Sunday, April 19, 2015

In defense of Episodes I-III

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, this is a quasi-bike blog.  But it's also a blog about shit I love too, so we're gonna talk about Star Wars for a minute (or five).  Besides, if you've blasted down a forested stretch of singletrack and you haven't pretended you're on a speeder bike racing through the forest moon of Endor, you're either a liar or you have no business reading this blog anyhow.

The new Star Wars trailer, as the kids say, dropped this week.  In case you haven't seen it, here it is.

 And with this, the news media has gone completely ape-shit.  Good Morning America, ABC Nightly News, (which are owned by Disney, the company making the new Star Wars movies, hmmm) NPR, and others have run stories on this TRAILER (it's a teaser from a movie that is 8 months from being released) and the event, Star Wars Celebration, where the trailer was officially released.  And with it, the ubiquitous interviews with all those quasi-nerds that say the same shit, "Yeah, the trailer was great, but I have mixed emotions, I really hope this is better than the Jar-Jar disasters of Episodes I-III." Or something along those lines.  A fucking 20 something hipster-nerd, who wasn't even born when Episodes IV-VI came out, waxing nostalgic for movies that he hasn't even seen the original versions of?  What the hell?

Let me preface this by saying I don't think that Episodes I-III were great, but they're not as horrible as some people make them out to be.  Could Lucas have done a better job with them by letting someone else direct them?  Sure.  Would they have more depth and character if he didn't rely solely on CGI for every damn effect?  Absolutely.  Can I give you the reasons why they're not the trash you think?  I'm gonna.

Defense 1.  The free flowing story arc.
Episodes IV-VI had no constraints on its story line.  Lucas could have taken us anywhere he wanted to go.  We didn't know there was a second Death Star, we didn't know what Jabba looked like (it's true hipster-nerd, Jabba was NOT in the original version of Episode IV), and we surely didn't know that Darth Vader was Luke's father.

Episodes I-III had a very limited ability to create a story line.  Everything in all the stories had to come to a very specific point.  They had to come to Anakin being trained by Obi-Wan and subsequently being defeated on Mustafar by Obi-Wan and being burned up like a piece of Bantha bacon.  Luke and Leia had to be born, and then hidden from Anakin/Darth Vader.  Yoda and Obi-Wan had to go into
Mmmm, Bantha bacon...
hiding.  Oh yeah, and Anakin had to turn to the dark side and actually become Vader.  Hard to make a new amazing story when the  very specific ending was already written.

This is also why the story line for the new episodes should/better be amazing.  There is no constraint on the stories.

Defense 2.  The acting.
Pensive Luke...that's some SERIOUS
I hear a lot about how horrible Hayden Christensen was as Anakin.  Yes, I'll agree he wasn't great.  But guess what?  Mark Hamill wasn't great as Luke either!  Seriously, go back and re-watch IV-VI and tell me why you think Mark's acting was better than Hayden's.  Just listen to the whiny, monotone voice that says "BUUT I WAS GOING TO TOSCHI'S STATION TO PICK UP SOME POWER CONVERTERS!" and seriously tell me that this is better that Hayden saying in a 4 year old's best grumpy voice "DON'T MAKE ME DESTROY YOU."  You can't.  And, just like in Episodes IV-VI, there were bright spots of acting.  Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan was believable, especially when he was monologuing on the bank of the lava river to the fried up Darth Vader, and when Natalie Portman was telling Anakin "you're breaking my heart" was real emotion.

Defense 3.  They are kids movies.
I think this is the thing that people forget the most.  Not that these movies were not intended for adults, but they were made for kids!  Lucas has said many times that he wanted to recreate that Saturday serial type of experience he had when he was a kid.  And, lest you forget, you most likely watched Episodes IV-VI when you were a kid and then saw I-III when you were an adult, skewing your opinion on those movies (except for those hipster-nerds, who are just regurgitating what ever is supposed to be cool or not cool about Star Wars).

Defense 4.  Lightsaber battles.
The lightsaber battles in Episodes I-III were WAY better than in IV-VI, don't deny it!  Sure the battles between Vader and Obi-Wan in IV and between Vader and Luke in V-VI had a lot of emotion in them, but they looked like they were swinging 25 lb. baseball bats at each other.  As far as the action goes, they were far better in I-III.  Actual choreography and young actors that could handle it  
(mostly), not old guys or guys in heavy black suits.

