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First, Do No Harm. A Rogue One Review

Here’s something a little different, I know it’s not DB Cooper but after two years I think I’ve covered the case pretty well, it’s time to move on. The Review contains spoilers, but spoilers won’t ruin the movie for you, I promise.

With any new Star Wars movie, the first question that needs to be asked is “did it do harm to the Original?” Did the filmmakers, for reasons of convenience or avarice or ignorance, harm in some way the memory of what made Star Wars the most beloved fictional franchise in history? To quickly answer this question in regard to Rogue One: No. Not only does Rogue One do no harm, it even fixes some issues with A New Hope. This is quite an accomplishment considering the movie ends minutes before the start of A New Hope. Rogue One is a good standalone sci-fi movie, which is an accomplishment for any Star Wars film, and more importantly, a worthy flag bearer in the growing Star Wars canon.

It will forever be difficult to make a new Star Wars movie because the filmmakers have to strike a balance between originality and mimicry. Make the movie too reminiscent of the Original Trilogy and it will be accused of plagiarizing and manipulating nostalgia for the sin of greed. If the movie is too original and fails to connect to what has come before, then audiences will accuse the film of infidelity. Over time. I believe this will become a larger problem, especially as audiences change over time with shifting technological culture. Thanks to the prequels, the bar is very low right now, and the folks at Disney have cleared it by miles.

Rogue One opens… somewhere. I’m not actually sure, as we visit so many planets in a short period of time. Regardless, the Empire has come for an engineer, Galen Erso. In the course of kidnapping Erso, Imperial agents kill Galen’s wife, and a young girl, Galen’s daughter, escapes. We shoot ahead about a decade and meet the daughter again, who is now serving a prison sentence for crimes we hear about, but never actually see.

The Daughter, Jyn Erso, is rescued by the Rebels. Based on her reaction. she was rescued against her will. The rebels need Jyn, I think, because Galen Erso is rumored to have sent a defecting cargo pilot with a message to warn the Rebellion about an Imperial superweapon. I’m not even sure how the Rebels know they need Jyn Erso or where to go to rescue her, since she’s living under an assumed name. This part of the film is painfully convoluted and reeks of poor writing or failed reshoots or corporate suits interfering with the movie. I’m not 100% certain what happened, but the end result is a mess. Even the witty dialogue and pumped up action doesn’t save this part of the film from being boring. In fact, the entire movie struggles to get its main cast into a position for the big ending. There are a lot of questions about these scenes, now that I have time to think about them.

What makes everything worse about these scenes is the movie is constantly throwing references for the diehard fans. Characters from the original trilogy get glorious cameos throughout, most of which work fine, especially in the third act. But…. This forty-five minutes of the movie, from Jyn’s jailbreak to the roundtable at Yavin Base, all I can remember is the bright green light from the emergency exit sign (which is, distractingly close to the screen at my theatre) and the sound of the family behind me assaulting their bags of popcorn.

Eventually, the film finds its mojo and the audience is treated to seeing the rebel base on Yavin IV. Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, our new cast of characters, the disparate members of the Rebel Alliance, they all get crammed into a roundtable discussion about the Death Star and the future of their resistance movement. It sounds like an awful scene, now that I write it down, but it worked. We see a Rebellion on the verge of collapse before it has really started. We understand the stakes, which are even bigger than losing a planet or two to the Death Star. We see the desperation and despair. Our main characters become the catalyst for the entire Rebellion through their resolve.

Here the Big Dumb Ending starts. And it is glorious. The story comes together, the characters begin to shine, we start to connect emotionally to the people and the story, the action was exciting and reasonable, no cartoon physics or poor effects. The movie even fixed some of the nitpicker objections sourpusses like to bring up to belittle the Original Trilogy.

Rogue One has wonderful cinematography, a serious tone that captures the uncertainty created by the modern war against terrorism, wonderful performances by a vast cast of characters, including some from A New Hope (Seriously). It suffers from some combination of poor writing or poor editing in post-production. It’s far from perfect, but for half the movie I forgot about that stupid Exit sign and I have no idea if those hogs behind me stopped eating or if I was just that absorbed in the story. That’s just about the highest praise I can give a film.


From the Notebook

The store I work at is closing, and the amount of work involved in closing a store is surprisingly voluminous. So I’ve been incredibly busy as of late. There are only a few days left, then I still have to stay on for a couple of weeks to help with the clean out. I haven’t had a lot of time off since the announcement, so I haven’t had time for any projects. I did start a new novel just after Christmas, but I haven’t had time to really get it going yet.


