Pleading the Fifth: The Rocky V of the Family

Another surprise Mythic Bios post. And I can make a pun about boxes and boxers in the light of the upcoming solstice, but I’ll spare you those gifts – or not – and get to the main attraction.

Mythic Bios Verses Rocky V.

Now, in its heyday Mythic Bios mainly looked at mythological and geeky things, but before I go into too many tangents, I will reiterate the fact that I like to look at how stories are made, built on each other, how they have continuity with one another (or as the wise ItsJustSomeRandowGuy liked to say in his skits “Continuity – Boom!”), and how they change over time. I mainly like to look at how legacies are created: whether they are intended to be so beyond the auspices of a franchise, or not. 

I have had one, or two, partners that have jokingly invoked the American Fifth Amendment in not incriminating themselves over something they will, or might say. I guess I am doing it much the same way as I talk about the fifth movie in a series that many people do not want to exist. It is understandable, After Rocky’s legendary, even mythic, defeat of Ivan Drago in light of Apollo’s death – only to have him lose all of his property because of Paulie’s mismanagement, and then having potentially fatal brain damage, and he and his family moving back to their working class roots was a little much. I mean, look at Adrian: do you really think someone with her shrewd, calculating mind would let freaking Paulie manage their family’s resources.

No. No she would not.

It was a bit of a spectacle even beyond that, — though there is always some spectacle with these films — with George Washington Duke constantly and cartoonishly being in Rocky’s face that made Apollo’s theatrics look tame by comparison. And then a street brawl where Rocky has to fight despite having a life threatening condition – contradicting the reason he couldn’t compete anymore to begin with – and, well …

Rocky V was a mess.

Yet, there was something in it that stuck with me: an element that could have translated well into future movies: even Rocky Balboa and the Creed films. 

I’m not a sportsman. I was always a stereotypical, uncoordinated, skinny geek. But that’s not what Rocky was about. Hell, you can make the argument that Karate Kid wasn’t even about karate. Rather, both series were about individuals defying the odds and finding their place, evolving and adapting to their circumstances, to achieve something with the power of community on their sides. And both series, Karate Kid’s sequel series Cobra Kai, and Rocky’s successor Creed honour where they came from, and who was in them, and they build from them new stories, and worlds. This is what mythic world-building has always been for me: building on the old, to continue it, and also adding a new slant or narrative. This is one reason why I covered Cobra Kai on this Blog.

This is why I’m looking at Rocky right now. 

In all the other Rocky films, we see a man overcoming all of these detriments: his age, his partially blind eye, his preconceptions, his grief, and his own personal demons to victory in the term of – again – coming to grips with his own flaws, and time. In the first film, Rocky deals with the potential he left behind while facing down the reigning Champion in Apollo Creed. In the second film, he adapts to his injured eye and proves to himself that he is – and deserves to be – the Champion when he faces a Creed that is serious. By the third film, Rocky has to deal with his mentor Mickey Goldmill’s death, and having his confidence shattered by too much fame, and an aggressive but serious asshole named Clubber Lang. It is under Apollo, his former enemy turned friend that he learns how to exercise in different ways, and regain his fighting spirit. And by the fourth movie, what could easily have been a propaganda film about East versus West, the Soviet Union versus the United States, Russia versus America, or revenge for the death of his friend Apollo Rocky goes through almost a shamanic journey linking to the land in Siberia to defeat Ivan Drago, and have one last truly legendary fight against a monster. 

So where do you go from there? I mean, the easy answer is you skip the mess of a fifth movie – pleading ignorance, or protection for even thinking about it existing – and look at Rocky Balboa: at a man grieving his wife’s death, and his sense of aging, and having one last great fight before gracefully stepping away to the sunset, and welcoming and training the next Champion. 

I always wondered what would have happened if Rocky had been training all the ways he did when he was a younger man: before he left and became a reluctant enforcer. Would he have been an even better fighter? But that is irrelevant, because every encounter he had in these films and in this narrative determined the lessons he would learn, and eventually apply to his life. Rocky learned everything when he needed it. And I think there was a lesson, in the much maligned fifth film, that could have developed his character further.

His mistakes.

Many fans have hard feelings towards Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Not a great sentence to continue this, especially with that film’s many flaws, but one thing that always gets me – and it is always tied to the Hero’s Journey – is that you have a hero’s mistakes, and you have a master’s mistakes. The hero gets older, and can’t journey anymore. At least, they can’t do it in the same way. So all they can do is see the next generation, and pass on what they have learned. And, sometimes, that hero is still young, and they think they can teach or guide someone as well as their mentors did for them. That is less Last Jedi, and more the Old Trilogy, and Rocky was made during the zeitgeist of that time: when Star Wars was at its height. And make no mistake: Rocky was a hero’s journey movie: with someone starting off small and working their way through a larger world, and finding themselves. 

I think what intrigues me so much about Rocky V is Rocky being a trainer. A teacher. A manager. He wanted to pass on his knowledge to someone who would appreciate it. He wanted to help someone much in the way he desperately wished someone would have stepped out, and helped him. You know, for all Mickey did volunteer his services, it was only when Rocky got that offer to fight Apollo Creed: even if Mickey had believed in Rocky’s abilities, and had been furious with him squandering them. I just saw Rocky wanting to give a young man, still not ground down by the world, perhaps a little rough around the edges, a chance. Rocky always wants to give people chances. Look at Spider, the first person we ever see him fighting on a lower level, and “Little Marie” – who ain’t so little when we see her in Balboa – and he offers them jobs at his restaurant. And how many times did Rocky bail out Paulie’s dysfunctional, tortured ass? 

So I like the idea that Rocky did encounter, and train, Tommy Gunn. I like the idea that he was, in a way, Rocky’s Jungian Shadow: reflecting that need to fight at all costs, and that where Rocky has heart, Tommy only wants power and glory, and has no ties to anyone. It’s heartbreaking, when you think about it. Like, imagine Mickey taking Rocky under his wing, and Rocky utterly betraying him, and smearing him: letting outside forces corrupt him and blind him to the truth of the sanctity of the spiritual fight? Or at least disrespecting tradition, history, and his own skills.

What happened with Rocky and Tommy, and even Washington is basically Obi-Wan Kenobi dealing with Anakin Skywalker getting corrupted by Palpatine. Only, it’s more messed up in that Washington only ever cared for dealing with Rocky’s image and getting that fight from him with one of his agents, and didn’t care about Tommy at all: just using him to hurt Rocky. And unlike Obi-Wan, Rocky has his family: he has Adrian, his son Robert, and even Paulie. And this isn’t even mentioning his own community. 

I know that Sylvester Stallone had Rocky IV remastered, making a director’s cut, but what about Rocky V? There might be issues with regards to deceased or aging actors, but there are effects to de-age them, or perhaps others scenes that were deleted – and not the ones like Little Marie being married to a drug-dealer: which I’m glad got cut.

So I guess the question is: how would I remaster Rocky V, and put it back in the continuity?

Well, it’s difficult. I think it should have been some time after Rocky IV. I don’t see Rocky losing his fortune, especially as he is high profile with the US government after his victory over Drago, and the people love him. I do think he would be done with fighting, and want to spend time with his family. I like the idea that he still has trouble relating to Robert, as he was always out fighting, and now that he’s there and around, there is a class and cultural difference between them as Robert has gone to some high level schools. And maybe, the issue after a while is Rocky feeling this sense of alienation. He doesn’t have Mickey or Apollo around anymore. He doesn’t fight. He’s a bit aimless. And he feels like people venerate him, and it makes him uncomfortable. He just did what he had to do in Apollo’s memory. That was it. He fought because he needed to, but now he doesn’t know where to put any of that energy, and he has trouble relating to those around him: even Paulie, and Adrian.

