Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Even Stars Die

Above the ecumenopolis of the galaxy, ships orbited in a seemingly peaceful dance across the exospheric currents. Stars glittered like cold diamonds, inhibited by the yellow glare of the nearby sun. Below, the surface of the planet was starkly clear, a complex interplay of molten lights and the glint of polished chrome.

In the crystal silence of inky darkness, vaccuum cast the hulls of the Venator-class Destroyers in an uncannily clear fashion. Elegantly, the flotilla of the Republic's mainstream naval vessels banked portside. As the as the rays of the sun played their first golden flittings on their durasteel hulls, in the distance a mass of light and movement filled the skies, beautiful as the lakes of Alderaan in their summer glory.

With majestic splendor this dance of light resolved itself into hundreds of vessels, large and small. Giants in a vast ocean, a vistas of movement and undulation too complex to comprehend at a simple glance. The susurration of blooms of energy searing the retinas, blacking the sensor screens. Above the sheerest clouds there was no ether to propagate the screams of the dying, the cries of the helpless, the agonizing pleas of doomed pilots as they flew in gently luminous parabolas to their fates. Looking at the beauty of the sparkling planet below one could only resolve oneself to the last bitter sight of the squandered fruits of civilization's utterest folly.

In a beautiful surge of light and motion, the ballet of ships thus continues. Perhaps a historian could pretend to comprehend the enormity of the price paid for this venture. But to the participants of the deadly fray, when all one cares for is the sinking sensation of doom in the pit of the stomach, as a Federation buzz droid breaks through the clearplaz cockpit window to terminate, beyond all clear and reasonable doubt, one's hopes for the continuation of one's life, there is only one concern. No more shall he stand with his comrades in celebration or loss. No more shall he feel the breeze of a virgin planet upon his face. No more shall he feel a touch of a loved one. No more shall he comprehend the truth of his purpose in a purposeless galaxy.

And silently, another bloom of clear and beautiful light blossoms, elegant as the flowerings of newcome spring.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Crossroads of Night

A man stands upon the crossroads of night.
Only one path leads to the vales of light.
He exists in encapsulated fright.
He knows there is no way out, even flight.

A signboard, hoist'd on a metal pike
Gives some advice that offers no insight
of taken paths that are, in essence, right
The man will not give up without a fight.

The night crawls on, a weary move to spite
His musings and deliberations, quite
a measure of his great willpower's might
always ready to right the tiniest slight.

A girl runs wild, leading a golden kite
Over the high hills and vales of the bright
Dawn, which, by that fight, is held by a blight
With hordes of crawling Undead Warcraft

Each path, he thinks, oh so very contrite
Is fraught with dangers, such as large termites
Which, when seen, make even grown men go yikes
Screaming for all their worth into black mikes.

And when Holland finishes her great dykes
And subjugates those floods that often strike
There will still be men who stand there and, like
Think of which darned straight pathway to go smite.

And so this is why I will never Skype
This poem's getting crazier as I write.

Dreaming Spires

I have always wondered at their wizardy. Of how a mundane collection of pixels can be transmuted into a world. Would it be that I stood on that platform, encircled by chrome and the noise of passing aircars. Would it be that the cool air of a metropolitan world brushed past my face, billowing out the indigo cloaks of masked sentinels. That the orange-cyan sky with its thousand blinking points of diamond brilliance would envelop the currents of day, submerging it into the flashing, complex brilliance of a night that never truly sleeps.

They speak out to me. And it is but a clear resonance from the depths of a cultural mythos, of the innate desire of the soul to be transported to a land beyond the plodding currents of drudgery. Gazing up at the silver-blue spires of the imagination, one cannot help but wonder, if it is possible that such a thing would come to pass. Would the present day cities one day emerge as ripening flowers to feel the warmth of the yellow sun on polished chrome? Would the understated elegance of future sophisticates one day take the world by storm, becoming the monuments of modernity?

On an unrelated note, John Williams did well for the prequel trilogy except for episode II's score, which, save for Across the Stars, was terrible. Also, as I forgot to mention, the pacing of ROTS feels much like TTT's (The Two Towers), fast, dynamic, but a tad too hasty. In fact, ROTS feels almost identical to TTT, even down to the artsy symbolism and the epic cinematography. Kudos to Jackson. And Stoppard. And probably Spielberg.