– Listened to an old tape of Katie Goldberg’s writing seminar: Writing the Landscape of your Mind, held in the Twin Cities in the early 90’s. It was an interesting seminar, focused mostly on Zen-like stream-of-consciousness writing. Not really my thing, but I learn something from every writing how-to I ingest.

– Saw Captain America; The Winter Soldier. It was okay, I would have made a few changes because parts of the plot didn’t make a lot of sense. The ending was kinda stupid, and Hollywood clearly has no idea how to write for a character as ostensibly conservative as Captain Steve Rogers. But there’s some good stuff in there too. I’d recommend.

-In April of 2003, I decided to make a commitment to review every book I read and movie I paid money to see in the theatres, as a writing exercise and a way to keep track of whether I was maintaining my goal of reading a book per week and seeing at least two movies per month. Since then, for the last eleven years, I have done exactly that. I started out on Amazon.com, before moving everything over to blogger. I don’t think I will be doing that anymore. I want to devote more time to novels and other “big projects” and I’m also reading fewer books and watching fewer movies.

-Good friend John Stewart (of the “Night Writer” blog) was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He will be writing about the whole affair on this month’s Random Link:


God’s Blessing to you, Mr. Stewart.

From the Notebook

English: Martin Buber in Palestine/Israel עברי...

English: Martin Buber in Palestine/Israel עברית: מרטין בובר בארץ ישראל (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The year is over, my busy holiday schedule is over, and maybe I’ll have time to write stuff. Maybe.

In other news, I wrote the Foreword in Aaron Clarey’s new Bachelor Pad Economics, as well as worked with the manuscript. It was a lot of fun, and I’m very glad Aaron allowed me to help out. I intend to write a review here and on Amazon.com.

Books read/self-education/Movies:

The White House Mess by Christopher Buckley. Excellent. Played straight as a real memoir, the stuff Buckley parodies would be absolutely at home in any presidential administration since its publication in 1986.

Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover. Pretty good, I got really annoyed at the “Kate called into my radio show and [anecdote that proves how right I am]. Ramsey’s got a good plan, but he sells it like religion, instead of finance.

Good and Evil by Martin Buber. Hard to describe, Martin Buber examines several of the psalms, and the myths relating to Lucifer, good and evil, and even the nature of the afterlife. It is Buber’s description of the afterlife I found most interesting.

Audiobook: X-Files: Ground Zero by Kevin J. Anderson, read by Gillian Anderson. Not very good. Anderson delivers the story monotone and flat and awful. And the story isn’t interesting.

Museum of Modern Art’s Printmaking playlist on Khan Academy. Described the different forms of artistic printmaking. Quick and interesting.

The Hobbit; Desolation of Smaug: Very good, much better than the first one. Worth watching.

From the Notebook

Busy month at work. And another busy one to go.

Self Education:

Audiobook: Acts of the Apostles. Most of the New Testament is great in audio format, but Acts requires a lot of concentration. Very difficult to follow, and that sort of defeats the purpose of listening to it.

Thor: The Dark World.  Not really “self education” I’ll admit, but I rather enjoyed the film. The climax was zany and fun, the movie almost had enough humor to balance the over-the-top seriousness of the Asgardians. Definitely better than the first “Thor”.

From the Notebook

Cover of "The Art of War (History and War...

Cover of The Art of War (History and Warfare)

Love these nice relaxing summer months…

– The George Zimmerman trial got a lot of coverage, but as usual, there lacked any real depth to the analysis. Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed man because he was on his own crusade to rid his neighborhood of wrongdoers. The simple answer, assuming we as a society want to avoid this situation (and we should) is to include a No Vigilantism Clause in the pistol carry laws. If you defend yourself using lethal force, you will be judged by the circumstances of the event, however, if you were seeking out a confrontation (as evidenced by the event taking place outside normal daily life of work and recreation, by being in neighborhood watch patrol, by any 911 calls, etc.) then you are guilty of violating the No Vigilantism Clause (and that should probably be a gross misdemeanor). This will effectively prevent most situations like the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Self Education this month:

– Listened to Sun Tzu‘s the Art of War, a free public domain audiobook available from LibriVox. This Eastern Classic provides the foundation for thinking not only about military matters, but business matters as well. The nature of planning a strategy based on current circumstances and acquiring knowledge is universal. (I think I listened to this book four times, because it’s rather short and I forgot to switch out the recording on my mp3 player, so after listening to it a few times, on top of having read the book, one starts seeing applications for its advice everywhere in daily life.)

