Spoiler Warning: Human Beings Continue to Disappoint

When I first heard that Disney+ was going to release its original series as real series, meaning waiting a week between episodes instead of dumping an entire season online at once, I was very happy to hear it. The Netflix model makes sense for what they’re trying to do — be a repository for hours and hours and hours of programming available whenever you want it — but it turns out that even in the over-stimulated 21st century, there’s a lot to be said for that week of speculation and anticipation between episodes. It feels more like a shared communal experience.

Or at least, it would feel like that, if there weren’t so many selfish a-holes out there.

As much as I’ve been loving The Mandalorian, I’m not watching new episodes at midnight the night before a new episode is released. But I’ve seen people not even waiting an hour to start posting spoilers online.

Now granted, I didn’t see many direct spoilers, probably because I’ve managed to weed out the worst offenders from my social media by now. But there were enough people proud of themselves for talking around the spoilers that by the time I watched the episode at a reasonable time tonight, I already had a rough idea of what was going to happen.1The biggest spoiler was a coy, roundabout tweet from one of the guest stars of the episode, which more or less revealed that they were going to be a guest star of the episode. It reminded me of The Crying Game, when I’d seen so many people so deliberately talking around the spoiler that I could tell what the spoiler was within a few minutes.

Most surprising to me, though, was how many people I saw on Twitter defending their right to post whatever they want. “If you don’t want to be spoiled, you shouldn’t be on Twitter!” was the claim. One particularly asinine person started mocking somebody who was complaining about spoilers, then said that if you’re reading Twitter in the morning you’re clearly not working, so you could just as well be watching the episode. Because taking two minutes to scroll through Twitter at work is exactly the same as taking 45 minutes to watch television during work, I guess.

I started to break my read-only policy to call the guy out for not only being stupid, but also being such a jack-ass that he’d go out of his way to defend carelessly and selfishly ruining the experience for other people, instead of showing the barest minimum amount of consideration by demonstrating the barest minimum amount of impulse control for a couple of hours until everyone got a chance to watch it. But then I realized three things.

One is that the people I was about to yell at were people I didn’t know, and one of them is apparently a contributor to a notoriously asinine Disney “news” site, so I had no idea why I’d been following them in the first place.

Two was that once someone’s selfishness has gotten to that point, calling them out on it isn’t going to have any effect at all. If there’s ever any question, the best course of action is always to block them and move on.

And lastly, no matter how selfish their intention, their advice was “you shouldn’t be on Twitter.” Which is impossible to argue with.

Apart from just bitching about a social media platform I should never have signed back onto, this also has me wondering about building anticipation and buzz and community when distribution gets wider and audiences get more and more fractured. The Mandalorian in particular has been, since its first episode, full of revelations that it’s tried to keep under wraps. Surprisingly, it’s succeeded more often than not. Obviously, people are super-eager to talk about it, or there wouldn’t be so many people eager to spoil it, so they’ve built (and earned) a dedicated audience. I’d be interested to see if there are ways to preserve that communal experience of the old broadcast TV days, that don’t just depend on people not being jerks.

The Mandalorian: Then They Saw His Face

The Mandalorian episode “The Believer” surprisingly felt like I was being rewarded for something I hadn’t earned.

The title image is from a WIRED autocomplete interview with Pedro Pascal and Oscar Isaac.

I expected the worst from the latest episode of The Mandalorian, called “The Believer,” since I expected to see Bill Burr’s character come back, and he’s the worst. But instead of being a disappointment, it felt like they were piling on scene after amazing scene showing me something cool that I hadn’t even known I wanted to see.

