{ Under The Bluegums }

A personal blog with craft tutorials, reviews of books, films, and music, parenting advice, and opinions on society and politics.

May 9, 2018

Disturbing Disney || Toy Story, or The Abuse of a Child

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Toy Story is Pixar's flagship animation, having changed the terrain for animated films forever. Its genius is based on its ability to appeal to both parents and children, and make a s**tload of money. Who couldn't love affectionate yet jealous Woody, clueless and self-absorbed Buzz Lightyear, and all the other loveable characters?! Well, me, obviously.

The film has never been one of my favourites. I think I'd only seen it once until my daughter showed interest and wanted to watch it. Needless to say I have now seen it more than a couple of times, but it has still not grown on me. I used to think it was because of Tom Hanks, but I actually like him, as an actor...

I simply don't like either of the main characters. For toys who claim to be in existence simply to make Andy happy they're terribly self-absorbed and way too focused on politics and status. Sure I understand Woody is at the top of the food chain because he is Andy's favourite toy and the hero of his imagination, but his desire to stay at the top is unappealing. Especially because he claims to have such an altruistic view of life with Andy. That Woody is so ready to confront the new toy and tell him he is in Woody's 'special' spot on the bed indicates to me that this is not the first time Woody has enforced his tyrannical rule over the toys. Why do I get the feeling that when Andy ever had a new favourite toy, Woody would have claimed the top spot for himself, even if he were no longer the favourite? Mr Potatohead's snide remarks about Woody's fear of being replaced reflect Woody's feelings and I sort of picture Mr Potatohead quietly witnessing Woody expelling the competition from under the covers (and perhaps out of the window - hey, if he was so comfortable doing it to Buzz...) once Andy is asleep or has left for school, and he sort of holds this over Woody for the rest of his life. Everything may have been different had Woody not been forced to find Buzz.
via GIPHY
With Buzz, I feel like he is pretending to be unaware of his status as a toy: why else would he also become still when Andy is in the room? Is he really just following the other toys' lead, as though Andy is some all-powerful god? Or is it more sinister? It would make a lot of sense if Buzz was actually a device planted by an alien race on Earth to monitor its children with a view of invasion, especially since Buzz's personality is so specifically defined by his default language, and he happens to be a Space Ranger. I just feel like his character arc didn't change much for him. He starts off confident and self-assured, and despite the climax of his growth seeing him withdraw into despair, he ends off confident and self-assured, albeit he now has a friend. Hell, Woody's character arc parallels his: he starts off confident and self-assured, realises during his climax that he should make space for new toys, and ends up being confident and self-assured, albeit he now sees Buzz as a friend. Neither have actually given way. Both now share a leadership position. I get the point, that they are now 'sharing' top position, compromising and what have you. But this does not reflect any reality any child will grow up into.

So like I get that Toy Story is really Friendship Story, and it's about how two people who at first dislike each other are thrown together in a manner that makes them understand and thus empathise with each other, opening up the way for a friendship. It is about not judging a book by its cover (or a toy by its box), as seen by Woody initially thinking Buzz was 'pretending' to not know he was a toy and even by Sid's mangled toys who are all simply misunderstood. It is also about accepting change. So I get that the film has a moral message for our innocent children.

But.

I just can't like it.

There's the making fun of the emasculated dinosaur.

There's the speed at which Woody was able to turn evil when he was faced with a little competition.

It's the gloating and self-important manner Buzz has around him, which yes I know is part of and necessary to his character as a Space Ranger but which just grates me as a hero of a story. And really, how could he not see it was freaking momentum driving his first flight?! As someone who's familiar with space he should know the basics of physics.

It's the whole mob mentality of the toys who claimed to be Woody's friends but suddenly turn on him when he's no longer the favourite.

It's the fawning over Buzz Lightyear and the toadying, you know, reflecting our current society's predilection for over-appreciating glamour and beauty and fake lasers and gimmicks and selfies and setup social media photos.
via GIPHY
The biggest thing for me is the whole revenge-on-Sid-the-toy-abuser scene because I can't help but think of his creativity and his imagination as he's playing with these toys, and how their revenge on him will affect his imagination and creativity going forward. Sure, he is destructive but the purpose of the toys is after all to aid in growing these two skills and when they scare him, I can't help but imagine that where he had seen himself as a doctor saving a life by transplanting a head or as a rocket scientist launching a rocket into space, he will now be too afraid to do anything like that ever again. The poor kid was likely sent away for medical and/or psychiatric treatment and would be afraid of everything for the rest of his life. I mean, seriously, after starting out with all that imagination and ambition, he straight up ended being a garbageman. So I know that the idea is to show that since Sid was such a nasty piece of work he only became a garbageman - it was what he deserved for torturing toys - but I am certain it is because of the psychological damage he suffered and not because of character flaws. Sid, after all, did not know that the toys are 'alive' and in my opinion an actual indication of a character flaw would be, say, Sid abusing his actual living dog. Or maybe it's because it feels weird that the villain of the film is a child. A child.

And then there's the fact that they break their contract to interact with Sid. If they really loved their boy, why wouldn't they actually interact with him? That would make more sense - toys gaining confidence and trust in their children and then really playing with them. Not taking revenge on a child and scarring him for life.

And I didn't enjoy the music.

But maybe that's just me.

{Lead Image Credit: Facebook/PixarToyStory}

April 26, 2018

Popular Culture || The Star Wars Toys Controversy

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Facebook/StarWarsMovies
Watching YouTube for me leads to a recommendeds list filled with Star Wars videos. Lately there's been a trend of slating Star Wars toys, because they are not selling, because the sequel trilogy is terrible, and the toys are, too. I did some reading and discovered that, though these reasons may be a contributing factor, they aren’t entirely the reason: it all boils down to business.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Tumblr, which is unashamedly FILLED with Star Wars stuff (Reylo in particular).

