his love. That’s powerful, man.

So when Two–Face was finally slotted as a villain for Batman Forever, I was thrilled. When the heady fog of Ace Ventura: Riddler Villain wore off, the sins of the character’s interpretation were overwhelming.

If he didn’t like the result of a coin flip, he’d simply flip it again until he got the result he wanted. This is hugely and grossly wrong. That violates the core of Two–Face’s character, and makes any decision to controvert the coin later completely pointless.

But it is an accurate reflection of the prevailing social attitudes of the 1990s, when we learned that even the definition of the word “is” is flexible. If you just want to play games of semantics, then nothing is outside the scope. In fact, rules themselves would appear to become completely meaningless then, if all you did was ignore them when convenient. This Two–Face was more 1960s Joker than anything else. Which, given the sensibilities of the director, makes sense; unable to use the Joker, he approximated a stand–in.

Two-Face: 2008

Then once again, the character was brought back by Nolan and ironically enough, tied to the Joker. Interestingly this time, he served as a very important foil.

The Joker’s anarchy creates Two–Face, who is too rigid in his pursuit of fairness. After his tragedy, he sees only one result or another, with no room for mercy or hope; still the lawyer, he has justice that’s either enforced or not. It’s just that his rules have become simpler.

Dent becomes an expression of the old school vigilante at that point. I invite you to watch Death Wish, a film rooted in the frustration with crime. Personal vengeance becomes the motivation; this is where Batman has always been set apart. He’s not seeking revenge on those who have wronged him; he’s seeking to change lives and spare suffering. He carries a code of ethics – his own legal system – with him; by contrast, Dent’s legal code merely shrinks. There are no more bargains, no more deals and no more appeals. There is only Either/Or. And the judgment is brutally enforced.

And here’s where Harvey becomes a reflection on us. Broken by tragedy, it’s easy for someone to turn to despair, to lose faith and hope and treat the world as nothing more than a random series of unfortunate incidents. As Nietzche said, looking into the Abyss carries a price.

Maybe that’s why I see the character as so valid. I think he’s the most understandable, the most human. He’s not motivated by pride, but by pain. We’re all still scarred by September 11, and how hard has it been not to rationalize torching the world for the sake of our hurt?

Conclusion

So I guess I realize also that I picked Two–Face and Joker because they were always my favorite Batman villains growing up. I can say that I’m interested to see what happens with Bane in the next film, since so far as I’m concerned he hasn’t really existed before on film. What happened in 1997 was a mass hallucination.

Here’s hoping 2012 carries a little more of a dream come true.