If you’ve seen the flick, then you know that his character, the evil Sith Lord Kylo Ren, has a bit of a temper. Some hilariously associate his character to being emo, which is fitting given the way he spoofed himself on Saturday Night Live. As the sketch goes, Kylo Ren infiltrates Starkiller BaseUndercover Boss style as a radar technician to find out what his employees think of him. It turns out that the truth hurts, and Kylo reacts in typical Kylo fashion.
The MTV Music Video Awards was filled with stars that support the military. Our hosts, Marine Corps veteran Weston Scott and Air Force veteran Skye P. Marshall ran into Tito Ortiz, Kool Mo Dee, Jasmine Villegas and more.
We asked our celebrity supporters to snap to attention and give us their best salute, here’s how they fared:
In Iraq, IEDs quickly became the deadliest weapon U.S. troops faced. But not all IEDs were created equal. In 2006, Iranian collaborators from the Quds force were accused of providing devices and knowledge to Iraqi insurgents to make the bombs even more deadly.
Sean Naylor, a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, writes in a new book that Army Delta Force operators countered by creating a bomb of their own, dubbed “XBox,” to take out the top Iraqi bomb makers and possibly their Iranian collaborators.
The IEDs were carefully crafted to look and perform exactly like the bombs used by insurgents — except they were triggered by Delta Force operators instead of the bad guys.
According to Naylor, the operators would stake out a target for days to learn the bomb maker’s patterns and then plant an IED in the target’s vehicle, detonating it when the target was in an isolated area away from civilians and U.S. personnel.
As the United States reenters the realm of great power competition, America needs to maintain its technological edge in stealth, but would benefit from a renewed emphasis on speed in combat aviation… even at the expense of observability in some platforms.
For some, the above sentence will read like a ham-fisted oxymoron coming from a chump who doesn’t understand how air power works in the modern era. After all, the most potent threats on the horizon come from China and, to a lesser extent, Russia–both nations with advanced air defense capabilities that would make even the most capable fourth-generation fighters like the new F-15EX a pretty easy target.
The F-15EX is, quite literally, the fastest aircraft in Uncle Sam’s operational inventory, so one could argue that speed just isn’t what combat aviation is about anymore. In fact, that’s exactly what you’ll hear from most fighter pilots today. The F-35, for all its faults, is widely touted as perhaps the most capable tactical aircraft in history, despite being almost slow compared to Cold War powerhouses like the F-14 Tomcat. The F-35A can achieve speeds as high as Mach 1.6, while the F-35B and C are both limited to Mach 1.3–a speed they can only maintain for less than one minute. The long-retired Tomcat, on the other hand, could pass Mach 2.3 without breaking much of a sweat.
The truth of the matter is, in a high-end fight with a nation like China, the United States would be better off flying a fleet of slower F-35s than faster (and more easily targeted) F-14s… but that line of thinking isn’t accurate to the reality of America’s simmering conflict with China. Open and conventional war with China is extremely unlikely any time in the relative future, and while America needs to invest in the technology and a force structure that can deter such a fight even further, the Sino-American conflict is more likely to play out like a new Cold War in the decades to come. That means competing in the developing world, rather than in China’s backyard.
Finally, if a large-scale war were to break out, American pilots will need speed to effectively manage individual engagements as the conflict presses on. Sometimes, the best tactical decision a pilot can make is to “bug out,” or escape the area and an opponent’s advantage. That’s where speed, once again, becomes vital to survival.
Competition with China and Russia will take place in the developing world
Immediately after World War II, the United States and Soviet Union found themselves in a decades-long staring match that prompted huge investments in military capability across both nations. The goal was simple: build the platforms you’d need to win the third World War, and that alone may be enough deterrence to prevent it from starting. Both nations built fighters and bombers that could fly ever higher, ever faster, hoping to defeat burgeoning air defenses like the SR-71 could… by simply outrunning any missile you could shoot at it.
Let there be no doubt that this method of deterrence was effective, and in truth, the most potent weapon systems are those you never have to actually employ in order to achieve your geopolitical goals. But the unintentional side effect of developing more powerful nuclear weapons and more capable airpower platforms was an inability for American and Soviet forces to actually engage one another without bringing about the nuclear apocalypse.
In order to avoid that possibility, the United States and Soviet Union turned to partner nations and proxy forces, expanding influence and strategic leverage around the globe through overt diplomacy and covert military action and assistance. In some cases, partner or proxy forces supported by each respective nation would clash, leading to America’s involvement in conflicts like the Vietnam War. Terrible as these conflicts were, they were considered a tolerable alternative to nuclear winter as the world’s two superpowers tip-toed on the line of global conflict.
China, a nation that wields not only nuclear weapons but a vast amount of economic leverage and the largest naval force on the planet, is similarly positioned for a long and drawn-out staring contest with the United States. Not only would such a fight cripple both national militaries, but it would also neuter China’s ongoing plans for expanding its global influence, as well as create chaos throughout the global economy for decades to come.
China isn’t going to declare war on the United States any time soon… But China and the United States are going to continue to compete in practically every appreciable way, which includes establishing relationships in developing countries for the purposes of gaining access to strategic resources and ports. As luck (perhaps bad luck) would have it, the regions of the world that are most likely to have those very sorts of commodities on the market throughout the 21st century are often exactly where American and allied forces are already conducting counter violent extremists operations (Counter VEO): Africa and the Middle East.
But while America and its allies have been accumulating operational experience in these theaters, China hasn’t been sleeping. Despite China largely staying out of the Global War on Terror, it has been expanding its influence in these same regions via economic and infrastructure programs, including providing massive loans to developing nations that many suspect won’t be able to pay China back. China, it seems, would prefer they didn’t anyway–as the leverage defaulted loans would offer is more strategically valuable than paying interest on a loan could be.
