One day, Rish went to his nephew's basketball tournament, and decided to podcast about it. Then, after losing some of the audio, he invited a special guest to help him out.
Warning: Tons of profanity (particularly the s-word). Warning 2: Tons of sports (particularly the b-word). Here's a handy link to download the episode directly, if you'll Right-Click HERE. Money burning a hole in your pocket? Cast some aside at Rish's Patreon fundHERE.
I don't really have any time to do this, I've got a lot of work to do, I've got obligations that I'm not fulfilling, but I can't help myself. I heard something yesterday and I just can't get it out of my head, it just keeps repeating and repeating, and I've got to address it, I've got to say something... I guess that's passion. When you say, you know, I've got all these things that I need to do, but I absolutely NEED to do this as well. So, here's an essay for you that I don't have time to write, but I'm making time for, because my brain just won't leave me alone. A lot of people don't like the newest Star Wars episode, THE LAST JEDI. And you know, maybe I shouldn't say "a lot of people." There are some very vocal people who did not like it, and to say they didn't like it is an understatement. And live and let live, that should be my attitude. You don't have to like what I like. We can all co-exist, even if you believe one thing and I don't believe it. But yesterday... I'm into action figures, mostly for selling them, but I do occasionally buy some for myself, and there's a new wave of LAST JEDI figures that are about to come out. And yesterday, a guy said, "I'm going to order this set, but I don't want the FORCE AWAKENS Rey, and I certainly don't want the Character Assassination Luke Skywalker."
And, to be honest, that's pretty clever, calling him Character Assassination Luke Skywalker. I'll give that guy the benefit of the doubt and assume that he made that up, rather than just hearing it somewhere else and regurgitating it, like I continue to hear people refer to AVATAR as "Dances With Smurfs." That was only ever clever once, and then, when people started repeating it, it was not clever anymore. But as I was trying to say a minute ago, live and let live. You don't have to like what I like. You don't have to like THE LAST JEDI. You don't have to like me. Hate is a great motivator, just ask anybody who ever hefted a sword, or a Bible, or a white pillowcase. But, like Resistance Tech Rose said, we win not by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love. Having said that, I couldn't get it out of my head, it just kept repeating in my mind over and over again, Character Assassination Luke Skywalker, until finally, I thought, if I could just push pause on time, so that time did not continue to move forward, I would do that and I would sit down and I would write an essay about this. And I put it off and tried to do some work, but after twenty minutes, I made a growling sound, and set aside my work. I sat down and I started this.
Okay, cards on the table, I quite enjoyed THE LAST JEDI. But let me go a step further and say I loved THE LAST JEDI. Now, I recognize that there are issues with it, especially the middle of the movie. When I've talked about it on my podcasts, I've complained that the Canto Bight sequence is straight out of the Prequels. And in my own vernacular, that's a negative. And now I've got to interrupt myself. The last comic convention I went to, there was a panel that Pablo Hidalgo was giving--he's part of the Lucasfilm Story Group--and after the presentation, he opened it up for questions at the end. And a dude marched up to the microphone, and he said, "First off, I have to say that I love the Prequels, and if you don't, then you need to...grow...up." And then he continued with whatever question he had to ask. And this . . . I'm not going to go as far as to say that it infuriated me, but whatever's just one notch lower on the totem pole than "Infuriated" is, that's what I felt. I don't remember his question, and I don't care. At that moment, I was tempted to stand up, go to the microphone and say, "First off, I have to say this: STAR WARS is just a movie, and a whole lot of marketing around that movie, all that stuff is just made up, and if you think it's more than that . . . you need to grow up." Then I'd just walk away. That's what I wanted to do, and a little part of me still sort of wishes I had done that (because I'm no role model). Except that would make me an asshole. You know, let's put a pin in that point, that I'll come back to down the line, okay?
But right now, let me
continue by saying that I recognize that THE LAST JEDI has flaws, and there are
moments that don't really make any sense. And Big Anklevich pointed one
out when we were podcasting, that I couldn't address. He said,
"Here's a plothole," and I tried to fill it in (explain it away), and
I couldn't. And my belief is that, honestly, this is not a plothole, but
a line or a scene was trimmed, that would have explained this.
