Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode VI Reveiw

This evening, I had a chance to watch Obi-Wan Kenobi, Episode VI. 

Now that this thing is over, I can't wait to start spending some time playing games. This evening, I mulled over what I saw while weeding the garden. 

I mention the garden because that is what a long-time series becomes. What came before is recycled into what comes next. However, in shows like Obi-Wan Kenobi, the creators have to thread the needle. Can you plant one more thing between what the viewer knows from before and knows what came after? 

The show cannot upset what happens in either direction. Obi-wan can't really change from what he was, nor can a lot of new characters pop up without causing a disruption in the original material. 

In this show, they manage to do things nicely. Roughly, but nicely. 

They had to run with the Inquisitors because of the background already established. I personally think it was a bad call to let the Grand Inquisitor get benched for a while, but this pushes a more modern, realistic view of combat. 

Back when I was a kid, I wasn't sure what a lightsabre could do because they actually didn't say. Loose hands for sure. Being cut in half wasn't an option. They didn't do that back in 1977 or any of the 80s. Personally, I thought that perhaps a lightsabre had a stunning feature. Not many characters went to the ground in a splatter of blood. 

In this current iteration of the Star Wars story, we get into what happens when someone gets tagged with a lightsabre. Many people get stabbed, but for some stupid reason, they don't stay down. That really isn't surprising as the Empire has monopolized everything, including medical care. However, old-timers like me want to believe that one good sabre strike is the end. Not especially realistic, but reasonably based on the first 3 films. 

Two things that this point of view does not take into account are easy and cheap special effects plus most of the people doing the stabbing are sadists. They didn't mean to kill, therefore they didn't kill anyone. Mmm. Unsatisfying as it is a completely different type of character and process than what the viewer is used to. The cheap special effects are cool to look at but often don't further the story because the story wasn't about a body count. 

One thing this last episode does well, mirroring the original films, is what I call "IF-THEN" storytelling. Star Wars rarely invokes "simultaneous" events. We see the clock progress as this bit then that bit. Maybe they happen at the exact same time, but the audience doesn't know it and doesn't need to know it. This episode uses that in spades. 

At the outset of this episode, all of the teams are together. Vader and the Inquisitors, Ben and Leia, and poor Reva out on her own. It doesn't take long for Ben to leave Leia, Vader to ditch the Inquisitors with Reva limping along on her own. 

Divided, the matchups begin with Ben and Vader's duel being the most exciting. As their duel progresses, Leia finds her way home, and Reva finds Owen and Beru. But the storytelling doesn't make it explicitly clear if all three of these events are happening at the same time. It's actually refreshing knowing that the incoming calvary charge doesn't have to be timed to the millisecond. The heroes get there when they get there because that is what heroes do, not because they planned it that way. 

The storytelling creates these opportunities. And in this particular episode, that is all the story has to do. We get all that was promised at the outside of the series, a rematch between Vader and Ben. It was well done and satisfying. 

Beyond that, nothing else is needed. I don't see any word on a season 2. This was promoted as a "mini-series", so there may not be a strong need for season 2. The other part of it is Obi-Wan Kenobi was supposed to be a movie. This series was maybe 4 and a half hours. Chopping out an hour wouldn't have done the story any favors and perhaps adding an hour would not have given the viewer more quality. 

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't care if there is another run of the show, as I felt this really satisfied. Plus there might be a chance that the new Ahsoka Tano series could give us another glance at Anakin and Ben in a different way. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode V Review

 Welcome back. It's Episode V. 

Watching the episode. I finally caught on to the Roman numeral labeling convention. So will this episode be similar to The Empire Strikes Back? 

A little bit. There are all kinds of backstabbing and payouts in this one. First, Reva is promoted to Grand Inquisitor. After tracking and cornering Ben and Leia as they journey down the path, Kenobi negotiates with her to buy some time. During this encounter, Reva reveals her connection to Vader and the Jedi. 

This episode is short and sweet. While Vader engages in a very brief siege of the proto-rebel base, we get a smidgen of development in the form of flashbacks of Anikin and Ben training. These scenes are pretty and forward the story in the current episode. There were light touches of de-aging, but mostly the script runs MacGregor and Christensen as they are. Angles and makeup appear to be the main tools of youth. I liked it as it avoids the uncanny valley which tends kick in hardcore when you see a sudden age jump as decades are shed in seconds and minutes. It was a good call. 

Anyway, Reva's role in this story is revealed. She is the stalking horse, the creature that obscures the real threats. Interestingly, everyone knows this but her. One backstab after another knocks Reva back to her lowly spot in the gang of Inquisitors. This was a far better play than the typical promotion equals death that tends to happen in these stories. 

