Sunday, November 21, 2021

Thanksgiving Week Is the Start of My Favorite Time of the Year!








Thanksgiving week is the start of my favorite time of the year, and it always has been. It is the unofficial start of what is known as “the holidays” for my family and many other families too. These holidays are Thanksgiving Eve (November 24 this year), Thanksgiving Day (November 25 this year), Christmas Decorating Day (always the Sunday after Thanksgiving), the first Sunday of Advent (also usually the Sunday after Thanksgiving), Little Christmas/St. Nicholas Day (always December 6), Christmas Eve (always December 24), Christmas Day (always December 25), New Year’s Eve (always December 31), New Year’s Day (always January 1), and the Epiphany (always January 6). These are days filled with joy, excitement, and anticipation.

Thanksgiving


When I was a kid, I was always excited because Thanksgiving week meant a short week of school. We had two full days on Monday and Tuesday of that week, but they were usually light on work and included some kind of Thanksgiving play and an in class party on Tuesday. Wednesday was always a half day that included a Mass, so basically it was an easy week. 


On Monday of that week, I’d come home from school, and the house was filled with enticing yet familiar aromas because my mother and grandmother were already prepping for Thursday, making some dishes in advance. If the weather wasn’t too cold, I’d change my clothes and go outside and play touch football with my friends as leaves fell all around us.


It was such an innocent time, such a wonderful moment to be a child. All of our parents were getting ready for the big holiday feast, and we were able to be carefree and enjoy the crisp autumn air and toss that football around. We would all be excited too because we knew that once Thanksgiving was celebrated, the inexorable march toward Christmas and the toys the jolly old elf would bring had begun. We would watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, and Mom said once you saw Santa at the end of the parade, you knew that he’d be going right up to the North Pole to start working on toys for Christmas.


Thanksgiving seemed like the best day because our family came to celebrate. I’d see my Mom’s father, my father’s parents (who lived with us), my aunts, uncles, and cousins. We had to extend the dining room table with other tables into the living room to accommodate everyone, and steaming bowls would be placed on the table filled mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes (with melted marshmallows on top), vegetables, stuffing (Mom made some stuffing inside the bird with raisins and other batches plain stuffing in the oven), and pitchers of gravy. 


My Dad would carve the turkey in the kitchen, and platters of white and dark meat (including the drumsticks) would be brought to the table steaming. I don’t think I ever felt as hungry as I did on this day, and I don’t remember ever feeling as happy as I was to be with my family members.


Who knows what we said now? I just recall hearty laughter, bowls being passed, utensils clinking, and the feeling of contentment. Oh, though I never drank apple cider any other time of year, I remember washing all that good food down with it. 


Christmas Decorating Day


Thanksgiving Sunday was day we decorated for Christmas. It was usually also the first Sunday of Advent, so we would open the first door on the Advent calendar and get a little sweet. Dad would bring the boxes of decorations up from the basement, Mom would put on Christmas music, and we enthusiastically helped our parents (hey, Santa was watching, right?).


After Thanksgiving I remember having leftovers for about a week. When I went back to school that Monday, I would no doubt have a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce spread on both slices of bread. 


Little Christmas/First Sunday of Advent 


On December 6 we had an exchange of gifts for Little Christmas/St. Nicholas Day. Since my mother’s family came from Germany, it was a tradition to do this every year. While we knew about the tradition to put out shoes for St. Nick, Mom said he only did that in Germany, so instead we got a small toy and some candy. It was a sweet foreshadowing of what was to come later that month. 



Christmas Eve and Christmas Day


It was very difficult to concentrate in school during December. Once the Christmas tree went up in the classroom, I kept thinking about my Christmas letter (sent to Santa early in November to be certain he got it before being flooded by letters from other kids) and trying to be good because I knew Santa was watching me from the North Pole. 


During the day on Christmas Eve, I would usually sleep late (because I knew I had to get up early the next morning to see my presents). Usually the sound of the vacuum cleaner would wake me up. My mother was getting the house ready, for we would be hosting the Christmas Eve party. We would get our gifts from the family that night, but the best ones would be left by Santa Claus while we dreamt of sugar plums dancing in our heads.


