Tuesday, October 30, 2018

New Evangelizers Post: A Brief Response to Stephen Hawking

I have a new article up at  

Stephen Hawking passed a few years ago, but one of his books is being published posthumously. This book is getting a great deal of press because it expresses Hawkings’ atheistic beliefs of a universe that is explainable without God. Seeing as how Hawking is regarded with great respect in the popular culture for his scientific genius, his points deserve a response.

I will say up front that I am not a scientist. My training is in theology and philosophy. I will be ready to take correction from anyone in the scientific field who can show me the error of my logic, but the laws of logic and reason form the foundation of scientific inquiry.


A very basic principle of being is that out of nothing comes nothing. This is expressed in the Latin phrase “Ex nihilo nihil fit.” In other words, anything that comes into being must come from something and is not the cause of its own existence.

Hawking believed that the universe came into existence out of nothing. The basis for this idea is that scientists have observed sub-atomic particles seemingly come in and out of existence. Hawking extrapolates this principle to the universe itself. The logic works like this:

A: In order for the universe to come into existence out of nothing, there must be some things that come from nothing.
B: Some subatomic particles come from nothing.
C: Therefore the universe comes into existence from nothing.

There are two main problems with this line of thinking.

The first is that the logic does not follow. Even if we could prove that things came from nothing, it does not prove that this is the case for the universe. A subatomic particle may come into existence, but we would never say that a bowling ball would spontaneously come into existence. And a bowling ball is incredibly less complex than the universe, even nanoseconds after the Big Bang.

The second is that accepting that material things comes from nothing sounds like a scientific dead end. I cannot imagine any other case in which scientific inquiry ends with “and then a miracle happens and then it exists.” You may not classify spontaneous generation as a miracle, but I cannot imagine classifying it as anything else. To say that subatomic particles come from nothing sounds more like a problem of observation than it does a conclusion. Just because we cannot currently observe where these particles come from, it does not therefore mean that they come from nothing. I can think of no other situation in which a failure at finding a cause leads to the conclusion that there is no cause. I may not be able to observe gravitational fields with the naked eye, but since I can see there effects, I can be sure that the exist as a cause. A cause without an effect is a logical fallacy.

You can read the whole article here.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sunday Best: My Ideal Star Wars Episode IX

Production has already begun on the final film in the new Star Wars trilogy.  However, The Last Jedi was so flawed and divisive that the entire franchise is in danger of collapsing, as evidenced by the horrible box office of the very enjoyable Solo.

How can this be fixed?

A friend of mine, Rick O., asked me what my ideal version of Star Wars Episode IX  would be.  I thought about it.  

I thought about it way too much.

We have had no story elements leaked so far.  But if I was placed in charge of Star Wars Episode IX, here is what the movie would be.  It would have to try and recapture the optimism out of the cynicism.  It would have to tie together the events of all the films. It would have to say something new that hasn’t been said before while at the same time being consistent with the themes of the Star Wars universe.  It would have to give a resolution to the character arcs established in the previous two films.

And it would have to be a satisfying and exciting adventure.

I don’t know if my idea is perfect, but this is what my Episode IX would be:


Episode IX


It is a dark time for the galaxy.  With the collapse of the GALACTIC REPUBLIC, chaos ensues.  Star Systems have come under the control of various waring factions and criminal gangs, with no protection for the innocents.

Kylo Ren, leader of the remenants of THE FIRST ORDER, takes his maurading band of fanatical followers to hunt down and eradicate any trace of THE RESISTANCE at all costs. 

Meanwhile, REY, the last remaing Jedi, has been scouring the galaxy for children sensitive to the Force in order to start a NEW JEDI ORDER to restore freedom and order to the galaxy...

The movie then begins as a ship lands on the remnants of Canto Bight.  The planet has been pillaged in the ensuing wars. Rey and Finn secretly land on the planet in the middle of a fight between warring factions of slavers and former slaves.  Neither side takes kindly to Rey and Finn. They land on the planet to find a force sensitive child (the one from the end of The Last Jedi)  When they find him in the chaos, they realize that they have to save all of his other slave children friends, even though there is no room in their small ship.  They decide to break into a secure hanger and steal a bigger ship.

Problems compound when The First Order arrives.  Not interested in making alliances with either side of the fight, Kylo Ren orders his troops to kill both sides.  The slavers and former slaves begin to fight the First Order, but they are both horribly outmatched.

Rey, Finn, and the children make it to the hangar, but the ships are all blown up.  They are confronted by a mysterious masked figure (not Kylo Ren). This masked person uses a purple lightsaber and confronts Rey.  Rey has reforged Luke’s lightsaber, but now the blade glows golden-yellow. There is an epic lightsaber fight. But the bombardment from The First Order ships in orbit knocks Rey out.  The masked figure steals the force sensitive child and escapes in a light spaceship that slips through the space battle above.

The bombardment gets heavier.  Kylo senses Rey unconscious on the planet.  He has a moment of feeling, but then orders the soldiers to annihilate the city.  Before they can execute the order, Poe Dameron and a squadron of Resistance ships comes and engages the First Order.  Poe orders a transport down on the planet to rescue Finn, Rey, and the children. He then orders all of the Resistance ships to destroy one of The First Order's large capital ships and then hyper jump away.  Kylo Ren becomes enraged.

Rey awakens on the new command ship, the Solo.  Finn tells her that they saved the other children, but that they lost the force-sensitive child to the mysterious masked figure.  He then tells her that Poe ordered that the Resistance jumped away and abandoned Canto Bight. Rey goes to confront Poe. Poe, as the new de facto leader of the Resistance, has adopted a strategy of slowly whittling away the First Order's resources.  Rather than engage them in full-scale battles, they hit them, do damage, and escape before they lose anything. His plan is a slow war of attrition. But Rey points out that the people of the planets have no one to defend them.  Those people's biggest problem is not the First Order, but the chaos and criminal gangs that are causing destruction. Poe insists that they have take out the First Order first. Rey insists that they protect the people first and train new peacekeeping Jedi.  Finn is caught in the middle. Before they can progress further in their fight, they receive news that Leia has died.

