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Josh Reviews Star Wars Rebels Season 3

April 24th, 2017
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I was dubious about Star Wars Rebels when it first launched.  I was still sore over the premature cancellation of The Clone Wars and not that interested in what looked like a very kid-centric new show.  But I gave it a try with an open mind, and the early episodes were enough to keep my interestThe final episodes of season one were terrific, and I was thrilled by the involvement of Darth Vader and Ahsoka (a popular character with an unfinished story from The Clone Wars) in season two.  There were moments in season two that were as good as Star Wars had been in twenty years, in my opinion.  With The Force Awakens and then Rogue One bringing back Star Wars in a big way, I was eager to see where Rebels would go in season three.

While season three does not have the incredible high-points of season two (am I exaggerating to say that Ahsoka’s discovery that her master Anakin Skywalker is Darth Vader is one of the greatest moments in the entire Star Wars saga?  It’s a shocking and heartbreaking scene), it is nevertheless a very solid, very entertaining season filled with some wonderful episodes and exciting connections to and expansions upon the wider Star Wars universe.

It’s tough to beat using Darth Vader as the main villain of season two, but showrunner Dave Filoni and his team made the perfect choice to use Grand Admiral Thrawn as the villain here in season three.  Thrawn was introduced as the villain of Timothy Zahn’s novel Heir to the Empire, way back in 1991.  Back then, Star Wars was only the original three movies.  Mr. Zahn’s trilogy of novels was the first attempt at continuing the Star Wars story beyond the events of Return of the Jedi.  The success of those novels led to the explosion of Star Wars novels (the “expanded universe”) and comics and, I am convinced, had a hand in the eventual return of Star Wars to the big screen with the Special Editions and eventually the prequel films.  (But don’t blame Timothy Zahn for that!!)  Mr. Zahn’s novels are terrific, and Thrawn was a spectacular villain.  So the idea that Thrawn would finally be brought into “official” on-screen Star Wars canon was a delicious prospect for fans when this was first announced last year.

Rebels season three did not disappoint.  Thrawn looked perfect, and he was wonderfully brought to life by Lars Mikkelsen, who perfectly voices the silky-smooth manipulator.  I loved seeing Thrawn popping up throughout the season.  While of course his appearances aren’t as exciting as those of Vader, the show admirably took the time to develop Thrawn as a patient … [continued]

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“We Are the Balance” — Two Tantalizing Glimpses at the Future of Star Wars!

April 17th, 2017
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I’m not sure which just-released Star Wars trailer I am more excited about.  This:

Or this:

It’s a jump ball!

Together, these two trailers give us a fascinating peek at the future of Star Wars, and suggests confirmation of a theory about which many Star Wars fans like myself have been speculating.

One of the many aspects of the Prequels that bothered me was the whole business about the prophecy of Anakin Skywalker as the “chosen one” who would bring “balance to the Force.”  The Original Trilogy had framed Obi-Wan’s hubris as responsible for Anakin’s fall to darkness.  (“I thought I could instruct him just as well as Yoda.  I was wrong.”)  That prophecy mumbo-jumbo muddled what had been, to me, a fairly clear story.  Plus, the Jedi’s faith in the prophecy made them look extremely dumb.  If there are hundreds of Jedi and only two Sith in the universe during the time of the Prequels, then why would the Jedi think the “chosen one” who would bring “balance to the Force” would be something GOOD for the Jedi?  In fact, Anakin’s actions bring balance to the Force by slaughtering the Jedi, resulting in there being only two surviving Jedi (Yoda and Obi-Wan) and two surviving Sith (The Emperor and Darth Vader).

This whole “balance” business has been an aspect of the Prequels that, for a long while, I wanted to forget.  But lately the idea has been coming back in a big way.  Two key things have happened in the third season of Star Wars Rebels (watch for my full review of season three coming soon).  First, they introduced a mysterious character called the Bendu, an ancient Force-wielding creature who was neither Jedi nor Sith, but who claimed to represent a middle path, balancing light and dark and incorporating both into himself.  Second, in the season’s brilliant penultimate episode, “Twin Suns,” we caught up with Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tatooine, a few years before the events of the original Star Wars.  In that episode, Kenobi refers to Luke, rather than Anakin, as the “chosen one.”  Hang onto this idea for a second.

