Star Wars: Rebels, or, Something Like an Ending in a Franchise That Will Never End


Fixing to get jumped by some cats.

For the first time since, arguably, Return of the Jedi, there’s been a proper ending in a galaxy far, far away. After four seasons, Lucasfilm Animation’s Star Wars: Rebels has come to a close, or at least a premeditated line of demarcation between it and the future of the animated Star Wars saga.

The Star Wars that Rebels leaves behind is vastly different than the Star Wars it entered into in 2014, more than a year before the premiere of The Force Awakens. Looking at what Star Wars was then and is now, and considering the now completed story of the Ghost crew in its entirety, we can already gleam some sense of the legacy the (admittedly fantastic) Band-Aid Disney slapped on their unjust, premature cancellation of The Clone Wars will leave behind.

Star Wars: Rebels was the debut of a new era of Star Wars, the post-Lucas, Disney era, and it proved to be a smart, capable and worthy successor, but also a very appropriate one. The end of the Lucas era, the end of Star Wars made by the maker, was The Clone Wars, so it’s fitting that that ending would dovetail into the beginnings of the Star Wars we have today. In many ways, notably the oversite of Lucas’ heir-apparent Supervising Director/Executive Producer Dave Filoni, Rebels was the strain of current-day Star Wars that best carried on Lucas’ adventurous, if divisive, storytelling sensibilities. The show doesn’t skimp on TIE Fighters, which are starting to feel like an incessant nostalgia bell Disney rings throughout its every Star Wars entry, but Rebels was never content to rest on the past glories of the Star Wars franchise. It continually blazed forward, broadening the canvas of what Star Wars can be right through to its finale. The show often engaged with and introduced ideas and concepts that felt jarring, or goofy, or even heretical, challenging the notions of what the Star Wars universe encompassed. Not the controversial character decisions or shocking identity revelations that haunt the theories and vitriol of fans, but big, grand ideas of cosmic and mythological scope. Ideas about what a Jedi is, about what the Force is. It went weird, real weird, and profound, and Star Wars as a whole is more nuanced because of it.

But Rebels was also distinctly effective because of its smaller scale. Where Clone Wars was something of an anthology series bouncing across a sprawling cast spread around the entire galaxy, Rebels stuck like glue to a regular cast of characters, largely on one planet.

While I personally got a little sick of Lothal and relished any chance to see more exotic locales, the show’s focus on one planet lends a viewpoint of the Empire and the Rebellion that Star Wars viewers previously haven’t been exposed to. We’ve always known the Empire were bad guys because they blew up a planet and because the good guys fought them. But Rebels showed us what the Empire looks like on a Monday. It showed us what the Empire looks like to a fruit vendor, to a neighborhood, to a local government. In Rebels we got the day-to-day Empire.

Similarly, we got a better understanding of the Rebel Alliance and its severe limitations. What does the existence of some rumored band of radicals mean to one person on one subjugated planet amongst many? What does that one person mean to the Rebel Alliance? Rebels provides thoughtful insight into the conflict the world was first introduced to in 1977. It isn’t information you need to know to understand the Star Wars films, but if you’re curious, the information is there and it’s been presented with the same amount of thought and care that goes into the films.

Rebels won’t hold the same place in my heart as The Clone Wars, which is very likely more a matter of timing than of either show’s inherent qualities, but as with its predecessor, Rebels has given me some of my favorite moments and characters in all of Star Wars. Where Clone Wars had the daunting task of carrying the torch for the entire Star Wars franchise in its day, Rebels carried the torch for something more fleeting, more specific, that adventurous, beyond-the-establishment spirit that ran through all of George Lucas’ Star Wars, that urge to move the conventions and mechanisms of storytelling forward.

Rebels has now also given viewers something Disney’s Star Wars has yet to confront: something like an ending. And what an ending it was. The finale of Rebels was so exciting and well executed that it heightened the show as a whole, highlighting just how complete a story the series had been all along. Much as you don’t need to see Rebels to enjoy Rogue One, you don’t need Revenge of the Sith or A New Hope to enjoy Rebels. It’s a story with its own beginning and ending, its own heroes, its own challenges, mysteries and revelations. Whatever Lucasfilm Animation does next, if the folks behind Rebels are involved it’ll be well worth watching.


The Sexiest Boredom, or, Call Me By Your Name



One minute before the broadcast, here’s my post on the last of this year’s best picture nominees!

Call Me By Your Name, the sexual coming-of-age film about a 17-year-old teenager and a 24-year-old archaeology resident living with his family in 1983 Italy, is a seduction of a film.