The joys of waking up on Christmas morning as a kid are unparalleled in my lifetime. The sense of wonder and excitement have never been the same for me. What awaited me under the tree? I almost wanted to not know right away, letting the possibilities dance around for a while. Also, my parents had to be up and awake (that was part of the deal). I was afraid to go into their room to wake them because I dreaded hearing, “Go back to bed!” 


Eventually, my parents would get up, and then my sister and I ran to the living room to be greeted by wrapped boxes under the illuminated Christmas tree. I remember the pang I felt in my chest as I looked at the presents with the tags on them that read “To Victor, From Santa.” I can still picture us sitting on the floor, sending a shower of wrapping paper around the room. 


Later that day after church, we would go to my aunt’s house for Christmas Day dinner, and the feelings of happiness and emotion were overwhelming.


New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day


A week later there was New Year’s Eve, usually spent at my aunt’s house. On this day we would all sleep over and stay up until midnight in order to see the ball drop and welcome the new year. Usually my sister, cousins, and I would watch TV upstairs while the adults had their party in the basement. One year we watched the film It! The Terror from Beyond Space, which scared the crap out of me, guaranteeing a sleepless first night of the new year.


New Year’s Day was usually spent watching football games and having lunch at my aunt’s house, before packing up our things for the drive home. Sometimes we had school the next day, so then we would come home and do our normal school night routine. If we were lucky to have another day off, we would get to play, have dinner, and then watch some TV before bed.


Epiphany


The last day of the “holidays” was the Epiphany. In school we would learn that this was the day that the Magi (Three Kings) came to visit Jesus. We didn’t do anything special on January 6 at home, but rather enjoyed the Christmas tree and decorations for the last time because the next day they would be gone by the time we came home from school. When we got older, we helped our parents take the decorations down. Those were always the saddest days of the year. Even now, I still feel that way.


Now that I have my own family, we pretty much keep the holidays mostly the same way I did as a child. We decorate the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and we take down the decorations after January 6. Everything is very different from those times for me. My grandparents, parents, and aunts and uncles are all gone. While I enjoyed those days so much, I sometimes wish at the time that I realized how precious they were. I would have tried to savor them more.


I have great memories that I share with my sister and cousins, and now we watch as our kids are growing up and experiencing what one day will be the memories that they will reflect upon. In this way I know that the traditions will continue through the generations, and each child will be fortunate to experience something similar to what I did growing up.


Thanksgiving through January 6 is a magical time, a season of peace when miracles seem possible. My hope for all who read this article is that you will have a wonderful holiday season. Happy Holidays to you all!      


Thursday, November 4, 2021

The First Three Seasons of M*A*S*H Shine Brightest




The first three seasons of M*A*S*H shine brightest. After watching the first three seasons on MeTV, I was reminded as to why I stopped watching the show years ago. Season four brings in new characters that were not in the film. The canon characters of Lt. Colonel Henry Blake (MacLean Stevenson) and Captain Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) were gone and replaced by two new characters. 



Now, before someone starts bringing up Corporal Maxwell Klinger (the hilarious Jamie Farr), I just want to say that I was fine with new characters in the first three seasons because the core group had been retained from the film M*A*S*H (1970), that gloriously madcap heap of madness that I can watch again and again. The connection to the film is what is felt in the opening episodes of season one, with Hawkeye (Alan Alda) and Trapper on equal footing and Henry being between Major Frank Burns (Larry Linville) and Major Margaret Houlihan’s (Loretta Swit) rock and a hard place. It felt like the movie and, in many ways, was better than it.


In the middle of the dueling officers was the calm in the storm that came in the form of Grape Nehi drinking Iowa farm boy Corporal Radar O’Reilly (the unforgettable Gary Burghoff), who I believe is the most essential character. His naive ways are a tonic for the zaniness of The Swamp (the tent where Hawkeye and Trapper have a working still and bunk with Burns), the horror of the OR, the looniness of Blake’s office, and the war itself. 


Other characters who made the film so unforgettable make it into the series. We get Hawkeye's houseboy Ho John (Patrick Adiarte), surgeon Captain Oliver “Spearchucker” Jones (Timothy Brown), and even anesthesiologist Ugly John Black (John Orchard). In the first episode it is Jones who tosses the football to Radar, who after catching it turns because he knows the helicopters with the wounded are coming. This is in the opening credits for the rest of the time Radar is in the show, so in some sense what goes on is in his point of view.