“Right now you could say that any big project in African cities that is higher than three floors or roads that are longer than three kilometers are most likely being built and engineered by the Chinese. It is ubiquitous,” explained Daan Rogeveen, an author and expert on urbanization in China and Africa.
As a result, there’s an extremely high likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in places like Africa and the Middle East. In fact, America already does. These forces will likely find themselves in direct competition with proxy or partner forces receiving support from China and Russia. The quagmire that is the ongoing conflict in Syria serves as a contemporary example of just how diverse foreign interests within a single nation can be, and just how dangerous operations in one can get.
America’s only dogfight in more than 20 years was in uncontested airspace against a 50-year-old jet
It’s worth noting that it was, in fact, over Syria that the United States scored its only air-to-air kill in literal decades in 2017, when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet was forced to engage a Syrian Air Force Su-22 Fitter that was attacking partner forces on the ground.
This short fight also offered an important lesson about bridging the gap between longstanding airpower and the cutting-edge systems employed by the United States. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel, the pilot in the Super Hornet, first locked onto the Soviet-era Su-22 with the one of the Navy’s latest and most advanced air-to-air weapons, the AIM-9X, but when he fired, the Fitter deployed flares and managed to fool what was previously considered to be the most capable air combat missile in service.
“It came off the rails quick,” Tremel said. “I lost the smoke trail and I had no idea what happened to the missile after that.”
Tremel then locked on once again with an older AIM-120 AMRAAM and fired, this time finding his target and turning the Su-22 into a fireball. While the Pentagon hasn’t offered an explanation as to why their newest missile failed to discern a real fighter from a bucket of flares, some experts have postulated that it may have been a result of the AIM-9X being too well-tuned to distinguish jets from the latest and most advanced flares employed by top-of-the-line 4th and 5th generation platforms. The Su-22 has been flying since 1966, and its dirty old flares weren’t something the AIM-9X expected to run into.
Sometimes, winning a fight isn’t about who fields the latest or most expensive technology. It’s about who fields the right technology for the right situation.
Detection isn’t a threat over the developing world. Distance is.
On October 4, 2017, a group of U.S. Army Green Berets and Nigerian soldiers was ambushed by fighters from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) in Niger. The tragic firefight ended with four dead U.S. troops, five dead Nigerian soldiers, and some difficult questions about how the most highly trained warfighters in the world with support from the most powerful military in the world found themselves fighting through a tactical disadvantage without any air support close enough to make a difference.
In 2012, a coordinated attack against two separate U.S. installations in Benghazi, Libya came with similarly painful lessons. When the dust settled, four Americans were dead, including two CIA contractors and the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. Like the ambush in Niger, air support for Americans in Libya was too far away to provide any meaningful assistance throughout the majority of the fight.
These two instances were outliers stretched across two decades worth of counter-extremist operations, but they both perfectly demonstrate the very real limitations of American airpower when it comes to distance. Public perception of American airpower is not always congruous with the realities of combat, an issue that extends all the way to partner forces. The assumption among most is that America has all-seeing aircraft flying overhead at all times… but that simply isn’t true.
“Unfortunately, public perception is driven sometimes by news coverage, but also by modern movies,” Dr. James Kiras explained about partner forces in a recent episode of The Irregular Warfare Podcast.
“And the idea that somehow we can’t maintain persistent coverage, that a cloud-for example-moving between you and a target could allow you to lose coverage for a critical period just seems completely inconceivable to them.”
The American people also tend to think that the United States has MQ-9 Reapers or armed F-15E Strike Eagles standing by within firing distance of every military operation–something that has been true to a large extent throughout the past two decades of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a “stack” of air support platforms are often standing by to engage the enemy. Now, however, as the U.S. repositions assets to better deter Chinese aggression, there will be fewer air platforms to go around in these regions.
At the same time, American special operations forces tasked with fighting or training proxy fighters for conflicts in Africa and the Middle East will be spread out further and operating with less support than ever before in the modern era. Without a new approach to air support, it’s a recipe for Niger or Benghazi-style disasters.
In order to provide real airpower where it’s needed, the United States doesn’t need a fleet of slow and stealthy F-35s standing by on airstrips across friendly African nations–it needs fast air platforms with great fuel range and loitering capabilities that can reach operators in need, provide air support as necessary, and still make it back to an airstrip.
America will also need less advanced platforms that can fly from austere airstrips and travel alongside special operations teams (the Armed Overwatch Program). There are no advanced air defenses to defeat or sneak past in places like Africa. The greatest challenge to overcome then is what’s commonly referred to as “the tyranny of distance.”
When isolated elements of American troops are caught at a disadvantage, waiting four hours or more to get an F-16 on station may require a miracle, but waiting more than twice that long for a slow-moving MQ-9 Reaper may be impossible. Worse still, once the fast-moving F-16 does reach the embattled troops, they usually only have about 30 minutes of fuel to burn before having to head back–once again leaving these isolated troops without air support.
Speed has already proven handy in combat in the uncontested airspaces of the Middle East. Two years ago, I interviewed Major “Coyote” Laney, a B-1B pilot instructor from the 28th Bomb Squadron, for Popular Mechanics. He told me a story about one air support mission he flew in which the supersonic bomber’s speed made all the difference.
“I remember in Afghanistan where troops needed help across the entire country and I could go 1.2 Mach all the way there and still have enough gas to hang out when I got there,” Laney explained.
“So you can take a platform that’s on the East side of Afghanistan and 15 or 20 minutes later, I’m showing up when there’s no one else for several hundred miles that could help.”
Of course, the B-1B Lancer is now slated for retirement, with the sub-sonic and stealthy B-21 Raider slated to replace it.
