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.

My Curve

My tagline should become “it’s been a while.”

I find so many ways of saying the same thing. It’s been a hard couple of months. Sometimes, it feels like it’s been a thousand years, though I have also read some writers stating that this period in our history is an eternal present: an in-held breath that keeps going until, inevitably, there will be a release of some kind.

In my personal life, I’ve been having something of the same process. March 13 was the last time I’d been downtown. I knew about the pandemic and the quarantine on March 11, but a few days later I went back to my parents’ place, and knew I would be going into hermit-mode again.

I had few illusions about that. I knew it would be more than two or three weeks of quarantine. It was hard in the beginning as I had been going out more. For the first week, I didn’t go outside at all: not even for a walk. I had this plan that I would not go outside at all until all of this was over, or even past it. I’ve gone long stretches of time without going out of my house or wherever I was living, and I thought to go back to it. I lasted over a week like that, before it got too much.

After that, was a string of misfortunes. The end of a relationship, and the death of a pet. Even then, I felt like I was accepting that something was changing, that I was at a shift — or we were at a shift — that once it was done we would never be the same again. And just when I felt like I was beginning to be free, to shed that past dead weight, everything else went side-ways, as a friend of mine used to say.

When Kaarina passed away, I was in this twilight place. I’d known beforehand, as I already wrote about I’m sure, but I was going to bed at seven or eight in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I was talking on the phone, or online in an almost drunken manner. Sometimes I could focus, and other times I was out in my own world. It was just these glittering pieces in the dark, metaphorically speaking. I felt both detached, and angry, drifting, and sad. I kept a list in my head of things I wanted to do, or say to people, before the pandemic and I fulfilled them slowly over that time as I began to become more stable again.

I talked with my therapist on the phone, something I should continue to do. My friends have been going through their own losses as well. It’s like the darkest, suckiest stuff that was waiting to happen before the pandemic decided since things were already bad they’d might as well all come out to play.

During this time, I wrote some stuff about Kaarina, did some roleplays with my friends that still can online, and not much else. I marathoned Freeform’s Sirens for a while, and then continued watching Motherland: Fort Salem. I know that for a while, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, especially in the beginning month of all this — suffocation and being terrified of getting sick. Sometimes, I still cycle through that, and there might be some medical issues I will have to deal with that aren’t related to the plague.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Once the suffocation, the anxiety, the despair, the empty feeling, the frenzied feeling, all wore off it began to level out. To meet a curve if you want to borrow a popular phase now.

One day, I found out Joe Bob Briggs’ and Shudder’s The Last Drive-In was coming back. I’d missed the last season, as that had been another year of turmoil. I did catch one part where one of the Halloween films was being played, and I had created a theory on Twitter that Dr. Loomis had experimented on Michael Myers already altered physiology and psychology, and that was the reason he wanted to kill him so badly. It never get quoted on the show, but I had fun that night. I’d heard of Joe Bob from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre channel ages before, and I had to check it out. Also, Diana Prince — who plays Darcy the Mailgirl — was someone I’d started interacting with on Twitter and Instagram along with other fans from time to time.

My usual D&D game days are cancelled for the foreseeable future, and I am obviously not breaking quarantine. I decided to experiment and watch an entire run of The Last Drive-In. I liked the format of the first episode in Season One, with the film Tourist Trap with a telekinetic who likes to create wax beings, and I wanted to see what a live marathon would be like while live-Tweeting.

It was hard. I didn’t pace myself, and there were no commercial breaks. I admit that while I had fun that first episode, the five hours locked my body down, and I didn’t feel well. I considered just seeing one part of the episode next time, and looking at the rest when recorded on Shudder. But then, the next week came and after having most of my food, and some commercial breaks, as well as knowing when take some of my own, I did much better. I absolutely loved Maniac with those creepy mannequins, and it was the first time I’d seen Heathers: and I adored it.

This past week, there was Brain Damage and Deep Red as well, the former I surprisingly enjoyed and make a few good one-liners on Twitter. Deep Red was harder to follow, and I tried to make sense of it, and … maybe one day I might. I really liked interacting with the other fans on Twitter, and just the feeling of watching something, some ridiculous, sometimes awesome films with people while listening to Joe Bob’s anecdotes and facts. I don’t agree with everything Joe Bob says, and certainly I know that I loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night more than he seemed to in the earlier seasons — though I do have a weakness to towards “art-films” — but I can appreciate what he brings to the show.

I just, for a few moments, not only did I recapture what it was like to watch strange films, horror movies, with friends, but to have it at a fixed point, to come to that time and actually accomplish it. I know the show is on from 9 pm to 2 am on Friday evenings, and I attend them and get through it, and even interact. It’s a combination of observation, entertainment, writing, and socializing with a good meal. And it helps. It helps to feel that sense of accomplishment in doing that, and that sense of positive reinforcement.

And, whenever I watch The Last Drive-In, or any horror films, I feel like I am watching them with Kaarina: for the two of us. We used to go to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival together, and then watch Twilight Zone before bed. And I curated a whole Shudder account for her when she was in a medically-induced coma in hopes of presenting it to her when she woke up from that surgery. I think it even still exists somewhere on Shudder. I also felt like, for a moment, that I was watching horror movies with my friends again after almost two decades.

It must sound strange, to want to watch things for someone who can’t anymore, but I take comfort wherever I can, and I won’t knock this.

It’s been around this point that I began writing again. I was already feeling the need to return back to the work I began about a year ago, before real life came in. I was so busy going out and socializing that a lot of it fell to the way side to gather dust. And then, the pandemic and all these personal losses accrued. I think it also helps that I don’t feel the pressure of not having a job or still living at home, as I know many people are facing similar situations due to the current crisis. Surprisingly, I’m less hard on myself: even though I still need to sleep properly.

I feel like I could spend more time writing and reading and watching films than interacting with people as much now, but I know there are people in my life that check in on me. I’m definitely not the same as I was before March, and I know I won’t be after all of this is over or at least stabilized. I learned a lot about other people during this time. And about myself.

Right now, I am writing fanfiction but I am thinking about going back to a possible collaboration idea, and that Lovecraft work of mine. I know this seemingly limitless time is an illusion. It will end, one way or another. Life likes to change. I am going to just do the best I can, and I feel like I want to do it again.

It’s late now, for a change. I want to write down one or two more things before this night is out. I don’t know how I will deal with things when they open up again outside, but I can’t really think about that right now. All I can do is enjoy what I have now. That is all I can do.

I’m glad that you can all join me on this venture. I might add another entry after this one. It’s been a while since I’ve done something like that. Until then, my friends.

Steven Universe: From My Crystal Heart

Spoiler Warning: There are series spoilers in the body of this article. Reader’s discretion is advised. 

