Thoughts on ‘Freddy vs. Jason’

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have a habit of referencing Freddy vs. Jason as a go-to example of solid writing. So, for Halloween, I figured I’d delve a bit into why.

2003’s Freddy vs. Jason was the final film for both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises, at least before the reboots began (though really, who’s counting those?). It also came after a fairly long hiatus for both of them: Friday had ended in 1993 with Jason Goes to Hell, then went through a failed revival effort with 2001’s Jason X (widely regarded as the single stupidest film of the series, and that’s saying a lot).Meanwhile Nightmare had ended in 1991 with Freddy’s Dead, then had a very strange and unsuccessful (though well-regarded) post-script with the meta-fiction New Nightmare in 1994.

Freddy vs. Jason very cleverly plays off this for its premise: both Freddy and Jason, in this film, are figures out of the past: Freddy’s stuck in Hell (the low-security wing for horror villains) and Jason’s body is rotting away in the woods. You see, Freddy has been forgotten by the children of Springwood (thanks to the quarantine-like efforts of the town elders), which means he can no longer haunt their dreams. No memory, no fear, no dreams, no Freddy.

But Freddy, being Freddy, figures out a weak point in their plan; Springwood is so vigilant against Freddy’s return that they will assume at any strange murders might be his handiwork. And if so, their response might just let him out for real. All he needs is another supernatural serial killer. Someone he can easily manipulate. Someone like Jason Voorhees.

Okay, so what makes me say the writing in this film is so solid?

In the first place, set up is pretty clever; it depends on both Freddy and the Springwood authorities being smart, but both their plans being flawed in a way that is obvious in hindsight, but reasonably overlooked. For Springwood, the problem is that they naturally didn’t consider the possibility of a second killer (and why should they?). And Freddy, of course, is too arrogant to consider the possibility that Jason might be harder to put down than he was to call up (we’ll come back to it, but Freddy’s slow realization that he’s drastically underestimated Jason is one of the film’s most satisfying aspects).

Moreover, this premise allows the film to neatly cover a few potential plot holes: the fact that the town authorities have engaged in a massive conspiracy to cover up Freddy’s existence, to the point of drugging and imprisoning those kids who are aware of his existence, means that when things start getting dangerous, the kids have a reason not to go to the police: they may not quite know what’s going on, but they do know the adults aren’t acting normally and that they can’t trust them.

There’s a scene partway through where the heroine, Lori, learns that her father had been lying to her about how her mother died (she’d been one of Freddy’s last victims), and that he was the one who committed her boyfriend, Will, to an insane asylum (because Will had seen the event and thus potentially knew of Freddy). Thus, when he tries to get her to stay home and take a drug he offers, she understandably refuses and runs away to try to deal with the problem herself. It’s a mistake, but one that makes absolute sense given what she knows.

The drug in question is hypnocil, a dream-suppressor that was introduced back in Nightmare on Elm Street III. The kids sent to the asylum have been getting nightly doses of it to help keep Freddy at bay, despite the fact that the film shows it to be dangerous in high doses (we see a ward full of patients who were overdosed into comas). The kids only figure out what it does after they’ve decided they can’t trust the adults, which leads them to make a deadly run to the asylum to try to get it, thus putting them into both Freddy and Jason’s paths once more.

So, the premise of the film is not only solid in itself (given the somewhat flexible rules of this universe), but also provides a solid reason why the kids can’t go to the authorities for help and a motivation to put themselves into harm’s way.

The use of hypnocil points to just how much respect the writers show to these franchises. The return of Jason’s mother Pamela (actress Paula Shaw gracefully replacing Betsy Palmer) is another example; Mrs. Voorhees hasn’t been seen since way back in Part 2. Moreover, this isn’t just fan service; it all serves the plot. How does Freddy control Jason? By impersonating the one person Jason loves and is obedient to. This not only works to move the story along, but actually helps to develop Jason’s character, from the rapt way he listens to ‘her’ to his wide-eyed fury when he realizes that Freddy’s tricked him (that her trademark blue sweater is now a Freddy-appropriate red is another mark of the filmmakers’ attention to detail).