If YouTubers are to be believed, it’s because of:

1. Poor quality of toys. Many of the movie tie-ins have basically been called pieces of drutash castings.
2. Lack of innovation. The Force Link brand, for example, contains tech that isn’t a new concept, and also does not perform well in practice.
3. The poor storytelling and character development in ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’, even in ‘Rogue One’. Arguments include that Rey has no depth, for example, and that Disney is depending on her role as a ‘strong female character’ to inspire loyalty, or that Rose Tico is a whiner and no one would look up to her, (Many times they criticise the latter’s supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. Because, you know, that’s important in a toy.)
4. No one can invest in these characters because they don’t capture children’s and fan’s imaginations, nor are they compelling.
5. The movies are just so bad no one wants the toys.
6. The push for diversity and representation has hurt the franchise, because, you know, the original trilogy was super diverse.

Some of these reasons are the same for why fans (supposedly) dislike the new films: the push for representation and diversity, the introduction of social justice issues, poor storytelling and character development…

There are also many who say the films have ‘bastardised’ favourite legacy characters.

Now I’m not saying that some of these concerns aren’t valid for a lot of fans out there. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just wanted to find out if these could be considered the 'business’ reasons for the supposed decline in Star Wars toy sales. It turns out there are a lot of environmental factors at play.

According to a Forbes report at the end of 2017, Star Wars toys were the top-selling brand in 2015 and 2016. It seems 2017 is where a snag came along. The article suggests that Toys'R'Us filing for bankruptcy could hold some blame. ‘Rogue One’ could also be to blame: it was a darker film, possibly not endorsed by a lot of parents as it resulted in the death of all the main characters, which may have made the toys less appealing to children (who wants to play with a dead hero, right?). This also meant that a lot of these toys were still hanging around, translating to poor retail orders by buyers who may not be Star Wars fans or aware of the different films at all. The toys were also not amazing, as there were some material issues making the figures’ faces less realistic. An AT-ACT Walker was released but was too pricey, meaning it’s likely Hasbro decided not to make any similar toys. Also, ‘The Force Awakens’, released in 2015, was the first Star Wars film in a decade, resulting in a lot of excitement and a lot of purchases, a purchase rate that certainly could not be maintained.

It adds that the character design for ‘The Last Jedi’ vs ‘The Force Awakens’ sees the core group of characters wearing basically the same outfits, so there's not really any impetus to purchase a toy from the new film that looks the same as the one from the last film. The new ships and vehicles are also arguably too big to sell as figure toys (think of the Dreadnought and the Finaliser).

Another interesting problem is the spoiler issue. Disney is simply afraid of our spoiler-culture (I mean, we seriously can’t even wait for the next season of ‘Game of Thrones’ without someone leaking the script), which means toy designers have very little to work with ahead of a film’s release if the toy's design may reveal a potential plot point. Basically, it resulted in Finn being marketed as the lead for ‘The Force Awakens’, and no toys of Snoke or Luke Skywalker were available before the plot was common knowledge.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that movie-tie-in toys were suffering across the board. Consumers are possibly just tired of all the memorabilia that can be had. Called it movie-tie-in-fatigue. Think of all the massive franchises currently in the mix: The Avengers, Justice League, at least two major Disney animations a year… and the list goes on. After all, we can’t all afford to purchase every single item from all our favourite fandoms. Bloomberg even says a problem may be that children are tuning in to YouTube, Netflix, and even social media for their entertaining fixes instead of actually playing with figures. Even movie attendance has dropped.

I would personally just like to add though: the toys are for children, first of all, so they aren’t going to match impossible collectors’ standards; the toys may be cheap to make them more accessible - not every child gets a lovely allowance, and if they do, they’re likely spending most of it on data; and, some people will never be happy.

The. End.

{Lead image credit: Facebook/StarWarsMovies}

April 15, 2018

Movies || My Favourite Disney Villains

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Walt Disney movies are in my blood. Well, really animated films are, because I only became familiar with Disney when I was six and it was anime films like Nausicaa (my favourite anime EVER - if you haven't seen it, you simply MUST!) and series like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, My Little Pony, Brave Starr, and even The Smurfs that were my bread and butter. One of the things I love about animation is that they have the most inventive villains; villians you can hate, villains you empathise with, and villains you can just laugh at. I will stick to Disney films for this piece, because a) let's face it, Disney is a monster, and b) they have created my favourite villains of all time.

"Now, my dear, you're going to find the big shiny, diamond for your Auntie Medusa, aren't you?"
Posted by The Rescuers on Thursday, December 10, 2015

1. Madame Medusa

The Rescuers' title song always makes me cry. I knew because of this film that I was lucky to have a family, that I would never be as lost and alone as poor Penny. And the film also has a truly memorable villain: Medusa.

She is based on The Diamond Duchess from Margery Sharp's novel Miss Bianca, but the character design was also inspired by Cruella de Vil, from 101 Dalmations. The original idea was that Cruella de Vil would come to Devil's Bayou for some reason, but the plan was scrapped and Medusa came to life, some initial sketches showing her with alligator skins like Cruella. She and Cruella have a lot in common, including vanity and anger, but Medusa was made unique with her sagging breasts, extravagant makeup, and pet alligators.

Why she is a favourite: She is truly cruel. My little five-year-old heart couldn't imagine being treated as badly as Penny: told no one would want me, thrown into a watery cave, have my favourite teddy bear (my only friend) held for ransom, and having to depend on wild creatures for my salvation instead of the authorities who I had once had faith in. Heartbreaking stuff.

Interesting fact: She has a similar facial structure to Ursula. Which leads me nicely to -->

Feeling Friday fabulous.
Posted by The Little Mermaid on Friday, May 20, 2016

2. Ursula

I think Ursula from The Little Mermaid may be at the top of everyone's list of Disney villains. She is frightening and creepy, half octopus and half witch, squeezing the blood out of poor sea creatures for her lipstick and turning mermaids into seaweed. She also has a theatrical demeanour, making her utterly charming, and if it weren't  As a villain, she is manipulative of necessity, but she cheated when she used Ariel's voice to enchant Eric. She is vain and power hungry but also so smart that she knows exactly what her victims want, how to get it for them, and how to take it away.

Why she is a favourite: I really liked her songs :) I'm a simple gal. Her theatrical demeanour makes her so charming, and if it for those asides to Flotsam and Jetsam during Poor Unfortunate Souls, we may have believed she was truly interested in helping Ariel.

Interesting fact: She only has six tentacles. Although add her arms and she would have eight limbs...

