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Posts published in “Day: December 19, 2017”

The last of Star Wars, almost


I can just remember walking into a movie theater in the summertime in Boise 40 years ago, having waited a couple of weeks or so until the lines went down, to see this new hot movie called Star Wars. Who would have guessed - I sure didn't - what it wrought?

The new movie and the eighth in the series, The Last Jedi, is one of the better entries in the field, and seems to set up well the upcoming finale. It is better focused than most, without losing the scope or epic feel of the earlier movies. It seems less obsessed with battle scenes, in space or with light sabers, than most of the films (though those scenes are by no means forgotten).

But it also seems a little more thoughtful than any of the others, and repeatedly returned to the subject of the past - and the need to let go of it. That would seem to be necessity after the last movie, The Force Awakens, which was enjoyable also a little over-slavish in its carbon-copying of the structure of the first movie.

And the subject of releasing the past has a more immediate point with this movie, since the three key actors who starred in the first and appeared in the last (Force) will be gone for episode IX. Harrison Ford's Han Solo was killed off last time, Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker comes to an end in this one, and Carrie Fisher, whose character seemed well positioned for another movie, personally passed on. The last movie will be carried on entirely by the new generation, which got a good workout in this new movie.

There is another aspect to this passing of a the torch and the transmission through generations that I liked.

Part of the mythology developed through the early movies, and continued on in the prequels, was that of blood ties - of the state importance of destiny and the "strength of the force" and such running through family connections. The point was emphasized repeatedly, and was the subject of some of the most dramatic points in the series. (One of the dramatic peaks of the early movies was the moment when Darth Vader declared to Luke Skywalker, "I am your father!")

This movie, while tossing away a number of other things as well, several during some excellent Hamill scenes in which he puts paid to a lot of uneasy questions about the whole jedi culture, seems to diminish the importance of that. The titular last jedi (spoiler ahead) is not Luke Skywalker - who we probably were expected to anticipate it would be - but one of the new generation. And one of the dramatic highlights in this movie was the revelation, after toying earlier with the question, of the parentage of that character: "nobody," meaning no one with personalized importance to the story, and meaning that this new character is important for herself, for her own capabilities and actions, and not because she was part of some Royalty of the Force.

This is a break with the Star Wars mythology, and a good break. It always seemed a little too reliant on Middle Ages mythmaking, and too little on the kind of forward-thinking storytelling you might expect in solid science fiction. (Of course we can argue about whether this is more about sci-fi or fantasy, but that's another subject.)

That new toss may be a key to where the series winds up in its final episode, a couple of years from now.


Republicans may be reawakening


There are a few encouraging signs that my dear old Republican Party may be returning to its roots.

This is the party I grew up in - a party that was wary of too much government but insisted that vital public needs be adequately funded and competently handled. Members of the old GOP did not vote lockstep on virtually every issue, but studied the issues and exercised independent judgment. I have seen some stirrings lately that indicate a possible return to those days.

My mentor and former boss, Senator Len Jordan, who served our state as Governor (1950-1954) and later as Senator (1962-1972), set the example for me. Although there were some party-line votes while he was in the Senate, he was a rugged individualist who followed his own moral compass in representing Idaho and the nation.

Jordan would never have voted to confirm a nominee for a federal judge position who was not qualified, no matter how politically connected the person was. He bucked his own President on two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court - Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell - finding both to be unqualified for that lofty position after independently studying their records. We have seen very little of that lately from the party Jordan loved.

But, low and behold, Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, recently refused to support two federal judicial candidates that the American Bar Association (ABA) found to be “unqualified” to sit on the federal bench. One of them, Brett Talley of Alabama, was nominated for a lifetime district court position even though he had practiced law for less than three years and never tried a case. His only claims to fame were operating a political blog and being married to a woman who worked for the President’s White House Counsel. Although Talley was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Kennedy jumped ship to oppose Talley when it was discovered that he had failed to disclose his wife’s job and the potential conflict of interest. Senator Johnson said he would vote against Talley “in a heartbeat - twice if I can.” Thanks in large part to his principled stand, Talley’s nomination was withdrawn.

It is important to put individuals with strong experience on the federal bench because those judges handle serious civil and criminal cases. It is not the place for an inexperienced rookie or political hack. The ABA performs a valuable role in evaluating and rating candidates and should not be ignored.

Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, provided the other ray of hope when he said he could not vote for Roy Moore for a seat representing his state in the U.S. Senate. Besides being the subject of credible allegations of molesting teenage girls, Moore had been kicked off of the Alabama Supreme Court twice for defying the law of the land. A judge can disagree with the law but he or she takes a solemn oath to uphold it and commits a serious breach of that oath by claiming to be above the law. Senator Shelby’s courageous stand harkens back to the ethics of the party that I remember from years ago.

This is not to say that the other party does not also engage in party-line tactics, but it is not the party in power now and the leaders set the tone. It is time for the GOP to get back to its past ethical standards - the standards set by Abraham Lincoln, the GOP’s founder. I think he would approve of the recent independent thinking of Senators Kennedy and Shelby, but be disheartened by the no-compromise, take-no-prisoners attitude too often exhibited by many of the others.