About five minutes into the episode, nerds worldwide let out a collective sigh of satisfaction, as we finally saw after 40 years a demonstration of exactly how stuff in the hull of the Slave I stays upright when the ship changes orientation. It still amazes me that this show is actually turning out to be a combination of my most sugar-rush-hyped-up fantasies as a 9-year-old, 20-year-old, and 49-year-old: And and and then, Boba Fett shows up, and they’ve both got jetpacks, and then Ming-Na Wen is in the group too, and they all get in the Slave I and fly to a bunch of new planets, and then there’s a scene like the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and they just BOOM destroy a ton of Imperials, and there’s like multiple Mandalorians, and they have these bad-ass fight scenes but also when they take their helmets off, they look like Timothy Olyphant, Temuera Morrison, and Pedro Pascal.

Oh! And then for no reason at all, they had Boba Fett launch a seismic grenade to blow up multiple TIE Fighters at once, which might be the only scene I liked in all of Attack of the Clones. At that point, I was already like No really, I couldn’t take any more fan service, I’ve had so much…. oh well all right then.

I’d also been about to complain about how Star Wars keeps reusing the same biome over and over and over again; how many desert planets are in this galaxy, anyway? The only thing I really liked about Rogue One was the production design, and part of that was putting so many familiar Star Wars elements into a completely unfamiliar South Pacific-esque jungle environment. The last episode seemed to have been set in the same area near Los Angeles that episodes of Buck Rogers and Star Trek took place, and this one seemed even closer to being a real place. I’d love it if the live action series were to get as experimental with exotic environments as The Clone Wars series did.

A perfectly paced, satisfying episode like this one proves how much of what works in The Mandalorian is about restraint. There’s still a host of phenomenally talented concept artists and CG artists (and sound designers, and costume designers, etc. etc.) but here, their work is allowed to stand out, because the stories are more straightforward, the action is more old-fashioned chases and beat-em-ups, and the stakes are more personal. In this episode, I actually had the chance to appreciate the design of the pirates’ speeders, since they weren’t lost in a sea of other things fighting for attention.

It’s no knock on Disney or Lucasfilm to say that it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to keep this same level of quality with every one of the new Star Wars properties in the works. But if this one is so eerily able to deliver exactly what I want to see, I imagine that they’re eventually going to have a Star Wars that’s perfectly tailored to everybody.

And yes, the only reason I wrote this post is because I’m so inordinately proud of making the “I’m a Believer”/”saw his face” connection that I felt the need to spell it out explicitly.

The Mandalorian: His Backpack’s Got Jets

My reactions to the last couple episodes of The Mandalorian, “The Jedi” and “The Tragedy”

WAMPAAAA! (Advance to 11:58 for the really good stuff)

I didn’t have much to say about last week’s episode of The Mandalorian, titled “The Jedi,” because I didn’t have the same visceral attachment to the characters that a lot of other Star Wars fans seem to. I never got into The Clone Wars series1I’m trying again, and I’m currently at the end of the first season., partly because I was still a little bitter that Genndy Tartakovsky’s brilliant series was so quickly forgotten, but mostly because I was still getting comfortable with the premise of “What if the Star Wars prequels had much more engaging stories and were performed by CGI versions of the Thunderbirds puppets?” when they started lobbing Jar Jar-centric episodes at me. I mean what the hell, Star Wars? I thought we’d reached an understanding.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I don’t have any attachment to the character of Ahsoka Tano. But some people on Twitter and YouTube were so excited they were already posting breathless takes by 1 AM on Friday. I watched it quickly to try and avoid any spoilers, and… I thought it was quite good.

Spoilers after the break!

The Mandalorian Was Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

Episode 12 of The Mandalorian, “The Siege,” was episodic TV Star Wars, and proved the rest of the series isn’t really that

I keep saying that The Mandalorian is what I always wanted to see as a kid in the early 1980s: an episodic Star Wars television series. This week’s episode 12, “The Siege,” was as close to what I would’ve imagined in 1983 as the series has come so far… and proves that I’ve been wrong about the series this whole time.

This was my least favorite episode of the series so far.1Not that anyone asked, but my previous least favorite was “The Gunslinger” from Season 1. It says a lot about how much I love this show that being “least favorite” isn’t really a knock against the episode; I liked it a lot. But it shows that there’s been a lot more going on with this series than has been apparent on the surface. It’s seemed like such simple, straightforward, storytelling that it’s easy to neglect just how sophisticated it is in style, character, visuals, and music.

