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Part Two of Josh’s Review of The Mandalorian Season Two

Click here for the first half of my review of The Mandalorian, season two!  And now, onwards:

Chapter Thirteen: “The Jedi” — As I wrote in part one of my review, getting to see Ahsoka Tano brought to life in live-action was extraordinary.  I never thought this would actually happen.  I couldn’t possibly have wished for a more faithful, more awesome depiction of Ahsoka than what we got here in this episode.  Rosario Dawson was brilliant, absolutely perfect.  She was amazing in the spectacular fight sequences and also in the quiet moments.  What’s amazing about this episode is that there was so much additional awesomeness beyond just the appearance of Ahsoka!!  Hearing Bo Katan say the name “Ahsoka Tano” in episode three was spine-tingling.  Almost as great — and shockingly unexpected!! — was hearing Ahsoka herself say the name “Grand Admiral Thrawn” here!!  I am overjoyed at the thought that Thrawn (first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s terrific Heir to the Empire trilogy of novels, and brought to animated life on Star Wars: Rebels) might be coming to live-action life in future seasons of The Mandalorian!!  (Or one of the multiple spin-off shows Disney has recently announced.)  Do the events of this episode occur before or after the final scenes of Star Wars: Rebels??  (I’d at first assumed after, meaning Ahsoka is still on the trail of Thrawn and Ezra… but comments from Dave Filoni have drawn that into question…)  I loved meeting the Magistrate (Morgan Elsbeth, played by Diana Lee Inosanto).  Her fight with Ahsoka (Beskar spear versus lightsabers) was amazing and intense.  I was so happy to see Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens) as the Magistrate’s hired mercenary.  (I wish this was more than a one-off appearance!!)  It was fun to learn Baby Yoda’s true name (through Grogu is a little sillier a name than I’d hoped), and I enjoyed the scenes of Ahsoka’s helping Mando gauge Grogu’s burgeoning Force abilities.  I was surprised Ahsoka didn’t agree to help train Grogu herself.  It felt somewhat out of character for her to pass the buck like that.  The idea of just letting Grogu’s Force-wielding abilities dwindle seems sad and short-sighted.  (And also risky — what damage could he cause with his abilities, without proper training in how to use and control them??)  On the other hand, Ahsoka famously declared “I am no Jedi” (in the spectacular Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice”), so I can understand why she wouldn’t want to be a part of training future Jedi.  Speaking of which, it’s an interesting piece of discontinuity that this episode about Ahsoka is titled “The Jedi”.  Has Ahsoka come to piece with the fact that she really is … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Mandalorian Season Two

There was certainly a lot of expectation and anticipation before the release of the first season of The Mandalorian last year.  It was the first Star Wars live-action TV show!  What would it be like?  And yet, in many ways, I think that first season was a huge surprise to many people.  It was to me.  Even though I’d hoped it would be great, I was taken aback by just how great it was.  And, of course, “Baby Yoda” (officially “the child” on the show) took the world by storm.  And so I felt there were even greater weights of pressure and expectation on the second season of the show.  Would Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni and their team be able to make a second season that would rise to the level of that first season, and to fans’ enormous expectations?

Once again, they made it look easy.  The second season of The Mandalorian was pure joy for me, from start to finish.  I will say again what I said about that first season: this is exactly what I want new Star Wars to be.  The series is astoundingly faithful to the continuity and history of Star Wars, while also being unafraid to tell new stories with new characters and new locations.

