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Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 8) – The Rescue

These days, it can be nice when in a world rampant with spoilers, some things can still surprise you.

I remember wandering around Star Wars Celebration in 2019, and seeing people psyched up for The Mandalorian. Even with a prop speeder bike from the show on display, I just dismissed the show as some way to placate the Boba Fett fanboys.

Imagine my surprise later that fall, when I found out how series creator Jon Favreau had something a little different in mind: a series that tapped into the western and samurai tales that George Lucas sought inspiration from, and attempted to tell a live-action story outside the confines of The Skywalker Saga.

Pretty soon, I was drawn into the adventures of Din Djarin (aka the Mandalorian), and his unexpected charge Grogu, aka “The Child.” The show managed to hit me with just enough nostalgia, while taking us off into places that the films would not generally go to.

And now, we find ourselves at the end of the second season, and it’s much-anticipated finale.

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With the coordinates to Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito) cruiser now in his possession, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) puts his plan into action to rescue Grogu.

Along with cohorts Cara Dune(Gina Carano), Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), Mando recruits fellow Mandalorians Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) to help them out.

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After episode 6 of this season, I did wonder if the season finale could do everything it needed to in just 45 minutes. Turns out, I didn’t have much to worry about.

One thing that has been clear over much of season 2, is how the show feels no guilt in reaching back into it’s cast of characters to pull some into the light for various missions. Characters like Mythrol and Miggs Mayfield were definitely a surprise to see play larger supporting roles this season, but I didn’t expect to see Bo-Katan and Koska return before the season ended.

For much of the episode, the action is split-up (with Boba taking a backseat to much of the action). While Mando goes in on his own, it was a nice touch seeing the women of the episode work together in infiltrating the ship. Each of them brings something useful to the fight, and getting to see them interact was a highlight. One highlight for me, was seeing a bit more action given to Fennec Shand, whom I have felt had been rather downplayed since her return to the series.

Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) infiltrate Moff Gideon’s ship.

Seen briefly in episode 6, we also get some of our first full glimpses of Moff Gideon’s nightmarish Darktrooper squad in action. The Terminator-like creations provide some nice tense moments, with an added musical cue from composer Ludwig Goransson to make things seem even more harrowing when our group encounters them on the cruiser.

Like a number of episodes this season, this one attempts to balance out action with emotion, and when it comes to emotions, this episode might hit viewers in ways they never imagined.

Certain revelations given in this episode did push a number of my emotional buttons, but once I had some time to recover and collect my thoughts, I had to judge the episode on it’s overall merits. In fact, one revelation would have probably pushed the episode to the top of my favorites of the season, if certain information hadn’t been given away a few times prior to this episode.

Mando (Pedro Pascal) encounters a cadre of Darktroopers

One of the things about the first season of The Mandalorian that I really enjoyed, was that Din Djarin seemed to be a part of the Star Wars galaxy, but quite removed from the previous “lore” that had been a major part of our lives. Seeing Mando encounter characters like Boba Fett and Ahsoka Tano I feel is okay, but I often felt that with Star Wars being such a large sandbox to play in, the show could have done a better job of carving out it’s own way in the universe. That to me seems to be the teeter-totter that the series rests on: it tries to make it’s own way, but has a “habit” of diving a little too often into “the familiar.”

The Rescue definitely feels like a turning-point for the series. It draws a curtain over the eight episodes we’ve invested in over the last few months, but much like The Empire Strikes Back, leaves us at a point where we don’t know just where its characters can go. While some mysteries have been solved, new ones have been revealed. It doesn’t feel like there are any easy answers regarding where most of our main characters can go, and that will surely have many of us guessing as we wait once again, for a new season to start up.

I will admit that season 2 of The Mandalorian didn’t win me over as much as the first season, but watching it there were moments where I wished I was watching these episodes with a theater audience. I saw scenes where I could imagine audiences being just as rowdy and enthusiastic as I recall from the opening night of some of the Star Wars films.

If anything, my one hope is when the series returns, we get a lessening of “guest stars,” and focus a little more on developing the cast of characters surrounding Din Djarin, and where his journeys will take him next.

Final Grade: B+

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 5) – The Jedi

When The Mandalorian first started, it felt like we were going to see a world where most of what we had learned via the Star Wars films, would take a backseat. Series creator Jon Favreau, looked to be shifting his focus to the grittier side of the galaxy we had glimpsed just briefly in George Lucas’ films.