Unfortunately, Jones, who also bunked in The Swamp, would only last for six episodes before being unceremoniously written out without a word said as to what happened to him. Ho Jon would last for seven episodes, and Ugly John got 10, but nothing is said about these characters after they are gone.


Still, the first three seasons have the levity, the insanity, the madcap joy for life (along with the hideous laugh track) despite the insanity of war that made the film so well loved. But, as the seasons progressed, it was obvious that the writers were giving Hawkeye more screen time than Trapper. Watching those three seasons again, I realized that Trapper rarely had a scene by himself with other characters, while Hawkeye’s romantic escapades and relationships with others are more deeply explored.


It was easy to see by the third season that M*A*S*H was becoming “The Hawkeye/Alan Alda Show,” and both Stevenson and Rogers knew it. It is a shame that both of them didn’t get a chance to do more character building, though Stevenson certainly got more screen time than Rogers and became a more well rounded character. 


Once Stevenson announced he was leaving the show, telling Larry Gelbart and Burt Metcalfe that he wanted to star in his own show, they crafted a farewell in season three, episode 24 (“Abyssinia, Henry”). I have read that they killed off Blake not for the pathos that it would create, but rather to make certain that Stevenson couldn’t come back, even as a guest star.


While some critics called Blake’s death “groundbreaking,” I found it to be out of sync with how sitcoms are supposed to function. Gelbart and Metcalfe wanted to kick Stevenson in the butt on the way out the door, and it seemed a harsh way for such a beloved character to go out. Thanks to Gelbart and Metcalfe, there would be no chance for a show like Henry Blake, MD. It was painful for Stevenson and the fans as well.  


While we got a less than fitting, unhappy goodbye for Henry Blake, all we got for Trapper was that he had made his points and was going home. In season four episode one, Hawkeye comes back from R&R in Tokyo, and he learns that Trapper is gone. There is an attempt by Hawkeye to make it to the airport to say goodbye to Trap, but Hawkeye gets there too late. He does run into Trapper’s replacement, Captain B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell), and they start what will become a strong friendship. 


I never bought their quick bond, but B.J. slides into Trap’s bunk and doesn’t skip a beat. He and Hawk are besties and against Frank. It didn’t feel right to me. The dynamic started to feel worn out with Trapper gone. Wouldn’t it have been more daring to have the replacement reject Hawkeye – the still, The Swamp, everything? Not that he would become Frank’s ally, but he might align with him sometimes. That would have challenged Hawkeye much more than slipping into business as usual.


Back at the camp, Burns and Houlihan are making life miserable for everyone. This could have been an interesting trajectory for the show. Hawkeye and his new best bud would have to fight back without Blake there to be the mediator. That might have been a show I kept watching, but then Burns gets a rude awakening when Colonel Sherman T. Potter (Harry Morgan) arrives. Potter was “a full-bird colonel” and his taking over was supposed to change the camp. Newsflash it does not. Everything remains the same except Blake’s office. 


I admit that I have watched a few episodes from all the seasons. Once in awhile I need a M*A*S*H fix, so I will watch whatever season is on. I don’t mean to disparage the replacements. Farrell, Morgan, and David Ogden Stiers (Major Charles Emerson Winchester III) were all fine actors and did a splendid job in their roles, but the glow had dulled for me. I did watch the episode when Radar goes home, and it felt as if the last piece of canon went out the door with him (he was in the frigging movie, remember?). 


By the time the show got to its unnecessarily bloated series finale (season 11, episode 16), I had stopped watching the series. Take my advice and watch the finale in a way that you can fast forward as much as you please. The Korean War lasted three years; the show went on well beyond that, and I felt no joy watching it in the end.


I know there will be people who disagree with me, and I understand that. There are those fans who worship Alda like a god, and I get it. But the Hawkeye Pierce we meet in the first three seasons changes, and not for the better. The playful, funny, and mischievous Hawkeye turned into brooding, morose, and serious as heck doctor who would have never taken out a general’s appendix to get him sent home because he was killing too many kids. I so preferred that Hawkeye  –  and the Trapper who fully supported him – who took out that healthy appendix because it would make a difference. 


For me, the first three seasons of M*A*S*H are pure gold. I love how Father Mulcahy’s (William Christopher) kindness and faith assuage the camp's wounds of war. Klinger for just being Klinger, especially dressing as the State of Liberty as a way to get General MacArthur’s attention, but all he gets is a salute. Radar saying, “Wait for it” right before the sound of choppers fill the air. Henry with the nurse’s wash hanging on a clothesline in his tent, and Houlihan putting on her makeup with Burns hiding in her closet so as not to get caught.


