Best Five New Shows of 2019-2020

Star Wars news and topics are really at a dearth right now, sans the release of Shadow Fall which I am loving, so I have decided to merge another hobby with this blog: TV Shows. I am always on the lookout for shows that interest me, and my interests vary wildly. I can fall just in love with Downton Abbey as The OC, which, by the way, both are in my top 10 TV Shows of all time. So I wanted to list some new shows to maybe give some people some fun during this pandemic.

5 – Perry Mason

Network: HBO – 9EST
Episode Count: 1
Reminds me of: True Detective, Batman Begins

Perry investigating the murder of a young child . . .

This is surprising entry into my list, and honestly it came charging in at the last moment and bumped poor Stumptown right off. Which is fitting since they are both noir-ish mysteries. But that is where the similarities end, yes they have the noir connection but Stumptown is more procedural and safe, whereas, Perry Mason is dark, gritty, serious, and serialized. I have long had a deep, deep fascination with Los Angeles, especially during it’s rise as a major city in the last century. I am a huge fan of L.A. Confidential, Chinatown is my favorite Nicholson performance, and I am even a Black Dhalia apologist. On TV – Bosch has been a favorite for a while, True Detective season 2 was facscinating. I am desperate to go to LA to simply check out the sites, such as Angel’s Flight and Chinatown. All of that is to say, Perry Mason is right up my wheelhouse. Honestly, if this had been set in podunk, Nebraska, it would still be an amazing TV show. HBO is known for its prestige, starting with OZ on through Game of Thrones and Perry Mason is no doubt going to continue this tradition.a

OK, let me be clear. This show is not for the feint of heart, especially if you are a parent. The more recent, the worse the first ten minutes are going to be hard for you. Super mild spoiler alert: a young child is BRUTALLY murdered and returned to the parents. It is gruesome and unflinching. The best way that I could describe this show is raw. The second thing that you need to know: this is not the old Perry Mason. That has not to say that is has been “updated,” like another show on this list, but rather set in the Great Depression and is an origin story for the character. The whole crew is here: Della Street, reimagined as sassy and absolutely does not put up with one iota of crap from Perry, and Paul Drake, race flipped to an African American police officer.

This show may well end up at the top of this list in three months. The pilot was gritty, dark, and lived in. Perry is played by Matthew Rhys, whom, if you have seen The Americans, is an immensely talented actor. In The Americans he was an Irishman playing a Soviet posing as an American. Here he is playing a classic TV and book character who has some serious PTSD from World War I and matches the cynicism of today’s world. Do yourself a favor and give this PI a chance.

4 – Nancy Drew

Network: The CW – on hiatus until the Fall
Episode Count: 18
Reminds me of: Supernatural, Riverdale

Nancy and the Drew Crew, (From L to R: George, Ace, and Ned), investigating something at the local sanitarium.

Now this is DEFINITELY not your parent’s version of Nancy Drew. If I had to compare it to a show, it would be closest to Supernatural, also a The CW staple. Nancy Drew is still a super sleuth who knows what to do, what questions to ask, and where to look. But the town of Horseshoe Bay – changed from River Heights in the novel series – is plagued by supernatural forces and Nancy and her “Drew Crew” often dive in to solve the mystery.

One thing that I am a fan of that most people are not is the serialized story. Most people hate being beholden to a story that they have to stay in order with because, in my estimation, it causes people to pay attention and think, something that is in short supply lately. Nancy Drew makes the conscious decision to serialize from the start with the ghostly murder of Tiffany Hudson and then dovetails into a dual mystery about the disappearance of a young woman named Lucy Sable, who vanished without a trace 19 years prior. The first season does a great job introducing the supporting cast: Ned, George, Bess, and Carson Drew are all old standbys with Ryan Hudson and Ace joining and rounding out the cast.

Nancy Drew may be the spiritual successor to Supernatural on The CW, but it is very clearly a The CW show and as such, has some in common with Riverdale. It has the soap opera flourishes and Nancy’s love life becomes a storyline, but, also, other characters lives also play an important role in the narrative. Josh Schwartz, who created The OC to make his mark in Hollywood and then followed it up with Gossip Girl, executive produces this show and his signature soap opera drama and witty dialogue is clearly present throughout. Newcomer Kennedy McMann infuses Nancy with her signature detective ability but also bullrushes her into the 21st century without any worry. If you are looking for a lighthearted supernatural mystery this the show for you this summer.

3 – Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet

Network: Apple TV+
Episode Count: 10
Reminds me of: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Community, The Office

This picture could not encapsulate the show any better.

I have always been a fan, but not a devotee, to both It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Community. If I caught an episode, I would watch it, and I would no doubt enjoy it. This show caught me COMPLETELY off guard. It was released February 7 on Apple TV+ and I would get regular notifications on my iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV to watch it. Almost like my phone listens to my interests. Crazy, right? I always resisted. Then last month I found myself in need of some serious distractions because outside of my immediate family my life was a shit show to the highest degree. I decided to give it a shot and within two days I had devoured the entire thing.

Rob McElhenney portrays Ian Grimm who is the head of a mobile video game studio. He is exceedingly self centered, yet brilliant. The show revolves around the studio but mainly focuses on Charlotte Nicado’s Poppy Li (in a true breakout performance) trying to reign in Ian’s creative genius and David Hornsby’s David Brittlesbee trying to reign in the office. Both spectacularly fail and it is hilarious. I do not want to give any plot away since it is only a 22 minute show with ten episodes. So I want you all to enjoy the 200-250 minutes you will get to spend with these characters with all of the enjoyment and sense of awe that I did. I will, however, tell you that during the final episode of the season, a special quarantine episode, there is one scene with Ian and Poppy that reinforces why, despite his obvious flaws, you root for Ian.

One last thing, this show is heavy on crassness. There is absolutely zero nudity but there is some hardcore cussing going on.

2 – Star Wars: The Mandalorian

Network: Disney+
Episode Count: 8
Reminds me of: Star Wars, Dollars Trilogy

The Mandalorian lining up to shoot a . . . Jawa?

Oh, c’mon, you knew this was coming. But I bet you did not think it would be number 2. Honestly, it is a testament to the number one show that it bumped this masterpiece down. I truly believe that, along with Star Wars Rebels, this is some of the best Star Wars storytelling that has ever been told. And for a fan for the last 34 years, that is saying something.

If your father was a fan of Sergio Leone’s Dollars Trilogy, as mine was, you will see an abundance of similarities between The Mandalorian and the Man with No Name. Starting off with the fact that . . . They have no name. Although we do learn The Mandalorian during the series, he is, by all accounts, The Mandalorian. Which let’s be frank, is saying something. I mean, we have seen A LOT of Mandalorian in Star Wars: Boba and Jango Fett, Sabine Wren, Fenn Rau, Pre Viszla. And yet, this foundling is THE Mandalorian.

Jon Favreau made a bold and insightful choice when he chose to split up the directing duties amongst a diverse group. The payoff was that each episode felt like a mini-movie and had a distinct vibe of the filmmaker who was directing it. The best example was Bryce Dallas Howard’s episode. She has mentioned that a movie that made a huge impact on her life was Jurassic Park, she currently is the female lead of the Jurassic World franchise, and you can see the clear homage when the AT-ST emerges from the forest to when the Tyrannosaurus Rex emerges for the first time in Jurassic Park. There are tons of fan nods throughout this series that does not distract from first time viewers, but hard core fans definitely appreciated. The best praise that I can give this show is that it was something that the Star Wars fandom did not destroy right away. That in and of itself is a testament to how good it was.

1 – Stargirl

Network: DC Universe (also shown on The CW three days later)
Episode Count: 6
Reminds me of: a mashup of the best the MCU and Arrowverse could imagine

Stargirl and the Justice Society of America ready to fight the Injustice Society

Wow. This show is something else. I do not know what I was expecting when I started watching this. I assumed it was Arrow for the teen crowd. Holy moly was I wrong. Something that burned me out on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, also, the Arrowverse on The CW was that it became so dreadfully dour. Everyone is so concerned with RESPONSIBILITY and ANGST. Seriously, go watch Captain America: Civil War – it’s like an emo episode of Riverdale. Everyone is so dour. By the third season of Arrow the same thing was happening. Superheroes had turned into super duds.

Into this arena comes Stargirl. A super heroine WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPER HERO. Who would have thought it? She takes it seriously but she is also a teen. So she is going to make mistakes. FUDDY DUDDY ALERT: you watch any show on Disney and the parents are MORONS – it is such a blatant nod to children, hey we get you, your parents are the worst. Stargirl takes that, and Courtney Whitmore definitely has some moments where she thinks she is right, and turns it on its head. Courtney’s mom is a working mother, whom she loves, and her stepdad, Pat, is the one who rears her in the superhero ways. She understands that he has been there and has experience that will help her. She still does things that go against him, but usually she has to learn from that mistake.

