The Buzz Lightyear Prequel Is The Next Best Thing To A Pixar Theory Movie

The Pixar Theory took the internet by storm when it was first formulated: essentially, it posits that all of the Pixar movies exist in one massive, interconnected universe – a theory supported in-universe by cross-references between films and recurring characters and objects, like the Pizza Planet truck. Lightyear, one of Pixar’s newly announced upcoming feature films, could be the closest thing we get to the Pixar Theory crossover movie that some fans have been dying to see for years. Because unlike other traditional Pixar prequels and sequels, which usually just follow characters from the first film, Lightyear isn’t really the origin story of the Buzz Lightyear toy we met in Toy Story – it’s the story of the man upon whom the toy was based, a “real-life” hero in the wider Toy Story universe. And, in a particularly weird twist, Lightyear may confirm that a Disney World Resort theme park ride also exists in the Toy Story universe?

Lightyear
Lightyear | comingsoon.net

Announced at the Disney Investors Meeting on Thursday and set for a June 2022 release date, Lightyear will star the Captain America franchise’s very own Chris Evans as yet another clean-cut, All American, hometown hero: but this time, rather than fighting Nazis during World War II, he’ll be paving the way to the stars during the Space Race. Although it was very clear during the presentation, Evans clarified in a tweet that he is not playing Buzz himself, but that his character is supposed to be the basis for the popular action figure and his merchandise. In Toy Story and its sequels, Lightyear’s origins have been fleshed out (and some of his future missions were explored in the short-lived and probably non-canonical Disney Channel series, Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command), but as far as I know, there’s never been any indication prior to this that an actual human named Buzz Lightyear existed once upon a time in this universe.

Lightyear
Zurg | superheroes.fandom.com

But what we do know about Buzz (mostly thanks to Toy Story 2, my favorite film in the series, and my favorite Pixar film, period) makes me very excited to learn more in Lightyear, which will almost surely feature the return of one of the studio’s most memorable villains, the towering Lord Zurg. And not as an action figure, but as the real deal this time, complete with his spinning machine gun arm and everything. Zurg’s story never felt properly concluded in Toy Story 2, at least not to me, especially since we still don’t know if he actually was Buzz Lightyear’s father, or if that was strictly a Star Wars parody and nothing more. I want answers, Pixar.

While the film will probably match up pretty closely with the sleek, streamlined, glowing green-and-blue design aesthetic established in Toy Story 2 for Lightyear’s sci-fi video game world, one theorist noticed that the concept art for the upcoming film may also include a reference to Space Mountain, an eerie science-fiction theme park at Disney World; where visitors travel through an orange-and-black striped tunnel similar to that reflected in Lightyear’s helmet. This would actually make a lot of sense – Space Mountain was also the inspiration for the Star Command headquarters in the Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command series I referenced earlier. A Space Mountain movie is also in the works over at Disney, so this could be foreshadowing for that.

I personally can’t wait to hear from theorists like Seamus Gorman and the Carlin Brothers about how Lightyear fits into the grand scheme of the Pixar Theory, where it falls in the Pixar universe timeline, and how it relates to the other films in the rapidly expanding animated universe. And most of all, I can’t wait to see Pixar tackle another epic sci-fi adventure for the first time since Wall-E. This one, judging by the probable 50’s or 60’s setting, seems like it could have more of a pulp fiction sci-fi vibe, which is something I’m very interested to see.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Lightyear? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Loki” Is Lost In Space And Time In 1st Trailer!

I’ve had a great many ideas about how I would love for each of the upcoming Marvel Disney+ shows to look and feel since long before we saw anything official from any of them: and Loki has become my second most hotly-anticipated of the entire batch (just behind WandaVision, which seems like a technical masterpiece as well as a wildly entertaining story) thanks to the elaborate image I had concocted in my head of how it should look, ideally: like a mix of gritty science-fiction, Terry Pratchett absurdity, and fantasy horror. So you can imagine my shock and awe when the first full trailer for Loki revealed that this show is everything I was hoping it would be, and much, much more.

Loki
Loki | denofgeek.com

The last time Loki graced our screens was…well, that’s a complex question. Technically that would be in 2018 when, both in our reality and in the main MCU timeline, he died pitifully attacking Thanos with a knife. But when the Avengers later staged their time heist and returned to the year 2012 to recover several Infinity Stones, they encountered the older, more feral and dangerous Loki that they had just battled and defeated in that year: and that Loki was able to escape with the Tesseract, opening a new rift in the Multiverse and ensuring that Captain America’s best efforts to preserve the sanctity of each timeline wouldn’t be entirely successful. The new series follows that Loki as he wanders throughout the Nine Realms, wreaking havoc and upsetting the natural order of things, while fighting characters and beings from the surreal side of Marvel comics.

That surrealism – already evident in the series – is precisely why I draw a comparison to Terry Pratchett: one of my favorite fantasy authors. By a complete coincidence, a trailer for the new BBC adaptation of Pratchett’s The Watch dropped yesterday before the Loki trailer reveal, and in my opinion did a horrible job of conveying the author’s characteristic brand of quirky, grammatical humor, or of capturing the colorful tone and style of his characters. This trailer (which has absolutely nothing to do with Pratchett) effortlessly achieves what any Pratchett adaptation should be aiming for – and if you don’t believe me, just check out the trailer thumbnail above: Loki, dressed in a ratty old coat and splendid emerald green waistcoat, a self-congratulatory campaign button pinned to his breast, grinning from ear to ear, donning his horned helmet, and gleefully teasing us with the line “Come on? What did you expect?”, all while standing in an abandoned arcade, surrounded by a group of absurdly-dressed misfits pointing spears and knives at him. It’s not just a brilliant adaptation of the Loki comics and a striking visual that will entice audiences: it’s a masterclass in absurd humor.

A large part of that has to do with Tom Hiddleston’s deliciously entertaining performance, which is just the right amount of camp; just the right amount of Shakespearean villain; and more quintessentially British than ever before. Hiddleston is, in fact, channeling a number of iconic characters from around the globe, including James Bond and Good Omens‘ Crowley (a creation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, by the way). He’s also stepping into the shoes of real-life historical figures – most notably the legendary “D.B. Cooper”.

Loki
Loki as “D.B. Cooper” | vulture.com

Those who love the thrill of trying to solve decades-old mysteries will enjoy this reference. D.B. Cooper, the unidentified man who somehow pulled off a mid-air robbery in 1971 before parachuting into a storm and disappearing from history makes an appearance in the Loki trailer: and the series finds a delightfully clever way of answering the questions surrounding Cooper’s true identity, by suggesting that Cooper was none other than the God of Mischief. As for how he escaped an FBI manhunt, well, that’s quite simple: he was snatched out of the sky by the Bifrost bridge of Asgard, of course! A few dollars drift out of Loki’s attaché case as he disappears, and are scorched by the heat of the Bifrost – the same dollars, it would seem, that an eight-year old boy would find by a riverbank years after the event, mysteriously burned. The attention to detail here is simply staggering…and honestly, it’s as good an explanation as any. Cooper’s identity is still unknown, and the FBI officially gave up the search in 2016.

It’s not the only unsolved mystery teased in the trailer. Near the end, a Polybius arcade game is also briefly visible in the background: a reference to the arcade game of the same name that sparked an urban legend in the early 2000’s when it supposedly appeared out of the blue, hypnotizing or even brainwashing players, and attracting the attention of men in black. A crucial part of the legend was that the game would sometimes teleport players to other dimensions, and I expect that it will be used in the same way in Loki.