Mostly though, I recall Hawkeye and Trapper drinking martinis in The Swamp, playing golf, and bugging Henry for all the things they wanted (usually not for themselves but to make the camp better). That’s the M*A*S*H I love, and the first three seasons will always be my canon episodes, hideous laugh track and all.   


Monday, October 11, 2021

Teaching While Wearing a Mask Is Like Swimming in a Raincoat









Teaching while wearing a mask is like swimming in a raincoat. Oh, and also while wearing a pair of galoshes and strapping a twenty pound dumbbell to your neck. Sounds unpleasant? Yeah, I hope you get the idea. Despite all these drawbacks, I am so happy to be back in the classroom and seeing a full room of masked students looking up at me. 


I have looked up tips for teaching while wearing a mask, and I have read many articles and tried to implement what I have read, but all the advice really doesn't help that much. When I start getting annoyed at myself or angry about the situation, I remember what I went through last year and that brings me back to reality. 


A year ago we were in a weird mix of streaming classes and having some students attend in person. This was before the vaccine and after things started opening up again. The first day I drove onto campus, it seemed like a ghost town. Parking, which has always been difficult, was now way too easy. 


We were not allowed into our usual office space, so that meant sitting in my car and using my laptop to check email, prepare documents for class, and so on. My car would become my work space and my lunchroom, but I got used to it because I had no other choice. 


Walking across a campus that was usually bustling with students, I was amazed that I saw no one. Off in the distance there was one student walking with a backpack. As I continued walking, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a few tumbleweeds blowing across the Great Lawn. 


I went into the building lobby – this is a place where there was seating for students and was always crowded – and there was no one there. No one! I went to my first class, and I had six students waiting for me. There were lesser numbers of students in my other classes.


Of course, I had to teach the students at home too, so there was a little camera on the desk. This meant that I could not move away from the desk or use the whiteboard. Everything I taught had to be on the computer screen (we use Blackboard) for the students at home and projected on the big screen in the room for the in person students. I didn’t like it, but I got used to it. I was in the building and teaching, which was preferable to spring 2020 when we were all sent home in March and went fully remote.


Unfortunately, as the semester progressed my classes got smaller. Those few students who were in person requested to “go remote” for various reasons. Eventually, I was teaching in empty classrooms because everyone stayed home. When we were ready for Thanksgiving break, we were told we would not be coming back to the campus and going all remote, and that is how we stayed all through spring 2021. 


I found remote teaching frustrating for many reasons, but mostly because I had no real connection with students.  I mean, we did interact but it was not the same. Many students are camera shy, and others don’t like speaking on camera. I did my best, but I longed for a return to the classroom, and during the last week of August 2021 I got my wish.


Yes, speaking with a mask is difficult. Teaching with it sometimes seems impossible. At times the mask bunches up a bit, causing me to mess up words. Breathing becomes laborious at times, but I have to go over course materials, and the only way to do that is by speaking.


Still, seeing a classroom filled with students makes me happy. I think they all seem to be happy too. We are back on campus, all fully vaccinated, and wearing masks. Even though at times it is annoying wearing a mask and teaching, I wouldn’t want the alternative of going back to fully remote classes or the weird mixture of streaming and in person classes. 


Yes, I’m back in the classroom teaching with a mask, and I’m getting through it as best as I can. I love being in the classroom again, and it is worth teaching while wearing a mask despite the inconvenience of wearing one. Now excuse me, I need to put on my raincoat and go for a swim.


Friday, September 10, 2021

September 11, 2001: Even After Twenty Years We're Still Not Getting Over It







Ghostly remnants of the Twin Towers

September 11, 2001 even after twenty years – we're still not getting over it. And with good reason. This date – like December 7, 1941 – will indeed live on in infamy. On September 11, 2001, there was an unprovoked attack on American soil, killing 2,977 innocent people and 19 terrorist highjackers on the four planes that they took over and flew into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and ultimately a field in Pennsylvania. Now, so many years later, it is a wound that never heals, causing a heart that remains forever broken. 