We need stealth to deter China, but we need speed and volume to counter them
We have a bad habit of treating these sorts of discussions like they’re all-or-nothing debates. When the Air Force requests funding for new F-15s, lawmakers and the public together cry foul at the idea of spending money on old jets that lack the stealth they’d need to survive a fight against China or Russia. Then, when the Air Force uses stealthy F-22s to conduct airstrikes against targets in uncontested airspace over places like Afghanistan, lawmakers and the public again cry foul over the high cost of using a stealth fighter for such a simple job. We can’t have it both ways, but we do need both jets.
America needs platforms like the F-35 and forthcoming Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to win the wars of tomorrow, and importantly, to deter them today, but we can’t let our American preference for only the newest and best platforms unduly influence the composition of our military forces. In a perfect world, the United States wouldn’t need any fighter jets. In an almost perfect world, the U.S. could afford to operate massive fleets of stealth fighters for each and every job. But in the decidedly imperfect world we live in, we’re often stuck choosing between capability and capacity. Do we want the best jets we can build or enough jets to meet our mission requirements?
While not exactly like the last Cold War, this new Sino-American Cold War possesses a similar capacity for proxy conflicts, and because these conflicts are likely to play out over the massive landmass of Africa as well as the Middle East, finding a way to get air support to far-flung troops quickly will undoubtedly save American lives.
But it won’t just be enough to field fast aircraft. They’ll also have to be cheap enough to be built in the sort of volume that would be required to overcome that tyranny of distance. With enough fast and cheap air support platforms spread throughout the continent, getting air support to special operations troops in Africa could shift from practically impossible to just another day at the office, or as close to that as one can come in combat.
Re-learning that dogfighting isn’t dead
While there’s a much higher likelihood that the United States will find itself supporting proxy or partner forces in the developing world with interests that run counter to China’s or Russia’s, there remains the possibility that this new “Cold War” could boil over into a hot one. The implications of such a conflict would be massive, and even attempting an analysis of just the air war that would unfold would take a book in itself–but as this discussion pertains to tactical aircraft and speed, this is another place the U.S. needs more power under the hood.
If you talk to most modern fighter pilots, they’ll tell you that the days of dogfighting are over, thanks to the development of over-the-horizon weapons and advanced sensor suites that will allow pilots in America’s most advanced jets to target inbound fighters before their pilots even know there’s trouble brewing.
Ward Carroll, famed journalist, author, and former U.S. Navy F-14 Tomcat RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) has heard the contemporary arguments about dogfights being a thing of the past and warns about making assumptions amid a decades-long era of uncontested flight operations, especially in aircraft that aren’t fast enough to escape a pursuing fighter.
“We get too liquored up on the technology and we start to forget what happens when it gets messy. You can run out of a squadron of F-35s in short order,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“I get F-35 guys who are like, ‘you just don’t get modern battles anymore.’ No, I think I do. I think you’re not remembering the lessons of serious roll your sleeves up, get your nose bloodied warfare.”
The idea that dogfighting is dead has been informed not only by two decades worth of counter-terror operations against enemy forces with no airpower, but it also carries an uncomfortable similarity to the line of thinking that dominated air war conversations leading into Vietnam. The U.S. believed the days of dogfighting in close quarters were over, so they fielded fast-moving F-4s armed with air-to-air missiles that weren’t nearly as effective as they were intended… and no guns for fighting in close quarters.
As a result, American aviators took a serious pounding from dated Soviet aircraft with tighter turn radiuses and guns.
“That was the biggest mistake on the F-4,” John Chesire, who flew 197 combat missions in the Phantom during two tours in Vietnam, told Air & Space Magazine.
“Bullets are cheap and tend to go where you aim them. I needed a gun, and I really wished I had one.”
Winning a dogfight might take speed. Escaping one almost always does.
While American F-86 Sabre fighter pilots racked up a kill-to-loss ratio of 10:1 in the Korean war, American dogfighting performance, due largely to assumptions about how combat had changed, diminished dramatically in Vietnam. In the first half of the Vietnam war, American pilots could manage an average of only 2 kills for every U.S. fighter downed. Those losses directly led to the formation of the U.S. Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Program that most of us know today as Top Gun, where a renewed emphasis was placed on dogfighting tactics.
Now, after another multi-decade lull in air combat, America’s aviation corps is once again certain about the future of the fight, but history begs that we hedge those bets. Ward Carroll recently published a YouTube video called “Dogfighting 101” wherein he argues that dogfighting may be absent in today’s combat environment, but it’ll come back in a hurry if a near-peer conflict were to unfold. I’ll set the video to start at that portion, but it’s really worth watching Carroll’s analysis in full.
If you aren’t able to give the video a watch, here’s what Carroll had to say about dogfighting being dead:
“I’m going to submit that dogfighting is not dead, because if you’ve ever been in a major exercise, not to mention, an air-to-air war like Desert Storm, then you know that, in the heat of battle, there’s confusion, there’s all kinds of chaos, and ultimately a bandit is going to sneak through and you’ll find yourself basically engaged one-on-one with the bad guys in an old school kind of way.”
Carroll doesn’t argue that American fighters are going to go looking for a chance to get up close and personal with China’s thrust-vectoring, stealth J-20B like some imagine when they picture dogfights. Instead, he reasonably expects that in a large force-on-force situation, the chaos of warfare is going to create the circumstances for these kinds of one-on-one engagements to occur.
Carroll’s argument seems to hold true when you look at the breakdown of the early days of the air war of Desert Storm. The Coalition Forces brought a massive amount of airpower to bear over Iraq in those first days of the conflict, but despite the sheer volume of airframes in the fight, a number of small dogfights broke out and, had there not been plenty of support in the area, many more could have.
