Friday Flotsam: More Thrawn and Robin Hood

1. My neck of the woods was supposed to receive a snow storm, so I took some time off this week to avoid the hassle (I’m also currently in a borrowed car that doesn’t do snow very well). Turned out to be not nearly as bad as advertised, but I got some time to think and focus on actually meaningful stuff for a change, so I’ll take it.

2. Finished Heir to the Empire and purchased the remaining two book of the Thrawn trilogy. Another thing I appreciate is that, even when Thrawn makes a mistake, the author is careful to make it one that doesn’t undermine him as a tactical genius. Like, his loss at the end of the first book was due to something that he legitimately could not have predicted (that a certain character would be in a certain location). And even then, the ‘loss’ is far more costly to the good guys than it is to him. Or in the current book, Dark Force Rising, he for once forms a false idea of a situation. But that’s because the real explanation is that Leia is being almost suicidally noble, which no one would logically expect because, well, it isn’t a ‘logical’ thing for her to do. That’s the best way to have the heroes survive a chessmaster villain: make the flaws in his plans something that he would either not be able to predict or credibly wouldn’t consider.

3. By the way, said Leia subplot is also an example of how to introduce moral complexities without undermining heroic characters. Without going into spoilers, she attempts to convince a certain alien race allied with the Empire to leave its service. Only, upon examination, she’s forced into the conclusion that working with the Empire is actually the best option available to them at the moment. This, in part, because of something the Rebellion did during the war. Something that they couldn’t necessarily be blamed for, but which is their responsibility nonetheless.

See, this doesn’t detract anything from either Leia or the rebellion, it greatly reinforces her essentially noble character. But it does introduce the idea that a given faction is not necessarily evil just because they side with the bad guys. They have to look to their own needs and interests, and the bad guys may honestly be their best choice as things stand. She still means to try to bring them over, but for the time being she’s forced to admit that they’re right. But she’s able to admit this because she’s a fundamentally good and noble person, because she can empathize even with her enemies.

This is the kind of thing I like to see when a story like this is expanded upon.

4. A friend pointed me to this article about the loss of Robin Hood as an iconic hero. It’s quite good and I pretty much fully agree with his assessment.

Reading it, I found myself thinking about Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. That really was not a good movie at all. It’s full of Medieval grunge, out-of-place modern sentiments, half-realized ideas, and some really grim, ugly, and out-of-place material (e.g. Friar Tuck ‘heroically’ murdering the Bishop of the Black Canon in cold blood).

That said, they did at least get Robin’s status of being outlawed because he remains loyal to the true king right (said true king being played by none other than Sir Sean Connery himself!). And it had Alan Rickman as the villain, the “why a spoon?” exchange, and Morgan Freeman being so classy that you hardly notice how preeningly PC his character is (the telescope was common Moorish technology in the 1200s, don’t you know. Though the scene where he shows it to Robin is legitimately pretty funny).

(A lot of people also point out Kevin Costner’s American accent among an other-wise British cast, but frankly I think that’s the least of that film’s problems).

5. See, that’s the thing about a lot of bad films from the 90s and 2000s; they’re not good, but they did often have a degree of basic storytelling competence and certain redeeming qualities that a lot of contemporary films seem to lack. Like there was still a genuine desire to entertain the audience, even when they made poor choices in the process. I keep finding myself looking back and thinking “well…that actually wasn’t that bad, comparatively speaking.”

6. Of course, if you want to see a Robin Hood movie, just pull up the Errol Flynn version. That is pretty much a template of how to make a good action / adventure story. The characters are larger-than-life, boisterous, and fun while maintaining the necessary gravitas, the story is fast-paced and full of both incident and heartfelt feeling, it’s vibrantly colorful, funny, has great swordplay…You could talk for hours on how good that movie is! Legitimately one of the best of all time.

It too touches on racial matters, by the way, but in a manner that makes sense for the setting and which doesn’t beat you over the head with it (Norman vs. Saxon gets the point across just fine; you don’t need to import Morgan Freeman all the way from Spain by way of the Holy Land).

Besides which: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, Alan Hale Sr. Eugene Pallette, Una O’Connor, Patric Knowles. Does anything else really need to be said?

7. The 1970s Disney version is quite good too. Not one of the studio’s best, obviously, and Robin is notably short on Merry Men (he and Little John are basically a merry duo in that one) but a perfectly respectable version of the story. Robin and Little John are sufficiently merry, Robin defiantly declares loyalty to King Richard while facing execution, King John is a hilariously pathetic, yet still threatening villain, as is the Sheriff of Nottingham (who, like many characters, is rather cleverly voices by a Southerner, giving the story almost a Western feel).

The film also deserves credit for including the vital and historically-accurate character of Sir Hiss, whom most versions inexplicably leave out.

Peter Ustinov and Terry Thomas play Disney villains. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

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