With The Child showing a resemblance to Yoda and possessing Force-based powers, there was a hint that the Jedi might be showing up in the series…and now, it looks like that time has come.

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Going on information given to him by fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan, Mando takes The Child to Corvus, where he hopes to find a Jedi that will accept his young charge.

It is here that he encounters the walled city of Calodan, presided over by the cruel Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), and her lieutenant Lang (Michael Biehn).

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is escorted into Calodan

Elsbeth requests Mando’s help to take down a Jedi named Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who has been attempting to breach the walls of her city.

It just so happens, that Ahsoka is also the Jedi that Mando is looking for.

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While the series has shown us a galaxy following the aftermath of the events of Return of the Jedi, this season has also shown us that the series is not afraid to reference things from the prequel films, let alone The Clone Wars animated series.

With The Jedi, writer/director Dave Feloni gets to bring one of the characters he created to life, showing us Ahsoka Tano far removed from what has been seen. Rosario Dawson disappears into her character, showing us someone who seems to have chosen her own path, but still remembers much of her days before the Jedi Purge. The way she is portrayed here, it’s a good bet that current fans of hers will be pleased, and a number of new fans for Ahsoka will be joining them soon.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) converses with The Child

The episode also gives us some of the most intimate moments with Mando and The Child we’ve seen yet. It feels like it has been awhile since we saw them connect like this, and Ahsoka acts as an intermediary to help Mando better understand the little one (even revealing it’s name!). Though much like his seeking out Mandalorians in the episode The Mistress, Mando’s search for a Jedi does not quite provide him with all the answers he seeks.

In terms of antagonists, Morgan Elsbeth is more of a low-key villain this time around, a figure who stands calm-and-collected in many situations, but is willing to fight if the need arises. A surprising guest appearance was seeing actor Michael Biehn as her lieutenant. Much like Timothy Olyphant earlier in the season, he just blends in surprisingly well for his brief appearance.

For the theming of this episode, the stylings of samurai films are on full display. From the high walls surrounding Caloden, to the barren stalks of trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky, Feloni is tapping into some familiar theming. Even the opening that introduces Ahsoka feels like it has Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s fingerprints on it. The episode overall feels more like an exercise in quietness and contemplation, than the pulse-pounding action we’ve seen in recent episodes.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) confronts Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto)

This is definitely an episode that requires multiple viewings. Much like how George Lucas would layer in details for the prequels, Filoni does the same here, making me think even a few viewings may not be enough to catch a number of the details included here.

The Jedi will surely provide those with fond memories of Ahsoka Tano, an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Its story swings more towards a samurai tale than a western, but it helps act as a nice change of scenery, where we get to slow down and learn more about our lead characters, without having a major threat to contend with. This may also be one of the most emotional episodes we’ve had in the series so far, but we should be wary as dark clouds still loom on the horizon, and the journey for Mando and The Child, may be a ways off from coming to its conclusion.

Final Grade: B+

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 4) – The Siege

The Mandalorian’s quest continues ever onward, but just when it seems his path is clear, we can always count on something popping up to divert his attention.

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With his ship needing additional repairs, Mando returns to Nevarro (where he first got the assignment that led him to The Child). Since the events of last season, the once lawless town has been cleaned up by cohorts Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano).

While things appear to be going okay, the two request Mando’s help to take out an operational Imperial base nearby, that could threaten their attempts to keep order.

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After what we learned in the previous episode, I was really looking forward to The Siege…only to find my excitement tempered, when it was revealed that this was another “back to a familiar locale” episode (at this rate, it makes me wonder if the showrunners are going to send us back to the greenery of Sorgan before the season is up).

Unlike other season 1 locations, we return to a destination that has been transformed. With Greef and Cara having taken control, the streets are now thriving with newcomers and more colorful decorations…while still proving that evil is never fully eradicated in some small, action-packed scenes.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child are welcomed back to Nevarro by Cara Dune (Gina Carano), and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers)

Speaking of “never fully eradicated,” a surprise guest is the aquatic-based Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) from the season 1 premiere episode, who ends up getting dragged along on the mission thanks to Greef. Mythrol almost becomes the C-3PO of the episode, though a tad less whiny in a few situations.