I am toying with the idea that this is where Adrian gets sick. She isn’t dying, but this makes Rocky want to take her and the family back to the old neighbourhood in Philadelphia. They sell off their mansion, which they don’t need anymore as Robert is older now, and Adrian never had much of a use for that property anyway. There is a good hospital for her, but she also wants Rocky to find his purpose beyond taking care of her. She wants to fight, like he does, and she doesn’t want him spending all of his waking moments at her bedside like he had in the second film. So he reopens Mighty Mickey’s gym, finds the old crowd, and starts training again: the legend having returned home, and to his roots.

This is around where he meets Tommy Gunn, and sees a lot of himself in him. Robert doesn’t understand this neighbourhood, and he wants nothing to do with fighting or anything of that kind. When I was younger, I wanted Robert to be the next champion: but this difference between father and son works better for me now. Rocky doesn’t have to be a hereditary legacy, and it isn’t if you consider Mickey and Apollo’s influence on Rocky. But I would keep Washington trying to lure Rocky out of retirement, and then targeting Tommy: who has had a history of being a drifter with anger-management issues.

I just like the focus to be Rocky not seeing Tommy as an accident waiting to happen, and also not relating to his son, and the tension where he focuses on Adrian and Tommy and nothing else. And it all degenerates much as it did in that first film. And Adrian wants Rocky and Robert to have a better relationship in case she isn’t around anymore. Everyone can see that Tommy is bad news, and even Tommy – despite initially wanting to do right by Rocky – succumbs to his worst impulses. 
In the end, when Tommy attacks Paulie, that’s pretty much it. A rabid dog has to be put down. Rocky realizes, then and there, that he has to live now, and not try to put his glory days in another. He also comes to the understanding that Tommy was never a younger version of him, that he already has a son, and he needs to protect his family – and the sanctity of the sport he bled for. For this film, Adrian would go into remission at the end, and Rocky and the rest know the fight will continue. Always.

By the time of Creed, Rocky doesn’t want to try to train another student. He remembers Gunn, and the mistake he had been, and more than that, the mistakes he made. He thought he could train Gunn as well as Mickey and Apollo and Duke. He was wrong. But despite what people said about Luke Skywalker not being a good teacher, people like him and Rocky, and Daniel LaRusso all learned from being heroes and protagonists. And I think Rocky honouring Creed’s father, and Creed himself, would be a great step: and in that restored continuity, Rocky – having given up on Mickey’s Gym (passing it onto Duke perhaps) and making Adrian’s restaurant instead – he trains someone else right. If Gunn was Rocky’s Darth Vader, then Creed would be his Luke Skywalker, minus the dying part.

It’s not perfect, and please don’t judge me on it,  but this is my long way of stating that I liked the idea of Rocky being a failed teacher who ultimately remembers what is important in life, and then later redeeming even that and becoming a great manager. We always live legacies, and mythologies. And while this rewrite would probably be a tall order, it is nice to think about. And I look forward to seeing where the next creative struggle – the next fight – leads.

How to Make a Jedi Warrior

It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it.

Whenever I come back here, I feel like I have to say something introspective about my time away. I used to write here all the time, like almost every day. But sometimes you just need to experience something, or go through something — processing it — before you can write about it. 

In this case, it’s The Men Who Stare at Goats.

I know, right? Out of everything to return to talk about on Mythic Bios, why this film? So I have been writing a lot of indepth reviews on my Horror Doctor Blog started around the height of the Pandemic, and this writing is not going to be one of them. That’s not generally what we do at Mythic Bios. No, at Mythic Bios we online creative processes and ideas even more than we do at The Horror Doctor, or Sequart, or anywhere else I write about geekery. 

The Men Who Stare at Goats is a 2009 tongue-in-cheek satirical comedy about war: specifically how the American government used, or uses, New Age and esoteric concepts to aid them in combat. It was adapted into film from Jon Ronson’s book of the same name by Peter Straughan, and directed by Grant Heslov. I’ve not read the book. I’ve only watched the film.

To give you a rundown, as the summary goes, the United States government saw the Soviets were fascinated with psychic experiments and, to counter them in a war of propaganda — of a seeming of power as opposed to anything practical or concrete, simply doing it because the other side was feeding rumour, and they had to save face there — they made their own research team in the military to deal with them. It’s basically one Emperor having new clothes, and another Emperor wanting the same to one him up. Of course, in the story there are people who genuinely believe in the power of the paranormal such as Vietnam War veteran Bill Django who had a life changing near death experience that made him realize that the American method of waging war needed to be changed through the element of peace: with the motto of “their gentleness” being “their strength.” 

I actually found Django, and his student and subordinate Lyn Cassady’s methods of utilizing paranormal phenomena, or psychic power, fascinating. Django creates a force within the military called the New Earth Army: which essentially trains its chosen soldiers to use this power. It’s tied with the idea of the American government, and the CIA experimenting with remote viewing, clairvoyance, telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, and even teleportation. Certainly, we know they did things with the development of LSD and attempts at mind control and brainwashing that have been covered before.

Essentially, the New Earth Army as portrayed in the film are “psychic spies” that are called “Jedi Warriors.” You see, Django created the concept for them from studying New Age concepts in the seventies of free love, appropriated branches of yoga, and quite possibly studying at other mystic lodges: his views and research being taken by the brass of the military to show up the Soviets, and even to support the beliefs of individuals like General Dean Hopgood: a man who consistently smashes into a wall in order to eventually phase his molecules through it, and phase on the other side with the power of belief itself. 

It’s all goofy, and insane. It feels like someone initiated into the Discordian Society created this whole paradigm as something of a joke that — like all shared jokes — has elements of truth inside it. And certainly the protagonist of the film, Bob Wilton, believes it’s all bullshit at the beginning of his journey … until a series of hijinks through Kuwait during the Iraq War make him seriously reevaluate what he thinks perceived reality actually is. 

I think there’s something great about a film during with the creation of “Jedi Warriors” — drawing from the zeitgeist of the 1970s with George Lucas, from his own studies into older films and Joseph Campbell’s examinations of the “mono-myth,” or the Hero’s Journey — that has Ewan McGregor as the central protagonist. Remember, this was four years after his role playing Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and no one expected him to return to Jedi Knighthood on the screen … until now, in 2022, when he will be starring in his own miniseries Kenobi

My point is, this is the closest film anyone was going to be seeing McGregor be a Jedi Knight again in any way, even this strange, yet charming lampoonish manner of a younger man trying to find his way, and prove himself to … himself in doing something meaningful. It’s a film that gets ridiculous, but oddly poignant at times. Lyn Cassady reminds me of a friend of mine who believes in powers beyond our understanding, and has this almost Don Quixote sense of wonder that is constantly tested by disillusionment and pain: elements portrayed well by the actor George Clooney. He serves as an ad hoc mentor figure to Bob Wilton, through example, while also serving as something of a fallen or a wounded warrior himself. And Bob Django, portrayed by Jeff Bridges, has a major charm, a bit of showmanship, and earnestness of a man who just wanted to negate the violence that he’d seen decimate his fellow soldiers: recognizing that humanity’s natural inclination was not to violence, leading to their incompetence and destruction in an armed conflict with the Viet Cong. He reminds me so much of an older Luke Skywalker: perhaps the way he could have been portrayed in the Sequels, and in some ways when you see what Django is like at the end of the film, he kind of is. 

But I think what got me was that each “Jedi Warrior” has their own abilities, and focuses in utilizing their power. For example, Gun Lacey stares at hamsters to will them to die: which is a smaller application of goats. And goats are used because humans generally feel bad about using dogs, which were the original test subjects for causing telekinetic deaths. Lyn can goad someone into attacking him, but immediately undermine them believing they will win, and using that fact against them when he decides to act. It’s hard to explain but some of the soldiers sleep and try to understand their dreams in locating a subject. Some study the Bible. All of these elements are found throughout our own culture. Hell, even LSD experiments and mental breaking are performed by the overly ambitious Larry Cooper: as played by the now infamous Kevin Spacey, who also seems to have mastery of a technique called the dim mak: the Japanese death touch. 

