Trope Tuesday: You Mean Xmas

After a few weeks off, we’re back with another installment of Trope Tuesday, our weekly sojourn into TV Tropes and the lovely literary devices that make our favorite entertainment work. This week, we’re looking at a trope called You Mean Xmas:

Even if the Christmas Special is widely used, a few writers catch on that some stories take place in a setting where certain holidays and celebrations shouldn’t exist in the original sense. So the characters celebrate a holiday that’s (hopefully) just coincidentally similar enough to have the audience roll their eyes.

Despite the eye-rolling, this can be a Justified Trope if the world of the story has solstices and equinoxes like our own, which would be logical times of the year to have a celebration.

Naturally, these episodes are aired around the holiday they’re really trying to depict, and sometimes may receive a name change in order to comment on them without raising the ire of Media Watchdogs.

Two words, folks: Holiday Special.

Trope Tuesday: Off with His Head!

It’s Tuesday. A post-holiday Tuesday, which is the worst kind of Tuesday. How does a bit of a distraction sound? Up this week in our regular trope feature is a look at one called Off with his Head:

If you’re dealing with any sword-oriented media, whether it be fantasy, medieval, kung fu, or something else, and it’s more violent than a PG-13 rating, chances are, someone is going to get his head chopped off (and it may not even need the R rating if you’re dealing with nonhuman enemies). One of the most common methods of execution back in the medieval era next to hanging, decapitation is usually one of the surest ways to ensure someone is Deader than Dead barring some very potent magic or divine intervention.

Any Ridiculously Human Robot or other decidedly inhuman being will probably be capable of surviving decapitation, and will do so at some point either for a joke or as a plot point. In less serious series, the body will even continue to walk around bumping into things.

It is nearly always depicted as being surprisingly easy to do, even in one blow to a moving target. While Anne Boleyn did get beheaded with one stroke, most pre-guillotine beheadings took at least three strokes (plus, Boleyn’s executioner was — by request — a professional swordsman who would know how to cleanly behead someone).

Sword oriented media, you say? Yeah, this trope has definitely happened in the Star Wars universe a few times. Leia executed (pun fully intended) the trope in Fate of the Jedi: Conviction. Shimmra lost his head to Luke Skywalker in the New Jedi Order. Then of course, there was the case of Jango Fett versus Mace Windu. It didn’t end well for Fett.

Trope Tuesday: Grudging Thank You

For those of us in the US, it’s a short week! But that doesn’t mean we’re going to skip over another installment of Trope Tuesday, our weekly sojourn into TV Tropes and a distraction from the workplace. Up this week is a trope called the Grudging Thank You:

Though it sounds understated, it can mark the beginning of a change in a character or relationship.

Alice has always disliked Bob or people in general or is just very proud. But to Alice’s dismay, she gets helped out by Bob in a moment when she really needs it. Glumly, Alice accepts and just when Bob is leaving Alice goes:

“Oh, and Bob…” Then a pause to indicate Alice biting the bullet. “Thank you.”

This thanks, however grudging, is sincere; insincere ones fall under Embarrassing Rescue. It can often be a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.

Compare Think Nothing of it and Does Not Know How To Say Thanks. If Bob has the same attitude as Alice, he is prone to express it, either because he dislikes the connection it formed, or because he did not act for Alice personally.

Contrast Ungrateful Bastard.

Where have we seen this in the Expanded Universe? Well, let’s go back to Heir to the Empire, the first book of the Thrawn Trilogy. Remember back on Mrkyr?

Mara Jade takes Luke Skywalker prisoner while walking through Myrkr and then has to protect him from the Force-hunting predators native to the planet. She hates him and is also Force-sensitive and reads as prey to the vornskrs, so she tries taking stims to go without sleep. When a vornskr does finally get past her defenses and goes for her, Luke takes back his lightsaber and saves her with considerable difficulty. She has him drop the lightsaber and back off before very grudgingly thanking him and saying that now they’re even for when she did not kill him immediately after finding him. But she still hates him.