It would not be a super hero show if there was not a team. Again, Stargirl separates itself here. Whereas Arrow had Team Arrow and the Flash had his crew and the MCU had the Avengers, Stargirl introduces the little known Justice Society of America and its members Wildcat, Dr. Mid-Nite, S.T.R.I.P.E., and Hourman. DC had to dig deep into the vault for these guys but we, the viewer, are all the richer for it. The villains are actually menacing, as they are adults. The stakes are very real as in the third episode the main villain kills one of Stargirl’s friends to make a point. Start watching this series and in no way will you be upset.

COVID-19 and Star Wars

So as we are barreling towards our 5th month with this virus dominating our lives and giving us the “new normal,” (which, by the way, I hate that phrase – of course, when something new becomes normal it is the new normal – you think someone teleported from the 1950s would not be blown away by the internet, color TV, and us driving Japanese cars?) I wanted to think about how COVID-19 has impacted the galaxy far, far away that we all know and love.

Now, I have heard arguments from all over the spectrum. Recently, someone that I know and love and respect their opinion, posited that this was a media fabrication in order to discredit Trump. I try to follow the credo that you do not talk about religion or politics with friends so I just nodded and walked away. But COVID-19 is real. And it has some major impacts. Recently, my wife had an illness, not COVID-19, but one of the symptoms of this illness was body aches. She is a social worker at a cancer research institute and they sent her into lockdown. She had two notes from doctors explaining what the illness was, but my wife still had to get two COVID-19 tests with negative test results in order to come back to work. COVID-19 is very real and its effects are far reaching. My state is currently seeing a massive spike and my best friend’s state is limiting travel from my state, Arizona, to his, Kansas. This virus will not be bullied, ignored, or intimidated.

This brings us to Star Wars. With the quarantine in full effect and social distancing still being a very real and very smart thing. I have been spending a lot of time at home and have been reading more and more, one of the stories I recently read was Moving Target: A Princess Leia adventure. This was a Journey to Force Awakens story and as such starts with Leia as not a princess, but instead a General in the Resistance. One of her fellow officers, Major Ematt, has made Leia’s memoirs a priority in order to record her history in case the First Order wins. From there we flash back to a time between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi and Leia’s adventure starts in earnest. But I am not here to focus on Leia or her adventure. I want to focus on Major Ematt.

One of Star Wars’ enduring qualities is the way that it brings side characters to life. I mentioned in an earlier post what Nien Numb meant to Kenyans when he spoke fluent Kikuyu. I always loved Wedge Antilles, and other people agreed as he was brought back for a tiny cameo in Rise of Skywalker. I named one of my cats Winter after Princess Leia’s assistant and Tychol Celchu’s wife in the Expanded Universe. So Caluan Ematt’s appearance in Moving Target was welcome. Getting to know side characters that pop up in the movies and TV shows is one of the richest treats that Star Wars provides. Cobalt Squadron gave us a glimpse into the life of the bombers we meet in The Last Jedi. Star Wars has always enhanced its properties with its other media.

Caluan Ematts’s first appearance came in Smuggler’s Run, another Journey to Force Awakens story but his backstory is rich. He was a member of the Rebel Alliance and one of Leia’s first recruits into the Resistance. He fought at the Battle of Endor, recruits Poe Dameron to the Resistance, and finally survives the Battle of Craig and Exegol. That is a legendary career and it is understandable why he was integral to Leia’s team.

Major Ematt at the briefing on how to attack Starkiller Base

Why am I talking about Caluan Ematt and COVID-19 concurrently? Because the actor who portrayed Major Ematt, Andrew Jack, passed away on March 31, 2020 from COVID-19 complications. I do not think that if I was not such a big Star Wars dork I would have even noticed this. But this popped up on my Google Alerts and it saddened me. Even the Star Wars galaxy was not immune to the ravages of this devastating disease. COVID-19 is real. COVID-19 is deadly. It does not care about your political affiliations, real or imagined. It is a parasite that can and will attack any and all of us. Be safe out there. And May the Force be With You as I know it was for Andrew Jack.

My Top 10 Star Wars Characters: 5-1

Well, yesterday’s post definitely brought some opinions with those that I shared it with. I have to admit that this was a fluid exercise. There was absolutely no science involved with me trying to figure out which fictional character resonated with me the most. And honestly, there were some seriously hard omissions. I kept circling back and thinking, “Wait, what about *insert character*?” This is definitely harder than you think and I challenge each and every one of you to do it. You will come away thinking, “Crap, that was a lot harder than I thought.” Another thing that I wish to point out, I kept this list to screen characters. I put some serious consideration to Vi Moradi, Captain Cardinal, and Yrica Quell. Especially since I MET Vi Moradi at Galaxy’s Edge (that was a highlight of Disneyland for me). Now I was told by my friend, Stan, “You better bring it top 5 to give Thrawn the shaft like that.” Personally, I don’t think 6 is the shaft. Because for me, my top five is who I tune into Star Wars for. This character has a story I am there no questions asked. Now, I have to apologize to Subtle Saint here. He was aghast that I did not have an Original Trilogy core three member in my top 10. I thought about it and thought Leia would be five. Han and Luke did not even come close for me. Sorry, not sorry. But the more that I thought about it, I forgot one person and spot #5 was perfect for them. Because, though, they are the most recent addition to the universe, I am tuning in without question when this character returns to the screen. Without further ado, here are my top 5 . . .

Meeting Vi Moradi under that Batuu night sky

5 – Din Djarin (The Mandalorian)

Call me a sucker. I love a good Hero’s Journey and Season 1 of The Mandalorian seriously delivered. There were a few episodes that I could have done without but I was never upset that I was spending time with Mando and his fellowship. From the moment that Din saved The Child’s life, to his crucible in the cave that transformed him from mercenary with no discernible code other than to make money for his tribe into something that was fighting for something and someone for the first time and all that entails. From the very first scene we are treated to a symphony of action. We know that The Mandalorian can hold his own as he dispatched the human and Quarren thugs. But it was the bookend scene that cemented Mando’s spot in my heart. He saved The Child and then they both pointed fingers at each other. If you are not a parent, I am not sure that this scene would have made the impact that it did with me, but I can still remember my son doing the exact same thing and from that instant I knew that The Mandalorian was a good guy. Not only that, he treated Kuiil with the utmost of respect. The only other character in Star Wars to treat an Ugnaught with that much respect was Hondo Ohnaka and his friendship with Melch. We were also shown that Mando was capable of character growth. At the outset of the story, he hated droids. Understandable since he was orphaned during The Clone Wars when some B2 Super Battle Droids killed his parents. But by the end, he was pleading with IG-11 to stay and that they would figure out a way to take out the stormtroopers laying in wait. So far, I have not even mentioned anything other than his story. And that is buy choice. His story is what separated him from the Boba and Jango Fetts of the universe. I mean, it is cool as all hell that we are getting treated to the knightlike armor of the Mandalorians week in and week out. He has an amazing array of weapons that would make James Bond and Ethan Hunt wet their pants. He has a crew that would make anyone jealous. But none of this would be possible without The Mandalorian himself making a strong debut and pushing himself into the forefront of “coolest Star Wars character ever” conversation.

Din and The Child’s meet cute

4 – Yoda

For a long time, Yoda was my favorite Star Wars character ever. It is a testament to the three ahead of him that they pushed him down, but it’s also a testament to me aging and understanding that Yoda was not quite as awesome as I originally thought. The curse of wisdom is the absence of ignorance. I did not fully grasp just how badly the Jedi, and Yoda in particular, screwed up when it came to Sheev Palpatine’s conquest of the galaxy. I mean, at least he was not a pompous ass like Mace Windu, but still, not a good look. Especially because he fought the Emperor to a stand still. And then he just goes into exile? Man the prequels had some weird writing. If he had been utterly defeated by Sidious then I would have understood his desire to hightail it to Dagobah. But the ending of Revenge of the Sith left me cold as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda peaced out leaving Bail Organa and Mon Mothma to try and keep the Emperor at bay by themselves. Yes, I understand that safeguarding Luke was important, but Bail Organa practically flaunted Leia in from of the Emperor and Grand Moff Tarkin and neither were the wiser. Maybe do not give Luke his dad’s last name? SMDH here. Anyway, what DID I like about Yoda? A lot. During ESB, he was shrouded in mystery. After all the build up of A New Hope and the first third of Empire, you do not expect the Jedi Master who taught Obi-Wan to be a diminutive Muppet living in the swamp and eating frog stew. But that is exactly what he was. Now the thing that drew me to him was he was essentially a teacher (my profession and calling). We have all had those students who you see this amazing potential but fall just short and you have to work with them. I do it all the time, especially in my AVID Elective class. You have to needle, prod, show, tutor, and, sometime, chastise. Luke most definitely was not a good student. He was arrogant, whiney, and headstrong. Yoda made good, though. He taught him lessons of the dark side in the cave. He humbled him with the X-wing. He mentored him with advice about Darth Vader as he was on his deathbed. And then the prequels came. And oh my god, when he whips is tiny green lightsaber out, you better believe I squealed like a little girl. Sadly, his decisions with Anakin Skywalker and the rest of the Clone Wars made him fall a bit. But he was wise throughout: Star Wars’ ultimate teacher. And that ain’t nothing.

