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Review: Rogue One

So, I didn't get a chance to write about this immediately – was away over New Years, and I've been kind of mulling over what I wanted to say since then.

I've got to say, I wasn't exactly a fan.

Part of it's subjective, of course. This wasn't exactly the Star Wars I wanted to see after 2016; Star Wars can be many things, but it should be fun, it should be exciting. I was expecting something of a heist film, what I got was a grim and gritty war film. Points to the writers for trying something different, but I really don't think we needed a Star Wars where rebels against the Empire are visually identified with mujahideen extremists, where the Alliance condones assassination in the name of expedience, where X-Wing fighters are harbingers of destruction and tragedy...

It's a film that tries to end on a note of hope, but seems to think the only way to get there is by wallowing in despair in every scene leading up to it. It's certainly an interesting approach, but not really an enjoyable one.

From a less subjective point of view, there's the issues with the characters and story:

(Extensive Spoilers)Collapse )

The Elephant Lady

I met Lek!!!

'Lek' Chailert is a Thai conservationist who runs the wonderful, wonderful Elephant Nature Park outside Chiang Mai, and also founded the Save Elephant Foundation. She's spent most of her life caring for elephants – her park is home to almost forty elephants, mostly elderly and rescued from exploitation and cruelty. She also looks after hundreds of homeless dogs and cats, a small herd of cattle and buffalo, and many other animals. She also campaigns against animal cruelty in general across Thailand and the surrounding countries, as well as setting up similar sanctuaries elsewhere.

She's one of my personal heroes, and I was thrilled to bits to meet her in person, quite by chance, while visiting the Elephant Park. I ran into her while playing with one of the many content-looking cats that call the park home, and she was kind enough to take me and my mum on a tour through the kitty 'dormitories' that house the other cats, with her dog accompanying us. It made us slightly late for our trip back into town, but I wouldn't have missed meeting her for the world.

War on Christmas

Be aware: One cannot escape Christmas in Cambodia. Anyone seeking a respite from the endless wave of carols, trees and Santa hats is advised to look further afield, as it seems all of Asia has now fallen.


You Watch Yourselves

Minor Rogue One spoiler:

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We're going to be debating this election for a long time. We're going to be living with its consequences even longer. It was incredibly close – a few percentage points in a handful of states, and we'd be talking about the Clinton Landslide, and most of the world would be celebrating this public repudiation of Trump and his vile brand of bigotry and ignorance.

Let's not forget that as we struggle through these dark times. We're not done for. There is no permanent Republican majority. There are still enough voices of sanity to swing the pendulum back and salvage what remains.

And for those of us outside America particularly, we need to remember this. The last few days, I know I've had to remind myself not to judge all Americans for the actions of a few. Trump did not win with a majority; he did not even achieve a plurality of voters. The silent majority remained silent – and, we can only hope, is and will be horrified by what has been unleashed and will, in time, stand against it.

Let's not be too optimistic; the tide of fascism, of populist nationalism, the politics of hate – they're all gaining in strength. In America, in Britain, in the Philippines, across Europe. But they remain a minority, and one that can still be fought.

And let us not forget that this was not an election won cleanly. This was an election tainted by Russian propaganda, by Wikileaks' idiotic grudges, and in the end, almost certainly swung by a partisan hack who used his position to add weight to an illusory scandal. We should not accept the hatred Trump spews under any circumstances, but under these, for him to claim any sort of mandate is farcical. Do not let anyone forget this.

For those of you in the United States. You are not broken. You are not defeated. You have a party that will – and must – oppose Trump and his agenda. You have the numbers to ensure they will. The world still hears your voice. Do not let yourselves be silenced. Do not let them advance without a struggle. If the arc of the universe no longer bends towards justice, then you must force it back towards it.

Maybe I'm a fool to still have hope. Maybe.

But sometimes that's all we have.

And all we need.


Maybe we were wrong.

Maybe it was always a sham. Debates and policies, respect and civility, truth and reason. Maybe none of that ever mattered. Maybe anyone could have done what he did, they just always thought they needed the rest.

Maybe there was never any more to leadership than being the loudest voice in the room.

Maybe we just wanted to believe that somehow naked demagoguery didn't work any more, that we'd become better than that.

Maybe we should have seen this coming. Maybe we should have remembered that progress was just a story we told ourselves to bring order to chaotic events.

Maybe we were foolish.

Maybe we'll get a second chance.


In Case You Were Wondering...

The Royal College of Arms has guidelines for how to impale one's coat of arms with one's spouse's within a same-sex marriage. Gay feudal lords rejoice!