As of this writing, I just finished watching the latest series of episodes of Steven Universe: in the Heart of the Crystal Gems arc. And, I think, this is an article for the fans.

I’ve written about Steven Universe, and the Crystal Gems elsewhere. It is a show very close to my heart. I wouldn’t have seen it coming, really. It is a children’s cartoon show with some very elemental illustration, brightly coloured animation, musical sequences, and humour. It is also a show with depth, character development, and world-building that slowly builds into some excellent storytelling. It talks about feelings. Some people might scoff, or laugh about feelings, but emotions are complex things, and Steven Universe doesn’t skim over that fact.

It is a show that starts off as a Magical Girls trope subverted into a story about ancient extraterrestrial mineral beings — sentient Gems that can take humanoid, feminine form — dealing with the aftermath of rebelling against an intergalactic conqueror empire with which they belonged, the horrors of war, the consequences of secrets and regrets, while also eating strange food, dealing with the zany humans of Beach City, misunderstanding human customs in ridiculous ways, and singing about their feelings: how happy they are, how sad they are, how angry they are, how afraid they are, and how it is all right to feel all those emotions: loss, pain, humour, and joy.

I have also stated elsewhere that it is a show about relationships. This is shown with how they deal with humans and their environment, but also how the Gems deal with each other: and how they Fuse. Fusion is something of a Go, Go Power Rangers mechanic where they combine together to form a whole new being to fight against monsters. But even as the show questions what monsters really are, what evil is, what good is, it also looks at the mentality of Fusion: of Fusion as an extended metaphor for intimate relationships.

Garnet, the leader of the Crystal Gems, is a Fusion and emblematic of the entire theme of the show: made all the more apparent by recent events in the series of just how inspirational she truly is. She is the Fusion of a prophetic Sapphire, and a short-tempered Ruby. And you watch as she works well, as she falls apart, as she recombines, as she is two people who after thousands of years is still getting to each other and the expression of love: the action, the living verb that is Garnet.

And the show makes no bones about it. What Garnet is, this almost permanent state of Fusion often taken once and a while, or between Gems of one kind for purposes of war or building, is not the norm. It is an exception. Not the love, of course. Love can manifest in different ways, among different beings.

And watching hem recently deal with another hurdle in their Fusion, in their reason to Fuse, in their relationship made me think about something.

Sometimes, you don’t always keep your Garnet. Sometimes you don’t always find your Sapphire and everything you think you know will happen, doesn’t … or you ignore the fact that you know what will happen, because you just don’t want to know. Sometimes you don’t find your Ruby, and that place of spontaneity and bravery amid the humility that keeps something so truly special.

I suppose that is a misnomer, however. I think what I mean is when sometimes you don’t find your Ruby or your Sapphire, when I say you don’t always keep your Garnet what I am really saying is that sometimes your Ruby and Sapphire doesn’t stay.

It can be different, of course. Sometimes you are Ruby and Sapphire, and Garnet. And sometimes you are a Garnet that has fun with an Amethyst, or a Garnet that lets a Pearl Fuse with her sometimes, or offers to show a ridiculous Peridot how to Fuse and places no pressure either which way.

But sometimes you do not stay Fused. Sometimes you have to separate. Sometimes it is just temporary as you talk outside the action that is Garnet. Sometimes you have to deal with other Gems, other people. Sometimes you have deal with the fact that you are other people too, or that there are other people that make up the totality of you. Sometimes you come back together, stronger than you were before.

Sometimes, you don’t.

Sometimes you are a Rose Quartz that doesn’t want to keep secrets, but doesn’t know how to do anything more and just as you stay with your Pearl, you find many others in your life before losing yourself to the experience, the dynamic, each time. Sometimes you are that Pearl waiting for your Rose Quartz to come back to you. Sometimes you are that Pearl pining for a Rose Quartz that will not — that cannot — come back.

Or you’re a cranky flustered Peridot that is used to the way things are, and you don’t see how lucky you are to meet other Rebels who can show you how life is, and that they will actually stay with you. Sometimes you are that Lapis Lazuli that’s been hurt and you flee the prospect of more pain while taking the barn, and the knick-knacks, while viewing the life that you left behind, that went on without you, that is going on without you on the Moon: missing it always.

You could also be that Bismuth whose Gem is inverted, and you try to do the right thing while always feeling a bit of loneliness while engrossing yourself in your work. Or, you’re that Jasper. You know the one: the one that feels like you have to prove yourself to everyone, and you wonder why you can’t hold a Fusion each time.

Or you’re a Diamond and you are hard and unyielding in your rules and strictures, but even the hardest heart can shatter under the right circumstances.

Perhaps the best thing to be, though and in retrospect, is an Amethyst. Sometimes you still don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t always care, and you just go with it until you realize that your one thousand year baggage is your own, and that you change yourself for only one person: you.

Mind you, being an Off Color — for all Gem society rejects it or hunts you down — can be fun too. You can all be freaks together, and who knows? Maybe you might become part of a great, old, chosen family of Fusion like a Fluorite, if you are brave enough, and if that is who you really are.

It’s easy, given that  Padparadscha Sapphire’ retrovision is 20/20, to look back and see the point where your foundation or body can vanish, or where you shatter, or whether or not you should have eaten all that garbage as Amethyst … or overeaten those Cookie Cat ice cream cookies that were so full of love that they made the Gem on your body, that makes up your very being, shine.

I don’t suppose there is a point to any of this. There never is. I’ve lost a lot of things over the years. Some I’d seen coming. Some I did not. Some I wish I hadn’t. You don’t always get to keep your Sapphire. You don’t always get to keep your Ruby. And Garnet, under most circumstances, never stays forever. That state of being, that insulated bubble and the barn with the weird art pieces and the animated Pumpkin entity pet can’t always be there in that current form.

Yeah. If you haven’t watched the show yet, that is a whole long, other story.

I don’t cry as much these days. But I do when I watch this show. It lets me. It’s appropriate when I do. Every time, especially now. I never thought it would have gotten into my life as much as it has. Under my skin. Into my heart. If only people were like the Gems, or even the people of Beach City where problems can always be solved through talking, and no one has to be that Jasper who sucks as Fusion forever.

But I think, as long as Steven Universe exists … as long as shows like it exist and the people that create them continue to possess this form of empathy — a strength of compassion and emotional depth — even if I never Fuse again, even if I feel disembodied, or broken, or flawed, or shattered, or “not made right” like an Off Color … even if I have to be alone like a moping Peridot, or a sad Lapis Lazuli just knowing something like it exists out there, like a Garnet who is almost always Fused and actually marries after over five thousand years honestly?

I can live with that. Despair, perhaps I am stronger than you, like an Amethyst on some Cookie Cat.