As this indicates, the writers clearly took the time to sit down and work out just who these characters were before writing the film. This results in some really pretty startling scenes, such as the horrifying prologue where we see a pre-death Freddy slaying one of his child victims (off screen, thankfully), or the unexpected conclusion to their first fight in the dream world. Ultimately, the film is credibly driven by the contrasting personalities of its two stars, and they both consistently act in character throughout.

Again, it kind of amazes me that Jason, of all people, actually gets something like character development in this film. We get to see something of his relationship with his mother, a hint at how he views his murderous actions, and even a glimpse of him as a child (which, if I’m not mistaken, is the only depiction of his actual drowning in the whole series. Granted, it’s obviously a twisted, nightmare version, but still it’s interesting to finally see such a pivotal moment in the Friday the 13th ‘lore’). Actor Ken Kirzinger gives a really quite excellent performance using only his eyes and body language, so much so that I would even rank him above Kane Hodder as the best Jason portrayal. I also really like how, when we visit his shack in a dream, there’s a toy ukulele on his bed, pointing to his childlike nature (attention to detail again).

As others have pointed out, the fact that Jason is a kind of ‘child-man’ whose twisted mind remains as it was when he drowned at the age of eight and Freddy is explicitly a child murderer makes their showdown all the more satisfying. Here is one ‘child’ that Freddy can’t kill, and when he tries to bully him it comes back to bite him hard.

Robert Englund, of course, gets to ham it up one last time in his signature role, though his boisterous personality and bad puns are here leavened by his truly horrific actions. Again, almost the moment the film opens it let’s us know just what Freddy is, and it never lets us forget it for long. After being reduced to a clown in his later films, Freddy is back to being the monster he’s supposed to be. They also thought out the implications of his dream manipulation, allowing him to attack one character who, rather than falling asleep, simply gets thoroughly stoned (the scene has Freddy appear as a hooka smoking caterpillar; a nice touch).

On that subject, though the film aims at being pulpy, almost comic-book style entertainment, it also remembers that it’s supposed to be a horror film and makes a genuine effort to scare the audience. There are some great atmospheric shots here, especially whenever we’re around Crystal Lake, and some nicely constructed scares. Jason’s prologue, which is kind of a compression of the Friday the 13th formula, where a girl strips, skinny dips, then runs through the woods and gets killed, is quite exceptionally well-done and reminds us that yes, that formula can be effective. The nightmare sequences, especially one about the middle of the film, are likewise pretty darn frightening and, like in the olden days, capture the feel of a nightmare pretty well (for instance, there’s one where a girl tries to flee, only to find that the door she just entered through has turned into a solid wall).

Horror is a pretty simple effect to create, but it’s also very easy to spoil. Generally speaking, if you try to go too big with it or too over the top, you kill the effect (something Universal apparently failed to understand with its recent ‘Mummy’ remake, with disastrous effect). Halloween II is not three times as scary as Halloween because three times as many people died; quite the reverse. Freddy vs. Jason ups the ante some, but ultimately keeps itself within a reasonable frame; there’s no world or even city-level threat, it’s all a matter of these people and this community, and its most effective scares are the most focused.

Meanwhile, the human characters range from insufferable to excellent (though fortunately most of the insufferable one’s don’t make it out of the first act), but they are pretty much all decently written and at least believable, and you do root for them. Katherine Isabelle gives a particularly good performance, as does Chris Marquette. I also like how the film takes the time to actually let the characters mourn a little when their friends start dying. And how there’s a scene where the kids simply sit down, pool their information, and try to work out a plan for survival. And again, they never really do anything unbelievably stupid (well, the stoner deciding to get high in the middle of the raid on the asylum was monumentally dumb, but not unbelievably so). Again, the actions of the characters all – or at least almost all – make sense given what they know and who they are. They make mistakes, but understandable ones.

I really could go on and on; the running theme of the Past being dug up and brought to light, which is consistent with both franchises. The innumerable references and small details attesting to a knowledge of the franchise (like the sugar sack that one of the bullies pulls over young Jason’s head in his nightmare). The tonally appropriate humor (my favorite being Freddy referring to Jason as “That hockey puck”). And of course the immensely satisfying fight sequences, the last of which is preceded by the wonderful moment where Freddy realizes he’s been pulled into the real world directly in front of an enraged Jason Voorhees. You will never see a finer rendition of the expression “Oh, crap!”