I don't know why I'm
saying this. The point I was trying to make was, I really enjoyed THE
LAST JEDI. If I had time, I would go see it today. Shoot, I had
planned to. Three days ago, before I ever heard Character Assassination
Luke Skywalker, I had planned on hitting the theater today. And I wish I
had, so it would all be fresh in my mind.
But I loved the film, because of what it did for me emotionally. It spoke to me, it moved me, it inspired me, and I'm not really exaggerating when I say I don't need any more Star Wars movies after this. I guess that's where the angry fanboys and I are in agreement, isn't it? But I'm fine with what they gave me; I felt like this was a good way to go out. I'm tempted to go on a tangent and talk about EPISODE 9 (the next one), because what do you do? I won't talk about that. One day, I will get together with my friends and we will talk about it.
But a big part--you know, I'm gonna say the biggest part--of what I liked about THE LAST JEDI involved Luke Skywalker. He was shown to have become bitter, and kind of a crusty old hermit, sort of like Old Ben Kenobi had become in the first movie, but worse, he had closed himself off from the Force. He had been the last Jedi and now there were no Jedi.
And, through the course of the film, he opens himself up again, he starts training Rey, I guess, a little bit. He tells her his reasoning for his self-imposed exile, and when she goes off to do what she can, he stays behind, with no way of getting off the planet (his X-wing is scuttled), and decides to destroy the sacred Jedi texts. And Master Yoda appears to him and tells him that Luke still has more to learn, and that failure is our greatest teacher. It's kind of a neat moment, those two together.
And at the end of the movie, Luke Skywalker magically shows up, to take on the First Order all by himself. He has a moment with Leia, has a moment with Threepio, he has a moment with Kylo Ren. And while the remaining few members of the Resistance escape, Luke creates a diversion, focusing all the attention on him. It turns out that it's a projection, and he's used all of his life force to achieve this goal, and then he fades away, as Yoda did, in RETURN OF THE JEDI.
And we get this nice little coda at the end of the movie--which I know that people also hate, but ah well--this coda where there are children--which represent all of the children in the galaxy, telling stories about Luke Skywalker, this hero that they look up to. And one day, they too will rise and make a stand against injustice, because of the example that Luke Skywalker set. Now, that's my interpretation of the movie, and that really spoke to me. I don't feel that's character assassination at all, I feel like they're showing us an unexpected, certainly--and there was a lot of unexpected stuff in this movie--unexpected side to Luke.
I think that most people
expected him to have become this all-wise, prudent, venerable, respectable Jedi
Master, similar to what Obi-Wan had become in STAR WARS, or our image of what
Yoda was like in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Nobody ever thinks of Yoda the
way we first meet him, nobody ever thinks of that mischievous, playful Yoda,
because we never see that side of him again (although we get a bit of a visit
from him in LAST JEDI), and it's neat see it again.
But we all assumed that
that's what Luke would become. Because by the end of JEDI he's grown up,
he's become the Jedi Knight, he's become somebody that's always going to do
right. He's become the hero at the end of the story.
And I feel like a lot of
people seeing a Luke thirty-four years older, freak out that he's still got
flaws, that he's got rough edges, that he's not perfect.
There's this moment when
he drinks this green milk straight out of the teat of this basking alien walrus
thing, and he grins while it's running down his beard. And that image is
the poster boy for those who hate what's been done, for Character Assassination
But me, I'm a writer,
and as a writer, you want to come up with interesting things for your
characters to experience, for them to feel, for them to see, for them to
be. Somebody that does the right thing all the time is difficult to write
about. You have to surround them with interesting characters that are
flawed, or weak, or still learning, and those characters can make the
"perfect" character come to life, through how he deals with
But here's the thing:
our heroes, people that we look up to, that inspire us, that we worship . . .
were people, and people are flawed, people are often disappointing. To
themselves even, not just to you.