Or, you know: this lucky, awesome guy who has grown so much.

Under the Shadow: A TADFF 2016 Review

It’s been said that the German film Nosferatu was created, at least in part, to exorcise the ghosts of World War I. If there is any truth in that, then Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow does something similar. Under the Shadow takes place during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988. The Iranian Revolution that changed the country into a theocratic regime happened not even a few years ago and the people of Iran, particularly Tehran in Under the Shadow, suffer through constant missile attacks from Saddam Hussein.

Enter Shideh (Narges Rashidi), a former medical student and mother who can no longer continue her studies due to her involvement with “subversive political groups” before the Revolution. There is tension between her and her husband, a doctor named Iraj (Bobby Naderi): a combination of the usual couple arguments, combined with the anxiety of being bombed, and the strain of having a relationship and Shideh wanting a modicum of power and support under a patriarchal regime. In fact, there is tension throughout the entirety of the film: watching the fear of the family hiding in their apartment’s bomb shelter, waiting for the next bomb to drop, wondering if Iraj will die on the battlefront he’s stationed at, and even one heart-stopping moment when Shideh leaves with their daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) in a panic and accidentally forgets her hajib: a moment where corporal punishment becomes a truly grim possibility.

And this doesn’t even cover the Jinn.

According to Middle-Eastern mythology Jinn are spirits made of air. In the Quran, they are like humans except while humans are, arguably, made of earth, jinn are made of air. They coexist alongside humanity in various ways, and they and angels were made with humanity. The Jinn in Under the Shadow are not kindly ones. They exist in, and feed off of fear and anxiety. They travel through the desert wind. They are creatures of air and as such affect oxygen, dreams, and the perceptions of the mind. If they gain an object special to a human being, they will haunt them until they possess and destroy them. However, in Under the Shadow possession has a whole other kind of connotation.

Under the Shadow in a lot of ways might as well be called Under the Veil. The Jinn are metaphorical for the gaslighting, insecurities perpetuated on women and the need for authority to control women and their bodies. They also represent the chaos of war and uncertainty of death. In the film they constantly prey on Shideh’s and Dorsa’s relationship made fraught by the patriarchy around them. It’s also no coincidence that one of the Jinn uses constant misogynist slurs against Shideh in the form and voice of her husband, and another takes on the form of an embroidered veil and shawl that threatens to consume both Shideh and Dorsa: symbolizing perhaps the internalized misogyny of a neighbour and a terrifying sense of superstition that institutionalized religion in Iran during this does nothing to alleviate, but only worsen. In fact, it becomes clear in a lot of ways that they are a part of it.

In addition patriarchy, oppressive regimes, and war have another thing in common with Anvari’s Jinn. They all take pieces of a person’s life away, meaningful objects like a medical text given by a wishful mother, or a child’s doll. They threaten to steal innocence and all the good in your life, tainting it with violence and trauma until nothing is left. The sudden, terrifying jump scares of the Jinn, the bomb alarms, and the bombings are somehow made a minor part of the horror that these Jinn represent in this film.

As a child of the 1980s myself, it is sobering to see the life that another family had in another place and culture at this time. The Jane Fonda exercise tapes that Shideh uses to lose herself on her illegal VCR really hits that home that a different life was happening in Iran than in other places. If Nosferatu was an attempt to exorcise the spirits of war from post-WWI Germany, then Under the Shadow is an attempt to reveal the supposedly invisible forces behind the Iran-Iraq War and life in Tehran at time, to give understanding to us instead of allowing the Jinn to take more away. This was an excellent international film and the Toronto After Dark chose it well.

Trash Fire: A TADFF 2016 Review

You know, sometimes before even walk into a horror movie you know it’s going to disembowel you. I don’t mean that in the gore sense of horror but mainly in the visceral part of you: right inside your very emotional core.

Writer and director Richard Bates Jr. punches you in the stomach with his horror comedy Trash Fire. His characters don’t pull their punches either. Owen (Adrian Grenier) and Isabelle (Angela Trimbur) are a paradox. They are clearly a dysfunctional couple that appear almost completely unsympathetic. At the same time there is an honesty to their characters that is compelling and for all their cruel words to each other a genuine love. It’s not romantic love but that kind of fierce imploding magnetic force that is just there. It can’t really be explained. It’s like their violent truths cancel or balance rach other out.

Initially the real horror intermixed with sharp and unforgiving witty one liners was watching Owen and Isabelle’s relationship. And then Violet (Fionnula Flannigan), Owen’s cruel and twisted religious fanatic grandmother and Pearl (AnnaLynne McCord), Owen’s reclusive younger sister are introduced in this dynamic.

Isabelle is pregnant and in order to convince her to keep the baby and continue their relationship Owen agrees to reunite with what is left of his estranged family. Owen has seizures based on a fire that killed his parents and covered eighty percent of his sister’s body with third degree burns. He also ran away and abandoned Pearl to their grandmother years ago.

It goes about as well as you can expect.

The characterization in Trash Fire is excellent. Richard Bates Jr. plays with your expectations. Violet is evil and creepy but she is refreshingly hilarious. Pearl is a complex character with her own desires, a sweetness tempered by a degree of creepiness, an incredible awareness, and an anger and sadness towards her scarring and her life rivaling that of the Phantom of the Opera. The slow reveal of just how badly she’s physically disfigured is also subverted. Pearl is actually one of the most compelling LGBTQ characters in a horror movie I’ve seen. The fact that she is shut in a room most of the time, and makes crafts out of the mirrors she breaks says a lot of things. You also learn that her scars don’t even begin to equal the ugliness in the human interactions we see throughout this entire film.

Even Owen and Isabelle, who I thought I’d enjoy seeing killed or maimed became more sympathetic as they spent time at Violet’s house. They seemed worse when surrounded by a flat, ubiquitous one-dimensional world often portrayed by the horror genre as “normal” than when dealing with the honest dysfunctionality and eventual evil of Owen’s family life.

There are some confusing bits of course. Sometimes the character developments are jarring: like they have been written after the fact. Owen’s differing recollections could be the result of PTSD and its screaming distorted segments of his family on fire, and maybe serial killing takes a while to warm up in Violet’s twilight years, but there is literally one character towards the end of the film that goes … nowhere. He comes into the scene and he is gone. It is a minor plot point that could have at least been a death but just does nothing.

All that said, Trash Fire‘s ending hits like a son of a bitch. Richard Bates Jr. couldn’t be at the After Dark screening and in his Director’s Words he said he almost wished he could be there to give the audience a hug. The movie ends as dysfunctionally as it began and I know that I will always remember Trash Fire for it.