Yoda watching Luke train on Dagobah

3 – Kanan Jarrus (Caleb Dume)

I have said it once, I will say it again: Kanan Jarrus is the best Jedi Knight to appear in Star Wars – hand’s down. Note, I did not say powerful. To be sure, there were other Jedi who were more astute, confident, and powerful. But because Kanan was easily the most self-aware Jedi, he knew that he had obstacles to overcome. I think that it says something that Ahsoka Tano, after leaving the Jedi Order, and not wanting to take Anakin or Obi-Wan’s offer to come back, easily worked with Kanan in their efforts to thwart the Empire. Kanan’s story is heartbreaking. As a youngling at the temple he did not know if he would be chosen to be a Padawan under a Jedi Knight but was eventually chosen by Depa Billaba as she saw something in the young Jedi that she saw in herself. He fought many battles as a Padawan in the Clone Wars including the Third Battle of Mygeeto where he witnessed the Mandalorian, Fenn Rau, fly for Skull Squadron and save many lives. To me, what makes Kanan so compelling is the way that we see him mentor Ezra Bridger and Sabine Wren. I almost listed Ezra here with Kanan as a duet because their stories are so intertwined, but felt that that would be giving Kanan a true disservice. Kanan teaches and guides with love and compassion, but is stern and merciless when necessary. No where in Star Wars do we see the love for a Padawan that Kanan has for Ezra. Obi-Wan was honor bound to Anakin and offered to leave the order if necessary to train him, but when looking at their relationship it was an older/younger brother dynamic. Anakin was constantly trying to beat or one up Obi-Wan. Not so with Ezra. Ezra looked to Kanan for guidance in much the way a son looks to their father. And Kanan responded in kind. He was tender and loving with Ezra when Ezra lost his parents and was wracked with self doubt. He was stern when Ezra looked to the Sith holocron for advice on how to defeat the Sith and he was merciless in his duels with Maul. But Kanan himself knew he had limits. When he took on Ezra he was not a Jedi Knight. The Grand Inquisitor knew this and taunted him with the knowledge that he would fail Ezra. Throughout the first season of Rebels it is Kanan who grows. He grows to be the leader that both the Ghost crew and Ezra needs. He grows such that he is able to best the Grand Inquisitor in lightsaber combat. Season 2 shows how he grew as a warrior and a person. He expresses doubt about open warfare with the Empire, he understood that the Jedi were peacekeepers, not warriors. He wants only the best for Ezra and the galaxy. He is willing to let Ezra go to Luminara Unduli so that Ezra has the best training possible. He is knighted a Jedi by the Sentinel – the Grand Inquisitor before his fall to the dark. When he blinded by Maul, Kanan grows even more powerful, but still he knows that he is not indestructible. It takes him a while to recover, he pontificates with the Bendu, and truly becomes the Master that Ezra needs. Finally, what clinches Kanan for me as a top 3 character ever. He is the only Jedi who is able to balance duty with love and family. Anakin and Obi-Wan could learn a lesson from Kanan. Kanan openly loved Hera Syndulla. He openly loves his crew. He took on Sabine as a protege when she needed to master the Darksaber to unite her home world of Mandalore. And yet again he was up to the task. He recruited Fenn Rau. He tried in vain to impress Cham Syndulla. And he died protecting and saving his family, even regaining his sight for the briefest of moments to see them before he perished. Lastly, he posthumously fathered Jacen Syndulla, whom by the looks of it has the best traits of both his mother and his father.

Kanan and Ezra working in harmony together.

2 – Kazuda Xiono

I know that this will be, BY FAR, the choice that most people claim that I am crazy. That I am not a true Star Wars fan because how could I like Kazuda Xiono. It is simple. Kazuda represented something that I started striving for in my life the second I became a father – to be good. Sometimes it is that simple. Not once does Kazuda Xiono ever want to do something selfish or something that is not for the greater good. That is something that is emblematic of my life creedo right now and I loved Kazuda from the moment we were introduced to him fighting Major Vonreg of the First Order. When he is shot and disabled by Vonreg he orders his wing mates to jump to hyperspace while laying down covering fire, he does not think about himself, he just wants to get them to safety. He is rewarded by being saved by Poe Dameron and is recruited into the Resistance. His job is to simply live on the Colossus and find information about what the First Order is up to. By the end of Season 1 he is forced to endure watching his home world be obliterated by Starkiller Base (random aside: he showed more emotion for the Hosnian Cataclysm than Luke did when his aunt and uncle were burned to a crisp and Leia watched Alderaan get blown to a million pieces). But the lead up to the Cataclysm was great. We saw Kaz grow. He had no idea what he was doing. He was not a fluid Resistance spy like Vi Moradi. He was winging it from Day 1 and he became a pretty good spy. He was able to hide it from the platform and give the Resistance some valuable intel. Also, he was an exceptional pilot. e helped defend the Colossus many times, saving Griff twice with some great flying exploits and in one of the final scenes he is able to save his mentor Jerek Yeager by flying through the superstructure of the Colossus to deliver a killing shot to Major Vonreg. Season 2 brought more of the same with Kazuda doing whatever he could, whenever he could to bring peace and light to the Galaxy and when Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca came calling, Kazuda hopped in the Fireball and readily joined the Galaxy Fleet to take down the Final Order. I absolutely cannot wait for more Kazuda Xiono stories, whatever form they may take.

Kazuda Xiono meeting General Organa after Poe Dameron recruited him to the Resistance

1 – Rey

Heir to the Jedi. Be with Me. Rey easily became the most iconic thing to emerge from the Sequel Trilogy. She has inspired girls the world over that they can be anything that they want. She turned my stepdaughter into a Star Wars fan. She did not want a lightsaber at Galaxy’s Edge, she wanted Rey’s Quarterstaff – and she got it. Rey’s story resonated with me in a way that Luke’s never did. I disqualify Anakin because we knew from the start where he was headed. Rey never once complained about her lot in life, she just endured and survived. When she met BB-8 on Jakku she could have easily been selfish and turned him in for food, but she did not, she instead chose to help him with his mission. When she runs into Finn at the Nima Outpost, again she helps and shows herself to be an adroit pilot, outmaneuvering trained First Order TIE Pilots. She is mentored, not by a Jedi, or a soldier, but by Han Solo. He provides the father figure she needed. She kept the pistol that he gave her all the way through her Hero’s Journey. She was horrified by Kylo Ren slaying Han Solo in front of her. Once she realizes she has Force powers they expand at a rapid rate. Many people have claimed Mary Sue here, but I beg you, please go watch Luke on Dagobah – she had way more training on Ahch-To than Luke had on Dagobah. Also, being a part of the Dyad with Kylo probably helped further her training along at a rapid rate. Also, she very clearly studied the Sacred Texts from Ahch-To and was a willing pupil. To me, Rey symbolizes the Sequel Trilogy. Most people think that is a bad thing, but I do not. Disney saved Star Wars not ruin it. Having a female lead is not the worst thing in the world. But Rey is what brought my family into Star Wars. The Halloween after The Force Awakens came out, my stepdaughter was Rey and my son was BB-8. For someone who loves Star Wars as much as I do, this was almost a dream come true. For the neck beards out there, who hate Rey because Disney has a SJW agenda, get over it and think about this: how is it that the female Jedi lead of a trilogy was the least whiney, the least petulant, and the most self sufficient of the heroes? She did not once complain about how she was going to spend her time, how much she hated sand, how much other people were keeping her down. She did not have a family, whether it was a mom, an aunt, or an uncle, to take care of her. Rey survived, she served, and she found out her dark lineage. And despite all that she was a beacon of light for the Resistance and the Galaxy at large.

Rey igniting her newly formed lightsaber.