Defense 5.  The Jar-Jar factor.
This is the one that gets me riled up the most.  Everyone always points to Jar-Jar as to why Episodes I-III sucked.  Don't get me wrong, I don't like the Jar-Jar character.  I think it's pointless and slightly racist.  Watch these movies with a little kid sometime and see how hard they laugh at Jar-Jar and you'll understand part of it.

That's not my defense though.  My biggest complaint is about the revisionist mentality of those that blame Jar-Jar for I-III and think that Ewoks are OK.  Ewoks suck my balls!  I hated them from the second they came on screen at the Elks Theater in 1983 when I first watched Episode VI.    
Really?  The Care Bears beat the Empire?
Seriously?  Luke, Han and Leia couldn't beat the Empire with the fastest ship in the galaxy and all those X, Y, A, and B wings at their disposal, and yet a bunch of FUCKING TEDDY BEARS with rocks and sticks take them down?  I call BULLSHIT on the whole premise!  Tell me the Empire wouldn't just torch their whole planet, burning the forest down and the tree-forts and teddy bears that live therein.  God I hate Ewoks...

So, here's to A New, New Hope that Episodes VII-??? are better than I-VI, yes I-VI, all of them, but I can almost guarantee that there will be a Jar-Jar/Ewok character or moment in these new ones that will get the nerd illuminati so up in arms that they'll have a fit in their mom's basement.  I loved IV-VI as a kid and still do as an adult, I know I don't hate I-III as much as you say you do and maybe now you won't either.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rambling thoughts that may or may not tie together.

Do you ever think about when you first learned how to ride a bike?  Do you think about that feeling you got when you first were able to ride on two wheels, no parent running behind you holding you up or no training wheels saving your wobbling bike?  It was magic!  Balancing yourself on something 2" wide (or less) yet propelling yourself forward at a pace that was faster than running and could take you much further!  It was independence, it was freedom, it was maturity, it was getting rad, it was amazing.  

Do you ever get that feeling anymore when you ride?  Why not?  Too busy?  Too stressed?  The thoughts of your life, death and taxes weighing on you?  Man, you gotta find that place again.  It gives you perspective, it calms you, it makes everything OK.  I found that feeling again today.  A short ride through some side streets, past a cemetery (if riding past a cemetery doesn't put shit into perspective for you, just about nothing will) and I was on singletrack.  And even though I could see the city on one side, there was nothing in front of me other than that brown ribbon of dirt snaking its way through the trees up the side of the mountain.  That smell of the forest, the pine trees, the dirt, the organic material decaying, all mix together and speak to that primal spot in my soul.  Couple that with the sound of my bike tires scraping rocks, trying to find some traction, crunching the gravel on the trail, the whir of gears, the grating sound of brakes being applied and pretty soon, while I could see the city below me, it meant nothing to me.  Not that it wouldn't ever mean anything to me, but it didn't right then and there.  I was in the moment, I felt the magic of being able to balance, pedal, shift, and brake all while trying to keep myself from plummeting off the edge of a ravine.  It was that same feeling as I had when I first learned how to ride a bike.  I don't always find that feeling when I'm riding my bike, but I find it way more often than not.
Riding in the Land of the Lost...

Which brings me to the bummer part of this story.  After almost 3 hours of winding my way all over Skyline and HLMP here in Rapid City, I was pedaling home on the bike path, awash in that feeling of being tired from the physical exertion but alive with all the endorphins my body could muster, when I crossed paths with a mental kick to the balls.

There it was, pulled over on the side of the bike path, a family, the mom walking a dog, the dad, crouched down near his son, who was on a bike with training wheels.  As I got closer, I could tell the dad was being a total, ever-loving prick to his kid, who was sitting there with his head down his eyes full of tears.  By the looks of the situation, the kid was doing something that didn't go over well with the dad and he was being "told" all about it.  I said, "Hello" in a firm voice, hoping that the dad would realize what he was doing and stop it as I sped by.  I contemplated stopping and saying something, but I quickly realized that I don't think it would have helped the situation.