Farewell Agent Carter

The second season of Agent Carter ended with both closure, and a cliff-hanger. Even as Peggy Carter and Daniel Sousa decide to begin a romantic relationship which some fans saw coming — and shipped — a few miles away, we have the conundrum of who shot Jack Thompson, whether or not the agent is going to survive, and just what was in Carter’s intelligence file that warranted the use of deadly force.

These mysteries … won’t be solved, at least not on Agent Carter. Agent Carter has been cancelled and unfortunately won’t be renewed for another season.

You can figure out some of those reasons. Hayley Atwell has gotten the lead in the upcoming program Conviction and ratings for Agent Carter have been low. Some might find it amazing that the show even developed from its Marvel One-Shot prelude, never mind lasting for two seasons. But nothing makes this development any less unfortunate.

Agent Carter was a well-written show set in a dieselpunk 1940s world after the loss of its first superhero. Super-science, espionage, detective work, and intrigue were incorporated almost seamlessly into this post WWII setting in a way that would have made the Golden Age comics world proud. And the characters, who could have easily been two-dimensional and even anachronisms fit into the time period and also had some fairly nuanced personalities.

Then there were the further plot possibilities that fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Watching Carter, Sousa, Stark, and Zola finally sitting down to reforge the Strategic Scientific Reserve into S.H.I.E.L.D. would have been nice. It would have been really interesting to see the beginnings of HYDRA’s insidious seventy year rebirth: perhaps the slow initiation of a new member like Jack Thompson. We could have also seen how Howard Stark met his wife Maria and just what events may have influenced his change from a womanizing playboy into the stern, disciplined, cold man that his son knew so well. It would have also been interesting to see what Dottie Underwood, and possibly Doctor Faustus and Arnim Zola really planned on doing with the Council of Nine with that stolen pin she’d been looking for at the beginning of Season Two.

Agent Carter Obituary

But I think what I will miss the most about Agent Carter was the woman herself and how she interacted with her allies and antagonists. She was honourable, resilient, clever, and fair. There were many times she could have taken the kill shot and almost never did if there were any other option. She put up with the chauvinism in the likes of Jack Thompson, but still saw him as a human being. At the same time, she knew when to stand up for herself and do what others didn’t dare. Peggy Carter let herself be confused, be in love, made mistakes, and recognized the feminine as strength while not letting the misogyny of her time turn her bitter and self-justifying like Whitney Frost, or unquestioningly obedient with her extraordinary talents like Dottie Underwood.

Writing about Agent Carter now feels like writing the obituary that must have existed for her in Captain America: Civil War. Margaret Elizabeth “Peggy” Carter was a person who deserved better than what she got, but she would be the first one to tell you that she was going to earn it and god knows, she knew when to put someone in their place if they dared to speak for her. And perhaps she will earn it in more adventures: either in flashback sequences in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or in her own comic book series.

I’m going to miss Peggy Carter and her unconventional family of Daniel Sousa, Howard Stark, Edwin and Ana Jarvis, Angie Martinelli, Jason Wilkes, and even the rest of the S.S.R. May their stories continue along with her own. Excelsior, Agent Carter.

Steven Moffat is Leaving Doctor Who

After Season 10 of Doctor Who, Steven Moffat is leaving the program as showrunner.

Many fans have been waiting for this news for quite some time. According to Radio Times, his successor will be Chris Chibnall: the original head writer and co-producer of the dark and diverse Doctor Who spin-off and science-fiction program Torchwood and the crime drama Broadchurch. From this alone, particularly his work on Torchwood, Chibnall seems to have promise but let’s let the other fact sink in for a little while longer.

Steven Moffat is leaving Doctor Who.

A lot of things have been said about Steven Moffat over the years. Some people believe he made Doctor Who a world-wide phenomenon. Others believe he has nearly destroyed the franchise. Some say he is an excellent writer, others believe that he has been a terrible showrunner, and still more look at him and think he is yet another casualty of “fan-fickleness.”

I know I have had my own opinion about his writing and showrunning: particularly with regards to The Doctor’s late and latest Companion Clara Oswald. But let me try, from albeit a biased fan perspective, to explain why so many fans have issues with Steven Moffat’s sense of direction.

When Russell T. Davies took up the mantle of showrunner and head writer for Doctor Who, he focused on the diverse elements inherent in the show. He looked at the future, at all the different kinds of futures, and wrote into it sexuality and gender and wonder that could never have really been explored on television in the eighties or nineties. But more than that, he took the old elements of the show — the aspects that made it Doctor Who — and built on them to tell new stories: new character-driven stories. Davies was in turns darkly Byronic and wonderful, managing to intermix the sublimely ridiculous, and the dead serious into something captivating and relatable to viewers. It was this tight, clock-work narrative of golden gears in darkness with baubles of pure delight.

Of course, Davies wasn’t without his flaws. Sometimes he did get overwrought and overly complicated. Certainly, the emotional and character cop-out that was the end of “Journey’s End” comes to mind: perhaps illustrating that it was time for Davies to move on.

Steven Moffat was Davies’ successor. He started off in Doctor Who, like Chibnall, as a writer. And he is a good one. Certainly he is an excellent monster-maker when you look at the empty children in “The Empty Child” and “The Doctor Dances,” along with the Weeping Angels introduced in the masterfully told episode “Blink.” He has also introduced the dynamic and omnisexual characters of Captain Jack Harkness and Professor River Song into the Whoniverse. And this doesn’t even include the addition of Madame Vastra, the Silurian lady detective in the nineteenth century, her wife and maid Jenny, and … Strax. Yes: Mr. Potato-Head Homicidal Sontarian himself.

So Moffat could tell some good stories. Certainly, his reintroduction of a certain Missy, the episode of “Listen” and most of his previous Season Nine can attest to that. Unfortunately, by the time Davies left Doctor Who, Moffat’s role of showrunner became another matter entirely.

By this point, the tightly gear-oriented narrative structure of Davies is punctured, literally, with tears in time. Inconsistencies between stories and continuity get explained away by it all being the result of time-travel instead of sloppy story-telling. Character arcs and story ideas that could have been excellent in one or a few episodes, Moffat’s excellent self-contained mini-arcs for which he is so known, become dragged out and thin. Even the transitions between episodes — Doctor Who “Day of The Doctor,” I’m looking at you — are widened and viewers find themselves having previous events explained to them, instead of shown. It is the old “show, don’t tell” sin played all across space and time.

And this isn’t even including the “Mary Suing” that becomes more prevalent: especially in the form of Clara Oswald who is alternatively an extension of The Doctor’s character or an inconsistently-portrayed excuse of a human being instead of her own unique self. There is definitely a marked change from how Davies handled diversity and character development in the overall program to how Moffat dealt with these elements.