One other quirk of this episode is the treatment of weapons fire and injuries. It has a lot more in common with the rough Rogue One film than it does in the original films. First, there are a few people with physical shields used to block blaster fire. It works, but not really well. Second, we learn that lightsabre strikes can be either really deadly or maybe just a flesh wound. Vader himself has shown what losing a limb or four does to a person. Given the medical resources of the Empire, there must tons of scarred and grizzled stormtroopers. Anyway, if you get shot or sliced, it appears that being in the Empire might help more than a rag-tag bunch of rebels. 

All in all, this episode ran quick. 40 minutes felt like 15. 

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Ms Marvel Episode 1 Review

Ms. Marvel... I had to Google this one a few months back. On doing a bit of background research, I came to the conclusion that being a 50-year-old, white, bald, fat guy, with children, I was not in the demographics of this show. 

A truer statement could not be made. 

So, why review it? I watched the first episode and I hate it. And it's great! 

I'm going to ignore the whole writer's team and Disney aspect for a while and just talk about the character. Who, what, why, when, and where. 

The young woman who is about to take on the mantle of Ms. Marvel is a 16-year-old, immigrant from Pakistan living in Jersey City a few years after the blip. I am foggy on the whole Marvel timeline, but this is 5-10 years in our future. She has a loving family, goes to a good school, and is surrounded by excellent, well-meaning people and a crowd of folks who don't get her. 

The problem with Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel is, there isn't a lot to grok about her. She's 16 and she loves superheroes. Who doesn't? 

Well... my wife. 

Out of this one-dimensional girl, we get 45 minutes of high school high-jinx. Not your typical TV high school high-jinx, but a series of characters who are loving caring people who just want the best for Kamala, which does not include a high fashion superhero get-up. Ya, know, typical adults and well-balanced friends. 

It's ground-breaking but not particularly woke or whatever. It's rock-solid writing by the staff. The characters seem like fully formed real people, which serves and progresses the story well. I am beginning to suspect that this is not a superhero story at all. It's a coming-of-age story, where superheroes aren't what you think they are... important. 

Because this TV show doesn't fit in the mold of a superhero origin story, it actually does very well. It's odd and offbeat. Superimposed on the surface of the show are all of Kamala's hopes and dreams, in cartoon form. The production quality of these interjections suffers from a rare problem. The quality is too good. It's not especially distracting but somehow fails to integrate with the characters and story. When the actors are asked to act out these imagined plot lines, the show really shines. The humor and delivery are a lot like Ant-Man, which is not a bad film to emulate. The results of these live action intercessional pieces pay handsomely, like little nuggets of gold. 

If this was a full-length feature film, I'd stop right there. Five Stars. 

But it isn't a feature film. Ms. Marvel is one of these odd 6 part mini-series on D+ which may or may not develop into a full series. That is baffling in my mind. 

We are on to Disney. I totally understand why they picked this format. Fear of Failure, plain and simple. "We meant to a 6 piece storyline, and we're done. We don't have to do more." vs. "Wow, this sucked. It was a bad idea and it's going in the garbage bin." 

I'm looking at you, Falcon and Winter Soldier. It had a lot of potential, but after a while, I pulled a Bender and shouted "Do a flip!". Horrible that I feel that way. It really had potential but didn't stick the landing. And Disney doesn't have to worry because it was just a mini-series and nothing "important". Just filler content for a new streaming service. 

So, we have a superhero show that isn't really about superheroes. Disney nailed the meta on this as superheroes are an ever-present feature of Kamala's world, but have nothing to do with who she is. Her friends and family are who she is. 

There is a gritty narrative under the surface, about what worldwide disasters (Covid... the Blip, pick) do to children. When it comes to kids, it's beginning to look like telling them made-up fears screws with their perception of the world and colors them for life. 

I survived, the Cold War, the Next Ice Age, AIDS, Y2K, Global Warming, COVID... the list goes on and on. I survived, you survived because none of these are really world-ending events. Not even close. Sure we've got bombs that can turn a patch of earth into a glass as hot as the sun, but we are humbled by the fact that we cannot build enough to damage the planet in any meaningful way. Sure, lots of people die but life goes on. 

Ask the birds, formerly known as dinosaurs. 

Thankfully, Ms. Marvel keeps this concept on a low simmer. You can see it, and feel it, but isn't directly addressed. The viewer merely needs to know that's a thing. A big thing, an ever-present thing, but not the topic of this story. 

So, here we are with a character and story that refuses to be deconstructed like a superhero comic. No tragic backstory, no war, no calamity but one. And it's an amazing calamity. 

