Global Big Day 2021

May 12, 2021

Once again, I participated in the Global Big Day birding marathon. I like it because it gets me out and encourages me to challenge myself. (i.e. Get out in the field before 8 am. If I were a better birder I’d be out by 6 am, but I just enjoy that extra half hour of lying in a warm bed too much, it turns out. 8 am it is.)

This year’s results? Pretty good. I got a great lifer: a marsh wren.

42 species total. I can’t seem to break 50. I probably could have if I had made one more stop at a different set of ponds, but the weather was turning horrendous, with a big thunderstorm rolling in, and I just didn’t want to stay out in it to try to land six extra ducks.

Because that was the weird thing: there’s a whole list of duck species I reliably see at the locations where I went, and I saw NONE of them this year. This seems to happen a lot: I get close to 50, but then there’s a handful of common species I just sort of miss. And it’s a different handful every year. Like, one year I missed pigeons. Pigeons, dammit.

If you listed all the species I’ve seen on all my Big Days together, I’d be up to 70 or 80 I think. But no, the little beasties just don’t cooperate.

But that marsh wren was great. So was the colony of bank swallows I discovered when I went just a bit farther down this one trail, and the last bird of the day I logged: a warbling vireo.

And, best of all, it’s spring, and the migrating birds are returning, and this is a really good chance to get out and welcome them back.

April update

April 20, 2021

We got six inches of snow last night. We’re getting slammed with spring snow this year and I kind of love it. Springtime proper is going to feel that much better when it finally lands.

I’m watching “For All Mankind” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” as they come out. “For All Mankind” is completely brilliant and has left me in tears nearly every episode. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” is…frustrating me, for various reasons. One more episode left in each series, I think.

Apart from that, new TV is exhausting me, so I did something a little crazy and started “Stargate SG-1” from the beginning. Now, I’ve seen lots of episodes of this over the years, it’s one of those shows in eternal syndication. But I’ve always seen them completely out of order and out of context. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any of the first season episodes until now. It’s kind of a trip. Like, there actually is a cohesive story here? Who knew.

Mostly my observation about it at this point is it’s very, very earnest. Also, SF fans really like shows with uniforms, don’t they?

Two weeks post vax I went on an outing to celebrate, to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Sue the T-rex is visiting and I wanted to say hi.

Now I want to go re-read all my Dinotopia books.

thoughts for the day

March 31, 2021

I’m sure I’ve posted this quote before, but it’s still good, and still helpful, after this past year. It’s from Babylon 5, from Marcus, who got a lot of good lines.

“You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

In other old SF series news, I’ve been watching original Trek for the first time in a while, and I find I love it. I’ve gone back and forth on it over the years, but right now I’m really appreciating its earnestness and the solidity of its stories, which don’t devolve into technobabble the way Next Gen often does.

I also realize that I’m hyper-emotional about everything these days and so this time at the end of “The Menagerie” when Kirk asks Pike if he wants to go back to the planet and he beeps yes I just started bawling. This is is an episode I’ve seen a dozen times. And this time… I dunno, y’all. Loved it.

Also, reading about naval warfare in the War of 1812 and realizing that all the starship battles in Star Trek use that model is kind of nuts.

Lots of thoughts over here today. Just gonna sit with my tea awhile and ponder.

I promised a friend a list of episodes to watch if he wanted some kind of Clone Wars Experience. Here it is. With A LOT of excessive commentary because I think I might have mentioned that Star Wars is the rabbit hole that has been keeping me sane (???) as the pandemic wall has been threatening to crush me this last month or so. I have so many thoughts.

Note: This is a list of episodes I liked and thought were interesting. It’s not “essential” episodes, episodes that tie in to the live-action stories, or anything like that. It’s episodes that I thought were just good stories.

I also swear a lot because I guess I have Opinions and Things.

There are some glaring omissions on this list. Pretty much everything involving Mandalore bugged me, I think because Satine is such an obviously doomed character and that was frustrating. I skipped most of the baby Boba Fett episodes, because once again they had an inevitability to them that wasn’t interesting to me. This list doesn’t include very many big battle episodes. I found them grim. After this last year, I think I’m feeling fragile and I want stories of love and community and there’s precious little of that in this show.

So yeah, it might be that I just picked a really bad year to watch The Clone Wars for the first time and I might have felt differently five years ago or five years from now. Isn’t that funny?

