Star Wars in Concert

March 23, 2018

Last night I went to see Star Wars with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and it was a lot of fun. First, I love live symphony music. Second, the Star Wars soundtrack is one of the greatest of all time. The both together? Excellent.

Watching the symphony play the soundtrack live with the movie, I notice things I wouldn’t otherwise. Like, the woodwinds play a big part. (Listening, I always thought it was strings and horns?) And also the silences. Places where there’s no soundtrack at all:  a big chunk of the Battle of Yavin has no music. Darth Vader and Obi-Wan’s duel? No music. The music starts again at the emotional beats:  the moment Obi-Wan turns his lightsaber away in the duel. The death of Red Leader in the battle.

The whole soundtrack is great, but when you hear the music in concert, played as concert music, you’re only going to hear the set pieces:  the opening titles, the Imperial March, etc. But seeing it with the film? You get to hear the whole thing.

A couple of years ago I went to see and hear when the symphony did Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the thing I noticed on that one is the Ark’s theme: it has its own theme that gets played when people talk about it, when Indy discovers the next clue on the quest, etc. And it builds. The first time we hear it it’s just one flute. Then flute and clarinet. Then all the woodwinds. Then the strings. So that by the time we get to the climactic Nazi reveal ceremony and all the terribleness, it’s the entire orchestra and the audience has been musically primed for the emotional build the whole film.

It’s great.

Next, I decided I’d really, really love to see “2001: A Space Odyssey” with a live symphony and chorus.



bird geekery

March 19, 2018

One of the things I’ve learned since really starting birding a few years ago is that ornithologists are constantly making up new species. And getting rid of other species. I mean, not actually. It’s just that the science is getting better all the time, DNA analysis is a thing now, and sometimes a regional subspecies turns out to be a whole new bird, and other times a couple of different species have hybridized with each other so much they’re actually just the same bird. So imagine my shock when I learned that they split off the Canada goose into a new subspecies. Canada goose, one of the common birds in the continental U.S. Some might even call it a pest. And now there’s another whole species, the Cackling goose, that basically looks exactly like the Canada goose except it’s short and stubby. Like this:

To make matters worse, it mostly hangs out with Canada geese. This means to ID and check off a Cackling goose, I needed to start paying attention to gigantic noisy boring flocks of Canada geese. Like, mindfully, and stuff.

Why are you doing this to me, ornithologists?  Why?!?  I can tell other birders are cranky about this too because over on eBird, instead of reporting Canada and Cackling geese separately, they just enter them under “Canada/Cackling Goose.”  Which is cheating. But I can understand. I want to try to be at least a little accurate.

Well, I decided this was the year I was going to do it. I was going to spot my Cackling goose. Because seriously, they’re two different birds once you see the differences. Cackling geese really do have short necks and short little bills compared to their former species-mates. And they’re small, and some of them have those prominent neck rings.  When you look at comparison photos online, they’re definitely different.

But comparing photos online versus spotting actual birds moving around in the wild? Yeah.  So basically I’ve spent the last two months taking pictures of one of the most common boring birds I see on my outings and bringing them home and comparing them to online ID sites to determine that no, in fact, those are still Canada geese.

I knew if I could just actually positively ID a Cackling goose in the wild, I’d figure it out.

Well, I did it on Saturday. I totally, 100% without a doubt got my Cackling geese. Like, once I spotted them they were obvious. And it isn’t just that they really are stubby little versions of the other. They acted different. Like, they all clumped together quietly drifting along on the water and looking vaguely embarrassed at how loud and obnoxious all the Canada geese were being.

Like they might actually be happy to be split out into their own species.

You go, little Cackling geese. I got yer backs.


I run this thought experiment every now and then:  what would it be like to watch TV with Thomas Jefferson? First off it’s a fun image. But it’s also a way to think on what the Founding Fathers might have thought about what the future looks like, especially the future of the U.S., when some of them weren’t sure their new country would even outlast them.

This week, because I’m very studiously avoiding politics, I’ve been watching the Olympics with Thomas Jefferson.

I think he’d be delighted with the entire concept of the Olympics — athletes around the world competing in the name of achievement and sportsmanship. (Yes, I know all the arguments about the Olympics being corrupt and a huge money sink. Let’s talk ideals here.)  For an Enlightenment-era thinker, a peaceful international sporting competition inspired by the ancient Greek games is pretty much the pinnacle of human accomplishment. He’d love it.

I think he’d be nonplussed at the sheer number of countries. Dozens and dozens of them. So many countries.

I think he’d also be nonplussed by the image of women competing in skintight outfits.  But I think he’d slowly come around when it’s explained to him how hard women had to fight to be able to compete at any sports at all. And I’d remind him that Abigail Adams would love it and be so proud of them.

Winter sports, however, would be kind of baffling in general. How many different ways can we find to go very fast on ice? Lots. Lots of ways.

And I think he’d be absolutely fascinated by electronic timekeeping. The ability to measure and compare speeds out to a hundredth of a second, instantaneously. He was a scientist on top of everything else he did, and in some ways that’s the most astonishing part of modern sports.


winter, ugh

February 12, 2018

I spent the weekend in Lamar, Colorado, looking at snow geese during the High Plains Snow Goose Festival. (They’re already migrating north and stop off in the area for a break this time of year. Thousands of snow geese, just hanging out.) Here’s how the weather breakdown went:

Thursday, the day I arrived:  60 F, sunny, beautiful.

Friday, birding day 1: 20 F, overcast, very cold.

Saturday, birding day 2: 20 F, snowing, OMFG cold.

Sunday, the day I left: 40 F, bright and sunny.

