I was watching David Harvey’s excellent lecture series on reading Marx’s DasKapital, and in the introduction, he talks about how he’s done this class for many many years now, and in all sorts of departments, even those you wouldn’t expect to see reading economic and social philosophy. And, he notes, each year he learns something from each class; each one has its own perspective. Even, he says, a literature class in the early 70s that was filled with folks from the comparative literature department at Johns Hopkins who loved Derrida.
They were fascinating, he goes on to say, because unlike with every other time he taught the course, they barely got through the first chapter. They analyzed every word for every possible meaning (“What does he actually mean by value? What does he actually mean by money commodity? What is fetish about?”). They seized on every analogy. They wanted to talk about his language choices. Harvey was really looking forward to talking about the working day and other interesting things, but they didn’t even reach chapter two before the semester was over.
And this struck me as one of the possible reasons why people find deconstruction and post-structuralism and postmodernism and such so infuriating — they won’t let you move on, they won’t let you just make statements and keep going, they won’t let you blithely get away with saying “you know what I mean” or “look, you’re missing the point”, because, well, they don’t, and they aren’t. For them, this is the point. Why did you say that that particular way?
Take, for example, Richard Taylor’s famous 1962 essay Fatalism (simply because it’s fresh in my memory right now). The argument in it is shit. Taylor himself has admitted such. It’s a Schrodinger’s Cat situation, where he wrote the paper to demonstrate the absurdity of it. The paper was written to be disproven, and the fact that people have taken Taylor to be some sort of anti-free will zealot is another absurdity (and demonstrating the truism that no one is really paying attention and no one understands irony, least of all the targets of ironic criticism).
But look at the examples he uses: you’re a ship commander, an admiral, someone with the power to determine whether a war happens or not. Then, you’re a passive observer, just someone who reads the paper. From someone who makes things happen, to someone things happen to. Lovely, but not enough.
One command from an admiral isn’t enough to start or stop a battle. Say that you give the order not to attack, and the enemy attacks anyways. What then? Or, say that the commander gives the order not to attack, and everything is peaceful in the Atlantic that day. But, over in the Gulf of Tonkin, a few submarines fire at a ship, and then there’s that headline, regardless of the individual commander’s actions. Do I or don’t I have free will if it’s multiple people acting on me?
But must Will be imposed by violent means? It’s always battles being ordered, gun barrels being warm after shots are fired.
I’m missing the point, of course. I’m not playing the game by the established rules. I’ve introduced other variables that confound the entire situation. I’m reading the essay like it were a short story. I’m fixating on what would be incidental details to other readers (make it a seamstress completing a dress if the order is given by the customer, or a Captain telling his divers to go searching the wreck they’re excavating that day, and the analogy still holds (headline: “Sunken Treasure Found Off Coast”)). It seems like I’m being an asshole or a pedant, but I’m focusing on what’s interesting and revealing about the paper to me, rather than the somewhat banal parts that can be summed up quickly (it is obvious that we have free will, just not absolutely (“I cannot determine what sort of pitch will be thrown, but I can attempt to hit it to the best of my ability, and even then, cannot determine what the players on the field will do as I run to first”) and the rest is just semantics).
Or is it?
We’ve got a paper loaded with violent imagery that sees the reader cast down from commander to paper reader, all as essentially a joke designed to get other philosophers to disprove fatalism. It intentionally associates the fatalistic viewpoint with militaristic order and control, and then depersonalization and passivity. Why those examples? Why that style of situation?
And I’m just doing this from memory, not even putting in the effort that is usually done by my colleagues.
But why should that scare or annoy you? What are you afraid we might find in your work? Why are you in such a hurry to move on?
What’s worse is that when you try to read anything they’ve done, they don’t even seem particularly interested in deconstruction. Derrida considered it a minor part of his portfolio, and often wondered why it became as big as it did. It was merely one tool in the box — like calling a general contractor a “hammerer” or a “nail gunner”. So after you bust you ass trying to figure out what, exactly, they’re doing and why, it turns out that the method isn’t really even of primary importance to them. They don’t even want to discuss it. It’s trite, passe, something settled long ago, something they’ve heard all before.
Which is what, I suspect, makes it so infuriating — we will seem to argue to the death about nothing at all, only to tell you that we don’t care very much about the argument in the end, while you’ve been pulling out the stops and convincing yourself that that this is a very important point that you must get across, when in truth we’re almost certainly speaking about two different topics entirely, and no one has bothered to slow down and say so.
Jordan Bernt Peterson was born in 1962, holds a B.A. in political science, and a PhD in psychology. He teaches at the University of Toronto.
Like a lot of smart people, he was a very successful and interesting figure in his own field, who then decided to branch out and start bloviating about other fields he knew jack shit about, because he’s a smart guy, and therefore he must be able to understand everything effortlessly (see also Dawkins, Richard).
It’s easy to attract a crowd by doing two things: giving them an enemy, and giving them simple self-help advice. The latter is so formulaic that it barely is worth mentioning, but it is instructive to touch on briefly because it is done by just about every one of these types, from gurus like Peterson to the bigger groups like the Scientologists or the Objectivists. Basically, it involves two main things: one, focus on fixing your own problems by calming down, making a list of problems that you’d like to work on and a concrete plan for how to achieve them, and then only working on those problems to the exclusion of other things because your problems are self-caused, and two, the reason you’re not successful is because other people are holding you back and there’s a subtle and insidious conspiracy at work to keep down people like yourself, people who want to use hard working and responsible people who are in the know, to get ahead without doing the hard work that you’re doing.
Yes, they contradict one another. If you’re responsible for your own problems, then they are self-caused, and not the fault of the Enemy. But let’s not worry about that. The first part isn’t shitty advice at all, and it works — planning for the future and focusing on one problem at a time are excellent ways to eliminate problems from your life. And having a mantra to help you remember to do so, be it “Clean your room” or “Remember the present moment is all you have” or “Constant and Never Ending Self-Improvement” or “Know very clearly where you want to go,” well, that works too, as corny as it might sound. And because that works, it let’s the second part take hold, and can help foster a dependence on the person, the desire to spread the ideas that made you feel good, and, of course, spending money on the things they’re selling. And they’re always, always selling things you can buy, from books to tapes to online seminars to in-person courses…
Like a lot of gurus, Peterson thinks that his audience is stupid. Really stupid. It might not seem like it at first, because he comes out all pepped up and full of energy, like a gym school coach ready for the “big game”, but if you know anything about the subjects he’s talking about, he’s lying through his teeth most of the time to make himself look smart and his opponents look stupid. But there’s an understanding that you’ll get your information from him, and not from other sources. It’s not stated outright, but it’s understood that people criticizing him are either jealous of his success, or want to tear him down for some political agenda. So who would think to check his sources, or see if his statements are accurate?
A good example of this is the C-16 bill, which launched his career into public stardom. Now, Peterson wants you to believe that this bill makes it so that if you don’t call a hypothetical tumblr strawperson bunself, bun can call the cops and have you thrown in jail. What the bill actually did was just classify trans people in the same manner as, for example, black people or women when it came to being discriminated against for hiring and renting, when criminal actions taken against them, and such. So, basically, if you’re that sort of jerk, just make sure you can say the white guy you hired was at least as qualified or was a better fit for the company, or document them slacking off on the job and don’t say you’re firing them for being trans, and their case won’t go anywhere. The odds of a prosecuting lawyer accepting a case for someone using the wrong pronoun are about the same as the odds of hitting the lottery, and then convincing the judge and jury over the defense attorney… I don’t want to say never, but it isn’t going to happen.
This is not exactly dramatic stuff. Beating up a person for being trans should be treated as a human rights violation, same way it is for beating up someone for being a woman or a minority. It is a hate crime, full stop. But you wouldn’t know it from the way Peterson stomped his feet and threw an adult temper tantrum over how he could tell if someone was serious or not when they asked him to use different pronouns.
Because of course he can.