You won’t be singing that tune forever, Mara.

Trope Tuesday: Epileptic Trees

It’s been a busy few weeks (Episode VII? What!?) and I’ve let this feature fall by the wayside. But it’s back! Trope Tuesday is our regular feature that dives into Tropes, literary themes, devices, and elements that make our favorite pieces of entertainment chug along. This week, we’re looking at one called Epileptic Trees.

A term for wild, off-the-wall theories. Named after a leading tinfoil-hat theory explaining the mysterious shaking, rustling trees on Lost during the first season of that program. The theory? The trees are having epileptic fits. Can be traced back to H. P. Lovecraft‘s story “The Colour out of Space”.

Not only common, but expected for Mind Screw series. A major species of Tree is Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory. An ongoing series which uses Chekhovs Guns to the point of becoming a Chekhov’s Armoury encourages Trees because all newly introduced objects/people/skills/etc will be suspected of being a Chekhov’s Gun. Horrible epileptic trees are known as Poison Oak Epileptic Trees.

See Stock Epileptic Trees for other common examples.

Epileptic Trees suggested by characters are a sign of Scully Syndrome. When an Epileptic Tree is rendered null and void by the official Canon, it’s said to be Jossed. When an Epileptic Tree becomesCanon, you’re allowed to say, “I Knew It!” – unless it became Canon because it was an Epileptic Tree, in which case it’s Ascended Fanon. See also Inferred SurvivalUrban Legend of Zelda and Schrödinger’s Butterfly.

Boy howdy, is the Star Wars fandom getting swamped in this lately. There’s all sorts of conjecture and theories as to what Episode VII might be. We’ve got everything from the Expanded Universe being overwritten (because George Lucas hates Mara Jade*) to Darth Vader’s coming back from the dead (because why not). Fans are busy trying to find any sort of clue or hint from the films, books, and television that they might be able to use to divine the future of the franchise.

Brace yourselves. It’s going to be a long three years.

*No proof of this claim

Trope Tuesday: Expansion Pack Past

Another Tuesday, another plunge into TV Tropes. This week we’re looking at a trope that’s particularly relevent to the Expanded Universe: The Expansion Pack Past.

Sometimes, characters just have over-complicated origins. They may start off reasonable, but slowly and surely, different writers swoop in and reveal more and more of their past via Flash Back until it’s a confusing muddle of nonsense and clutter.

This tends to happen to characters with a Mysterious Past. The writers explain a bit, but not all of it, so they can milk the Mysterious Past some more. Unfortunately, they then repeat this trick so often that there’s practically no room left for even more mysterious-pastness. It’s unclear that the character ever had time to have a mysterious past with all the revelations we’ve already seen; and it’s ironic that, for all their supposed mystery, these characters tend to have more backstory than any of the other characters.

In extreme cases, when the bits of the backstory simply cannot be chained together, we get a Multiple-Choice Past.

To some degree, this is a risk of the Expanded Universe, particularly early on with some legacy characters. Take a look at Boba Fett and the Mandalorian culture in particular. At one point he was just a mysterious bounty hunter that (somehow) managed to get out of the belly of a gigantic wormy monster thing. The Mandalorians were just a race or group of proud warrior folks. Or maybe just mercenaries?

That was all well and good early on, but the trouble comes in when multiple creative entities start pulling out the expansion packs to give these characters and cultures backstories. You have some authors going in one direction and then you have show writers going in another direction. It’s not impossible to link these different expansions together, but it does create quite a bit of a continuity headache. Sometimes you wonder if things would have been better off if they had been left mysterious.

Of course, this is the franchise that gave backstory to this guy …

Trope Tuesday: Uniqueness Decay

It’s Tuesday, which means you’ve survived the first day of the work week but still have another four days to get through. It also means that it’s time for our weekly soujourn into On the docket this time around: Uniqueness Decay.