You can see exactly what Carroll predicts in this breakdown from The Operations Room. The value of speed and maneuverability when within visual range is also evident in the video. Once again, I’ll start the video at the pertinent point, but it’s worth watching this in its entirety:
What does all this have to do with speed? It’s certainly of use in a dogfight, but speed is also extremely important when it comes to getting out of a dogfight. Even the most advanced stealth platforms aren’t invisible, and if an F-35 found itself squaring off with a J-20B in a one-on-one situation, it’s feasible that the Chinese fighter could have the advantage through surprise or the roll of the combat dice.
In either regard, it would be in the F-35 pilot’s best interest to bug out and get away from that fight, or at least, to create enough separation to gain an advantage he or she could then press in turn. Unfortunately, the F-35 wouldn’t be fast enough to escape a J-20 if a pilot tried, so he or she would just be giving the Chinese jet a perfect opportunity. What’s worse is that, at this range, the F-35’s opponent wouldn’t even have to be a stealth aircraft itself.
“Stealth doesn’t work against bullets,” Carroll told Sandboxx News.
“We have multi-axis missiles now where I can shoot you behind my three-nine line [behind my aircraft]. Okay, but once you Winchester, meaning run out of those weapons, and you’re now in the visual arena, then none of your [stealth] defensives are working. And now you have an airplane that can barely go supersonic. So, welcome to getting shot down.”
When we’re talking about fighters squaring off with one another, stealth is extremely valuable, but in a large-scale fight with hundreds of jets in the area, speed clearly counts too.
How do you build a force that balances cost, speed, and technology?
The Air Force purchasing new F-15EXs isn’t going to solve this problem. Not only do these new fighters cost around as much as an F-35 to build (despite offering significantly more service life), the new (old) fighters the Air Force receives are already slated to replace existing F-15s that are aging out of service. While they do offer greater capability than their predecessors, each jet can still only be in one place at a time.
“We’ve got to refresh the F-15C fleet because I can’t afford to not have that capacity to do the job and the missions,” now-retired General David Goldfein said in 2019.
“That’s what this is all about. If we’re refreshing the F-15C fleet, as we’re building up the F-35 fleet, this is not about any kind of a trade.”
SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program promises to alleviate some of this need by fielding a small and inexpensive aircraft that can provide ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and direct air support to special operators. These planes are expected to operate from austere airfields with support from a very small group of maintainers. Effectively, SOCOM wants a simple aircraft that can live with the troops in the vein of the OV-10 Bronco of Vietnam fame, but with advanced ISR capabilities usually only found in technological marvels that need airstrips and facilities to operate. It’s a tall order, but fielding such an aircraft would make the sorts of special operations skirmishes that are sure to litter the coming decades far more survivable.
Despite America’s massive military budget, resource and asset scarcity remains an ongoing challenge. The MQ-9 Reaper, for instance, is the most highly requested air asset among ground commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with only 280 of these remotely piloted aircraft to go around, the Air Force will have to choose between continuing to support the full breadth of combat operations in the Middle East or transitioning platforms to the Pacific where a more potent deterrent maritime force is increasingly necessary.
The truth is, even after the United States withdraws from Afghanistan, the U.S. military can’t completely withdraw from the Middle East and will likely need to place a larger emphasis on Africa moving forward. There are only so many air platforms to go around, especially at modern fighter jet prices of around $100 million per aircraft. In effect, America is going to be stuck fighting its old wars for some time, while adding new conflicts and new tensions elsewhere around the globe. In order to do it all, America needs more platforms without increasing defense spending in a massive way.
That may be feasible through attritable programs like Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie. The Valkyrie is a low-observable UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) capable of carrying two small diameter bombs and covering more than 2,000 miles before refueling. What makes the Valkyrie special isn’t its payload or range capabilities though, it’s the cost. At just $2-3 million per airframe, the XQ-58 costs only slightly more than a single Tomahawk cruise missile.
The Valkyrie lacks the speed that would be necessary to cover the vast distances between units that we can expect in Africa and the Middle East in the coming years, with a top end of around 650 miles per hour (Mach 0.85), but the attritable premise coupled with more power could prove to be just what the doctor ordered. Valkyries have already been launched from stationary platforms using rockets, which would mean that these types of drones could be deployed from places that don’t even have airstrips, and they’re cheap enough that losing a few in a fight won’t give a commander pause.
As for the high-end fight, America’s forthcoming NGAD program, under development with both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, is expected to produce a family of systems that can effectively counter the most advanced fighters on the planet like the J-20B or SU-57 without breaking a sweat. This platform will hopefully incorporate a return to emphasizing speed as well as stealth, with fuel range serving as yet another essential facet of military aviation America needs to address.
It’s going to take new platforms to counter the full spectrum of threats nations like China pose in the 21st century, and these planes can’t take decades to go from the drawing board to production as the F-35 has. In many places, they won’t need to be stealth, nor is there a requirement for a human on board, but one thing they will need to overcome the tyranny of distance and protect American lives is speed.
If you want to wear a Jedi robe or a Stormtrooper helmet to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you’ll likely get tossed into the Sarlaac Pit. Disney has released dress code guidelines for guests attending Galaxy’s Edge, and you’re going to have to leave your blasters and Darth Vader helmets at home or in the hotel.
On June 10, 2019, the official Disney Parks blog released specific guidelines around what is okay to wear at Galaxy’s Edge and what will get you on an Order 66-style blacklist. Essentially, anything that presents a safety issue will not be allowed, which means no helmets, masks, or big flowing clothes of any kind. Blasters and blaster holsters are also outlawed as are “full body suits” so if you’re planning on coming dress as Jar Jar Binks, that little Gugan vest is cool, but the masks and bug-eyes are a NO.