Oh gosh, I'm reminded there was a story that came out a few years back that Mother Teresa's journals had been acquired, and people were going through the writings in preparation to publish them. And they discovered that she had been very conflicted in her life, that she had doubts, that she was depressed a lot of the time, and that she even questioned the existence of God. And there was a bit of an outcry about this, of "Oh, this person that we thought so much of, this great hero was nothing of the sort--" "This Super-man is nothing of the kind, I have found his weakness." It was, like, "Fuck Mother Teresa, she's no hero." But when I read that, I was more impressed by Mother Teresa than I had been before I heard that, because her her weaknesses, her vulnerability, her doubt, made her more of a hero, more respectful, more . . .
It made her a person. And you know, I'm not going to convince anybody that seeing Luke Skywalker with flaws, seeing Luke Skywalker with regrets, is better than what you had in your head. There's a moment where they flash back to reveal that Luke had considered killing his nephew Ben, because he saw the path ahead and saw that his nephew was going to create great suffering. He considered doing it, and Kylo Ren saw that in his uncle's eyes, and it terrified him. We don't know the whole story, but if I were writing it, I'd say that that made the decision for Ben Solo: he was going to embrace the Dark Side, and kill a whole lot of the next generation's future. And Luke didn't do it, he chose not to do it, but the damage was done. Kylo Ren turned and killed a whole bunch of Luke's students-- We don't know who these students are. It's gonna be up to somebody to fill in that backstory, to come up with who were these students, to create characters among them that we embrace and fear for. Probably not me, but I'd take the job. And who's to say they weren't Luke's own children? He killed all these kids, and took a bunch of followers with him, who I'm assuming we will see in EPISODE 9, and Luke considered that the deal-breaker. There has to have been a scene where Luke talks to Han and/or Leia and tells them what has happened, that he blames himself, and he abandons everybody and he goes off on his own, essentially to live out the rest of his days, stewing in his guilt.
And see, that's another
thing where I can see people saying, "Oh, there's no hero. A hero
would've stayed behind and cleaned up his own mess."
We don't know the rest
of the story. Maybe those people that are saying that are right. In
which case, there's another flaw, there's another mistake Luke made.
And ultimately, what happens in THE LAST JEDI is he steps forward, he makes this last sacrifice-- And was it too little, too late? I wouldn't think Poe Dameron would say so. I don't think Resistance Tech Rose would say so. If we could understand Nein Nunb, he'd have a thing or two to say about that. The handful of people that managed to survive and escape in the Millennium Falcon would say he helped them out. Rey, Daughter of Nobodys, helped too, of course. They got out and survived, to maybe fight another day. We'll find out December of 2019, of course. And then Luke died. And you know, putting it the way I'm putting it, I see the reason people would hate what was done with Luke Skywalker.
And to that I ask: Where was this outcry in 2005, when Darth Vader was character assassinated? The nonsense and wasted potential in that movie was way, way worse than anything we got in this movie.
Just the shoddy, illogical turn to the Dark Side that happened in that movie would be reason enough to hate it, but all we got was a meme of James Earl Jones saying, "Nooooo!" That was the loudest criticism of that film.
And that James Earl
Jones thing isn't even all that bad. I never understood so many people's
focus on it as that as the worst thing in that movie. Because it was far
And you know, years
before that, I would hear people insist that Mark Hamill's delivery of
"No, that's not true, that's impossible!" was over-the-top and sappy
and embarrassing, and the very definition of bad acting.
People did say that. And that scene is the high point, the epitome of the Star Wars Trilogy. Heck, even then it might have been The Scene of the Star Wars Trilogy. I can't help but wonder, what would the reception of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK have been if the internet had existed in 1980? The fanboys would have absolutely excoriated it. I apologize for using that word ("fanboy," not excoriated, eff you). The word "fanboy" has become wholly negative lately. It represents the tight-fisted, loud, closed-minded, entitled, Caucasian devotee to geek culture. But you know, I'm a fanboy, if anyone is. And am I a loathsome piece of shit? Well, maybe I am. So, let's use a different word than "fanboy." And I'm not going to say "neckbeard." That's a slur that's just unacceptable. It's ugly, and it's petty, and it attacks someone based on their physical appearance . . . and we don't do that anymore . . .because it's inherently wrong. Society--civilized society--has accepted this nowadays, and I can try to be part of society. So I have to try to rid my vocabulary of my beloved racial slurs. And if I can do it, so can the rest of the country.* So I'll come up with a new word. The . . . the die-hard, angry Star Wars fans. With the never-before-seen Force power of moving things around in
space with your mind! Of a major character portrayed by an obvious
Muppet! With an out-of-nowhere twist that makes absolutely no logical
sense! With how raked over the coals the main character--all of the main
characters were. Han, Leia, and Chewie are all tortured. C-3PO is
mocked, blown to bits, carried around in pieces, somebody says “Eechuta” to
him. Han is frozen in Carbonite, which according to those in the know, is
super unpleasant. R2-D2 is covered in mud and eaten by some kind of space
alligator, then barfed twenty feet into the air. Bossk is on screen for
two and a half seconds. Luke gets his face ripped off, nearly freezes to
death, is pummeled, humiliated, maimed, and has his entire psyche shattered by
this revelation of who his father is.