Following The Force Awakens, fans like me have speculated as to why Luke ran away from the universe, and what he’s been up to.  In this trailer for The Last Jedi, we see Luke state emphatically that “it’s time for the Jedi to end.”  Is it possible that, following the failure of Luke’s attempt to restart the Jedi Order (with Kylo Ren’s turn to the Dark Side and the Knights of Ren’s apparent massacre of Luke’s new Jedi school — I assume that’s what’s happening in the trailer when we see Luke fall to his knees in … [continued]

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The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016 — Part Two!

Let’s continue my look back at The Top Twenty Episodes of TV in 2016!  Last week I presented part one of my list, with numbers twenty through sixteen.  Onward!

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15. Brooklyn 99: “9 Days” (season three, episode twelve, aired on 1/19/16) – Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) get the mumps and are quarantined together for nine days.  “9 Days” has one of the most ridiculous premises of any episode of Brooklyn 99, and yet, somehow, it also manages to be one of the funniest.  The Peralta-Holt pairing has always been comedy gold for the show, and this episode really lets Mr. Samberg and Mr. Braugher go at it, assisted by some comically over-the-top make-up effects to depict their mumps-swollen faces.  Gems in this episode include watching the two men discuss their testicular pain, hearing Holt yell “CASE” as Jake tumbles to the ground, and this exchange: Amy: “I’m immune to stuff you haven’t even heard of.”  Holt: “But not immune to braggadocio.”  I enjoyed seeing The Office’s Oscar Nuñez pop up as the doctor who gives Jake & Holt their diagnosis, and I loved Boyle’s description of Rosa as having a “motorcycle helmet for a heart,” as well as his advice on grief: “Real men don’t cry for more than three days.”  And let’s not forget Gina’s comment that: “C-minus is the perfect grade. You pass, but you’re still hot.”  Also: the name of Amy’s trivia team is “Trivia Newton-John”?!  Genius!

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14. Luke Cage: “DWYCK” (season one, episode nine, released on 9/30/16) – This episode, late in the run of the first season of Luke Cage, came at a time in which the Netflix show seemed to be spinning its wheels, stretching time to fill out the 13 episode run by having Luke (Mike Colter) and Claire (Rosario Dawson) inexplicably leave town while the bad guys wreak havoc in order to track down the doc who had a hand in Luke’s super-hero origin.  While I didn’t have much patience for that story development, it allowed room for this episode’s welcome and wonderful spotlight on Misty Knight (Simone Missick), the NYPD officer who has been Luke’s friend and also his most dogged enemy.  I have always loved the character of Misty from the comic books, and I never thought we’d ever get to see this wonderful character appear on-screen, let alone as perfectly realized as she was on this show.  Ms. Missick was a revelation, phenomenal at bringing this strong, honest African-American woman to life.  This episode begins with Misty on suspension, having lost her cool when Claire was in police custody.  Over the course of the episode, we follow Misty’s grilling by a … [continued]

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Star Wars Rebels: Twilight of the Apprentice

April 4th, 2016
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The first season of the animated Star Wars Rebels was enjoyable, although more aimed at kids than adults.  Things kicked into a high gear with the terrific season one finale, in which both Darth Vader (once again voiced by James Earl Jones) and Ahsoka Tano (Anakin’s apprentice from the Clone Wars animated series, whose fate had been left uncertain following that show’s cancellation) were brought into the story.  The season two premiere took the show to the next level (it was one of my favorite episodes of TV of 2015), as we got to see the best version of the truly evil, unstoppable Vader since The Empire Strikes Back, and we also got to see the incredibly emotional moment in which Ahsoka realized that this monster was in fact her former master Anakin.

Nothing that followed in Rebels season two lived up to that high-point, but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable season of TV that was one-hundred-percent Star Wars.  Between this and The Force Awakens, this has been the best year for new official Star Wars stories in two decades.

I’d expected the Vader-Ahsoka stuff to be stretched out for the next few seasons of the show, but in the very interesting season two finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” we seem to have perhaps gotten an end to this story-line far sooner than I’d expected.

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After having spent two seasons being hounded by Vader’s force-wielding inquisitors, Kanan and budding Jedi Ezra leave their friends in the rebellion and go off with Ahsoka to confront their pursuers.  They visit the planet Malachor, the site of an ancient Sith temple, to attempt to access forbidden knowledge about the Sith that they hope to use to defeat their enemies.  But there, they encounter not only three vicious inquisitors, but also Darth Maul — still alive after all these years! — and, eventually, Vader himself.