Kamala shows up at Avengercon and meets her arch-nemesis, a tall blue-eyed, blonde-haired classmate that loves Captain Marvel as much as she does. And how does that go? Both girls' biggest dreams and worst high school faux pas of showing up in the same outfit come to pass.  

Instead of being a monster, Blonde Captain Marvel walks up to Pakastani, Muslim Captain Marvel gushing with joy, not anger, not jealously, but straight-up joy. Because normal humans don't get angry when meeting their dreams. 

This whole episode reminds me of every parent-teacher conference I've ever hosted. You know, the one where I have to tell a parent that their child is good, well-behaved, caring, driven, compassionate, and is a pleasure... no, a privilege and an honor to have in class which garners the response: "But B in math..". Screw the math, your kid is amazing because you are awesome parents. These conferences happen way more often than you could possibly know.  

As much as those students aren't my children, this show is not my show. Disney needs to get real and not "do the math" on this series. It's meant for kids, it's meant for a particular class of kids, and they should be damn happy to have it. If they do the math, this will end like Firefly, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

So let me end by slamming the door on future reviews of this show. 5 stars, but it isn't for me. Unless something changes, there doesn't need to be another review. 

The End. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Oops! Obi-Wan Kenobi Episode 4 Review

This week flew by. In fact, I thought Thursday was Wednesday. It isn't. 

So, here is this week's review. 

This episode stars Reva, Kenobi, and Leia, with a brief visit by Vader. This episode picks up where the last one ended, Ben and Vader are in serious need of healing. Our old friend the Bacca Tank appears in two different forms. 

Meanwhile, Reva has Leia where Leia wants her. The little princess tries to dance with the Inquisitor and does a remarkable job at it. Unfortunately, too many hijinx with the dark side end up in pain and torture. A child couldn't see that coming. 

Moses Ingram is an excellent villain and foil to Leia. They manage to verbally box each other into surprising corners. Ingram as Reva reveals an incredible amount of understanding of Leia's situation and makes many plays at getting the child to reveal some secrets. It doesn't work, because Reva is an Inquisitor and lets her passions get the better of her. 

The scrappy heroes throw together a terrible plan to invade the Sith Castle in the Mustafar system to free Leia. Indira Varma aka Tala takes the lead and runs the mission save the girl from certain death. I find her very boring, which is actually excellent. She's a spy, she's too dull to notice. It works for me and works for Kenobi, too. 

Much of the rescue involves a series of callbacks to other shows and movies. From the prequels, we get a water world and a tiny breathing mouthpiece. I mentioned the Bacca Tank already, it was used to creepy good effect. Ben tricks stormtroopers with imaginary noises while Tala leaves her communicator on a table like C3PO. My favorite is Ben savaging two stormtroopers like Ahsoka Tano did in the Mandolorian. Snowspeeders make a comeback. 

While I found this episode to be lackluster, the real star is The Force itself. Or at least how it works. At various points, people use and misuse The Force to disastrous effects. Reva finds out that it doesn't work on people who are telling the truth or are at least not telling a lie. Leia also finds that she can protect herself from imagined threats by belief, but all the belief in the world doesn't protect her from getting kicked around. Vader and Ben discover that being aware of each other is rough. 

This sort of undoes some of the worst Force appearances in the most recent 3 films. First, it makes a precedence for telepathy or at least extreme clairvoyance. We got that through "feelings" in the original films, through blurry images in the prequels, and in the last 3 films, full-on mind-melding. Ben and Vader engage in it in an unwelcome and disturbing way, which support's Vader's anger and Ben's fears. 

It also shows how useless The Force is when one cannot imagine the true events occurring. This is greatly amplified when a dark-sider doesn't have the focus or enough information to act, yet acts anyway. It is a slight nod to Ben Solo being a stupid villain, meaning someone who had zero awareness of their actions and how they would be taken by others. 

Personally, I loved Kylo Ren because he was not a Sith Lord and was not bright at all. It was really shocking to see someone completely out of control for no good reason other than that was simply what they were. This is kind of in the vein of Shakespearean villains who engage in evil stuff because they are evil, not because anything special happened to them. 

I'll give this episode a smidgen over middling. 3 of 5 stars. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Old School Essentials: Characters Review

It's been a few months since I've reviewed anything. Today, I mean to correct this by reviewing Old School Essentials' Character PDF book. As you can see by the counter on the right, I backed the 2022 Kickstarter having missed the original Kickstarter a few years ago. 