I heard WETA is doing Narnia. Have to check those books out for myself. The only thing that puts me off is that Tolkien didn't exactly like Lewi's work. Perfectionist.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chrome Edifices

And with the darkening of the lights in that great hall it begins and ends. I have just watched the Big One. Yes, the one where red sabers ignite to the chilling reveberations of the Imperial March, where black helmet descends upon a scarred face to signal the birth of one of the most famous villians of our century.

How do I rate it? It certainly lives up to the hype. Revenge of the Sith, or ROTS as I shall refer to hence, is very much Lucas's magnum opus of the prequel trilogy, of which the first two were bombasted scathingly by legions of rabid fans. It is every bit as good as I would have hoped it would be, but with two matters that I will elaborate on later.

Unless you've been living on squirrels in the middle of the Phillipine jungle for the past four to five decades the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars will be familiar to you. Love it, snob it, or merely affect indifference to it, it cannot be denied that it is the largest, most complex, most culturally influential sf franchise in history. Combined with books, games and comics the Star Wars Universe is so completely realized that it seems to be real. Every aspect of the 25000 year history of this galaxy has been touched on, and better still, the chronology still continues. Go to this site to experience the sheer scale of the Star Wars Universe. Disparate though it may be, it is nonetheless crafted into a single continuity, unlike the independent stories of different captains in different ships like in Star Trek.

Revenge of the Sith is the last (or maybe not?)major Lucas-made contribution to the SW franchise. There will be comics. Books. Animated and live action series that will come after. Even a rumour that Lucas is thinking of more movies. But ROTS is for now a signal that a chapter in Star Wars history is over. The Skywalker saga is complete on the silver screen. (but not, as we shall see, in novels and comics.) ROTS chronicles Anakin's fall and fulfills the juicy sense of dramatic irony.

For the movie itself, I would group it with the originals in terms of quality. Dialogue was far better than I had feared. The romance scenes were more honest and well-directed. The cheese factor of Anakin's and Padme's lines was minimized, and their deliveries are far smoother than in Episode II. Action and battle scenes were complex, exciting and well chereographed. The opening space battle was impressive and provided a good introduction. Anakin's struggle and the insinuating quality of Palpatine's machinations was absolutely brilliant, and the emotional climaxes were for the most part well-placed. The movie wraps up all loose ends expertly, demonstrating Lucas's ability as a storyteller.

Coruscant was brilliantly realized. It was by far the most spectacular setting of all six films, with Bespin running a close second. The light reflecting off the chrome exteriors of the buildings, huge futuristic spires soaring out into the clear sky, the utter majesty of the Jedi Temple as the cameras pan toward it, as lines of tiny ships stream their way through the tall skyscrapers. Coruscant is everything I could have wished for to be a setting for a future Earth.

ROTS does have some failings, however. Firstly, while Anakin's struggle is brilliantly handled his final fall to the dark side is a little anticlimatic. It is abrupt and not entirely believable. While the basis for this fall is plausible, the execution of that scene does not reveal enough about this impetus. If Anakin had a greater cause for his fall that is more emotionally scarring it would have been better. As it is, the transition is a bit abrupt.

Second, Padme seems only to be pregnant for a few weeks. The movie moves so fast that the impression of the passing of a few months is not adequately indicated. The events feel like they all occured in the space of a few weeks, and Padme's pregancy thus seems strangely short.

The above are my only two major gripes. Everything else met or exceeded my hopes for the movie. There are actually some very minor technicalities, however, that only a hardcore like me would quibble on. Firstly, the use of the Force as a telekinetic weapon. It seems to me that the heroes could have used this many times when they did not. Second, is the selective insights the Force gives to different Jedi. For example why does Anakin only know of Luke and not Leia? How can Yoda not sense Palpatine as a Sith Lord? Why were the Jedi so effectively hoodwinked in this way? Additionally, Coruscant has planetary shields. How is it possible that Grevious's flagship could have crashed onto the surface if there was a protective shield?

These questions are minor but highly explainable if one wishes to think about it. For example in Labyrinth of Evil it is specifically indicated that the Separatists managed to sabotage the planetary shields. The Star Wars Databank also has an entry on this one. Others can be attributed to the convinient "Will of the Force" which is not so out of place in Lucas's overarching vision.