Honorable Mentions:

General/Princess Leia Organa
BB-8
Wedge Antilles
Ezra Bridger
Finn
Kylo Ren
Grand Inquisitor
Fenn Rau
Doctor Aphra
Bossk

My Top 10 Favorite Star Wars Characters: 10-6

I do not think it is a stretch to say that Star Wars dominates a healthy portion of my brain. Seriously, I think you could divide my brain into three sections: family, education, and Star Wars. Even sports has taken a backseat as I have aged but not Star Wars. I have refelcted a lot as to why this may be, but nothing has ever stuck. As a child I loved Greek mythology. The stories of Zeus and his family always stuck the right chord with me. So I guess that it makes sense that the mother of all modern day myths would stick with me. Just as I had favorite gods and goddesses (looking at you Artemis, Athena, Hephaestus, and Pan) I have favorite Star Wars characters for a variety of reasons. Here is my top 10.

10 – Wicket undefined
For a lot of people, the Ewoks represent something of a crime against humanity in the Star Wars universe, ranking alongside Jar Jar Binks and Porgs. What is crazy about all this is that they have since been praised as the most sophisticated army in the franchise. Our first introduction to the Ewoks came in the form of Wicket. He met Leia after she fell off the Imperial speeder following the thrilling chase through the forest. Leia has to calm Wicket as he is justifiably wary of humans (the Empire had been messing with his world for a while now). Leia gains his trust with food and then they tag team to take out two scout troopers. The reason that I love this furball is that he symbolizes the Ewoks for me. An alien race that is willing to aid the Rebels in their fight against the Empire. They took in the heroes and made them honorary members of the tribe. Without Wicket happening upon Princess Leia who knows what would have happened? Remember, at the time this was happening the males of the group were getting caught and threatened by Chief Chirpa and company. Wicket obviously had some sway in the tribe and during the Battle of Endor proved that he and his furry tribe could fight as well as any Rebel or Imperial.

9 – Sabine Wren
As of this writing I am currently going through my third rewatch of Rebels. Each time I watch it, stuff sticks out that did not before. An example of this is Zeb’s despondency over Ezra and Kansan delving into the Force, Hera’s ascendancy in the Rebellion and Sabine’s growing stature on Mandalore. One thing that does not get old is Sabine Wren. Her character arc is amazing and she is amazing. I am not here to be a Social Justice Warrior, but one thing that Disney has absolutely knocked out of the park is the power women have in Star Wars. Personally, Princess Leia was my favorite OT core character. She was strong and did not take crap from men. And the one man who tried to control her ended up being choked out in a scene that would make David Carradine smile. Ahsoka Tano ended up being the best thing to happen to The Clone Wars. Rey carries this tradition on during the Sequel Trilogy. And Sabine carries the legacy into animation. But let’s think about things she does: she wields the Darksaber, is a Mandalorian, loves to draw and blow things up with equal aplomb, and is the apple in Ezra’s eyes. She did all this while playing backseat to Ezra’s Hero’s Journey and the growing Rebellion. It is a testament to Tiya Sircar’s performance that this was so. Random aside, if she does not get to play a live-action Sabine I will riot harder than the French storming the Bastille.

Sabine wielding the ancestral Darksaber

8 – Poe Dameron

Ah what couldn’t have been. The legend goes that Poe was supposed to be killed off very early on during The Force Awakens. I cannot even fathom this. Oscar Isaac had to fight for his character’s survival. Isaac was kind of peeved if you listen to his side of events because he had already done this exact set up before in The Bourne Legacy when Isaac was sacrificed to let Jeremy Renner live. So Poe endured. And endure he did, he reintroduces himself spectacularly at the Battle of Takodana taking out what seems like the entire First Order by himself. During The Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker we see his ascension to the commander of the Resistance and the trials and tribulations that it took to get there. Thank the Force that JJ Abrams let himself be swayed by Oscar Isaac’s pleas. We were treated to a Han Solo/Princess Leia amalgam for the ages. His banter with Finn, BB8, Kylo Ren, General Hux, and Rey made for some of the most memorable scenes of the Sequel Trilogy. Not only did Poe survive he is the only Resistance member of the core three to show up in the Resistance TV show as a mentor to young Kazuda Xiono.

Poe Dameron leading the Resistance

7 – Chewbacca

The ultimate sidekick. But in a lot of ways this does not do Chewbacca justice. He fought in the Clone Wars alongside Yoda, in the Rebellion alongside Han, Luke, and Leia, and then the Resistance, being the personal chauffeur to Rey and completing missions with Poe and Finn, while being General Organa’s most prominent confidante. That is an amazing amount of legends to fight alongside of. We know from the Aftermath trilogy that he also helped liberate his home world of Kashyyk from the Empire. He was present for Yoda’s survival of Order 66. He was present for not one, but two, Death Stars being blown up, he was instrumental in the destruction of Starkiller Base, he pretty much slapped sense into Luke Skywalker on Ahch-To, and finally helped Lando Calrissian assemble the Galaxy Fleet that was able to defeat the Final Order. This does not even begin to describe the adroit warrior he was – capable with both his iconic Bowcaster and his massive paws. And that does not even come close to describing his most endearing attribute, his loyalty. From the moment he saved Han Solo to the end of the Battle of Exegol, Chewbacca never once let his friends and family down.

Chewbacca piloting the Milennium Falcon with Rey, Poe, and Finn

6 – Grand Admiral Thrawn

Ah. The character who truly made me fearful of the Empire. Back in the mid-1990s, before the prequels, before the Clone Wars, before an Expanded Universe that became so unwieldy that it had to be wiped clean for Disney to make heads or tails of it, there was Thrawn. Thrawn was everything that makes a classic villain. When Timothy Zahn unleashed him into the world in 1991 he had every quality you would want in a villain. He thought he was the good guy, he was intelligent, handsome, and confident as all hell, he delivered some major haymakers to our heroes, and he is accomplished enough that he was able to ascend the Empire’s ranks despite being an alien and the Emperor’s well known disdain for aliens. Then in 2014 he was wiped from existence. Thanks to Dave Filoni he was reintroduced in Rebels and we finally had a live action version that somehow was the equal to the print version we had some many years prior. In some weird way he delivered more blows to the crew of the Ghost than the Grand Inquisitor and Darth Vader combined. He was also able to hold his own with a young Anakin Skywalker, an older Darth Vader, and Director Orson Krennic (too bad Governor Pryce screwed him over). As is the place now, he was spirited off somewhere and is hanging out with the lost Jedi, Ezra Bridger.

Grand Admiral Thrawn with his prized Ysalamir behind him.

Top 5 coming soon.

Suncrusher v. Starkiller Base . . . and a Special Comparison

When Disney started showing images of their upcoming movie The Force Awakens people noticed one glaring similarity to the original trilogy: Starkiller Base. People began to clamor that Disney was just recycling George Lucas’s ideas. Which, to be fair, when The Force Awakens was released was a fair criticism, though one that Disney was angling for if you were to believe Bob Iger and his memoir. But Lucas himself had authorized his own plagiarism during his time overseeing the Expanded Universe. Now the Suncrusher and Starkiller Base are quite different in certain aspects, but almost the same in others. To compare Starkiller Base to the Death Star is lazy analysis. This is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, they are both fruit and nutritious, but they are inherently different. They look different, they give differing nutrients, and they are grown in different climates. That is true of Starkiller and Death Star, looking to the Expanded Universe gives a more clarifying idea of where Starkiller Base came from.

The Suncrusher was introduced in Kevin J. Anderson’s The Jedi Academy Trilogy. The Suncrusher was created at the secret Maw Installation which was an Empire run facility that had not heard about the downfall of either Death Star. They were awaiting orders from Emperor Palpatine or Grand Moff Tarkin. While they were waiting the had built a prototype starship, no bigger than a B-wing fighter, that could ignite stars and destroy entire star systems. The ship was discovered by Han Solo and Chewbacca after they escaped from the spice mines of Kessel with Kyp Durron, a slave who helped them escape, and who was Force sensitive. Luke Skywalker, Han, and Chewbacca deemed that the ship was too dangerous and decided to drop into the gas giant Yavin, believing that the massive pressure would keep it from being accessible by anyone. Kyp Durron, unbeknownst to Luke, had begun to commune with the ancient Sith Lord Exar Kun, who led Kyp to the dark side and gave him the power to retrieve the Suncrusher. Kyp then went on a murderous rampage and destroyed two systems by igniting their suns. Eventually, Han Solo is able to talk to Kyp Durron and bring him back to the light while the Suncrusher was destroyed by a black hole in the Maw, which was a cluster of black holes on the way to the planet Kessel, later canonized in the movie Solo.