But why all this talk of historical mysteries? Well, the trailer confirms what we’ve long known: which is that the Time Variance Authority (or TVA) will employ Loki as one of their agents during the course of the show, and assign him various missions fixing the timeline and making sure human history proceeds as it’s supposed to do. The TVA serves much the same function as the Commission in The Umbrella Academy, but with a much larger team of characters: including Mobius. M. Mobius, played by comedic actor Owen Wilson, and a severe-looking councilwoman with martial arts skills, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In the case of Loki, it’s unclear whether the TVA actually wanted him on their team, or were forced to recruit him because of the danger he poses as a rogue operative, wielding the Tesseract. The TVA may also need his help against a shadowy enemy we see in the trailer slaughtering their agents: a hooded figure who could be the time-traveler Kang, or an alternate, even more horrible, version of Loki.

Loki
Mobius M. Mobius and Loki | slashfilm.com

On the sidelines for now but sure to feature more prominently in time, there are hints of the Roxxon Energy Corporation – which, in the comics, tries to colonize space and harvest minerals on Mars. Interestingly, many theorists speculated that Roxxon would be the primary antagonist of Thor: Love And Thunder, with Christian Bale rumored to be playing the corporation’s tyrannical minotaur leader, Dario Agger. Bale has now been confirmed to be playing a different villain, Gorr the God-Butcher, but it seems Roxxon will still play a part in the Loki series at least. We see both its inconspicuous façade on earth, as a grocery store, and its more secretive side in the form of a deep quarry on an alien planet. A red-haired woman is clearly visible in one shot, and Twitter immediately started asking if it might be Natasha Romanoff: but although I initially thought the same thing, the different hairstyle and sword at her hip makes me think this is someone else entirely.

If any major MCU characters are going to show up, I would bet on Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and/or Idris Elba as Heimdall, since Loki’s disguise as D.B. Cooper appears to be part of an ingenious plan to get in contact with both of his fellow Asgardians, and the Bifrost bridge that sucked him up has to have been summoned by somebody. Hopefully something happens by the end of the series that will allow this version of Loki to interact with the current version of Thor.

Trailer Rating: 10/10

“Dune” Trailer Review!

Like The Lord Of The Rings before it, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune has long been considered “unfilmable”: too huge and complex to ever successfully translate to the big screen. But Peter Jackson achieved the impossible by bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to life (and in turn, revolutionizing the fantasy genre in Hollywood), and it looks like director Denis Villeneuve will try to do the same for Dune, with a lot of help from his incredible cinematographer Greig Fraser and his all-star cast led by Timothée Chalamet.

Dune
indiewire.com

Chalamet has made a name for himself in the indie and arthouse scene, and is one of the actors whose name routinely pops up during awards season: but Dune will mark his biggest role to date, as he steps into the shoes of futuristic messiah Paul Atreides, royal scion of House Atreides and heir to the throne of Arrakis, a remote desert planet rich with the resource known as Spice: a dangerous but powerful drug that pretty much everybody in the galaxy wants to get their hands on, either to use it (Spice plays a part in spiritualistic rituals and even interstellar travel) or to control it (due to its rarity, Spice is also extremely expensive and can be heavily taxed when it’s not being smuggled illegally out of Arrakis). Although it’s been a while since I’ve read Dune (it’s probably one of the most inaccessible books ever written), I remember most of the major story beats: Paul, whose entire life is built around a series of prophecies, sets off into Arrakis’ rugged, inhospitable deserts to try and unite the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, against the forces of his family’s sworn enemies, the tyrannical Harkonnens, when the latter clan arrives with the intention of conquering Arrakis and winning control of the Spice. At some point, I suppose I’ll have to reread the book, but that’s the general concept: from there, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a cautionary tale about ecological disaster (an issue it tackles head-on and spectacularly) and religion (an issue it tackles boldly but with less success, due to its reliance on tropes regarding indigenous cultures).

For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think Dune (assuming they know about the book at all, which might be rarer now than it would be in 1965, when the novel became an instant cult classic) is that of the terrifying Sandworms, gargantuan beasts that roam beneath the deserts of Arrakis and are worshiped as divine beings by the native Fremen. Appropriately, the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune holds off on the reveal of the Sandworms until the very end, when one suddenly erupts from the sand and rises over Paul. I love the new design: it looks awe-inspiring but also frightening in the best way possible. I would have maybe liked it to be a little bigger, but it’s possible that, like an iceberg, more of it is concealed beneath the sand than is visible above the surface.

Dune
polygon.com

The trailer intersperses scenes of desert warfare and high-tech weaponry with beautiful shots of Arrakis’ deserts and the already radiant cast: from Rebecca Ferguson to Zendaya to Jason Momoa to Oscar Isaac (and Oscar Issac’s impressive beard, which I count as an entire supporting character), there’s not an unattractive person on this planet. And Greig Fraser, Villeneuve’s cinematographer, has captured it all in the very best lighting with hazy, orange and blue overtones (orange and blue is a color combo proven to attract attention, and it never fails to do just that). Fraser’s job is made a lot easier by the fact that, canonically, Spice turns human eyes a vivid shade of blue. Visually, this trailer is nothing short of stunning.

With regards to the story, it will be interesting to see whether or not Villeneuve has streamlined the book’s plot dramatically or fixed some of its major problems, particularly….well, the entire plot, which isn’t a white savior narrative in the usual sense, but still “has many of the same discomfiting hallmarks that we see replicated again and again”, to quote from a recent, brilliantly-written breakdown of the book’s dealings with issues of race, gender and sexuality. Getting into that issue would require talking about spoilers for the book, so I’m not going to get into that conversation here, but suffice it to say that the Fremen (who, remember, are based off an amalgamation of various Native American, Middle Eastern and African cultures) and their interactions with Paul Atreides veer dangerously close to white saviorism for reasons that are not only difficult to explain, but downright disturbing. That’s why I’m hoping there’s just as much focus on the diverse supporting cast as there is on Paul: the Fremen, in particular, but also Paul’s mother (the sorceress/concubine Lady Jessica), and his love interest (the desert warrior Chani). Surprisingly, the trailer doesn’t give much screentime to Jessica (despite her being a major character in the books), but Chani’s role does seem to have been expanded – the trailer even starts with her meeting Paul in one of his prophetic dreams and the two exchanging a heartfelt kiss, before later reuniting in real life. There’s still no word on whether the villainous Baron Harkonnen will be depicted as he is in the books, as a grotesque, homophobic caricature who preys on younger men, but I have to hope that’s not the case.

Dune
techcrunch.com

But while it’s still too early to tell how similar Villeneuve’s Dune is to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it’s not too early to guess that this movie will generate a lot of conversation heading into next year’s awards season, thanks to the out-of-this-world special effects, cinematography, production design, direction and cast. Hopefully it generates just as much money at the box-office, but that will depend on how successfully it has updated its controversial and complicated story. In a year like 2020 (or, in fact, in any year), the last thing we need is a white savior.

Trailer Rating: 9.5/10

“Tron 3” Moves Into Production – With Jared Leto Starring.

Tron, an epic story of civil war between tiny cyber-people living within computer programs, has never been an easy concept to sell to general audiences: not back in 1982, when the original film became a financial disappointment and a strange, yet admirable, cult classic; not in 2010, when the sequel turned a profit but fell short of fan expectations, giving the franchise a bad name; and not today, in 2020, a decade since the second film’s release, when it was announced that director Garth Davis would be teaming up with Jared Leto to produce the third film in the series. About a month ago, it was reported by The DisInsider that a third film might be in the works: these new details confirm that.