So it comes to this. An era closes on Star Wars, another arises. Whatever it is, I believe that SW will remain popular and relevant for many years to come. Lucas has created something that has changed the world, and it shall never fade so long as the magic remains. SW has escaped being a controlled franchise. It is self sustaining, forcing ever more of itself to emerge, propagating its own legacy, in accordance to the laws of money. While there are still fans SW will never fade.
Right now, I feel a strong impetus to watch the original trilogy on DVD.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Penned in by Mountains

America from the air is huge. The horizon stretches as far as the eyes can see until land, cloud and sky merge into a seamless whole. Great billowing clouds travel in a majestic and neverending dance across the skies. The sun is especially striking. The golden disc of Sol shines brilliantly down from the rarefied heights of its clear blue domain, casting deep shadows, lighting up vast sections of the white expanse of cloud and mountain beneath. The dance of light and shadow seen from the confines of a plane is one of the most stunning sights of the world.

As the clear air of Colorado greets us as we step gingerly out of the bus there is a sense of being out of your depth. Mountains in the horizon, skies so clear and brilliant and rich a tone with tasteful cyan that it is impossible not to contemplate with wonder the sheer power of the laws of physics in creating a tapestry of sheer majesty. Sitting there on the kerb with the monuments of man and of nature arrayed around you it is perhaps difficult to hold back a sense of being a fly on the face of the world. The others feel wonder, or perhaps apprehension.

American (suburban) culture is shockingly removed from the urban tunnel vision of the East Asian city-dweller. Especially with the Odyssey of the Mind atmosphere and the curiosity as to our origins and the process of getting here, it is easy to accrete more off-the-street conversation here in six days than you can get in Singapore in a year. Perhaps it is this atmosphere of friendly informality that has fostered the energy present in the campus, the sense of coming challenge and excitement as props move and actors display their arts. The traditions of trading of interstate (and international) wares such as pins and shirts are perhaps products of this atmosphere, although it is easy to reverse cause-and-effect.

It is perhaps strange how psychological conditioning can affect one's thoughts of a place or time. Before the competition came a sense of brooding apprehension, of laconic retreat fostered by the weight of responsibility, frenzied preparation, and late nights. During the competition came a sense of deployment, of focus, and perhaps release. It is what comes after that changes one's mindset. Suddenly there is a sense of complete release and relief, and with a puff of air, walls tumble, and problems evaporate. Clouds part, and the skies beckon.

And that is perhaps the greatest reward of all.

Impressions of a Glass Wall

Standing by the window at Narita, gazing at the clear blue sky, with planes in it. The cold, sleek, antiseptic walls hold back the gritty reality of dirt-marked trucks and rust-spotted machinery going about their enigmatic business outside. You can just hear the excited whispers from the child near you, as he traces is finger against the clear glass wall, eyes following the movement of a plane as it soars into the yawning cyan. Light glinting off the burnished aluminum.

A sense of peace and serenity pervades the scene, and I just feel so removed from the incessant noise of the human wave rushing past me, going about their own, enigmatic, business. I existed in a bubble, and in my world there was only the clear, crystalline sky, the glass, and me, as I stared into the face of awe. But at the same time there existed a tinge of bitterness, as if the world cared little about the thoughts of any of its inhabitants.

Narita is far removed from the cosy grandeur of Changi or the cavernous expanse of Denver International. Food here is expensive to the point of no return. Narita is crowded and airport service is slow. The interior is pleasant enough, but stark, glass and steel merged with the strangely-placed pinks and greens of duty-free shop colours. But so far as it goes, so long as there is one privately placed corner of quiet reflection, Narita served well during the two hours of waiting time for the next flight.

Bleak Resonances

And so the first murmurings rise forth from the common fold. A bleak cast settles over the noontime sky, a lazy tyrant's hand. But the shafts of semi-coherent light that punch through the clouds, God's palette, are ever more the stronger for their sheer penetration.

That was a description of the weather, by the way.

So it comes to this. A first try in an ever-increasingly popular fad. But what will this entail? Nothing more than an expulsion of thought that will presumably calm the mind and fill the endless hours. Some inane analogies come to mind: A balloon, deflated. Fingers on the red button, red telephones ringing, the sounds of the heavy tank treads of Apocalypses nearby, only to realize that it is nothing more than a thing of cooperation in cooperative conflict. A palpable release of tension, a pouring of thoughts. Perhaps it does work, as I have heard. Or maybe not.