Here’s some good news: Lightsabers are allowed, which, let’s face it, is pretty civilized.
(Disney Parks Blog)
In a small paradox, obviously some of the stuff you can’t wear inside Galaxy’s Edge can be purchased at Galaxy’s Edge. Plenty of the shops at Galaxy’s Edge sell helmets, masks, and blasters. But, the rule is you gotta keep that stuff in the package until you get back to your hotel room.
For any sane person, these rules totally make sense. Galaxy’s Edge might be a delightful hive of geek and nerdiness, but, in the end, Disneyland is for kids. And kids need to feel safe, even when they are traversing that lawless galaxy, far, far away.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The baddest bad guy in all of Star Wars is also, perhaps, the most famous fictional father of all time: Darth Vader AKA Anakin Skywalker. But, after Vader was out of the picture in Return of the Jedi, newer Star Wars movies have struggled to introduce family drama into the saga that was as meaty and as frightening. Since 2015’s The Force Awakens, the primary villain of new Star Wars has mostly been Kylo Ren, previously known as Ben Solo, before he turned evil and killed his dad, Han Solo. But, back in 2015, it was hinted that Kylo Ren had some muscle to help with his dirty work; the mysterious Knights of Ren. Now, like the Spanish Inquisition on Monty Python, they’re back! Nobody expects the Knights of Ren!
Thanks to newly released photos from The Rise of Skywalker, it finally looks like we’ll get some answers about who the hell these dark knights really are.
On May 22, 2019, Vanity Fair released its latest cover story, a huge preview of The Rise of Skywalker written by Magicians novelist, journalist and all-around cool dad, Lev Grossman. As with most Star Wars films, this feature was accompanied by beautiful photos from legendary photographer Annie Lewbowitz. Chewbacca is reunited with Lando, Luke Skywalker’s ghost (maybe?) stands proudly with R2-D2 and Rey and Kylo Ren duke it out again with their lightsabers. But, for fans thinking about the villains of the new saga, one minor detail was confirmed by the photos, which has major implications: The Knights of Ren are back!
In one early photo, evildoers, dressed all in black are depicted with the following caption:
“J.J. Abrams, alongside Stunt Coordinator Eunice Huthart, directs the Knights of Ren; elite fearsome enforcers of Kylo Ren’s dark will.”
Up until this point, it wasn’t entirely clear if the Knights of Ren would actually return in The Rise of Skywalker, or, like, at all. After being introduced in a flashback in The Force Awakens, hardcore fans and regular people alike have been scratching their heads for four years now about who these people could be. Like Kylo Ren, are they also former students of Luke Skywalker’s turned to evil? Are all of them men? Could another, long-lost member of the Skywalker/Solo family be chilling under those creepy masks? How come they don’t all get lightsabers?
Not, it looks like The Rise of Skywalker is poised to answer this question. It may be a small thing, but considering the fact that Kylo Ren could seemingly turn back to the light side of the Force at any point, then it feels likely any of the Knights of Ren could become the latest scum and villainy in the Star Wars universe. (We don’t know who Kylo is fighting in those trailers, after all.)
Star Wars loves to have a good role reversal when it comes to evildoers. In the original trilogy, Darth Vader was revealed to be Luke’s father. In, the prequels, a kindly senator was really a Sith Lord. Even in Solo: A Star Wars Story, a dreaded gang leader — Enfys Nest — is secretly a revolutionary woman in disguise.
So, now that we know the Knights of Ren are back, we should be prepared for some answers about them, but also, some twists, too.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
The Confederate flag’s dark and nuanced history has long made the rebel banner an uncomfortable topic of conversation. In the minds of many Americans, it is a symbol of slavery and institutionalized racism – an emblem on par with the Nazi swastika. For others, it’s simply an expression of regional pride.
However, after the racially-motivated church slayings in South Carolina last week – committed by a man who was a proud flyer of the stars and bars – state governments have begun to remove the Confederate flag from their federal buildings. The United States military, on the other hand, has yet to address the issue officially.
South Carolina’s Army Guard still flies 16 streamers that were created under the Confederacy, and servicemen and women are allowed to sport the Confederate flag on clothing and tattoos — something the Defense Department does not consider offensive material. Still, some military officials have decided to retire the flag after the shootings, including The Citadel, South Carolina’s famous military academy, which removed the Confederate Naval Jack from its chapel.
Gen. Daniel Allyn, vice chief of the U.S. Army, spoke to the The Military Times about the rebel flag’s importance within the American military:
“I think that, when you are a student of military history, let’s face it: One of our greatest military generals in the history of our nation was Robert E. Lee,” Allyn said, referring to the legendary Confederate commander.
At Army posts throughout the country, there are “thousands of battle pictorials of Grant and Lee going up against each other with their requisite flags,” he added, noting Lee’s Union counterpart, Gen. Ulysses Grant, who later became America’s 18th president. “So yes, you will find those resident. And if those are offensive to people, I’m sure that our commanders will deal with that.”
“We swear our allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” Allyn said, “… and we will protect and defend that flag.”
Author’s note: If you haven’t seen “The Mandalorian” yet, go watch it and come back — spoilers ahead. For the rest of you: this is the way.
The internet has been buzzing about “The Mandalorian,” the “Star Wars” series that follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter (of the same tribe and iconic armor as Boba Fett) who finds a young, force-sensitive creature who looks like a baby Yoda. The series hasn’t just produced a slew of new memes, it’s crushed the ratings on several platforms — IMDB has it at an 8.9, and Rotten Tomatoes rates it at 94 percent on the Tomatometer (with an audience score of 93 percent).