Also, since I just saw Cabin in the Woods, I have to point out that the black humor here is far superior. Black humor, to my mind, is when the absurdity of life suddenly intrudes upon a grim situation. Like, there’s a bit where a kid ends up holding his father’s severed head. Then Jason appears and swings his machete at him, and the kid instinctively (and ineffectually) tries to block the blow with his dad’s head. It’s quick, it’s ridiculous, and it completely fits the scene.

Now, let me be clear: Freddy vs. Jason is no classic. It’s simple, pulpy entertainment, and it has plenty of flaws (among others: the asylum is ridiculously easy to break out of and into, the CG does not hold up well, and several of the actors among the kids are pretty bad). It’s very vulgar, very crude, and definitely not for everyone. And I’m not even that big a fan of the two franchises (for the record, the original Nightmare is one of my favorite horror films, so much so that I don’t really want to see any of the others, and though I’ve seen several Friday films, I don’t think I’d recommend any of them).

Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite films simply for how solid the writing is. All the more so because this is exactly the kind of movie you’d expect to have a rushed or incompetently done script. This is the kind of movie where you expect the phrase “who cares?” to have been used a lot during production, the kind that would attract the contempt of those who worked on it.

But it didn’t. The filmmakers took these franchises seriously, treated them with remarkable respect (indeed, far more than they deserved), and put genuine effort into making a good film, one that is not only satisfying in itself, but actually manages to restore some dignity to the long-moribund franchises, just in time for them to end and allowing both to go out on a high note.

It is especially useful in contrast to the recent entries in, say, Star Wars, where the most prestigious film franchise of them all is treated with utter contempt by writers who can’t even muster the most basic level of storytelling competence. When we say we want a well-written film, one that respects what has come before while nevertheless building on it, one that holds together under scrutiny and evinces real care for the material, we’re thinking of something like Freddy vs. Jason.

Thoughts on the Church Abuse Scandal

I have been delayed in writing about this due to being on vacation, and from arranging my thoughts. Even so, this is going to be a very rough outline.

Despite taking so much time, I still find my thoughts in disarray, just because there is so much to talk about and so much of it (as with most contemporary issues) requires us to look in the opposite direction from where we’ve been taught to look.

Let me put it this way; the problem is not with the Church. The problem is that many in the clergy, laity, and hierarchy don’t want the Church. They want a kind of non-profit social program with the respect that the Church once held. They don’t want Christ or truth or salvation; they want ‘progress’ or ‘social justice’ or whatever other silly idol is popular with the smart set of today.

So, to be clear, when I say the problem is not with the Church, I mean that if the Church acted like the Church, and not even the ideal Church triumphant, but simply like the Church of past ages, this situation would never have happened, at least not to this extent.

Let me explain: in today’s Church, at least in the west, there is very little discipline, whether in the liturgy, doctrine, or morality. For instance, just a few weeks ago Fr. Thomas Rosica, an attache of the Holy See’s Press Office, called the Catholic devotion to Scripture and Sacred Tradition “and unhealthy attachment” which the Church is moving away from. As far as I know, nothing has happened to him. He hasn’t lost his job, been stripped of his office, or even been rebuked by his Bishop. In a sane age, a Catholic priest, even one not attached to the Holy See who said something like this would have his Bishop down on his head like a ton of bricks.

And this sort of thing is common: priests publicly denounce or oppose doctrine – and not obscure, fiddling dogmas, but basic truths of the faith – every day without any ramifications. The liturgy is regularly mocked and gutted by celebrants without any correction on the part of the Bishops, most of whom are no more concerned than the priests themselves. If anyone – priest or laity – complains, he’s more likely to receive a rebuke for being ‘intolerant’ or ‘rigid’ than to bring about any corrections. Again, Priests and Bishops shrug off or openly advocate for moral evils in the name of ‘tolerance’ and reserve their rebukes for those who call them on it. Morality and doctrine, for many in the contemporary Church, are determined by the latest fads in the secular world.