And I was thinking about these strange, eclectic soldiers — these “Jedi Warriors” — and I asked myself once the film was done, if they were possible. Would it be possible, in our world, with our reality’s rules, to create Jedi?

The reason I started thinking about, specifically in this patchwork paradigm of all of these concepts brought together in the film and perhaps by the novel as well, is how one soldier was criticized for stating that a popular author knew the location of a kidnapped dignity. It hadn’t been the case, and it became a source of embarrassment that, coupled with Cooper’s LSD experiments influencing a fellow Jedi Warrior to go berserk and commit suicide, changed the mandate and free flow nature of the New Earth Army: essentially rendering it defunct. 

But what if that soldier wasn’t wrong? What if by the tangential nature of the New Earth Army and its parallel thought processes, what they really needed to do was find one of these author’s books, read through them and the passages — or become familiar with them — and use some gematria, some numerical code associated with letters and words — to find the target. And it made me think about neurodiversity, the plasticity and elasticity of the human brain, and mind concepts. And again, the question I asked myself.

Can Jedi Warriors, as portrayed by The Men Who Stare At Goats, exist in real life? And, if so, how?

This is how I think ladies, gentlemen, and other psychic beings, it could be done.

You find a series of individuals with a fairly high IQ, and allow for neurodivergent additions that generalized testing might not pick up. Unlike The Men Who Stare at Goats, you pick men, and women, and other genders. You select them from a diverse background of cultures, subcultures, and ethnicities. You interview their commanding officers, their friends, their families and communities, and you test them to see how great their intuition and instincts are. These are actual traits you can find in hunters, trackers, profilers, and anyone with street smarts. How else did humanity survive earlier times of development without some kind of secondary or sixth sense.

The key is to refine that. You need to find and develop practices that can hone intuition and instincts. There are plenty of esoterica and even religious and spiritual practices to draw from. However, you need more than just breathing exercises, meditation, pain-management, and martial arts: though they would make for an excellent foundation. Personally, I can see aikido being extremely useful in knowing the force of one’s opponent, and using it against them in a flow not unlike a philosophy espoused by what many call Daoism. Tai chi would also allow for flow and constant movement, and you include elements of dance.

You see, what we want are well-trained people who are young — or who can still be conditioned and taught — that can move easily, develop greater reflexes, and be able to read an environment, field, lifeform, or person almost immediately. That’s how it starts. But it’s also a group effort. This New Earth Army would need a team of scholars, martial artists, philosophers, even art historians, doctors, artists, negotiators, and therapists to educate these Jedi Warriors. They need to be taught how to look at something critically, but also in a totality. Deductive and inductive reasoning — the first making a hypothesis and being able to examine the possibilities and come to a conclusion, and the last being able to draw a general and perhaps in this case more specific series of conclusions based on observation — are key, and feedback into that honed intuition, and instinct. Also, as Lyn demonstrated, certain vocal intonations and sounds can be key to affecting your own, or another person’s, psychological state. I also really like the plastic implement Lyn used to disable Bob. I wonder if it can be made in real life and, if so, if another non-lethal, non-permanent damage long range one such as net can also be implemented but that would be a whole change of the psychology of war and, indeed, human psychology.

And not all of these Jedi Warriors will be the same. Some will focus more on chemistry and substances that can hone or put the body into alternative states. Others will focus on altering their responses to pain and pleasure more than their fellows. A few will just specialize in sifting through information from disparate sources, and put them all together, or take them apart. And more will be looking at propaganda and doing more than just sending pamphlets stating to an Enemy that their “dicks are small.” I can see a branch focusing on memes and memetics on the Internet. I can see people getting into the cultural and personal profiles and psychologies of a subject. And there would be peacekeepers that would be able to know the cultural mores and study human behaviour to be able to put people off guard, or to talk them down, and relax them. I can see flash mobs being used as a tactic to distract, or eliminate someone’s need for conflict. You can do a lot of radical stuff when you, I suppose, “hack” your normal human or group behaviour.

A lot of this stuff actually does exist. I know if I were a Jedi Warrior, which I am not, I would look at geek culture and what it says about a certain event that could occur, or has happened. And especially examining Jungian archetypes in folk and fairy tales allows you to know a lot about human beliefs.

Telekinesis isn’t possible as far as I can see, or teleportation. But honing intuition, reflexes, inductive reasoning, and maintaining a state of mindfulness could go a far way. I guess I just see this New Earth Army as something like the Druids from Shannara in which everyone has different abilities, the Foundation with its facets of psychohistory, the Bene Gesserit with their martial arts and Voice, or the origins of how the Jedi Order was founded in the Legends canon of Star Wars.

And this is all fiction, but this is how I could see it going down. I also wish we could have seen more Jedi Warriors jn action, though there being few does make sense in the story, and in general.  Because one thing I got from The Men Who Stare At Goats is the real lesson: that psychic power isn’t so much concrete paranormal ability, but the power of belief — of human belief — and being able to understand and use that. Like when Lyn tries to become invisible. He doesn’t actually become invisible, but he changes his body language, his breathing, his mindset, to mess with someone else’s perception of what they might see: or so he believes.

For Bob, he understands that the true power of the New Earth Army is to believe in something greater than themselves: in a lie perhaps, or stories, that can jive with the human need to do something different. Whether or not he phases through the wall at the end of the film is almost irrelevant. The fact that he changed his mindset to know that he can do something outside of a pre-arranged behaviour, to go beyond the grind, to not let people in power obfuscate the truth from him, is more important. That flexible thinking is what a Jedi Warrior should have. 

It’s weird. I’ve been away from Mythic Bios for a while, but damn: I would love to make a Men Who Stare at Goats RPG, or a New Earth Army game, and I would be a scholar with nerd and Jungian ties, with some erotic elements that can predict some things, interact with people, and bolster my energy. Using LeGuin’s Farfetching exercises, automatic writing, and making creations and links like those of Hermann Hesse’s The Glass-Bead Game would be key to my psychic spy methods. Hell, if I wanted to incorporate a view of the Force into it, I could just get it to relate to the old Theory of Ether that used to define reality in one Western perspective. I would go for a bit of a variant of Chaos Magick in that eclectic approach. There is something noble in harnessing the power of the Wind Mill, of air, of breath, of belief during a time of darkness and uncertainty. And I think Inspiration or bonus points should be awarded to the silliness implementation of those concepts in those game ideas if they ever happen, because what is more sublime than laughing at one’s self while accepting the validity of the actions that lead to that laughter? What is funnier than belief? What more is worth feeling something about? What more is worth fighting for? 

It’s great to be here again, if only for a little while. Take care everyone.

It Never Dies: Cobra Kai Season Three

We thought 2019 was a Cruel Summer.

But then 2020 happened.

Infinity Warriors, you know the drill about this. There are no spoilers in this dojo. Or, rather, no spoilers are allowed out of this dojo.

Where do I even begin with Season Three of Cobra Kai? After waiting for long, after everything that happened in the previous season, it was almost too much to bear.

This series has been excellent. Its creators, Robert Mark Kamen and Josh Heald found the chi — or qi point — between nostalgia from the original Karate Kid films, and building a continuous legacy. You get to see how the events of the past 1980s films, at least so far, affect everyone and everything in Reseda, Los Angeles, California. Each character, from Johnny Lawrence to Daniel LaRusso is given character development decades beyond their film appearances, and their current lives make sense. Johnny attempts to find balance and redemption in a wise-ass way, while Daniel also tries to honour his late mentor and father-figure Mr. Miyagi by passing on his Okinawan karate martial arts to the next generation.