Review: Star Trek Beyond

So, the alternating pattern continues, as the abysmal “Into Darkness” is followed up by... hell, probably the best Trek film since Undiscovered Country? The reboot finally steps out of the shadow of the original series, and is all the better for it, finally feeling fresh and exciting. Hell, that's practically one of the movie's themes, letting go of the past, and I can only hope that carries through from now on.

Spoilers and specific comments below:
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The title is still terrible and means nothing, though.

The Grand Safari

Uploaded the better pictures from Africa to imgur, if you're interested, difficult as it was to cut down several hundred elephant pictures to a representative handful.

- Swakopmund and Surroundings

Odd little town; still firmly German in character and language. Streets and buildings named after Bismark or Kaiser Wilhelm are side-to-side with those named after modern African leaders. Quaint central German architecture will sit on one side of a road, while on the other, desert sands stretch out to the horizon. The nearby town of Walvis Bay is similar, if slightly larger and with British influences taking the place of the German, and with a harbor full of seals, dolphins and pelicans.

The desert and mountains are spectacular; in some places very reminiscent of central Australia. Also home to the welwitschia plant, an unusual species described by Charles Darwin as the 'platypus of plants' due to its unique combination of traits rarely seen together.

- Etosha National Park

Dry, almost a desert in many places, the giant national park is nonetheless filled with animals, and staying here made for some of the most satisfying days of our holiday. We saw giant herds of elephants, zebras, kudu, springbok, impala and wildebeest, alongside jackals, warthogs, ostrich, and rhino. We were even lucky enough to spot a pair of lions at the waterhole, and a leopard one night!

We suspect because of the dry season and the current drought, animals were clustered around the handful of waterholes in greater numbers than usual. Whatever the reason, it was absolutely magical seeing a herd of at least thirty elephants, from elderly animals with worn tusks to tiny babies only a month or two old hiding beneath their mothers.

- Okavango Delta

Another highlight, even in the dry season. Accommodations were wonderful, with elephants and other animals visible from the balcony of our rooms! As water flows south-east from Angola, birds follow, so we saw great flocks of cranes and eagles feasting on the fish of the river, alongside graceful lechwe antelope.

They proved only a sideshow, though, compared to the real stars, the hippos! At least thirty rose from the water as we came around a bend in the river, surfacing, snorting, and submerging again, occasionally stopping to challenge us with a threatening 'yawn'. It is rather intimidating being eyed by several dozen half-submerged hippos, any one of which could easily overturn our boat if they grew aggressive.

- Chobe River and Zambezi River

Sadly, we only had a single night here before crossing the border and reaching Victoria Falls, but it was delightful! Like the Okavango, the Chobe River flows from Angola – where it's known as the Cuando – before flowing south-east through Namibia and Botswana. Much of its length is protected national parks, and the countries that control it have been surprisingly good about managing its water in a sustainable way.

We sailed down part of it at sunset, taking in the view and the diverse wildlife. Hippos, though not as numerious as at Okavango, alongside giraffes, cape buffalo, various antelope, any number of birds, a handful of baboons, and a great many basking crocodiles!

- Victoria Falls (Mosi-oa-Tunya)

Our final stop saw us cross the border into Zimbabwe, and the great falls more than lived up to their reputation! They were almost full when we visited, so mist and spray blocked much of our view, but really, that just added to the sense of size and power. We got drenched – a welcome relief after the arid stretches of Namibia and Botswana.

Like everywhere else we visited in Africa, the Falls had their fair share of wildlife. Baboons crossed our path at the Falls themselves, while near our hotel, we were treated to the sight of whole families of vervet monkeys and banded mongoose. Finally, on the hotel lawn itself, we ran into a small group of warthogs, who seem to have found a niche as lawnmowers.


All in all, an excellent holiday, and I recommend everywhere we went. If I went again, probably instead of doing the overland tour from the coast, I'd fly direct to Windhoek and then travel direct to Etosha and stay there for a few days, then return, fly over to Maun and from there go to the Okavango Delta and spend as much time there as I could afford. Both were the absolute highlights of the trip, and I heartily recommend them to anyone looking to visit southern Africa.

If you do want the full overland experience, though, we booked with Nomad travel, and they provided an excellent service. Accommodation and meals were much higher quality than I expected, and while the pace was hectic, I never felt like we were being rushed from one attraction to another – the driver was always willing to stop and give us as much time as we wanted if we spotted something interesting.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

I'd like to thank whoever it was at Qantas who decided to add Alien to their list of in-flight movies. Because, really, when stuck on a plane for 10+ hours, nothing's more relaxing than claustrophobic horror...