Tron
cinemablend.com

So no, not quite the total reboot that many of us had been hoping for: Tron 3, as it’s being referred to (though there’s a possibility the title is Tron: Ares, which is…something), will indeed follow the events of Tron: Legacy, the poorly-written sequel that tarnished the brand’s reputation and halted the franchise dead in its tracks for years. That means we will probably be forced to resume where we left off with our protagonist, the average straight white guy played by Garret Hedlund, whose character name I’ve completely forgotten despite having watched this film extremely recently (if I had to guess, it’s probably Jake; it’s always Jake), and Olivia Wilde’s Quorra, a Grid resident who escaped from the destruction of the cyber world at the end of the second film and now lives in the real world. Jeff Bridges will likely return as both Kevin Flynn and his villainous clone Clu, because there’s no way either one actually died in that blinding flash of white light, and Tron himself is probably due for a return, having finally overridden his malevolent programming before crashing into water and definitely not drowning. Bruce Boxleitner will probably be back, and Cindy Morgan, as before, will probably be left out of everything.

Tron
newsweek.com

But despite accumulating so much star power, the people over at Disney apparently felt like a little more was needed – so they settled upon Jared Leto. Leto, an Academy Award winner, has been circling a lead role in the Tron franchise for years, long before this third film was greenlit, but it appears to be official as of today: he will star, in an as yet undisclosed role. Nobody appears to be very happy about this news, and Disney would probably be wise to take note of the general dissatisfaction with this peculiar casting before they go through with it, but they’ve never been very wise when it comes to managing the Tron brand, so this latest misstep is hardly a surprise. Leto is not a bad actor, by any means, but the horror stories about his particular form of method acting have done a lot to ruin his reputation, and have already sparked a deluge of fair complaints on social media. Thus, what could have been a joyous occasion for Tron fans has now been almost irreparably tainted.

Tron
nme.com

Fortunately, there is a little bit of good news to come out of this. Though it’s a less flashy headline than Jared Leto’s attachment to Tron 3, a director has also been selected for the third film. Garth Davis, an indie director best known for his Oscar-nominated 2016 drama Lion, “aggressively pursued the job”, according to Deadline, and seems to have succeeded in his mission. Whether Davis will be able to combine visual spectacle with top-notch storytelling remains to be seen, but it’s at least a welcome change of pace for the franchise, which needs to find some way to achieve that balance again. Tron: Legacy tried to use dazzling blue CGI (seriously, everything in that movie is neon blue: it’s pretty at first, but it gets old real fast) and nostalgic music to disguise its heavy reliance on stale tropes, one-dimensional characters, and meager use of both Cillian Murphy and Michael Sheen’s talents, but fans saw right through it.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Tron 3? More so or less so because Jared Leto is attached to star? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“Tron” Review!

Because of the recent news that the Tron franchise is apparently still a priority at Disney and plans for franchise-expanding sequels or reboots are still underway, I thought it might be interesting to take a circuitous stroll back down memory lane and revisit one of the strangest movies from what is often considered Disney’s Dark Age, in the early 1980’s. This era of the studio’s long and storied history isn’t known for producing a whole bunch of timeless classics (if there are any hardcore fans of The Black Cauldron out there, I’d love to know about them), nor box-office hits – but how do you even begin to describe Tron? The needlessly convoluted sci-fi adventure flick about glow-in-the-dark humanoid computer programs fighting to overthrow their tyrannical leadership doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any box, and so of course it has acquired a kind of well-earned cult classic status over the years – even leading to the creation of a poorly-received sequel in 2010 which, while not a box-office flop, failed to recapture much of what made the original film so…bizarrely endearing.

Tron
looper.com

There are so many things wrong with Tron from a storytelling standpoint, and yet, despite quickly falling into the classic sci-fi/fantasy trap of trying to seduce the audience with incredibly complex world building instead of, you know, a particularly good story, or well developed characters (though, considering how badly the sequel’s attempts at character development went over, perhaps we weren’t missing anything anyway?), somehow it still works – or at the very least, it works about as well as a movie about warring sentient computer programs possibly could in 1982, at the very dawn of the age of special effects. Knowing some of the story about the cutting edge technology used to create the sprawling electronic landscape of The Grid (which, to the modern viewer’s eye, probably just resembles partly-completed digital artwork of Flatland) definitely helps to make the movie interesting from a cinephile’s point of view: its influence on CGI is far less well known than the influence of, say, The Little Mermaid on animation, but the two films are arguably comparable in terms of the lasting impact they made on the industry. The difference is that The Little Mermaid was a juggernaut that almost immediately birthed an unstoppable Disney renaissance – Tron was a financial disaster for the company that was snubbed at the Oscars for the Special Effects award it clearly deserved, apparently because Academy voters thought using computers was cheating.

That doesn’t make the work that went into designing Tron any less commendable, however. The film was born out of an idea to create a neon gladiator mascot for the fledgling Lisberger Studios, which felt that the character needed a starring vehicle to sell him to audiences and establish the studio’s brand – ironically, the cost of making the film became so high that Lisberger Studios had to turn to Disney for help with financing and marketing. In a classic case of studios being afraid to invest too heavily in something radically new, Disney allowed them to make the movie but decided not to give it the marketing push it also needed until too late in the game. Behind the scenes, the process of designing the world of Tron using rotoscoping and the even more grueling technique of backlit animation (which gives the movie its one-of-a-kind glow in the dark look) had to be fast-tracked to meet its release date, with director Steven Lisberger eventually having to hire a whole separate team of animators from Taiwan to ease the stress on his own employees. Miraculously, they managed to get the job done within nine months, a true credit to the power of teamwork.

Tron
mentalfloss.com

But on its own, separated from its later impact and the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, just looking at the finished film as a whole: does it hold up? That’s a bit of a harder question to answer. As I said, Tron has a lot of story issues – the audience gets handed a whole bunch of information about the cyber world right up front, and is then expected to retain all that information for the next thirty minutes, while we watch the Real World storyline play out (which itself is pretty complicated). Then the Real World completely ceases to exist as far as the movie is concerned, and we’re plunged into The Grid, where computers wage brutal warfare against each other: highly ritualistic warfare involving motor-bike/smart car hybrids, but warfare nonetheless. There are solar sailers to be flown, beacons to be lit, and electric blue water to drink (I bring that up because there’s one scene of the main characters drinking said water that seems to go on for way longer than it probably needs to). It’s all very confusing.

Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner lead the cast of mostly identical white men trapped in glowing outfits with ridiculously oversized helmets, most of whom wield Frisbees to complete the look (a look which somehow warranted an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design). Bridges’ character, brilliant programmer and arcade video game champion Kevin Flynn, is supposedly the star of the movie, though there’s no good reason for why that is when Boxleitner’s character (dissatisfied ENCOM employee Allan Ward in the real world, legendary hero Tron on The Grid) has his name in the title, has just as much if not more plot agency than Bridges’, and actually is the clear male lead for the first thirty minutes of the movie. It’s like if Star Wars: A New Hope started out being about Luke Skywalker and then changed to become Han Solo’s story partway through (interestingly, there’s actually several similarities between Kevin Flynn and Han Solo, particularly in the sequel). David Warner gives the best performance in the film as the sinister E. Dillinger, President of the ENCOM company (in his Grid form as Sark, he comes off as a sad Darth Vader ripoff). As a side note: whenever Warner’s Dillinger was onscreen, I was constantly distracted by the nagging thought that, if Disney ever reboots this franchise, they absolutely need Ben Mendelsohn for this villainous role. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), the female lead, shows a lot of potential as a spunky scientist, but of course this is the 80’s, so it’s not long before she trades in her intelligent and pro-active role for the part of demure, soft-spoken damsel Yori. In keeping with the Hollywood tradition of rebooting classic franchises with the original male leads but conveniently forgetting to bring back the female leads, both versions of Morgan’s character were dropped for the sequel, despite her repeated efforts to try and contact Disney.

On the flip-side, two women played an integral role in giving Tron the eerie techno vibe we know and love: composer Wendy Carlos, an openly trans woman best known for her work on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, collaborated with Annemarie Franklin on the score – parts of which, unfortunately, were removed by Disney and replaced with songs by Journey: the rock band’s contributions to the film were honored in the sequel via a slightly random use of the song “Separate Ways”. But Carlos’ iconic score is still a lasting testament, like all her work, to the often underappreciated achievements of trans people in the film industry.