This is not how a Church that actually believes in the Gospel behaves: this is how a political organization that wants to attract members behaves.

I could go into the background of this, the various possible factors involved from Marxist infiltrations to Vatican II to just the absurd habit that most moderns have of treating their ancestors with dismissive contempt (see the recent move regarding the death penalty). Probably I will sometime, but the point is that all this amounts to a reluctance in the Church, as in the secular world, to call evil evil and falsehood false. Priests are all-but forbidden from calling each other out on liturgical or moral or doctrinal matters lest they be branded ‘intolerant’ or ‘judgmental.’ Even discounting tales of officially-imposed bullying and cover-ups, any warning signs or smaller infractions on the road to full-blown abuse were not acknowledged and not permitted to be sanctioned because to do so would be intolerant.

This is one principle we desperately need to relearn; that evil does not happen in a vacuum. A man does not one day become a pedophile or commit sexual assault or rape without first having gone down a long line of lesser sins. This is one reason for the Church’s former refusal to tolerate even small, venial sins or minor sexual infractions: because with the wisdom of ages, she knew that it never stops at these things. Now, however, along with the rest of the world we delude ourselves that these things don’t matter and then are shocked when they blow up in our faces.

Nor do I think the lack of doctrinal or liturgical discipline is unrelated. Even if we discount supernatural effects, there is simply the question “we don’t expect them to think like priests or pray like priests; why are we surprised they don’t act like priests?” We put up with heresy, sacrilege, and irreverence from them every single day without a word and then we are shocked to find them abusing their position. Once again, these things don’t happen in a vacuum.

All this is a way of saying that the Church is in this position because so many within her do not actually believe in Christ or want anything to do with Him. They believe in politics, in progress, and in all the other idols of modernity. I don’t say this as a judgment, but as an observation. If the Church is to have a renewal, I’m afraid she can no longer tolerate such members, at least not in the clergy. There needs to be a great cleansing within the Church, not just of those who are guilty of abuse or of aiding it, but of all those those who worship the gods of the marketplace rather than Christ. True, this would leave her a shrunk shell of her current self, but she could recover. She cannot recover as long as she continues to tolerate this kind of hypocrisy among her priests.

As so often happens, the answer is “Repent and Believe in the Gospel.”

5 Impossible Things

Found this video drifting around YouTube:

Assuming any of these things are actually true (when you’re looking at something lightyears away you will forgive me if I don’t absolutely buy that you’re seeing what you think you’re seeing).

  1. Two Shadows: Okay, this is pure padding. Multiple shadows happen all the time on the Earth, any time you have two or more light sources. Give me a break here. Also, I don’t know if this has ever actually happened, but theoretically if you had a very bright full Moon and Venus was at her closest approach to the Earth on a clear night, you could have multiple shadows without manmade light.
  2. Ice-7: Oh, yeah; that’s cool! Super-pressurized water that solidifies into  warm ice. Lot of pointless speculation about what might live in the planet-wide ocean, though (so, basically we’ve found Manaan from Knights of the Old Republic).
  3. Rock-Clouds that rain lava: And the rock condenses to stone before it hits the ground. Here on Earth we need poltergeists to create that kind of effect! Also, I want to know what a rock-cloud looks like.
  4. 2 km Per-second winds that rain glass: I have to work a glass storm into a story somewhere. It’s such a great image.
  5. Flying on Titan: Yep, knew about that. In one of my many works in progress I even have people on Titan developing an air-borne sport to take advantage of this (they are also extremely fragile and physically weak compared to other people and tend to be the best pilots since they learn to fly almost as soon as they learn to walk. Maybe I’ll finish that story one of these days).

Thoughts on ‘Phineas and Ferb Star Wars’

Past Entries:
-Star Wars
-The Holiday Special
-The Empire Strikes Back
-Return of the Jedi
-The Phantom Menace
-Attack of the Clones
-Revenge of the Sith
-The Force Awakens
-Rogue One
-The Last Jedi
-Solo

I wanted to end this series on a high note, so, despite the fact that it’s explicitly not canon (the opening crawl ends with “None of this is canon; just relax,” a disclaimer I wish all the recent Star Wars films carried), let’s talk about Phineas and Ferb Star Wars.