Title: Old School Essentials: Characters
Author: Gavin Norman
Rule Set: OSE/B/X
Year: 2022
Pages: 73
Number of players: 2 or more
Rating: ★★★★(★) 5ish of 5 stars

Right off the bat, I must justify the star rating. This work is currently a pdf of a future physical book. It makes heavy use of gorgeous artwork, sometimes on two-page spreads. It will not print well without an inordinate amount of care or skipping the artwork spreads altogether. A half measure might be to print these spreads on photopaper, leaving the back side of the page blank or cobbing something together with glue. 

Neither seems like a good solution. The physical book will merit at least 5 stars and I will happily update this once I start to see the physical product. This is a flaw of my rating system, not really a reflection of the goods in question. Judging by the physical copy of the Rules Tome I picked up at Iron Buffalo Games, we're in good hands. 

Because I am a history major, I am throwing up my first star for a rock-solid impressum. A lot of authors, especially PDF producers skimp on the credits either throwing them in the back of the book with the legalese or not publishing them at all. OSE: Characters gets it right.

Perfect! Names and dates, as needed. Where "city of publication" is missing, we get websites which I feel is an excellent compromise. 

So, in just 73 pages, we have a modern take on the original B/X rules. Gone are the errors and counter-intuitive stuff from B/X, everything has been fixed. The level limits are mitigated by a simple chart in the event that your human gets too big in the britches. No sense in making a whole 'nother set of rules when these simple guide rails will serve so well. 

What you get is a simple and clean way to build Clerics, Dwarves, Elves, Fighters, Halflings, Magic Users and Theives. Additionally, you get flavoring from B/X and AD&D. You have Clerics with no spells to start, alignment languages, and many more. My personal favorites are hirelings, building castles and towers and an introduction to domain level play.  

It also has a handy guide to TH0AC and something called "Ascending Armor Class". It seems reasonable, but lower is better as it doesn't invalidated the classic statement: "Comes with 24 illustrations, charts and tables". That kind marketing speak was a big part of my youth and huge influence on me. "Higher is better" a statement best reserved for space stations, raves and your spouse's Christmas party. 

Anyway,  I recall reviewing a different set of PDFs by Old School Essentials. I'm slightly bent that October is a long ways off and I shaved off the gold part of the star so I have some reason revisit this. When I get my hands on a physical book, my rating system will be completely broken when I come back and give this title the whole 5 gold stars that it deserves because there is no ranking higher. I really enjoyed this one for a variety of reasons which mirror why I like the original Basic and Expert sets back in the day.  

Now if you missed the Kickstarter, if you have no way to pick up this set online, be sure to check your local game shop. I found my first OSE book by accident at Iron Buffalo Games. Nothing is better than finding a treasure in a place close to home. 

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Continuing... out of order.

Back in April, I posted a bit of a story with no title. It still has no title despite each chapter having one. I have about 7000 words written. Or about 25 pages. I've taken several stabs at NaNoWriMo, but never actually finished. Apparently, November sucks for me. If I actually crank out 50,000 words or more, maybe I'll publish it. 

Now, bear in mind, that the text in this post is subject to change. You are getting a live version, not a fixed snapshot of a work in progress. 

I had a long day today, so things are very ruff. You'll find typos and mixed-up sentences, I am sure. Up until 15 minutes ago, I didn't realize that I had one character was in two places at once. While based off of something I would use in my high magic D&D campaigns, I typically like to keep time and space fixed so I don't drive my players or myself nuts. 

This started with an idea for a D&D campaign, it has morphed into something more. Perhaps it doesn't reproduce D&D exactly, but it rhymes with it. I have a cast of characters like a party. Each character has a role like a class, but I changed things up willy-nilly to fit the story. 

The whole setting is based on Roman culture but displaced in time and space. If it was set in Rome, it would be about 200 years after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire. However, it is not set in Rome or even Europe. If you have ever been north of Buffalo or Rochester in New York, you will notice the similarities in the terrain. 

Although this section is an external character study of Justo and Gerwinder, Serena and Rolf's powers are highlighted in the extreme. 

Serena has a lot of shoutouts to Disney's Encanto, particularly the character Luisa Madrigal. She would be a divisive woman to ancient Romans. She behaves as if she is the actual wife of Hercules, which is very dangerous scenario in ancient times. She is a free woman with no duties or obligations to the rule of law because her husband cannot be taken to task or court. For the purposes of this story, there is a general belief that Hercules is an absent demi-god meaning that Serena can roll as she sees fit. 

I also use her to describe realistic clothing worn by Roman women, topped off with a fantastic expy Girdle or Belt of Giant Strength. 