Even before we get to the Vader-Ahsoka stuff, there is a lot of fun to be had in this episode.  I love the idea of visiting this Sith Temple, it’s a fascinating exploration of the rich Star Wars universe and back-story.  (We really know very little about the Sith, where they came from or how they operate.)  We get some great development of the Kanan and Ezra relationship, as we see both the ways in which these two don’t mesh and also the ways in which they powerfully do.  Poor Kanan suffers an injury whose repercussions I expect we’ll be seeing for a long while to come in the show.  That was something I wasn’t at all expecting.  We get to see a ton of awesome lightsaber battles, brought to life with gorgeous … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

I’ll have a lot to say about the long-anticipated return of The X-Files very soon.  In the meanwhile, here is a fantastic 45 minute interview with X-Files creator Chris Carter and writers Glen and Darin Morgan, who were key writers on the show who returned to write episodes of the revived series.  Great stuff.

I love that J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot team stunned everyone last week with the release of a trailer for a movie no one knew anything about, 10 Cloverfield Lane, to be released in just two months, in March!  Check it out:

I well remember the fun when the original Cloverfield was announced and we all struggled to figure out what the heck the deal was with this movie no one seemed to know anything about.  I feel like the film is not well thought of these days, but I absolutely loved the experience of seeing Cloverfield in the theatre — I thought it was very intense and a lot of fun.  I’m excited that the Bad Robot team has once again produced a Cloverfield film under everyone’s noses.  It’s so hard to do anything in secret these days!  I think that J.J. Abrams’ well-known “mystery box” philosophy has often been misused (flat-out lying to everyone for months by saying that Khan would not be the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness comes to mind), but I do love the idea of being totally surprised by a film.  Will 10 Cloverfield Lane have any actual story connection to the first Cloverfield?  Or are they just using Cloverfield as a nickname for a film made in secret and designed to surprise audiences?  Frankly I’d be happy either way.  That first trailer looks great and I am jazzed to see this film.

Why do I love Judd Apatow?  Sit back and watch his hilarious and profane introduction of Amy Schumer at the Critics Choice Awards, in which he veers off-script to slam the Golden Globes for putting The Martian in the comedy category:

How funny is that??  Love that dude.

Here are some interesting teases at the planned fifth season of Arrested Development.

I’m digging Star Wars Rebels and this preview for the second half of season two is terrific.  I’m especially jazzed by the glimpses, in the final seconds of the trailer, of the much-looked-forward-to confrontation between Ahsoka and Darth Vader (her former master).  This has been a moment fans have anticipated ever since Ahsoka was first introduced as a young padawan of Anakin Skywalker in the very first episode of the Clone Wars cartoon, back in 2008.  I hope this does not disappoint!

This is cool: HBO On-Demand is now offering what they’re calling The Godfather Epic[continued]

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The Top Fifteen Episodes of TV in 2015 — Part One!

Last week I listed by Top Twenty Movies of 2015.  (Click here for part one of my list, numbers twenty through sixteen.  Click here for part two of my list, numbers fifteen through elevenClick here for part three of my list, numbers ten through six.  Click here for part four of my list, numbers five through one.)

Now I am excited to look back all of the great TV we were blessed with in 2015.  This was a tremendous year for TV.  I watched a LOT of great TV.  And yet, as always, there was a lot of great TV that I didn’t get to.  More than ever, it felt like!  Our current age of “Peak TV” (click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about) is a blessing and a curse.  2015 TV series that I didn’t have time to watch include: Fargo season two, Better Caul Saul season one, The Americans season three (I’m still catching up with season two, only a few episodes to go), Transparent, Justified, The Man in the High Castle, Review, Documentary Now!, Halt and Catch Fire, The Leftovers, Red Oaks, Silicon Valley, The Knick, The Last Man on Earth, Inside Amy Schumer, Broad City, and more.  That’s a lot of amazing TV that I didn’t get to see!  All of those are shows that I hope to catch up with, one of these days.

But enough lamenting the TV I didn’t get to watch.  Let’s bask in the glow of my Fifteen Favorite Episodes of TV in 2015!

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Honorable Mention: Robot Chicken DC Comics Special 3: Magical Friendship (aired on 10/8/15) — I’ve loved Robot Chicken’s two previous DC Comics specials and his third one did not disappoint.  While there are several of the expected random skits, this special has a more distinct than usual for Robot Chicken story that carries through the episode, a focus on the very funny friendship/rivalry between Batman and Superman that was introduced in the previous two specials.  Robot Chicken co-creators and show-runners Breckin Meyer and Seth Green voice Superman and Batman, respectively, and they are magnificent.  In this installment, Superman and Batman’s escalating rivalry builds to a spot-on spoof of DC’s regular “Crisis” events, one that allows the Robot Chicken gang to jam in all sorts of wonderfully obscure jokes and references, including great appearances by the Batman and Robin of the 1960’s TV show, with both Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles.  Great fun.