-Listened to a course on Aristotle’s Ethics by Father Joseph Koterski, one of The Great Courses from The Teaching Company. This was a great short course, and for most people the two important lessons from Aristotle’s Ethics will be fully understanding the idea of the Golden Mean, and getting a better handle on friendship and its meaning. Could not recommend the course more highly.

– Watched Matthew Khan’s Environmental Economics playlist on YouTube. Khan is a professor of economics, focusing on environmental economics at the micro level, He’s also, if I remember correctly, a self-described member of the Chicago School. Much of his work seems contradictory, but libertarian minded people who have a soft spot for the environment will definitely benefit from his work.

– Watched the Khan Academy Buddhist Art module on the Art History Playlist. So KA is going through changes in how they setup their coursework, creating small modules that act like short seminars on specific topics and include not only videos but readings and quizzes. This short module focused on Buddhist Art is very informative, and I went through it as a supplement to an audio course on Buddhism that I’m currently taking.

– Read 1 Chronicles (older NLT version). The many pages of genealogies make this one of the more difficult books of the Bible to plow through, but those genealogies hide interesting historical perspectives on David and Solomon.

– Saw Pacific Rim, in 3D. And I was surprised how good it was, considering the source material. There are lots of little things that make it a good movie, and it only has a few rough spots. It’s not quite cliché, so it’s fresh, but there are lots of familiar elements that make it a good movie because it reminds us of other movies (and not just monster movies) that we previously enjoyed. Lots of depth, good effects, acceptable acting. Good flick.

From the Notebook

A bit of a disruption from the real world hit my life this month, so this will be short.

– Saw Iron Man 3 this month. And mostly liked it. Which is about the best I can expect from a movie nowadays.

– Read Spirits in Bondage by CS Lewis. This book is a series of melancholic poems written after Lewis’ service in WWI. And it’s a remarkable book, very readable. If you’re not sure what constitutes good poetry, start here.

– Also read “How to Archer”, a bit of inventive merchandising from the stakeholders of the cartoon “Archer”. While hilarious, it has no literary value.

Random Link


From the Notebook

English: Martin Buber in Palestine/Israel עברי...

English: Martin Buber in Palestine/Israel עברית: מרטין בובר בארץ ישראל (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– The novel is coming along alright. I’m now doing the final edit, and waiting for feedback from my reviewers. I probably won’t be able to release it before Christmas because of my new job. But I’ll try anyway.

– If anyone wants my pWP data for 2012, I made a pdf of my spreadsheets. It’s there if anyone wants to try to replicate my results. Just email me through my About page or leave a comment in this post.

– I am currently working a new job at Walmart, and while it’s not necessary, I do want to say that anything I post here is my own work and views, and nothing here represents Walmart in any way and that I do not represent Walmart in any way, official or not.

– The futility of blogging: In nine years, I have published nearly 5000 posts and earned an invite to the 2008 RNC. In that time, I have earned $11.80 from Amazon.com’s referral program. I’ve “earned” about 17 dollars from Google ads but I can’t collect it. And I got a huge $175 from a one-time text-ad deal. That’s less than 200 dollars. And the sad part is that’s far more money than most bloggers out there will ever earn blogging. The writing bug is just about the worst ill that could befall a human being.

Some pWP notes that didn’t get published during the election, when they would have made more sense:

– Anyone looking really close at some of my pWP graphs will notice the pWP of any individual poll never goes above 95% or below 5%. This is a product of my general philosophy of statistics. There is always some level of “Black Swan-ness” that erodes the confidence I have in the predictability of something like an election. One candidate can die, or commit a crime, or say something awful, etc. These tail events are more common than you’d think, and when combined with the limitations of polling and just a generic fudge-factor, I made the decision that we can never be more than 95% confident a particular candidate will win an election except in extraordinary circumstances. There have been several polls that would have put Obama above the 95% pWP mark, just so you know.

– The tracking polls, which give rolling averages of five or more days, are my nightmare. They basically make my task of trying to calculate the impact of events on the electorate completely impossible. I don’t know how to properly account for them, and they represent a majority of the polls I use for measuring POTUS pWP. I have a few ideas on how to change things for next election, but it basically increases my workload sevenfold.