Kylo Ren is in his room on his new command ship, the Phoenix.  He feels a disturbance in the Force.  He knows his mother has died. He tries to hold back a tear but cannot.  He then hears Darth Vader's voice. The voice calls him weak. Kylo rails against him.  He says he doesn't need Vader anymore. He killed Snoke, he is in charge of the First Order, and he will kill the Last Jedi.  Vader tells him that Kylo Ren will fail. Even if he kills Rey, there will one day be more Jedi and more Sith. The wheel that Kylo has been trying to break will keep turning.  Unless Kylo listens to Vader, who has a plan.

On the Planet of Naboo, a funeral is held at the seaside location where Anakin and Padme were married.  C-3PO speaks about how he and R2 were witnesses to that union.  C-3PO doesn't remember it himself because his memory was erased, but R2 assures him it happened.  And that marriage produced two of the most extraordinary Skywalker children now gone: Luke and Leia.  C-3PO reminds those gathered that those we love are never really gone. R2 plays a hologram of Leia for everyone. During this funeral, Rey can see into the past and she witnesses the wedding Anakin and Padme herself.

Rey wanders off, emotional.  She then hears Luke's voice. She turns to see the force ghost of Luke.  She tells him she is sorry for abandoning him and not listening to him about Kylo Ren being beyond redemption.  He says he was sorry for not listening to her and joining the fight sooner. She says she doesn't know if she doing what's right.  He says, no one knows, but that we just have to go forward as best we can. None of us has all the answers. He tells her that she has a larger role to play, a bigger destiny.  She says she doesn't because she comes from nothing and is no one. He asks who told her this. She tells him Kylo Ren told her that her parents were no one. He tells her that Kylo isn't the most honest person.  She said she felt it to be true. He tells her sometimes we too easily believe our greatest hopes and deepest fears, like he did with Ben Solo. She says she heard what Luke said to Leia and that Kylo was beyond redemption. He says that isn't what he said.  He said "I can't save him."  She asks if that's her destiny: to save Kylo Ren.  He says, "I didn't say that." He tells her to listen Maz and that he is sorry.

Luke disappears and Maz Kanata shows up, being carried by Chewbacca.  Maz tells them that they have to leave now because she knows where the masked figure has taken the child.  Just as she begins to tell her, The First Order arrives. The First Orders destroys all of the Resistance ships in orbit.  They don't fire from space. Instead, they receive a message from Kylo Ren to surrender Rey to him. Rey offers to surrender, but Poe knows that it is a trap.  Maz says she knows someone who might help.

Maz leads them to a very old Gungan in rags.  She tells him the time has come. The old gungan says that he used to be wealthy and he used to be a senator.  He saved all of his money and used it for a special purpose. He knew that Naboo would never be fully safe. He created a small, but strong fleet of Naboo starfighters that he gives to Poe and the Resistance to fight The First Order and protect Naboo.  In the meantime, losing patience, Kylo sends down his apprentices, the Knights of Ren to take Rey. He also sends a battalion of storm troopers led by the badly damaged Captain Phasma. Finn tries to fend off the stormtroopers and Rey takes on the Knights of Ren.  Rey and the others fight on the ground and overcome them.

Poe gives the order and the remaining Resistance pilots engage the First Order in a space battle.  Poe wants to fight along side of the other pilots, but because the weapons systems of the Millenium Falcon are damaged he as to escort the Falcon to safety.  On board the Falcon are Chewbacca, Rey, Finn, R2, Threepio, and Maz. They break through the line. Kylo Ren flies into a rage. The voice of Vader tells him patience.  Things are now set into motion that will lead her to him.

On the Falcon, Maz shows them they have kidnapped DJ from the last movie.  He reveals that Ogama the Hutt has put a bounty on any force-sensitive child.  He does not know why. Finn says that they can't trust him, but Maz says they can.  As she says this, DJ rubs his newly attached bionic arm as Chewbacca laughs. Slightly horrified, Rey says to Poe, who is flying a Naboo starfighter next to the Falcon, that they need to go and negotiate the release of the children from Ogama on Tatooine.  Poe argues that he has to get back to the fight against The First Order but Rey tells him that if they don't start fighting to save the innocents, there will be now one left to build a Republic. She says it's what Leia would do.

During the journey, it is discovered that the masked figure has stowed away on the Falcon and attacks Rey. The masked figure nearly takes control of the Falcon. The heroes get Poe to fire on the  Falcon from his Naboo starfighter, causing damage to the ship and jolting the attacker enough for the heroes to get the upper hand. When they do, they subdue and unmask the intruder, who is revealed to be a woman in her early 40s with red hair.

While she is unconscious, they discuss what to do with her. Poe recommends that they jettison her and Finn agrees. Rey sends the others out of where she is holding the prisoner. Luke appears again and she asks for his advice. He works her through the possibilities of killing the prisoner or letting her live.  But he refuses to give her an answer. She yells at him in frustration. The prisoner stirs and asks who she is talking to. Rey asks her for her name. She says her name is Mara Jade. She is a bounty hunter. Luke tells Rey that Mara was one of his first students, even before he started the new Jedi Academy. But she left only after a few short years of training to make her fortune. Mara continues to ask who Rey is talking to.  Rey asks her if she is Jedi or Sith and she says she is in it for herself and that good and bad are illusions. She says the Sith are tyrannical. But so are the Jedi. She says her uncle was only a child when he was taken away from his family and brainwashed by the Jedi. Her family never saw him again. Rey asks what Mara has done with the force child and what Mara wants with her. Mara tells her that Ogama put out a bounty on all Force-sensitive children. But then when Mara told Ogama about Rey after their encounter on Canto Bight, he offered 50,000 for her alive. Mara says that Ogama did not say why. Rey asks if they are walking into a trap. Mara says that Rey will find out.