Watch this exclusive Robin Hood clip featuring a deleted storyline: http://di.sn/dHM
Posted by Robin Hood on Tuesday, August 6, 2013

3. Prince John

Robin Hood is not one of my favourite Disney films for nothing: Prince John is hilarious, and Peter Ustinov was the perfect choice for his voice. Like all Disney villains, he is vain, but he is also self-indulgent, doing whatever makes him happy, even sucking his thumb when he thinks of his mother. His immaturity is a wonderful character flaw and I can't think of another villain who pulls it off so well, making it tragically funny.

Why he is a favourite: He is unforgettable. I think of him and immediately think of the scene where Robin Hood is pulling a money bag away from Prince John as he tries to keep his thumb in his mouth, or his wriggling toes teasing Hiss, or wrapping Hiss around a pole. He's just the funniest, meanest villain.

Interesting fact: In the early stages of character design, there was a plan to make Prince John a tiger, which was scrapped because obviously a tiger couldn't be a brother to King Richard the lion. Some say this may explain his lack of mane.

“These are NOT Joanna eggs!” -McLeach
Posted by The Rescuers Down Under on Thursday, August 23, 2012

4. McLeach

McLeach, from The Rescuers Downunder is an absolutely horrible person, there is no doubt about it. He poaches animals for a living, selling them or their hides on the black market. He is cunning and manipulative, and even sadistic and abusive. I think he even suggests he may have had something to do with Cody's father's disappearance. I think he may be Disney's most evil character. Well, I am biased when I say that: I've always been interested in nature conservation, so seeing someone disrespect wildlife and plan to kill of an entire species for monetary gain always sickened me.

Why he is a favourite: He is truly hateful. Those are the best villains. The ones you can really hate.

Interesting fact: His full name is Percival C. McLeach.

"Uh, guys...Olympus would be that way."
Posted by Hercules on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

5. Hades

Voiced by James Woods, Hades is the best thing about Hercules. The actor jumps at every chance to play Hades, and he actually changed how the character is portrayed in the film after the filmmakers saw his audition: Hades was meant to be a threatening villain, but Woods' rendition changed their minds and he turned into this sort of salesperson that is excellent at manipulating people.



Why he is a favourite: He's a real personality. I also feel as though you can empathise with him to some degree, more so than any of the other villains on my list. He just wants absolute power, to be appreciated like his brother. What sibling doesn't want that? Sure, he goes about it the wrong way, I mean he is the villain after all, but through it all he never gives up and takes the positive out of any situation.

When your boss asks you to work over the weekend:
Posted by The Emperor's New Groove on Friday, March 16, 2018

6. Ysma

Now Ysma is a rare jewel. She is villainous because she covets Kuzco's throne, because when she does sit on it she doesn't really care about the subjects who come for assistance, and because she tries to poison the Emperor (who is accidentally turned into a Llama). But she is in a strange position in relation to Kuzco because he is just like her: vain, uncaring, selfish. Her villainy in fact aids in Kuzco's personal growth. She never truly does anything evil, and often offers more of a position of comic relief as she clearly has no understanding of how to deal with people.

Why she is a favourite: I am a bit biased, I'll admit, because The Emperor's New Groove is (also) one of my favourite Disney films, and I just love how off-the-wall everything about it is. From Kuzco's narration of his life and the squirrel popping a balloon in a den of jaguars to Kronk's squirrel language skills and jumping rope while Pacha's wife is picking up a cup, it is so ridiculous and so memorable. I cannot help but love her. And Yzma's interaction with her minion is just hilarious.



Who are you favourite Disney villains? I'd love for you to let me know in the comments!

{Lead image sources: Facebook/DisneyTheRescuers; Facebook/DisneyTheRescuersDownUnder; Facebook/DisneyTheLittleMermaid; Facebook/DisneyHercules; Facebook/DisneyRobinHood; Facebook/EmperorsNewGroove}

April 11, 2018

DIY || Make a Quilt from Your Baby's Old Clothing

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What to do with all those baby clothes? Well, you could give it away to a worthy cause, or you could turn it into something of a talking point!

I used some of my favourite of Emma's old baby clothing and turned them into (hopefully) an heirloom piece.


What you need:

Iron-on interfacing
Baby clothes
Ruler and scissors
Iron
Backing fabric to fit the finished quilt

How to do it:

First off, you'll have to come up with a layout for the quilt, so that you have the correct measurements.

Mine looked a little like this:

quilt-layout

So let's begin!

cut-up-baby-clothing

Cut the baby clothing up into squares and strips according to your layout. Make sure to coordinate colours.
iron-interfacing

Iron interfacing onto the back of every square.

baby-name-on-square

If you'd like to make a square with the baby's name on it, print out the letters in a font that you like. Cut them out from paper and use them to cut the letters out of fabric.

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Applique them onto the square. If you like, you could iron interfacing on before cutting the letters out to keep them stable on the quilt.

Sew all the squares together one at a time, ensuring that you iron the seams open with every square.
If you have motifs from some of the clothing, applique or straight stitch them on to blank squares.

Lay the quilt onto a flat surface and cut the backing fabric to fit. Place the pieces together front sides facing and pin them together, sewing all the way around but leaving a 20cm section open so you can turn the quilt inside out.

Once you have the quilt right sides out, lay it on a flat surface again and pin all four sides of every square to the backing fabric. Top stitch around the edges to keep the quilt in place.

giraffe-baby-quilt-square

If you have any motifs that you'd like to save as well, you can straight stitch around them on the plain squares.

Top stitch all the way around the quilt.

And you're done!

This is the full quilt:

completed-baby-quilt-from-old-clothing

I'd love to see your end-result! Please share it with me in the comments below!

March 31, 2018

Children's Theatre Review || Disney's Alice in Wonderland Jr. at Peoples Theatre

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I've loved theatre ever since studying it as an undergrad and while I unfortunately don't get many opportunities to attend shows that deal with more adult themes, family-friendly shows are, in a way, more fun. We've attended the Peoples Theatre's shows three times now, including the show today, and it's truly mesmerising how the actors devotion and passion for their work shows through, and how immersed the children (well, some of them, at least) become at the display and music on stage.