The sexuality on display here isn’t especially assertive or aggressive in comparison to the conventional cinematic sexuality. The sexuality and attraction feel as if they are derived almost from boredom, from meandering eyes blinking away sweat during endless hours of Italian summer spent in the company of statues both ancient and alive. The film itself replicates the curious, sinuous courtship of its subjects with its own courtship of the audience, through cinematography, sets, costumes, music and pacing.

Nothing in this film is urgent or intense, like it takes place in a snow globe under a tanning light. It doesn’t seek to grab or steal your attention so much as it slyly courts your curiosity with luscious sights and sounds. There’s no meet cute between the film and the audience just as there is none between Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). The film just sort of lays around under a pastel sun and it’s hard not to notice because nothing else is going on. It takes a passive approach in engaging with its audience and it pays of spectacularly. You know, “hard to get” and all that. One minute your casually contemplating Armie Hammer’s outfit, the next, Michael Stuhlbarg is waxing poetic into your exposed soul.

The sexuality of Call Me By Your Name and the film itself are freer, more meandering than their conventional counterparts. Perhaps because of that those potential viewers who would normally shy away from such films might just find themselves seduced by Armie Hammer’s athletic shorts.

Director Luca Guadagino’s film is based on the 2007 novel by André Aciman, from a screenplay adapted by James Ivory.

A Different Kind of Worldbuilding, or, Black Panther


Wakanda: a vibrant, luscious world of CGI and discourse.

Watching the trailer for the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp, I found myself hard pressed to get excited. I dug Ant-Man and I have no doubt I’ll enjoy the film, but I’m coming off of Thor: Ragnarok here. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gotten to a point at which worldbuilding, neigh, universe-building, is in full swing, and after the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ragnarok, in which nearly everything on screen is conjured from someone’s imagination, it can be hard for me to settle back down to Earth for the likes of Spider-Man’s Brooklyn or Ant-Man and the Wasp’s San Francisco. By and large, I love Marvel movies the most when they take me some place extraordinary.

Black Panther is quite likely the best worldbuilding Marvel has done yet, its setting, Wakanda, one of its most extraordinary. A large part of that is how Black Panther builds its world. There’s the amazing art direction and the imagination writ celluloid, but more than that Black Panther builds its world by letting us in on its characters’ opinions of that world and its culture and tradition.

More than any preceding film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, writer-director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther steeps itself in a hearty discourse on tradition, fitting subject matter for a film in which the protagonist is a king in the modern world.

After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa finds himself crowned king of the isolationist, techno-oasis Wakanda, the most advanced and invisible country on the planet. But as his father says, “it is hard for a good man to be king.” T’Challa finds himself tasked with becoming the arbiter, the living personification, of centuries of tradition that mean many different things to many different people.

To T’Challa’s sister Shuri, played by standout amongst standouts Letitia Wright, tradition is something flimsy and old, something to be dutifully, if begrudgingly, honored but lightheartedly scoffed at. Early in the film she expresses the sentiment that just because something is not broken doesn’t mean it cannot be improved.

Arguably her polar opposite, Okoye (Danai Gurira), general of T’Challa’s body guards, the Dora Milaje, has dedicated her life to upholding Wakandan institutions. She is a protector of tradition even when it is anything but pragmatic. Okoye is no bureaucratic extremist, but she understands that traditions exist for a reason, that they can stem the tides of chaos, that they can minimize violence, that they can be a glue that makes a country more than a place and a people. She has given herself over to something bigger than herself.

Somewhere in the middle is Lupita Nyongo’s Nakia, a Wakandan spy who has traveled the world her country has so expertly isolated itself from. She’s as quick to honor the cultural tradition of her country as she it to point out the flaws in its political traditions. She’s not one to hold up the establishment or abandon it, rather she urges progress, she urges establishments, culture and tradition be dragged into the future.

But what Black Panther’s examination of tradition comes down to is what does tradition mean for the powerful and what does it mean for the powerless?

Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is the greatest MCU villain yet. To him tradition is a weapon, one that, if not actively used against him, has at least utterly refused to come to his defense. His is a quest to harness tradition, to usurp it and redirect it, to wield it like the weapon it could be.

Killmonger keeps it real. Real real. He challenges T’Challa’s worldview and Wakanda’s traditions so completely and effectively that even his villainous means ultimately do little to help the Black Panther or the audience intellectualize his crusade away.