Back on the
Phoenix, Kylo has assembled the remaining Knights of Ren. He tells them he has had a vision that will lead to an end of the past, an end of the Jedi and Sith. He tells them that when he was just a padawan, Darth Vader appeared to him and told him that he would take his place as the most powerful Force user in history; that Kylo would be the new Vader. But now Kylo wants the Jedi and Sith to end. And Vader will lead him to this destiny. He tells them that it may cost them their lives. They all pledge themselves to the mission.

The heroes land on Tatooine. Rey says she’s been here before. Finn says it just reminds her of Jakku. Maz and Chewbacca remain behind to fix the damaged Falcon. Poe, Finn, and Rey have Mara lead them to Ogama’s lair. They come upon the remains of the Lars Homestead.  Rey sees visions of it as if it is still in working order. She then looks and sees Ghost Luke standing looking at the sunset. He said that all his young life he wanted to leave the Lars farm. But he appreciated the home they gave him too late. He tells Rey never take family for granted.  She says she doesn't have a family anymore. He says that family is what you make it. And he tells her again that he is sorry. Before she can ask why he's sorry, Mara Jade comes by and tells her that they are close to Ogama. When Rey asks where, Mara points to a city on the horizon. Rey notices that the city appears to be getting bigger.  Mara says that the city is a floating city that travels in perpetual twilight around the planet. While Rey is distracted, Mara attacks her and subdues her. Mara then quickly dispatches Poe and Finn.

Back on the Falcon, DJ is able to send a communication to someone saying that he is on the planet and that they should come get him.

Mara takes her prisoners to Mos Ikarus City, the city that floats above the desert wastes.  She brings the bound prisoners before Ogama the Hutt. Ogama is pleased because they have now the last Jedi in Rey.  Rey denies that she is who Ogama says she is. But then Rose Tico appears by Ogama's side and confirms Rey's identity. She has been working as a technician for Ogama.  She confronts Poe who kicked her out of the Resistance for stopping Finn from destroying the cannon on Crait. She then found DJ who got her a job as a technical helper to Ogama.  Her skill as technician made her indispensable to Ogama. Just then DJ shows up with Maz and Chewbacca in chains. Mara collects her bounty. Rey demands to know where the Force children are and wants to know what Ogama wants with them.  Ogama refuses to say much, only that he doesn't want them but is gathering them to deliver them to someone else. Ogama orders Finn and Poe to be executed. They aren't needed because they are not Force sensitive. Finn offers to trade their lives for another force user.  Finn tells Ogama about Mara's force abilities. Mara claims that Finn is lying. Ogama says he believes Mara, but then has one of his henchmen hit her with a tranquilizer dart.

Mara awakens and finds herself on the desert floor chained to Rey.  Above them is Mos Ikarus. Ogama wants to make sure both women are Force users so he puts them to the test.  He has dropped them right next to a sleeping Krayt Dragon. With no weapons, Rey and Mara must survive. At first Mara refuses to use her powers.

While Ogama and his crew are watching in amusement.  Rose informs him that he is getting an urgent message from their buyer.  Ogama tries to waive it off but the buyer says that it is urgent. Ogama and Rose go into a private room to make contact.

Back on the surface, Rey and Mara try to outrun the Krayt Dragon, but it is too large.  It also digs underneath them and almost chomps them, but instead breaks their bonds. Mara begins to run away, but the Krayt Dragon follows.  Rey uses her force powers to pelt the Krayt Dragon with the bones of its kills.

Back in the private room, Ogama and Rose establish contact with the buyer.  It is Hux. He is no longer a general, having abandoned The First Order when Kylo took over.  He is in hologram form and is at the center of a hologram council of various crime lords and warlords with their lieutenants standing guard.  He says that they should bring their Force-sensitive captives to him. Many of the crime lords balk and want more money. Hux quickly and effortlessly gives in.  He even offers extra. Suspicious, they ask why he is so free with money. He tells them he is about to become wealthier than anyone in the history of the galaxy and they can join him.  He explains that he discovered a derelict space station. It is ancient, older than the Republic, older than even the Jedi. He got it working again. It hovers outside the center of the galaxy and draws massive amounts of energy from the galaxy's center and processes it into unlimited fuel.  With this fuel you could to run an entire fleet of star destroyers around the galaxy and never come close to running low. The crime lords want in. Ogama asks why they need the Force sensitive people for. Hux says technology on the space station is ancient and alien. The harvesting process requires a unique energy source: Force-sensitives.  They are hooked up to machines and their ability to use the Force is harnessed to syphon energy from the galaxy core. Ogama wants to be exclusive partners with Hux. The other crime lords balk. Ogama gives a signal and all of the other crime lords' lieutenants execute their leaders. Hux is impressed and sends the coordinates to the base. Ogama asks what the base is called.  Hux says that the language used is dead, so he has no idea.

Ogama returns to see the Krayt Dragon coming close to killing Rey.  The Krayt Dragon is about to devour her when suddenly Mara force-lifts Rey out of the way.  Together they make a stand against the Dragon. Ogama says he's seen enough and that they should take the women and kill the other prisoners.  Rose takes out her pistol and points it at Poe. Suddenly, she shoots it at a nearby control panel. This releases the bindings of the prisoners.  Rose throws the heroes some weapons and they begin to fight their way out. BB-8 and R2 are catapulted down to the surface and race towards Rey and Mara.  When they get close enough they fire lightsabers at Mara and Rey who catch them and fend off the Dragon.

