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.