In the end, the best way to explain what happened to Steven Moffat is to make a bad geek analogy. Think about the original Star Wars trilogy: when George Lucas’ ideas and outlines were fleshed out and tempered by Lawrence Kasdan’s writing, Marcia Griffin’s film and cinematic work, and Gary Kurtz’s assistance. Now think about the Prequel Trilogy: where George Lucas’ former collaborators were all gone and there was no one else to reign in his ideas. Perhaps the most charitable thing to say is that Steven Moffat acts like the George Lucas of Doctor Who.

Take from that what you will.

My own conclusions are pretty clear. I liked Steven Moffat as a writer, for the most part, but as a showrunner he, at best, had a hit or miss direction in Doctor Who: becoming more of the latter with regards to using a character who had might as well be his own particular Jar Jar Binks. All that said, it is good to see that there will be a new showrunner and I hope that Chris Chibnall will be up to the task of playing in the sandbox that is bigger on the inside.

Be prepared to have to wait in order to see Doctor Who again. We will get one Christmas episode this year, and then Season 10 in 2017: Steven Moffat’s last.

Supreme Leader Snoke’s Victory In Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Once you start down the dark path, forever will its Spoilers dominate your destiny. If you continue reading, what you’ll here is only what you bring with you: namely, and hopefully, your experience with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

You might think to yourself at this point, did I even see the right film? Supreme Leader Snoke is the leader of the First Order. He is the mastermind behind the First Order’s rise and the Knights of Ren having extinguished Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Order before it was even born. But the leader of the Knights, Kylo Ren, was curb-stomped by the young scavenger Rey and left wounded and fallen on the disintegrating world that was once the First Order’s superweapon Starkiller Base: before General Leia Organa’s Resistance obliterated it. Many of the First Order’s troops probably didn’t evacuate the planet in time and it lost a great many resources. This isn’t even taking into account Kylo Ren’s humiliating defeat, and injuries: even though it’s pretty certain he was taken off the planet in time before it exploded, and the fact that the First Order failed to gain Luke Skywalker’s location.

All things considered, you would totally be forgiven in thinking that the First Order had a really bad time from all the events leading up to, and including, the Battle of Starkiller Base.

But Supreme Leader Snoke had a really good day if you really think about it.

Force Awakens Snoke

First, let’s look at what happened towards the end of The Force Awakens on a galactic and political level. By Snoke’s own order, the First Order destroyed the New Republic’s capital world, its star system of four other planets, and one Republic Starfleet. Suddenly the First Order is no longer just a well-organized fringe group of disaffected former Imperials. The Republic might not be gone, but it has been dealt a crippling blow: politically, economically, and morally. The First Order comes from the Unknown Regions. Starkiller Base was by no means its own capital or even the extent of its entire power. It seems that, right now, they are the most organized force in the galaxy against many worlds that have lost their leadership and fleets. And the Resistance itself is, on the surface, an even smaller group than the Rebellion had ever been: and with their resources from the Republic Senate permanently taken from them, they will be at an extreme disadvantage.

Of course there is the opposite argument. The Republic homeworld has apparently become rotational: the capital of the galactic government periodically shifting to different planets. It is also unclear whether or not the entire Republic fleet was destroyed or merely a part of it. Even if all of the Republic’s military force was destroyed, the other Republic worlds will not stand by and wait to be taken by the First Order. They will assemble their own fleets, or reunify them into another Republic armada. In addition, everyone by this point remembers what happened to Alderaan and they will fall upon whatever they can find of the First Order with great vehemence. If anything, while there might be a delay due to member worlds needing to elect and create a new Senate, Snoke’s order will potentially unify the Republic against the First Order in a military (as opposed to a diplomatic sanctioning) capacity. In short, unleashing Starkiller Base made the galaxy aware of it, and basically encourages the Republic to declare war.

Leia Organa’s immortal words to Tarkin come to mind.

Death Star Tarkin

And the Resistance itself may not lack for resources after the other Republic worlds decide to take on the First Order: much like the way the Rebellion gained more member worlds after the Empire destroyed Alderaan. Then again, any of this might take time, and politics and in the inevitable infighting can slow down a democratic government: even one at war. Perhaps that delay is all that Snoke truly needs.

There is a second consideration to take into account with regards to Snoke’s plans. While General Hux might believe in the power of his superweapon like the neo-fascist Tarkin enthusiast that he is, and both he and Captain Phasma have invested heavily in their child indoctrination stormtrooper program, they are all just so much dressing to Snoke. They are merely tools. As with Palpatine before him, Snoke seems especially preoccupied with the Force: specifically the dark side of the Force.

What do we know about the dark side? Well, the dark side feeds off of fear, anger, hate, and suffering. The Empire and the Order of the Sith Lords seem to have been destroyed thirty years ago: removing much of the dark side’s influence over the galaxy, or making it unfocused and decentralized. So what would be the best way to bring the dark side back into galactic prominence?

Well, a galactic war would be a start.

Snoke most likely possesses enough resources to tide the First Order against the Republic and the Resistance for a while: assuming he doesn’t have a few other surprises hidden away somewhere. The chaos will not be over anytime soon. This isn’t without precedent. Senator and then Chancellor Palpatine helped to engineer the Clone Wars and create the foundation of his New Order from the chaos.

Knights of Ren

And Snoke has his Knights of Ren. He had already succeeded in taking out the Jedi before they could become a threat to him. Right now he has an Order of darksiders against an enemy that — for the moment — lacks trained Force-sensitives to be any kind of threat. After all, what could soldiers do against enemies that can predict your movements, telekinetically attack you, and even mind control your troops: not to mention essentially overpower you with enhanced reflexes and potentially lightsabers that can cut through most substances. And of course they have a legion of elite trained stormtroopers to back them up.

Yet this is only the background. Being able to influence and even shape the battle field is one thing. The Knights of Ren and the First Order are still just tools: some more useful than others and all them thinking that they are indispensable. But there are still two pieces missing.

Some things are worth more than rations.

Luke Skywalker is still missing. In addition to that, Snoke also knows about the woman who defeated his apprentice: Rey. Kylo Ren never had the chance to hand her over to him when she was his captive: and now she is with Luke. Think about how powerful Rey was without Jedi training and imagine how considerable she will be when she inevitably gets it. Ideally, Snoke would have wanted the location of the world Luke is hiding on so that he could use Starkiller Base to erase both of them from the face of the galaxy, but that option is now off the table. Starkiller Base has also been destroyed before Snoke could have it used on the current Resistance planet base of D’Qar: thanks to the Battle of Starkiller Base.