“The Siege” is like Carl Weathers interviewed me as a 12-year-old in 1983 and made a checklist of everything I’d want to see in a Star Wars TV series:

  • Jetpacks
  • Speeder bikes
  • Those acrylic star map things
  • Insane jump tricks in an Imperial transport
  • Assault on an Imperial base
  • Lava
  • TIE Fighters where the wings fold up and then they fly off and shoot at the good guys who are racing away
  • Hallways full of sinister experiments
  • Macarons

But there’s something almost indefinable missing, the heart and soul of this series, the thing that makes it feel more like “classic” storytelling than “scoped down a bit” storytelling. To jump to a different franchise: it’s what separates Mad Max: Fury Road from what I’d imagined Max Max: Fury Road was going to be like before I saw it. This was an action-heavy and plot-heavy episode that was still extremely entertaining, even if it didn’t resonate with me the way the others have.

In this review on Screen Crush2Which is also where I stole the title image from, Ryan Arey makes an interesting point that hadn’t occurred to me: if the characters hadn’t been so suspicious of authority and the New Republic at the end of this episode, Baby Yoda would’ve been safely united with Luke Skywalker, and the series would be over. Depending on how deep Moff Gideon’s conspiracy goes, it might’ve even prevented the sequel trilogy before it could start. So maybe the show needs an 80s TV-style catch phrase: Thanks for nothin’, Greef Karga!

The Mandalorian: Out of Alignment

Middle-aged nerd REACTS to episode 2 of season 2, “The Passenger!”

This is inevitably going to end up a Chris Farley-style review of episode 2, “The Passenger,” because I honestly don’t have a whole lot of insight beyond “Remember when he knocked out those two guys at once with a third guy’s rifle? That was awesome.”

This episode was, as usual, cool as hell, and exactly how you should do televised Star Wars, and it remains the series that I wanted in my childhood but would never have been possible so we live in the greatest time in history, etc. etc. I’m actually a little worried that I’ll get too used to this level of quality week after week, and I’ll start taking it for granted.

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The Mandalorian: Now this is fan servicing!

The Mandalorian season opener “The Marshal” was like time traveling back to 1981

Watching The Mandalorian has always given me a vague sense of deja vu, as if I were watching exactly the Star Wars television series I would’ve wanted to see as a kid. According to the Wikipedias, Jon Favreau is five years older than me and grew up in New York City, but especially with the first episode of season 2, “The Marshal,” he’s somehow managed to translate the hopes of a 10-year-old living in the Atlanta suburbs in 1981 directly to the screen.

To be clear, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with any actual stories, or in fact anything specific apart from lots more of this, please. But The Empire Strikes Back left impressionable kids with near-infinite potential: not only could the movies’ story go in any direction, but there were so many possibilities for new planets and new characters and new stories.

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The Haunting of Bly Manor, or, The Stripping of the Screw

I liked The Haunting of Bly Manor, but I’m already afraid of diminishing returns

This week I watched The Haunting of Bly Manor, the second in the new not-quite-anthology series led by Mike Flanagan that started with The Haunting of Hill House. This installment stars several of the same actors from Hill House, but with all-new accents! It’s “based on the work of Henry James,” meaning it uses The Turn of the Screw as a framing structure, incorporating elements of James’s other ghost stories.

I can’t imagine trying to fill up nine hours of television with The Turn of the Screw, since it’s very short, most of it (all of it?) takes place inside the main character’s mind, and it is, I would grow to find, upon reading, earlier this month, intending to get myself in the mood, as so many were, of October and Halloween, filled with sentences, as it might be said, that are so laden, much as a pack mule, with subordinate clauses, that one finds oneself, on occasion, unable to discern what, exactly, the sentence is, I’m disappointed to report, about.