And who was Anakin
Skywalker in Luke's mind until that point? A pilot, yeah, but built up as
something special, something big and important, as all absent parents
are. Maybe I'll touch upon that the next time I write about him.
That's shattered, and then his only recourse is to kill himself. He somehow
manages to survive that, and is rescued by his friends.
Well, he uses the Force to contact them, so that's a bit of a silver lining. But boy, is he schooled. Then the movie ends with the bad guys pretty much having won, but the good guys have lived to fight another day, and perhaps things will go their way next time. How dare Irvin Kershner and Lawrence Kasdan do this to George Lucas's beloved characters and universe? And what's this "Episode V" bullshit? There's only one STAR WARS in my mind. I don't know.
I don't know. Time
has proven THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK not only resilient, but also the crown jewel
in the Star Wars Saga, and part of it is because it takes such enormous risks
and left turns.
And I feel THE LAST JEDI
did take some pretty big risks, there are some left turns in there, and time
will tell if those turn out to be right turns, instead of just left ones.
But I love Luke
Skywalker. More today than I loved him a year ago.
Warts and all, Luke Skywalker is a hero to me, and part of why I love him is because he is so beaten and battered in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. And--people have been talking about this for going on thirty-eight years--Han, Leia, and Chewie are tortured because it will bring Luke Skywalker into Vader's clutches. The Emperor had foreseen this (or Vader, though I don't think we ever saw Vader being prescient).
Had Luke stayed on Dagobah, and completed his training, maybe this torture wouldn't have happened. I don't know. Who knows what would have happened had he stayed? All I know is "Only a fully-trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, can conquer Vader, and his Emperor." Luke makes mistakes, and
rushes off, and luckily it doesn't cost him his life (though it probably should
have).** And instead of me/you thinking Luke is a wuss, we relate to him. We understand what he suffered and that some of that suffering was brought on by himself.
There's an arc there, and that arc is completed by the end of RETURN OF THE JEDI when he says, "I'll never turn to the Dark Side. You have failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me." That's the climax of Luke's story--he passes the final test--where he briefly gives in to the Dark Side, and it feels good, makes him powerful, but he pulls himself back from the brink and chooses not to give in to his evil heritage.
Luke starts out as this wide-eyed, immature, callow farmboy (which people also make fun of, calling him whiny, or petulant, or annoying, but that stuff holds so little water when you see what he becomes by the end of the Trilogy), it's almost seems like Lucas intended that, intended for Luke to start out that way so by the end we'd stand back and say, "Holy cow, look how far he's come!" And now, we get this new development in THE LAST JEDI, 'cause we got nothing in THE FORCE AWAKENS, and I think some of the bad reception LAST JEDI has gotten has to fall at JJ Abrams's feet, because Abrams loves to do this thing where he asks a question . . . and doesn't answer it (at least for a while).
He loves to see people think about the question, speculate about it, argue among themselves. He doesn't necessary like to answer the question. One of the things we talked about for two years was, Was that a grave Luke was standing in front of? That rock he was facing sure looks like a headstone, doesn't it? If so, who is buried there? Did he have a son that Kylo Ren murdered? Did he have a daughter that he thought Kylo Ren murdered, but is actually alive and walking up the steps toward him? Did Mara Jade actually exist in this continuity? You start to think about it and wonder. Who is buried there? Maybe there's a character we don't yet know about that he'll tell the story of, a teacher or a friend or a gay love interest, and they're dead, and Luke visits their grave often.