For those unfamiliar with the show, I’ll give a summary: Phineas and Ferb is a show about two genius step-brothers – cheery, out-going Phineas and taciturn, British Ferb – who, determined not to waste their summer vacation, spend each day doing something fantastic and impossible. They build rollercoasters in their backyard, go into space, become superheroes or pop stars for a day, and so on, in the company of their friends: super-cute girl scout Isabella (who has a not-so-secret crush on the perpetually oblivious Phineas), Bollywood math genius Baljeet, and secretly-cultured bully Buford. Meanwhile, their older sister, Candace, jealously tries to get them into trouble by telling their mom about their antics, except their projects always conveniently disappear at the last second, making Candace look insane. These disappearances are usually caused by side effects from the efforts of the “evil” Dr. Doofenshmirtz to take over the Tri-State Area with an endless series of ‘inators’ (drill-inator, turn-everything-evil-inator, rain-inator, etc.). He’s perpetually foiled by Special Agent Perry the Platypus…who maintains a secret identity as Phineas and Ferb’s beloved pet.

It sounds weird, and it is, but it’s a fantastic show in many, many ways that we don’t have time to get into here. For our purposes, the important thing is that in the show’s fourth and final season they were given the opportunity to do an hour-long crossover special with Star Wars, applying the show’s absurdist-yet-sincere tone to the Star Wars universe.

 I’ve written about this one before, so there will be quite a bit of overlap here, but I wanted to go into more detail about why I think this special is the best piece of Star Wars content to come out of the move to Disney.

Rather than attempting to simply re-create the story of Star Wars with Phineas and Ferb characters (e.g. Phineas as Luke, Ferb as Han, Isabella as Leia, etc.), the special takes a rather more creative and bold approach. It posits that versions of the Phineas and Ferb cast exist in the Star Wars universe and played an unseen, but crucial role during the events of the original film. This allows the original to stand more or less untouched (apart from one or two sight gags, the special doesn’t violate the continuity of the original film at all, which is frankly very impressive in itself) while also letting them tell their own story alongside it.

The plot goes that Perry the Rebelpus was the agent who stole the Death Star plans (from the ‘Empire Administration offices:’ a star destroyer with an office building stuck on top). Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb are moisture farmers who live next door to Luke Skywalker, but unlike him are perfectly content with their lot on Tatooine, making the most of every day in typical Phineas and Ferb fashion. In fact, they’re too content: the special cleverly foreshadows that the boys’ easy-going satisfaction with their lot in life might not be the best thing for them long-term, and that they ought to leave their comfort zone sooner rather than later.

This is precipitated when they run into R2-D2 and accidentally end up with the Death Star plans. Realizing what they have, the boys chase after Luke and the others to try to restore what they lost, taking up with Isabella the smuggler (who is by far the most detached from her canon personality) and repeatedly crossing paths with Candace, an overzealous, underappreciated stormtrooper (who is accompanied by fellow troopers Buford and Baljeet, evidently the dregs of the Imperial military).

Meanwhile, on the “fully operational Death Star,” we meet the evil ‘Darth Enshmirtz,’ the Death Star’s original designer, which, of course, is why it has a self-destruct mechanism (this joke is even funnier in the wake of Rogue One, where it’s revealed that that is the canon explanation for why it was so easy to destroy). In typical Doof fashion, he’s bitter at not being appreciated for his work and so plans to build a new doomsday device to become the top Sith.

So, the first thing to note is that, even though it’s a spoof, the special actually puts in the effort to tell its own story, with its own character arcs, progression of events, and themes. Where The Force Awakens was just an awkward retread of the original, Phineas and Ferb comes up with an original story that works on its own terms…and does so while literally being a retread of the original. Thus, instead of a character discontented with his lot and yearning for something more, this special gives us two characters who are content, but who probably shouldn’t be and end up pushed out of their comfort zone and forced to attend to more important matters.

What’s more (and again, unlike The Force Awakens), this character line continues through to the end of the story and is reflected in the other characters. Phineas and Ferb end the story having given up their peaceful life on Tatooine, but having also found something worth believing in. They’ve expanded their lives beyond the narrow scope that we found them in.