He also thinks that lobsters are just like humans, because both of them are effected by anti-depressants, according to a study he didn’t understand. Therefore, because lobsters have a dominance hierarchy, so should humans, and we should embrace our “inner lobster”. As you no doubt be shocked to learn, this isn’t the case:
Peterson uses the example of lobsters, which humans share a common evolutionary ancestor with. Peterson argues that, like humans, lobsters exist in hierarchies and have a nervous system attuned to status which “runs on serotonin” (a brain chemical often associated with feelings of happiness).
The higher up a hierarchy a lobster climbs, this brain mechanism helps make more serotonin available. The more defeat it suffers, the more restricted the serotonin supply. Lower serotonin is in turn associated with more negative emotions – perhaps making it harder to climb back up the ladder. According to Peterson, hierarchies in humans work in a similar way – we are wired to live in them. But can a brain chemical really explain the organisation of a human society?
It is true that serotonin is present in crustaceans (like the lobster) and that it is highly connected to dominance and aggressive social behaviour. When free moving lobsters are given injections of serotonin they adopt aggressive postures similar to the ones displayed by dominant animals when they approach subordinates. However, the structures serotonin can act on are much more varied in vertebrates with highly complex and stratified brains like reptiles, birds and mammals – including humans.
If nervous systems were computer games, arthropods like lobsters would be “Snake” on a first-generation mobile phone and vertebrates would be an augmented reality (AR) game. What AR allows us to do and feel are incomparable to Snake, and the mechanisms behind it are a lot more complex. For example, one of the most relevant brain structures for dominant social behaviour is the amygdala, located in the temporal lobe of primates including humans. Arthropods don’t have an amygdala (lobsters don’t even have a brain, just an aglomerate of nerve endings called ganglia).
There are more than 50 molecules that function as neurotransmitters in the nervous system including dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline, serotonin and oxytocin. These molecules, however, exist all over nature. Plants have serotonin. In animals (including humans), most of the serotonin is produced and used in the intestine to help digestion. It’s the structure where it acts that determines its effect.
The same neurotransmitter can have contrasting effects in different organisms. While lower levels of serotonin are associated with decreased levels of aggression in vertebrates like the lobster, the opposite is true in humans. This happens because low levels of serotonin in the brain make communication between the amygdala and the frontal lobes weaker, making it more difficult to control emotional responses to anger.
As if that wasn’t enough, he has a great deal of trouble understanding children’s movies, and art in general:
Note that he lists Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Dostoevsky’s Demons and Crime and Punishment, and The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski among his favorite books. By his definition, all propaganda, not art.
But then he starts in with this nonsense, and we hit part two of the cult recruitment pitch: The Enemy.
Don’t bother listening to the entire thing unless you really want to. It’s not really worth it. His his inability to stay on topic for more than a few moments gives me a headache:
As you may have gotten from other entries, this is my personal bailiwick: structuralism and post-structuralism, or, as he calls it, post-modernism.
His analysis is, of course, complete garbage. Early on, he mentions Derrida and phallogocentrism, and even tries to give a definition of it (a definition of the word, certainly, but not quite in the sense that Derrida used it), but then proceeds to just change the subject in favor of “Rah rah go western society!” rather than refute Derrida’s claim that history, as a whole, has favored men over women and privileged the spoken word over the written one, let alone attempting to disprove his much larger point that inside almost everything is an unconscious decision to favor one thing over another, an unconscious hierarchy at work, that we should be aware of and sometimes reconsider. (Not that Derrida thinks all hierarchies are bad (sports teams should have the best players, parents are correctly in power over their children, teachers over their students, etc.).)
But Peterson instead just goes off on how those lazy blacks in America have it better than the ones in Africa, so why are those ungrateful and resentful jerks so unappreciative of what they have? Why can’t they just stay in their place and quit complaining?
To paraphrase his argument: “I guess they have it better than the folks in war torn Libya or whatever, but they get shot by the cops regularly… Sure, relative wealth is a thing, but let’s look at absolute wealth too, like this nice building we’re all in, isn’t it a miracle that we can build something like this? Stupid angry black people…”
What, exactly, does this has to do with Derrida? Good old Jacques never said Logic doesn’t work or to hate people who have what you don’t.
But then we finally come to his actual gripe. He needs something to blame for why he and his friends keep getting booted from lucrative speaking engagements on campuses. The degree to which students should be forced to interact with ideas they don’t agree with vs. students understandably not wanting their tuition paying to bring people they hate to speak is one that’s worth having. But Peterson has already declared that postmodernists don’t do dialogue ever (which, again, is completely untrue. If you’ve ever met someone into post-structuralism, god, we talk constantly, and question everything, don’t we?), so don’t talk to them or listen to them, just stamp them out, like we did with the Reds back in the 50s… These people are the new communists, you see… (even if their work doesn’t have anything to do with communism, and many of them were actively un- or anti- communist… (Lyotard was disillusioned with communism after the Algerian Revolution failed to produce the promised outcome — literally the start of post-modernism was his break with the French communist party and his belief that master narratives are too simplistic to explain actually existing social reality, Foucault dropped communism after his first major book, and Derrida barely engaged with it at all in his work; more on those two below)).
And there they are: The Enemy. Hate them. Fear them. They are omnipotent and omnipresent, and yet, paradoxically, we can band together and defeat them if we just work hard and resist them.
If you take him at his word, Peterson lives in mortal terror that the Postmodernist Neo-Marxists are coming to get him (for someone who hates gulags and Stalinism so much, he’s certainly willing to compile lists of people he dislikes to target for abuse.) As he mentions early on, his understanding of the topic comes almost exclusively from the book Explaining Postmodernism by Stephen Hicks, and it’s a dumpsterfire of stupidity.
Hicks is a professor at Rockford University in Illinois, and is… well, basically unknown outside of objectivist circles. He loudly crows about how no one has dared to debate him over his book, thus proving him right, but the truth of the matter is that he just isn’t worth anyone’s time. He’s such small potatoes that any professor who deigned to do so would just be lowering their professional prestige. Thus, he gets to beat up on students, which is just bad form… Students are dumb. They’re enthusiastic, but they’re dumb. They’re still learning, that’s why they’re students. Even if you’re a AAA baseball player, you don’t go play in a high school JV game and then brag about how badly you beat the other team. He’s a friendly enough guy otherwise, but like a lot of objectivists, he’s got his agenda, and he’s going to stick to it, no matter what. Even if it means badly misreading other philosophers.
Now, one of the things you’re supposed to do in philosophy (and in most constructive arguments, really) is called “The Principle of Charity”. You’re supposed to give the person you’re writing in response to the benefit of the doubt, and argue against the strongest possible interpretation of their argument. You should try to fully understand their argument, present it in the strongest terms possible, and then dismantle it (what Daniel Dennett calls “steelmanning”, as opposed to “strawmanning”). This serves two purposes: one, it means that you’ve fully understood the topic you’re addressing and thus your response is all the stronger, and two, it makes you all the harder to argue against, because you’ve preempted many of the responses to you. Despite what some folks might think, Philosophy as a discipline is usually quite rigorous in its argumentation, and the people involved are deep readers and rhetoricians, so if you’re publishing stuff that’s weak, it will get dismantled fairly quick, if it is even published in the first place.
Explaining Postmodernism is like watching Braveheart, only less entertaining. It was initially published by a vanity press (Scholargy Publishing, Inc, also famous for such titles as Complete Guide for Horse Business Success and The Gekkleberry Tree) and then by Ockham’s Razor (which Hicks himself owns (I’ll leave the “self-owning” jokes for the reader to make)).
Hicks does a great job cherry picking to make people look bad. For example, in the very first quotation he chooses from Foucault in Explaining Postmodernism, he states: “Michel Foucault has identified the major targets: “All my analyses are against the idea of universal necessities in human existence.” Such necessities must be swept aside as baggage from the past: “It is meaningless to speak in the name of—or against—Reason, Truth, or Knowledge.”
He makes it out as if Foucault wants to destroy modern society and destroy Truth, Reason, and Knowledge.