That question is never answered, because the grave is never seen again. And was it even a headstone? Maybe it was a rock, and I convinced myself that it was noteworthy.
That's only one of at least a dozen questions that JJ asks, which either don't get answered in THE LAST JEDI, or were never important to begin with, and due to that, we have been talking about, for two years, something that was never intended to be significant.
Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? Is he Mace Windu? Is he Darth Plagius the Wise? Is he somehow Emperor Palpatine, sort of back from the dead? Is he Darth Vader, sort of back from the dead? Is he that Inquisitor character from "Rebels?" Is he that one, barely-glimpsed Jedi in THE PHANTOM MENACE that we never saw again?*** Is he a failed clone of the Emperor? Is he an alien, actually fifteen feet tall? Holy Snoke, he's that evil Jedi Librarian (Jocasta Nu) from EPISODE II! Well, that turned out to not be important. Somebody's going to answer that question, explore that in a novel (not me, even if someone actually donated to Marshal's podcast), just like I said somebody would explore Kylo Ren, his fall to the Dark Side, and the significance of the Knights of Ren, but in the course of this new movie, it apparently doesn't matter. It's not answered in THE LAST JEDI. It's just dismissed. As is Rey's parentage. It'll be interesting to see what JJ brings to the table when he does the next Star Wars. Because he's got to wrap it all up, and he's got to decide which threads need to be tied and which ones he can just leave alone. And who knows, JJ being JJ, he may ask new questions that we will be talking about, for years to come. That's something that he enjoys, something he does really really well, that some find frustrating, but he doesn't care. If you're talking about last week's episode of "Lost" all the way up to the start of this week's episode of "Lost," then he has succeeded.
I guess I talked a little bit about why Luke is my hero, but since this is all introspective, and masturbatory, I guess I ought to ask why I was okay with this cinematic treatment of Luke Skywalker, one of my heroes, but I was not okay with the treatment of Superman (another one of my heroes) in MAN OF STEEL?
Because there's a difference.
Luke in THE LAST JEDI is like Wolverine in LOGAN. He's grouchy, he's beat-down and broken, but with just enough of the old spark in him to rise up, and give his life for the right cause in the end. Rian Johnson was telling the final Luke Skywalker story, with the weight of decades of adventures (both success and failure) on his back. Zack Snyder was telling the first Superman story in this new, connected universe. MAN OF STEEL was, "Let's throw out the legacy that this character has represented for seventy-five years; let's try and make him a Superman of today." More importantly, more
significantly, "Let's take a look at what people criticized about SUPERMAN
RETURNS, and make sure to do the opposite. We'll turn that on its
ear. Let's re-imagine him, not as a do-gooder, a boy scout, but as a
flawed, selfish, grouchy loner."
And yet, they wanted us
to have our cake and eat it too, by referencing things from the Superman mythos
that had gone before, that we had known all our lives, for example, by him crossing
a line and breaking a code--that this Superman doesn't have--when he kills
General Zod. And yes, the utter disregard for property and innocent human
life in that Metropolis battle was totally repellent (it made me want to stand
up and say, "This is not Superman! Superman would never do
this! How dare you!?"), but they hadn't set up that this Superman
gave a crap about anyone or anything, so it shouldn't have been as damning as
But I felt what I felt. And maybe there are people who felt that way in THE LAST JEDI. "Luke Skywalker would never drink that green milk with a shaggy beard and then grin! How dare you!?" MAN OF STEEL was character assassination. But not just for Superman. There's the Ma and Pa Kent re-imagining. The Pa Kent horseshit, for lack of a smellier word, was a slap in the face to the legacy of that character, to a decent, humble man, who instilled in Clark a moral baseline that he would return to over and over again throughout his life. He has these god-like powers, yet because of his upbringing (and because of him himself), he doesn't misuse them, he looks out for the little guy, he looks out for everyone. And then Ma Kent has this line about "Be their hero, Clark, be their protector, their example, their savior . . . or don't. Because you don't owe these people anything." And that's not just a slap in the face, that's spitting lukewarm ;) green milk in the face of everything Martha Clark Kent has represented since they first thought to depict her, back in the Superboy comics days.