This second season enormously expanded the universe of the show.  Season one was filled with connections to the larger Star Wars universe; we saw Jawas and an IG battle droid and that ice-cream-maker from The Empire Strikes Back and the Darksaber.  At the same time, the season told a tightly-focused story of Mando and the Child and their adventures on the “Outer Rim.”  Season two expanded the scope of the show dramatically.  For me, the greatest strength of The Mandalorian was the way the series was able to weave together connections to the movies (Boba Fett), the animated series (Bo Katan, Ahsoka Tano, the Darksaber), and also to Star Wars novels (Grand Admiral Thrawn, Cobb Vanth), comic books (the planet Tython where Baby Yoda communes with the Force) video games (the Dark Troopers), and so much more. The respect for the vast tapestry of the Star Wars expanded universe was amazing.  This series is clearly made by people with a tremendous knowledge of and love for Star Wars, and that makes me so happy to see.  (I wish modern Star Trek was overseen by people with this amount of knowledge and love.)

As a huge fan of the animated Star Wars series The Clone Wars and Rebels, the highlight of this season was seeing Bo Katan and Ahsoka Tano brought to life in live action.  I cannot describe how happy that made me!!!  Seeing Bo Katan in … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

Let’s start with our first look at The Mandalorian season two!!

I am super-excited!!  We don’t have long to wait…

I am also over-the-moon excited by this magnificent first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune adaptation:

That is a gorgeous trailer.  The visuals are every bit as epic and weird as I’d have hoped.  The cast they’ve assembled is extraordinary.  The sandworm looks amazing.  I am pumped!!  I deeply love Dune, and I am incredibly excited for what I hope will be a faithful adaptation of Brian Herbert’s novel.  I love Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, so Mr. Villeneuve has my trust.  It’s only the “only in theaters” tag at the end that makes me sad.  It’s unimaginable to me that a Dune movie might exist and I wouldn’t go see it in the theaters; but if the world keeps going in the direction it’s in, that might very likely be the case…

Here’s another spectacular trailer, for Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7:

Wow.  Could this film be more relevant??  I can’t wait for this one and I’m delighted that it’ll be on Netflix (rather than only in theaters) next month.

I wish I was as excited for the trailer for Star Trek: Discovery season three:

That’s a solid trailer.  It looks gorgeous, and I like this cast.  But I am so down on modern Star Trek I can’t muster up too much excitement for this.  I’d love to be proven wrong.  We’ll see.

Sacha Baron Cohen was great in the above trailer for The Trial of the Chicago 7, and now in related news, word has leaked out that Mr. Cohen has apparently secretly shot a sequel to Borat!  I cannot wait to see what he’s cooked up.  (I wonder if this is connected to Mr. Cohen’s recent prank of Rudy Giuliani??)

E.W. has a fascinating look at the first, failed pilot that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss made for Game of Thrones.  This is an excerpt from the upcoming book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Untold Story of the Epic Series.  It’s an oral history of Game of Thrones by James Hibberd, and I bet it’ll be an interesting read.

WOW, this is a surprise — after previously renewing Stumptown for season two back in May, ABC has cancelled the show, citing concerns and delays related to COVID.  I enjoyed the first season of Stumptown and I was under the impression the show did well in the ratings, so this is a shock and a disappointment.

Click here to read an interesting interview with Noah Hawley, in which he shares fascinating tidbits on Fargo season 4, Lucy in [continued]

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Josh Reviews Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian

I loved the first season of The Mandalorian on Disney+, and I cannot wait for season two!  To help bide the time, Disney+ has released an eight-episode behind-the-scenes look at The Mandalorian, called Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian.  (It’s a wordy title that doesn’t really explain what the show actually is.  I wonder if they are planning future Disney Gallery shows looking at the making of other Disney+ series?)

The series is a mix of behind-the-scenes footage and new roundtable interviews with Jon Favreau (who created and executive produced The Mandalorian, in addition to writing six of the eight episodes) and Dave Filoni (mastermind of the animated series The Clone Wars and Rebels and executive producer of The Mandalorian; he also wrote one episode and directed two of them) and a variety of the men and women who were in key creative positions on the show.  Literally — it’s a group of people sitting around a round table and talking about the show.  We see a group of the directors (including Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Taika Waititi), the actors (including Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, and Carl Weathers), and other behind-the-scenes people (including ILM’s John Knoll and Richard Bluff, animation director Hal Hickel, and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy).