It has all the familiar, nostalgic elements of “Star Wars” — spectacular scenes in space, fun action-adventure, weird creatures, the conflict of good and evil, and, of course, the force. However, “The Mandalorian” also includes a host of cowboy movie tropes, which adds a freshness to the story. It’s not like any old Western we’ve seen — after all, it’s set in space with little alien wizards. It’s also not a repeat of other “Star Wars” stories because it’s basically an old Western set in a fantasy universe.
We can’t publish an article on “The Mandalorian” without showing “the child” at least once.
(Photo courtesy of Disney+)
In order to understand old Western films, we need to understand where they came from. Many of the old Western tropes are American, but some are borrowed from older Japanese cinema. The obvious connection is the Japanese classic “Seven Samurai” being remade into the American cowboy classic “The Magnificent Seven.” While this is the most famous connection between the two genres, it’s not the only one. The music, the stories, the filmmaking techniques — watch any film by Akira Kurosawa and you’ll see elements of the Western left and right.
“The Mandalorian” borrows from both.
It makes sense to begin with the Mandalorian’s religion — his weapons. Our protagonist carries around his handheld blaster and a disintegration rifle (known as a modified Amban Rifle). These are clearly the equivalent of a revolver and a rifle, the cowboy’s typical loadout in most Westerns. Mando generally draws and fires his blaster from the hip, just like the classic Wild West draw. Any bigger weapons brought onto the battlefield are typically large, mounted weapons — the equivalent of the evil antagonist breaking out a Gatling gun mounted to a train or on a tripod. The lasso is another quintessential tool for the cowboy of old Westerns — depicted in “The Mandalorian” by his grappling line. Mando wraps a few enemies up in his “lasso” throughout the story, hog-tying his targets.
Several specific moments also call directly back to the films of the Wild West. For example, the classic “horse whisperer” scene where Mando tames and breaks a blurrg. He is bucked and thrown as the wise, old man watches from the edge of the corral. Finally, our hero mounts the beast and they ride into a few sunsets together.
We mentioned that the Japanese film “Seven Samurai” was the direct inspiration for “The Magnificent Seven” — both films feature bandits who are hell bent on raiding a village, forcing the townspeople to enlist the help of some elite warriors to train them and defend them against the next onslaught. Sound familiar? This same story played out in a chapter of “The Mandalorian” with some unique, sci-fi twists — we don’t remember an AT-ST in “Seven Samurai.”
The comparisons are obvious.
(Photo courtesy of Disney+.)
On top of congruent storylines, one of the most significant ways that Japanese cinema inspired old Westerns was with its music; “Star Wars” also features some of the most iconic music in film history. Ludwig Goransson’s score of “The Mandalorian” fuses the two by combining elements from old Westerns (and perhaps old Japanese films) like the heavy beating of drums with “primitive” sounding percussion, bizarre flutes, and interesting stringed instruments. The hollow melody of the main title would be just as at home if it was played over a lone gunslinger in the Wild West, riding off to save a small town from nefarious bandits. The score cloaks the Mandalorian himself in a shroud of mystery.
Start with some old Japanese film score elements, mix in a bit of Ennio Morricone, then top it off with heavy sprinkles of classic “Star Wars” sweeping scores — and you’ve got yourself a soundtrack fit for the halls of Mandalore.
“The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” (left), and “The Mandalorian.”
(Photos courtesy of United Artists and Disney+.)
The setting and wardrobe also highlight the connection of this magical, dystopian science-fiction narrative to the Wild West. Most of the events in “The Mandalorian” are set in barren places — not on the lavish planet of Naboo or the bustling cities of Coruscant, but out in the lawless desert where guns and criminals abound. And Pedro Pascal (the Mandalorian) sports a cape eerily similar to how Clint Eastwood wears his poncho in classics like “A Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Instead of high-tech visors, many of the inhabitants of these barren locations wear old-school goggles, and they wear their blasters low on their hip just like the cowboys we know from the Old West. The Mandalorian even keeps rounds strung across his chest — one wouldn’t expect the need for that in a science-fiction universe, but it all falls in line with the classic Western aesthetic.
A lot of old Westerns are films about rugged individualism. They follow rough characters who have to navigate their way through an even rougher world. The protagonist then finds at least one redeeming aspect about the unforgiving, desolate landscape on which they fight — something precious among the thorns. Upon that discovery, the cowboy or lawman or mercenary finds that their ability to fight, to be strong, to kill — it all suddenly has meaning — it suddenly turns into the ability to protect a village, a woman, a friend… or a child.
Jon Favreau has taken a beloved franchise and breathed new life into it by fusing it with these classic elements from old Western films, and it’s been a wild success. Audiences around the world have expressed how thrilled they are at this new installment of “Star Wars,” and I, for one, can’t wait for the second season.
Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2
Meet Spoiled.io — the bane of all your friends who love “Game of Thrones.”
For just $0.99 per episode, Spoiled.io will automatically and anonymously send out a text to any phone number that ruins the newest episode of the hit HBO fantasy series. The messages will be sent after each episode airs, so it’s perfect to use for those friends who watch “Game of Thrones” after it first airs on TV.
Spoiled.io charges $0.99 per spoiler, or $4.99 to send out spoilers for all of the six episodes in the upcoming season. Season 8 airs on HBO on Sundays starting April 14, 2019, and is the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
“For just .99 USD, Spoiled will anonymously and ruthlessly text spoilers to your unsuspecting friends after each new episode airs,” Spoiled.io says on its website. “Afterwards, sit back, relax, and view your friends’ responses.”
The spoiling texts service first emerged in June 2016 before the final episode of the sixth season of “Game of Thrones.” Spoiled.io published to Twitter the responses it got from unsuspecting people who had the episode spoiled for them by the texting service.
The developers of Spoiled.io, Spoiled Rotten, told Business Insider back in 2016 that the texting service was only ever supposed to be a simple side-project. But they quickly amassed “a couple hundred” users.