While running through Mos Ikarus, Rose explains to Finn that Poe sent her deep undercover.  She had to wait until she knew where Hux had gone. Chewbacca and Maz rescue the children. Rose then sabotages Mos Ikarus and it begins to crash.  The criminal inhabitants begin to flee, including Ogama. Poe, Finn, and the others make it the Falcon. DJ begs to be rescued too. Rose wants to leave him, but Finn says they may need him to get to Hux.  Chewbacca, Maz, and the children arrive and board the Falcon. Rose says that she is staying. Mos Ikarus is actually built on the bones of a super star destroyer and she plans to save it for the Resistance.  Poe agrees to stay and help her. Chewbacca flies the Falcon and rescues Mara and Rey.

The Falcon drops the children off at the Lars homestead.  Maz gets it up and running. Rey tells Maz and Chewbacca to stay and watch the children.  She has to go and rescue the others on Hux's base. Mara tries to leave, saying this isn't her fight.  Rey says that now her secret about being a Force user is out, she will never be safe until Hux's base is shut down.  Reluctantly, Mara agrees.

Finn tells Rey that she should stay with the children because she is the future.  If they lose her, they have no one to teach the children the ways of the Force. Rey says she has to go.  She takes the Jedi texts and gives them to Maz in case she doesn't make it back. Rey is still disturbed by the fact that she knows she has been to Tatooine before.  Maz reminds her of her words from The Force Awakens, "When you live as long as I have you see the same eyes in other people."  Maz says that Rey's eyes are seeing what they once did in another life. She says that life creates the Force, but life flows through the Force.  That is the real power of the Force. And that for the rare person, they come back from the Force to live life over again, hopefully to get right what they got wrong before.  Maz asks Rey if she ever wondered why she was so good at fixing things, why she was so adept and using the Force, why she is so skilled with a lightsaber that she could beat Kylo Ren on her first attempt, and why the lightsaber called to her. Rey refuses listen and leaves.

Rey, Finn, and Mara board the Falcon and leave for the secret base.

At Hux's base, Kylo Ren and the First Order fleet arrive.  Hux appears in a hologram communication to Kylo. Kylo begins to Force choke Hux.  Hux appears to be choking but then laughs. The ancient base has built-in safeguards against an attack by Force-users.  Hux relishes the chance to tell Kylo off once and for all. Darth Vader tells Kylo to ask permission to board. Kylo does and Hux smarmily grants permission.

On the Falcon, Mara asks Rey why she risks her lives for strangers.  Rey says her family needs her.  Mara points out that Finn, Poe, Chewbacca, and Maz aren't Rey's family.  Rey says that family is what you make of it. Mara asks about her family.  Rey says she doesn't know them. Rey asks Mara about her family. Mara says she doesn't have a family any more.  Rey asks what her uncle's name was. Mara says she doesn't know, her father never told her. But Mara’s father's name was Yoo-El Fore Kenobi.  Rey is ecstatic that Mara is related to Obi-Wan. Mara asks where Rey is from. Rey says she is from Jakku. Mara says that she once crash landed on Jakku but was patched up by a couple of junkers but that they took something from her.  Mara then looks at Rey strangely and asks how old Rey is.

Before she can answer Finn pulls Rey away.  Finn tells Rey that he was studying the schematics that Rose gave him.  Hux had sent limited information to Ogama. But from the looks of it, they may be able to board, but someone is going to have to stay behind and disable the auto guns for escape.  Finn says that he will remain behind and Rey can take the children. Rey begins to fight him, but Finn grabs her and kisses her. He tells her that all he ever wanted before he met her was to survive at any cost away from The First Order.  But when he finally met her, he knew that there are some things worth giving your life for. Before Rey can respond, Mara tells them they have come up on the base.

The Falcon sees the base but is out of range.  They can see the remains of The First Order Fleet.  Finn says they can sneak in towards the bottom hangar.  The base is design to fight massive fleets and to keep the prisoners from escaping.  It should make it easier to break in. Finn grabs DJ and forces him to cut through the security grid like he did to Snoke's ship.  DJ agrees only because they are approaching the base now and if he doesn't sneak them in, they will all die.

Once they land, Finn goes to find the weapons control with BB-8.  Rey and Mara go to find the Force children.

Meanwhile, Hux welcomes Kylo and the Knights of Ren.  Hux is surrounded by his soldiers, each with an energy force field that prevents the Force users from harming them.  Hux shows Kylo the controls for the base and how they are feeding off of the center of the galaxy. Kylo says it is beautiful and that he understands now.  Kylo goes to the controls and reverses the flow. The energy from the station begins to flow back into the heart of the galaxy. Hux yells at him to stop. Kylo says this is how we end the Jedi and the Sith: by ending everything.  Kylo is going to destroy the galaxy. Hux's soldiers attack and the Knights of Ren defend. Kylo pushes with the Force against Hux's shield but it glows brighter. Hux says that the shields absorb the Force and makes it stronger. Kylo then pushes hard against the shield.  It gets stronger and stronger. It then begins to get darker. Hux doesn't understand. Kylo says that the shield was too weak. It was letting in light and air. Now it's getting stronger and cutting off those things as well. Hux screams as the shield becomes so strong that it becomes a tomb.  Kylo returns to the controls and floods the galaxy's heart with energy.

Finn sees what is happening to the energy beacon and tells Mara and Rey over a comm link that they are running out of time.  They need to get the Force users away from the power source or the galaxy will die. Finn decides to try and blow up the energy beacon.  Finn is ambushed along the way by Captain Phasma and the stormtroopers. Phasma calls him a traitor. Finn asks the stormtroopers if this is the life they want.  He says that all of them were kidnapped from their families at a young age and that they were forced to do The First Order’s bidding. But they don’t have to do what they are told.  They can choose their own family. Some of the stormtroopers take off their helmets, others do not. The ones that remove their helmets fight alongside Finn and a battle ensues.