Early on there’s a scene where their parents actually try to get them to go off somewhere and see more of galaxy, expand their horizons. When Phineas shrugs the suggestion off, saying they’ve got everything they need, their father mutters, “Wait until they find out there are no girls on this planet.” This ties into their meeting Isabella, who takes them into space to follow the Millennium Falcon, and has a payoff when she kisses Phineas at the very end. The character thread is established, given a clear ‘tell’ (in the form of girls), and pays off when Phineas, having grown beyond his narrow home world, receives a kiss from Isabella to drive home what he had been missing.

(The kiss is preceded by Isabella double-checking that they’re not related, in a funny reference to Luke and Leia’s relationship, but also motivated by the late-game revelation that Candace is Phineas’s long-lost sister. So, it’s both a nod to the fans and completely motivated in story).

This is the sort of thing The Force Awakens was missing with Rey: she was waiting for her parents, then was told they’re not coming back, then goes off to find Luke and be trained as a Jedi. The final point doesn’t tie into the first one, and none of it ties into the rest of the plot involving the super-Death Star.

Speaking of which, we have Darth Enshmirtz’s new super-weapon, the Sith-Inator, which makes whoever it hits extremely attune to the Dark Side of the Force, driving them evil in the process.

Now, it’s largely played for laughs as a typical Doof ‘inator,’ with him giving a catchy musical number about how he’ll “no longer be the lowest of the Darths” and fantasizing about choking Imperial officers and impressing the Emperor. But the idea itself is actually kind of cool, especially once it hits Ferb and he applies a more serious approach to it (we’ll come back to it, but Darth Ferb is one of the special’s most impressive accomplishments. It can’t have been easy to make Ferb actually intimidating, but man do they pull it off).

Having just come off a re-watch of the films, I think a weapon like this actually could work in canon: it would just multiply or add midichlorines to the bloodstream, but such an unnatural process and sudden surge of power would of course heavily incline one to the Dark Side. In any case, despite the absurdist tone of the special, I could see an entire trilogy being built around that kind of weapon: something that could turn an ordinary person into a powerful Force User inclined to the Dark Side. That’s both a lot more creative and a lot more insidious than just another planet buster, and without the logistical problems of just how the heck they made the darn thing. Can you imagine a trilogy where the new Republic suddenly found itself faced with a whole army of near-Vader level Sith?

Basically, in telling a joke for a cartoon special Dan Provenmire and Jeff Marsh (the creators of Phineas and Ferb) came up with a much better plot for a new Star Wars trilogy than all the highly-paid writers that the Disney studio could muster could come up with over the course of several years for their massively-expensive tent-pole film series. Just think about that.

What’s more, the device sets up an extremely tense and emotionally charged confrontation between Phineas and Ferb (all the more so for fans of the show, since this is something we never would have expected to see). The whole set up, with Ferb’s implacable hostility and Phineas’s desperate attempts to reach him even as they duel with lightsabers works very well. And again, they set it up even in the context of the special by showing us just how close the brothers are, which further lets us feel just how wrong and evil the Dark Side is if it can threaten a friendship like that.

(Meanwhile, they also make a very funny joke about how lightsabers keep getting more complicated and impractical: “Oh, we’re allowing modifications?”).

The fight ends up involving Perry and Candace as well, so now let’s talk about Candace as the stormtrooper. Once again, this goofy cartoon thoroughly embarrasses the multi-million-dollar blockbuster. Candace, like Finn, is a stormtrooper who ends up defecting to the Rebels. However, in her case, it’s an actual character arc: we spend a good deal of time with her, Buford, and Baljeet as stormtroopers, and even though it’s in the midst of a goofy subplot where they’re assigned to get socks for Darth Vader (which leads to some great gags, such as Baljeet saying ‘socks’ to the tune of the Imperial March and a store on Tatooine called ‘Tall, Darth, and Handsome’), we do get to see things from a stormtrooper point of view and get a sense for what working for the Empire was like.