But this also works in Snoke’s favour. Snoke has influenced events to a point where the last Jedi Master can’t remain in hiding forever. He has wounded the Republic and created enough opportunity for anarchy so that the First Order can gain ground on a galactic level. Luke must have also felt the horrific wounds in the Force caused by Starkiller Base: making him aware of just how much power the First Order truly has. In addition, because Rey survived the destruction of the Base and discovered his location, she may well even provide a beacon for Snoke’s darksiders to find as she gains more training. Even if Luke teaches her how to mask her Force signature, as he most likely has, the two of them will inevitably be drawn right back out into galactic affairs: and right into Snoke’s new playground.

Luke having memories about the good old days with his lightsaber: getting shot by training remotes, barely being able to summon the lightsaber to him in the Wampa's cave, his own father cutting off his hand, not to mention the lightsaber ending the lives of children by his father's hand. Ah, those were the days.

And now it is even more personal for Luke. It’s bad enough that Snoke corrupted his nephew against him and his dream, but now Snoke set the stage for the death of his best friend and brother-in-law by his former apprentice’s hand. It’s bad enough that the Resistance lost a potential General in the form of Han Solo, another victory for Snoke, but he keeps hitting Luke where it hurts: just trying to get him to reveal himself and “fight for his friends” like he did when Darth Vader captured them on Cloud City. Of course, Rey herself — whatever relationship she has to the Jedi — is now at risk and Luke, for all he might have learned to no longer be that impatient young man on Dagobah might not be able to sit this one out.

But then we have the centerpiece of this twisted little show: another impatient young man named Kylo Ren.

There was once another Master of the dark side who fomented a galactic war just to hone, train, and mold another young, powerful Force-sensitive to his will. At the very least, both Palpatine and Snoke engineered the perfect battleground to make a new apprentice to their respective orders. Kylo Ren is the master of the Knights of Ren. But for all of his power and skill with the Force, he is still young and relatively inexperienced. He has never really had a challenge to prove himself against, and he lacked focus.

Kylo Ren’s betrayal of the Jedi trainees wasn’t enough. He always tempted by the light to renounce the dark side. Kylo Ren wants to kill his uncle and finish off the Jedi once and for all, but that is too abstract: too detached to be a worthy sacrifice towards the dark side of the Force. It is when Han Solo shows his face again and actually goes to Starkiller Base that everything falls into place for Ren. Up until this moment Kylo Ren has been eliminating Resistance and Jedi trainees, but in one fell swoop he murders a potential Resistance asset, hurting Leia Organa’s morale, and increasing his own connection to the dark side. Ren’s guilt and self-loathing will only make him more powerful and the fact that he was defeated by Rey — the former beginning to have some kind of inkling as to who she really is — will make him more determined to excel.

It's on now.

In the end, Snoke destroys the capital world of the New Republic and a portion of its renowned fleet. He creates a the beginnings of a conflict of pain and suffering — the destruction of worlds creating wounds in the Force itself —  that will spread the power of the dark side throughout the galaxy. Snoke essentially has great influence over the battlefield he made. Leia will undoubtedly remain uncowed by the death of her estranged husband, and her patricidal son and continue the conflict against him. Luke himself couldn’t even bring himself to kill his own father back in the day, never mind strike down his own nephew and former student. As it is, Luke and Rey will be drawn back into the fray again and made vulnerable. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren will continue to become more powerful in the Force and now has a single focus to eliminate both Luke and Rey: or perhaps gain other ambitions and become the dark side’s foremost champion.

And if Kylo Ren dies, that’s fine too. After all, there is always Rey — with her raw Force-sensitivity, self-righteous passion, potential Jedi training, and antagonism towards Ren — to corrupt towards his ends.

The destruction of a single planetary base and First Order lives can be seen as a small price to pay for someone like Supreme Leader Snoke: especially if following the Sith Handbook is only the beginning of his real plans. We will just have to wait and see if overconfidence, or victory, will be his ultimate downfall.

Long, Long Ago is Now: Star Wars The Force Awakens

If love and hate are two sides of the same impulse, then so was the prospective hope and dread that many fans potentially felt — that I certainly experienced — while waiting for the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The fact is, if you read this article, right now, you will be skittering close to the dark side of The Force Awakens reviews known also as Spoilers. Remember, you can draw back from the abyss and recall the patience and calm that you need to actually watch the film, if you haven’t already. Or you can succumb to the quick and easy path, right now, if random comments on the Internet didn’t cut off your hand and leave you wailing like Luke in despair on Cloud City.

First, let’s start with what really works in this film.

The introduction.

I’m not kidding. Instead of the Prequels, where we got deluged with taxes, politics, and nebulous “heroes on both sides” that didn’t happen in the actual movies, we have the place where Return of the Jedi left off: namely, Luke Skywalker is missing and the Resistance against the First Order is searching desperately for the last Jedi. There. Right there you have an introduction, after the monumental “Long long ago, in a galaxy far far away” and the glory of the Star Wars logo that hooks you. It feeds into the questions that the film’s multimedia campaign has raised in many of us. Where is Luke? What is going on? And where in the nine Corellian hells that may, or may not still be canon, is this going?

Force Awakens Attack on Jakku
The First Order likes to make a dramatic first appearance, just like the Empire before it.

Then we see the slow reveal of the First Order and their deployment on the desert world of Jakku. The First Order also wants to find Luke Skywalker: so that they can outright kill him. Three characters are introduced at this stage: Poe Dameron, Finn, and of course Kylo Ren. Poe Dameron is with his now iconic droid BB-8 getting part of a map to find Luke Skywalker, while Kylo Ren and his First Order troops are there to also get that information and kill all witnesses. It seems pretty standard, at first when you consider how events in Star Wars movies often go: but it establishes right off the bat who the heroes and the villains are in this saga. Or so it seems.

"It was a pleasure to burn."
“It was a pleasure to burn.”

This is where J.J. Abrams begins to change the script a little bit, as it were. As Kylo Ren executes the leader of this settlement and orders the deaths of the villagers, and Poe Dameron hides but also tries to defend them, something else happens. Even as stormtroopers and flametroopers are causing death left, right, and centre, we see Poe kill some stormtroopers. Now normally that would be the end of it. Stormtroopers are generally a dime a dozen, but then … one of them falls into the other’s arms. You see blood come from the fallen trooper as his comrade holds him and he dies in his arms. Three streaks of blood mar his comrade’s helmet and you see the latter genuinely shaken.

That is the beginning of Trooper FN-2187: whom we find out later is one soldier out of many who were recruited and indoctrinated into the Storm Trooper Corps and assigned only serial number designations by the First Order as children. Abrams manages in that one scene to do something none of the films really had done. He shows us that the stormtroopers are thinking and feeling beings just like anyone else: and that they can suffer pain and post-traumatic stress like any soldier … and begin to question orders.