Mara and Rey find the Force sensitives.  Kylo is waiting there for them along with the remaining Knights of Ren.  Kylo tells them that the Force sensitives are wired into the base’s system.  He says Mara and Rey cannot free them. Kylo says that the only way they can save the galaxy is to kill the force sensitives hooked up to the base because that will cut off the base’s energy supply.  He says he won’t stop them if they try.

Mara considers killing them to save the galaxy.  But Rey stops her and tells her there has to be a better way.  Rey appeals to Kylo to let them go. Kylo says, “Still trying to save my soul?  You should have learned I’m a lost cause. Isn’t that right, Luke?” Luke as a Force ghost appears next to Rey.  Rey asks Luke for help, but he says he cannot interfere. But he does appeal to Kylo to stop this madness. Kylo says, “Two can play it this game.”  A Force ghost of Vader appears, except he glows red instead of blue. Vader tells Kylo that his destiny is at hand. Rey tells Kylo not to listen to him.  She says, “That’s not Darth Vader.” He asks her why she would say that. 

She says, “Because I am Darth Vader.” 

Kylo is shocked by this news and scoffs at it.  Rey looks at Luke. Luke asks her how long she’s known. Rey says ever since Maz told her that she had been on Tatooine before in another life. That’s why she is connected to the lightsaber and to Luke and to Ben Solo.  She tells Kylo that the spirit of Vader is in her.

Kylo looks at the Vader Ghost, confused.  Vader laughs and then transforms into the large Force Ghost of Snoke.   Kylo and Rey are shocked. Mara asks what they are looking at.  The Force Ghost of Yoda then appears next to Luke. The scene plays out like this:

LUKE: Snoke!
YODA: His true name, that is not.
REY: Who is he?
SNOKE:  I have been known by many names.  Kylo Ren knows it.  He was always fond of saying, “The Supreme Leader is wise!”
REY: I don’t understand!
LUKE:  He’s a Sith: Darth Plagueis the Wise.  He was the one who trained Darth Sidious, the Emperor.  Palpatine killed him.
SNOKE: I let my apprentice think he had killed me.  It let me stay in the shadows until his silly little Empire inevitably fell.  All that time I knew that there were better, subtler ways to work the power of the Force.  You have no idea how easy it was to corrupt this one [points to Kylo] by pretending to be his idol: Darth Vader.  However you, Skywalker, were harder to crack. But I was able to get my tendrils into your mind.  I stoked the fire or fear and paranoia over your nephew.  I almost got you to kill him. But your connection to the Light stopped you from doing it.  But it did not matter.  Either way I knew one of you would fall from the Light by my hand!
REY:  And the one that fell was your end.
SNOKE:  End? Don’t you understand, girl?  I am Darth Plagueis! I am master of life.  I will go on. It is the galaxy that will die!

At this point Kylo and Rey attack Snoke with lightsabers, but they have no effect.  Snoke laughs. Luke says to Rey, “You know how I said I cannot interfere? That’s over.”  Luke’s Force Ghost form grows and attacks Snoke, as does Yoda. Snoke enters the minds of the Knights of Ren and has them attack Kylo, Rey, and Mara.

Meanwhile, Finn is fighting his way down to the energy beacon.  He is stopped by a group of First Order Stormtroopers. But suddenly, they get word that the space station is under attack.  Poe, leading a small fleet of Naboo starfighters leads an assault, with Rose Tico piloting the space-faring Mos Ikarus. In the distraction, Finn is able to fight his way out of the ambush.  He gets on a comm to Rose and Poe and tells them that he can’t get to the energy beacon but that they can destroy it from space. Poe orders the ships to take out the energy beacon to stop it from destroying the galaxy.  Rose charges her ship ahead, boldly claiming how great it is to be able to pilot an entire Super Star Destroyer single-handedly.

Back in the prisoner’s chamber, Snoke is fighting Luke and Yoda and he is winning.  Rey, Kylo, and Mara are barely able to hold back the Knights of Ren. Snoke is able to knock back Luke.  Snoke takes hold of Yoda and obliterates his ghost form. Snoke tells the horrified Luke and Rey that Yoda has merged with the Force and will no longer be able to re-emerge as a Force Ghost now that he has endured this "second death."  Luke stands resolved but hesitates. Snoke taunts him, telling Luke that he is all alone. Rey and Kylo are too busy fighting the Knights. Snoke approaches Mara and taunts Luke again saying Luke will die again because these others like Mara have no idea that they could help.  Mara says, “That’s all I needed to hear.” She then hits Snoke with Force lightning, sending him flying. Luke looks at Mara shocked.

LUKE:  I thought you couldn’t see me.
MARA:  I lied.  You look good.
LUKE:  I never taught you how to use lightning.
MARA:  I picked up a few things after I left.  Mad?
LUKE:  Not now.

Luke and Mara face off against Snoke.  

The overload of energy to galaxy’s center is approaching critical.  Finn makes it to the weapons control to try and shut it down to help the Resistance ships.  There he is confronted alone by Captain Phasma. The two engage in a knock-down fight. In the process, Finn goes to overload the weapons system.  Phasma yells at him to stop. If he does, she’ll tell him where he can find his real family. Finn pauses for a moment and then says that he has a real family.  He overloads the system and runs out as the room explodes with Phasma inside.

The weapons control is destroyed and the ships engage with the beacon, but it is too heavily armored.  Some suggest using the Holdo maneuver and hitting at lightspeed. Poe says that won’t work because none of the ships have the prototype shields that Holdo’s ship had.  Rose Tico looks at the beacon and tells Poe to move all the other Resistance ships out of the way. She then points Mos Ikarus at the energy beacon. On the comms, she calls up Finn. She tells him she finally understands what he was doing on Crait and why she was selfish for stopping him.  She says that she hopes that this makes up for it. Finn yells at her to stop, but it is too late. She says she’s not destroying what she hates. She’s saving what she loves. She crashes Mos Ikarus into the energy beacon and stops it from destroying the galaxy. But it hits the space station and the station begins to be pulled into the gravity of the galaxy’s center.