Tron
reelworldtheology.com

I, for one, am glad that Tron will be getting another chance at proving its value to modern audiences: moviegoers (or, quite possibly, Disney+ subscribers) deserve a chance to see more stories from The Grid, told with the best new technology available to the studio, and longtime fans of the franchise deserve a continuation of a series that has been pretty much dead for a long time. We all deserve a little more Tron in our lives.

End of line.

Movie Rating: 7.8/10

“Foundation” First Trailer Review!

We’ve known for quite some time that Apple TV is planning to produce a massive, multi-season adaptation of the Foundation trilogy, one of the greatest works of science-fiction ever written and certainly Isaac Asimov’s magnum opus. But apparently they filmed a whole bunch of this series without me ever catching on, because suddenly there’s a Foundation trailer out for the first season today – and it looks brilliant, though also shockingly different from the books.

For one thing, the trailer definitely makes it seem as if we’ll be following one protagonist throughout the entirety of the first season at least: that protagonist being psychohistorian and biographer Gaal Dornick, who in the Foundation books is a very minor character whose only role in the story is essentially to introduce the reader to the actual protagonist, Hari Seldon. For the adaptation, it appears that Gaal (who has been gender-bent, and will be played by actress Lou Llobell) is going to stick around much longer, and probably have a crucial role in the story. Seldon himself, here played by Jared Harris, also seems to have a larger role than he does in the books.

Foundation
mobilesyrup.com

But now for a little background on Foundation, for those who haven’t read the novels – and, to be clear, even I’ve only read the original trilogy: I know there’s prequels, and it appears the series is drawing some stuff from those, but I don’t know much about them so I won’t be referencing them. The story follows Hari Seldon, and later his team of talented intellectuals known as psychohistorians, as they attempt to save the universe from being plunged into a dark age that could last for up to 30,000 years – Seldon’s belief, based on his very accurate calculations, is that, while it would be impossible to prevent it entirely, he can “shorten the darkness”, to quote the trailer narration, to just one thousand years. The books quickly jump ahead, switching protagonists and time periods rapidly: in the first book, we also follow the journey of one Salvor Hardin (whom we see briefly in the trailer, played by Leah Harvey) who, years after Hari Seldon’s death, is tasked with protecting the First Foundation which was set up on the planet Terminus to subtly preserve Seldon’s original plan and prevent it from coming apart – and there are many threats to the plan over the course of the series, from telepathic mutants to bureaucratic politicians. Despite how large the story is, however, many of the heroes of the first book have only very vague characterizations, so I don’t mind the fact that the show is expanding on them – though it does confuse me why so many new characters have been included to fill out the cast.

Then again, even though I don’t know exactly who “Brother Day” is supposed to be – I’ve checked and double-checked: he’s not in the books, not even in the prequels – I do know that he’s played by Lee Pace, who is criminally underrated and definitely deserves another big role like this: he appears several times in the trailer, appears to be a villain, and, most importantly, isn’t hidden under any alien makeup (have I told you lately that it’s a travesty how Marvel costumed and designed his character Ronan the Accuser? No? Well then, here’s your reminder: it was a travesty). There’s also a “Brother Dawn” and “Brother Dusk” – the latter played by another actor I adore, Terrence Mann from Netflix’s Sense8. All three are described as being members of royalty vying for power in the Galactic Empire – in the books, the Empire is already collapsing when the story opens and its impending fall is what Hari Seldon believes will start the dark age: I’m sure Pace’s character and much of his supporting cast have been invented to give us a clearer idea of that.

Foundation
Lee Pace as Brother Day | comingsoon.net

The trailer, which is partly comprised of footage shot before coronavirus concerns shut down filming back in March and partly constructed from behind-the-scenes material and interviews with showrunner David Goyer, highlights the massive amounts of money that Apple TV have poured into this show. The production design looks incredible, and clearly borrows inspiration from Amazon Prime’s The Expanse, another major sci-fi series; the special effects are extraordinary and already look complete, despite the fact that Foundation doesn’t come out until next year; the level of detail put into everything is inspiring. All in all, while I’m slightly disappointed that I only definitely recognize one scene and less than a handful of characters from the books, I’m at the very least intrigued by what else the show has to offer. Their original content probably won’t ever match the deeply philosophical tone of Asimov’s writing, but if it can come remotely close, then I’ll be impressed.

Trailer Rating: 7.8/10

“Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, Season 7, Episode 3 Review!

SPOILERS FOR AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. AHEAD

The seventh and final season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is suddenly delivering on everything I wanted it to: not only are the tie-ins to the Marvel Cinematic Universe abundant and cleverly constructed in the third episode, but the character work is excellent, the writing is mostly superb, and the setting – Area 51 in the 1950’s, at the pinnacle of the Space Race and America’s obsession with aliens and UFOS – is utilized wonderfully.

From the moment the title card appears, changed to fit the new historical period and accompanied by some classic eerie sci-fi music, I knew I was in for a good time. And yes, this season is still suffering from a few flaws – mainly, that the exposition is often, though not always, delivered through straight-up monologues of boring, nonsensical information that never fail to stop a dramatic scene in its tracks – but the good far outweighs the bad this week. The episode, titled Alien Commies From The Future!, leans heavily into comedy and has no problem poking a little fun at itself, or the tropes commonly associated with the 50’s. Sleek, “All-American” diners in the middle of the desert; the threat of “Stalinites”; CIA coverups. It’s all there, and it all works.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Phil Coulson and Jemma Simmons | tvline.com

Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) are, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, the comedic MVP’s of the week – it’s surprising because they rarely ever get paired up with each other, but it’s also unsurprising because whenever they do, they have brilliant banter. Do you remember the scene on the train all the way back in season one, when they pretended to be a father and daughter on vacation? The scenes they share in this episode have shades of that hilarious interaction.

But the drama and the social commentary, though subtler, is handled surprisingly well. In particular, there’s a scene in which Coulson is rambling excitedly about all the great things happening in the 50’s, only to have his teammate Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) shut him down with a gesture toward the back of the aforementioned diner, where it’s hard to miss the signs indicating segregated bathrooms. Race relations come up again later in the episode, when the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. capture a Department of Defense official for interrogation, only to discover he’s a nasty bigot and is more threatened by the idea of spilling secrets to a Black man than he is by the thought of betraying his country. So they send in Deke Shaw (Jeff Ward), who, after some grumbling about “stupid white privilege”, does in fact weasel information out of the prisoner. The prisoner in question is released by the end of the episode, and gets his just desserts – running, screaming, through the desert and rambling about communist aliens.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daniel Sousa | newsbreak.com

On a more personal note, there’s drama and comedy to be found in the interactions between Simmons and one Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj). Simmons, in order to infiltrate Area 51 undetected, riskily disguises herself as none other than Director Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Peggy Carter, only to run into Sousa, Carter’s former work partner and post-Steve Rogers love interest. Though I would have liked to have seen Carter turn up in the flesh (and there were rumors that she would, or perhaps still could), Simmons frantically trying to keep her cool as she figures out that Sousa isn’t buying her disguise is possibly just as good a scenario. Sousa doesn’t have very much to actually do in the episode – his role is limited to following the Agents around and trying to figure out who’s working for what – but it’s nice to see him reprise the role he had on the short-lived Agent Carter series. Next week’s episode will apparently also star Sousa, as the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. have to decide whether or not to save him from HYDRA assassins.

Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) are also featured prominently in the episode, as they are tasked with breaking into Area 51 – it’s never actually explained how they do that, but I digress – and stopping a Chronicom suicide bomber from activating some sort of nuclear explosion. But May is suffering from severe trauma and breaks down in a rare moment of vulnerability for her character, while Yo-Yo is apparently still unable to use her Inhuman superpowers. They do defeat the Chronicom eventually, but their fight with her is brutal, claustrophobic and punchy: significantly grittier than May’s usual, elegantly-choreographed action sequences.

Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Melinda May | purefandom.com

The Chronicoms are still just there. What are they even trying to do at this point? We get a little hint, as a new Chronicom leader is introduced early in the episode, but everything still feels slightly confusing: why don’t the Chronicoms infiltrate multiple timelines simultaneously, forcing the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to spread out? Why do they even care so much about S.H.I.E.L.D. anyway? There’s still far too many questions about them, and not enough answers.

But let’s not end it on a negative note: I loved this episode. I’m a little nervous to see what happens next week, since I don’t like the idea of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. watching from the sidelines as Daniel Sousa is killed, but I’m also cautiously optimistic: Daisy Johnson almost had Wilfred Malick killed in the 1930’s – could she rescue Sousa in the 50’s? Could she sneak him onboard the Zephyr One, and they could fly off and have more adventures? Sign me up for that spinoff.

Episode Rating: 8.8/10

“She-Ra” Season 5 Review! No Spoilers!

Would it be too much of a hot take to say that everything Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame did, the fifth and final season of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power did just as well – if not better in several instances? I’ll let you decide.

Now, to be fair, She-Ra has the advantage of being a Netflix series, with up to thirteen-episode seasons, so it’s probably not entirely right to compare it to any movie, even ones that are three hours long. However, considering that She-Ra‘s final season, whether intentionally or coincidentally, lifts a great deal of material straight from the closing chapters of the Infinity Saga, it seems fair enough to compare the two storylines, and how they are executed, and how the Netflix/Dreamworks cartoon sometimes gets it right where the Marvel Studios blockbusters falter.

She-Ra
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But first, a little background. I was not a She-Ra fan until Friday morning, when I decided it was high time I watched the entire series as quickly as possible, in order to catch up with the final season which had just dropped on Netflix. I had tried once before, several months ago, but I never even got past the opening credits. I forced myself through on this occasion, however – and before the first episode was over, I was already very thankful for that decision, because….wow. But don’t even get me started on the four previous seasons. This is strictly a Season 5 review.

Though I do think a little bit of Season 4 finale recap is in order – if you haven’t caught up, be warned: SPOILERS for that season up ahead! In the aftermath of Queen Glimmer (Karen Fukuhara) recklessly deciding to use the Heart of Etheria – a magical superweapon which lies embedded deep within the core of the planet – a great many things have changed in the status quo: first of all, Etheria itself has been carried through a portal out of its empty pocket-dimension and back into the larger universe; Adora (Aimee Carrero) has lost her connection with the ancient warrior She-Ra, and the Sword of She-Ra is broken and useless; and Hordak (Keston John), once the greatest enemy of the Princesses of Power, has been revealed to be nothing more than the puppet and defective clone of a far greater evil – Horde Prime (also Keston John), an alien overlord who has now launched a massive invasion of Etheria, and has simultaneously captured Glimmer, Hordak, and Hordak’s former second-in-command, Catra (AJ Michalka).

She-Ra
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Season 5 picks up after a small time jump. Horde Prime’s invasion is well underway now, and Adora, the archer Bow (Marcus Scribner), and all the remaining Princesses of Power are leading a futile rebellion against him. But on Horde Prime’s flagship, Glimmer and Catra are forced to establish a delicate trust bond with Prime and with each other as they plot a way to escape from imprisonment. Prime is essentially Thanos, and with less clever writing he might just have been that: his agenda (to destroy worlds across the universe in order to achieve cosmic balance and bring about a lasting peace) is much like the Mad Titan’s plan to end world hunger by wiping out half of every planet’s population; even more specifically, he too is the long-awaited mastermind behind the plans of an earlier antagonist in the franchise, who arrives on a gargantuan starship from the depths of space, whose army of mindless bodyguards start almost all their speeches with the word “Rejoice”, and who also has a tendency to meaningfully snap his fingers. Like Thanos, he has arrived on Etheria with the intention of claiming a superweapon that just so happens to come in the form of a magical link between a set of multi-colored crystals.

But unlike Thanos, Horde Prime has time to elaborate on his plans, and the characters have time to get to know him, to witness firsthand his strengths, and to begin to understand his weaknesses while they wander his ship. His special abilities, cloning and mind-control, aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but they do also differentiate him from Thanos. And in one of my favorite scenes from early in the series, we get a chilling look at the devastation Horde Prime has wrought when he serves Glimmer and Catra a dinner consisting of various rare delicacies from worlds he destroyed in the past. Being the last person in the universe to know an entire planet’s recipes may not seem too dramatic, but it instantly makes the fight to save Etheria more personal, and conveys the horrors of Horde Prime’s conquests far better than any war-torn planet or battlefield.

She-Ra Catra
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And that’s the thing: whenever She-Ra strays dangerously close to imitating the Marvel films, it immediately veers away again with the help of some clever, quirky twist that makes it feel fresh and invigorating. The final season may have all the same scope, scale and – occasionally – story-beats as Endgame, but it puts its own unique spin on that story. There is only one instance I can think of where this isn’t the case, when several of our heroes (I won’t say which) are left stranded in space on their way to Etheria, but the fuel they need for their own ship is actually crystals in the exact shape of Captain Marvel’s eight-pointed star – Captain Marvel being the one who rescued Tony Stark from being stranded in space after his ship ran out of fuel – so they touch down on a desolate planet only to run into a motley crew of space pirates led by a woman called Starla (Melissa Fumero) and a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues, in an interaction that plays out almost identically to a similar meeting between Tony Stark and Star Lord’s motley crew of space pirates – which also includes a bald purple cyborg woman with trust issues – in Avengers: Infinity War.

But there’s a not-so-secret weapon at the heart of She-Ra, and that’s the series’ core cast of characters and the relationships between them, which are constantly evolving in new, unpredictable directions. Avengers: Infinity War‘s greatest problem, in my opinion, is how it sacrificed character for plot: it’s a problem that unfortunately carries over into parts of Endgame – but She-Ra doesn’t have that problem: every major character has room to grow, and all their development happens onscreen, so it doesn’t need to be exposited to the audience. The cast is also small enough already that everyone can get a meaningful role: whereas in Endgame, it sometimes felt like certain characters had only survived the Infinity War snap so they could provide comedic relief.

She-Ra
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The story’s focus is still on Adora and Catra, as the couple navigates their fragile relationship with some difficulty. But for the first time, it’s not Adora putting in all the effort: Catra, for her part, is finally trying to stop pushing people away from her every time they show her any affection – though, much like Marvel’s Loki, she still plans on exploiting the current chaos for her own advantage, even if it means hurting others. Their relationship goes through some very surprising ups-and-downs this season. Separately, they’ve both changed as well – Adora is busy over-exerting herself as she tries to match the strength and stamina she possessed when she could turn into She-Ra, while Catra is a quieter, less aggressive shadow of her former self.

Catra’s reluctant interactions with the imprisoned Queen Glimmer are also surprisingly fun to watch, as Glimmer too has to make an effort to trust her former enemy, the woman responsible for her own mother’s death. Glimmer has had a rough time these past couple of seasons, losing people she loves and watching as her close circle of friends gives up on her when she needs them most – something which is partly her own fault, as her stubbornness manifests itself in increasingly dangerous decisions. Much like Catra, she is descending into a dark place, and it’s both thrilling and scary to join her on that journey.

Back on Etheria, Bow has also made some changes to his own lifestyle – though not quite enough to make him give up crop-tops, which he still wears proudly even in circumstances where one would think it impossible: such as the crushing void of space. His arc in this season is more understated than others, but it gives him a number of deeply satisfying revelations about his purpose in life, and also briefly reunites him with his two dads, who are still just as charming and witty as ever.