“I don’t think we’ll be quitting our day jobs anytime soon, but the response has far exceeded our exceptions and made us question ways we could expand,” Spoiled Rotten told Business Insider.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The Greek tragedian Aeschylus famously wrote: “In war, truth is the first casualty.”
Well, in this new era of so-called “hybrid” or “gray zone” warfare, truth is not only a casualty of war — it has also become the weapon of choice for some of America’s contemporary adversaries.
Recent “deepfake” videos of the actor Tom Cruise illustrate the power of the new technological tools now available to foreign adversaries who wish to manipulate the American people with online disinformation. The three videos, which appear on the social media platform TikTok under the handle @deeptomcruise, are striking in their realism. To the naked eye of the casual observer, it’s difficult to discern the videos as fakes.
Equally as stunning is an artificial intelligence tool called Deep Nostalgia, which animates static, vintage images — including those of deceased relatives. Together, these technological leaps harken back to the famous line by the writer George Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
The technology now exists for America’s foreign adversaries, or other malign actors, to challenge citizens’ understanding of their present reality, as well as the past. Coupled with the historic loss in confidence among Americans for their country’s journalistic institutions, as well as our addiction to social media, the conditions are certainly ripe for deepfake disinformation to become a serious national security threat — or a catalyst for nihilistic chaos.
“The internet is a machine, but cyberspace is in our minds. As both expand and evolve faster than we can defend them, the ultimate target — our brains — is closer every day,” Kenneth Geers, a Cyber Statecraft Initiative senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
According to a September Gallup Poll, only 9% of Americans said they have “a great deal” of trust in the media to report the news “fully, accurately, and fairly.” On the other hand, when it comes to trusting the media, six out of 10 Americans, on average, responded that they had “not very much” trust or “none at all.” Those findings marked a significant decline in Americans’ trust for the media since polling on the topic began in 1972, Gallup reported.
“Americans’ confidence in the media to report the news fairly, accurately and fully has been persistently low for over a decade and shows no signs of improving,” Gallup reported.
That pervasive distrust in the media leads to increased political polarization and is bad for America’s democratic health, many experts say. Americans’ loss of trust in the media could also portend a national security crisis — especially as contemporary adversaries such as Russia and China increasingly turn to online disinformation campaigns to exacerbate America’s societal divisions.
In fact, Russia already used deepfake technology in its disinformation campaign to influence the 2020 US election, said Scott Jasper, author of the book, Russian Cyber Operations: Coding the Boundaries of Conflict. In advance of the election, Russian cybercriminals working for the Internet Research Agency created a fake news website called “Peace Data,” which featured an entirely fictitious staff of editors and writers, multiple news agencies reported.
“Their profile pictures were deepfakes generated by artificial intelligence,” Jasper told Coffee or Die Magazine. “The fake personas contacted real journalists to write contentious stories that might divide Democratic voters.”
A Soviet doctrine called “deep battle” supported front-line military operations with clandestine actions meant to spread chaos and confusion within the enemy’s territory. Similarly, modern Russia has turned to cyberattacks, social media, and weaponized propaganda to weaken its adversaries from within. According to an August State Department report, Russia uses its “disinformation and propaganda ecosystem” to exploit “information as a weapon.”
“[Russia] invests massively in its propaganda channels, its intelligence services and its proxies to conduct malicious cyber activity to support their disinformation efforts, and it leverages outlets that masquerade as news sites or research institutions to spread these false and misleading narratives,” wrote the authors of the State Department report, Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem.
Some experts contend that the cyber domain has become the proverbial “soft underbelly” of America’s democracy. In the past, America’s journalistic institutions served as gatekeepers, shielding the American people from foreign disinformation or propaganda. However, due to the advent of social media and the internet, America’s adversaries now enjoy direct access into American citizens’ minds. Consequently, the ability to manufacture video content indistinguishable from reality is an exponential force multiplier for adversaries intent on manipulating the American people.
The emerging deepfake threat spurred the Senate in 2019 to pass a bill mandating that the Department of Homeland Security provide lawmakers an annual report on advancements in “digital content forgery technology,” which might pose a threat to national security.
According to the Deepfake Report Act of 2019: “Digital content forgery is the use of emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, to fabricate or manipulate audio, visual, or text content with the intent to mislead.”
The advancement of deepfake technology has been meteoric. Just a couple of years ago, the casual observer would have been able to rather easily tell the difference between genuine humans and their computer-generated, deepfake doppelgangers. Not anymore. Much like the advent of nuclear weapons, the Pandora’s box of deepfake technology has officially been opened and is now impossible to un-invent.
The potential dangers of this technological leap are practically boundless.
Criminals could conceivably concoct videos that offer an alibi at the time of their alleged crimes. Countries could fabricate videos of false flag military aggressions as a means to justify starting a war. Foreign adversaries could generate fake videos of police brutality, or of racially charged acts of violence, as a means to further divide American society.
“I think it’s a safe assumption that video manipulation is a key short-term weapon in the arsenal of less reputable political-military organizations needing to shape some opinions before the contents can be disputed,” Gregory Ness, a Silicon Valley cybersecurity expert, told Coffee or Die Magazine.
There are certain commercially available artificial intelligence, or AI, tools already available to detect deepfake videos with a fidelity surpassing that of the human observer. Microsoft, for example, has already developed an AI algorithm for detecting deepfakes.
Some cybersecurity experts are calling on social media platforms to integrate these deepfake detection algorithms on their sites to alert users to phony videos. For his part, Geers, the Atlantic Council senior fellow, was skeptical that social media companies would step up on their own initiative and police for deepfake content.
“Social media profits from our negativity, vulnerability, and stupidity,” Geers said. “Why would they stop?”