Kyp Durron and the Sun Crusher


Starkiller Base could not have been more different in size than the Suncrusher, but the idea is the same. Starkiller was a culmination of every branch of the First Order’s military working together to harvest the planet’s crystalline deposits. We first glimpsed Starkiller Base in The Clone Wars episodes “The Gathering” and “A Test of Strength” when Yoda and Ahsoka Tano take younglings to the planet to find the Kyber crystals that will power their lightsabers. The First Order was able to harvest the Kyber crystals and used technology that allowed them to drain a system’s sun in order to send massive pulses of energy to destroy entire star systems. We see the power and potency of Starkiller Base when General Armitage Hux orders the Hosnian Cataclysm, which destroys the New Republic’s governing body. The Resistance later is able to destroy Starkiller Base when a strike force led by Han Solo and Poe Dameron are able to lower the shields and then attack the reactor core thereby ending the threat before the First Order was able to destroy more systems.

Most people wanted to compare the Starkiller Base as a lazy copycat of the Death Star, but I disagreed with this assessment. Yes, in the movie The Force Awakens, they are literally compared to each other as moon/planet sized killing machines, but the mechanisms are different. As soon as you see Starkiller Base start to suck the energy from it’s orbiting sun the comparison of the Suncrusher starts to make more sense. The operations of the Death Star were never truly revealed, but it is essentially a ginormous lightsaber firing energy at its target. Now, Suncrusher fired a resonance torpedo into sun’s in order to turn the sun into a giant bomb as opposed to Starkiller sucking the sun’s energy out in order to turn it into a giant bomb. The final link to the Expanded Universe is the name, this link is twofold. In early incarnations Anakin Skywalker was going to be Anakin Starkiller and then in the The Force Unleashed video game series the main character Galen Marek is given the Sith name Starkiller as he becomes Darth Vader’s apprentice.


The Special Comparison – Using the Force to Transfer a Life Essence


This idea just came to me recently and I have not seen it mentioned anywhere on the internet, so I want to examine it. This is a half-baked idea because I have not truly had the time to deep dive and truly think about this.


In Barbara Hambly’s novel Children of the Jedi we are introduced to the character of Callista Ming. Thirty years prior to the events of the book, Callista was a Jedi who sacrificed herself to stop the ship Eye of Palpatine. When she sacrificed herself, she was able to transfer her life/Force essence into the ship’s computer, keeping it dormant and keeping herself alive. At the end of the novel, both of Luke Skywalker’s students who accompanied him aboard the ship have died and Callista transfers her essence into the female student’s body and her and Luke become lovers (my god, 1990s Star Wars was some weird shit).

Callista floating in the background


In keeping up with the recent novelization of The Rise of Skywalker it has been revealed that Emperor Sheev Palpatine transferred his life essence to a clone body of himself. I have not read the novelization, so I do not have any details at my disposal, but it seems that yet again the story group at Lucasfilm has looked to the Expanded Universe for inspiration for their story. Thankfully, this life essence did not result in Luke finding another lover.

Rey Skywalker/Ben Solo v. Jaina/Jacen Solo

The beating heart of the Sequel Trilogy was the dyad between Rey Skywalker and Ben Solo. They represented a dichotomy in the Force. During the Expanded Universe, two persons emerge as the leaders of the next generation: Jaina and Jacen Solo. It is very clear that Disney had these two in mind when introducing us to our new hero and villain. Whereas with Jaina and Jacen we understand their backgrounds, their upbringing, and their downfalls. When we meet Rey and Kylo Ren all of this is a mystery. Kylo’s backstory is presented very early on. Rey’s unfolds in a more sedate manner. But when both are laid bare, the skeleton of the EU is clearly evident

Rey was an orphaned scavenger on the planet Jakku. Early on, we realize two things very clearly, she has preternatural survival skills – which included scavenging and piloting, and burgeoning Force skills. Obviously, her survival skills have been honed on the harsh desert planet of Jakku. You do not survive as long as she did without learning to take care of herself. But, as The Force Awakens moves along, her Force skills become evident. By the end of the trilogy, Rey has seemingly become a Jedi Sentinel – a guardian of the Jedi Order, symbolized by her yellow lightsaber. One of the main complaints that I have read with Rey: there was never any real belief she would fall to the Dark Side. After viewing The Rise of Skywalker, I would heartily disagree. There was a very real chance that after her vision of “Dark Rey” aboard the ruins of Death Star II and during her duel with Kylo Ren on Kef Bir she was taken over by the dark side which she snapped out of as soon as she plunged her lightsaber through Kylo Ren’s abdomen. She snaps out of it and uses the Force to transfer life back into him. This act, along with Leia’s sacrifice, allow Ben Solo to begin his redemption arc. Rey is terrified by what she has seen and did and retreats to Ahch-To to begin a life of solitude following in the footsteps of Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Luke. With Luke’s guidance she sets forth to face the Emperor and defeat him once and for all bringing a close to the Skywalker name and righting the wrongs that her grandfather inflicted upon the galaxy. Rey continues on and is able to redeem Ben Solo and defeat her paternal grandfather. Unfortunately, at this point, except with the novels, a few comics, and a few books, we do not know a lot about Rey’s life before The Force Awakens and after The Rise of Skywalker.

Rey’s story is also marked by her fellowship. Finn, Poe, BB-8, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca are all very instrumental in her life. Finn, Poe, BB-8, and Chewbacca form the core of the fellowship that will follow her on her odyssey from scavenger to Jedi Knight. She is aided along the way by her two Jedi Masters: Luke and Leia.

For comparison’s sake, let us examine Jaina Solo. Jaina Solo was born on Coruscant as her parents both tried to rebuild the New Republic in the post-Endor galaxy. From an early age she showed two unique abilities. One is her aptitude for mechanics and piloting. She clearly inherited this from her father. The second is her precociousness in the Force – which she, obviously, inherited from her mother. Early years are detailed by Jude Watson at her time at the Jedi Academy on Yavin 4 is marked by adventure and abduction attempts. Her fellowship is obviously very similar to Rey’s. Except her Wookiee mate is not Chewbacca, but instead his nephew, Lowbacca, who like Jaina, is a Force wielder and has a unique (even to this day) bronze lightsaber.

During the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, at a ceremony commemorating the Jedi, her uncle, Luke Skywalker, christens her the “Sword of the Jedi.” At the time, no one knew what this meant. But it would become clear down the line. It was also at this time that she fell perilously close to the Dark Side of the Force after the death of her younger brother, Anakin, on a special ops mission deep in the heart of Yuuzhan Vong space. It would take fellow Jedi Kyp Durron, who had his own experience with the Dark Side of the Force to bring her back from the brink. Following the war, she marries the head of the Imperial Remnant Jagged Fel, whose father was the Imperial Hero Baron Soontir Fel. During the Second Galactic Civil War, in which her brother succumbed to the Dark Side and became the Sith Master Darth Caedus, Jaina sought more training, and enlisted the Mandalorian Boba Fett to teach her skills to complement her already strong Force prowess on how to combat Force wielders. She faces Darth Caedus, pleads for him to return to the light, and when he does not, she is forced to end her twin brother’s life.

Not only was Rey Skywalker modeled after Jaina Solo in personality and story arc. She was modeled to look like her as well. Look at these images.

Image result for jaina solo
Jaina Solo fighting her brother
Image result for jaina solo book cover
Jaina Solo on a descent into the Dark Side of the Force
Image result for rey skywalker
Rey training on Ajan Kloss (above) and a vision of Dark Rey (below)