How to think about God, by Mortimer Adler. This short book on “philosophic theology” is really incredible. Adler outlines the traditional deductive arguments for the existence of God, and strengthens them. His argument does not require any religious experience, feelings, supernatural experiences or any other questionable claims that are easily discarded by skeptics. His argument, focused on the idea of radical contingency, is surprisingly strong. Anyone interested in theology, and in particular arguments for the existence of God, should read this book.

Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel, by Scott Adams. This was an abridged audiobook I got for $1.98. And it was good. Adams central thesis is that we area all weasels, and that’s okay. And I agree.

– Finished the Khan Academy Macroeconomics playlist. Conservatives and libertarians generally object to the methods of macroeconomics, and their criticisms are strong. But the vast majority of conservatives and libertarians, at least among those I know, don’t have a strong grasp of macroeconomic orthodoxy. Sal’s playlist gives a very good starting point and puts those criticisms in proper context.

– 2016: Obama’s America. I like Dinish D’Souza. I do. But he destroyed any credibility he had by making this film. imho.

– The Punisher: Kingdome Gone. This was a shortish graphic novel I found lying around the house. It’s older, and a little tame. There’s some kind of underlying political message that I didn’t entirely comprehend about the invasion of Grenada.

– The Walking Dead; Compendium 1. [It’s awesome, just FYI]

– I and Thou, by Martin Buber. I was first introduced to Buber in a Freshman seminar. Since then, I’ve been a big fan.

From the Notebook

English: Salman Khan, famous for the Khan Acad...

English: Salman Khan, famous for the Khan Academy, speaking at TED 2011. Cropped from the original. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just more boring summer reviews. Nothing else going on.

– Saw the movie “Prometheus” a couple of weeks back. And it was unwatchable. I would have walked out, but my theater has no pinball machine and I was with friends. It’s a prequel to “Alien” but I didn’t know that going in (and I found myself thinking, almost through the entire movie “this is just a ripoff of Alien”). The plot makes no sense; you have to fill in all the gaps that are left completely unexplained with your own imagination. And my imagination was much more interested in trying to clip my fingernails (which will make you a very unpopular person in a movie theater). I asked for, and got, an apology from the friend who chose this movie.

-Watched the entire Khan Academy MicroEcon Playlist; Sal explains most of the common topics covered in an introductory MicroEcon class. He actually covers more information than what was included in my MicroEcon 1001 course. It’s remarkable this level of instruction is available for free.

-Also got through the American Civics Playlist on Khan Academy. Here, Sal explains some of the basics of American polity, including how we pick a president and what our present budget situation looks like (it’s ugly). Another very good playlist to watch. Some of it will be reivew material for the politically interested, but it never hurts to review the basics.

-At the end of June, I will have been on Khan Academy for a full year, though I didn’t create an account until July 20th. On average, I have watched a video every day, and completed a math skills test every weekday. I can’t describe how edifying the hole experience has been, and how great it is to fill the knowledge gaps left by 12 years of government schooling.

Books Read:

John Sandford‘s “Silent Prey“; Sandford finally gets back to what made his earlier Prey books so good: a fast moving story filled with real jeopardy, interesting characters, and a dose of humor. 

Plato‘s “Statesman”; in this dialogue, Plato tries to pin down exactly what is the true nature of a “statesman” and what constitutes the science of statesmanship. There are some fascinating passages, including more material attacking democracy. A true statesmen is like a basket weaver; if you’re wondering. (This text is part of the GBWW 10-year reading plan)

– “Kill Shot” by Vince Flynn; it’s Flynn’s second retrospective Mitch Rapp novel. And it’s not fun. There is a great scene in the first part of the book, as Mitch Rapp gets ambushed by some bad guys. Then there’s almost 200 pages of plodding, boring, uninteresting plot points (mostly scenes of people having meetings). Finally, there’s some gun play at the end. And because we know Mitch Rapp lives to save the US dozens of times later on in the timeline, we know Rapp isn’t going to die. It’s possible to make retrospective novels interesting, but Flynn fails here.

-“101 Golf Tips” by Peter Ballingall; I’ve read it before, but I haven’t reviewed it before. The copy I have is dated, but from what I can tell there’s a newer version available. The tips are somewhat helpful, and I’ll probably pick this book up and review some things on occasion. It’s definitely for true beginners.