People can move on as my sister did after she lost her partner and best friend Steve – a fire lieutenant who died when the South Tower came down – but moving on is not getting over it. Getting over it implies that it's over, and it will never be over. 2,977 people didn't go home that day, and that shattered and altered lives irrevocably. 

Magnificent towers and city

There will be a return to a more regular ceremony tomorrow at Ground Zero in Manhattan where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center once stood magnificently against the city skyline. This will include the reading of the names of all those lost, which was done virtually last year. Every year I watch family members reading the victim's names, waiting for Steve's name to be said and wishing that it would not be and that he was with my sister instead, but every year his name is said, and I still cry. 

First responders gave it all that day

20 years ago, my sister was devastated by Steve's loss, but only months later when she got emotional one time, someone said. "Get over it!" to her. The sheer nerve, the arrogance, and the ignorance this person displayed was appalling. But to say it now and think it is okay because so much time has passed is still inappropriate. The loss of a friend or loved one is like the loss of a limb. Getting over it is physically and emotionally difficult if not impossible. 

Shanksville, PA on 9/11/21

There will be ceremonies at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA, where United Flight 93 crashed because the passengers, who learned of the attacks on Washington and New York, revolted against the highjackers and brought down the plane. These three spaces are sacred sites where many unrecovered bodies became one with the detritus of the buildings or the field. It is only proper to honor the lost, especially the first responders who bravely went into the buildings in New York while everyone was coming out.

The Pentagon on 9/11/21

Some people argue that this should be the last year of ceremonies. They believe we should look ahead and not behind, and that we are talking about something that many people now alive but, who were born since 2001, do not have a memory of what happened. But that is exactly the reason why the ceremony has to be repeated every year. 

We who lived through the attacks and lost people will never forget that day, but it is extremely important that we be active witnesses of history and tell younger people what that day was like. There were fears of more attacks, people were suffering from shock, and there was a mind-numbing sense that the world would never be the same.

All these years later things are not the same. They never can be. Yes, glistening and beautiful new buildings went up at Ground Zero, but the 9/11 Memorial and Museum – including the North and South Tower Memorial Pools surrounded by bronze parapets upon which the names of the victims who died in that tower are inscribed – makes it hard not to remember what happened. The city has changed, its people have changed, and there's no going back to the innocence we experienced on 9/10/2001. We can never be that city again.

Lt. Steven J. Bates

Last weekend our family gathered to celebrate Steve. We all wore memorial shirts to mark the 20th anniversary, and we made toasts to him. We had some of his favorite food and drink, we shared stories about him, and one of his best friends even played old answering machine messages from him. For a moment, hearing his voice made me feel like we were sitting in my house again staring at the fireplace and talking.

Steve's name at the 9/11 Memorial

For my kids, who were too young to have known him, the gathering was a great way to learn more about the man about whom they have been hearing stories their whole lives. Our family includes a baby born this year, so we will keep making an effort to keep his memory alive for generations to come.

Whether you knew someone who died that day or not, if you remember that day you know the horror and pain it caused – that it still causes – and the wound it left that will not heal. As long as we live, this day will be marked, but we have to make sure that it will always be a day for people to honor those lost or we do a disservice them.  

80 years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, less and less people are alive who remember that dark day in history, and each year I hear less about it. That's why every effort has to be made to keep the annual commemoration of 9/11 as a reminder of that horrific day. We need to guarantee the legacy of those lost, so that when all of us who remember that day are gone, future generations will continue to mark it significantly forevermore.  

 

 


Sunday, August 22, 2021

'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' – Omega Is the Most Important Kid in 'Star Wars' Canon




This first season of Star Wars: The Bad Batch gave us the most important kid in Star Wars canon. Omega (Michelle Ang) is the heart and soul of the series, and that can't be said about other kids in canon – except maybe Grogu (more on him later). Omega also has greater significance to the Clone Wars that just ended and the growing Empire that she tries to navigate with the Batch (all played by Dee Bradley Baker). The films, animated series, and live action series have not given us many kids to either to like or dislike, but the ones that have appeared are a mixed bag to say the least.

The first kid that comes to mind is Jake Lloyd's Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Some could arguably say that he is the most important kid in canon, but he really comes up short as a character (no pun intended). Yes, he can build a droid  from spare parts and handle a pod-racer like an ace, but overall he's not that impressive. Despite all those midi-chlorians that impressed the hell out of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson), it's hard to imagine this kid growing up and becoming Darth Vader. Maybe that was Lucas's whole point, but it didn't work for me. 