She-Ra
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My personal favorite character in the series, the geeky tech-genius Entrapta (Christine Woods), is given plenty of material to work with (quite literally) this season. Lost and lonely without her lab partner Hordak to turn to, she once again has a hard time reminding herself that she can’t just join the bad guys because they have cooler technology.

The other Princesses each get more time to shine, especially now that She-Ra herself isn’t around to steal the spotlight from them in action sequences. Shy, sensitive Scorpia (Lauren Ash), having just recently regained her Princess status after living her entire life severed from the powers of her Runestone, is the most compelling to watch – but then, she’s always been compelling. To no one’s surprise, she gravitates most toward Princess Perfuma (Genesis Rodriguez), who is battling her own insecurities and finds a kindred spirit in Scorpia’s gentle personality. The two more brusque Princesses, Frosta (Merit Leighton) and Mermista (Vella Lovell) have smaller roles this season: though the latter does get some very interesting development later in the season, and, as always, has adorable banter with the boisterous pirate captain, Sea Hawk (Jordan Fisher). A pleasant surprise is the upgrade of guest stars Spinnerella (Noelle Stevenson) and Netossa (Krystal Joy Brown) to recurring characters: they’ve come a long way from the time when Bow couldn’t even remember what their powers were.

Several villains find themselves joining with the Rebellion against Horde Prime’s power – the Horde itself has dissolved, while Hordak is trapped between his loyalty to his maker, and fidelity to his friend Entrapta (is there something more to their peculiar relationship? You’ll just have to watch and find out). Shadow Weaver (Lorraine Toussaint), meanwhile, still maintains that she is loyal to Queen Glimmer, even though her meddling with dark magic, which resumes early in the season as the Rebellion runs out of other options, makes her vulnerable to the temptation of evil.

She-Ra
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The dark magic itself is still fairly vague, but it is used in a greater capacity than ever before, and there are several fights which utilize it very well – especially those which also involve Glimmer’s father Micah (Daniel Dae Kim), who has had a little time to regain his strength since his decades-long sojourn on Beast Island. All in all, the action has been upgraded significantly this season: in particular, the fight scene which closes out Episode 5 is appropriately epic, and another fight soon after has one character literally leaping across an asteroid belt and blowing up starships with their bare hands. That’s all thanks to the incredible animation, of course.

A She-Ra review wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to the series’ commitment to diversity – an area in which it wipes the floor with Endgame. While that film mustered up one nameless gay background character, She-Ra ends queerbaiting critiques once and for all with definitive, powerful LGBTQ+ representation.

For me, She-Ra beats out Endgame because of how undeniably right the payoff for every story thread and character arc is in the end. While Endgame leaves room for argument and debate over several characters’ fates, She-Ra ties everything up neatly, in a way that is brave but satisfying – at least for me. There’s no room for the sort of unending, roundabout discourse that plagues other fandoms. This feels like a conclusive, fitting ending for characters I only just met yesterday and for whom I would already sacrifice everything.

Series Rating: 10/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 11 Review!

Clone Wars Ahsoka

SPOILERS FOR THE CLONE WARS AHEAD

In its penultimate episode, The Clone Wars ties back into the events of the main Star Wars films in a way that could almost have felt jarring under worse direction – but with all the ingenuity and creative thinking that has made the series beloved by fans, this episode, fittingly titled Shattered, actually finds very clever ways to keep us, the audience, firmly invested in the stories of the series’ original characters while also throwing them into the midst of one of the films’ most memorable sequences: the brutal execution of Order 66.

Clone Wars Palpatine
slashfilm.com

All through the episode’s opening minutes, the haunting score keeps us on edge, waiting for that moment when millions of clone troopers all around the galaxy – clone troopers who, through the series’ run, we’ve come to love for their individuality – will simultaneously become mindless servants of Chancellor Palpatine (voiced here by Ian McDiarmid, using dialogue from Revenge Of The Sith) and turn on the Jedi Order with guns blazing, bringing the Clone Wars to an abrupt, violent end. After last week’s episode, where Darth Maul (Sam Witwer) was captured by the forces of former Jedi commander Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein), one would expect a triumphant, victorious atmosphere – but there’s little joy or comfort to be found on the planet Mandalore as new leader Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) turns her attention to the grim task of rebuilding her peoples’ society from the ground up, and Ahsoka prepares to bring Darth Maul into the custody of the Jedi on Coruscant, while still weighing in her mind the Sith Lord’s terrible prophecies.

As I suspected, the Jedi Purge is set into motion during Ahsoka’s journey through hyperspace, moments after she has a telepathic Force vision of Anakin Skywalker‘s (partially voiced by Matt Lanter, partially using Hayden Christensen’s dialogue) turn to the Dark Side and the violent death of Jedi Master Mace Windu (voiced by TC Carson, with some dialogue by Samuel L. Jackson) during his fight with Palpatine in the Chancellor’s offices. Thankfully, The Clone Wars‘ method of showing the Purge doesn’t involve actually reenacting any of the notable Jedi deaths from Revenge Of The Sith through another devastating montage – instead, we witness the whole event through Ahsoka’s eyes, as her entire crew begins firing on her without warning, forcing her to make a daring escape. Despite the fact that, earlier in the episode, Mace Windu insists on calling Ahsoka a “citizen” rather than a Jedi and other members of the Order seem to subtly demean her for her choice to become a neutral rogue, it appears that Palpatine wasn’t willing to make an exception for the padawan whose banishment he had partially orchestrated.

Clone Wars Ahsoka
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Ahsoka isn’t completely alone in the episode, however: during the initial attack, she can easily see that her long-time friend Captain Rex (voiced, like all clones, by Dee Bradley Baker) has tears streaming down his face as he pulls the trigger on her with shaking fingers – meaning that, despite how effective Palpatine’s brainwashing has been, there’s still hope for any clone who can successfully remove the inhibitor chip planted inside their brain. When she unearths sealed documents and testimonies from Rex, she also stumbles upon evidence regarding the mysterious cases of Fives, who, in the series’ sixth season, discovered the plot to exterminate the Jedi far too early and was personally tortured by Palpatine to the point of madness. It’s a harsh reminder of another of The Clone Wars‘ most powerful, emotional story arcs, but a beautifully fitting way to give Fives the justice he deserves, even if it is a little too late to save most of the Jedi. The main thrust of the narrative in this episode follows Ahsoka as she tries to corner Rex and get him into the medical bay, with the intention of removing the inhibitor and freeing him.

Another character she has to free is Darth Maul himself, whom she actually saves from execution – somewhere along the line, Palpatine must have added Maul’s name to his long hit-list. Maul, even without the aid of his classic lightsaber, is still able to give Ahsoka the distraction she needs, keeping the clone troopers busy with his savage fighting techniques: he beheads people, he slices people in half, he even uses the Force to cut one man’s arm off in an automatic door. As of the end of the episode, we don’t know where he is now or what he plans to do once the ship is cleared of hostiles – will he and Ahsoka have to make a deal in the series’ final episode? Will he have already escaped by the time she and Rex are free? We have no clue, yet. But, since one of the unexpected joys of this season has been watching Ahsoka and Darth Maul put aside their differences to fight a common enemy, I really hope they get at least one final encounter.

There are a bunch of notable moments from this episode. Ahsoka and Master Yoda (Tom Kane) have their last conversation ever, via hologram: both are reluctant to say too much to the other, unfortunately, which makes their dialogue far sadder – neither one gets to say all the things that should have been said in that moment. Ahsoka also chooses to withhold the information Maul gave her last week regarding Anakin and his pull to the Dark Side: information which would definitely have been helpful just a few minutes later. There’s a cute scene where Ahsoka recruits her starship’s team of maintenance droids for help – which provides some organic cheerfulness in an otherwise dark and ominous story. The episode ends with Ahsoka connecting to Rex through the Force and locating his inhibitor chip – something which causes Rex to see through his brainwashing, convincing him to help Ahsoka. But, judging by the huge army of clones currently trying to break down the medical bay doors, I suspect the duo will need help if they’re going to escape from the starship: which is also, if I’m not mistaken, still on its way to Coruscant, the new heart of the Galactic Empire and Palpatine’s reign of terror.