From the Notebook

A picture of Russel Kirk

A picture of Russel Kirk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– Veteran Preference bills. One passed in Minnesota, allowing companies to create their own veteran hiring programs, giving preference to returning vets for jobs. I don’t believe in artificial preferences, ever. But, I would, if I were a hiring manager, prefer to hire vets anyway, due to their experiences and work ethic. I’ve worked with veterans and they’re great. But, as always, there are individual differences that need to be noted. Also, bills like this don’t solve the problem. Something is keeping hiring managers and HR types from hiring vets; vets face double the unemployment rate as the rest of the population. And that needs to be addressed, and I doubt the solution can come from government; it will have to come from business schools.

– Having a great difficulty writing. For about a decade I could reliably punch out a thousand words a day. The well has dried up. I’m trying to find a way to salvage a hobby I really care about and that has been the focus of my life for so long, but it’s getting tough. Once you get on the wrong side of the age/accomplishment curve, unless there’s real money at stake, your hobbies are going to die. There are a few short stories I’m going to finish, there’s also a novel I’d like to finish. And maybe a series or two of blogposts. But even those meager projects seem impossibly optimistic.

– Like everyone else, I struggle with my weight. I’ve been trying a new way to control my calorie intake. On average, a person needs 2000 calories a day. More, you gain; less, you lose. For an active male, 90 calories an hour is our balance point. So, I’ve been trying to eat 90 calories an hour, for every hour I’m awake. I have a four-hour breakfast, a four-hour lunch, and a four-hour dinner (all around 400 calories total). I allow some snacks to get to about 20 hours. And I stop there. So, I keep my calorie intake above the starvation-point (where your metabolism gets out of whack) and below the static-weight mark. It’s been just two weeks, but I’ve seen good progress. In order to stay full, I avoid dense calorie foods (like candy) and stick to more filling foods (fruits and vegetables and grains) so I don’t feel hungry. Now I’m waiting to see where I plateau, and from there I might adjust the calorie intake again (maybe down to 80 calories an hour). This seems easier than trying to track everything you eat all day in a diary; you only need to remember how many hours you’ve eaten or have left. The only simpler method is to try what Aaron Gleeman did, prepare a giant batch of food (in his case, rice) and eat from that batch all day.

– Watched the documentary “An Inconvenient Tax” (on Hulu) about our country’s income tax system. Conclusion? our tax code is really awful. But what is worse is when you add in state and local taxes, along with regulations. Once you have complicated taxes and regulations at every level, everywhere, you prevent growth. And this is where we are at now. We have a regulatory structure that is unnavigable, a tax structure that is incomprehensible, and an education system that is unreformable. This is a perfect storm for economic disaster. Other countries can reform and evolve (and many have, in fact) and send capital away from us, and impoverish us. And that’s bad.

– Saw “The Avengers” over the weekend. In 3D. And was really impressed. Other than some basic stupid (flying aircraft carriers) and bad physics (how many G’s can Stark take in that suit? 50?), the movie was very enjoyable. And it always pains me to give a movie a good review. In general, the fear of bedbugs keeps me from attending movies at theatres (seriously, research that, scary stuff), this movie is worth the risk.

Books read:

Douglas Hyde, Dedication and Leadership; Hyde was a former communist who ran a communist newspaper. In this slim volume, he explains the tactics communists use to achieve their goals using the resources they have at hand. Hyde wants these tactics to be adopted by Christians (the ethical tactics, that is). As a manual for leadership, this book is pretty good.

Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind; This was one of the greatest books I have ever read. It’s a survey of conservative thought since Edmund Burke, but it is also an intellectual and historical apologia for conservatism and a call to action for all conservative-minded individuals to devote themselves to defending and preserving ‘The Permanent Things’. This book will be near me for the rest of my life.

-Chris Kyle, American Sniper; Kyle was a SEAL sniper who operated in Iraq for a majority of the conflict, including the Battle of Fallujah. In his career, he recorded more sniper kills than any other American ever has. But the book is more than just a diary of a successful soldier. Through clear and concise prose, Kyle presents the realities of our war in the Middle East. It’s a brutal affair, no quarter is given by either side. There’s an intensity to this book absent from other war memoirs I have read. I’ll leave it at that. It’s a definite “to read” if you have interest in the subject area.