Old Soldiers

I had a bit of a rude awakening today, when I came across an article on the Guardian news blog about the Warhammer battle game.

This was a game that I used to rather enjoy playing in my youth and it was a bit of a shock when the article pointed out that the game is now 32 years old.  Admittedly it shouldn’t have been too much a shock since I’m well aware that I’m several years older than that and I am mathematically literate.  Somehow, though, the realisation of how long it is since Warhammer came out made me feel somewhat older than reminiscing to the (younger) friends with whom I was watchingsome of the Star Wars movies last weekend about how I saw The Empire Strikes Back when it was first out in the cinema, even though that was several years earlier.

As I recall, my brother got a copy of the first edition Warhammer rules fairly shortly after they first came out (and when, of course, they were not “first edition” but just “Warhammer”) and it wasn’t too long before we had our first battles.  We later got a copy of the 2nd edition, as well as Warhammer 40,000 (the futuristic, sci-fi version, which was my fairly firm favourite), and played these from time to time over the next decade or so.

In fact, we were generally more into roleplaying games (including the Warhammer spin-off, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, which was our main RPG for a while before being supplanted in our affections by Shadowrun and various other games) but it was always nice to be able to have a bit of a tabletop battle for a change, even if we were limited to fairly small armies.  That limitation, incidentally, was more due to our available playing space (growing up in a fairly small terraced house) than the size of our miniature figure collection, which was fairly extensive (and provided an early boost to my interest in painting – though in later years I’ve tended to paint pictures, when I get round to painting at all, rather than figures).

It’s been quite a few years since I’ve played Warhammer, or indeed any other tabletop battle game (I did have a few games of a Napoleonic battle game called Shako with a friend about 10 years ago, and I’ve a vague feeling we may have played a little bit of Warhammer then too) and I don’t particularly have any great desire to go back to it.  I’d be much more interested in getting back into playing real RPGs – I still play occasional CRPGs (i.e. Computer RolePlaying Games) but it’s really not the same.

Nevertheless, Warhammer and other wargames did definitely have an important if not particularly large role in my early life and are a part of that rich tapestry of experiences that make me who I am.

And I’m probably not the only one to ever consider how the real world might be a much nicer place if, when opposing groups had a territorial dispute or some other such cause for conflict, they got together round a large table with a bunch of miniature figures, a bag of dice and a tape measure and settled their differences that way without having to tear up the lives of thousands or millions of real people.


Tipping Point

A few days ago (May the Fourth) was Star Wars Day, as I wrote about a couple of years ago.

Star Wars Day is an annual event. Today, however, sees a once-in-the-lifetime-of-the-universe event… the Star Wars Tipping Point.

This was defined (or at least brought to my attention) in an instalment of the wonderful XKCD webcomic back at the end of January (hopefully still available here) and is the point after which the release of The Phantom Menace (i.e. part one of the Star Wars saga and the first film in the prequel trilogy) is closer to the release of Return of the Jedi (part six and the final film of the original trilogy) than to the present day.

I haven’t actually verified the exact dates (which, I assume, are based on the screenings of the world premieres) but the years certainly seem to fit – RotJ came out in 1983 and tPM in 1999 (respectively 32 and 16 years ago).

Incidentally, Return of the Jedi was the second Star Wars film that I saw during its original run at the cinema and the first one I remember fairly clearly – I was too young to catch Star Wars itself (later retitled A New Hope), as I was only a year or so old when it came out, and I have vague memories of seeing The Empire Strikes Back in the cinema.  By the time of RoTJ I’d seen the first film several times on TV as it used to be a staple of British Christmas television.

Actually, after Return of the Jedi there was quite a long gap (until Judge Dredd came out, apparently in 1995) when I didn’t go to the cinema at all.  I then caught the rerelease of the entire (remastered) original trilogy when they where shown at the cinema in the year or two leading up to the Phantom Menace, and I saw the whole prequel trilogy at the cinema as they came out (mostly within a few days of the local premiere, I think).

When the new trilogy (episodes 7 – 9) come out over the next few years, I fully intend to watch them at the cinema too.  Episode 7 (The Force Awakens) is due out this December, though I may not get a chance to see it until early next year.  I’m not sure when episode 9 is due out, though I’d guess it should be around 2019.  I suppose the next big Star Wars Tipping Point will be when the time between releases of the first and last films (which will be roughly 42 years) is less than the time from the last one to the present moment (i.e. it will be sometime around 2061).

A new word I have

Question: What do Yoda and Gerard Manley-Hopkins have in common?

Answer: The speech of both is characterised by anastrophe.

There’s a fairly good chance that you’re familiar with the Star Wars films and therefore aware that Yoda tends to speak with a non-standard word order (“Help you I can” or “When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not”).  It is less likely that you knew that anastrophe is the technical term for this.

I was first introduced to this term a few weeks ago when my brother, Wulf, was visiting me and happened to mention it in conversation.  Being a fan both of the small, green Jedi Master and of obscure words, I was delighted to learn this word and resolved to slip it into conversation at the first available opportunity.  Unfortunately I forgot it before I had a chance to do so, but Wulf wrote about the word in his blog the other day.