Boldly Going...

Huh. My flight to Namibia is flight number 1701.

I've got a good feeling about this holiday. :)

Crackpot Star Wars Theory #328: R2's Origin

Let's talk 'droids'. Short for 'android', literally 'in the form of a man'. And plenty of droids are roughly humanoid – C3PO, 4LOM, IG-88, battle droids, those pit droids in the Phantom Menace that somehow got their own puzzle game...

But there's also 'droids' that aren't humanoid at all, most notably R2D2.

Now you might just say 'droid' is just a generic term for any robot and doesn't have to refer to literal androids... but it got me thinking. After all, there's plenty of non-humanoid aliens in Star Wars too, and presumably they'd build androids in their own image...


Max Rebo. Remember him? The blue elephant guy from Jabba's Palace? Did you know he wasn't meant to have arms? The limbs he plays the keyboard with were meant to be his legs, and that was all he had. The original prop designs make this a lot clearer.

Short, only one set of limbs, blue... Sound like anyone we know?

I'm proposing then, that Max Rebo's people designed R2D2, and he is a true 'droid', built in the form of an Ortolan!


Where's My Pith Helmet?

Guess who just booked a holiday to southern Africa?!

Guess who just nearly went mad trying to find connecting flights to southern Africa?!

(Seriously, a two hour flight from Johannesburg to Namibia should not include two other stops and a six hour layover...)

Fun at Customs

You know, it's not that I want to spend more time at airport checkpoints, but I do think it defeats the point of searching my bag if you're just going to take my word for it regarding what's in the boxes in there.

Nope, nothing suspicious here, just a bunch of opaque containers. Next!”

A New Universe of Obsessive Detail!

While checking the names of various characters from TFA, I was pleased to see that while the old Expanded Universe is gone, its tradition of leaving no detail unexplained lives on, as spin-off materials are already providing background characters with more backstory than they probably need.

My favorite is learning that Captain Phasma's armor is salvaged from the hull of one of the Naboo cruisers from the Phantom Menace that had once been owned by Palpatine! Nothing says pulp space adventure like knowing the history and manufacturing process of a specific suit of storm-trooper armor!

I fully expect to see Tales from Maz's Cantina on shelves soon.

Force Awakens: Full Review and Thoughts

So, general thoughts? I'm not exactly disapointed, but I can't help but be reminded of the quote about someone's work being both good and original, but the parts that are good are not original and the original parts are not good...

Alright, maybe that's a bit unfair, but the movie really struggles when it's not following A New Hope beat for beat.

The Good, the Not-So-Good, and the Baffling (Contains Spoilers)Collapse )

Force Awakens Initial Reaction

Look, I told myself I was going to keep an open mind, I said I didn't care about the old EU going away, I wasn't going to be one of those fans who just complains about how things aren't the way they used to be, but some things... somethings are just beyond the pale.

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One Less Thing to Trouble Me

Alright, so this has literally bugged me for years. In the TNG episode, “Best of Both Worlds”, Picard has this line, the night before the battle, wondering if the last Roman emperor had realised the empire was going to fall ‘when he saw the Visigoths come over the seventh hill’.

And for years, it’s annoyed me that the line references Romulus Augustus, because while he was technically the last Roman Emperor, Rome had long since fallen, he was half-German himself, reigned for less than a year and was little more than a puppet for his father. And normally I’d accept historical errors in TV shows as errors on the part of the character (Captain Sheridan, I’m looking at you…), PICARD SHOULD AND WOULD KNOW BETTER!

And then the other day, I watched the episode again. Picard doesn’t say Romulus Augustus, he says Honorius. Flavius Honorius, emperor during the sack of Rome of 410. Whose name doesn’t sound anything like Romulus Augustus. I don’t know how the hell I misheard it.

I am sorry I ever doubted you, Jean-Luc.

(Though, technically, Honorius would have been in Ravenna when the Visigoths came over the seventh hill, but I’ll allow Picard the poetic license…)

A Very Belated Happy Birthday!

Appologies, sunnyskywalker - I wished you a happy birthday on your birthday, but I only just noticed my dreamwidth account isn't crossposting to livejournal automatically any more, so it never showed up here!

Hope you had a great day!

RIP Christopher Lee

Damn. I mean, he led a more than full life, but I just figured he'd keep going at least a little longer... he was still preparing for another film. Die with your boots on indeed.

I do find it a little darkly amusing that his family kept the news confidential for four days though - they say it was to privately inform his extended family and friends, but honestly, I can't blame them for waiting three days... just in case.


David Newgreen

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