The Balance isn’t an easy one. The story lines with the younger generations, even the older characters are by necessity dramatic, almost soap opera-like in scope: especially when you factor into it teenage friendships and romances. Also, martial arts are depicted as almost superhuman feats: with teenagers smashes themselves into glass and wooden surfaces with only bruises and cuts, and continuing to rain blows down with near eternal amounts of fortitude and endurance … with one grievous exception that ended the last season.

I almost used the term Wuxia here, which confuses matters further when you consider that it is a Chinese genre of martial arts heroes, or chivalry where you get to see the interconnection of relationships between characters, spectacular combat, and their place in societies with unjust or incompetent governing bodies and situations that must be addressed.

Cobra Kai is a near-Wuxia story about teenagers and their adult mentors fighting each other, allying with one another, and navigating the clueless and sometimes opportunistic social strata of the Valley. And it also deals with consequences, made all the more challenging when you consider that the series has to navigate being both a drama and a comedy.

For instance, Johnny Lawrence losing his dojo to his malevolent former mentor Kreese, his prize pupil being critically injured by his alienated son, and everyone leaving him despite attempting to turn his life around could have continued in a darker way, but the show doesn’t allow for that: yet it allows Johnny to process, and deal with these matters in a way that fits in his character. He goes out there and tries to repair the damage, tries to step up in the most abrasive and ridiculous manners possible but you never doubt his heart.

And Daniel LaRusso nearly loses his business, and has to — at least temporarily — give up on his dream to pass on Mr. Miyagi’s Art — Miyagi-Do — after Robby, his first pupil since his own daughter, nearly kills Miguel. He goes to Japan, and then eventually Okinawa where he meets his graceful dancer former love Kumiko, and the reformed and seemingly taciturn Chozen. For me, this is … I loved the entire arc of this season, but it is one of my favourite scenes, where you remember that Chozen was the nephew of Sato, who had almost learned what would be called Miyagi-Do by Mr. Miyagi at his side. He has knowledge of techniques that you see in the other seasons Daniel is lacking: mainly anything to do with chi-disabling, or even healing. Seeing Daniel realize this and that circular journey that links back to his business, that Balance, is a beautiful moment. It makes me wonder if he will ever be Mr. Miyagi’s equal in terms of ability.

Chozen’s redemption makes sense as well. He’s come a long way from that aggressive, angry boy that carried his uncle’s grudge and turned on Kumiko when his uncle all but renounced his old ways. It’s good to know Sato didn’t abandon him, and left him the legacy of Miyagi-Do which makes a nice moment and call-back with Daniel.

A lot of this arc is about healing and reconciliation. Johnny tries to do so with his estranged son Robb, but something always comes in the way. But it is with Miguel, who let’s face it, is his son in all but blood and helping him recover from what seems to be a spinal injury from his fight in Season Two, that heals the both of them.

I even like the fact that we see Samantha, Daniel’s daughter, coping with PTSD from the karate fight at the school and her injuries at Tory’s hands. And Tory becomes something of a spectre of the fear of defeat and pain for Samantha, a legacy of Cobra Kai dojo. She even goes as far as crashing a Christmas Party attempting to reconcile Miyagi-Do with Johnny’s new Eagle Fang dojo with former Cobra Kai members : wearing a sweatshirt with a skeleton reminiscent of the Halloween costume Johnny wore when he attacked Daniel as boy, and I believe even Miguel wears this later. This callback is so elegantly done, and how it should be applied in cinematic storytelling in my opinion.

I like how there are three dojos now, even if the Eagle-Fangs are a bit … weird. Hell, I also appreciate the fact that Demetri gets the arrogant popular girl Yasmine to … sign his cast, and they seem to be dating. Demetri is probably the most I can relate to the show because I grew up with motor-skills issues, and had trouble learning martial arts as a result: if only because my brain has more activity processing information over my body. I was, however, more like Hawk in his initial temperament, before he took the wrong messages from Cobrai Kai and then Kreese getting to him.

Hawk’s own redemption makes sense as he sees himself fighting along side the same bullies that used to torment him. I think the turning point is when Demetri torments him with the fact that his former girlfriend loved him before he became a jerk, and then afterwards when he breaks Demetri’s arm. He finally just … can’t take it anymore. He realizes what Kreese’s Cobra Kai ultimately is, and he actually returns back to his friend’s side.

I am curious to see how Eagle Fang, if it lasts, and Miyagi-Do reconcile their Arts together — extreme defense and possible chi-discipline, and offense as defense with extreme survivalist training regimens.

But there are some things that are irreconcilable. And one of these is John Kresse’s Cobra Kai.

I thought there would be few surprises after the last Season. I believed that this season Daniel might have found out that Miyagi-Do and the Korean Tang Soo Do had a common origin: that Kim Sun-Yung, the practitioner of the latter style learned a variant from Okinawa. Or that he made Cobra Kai, and Kreese and Silver stole and perverted it to their own ends. And while this so far proved not to be true, some of that theory of mine panned out in that Chozen explained to Daniel that the people of Okinawa practiced Miyagi-Do in a disabling offensive, and the implication is that Mr. Miyagi did know this history and these techniques but chose not to teach Daniel because he didn’t think he was ready, and he didn’t want to train a child in the arts of war.

I always thought Kim Sun-Yung taught Kreese and Silver Tang Soo Do, or at least the original Cobra Kai techniques. But we find out differently. Cobra Kai has essentially been almost every character’s martial arts origin story: how they encounter it, and it changes them. What we are gradually introduced to, through this season, is the story of Kreese’s Start of Darkness.

And … I never thought I’d feel bad for Kreese. I didn’t even feel bad for him when he was homeless and Johnny found him. But the show creators make a double feint. They make you think, in the 1960s flashback, that this jock being an asshole to a young girl named Betsy is Kreese, but Kreese is really a diner employee whose mother died after a lengthy mental illness. You might also believe he is already dangerous, but Kreese is a boy that is constantly bullied, and tormented: who just wants to belong and even get acknowledgement. You are made to genuinely feel for him, and when he beats the hell out of those bullies, and Betsy comes to his side, you root for him. I never thought I’d root for Kreese beyond seeing a villain doing evil things.

It’s scary, when he tells Betsy on his way to basic military training to improve his life, that he will come back “a hero” and you know what he will return as the very opposite.

Even when he is sent to Vietnam, he’s still idealistic. He has genuine friends and brothers in the American Army there. We find out, at least at the time, that he and Silver weren’t trained by Kim Sun-Yung, but Kim Sun-Yung trained their commanding officer Captain Turner during the Korean War: who ended up training them. He keeps getting photos and letters from Betsy. He plans to return to her.

And then, everything turns to shit. On a special mission, both Silver and Kreese refuse to detonate a Viet Cong base with Silver inside and they are all captured. The Viet Cong soldiers force their prisoners to fight to the death on a bridge over a pit for their sadistic amusement. Kreese’s superior scolds them and says the reason they are even there, is because Kreese showed mercy and he is thus weak.

Then, Kreese volunteers to fight their former commander in Silver’s place — and you see why Silver owes Kreese his life — only to find out he had a letter where Betsy died in a car crash. This is enough. It sets Kreese over the edge as his former commander tries to kill him, saying “he has nothing left to live for.” And even when American reinforcements come in, Kreese decides — in that one defining character moment — to throw Captain Turner, who was all too willing to kill him, into the pit.

Of cobras.

It makes you wonder, much in the way I wondered what would have happened if Daniel and Johnny knew each other before the events of The Karate Kid — when we find out Johnny was a geeky kid bullied and humiliated by his rich, cold, arrogant stepfather — what would have happened if Mr. Miyagi had met young Kreese, or if the other characters could have seen him then. Or what young Kreese would think if he could see what he has become.