To save me forgetting it again, I decided I would write about it here (with links both to Wulf’s post and the Wikipedia article on the subject, which you’ll find above).

The term “anastrophe” is  a Greek word (ἀναστροφή in its native alphabet) meaning “a turning back or about”.  As a technical term in English (and a number of other languages which have also borrowed it from Greek, with slightly varying transliterations) it refers to deviations from the usual word order of a given language for the sake of emphasis.

The Wikipedia article remarks that Yoda, as a non-native speaker of English (or rather, Galactic Basic, which is represented by English in the Star Wars films) may have been using non-standard word order by mistake rather than on purpose, so his speech may not technically class as anastrophe.  Interestingly though, he does occasionally use standard word order.  Sometimes it seems to be for special emphasis (e.g. “You must not go!” when warning Luke against going to help his friends in Cloud City before completing his Jedi training), which suggests that it could be a kind of inverted anastrophe. At other times there doesn’t seem to be any special emphasis and one is led to suspect that the scriptwriters were just being inconsistent (or, if the weird word order is due to Yoda’s imperfect grasp of Basic and, presumably, the influence of his first language, perhaps it  is intentional that he sometimes gets it right and sometimes wrong; I’m sure my Welsh is a bit like that!).

The other example of an anastrophe user I mentioned was Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th century English poet who, according to Wikipedia, was particularly identified with the use of anastrophe.  He was quite experimental compared to many poets of his time and made several (fairly successful, IMHO) attempts to adapt the Welsh-language poetic techniques of cynghanedd to English verse, which is what especially attracts me to his work.

Here is just one example of a line from Hopkins, taken from The Wreck of the Deutschland (one of his longest and best-known works):

To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.

This line illustrates both anastrophe – in the rearrangement of “they took to the shrouds” – and cynghanedd-like features — the repetition of the “sh” sound and the “took” – “shook” internal rhyme, and possibly also the alliteration of “hurling” and “horrible”.  It certainly works well, at least within the context of the poem.

From a certain point of view…

Yesterday I completed my Star Wars watch-through in honour of Star Wars Day, which I had started on Saturday (the big day itself – “May the Fourth be with you”, in case you hadn’t already got it!).

This was certainly not the first time I’ve watched all six films (more-or-less) back-to-back, but it did lead me to consider once again some of the themes that are present in the unfolding saga and especially the way that the addition of the prequel trilogy puts quite a different spin on things.

Taking the original trilogy on their own, most people would probably say that the films are essentially the story of Luke Skywalker, in his rise from farm boy to Jedi Knight.

However, with the extra 3 films (in which Luke only appears very briefly, and as a baby at that, in the end of the third one) it’s no longer tenable to see the whole story as being fundamentally about Luke.  Instead, many would argue (myself among them), it becomes the story of Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker (AKA Darth Vader – and I hope I haven’t just spoiled the major plot twist for you, although I think that fact is by now pretty much common knowledge amongst pretty much anyone who cares at all about Star Wars so it’s probably safe to mention it).

Once again it charts his rise from lowly origins (as a slave on the same backwater world where Luke was later to grow up) to becoming a Jedi Knight, but then goes on to have him being seduced by the dark side of the force into becoming the evil Emperor’s apprentice (Darth Vader; NB allegedly, George Lucas had no idea that vader was the Dutch word for father when he first named him, although I gather he already had in mind the basic plot of at least the original trilogy, including the revelation that Vader – the chief villain of those films – was the father of Luke – the hero of the same films, so it was a singularly appropriate choice of name) and eventually redeemed through his interaction with his offspring.  Or, to put it more succinctly, the double trilogy (I’m not sure if that makes it a sexology or a hexology, although the first is probably ruled out due to alternative connotations of the word) is basically about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker.

All that is  stuff that I’ve thought for quite a long time about the films – probably more or less since the prequel trilogy came out – and it’s not particularly original thought on my part, since I’m fairly sure I’ve read most of those ideas in various discussions about the films.

However, there was one point while I was watching the films this time round when an idea occurred to me for, I think, the first time.  Again, I’m sure I’m not the first to come up with this, although I don’t recall having read it elsewhere.  It struck me that, during the fight between Anakin and Count Dooku at the start of the third film (Return of the Sith), Anakin is at something of a turning point between his previous career as a Jedi fairly firmly on the side of the light (for some reason, it always seems to be referred to as the good side of the force, rather than the light side) and his turning toward the dark side, although there had been earlier blips and there would be later moments of light before he finally turned completely (as well, of course, as his eventual redemption through sacrificing himself to save Luke from the Emperor at the end of the final film).  I don’t know whether it was intentional on the part of the film makers, or just a consequence of the lightsabers involved, but it seems to me that at the end of the fight, when Anakin has both his own blue lightsaber (one of the traditional colours of the Jedi – representing the good side of the force) and Dooku’s red one (the traditional colour of the Sith – representing the dark side) poised to execute the latter, urged on by the Chancellor (later to become the Emperor) and wrestling with himself over the morality of doing so, the symbolism of the two blades together well represents this moment of balance.