Rolf doesn't know he is god touched. He is a priest of Mercury and you'll notice some of the trappings of a D&D cleric. He can turn undead and cannot use a bladed weapon. He knows the first, but not the second. His magic is thematic to Mercury, so he can cast haste on himself and others. He can probably do this once per day. 

Gerwinder's flight depicts Traveller's "slow drug" in action. 

It is an oddity that Serena is Rolf, Sarah and Leon's sister while also having the cult title of "Sister". I hope that isn't too confusing. The multiple references to "cults" is in line with the ancient meaning of the word, which lacks the current negative implications. It is all about the rites and ceremonies in practicing religion. In this particular case, Serena is celebrating Hercules by not being present for his feast day, an event that excluded women. 

Since Heracleia takes place in late July or early August and the wheat harvest is anywhere from July to mid-September, we have the implication that Sister Serena is a bit of a globe trotter. 

Geoff is Rolf, Leon and Serena's brother-in-law. He is a fighter-farmer, which is something every legionary and auxiliary aspired to be. He is an earnest citizen of his new culture. He is probably an example of a lawful good alignment in action. 

Leon is the opposite of Geoff in every way, being landed and noble in a very simplistic way. He is the oldest son in a large family, of which we have only met a handful. Don't be fooled by Leon's actions in this section. He is a prime example of lawful or neutral evil thinking in action. He is putting weapons in the hands of people enslaved by Father. What a wonderful way to inherit young. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Obi-Wan Kenobi - Episode 3 review

 Oh, so much ground to cover for a Wednesday. But Ben comes first. I'll save the other exciting events of the week for the weekend. 

Episode 3 picks up where the last episode ended. Ben and Leia are on the run from the Inquisitors. This episode is odd because it solidifies what happened in the Clone Wars cartoon while seeming to undercut what happened in Rebels. There are a ton of shout-outs to both series in this episode. 

In the last Episode, Reva betrayed the Grand Inquisitor and makes a powerplay with the rest of the Inquisitors. She jumps in the driver's seat and takes the Empire for a spin. She manages to locate and isolate Ben and Leia, which of course leads to typical Empiric missteps. Often, Star Wars plays these types of events for laughs but Ben's encounter with stormtroopers is anything but funny. The two heroes end up on the short bus with a bunch of stormtroopers which could have been played for laughs but instead, we get sorrow and tension before the stormtroopers learn to just walk away. 

Meanwhile Third Sister, or Reva if you like, tries to get the Empire back on Ben's track. She is only partially successful. This is what I like in a villainous character, driven but totally luckless. Reva and the other Inquisitors are forever stuck in a battle of brawn more than will. Where the others are ruthless, Reva is honest. That is one of the most dastardly traits of a villain. She has an awareness of what the Inquisitors are and doesn't fully mean to emulate them. Much to their pain. 

The big cameo is Vader's appearance, a direct result of Reva's power-grabbing stunts. It's a pity that the other Inquisitors are unable to learn from past mistakes and can only emulate important actions. Which leads to vying for power and bad ideas.  

Emperor Claudius

I've had a theory since seeing Rogue One, which is weird because Rogue One is in Obi-Wan's future. In the original three Star Wars films, Vader was a beast. There was nothing scarier than that black suit and dark breathing. But it comes at a cost. There is only so much energy he has to spend. When not in the suit, he's in the tank just trying to be ready to get in the suit. He is worn out, exhausted from the constant pain of his injuries. This was very evident in Rogue One and to a lesser extent, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It comes back in Obi-Wan Kenobi, as Vader sits on his throne. He is more Claudius than Conan. 

He's not his best by any measure. Perhaps a better analogy would be Vader and Tiberius. 

This is the Vader we get in Kenobi. While weak, he dominates the stage, making everything seem small and cramped. This episode opens up the world when Leia and Ben are on the road through deserts and mines, but everything collapses in when they are being stalked by the Empire. 
As the trap closes on Ben and Leia, the scenes take on a more realistic tone. The lightsabres are back to being physical objects as they were in the first 3 movies. Their glow is powerful, almost overdone pitting Ben's blue light against the red of Vader's blade. There is not a hell of a lot of swordplay here. The two battle like boxers coming off the ropes, which makes a lot of sense. Ben is older and Vader is maimed. 

Like the last episode, a lot of smaller characters make their way into the action hinting at a much larger world. Like Rebels, these people play a role they do not completely understand. We don't have a rebellion just yet. But boy is one brewing up. 

The episode ends in a cliffhanger as Reva almost captures what she needs. Curiously, she ends the episode spouting kindness and reassurance, which is the last thing you want from a villain. 

I look forward to the next episode.