It also makes me wonder what would have happened if Betsy hadn’t died, or Kreese hadn’t gone to Vietnam. I always thought he had simply had a desk job or he exaggerated about his time in the Green Berets. I truly believed Kreese had been a coward, but seeing what happened to him doesn’t take away from his maliciousness or his evil. Even villains are human beings. I like to think that when he saw what Tory’s landlord was attempting to do to her, and he remembered Betsy and her former boyfriend, there was a small part of that young, tormented man left: somewhere in there.

But, I could argue that John died in Vietnam: with Betsy and his innocence. What came back was Kreese. What returned was Cobra Kai.

I do feel sympathy for the man Kreese used to be. He was used by the American military industrial complex and discarded, a weapon left to his own devices. He is the subversion of the macho American soldier-hero: venerated and despised. More than Rambo, as Daniel’s wife derisively calls him, this is a realistic, damaged version of what an action hero — once charming and bad-ass, even still having those qualities — would be like.

Moreover, this depiction of Kreese in the American military shows you that the conflict between forces like Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai is older than the rivalry between Johnny and Daniel. It is a struggle between the ideals of self-defense, and a powerful and aggressive offensive. However, I also consider that Mr. Miyagi had to leave his first love in Okinawa when his friend and brother turned on him, that he had been interned with his wife and family in America, that his wife and child died in the camps while he was fighting for the country that imprisoned them, and how he did not turn bitter and hateful. He didn’t turn into a monster. He didn’t embrace his demons. We see Mr. Miyagi mourning his wife and child in the first Karate Kid film, but he still maintains his compassion and seeks to help others .. just as we see that, while he saved Daniel through his guidance and training, Daniel saved him too by being his friend and surrogate son.

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Miyagi learned martial arts during peace among his family, from his father, while Kreese learned it in one of America’s most contested wars. But even that isn’t true when you consider that Mr. Miyagi taught his commanding officer Lieutenant Pierce martial arts during WWII according to The Next Karate Kid, and the man did not seem to have turned into the cruel monster that Kreese became.

This whole season is excellent. Because karate, or martial arts, is used as a metaphor here. While in Season Two it had become a tool to talk about violence in American schools as something of a messy mixed metaphor — and the show and the original films eternally focus on the themes of bullying and abuse — Kreese’s Cobra Kai, with its terrorist tactics, and social undermining, with its survival of the strong, might as well be fascist. Miyagi-Do and what becomes Eagle Fang are people and ideologies against each other, but both want to help people who are outcast and lost — the youth and next generation — in the Valley.

You have a community that equates them all together as the same, all dangerous, and do almost nothing to stop them: while also going as far as to give bullies and abusers equal time and care, a tone-off approach to bullying. But it’s only when both the Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang spectrums unite to defend themselves, and also have a place to face off against the malignancy of Cobra Kai that we realize this series isn’t over yet. The battle has only begun, and it is a process. An event.

It’s timely, what Cobra Kai does with this metaphor of martial arts, and it makes me miss the days when I practiced them. And this conflict, this struggle for Balance, this cycle of success and failure, of battles with one’s inner demons and adversity never ends.

It will never die.

The Child is Star Wars

To all fellow former Infinity Warriors, and that would probably be most of you reading this, don’t read any further unless you have finished watching Season Two of The Mandalorian. Spoiler Alert.

Have you done so?

Good.

I first started watching Star Wars, the Old Trilogy, when I was about twelve. I’ve mentioned how my parents took us to Hollywood Movies, and we rented the VHS tapes. Before that, I grew up with Ewoks and Droids playing on Channel 3 Global Television whenever I went to my grandparents’ place that Saturday afternoon. Around that same time, and in that same area we would visit my uncle’s house and I would play with a giant shelved container shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet. In this container were action figures of Bossk, and IG-88, and a Snowtrooper. There were many toys missing. They looked old and, literally, from another world and another time. And I saw these labels on each alcove: Obi-Wan Kenobi and See-Threepio. It confused me, then. Was Obi-Wan a droid like Threepio?

It’s safe to say that I grew up with a lot of mysteries and a sense of magic in a world that didn’t really make sense, but seemed larger than I could even dream. And this was before I watched A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

This was before I knew anything.

The Old Trilogy exploded my mind. This space fantasy shaped my brain forever once I saw it: from the crucible of the desert world of Tatooine, to the stark terror and mythology of Dagobah’s Jedi training to the horrifying duel over Bespin, and the redemption and celebration on the forested moon of Endor where my Ewok friends lived in a live-action sense.

And they grew on me: Princess Leia with her assertive power and fierce love and determination, Han Solo overcoming his world-weary cynical nature to save his friends and be a better person, and Luke. Luke Skywalker.

So many of us, I think, from that time saw ourselves in Luke. We followed this young man, this boy, who knew nothing about the world — much like us — as he continued making mistakes, but forever showed his loyalty, always persevering, always wrestling with his emotions to do the right thing. We saw his wonder as he looked at a lightsaber for the first time, the same time that we did. We felt his pain when he saw the charred remains of his aunt and uncle, and that sense of powerlessness in realizing just how brutal the galaxy was. And we were happy when he found his friends, when he started getting better at his Jedi training, and we were worried when Obi-Wan was gone, and wondered just how someone who could barely deflect the blaster bolt of a training remote and then pull a lightsaber to him on Hoth could fight Darth Vader.

I remember just his sense of frustration, and fear. It felt so real to me. But the fear wasn’t just for his life, or the lives of his friends and those he fought for. It was the fear that all he would ever get would be these scraps of a life and a tradition — of great and beautiful arts, powerful cultural tools — that his father had, and that he might not succeed in earning. It was the actual vicarious terror of seeing that there was a chance that Luke might not achieve or realize his full potential, and that he could fail.

Being a perfectionist child with learning disabilities and clear neurodiversity and frustration over my body’s cooperation with my mind, I could feel that so hard, and it made me root for Luke whenever he succeeded, kicked shlebs, and took names.

When Obi-Wan’s spirit told him that he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — help him if went to Cloud City to face Vader before his training, after his failure understanding his vision in the Dark Side Cave, I felt Luke’s frustration. Why wouldn’t Obi-Wan, his mentor and friend, help him against his enemy? And watching Luke lose … so badly, so brutally … I’ve written about it before, how I grew up on eighties and nineties cartoons where the hero always wins their conflicts and the villain runs away to fight another day, or gets put in jail. That didn’t happen. And then the way Luke received that reveal …

Luke didn’t learn from his failure at the Cave on Dagobah. But he learned from his encounter on Cloud City. I knew that Vader was Luke’s father going into this, as it’s been so seeded into the popular consciousness for years, but I didn’t know about Leia. And I didn’t know what was going to happen on the Second Death Star: another subversion of expectations, after so much lead up that ultimately paid off. And then we see Luke at the end: rescuing his father, only to lose him, but not really lose him in a metaphysical sense.

Leia and Han succeeded in their mission on Endor. They became a couple. The Ewoks dominated. The Empire was defeated. Luke had to “pass on what he had learned” and a whole new story began after the ending of an old one. This was in 1983. I watched these in the nineties after being confused about the numbering system.

We did not see another Star Wars film until 1999.

I want you to understand something. Many of us, and I am mostly speaking about myself though I know others felt the same way, wanted to see what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han. We wanted to see Han become a General of the Republic or continue to have adventures. We wanted to see Leia rule the New Republic, and the decisions she would make, and the life she and Han would have together.

And, most of all, I wanted to see Luke become a Jedi Master. I wanted to see him restore the Jedi Order, and what his Jedi would be like. I thought about all the enemies they could face, the challenges, and I just … I wanted to see my friends again.

I just wanted to see my friends again.