Then there is Kazuda "Kaz" Xiono, voiced by Christopher Sean in Star Wars: Resistance (2018-2020). My son and I stuck with the show for its two seasons, hoping something would happen, but nothing much did. Part of the problem was comparing it to Star Wars Rebels (2014-2018) and Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020), which had superior animation and story telling. Unlike Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray) in SWR and Ahsoka Tano (TCW), Kaz never grows as a character or learns from his mistakes. My son would ask, "Why do they make him so dumb?" I wish I had an answer, but I still don't. 

Getting back to Ezra, he did grow as a character. Taken under the wing of Jedi Knight Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Ezra blossomed as a Jedi and as a person. There were some annoying traits Ezra had, and many times he unnecessarily clashes with Zeb (Steve Blum), but overall he redeems himself in the last episode of that series and then some. 

Ashley Eckstein's Ahsoka first appears as a young teenager. She is probably the one to give Omega a challenge  depending how Omega changes as she grows up. Ahsoka is impetuous and annoying, but she is assigned to Anakin (Matt Lanter) as his padawan by Yoda (Tom Kane) himself. I always questioned this pairing because Obi-Wan (James Arnold Taylor) would have seemed better suited to train her, but it could be that Yoda wanted her to keep Anakin's dark tendencies in check. She is a wonderful character and beloved by many fans, but she also grew up while Omega is still a kid. Ahsoka is fondly remembered for the things she does at the end of TCW (and in SWR) and not for how she started as a padawan.

We see Boba Fett (Daniel Logan) as a kid in TCW, and his impact on the canon as an adult is undeniable, but in kid form he was a bit one dimensional. He is an angry and revengeful boy, and he never gets far beyond that. Perhaps the greatest importance of him appearing as a kid is to have us understand the man he becomes. It must not have been easy to see all the clone troopers who looked just like his father – all clones were based upon Jango's (Temeura Morrison) genetic material. 

I know that the emotional one to talk about is Grogu (he will always be Baby Yoda to me) in the live action series The Mandalorian (2019-). There are all the cuteness factors at play here, and our love of Yoda (Frank Oz) from the films, but his importance is yet to be determined. Granted the story line of the series revolves around Mando (Pedro Pascual) protecting the young one and then eventually trying to reunite him with his kind – the Jedi! But the impact on the larger galaxy and other characters is yet to be determined, though we know that remnants of the defeated Empire want to harvest his blood, so this is an evolving situation. 

There are kids seen in flashbacks of characters like Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Mando, but most of this is character building and has nothing to do with the bigger events in the galaxy. We see the young padawans slain by Anakin in Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith, and even Broom Boy (Temiri Blagg) at the end of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, but the importance of the former is to note Anakin's devolution to the Dark Side, while the latter is still annoying because it seems like an insignificant moment seemingly tacked on at the end of the film. 

Omega is the most important kid in canon for a number of reasons. She is a first generation clone from Jango Fett's DNA. That makes her his "daughter" and Boba's "sister" in a more direct way than she is related to the Batch. She worked with Nala Se (Gwendoline Yeo) on Kamino making clones, including the Batch themselves. Omega's knowledge of clone making and her prized DNA make her important to the bigger picture. Omega helped create the clones who fought the war and killed most of the Jedi because of Emperor Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) Order 66. This means she has a hand in everything that takes place in the Original and Sequel Trilogies after Order 66.

Omega is also important because she is a female clone. With all the rest of the Kaminoans dead, only Nala Se knows why Omega is a female and not male like the rest of the clones. At the end of season one, Nala is now in custody of the Empire and no doubt expected to bring her cloning expertise to do the Emperor's bidding. We can just imagine the implications of that as we wait for season two.

When I was preparing to write this, I did ask a few Star Wars fans how they felt about my opinion. Some thought Grogu was most important, but one person caught me completely by surprise – he said babies Luke and Leia were most important. While I can see that they were important to the larger story to be told, those babies had about ten seconds of screen time. They would become important later on but at that point they were just babies. 

I am always open to things changing  since both TBB and TM are still ongoing – so we will have to see where Omega and Grogu's stories are going. Right now, I believe Omega is the most important kid to appear in canon, but there's still a chance that Baby Yoda will prove me wrong.