As I said before, if I could have a lightsaber I’d probably choose a purple one.  That too could, I suppose be seen as some kind of balance between the dark and light sides, since purple is a mix of red and blue.  However, I think that would probably be over-analysing it somewhat – really I just think it’s a nice colour. 🙂

Happy Star Wars Day!

Today is Star Wars Day.

If you don’t know why, think about the date for a while (and it may help you to imagine a Jedi with a lisp).  When you get it you will probably groan, but don’t blame me as I didn’t come up with the idea.

If you have no idea what a Jedi is, all I can suggest is that you should try to rectify this gap in your cultural knowledge as soon as possible by watching all the Star Wars films (or at least the original trilogy).

As it happens, that’s also what I’m intending to do over this weekend (though not for the sake of my cultural knowledge but merely because I love the films (with the exception of a few scenes / characters in the prequel trilogy) and haven’t watched them for a while), making full use of the fact that it is a bank holiday weekend.  Unfortunately I’m out this evening and will be busy for much of tomorrow but, even so I hope to get all six films watched by Monday night.

Much as I am looking forward to the promised sequel trilogy, it will make the Star Wars marathon somewhat more challenging (though still probably a bit quicker than watching the extended edition of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy in one go!).

If I could have a lightsaber of my own (which I would dearly love), it would probably be a purple one like Mace Windu’s since that is a particularly cool colour (and probably the best thing about Episode 2).

May the force be with you.


Last Saturday I went to the cinema for the first time this year .  Not only that, but it was also my first time seeing a 3D film.

I gather that technology for making and showing 3D films has existed in some form since about 1915, and I remember the hype surrounding Jaws 3D back in the early 1980s, when they were giving away 3D glasses in packets of Shreddies.  I was too young at the time to go and see the film (in fact, I still haven’t seen any of the Jaws films, although I’ve seen clips from them) but I remember using the glasses to look at the 3D pictures printed on the back of the cereal box and not being terribly impressed by them.  Slightly more recently, I remember a special episode (or two) of Doctor Who made for Children In Need, probably sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, which was shown on TV and also failed to be particularly impressive from a 3D point of view (I don’t recall the script being all that great either – in fact, I can’t remember the storyline at all, except that it was a crossover between Doctor Who and Eastenders and I think it featured several doctors and companions).

In the last few years, 3D films seem to have come into fashion again and these days it seems that most films appearing in the cinemas are available in a 3D version.  However, since I probably only get to the cinema on average about once per year, it’s probably not altogether surprising that I hadn’t seen a 3D film until now.

I went (with a friend) on Saturday intending to watch Cloud Atlas (which I think was showing in 3D) but unfortunately they turned out not to be showing it on Saturday night at our local cinema, so we ended up seeing Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters instead.  There were options to see it in 2D or 3D and since the first available screening was a 3D one we decided to go for that.  It was necessary to spend about £3 on a pair of 3D glasses, but they let you keep them so I’ll be able to take mine along to use for any other 3D films I go to watch.  The actual price of the tickets is the same for 2D or 3D films.

I quite enjoyed the film which, as I expected, was a fairly straight action romp and not incredibly profound in either story or characterisation.  As the name suggests, it’s based on the Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel and imagines that the titular characters grow up to become witch hunters.   The special effects were excellent and the 3D was very effective, especially when projectiles of various kinds appeared to be leaping out of the screen (yes, I did find myself having to resist the impulse to duck on several occasions).  Now that I’ve got my pair of 3D glasses, I’ll certainly be happy to see 3D versions of other films when I get the chance.

Also on a film related note, I found out today that apparently plans are now under way to create a Star Wars sequel trilogy, with Episode VII (as yet unnamed, as far as I can tell) due to appear in 2015.  Over the years there have been many rumours flying about possible sequels and prequels to Star Wars and it seems that the official position has changed several times.  It is reported that George Lucas had categorically stated after (or perhaps before) the prequel trilogy came out that there would be no sequel trilogy but he changed his mind sometime last year, after Lucasfilm was taken over by Walt Disney.  Apparently Lucas himself won’t be directing any of the sequels, although he will presumably at least have a hand in their writing, and the director of Episode VII has now been announced as J. J. Abrams (a director whose work I’m not familiar with, although apparently it includes a couple of recent Star Trek movies).

Given how the prequel trilogy turned out in comparison to the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as the fact that the 6 films together make an excellent (and complete) tale about the rise, fall and redemption of one character (Anakin Skywalker), I have some misgivings about the idea of making a sequel trilogy.  However, I must confess that I am quite excited about the idea and I will certainly be giving the upcoming films the benefit of at least one viewing before I dismiss them. It seems highly likely that, unless there’s a major swing in cinematographic practice in the next couple of years, these will be made as 3D films so it should also give me another opportunity to use my 3D specs.