Just the fact that Candace describes Rebels as “cruel, heartless sub-humans who are messing up the galaxy” gives her more depth that Finn ever had (I’m also kind of surprised they got away with the term ‘sub-humans’ in a kids’ show). She has a perspective informed by her training; a reason why she thinks she’s on the right side. She actually believes in the Empire, despite the mistreatment she receives from it.

There’s a very fun song where Candace sings about why she’s proud to serve in the Empire: “Now I’m a bad mama-jama and I rock a mean helmet / if I see a Rebellion then you know I’m gonna quell it / I’m a certified, full-blown, armor-wearing zealot / and it feels so good to know I’m always right!” Again, this gives us a very believable sense of how the rank-and-file Emperor troops view the war, which we never got in the films, even when they actually have a defecting stormtrooper as a main character.

Then, when she turns, it’s not just because she suddenly “makes a choice” for no reason: something happens that blatantly contradicts her beliefs, making her question them for the first time. The scene where she turns is actually quite striking; when she asks Buford and Baljeet, “We’re the good guys, right?” there’s genuine uncertainty in her voice (some nice vocal work by Ashley Tisdale there). And, believably enough, once she starts to question her assumptions, then she starts to realize other things that didn’t fit into her image of the Empire (“Didn’t we just blow up a planet?” “Yes, that is sort of hard to justify, morally”). Again, it’s mostly played for laughs, but it’s still a genuine arc. The characters have clear motivations for what they do that make sense in the context of the story rather than being dictated by the script. Even in the midst of all the absurdist humor, they act like human beings.

Likewise, Isabella goes through much the same story arc as Han Solo, but again, it works. We meet her as a cynical loner who snaps at Phineas that “this isn’t a friendship, it’s a spaceship, so don’t invade mine.” Then, as she sees the loyalty the brothers have for each other, she starts to feel the desire to do likewise.

There’s a scene near the end where she bumps into Han Solo at a bar and they each prod each other into doing the right thing. Goofy as it is to have Han Solo talking smack with a little girl, it kind of works. Certainly I can much easier buy Han having a rivalry with Isabella than I can him abandoning his wife and son and losing the Millennium Falcon. I can almost imagine that it actually did go down like that, with Han trying to distract himself with a drink, but being challenged on abandoning his friends. Dang it, it’s a good scene; for all the absurdity and cartoon logic, it works.

Speaking of humor, it’s classic Phineas and Ferb: very smart, but very silly at the same time. Like when two Rebel technicians discover that R2 doesn’t actually have the plans, their first plan is, “We’ll blame Jar Jar!” Then there’s a bit where two of the Imperial officers are talking and one starts making fun of Vader, then trolls the other by pretending to choke (not only is that funny, but I can actually picture the Imperial officers doing that sort of thing). Another great gag has Darth Enshmirtz gloating about how valuable his timeshare on Alderann has become, while in the background…

Likewise the great Phineas and Ferb dialogue is present in full force: “You see? You paint a big red ‘X’ on the floor, people will stand on it.” “And you thought we were gonna die in space!” “You go see if that kid’s evil yet.” “Not a bad set: one death, one dismemberment. Not bad for a Tuesday.” I want to say there are more quotable lines in this hour-long special than in all the Disney ‘Star Wars’ films put together, with the possible exception of Rogue One.

Yet, as indicated, the show’s trademark sincerity is equally on display, as in the aforementioned battle between Phineas and Ferb, or Phineas’s genuinely shocked reaction when he learns about the Death Star (“I never thought the Empire would go that far!”).

Then, near the end, there’s a moment where the main characters are standing on the Death Star, expecting to die, and they just kind of accept it, with Phineas saying that at least they went out for something they can believe in. Again, genuine human emotion and human reactions, even in the midst of all this absurdity, and a real, coherent plot with actual character arcs.

I also like that, though this is Phineas and Ferb, the writers didn’t try to shoehorn the standard show plot into ‘Star Wars.’ The classic catchphrases – “You guys are so busted!” “Whatchya doin’?” and so on – are present, but in contexts that make sense in the story. They don’t, for instance, have Linda as an Imperial officer that Candace is trying to ‘bust’ the boys to. They have this story to tell, and they tell it, working in references to the show where it makes sense, but not forcing it. Likewise, the Phineas and Ferb characters really do work in their roles: Candace’s misguided zealotry is perfect for a stormtrooper, Doof as a low-level Sith wannabe, Perry as a rebel agent and so on. Again, Isabella is a little jarring just because she’s so different from her usual character, but she works in the role (I especially like how her goggles take the place of her trademark hair bow).