While T’Challa finds himself surrounded by hot takes on tradition, he himself is the one tasked with carrying that tradition forward, be it carefully like an old antique vase or brashly like a weapon affecting everything around it. As king he finds himself in a position unlike any of his Avenging counterparts. His is not a duty simply to save, his is a duty to govern, to keep the trains running, to prune and nurse tradition like a careful gardener so that it best serves people not only in crisis, but day to day. He is a living bridge between a past and future that are continually being analyzed and redefined by all around him, all the while striving to be a good man.

Wakanda seeps into the marrow of these characters in a way that no other locale in the Marvel Universe has because these characters don’t just live in Wakanda, they analyze Wakanda. The script, co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, boasts characters that dedicate themselves to it, that roll their eyes at it, that condemn it. Black Panther’s worldbuilding through character brings Wakanda to life in a ways that even the best art direction can’t achieve, ways that make it even harder for me to get excited for a return to San Francisco or Queens.

Darkest Hour, or, “Stop Pointing That Gun at my Country!”


O.G. vape life

Darkest Hour, director Joe Wright’s latest film from a script by Anthony McCarten, is a distressing look at the sorts of things humanity wouldn’t need if we were angels: politicians and war.

The film follows the ascendancy of Winston Churchill (portrayed by Gary Oldman of Dark Knight’s Commissioner Jim “Stop Pointing That Gun at my Family” Gordon fame) to Prime Minister and his proceeding battle with Parliament and himself over whether or not to go to war with Nazi Germany. It’s a movie hugely concerned with war that spends a vast majority of its time behind tables and podiums or in front of microphones and audiences. We’re shown just enough warfare to remember that the decisions made by these very human, very imperfect powers are likely to result in massive bloodshed. The choice then becomes, do you resign yourself definitively to war, do you resign a country’s youth to death and maiming on the battlefield, or do you gamble and sue for peace, even then uncertain of what your standing will ultimately become?

Darkest Hour is a testament to the vileness of war. Not the grit, or the violence and torture and flying limbs. The general unpleasantness, the fact that if you are at war, no matter the side, you’ve lost something dear. War isn’t treated lightly or romanticized here. It isn’t a profound calling, or a matter of honor, or a proving ground. It’s this horrible thing that some know in their bones is coming no matter what, and others hope against hope can be staved off by placating a maniac.

The story of Darkest Hour then, in which the victory pursued is one of convincing Britain to go to war, to engage in this terrible thing, is one of coming to terms with that terror, with the unfairness of it all and the underlying human failure of it all, of looking at impending violence, seeing it for what it is and moving forward accordingly.

It’s a philosophically distressing movie to watch, particularly in a time in which we’re forced to continually make light of idiots blowing the world to smithereens over a tweet, but Darkest Hour lends a perspective to war that we don’t often get in cinema, one worth engaging with.

CW Years, or, Black Lightning



If the CW’s stable of DC Comics-based television shows are good for one thing (they’re good for many but bear with me) it’s gaggles of attractive young Canadians wadding through seas of dead parents and betrayal towards inevitable mac-attacks with other attractive young Canadians, undoubtedly breaking the heart of a third gaggle of attractive young Canadians.

So imagine my surprise when I saw that the protagonist in the CW’s latest superhero show, Black Lightning, is played with instant gravitas by Cress Williams, who is a 47-year-old man, which basically makes him 1,000,000 in CW years. At 47 years old, Williams’ Jefferson Pierce is the DCW’s equivalent of Frank Miller’s aging, crotchety, Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne. Which actually turns out to be a pretty apt comparison when considering the show’s pilot.

At the onset of Black Lightning, Pierce has hung up the titular moniker for some time, opting instead to improve his community, Freeland, as a high school principal. But a rise in gang violence perpetuated by the growing threat of The 100 Gang. It’s a problem that effects the entire community, to the chagrin of both Jefferson and his two daughters.

Kind of like how in The Dark Knight Returns Bruce Wayne isn’t Batman anymore and instead he improves Gotham by driving race cars while contemplating suicide, but a gang called the mutants is wreaking havoc on Gotham and it pisses Bruce Wayne off, much as it annoys young Cary Kelly, daughter of two local deadbeats.

The Dark Knight Returns is a worthwhile point of comparison when considering Black Lightning as the disparities between the former, a staple of 1986, and the latter, a show that is ever so 2018, reflect a changing attitude towards heroism.

Frank Miller’s Batman is a dick. Always has been, always will be. He is essentially and old, rich, white guy who disagrees with the direction the world around him is taking and in response uses his economic resources to beat the culture around him to death with his personal ideology. Cary Kelly, the kindling of a youthful, feminine power in TDKR, does not have opinions of her own in the narrative. She’s an acolyte. The culture around her is more her own to inherit than Batman’s to cling to, but despite the fact that she actually lives in Gotham, rather than in a mansion, she’s indoctrinated rather than consulted.