Image result for dark rey

Let’s shift to the male half of the Force Dyad. Ben Solo is an amalgam of many different threads in the Expanded Universe. First his name. The decision to name him Ben is not new, in fact, Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade named their child Ben Skywalker in a nod to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s alter ego. Ben Solo’s downfall is a bit different, and in my estimation, more believable that Jacen’s. Ben Solo was always going to be a troubled soul. You do not grow up with absentee parents and the lineage of Anakin Skywalker and walk away with no issues. That just does not make sense. Ben was obviously going to need a strong arm to raise him. I think Leia could have done the job, but she was busy trying to reestablish the New Republic. And one thing that is apparent from Han’s story is that he is a man afflicted with wanderlust. Also, Luke waited too long to begin his training. The Jedi, weirdly, had carte blanche to take the children of the Galactic Republic and raise them as Jedi. This had the positive effect of severing ties but Ben’s ties were established from the outset and he would have probably been better served by the old Jedi way of doing things. And let us not forget, no matter whose side of the story that you believe in The Last Jedi one thing is very clear: Luke ignited his lightsaber over a sleeping Ben. This betrayal cannot be overstated enough. Your master, nay, your UNCLE, thought the dark was so overwhelming in you that he thought it was better to kill you than to try and guide you. I have no trouble, at all, understanding why Ben Solo willingly chose to become Kylo Ren. I, personally, believe out of EVERY dark side character in the lore and history of all of Star Wars, that this is the reason that I can empathize with the most. Anakin wanted control. Sheev was simply evil incarnate. Snoke was a creation. But Kylo? His comes from severe trauma. Who among us has not been hurt so badly that they wanted to lash out? I know that I have. Not to this extent, though, which is why I believe that Kylo Ren is the most empathetic villain in all of Star Wars. His downfall was soul crushing – it was the reality that your own family may believe that you are so villainous that you would be better off dead. His redemption, while rushed in The Rise of Skywalker, also hit home. Who among us has not wanted to do/be better because of the belief that people have in you? When Rey admits to Kylo that she DID want to take his hand, but not as Kylo, but as Ben. Ben has finally found someone to believe in his core person and the redemption is completely believable.
Jacen Solo had the same upbringing as Jaina. They were almost inseparable as children. Being twins will do that, I guess. However, where their paths diverge is the special ops mission that led to the death of their younger brother Anakin. This mission, chronicled in the novel Star by Star (side note: the Yuuzhan Vong storyline is quite simply the best storytelling the EU presented, and Star by Star is the pinnacle) is the impetus for Jacen’s descent to the Dark Side. He is captured by the Yuuzhan Vong and is under the tutelage of the avian-former-Jedi Vergere who has since joined the Vong and their cause. During his capture he is tortured and is forced to use his pain to help sustain his life essence even going so far as to emit a blast of Force lightning – sound familiar? Throughout the end of the Vong crisis Jacen Solo is a changed and hardened man that continues to descend into the Dark Side of the Force.

Years later, Jacen is a full-fledged Jedi Knight that has severe reservations about the way of the Jedi. He eventually encounters a Sith mistress known as Lumiya. Lumiya informs Jacen that he is already had Sith teachings indoctrinated into him by her former apprentice – Vergere. At this point after seeing a vision of his unborn child dying, Jacen pledges himself to the Sith and becomes Lumiya’s secret apprentice. A series of events unfolds that include, his command of a secret police force that is very reminiscent of the Nazi SS, his attack on his parents for his believed participation in the assassination attempt of his lover, killing Boba Fett’s daughter – which leads Boba to train his sister in methods to kill him, and the killing of his aunt, Mara Jade – the Sith ritual of severing ties. At this point in the EU, almost every single character – except Luke – has sworn to destroy Jacen, who now goes by the moniker Darth Caedus. His reign ends with a vicious fight with his sister, as he is fighting her he has a vision of his daughter on the throne during peacetime, believing his job is done, he returns to the light, but does so too late as Jaina severed his Achilles tendon and stabs him through the hearth with her lightsaber.

This is easily the biggest corollary that Disney has made with their storytelling and the Expanded Universe. The Expanded Universe has a rich tapestry that I will exploring more in-depth as time goes on but to start this exercise, this had to be first. It is what drives the story forward in both canons.


Also, Dave Filoni himself gave a nod to the Legends character when he created the son of Kanan Jarrus and Hera Syndulla – Jacen Syndulla. One hopes that the name is not a foreshadowing for what may come with young Syndulla. It isn’t like anyone associated with him and his mother is trapped behind enemy lines with the enemy. Oh wait.

The Legends Expanded Universe v. The New Canon

NOTE: There are spoilers ahead for both canon and non-canon ahead.

Many people were up in arms when George Lucas decided to sell his franchise to Disney for a whopping $4 billion dollars. People were not sure what this meant for the franchise. Would they produce a lot of movies, a few, none and sit on the Intellectual Property (IP) until a later date? It was all up in the air. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was announced in October 2012 folowed by the May 2013 Lucasfilm announcement that there was to be a new animated show entitled Star Wars Rebels. This was an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. Then the unthinkable for many Star Wars fans happened: Disney made the Expanded Universe non-canon in 2014.

What a lot of people do not realize looking back on the whole thing is that Star Wars was becoming a faded memory. Return of the Jedi was released in 1983. During the 80s, there were the Droid cartoons and two live-action Ewok movies. Marvel had stopped producing comics. Quite literally when the calendar flipped to 1990, there was nothing for a Star Wars fan to look forward to. Then a literary event came along: Heir to the Empire came out. And my god was it good. It was followed by Dark Force Rising and then The Last Command. Star Wars was saved.

It cannot be overstated enough: this trilogy saved Star Wars from obscurity.  The reason Disney spent $4 billion for Star Wars?  This trilogy.  The reason George Lucas returned to Star Wars in 1999?  This trilogy.  It is not a coincidence that the one author Disney has brought into the fold from the Expanded Universe was Timothy Zahn.  Timothy Zahn introduced us to an alien, brilliant tactician named Thrawn who was aided by the Noghri, specifically his bodyguard, Rukh.  Captain Pellaeon was our conduit to Grand Admiral Thrawn, in a not so subtle allusion to Dr. Watson being our conduit to Sherlock Holmes.  The ysalamari were introduced.  As was Joruus C’Baoth, a clone of a Jedi that Thrawn himself had killed years before.  The smuggler king Talon Karrde and his right-hand lady Mara Jade were along for the ride.  Luke was a bona fide Jedi Knight.  Leia and Han were married and expecting twins.  Zahn gave us an immersive experience that many people did not know they wanted.  And it launched the Expanded Universe.  In short order we had a series following the exploits of Wedge Antilles’ Rogue and Wraith Squadrons, we had a series setting up Luke Skywalkers Jedi Academy, we had a series explaining Han Solo’s backstory, and we had a series showing Luke falling to the dark side and becoming the apprentice to the clone Emperor Palpatine.  But this is the tip of the iceberg.  The demand for stories soon led us to the war with the Yuuzhan Vong which led to Chewbacca’s death.  The Solo twins, Jacen and Jaina took part in their own saga, which ended in tragedy.  It was a rich tapestry that soon became so large that it was unwieldy and extraordinarily daunting to take on unless you got in on the ground floor in 1991. 

So, when Disney took over in 2014 it made complete sense that they needed to start fresh.  They announced the decision that the Expanded Universe was no longer canon.  Mara Jade, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Gavin Darklighter, Borsk Fey’yla, Captain Gilad Pellaeon, Jacen Solo, Kyp Durron, Jesmin Ackbar, Corran Horn, and Kyle Katarn were all wiped from existence.  But Disney did not look at these stories with disdain.  Instead they looked at the stories and were inspired by them, they knew that these stories were full of life.  But the Fandom Menace would soon rear its ugly head.  They called for the boycott of Disney.  They wanted the reinstation of the Expanded Universe.  Too bad their fury masked what was right in front of their faces: Disney was reincorporating the Expanded Universe into the new canon.  You just had to know where to look.  I am going to examine some of the similarities that I have found as I have watched the new canon unfold.  This does not mean that this is all there is, just what I could discern.  As the Expanded Universe moved on, I became disenchanted with a lot of their storytelling decisions – Dark Nest, I am looking at you, so I may be missing some of the later material.  Over the next few days I will be examining the many different tenets that Disney has borrowed and shedding some lights on their similarities and differences and my opinion on which side did the story better.  First up will be Rey/Ben vs Jaina/Jacen.  But below is a schedule of things to come.

SCHEDULE

  • Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo vs. Jaina Solo and Darth Caedus/Jacen Solo
  • Suncrusher vs. Starkiller Base
  • Supreme Leader Snoke vs. Vergere/Lumiya
  • Palpatine as a Clone
  • Rogue/Wraith Squadron vs. Alphabet Squadron
  • Yuuzhan Vong vs. Grisk/Nihil(?)
  • Grand Admiral Thrawn vs Grand Admiral Thrawn
  • Kyle Katarn vs. Jyn Erso
  • Han Solo Trilogy vs. Solo/Rogue One
  • Bria Tharen vs. Q’ira
  • Cloud Riders vs. Enfys Nest Marauders

Anakin Skywalker and the Hero’s Journey

The uncomfortable truth for many Star Wars fans of a certain age is that Star Wars Episodes 1-6 is really Anakin’s story and not Luke’s.  Many people grew up believing that Luke Skywalker was the hero, which is one reason that The Last Jedi was so controversial, no one wishes to see their hero age out of being the hero.  But when the prequels were released it was clear that the true Hero’s Journey of the Skywalker saga was Anakin’s.  Even Episodes 7-9 dealt with Anakin’s grandson, Luke’s nephew. Anakin’s journey is what fueled Kylo. This seemed at odds with what the Original Trilogy had presented us.  But the road map was there all along.  Many people did not start to analyze the movies as a true piece of storytelling until very recently.  There have been academic interpretations along the way to be sure, but the brilliance of what George Lucas did was that he hid the truth in plain sight. 