As this is largely a “mission” episode, The Child is put on the sidelines for much of the action. He has a small-but-entertaining scene in the beginning, but the story’s attempts to give him some humor in several other scenes, felt more like the attempts at humor from the earlier episode, The Passenger.

This episode also marks the first directed by a cast member, as Carl Weathers takes on the task. At times, the action-based pacing and setup feels oddly reminiscent of the last episode (The Mistress), but a little more “old-school.” There are even some scenes that made me imagine the excited reactions of a theater audience, given what is put on display here.

Cara Dune, The Mandalorian, Greef Karga, and Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) infiltrate an Imperial Base on Nevarro

The Imperial Base and what goes on within it feels almost like a video game, and the ensuing fight between our heroes and the soldiers that occupy it, feels like some kids playing with their toys in the backyard. There also is the added information that the actions of the shadowy Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), are not as generalized as we may have thought. One scene caught me completely off-guard, let alone the use of an often-maligned word that had me chuckling at the internet reaction.

The Siege was not what I expected, but it was still surprising once I realized the episode had secrets of its own to reveal. Mando ends up on a mission that reveals things that could send shockwaves through the rest of the galaxy, but it’s too soon to know just what has been uncovered.

It’s a nice little episode to catch up with old friends and reminisce about the past, though it does make me wonder how many additional subplots will be revealed before the season ends, and if the show can find balance once they’ve been revealed.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 3) – The Mistress

As the second season of The Mandalorian hits its third episode, its strong season premiere and decent second episode have brought us back into the series in a big way. Can the third episode improve on what has come before?

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After managing to ferry his passenger from the last episode to her husband, Mando is informed that there are Mandalorians near the spaceport where his ship is. What he finds is quite a revelation, but is a key to him hopefully being able to reunite the child in his care, with the Jedi.

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If you thought the previous episode was short, The Mistress has it beat by clocking in at just 35 minutes. The length of these most recent episodes makes me wonder if episodes 2 and 3 were meant to be one story, but were split in two due to how much was going on.

Bryce Dallas Howard returns to the director’s chair, showing us once again that she knows how to pull at our emotions, and get us pulled into the action. This episode has much more action than her last episode in season 1, and makes me eager to know what more she could do for the series.

The Child and The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) take to the high seas in search of other Mandalorians Warriors.

The environment of this episode is probably the wettest we’ve encountered yet, and makes for a nice change-of-pace. We see a population largely made up of sea creatures such as Mon Calamari and Squid Heads, let alone how this area has fared after the fall of the Empire.

The Mandalorians our lead encounters manage to be quite surprising in their depiction. Led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), they reveal some additional information in regards to Mandalorian codes, and the history of the warriors. One can definitely sense some apprehension when they do things that seem outside of the code that Mando has lived by for much of his life, but it is notable that this does not stop them from offering help when Mando needs it in several instances.

Mando meets warriors Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), and Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides)

This episode also continues the “you have to do us a favor” theme from the previous episodes, as Mando is recruited to help deal with some post-Empire loyalists. Howard’s directing of the event is incredibly exciting, and blends drama, action, and a little humor into the mission.

The Mistress manages to bring us some new revelations amidst an action-oriented episode, making it feel like a short-but-sweet storyline. I like episodes where we learn more about the galaxy, and this one where we learn a bit more about Mandalorian codes and post-Empire actions, delivered very well. The introduction of some new characters here leaves the door open to not only the possibility of us seeing them again, but knowing there is even more about The Mandalorians that has yet to be revealed.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 2) – The Passenger

After a strong season 2 opener, The Mandalorian has gotten us excited to follow the series’ helmeted lead and his young companion, as they set off on a personal mission, and encounter harrowing adventures along the way.

With the second episode, the Star Wars galaxy opens up a bit wider, but just in smaller increments.

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The Mandalorian continues his quest to find more of his kind, to help return The Child where it belongs. When an expectant mother needs passage to reach her husband, Mando begrudgingly accepts in exchange for information that might help him.

However, the journey comes with extra stipulations, and leads the group into more than they bargained for.

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While starting off in a familiar locale, this episode takes us to some (supposedly) new territory, while keeping much of the nostalgia to a bare minimum. We also get to encounter some new surroundings and creatures, that might put some viewers on edge.