In many series, something or someone is first introduced as special – new, awe-inspiring, mysterious, utterly unique, unparalleled, or some combination of those things. Sometimes, either later in the series or in related works in shared universes, that specialness seems to fade without much explanation or get outright retconned away. The unique example becomes just one of many, the mystery somehow gets thoroughly documented, the new arrival turns out to have a long history in the area, the unparalleled turns out to be a footnote, and the awe becomes…ehn.

This is a form of Continuity Drift, perhaps sometimes due to They Just Didn’t Care or careless research on Long Runners. It can be justified if enough time passes and the once unique aspect is spread due to analysis/teaching/reverse engineering.

Remember when super weapons were unique? When there was just one maniacal overlord menacing the Galaxy with a fully armed and operational battlestation capable of turning an entire planet into an asteroid field? It meant something to have a weapon of mass destruction capable of inflicting total xenocide in a matter of seconds.

Then the Expanded Universe happened and every Durron, Daala, and Durga had one. They weren’t even elegant! Some were just superlasers with engines strapped on the back. But really, someone ought to regulate these things. How can you inspire terror and fear when another big, honking super-weapon is being built between a couple black holes?

It used to mean something to have a Death Star, you know.

Trope Tuesday: Ship-to-Ship Combat

Prepare for the ship war.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve already published four posts and I’m getting tired of the WordPress editor. It’s also the time of week where we dive into TV Tropes to take a look at an amusing literary theme or device that makes our favorite pop culture interesting. This week, we look at a trope called Ship-to-Ship Combat:

AKA Shipping Wars. Nothing to do with naval warfare (or space warfare for that matter). Or UPS vs. FedEx.

Many fans ship. Some of them have a distinct ship that they like over all others, while some of them support several, sometimes contradictory, pairings. Some of them like to debate a pairing while keeping in mind its status in canon, while some of them discuss it believing their pairing iscanon (or will inevitably be). Now throw in the power of the Internet to connect everybody (and everybody’s opinions) with everybody else…

Shippers tend to become emotionally invested in their pairings, and Internet shipping discussions can be quite difficult to keep peaceful. All too often, they can’t help but devolve into heated quarrels where preferences are insulted, ad hominem attacks are thrown, and comparisons to Nazis are made (though, to be sure, the latter aspect is just as capable of arising from anysubject of disagreement currently known to exist).

These Flame Wars are known as Shipping Wars: verbal arguments between people with different opinions about romantic relationships between fictional characters. There are those who bash whoever doesn’t like their ship of choice, those who bash whoever likes a certain ship, and those who do both, usually basing their attacks on how canon/Fanon the discussed ship is.

Gather ’round children and let me tell you a tale. A tale of the dark times. Before Vision of the Future. Now, I was not there to witness the events first-hand, but the records are seared into the very memory of the vast wasteland known as the Internet.

Kids, you might know that your favorite Jedi Master Luke Skywalker married a spunky ginger by the name of Mara Jade. Destiny, some would say. They were perfect for each other and certainly everyone could see that. Oh, but child, if you only knew. If you only knew.

You see, there was another woman by the name of Callista that vied for the hand of Master Skywalker. Some fans felt that Luke and Mara were destined to be together. Some felt that  Callista was the one. Others felt that Luke was a monk and shouldn’t get married at all, but those folks were largely ignored by the shippers.

Child, the Ship War of the 90s were a frightening time. Tempers flared. Ranty missives were composed. Fan fiction was written. Oh the fan fiction. All of the fan fiction. They were frightening times. But they were merely a precursor of things to come when a fifteen-year battle raged over three men that fought to court one Jaina Solo.

Trope Tuesday: Avengers Assemble

Welcome back to another edition of Trope Tuesday, where I attempt to destroy your life by luring you into Each week we dive in and take a look at a literary element, theme, or device that makes our favorite fiction work. To celebrate the release of the Avengers today, we’ve selected “Avengers Assemble” as our trope!