The shows are always well-presented with impassioned performances by all the actors, and especially lovely is the addition of children as main characters. The stories are simple and dotted with slapstick that is always greeted by laughter from the young audience members, while they are sometimes quite interactive. The props and costumes are bright and fun, and the backgrounds and story implementation on the stage is entertaining and original.

alice-in-wonderland-jr-cheshire-cat-caterpillar

Alice in Wonderland Jr was certainly all this, bar perhaps one thing. The props and scenery were amazing, and the stage centrepiece was a Tim Burtonesque twisted tree with bright colours and rose vines trailing up the walls. There was a giant mushroom pillow for the caterpillar, giant teapots and tea cups for the Unbirthday Party, and flamingo mallets during the croquet event. Excellent use was made of a transparent curtain and projector: As Alice fell down the rabbit hole, a spinning image conveyed the idea of falling, and the door Alice cannot get through was projected onto the curtain and changed size to show that Alice was shrinking and growing. I was personally most excited by the giant biscuit dangling from the ceiling!

alice-in-wonderland-jr-march-hare-mad-hatter

The acting was on-point, with some actors taking on several roles and excelling at them all with the help of stunning costumes. The casting for Alice was perfect, and the little Ace card/Dormouse was absolutely adorable. My favourite sequence must be the Unbirthday Party, with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter quite hilarious. The show stars seasoned actors Luciano Zuppa, Roberto Queiroz, Alida Senekal, Marvin Molepo, and Thokozani Jiyane.

But for me the world of Wonderland was overtaken by music numbers that, while entertaining, didn't really match with the subject of the current scene. There is also not as much dialogue, with the exception of the Unbirthday Party and trial scenes and I felt there was a great dependence on the song to recover from a loose and sometimes strange storyline, a scene with Duchess Pepper and her pig child serving as an example. This is not to say that the show wasn't thorougly enjoyable, just that afterwards I was sort of left with the feeling that I didn't really know what was going on. I suppose it got the premise of being lost in Wonderland perfectly!

alice-in-wonderland-jr-tweedledum-tweedledee

Regardless of my criticism, it certainly makes for a fun morning or afternoon out, offering something different for your children other than run-of-the-mill movies and it sure beats sitting at home watching the cricket. Tickets can be purchased from Webtickets at R142 per person, but if your child belongs to the Kidz Club, you can get a discount by booking directly with the theatre. There are morning and afternoon shows and Alice in Wonderland Jr runs until 29 April 2018.

{Image sources: Facebook/PeoplesTheatre)

February 20, 2018

Book Review || The Spiritual Tourist by Mick Brown

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spiritual-tourist-mick-brown-cover
I took Mick Brown's 'The Spiritual Tourist' out of the library hoping for a sort of introduction to the Asian spirituality with which the Western world has been obsessed with. I have always considered myself a spiritual person, always planning to meditate and do more Yoga but I never seem to get around to it, lacking the motivation that such practices are purported to inspire in those who are regular practitioners.

After last January's trip to the Nanhua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit for its Chinese New Year festival, I was awed by the level of reverence in the quiet spaces of the temple. At the reception, you were welcomed with a stick of incense, which you could take to the altar of 1000 Buddhas and deposit in a massive holder with your own short prayer or devotion. But I found myself unsure of what to ask for and what to say thank you for. Which is not a very good situation to be in.

So I perused the shelves of the library for something to lead me and, while I'm not sure 'The Spiritual Tourist' was the appropriate selection, it ended up in my book bag heading for home. The autobiography was first published almost a decade ago, so it is a little outdated, particularly since some of the spiritual icons he managed to meet or attempted to visit have passed on, including Share International's Benjamin Creme and Sathya Sai Baba, and the Western reincarnation of revered Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Osel, rejected his destiny to become a filmmaker instead. But Brown's journey is a reflection of all of those who yearn for there to be something more than the day to day drudgery of faith - something that reaches within us and consoles us in our humanity, fragility, mortality.

Brown's journey begins in London where he suddenly, and perhaps coincidentally, seems set upon by Sathya Sai Baba - he notices portraits of the guru everywhere he goes. The final straw is when he receives a letter from a friend of his with a portrait of Baba inside, but when he tries to find the photograph again, he cannot. He jumps on a plane and heads for Puttaparthi in India, setting off his travels around the world to meet as many gurus and lamas and reincarnations as he can. Lucky him, I say. Not many can meet the people to whom they look for guidance. While he doesn't actually meet Baba, he does meet Lama Osel (still as a young boy) and Mother Meera, the 14th Dalai Lama, and an assortment of people who are more familiar with the search than he is and who possibly give him the most answers. The book is filled with the history of religions and spiritual groups such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and theosophy, so in this way it is helpful to set the different movements apart for those looking for something in particular.

sathya-sai-baba-ashram
Flickr/Alina Sofia [CC by 2.0]
For whomever Brown met who was familiar with his chosen spirituality, the answers about what our purpose was and how we could transcend the mortal coil were all the same, across all of them: Love of your fellow man, Service to your fellow man, Acceptance of your Own Divinity. A bit tough for many of us to see through as we watch the news, say goodbye to rainforests and animals, and become overrun by the very Western angst.

But what struck me the most in reading this book is the disappointing influence of the West, capitalism, and even the entire touristy experience described. For the latter, the thousands of people who descended on Sai Baba's temple in a single day, placed in lines, praying for the mere acknowledgement of Baba, being disappointed with only a few minutes of just his presence before he leaves, and then seeing the squalor of the local people who live just outside his door, who either beg for help or try to sell trinkets bearing Sai Baba's face - it feels so hollow just reading it. Perhaps it's a different experience being there. But perhaps not:
'In bars and hotel rooms across India you could see the Western ideal being transmitted on Star television, with its shoddy American and Australian soap-operas and glib Hollywood fantasies, its endless cycle of commercials for the products of the global supermarket which few in India could afford, but more nd more now dream of ... with a strident message: 'Your Right to Choose', educating this new, entranced audience in the role of advertising as the lubrican of a consumer society. To the sophisticated eye it had all the crudeness of propaganda. In a Madras newspaper I read an evalutaiton by a government psychiatrist predicting that india would soon be suffering the same incidence of mental illness as the West. The shelves of American self-help books in Madras's largest bookshop, offering advice on maximising the power of positive thinking and contacting your inner-child, suggest the problem was bringing its own 'cure'.
It is a good thing that books like 'The Spiritual Tourist' exist. They give an insight into the world and the thing we seek much more than we could have received and they show us that all the knowledge in the world is at our fingertips, and, possibly, even within ourselves.