Above all, it’s abundantly clear that the writers loved Star Wars and respected it. Even as they’re using the material for jokes, they still evince a thorough knowledge of the world and appreciation for the story and characters. Luke, Han, and Leia aren’t in it much, but they’re recognizably themselves when they are. When Luke chats with Phineas and Ferb about their modified speeder, it does feel like something Luke might do. And when Phineas says that he and Ferb have ‘Jedi lessons’ with Obi-Wan every Tuesday, it’s a gag, but it also makes sense for Obi-Wan’s character that if there were a couple of Force-sensitive kids nearby he would try to train them. And again, it sets up the duel at the climax (I also like that they made the choice not to have Obi-Wan present outside a silent cameo, apparently recognizing they didn’t have the resources to capture Sir Alec Guinness’s performance).

There are a lot of little jokes showing “the other side” of events in the original film. We see Han’s abortive attempt to bluff the guards over the com-link from the perspective of the officers receiving his message, for instance (“Aw, I was just getting into that conversation!”), and we get to see just what that garbage monster thing was and what it was doing (“That not trash, dummy, that’s a guy!”).

When I first saw this special, I wasn’t expecting to like it that much. I loved Phineas and Ferb, but the idea of crossing over with Star Wars seemed a step too far. But the moment the first notes of the opening song ‘Tatooine’ started playing, with Phineas and Ferb singing about how much they love their home, I knew it was going to work and I enjoyed every minute of it. It works best if you’re already a fan of both Phineas and Ferb and Star Wars, and I don’t know how it would play to someone unfamiliar with the show, but for me it’s easily my favorite ‘Star Wars’ story to come out of the move to Disney.

Various Short Thoughts

-There’s a difference between making a moral argument and a factual argument. If you want to argue that, say, the death penalty is immoral, well and good; we can have a debate on the point because arguments can be made on either side. But if you want to argue that the Bible forbids the death penalty, then there’s no debate: you’re simply wrong, because, as a mere matter of fact, it doesn’t. The same can be said for slavery, war, and so on.

-I don’t know if it’s callous of me or not, but whenever I hear of big sex scandals like the one current rocking Hollywood, my reaction is always “what did you think was going to happen?” For the past century or so, all the ‘best people’ have been championing what they call ‘sexual liberation.’ What about the record of human experience made you think that removing almost all social and legal checks on mankind’s most fickle, voracious, and unreasoning appetite, while simultaneously minimizing standards of interpersonal courtesy and decorum would turn out differently? That’s not to take away any of either the guilt of the perpetrators or the innocence of the victims, of course, but to add a bit more blame to the mix. This is what your new, liberated world looks like.

-Actually, “what did you think was going to happen?” is a pretty good response to most of our current social, economic, and political problems.

-On that note, something we need to relearn is that morality is a continuous whole: you can’t cut out or compromise on any one part without doing damage to the entire structure. Every aspect of our lives effects every other aspect, so that dishonesty, cowardice, or weakness in one will cause deterioration in the others. This doesn’t mean all sin is equal, but it does mean that all sin is bad and has a cumulative effect on our character. This is something everyone used to know (“he who is faithful in small matters will be faithful in large ones”), but which we today have forgotten.

-By the way, one modern work that does get this and explicitly makes a point of it? You guessed it; My Little Pony.

-I notice, incidentally, that ‘sexual liberation’ tends to go hand-in-hand with Marxist thought. I also notice that the ‘fruits of lust,’ as described by St. Gregory and St. Thomas, are…revealing.

“Blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of this world and abhorrence or despair of a future world.”

Not only do these pretty fairly describe the modern world, but they also are exactly what a Marxist / materialist philosophy would consider desirable for the majority of men. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing an essay exploring this in detail, though I think to do it right would require more research than I’m currently able to devote to it. I put it here for your consideration.