The first few episodes started out a little slow.  I loved hearing these people talk about Star Wars (episode two ends with a show-stopper of a five-minute monologue by Dave Filoni, expounding upon his interpretation of events in The Phantom Menace), but the conversation seemed light on actual details of the making of The Mandalorian.  Things picked up dramatically for me in episode four, “Technology,”
which took a deep dive into the revolutionary technology utilized to create the astoundingly beautiful and photo-real visual effects of the show.  This episode completely blew my mind.  I was already impressed by the gorgeously beautiful, movie-quality visual effects on the show.  I am even more in awe now of the genius-level creative breakthroughs they utilized to make those effects happen.  That episode alone is a must-watch for anyone who enjoyed The Mandalorian and has any interest in seeing how the sausage was made.

Each episode had some fun tidbits, even the early ones.  I loved seeing all of the behind-the-scenes footage, exploring both the digital and practical effects, including sets, costumes, etc.  (There’s also some cool older footage from the archives that they drop in every now and then; I loved that stuff.)  While I was at first nervous about the extensive footage of the roundtable conversation, I found myself quite enjoying being a fly on the wall for those conversations.  It was fun to see the easy conversation among these collaborators — in … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Mandalorian: Season One

I loved the first episode of The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars TV show, and the rest of the eight-episode Disney+ series did not disappoint!

Creator Jon Favreau (who wrote six of the eight episodes) has accomplished an incredible feat.  He has created a series that feels completely, 100% like Star Wars, while also telling new stories with new characters.  This is what I want from my Star Wars, and it’s a needle that the movies have often failed to thread.

I love the retro feel of the show’s episodic structure.  It’s weird, I spent my childhood watching sci-fi and fantasy TV shows and longing for more continuity, rather than the “everything back to the status quo” episodic structure that was standard for most television for so much of its history.  But, as I have written about here before, I think many modern streaming shows have leaned too far into that direction.  The “10-hour movie” approach (or 8-hour, or 13-hour) results, too often in my opinion, in series that sag in the middle because they don’t quite have enough story to sustain viewer interest throughout the entire season.  And so I loved how The Mandalorian mostly told 1-and-done stories, with each episode having a satisfying beginning, middle, and end.  There were of course stories and charcater arcs that carried across all of the episodes, but each individual episode felt satisfyingly complete.  By the way, I also was very happy with the individual episodes’ relatively short run-time.  (Most episodes ran about 40-45 minutes.)  I appreciated the concision and efficiency of the story-telling.

Mandalorians and their armor have fascinated Star Wars fans since our first glimpse of Boba Fett.  I love the concept of this show’s main character being a Mandalorian bounty hunter, and I enjoyed the way the series explored and fleshed out the world of the Mandalorians.  I loved getting tidbits of information about Mandalorian society, their beskar armor and the rituals surrounding that armor.  I loved seeing the Armorer (the first female Mandalorian character we’ve seen in live-action).  I was delighted to see a group of Mandalorians in action and kicking ass in the climax of episode three.  (It was awesome getting to see them use their rocket packs!!)  We’ve barely scratched the surface in these first eight episodes; so I look forward to more.

The series was filled with memorable characters.  Pedro Pascal was very strong as the titular, unnamed (until the last episode) Mandalorian.  It’s amazing that “Mando” has characteristics that we can understand and connect with, despite Mr. Pascal’s face being entirely covered by his mask.  What a bravura acting performance!

The big secret of the show was “baby Yoda.”  I am so impressed … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite TV Series of 2019 — Part Five!