Clone Wars
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All in all, it’s been an emotional journey, and I’m excited (though also sad) that we’ll get to finish it on May the 4th, when the series finale premieres. In the meantime, we have the whole weekend to cry over the thousands of dead Jedi now littering the Star Wars galaxy, the uncertain fate of Ahsoka Tano, and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. Like most Star Wars stories, The Clone Wars seems destined to end in bittersweet tragedy – but I’ve had a great time getting here. We’ve traveled from one corner of the universe to the other alongside Ahsoka, Rex, and the gang, and I’m glad we’ll at least get the chance to properly say goodbye to them as well.

Episode Rating: 9/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 10 Review!

CLONE WARS SPOILERS AHEAD!

Aided by a magical combination of fabulous voice-acting, stunning animation and mind-blowing writing, the tenth episode of The Clone Wars‘ seventh and final season has not only managed to exceed my wildest expectations (which were already high!), but has also quickly emerged as one of my favorite episodes of the entire series: all seven seasons, every choice made along the way, has led us to this – and the payoff is just as rewarding as we all hoped it would be (and mind you, the real payoff is still ahead: this is just a warm-up exercise for what’s to come!).

Clone Wars Darth Maul
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Not a moment of screentime is wasted. This episode doesn’t even open with Tom Kane’s iconic voice-over recap, instead placing us directly into the action and drama, right where we left off last week – with Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), alone and outnumbered, standing against the massive, hulking might of Darth Maul (voiced by Sam Witwer) and his small but deadly army of loyal Mandalorian terrorists. But the fighting takes a moment to get started, because Maul, characteristically, has something he needs to say – and Witwer brings his all to the role this week (not that he ever doesn’t, but he’s particularly good now), truly elevating the material and dialogue he’s working with – which is already so well written that it’s sparked some jokes on the internet, where Maul is currently trending on social media platforms, about where the former Sith apprentice had time to take a crash course in political sciences. But along with an expanded vocabulary, Maul arrives on the scene newly equipped with a fascinating humanity and philosophical, introspective attitude: something that might have been hard to imagine back when Maul was first introduced in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace as the mute, cool-looking apprentice of Darth Sidious – in fact, it might still have been hard to imagine even when Maul was resurrected in an earlier season of The Clone Wars as a monstrous creature tormented by a lust for vengeance. But over time, as showrunners and screenwriters have slowly recognized his potential, he has transformed into one of the series’ most compelling characters: a villain, but one slowly moving into the extreme middle of the divide between the Sith and the Jedi. He may still fight with his classic, doubled-bladed red lightsaber, but he is just as much a neutral third party as Ahsoka Tano herself. Is he turning to the light side of the Force? No. Is he becoming more fair and just in his old age? No. But as he himself quips during the episode: “Justice is merely the construct of the current power base”. Maul is now working on his own, outside the influences of either Chancellor Palpatine’s Republic or Darth Sidious’ Separatist Union, looking to establish a place for himself in the coming chaos. But in the episode’s biggest, most shocking twist he reveals that he can’t do it alone – so he reaches out to Ahsoka for her help.

And Ahsoka wavers. Maul touches on all her weaknesses, pointing out that she left the Jedi Order willingly, because she could not stand for their hypocrisy and corrupt politics. He reminds her that the balance of power in the galaxy is about to shift, and that the Jedi will collapse in a matter of days, maybe even hours, or minutes. He informs her that Darth Sidious has been playing both sides of the Clone Wars, toying with the agendas of both the Jedi and the Sith. Ahsoka, whose entire arc has led her straight into the same neutral zone as Maul, can’t help but see the truth and reason in his words. She doesn’t hesitate long: she agrees to join him. But then Maul ruins his own masterfully crafted plan when he tells Ahsoka that her Jedi master, Anakin Skywalker, is destined to become Darth Sidious’ greatest tool and weapon in the fight to topple the balance of the Force. And Ahsoka, unable to reconcile with the idea that Anakin could ever betray her, makes her move, rejecting Maul’s proposal and initiating…a light-saber duel.

Clone Wars
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What a duel! With original Darth Maul actor Ray Park returning to perform the motion-capture for his character, and Lauren Mary Kim doing the same for Ahsoka Tano, the fight feels fully realized and unique. The action sweeps through the great throne room of Mandalore (which turns out to be an amazing set-piece, something that became clear to me when the hall’s stained-glass windows all simultaneously shattered inwards, ensnaring the duelists in a breeze of flying, multi-colored shards), and then gets carried out into the fiery hellscape of the city itself, where Maul’s loyalists are fighting the Mandalorians led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff). Everything you want from a light-saber fight, you get in this episode – there’s acrobatics and a precarious balancing-act at one point, the opponents both have dazzling elegance, and there’s a lot of Force use involved.

But in the end, it’s Ahsoka, surprisingly, who gets the upper hand – catching Maul with her Force powers as he falls, pleading to die, and holding him there until her clone troopers can take him hostage. With Maul’s forces already surrendering on the ground, it looks like the Siege of Mandalore might already be over: but the season isn’t, which means something big is still coming.

It’s not too hard to take a guess as to what that might be. On the margins of the episode’s story, we hear little snippets of news about how the Clone Wars is going: Count Dooku is dead by Anakin Skywalker’s hand, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) is on his way to kill General Grievous on Utapau, meaning it shouldn’t take very long to get to the great purge, and the systematic extermination of the Jedi across the galaxy. In this episode, we already saw ARC trooper Jesse (Dee Bradley Baker) become a prisoner of Darth Maul and surrender his mind to the powerful Sith – it’s possible that something occurred offscreen during their encounter that will cause Jesse’s programming to malfunction, leading him to attack Ahsoka before Order 66 has even begun. That could give Ahsoka some warning so that she can try and save some of the other clones under her command – or she might be forced to kill them all to save herself, which would be heartbreaking and utterly brutal to watch. All I know is that somehow, someway, Darth Maul is going to escape from his bonds – and a chaotic melee between his captors would pose the perfect opportunity for him to do just that.

So what do you think? How are you enjoying this final season of The Clone Wars, and what do you think will happen next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 8 Review!

Some will not be sorry to see the Martez Sisters story arc conclude this week on The Clone Wars, if it means we can move on to the long-awaited and highly-anticipated Siege of Mandalore. As for me, I have mixed feelings: am I undeniably excited to see if the entire story can wrap up in the next few episodes in an appropriately grandiose and epic fashion? Totally. But am I also very unhappy that the grounded, practical, no-nonsense Martez’s won’t be part of that finale? Absolutely.

Ahsoka Clone Wars
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When this week’s episode starts off, the dynamic trio of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein), Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali) and Rafa Martez (Elizabeth Rodriguez) are all locked away once again in a Pyke Syndicate dungeon, awaiting execution – but once again, they make what would otherwise be a boring scenario extremely engaging and compelling: and I firmly believe Ahsoka couldn’t have done that alone, without help from these two sassy amateur con-women, who imbue every scene they’re in with a bit of their fun, conversational attitude. There’s more talking (by which I mean real talking, not exposition) in these last few episodes than I feel like there has been for a very long time in The Clone Wars. Trace and Rafa gave Ahsoka a place to settle down and blend in, and at the same time they gave both her and us, the audience, a welcome respite from warfare, military strategy, and the politics of the Jedi Order.