But, when read in context, it is obvious that this is not what Foucault is saying at all. (Bolding added by me, to show where the quotations came from, and the ideas they are removed from)
From Truth, Power, Self. An Interview with Michel Foucault – Oct. 1982:
Q. But what about your interest in social outcasts?
A. I deal with obscure figures and processes for two reasons: The political and social processes by which the Western European societies were put in order are not very apparent, have been forgotten, or have become habitual. They are part of our most familiar landscape, and we don’t perceive them anymore. But most of them once scandalized people. It is one of my targets to show people that a lot of things that are part of their landscape — that people are universal — are the result of some very precise historical changes. All my analyses are against the idea of universal necessities in human existence. They show the arbitrariness of institutions and show which space of freedom we can still enjoy and how many changes can still be made.
The second quote isn’t even a direct quote from Foucault, it’s a paraphrase of him from Todd May’s Between Genealogy and Epistemology
From Between Genealogy and Epistemology — Todd May – 1993 p.2
For Foucault, the questions of what we hold to to be true, and how we came to do so, especially as regards ourselves, are of paramount importance especially in attempting to articulate an understanding of what our present is.
The significance of these questions is not confined to their relevance for comprehending our situation. In fact, what is at stake in in the questions of what we hold true and how we came to do so is the conduct of our lives. How we understand what we have come to accept about the world and about ourselves, the context in which we place our various knowledges of things, determines not only the theoretical underpinnings of our epistemology but also the political and ethical commitments of our practice. Both the knowledge that Foucault attempted to provide us and the knowledge of his analyses are inescapably political. Foucault was, above all else, a political writer about knowledge.
And yet, should we follow this line of inquiry too far–that is, should we try to answer the question of what, in their essence, Foucault’s writings _are_–we will only repeat the mistake against which his writings wage a ceaseless struggle. If Foucault was a political writer about our knowledge, it is not because he had anything to say about what our knowledge or reason was like. Indeed, to speak of our knowledge or our reason (or even, at times, our society) invites the kind of blindness that have allowed our knowledges and the strategies within which they are engaged to continue their hold upon us. There is no Knowledge; there are knowledges. There is no Reason; there are rationalities. And so, just as it is meaningless to speak in the name of–or against–Reason, Truth, or Knowledge, so it is meaningless to engage in Politics. The idea that there is one true politics that will lead us to our salvation is a dangerous lie, as the Soviet experience will attest.
So, we have two completely unconnected quotes, one of which Foucault didn’t even say, asking us to pay attention to the origins of our thoughts and ideas, to learn where reason and rationality come from, and to understand that our present sense of everything is contingent upon the knowledge of the past. “Quilt quotations” are just bad form. Hicks’ misinterpretation is garbage on par with Karl Popper’s attack on Hegel, which Walter Kaufmann famously eviscerated. To quote from Kaufmann’s essay above:
From The Hegel Myth and Its Method — Walter Kaufmann, 1959
Here, for example, is a quilt quotation about war and arson: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword… . I came to cast fire upon the earth… . Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you… . Let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” This is scarcely the best way to establish Jesus’ views of war and arson.
What Foucault is saying is hardly controversial or difficult to understand. Our present physics is built upon the back of Newtonian physics, for example, which were groundbreaking for the time, but ultimately inadequate. Ptolemaic astronomy was superseded by the work of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Einstein, and many others. One uses a different sort of reasoning when arguing with a child than one does when programming a computer. While I would look dapper in a Beau Brummel suit in the 1800s, I would look like I was attending a costume party were I to wear such an outfit today. Is it so scary to consider that the world once wasn’t like the way it is today, and that perhaps in the future, it won’t be the way it is now? And is it shocking that studying the history of a country through a military lens would produce a different view than studying it through the history of its royal family? I shouldn’t think so.
There is nothing about how these are all equally “valid” or “good” or anything like that. Merely that to understand them, you need to understand them within the context within which they occurred. If I call Henry VIII handsome, one needs to understand that a very large man in tights and velvet was considered the peak of masculinity in his day, whereas we’d laugh him off the runway by today’s standards of beauty. There’s no judgement about “needing” to find him attractive.
Thus, when one can hardly reach the second page of Hicks’ work without seeing one of the central figures in the book completely mischaracterized, where is the sense in continuing? Given Hicks background in Rand, it isn’t surprising that he dislikes this idea (especially since Foucault explicitly identifies himself as a Kantian, and Rand despises her version of Kant, a version that scarcely resembles dear Immanuel at all), but then, given Rand’s reputation among philosophers of all backgrounds, it’s unsurprising that his thirteen year old self-published book hasn’t gotten any traction among them.
The refutation to his work is “No, they didn’t say that. Read the actual book by these authors and you’ll see that.”
There are plenty of reasons to dislike or criticise Foucault, but he never said “Reason is meaningless, destroy history, follow Marx!”
Oh yes, this is all tied into a grand Marxist conspiracy. Because of course it is.
The Marxist accusations are just as stupid, and seem to stem from a desire to just chain together words to call people you don’t like: the conspiracy theory version conservative of “Stupid cocksucing motherfucking son of a bitch!” becomes “Liberal Marxist postmodernist feminist relativist!”
Even a cursory glance at Foucault’s work would show that, not only isn’t he a Marxist, he’s actually quite specifically un-Marxist.
Foucualt dabbled in Marxism in his early years, but didn’t much care for it as he aged and matured as a philosopher. I’m just going to copy a section of the IEP here, because it’s not worth rephrasing what they already wrote:
The Order of Things charts several successive historical shifts of episteme in relation to the human sciences.
These claims led Foucault onto a collision with French Marxism. This could not have been entirely unintended by Foucault, in particular because in the book he specifically accuses Marxism of being a creature of the nineteenth century that was now obsolete. He also concluded the work by indicating his opposition to humanism, declaring that “man” (the gendered “man” here refers to a concept that in English we have come increasingly to call the “human”) as such was perhaps nearing obsolescence. Foucault here was opposing a particular conception of the human being as a sovereign subject who can understand itself. Such humanism was at that time the orthodoxy in French Marxism and philosophy, championed the pre-eminent philosopher of the day, Jean-Paul Sartre, and upheld by the French Communist Party’s central committee explicitly against Althusser just a month before The Order of Things was published (DE1 36). In its humanist form, Marxism cast itself as a movement for the full realization of the individual. Foucault, by contrast, saw the notion of the individual as a recent and aberrant idea. Furthermore, his entire presumption to analyse and criticize discourses without reference to the social and economic system that produced them seemed to Marxists to be a massive step backwards in analysis. The book indeed seems to be apolitical: it refuses to take a normative position about truth, and accords no importance to anything outside abstract, academic discourses. The Order of Things proved so controversial, its claims so striking, that it became a best-seller in France, despite being a lengthy, ponderous, scholarly tome.
The explicit criticism of Marxism in [The Order of Things] was specifically of Marx’s economic doctrine: it amounts to the claim that this economics is essentially a form of nineteenth century political economy. It is thus not a total rejection of Marxism, or dismissal of the importance of economics. His anti-humanist position was not in itself anti-Marxist, inasmuch as Althusser took much the same line within a Marxist framework, albeit one that tended to challenge basic tenets of Marxism, and which was rejected by the Marxist establishment. This shows it is possible to use the criticism of the category of “man” in a pointedly political way. Lastly, the point of Foucault’s “archaeological” method of investigation, as he now called it, of looking at transformations of discourses in their own terms without reference to the extra-discursive, does not imply in itself that discursive transformations can be explained without reference to anything non-discursive, only that they can be mapped without any such reference. Foucault thus shows a lack of interest in the political, but no outright denial of the importance of politics.
And this is just looking at one of the many philosophers he touches on. Derrida, for example, didn’t write anything about Marx until the 1990s, and even then, it was to say (paraphrasing greatly) “Well, this certainly is an idea that has been around a lot without ever really doing anything, but while still being in the back of everyone’s minds, kinda like a ghost, huh?” And Derrida and Foucault basically hated each other.
