Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, December 31, 2005

R2, Plot a Course to the Nearest McDonalds...

Well, I finally did it.

I finally gave in to temptation and bought myself a Christmas/New Year/birthday present: a car navigation system.

Actually, when I bought my BLUE RAV4 a navigation system was available as an option for a bit of a discount. I opted out, and I often regretted it afterward. Now, however, I'm glad I did. The one I just bought and had installed is MUCH better.

It doesn't just use GPS to show your position on a map, plot courses to programmed desinations, and give you traffic updates. When it's in navigation mode it actually zooms in to a 3-D virtual reality view when you approach a place to make a turn. That way there's no mistake which way you need to go. I also like its search feature. I can punch in the name of a chain business, i.e. McDonalds, and it will give me a list of every one within a 50km radius in order of closeness. If I select one, the navigator will guide me right to it. I'm already using that feature to find stores I didn't know existed.

Perhaps even better is the fact that the system also includes DVD/CD and MD players as well as an SD card slot so I can upload my mp3 files into the system's own HDD and listen to them at my convenience. (Some newer models include USB interfaces for iPod and so on. This one doesn't, but oh, well.) I can also watch TV on it...if I can get adequate reception. Add to that the voice commands (in Japanese...natch) and the cool, retracting screen, and you have something right out of Star Wars!

Speaking of which...

One of my Christmas presents from my wife was the DVD of Revenge of the Sith (SWeIII). I never got a chance to see it in the theater, so I was very happy. My son also got DVDs of Clone Wars (an animated series, played on Cartoon Network and produced by the makers of "Samurai Jack" with Lucas' cooperation, that covers the time between Episode II and Episode III). My kids and I had a blast one day having a Star Wars marathon in which we watched both Clone Wars volumes followed by Sith. There have been a lot of reviews, but here is my own take on the End of the Star Wars Saga.

I was actually impressed with the Clone Wars. Sure, it was a cartoon that was clearly aimed mainly at kids, and it was (understandably) a lot like "Samurai Jack" in tone, flavor, and plot development, i.e. it was mostly drawn-out battle scenes. Still, it was fun to watch. They also did a very good job of tying the movies together. It literally begins right where Episode II ends and ends right where Episode III begins. The main characters are all there and are more or less what they should be (for better or worse).

As for Episode III, well, I think the very first part of it was an excellent example of Lucas at his worst. I mean, the visuals were impressive, it was all very dramatic, and it was significant to the overall story, but I couldn't help wondering:
-- Why do sci-fi TV/movie writers/directors have so much trouble figuring out that there is no gravity in space? Any gravity inside of a spacecraft would most likely come from either rotating sections, acceleration, or the deck plating. In other words, a ship rolling a little bit would NOT spill its contents!!!
-- The super combat droids from the Tech League of [unpronounceable electronic noise] were bad-ass and impressive in Episode II. They were just as nasty in Clone Wars. So now, in Episode III, they banter and talk trash in cute cartoon voices? They quibble and jump around nervously like Chip and Dale? They quickly fall to pieces when exposed to flaming oil? WHY, Lucas? WHY???
-- Come to think of it, ALL of the enemy droids in the first part are anxious, twitchy, cowardly, and prone to freak out at the least provocation. And this is supposed to be considered a reputable fighting force? If I were the separatists, I would be demanding my money back from the manufacturers (or threatening them with a morbid fate).
-- General Grievous was a really tough cookie in Clone Wars. After wiping out a whole clone platoon single-handedly, he took on a high-ranked Jedi and two padawan at the same time and gave them a sound thrashing. He was also an impressively sinister and menacing figure. In Episode III? He seemed more like a villain in a muppet movie or something, i.e. not so much sinister as ridiculous.

Needless to say, I was shaking my head and moaning throughout that first chapter. Once it was over, however, the good movie finally got underway, and I was duly blown away. It is dark. Man, oh man, is it DARK! Dark to the point of disbelief! But it tied up the saga very nicely. Impressive. Most impressive. When it was all over, all I could say was, "Wow." I couldn't wait to watch it again (and even sit through that first part again).

Sure, I've read and heard some pretty nasty reviews, mainly concerning the dialogue and acting. However, I think it was quite an improvement over Episode II in that respect. (Episode II was a better story than Episode I, but the screenplay was annoyingly bad at times.) The exchanges between Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman) may not impress drama critics (to put it lightly), but I have met real people that talk like they do. Anakin is supposed to be a powerful but moody and rather arrogant young man with a weak, angst-ridden character. Padme grew up a sheltered, precocious child who never really had a chance to grow up properly. In that respect, the two characters are believable as portrayed. Their dialogue seems immature (IS rather immature, actually), but, when you think about it, it probably would be. Yes, both parts could have been better cast...and much better directed (much better written?), but they're nowhere near as bad as a lot of critics have said. As I said, once I got past that annoying first chapter, I enjoyed this movie completely...though it left me feeling pretty gloomy at the end.

I also have to say that the irritatingly excessive comic relief of Episodes I & II (Jar-Jar in the first, C-3PO in the second) is thankfully absent. There are some humorous moments in Episode III, to be sure, but they are measured enough to fit into the whole framework without kicking mud all over it.