While Jefferson Pierce certainly wouldn’t shirk the opportunity to align his daughters’ worldviews with his own, that isn’t the cards he’s dealt. Black Lightning is less a show about deciding to engage in heroism and standing up to villainy than it is a show about deciding how to stand up to that villainy.

Enter a white guy blogging about race.

Jefferson Pierce and his family are confronted with everyday evils, little treacheries like being pulled over by the cops based on the color of their skin. In many ways, they don’t have a choice as to whether or not they react to the world’s ills because more than Barry Allen or Kara Danvers, the world’s ills seek Pierce and his family out. But how to go about reacting and combating those ills is a topic of open debate in the show. Vigilantism? Protest? Social media? Education?

Spoilers, Black Lightning becomes Black Lightning again in Black Lightning. And when he does so, he doesn’t saunter down the middle of the stage to the bowed heads of a subdued, formerly directionless youth. Black Lightning takes a trope we’ve seen before, the grizzled, retired hero called back into action, and confronts it with a youthful eye that is not worshipful, but skeptical.

He might be 1,000 CW years older than the likes of The Flash, Supergirl, or the Green Arrow (who himself is getting into his CW 80s) but make no mistake, Williams is just as charming and engaging as CW’s established superhero protagonists, and the world around him has the potential to provide a show that is just as philosophically engaging as it is ludicrously-costumed.

Rampant Speculation: Totally Cool and Totally Normal, or, Doomsday Clock #3


When it’s not Blanton’s, AMIRIGHT BOYS!?

Spoilers ahead for Doomsday Clock #3…

If Doomsday Clock #1 is an exercise in evoking powerlessness and Doomsday Clock #2 is a primer in a spectrum of reality and fiction, the third issue of Geoff Johns and Gary Franks’ Watchmen/DC crossover series is a marriage of the two. This third chapter bounces back and forth between a number of narratives, calling back to the intermittent Tales of the Black Freighter portions of the original Watchmen. But where those interludes represented a single work of fiction within a fictional “real world” the traversal of fiction within Doomsday Clock is less a game of pong between two works and more a frenzied exploration of a densely layered onion of narratives.

Piggybacking off of my writing on Doomsday Clock #2, there’s a penetration of the fictional spectrum in this issue that brings with it at least the implication of an increased ability to harness and exert power over the world the more fictional a character gets.

The outer most layer of the onion in question is the world. Our world. Us. The readers. Holding a comic book. We are so often the masses portrayed in Doomsday Clock’s first issue. Inundated with dreadful headlines we are so often powerless to effect. We are not fiction. We are reality.

The Watchmen Universe, while a fiction, is only truly separated from our own world by one aspect: Doctor Manhattan. That’s that grit I mentioned in my first Doomsday Clock post. That grit implies realism, or invokes a sense that something fiction is at least “more real” than other less gritty works. The surrounding dystopia is obviously a fiction but the element of fantasy separating the Watchmen Universe from our own is just one big blue dude. In this sense the Watchmen are more fictional than us, but more realistic than…

The DC Universe: where fiction runs rampant, where some things are gritty but others actually smile once in awhile. Super powered aliens, space cops, metahumans, multiverses, one inter-dimensional Crisis after another. You can’t pinpoint just one fantastical element responsible for the divergence between us and the world of Batman and Superman. Even to the characters of the Watchmen Universe the DCU appears fictional, with Ozymandias stating last issue that certain heroes within the DCU are characters in he and Rorschach’s world.

Ozymandias, Rorschach, the Marionette and the Mime travel deeper into fiction, and with that traversal there appear to be side effects. Last issue we saw the Mime use a pantomimed lock pick to escape his bonds. This issue, we see him actually use the pantomimed gun we’ve only ever seen him brandish in the Watchmen Universe. It fires and a head explodes. It works. And not only that, Frank’s depiction of the gun in the DC Universe lends it a hint of shape and form, the presumably make-believe gun now becoming real when brought in to a comparatively make-believe universe. Similarly we see possible side-effects of the aforementioned traversal of fiction in our new Rorschach, who we learn in this issue is in all likelihood basically just some guy. He talks of having blood on his hands and then, as he showers, we see that blood appear as he clutches his head. Now, is he clawing his head open and making it bleed? Like, a lot? Maybe. Or perhaps the metaphors, the make-believe, in which he speaks are given more power, more potency in the DCU.

With that wild speculation in mind, I can’t help but feel the text implying an increased power, and increased ability to affect change, the more “fictional” an entity becomes.