So, yeah. Peterson is attacking an idea that exists in his head. A conspiracy of dead French philosophers who are out to get him, somehow, with their philosophy that says such scary things as “people use different frameworks of reasoning to come to different conclusions” and “understand things in context” and “people have different ideas from one another”. Really scary, mindblowing stuff there. They both get more complex, and they both use more examples, but you’d have to actually read their books to learn those, and neither Peterson nor Hicks have done that. They haven’t even reached “I browsed wikipedia” levels of understanding. That takes time and effort. And why bother with that when you could just spout off nonsense and rest assured that no one giving you money will bother to check your work?
Solo: a Star Wars Story
Final Approved Story Draft
Han is a hip young pilot fresh out of the academy. He’s talented and flashy and doesn’t play by the rules, but he’s also a loyal friend to those he cares about, and committed to causes that engage him.
His arch rival was the man who graduated second from the Academy, Lorn Faloon. Lorn is everything that Han isn’t: uptight, bound by the rules, and under the impression that the Empire has the world’s best interests in mind. We symbolize this by having them dress mostly the same, but Lorn’s collar is buttoned, as is his vest. His ship is also a X-shaped, boxy thing, in contrast to the Millennium Falcon’s circular shape, but that comes later. If we can have them play tic-tac-toe at some point, that would be good. He is angry that someone like Han could graduate first in his class, because Lorn has done everything right, and should be ranked far above, but Han’s hot shot unorthodox tactics have always placed him higher, and his willingness to take risks, despite putting his own life at risk.
Right after the big graduation ceremony, Han receives a coded message from his childhood pal Dal Thanoken, who reveals that Han’s sister, Gretel, has been kidnapped by the Dathomir witch Dortchen Yaga, and taken to the swamps of Kodos, where she will be sacrificed and eaten if someone can’t stop her.
Han needs a ship, and fast!
Calling on an old pal from Corellia, Lando Calrissian, Han enters into a high stakes game of Sabacc, a deadly game that involves throwing cards which represent monsters, traps, and Force “spells” that effect game play. Han easily dominates the tournament, which showcases a number of fan favorite monsters from the other films, such as the Sarlacc, the Bossk, the Great Pit of Carkoon, the Rancor, and more. Han’s arm mounted “Sabacc Rack” and “Duel Gauntlet” are sure to be popular accessories with the kids and cosplayers, too.
Han reaches the final round of the tournament, only to discover that his final opponent is none other than Lando himself! Lando ponies up his favorite space ship, the Falcon, as an additional prize, and to match it, Han is forced to bet his Sabacc deck, composed of countless rare and out of print cards that are worth an Emperor’s ransom. But this means that if Han loses, he’ll have no way to quickly earn the money to rescue his sister. He’s staking his entire future on this one game!
The duel is fast and furious, with monster card leading into spell into trap into counterspell, the two grandmasters anticipating moves ten turns down the line. The audience is rapt as their monsters battle upon the field, dodging force bolts and smashing barriers, titanically slashing into each other in a manner similar to the arena battle from Attack of the Clones, but much cooler. Finally, when it looks like both men are exhausted, their decks nearly empty, Han plays “Force Friend”, a card that only appeared in the very first Sabacc release, and which has never been seen since, a card few know the existence of, and uses it to become friends with the monster closest to Lando, a Wookiee legend named Chewbacca, who was a hero in the clone wars. With all his defenses aligned in the other direction, Lando is powerless to stop Chewbacca’s crossbow attack, and loses the match one turn before his Tears of the Rist would have cost Han the match.
Lando is impressed, and is gracious in his loss, handing Han the keys and the title with a smile, promising to win her back next time. Chewbacca, who has remained on the field after all the other monsters have been desummoned, decides to accompany Han on his journey to save Gretel, and they take off. Inside the cockpit, Han finds a letter from Lando, wishing him luck, and telling him, cryptically, that the Falcon is “special” and that Han will figure out why in time.
Needing space fuel, Han and Chewie stop at a space port (good spot for advertising joke here, if Exxon or Shell or someone wants to pay for it), and while Han pumps his gas, Chewie goes inside to buy some drinks. Inside the Space Station is the usual: big guy besalisk with greasy trucker’s cap reading a girly magazine, some Jawas playing an arcade game (space invaders? Or is that too on the nose?), and, in the corner, a pretty human space pilot in a wedding dress and holding a space helmet, being harassed by a greedo. Chewie goes over to intervene, because he has a strong sense of duty and justice, and the greedo tries to get in his face, telling him to mind his own business, and in response, Chewie rips his arm off. It turns out that the filling station is attached to a quickie chapel, which is next to a small time casino, like the kind they have in Vegas. “Say, think you could give a girl a lift?” she asks. “My other ride seems a little stumped as to our next destination.”
The girl, it turns out, is Miss Qi’ra Faloon, of the Valengore Faloons. She mentions that she has a cousin at the academy, but Han doesn’t say that he knows Lorn quite well. Han tells her that they’re headed for the Swamps of Kodos, on the planet Kansaw, which suits Qi’ra just fine. She’s got no interest in marrying that lout Lugo Tice, no matter if his daddy is Sheriff of the whole system. Han’s eyes grow wide — this is some dangerous cargo he’s just picked up!
Meanwhile, Lorn Faloon has learned of his cousin’s disappearance, and the implications it may have for his family’s spice trade. Without the ties to Sheriff Tice, they would have to pay horrific tariffs that would destroy their profit margins, leaving the Atreides and the Kessels in charge of the universe’s spice. He heads off in his Raptor X. Sheriff Hugo G. Tice isn’t taking this laying down either, scooping up his now one armed Deputy Remvo and his son Lugo, piling them into his Police Interceptor, and speeding off after the Falcon, determined to get Qi’ra back.
The Raptor has a better hyperdrive than the Falcon, so in the middle of hyperspace, the Falcon’s proximity alarms begin to ring, and Han gets the shields up just in time to avoid being blown out of space by a photon torpedo. “Where are your fancy tricks now, Solo?” Lorn taunts over the space channel.
We cut back and forth between the present and the past, with Han as a young academy recruit, saying he wants to make a difference, and be the best pilot in the galaxy, and then sparring with Lorn in the test ship simulators, and then smash cut back to the present as they dog fight, IN HYPERSPACE, jockeying for position back and forth, trying to lock one another missiles on one another. Switches are flipped, dials turned, back and forth between laser bolts flying then freezing in mid-air because they’re moving faster than the speed of light, and suddenly, Han lets loose the Falcon’s garbage, which crashes into the Raptor at light speed, dropping Lorn out of Hyperspace, and disabling his ship, leaving his floating alone and disfigured…
They arrive at the planet Kansaw, only to meet a Star Destroyer, which begins to loose a bunch of TIE fighters, led by Sheriff Tice. “Thought you could get away, did ya boy?” he shouts over the comlink, his southern quadrant accent making him sound simultaneously threatening and ridiculous. More space combat here, only this time, with Chewie piloting, and Han and Qi’ra on the guns like in New Hope. “It could be worse…” Han says to himself.
Still outmatched by the sheer number of TIE fighters, Chewie begins to guide the ship down towards the cloudy planet, looking for some place to hide, only to discover that it is covered in gigantic tentacles. “It’s worse!” They deftly avoid the tentacles, while one wraps itself around the star destroyer and smashes it to pieces.
The Falcon lands, barely, at the epicenter of the tenticular mass, where his sister Gretel is inside an oven-like contraption, and the dread witch Dortchen Yaga is about to finish her spell. What begins is a massive four way battle between Dortchen and Han, Chewie, and Qi’ra, their blasters proving meaningless against the power of the Force, and one by one, Chewie and Qi’ra end up imprisoned alongside Gretel. Han is barely holding on, when a strange calm comes over him. He looks at the Falcon, which seems to look back at him, and he remembers his hand to hand training back at the academy, his instructor Arden Lyn telling him to clear his mind and become one with the environment. The Force is powerless against someone who has the will and the way. A Master of Teräs Käsi is unstoppable. Han touches the outside of the Falcon, and the two merge, becoming a gigantic armored robot combination of man and ship. The Solenium Halcon proceeds to use its massive strength and technique to karate chop through the tentacles that protect Dortchen from his attacks, and then he seizes her ala King Kong, her powers proving useless, and he tosses her upwards, into the sun. Careful viewers will see a little “blip” on the surface a scene later, to confirm that she did, in fact, burn up upon entry.