Another note: As I was putting this together I got out the chronological list, as recommended, to see how screwed up the timeline of the first three seasons is, and holy shit it’s a mess. Wow. So here we are.

And I watched the movie which has a lot of what I don’t like about the series: endless noisy battles. But it’s also when Ahsoka and Anakin meet which is kind of important. And Jabba the Hutt has a son? Like, a little baby slug? WTF? Why? WHAT HAPPENED TO STINKY THE HUTT WHERE IS HE IN CANON WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM WTF AND DOES HE WANT REVENGE ON LEIA FOR KILLING HIS FATHER YOU SEE THIS IS THE SORT OF CAN OF WORMS YOU OPEN UP WHEN YOU DO THIS KIND OF SHIT.

Apropos of nothing, has there ever been a Hutt Jedi? Hmm…

Looking at my notes, there are lots and lots of relevant episodes. We meet Hera Syndulla’s father, Saw Gerrera, see the Darksabre for the first time, etc etc. Just lots of stuff that comes back later. I don’t know if it makes those episodes good stories, but it does show that everything ties together. I left a bunch of those, that are mostly interesting for the callbacks, off my list. My list will give you a story about Rex, the Clones, and Ahsoka, and how badly the Old Republic screwed them over.

1.5: Rookies. We meet some individual Clones who are going to be important later. Rex, Cody, and Fives. Argh, this makes that malfunctioning chip storyline EVEN WORSE. I think the heart of the show is the ambivalence of the clones. They are sentient beings deserving of rights. They are slaves. The Republic never actually tries to reconcile this.

2.10: The Deserter. Rex meets a Clone trooper who deserted years ago and took up life as a farmer and started a family. It shows Rex that he has a choice, that other lives are possible. This is the episode that made me keep watching the show, because it gave Rex a character arc and made the clones compelling.

2.11: Lightsaber Lost. Baby Ahsoka has an adventure. A keen stand-alone story.

2.13: Voyage of Temptation. But only the last ten minutes. Like, start it at minute 18:00. This is a Kenobi/Satine story, which as I mentioned in a previous post drive me batty because Kenobi is kind of terrible. But this last bit may be the most iconic Anakin Skywalker moment in all of Star Wars canon.

3.1: Clone Cadets. I loved it, I love them. But then, it’s part of the Clone trooper story which I think is one of the strongest threads of the series.

3.2: ARC Troopers. Ditto.

3.15-17: The Mortis storyline. This ties in a bunch of stuff and is super spooky. Does the animation style change? Or am I just getting used to it? This really blows up Jedi lore in a way I found fascinating. This is also the storyline that convinced me that Anakin never had a chance, everyone is just screwing around with him. Also hugely important for Rebels, weirdly enough.

3.09: The Hunt for Ziro. This is a Hutt-centric episode that is so full of WTF-ery that I hardly knew how to deal with it. Hutt mummies, y’all.

4.7-10: The Umbara storyline. AKA Clone Platoon. Clone centric, really rough going. But it’s critical not just for the Clones, but for the fall of Jedi. The Jedi of the Old Republic are corrupt. It explains everything.

4.21: Brothers. The return of Maul. This is on the list just because it’s so completely horrifying. “Ah, so it began without me” is the creepiest line ever.

5.8-9: Bound for Rescue/A Necessary Bond. Hondo is totally creepy here.

5.12: Missing in Action. A Clone with amnesia. It’s one of the supreme disconnects of the Old Republic, that it relied on what is essentially slave labor. The show keeps emphasizing the humanity of the Clones, which means the whole system is based on an irreconcilable paradox. The “heroes” of the story, Anakin and Obi Wan, never confront this.

5.17-20: The Jedi Council fucks over Ahsoka Tano. Yeah, after this whole storyline, just fuck ‘em. Ahsoka’s the best and the Jedi Order can just burn to the ground. (I have strong feelings about this.)

6.1-4: This is the storyline that foreshadows Order 66. A Clone’s chip malfunctions. This is horrifying and terrible and a good story.

7.1: The Bad Batch. Basically Clone Wars meets GI Joe and I’m not even joking. (One of my favorite aspects of this show is watching the Clones explore individuality, with names, tattoos, unique identities, etc. They’re so hyper aware of it, which makes it that much more tragic.)