And we got that, in a way. We got it through Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, where Obi-Wan’s spirit tells Luke that he isn’t the last of the old Jedi, but the first of the new. We got more of it in further books of varying quality, comics, and video games. Not all of the continuity made sense, but we got the idea that Leia was the Chief of State of the New Republic, Han became a General, and he and Leia had children together that would carry on the legacy and burden of the Skywalkers. And Luke would become a powerful Jedi Grandmaster, and meet with all the remnants of the old Jedi and new Force-sensitives to build something entirely different: exploring the remnants of the old ways, giving us those hints of what time was like before the Empire and when the Jedi were numerous and whole, and showing us just how our hero evolved.

Luke would go on to fight many different adversaries, make mistakes, but always try to redeem those he could from Darkness. He even gets a love interest, after several disastrous relationships, who initially wants to assassinate him but has a son with her. And there were books that took place long after Luke’s time with Skywalker descendants and successor governments to the Republic and Empire, and a myriad of different ideas. There were cool books like Tales of the Jedi and Tales of the Bounty Hunters that fleshed out so much background stuff.

The thing is, this is all we had — for the most part — for literal years, and it was okay. We got to see our friends continue to struggle, but also grow. Was there a sense that nothing could happen to the Big Three? Of course. And I admit that could get tiresome. But they were … they were my friends growing up in a real world that, like I said, didn’t always make much sense. And I would have loved to see them come back in a Sequel Trilogy.

It wasn’t Disney’s fault that we didn’t get to see the Big Three together on film again. George Lucas was the one who made the decision to focus on the Prequel Trilogy. I’ve written on here before about an alternate reality where Lucas and Lucasfilm had made interquel cartoons while he perfected the technology for the Prequels. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Lucas had made the Sequel Trilogy instead of the Prequels.

Unfortunately, we learned a lot over the years about George Lucas and, while his ideas and insights were good, a lack of oversight made his narratives unwieldy and his character and actor direction even worse. George Lucas wasn’t perfect, and the Prequels certainly were not even though I will always be grateful to him and his collaborators for creating the Star Wars universe.

So when Disney bought LucasFilm and made the Sequel Trilogy instead, I knew it was too late for Leia, Han, and Luke to be the protagonists. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were older then, and it was a better bet to have them as mentor characters to pass on what they had learned to the next generation.

I think the unease began with me when they rendered what was the Expanded Universe — all those books, cartoons, comics, and games — into non-canon status: into Legends. At the same time, I felt like there was an opportunity there: to tell a new story, and utilize the wealth of material there to do so, which seemed to be the plan.

The Force Awakens was like a breath of fresh air: with characters that had proper dialogue, great chemistry and interactions, much more subdued CGI and just that more lived in world that we had grown up with. And J.J. Abrams set up so many possibilities and questions. What happened to this world? Why was Leia leading a Resistance? Why did Han leave on his own with Chewbacca? And just what happened to Luke’s Jedi students, and Luke himself?

I have talked about this so much. The Sequel Trilogy, I felt, was supposed to be the heir to Skywalker: literally. It was the successor part to the Skywalker Saga. It had that heritage. Even without George Lucas, it had enough material and people working on it — the company that made it — to make it official. I recall hearing about Rogue One, and Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan, and Solo, and while I felt like they would be interesting, they were films that weren’t part of the Skywalker Saga that I grew up with. I thought of them as distant cousins, or relations that could add to the context of the others, but they were cadet branches of the main line: the central heritage. Some of these films, like Rogue One and Solo happened, and they were entertaining. The other two did not. At least, not at the time.

I reviewed The Force Awakens. I also reviewed Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. In retrospect, I saw my own experience paralleling this journey. I saw all the other films with other people: my family and friends. I saw The Last Jedi by myself. I saw Solo by myself.

I saw The Rise of Skywalker by myself.

The Last Jedi had some fascinating ideas, and interesting moments, but it is a controversial film, and with good reason. But it wasn’t the issue. It all comes down to the magic of Star Wars, of the Force, of the overarching story, and that sense of continuity. Yes, there were weird elements and oddities displayed throughout the cinematic series, but every scene felt like it wasn’t wasted: like they were telling their own stories, and they were just all interesting. Everything was built up to lead to a particular conclusion of some kind. But when the Sequel Trilogy went on, it became pretty clear that the plan was haphazard at best, and sometimes the message or the moral behind the story became more like transparisteel than actual character interaction, development, and storytelling. When you combine that factor with something that felt standalone added onto other material that led to a conclusion that just … didn’t have the momentum, that wasn’t earned, and felt sloppy and gimmicky, and full of special effects instead the back to basics approach of the first film, the magic was thinning. And the ending …

I think the ending of The Rise of Skywalker is emblematic of Luke Skywalker’s treatment. Because it always comes back to Luke. Imagine seeing a character you relate to, who you grow with, and you know he had a whole ton of stories where he excelled, continued and improved on an entire culture nearly wiped out through genocide, and even had a family and friends and loved ones, and then a company renders that all non-canon. It didn’t happen. And then you are left with someone who has lost everything, including his sense of redemption. And hope.

Luke Skywalker was the New Hope of Star Wars. You could argue Leia Organa was another, but Luke was that optimism despite all the odds, and defeats, that you could just … that many of us could just root for. And an interesting story could have been told about how he lost that hope, and we have a bit of it. Unfortunately … after growing up with the powerful Jedi Grandmaster who made other mistakes, but still recalled the lessons of the past, only to see him repeat them in the new canon films, basically knowing his adventures had been erased and replaced with a characterization that would strike down a boy for something he didn’t even do yet after trying to spare and redeem his mass-murderer father … You can see how it just didn’t sit right.

But around this time, after The Last Jedi and Solo, came … something else.

I didn’t know what to think about The Mandalorian, especially given how ambivalent I was to the idea of a Boba Fett film. I was still struggling with hope that the Sequel Trilogy could find its way after The Last Jedi’s sense of finality, and this series provided a distraction for me, and I imagine for many of us.

It felt … low-tech. It was rendered by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni back to Star Wars’ roots in its Spaghetti Western influences: its weekly serials. There was just more sense of time. More pacing. So much more space to tell a story, and develop characters from simple premises and archetypes into something more. They had nods and Easter-eggs to Star Wars lore and fandom: letting us in on the Secret Club feeling that is an open secret. But it world-built, and slowly revealed mysteries and details to us about the Mandalorians and Mandalorian culture. And Din Djarin and Grogu … Grogu, the Child, was the make it, or break it element of The Mandalorian. He was an obvious reference to Yoda and his own mysterious origins, but also to the Jedi and the Force that we didn’t know would even be involved in this series. He was there for merchandising and fan service and the neoteny of his cuteness, and it could have been as blunt as a Tusken gaderffii stick to the face.

But it worked. Grogu was iconic for the magic of Star Wars. And Din himself mostly stayed in his beskar’gam, his armour. He could have just been a Boba Fett knock-off, or a video game character whose identity the audience could just assume as a surrogate in experiencing this world. But slowly, perceptively, over time we see these two characters bond. And it is endearing. Even their associations with other characters is just entertaining and heartwarming to watch. So many characters I thought would be enemies, became associates and friends. There would be a new story every week, but one that built into something bigger.

It was a slow burn. Season One was all about protecting Grogu and figuring out what the nine Corellian hells was going on. Season Two was about returning Grogu to the Jedi, whoever they were after the Empire purged most of them out of existence. We got to see different kinds of Mandalorians, disillusionment with the Republic, the general independent nature of the Outer Rim, and the genuine danger of even the Imperial Remnants. And we got to see Din’s humanity, and Grogu’s love for him. I felt more for Din and Grogu than I ended feeling for most of the characters in the Sequel Trilogy. Din was a warrior raised by a sect of Mandalorians called the Watch after his parents were killed by Separatist super-battle droids. He earned all of his skill, and even when we run into him he is still earning his beskar: his Mandalorian ore for his armour.