Time to celebrate. Maybe I'll hop in my BLUE car tomorrow and drive out to Subway sandwiches for lunch. I haven't been to Subway since my trip to Yokohama last spring. My new navigation system says there's one not so far from here that I never knew about. It's only 43km (27 miles) away. Shouldn't take too long. It's kind of like having my own R2 unit...except that it actually talks to me with a feminine voice speaking Japanese. It also thoughtfully reminds me not to watch TV or videos while I'm driving everytime I start my car. However, it doesn't fix my BLUE car or increase the power. It also doesn't spray battle droids with oil and then torch them.


  • First, about the gravity in the opening. The starship happened to be very close to the planet so gravity would come into play. I bought the wide screen DVD. After having seen it in theater, and having been duly impressed, I felt that there was something missing. There was! Apparently the DVD I purchased had noticeable chunks of the sound track missing!

    At least, thats the way it seems. Perhaps its my imagination, but much of the dialogue seemed to be with out background music on the DVD while in the theater there was. Could it just be my imagination.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:06 AM  

  • Due to unclear pronounciation, a new version of Star Wars 3 is born.

    "Star Wars 3: Revenge of the SIKH" (no offence in any way)

    (Source from Kenny Sia)

    By Blogger YD, at 9:48 AM  

  • That was some R2 unit, wow! You're asking too much, eh? :p

    Hope you'll find your lunch! Hope you'll find the new directions in year 2006 and on...

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 5:07 PM  

  • Is that Subway in Sakura?

    2001: A Space Odessy was filmed before CGI and is still awesome in terms of special efffects, and thanks to Arthur C Clarke, very accurate about scientific facts. (Why do films still use noises in space?)

    Star Wars always seemed odd to me, but not because of scientific details, rather the premise that societies could develop the knowledge and technology to be travelling all over a galaxy, under political systems that are monarchies and dictatorships.

    But then, perhaps the "charm" of royalty is why the films are so popular.

    Anyway, enjoy your new toy and DVDs in the New Year. Good thing I don't drive. I'd probably fall in love with the voice of the GPS and all kinds of Walter Mitty-esque fantasies behind the wheel.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 7:23 PM  

  • Pa'va
    The starship happened to be very close to the planet so gravity would come into play.

    But the ship was also high enough to be outside the atmosphere, i.e. at about the same altitude as the Space Shuttle. You don't see things dropping out of the Space Shuttle when it turns its cargo bay toward Earth, right? Well, then again...

    "Star Wars 3: Revenge of the SIKH"

    I shouldn't, I shouldn't. Nope! I WILL NOT LAUGH AT... Rats, I'm laughing HARD.

    Thanks a lot, YD. You've just turned me to the Dark Side of Ethnic Humor. ;-)

    Hope you'll find your lunch!

    The alternative would be losing my lunch. That would be unpleasant!

    Star Wars always seemed odd to me, but not because of scientific details, rather the premise that societies could develop the knowledge and technology to be travelling all over a galaxy, under political systems that are monarchies and dictatorships.

    As Episodes I, II, & III so lavishly portray, galactic civilization was originally a democratic republic with little central power and no armed forces other than the Jedi. Chancellor (Emperor) Palpatine basically played the same card as Adolf Hitler and George W. Bush, and the democracy eagerly voted him absolute power for their own "protection".

    What's really funny is all the people accusing Lucas of Bush-bashing or liberal propaganda, especially since the Episode III story was more or less decided almost 30 years ago!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:37 AM  

  • Shows how closely I watched. I only saw the first one and didn't catch that.

    Well obviously Lucas did some time travel into the then future and went back to make THX-1138 and bash Bush with Star Wars. Of course the future was our present and his present was/is the past, so - oh no not that again.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 9:23 AM  

  • Happy New Year and may all your hopes, dreams and fantasy come true in 2006.

    wow.. I wonder if I can get teh same system in Singapore.

    By Blogger Robin, at 11:59 AM  

  • MM, very cool gadget, the car navigation system. I saw that in a movie - a Hkg/Japanese collaboration - and thought that was a really cool thing. And now you've got it too. Great! I'm sure getting to destinations in the shortest/least hassle route is no longer a big deal.

    Happy New Year!

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 3:06 PM  

  • Way way jealous of your car navigation system. Something I've wanted to purchase for a long time, but never had the patience to shop around for one. Very cool!!

    Regarding Star Wars: I got a Playstation II game for Christmas called "Lego Star Wars". It's essentially a game where the universe is Star Wars in "Lego", and you play through Episodes I through III. It's very well done, and the graphics are impressive. The story is quite close the movies (LucasArts is one of the producers of the game), and there is even some amount of comedy. If you have a Playstation II, and like Lego and/or Star Wars, GET THIS GAME.

    (now back to salivating over your car navigation system. glglgglglglgllglg.)

    By Blogger DewKid, at 6:16 AM  

  • I should have provided a link:

    Lego Star Wars Game

    ... and now I have!

    By Blogger DewKid, at 6:19 AM  

  • Nerds.

    By Anonymous Jeff Nicholson, at 6:48 PM  

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