Finn tells Rey over the coms that the station is hurtling towards destruction.  She fights her way through the Knights of Ren with Kylo. Mara and Luke are fighting Snoke, but they are slowing being overwhelmed.  Kylo and Rey finish the Knights of Ren, but the force-sensitives are still hooked up to the station. Rey begs Kylo to let them go so that they can be rescued.  Kylo says they can’t be saved. The station is drawing on their life energy to stay functional. He says they will die and it will feed off their residual Force energy in their bodies until they are used up.  If they cut off that power, they will all die.

Rey tells him that they have to try something.  Kylo says he is not a hero. He is beyond saving, even Luke said so.  Rey says that Luke only said that Luke couldn’t save him. Kylo says that Rey can’t save him either.  She says she knows. But she said that the Force is connected to life, not death: that is the power of the Force.  Rey reaches out with the Force with all her might and then collapses. Kylo catches her, unsure of what she has done.  But he looks up and sees that she has summoned two more Force Ghosts who glow with a golden light: Han and Leia.

Han and Leia approach their son.  He says to them he’s sorry. They say that they know.  He says he has no excuse. They say they know that too.  But that doesn’t change the fact that he is their family and that they will always love him.  Ben Solo says, “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?”  They reach out and touch their son’s face and wipe away his tear. They then help him to his feet.  Rey begins to come to just in time to see Ben head towards the power lines that are drawing the life out of the Force-sensitives.  He pulls the lines apart as the energy still flows through them. Ben looks back at Rey. She begs him to stop. He looks at her and simply says, “Thank you, Rey.” He then thrusts himself into the energy field.  The station begins to drain Ben’s life energy and the Force-sensitives are released. Ben is overcome and he dies.  The space station continues to feed off of the residual energy of his body, but it is failing.

Snoke has almost gotten the better of Luke and Mara.  He sees that Rey is trying to escape with the Force sensitives.  He blocks their way and says that if the galaxy won’t die, then at least Snoke can kill them.  Then Snoke hears a voice say, “The Force is not about death. It is about life. That is the power of the Force”  Snoke turns around to see the Force Ghosts of Han, Leia, and Ben Solo all attack him.

Finn arrives and helps lead the Force-sensitives back to the Falcon.  Rey lingers behind because she wants to help. Snoke is being overcome, but he still attacks with vigor.  He knocks out Mara Jade. Ben tells Rey to save her while she can. He then looks at Mara and says to Rey, “I lied when I told you your parents were nobody.”  Before he can say anything else, Snoke gets his hands on him the way he did Yoda. Rey cries out, but grabs Mara and heads for the Falcon.

Snoke begins to destroy Ben’s Force Ghost.  As Snoke does, he says, “Time for you to experience true death.  You will never come back!  You are going to be one with the Force forever!”  Ben reaches out and places his hands on Snoke, causing Snoke’s Force Ghost to begin to be destroyed.  Ben’s last words are, “The Force will be with you, always.” Snoke and Ben destroy each other’s Force Ghosts in a blinding flash.  This ripples through the station. Rey, Finn and the others on the Falcon make it away just in time for station to explode.

On the Falcon, Rey tells Finn she is sorry about Rose.  Finn tells her she died a hero. The two kiss. Finn looks over at DJ and he says that it isn’t fair that Rose died and someone like DJ lives.  Rey says that as long as there is life, no one is beyond redemption, even Kylo Ren or Darth Vader. Rey goes to Mara as she wakes up. Rey holds her hand.  Mara touches Rey’s face.

The Naboo fleet lands back on Tatooine at the now functional Lars homestead.  Maz and Chewbacca and the Force sensitive children greet them with cheers. Poe comes and finds Finn and Rey and embraces them.  Everyone celebrates in a festive atmosphere. Finn and Rey step away from the group and embrace. Rey looks off and sees the Force Ghosts of Luke, Han, and Leia smiling at them.  Poe, Maz, and Chewbacca join Rey and Finn as all of them look out at the twin suns setting while the others celebrate the birth of a new age.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Film Review: The Predator

Sexuality/Nudity Mature
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Mature

Much ado was made about how Shane Black, one of the writers of the original Predator was the writer/director for this sequel.  It should be remembered that Black was the one who put in a good deal of the humor and famous one-liners from the first film.  But that layer of wit was placed on top of a tight, tense script that was as strong as it was efficient.  For this sequel, The Predator, its as if they were able to abstract away all of that humor and superimpose it on a story noticeably inferior to the first.

The Predator takes place in the present day.  Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is an army sniper whose team runs across a Predator alien that has crashed onto our planet.  Quinn is the only survivor and he assumes that the government is going to try and cover up this incursion including killing him if necessary.  He turns out to be right on the money as Black Ops leader Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) arrives to collect the Predator and eliminate any witnesses.  Quinn mails what Predator artifacts he has to his wife (Yvvone Strahovski) and autistic son Rory (Jacob Tremblay).  Meanwhile Quinn is sent for psychiatric testing and ends up on a bus of mentally unstable military men:  The suicidal Nebraska (Trevante Rhodes), the wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key), the turrets-afflicted Baxley (Thomas Jane), the ever-odd Lynch (Alfie Allen), and the religious Nettles (Augusto Aguilera).  Together this Dirty Half-Dozen have to survive their encounters with the Predator and the government agency that deals with Predators.  Along the way they encounter scientist Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn), who has discovered something very strange about this Predator.  Together they try to survive danger on all sides.

The movie fires on all cylinders when it allows the natural chemistry between the motley crew of soldiers to play out.  Think of the helicopter ride scene in the original film, but played out throughout the film.  These actors are likable and charismatic while at the same time being horribly flawed.  If these characters were dropped into a story that was as strong as the original Predator, Predator 2, or Predators, then this film would really fly.