And Grogu? Grogu is hope. He is a child, young for being fifty years old by his species’ standards, but also something of a sacred living relic that survived the genocide of the Jedi all the way to the New Republic to be found again. He is the old, and the new. He has seen, and survived, darkness. And Din recognizes that, and yet protects him — rescues him after retrieving him for his first mission in the series because, at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do, and he was willing to risk his people’s location and turn against the Bounty Hunter Guild’s Code to do so.

The evolution of the characters these past two years, the Star Wars details and eye for continuity, and the continuing mysteries kept me going. It kept me interested. I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. At all. To give you an idea, I never reviewed it. Not once. It took my European friends calling me on Discord one day to even get me to talk about it, and I hadn’t said anything about it in a few days. I hadn’t wanted to talk about a Star Wars movie in a few days. I just felt … tired. Drained. Just let down. I almost didn’t even finish Season One of The Mandalorian around that same time. I was down to the last episode. I thought to myself: what was the point? The people and characters I loved for years were gone. They were desolate and disappointed by life. They were too close to what I was now. I just … didn’t want to think about it anymore. I didn’t want to deal with Star Wars anymore.

But then I watched that last episode with IG-11 heroically sacrificing himself for the Child he attempted to kill in the first episode of the whole series, the death of Kuiil the Ugnaught as he tried to protect Grogu, even Greef Karga’s redemption after the Child saved his life, and the disillusioned Republic trooper Cara Dune respecting Din enough after their first adventure and rivalry to help him save Grogu from the Imperials … I felt it then. It saved a part of me. It saved a part of me that loved that magic.

It saved a part of me that loved Star Wars.

And now, I come to the real reason I’m writing this, and reminding everyone that we were all once Infinity Warriors against the forces of Spoilers. Because I saw the last episode of Season Two.

I was already enjoying the series. Seeing Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano, and finding out more about Grogu already made the series great, especially with tie-ins to other potential stories in Ahsoka’s standalone live action series. That line about finding Grand Admiral Thrawn took me right back to Timothy Zahn. Hell, even the ending of the last episode and making us really look forward to “The Book of Boba Fett,” either another series or the next chapter to The Mandalorian more than I had ever been excited for a movie around him, was inspiring. The way they reintroduced Boba again, and showed us how bad ass he really was made up for a lot. And resurrecting Fennec Shand after her ignominious death in one episode of Season One, along with a whole development for the mercenary Mayfield really made me appreciate the storytelling. They could have left it there. They really could have.

But then …

They did it.

I remember seeing the X-Wing. And I knew.

I saw the black hooded figure with the green lightsaber, and I knew.

I was looking for that one black glove. And I wanted it to happen. I was downstairs in my basement, screaming at my computer screen. I was yelling at it. Please.

Please.

Please be him.

Please. Be. Him.

He moved like Darth Vader in Rogue One. But where Vader slaughtered Rebel troops, the figure destroyed insanely powerful Dark Trooper droids like they were nothing. He was the pay off of two episodes ago when Grogu was taken by Din to Tython, the supposed homeworld of the sects that led to the Jedi, to summon a Jedi Knight to protect him.

And Grogu reached for the screen, and it was only later I realized he was communicating with the figure telepathically. By the time he came in, to face Din and his companions, and Grogu …

It was him. It was the person we’d read about in books. It was the individual we’d played in games. It was the man we saw fighting alongside his friends in comics. He was young, just as we remembered him, but he had further growth. He was so much stronger. Much more skilled. He’d taken after his father’s fighting style after dueling him. There was CGI on the actor’s face portraying him but the voice was unmistakable.

We got to see Luke. We got to see Luke fight the way we’d always hoped. We got to see him in his process of rebuilding in a cinematic place where he wasn’t crushed by despair, or dissipating after using one momentous Force technique in a process of great metaphor.

We got to see Luke Skywalker again.

And when Din Djarin took off his helmet, against the Watch’s Code, to let Grogu see his face, and touch it when saying goodbye to him … It broke my karking heart. There was joy and sadness in that parting that will hopefully just be a farewell.

A lot of ossik — a lot of shit — has been happening in 2020. This year had been garbage. It is a far harsher crucible than Tatooine or Jakku ever was. These past four years have been pretty bad. It would be so easy to give up. To not care anymore. To just surrender to cynicism and bitterness and disappointment. To just give up hope.

But for one moment, after every Friday morning looking forward to the next episode, at 3 am in my basement I felt a sense of joy and wonder I hadn’t experienced in years. For just forty-seven minutes, I felt like a child again.

Din Djarin was called The Mandalorian, or Mando before we found out his name. And Grogu, when he wasn’t called Baby Yoda, was referred to as The Child. But The Child was not just literal. It was metaphorical. It’s in The Mandalorian that we find out the Star Wars universe has a name for those beings genetically engineered — either cloned or altered — from a previous donor: a strand-cast.

The Mandalorian is a strand-cast of the Star Wars Saga, more continuous than Rogue One and Solo, and almost a whole other species but having more in common with its originator than its supposed biological heir in the Sequel Trilogy. Grogu might be The Child, but I feel that The Mandalorian is The Child of Star Wars.

I know there will be more. It isn’t over yet. Even so, I think about how Din Djarin passed Grogu onto Luke: the Mandalorian fulfilling his almost holy quest, the child relic that is more than foregone story but a living, breathing story of possibilities. And all us — my friends that played our homebrew Star Wars game with Lego those after-school afternoons, the child I was with my old Return of the Jedi writing notebook, and my friend who met us in the park in high school wearing Jedi robes like Luke Skywalker — we got to see our hero again, in all his glory, at least one more time. It was all many of us wanted. And there he was.

So much world-building and meaning in just two seasons of an online serial about a warrior, and his child, and all the people they’ve touched along the way.

Because, in the end, as this continues I feel this truth. That this is the Way.

13: Alternative Facts: Can You See

It’s Fore Hallows at Freed Dome. 
It’s Fore Hallows at Bost. 
It’s Fore Hallows at Blunder. 
It’s Fore Hallows at Sancts Lost.

If you have to ask, 
wear a mask,
better bearer than bare
against the Nats and the Novax,
and the Fall of the Ere. 

It came from Sunder,
it walks in Nomens, 
and travailed the Pasiph League,
the world, the veil, the scien of Predicts,
from here and back it will leave its mark,
it will always bleed.

We member the days
Fore Hallows, it will not die.
It doesn’t long to Hate or Gilder Boom,
no matter how loud they cry. 

Fore Hallows is ours, from Cycle to Pride,
and Badlands far from sun
it comes to gain the oldest harvest 
and the Land, Folk, Fire that we have won.

Fore Hallows, fore State, and Trunk, and Ass,
we wear, in air, our mantles, always, from the time
fore score our face and words come frozen by this rime.

Fore Hallows never cesseeded 
into the glare of blue cover, the white sheets, the plague-bare 
suspended all twili, and grey, 
though its treats were grim, and cold tricks came its faire
come fallen where they lay. 

This is why, past the Dark we don’t member,
we will always ask 
that every Cycle, tween the Poles,
that we parti-pate a Great Unmask. 

Populli, Fore Hallows, ‘tend to be things
but let things not be populli, Abominate upon boght wings. 

A hush wind breath blows not in the bellows 
of louder miens  and means thrown down,
it might be now the time of ere, and auctumn
but ne’er forget the Revolution of the Orange frown.

Fore agon the idea in the making of hollowed leaves a crown,
and member that Fall every populli shows and knows
that the Precedent wears no clothes. 
Recall the Broken Star on a stalk of holly,
cover your breath, but not your eyes from this great old folly.

Fore Hallows now Hindsight,
Fore Hallows the Festive of the Open Track,
Fore Hallows for good or ill, 
let it be the begun again the Doom of Amarak. 

© Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2020

The Horror Doctor

So I actually did it.

I wanted to put a few more things on my Blog before linking it here, but I finally made The Horror Doctor.