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15. Show Me a Hero: “Parts 1 & 2” (aired on 8/16/15) –The Wire’s David Simon returned to TV with this gripping miniseries, telling the story of the … [continued]

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This substantive look at the upcoming X-Files revival has me giddy with anticipation.  Please don’t let me down, Chris Carter.

I’ve learned over the years not to trust trailers, but holy cow this trailer for the new Coen Brothers film looks AMAZING.  Check it out:

I’m loving this new trailer for Season Two of Star Wars: Rebels.  Season One was OK, but the episode with Darth Vader that aired over the summer made me a true believer.  Can’t wait for what’s next.

This is fun: seven things that you (probably) didn’t know about Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  (I love that movie!!)

This is an amazing, in-depth interview with the great Richard Kind, digging deeply into many of the best roles he has played throughout his career, up-to and including Bing Bong in Inside Out.  Once you’re done reading that, then may I suggest you clear your schedule and enjoy this two-hour conversation with Mr. Kind from Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show:

You’re welcome.

Marvel just added another film to Phase III (am I correct that this means that Phase III will consist of TEN films?  That is incredible.) — Ant Man and the Wasp!  Love that Ant Man (click here for my review) is getting a sequel, and I love that title.  (Marvel also has announced three un-named films for release in 2020.  Presumably those three films will be the start of Phase Four?  I love that Marvel is planning so far ahead.)  (And what is to be made of the rumors that Marvel is going to drop The Inhumans from their Phase III slate, as a middle-finger towards the Marvel TV folks, now separated from the film division of Marvel Studios?  That is being denied by Marvel, but I wonder.  I wrote recently about my concerns that all the recent behind-the-scenes changes at Marvel Studios have not all been for the better.  It will probably be several years before we see how this all plays out and we’re able to get a true sense of the repercussions of these moves.  I still have faith in Marvel Studios.  I don’t want that to change!!)

Brad Bird’s The Incredibles 2 also now has an official release date!!  Fifteen years is a long time to wait for a sequel, but I have faith in Brad Bird (despite the stumble that was Tomorrowland) and can’t wait to see what he is cooking up.

This is an interesting short piece on the monologue that Jonathan Nolan wrote for Christian Bale to deliver for use in the first trailer for Batman Begins.

So the 70mm version of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie The Hateful Eight will [continued]

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Welcome Back, Darth Vader!

I just recently watched “The Siege of Lothal,” the one-hour second-season premiere of Star Wars Rebels.  It’s a terrific episode, the best Rebels has done so far.  The main reason why it’s so good?  The welcome return of Darth Vader.  And when I say the return of Vader, I mean the evil, unbeatable, kicking-ass-and-taking-names version of Vader from Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back.  This is the top-of-his-game, evil and terrifying Vader we haven’t truly seen since 1980.  It’s joyous to behold.

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As I have written before, I was dubious about the animated Rebels series when it debuted last year, but the last several episodes of the season were spectacular.  The season one finale teased fans by bringing Vader into the story, and the season two premiere wasted no time before making good on that promise.  Vader is all over this episode, tasked with hunting down the small band of rebels who have been making trouble for the Empire on the planet Lothal.

Somehow they got James Earl Jones to reprise the voice of Vader, and it is an incredible delight to hear new Vader dialogue spoken by Mr. Jones.  Even better, the characterization of Vader is absolutely spot on, a triumphant return of Vader at the height of his villainous powers.  This is a Vader who is enormously powerful with his mastery of the Force.  When Vader confronts the show’s two Jedi characters, Kanan and his young Padawan Ezra, Vader easily overpowers them, as well he should.  The rebels try to stop Vader by blowing up two huge Imperial Walkers and toppling them on top of him.  But in one of the show’s best moments, Vader uses the force to lift the wreckage and strides confidently out of the flaming debris, Terminator-style.  (Compare that sequence of badass Force mastery with the great effort all the Jedi seemed to need in the Prequels just to lift small objects, all despite our learning from Yoda in Empire that “size matters not.”  That really bugged me in the Prequels.  It’s great fun here to see Vader as a hugely powerful Force-user.)  The show also nails the casual cruelty of classic Vader.  In this episode, Vader has an imperial governor killed in front of the characters trying to rescue her, he burns a refugee town to the ground in an effort to flush out the rebels, and when he defeats Kanan and Ezra he uses the force to have Ezra almost decapitate himself with his own lightsaber.  (The kid is rescued in the nick of time, but I love that Vader wouldn’t even trouble himself to walk over there and kill Ezra himself.)