It was Luke who literally went through the entire Hero’s Journey in the first movie and then had it expanded and deepened in the following two.  George Lucas stated in a 1997 New York Times article, I obviously wanted to telegraph a bit of the character in the name.”  Well, most people assume that George Lucas named Luke Skywalker for himself, but his name has two deeper meanings.  One is the obvious Biblical connection to the Gospel of Luke.  In this Gospel, Luke is a gentile who converts to Christianity which clearly mimics Luke’s transition from commoner to gifted Force user and Jedi Master.  The second is the Greek word “leukos” which means light.  But what about Anakin?  Obviously, he is presented originally as a stark contrast to Luke.  Luke is wearing a light beige, or white, tunic – telegraphing what Lucas envisioned him to be, the embodiment of light.  Darth Vader on the other hands storms through the Original Trilogy clad from head to toe in black – championing the Dark Side of the Force.  Digging deeper.  The same New York Times article references that Anakin is a clear nod to the giants, the Anakim, in Genesis who were described in the Old Testament as living in Canaan near the southern border.  When the Israelites laid eyes upon them, they were filled with terror.  If that is not an apt description of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I do not know what is. 

Now let us dive into Anakin’s Hero’s Journey.  Unlike Luke, who has two Hero’s Journey occurring simultaneously, the first within A New Hope, the other among the Original Trilogy.  Anakin’s Hero’s Journey occurs throughout the six movies.  Some might even argue that his journey also has bits and pieces scattered amongst The Clone Wars animated TV show.  But for today, we shall focus on the movies. 

Act One – Separation

              The problem with much of the Prequel trilogy is that we know where the story is going to end.  There is no way for this trilogy to end other than Anakin Skywalker becoming the most iconic villain in cinema history; however, along the way there were surprises.  The first of these surprises was Anakin’s origin story.  Anakin was a slave who was born form a virgin birth.  The Christlike symbolism is quite apparent.  Virgin mother complete with a destiny to balance the galaxy.  In his explanation of the call to adventure Campbell recounts the Grimms’ fairy tale “The Frog King.”  In doing so he reveals that there are many ways in which an adventure can start, he says, … one of the ways in which the adventure can begin.  A blunder – apparently the merest chance – reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship that is not rightly understood.”[1]  Anakin is a sweet 9-year-old boy who at first blush thinks not of himself, but others.  Qui-Gon Jinn, Padme Amidala, and Obi-Wan Kenobi need help.  Anakin’s slave master can help but at a price which the Jedi cannot meet.  Anakin volunteers to race on their behalf to help them earn the credits and leave Tatooine.  During this time and prep for the race Anakin’s interactions with Qui-Gon leave the ladder believing that Anakin is the Chosen One of Jedi Prophecy.  Anakin is clearly skilled in the Force and has an attunement to the world that is preternatural.  Anakin confidently wins the race allowing the Jedi to continue on their adventure.  This is where Anakin’s Call to Adventure occurs.  Qui-Gon wants to take Anakin to Coruscant to be tested and then trained as a Jedi Knight.  Anakin’s mother, Shmi, is uncertain but accepts it.  Anakin’s Refusal of the Call happens almost immediately.  He is overjoyed at the thought of training as a Jedi Knight, but is scared to leave his mother, not knowing if he will ever see her again.  Eventually he relents.  Anakin is introduced to Obi-Wan Kenobi and his Crossing of the Threshold and Meeting his Magical Guides happens simultaneously. 

              During this time, Anakin will Meet his Goddess, who will, also, soon be his wife, Padme Amidala.  Padme, in her own right, is a formidable character but her main purpose to serve as the foundational figure in Anakin’s life, his obsession, and, soon, the literal reason of his downfall.  Lucas does not even try to hide the connections here.  Anakin says, “Are you an angel?” upon meeting Padme.  Personally, I found this to be a bit on the nose, almost as if Lucas felt the need to dumb down his movie for the audience.  He treated us with more respect in the first trilogy.  He did not come out and say that Leia had a supernatural essence other than Luke’s breathy “She’s beautiful!” proclamation.  Granted Luke was 18 to Anakin’s nine but the overall effect felt forced and ham fisted. 

              Anakin’s entire first act on his Hero’s Journey takes place within the first two-thirds of The Phantom Menace except for his passage into the Belly of the Whale.  It was not slow and drawn out, but it was not forced either.  Everything that happened during this time felt normal.  Yes, there was clunky dialogue, but the story was tightly paced and made sense.  Anakin will also be leaving Tatooine with his incomplete fellowship.  His mentors (Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan), the goddess (Padme), and the animal familiar (Jar Jar Binks).  The one missing member is the shapeshifter.  This will come a little bit later in the story, but his shapeshifter is more important to his tale than any other in mythological history, in my opinion.

              Anakin’s entrance to the Belly of the Whale was again almost telegraphed in a way.  I argued in Luke’s Hero’s Journey that there were two ways to look at this stage.  The Death Star or the garbage compactor.  Both occurred at the same time, but I landed on the side of the Death Star because Luke went in with a mentor, had not met his goddess, did not know where he stood with his shapeshifter, and was not clear how the animal familiar would view him.  As he left, these questions had more clarity.  They were not crystal clear, but they were starting to come into focus.  Joseph Campbell states, “The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale.”[2]  Luke emerges from the Death Star as a new person.  He is no longer a farm boy but now he is a rebel and freedom fighter.  With Anakin, however, none of these questions are truly being asked, but when he emerges from the belly, it is quite clear that Anakin has a prodigious talent for piloting and an innate use of the Force.  Anakin’s belly is the Trade Federation starship.  He leaves Naboo accidentally with Artoo in a Naboo starfighter but ends up flying into the Trade Federation command ship and detonating it which will have galactic ramifications.  The Trade Federations army and blockade is stopped, Anakin has gained the attention of Senator Palpatine, Obi-Wan has agreed to train him as a result of Qui-Gon’s death, and Padme looks upon him with favor.

At the end of The Phantom Menace, Anakin meets his shapeshifter, Sheev Palpatine.  Whom we know, because of the odd way that the movies were released, will turn into the disfigured, malevolent Emperor Palpatine.  His fellowship is now complete, but we know that, unlike Luke, whose fellowship helps him throughout, Anakin’s fellowship will be broken and dismembered, very much like himself.  Symbolism at its best and a wise choice by Lucas.  By the end of The Phantom Menace Anakin’s separation is complete.  He has emerged a new person, had a new haircut, a new mentor, and a new purpose.

Act Two – Initiation

              In Attack of the Clones, Anakin re-meets his goddess.  Now a senator for her home world of Naboo, Padme is at the epicenter of a larger conspiracy, and Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned to guard her.  This is key.  At first when they met, the age difference was jarring, and to be frank, a tad creepy.  But now, their age differences align much more evenly; however, at first meeting Padme wants nothing to do with Anakin’s apparent overtures.  Anakin is now a man on the verge of knighthood.  Anakin will also meet his Shadow Self in Attack of the Clones, again we know that Anakin will transform into Darth Vader, but HE and, and more importantly, his fellowship, save one – the shapeshifter, do not know this.  Anakin has been plagued of dreams of his mother, being in pain and, possibly, dying.  Anakin enlists Padme’s aid and they head off to Tatooine.  This was a clever move because the audience can see how Anakin has grown in stark contrast to his self in the The Phantom Menace, he is fully grown and has a staredown with Watto, but it also allows us to see Anakin approach his Inmost Cave.  Luke’s inmost cave was telegraphed to us as an ACTUAL cave.  Anakin’s is more symbolic, and one in which Lucas treats his audience with upmost respect – as opposed to his earlier Meeting the Goddess moment.  Anakin arrives at the Lars farm and finds out that his mother has been taken by the Tusken Raiders.  Anakin’s cave is when he finds his mother and he is confronted with what he fears the most: death of a loved one.  This sends Anakin into a foreshadowing rage.  He slaughters the entire village and brings his mother’s corpse back to the homestead.  The cave has now shown what Anakin is capable of when the darkness collapses on him. He only admits this to Padme (who takes this surprisngly well considering her stance in politics – then again the United States condemned the Germans for their genocide of the Jews but wants to act like their own genocide of the Native American did not happen, but I digress). 