7.09: Old Friends Not Forgotten. As a result of binging I don’t actually remember what happens in this specific episode but my note with it says, “They’re just fucking with us now.”

7.10-12: Aaaaand this is what it’s all been leading to. This is where it all hits, and I have to admire them because they just went there. These episodes happen simultaneously with Episode III, and we see Order 66 from the point of view of the Clones, whom we’ve been invited to sympathize deeply with the entire show. It’s as gut-wrenching as you’d think. It’s Ahsoka and Rex just dealing with it and they’re magnificent and heartbreaking, and Anakin and Obi Wan are clueless. The great Jedi Knights went through this whole war with their heads so far up their asses they never figured it out. And that last goddamn scene. Geezus.

I’ve seen a couple of commentators claim you just need to watch the last four episodes, but I think you need a bunch of the Clone episodes, and you need to see Ahsoka’s journey of disillusionment, for those last four episodes to have an impact. That’s the arc that forms the spine of this show.

 

(I’m about halfway through season 5)

  • Still really dark. Still so much torture.
  • In fact, I’m beginning to view the entire show as horror. Structurally, it’s military adventure. But aesthetically, tonally, it’s evoking dread and discomfort, and the characters are headed toward unavoidable disaster. It’s horror. This is in addition to actual horror episodes like crazy spider-robot Maul and zombie Nightsisters.
  • For example, there’s a heartwarming storyline about a group of Jedi younglings on a mission to make their first lightsabers, and they have adventures and rescue Ahsoka from pirates – and all I can think is, “Okay, so do these cutie-pies get slaughtered by Anakin or murdered by Clone troops?” I mean, really.
  • Subtext referencing conflicts in both Vietnam and Afghanistan are making this even darker. The Umbara storyline in particular is comparable to the tones of Platoon or Apocalypse Now. I’m not even joking here. These are movies the Gen-X makers of Clone Wars would have grown up with, their model for what war stories look like. (Lucas’s model for war stories was always WWII. I think this shows in the movies he made vs. the stories that came after him.) But it goes deeper – there’s an episode where the Jedi secretly deliver rocket launchers to the insurgents on Onderon, to use against Separatist gunships, that I felt like should have been followed with a footnote explaining, “Hey kids, this really happened when the U.S. supplied weapons to insurgents in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 80’s. Now let’s see how that one turned out! (Spoiler: the Taliban! It totally contributed to the rise of the Taliban! *SW: Rebels & Rogue One present crazy bitter Saw Gerrera.* Right, okay then.)
  • I have a growing conviction that Anakin didn’t just turn to the dark side – he was pushed. I mean, of course he was, by Palpatine. But…everybody around him sure didn’t help. Like, at all. It’s not just Palpatine manipulating him, it’s everyone, with the exception of Ahsoka. Gah, poor Ahsoka. This particularly comes out in the Mortis storyline, which I really liked for its mysticism and weirdness. And they’re yanking Anakin around like a fish on a line. Poor kid never had a chance.
  • The Umbara storyline is great, and really difficult. I mean, we’re watching the clones acquire PTSD in real-time. (Which, as I mentioned above, is what so many 80’s Vietnam movies were about.) But it’s a defining moment for Rex and the clones. Things can only go downhill from here!
  • My speculation on a conversation that might have happened behind the scenes:  Person A: “I think we need more women characters, we don’t have enough interesting women characters.”  Person B:  “No problem I’m on it!” *Presents the Nightsisters*   Person A: “Are…you sure you want your goth girl kink out in the open to this degree?”  Person B: “What goth girl kink?”  Person A:  “….oh. Oh sweetie…”   (The inevitable google image search tells me that Nightsister cosplay is just as popular as I thought it’d be!)

Onward, Troops. Sir yessir.

Guess what Star Wars fan decided to finally binge-watch The Clone Wars the same month there’s an actual armed insurrection and ongoing coup against her country’s government, incited by the lame-duck president? If you guessed “This one!” you’re right!

I’ve been going through a lot of boxed wine, y’all.

Anyway, here we are. Long post ahead.