Han de-transforms, and looks out of breath and ragged. “Phew, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that again, even if I wanted to!” The Falcon, meanwhile, has transformed from pristine to dirty looking, having gotten all mucked up in the fighting. “Grrrragh!” says Chewie. “Yes, maybe someday we’ll be able to afford to have her cleaned!” replies Han.
Everyone is safe, and Qi’ra decides to take Dortchen’s ship as her own, to strike off and figure out life without living under her family’s thumb. She wears a red cape, and reprograms Dortchen’s droid to serve as her sidekick. “Think we’ll ever see you again?” Han asks. “Who knows?” she replies, and then proceeds back up the stairs into her ship. “Oh,” she says, looking over her shoulder. “I left a little surprise for you in the cargo hold. Hope you like it.”
Inside the hold are a ton of crates filled with Spice, enough to set Han and Chewie and Gretel up for life. “Oh, this is hot stuff, and no tariff stamps! I didn’t think you could get this brand on this side of the galaxy! Who do we know that might be interested?” “Grr grogh grrrowww arrghl” says Chewie. “Jabba the who?” replies Han. “Well, lets call him up and see if he’s interested. I just hope we don’t get boarded or have to dump it on the way there.”
Back up in the cock pit, Han asks “Is there anywhere we can drop you Gret?” Gretel replies “Sure, back to Kessel might be nice. I’ve got some scores to settle there. After we pick up my ship from Tattooine.” “Tattooine it is, then!” Han says, making the jump to hyperspace.
Cut to credits with 70s funk music, and a series of jokes and outtakes about Hugo trying to buy fuel from the Space Station attendant playing in screen on the left, while the credits play on the right.
Post credits: Title Card: Central Medical Center, Gand Prime. Lorn lies on a hospital bed, wired up to a chest plate and looking much worse for wear. The insect-like doctors work over him, fixing what they can, and replacing what they cannot. Finally, one in a white labcoat stands at his side, and says “We’ve done what we can for you, Mr. Lorn, but with the damage you’ve sustained, I’m not sure what you’ll be good for–”
“Yes!” he interrupts. “Lorn no longer.” He takes the face plate that was to be installed, and clicks it into place with a metal hand. “Yes, yes, Dr. Zuckuss, what am I good for? Combine the R and N, like your nurses here. I am now 4-LOM! Beware, Han Solo, beware!” he cackles with his robotically modulated voice as we cut to black.
Rey and Poe are tasked by the Rebellion to locate the First Order’s new “War Star,” a gigantic planet sized base that is capable of draining the energy from a sun and using it to blow up ten planets simultaneously. To gain entrance to the FO base, they will need to locate Darth Vader’s glove, a powerful Sith artefact that allowed Vader to choke people at a distance by gripping his hand tightly. It is currently in the possession of Clip Asbo, an intersteller Transdoshan artefact collector who lives in Kubla Khan style pleasure in his palace on Jectine, and who runs the Transport Guild, the second most powerful force in the galaxy after the first order.
Rose and Finn are working with the remainder of the Resistance, now renamed “The Rebellion”, to eliminate the Manufactory of Plornect, which is producing the first of the First Order’s “Claymore” class Star Destroyers. Unlike the traditional triangular ships, this one is a round cylinder, and appears to be basically a gigantic lightsaber. The elegant and civilized design will allow the ship to destroy entire fleets with a single sweep, rather than firing chaotically, simply rotating its “blade” across the field.
Meanwhile, Phasma’s daughter, Phasma II, princess of the stormtrooper tribe is chosen to avenge her mother, and she has even cooler gold-chrome armor. She is paired up with the mysterious Zekk “Jade” Fel, the apprentice of Kylo Ren, They are regularly taunted by Ren for their failures, with him constantly showing up as a huge hologram and telling them how much they stink. Unknown to everyone, “Jade” is the son of Luke Skywalker, but Luke does not know this.
Rey and Poe’s mission is complicated by Poe’s evil brother, Joe Dameron, and there is an awesome space battle between the Millennium Falcon and Joe’s Hex-Wing fighter (It’s like an X-Wing, but it has an extra set of wings like this ⚞⚟). The force ghost of Princess Leia appears to help them during this battle, revealing to Rey that, because Han had “adopted” her as his honorary daughter before his passing, she now possesses legal claim to the throne of Corellia, as well as that of Alderaan. Once the battle is finished, she adds red stripes to the sides of her trousers to signify this honor.
In the palace of Clip Asbo, they are shocked to learn that his son, Clorr, has murdered his father and taken his place as head of the transport guild. The First Order has been bad for business, you see, and if you aren’t expanding, you’re dying. Not realizing its true value, Clorr tosses them the “worthless” leather glove as a gesture of bonding and respect, in exchange for Poe’s new jacket (“I just can’t seem to hold on to these things,” he quips in an aside to Rey).
After a series of daring twists and turns and near misses, Rose and Finn sneak aboard the “dry docked” claymore-class ship, “The Mutilator”, and proceed to hi-jack it with BB-8’s help. Phasma II and “Jade” arrive moments after they have jumped to lightspeed, and Phasma II slams her force mace into a console dramatically, sparks flying everywhere.
With the stage set, our heroes converge on the War Star. Poe and Chewy engage the First Order Star Fleet, led by Joe in a newly souped up ship that now has TIE Fighter wing plating over the movable plates of his Hex Wing, and that at one point he dramatically disengages to increase his maneuverability, ala “I’m not left handed either” in the Princess Bride. Rey, wearing the Glove of Darth Vader, fights a Darth Vader-helmet wearing Kylo to a stand still, the two artefacts boosting their Force powers to levels never before seen on screen. “Han’s legacy is mine!” Kylo shouts. “No, it’s not too late for peace!” Rey responds.
Rose and Rebel code slicer Kylie Andor-Erso rush to hack the system and delete the code holding the War Star’s shields in place, preventing Finn from destroying it with the Mutilator. In the world of the Imperial CodeNet, they engage in a battle of wits with DJ, who attempts to outwit them at every turn, taunting them with a laughing avatar of his face rendered in monochrome green (a reference to the LucasFilm’s logo), while Rose and Kylie’s monochrome blue avatar (in reference to the “A long time ago…” part of the opening crawl) battles it symbolically with a lightsaber.
Smash compare cut back to Rey and Kylo, battling across the throne room of the War Star, destroying railings, hurling boulders, exploding glass. And then, a third man enters, wielding a green lightsaber. “Neither of you are worthy,” he declares. “What do you mean, my young apprentice?” Kylo asks. “Jade” does not respond, and instead enters the battle, the three way lightsaber duel all the more fierce because no one is on anyone else’s side.
Force Ghost Luke appears, so he can give Rey aid, but he is shocked to see both Kylo and “Jade” there. “You… You killed my son!” Luke yells. “No, I am your son!” “Jade” responds. “No! No, that can’t be true!” Luke shouts. “Search your feelings, you know it to be true!” “Jade” tells him.
“Don’t worry little buddy. Let’s blow this thing and go home!” says a familiar voice from off screen, and force ghost HAN SOLO appears, and it looks like the tide is turning for the good guys!
But then, Snoke reappears as an evil force-ghost and threatens to destroy them all. Ghost-Luke and ghost-Han merge into ghost-Huke Skolo to fight him.
“Run, Rey, Run!” yells the mega-force ghost as the battle brings the fortress down around them. She leaps into the nearest fighter possible and accelerates off planet. Kylo and Jade’s fates are left ambiguous.
Rose and Kylie bring down DJ’s force shield. Poe manages to slip behind Joe and blast one of his wings, sending the fighter sailing off directionless into space. The War Star is destroyed by the huge blue lightsaber beam slashing through the planet, cleaving it in twain.