The Child enjoys a barbecue.

Speaking of creatures, for those who didn’t feel there was enough of The Child in the last episode, this one should be greatly entertaining. We get to see it go through quite a range of emotions, and get in a few, humorous moments of troublemaking that almost make him seem “gremlin-like.”

The mother of the piece is probably not going to win a lot of people over (amphibious creatures in Star Wars seem to grate on most peoples’ nerves), but we do see that she can be resourceful when necessary, while also concerned in regards to herself and her unborn young. What could have become a stereotypical “annoying passenger” with an urgent issue, is nicely kept in check for most of the episode (even if she speaks “frog” most of the time).

One highlight is an aerial sequence in which Mando encounters some X-Wing fighters. While we saw them briefly in the first season, this one showcases Industrial Light & Magic’s technological advances in recent years. Somehow, they’ve managed to find a nice balance between the visuals of the starships we saw decades go, while placing them into some picturesque scenery with real-world detailing.

The Razor Crest encounters two New Republic X-Wing Fighters.

This episode also brings a new director into the fold, with Peyton Reed (director of Ant-Man) at the helm. Reed brings what feels like a nice, old-school simplicity to the story. There aren’t a lot of wide-open vistas once the main part of the story begins, and the camerawork feels both intimate and claustrophobic for much of the episode (with one scene even feeling like Reed is borrowing from the Spielberg book of framing).

On the whole, the story does prove to show us more of how Mando operates, but just feels average. A much shorter side-adventure (clocking in at only 41 minutes!), The Passenger takes its time a bit more than most episodes, stretching out its storyline in a way which might bore some of the younger viewers, but felt like a nice breather compared to last week’s episode. At this point, the episode could just be allowing us to catch our breaths, before next weeks episode ramps back up to speeds and excitement we’re well used to.

Final Grade: B

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Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 1) – The Marshal

When The Mandalorian premiered last fall, it felt like a return to what Star Wars creator George Lucas enfolded into his early trilogy.

The Disney+ show chronicled the journey of a lone warrior in a sci-fi mixture of westerns and samurai tales, while adding some humor and heart to the mix. It was a story idea that managed to make me excited for a bucket-headed bounty hunter that wasn’t named “Fett,” and revealed a new spin on a familiar species, that soon ended up becoming a hit that caught The Walt Disney Company by surprise.

Now, almost a year and thousands of “Baby Yoda” products later, we return to following a new season of adventures with Mando and The Child.

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Following the events of last season, Mando is continuing his quest to find other Mandalorian warriors who can help him return The Child to where it belongs.

His journey leads him back to Tatooine, and to the small town of Mos Pelgo, presided over by a man named Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant). The visit is interrupted when a massive Krayt Dragon threatens the town, leading to Mando providing his help, in exchange for some special items Cobb has obtained.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) arrives in Mos Pelgo.

As soon as I heard of the familiar outer-rim planet, I had flashbacks to the rather average first-season episode, The Gunslinger. I was underwhelmed by that episode’s storyline, and what felt like an attempt to give us a pretty heavy dose of “nostalgic anesthetic” related to some familiar locales.

In the case of The Marshal, writer/director Jon Favreau fortunately has a much more entertaining and interesting narrative to work with, allowing most of the nostalgic bits intertwined within the episode to work in the service of the storyline…though I will say there were a few areas where my eyes opened real wide upon recognizing some unexpected surprises.

The story goes all-in with the Western aesthetic, with Mos Pelgo being the small town at the mercy of the elements and marauders (let alone local creatures), and Cobb is the man who attempts to keep the peace.

Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) converses with The Mandalorian.

As the town’s savior, Cobb’s characterization came across as surprising, and very involving. While a little rough around the edges, he is a person who manages to seem pretty cool and collected when dealing with Mando, but also has some trepidation when dealing with unexpected surprises. We also learn a little about his backstory, let alone how the fall of the Empire affected the small community he is a part of.

The Child takes a backseat for most of the episode, which becomes more of a “creature-feature,” with quite a number of Tusken Raiders (aka “Sand People”) being utilized. The Gunslinger showed us that Mando could communicate with them, and we get to see a bit more of their culture, often against some rather picturesque vistas.