But the best Vader sequence comes later, when … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Wars Rebels Season One

The first twelve episodes of the first season of Star Wars Rebels were entertaining, good-not-great pieces of all-ages fun.  The thirteenth and final episode of the first season was terrific and really made me sit up and take notice, and I started to get excited for the potential of this animated series.

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Set five years before the events of the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, Star Wars Rebels is an animated series which tells the story of the exploits of the crew of the Ghost, a young, rag-tag group of privateers out to make a buck and, hopefully, thumb their noses at the Empire.   Over the course of the first season, the group transition from being mostly concerned with staying out of the Empire’s way to becoming more involved with active efforts to undermine the Empire.  In the finale (which I will discuss more in a moment), we see that the crew of the Ghost are but one group of players in the burgeoning Rebellion against the Empire.

Setting the show in the “dark times” between the prequels and the arrival on the scene of Luke Skywalker is a great idea, as this time period is ripe for some great untold stories.  The early episodes of this first season were a bit contradictory in that, on the one hand, the writers seemed to want to avoid telling grand, galaxy-in-peril stories (of the type that its animated predecessor, The Clone Wars, had gotten so good at doing), instead just focusing on the relatively small-scale adventures of this one little ship and crew.  On the other hand, they seemed to enjoy playing the prequel game and dropping in a surprisingly large number of familiar Star Wars faces.  I didn’t enjoy seeing C-3pO and R2-D2 so early in the show’s run, but damn if hearing Billy Dee Williams on again playing Lando (in this case, a young, even-more-roguish version of the smuggler and scoundrel) wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun.

At first I was dubious of the idea of Rebels.  I was still smarting from the abrupt cancellation of the Clone Wars animated series, a show that had blossomed into a wonderfully epic, complex, dark series.  I felt that the show was snatched away from us just as it was really getting good, and just as it was approaching the show’s whole reason-for-being, the moment in which the show’s characters and story-lines would catch up with Episode III.  I am still bummed that we’re never going to get to see that.  And so, at first, Rebels seemed like a poor substitute.  Even the title, Rebels, was annoying to me, as it seemed like a tease and that the show … [continued]

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Catching Up on My Cartoons: Star Wars Rebels and a Return to The Simpsons

Well, the jury is still out on the over-all success or failure of Disney XD’s new Star Wars animated show, Rebels, but boy, including the droid Captain Rex from Star Tours in the second episode sure makes it hard for me to dislike the show!!  More on that in a moment.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars ran for five seasons on Cartoon Network, but was cancelled when Lucasfilm was sold to Disney.  That show started out with a truly dreadful animated movie, but somewhat miraculously turned into a pretty great show.  The animated that started out clunky became gorgeous (this season 5 trailer is a great example) and the story-telling, while still designed for an all-ages feel, became much more sophisticated.  The series shifted into a multi-part format, with most stories running for three or four episodes by the show’s end.  Over the seasons, we got to really dig into the scope and breadth of the Star Wars universe and the galaxy-wide Clone Wars in a way that was far more satisfying than the taste of the Clone Wars that the prequel movies gave us.  Eight seasons were planned, which would have taken the show right up to the start of Episode III; it’s a huge disappointment to me that we’ll never get to see this story’s proper conclusion.

But many of the show’s key creative personnel moved right into a new Star Wars animated show for Disney.  This is Star Wars Rebels, which takes place about five years before A New Hope.  The show focuses on a motley band of friends on the run from the Empire.  So far I’ve seen two episodes, the double-length premiere, “Spark of Rebellion,” and a second episode, “Droids in Distress”.  I’ve read some rave reviews of the new show on-line, but I’m not there yet.  I enjoyed these first two episodes enough to keep watching, but I’m not in love with the show yet.  It’s fun, but whereas The Clone Wars felt like it was telling the important stories that the prequel movies skipped, Rebels feels fairly irrelevant, since we know the main story of the fall of the Empire was told in the Original Trilogy.  But I’m hoping that, like The Clone Wars, this series will richen as it ages, deepening the characters and telling more compelling stories.  I’m also hoping that this series will eventually pick up story and character threads left dangling by the never completed Clone Wars.  Obi-Wan Kenobi popped up in the premiere, and I was particularly delighted that Bail Organa appeared in “Droids in Distress.”  If this series eventually builds to tell the story of the formation of the Rebel Alliance, I’d be thrilled for … [continued]