I could never support
that version of Superman. I never saw BATMAN V SUPERMAN, and I never saw
JUSTICE LEAGUE, even when my sister's family was going all together. And
people seemed affronted by that. There was this lady I know that asked me
over and over if I'd seen JUSTICE LEAGUE yet, and when I would explain to her
why I wasn't going to see it, she never accepted my answer. I was a comic
book nerd, I should support that stuff! You, you live in Idaho, why do
you not own a copy of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE?!
I'm not sure what to
tell you. I mean, maybe I should have seen it. Then I could speak
authoritatively about that film, instead of just repeating what I've heard, so
I could talk about what they got right and what they got wrong. I've read
that they tried to turn Superman into actual, Truth-Justice-and-the-American-Way
Superman again, the guy that's square-jawed on the inside and not just on the
outside. But I made my choice, and felt I only had integrity if I stuck to
my guns (you vote with your dollar, as my Film professor used to say). Yet, the hurt I felt, being betrayed so by MAN OF STEEL, hasn't gone away. And I would never want to feel that again.
Look, if there are people who feel that hurt by what Rian Johnson did with Luke Skywalker in THE LAST JEDI, I'm not going to say that you're wrong, I'm not going to parrot that guy from the comic-con that said, "You need to grow up." And you know what? Looking at that person in the line, I'm sure he had his difficulties in life. He seemed limited. So he does not deserve my ill will toward him. And I'm glad that I
didn't stand up and say, "Star Wars is just a movie and you should grow
up," because--and it suddenly feels like we've reached the end of this
rant--STAR WARS is not just a movie. It's more than that. It's a
bedrock with which people have based their morality, have based who they are,
in the same way that a religious person would describe themselves as "I am
a ___!" First and foremost, that's how they think of
themselves. Or a person that's of a particular ethnic descent, or hails
from a particular region of the globe. I am a Bostonian! I am Guamanian!
I am Spartacus!"
That is the effect that
the Star Wars Saga had on people, a lot of people. That's the effect that
it had on me. Many of the things that I think, many of the ways that I
look at the world, a lot of the feelings I feel are because of my cultural
background. There was a big news story back a few years, when people in
the Australian census put down "Jedi" as their religion. That
that many people would do that meant that it was more than just a mid-budget B-
Science Fiction movie. It has affected me. Now, in my middle age, it affects me every single day probably as much as when I was ten years old and I used to draw TIE fighters on my spelling tests, and try my hand at fan fiction (which never got past two or three pages, some things never change). Luke Skywalker was a childhood hero of mine. Once I was no longer a child (now that I needed to...grow...up!), he remained a hero of mine. And now that I have seen him character assassinated in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI, he's still a hero of mine.
It makes me want to write something that touches people, to create something that inspires people, in the way that stuff inspired me. Granted, who can say that? Unless you're last name is Rowling, you're never going to affect people on such a scale as those George Lucas characters did. But you can still affect people, from a handful, to thousands, to one. And I hope that I can do that, I would like to create something that speaks to people, as I was spoken to. As I am spoken to, by this universe, by these characters, by these scenarios, enough that somebody somewhere would think about it, long after putting down the book or walking out of the movie theater or kicking in the television set. To sit down and try and put into words why they feel the way that they do. I would hope, if that were the case, that that person responded to my characters' weaknesses as well as their strengths, their fears as well as their courage, their rough edges as well as their beauty. I hope that would be the case.
That's something to look forward to. One day . . . when I grow up. Rish Outfield, Jedi Knight
*Except for you, sir. You're special. **But a lifetime later, he stays and doesn't get further involved, perhaps replaying that earlier failure in his mind, perhaps replaying all of his earlier failures in his mind. ***Whatever happened to Kitster, Anakin's worthless little friend on Tatooine?
This is a little strange. Somebody picked my reading of Sarah Gailey's "Single Parent" (Show 283) as their favorite episode of 2017, so they're re-running it. That means . . .
Well, nothing, really. No residuals, no bump in my status quo, probably not any new fans. But if you missed my performance of a single dad's experience with a monster in his kid's closet, well, here's a second chance.
We don't get many second chances in life, but you can find yours at THIS LINK.