At last, the Star Wars are over. On the planet Corsucant, our heroes are honored in a lavish ceremony celebrating the freedom of the Galaxy. Fireworks explode over various planets from the movies, and we zoom in to the credits with John Williams’ familiar heroic theme playing us out.
BUT, in an after credits sequence, we are treated to Joe Dameron’s one winged ship crashing on a desert planet, ala The Force Awakens. He escapes from the ship, barely, and struggles to run before it is swallowed up by the sand. After wandering for a series of cuts that we are meant to interpret as a long time, he is ambushed from behind by a woman in a familiar set of golden armor. “Hello Joe,” says Phasma II. She leads him back to the largest hut in the stormtrooper village, where, on a throne built of the helmets that the troopers wore in A New Hope, sits a burned and cyborg augmented Captain Phasma! Her armor is damaged, but she is still clearly alive and angry. “We were wondering when you’d arrive,” she says. “Now, it is time to create the Second Order.” We cut to black on her last two ominous words.
They are one of the most common types of theatre, along with prosceniums, thrusts, and arenas. They are highly configurable, because all they are is a room painted black, and both the seating and set can be placed where ever one chooses.
Much black box theatre is performed with either minimalistic or no set, and minimal costuming. Everything from very traditional Shakespeare or Greek tragedy, to very modern experimental or absurd theatre can performed black box. The audience uses their imagination to fill in the blanks, and the show goes on.
The actors, meanwhile, get over themselves and do their damn jobs. They idea that you can’t act against a blue or green screen is patently false.
Even on a very built up and detailed set, there’s this thing called the Fourth Wall. It’s the one that the audience sees through into the action.
In a film or TV, this area is completely covered with cameras, crew, other actors, people’s girlfriends, craft services, runners with script changes…
In modern one camera filming, the cameras will often be directly in your face, over your shoulder, between your legs, kneeling in front of you shooting up your nose, or in a myriad of other very close positions.
There is never a moment in which you are not aware that you are acting.
Scrubs was filmed in an actual hospital, but even then, it was chockful of camera people and assistants and such.
You get over it and do it anyways.
The idea that “Oh, if only they’d had more real sets!” is garbage.
You can even act with something that isn’t there. There’s an entire movie where Jimmy Stewart’s co-star never makes an appearance. It’s widely regarded as a classic.
Acting is a learned skill that takes time and effort, and not some magical gift granted by the gods.
A young man steps into the hanger, accompanied by the wizened old mentor who has told him of his mysterious past, and the two slaved that have brought a mysterious message that could save the world. The young man has just sold his speeder, a vehicle that he treasured, but that he acknowledges is no longer in demand since a newer model came out. The old man has assured him that it will be enough.
We see the star ship that they will fly in: it looks nothing like the traditional rockets we are used to in science fiction, nor the “space plane” that we see from real life space exploration. Even in contrast to the other ships we have seen thus far in this world, this one is unique: unlike the Tantive IV or the Devistator, this ship is flat, more like a pizza or a hamburger, with a cockpit stuck awkwardly onto the side, and a loading platform more like that of a cargo plane.
“What a piece of junk!” exclaims the young man.
There’s a moment in most Steven Spielberg movies where, upon seeing the object of wonder (the dinosaurs, the aliens, the bicycle flying), we cut back to the people watching react. We see the children’s faces in awe, the parents with mouths agape, the government agents shocked and in disbelief. The film tells us what reaction we should be having.
Yet, we are all taken in by Han Solo. Luke, who is shown to have a strong interest in spaceships, is planning on attending the Academy to become a pilot, is later in the film shown to be quite a competent pilot himself, says the Millennium Falcon is a junk ship. When Han tries to justify the condition by saying that he’s made a lot of “special modifications”, Obi-Wan simply rolls his eyes.
This isn’t the first time that Obi-Wan hasn’t been taken in either. Take the famous “Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs” exchange in the cantina. Much ink has been spilled to justify that a parsec is a measure of distance, not time, and therefore the Falcon must have a very efficient navigational computer, or Han is much better at piloting than others, so in a treacherous environment like the area around Kessel, he must be able to blah blah blah. Almost no one considers that he’s a smuggler and con man who is trying to talk up a potential client, and saying whatever comes into his head to impress them. It’s much like his later bullshitting about a reactor leak caused by a slight weapons malfunction and that he needs a few minutes to lock down. Large leak. Very dangerous.
Again, watch Obi-Wan’s reaction:
This is not a man taken in by fancy words. He knows Han is bullshitting him, but he doesn’t have much choice, as he’s in a time crunch and needs to leave right now. Better a thief than a stormtrooper.
Han then proceeds to kill a debt collector, shooting him under the table (not unjustifiably, as Han was being threatened), unlike Obi-Wan, who merely maimed the thug who was bothering Luke, and tried to deescalate the situation first.
But the idea that Han Solo is a good person, is introduced to us as a hero, is from the get go a role model? There’s little in the film to support this. He gets his money and runs, just like he said he would.
And this makes his return at the very end to save Luke, and therefore insure the destruction of the Death Star all the more heroic.
For all that’s been written about it — exhaustively, I might add — comparatively little has been said about Neon Genesis Evangelion‘s previous incarnation, Genesis Evangelion. I was shocked when I found a fansub of the six episode OVA in a VHS bin at Goodwill, but, well, that’s how we find these things sometimes. They fall into our lives when we are able to appreciate them, not when we think we’d love them best.
Neon Genesis Evangelion, as you probably know, is the story of Shinji Ikari, a young man recruited by the secret organization NERV to pilot a gigantic mech and battle the Angels, bizarre invaders from space that are seeking to obtain something that NERV has hidden deep inside its base. Shinji’s father, Gendo, is the director of NERV, and has been estranged from his son for nearly a decade. Their relationship is easily as important as the battles against the Angels. There’s plenty more, and the show begins to go in some interesting directions around episode eight, but that’s the gist of it.
But while the influence of shows like U.F.O. andSpace Runaway Ideon, and the Ultraman and Godzilla franchises have been well documented, curiously little has been said of Hideaki Anno’s use of the framework of the original anime Genesis Evangelion to make his program. This is hardly something new; shows are updated all the time, and their old concepts mined for ideas that can be made relevant for today, so I’m not accusing him of plagiarism, if that’s where you think this is going. I just think it’s an interesting lens to look at the show through.
Genesis Evangelion is the story of a young scientist, Gendo Rokubungi , a brash but kind young pilot, Yui Ikari, a daring inventor, Naoko Akagi, and a hot headed but loyal German-Japanese pilot, Kyoko Soryu. The story has a very strong environmental theme, with the end of the world being immanent in the year 2000 if things aren’t done to prevent it. This culminates in an immanent meteor strike being called down on the South Pole by ENGEL, the organization that has been orchestrating the attacks throughout the show. Unfortunately, this climax is left unresolved, as episode seven was never produced.
As you can imagine, a series starring one young man and three young women has a steady love triangle going. Gendo is your typical 80s protagonist in this regard, though it is a unique choice of the OVA to make him part of the support staff, rather than one of the pilots. Normally he’d be heading up the trio of pilots, in the most “average” of the robots, while one was faster and the other tougher, but instead, Yui and Kyoko are basically evenly matched, their mecha (Units 000 and AAA) differing only in color scheme. Gendo instead spends most of the program buried in computer screens and text books, trying to locate weaknesses and relay potential maneuvers to the pilots, while Naoko coordinates the construction of new weaponry to be rapidly deployed to defeat the various monstrosities. One might think that focusing on the backroom, supply chain aspects of combat would detract from the exciting drama of mech-on-monster combat, but they manage to make it compelling, treating timing an explosive hammer blow or calculating rocket trajectory with a slide rule and paper with all the tension and sweat-dripping pressure that the situation deserves.
This is a decent pick for anyone into 80s fighting robots, though its a bit difficult to track down these days. For the convenience of those unable to find a copy, I’ll provide episode summaries below.