Until next time, may the Force be with you!


Saturday, August 14, 2021

'Star Wars: The Bad Batch' Season One Finale – The Definitive End of the Clone Wars

 



Star Wars: The Bad Batch season one finale is the definitive end of the Clone Wars. It also marks the true end of the Republic, setting up a galaxy open for the Empire's taking. However, it is not as easy as that either. As conscripts and volunteers quickly replaced the clones, all the clones are not going to go quietly away. And some like Captain Rex (Dee Bradley Baker) and the Batch themselves (all played by Baker) clearly don't feel at home within the Empire, even though the former Batch member Crosshair (also Baker) has joined the Empire in full vigor and disparages his clone brothers for not seeing things his way.


That divide between the Batch and Crosshair mirrors the true nature of the galaxy at this moment in time when the events of The Revenge of the Sith took place only a few months before. Some of the clones – no longer serving the Empire and thrown out like damaged goods – will try to blend into society, but some will take up the gauntlet and join the nascent rebellion that is already brewing.

If you don't want to read any spoilers, please stop reading now.

Episode 16 serves as the season one finale, and it is upsetting as it is nerve-racking. We pick up where episode 15 ended, meaning the Batch and Crosshair are trapped on Kamino as Vice Admiral Rampart (Noshir Dalal) continues to direct the bombardment of the city and specifically the clone making facility that manufactured the Batch, Omega (Michelle Ang), and Crosshair. It's extremely fitting that our heroes could meet their end in the place where they were born.

Various obstacles – including an enormous sea beast trying to eat them – stand in their way, but they manage to climb up a tube into Nala Se's (Gwendolyn Yeo) cloning lab. The seawater is encroaching on their position, but Omega stares at the cloning tubes and achieves all the angst we know she is feeling without saying a word. Crosshair is unclear about how Omega is his "sister," but Tech explains how she is actually older than they are and had a hand in the Batch's creation. While Omega appears to be a twelve year old child, she did not receive the enhanced aging process like they did.

As the office crumbles, Omega has a great idea that they can using the cloning tubes to float up to the surface. Droid AZI (Ben Diskin) will guide the tubes through the debris field and make sure they get to the surface. Crosshair is grumbling all the way, but recognizes that to survive he must stick with his clone brothers. 

The plan seems to be working as the Batch makes it to the surface, but AZI's batteries run out and he starts to sink. Omega is his friend, and she jumps out of the tube and swims to save the droid, but then she too starts to sink. Crosshair suddenly picks up a rifle and shoots a rope down into the water and saves Omega and AZI. Later on, he will tell her that they are even now – Omega had saved him from a watery grave earlier in the episode.

They make it back to an elevated platform where their ship awaits. As the sun rises on what is usually a rainy world, Omega stares out over the ocean and watches the smoke drift across the sky from the ruins of the city where she lived most of her life. The facility that produced all the clone soldiers is now gone, the tubes with baby clones never to be born are at the bottom of the sea, and the empire's ruthlessness is apparent for everyone except Crosshair. 

Crosshair believes he is making the only intelligent choice – siding with the winning team – but Hunter points out that they all had a choice. Crosshair has made his, and the rest of the team has taken a different path. Crosshair seems to take this personally, as if the team is rejecting him, but it is really about a code of honor. Hunter and the rest owed their allegiance to the Republic, and even if the Republic is gone, they will go on in opposition to the thing that destroyed it.

As the team all climbs aboard the ship to escape before the Empire's scout ships come, Omega turns to Crosshair and reminds him that he is the Batch's brother and hers as well. However he feels about them, Crosshair can't change that. Omega climbs aboard the ship and they depart, leaving Crosshair alone once again.

We get a final scene of Nala Se as she disembarks from a ship surrounded by Imperial troops. A woman comes out to greet her and lets her know that she is well known for her work making the clones on Kamino. Now that the facility is gone as well as the planet, Nala Se must be having quite an emotional time of it. Being told that the Empire has big plans for her is not the most welcome news.

I've previously written about the importance of clones and the cloning process, especially when we discovered that Omega is a first generation clone, making her Boba Fett's (Temeura Morrison) sister. Considering what we see many years later in The Mandalorian (a series that takes place five years after Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi), when Imperial remnants try to harvest Grogu's (Baby Yoda) blood for cloning purposes, cloning is something that will no doubt increase in importance during The Bad Batch and the forthcoming live action shows.