I find when you make a Blog, a lot of it is about creating content, but it’s also about organizing and curating it: to make it accessible, or at the very least to know what kind of theme you are going for. In my case, I just had a lot of thoughts about horror and weird stories, and some of these just didn’t completely fit on Mythic Bios.

Or maybe that’s not entirely accurate. You see, I’ve written a lot on Mythic Bios. And I mean … a lot. So much so, that I feel like for something like the Horror Doctor, I needed something more streamlined, more specific, with which to deal with that particular content. It’s not a replacement for this Blog by any means, and it’s not meant to be.

What is interesting is that in creating The Horror Doctor, I’ve gotten to apply a few things I’ve learned over the years writing for Sequart, GeekPr0n, and this Blog. At the moment, The Horror Doctor feels like something between a review and fanzine, but it also inherits a lot from what I’ve attempted to do on Mythic Bios: in showing my creativity and analytics in process. Whereas Mythic Bios has sometimes showed my “behind the scenes” or “backstage” elements of my story writing, I kind of drifted away from it over time.

The Horror Doctor kind of reminds me of my first days making Mythic Bios into an online Blog, where I was just inspired and driven to write an article on here almost every day. It changed, of course, over time given that you need to pace yourself, and not overwork your brain to death. Even now, I’m slowly down a bit, but I have a few thoughts that I can still write down.

But I guess The Horror Doctor was a long time in the making. Essentially, it’s me writing reviews and creative homages to films and other horror and weird properties that I’ve watched for the first time, or had thoughts about in recent times. I’ve said it a million times already, but it’s like being Victor Frankenstein — with hopefully minus the deadbeat creator aspect — in that I am pretending to be a mad scientist without an MD (or a PhD for that matter) dissecting and reassembling different subject matter under my constantly growing auspices.

Why I made it, well … watching Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder helped, but in a way it’s the end result of spiritual inspiration from Kaarina Wilson. I’ve wrote about her a lot. I don’t know if or when I will stop writing about her, to be honest. We were originally going to make a collaborative blog together on Blogger called twosides. In the end, she wrote more in there than I did. But after she passed away, I realized I was still logged onto there as a co-creator. I read all the stuff she made, which wasn’t much, and I remembered that she wanted us to work together on something. I also recalled how much she believed that I could write about horror: to the point of encouraging me to talk to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival about writing for them.

Neither of these things happened. Originally, I was going to write in our old Blogger account and create The Horror Doctor there. In retrospect, there are probably more than a few subconscious reasons I chose that Blog name, but the fact is Blogger was just too basic — too old — to do anything with.

Of course, WordPress has changed over time as well. I know it’s not the same as I when I started back in 2012, but it is still kept up and updated, and I know how to use it on a basic level. I decided to start fresh, to make my own domain for both my Blogs, and a place for all of my things. So even though I feel like when I watch some horror classics or obscurities for the first time, I am watching it for both myself and Kaarina, the creation is all me: this is what I have been primarily doing with my time during this Pandemic.

I don’t know what else to add. I think The Horror Doctor is a good place to practice my writing ethic. I have already taken to curating but also rewriting and editing works there, taking my time, and considering what I want to do. It’s another step towards … something.

I will be reblogging some of my horror content from this Blog onto The Horror Doctor into both my “Dissections and Speculatives” and “Strains and Mutations” Categories (reviews and fanfiction), so there will be some interlap. In the meantime, I hope that everyone is holding up well. Take care all.

There are a few of you that have followed me for a long time here, some of you who still remain, or just discovered me. If you are into horror and weird stories, graphic  explicit, and twisted things, and you like how my brain works in general — and you like all of these things — please come and read my work at The Horror Doctor. Hopefully, if you are not educated by someone still learning the genre, you will at least be entertained.

Horror Experiment and My Newest Challenge

So this is something of a follow-up from my previous Blog entry “My Curve” that you can find by just scrolling back.

I’ve been thinking about the horror genre lately, particularly with regards to film, but being the person I am I also relate it back to horror writing. Better minds than mine have looked at horror and defined it through scholarship, or creativity. But after particularly focusing on cinematic horror, I see that there are so many different kinds of stories and storytelling, as well as production value, that make up the genre.

Some of it is psychological, or bodily, or just gore. Other parts of it are philosophical, or tacky, or just plain strange. It’s like how the comics medium has schlock and fine art, and all the variants in-between. You can find this in any genre or medium, I’m sure, but perhaps it’s because of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and its bent on what I think in my mind as “weird movies” that I tend to view cinematic horror along these lenses. I mean, the Toronto After Dark particularly focuses on independent — or indie — films, both short and long-form, but I tend to see horror cinema in that spectrum between ridiculousness and campy-themed features, and sophisticated, and nuanced with some cathartic elements that could easily have their roots in ancient tragedy. Then again, some of the antics that happen in horror film can easily be found in old Dionysian slapstick become comedy as well, and there is a reason I feel why some comedians, like Jordan Peele, can make such great horror social commentaries. I always get the feel of observing, and playing with, glorious pulp with these “weird films.”

I’m not writing anything new here. But I think maybe it’s because of the pandemic and thinking about medicine and doctors, as well as my own critical skills, that an idea occurred to me.

It began when Joe Bob Briggs said that a film had been reviewing for The Last Drive-In would soon be out of circulation on Shudder. This happens a lot, where AMC — the company that owns Shudder — will have the rights to show the films for a while, and then they will be gone. I also know that Shudder in different countries can generally only show those films in the countries where the copyright exists. So as a result some of The Last Drive-In episodes aren’t available anymore. And Shudder isn’t always clear on when they will disappear like a ghost in the rain.

So I went to watch this particular film that would soon be gone from Shudder. And … This was interesting. It was an old film, but seemed older given the terrible production value. It had a lot of great ideas, but the way they were carried out, combined with the said production value, and a “too many cooks” of characters and ideas, it just got weird, and unfocused, and out of control. Sometimes art happens by accident. Sometimes, disasters do as well. I think that’s what horror does. It makes things messy and sometimes there is order in it, and other times it can just become senseless.

So it was after watching this film, complete with commentary, that I started to really think about what worked in it, what could work in it, and what didn’t. And then I did something that I learned to do as a Humanities Graduate student, and a creator myself. I began to think more about how it could work, and how to make it work. Think of it as something of a script-doctor inclination, except I would convert it into a story. Into glorified fanfiction.

And I began to think to myself, there are other films like these out there. I’m not talking about modern ones, or ones that have their own logic. I mean ones that could have their own logic and consistency, old and forgotten films, or smaller ones that could just been tweaked in some way. And, of course — and most importantly — I would not be doing it for money, or profit.

It’s an extensive idea, to do some Horror-Doctoring. And obviously, my tastes are my own, but I would need to make the revisions or “remakes” consistent with what they are, to go back to the theme of the entire film, and the tone, and make it more cohesive, snappier, and just entertaining. Disqualified from this possible experiment would be more well-known or mainstream works, and films that are focused and cogent. I can always write separate fanfiction for those, as I always have.

I am not knocking them, and I appreciate them for what they are — flaws and all — and I would definitely not mess with something like The Room, which isn’t horror, and is so in its own league of weird reality and insanity that it needs to stay there.

But I have a candidate — or specimen — lined up already. And it’s eerie how my ideas are working. I began thinking about it before, and then I was sending these thoughts to a friend whom I got to watch it before adding more notes to myself.

I might post it up. And depending on how well it is received, I might continue with those experiments. I might also not do it. My focus is more mutable these days, but it’d be cool to post a column or section on “Horror-Doctoring” on here, or make something and then create something entirely original from the previous specimen that I can use in other places.

Basically, I am getting inspirational fuel which is a start into returning to the process of creation where I need to be. To engage both my critical and synthetic brains. To continue my experiments with the mess to make something else entirely. I will keep you posted.