February 14, 2018

Popular Culture || What Did I Think of Girls (All Six Seasons)?

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girls-six-seasons-review-utb
I spent last week binge-watching the entire oeuvre of Lena Dunham's Girls. The series has been highly-acclaimed by critics, being rated 89% on Rotten Tomatoes and 87% on Metacritic as of writing. I am glad I waited for the series to finish up before watching it and while the show has some interesting aspects, I'm happy I didn't waste too much time worrying over it for the last six years, because I can't believe it went on for as long as it did.

If you haven't seen it yet, it's about Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa, four late-millennial friends who live in New York with the hopes of reaching their dreams. The problem is that none of them really know what it is they truly want to do or who they want to do it with. Hannah is the lead of the show. She wants to be a writer but can do nothing but talk about it, and uses every opportunity to show others that she is smarter than they are. She is also perpetually changing her mind. Marnie is Hannah's best friend, a perfectionist who seems self-assured but is just as insecure. Jessa spends the entire series telling everyone what they should be doing with their lives while she is the epitome of insecurity and the first to run away from unhappiness. Shoshanna starts out as an innocent in the games that the three other women play with each other and possibly ends up being the most centred and focused of them all by the end.

I wouldn't say I enjoyed the series as much as I wanted to know how it ends (it's the sadist in me). The humour is questionable, depending all too much on stereotypical representations and situations and lewdness to drive the comedy. The tone was also off for me: when an episode attempted to be lighthearted, it was overridden by the selfishness of the characters and the mysterious feeling that a parody of a situation was being made to look serious.

hbo-girls-lead-characters
I like the way the series touched on sensitive issues in ways that either revealed both sides of the argument or opened up raw wounds on sensitive subjects, such as alcoholism, consent, race relations, mental illness, and abortion. This is one of the main reasons the show isn't too popular among viewers: it aims to trigger, on everything. But what is popular culture for if not to make us question the status quo, the current politics of the world, bigotry and prejudice, and political issues that often simply simmer below the surface?

One of my biggest complaints is the tired characterisation of the girls and many of the characters around them. Perhaps it is because something similar was done with Sex and the City, making Girls appear to attempt to be the voice of its generation. The character arcs are so slow: throughout the six years, Shoshanna is the only woman who becomes successful and confident, and the only one to recognise the toxic relationships her friends represent. Hannah's growth spurt only happens near the end of the series finale, where it seems all she needed to do was see a self-entitled teenager act like she did to realise she has been immature for all six seasons. While Marnie had the greatest potential for growth, she began and ended the story in her codependent relationship with Hannah, and only realises in the last five minutes that she needs to find herself. The only way I see Jessa having any growth was maybe not running away from Adam when he proposed to help Hannah raise her child.

If you think about it, we may think the show is about these women but it really is about relationships, their quality, and also how important communication - both conveying and accepting it - is in maintaining them. All the relationships break down because of the fear that honesty will cause them to collapse. Everyone on the outside of these relationships is happy to point out the girls' flaws and be honest with them in the hopes that they will improve. We are made to believe these people - Ray, Adam, Elijah, Hannah's parents - are being unfairly judgmental, but they have an honesty the girls' relationships lack. The women turn a blind eye to their own flaws and instead focus on each others' weaknesses.

HBO-Girls-Adam-ShoshannaI really struggled to like Marnie, Hannah, or Jessa: they were all pull-my-hair-out annoying and I honestly can't see myself being friends with any of them. The amount of time they spend talking to each other about their own feelings is only eclipsed by the amount of times no one is actually listening to what is being said. Shoshanna is really an outcast in the group, serving as a soundboard for all the other girls' feelings towards one another. The saving grace is, however, how well the characters are performed. Regardless of whether I like them or not, I think the point is that the viewers are supposed to be made uncomfortable; we are not supposed to like these women because they are real and they reflect our own flaws as we watch the show.

Throughout the series, we are forced to take a hard look at how women are judged and judge each other, often unfairly, often harshly, and often behind each others' backs. I recently overheard a man say a male colleague had to rein in his indulgence in 'female' gossip, and while this may be a stereotype it is one I've seen played out in office and social situations myself. In fact, it is interesting that I disliked the characters and it possibly reveals my own psychology as a woman doing battle with other women, since we are practically bred to be compete with each other for men, happiness, success, even motherhood. This also seems to be a favourite theme for Dunham, since her next venture into television, Camping, is also about 'woman on woman' crime. This 'mean girls' psychology often sees women separate themselves into social groups, themselves arranged in a hierarchy, and in order to 'fit into' the group, it is necessary to change who you are or be a pariah. It is part of our innate psychology as humans to need to belong and be accepted. Throughout the series the four friends in Girls seem to be breaking away from the social group they created but do so by systematically alienating themselves and each other from every member of the group. The dysfunctional manner in which these women leave their relationships is quite true to reality, because growing up and letting go is never cut and dry.


I cried during the episode in the final season where Hannah rejects Adam's help to raise her baby. It was spot on in reflecting that strange feeling you have when you realise you simply have to let go of the past and move on, much like the entire season. While Adam and Hannah resonated on a sexual and intellectual level, and the potential for happiness was always there, I think the pair realised they had both grown beyond each other, that it wouldn't be enough in the long run. It was heartbreaking. And that's how the end to a relationship always is. I take this episode to have been the true farewell to the series, because Girls realised it was time to say goodbye.

While I thought Hannah's growth being spurred by motherhood a tired idea, it made sense, as the overall point is not that Hannah, and by implication all her friends, have grown but that they are still growing, like her baby in her arms. The entire series looked at how these women grew apart and attempted to deal with their identity issues, failing dismally, even after six years. But the truth is that many people never know what it is that will make them happy. The final season is possibly the best overall, because we get to see the women without the negative influence they have on each other. The series did not end in a particularly memorable way, but it does end with the feeling that personal growth and success is not something you can ever put a finger on, and sometimes all it takes for you to be happy for the time being is to latch on to something worthwhile.