Has this arc been filler? Maybe. I really can’t say for sure until the season is done. But I hope that the lessons Ahsoka has learned from the Martez’s will help her in the near future, making her prolonged adventures with them essential to her character arc. Ahsoka was forced to confront some dark truths about herself and her way of life in these last few episodes: worst of which was the revelation that Jedi intervention has only caused pain, misery and suffering for the people they claim to protect – for Ahsoka, who has always positioned herself as a champion of justice and morality, that hit hard. She almost has an obligation to distance herself even further from the Jedi Order: leaving them wasn’t enough. Now, she may have to confront them.

If she’s going to be doing that, though, I really hope she gets a weapon upgrade. At this point, it feels like The Clone Wars‘ final season is sadistically teasing us with promises of epic Ahsoka fight scenes – and then snatching them away. I thought it couldn’t get worse than last week, but this…this topped it. Surrounded on all sides by Pyke guards, Ahsoka moves into one of her characteristically graceful fighting stances. There’s that tense pause. Then, she springs into action…and gets maybe three or four punches and kicks in before being taken out with a stun-gun. Meanwhile, Trace and Rafa, neither of whom is gifted with any Force abilities, take on an entire swarm of aliens on the lower docks and get into some sort of Indiana Jones-esque fight on a wildly-swinging crane. I appreciated giving the Martez sisters a cool action scene, don’t get me wrong: but why couldn’t Ahsoka get one too?

Now, let’s move into SPOILERS! Obviously you’d expect a few, what with the Martez Sisters arc ending and a new one beginning. And thankfully, The Clone Wars delivers.

The Clone Wars
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Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) is, as we all suspected, the link between the two storylines converging. Though for the majority of the episode she stands on the sidelines watching Ahsoka’s various escape attempts backfire, she pops in at the very end to whisk the former Jedi away on a mission to Mandalore – to take on their common enemy, Darth Maul (Sam Witwer). Yes, the Sith Lord has returned: here as a glowering hologram who nearly catches Ahsoka as she wanders through the Pyke citadel, in one of the episode’s more suspenseful scenes. But if a confrontation between Ahsoka and an intangible hologram seemed exciting, I can only imagine what the actual fight will be like: just, please, let Ahsoka actually fight. Darth Maul also throws in a shoutout to his criminal organization, Crimson Dawn, which was a crucial element of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and since then has never really proved to be of any importance. Maybe they’ll get something to do here.

The episode throws the core trio a bunch of curveballs, which they deflect or evade (or barrel into, head-on) as a group unit. Of course, there was no way the arc could end without Ahsoka revealing her secret identity to the Martez sisters – and though I wasn’t too keen on the way that reveal went over so abruptly, I admired how quick Trace and Rafa were to accept her, after everything she’s done for them. They even promised to have her bike waiting for her when she returns from Mandalore (will she be able to, though? If I’m not mistaken, we’re nearing the time when Palpatine will initiate Order 66, sparking the genocide of the Jedi: so Coruscant, at the heart of Palpatine’s Empire, may not be the safest place for Ahsoka to return home to after the war).

What did you think of this week’s episode? What do you want to see next on The Clone Wars? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 7 Review!

If this seventh and final season of The Clone Wars were the normal length of twenty-two episodes, I would probably be more willing to excuse the aimless, roundabout nature of this seventh episode, Dangerous Debt. But as it is, the long-running series only has six more episodes left: we simply don’t have time to bring the story to a standstill – especially not now, right after last week’s exciting, suspenseful installment in the voyages of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) and the Martez sisters.

As I guessed, today’s episode opens with the three characters trapped in a Pyke Syndicate prison chamber, while the Pykes take turns torturing them for information about the missing spice that Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali) dumped from her starship in an angry rage last week. Obviously, they make attempts to escape – and the results are…well, questionable. But without getting into spoilers yet, let’s discuss what makes this episode at least decent – in fact, right up until the end, it shows every sign of being a very good chapter in what is proving to be an excellent story.

Clone Wars Ahsoka
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As with last week’s episode, the unexpected core of this Clone Wars story arc is the dynamic between Ahsoka and the Martez sisters, both of whom have very different opinions on her (which lends itself to particularly snappy, back-and-forth arguments between all three of them). Trace, trying to emulate her dead mother’s compassion, gives the Jedi-turned-rogue a shoulder to lean on, while her more brusque and practical older sister Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is naturally suspicious of Ahsoka’s surprising talents and intelligence. When the Martez sisters entered the picture, I’ll admit I was worried: at first, they seemed one-dimensional and a little boring. But that’s not the case anymore – we keep finding out new details about them, their personalities and their complex worldviews, and each one is more interesting than the last. I’m hoping we don’t abandon them and their storylines before the end of the series.

As for Ahsoka, this is some of the best material she’s ever been given: despite being forced to hide her identity from everyone around her, the former Jedi is still put in dangerous situations where the only thing she can do is use her Force-training to protect herself and her friends – which results in a lot more suspicion from Rafa Martez, who seems more perceptive of these incidents than her younger sister. But Ahsoka gets extra incentive not to reveal the truth about her past in this week’s episode, which shows us that Rafa and Trace’s hatred of the Jedi Order is very, very personal.

One disappointing aspect of Ahsoka’s character in this final season is that, because she herself is no longer the showy, flashy warrior she used to be, her fighting style has evolved to reflect that: now, her action sequences are quick, punchy and, for the most part, grounded – which might not be so shocking if Ahsoka hadn’t been the character deemed most likely to use unnecessary acrobatic skills in combat in previous seasons. If this is an intentional decision made to underscore Ahsoka’s journey, I appreciate it – if not, I can’t see why they would change something that had been such an important fixture of the character’s persona.

Overall, however, this episode is nowhere near as good as last week’s – and that comes down to one glaring issue, which I will address in today’s SPOILER section! You’ve been warned.

Clone Wars
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Ahsoka, Trace and Rafa start the episode in prison. They also end the episode in prison – in fact, in the very same prison cell. The purpose for their short-lived escapade seems to have been so that the Mandalorian Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) could spot them fleeing through the city. Will she be the one to break them out of the Pyke dungeons next week? Maybe, but why couldn’t she do that…today? It’s not like we still have more than half of the series left to finish the story of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano, and the rest of this beloved ensemble cast: we only have a couple of episodes left, and we just wasted one on a story that took us full-circle.

The episode seems to have been intended as an introspective one, where Rafa and Trace could see Ahsoka in a new light, and vice versa. But the effort to achieve that effect falls flat too – not because Rafa’s reveal that Jedi killed their parents after deciding that taking a few lives was better than risking many more is a bad idea (in fact, it’s an awesome concept, because Ahsoka knows that it’s what the Jedi would, in fact, do), but because the excessively long and detailed speech in which she reveals this is composed of dry, emotionless exposition. After suffering through it, I was hoping that Rafa would throw in some witty one-liner to at least make the scene worthwhile: no such luck. Other than that, it’s a cool reveal, and it further convinces Ahsoka to hide her true identity – something that won’t be possible when she and the Martez sisters (hopefully) run into Bo-Katan, who knows Ahsoka was a Jedi, and, in fact, had memorable fights with her in previous seasons, when the two fought on opposing sides of the Clone Wars.

Oh yeah, and the Clone Wars themselves? Once again, relegated to the background. Once again, this wouldn’t be a problem if the series were longer and could devote more time to those wars, but it’s not, so every minute we spend away from the battlefront is time we’re losing – I’m not willing to make exceptions just because we’re spending time instead with Ahsoka, Trace and Rafa, regardless of how fun they are. Fingers crossed that Bo-Katan does rescue them next week, and gets them entangled in the tumultuous civil war currently raging on her home planet of Mandalore, bringing them (and us, the viewers) back to the forefront of the Clone Wars.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 4.9/10