The big baddie this time around is a Krayt dragon, a creature that has been a part of Star Wars lore for years, and is depicted here as a massive threat that may seem familiar to some creatures in the films Dune and Tremors, with maybe a bit of Moby Dick in how the plan is hatched to bring down this sand-swimming monstrosity. Plus, if you have an “ear” for nostalgia, you may pick up on a familiar sound emanating from its maw.

A caravan of Tusken Raiders make their way over the sand dunes.

The Marshal is an entertaining action-adventure tale, that manages to tell a good story, while also not letting too much of its nostalgia get the better of it. The addition of more information about Tatooine and its creatures helped draw me in, and Olyphant as Cobb Vanth was an entertaining character to meet for the first time. Series creator Jon Favreau brings us back with a solid first episode, leaving us hungry for what is to come in the next episode.

Final Grade: B+

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Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 6) – The Prisoner

Another week, another new episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

After time on two desert planets and a forested world, our leading man’s latest journey keeps him out among the stars, but not far enough out of trouble.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) reaches out to a mercenary he knows named Ran (Mark Boone, Jr), looking for work. What he gets is a prison break job, where he’s teamed up with Ran’s assistant Mayfield (Bill Burr), a Devaronian named Burg (Clancy Brown), a crazy Twi’lek named Xi’an (Natalia Tena), and a droid named Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), Burg (Clancy Brown), Xi’an (Natalia Tana), and Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounter a mouse droid.

Mando finds there are added stipulations, but takes the job. However, it just feels like this deal is getting worse all the time.

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After a few minutes with this week’s crew, it feels like Mando has fallen into a combination of Suicide Squad and Rogue One with this episode. This is one of those scenarios where it seems the operatives were chosen for their skills, and if they happen to work well as a team…well, that’s just a bonus.

We get some hints of people having knowledge of Mando in this one. From Ran to Xi’an, there are small bits of information that their paths have crossed, but we’re left in the dark regarding most of those past exploits. There also is a continued mention of Mando’s disliking of droids, and a little more information on his ship, the Razor Crest.

Rick Famuyiwa directs his second episode of the season, taking us from open desert terrain, to the confining hallways of a New Republic prison ship. There’s definitely some flashbacks to the sleek-white interior of the Tantive IV from Episode III & IV, mixed in with some new elements as well (after the fall of the Empire, the New Republic now has the credits to afford droids to guard their prisoners).

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Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounters some deadly droids.

Fortunately, The Prisoner ends up not relying so much on nostalgia like last week’s episode, The Gunslinger. The little shout-outs to certain areas of the Star Wars universe in this episode, are a little more unexpected. We get a minor reference to The Last Jedi, while one of the character’s call-outs to a certain prequel species, shows that racism is still alive and well in the galaxy.

With a crazy crew of characters, I was hoping there would be some faces here that would be more memorable. Alas, the characters are pretty much here to serve their basic purposes of being colorful scum, that feel like we’ve seen them in other popular culture materials. I’d dare anyone to watch this, and not think of Xi’an as a Twi’lek “Harley Quinn,” or Burg as the team’s “Drax.”

The highlight of the episode is seeing how resourceful the Mandalorian can be in a tight spot, and when things really start to go downhill at one point, some of what he does brought a smile to my face. Pity that I couldn’t have enjoyed the rest of the episode as much as one little scene at the end, where Famuyiwa gets a little “house of horrors” in how he stages a tense scene or two.

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Xi’an (Natalia Tena) sees red.

Just like last week, The Child is relegated to a smaller role, as our focus is mainly on Mando. All showings of The Child in this episode, seems mainly to let us know he’s still alive, but that’s about it.

In my humble opinion, The Prisoner is definitely better than The Gunslinger for an overall story that doesn’t rely on nostalgia, but it doesn’t give enough decent characters to really make me care much for plight of most on-screen.

With two episodes left in the season, The Mandalorian started out strong, and seems to have become rather middling with it’s recent stories. With two episodes left in this season, I am hoping the first season will conclude in a way that will make us eager for season 2.