Unfortunately, the movie bogged down in its own attempts to be cool and clever.  The cast of the original Predator did not need to show a lot of depth, but the connections between them seemed so real that you fell into their short-hand and felt attached to them.  This movie always makes you feel like a bit of an outsider.  They are interesting, but in no way memorable.  Holbrook has to hold the movie together as its center and he does a fair job, but he's no Schwartzenneger, Glover, or even a Brody.  There is an edge to him, but he feels less like a strong anti-hero and more like a red-neck Draco Malfoy.

The rest of the actors make the most of their screen time.  Thomas Jane is particularly funny and his interactions with Key are fun.  Munn is never terrible, but she lacks the gravitas this part needs.  Strahovski would have better served this role, but her scenes as Quinn's wife are too short.  Tremblay does a serviceable job, but I am quite tired of the precocious, gifted child cliche.  It feels horribly played out.  I did like Brown's portrayl of a character who is so doggedly amoral that he tries to clothe himself in a cool apathy.

The plot is fairly stupid.  The Predator that is captured at the beginning of the film is a fugitive from the larger type of Predators like we saw in the last film the series.  The smaller Predator has come to earth to give us a weapon to help defend us against his own race.  But throughout the film, this Predator viciously tears apart the very humans he came to protect.  Nothing about this makes sense.  Black is so interested in trying to add some new layers to the mythology that he doesn't keep his focus on the basic plot and character development.  The original doesn't need to spell out the monster's backstory in order to draw you in with an edge-or-your-seat story.  The special effects are fine but nothing spectacular.  The violence is high-octane gory, earning its R-Rating, with sprinklings of colorful language throughout. 

If you hadn't picked up on the consistent thread of this review its that The Predator is not a terrible film.  It is not a movie that ruins the franchise or sullies it.  But it also doesn't really add anything terribly good or interesting.  And when dealing with a property like this, mediocre just doesn't cut it.

image by Yasir72.multan

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Film Review: A Simple Favor

Sexuality/Nudity Objectionable
Violence Objectionable
Vulgarity Objectionable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Objectionable

 Some movies fail because they lack the required artistic talent and skill.  Some movies fail because their thematic and moral content is so horrible as to be completely noxious.

Both are true for Paul Feig's A Simple Favor.

I hated this movie.

I hated, hated, hated this movie.

I am going to let spoilers fly in this film because it would be impossible to ruin this absolute piece-of-trash film.

The movie begins with Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick), a wannabe Martha Stewart for the YouTube age.  She is an over-achieving, stay at home mom who wants everything to be perfect for her son and wants everyone to do the same (her name is "Smothers."  Get it?  GET IT?).  Her son Miles (Joshua Satine) becomes friends with Nicky (Ian Ho), whose mother is the mysterious, alluring, and effortlessly cool Emily Nelson (Blake Lively).  Emily foils Stephanie's goodie-goodie exterior.  Emily swears wildly in front of her child, drinks in the middle of the day, and doesn't give a fig about making other people happy.  Stephanie is attracted to Emily's bold personality and the two become friends.  One day, Emily asks Stephanie for "a simple favor" and pick up her son from school.  But Emily never returns.  This sets up the mystery of what happened to Emily.  Did she run away?  Was she killed by her seemingly perfect and put-upon husband Sean (Henry Golding)?  Did her mysterious past catch up with her?

As intriguing as these questions sound, they don't matter for one simple reason: you do not care about anyone in this movie.

It is one thing to make flawed characters that reveal layers over time.  But writers Jessica Sharzer and Darcy Bell have created characters so repugnant that I wonder if they have ever had actual contact with real human beings before.  And this would not be as bad if the reveal of their moral turpitude was slowly revealed in the last act.  Instead, they decide to throw you into the deep end of their perversions right from the beginning.  The weirdest part is that they think they are making their characters more attractive to their audience.  Again, I really wonder what kind of sick company they are keeping to think that any of their ideas work.

I can tell you the exact moment I have up on the movie and it was in the middle of the first act.  Stephanie and Emily are drinking while their children are in another room playing.  Emily is teasing Stephanie for not being bad.  So Stephanie tells her a story.  I apologize in advance for the grossness of what I am about to write, but you need to understand depths of depravity of this film.  And this story is accompanied by visual flashbacks, so you have that element as well.

Stephanie says that her father died when she was a senior in high school.  At his funeral, a mysterious young man who looked like her father arrived.  It turns out that her dad had a secret child before he married Stephanie's mom.  The young man decides to stay the night.  Stephanie sets up a bed for him in the basement.  Stephanie is hurting at the loss of her father.  And in their mutual grief, they have sex with each other.  Let me repeat, the main character of the movie as sex with her brother.  Emily's reaction to this is admiration at Stephanie's perversion.  She even constantly gives her the joking nickname "Brother-F'er" (but said with the full vulgarity).  To make matters even worse, it is implied that Stephanie continue the affair with her brother for years.

Again, this is in the first act and Stephanie is our main character.  We are supposed to root for her and empathize with her.

As soon as this scene occurred I actually looked around the theater to see if everyone else was having the same reaction I was.  I realized that we still had more than an hour of movie to go, so I strapped in for the depraved ride to end.

Feig fails at every level to tell a good story.  He wants to say something about powerful, empowered women, but it comes off as so completely uninspired.  When Stephanie first enters Emily's house there is a nude painting of Emily hanging that thrusts her genitals towards the viewer's face as if Feig is trying to make some super awkward "girl power" statement.

Feig also fails at making anything out of the mystery of Emily's disappearance.  In fact, he reveals the truth way too early.  The denouement tries to copy the movie Gone Girl, but fails at that too.  The final confrontation is intent on making shocking twists and turns that it defies all logic.  If you ever watched the show Community, they did an episode where characters kept pulling out guns in a parody of twists on top of twists.  It worked on the show because they were doing comedy.  It fails in the movie because you are supposed to take it seriously.  And the ultimate take down of the villain is something out of a Will Ferrel movie and has no place in anything we've seen before.