I sat down to write a real blog post the other day and realized that I don't really do that anymore. Anything I have to say is easier (and more profitable, thanks to a couple of messed-up fans of the Dunesteef) to just record and insert in a podcast somewhere down the line. In fact, I have at least two little rants that I recorded and await use in an episode that runs short (which seems unlikely, considering the last three shows I've edited have all run long).
But I'll try one more time, though I am tempted to just turn on my microphone and spend the next twenty minutes on the post (since typing it will certainly take longer, and I can't do something else while I'm writing).
Traditionally, my family has always gotten together for a Christmas party at a member of my mother's side's house (the Mexican side) and ate posole* and exchanged white elephant gifts as a get-together, and we've done it since I was a little boy and my grandmother Tita was alive (although in her day, she preferred to make tamales** and nobody else really makes them anymore).
The last few years, it has been somebody's job to tell a story during the white elephant exchange, and every time the storyteller says "Right" the group passes their present to the right, or "Left," they pass it to the left. I don't know how fun it is, but it's at least potentially so.
Last year, I was asked to present the story, so I quickly sat down and wrote a children's holiday story about a little boy trying to find somebody to wish a "Merry Christmas" to (apparently Trump and Kirk Cameron were right, and there was literally nobody celebrating Christmas in the boy's town, vexing him greatly). I made sure to liberally include the words Right and Left, so that pandemonium would ensue.
The story wasn't particularly good, but someone apparently remembered it because, a couple of days before the party, I was informed that in addition to providing something called Pomegranate 7-Up (it actually exists, though I couldn't find it at Walmart when I looked), they wanted me to tell another story.
Well, not to be accused of only pretending to be a writer, I sat down*** and wrote a much more grown-up tale about a young woman, new at her job, who goes to the office Christmas party, and terrible things keep happening to her new (expensive) sweater.
My mom suggested, when I told her the premise, that I insert the names of all the children that would be present into the story, so that they would pay attention while I was reading. This was vexing because I worried that a) the more grown-up story would be offensive to somebody, since I have always been offensive (and ever shall be, Spock), and b) that using the names of the people present would offend someone because, in the past, it has.
I called my aunt (one of those I deemed most likely to be offended), and asked her about the second part. She assured me that everybody would love it, and no one would be upset, so I sat down again and finished the story, swapping out the characters' names with the kids that would be there, naming the main character Katie after my cousin's oldest daughter.
Oh, I almost forgot, my niece and I had gotten it into our heads that it would be fun to, just once, have an ugly sweater theme for the get-together, and to my surprise, everybody went along with it.**** Because of that, I got the inspiration for my story, and was impressed by how all-out most of the guests went, either buying something awful, or decorating their own sweaters with bells, ribbons, holly, and in my uncle's case, with a string of Christmas lights.
I couldn't quite manage to come up with a second sweater as garish as the first, but I still think mine was unsightly.
Here is a photo of the group at the end of the night:
My story went over well, even though I recognize it was too long (but I had written it, and would be damned if I was gonna waste even more time cutting it down like something I'd done for a contest). I only worry that next year they'll want another one, and I'll feel the need to outdo myself by including rhymes or something.
Oh, I was gonna say something about Porgs, the annoying/cute little bird-creatures in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. I don't think they should be capitalized, since they're just animals (you don't capitalize "womp rats," do you?), but you capitalize Wookiee, so maybe alien species names are automatically capitalized, like Martians.
My sister had a baby this year, and I got him a little stuffed Porg for Christmas, which he promptly put in his mouth.
But hey, TOY STORY 2 taught us that that's where toys long to be.
I was at my family cabin at the end of August, and driving home from there, my cousin called me to ask if I had gone to the second Force Friday (a silly event Hasbro puts on to make available all the new Star Wars merchandise from their upcoming movie). I was at the one for THE FORCE AWAKENS, and I had missed this one, but I stopped by the nearest Walmart to look things over and buy up whatever I couldn't live without (in this case, it was a new Rey figure, which still sits, headless on my desk, because I can't figure out how to get the alternate head on, and am too cheap to buy a dremmel).