Have you watched Girls? I would love to know what you thought of it!

{Images: Facebook/GirlsHBO}

January 17, 2018

Book Review || Colour by Victoria Finlay

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Victoria Finlay managed to alternately fascinate me and plunge me into fits of jealousy with her epic journey into the world of paint and art with 'Colour'. Travelling around the world in search of ancient pigments and dyes, Finlay's book is filled with charming anecdotes, wild and tame countrysides, and odd ingredients, all mixed together with a healthy touch of history, both art and otherwise.

As someone who has often dabbled in the arts, this novel has brought a deeper meaning to the colours that I dip my paintbrushes into. Each one comes with a rich history that is connected to culture more than many would like to admit. 

From the sanctity of the Aborigines' ochre and the possible tone of green that may have caused the death of Napoleon Bonaparte to the mystery of the dye used for the corners of Jewish shawls, the purple tint that Cleopatra surrounded Julius Caesar with to impress him, and the scarlet that requires thousands of little bugs to be squashed, the rich history behind mankind's urge to make his mark is one of the most interesting journeys I have made.

There is so much knowledge in this novel that it would certainly be referenced many times, if not for historical facts but also for amusing stories about colours that will stay with you long after turned the final page.

For instance, did you know that prehistoric cave paintings remained so well preserved simply because they had not been discovered yet? The breath of visitors coming to view such paintings disturbs the humidity and airflow, causing the paintings to degrade. Or how about graphite once being used to oil the inside of cannons? At one stage it was a well-guarded resource. Or what about the American Puritans' clothing being blackened by logwood collected by retired pirates? Or cochineal, little white bugs, once forming the source of the most sought-after red dye and nowadays used to colour ham? Or the mystery of Stradivarius' orange varnish for Il Cremonese (a violin called 'The Tiger') and other violins? Or the fact that in ancient times many dyes were set using human urine, and dyers were isolated from the village because they collected it? Or the crocus flower's temporal existence resulting in a red spice that creates a yellow dye? Or Robin Hood and his Merry Men (if they were real) having worn Gaudy Green, a dye that was very expensive and thus served to taunt the authorities? Or Afghanistan's blue mountains that exported lapis lazuli across the world? Or the fact that Gandhi's first peaceful protest was in support of the Bengals protesting against being forced to grow indigo by their British overlords? 

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Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665) by Johannes Vermeer
 is painted with ultramarine, a natural pigment made from lapis lazuli.
The book is filled with such information, but Finlay also has a talent for creating visions in your mind's eye. One of my favourite descriptions of hers is below:
As we wallked, I imagined where the rock from each section [of a lapis lazuli mine in Afghanistan] might have found its ultimate resting place. The first 20 metres would have given the stones to Egyptian tombs; a little later was where the Bamiyan Buddhas got their haloes. Early on in the blackened section was a little side passage, the contents of which may have gone to Armenia for twelfth-century illuminated Bibles. A few steps later was where Titian may have got his sky from, and where Michelangelo didn't get his robe; farther on was Hogarth's blue, and Rubens' and Poussin's: a whole art history in one little pathway. [343]
The novel ends on a nostalgic note after Finlay visits Pantone, the company responsible for standardising colour.
...I felt glad that I had made my paintbox jouneys when I could still explore worlds of approximation and poetry, before the colours began to lose their words. [437]
I am equally glad, although somewhat jealous at what she managed to experience on her search. Without this book, I wouldn't think twice about the shade of colour I reach for in the art shop. Now the plainest of colours - like Midnight Blue, which used to be called Prussian Blue in crayon boxes - will always have a deeper meaning for me as I include them in my artwork.

January 9, 2018

#GoldenGlobes, #TimesUp So Hollow!

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Golden Globes Awards reporting has filled all our timelines and feeds, not only because of Oprah Winfrey's rousing oration against a system that preys upon those with lesser power when accepting her 2018 Cecil B. de Mille Award but also because so many women dressed in black for the evening in protest of what they and their fellow women have been through in Hollywood's misogynistic and sexist world. But their protest rings hollow for me. I'll tell you why.

I understand that an event like the Golden Globes reaches a massive amount of people as a result of its standing in popular culture. And so it would seem that making a political comment at such an entertaining ceremony would make an impression. The idea is that since the event reaches people, any activism and the reason for it would reach people, too. But my question here is how many people actually get to see this deeply into the Globes? Viewership of the ceremony this year was, after all, down 5% on 2017. How many people understand what's going on in terms of politics and activism at such an event? How many people will have seen only watered-down versions focusing on who won, or on what the stars were wearing? How many people really have access to everything the #TimesUp anti-sexual harassment campaign stands for? For the layman watching late-night news, does it mean anything that certain stars arrived with female activists as their plus-ones, or that the majority of women wore black? And if you're only into tabloids and fashion? Cue articles about hairstyle, beauty products, style...
Here are these ultra-rich people, who spend thousands on a single dress and all their accessories and make-up, attending an event that costs possibly millions of dollars, suddenly attempting to regain relevance after the #MeToo movement exposed men they worked with, admired, loved, for sexual misconduct. They've frantically launched a defence fund that will allow women in plainer professions redress if they run into trouble when reporting sexual harassment, which you can also donate to, and had pins with Time's Up printed on them to show solidarity, even though the fashion and beauty competition is certainly still fierce.
Which leads me to my second issue: they are still dressing up pretty and preening and beautifying their faces, setting the very same style and beauty standards by which women are judged throughout the world, inspiring those same ideas about what makes women sexy and beautiful, merely reinforcing stereotypes that women are only good for fashion and lookin' hot.
While the questions posed to female celebrities on the red carpet this year were much deeper than last year's due to the popularity of the  #AskHerMore campaign, which started in 2014, and because of the protest, how many people will really know what happened? Just think about back pages of tabloids and weeklies, where a dress or look is picked out from an event with almost no context.
Even more disappointing was that some men also wore black and 'Time's Up' pins, but were not asked any pertinent questions about the #MeToo campain or the prevailing status quo in Hollywood. They claimed to support it but yet where were their voices?