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One Thing I Like About The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House had quite a few jump scares, but it saved its most masterful tricks for the finale

In my attempt to watch more spooky stuff for Halloween season, I watched The Haunting of Hill House over two nights this weekend. That’s not a typo; instead of The Haunting of Bly Manor that everyone’s talking about, I’m keeping true to my goal of staying at least one year behind popular culture.

I never binge-watch anything. On top of the time commitment, I hate the hollow feeling that comes after being invested in something for hours and then having it just… end. For some reason, I can still remember being in middle school, and a local TV station aired a marathon of episodes of the old sitcom Soap, and I watched hours and hours of it. After the finale aired, I got weirdly depressed and couldn’t sleep. Afterwards, I was trying to explain to my mother why I was so depressed, and I couldn’t make sense of why a sitcom — that I didn’t even think was very good — had such an emotional impact on me. I suspect I just remain a sensitive child who gets overly invested in stories.

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It’s not difficult

A reminder from Amber Ruffin to stop giving a pass to so-called “casual” racism

This week on the Amber Ruffin Show, she did a segment calling out racist jackass Sonny David Purdue for his disgraceful mockery of Kamala Harris’s name at a campaign rally. And damn, was it satisfying to see.

There’s been so much inexcusably vile stuff being flung around, that this kind of thing can get lost in the noise. Is it really that harmful? Aren’t there bigger things to worry about? But one thing that people always say about any skill is that you’ve got to make sure you’ve mastered the fundamentals before you can move on to more advanced things. I’d say that the same thing applies to being a decent human.

PS: If you’ve ever made a lazy joke about M Night Shyamalan’s name, that’s almost the same thing.

Edited to add: There’s one thing that I just can’t get over: the guy who’s trying to mock and belittle someone for having a name that reflects her race and her heritage, is named Sonny Purdue. Talk about glass houses, but with a rusted old pickup truck on concrete blocks out front.

Edited to add, later: Apparently I’ve completely mixed up my good ol boys. The racist jackass in the above video is US Senator David Purdue, who is cousins with the racist jackass ex-Georgia governor Sonny Purdue. On the one hand, I’m embarrassed for making such a lazy mistake. On the other, I can’t say I care all that much. At least I didn’t call him Davidalocawhatever to the giggles and cheers of my all-white crowd.

The Mandalorian: We’ve Seen All This Before

The Mandalorian is both the Star Wars TV series I’ve been wanting for over thirty years, and even better than I imagined.

When I’m watching The Mandalorian, the thought that keeps jumping to my mind is “I can’t believe this is on television.” The part of my psyche that made me start tearing up at the sight of X-Wings flying over water in The Force Awakens, is now being triggered multiple times per episode.

They’re riding speeder bikes on Tatooine! That’s an AT-ST that’s been Mad-Maxed out by bandits! There’s a Dewback dragging a dead body! There’s a whole squad of Boba Fetts with jetpacks having a shootout with bounty hunters! This episode of television is starting out with a dogfight in space! Without a doubt, this series brings back memories of taking all of my Star Wars toys and smashing them together in different combinations and different settings.

For about as long as I can remember loving Star Wars — which is about as long as I can remember loving any piece of popular culture — I’ve been wanting a Star Wars TV series. It implies a galaxy full of new planets, new aliens, new droids, new spaceships, and most of all, new stories. An ongoing TV series has always seemed like the perfect way to take some of the characters, locations, or references that are only glimpsed in the movies, and then spend a long time exploring each in detail.

Except that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing for years, ever since the first Marvel comics: an author or a creative team will choose some corner of the Star Wars galaxy and then start world-building. And the results have been all over the place. Many have been horrible, some have been very good, but at least in my opinion, none have hit exactly the right tone and weight. They’re either just a mash-up of familiar elements that don’t seem to add anything, or they go in the opposite direction and seem so preoccupied with world-building and adding to the lore that they no longer feel like Star Wars.