Episode One: Dig For Greatness? Underground Base Attack! — Gendo arrives at NERVE’s underground headquarters, and is shown around by the base commander, Langley Lorenz. He meets the two pilots, Yui and Kyoko, and his direct partner, Naoko. Naoko is the inventor of the MAGI system, a complex computer network that keeps the base running via voice activation. She demonstrates its abilities, having it fetch her coffee, her clipboard, and sliding her chair into position as she sits. Unfortunately, when Gendo tries to use it, he ends up with a tub of water dumped on his head, and is knocked to the floor by a speeding ottoman. The MAGI system flares up with an alert, showing readings on the seismograph that don’t correspond to any known earthquake activities in the region. Listening through the vibrational speakers, there’s a constant grind, as if a huge drill were making its way towards the base. What can they do to defend against it? Units OOO and AAA can’t operate in solid rock? Gendo, however, comes up with a plan. By setting up their own drilling torpedo, they can bore under the source of the drilling and blow whatever it is up to the surface, where the two Units can engage with their full capacities. A quick montage later, the torpedo is launched, and there’s a tense moment of radar watching as they make sure to detonate it directly under the source of the sound. They’ll only get one chance. With a pull of the trigger, the torpedo explodes, knocking the nose straight up, and sending the mechanical worm/drill beast to the surface, where Yui and Kyoko pummel it to pieces. The base is safe. But who could know about its location? Who could be attacking them? Back inside, Yui and Kyoko argue about who did more work in defeating the monster. An exhausted looking Gendo tries to order himself a glass of water through MAGI, end gets a bucket of water on his head, followed by the pan, for his trouble.
Episode Two: Computerized Confusion! What Good Are They If the Radio is Out? — Yui and Kyoko are relaxing after a long training session. Naoko enters and asks them what they thought of her new training programs. They laugh, and Yui explains that if the real monsters were half as tough, they’d be out of a job. Kyoko wonders why they don’t just send out the training robots instead, and save her and Yui for the real dangerous situations. Naoko wonders if that isn’t a half bad idea, and says she’ll bring it up at her next staff meeting. Yui whaps Kyoko over the head with the magazine she was reading, and explains that if they do that, they’ll be out of a job. They wrestle in a big cloud of smoke, with Kyoko maintaining that they’re too important to ever be fired, and Yui worrying about what’d happen if they were replaced by machines. Meanwhile, Gendo is reviewing the events of the previous episode (a convenient way to save the studio’s animation budget), as well as a few attacks that haven’t been filmed. He’s noticed that the attacks seem oddly spaced out. Why don’t they just commit a huge all out assault if they have all these resources? What’s holding them back? Naoko presents the robot idea, and Gendo is somewhat keen on it. It would keep his friends out of danger — he doesn’t like the idea of Yui or Kyoko being hurt. Naoko teases him about it, asking him which he likes better, while leaning over his desk and stroking his chin. Gendo’s face turns red, steam comes out of his ears, and he babbles incoherently about how he couldn’t possibly decide because they are all so wonderful and such precious friends. She taps him on the forehead with her clipboard, and laughs. That evening, once everyone has gone to bed, the proximity alarm blares, and a gigantic centipede creature makes its way towards the base. It skitters around the trees, careful not to knock a single one over. Naoko activates the training assault robots, while Yui and Kyoko watch on, irritated. It seems to go well at first, with the centipede being pummeled left and right, but then it quivers, and sends out a big electric shock. Naoko loses control of the training robots, and they begin to march on the base alongside the centipede. Yui and Kyoko rush to their Units and launch, and now have to battle not only the centipede, but their own trainers. They trade quips as they bash their way through the smaller robots, complaining about “bright ideas” and “wanting a challenge then receiving it”. The centipede tries its electrical attack again, but because there are no radio waves to hijack, it doesn’t work. They stomp the centipede into the ground with a double kick, and it explodes in a shower of debris as the two mechs high five. Back in the base, Yui and Kyoko are relaxing in some reused footage from the beginning of the episode. They aren’t sure how they’re going to keep up their training regimen since all the robots have been destroyed. Naoko enters, excited, and begins explaining how she’s used this opportunity to build newer and better robots that’ll be even tougher and stronger than the last models. Yui and Kyoko mug at the camera as it iris wipes to black, centered on their grimacing faces.
Episode Three: Arial Assault! The Secret of ENGEL Revealed? — Naoko’s cousin, Makoto Katsuragi, has come to visit. This handsome young doctor has some theories about where the monsters are coming from, but doesn’t think its safe to discuss them in the base. He continually fiddles with a small pendant around his neck, a gift from his senpai. Yui and Kyoko both jockey for his attention, assuring him that he’s completely safe, and that they’d kill anything that tried to harm him. This irritates Gendo, who can’t seem to articulate why he’s missing the attention he doesn’t normally seem to be able to handle. Naoko ends the fight by suggesting that they discuss things in the new plane she’s been experimenting with. With a full air guard supporting them, the huge, high tech craft takes to the air, and Naoko shows off all the various armaments, radar packages, and other technological wonders that she’s packed into the warplane. Around a table in the plane’s “war room”, Makoto explains that a secret organization, ENGEL, has been attempting to undo the damage that mankind has done to the Earth, and seeks to restore the world to its previous state of “Oneness. No pain, no separation, no time, no loss. All are one”. Gendo doesn’t think that this is such a bad goal, because there’s a hole in the ozone layer, the rain forests are being destroyed, the oceans polluted, animals are regularly going extinct… Naoko agrees with him, but explains that ENGEL’s methods are simply going too far. They wish to reduce the Earth’s population to a fraction of its current size, by any means necessary. There is an explosion outside, and through the window, an attack plane has blown up one of their escorts! Naoko quickly assigns Yui and Kyoko to gunner stations, and they fend off the assault in an homage to Star Wars. Makoto can’t understand how they found him. Gendo wants to take a closer look at his necklace. Inside is a small transmitter, which Gendo crushes under his heel. Gendo asks when the last time Makoto saw his senpai was. He admits it’s been years. They bring down the last of the attacking planes, but their own crash lands. Thankfully, none of them are injured due to the special modifications that Naoko installed — an impact resistant foam that held them in place and absorbed the blow. Outside, they are confronted by a downed enemy pilot, bleeding from a severe injury in his side, but still aiming a pistol at them. Yui demands that he take off his helmet before he shoots them. The pilot, it turns out, is a beautiful woman — Makoto’s senpai, Barbara. Makoto demands to know why she is doing this. She tells him that if he has to ask, he has already forgotten. She tries to fire, but Yui and Kyoko have used Makoto’s talking as a distraction to rush her, and her shot goes wild. The pistol is knocked from her hands. “Why?” Makoto asks as she dies in his arms. “Why does it have to be like this?”
Episode Four: Enemy Insertion! Who is This New Pilot? — Langley Lorenz introduces a new pilot to the group, Ray Ayanami, a pretty direct palette swap of Ray Amuro from Mobile Suit Gundam. This albino gentleman is charming, if quiet, and seems to fit right in with the group, making the occasional joke and quoting aphorisms wrong. The team sorties against three identical monsters that resemble praying mantises. Ray’s Unit 111 is damaged, but he disables two of the enemies while Yui and Kyoko finish them off. They chastise him for fighting so recklessly, but they’re glad he isn’t hurt. His mech, on the other hand, is going to be grounded for an extended period of time. The mantis severed numerous cables and circuits that will need to be replaced, a lengthy and personnel consuming process, unlike the usual replacement of Armor Trauma shields that is done to the Units. Gendo puts his mind to devising a way to repair the mech quicker, while Naoko tries to synthesize a new alloy that would resist the cutting force of the blades. The next day, two mantises attack the base, both larger than the previous ones. Yui and Kyoko deploy the Impact Hammer and Vibra Sword to dispatch their foes. Meanwhile, Ray sneaks deeper into the NERVE base, and begins to copy something from the core of the MAGI computer. He radios to his companions, and tries to transmit the data he’s copied, but is caught by Gendo, who had wondered where Ray had wandered off to. Shocked by his new friend’s betrayal, they wrestle, and Ray’s radio transmitter is shattered. Gendo asks him “Why?” as they tussle, and Ray shouts that Gendo would never understand, that he’s never cared for something like this, loved something so deeply he’d kill to save it. Gendo asks why they can’t work together, and Ray says that it’s far too late for that, that if they don’t do this now, there won’t be a world left to save. They struggle against a guard rail, and Ray throws himself over it, not wanting to be captured. Naoko and a team of armed guards rush in just as Ray disappears over the edge. They don’t find his body at the bottom of the drop. Gendo, shaken, wonders what could possibly be so bad that they feel the need to do this. Naoko promises to try and figure out what data Ray was trying to steal, in the hopes of figuring out their motives, and to try and reverse engineer the smashed radio and locate the ENGEL base. Once they’re alone, Naoko gives him a kiss and tells Gendo she’s glad he’s alright. That evening, Yui visits Gendo in his quarters, where he’s laying in bed listening to his Walkman. She asks if he’s alright, and offers to teach him how to fight so he’ll be safe if that ever happen again. He thanks her, and asks how Ray could betray them like that. Wasn’t he their friend? Yui doesn’t have a good answer, and says that that’s just how some people are. But he’s not hurt, and that’s the important thing. She leans in and gives him a kiss.