I am officially done with winter. I hit the wall. I can’t do this anymore. WTF.  And it wasn’t even the cold. It was the cold on exactly the two days I was trying to be outside, with gorgeous weather on either end. So angry making.

I logged 38 species. The most interesting were probably a merlin, a greater yellowlegs, a golden eagle, and hooded and common mergansers.

There were a lot more birds out there. I could tell they were out there. If I had been patient, if I could have stood out there and waited for them to come out I probably could have seen them. But it was very cold, so I didn’t.

But I have seen the snow geese, so the next time I go to that area, I’ll do it well into springtime, I think.


X-Files Babies!

January 12, 2018

So here’s what my brother and sister-in-law got me for Christmas.

So, I don’t rank the Star Wars movies. I mean, I probably could if someone threatened me or threw money at me. But really, I don’t see the point. Because apart from the first one, none of them really stands alone. All but the first depend on some kind of prior knowledge of the existence of the Star Wars universe and the saga of the Skywalker family. The recent ones have really depended on that knowledge, and audience expectation of what it means to watch a Star Wars movie. So now, much like the MCU, we don’t have individual movies that can be fairly graded as movies — we have chapters in a long-running thing that we haven’t really developed filmic language to discuss.  (Previous long-running film franchises, like the James Bond movies or even the Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy films, were a collection of stand-alone films, designed to be watched in any order. Not so much with Star Wars and the MCU.)

At some point in the late 80’s, my family got the VHS box set of the original trilogy, and we blocked out a whole evening to watch the whole thing back to back. This felt radical at the time, long before the age of the binge-watch. And the trilogy in one sitting was a revelation. It’s one story. It really is. Each film is three acts, but the trilogy as a whole is three acts also, with each film being an act. For a long time after that, I refused to watch each film individually.  If I was going to watch Star Wars, I was going to watch 6 hours of Star Wars. (This has changed. These days, I’ve been known to pop in the Return of the Jedi DVD and skip past all the Tatooine stuff to get straight to the Battle of Endor. Because big space ships FTW.)

I confess I haven’t watched the prequel and original trilogy all in one sitting — but I have watched the Machete Order. (And here’s my review of it.) And again, it really does all feel like one story. Story and imagery from each film calls back to the others. There are echoes all the way the through.

I could sit here and talk about how I like The Last Jedi better than The Force Awakens. It’s got more emotional complexity, it subverts our expectations rather than playing to them, which is ever so much fun. But TLJ doesn’t stand on its own. It needs to the setup in TFA to be able to do what it does. Part of its emotional impact comes from knowing what happens in TFA first.

I have favorite chapters in favorite books — I’ve been known to take Bujold’s A Civil Campaign off the shelf just to read the Council of Counts/proposal chapter over and over again.  But I can’t take that chapter out of that book and somehow say it’s better than the other chapters. Because it needs the rest of the book to be what it is.

Plus, no one ever lists the Ewok movies in their rankings of Star Wars films.


I’ve seen it twice now. I liked it even better the second time, mostly because now that the structure was familiar I could pay more attention to content. This film is 4 acts plus an epilogue. We’ve never had a four-act Star Wars movie. It’s unbalancing. There’s a lot crammed in here.

Here’s everything I’ve been thinking about, in bullet points:

  • As an old-school Rogue Squadron fan I keep trying to bond with the pilots. This is such a big mistake in this movie. TALLIE, NO!!!!
  • Does Paige use the Force to grab that detonator? Maybe.
  • Headcanon: That white-haired soldier who steps out of the trench on Crait? I think he was at Hoth. He was a young Rebel then, that was his first battle. By now, he’s seen it all, and he’s going to step up and face those walkers because he’s done it before. He’s a legend among Resistance ground troops, I’m sure of it.
  • Second time around, I realized Luke has his old lightsaber at the end. The blue one. This is another one of those really obvious clues that I nevertheless missed the first time. That scene is full of them.
  • Hux is a caricature of Tarkin, Snoke is a caricature of Palpatine, and Kylo is a caricature of Vader. They’re supposed to be. That’s the point.
  • Just like the Resistance is full of people who know how to be Rebels, and nothing else. As Leia says, it’s a movement full of dead heroes, that needs leaders if it’s actually going to turn into something stable. That’s also the point.
  • So it’s like Johnson took all that stuff that Abrams threw at the wall in TFA and actually made it mean something.
  • I love that Snoke is dead dead dead. Such a boring uninteresting character. Having him gone just clears the air. I love it.
  • That throne room scene. That whole thing. I could write an essay on it. Gah. Don’t focus on what’s the same as the scene in Return of the Jedi. Focus on what’s different. Snoke thinking he knows Kylo. Kylo proving otherwise.  Rey coming into the situation with ulterior motives — turn Kylo to save the Resistance — where Luke came into that situation with only love for his father. It starts the same as previous scene, and goes someplace completely different. THAT FIGHT OMG. I think Kylo did turn to the light, briefly. When he asks Rey to join him so they can abandon the past and clean up all this mess — I think he’s doing that from a place of light, however misguided. But when Rey rejects him — that’s when he turns to the dark. Not that she could have or should have done anything differently. Like I said, there’s really a lot going on here.
  • I love Rey. I was trying to explain to someone what I love about her, especially in this movie. She’s young, earnest, scared, and has this balance of idealistic and practical. That smile she gets when she feels the rain. That she cries all the time. That she starts out completely unsure of everything and ends up in a place of power and confidence.”Lifting rocks. Huh.” Yeah.
  • Rey spent two movies looking for a mentor. Han tried. Luke refused. And finally she comes to Leia. Rey is Leia’s heir. And she doesn’t have to be a princess to be that.
  • I bought a stuffed porg. I actually bought a frakking porg.

Okay I’ll stop now.