I remember as a kid being annoyed at a comics storyline that had multiple characters being frozen in Carbonite. It just seemed to be an uninspired rehash of a strong image from the movies, and treating it so casually robbed one of the most dramatic moments in The Empire Strikes Back of its weight. In the years since then, it’s been used even more casually in side stories. In fact, one of my only nerdy gripes about The Mandalorian is how the ship has its own portable carbon freezer, and it’s used as a comic beat. It just retroactively makes a key emotional moment in Empire seem like everyone was getting upset over nothing.

At the other extreme are all the absurd “epic” stories that seem to want to turn Star Wars into pure science fiction or pure fantasy (or in the obvious case of the prequels, all space politics), instead of the balance of fantastic melodramatic space western that the original trilogy got so perfectly right. So we’ve had clones, and creatures that evolved to generate force bubbles, and aliens with hypnotic sexy pheromones, and space vampires, and no doubt countless other examples of nonsense that feels tone deaf.

What’s becoming clear with The Mandalorian isn’t that it expands on the Star Wars universe so much as it pares all of it down to the basics. It’s not at all afraid to let its influences show: it went back to the genres that influenced the original movies — westerns, samurai movies, old Flash Gordon serials — and chose to tell simple stories that call back to those formats.

I think it’s a wise reaction to the prequels, since one of the main problems with those movies is that they were overstuffed with characters and political machinations and galactic conflict and side plots, so that it all became noise that drowned out the story that was supposed to be at its core: the corruption and fall of Anakin Skywalker. There’s so much noise that the characters who became the most memorable (in a positive way, so not Jar-Jar) are the ones with the least back story: for me, it’s Mace Windu and General Grievous. Like Boba Fett in the build-up to The Empire Strikes Back, they “read” instantly.

As far as I can recall, The Mandalorian hasn’t introduced any new species, has only one core conflict (Mando vs the bounty hunting guild), and is only concerned with telling one bit of the galactic back story (the purge of the Mandalorians). I can only think of two new creatures — the mount and the Mudhorn from the second episode — and they’re both used matter-of-factly as utility and obstacle, instead of introduced as “Star Wars lore.”

And crucially, the stories are as familiar as their simple titles suggest. There’s the one where uneasy allies attack a heavily-fortified compound, the one with the truck chase from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Seven Samurai one, the one about a young hotshot gunslinger, and the one that’s a heist plus Alien. But calling them familiar isn’t a criticism; I think it’s what makes the show work as well as it does. The episodes feel like they simply belong in Star Wars lore without having to justify their existence.

And the pared-down storytelling keeps the noise to a minimum so that the key moments have all the impact they should. Episode 6 was full of fight scenes and dramatic take-downs, but each managed to have weight and feel like a climactic moment. Hell, this is a series that has used the “gun shot rings out, and the target is not who you think” three times already, and I believe it’s landed every time.

I’m reminded yet again of all the complaints about The Force Awakens just being a rehash of the original trilogy, and why I think that’s a complaint that completely misses the point. By this point, we’ve all seen enough Star Wars that most people can recognize that it’s not really science fiction, but a different type of fantasy western that has many of the same trappings as science fiction. But I think a lot of people — including myself, and maybe even including George Lucas — still think of Star Wars as being all about plot.

What The Mandalorian gets so right is the recognition that it’s not about plot and probably never has been. Just like sci-fi technology is used as a vehicle to tell stories about magic, plot is just a vehicle to deliver those moments in which the magic amazes us. When a shot lands in exactly the right place to blow up the space station, or the unstoppable walker is destroyed with some cable or a grenade, or the light saber is pulled from the ground and flies into the hand of the woman who’s destined to wield it.

As new people build on the Star Wars “mythos,” I think the ones who recognize that the appeal isn’t necessarily expanding out the uncharted corners of the galaxy, so much as opening up a galaxy full of beloved toys and smashing them together in ways that we never would’ve imagined.