Final Grade: B

 

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 4) – Sanctuary

Since it’s premiere on Disney+, The Mandalorian  has become one of the most surprising things to come out of Disney since the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and showrunner Dave Feloni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), have managed to channel into the gunslinger/samurai mentality that George Lucas often cited in various parts of the Star Wars saga. The episodic nature of the series is one part Saturday afternoon serial, and one part Spaghetti Western, with each week revealing more about our title character, and his place in the world of Star Wars.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child

Following events at the end of episode 3, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and his new companion (simply known as The Child) attempt to lay low on the planet Sorgan. However, Mando comes across two unexpected encounters.

The first is a woman named Cara Dune (Gina Carano), A former shocktrooper of the New Republic who has settled down in the area.

The second is a small group of villagers, who request Mando’s help to take care of some marauders that threaten their isolated community.

Given the action-packed pacing of the first three episodes, it stands to reason some will be disappointed with how “simple” Sanctuary is. However, it’s the first real “breather” we’ve had since the show began, and I welcomed the chance to see Mando and the Child interacting with other beings. It’s one thing to see characters in intense situations, but it’s another to learn more about them when they aren’t being fired on from all sides.

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Cara Dune (Gina Carano) teaches the villagers

Cara Dune proves herself to be another worthy addition to the ever-growing cast of supporting characters. Seeing her team up with Mando to assist the villagers, gives us some more insight into her, let alone how her own training can be utilized to help the people. While Cara may have turned her back on the New Republic, that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of helping others in need.

The village doesn’t feel that far removed from a native tribe, intermingled with a Japanese village from the days of the Samurai (those who have seen Akira Kurosawa’s films will surely see some connections!). Our main contacts to this world are a widow named Omera (Julia Jones), along with her daughter, Winta (Isla Ferris).

While Winta happily acclimates The Child into the village’s younger ranks, Omera seems to quickly take an interest in the Mandalorian. Her character isn’t that far removed from the young woman we’ve seen in Westerns, entranced by a strong-but-silent newcomer. In Omera’s case, it almost feels like her type of character is a little “too soon” for the series. The writers still manage to keep her interesting, even if she seems a little “by-the-numbers” at times.

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Omera (Julia Jones) converses with the Mandalorian

The effects provided by Industrial Light and Magic in this story, really works within the environment. This is the first time we’ve seen The Child really stretch his legs, and while certain scenes may involve an animatronic figure, computer-generated effects are used in a sparing way, almost hearkening back to the days of Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.

Episodes like Sanctuary are a great way to use the slower moments to understand more about characters. We learn not only about the galaxy post-Empire via Cara, but more about the Mandalorian code, and a few more hints about our lead character’s past. The storytelling of Mando being tempted with a life of simplicity however, feels a little too soon to tell, given we’re only four episodes into our adventures with him.

Most will probably discount this episode given it’s tone, but for managing to “simplify” where others want a lot more, I feel it’s a bit more worthy of praise than most will give it credit for.

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Final Grade: B+

Book Review: George Lucas, A Life (by Brian Jay Jones)

To many of us, there is a name. A name that can cause a person to respond in a number of ways. From a smile, all the way to an eyeball-rolling groan.

That name, is George Lucas.

Following his 2013 biography on Jim Henson, author Brian Jay Jones has tapped into another name many of us recall from our childhoods, but (probably) never fully comprehended.

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A Modesto Bee clipping showing the car crash, that changed (and almost ended) Lucas’ life, in 1962.

George Lucas: A Life seeks to educate the masses, giving us a tome that hits a number of Lucas’ life highlights, from his near-death accident as a teenager, to meeting director Francis Ford Coppola, and much more…but sadly, not as much as I had expected.

Without appendices and the bibliography at the end, Jones’ biography on Lucas clocks in around the same page-count as his Henson bio did. However, upon reading through his latest tome, it feels like Jones was forced to shore up a number of items regarding Lucas’ history.

Unlike his previous book, the doors were not thrown open to Jones, regarding in-depth research on his subject. A few of Lucas’ past acquaintances (such as Randall Kleiser and Gary Kurtz) contribute a few words to the book, but most of their inclusions feel like a small footnote, as the vast majority of information, is culled from other sources.

One habit Jones had in his Henson biography, was a certain ‘geeky giddiness’ when he’d mention Henson working on things in his early days, that he’d accomplish later on in life. Jones manages to tone down some of that geekiness here, but it manifests itself in other ways.

Most notable is in the book’s focus. Overall, it feels like analyzing the Star Wars films is his first priority, and the building of the Lucasfilm ’empire,’ is the second priority.