Perhaps this all comes down to my cynicism when it comes to Hollywood and privileged activism. The women who pulled the black dress move and then wore a 'Time's Up' pin have nothing to loose. They are rich beyond words and are very unlikely to face any violence as a result of their activism, unlike most women who take a stance against sexual harassment or abuse. They are already in places of power as some of the best actresses in the world. Wearing an LBD would not have been a fashion disaster. They are still complicit in this world of $600 gift bags, of sponsored beauty products and dresses, of style stars. It feels a bit disingenuous, even though I know they are not as separated from the normal world as us.Also, how has Hollywood's dark secret remained so for so many years? I certainly don't wish to diminish their personal experiences of harassment, but why was there this culture of silence? How did some people never hear rumours? Never see things happening?

But I suppose that is the nature of the beast: power begets fear begets silence. Well, I suppose at least their fund intends making it safer for women to speak out now...
My first reaction to seeing the actresses protesting on the red carpet in their expensive dresses was that they would have made more of an impression by not pitching up at all, but then boycotting the event would simply exclude them from the arena. Also, since the gist of my argument is that their complicity in the ongoing system and its beauty standards is problematic, perhaps they should all have made a statement by wearing the aprons and house dresses and blue overalls of those underprivileged workers they purport to wish to defend.

Forgive me for being cynical.

UPDATES:
12/01/2018: Seal has claimed that Oprah Winfrey was aware of Harvey Weinstein's abuses. Sure, she heard the rumours but didn't believe they were true.

January 3, 2018

Happy New Year! Resolve to Heal Your Soul This Year!

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2018 has arrived! Heal your soul with my free printable 'Resolutions for Your Soul'!

Now that the party is over, and 2018 has officially begun, it is time to set those New Year's resolutions that are meant to guide your growth and success. In the past I have set resolutions that were all too specific, such as lose weight or finish all my unfinished projects. For the last few years I haven't set any resolutions as I never actually reach them, finding myself improving in ways I had not thought of.

So for this year, don't set resolutions that are most likely to be unsuccessful; set resolutions that focus on your mental, spiritual, and physical health in everyday ways. Improving yourself with these resolutions do take time, so I suggest writing a note or journal entry about how you're feeling today, work on your resolutions in small ways, and then take a look at your entry at the end of the year. I guarantee that, if you have been trying to improve yourself in little bits, your entire outlook will have changed.

Download the printable below by clicking on the image.

{Fonts used in printable: Yantiq by RainkarnichiCabin in the Woods by Mia Hague}


So here's to 2018 and a happier you!

Are you setting any resolutions this year? Let me know in the comments!

December 23, 2017

Movie Review || Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a visual feast. From the opening scenes of gigantic spaceship battles to the final red-as-blood-spattered salt plains of Crait, Star Wars has turned into a full-scale, awe-inspiring digital production that certainly does justice to George Lucas' original vision for the film series. I liked the movie, but believe there was really too much going on for the film to have been entirely effective. It has made this fan (mostly) happy.

I have to agree with Huffington Post reviewer Matthew Jacobs when he called the film 'bloated' and trying to do too much in a small space of time. There were too many focal points; too many ineffective new additions; too many characters but only a few developing; too many motives; and sometimes the humour seemed strained and forced.

The rest of my review below is full of SPOILERS, so if you don't want to have the film SPOILED before you see it, you had better leave - STAT!

At first, I believed the writing wouldn't satisfy hardcore fans, feeling there's something missing, some purpose, along with a plot flow. Taken at face value, overthrowing the First Order is too large a context to be the purpose of the film, since we don't know what is at stake. Without knowing how the First Order is bad, aside from being ruled by a Sith Lord, we cannot invest in the rebellion as we could in the first trilogy, or in The Force Awakens.

One of this film's drawbacks is its dependence on what we know of the Empire. What is the First Order's endgame? What is the Resistance's? Rey doesn't know why she was sent to find Luke, aside from the Resistance looking for him and her own needs. Furthermore, what exactly is the Resistance fighting for, aside from their lives? There is a lack of overall purpose and the steps heading toward the endgame overlap and intertwine, and it feels like ants whose pathway has been destroyed.

However, I finally realised there is a purpose and R2-D2 replaying Leia's original call for help in the film points to it: the spark of a new hope. It is the need for hope to be resurrected and sustained that holds all the Star Wars movies together, and is indeed the essence of this film, particularly with regards to Luke and his own redemption.

Hope is an abstract concept though and does not make the film better on the surface as you are watching it; I suppose it is the same for all good films: they improve with retrospection.
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Luke Skywalker watching the remains of a Temple burn
I wish there was a better focus in this film. Perhaps on Rey, Kylo Ren, and Luke to learn more about their pasts, or even a focus on the Resistance so we could learn more about the background of the First Order and how it came about. I mean, where did Snoke come from? How did the First Order come about after the destruction of the Empire? Filmmakers should not depend on book-based or even series-based canon to fill moviegoers in and I really enjoyed The Force Awakens because the story flowed well and made sense without dipping into canon. I think its use of A New Hope helped it along as there was a basis for how a successful story should flow. In addtion, the First Order killed an entire village of people for a USB stick and stole children to train them as Stormtroopers, so we knew why they had to be defeated. We were introduced to new characters but they were growing together. They had one quest.

The Last Jedi's story development is not based on any of its predecessors, and it crammed as much story into it as possible. We have a bunch of new characters building new relationships with old characters who are attempting multiple quests at the same time, and only some characters develop and grow. I think the separate stories would have been more effective in two films. There could have been more time to learn about the First Order, about Luke's journey after Return of the Jedi, Rey could have been trained for a longer time, the search for the codebreaker wouldn't have felt so rushed, we could have seen more of Captain Phasma and perhaps even Finn's history... But there again, I have no idea how the story will progress into the third film of the trilogy and maybe the story will be smoothed out later.
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Kyle Ren preparing for battle
It was intriguing to me that on one hand it appeared that the Force was simply something people used but on the other, it also worked of its own volition, calling to Rey on the island, for example. Is it too much of a stretch to believe that it has a plan? Snoke's admission that it was he who connected Rey and Ren was disappointing because I want Ren to be good in a way I never wanted Darth Vader to be good - for that I just wanted Luke to be right, to redeem his father. Maybe it's Adam Driver's sincerity, or maybe it's because he was unmasked in The Force Awakens - he's been humanised, for me and for Rey, which allows her to invest in him and move the story forward.