Huzzah!  We’ve arrived at the end of my lengthy list of my favorite TV series of 2019!  Click here for numbers twenty-five through twenty-one, click here for numbers twenty through sixteen, click here for numbers fifteen through eleven, and click here for numbers ten through six.  And now, without further delay or fanfare, here are my five favorite TV series of 2019:

5. The Mandalorian The first live-action Star Wars TV show was a revelation!  Created by Jon Favreau, this new show made the new Disney+ streaming service an essential purchase.  Each of the eight episodes in this short first season were near-perfect.  I loved how wonderfully retro they were in their approach of telling a complete story in every single episode.  Set several years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the series follows a Mandalorian bounty hunter who finds himself on the run from the bounty hunter guild after deciding to rescue the asset that he was hired to deliver to an aged Imperial officer (played beautifully by Werner Herzog).  Of course, we all know by now that the asset was a child that we all refer to as “baby Yoda”.  The series is a wonderful expansion of Star Wars lore.  It’s awesome to see lots of new planets as well as some familiar ones (episode five took place on Tattoine).  The series is filled with nods and references to the history of Star Wars (we get to see Battle Droids, Jawas, an Ugnaught, etc.) while doing what I want the film series to do: telling new stories with new characters set within the Star Wars universe.  (The influence of Dave Filoni, who masterminded the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, was clearly felt.)  The series is gorgeous to behold — it’s visually stunning.  The production values are incredible — absolutely movie-quality, not at all cheapened for TV.  The cast was spectacular: Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) was fantastic as the titular Mandalorian, despite having his face concealed behind a mask; I fell in love with the Taika Waititi-voiced IG-11, as well as the Ugnaught voiced by Nick Nolte (“I have spoken”); I already mentioned Werner Herzog, and I also loved seeing Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) as Moff Gideon; Gina Carano was perfect as the ex-Rebellion shock trooper Cara Dune… and I haven’t even mentioned Amy Sedaris, Ming Na-Wen, Clancy Brown, and so many more great actors who filled out this universe!!  Each episode was an absolute delight.  I cannot wait for more to come next year.  (Click here for my review of the Mandalorian premiere.  My full review of this first season … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the First Episode of The Mandalorian!

It’s here!  Disney+ has launched and the very first Star Wars live-action TV show has arrived: The Mandalorian.  Two talented craftsmen are at the helm: this first episode was written by Jon Favreau, who created the series, and it was directed by Dave Filoni.  Many Star Wars fans know that we’ve already been shown that Star Wars can succeed as a TV show, and that’s mostly due to the talents of Mr. Filoni, who oversaw both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, two wonderful animated series that have done a spectacular job of expanding the canvas of Star Wars, telling new stories that feel completely of a part with the universe that George Lucas created.  That is no easy task, and Mr. Filoni and Mr. Favreau have accomplished that very feat here with The Mandalorian.  I don’t know where this series is going, but I was continually delighted by this first episode, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

What struck me most about this first episode is how absolutely gorgeous it looked.  Mr. Filoni’s direction, combined with scene after scene of truly spectacular visual effects work, is breathtaking. This first episode gives us a widescreen, big-budget feel.  This isn’t some cheap-looking version of Star Wars, a poor TV imitation of what we’ve gotten to see on the big screen.  If anything, this first episode was even MORE spectacular than the films!  The visuals are enhanced by the show’s comfortable pace, which allows us to live in the quiet moments of these characters moving through this world (moments in which the fast-paced films would generally not allow us to linger).

The show gives me exactly what I want in a new Star Wars adventure (in whatever the medium might be — film or TV), what I’d mentioned right in the first paragraph.  I want a new story with new characters, new settings, and new situations… that also feels like it fits into the established universe that I love so much.  The Mandalorian beautifully threads this needle.  There is so much gorgeous imagery in this first episode!  There are so many beautiful new alien landscapes!  I am already dreaming about many of them, eager to learn more.  And there are so many wonderful aliens!  We see many familiar Star Wars species (more on that below) and many new creatures, all of whom are beautifully realized.  I have no idea what was CGI and what was prosthetics and what was makeup and what was puppetry.  The series brilliantly blends these many techniques to create a feast of new alien characters who just feel REAL, which of course is the most important thing.

This first episode is chock-full … [continued]