" Take four red capsules. In 10 minutes, take two more. Help is on the way."
” Take four red capsules. In 10 minutes, take two more. Help is on the way.”

We also get a look at some new Force powers and a visual cinematic representation of some old ones as Kylo Ren manages to casually freeze a blaster bolt in midair for several minutes, and use telepathy and mind-probing on a captive Poe Dameron. The first Force application was definitely something I wasn’t expecting and it actually raised my expectations of Kylo Ren just a little bit. And that mind-probe skill comes into play later: for all the reasons that Kylo Ren doesn’t want it.

Mind probes: for when you can't find the droids you're looking for.
Mind probes: for when you can’t find the droids you’re looking for.

Of course, our trooper friend finishes questioning orders after a cold encounter with his commanding officer Captain Phasma and actually decides to act against them. He ends up freeing Poe and they escape in a new and modified TIE Fighter that actually has two seats, and may well even possess a hyperdrive. The banter between Finn and Poe is excellent. Poe is a hotshot pilot and soldier for the Resistance, but that is only one part of who he is. While many people call him this film’s Han Solo, he is actually the opposite of the smuggler’s jaded and cynical nature: still managing against capture, torture, and conflict to be idealistic, optimistic, and overwhelmingly positive. He is the one that gives Finn his name and they celebrate their escape with adrenaline-fueled screaming together even before they are shot down and they crash land onto Jakku in order to find Poe’s droid: who has part of the location of Luke Skywalker in his databanks.

And all of this happens even before we are introduced to Rey.

There is some very excellent character development and promise in The Force Awakens to look at. I’ve already talked about Poe’s incorrigible spirit, and Finn’s sense of conscience. But then we have Rey. Rey is a scavenger on Jakku. You have probably heard enough about her at this point: she is self-sufficient, hardened by the desert world of Jakku, canny, and curious. You can also tell that she has a great of experience in self-defense: particularly in wielding her staff. But it’s not until she meets BB-8, who finds her in the middle of the desert, and she has the choice to sell him for a massive amount of food rations — as that is how the scavenging economy on Jakku seems to work — and she decides to keep him that you see her real character: her sense of integrity.

Some things are worth more than rations.
Some things are worth more than extra rations.

Right here, we have our hero. Anakin Skywalker was an idealistic slave child with his mother on Tatooine who flew in deadly podraces. Luke Skywalker was a moisture farmer on that same world who was raised by his aunt and uncle while whining and dreaming of greatness. Rey seems to have been raised by no one after being abandoned on Jakku when she was five. Her dream is the hope that one day her family will come back for her: whoever they are. In the meantime she grows up a free and solitary woman on a harsh world where just survives … until a little droid comes into her life and changes everything.

He kind of grows on you.
He kind of grows on you.

It’s hard to talk about one character without looking at how they interact with others. This is another strength of The Force Awakens: interpersonal development. Finn is stranded on Jakku after his stolen ship is destroyed and Poe Dameron seems to have died: his newest friend and fellow liberator since the death of his stormtrooper comrade. He has no idea what to do now and is constantly afraid of being hunted for his betrayal. When he encounters Rey and BB-8, he is wearing Poe’s jacket and they think he is a thief. Then he pretends to be part of the Resistance, which encourages Rey to help him as she wants to get BB-8 back to the Resistance: realizing that there is more to her life than just waiting for the family that seemingly abandoned her. She makes that active choice because, again, it is the right thing to do.

Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.
Sometimes doing the right thing is hard.

In fact, aside from the absent and presumed dead Poe Dameron, Rey is the only one who sets out from her familiar life to do exactly that: the right thing. Finn runs because he is afraid and also wants a sense of belonging. Even Han Solo and Chewbacca, who they meet after finding the Millennium Falcon appropriately in a junkyard, are just on their next job on the fringes: having become alienated from Leia Organa and the Republic years ago. She is the unifying point to remind them of what is important: and she doesn’t stop there.

Starting, and continuing, down the dark path ...
Starting, and continuing, down the dark path …

In contrast to Rey is Kylo Ren. Unlike Rey, he knows exactly where he comes from. But right now, he is following what he thinks is a legacy. In fact Ren is actually the product of a few legacies. Being born to a founder of the New Republic, a legendary smuggler and General, and the nephew of the last Jedi are just a few of the expectations he has discarded. You can imagine the amount of pressure to conform to those expectations too and perhaps the role they’ve played in Ren’s decision: especially when you consider the one legacy everyone involved wanted him to avoid.

h
“I will finish what you started … minus losing all my organic limbs, getting burned all over my body, accidentally destroying everyone I love and, well … having children I knew nothing about.”

But Kylo Ken is not Darth Vader. On first glance he seems like a shadow of the Sith Lord. He displays perfect control and ruthlessness when dealing with a situation well in hand. When he’s told by a subordinate that they lost BB-8, you think he is going to pull a Vader: that he’s going to Force-choke the man and levitate him off the ground and let him die in midair for his failure. Instead, after a pause, he draws out his lightsaber and proceeds to slash the computers and technology around him in a purely psychotic rage. It’s that moment that makes you realize that there is a major difference between Darth Vader and his successor: that when Vader caused damage, it was purely calculated to punish incompetence and cause fear, whereas Ren lacks focus and control. He is a young man who is perpetually angry and follows Supreme Leader Snoke and the legacy of Darth Vader in an attempt to actually deal with the insecurity and instability inside of himself: and for most of The Force Awakens it isn’t working when he needs it to be.

Everyone has a Kylo Rage once and a while. Some more than they'd like to admit.
Everyone has a Kylo Rage once and a while. Some more than they’d like to admit.

What we have with Kylo Ren, at least through most of the film, is a young man who hasn’t proved himself yet. It’s like seeing Padawan Anakin Skywalker alternatively whining and raging, or Luke Skywalker whining and fumbling to find his own heritage: except that while the first two sought to grow in the light side of the Force, Kylo Ren chooses the darkness for reasons that haven’t been yet revealed: which are hopefully more than just impatience and for the sake of rebellion. We are looking at the growth of a darksider and his own self-perceived hero’s journey into realizing what he is, and the prices he will pay for getting there.

I won’t go further into a recap of the film, except to say that there are a few scenes that were utterly striking. The first and foremost was Rey gaining a hint of what her destiny truly is: with the vision she gained as Luke’s old lightsaber — which we could sense from its treasure chest with all the sounds of screaming and agony — summoned her to it.

Your father wanted you to have this ... whoever he is ...
Your father wanted you to have this … whoever he is …

There was also the apex of Kylo Ren’s own character arc where he kills Han Solo — his own father — as his personal sacrifice to the dark side in order to drive the light away from him forever: and to earn the undying enmity of fans everywhere. It was … hard, watching the Solo Luck finally run out in the worst possible way.