To many out there, Star Wars is George Lucas’ ‘calling card.’ Most talk about the film series, as if Lucas had known this was what he wanted to do since he was a boy. Of course, those of us who have ‘studied’ Lucas’ career (myself included), know that there’s more to the man than just X-Wing fighters and laser-sword fights.

When it comes to films Lucas worked on that weren’t related to Star Wars, the book’s information in these areas feels so tight, one swears large swaths may have been cut editorially, to fit George’s film career into a neat little package. I was hoping more light would have been shed on some of Lucas’ lesser-known projects like Willow, or 1994’s Radioland Murders (a film he’d been helping develop for over two decades!). Unfortunately, minimal information is provided, as we are whisked on to talk about the effects Star Wars has on Lucas’ life, let alone the constant inquiries in the 80’s, regarding when the public would see more Star Wars.

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Marcia Lucas, and George Lucas

One of the highlights of the book, is how Jones attempts to allow some visibility to one of the lesser-mentioned persons in Lucas’ early life: his first wife, Marcia.

While Lucas could be soft-spoken and quiet, Marcia was said to balance out that trait, often being rather ‘direct’ with him. Both bonded over their editorial experience (women doing editorial work, was extremely rare in the 60’s and 70’s), and it is surprising to find quotes of Marcia, discussing George and the films she worked on with him.

The book tells how she could be rather blunt about some of his decisions (she tells George how THX-1138 feels like a ‘cold’ film), and also how much she contributed to his work (she was the main editor on the climactic charge on the Death Star in the 1977 Star Wars).

Most biographies have the author attempt to find a through line to define their subject’s life, and in the case of Lucas, Jones seems to zero in on one word: independence.

Lucas is painted as a person who seemed most at ease when doing things (mostly) on his own. It often feels like he would have been comfortable just sitting in the editing room, except for his compulsion to have more control over some projects. Jones mentions such a thing happening on some producing projects, here Lucas seemed to take over the story development of some features.

It is also notable how he often balked at rules or guidelines others would set.

For example: his not including cast/director credits in the opening of Star Wars, was in violation of the Director’s Guild of America. This led to him being fined, and eventually resigning from the DCA.

He also seemed to have little time for unions or trade groups, let alone the Hollywood studio system. Many may be surprised that as much as his name is bandied around Tinseltown, George actually makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In some ways, Lucas seems very much like Walt Disney: a man who was burned by the studio system that sought to control him, prompting him to decide that he would do things his way, and answer only to one person: himself.

However, while Walt Disney’s Kingdom would be easily accessible to many, Lucas’s ‘Empire’ would be largely his own domain to look over. He would choose the film projects, decide where his money went (he didn’t rely on outside investors, or taking out huge loans like the studio system), and keep public access to a minimum (notable is that unlike The Walt Disney Company or Pixar, Lucasfilm never became a publicly-traded corporate entity).

Similarities could also be made regarding their love of pushing technology. Whereas Walt would revolutionize the world of animation, George would do the same in the world of post-production. While many can easily look at his visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, most discount his push to improve picture and sound quality in theaters, let alone find a way to streamline the film-editing process.

Today’s theater system shows the fruits of that push: many theaters now house digital projectors, and often boast the latest sound systems to show first-run feature films. Plus, the majority of all editing these days, is done digitally.

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Top Image: Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas; Bottom Image: Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas.

The biography also shows how George could fall in and out with a number of people. Old friends like Gary Kurtz and his ex-wife Marcia, were completely excised from his mind, while his friend and mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, would be a decades-long on-again/off-again friendship.

Out of all his friendships, it seems that the one Lucas still holds in high regard, is with director, Steven Spielberg.

There is a brotherly give-and-take mentioned in the chapters telling about the Indiana Jones film productions. Even if Steven and George would not agree on something, they would usually come to a compromise, sooner or later.

Much like Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve jobs, and Jones’ previous biography on Jim Henson, George Lucas: A Life strives to inform people about someone they think they know…but maybe, don’t.

There’s plenty of information for the uninformed, to find out more about one of the most familiar names in popular culture. However, for those of us who were expecting some further revelations about ‘the maker,’ it feels like Jones shuts the door to some minor revelations, that noone ever thinks to consider about Mr Lucas.