There was way too much stuff to buy, with a big display right in the middle of the main aisle (not even the toy aisle even), with pretty much everything still there. Except for one thing: someone had bought up the plush Porg animal I had been hearing rumblings about since that Vanity Fair pictorial that had one in it.
Well, I got it into my head that Porgs just might be the big thing people were wanting this Christmas from the new movie, and maybe I should buy as many as I could.
It wasn't hard. Every store had their version of the porg--large ones, talking ones, moving ones, tiny ones, ones with hard plastic eyes, ones with soft felt eyes, ones with yellow around the eyes, ones with white in their place. And Target stores apparently even gave out huge (four foot tall) Porgs to one "lucky" customer at their Force Friday event (I saw one on eBay for a five hundred dollars, and another for seven hundred).
All in all, at one time, I had between twenty-five and thirty Porgs, and I never once considered taking a picture of me covered with them, like something out of a 21st Century "Trouble with Tribbles." The best I could manage was this selfie of me with the deluxe, expensive one (which I only sold two of, leaving me with some overpriced electronic critters with absolutely no neighbors):
Because, kids, I was right. Even before the movie came out, I discovered that Target's talking one ($19.99, but on sale for $17.99 for a week) was nowhere to be found, and soon, even the ugly Disney Store one was selling out. As the 25th of December got closer and closer, the demand got greater, and inexplicably, my asking price got larger and larger.
In the end, I not only sold out of every Porg I had (except for the one in the above photo), I had to refund a guy's money because I sold one more than I could find (I did find it after Christmas, and somebody still bought it at the inflated "last-minute desperation" price).
Now, I realize that it's possible that somebody reading this is thinking, "You jagoff, YOU'RE what's wrong with America/Christmas/Capitalism/Star Wars today!" And to that, I can merely shrug. If I had any qualms about reselling rare (or "rare") toys, I'd have stopped the first time someone referred to me as "a fucking scalper."
I have made a pretty penny on this sort of stuff before, and it's actually kind of fun. But I have literally BOXES filled with worthless unsold items I was wrong about, or held onto too long, or paid too much for and was unwilling to take a loss on, or simply was too lazy to put up for sale and now nobody gives a tinker's bell about. If that doesn't make me less of a jagoff, well, I'm okay with it.
Porgs have been controversial (heck, all the THE LAST JEDI has been). But me, I flippin' love 'em.
And ugly sweaters too, before I forget.
Rish Benjamin Porgfield
P.S. I do wish I'd done this in audio instead of typing it. I gave myself twenty minutes to do it, shrugged when that twenty was up . . . and typed this sentence an hour later. Sigh.
*A soup made of (either white or yellow) hominy with lettuce, tomatoes and salsa.
**You know what those are, right?
***The night before, it's always last minute for me. And when I complained to Big about it, he said, "Well, you always boast that you love deadlines, so eff you." Although he may not have said the eff you part--it was a bad connection.
****Finding ugly sweaters turned out to be a fun activity, with us going to thrift stores and trying to find the most gaudy, tasteless, or simply wrong-colored. My mom and I hit one and bought some for her, my sister, brother-in-law, other sister, and brother . . . which I insisted he would never, ever, ever wear, because he's too cool for such things. I turned out to be wrong (though he did take it off as soon as the photo was taken).
The first time we went looking in second-hand stores, I found one with a fireplace, snowflakes, bright gold buttons, and the American flag (inexplicably) that I knew would win the contest as soon as I laid eyes on it. It was so ugly as to be used in an old "Saturday Night Live" sketch with Ana Gasteyer and Molly Shannon pretending to be NPR broadcasters. I tried it on, and actually felt embarrassed to have it on me, but knew that we'd never find its rival (before I took it off, I also ran to storage to see if my uncle's old Judy Garland records were still there . . . which they were, thank you very much). We also picked out a sweater for my two nephews and one for my niece.
Unfortunately, because they were from a Goodwill-type location and hence had that smell (you know the one), my niece made sure to wash all the sweaters, and when they were put in the dryer, my abominable sweater shrunk not one size, but several sizes, until it was too small for me to even TRY to wear. Luckily, it was perfect for my nine year old nephew, and he wore it proudly . . . and won the Ugliest Sweater prize at the end of the night.