Episode Five: Two By Sea! Aqueous Mecha Attack! — Naoko is able to decipher some of the data from the smashed radio, and determine that it was broadcasting a signal to somewhere in a triangle of water in the pacific ocean. Yui and Kyoko are excited to have an opportunity to go sailing, Gendo looks forward to doing some fishing, and Naoko is excited to try out the new frog suits she’s designed for Units 000 and AAA. Langley reminds them that this won’t be a trip to the beach, it’s going to be work, and all four grumble. They assemble on the Isonami, and Naoko takes them on a tour of the ship’s various technological wonders, from its gravametic cannons to its geostationary satellite uplink targeting computers to its built in pool and theatre. It seems half-cruise liner, half war-ship in terms of comfort and armaments. Because this is the closest the show comes to a “beach episode”, we get a sequence of the girls romping on deck in swimsuits, swimming, wrestling, splitting watermelon, sunbathing, etc. as the Isonami makes its way towards Triangle Delta set to Triangle (トライアングル) by popular idol singer Hiroko Yakushimaru. As they approach, the team suits up, and the song continues, but the montage transitions into them arming for combat, getting the mecha prepared for deep sea use, modifying the weaponry to fire underwater, studying radar patterns and maps. They stop directly above the enemy base, and using steel cable, the Units descend down onto the sunken fortress. It is crucial that the cables not be severed, else the Units will not be able to be retrieved. On the way down, they are attacked by a large, manta ray like monster, that swoops in from below, practically invisible in the swirling sand and mud that it kicks up. By trusting Kyoko’s judgement, Yui is able to slice the ray’s side and tail off, and it crashes into the depths. The base itself has been abandoned, but the information the team is able to retrieve about ENGEL is crucial. Their leader, Keel, has been contacted by a group from space calling itself The First Race, and they plan on returning to their planet. It must be made ready for their arrival. They are displeased by the treatment that humanity has given their old homeworld, and they see to set it straight. Keel begged them to give him a chance to solve the problem, and the First Race consented, albeit under strict constraints. They would return in two years, and if the world was not as they left it, they would cleanse the planet entirely and start humanity over from scratch. After watching this exchange, our heroes realize that they’ve been led into a trap — the base is rigged to explode. Yui manages to hurl one of the bombs up into the stratosphere, where it detonates harmlessly, but the secondary bomb can only be delayed, not removed, despite Naoko and Gendo’s best efforts. Cramming everyone into the cockpits of the mecha and leaving behind the smaller submarines that they took down, the four of them begin a desperate climb up the cable, racing back to the ship before the base explodes and takes them with it. Another manta-ray appears, and attempts to slice the cables apart. Naoko and Kyoko attempt to sacrifice themselves to stop the ray and save Gendo and Yui by diving down onto the ray and stabbing it through the back, but their fall is halted by the other mech catching them by the hand and hauling them back up. “I can’t abandon you,” Yui says. “Who would I compete against?” They make it on-board the ship as the explosion rocks the surface of the sea, and sends the Isonami flying across the waves, but thankfully not overturning her due to the various stabilization and water thrust systems built into her.
Episode Six: Discovery! ENGEL Base is Go! — Assembling every piece of information they’ve ever gathered about ENGEL, Gendo and Naoko work late into the night, calculating the trajectories of every monster, every transmission, every sighting, every stray probability that might lead them to finding their enemy. After the data is fed into the MAGI system, they sit in front of the printer, waiting for a response, sipping tea. Naoko asks Gendo why he joined NERVE. He replies that he was listless, drifting after university, and needed a place where he belonged. He asks her the same question. She replies that no one else would give her the freedom and resources to build things like this — everywhere else she went, people tried to box her in, tried to force her into positions she didn’t want to take, to work towards goals she didn’t care about. “And you care about this one?” Gendo asks. “Saving the world? I’ll do for now,” she replies, and kisses him. Before it can go any further, the screen flashes to life, and the printer begins to ratchet back and forth with a scroll of results: ENGEL is based out of the South Pole. The team is scrambled, cold weather modifications are made to the Units, and soon they are airlifted towards the ENGEL base. What follows is an amazingly choreographed fight sequence, where Units 000 and AAA battle multiple beasts across the snowy surface, while Gendo and Naoko speed towards the base in a tracked transport. The animators really outdid themselves here, and I didn’t notice any reused animations for attacks nor and loss of detail even in wide shots. Each beast is unique, as well, ranging from a Lovecraft inspired giant penguin to a bizarre hippo/giraffe hybrid to a strange bird/squid thing. This sequence is a good third of the episode. With the mess of battle strewn behind them, they arrive at the base, and Yui tears off the front of the fortress. NERVE troops rush in, and quickly the base falls to their forces. Keel is brought before them, and the team questions him. He raves, explaining that it’s too late now, that the time is up, that they know he’s failed, that they’ve doomed them all, that they need to look at the sky. Up above is a gigantic meteorite, just approaching the moon. They don’t have long to figure out how to destroy it and save the planet. It’ll be a difficult thing to hit, because it’s coming at the Earth from “below”. Gendo assembles all the paper and graphs required to do the math for firing an explosive laden rocket at the meteor, and Naoko checks his work. “Will this work?” Yui asks. “If it doesn’t, this will be worse than the one that wiped out the dinosaurs,” Gendo replies. Yui grabs him by the shoulders and kisses him, in full view of everyone present, for much longer than perhaps is proper. “For luck, and because I might not get a chance to do it again later,” she explains. Naoko looks sullen as she transmits their firing solutions to the Central Missile Authority. The missiles are launched, and as they approach the meteor, the screen pauses, and cuts to the familiar “to be continued” that every other episode has ended on.
Only, in this case, there was no seventh episode. Why, precisely, I haven’t been able to track down, but its exactly the sort of frustrating ending that encourages someone to pick it up and finish it, or, in Anno’s case, re-invent the series with a much darker tone, and turn it into an allegory for growing up and learning to live without your parent’s (or anyone’s, really) approval. This is definitely a show in the post-Tomino era, unafraid to show people being killed in the crossfire and emphasizing the military role of the robots, but it also isn’t nearly as extreme or groundbreaking as its contemporaries. I won’t lie and say that it’s a hidden gem that’s so much better than NGE, or that viewing it vastly enhances your understanding of the sequel, because, honestly, so much was altered that you get all the broad strokes of “new continuity” from the flashback sequences in NGE. It’s more of a curiosity than an essential part of the viewing experience. Ideon and U.F.O. are far more “necessary”, if you’re the sort who makes assertions like that.
I certainly don’t feel that my time or my $1 was wasted. If you can find a copy, it’s probably worth it. This isn’t some 40+ episode monster you’ll be devoting a week or more to; it’s a relatively short OVA that you can finish up in one sitting. Don’t break your head looking for it, but if it falls into your lap, give it a watch.