Nothing in this movie makes sense, logically or morally.  The only thing that helps is Lively's performance.  She does her best with the awful script and actually projects the coolness of the character with great charisma.  I have been a fan of Kendrick for a long time, but she feels much more like she is doing caricature rather than character.  Golding is fine as the husband, but he also doesn't have much to work with.

This movie could actually have been something.  Stephanie is such a horrible person that if she was set up as unreliable narrator, then maybe the film would have made a modicum of sense.  But instead, they play it straight.  Feig doesn't seem to be able to pull the trigger on genuine narrative complexity.  And his ending shows a complete lack of confidence in his ability to stick the landing, so he reverts back to his slapstick comedy roots.

This film is a cesspool.  When people talk about how Hollywood creates moral rot, this is Exibit A.  Rather than saying something universal about women or relationship, all this film does is show us the jaundiced moral world-view of people like Paul Feig and all you can do is thank God that you do not live in his morally messed up world.

image by Yasir72.multan

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Film Review: A Quiet Place

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence Mature
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy No Objection

George Lucas once said that you should be able to watch a good movie with a sound off and still be able to follow the story.  That is because movies are a primarily visual medium.  Director and star John Krasinski has followed this principle to make A Quiet Place the best directed movie I have seen this year.

The movie begins after some kind of alien invasion.  We skip all of the epic carnage and are living in the ruins of a fallen world.  In a small town in the country, we have the father (Krasinski), the mother (Emily Blunt), deaf daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), frightened son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and oblivious young child Beau (Cade Woodward).  The monsters who destroyed the world hunt by sound.  The survivors can move about freely throughout the land, but must do so quietly.  The most moderate noise level will call up the monsters who will devour you into pieces.

This premise could have been simple horror-movie fare.  And I resisted seeing this movie for a while because of my general aversion to the horror genre.  But this movie is so much more.  Krasinski could have made a simple fright-fest scary film.  Instead, he wanted to say something that was deeply thematic.  I often cringe when directors try to insert themes into genre films.  But Krasinski did it the right way.  His first and foremost aim was to tell an incredibly compelling and tense story.  And in doing so, he laid plain some universal and primal insights into the human condition.

Stories need to be about something.  I don't mean the plot, which is what happens in a story.  A good story will be able to touch on those mythic truths that we all hold in our collective psyche.  At root, this movie is about what it means to be a family.

The family in our movie is wounded.  They are broken not only by the apocalypse they are in, but also because of horrible tragedy that shatters their dynamic.  The father and his daughter have an emotional rift.  The son is filled with panic and terror.  The mother is carrying the burden of worry not only for her family, but for her unborn child that is coming into this silent world.  And through it all there is a bond that goes beyond reason and emotion and sentiment.  It is an invisible knot drawing them all together.

The dynamic between mothers and fathers was so well done in this movie that it is difficult to put into words.  In fact, putting it into words is always going to be a problem, because the truths about who we are are so deep.  But Krasinski follows the story-telling maxim "Show, don't tell."  We don't need characters philosophizing about the role of family dynamics.  Instead the characters act them out.

The closest imagery I could get to explain how Krasinski portrays the parents is this: fathers are swords and mothers are shields.  The father's job is to go out and provide for the family and to attack those who would do them harm.  His job is to extend outward into the world and help his children grow to do the same.  The mother is the shield.  She is there to protect the children from all harm.  She absorbs the pain and suffering to cover for the children's safety.  These roles are not simple and neat categories.  Swords can be used to defend and parry.  Shields can be used to smash and destroy.  But Krasinski presents a full picture of the complementarity that exists in God's design for the human family, whether he intended to or not.  Watching the father go out into harm's way time and again to save his family was something that captured the masculine ideal.  And watching the mother go into labor and endure all of her pain in silence so as to protect her child being born epitomized the strength of the feminine.  Krasinski along with screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck managed to write a tight narrative with an incredible amount of resonance.

We see this in his portrayal of the children.  Children want to grow up but they want to be protected.  But you can't do both.  Every step into the world is a step into danger.  There is constant confusion and frustration between them and the parents.  But there is also love.  There is a love that is portrayed that goes beyond words.

To make the movie even better, the performances are outstanding.  Having to rely almost exclusively on body language, the actors must express full characters without words.  And they more than deliver.  This may be Krasinski's best performance.  He is iconic in his role of Jim Halpert from The Office.  But not once did I see him as his television persona.  Emily Blunt should win an Oscar for her role.  I have rarely seen the depth of intensity as I saw in the birth scene.  I felt her terror and her pain.  Simmonds also stands out.  The deaf actress is given a full range of emotions to play and demonstrates a maturity beyond her years.  And Jupe gives us the believable performance of the person most terrified by the horror.

It is hard for me to believe that this is Krasinski's first feature.  He handles the camera with skill and experience.  He juxtaposes the idyllic landscapes with the monstrous situations perfectly.  He uses some wonderful subtlety, but he is not afraid to telegraph his punches, as he does in the scene with the nail in the floor.  Some first-time directors try to go overboard in genre-breaking artsyness.  Krasinski may be reaching for greater heights, but he never forgets that his main job to tell a good, scary story.  And while I have focused on the visuals, the sound design is outstanding.  Because sound is used sparingly, every sound matters and carries with it immense weight.

The only thing that holds the movie back are the monsters themselves.  When we only get subtle glimpses, the creatures are awesomely horrible.  But the more we see of them, the less scary they become.  Also, you can see the smallness of the budget reflected in those special effects.  If they had relied more on shape and motion like the first to Alien movies, then it would have had a greater effect.

Nevertheless, this is really a great movie.  Even if you are not into horror movies, do you yourself a favor and see A Quiet Place.

image by Yasir72.multan