Look man, I get it.  Sometimes as parents we don't stop and think before we say shit to our kids.  And sometimes our kids do shit that gets under, WAY under our skin.  And sometimes we say shit to our kids over and over and over again and they don't listen.  And sometimes we need to give our kids a push to get them motivated and try to reach their potential or even just to try new things.  But at NO time is it OK to berate your child and make them feel like idiots.  Guess what parent on the bike path?
Did you know your child is CONSTANTLY trying to impress you with everything they do?  They want you to be proud of them, they want you to tell them they're doing the right thing, they're doing well, they make you proud.  Stop just for a minute and think back to your childhood and how you'd feel in that situation if you were in your child's shoes and it was your dad yelling at you.

Bike riding is always supposed to be fun no matter how old you are, but it is supposed to be especially fun for a small child.  Don't make them grow up to be one of those pricks driving their giant diesel pickups that are rollin' coal that swerve towards and throw shit at cyclists because they are bitter about an experience they had when they were a kid.  Give them the confidence they need to grow up and be a (almost) 44 year old that loves that magical feeling of riding a bike almost 40 years after the first time they pushed a pedal down on their own.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Move some dirt, ride some dirt…

I never want to get preachy on this blog. It's mostly supposed to be my fun, nonsensical rambling with a few tales of woe or whoa thrown in for good measure. But today I'm gonna get a little preachy, so in the words of Jack Nicholson, if "you can't handle the truth" then you should probably stop reading now.

You're still with me? Good. Here we go...

The whole thought of this post came to light for me this last Wednesday, which was April 1st , the dreaded April Fools' Day, which also happened to be the day to sign up for the Dakota Five-O.  Last year the Five-O sold out all 700 spots in a few hours and the expectation was that it would be the same or even quicker this year.  In addition to that, the website that everyone used to sign up last year was bought out by a different company, so everyone that I talked prior to the April Fools' 7:00 am registration was logging in early to make sure their old user name/password worked.  And at 7:00 when registration began, so did the flurry of communications about how the system was crashing, people couldn't register, people were getting registered 5 times, etc. all while I sat and drank my coffee watching the chaos unravel on my Steve-Jobs-Control-Your-Mind-From-Beyond-The-Grave device. "But Not-So-Serious, this will be your 8th Five-O.  You've done all of them since you moved back.  Aren't you doing this one?" I hear you say with a *GASP*.  Why yes, I am, but because of the actual point of this post, I didn't have to go through the gyrations of the other 699 individuals.

Gettin' dirty on the Centennial Trail.
You see, Perry has put out a call to arms the last couple of years.  Come help do some trail work to prep the course for this year's race and you're guaranteed a spot in next year's race.  You don't have to get up early, fight the other 699 people for a spot, or stress out when you were charged for 5 spots or didn't get in to the race.  Trade a little sweat equity for the peace of mind that you're in if you want to be.  So for the last two years, I've taken him up on his offer and it's been great!

Getting a guaranteed spot in the race isn't the point of my post though (even if it is a nice benefit) but getting out and doing some trail work is the point.  And this is where I feel like it gets all preachy and it can come off as "well, I do trail work so I'm better than you" and that is decidedly NOT what I want.  Look, I get it, we're ALL busy.  We have lives, work, spouses, kids, want to ride our bikes, yard work, want to ride our
More Centennial re-route stuff...
bikes, house work, want to RIDE OUR BIKES, soccer games, WANT TO RIDE OUR BIKES, shopping, WANT TO RIDE OUR FUCKING BIKES, that get in the way when it comes to doing stuff like trail work.  Guess what?  So do I.  The last thing I want to be doing on a beautiful Saturday morning is getting dressed to go do trail work.  I worked my ass off this week and I'd rather screw around on the internet for a while, drink way too much coffee and then go ride my bike.  But the trails aren't going to build, fix or clean themselves up.  There are hundreds upon hundreds of mountain bikers in our communities.  If we could just get 1/8th of them to go out and do two hours of trail work per year, TWO HOURS PER YEAR, we'd be miles and miles ahead of where we are now.

Sometimes there is a tangible benefit of doing trail work, like getting to laugh at everyone that is
Making trails better for your enjoyment!
having a meltdown about trying to get into the Dakota Five-O, and other times it is not so tangible, but that smug feeling you get when you ride a section of trail that you know would completely suck if you didn't work on it is totally worth it!