But watching Chewbacca shoot Ren with his bowcaster is utterly satisfying. The only thing more satisfying, would have been if Han had already known his son was irredeemable from the start and as Ren thanks him, a dying Han touches his face and says, “Don’t thank me”: pressing a trigger to the series of thermal detonators he was wearing under his vest: trying to take his murdering son down with him.

But what actually happens next is epic.

We have Finn actually facing his fear, after running for so long, and fighting and losing against Ren: only to have Rey step up and take her destiny.

It's on now.
It’s on now.

The Force Awakens is primarily about Rey’s own awakening. After Kylo Ren captures her and tries to tear the information on Luke’s whereabouts from her mind, he inadvertently activates her latent Force potential: which she uses to mind-trick and rescue herself. She sees into his mind: and sees his fear. She makes him confront it.

Up until this point, you have to figure: Kylo Ren has only dealt with non-Force sensitives. He has encountered other Force-sensitives through his seemingly untrained mother, his fellow Knights of Ren, and his former fellow Jedi trainees that he slaughtered. The only people that he perceives to be more powerful than him, with his Skywalker bloodline, is his uncle Luke and his Master Snoke. At Starkiller Base, Kylo Ren is wounded but he draws on his physical pain, pounding his ribs where Chewbacca shot him, and uses it to augment his power in the dark side. He has been trained, he has defeated the obstacle of killing the man he loved — his own father — and it is still raw and untempered. And he thinks he is the only one, perhaps even the Chosen One, that can do what must be done.

"You're afraid you'll never be as powerful as Darth Vader."
“You’re afraid you’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader.”

In an inadvertent way, Rey also helped him. She revealed his fear: that he would never be as powerful as Darth Vader. But he did something that not even his grandfather could do: he killed someone he loved in order to embrace what he thinks is his destiny. Rey has also helped him to awaken in a warped and twisted way. But he severely underestimates her. At her age, Luke was still getting his ass handed to him by training remotes. And even Anakin was still a Padawan with questionable judgment. Also remember that Rey grew up on a desert world with no luxuries, and where battle is not training and is ultimately a matter of life or death. She has incredible Force potential, she’s already already learned not to shoot blaster bolts at Ren, and she is fighting to save her new found friends. I know I rooted for her when she brutally and efficiently beat Ren down.

And it could have ended right there. It could have ended with the destruction of Starkiller Base and Rey returning to a grieving Resistance General Leia Organa — a development that I thought was excellent given Leia’s background in guerrilla warfare and rebellion compared to her previous political fate in the now Legends continuity — and promising to see an unconscious Finn again before riding off on the Falcon — the ship she basically inherited from Han — to find Luke Skywalker.

But the film doesn’t stop there. Instead, it stops at that point in time where she finds him. She actually finds Luke Skywalker: and presents to him his old lightsaber. The look of grief and heartbreak on Luke’s face after the destruction of his Order before it even began by his own nephew, his possible farsight of what occurred in his absence, the sudden appearance of a blade that had a mixed place in his own past, and the look of hope and desperation on Rey’s face says it all. It all comes full circle and you can see — right there — that the legacy is going to continue.

Luke having memories about the good old days with his lightsaber: getting shot by training remotes, barely being able to summon the lightsaber to him in the Wampa's cave, his own father cutting off his hand, not to mention the lightsaber ending the lives of children by his father's hand. Ah, those were the days.
Luke having memories about the good old days with his lightsaber: getting shot by training remotes, barely being able to summon the lightsaber to him in the Wampa’s cave, his own father cutting off his hand, not to mention the lightsaber ending the lives of children by his father’s hand. Ah, those were the days.

Of course, there are the other aspects of the film to consider as well. I have to admit that seeing Poe Dameron just appear out of nowhere after he supposedly died did seem kind of anticlimactic: though it was also good to know he is going to stay around.

Don't worry. Not only do I explain how I escaped, but you might be able to see how it happened in the novelization.
Don’t worry. Not only do I explain how I escaped, but you might be able to see how it happened in the novelization.

But I think my main quibble with The Force Awakens is Starkiller Base and the New Republic. The Republic really dropped the ball on this one: underestimating the First Order as an Imperial remnant with all of these resources clearly on hand. It also strikes me as hilarious that Snoke seems to order the use of the Base’s star system destroying lasers as something of an afterthought. And it is never clear in the film if it was just the Republic’s capital world and Starfleet destroyed by the lasers: or if it was all of it. If the First Order just destroyed all of the New Republic in one shot, it just seems to be a little bit of a cop-out to me: not the least of which being the fact that this film didn’t really need another “Superweapon of the Month” my Death Star is bigger than yours element.

"You'd think we would have seriously learned by now."
“You’d think we would have seriously learned by now.”

Also, Supreme Leader Snoke’s CGI Voldemort meets Gollum appearance was a little off-putting in a movie that used less computer-generated special effects. And there are many things that have happened, gaps in the thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens that have yet to be explained.

But these are minor quibbles really.

Many fans and writers have already covered one other aspect of Star Wars The Force Awakens. They say that it is highly derivative. But perhaps it is more apt to state that it parallels elements from the other films. And even if it is derivative, with its hearkening to deserts, ice planets, forest worlds, Force visions, the wise old mentor dying, rebellions, the destruction of life, heroes journeys, and light and darkness vying against each other in self-referential ways, or with acute self-awareness of their tropes, so what? Mythology itself is derivative. Storytelling is derivative. Stories come from somewhere: from a convention of ideas, events, and feelings.

Star Wars is a mythology that draws on the archetypes of interactions with certain environments and situations and certain characters. Of course its latest movie is derivative. But I think there is another consideration to take in when thinking about mythology. Even though stories are derived from other stories, the best ones are those that tend to add something new to the mythos. The question you have to ask yourself is this: does Star Wars: The Force Awakens add anything new to the Star Wars cinematic universe?

Personally, I think that if it already hasn’t with the way it is has subverted some of the tropes, I think it will. After all, Kylo Ren had clearly been suffering from a lack of focus or certainty in embracing his power: and he is not going to stay that way. He will awaken too and hopefully realize that he should do more than live up to Vader. He has to surpass him.

Still a better antagonist than Jacen Solo from the Star Wars Legends continuity.
Still a better antagonist than Jacen Solo from the Star Wars Legends continuity.

And as for Rey, it is pretty clear she is going to learn the ways of the Force, continue to kick some ass and struggle with what is important. She might even learn about what she came from and integrate it into where she is going. And I look forward to seeing what J.J. Abrams, LucasFilm, and Disney will build from this impressive beginning.

Rey is a bad ass.
Rey is a bad ass.