In conclusion, George Lucas: A Life is a good read, but probably not as entertaining or informative, as some of my other favorite biographies, such as Steve Jobs, or Jim Henson: The  Biography.

Final Grade: B

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Movie Review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

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Those were some of the first words, that introduced millions of people to George Lucas’ Star Wars universe. While they offered a small backstory as to this ongoing war raging across the galaxy, there were some over the years who wondered, if they could be expanded upon.

That’s what The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm Ltd have done with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set between the events of Episodes III & IV, we follow that small group of “rebel spies,” and find out how they got those secret plans, into the hands of Princess Leia Organa.

The team consists of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

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Jyn Erso (Felicia Day) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), walk through the Rebellion’s secret base.

Jyn and Cassian are our main leads in this story, with both having had their fair share of troubles, thanks to the machinations of the Empire. However, it largely feels like we’re supposed to care about them, because they’re the main characters. Most of the time, it feels like they’re simply the driving force in the story, to propel us from one location, to another.

When it comes to director Gareth Edwards, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of his work. Having seen his films Monsters and Godzilla (2014), I can’t help but feel he likes to focus more on the atmosphere and supporting characters, that revolve around his main ones.

Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s tag-team of Chirrut and Baze, was a bit of yin-yang characterization that held my attention when they were on-screen. While Chirrut seems to be strongly willing to believe in the power of the Force, Baze relies on his wits and weaponry.

Two other characters that I think will also stick in most people’s minds, are pilot Bodhi Rook, and K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid.

Bodhi is almost like our ‘Finn’ of the piece, and it seemed whenever he was on-screen, I was very much enamored with what he was doing. It feels like out of all the supporting characters, he gets the most development.

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K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) takes the controls.

Much like BB-8, K-2SO proves to be another entertaining droid for people to smile about. The filmmakers manage to find the sweet-spot between making him both informative and humorous, and it was one of the droid’s first lines, that made many in the audience give some of their first applause of the evening.

Also on hand as a new face in the Empire’s cadre of suited figures, is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). This (previously unseen) mastermind behind the Death Star’s construction, almost seems written in, to give us a taste of how credit and bureaucracy, often don’t see eye-to-eye.

The Force Awakens last year, definitely touched off plenty of similarities to the films we remembered from our past. Rogue One does some of the same, but moreso feels like a less-pandering  extension of those worlds we were first introduced to. We get plenty of new set-pieces, and some familiar ones, expanding on our past knowledge. Plus, for those of you that are die-hard fans of George Lucas, it appears that there’s a subtle reference to another of his early works.

Of course, the time-frame of the film, also gives us a chance for a few cameos. These can often bounce around from good, to bad (though I will admit there were a couple that made my face light up like a Christmas tree!).

Composer Michael Giacchino fills our ears with a score that sounds like a ‘distant cousin’ to the works of John Williams. While a few familiar musical strains are heard, he is able to walk into the universe, and add his own inspired touch to a number of scenes.

Some of the battle sequences, also feel like they are a bit ‘scattershot’ in the way they are put together. While I like a good action sequence in a Star Wars film as much as the next person, it felt like they carry on too long in certain places. This almost made me pine for the tighter editing of battle scenes in some past films. Say what you will about the prequels, but it felt like even the act of juggling multiple scenes at the end of The Phantom Menace was handled better.

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Work is almost complete on the Death Star.

That isn’t to say Rogue One is a bad film. I walked into it just like I did Episode VII last year, asking only that it entertain me, and it did just that.

Like any film that attempts to rewrite something we’re already familiar with, there are certain elements that are embellished and expanded upon. Given the way the series’ fandom functions, it will be entertaining to see if some of the ret-conned items, end up becoming as ‘scandalous’ as some of the items that Lucas wrote about in the prequels.

The film proves that Star Wars can build an expanded universe on film, and should probably give plenty out there hope, for additional Star Wars Stories in the coming years.

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Final Grade: B+ (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is the first attempt to expand the film universe of the world’s most famous space saga beyond it’s typical ‘episodes,’ and succeeds in being an entertaining prequel to the events of “A New Hope.” While our main cast of characters doesn’t prove as overall satisfying as the ragtag band of rogues in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there’s still enough here that should please “Star Wars” fans, both old and new.)