The overarching intent of disinformation campaigns — particularly those prosecuted by Moscow — is not always to dupe Americans into believing a false reality. Rather, the real goal may be to challenge their belief in the existence of any objective truths. In short: The more distrustful Americans become of the media, the more likely they are to believe information based on its emotional resonance with their preconceived biases. The end goal is chaos, not brainwashing.
“If we are unable to detect fake videos, we may soon be forced to distrust everything we see and hear, critics warn,” the cybersecurity news site CSO reported. “The internet now mediates every aspect of our lives, and an inability to trust anything we see could lead to an ‘end of truth.’ This threatens not only faith in our political system, but, over the longer term, our faith in what is shared objective reality.”
Some experts say the US government should get involved, perhaps by leveraging the power of the Department of Defense, to patrol the cyber domain for deepfake videos being spread by foreign adversaries. The Pentagon, for its part, has already been called in to defend America’s elections against online disinformation.
In the wake of Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election, the Department of Defense partially shouldered the responsibility of defending against foreign attacks on America’s elections. By that measure, it’s certainly within the bounds of national security priorities for Washington to leverage the US military’s resources to root out and take down deepfake videos.
“Governments will inevitably step in, but what we really need is for democracies to step up and create innovative policies based on freedom of expression and the rule of law,” Geers said.
“South Park” fired back at China during the 300th episode after the country banned the long-running Comedy Central animated series.
In the episode, titled “SHOTS!!!,” Towelie forces Randy Marsh to declare “F— the Chinese government.” Marsh is reluctant at first since he’s been selling marijuana in the country.
Last week’s episode, called “Band in China,” mocked Chinese censorship and Hollywood’s reliance on the country’s box office to boost potential blockbusters. It referenced China’s crackdown on Winnie the Pooh, which has become a symbol of resistance against China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader, President Xi Jinping.
China retaliated by shutting down “South Park” discussion forums and removing clips and episodes of the show from its internet, as first reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
“South Park” season 23, episode 2, “Band in China”
“South Park” creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker issued a mock apology to China on Oct. 7, 2019, saying “Like the NBA, we welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. We too love money more than freedom and democracy. Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all.”
The statement mocked the NBA’s apology to China after the Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted on Oct. 4, 2019, (and then deleted) an image with the slogan “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” in solidarity with the Hong Kong protesters.
“Band in China” was projected onto screens throughout Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district on Oct. 8, 2019, according THR.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
No big Friday night plans? Look no further than your own family room, but be sure to sit on the couch because “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!” That’s right, Lionsgate Live! A Night at the Movies is having a special viewing this evening of Dirty Dancing with an excellent line up for the next few weeks.
What is Lionsgate Live! you ask? The four week program, which launched last week with The Hunger Games, allows viewers to enjoy a classic Lionsgate film every Friday evening through May 8th for free on Fandango Movieclips and Lionsgate’s YouTube page. May 1 will feature La La Land and May 8 will feature John Wick (age restriction required).
Tonight’s livestream will feature special appearances by Dirty Dancing‘s own Jennifer Grey and choreographer Kenny Ortega, along with an exclusive look at some of the film’s prized memorabilia as well as time-jumping behind-the-scenes footage!
Each livestream will directly benefit the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation, dedicated to helping people who work in the motion picture industry and currently providing financial assistance to theater employees furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis.
So come dance the night away tonight at 6:00pm PT / 9:00pm ET for some Dirty Dancing – all in honor of good cause. Instead of previews, enjoy Fandango’s Movieclips, offering a special playlist featuring some of the best scenes from the film – enjoy!
Situation Room meetings about the 2011 mission to kill Osama bin Laden were titled “Mickey Mouse meeting” on official calendars to conceal their purpose, according to a new account of the raid.
On Friday Politico published an oral history, written by Garrett M. Graff, of the bin Laden raid as told by 30 US political, military, and intelligence officials who were central to its success.
The officials said that in the run-up to the strike, which began on May 1, 2011, and concluded early the next day, they took many steps to ensure that news of the raid didn’t leak.
Mike Morell, who was deputy director of the CIA at the time, told Politico that the idea to label the meetings “Mickey Mouse meeting” came from John Brennan, then the White House homeland security and counterterrorism advisor.
“We also had the cameras and the audio in the Situation Room covered or turned off,” Brennan told the magazine.
Ben Rhodes, then-deputy national security advisor, also told Politico that he knew something serious was underway by looking at the titles of meetings listed on the Situation Room schedule.
“Suddenly, there was a very unusual pace of deputies- and principals-level meetings without a subject. I knew that there was something happening,” he said.
“At no other point in my eight years in the White House did that happen until 2016 with the Russian interference in the election.”
Former President Barack Obama was also keen to prevent any news of the mission getting out, especially if it ultimately went badly or failed.
On April 30, 2011, the evening before the raid began, Obama asked his speechwriter Jon Favreau to change a joke prepared for that night’s White House Correspondents’ dinner, where the president typically makes a speech mocking himself.
To hit back at GOP figures for mocking his middle name — Hussein — Obama was going to crack a joke in which he referred to “Tim ‘bin Laden’ Pawlenty,” referring to the then-Minnesota governor, Favreau told Politico.
“He’s like, ‘Why don’t we say his middle name is Hosni, like Hosni Mubarak?’ I remember just being like, ‘That’s not as funny.’ And Obama is like, ‘Trust me on this. I really think Hosni will be much funnier,'” Favreau said.
Dan Pfeiffer, then the White House communications director, said: “No one could figure out why Obama made that change. It seemed like a weird change.”
President Joe Biden on Sunday issued a statement marking 10 years since the raid that killed the terrorist leader, saying: “We followed bin Laden to the gates of hell — and we got him.”