Dream Team is needed for The Con or The CaperEach teammember is contacted in a short scene revealing their specialty. This sequence culminates with all the members being in the same room together. c.f. Ocean’s ElevenMission: Impossible.

Compare A-Team MontageIntro DumpLock and Load MontagePutting the Band Back TogetherEveryone Meets Everyone.

I can think of one instance of this happening in the Expanded Universe. Need a bunch of war heroes to play diplomats? Well that’s no problem! Tab Wedge Antilles as the leader and watch him bring along notable Rogue Squadron veterans Derek “Hobbie” Klivian, Wes Janson, and Tycho Celchu. What could possibly go wrong? When you pull together a Dream Team of Big Damn Heroes, expect shennanigans to ensue.

Now I want to re-read Starfighters of Adumar.

Trope Tuesday: Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism

It’s Tuesday! You’ve survived another Monday, so treat yourself to our weekly look into the literary themes and devices that helps our favorite bits of entertainment chug along. This week’s trope: The Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

Which best solves problems? The Power of Friendship, or a bullet between the eyes?

The answer depends on where the series falls in the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.

A story can be idealistic or cynical towards any idea. In general, if the story values or is hopeful for a particular ideal, then it is idealistic. If the story criticizes, assaults, and accentuates the negative about that expectation, then it is cynical.

For a simple, archetypal example, let’s assume that the idea to believe in is Humans Are Good/Rousseau Was Right. In idealistic series, those who believed it got lots of friends and a Happy Ending (therefore, Right Makes Might), while cynical series are Crapsack Worlds where those who believed itgot ruthlessly bullied by everyone else (therefore, Might Makes Right). Of course, the definitions of “Right” and “Crapsack” in the above can technically mean whatever one wants them to mean.

Star Wars, the Expanded Universe in particular, has been at both extremes over the last twenty or so years. In the earlier Bantam days, it could be argued that the books erred heavily towards idealism. These days, the EU has shifted to the cynical side of the spectrum.

This is perhaps best demonstrated with Luke Skywalker’s character over the years. The man who could find the good in Darth Vader and countless villains in the early Expanded Universe has been replaced of late with someone much quicker to judgement. Take a look at his treatment of Vestara Khai in the latest megaseries.

Established IPs that sprint to either end of the Sliding Scale have to be careful. Too far in one direction and it’s possible to lose track of the tonal themes and qualities of the source materials. In this case, it’s the films. The movies (original trilogy in particular) are far more hopeful feeling than the bulk of the post Return of the Jedi novels over the last seven or so years. When the books in this universe go too far into the cynical side of the scale, fans may have a tough time swallowing that these books are part of the same franchise.

Trope Tuesday: Became Their Own Antithesis

After a few weeks off, Trope Tuesday is back! Each Tuesday (provided I’m not being lazy) we dive into that time sink in the cloud known as TV Tropes and investigate a literary theme or device that makes our favorite entertainment chug along. This week, we’re looking at how a character can Become Their Own Antithesis.

After Character Development, some people regress into a vulnerable state. Others become betterpeoplesomebecome much worse, and others turn into a fragile, highly poetic and a bit irrational version of themselves.

Another group of people tend to reject everything that seemed to define their identity for the viewer, their appearance, their values, their main quirk, and their general attitude towards The HeroSave The World, and Good Versus Evil. Then, they manage to become a negative picture of themselves, the complete antithesis of what they formerly were known for. This is this trope.

The trope is mostly used to make a Face Heel Turn more dramatic, using The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, but can also serve the other way around, to prove how much someone can better himself when under the influence of Good.

Now who can relate to this trope? Someone that was compassionate at one point, but became a vile and inhumane person? Someone whose love of all living things was tossed away? Someone who …

Well that works.