In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – which at this point is the most recent in Star Wars canon – we learn that the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) had prepared a clone of himself to transfer his life force into when he died. We also saw his minions on Exegol working in a clone facility where a version of Snoke (Andy Serkis) floated in a cloning tube. Obviously, Nala Se was not around in those scenes, so maybe the big plans for her didn't go so well.  

This first season wraps up a great storyline that connected many dots for fans but also proposed more dangling questions. We understand that the prequels are history as is the Republic, and we see how the Empire quickly rid itself of a clone force that did all the heavy lifting during the Clone Wars and even did the Emperor's bidding by killing most of the Jedi due to Order 66.

The major questions are how will the Batch move forward? Will they continue to work with Cid (Rhea Perlman in a comic gem voice performance)? Will Crosshair go after his brothers again or will he start to realize the evil in which he is becoming entangled? Most importantly, why was Omega created and what plans did the Kaminoans have for her? 

If you're a Star Wars fan like I am, there is much too look forward to with live action series The Book of Boba Fett, season three of The Mandalorian, and the Obi Wan and Ashoka series.  Oh, and The Bad Batch has been renewed for a second season. Thank you, Disney+.

Until next time, may the Force be with you!

 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Eden Hotel – A Magical Place to Stay in the Heart of Paradise

 






 

Eden Hotel is a magical place to stay in the heart of paradise, and in this case the South of France's hidden gem Juan Les Pins. Just outside of Antibes, Juan Les Pins offers pristine sandy beaches and beautiful pine trees as the name suggests. With Cannes and Saint Tropez to the west and Nice and Monte Carlo to the east, Juan Les Pins is a prefect base for exploring the Côte d'Azur

Eden Hotel is nestled one block from the beach in a wonderful neighborhood of shops, pharmacies, restaurants, and cafes . The hotel was built in 1913, but today it has been modernized in a way that has allowed the building to retain its charm and character. A mirrored lobby gives way to a sweeping grand staircase that you take up to the first floor lobby.

Here you will be greeted by your hostess Patricia and her daughter Aurelie, who run the 17-room hotel as if you are a friend of the family. Your bags will be quickly whisked away from you and taken to your room, and this is just the start of the magnificent treatment you will receive.

The rooms are clean, quiet (featuring soundproof walls) and well appointed. There are flat-screen TVs in the rooms, and the beds are extremely comfortable. The air conditioning works well, but you may want to open the doors or windows to take in that beautiful view. 

If you have any questions, Patricia and Aurelie go out of their way to assist. Maps, lists of great nearby restaurants, and directions to the train station (a five minute walk away) are offered with warmth and good humor. 

Guests and staff all are required to wear face masks indoors, and there is hand sanitizer available in public areas. Eden goes out of its way to make guests feel safer, and the rooms are deep cleaned daily which reassures you that you are having a good time but that protocols are in place to meet the challenges that still face us with the pandemic.

We alternated beach days with sightseeing days, although sometimes we ended up going to the beach in other places. Patricia offers large beach towels for you to use and also has a closet filled with umbrellas, chairs, and floats for your use. Having beach towels available is a perk in an area where there is a charge for everything beach related elsewhere. 

In the morning if you're looking for a light or substantial breakfast, Eden offers a lovely covered back patio where you can eat while birds chirp happily in the trees. You can choose from an American breakfast, continental breakfast, or quick bite. Service is outstanding, and you feel like you're eating in a French home because you essentially are. 

Each evening after a long day of beach or sightseeing, there are many places to choose for a wonderful dinner. Choices range from fast food to elegant dining, and there are even options to eat right on the beach like I have never seen before. 

After coming home at night, I would go down to the reception to get ice for a nightcap, and Patricia would fill my cooler and then wish me a good night. Each day started and ended with us feeling cared for and pampered by our gracious hosts.

On the day we checked out, Patricia and Aurelie wished us a safe journey, and it felt like we were not ready to leave.  When we all got into the car for the ride to the airport in Nice, we looked up at the building that had been our home away from home in France. We all knew we would miss the South of France, and we were going to miss Eden Hotel.

I highly recommend Eden Hotel in Juan Les Pins if your travel plans include the South of France. You may be able to stay in more expensive properties in the area, but the experience of staying at Eden Hotel is priceless.