We, the readers, have no superheroes or caped crusaders. The Watchmen Universe has a smattering heroes but only one is truly super-powered. In the DC Universe everyone and their mother is a superhero, even, perhaps, the formally less remarkable refugees of the Watchmen Universe.

But there’s a hiccup in that theory because the DC Universe is not the farthest Doomsday Clock penetrates into fiction. Within the DCU we’re given continued allusions to an actor, Carver Coleman, and the grizzled gumshoe he’s most famous for portraying, Nathaniel Dusk. Coleman is of the same fictional stock as Batman and the lot, a denizen of the DCU, but Nathaniel Dusk, a character in a movie within the DCU, is a layer deeper.

Throughout Doomsday Clock #3, we’re show scenes from the final Nathaniel Dusk film, The Adjournment. It’s as deep as the fiction goes in this issue and yet it’s the most realistic story in the book so far. It’s a detective, a cop and a murder mystery. No powers, no vigilantes, no nothing. Nothing but the characteristic grit of noir. So where has that power gone? That power that seems to grow and grow the more fictional it becomes?

If nothing else, it certainly rebounds and penetrates back out toward reality, as we see some old-timers in a retirement home hailing Carver Coleman as a hero, presumably because he was Nathaniel Dusk. Perhaps there’s a law of diminishing returns in regards to this perceived increase in power. Perhaps that power can only penetrate so far into fiction. Perhaps the power is not affected by how many layers of fiction it is bundled in, but by the amount of excessive grit it is saddled with.

Whatever the case, there is some shit going on with this Coleman fella, and there is most definitely some shit going on with Nathaniel Dusk.

(Reveals bulletin board of color-coded thumb tacks and torn up portions of comic books)


No, you’re “a bit much!”

What’s more, is Rorschach’s journal, as an artifact from a “realer” universe, now imbued with a yet unseen power? It’s already been revealed that after the events of Watchman the original Rorschach’s journal became a powerful document in its own universe.

All this, and Doctor Manhattan still hasn’t even shown up yet! Or has he? I’m just saying, is Batman Doctor Manhattan? He previously spent time on the Mobius Chair, an object that got Manhattan’s attention once before, shortly after Batman relinquished it. And the button showed up in Batman’s cave. And it makes little sense that Batman would walk a man who know’s his secret identity into Arkham Asylum and lock him up. So, you know… what is going on?

The Phantom Thread, or, Another Brilliant Douchebag in a Perfectly Lovely Dress

phantom thread

“I’m a thread man, ladies and gentlemen…”

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Phantom Thread, chronicles dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) courtship and evolving relationship with waitress-turned-muse Alma (Vicky Krieps). The film often explores the connections and distinctions between the feminine forms that either inspire or demand the creation of Woodcock’s dresses and the final dresses themselves, which proved fitting in my own viewing as I found myself repeatedly considering the differences between the elaborate, cinematic drapery of The Phantom Thread and the ragged old narrative bones holding it all up.

An overwhelming majority of The Phantom Thread really fires on all cylinders. The costumes, colors and set design are engaging. The cinematography flows from cozy and confined to sweeping and elaborate without ever feeling like it’s whipping haphazardly between the two. Jonny Greenwood’s score is the perfect aural companion to the visuals. Day-Lewis gives his most quotable performance since Daniel Plainview.

It really is a remarkable dress. But it’s a dress draped about the frame of a particularly tired narrative. Woodcock is one of a million other cinematic geniuses whose brilliance and/or ambition affords them a casual cruelty and Alma joins the ranks of women cursed with loving a great and important man despite his abuses and neglect.

You’ve seen this dynamic before. Whether it’s the Godfather or Citizen Kane, any number of biopics about visionary men, or, like, any Scorsese protagonist. Hell, we’ve even seen Daniel Day-Lewis play this dynamic before in the 2009 musical Nine.

The Phantom Thread makes an effort to approach this tired trope from an ever-so-slightly recalculated approach vector, but ultimately fails to escape the worn-out “great men have no time for silly women” bullshit that one might have hoped had been beaten to death by 2018. It’s a trope that perpetuates a lazy distinction between brilliance and women, between ambition and women, between progress and women. It’s a trope that implies some perverse correlation between an inability to act like a vaguely decent human being and having any sort of creative or artistic merit or agency.

The Phantom Thread arguably offers a new wrinkle to the artist-muse relationship, but one that does little to nothing in the way of untangling it from the antiquated implications or its narrative forerunners.

I really, really love so much about The Phantom Thread. It truly is a lovely dress. But through the sights and sounds of it all those old narrative bones still groan and creak.