Why I Didn’t Watch The Clone Wars Before This

  • I tried, when it first aired. Made it I think two or three episodes? But it was all droids and clones blowing each other up, and it was really boring. Basically, the worst bits of the prequel trilogy on repeat. (I have since learned that the first couple of seasons’ episodes are not in chronological order. This was likely a contributing factor.)
  • I really dislike that animation style. It lacks nuance and expression. It’s kind of ugly. (Now that I’m halfway through, I don’t hate it. I don’t know if the animation has smoothed out over the seasons or if I’m just getting used to it.)
  • Even fans of the show are qualified in their praise. I’ve been told to skip the first season. Or the first and second season. Or, like, everything until season four, which puts us 2/3 of the way through the series and… no one has ever told me I must watch The Clone Wars. Not like they told me I must watch Rebels.
  • I remember and loved the Genndy Tartakovsky Clone Wars series. It was beautiful and intense and why does no one talk about this anymore? Anyway, part of not watching the new series is pure petulance that the previous one seems to have been largely forgotten.

How I’m Watching 

I’m giving myself permission to skip as much as I want. I’m not using any of the online lists of best episodes or most necessary episodes. I just…skip. If there’s a bunch of people standing around talking about trade blockades, I skip. If there’s a big droid battle, I skip. Basically, if it resembles the most boring bits of the prequel trilogy, I skip. If Anakin and Padme are being particularly toxic, I skip. (After the mutual respect and support and pure joy that is Kanan and Hera’s relationship, Anakin and Padme are tough to watch.) Jar Jar Binks appears? Oh yes, I skip.

It’s nice. If you judge me on this or tell me I’m missing some kind of nuance by not watching every single minute, I will ignore you.

My Thoughts So Far

The last years of the Old Republic are a nihilistic and dystopian hellscape, the Jedi Order is moribund and useless, and deep down the show knows this but doesn’t quite know what to do with that knowledge and so trundles on as if the Jedi are heroes who can actually make a difference when we all know they can’t and that most of these characters are destined to die horribly, and soon. Darth Sidious/Palpatine is manipulating everything. We know this. Which means that nothing anyone does is ultimately going to make any difference. It’s an existential nightmare.

But it thinks it’s a Star Wars heroic adventure and that’s… odd.  There’s a point where Obi Wan and the rest just can’t seem to figure anything out. Like, they’re just dumb. They simply aren’t allowed to solve what’s really happening. It’s so frustrating.

This is Greek tragedy. I felt this during the prequel trilogy – it’s Greek tragedy full of hubris and blindness. But it keeps acting like a Star Wars heroic adventure story. I think this cognitive dissonance does find its way into the show in various ways, but that only serves to highlight that this cognitive dissonance exists.

And this is why Ahsoka and Rex and the Clones are the best characters, and so very necessary. I’m happily following them to the point of skipping everything else, because they’re the only characters who are questioning anything. They’re the only characters whose arcs aren’t pre-ordained by what happens in the movies. The clones, who are giving themselves names and differentiating tattoos, and experimenting with independence and questioning their own motivation and existence. Ahsoka, who loves the Jedi, loves Anakin, loves fighting for justice, and you can just see how that’s all going to come crashing down around her, even as early as season 3. (Meeting Ahsoka in The Mandalorian, after she has matured and survived and learned a ton and has scars, was inspired. That episode is the main reason I finally decided to give The Clone Wars a shot. I want to see where she came from.)