What I'm going to say next is controversial, because it agrees with director Rian Johnson's seeming attempt to leave the past behind. I kind of wish there was a last Jedi and the Dark and Light fought no more. This would be following the original prophesy of balance that Qui Gon Jinn believed in. When Luke begins to train Rey he calls the force the balance between everything, but with constant battles between the Sith and the Jedi, there will be no balance. That's why I was so excited (and for other obvious reasons) in the scene where Rey and Kylo Ren are fighting together - the Dark Side fighting alongside the Light Side. Perhaps this is the plan for the last part of the trilogy, because Kylo Ren is still in conflict about which side he's on, and perhaps the pair will eventually foster the Grey Jedi. Despite Snoke claiming he had connected them, they still shared this connection at the end of the film, with Snoke dead. Does this mean the Force has a greater plan after all? Does it also desire balance?

But this kind of balance would destroy conflict, and where would Disney make its money then? Furthermore, I have to admit the plot of Rebels, Resistance versus Empire, First Order is getting a bit tired.
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Luke Skywalker after Rey hands him his light saber
I enjoyed Mark Hamill's performance: he is clearly not the Luke Skywalker I knew, nor Hamill's. He has lost hope. He is a man simply waiting to die. It's his regret and failure in creating Kylo Ren that sent him into exile, as it was Yoda's failure to defeat Emperor Palpatine that sent him to Dagobah. I am glad he faced up to his failure and redeemed himself by accepting his failure and facing Ren before he joined the Force but I can't help but feel there should have been more to his story. Luke Skywalker deserved more than 20 minutes of sulking and a five-minute, though thrilling, battle with Kylo Ren. Also, I can't reconcile Luke's overall mood of defeat with the fact that The Force Awakens was focused on finding a map that led to him. Why leave a map if he truly wished to die alone? Maybe there was a change in the ultimate plan for him with the change in directorial vision.

At the end of the film, there is a scene where children are playing with an action figure of Luke Skywalker, and this does him some justice as a legend and inspiration who has sparked a new hope and imagination in what the world could be without the First Order, albeit whose purpose is elusive to me (much like Darth Maul was to the Jedi).
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Rose and Finn
The film has earned accolades for its inclusion. There are noticeably more women, both in leadership positions and at the sidelines, and people of colour. I have to say it felt weird to see so many women in the film - I'm so used to seeing men everywhere I look in the Star Wars universe. Sometimes the placements seemed a bit forced, though, or perhaps that's just my programming. Many of the story arcs involve women showing up men in positions of knowledge, skill, and capability. Take: Poe, who is not only sidelined by Admiral Holdo and stunned by Leia for mutiny, but also forced to reconsider his original perception of a female leader; Finn, who talks over Rose at one moment only to have her force her way back into the conversation as the expert; and even Kylo Ren, as his offer to allow Rey to rule the galaxy by his side is rejected.

But...considering this is a film set in a galaxy, where are all the freakin' aliens!
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Rey before meeting the Force
Many fans are disappointed that there is nothing special about Rey's parentage. In a galaxy that has been filled with Skywalkers destined for greatness, Rey's humble roots are a let-down. But I didn't mind this plot change. This is exactly what makes Rey special. You don't have to have a legacy to change the world. You can rule your own destiny and Rey has no one to determine her future but herself. Besides, who's to say she does not have a destiny separate to that of the Skywalkers or the Kenobis or anyone from the past? Maybe the Force has a plan after all. Or maybe Kylo Ren was just lying.

So what were my favourite parts of The Last Jedi? Well, Leia using the Force to escape death in space was pretty darn awesome. It's a pity this may be the only and last time we'll see her employ her skills with the Force, but it was quite a spectacular way to go and I'm pleased Carrie Fisher got to see her character's power. It was especially moving considering Fisher's death earlier this year.

Kylo metaphorically shedding his mask - and his past - was telling, especially as it came so near to the first of Kylo and Rey's one-on-ones. Then their battle against Elite Praetorian Guards after several scenes fraught with tension - seeing the pair fight back to back was incredible.

After that, Luke walking out of a crater of enemy fire completely unharmed, and then his final battle with Kylo Ren - it was wonderful to see Luke so confident and Kylo Ren so irate. I loved the return of puppet Yoda - long live puppetry - and then the salt foxes on Crait were beautiful (I liked them more than the ridiculous Porgs).

Finally, Admiral Holdo sending her carrier through Snoke's ship at light speed: the silence and stop frames were art.
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Crait
Despite my misgivings, I feel overall it was a successful rendering of the Star Wars universe, albeit a breakaway from tradition. It was filled with stunning visuals, entertaining characters, left me and many fans with many questions about the nature of the Force and where the story may be headed, and tipped its hat to the legend of Star Wars while breaking new ground for fans. With regards to the latter, we must remember that The Empire Strikes Back was in the past slated as the worst of the original trilogy, but is now a favourite among many fans. I'm certain that this film will also become more endearing as it is watched over and over again, mysteries are solved, and characters develop further. This is what fans upset with the new direction the film takes are missing: Star Wars at its heart is not really about the Skywalkers or the Kenobis or the Resistance/Rebels or even the Jedi, but about the hope that good will prevail, that the spark of light will never die. After all, it is hope that carries resistance, and it is hope that inspires the boy on Canto Bight, hope that wakes the Force, and hope that imagines a galaxy of infinite possibilities. So, here's hoping that coming Star Wars films will learn from bloat and become slim and streamlined!

Credit for all images: Facebook/StarWarsAfrica

Further Reading:

Alt-Right Group Ruined 'The Last Jedi' Rotten Tomatoes Score Because It Was Too Feminist
Just How Seriously Should We Take This Star Wars: The Last Jedi Backlash?
Of Course There Was A Secret In That Big 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Cameo
Five Things You Probably Missed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10 burning 'Last Jedi' questions we need answered in 'Star Wars: Episode IX'