More Thoughts

  • It’s really dark. So much torture. Lots of graphic on-screen deaths. Way more than in the live-action films. Remember in Empire, the torture of Han happens off-screen, except for the screaming, which somehow made it worse, right?  Well, Clone Wars just shows it. Frequently. It’s really disturbing. See discussion of dystopian hellscape above.
  • The Republic, which is anti-slavery, also utilizes an army of manufactured sentient beings with no freedom. The Jedi Order uses child soldiers. (The Padawans, early Ahsoka and Caleb Dume let’s say, are what? 15, 16 tops?)
  • It’s so weird when these villains pop up, terrorists and agitators aligned with the Separatists, and every time they get cornered they have a rant about how the Jedi and Republic and out of touch and corrupt and unable to stop the conflict and…they’re not wrong? They’re actually kind of sort of right? But they’re the bad guys?
  • I hate Obi Wan Kenobi. I really do, and the thing that clinched it is the way he’s always grabbing Duchess Satine’s arm and pulling her back and telling her she’s wrong. No, just no, he’s a jerk, he’s terrible. Let her alone. I’m starting to think that man died still believing he was right and not realizing what an absolute hash the Jedi Order made of everything there at the end. Also, there’s an episode where he basically saddles Ahsoka with the responsibility of keeping Anakin in check, and I’m shouting at the TV, no, you don’t do that to a young person lower in the chain of command. That’s terrible leadership. Obi Wan is an abusive menace.
  • Super weird watching it after Rebels instead of before. I can see now there’s all kinds of things that would have been big reveals and shocks had I seen Clone Wars first:  the appearance of Rex, Hondo, the Syndulla family, etc. I guess I’m getting those big reveals in reverse. Speaking of which, creepy evil Hondo of Clone Wars is a little disconcerting after bumbling comic relief Hondo of Rebels.
  • The most interesting thing of all:  There are ways in which Rebels is purposefully deconstructing all the squicky disturbing stuff about Clone Wars. Like, Ezra Bridger insisting that the Geonoshan, who has a name, be treated as a person deserving of respect and not cannon fodder. The episode where the gang encounters an enclave of battle droids who don’t know the war is over, and the droids get to be actual characters coming to grips with what has happened to them. In The Clone Wars, everyone is trapped in this existential nightmare. In Rebels, the characters achieve agency on their journeys. Rebels asks you to question everything that came before and find your own path.
  • That Hutt mummy. There’s a Hutt mummy. The Hutt mummify their dead. WTF. It’s in the episode where Sly Snootles is conducting a torrid affair with a Hutt who talks like Truman Capote and WTF is even happening.

I was telling a friend about the increasing levels of WTF in this show. She said I ain’t seen nothing yet.

I’m scared, y’all.

 

light

December 31, 2020

“Grief in the galaxy, is there? Oh, yes. Oceans of it. Worlds. And darkness? There you see darkness, darkness everywhere, and a few stars. A few points of light. If no plan there is, no fate, no destiny, no providence, no Force: then what is left? Nothing but our choices, hmm?

To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle, or the night, Padawan: but choose!”

–Yoda, in “Yoda: Dark Rendevous” by Sean Stewart

 

all Star Wars all the time

November 30, 2020

Star Wars is my comfort viewing and I’ve been deep into it the last couple of weeks — basically since season 2 of The Mandalorian started. (Loving it! I thought both Bo-Katan and Ahsoka were perfect.) I’m on my third watch-through of Rebels. And I’ve dug out some of my old comics.

I’m having so many thoughts I could talk about, but here’s the one for today.

This is Nomi Sunrider from Tales of the Jedi, by Tom Veitch, which takes place hundreds of years before the films, basically when the Jedi Order is at the height of its power. (We come to realize that the version of Jedi Order we see in the prequel films is a shadow of its former self and nearly powerless. We can talk about that another time.) She was one of the earliest visualizations of a woman Jedi and I love her to pieces.

I particularly love this cover by Hugh Fleming, and when I first got this issue, back in the mid-90’s, I had a thought that this would make a fabulous costume. And that’s as far as I ever got thinking about that, because I didn’t even know where to start with it. I was intimidated. So I never did it.

Looking at this now? I know exactly how to make this costume. Exactly what fabric to get to make the cloak and tunic — I even have patterns already in my stash. How to do the belt and vambraces, and who to call for help in making her lightsaber hilt.

And that’s what 20 years of costuming experience has earned me. What once seemed too difficult now seems not just simple, but exciting. I’m gonna do it, guys. It may be that no one will know who I’m cosplaying, but it’ll make me happy.

If I could go back in time with one message to my younger self, it might be: have patience. You need to practice a lot to get good at things. You’ll make mistakes but that’s okay. Don’t be afraid. Just keep practicing.

Yeah.

 

Halloween 2020

November 2, 2020

Here’s the costume I made for my niece this year:

Oh my goodness, it turned out great if I do say so myself! My brother 3-D printed the tricorder.

The challenge this year was sizing. I was able to borrow a Next Generation uniform pattern from a friend of mine — an adult, male Next Generation uniform pattern. Hmm.

The trick was taking one of Em’s shirts that fit the way we wanted the uniform to fit and using that to resize pattern pieces. That’s a technique I’m going to be using again, I’m sure.

Another successful costume creation in the books! And I might have enough fabric left over to make one for myself…

 

Halloween 2020

October 30, 2020

Halloween is not cancelled. A lot of traditional events may be, but the holiday will happen regardless.

My niece Emery has chosen the form she will take this year. As usual, I made the costume. I’m anxiously awaiting pictures.

We’re all very excited.