              The cave that Anakin entered and emerged from darker will play a role in his Supreme Ordeal.  Anakin’s supreme ordeal is his refusal to face death and his desire to control those around him.  These will be embodied by his forbidden wife, Padme.  As Padme reaches the end of her pregnancy, Anakin is plagued by visions of what may come to pass, her death.  We, as viewers, have been told many times before that the Force does not grant visions with one-hundred percent certainty.  But Anakin is certain and he will fight it.  In a gender swap, Lucas presents the temptress as a tempter – the now Supreme Chancellor of the Republic.  Hiding as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, Palpatine is going to play on Anakin’s rage and insecurities to craft the perfect blunt instrument.  First, in order to end the Clone Wars, he gives Anakin the order to behead Count Dooku, which he does with surprisingly little consternation (but we know that Anakin has no qualms with killing, even as a Jedi Knight – see: Sand People).  Then he uses the legend of Darth Plagueis the Wise to plant the idea of immortality in Anakin’s head.  Again, Lucas’s dexterity with storytelling and his absolute mastery and manipulation of the hero’s journey is on full display because Palpatine will be playing the role of tempter and shapeshifter, quite literally, all at once when Mace Windu is ready to kill him.          

              At this point a few plot points on the Hero’s Journey happen quickly.  The first is that the Transformation begins.  As soon as Palpatine rises, he converts Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side of the Force, dubbing him Darth Vader.  He dispatches Vader to begin the extermination of the Jedi and Separatists.  New attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that have been held at bay are now flooding out of Anakin/Vader like a dam bursting.  This new perspective that he has taken will color the way that he looks at his interpersonal relationships, especially with his Master and wife.  His deep-rooted insecurities lead him to believe that Padme had been unfaithful with Obi-Wan and when he sees them together on Mustafar he flies into a jealous rage and he and Obi-Wan embark on a duel for the ages.  We always knew how this was going to end.  We did not know how, and Lucas did the best that he could.  He made the fight resonate with the viewers despite knowing the outcome.  Obi-Wan dismembers his Padawan when, in his arrogance, he tried to do the impossible (he had the high ground!).  A short time later, Palpatine rescues Anakin/Vader and quite literally put’s the enemy’s skin on – his cybernetic replacements and enhancements.  He is now a Sith, the archenemy of the Jedi.   He has been completely remade and reborn as Darth Vader, the brutal enforcer who will carry out a great many atrocities in the name of order.

Act Three – The Return

              Unlike his son, Anakin/Vader gets an entire movie to show his return.  Personally, when thinking about how best to view the Skywalker Saga, I think the Episodic Order should be 4,5,1,2,3,6,7,8,9.  Start with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and then jump to Anakin’s story after the big reveal that he is Luke’s father.  Finish their arc with six as both Journey’s conclude before watching 7, 8, and 9 and watching Rey close the door on the Skywalker family tree.  The reason being, is that when you watch Return of the Jedi the title becomes both literal and metaphoric.  Return of the Jedi sees both Luke and Anakin conclude their journeys.  Luke becomes a Jedi and Anakin returns to embrace the Light Side and his Jedi heritage.  Is it the Return of the Jedi Order (Luke)? Or is it the Return of THE Jedi (Anakin)? Very solid word play, Mr. Lucas. Bravo.

Getting there took some doing though.  Luke’s atonement came with Vader and his desperation to feel the part that used to be good and used to be Anakin.  Anakin’s atonement was a slow burn throughout Return of the Jedi.  From the first moments we see him aboard the refurbished Death Star we know that he is not going to be the main bad of this story, it is announced that the Emperor shall be visiting the station to oversee the final phases of its construction.  This is a stark contrast from Empire because he was so fully in control of that movie as its powerful antagonist. 

              But how can a hero who quite literally does not have a father have an atonement with the father?  There are two men that can qualify as a father figure to Anakin Skywalker – Obi-Wan Kenobi and Sheev Palpatine.  We know through other media that Anakin/Vader has had thoughts of atoning with Obi-Wan and begging for forgiveness, but that was not the path that he chose.  Instead he will have to atone with Palpatine.  This comes when Palpatine is torturing Luke to death.  Luke wails and pleading cries finally crack through where reason, logic, and prodding all failed.  Darth Vader lifts the Emperor above his head and tosses him down a massive reactor shaft.  The effort combined with the massive electrical surge that followed sapped Anakin of his life.  This atonement has a three-fold affect.   One, he has rid the galaxy of its tyrannical dictator, thus redeeming some of the atrocities that he has committed over the previous 20 years.  Two, he has finally accepted his true self – Anakin Skywalker, Jedi Knight.  This war at odds in Anakin/Vader’s soul had been occurring throughout his metamorphosis.  In Thrawn – Alliances there were many instances in which Darth Vader would refer to his old self simply as the Jedi.  As if admitting his former name would bring back too much call to the light. In Twilight of the Apprentice the season 2 finale of Star Wars Rebels, Darth Vader engages in a duel with his former Padawan, Ahsoka Tano.  More than any other person she can fight him to a draw, even sheathing part of his mask off revealing his face.  He calls to her in Anakin’s voice.  She falters.  But just as soon as Anakin bubbled to the surface, Darth Vader had to fight him back.  Finally, thanks to his atonement he is able to be at peace at last, and the anger that had sustained him is now gone.  The third part is that Anakin finally accepts fatherhood.  Every instance prior to this was in service to the Emperor.  He always chose the Emperor over his family.  He Force Choked Padme on Mustafar, tortured his own daughter on the first Death Star, dismembered his son, and even turned his son over to the Emperor.  Finally, we see Anakin chose family over the Emperor when he saves Luke from the Force Lightning, pain, and agony that the Emperor is unleashing upon him.

              Anakin has now been redeemed to the light.  Now, I want to take a moment and ask if his redemption was earned.  How can a man that is literally responsible for millions if not billions of deaths simply return to the light and be redeemed?  Has his atonement been complete or will there be a purgatory period?  Star Wars has always been vague on this point.  The same will be true of his grandson, Ben Solo.  Be that as it may, Anakin’s Ultimate Boon has been completed.  He destroyed the Emperor (about that . . .) and brought a type of peace to the galaxy.

              Anakin Skywalker is a complicated character in many ways.  People who are Star Wars lifers can denote the difference between TV Anakin and Movie Anakin.  They are written very differently, and it is stark when comparing the two.  For this exercise I left out TV Anakin.  The movies make no mention of his time as Ahsoka Tano’s master, or his jealousy of Clovis, and his friendship with the Clone captain Rex but these give real depth to his character.  The movies could have used this.  Instead we get a flawed character who was referred to as Manakin Skywalker in Clerks II.  It is this aspect where people get up in arms about Luke being displaced as the central figure to the Skywalker sage.   


[1] Campell, p. 51

[2] Campbell, p.90

Star Wars Resistance Postmortem

              Star Wars Resistance entered my life with great fanfare.  I was ecstatic to mine the Age of Resistance and see what is going on with the galaxy before and during the sequels.  Even with the movies, this time period is still a large mystery.  Season one was amazing, it introduced us to a simple tale, with a simple setting, and a relatively simple hero.  I will admit, I fell hard for Kazuda Xiono as a character.  He came into my life when he represented something I was striving for in my own life – he was good natured-ness embodied – he simply wanted to make the galaxy a better place.  Kazuda Xiono was unburdened with ideas of the Force or galaxy wide ramifications of his actions.  And that was OK!  Not every story has to have those stakes, because then the stakes are lessened as we see over and over that our heroes overcome them.  The difference between Western audiences and Eastern audiences is that as Western audience we have been conditioned to believe that our heroes will always survive, that there is always a happy ending.  And when our stories end with something less than a happy ending, we are let down. But as we know – life rarely has the happy endings.  Star Wars Resistance somehow eschewed this and managed to end on a happy note, but still also disappoint.

              Season One introduced us to our new group of heroes.  We had Kazuda, the good-natured spy who simply wants to make the universe a better place.  He is an astute New Republic Navy pilot who sacrifices himself to help his wingmen escape only to be saved by Poe Dameron, who then recruits the eager Kazuda to the Resistance.  There is Jerek Yeager who is a veteran of the Galactic Civil War serving as a pilot for the Rebellion and has settled into a simple life of a mechanic.  His crew includes, Tam Ryvora, a racer with huge ambitions, and Neeku, a Nikto mechanic who takes everything literally.  They all live on the Colossus, which is a fuel platform run by Captain Doza, an Empire defector, and protected by the Aces, which include his daughter Torra. 

              The first season followed Kaz as he attempted to figure out the strength and purpose of the First Order.  This takes place prior to the Hosnian Cataclysm and the First Order has not announced their arrival to the galaxy in a truly meaningful way.  Along the way, Kaz is helped by Poe, interacts with Resistance members Ello Asty and General Leia Organa while also imbedding himself into the daily life aboard the Colossus and making friends and a family for himself.  It was a magical ride and one that ignited my fandom anew, along with the release of the Sequel Trilogy and the ability to share Star Wars with my family. The season also ended dovetailing with The Force Awakens and for the first time in Star Wars animated history we saw a live action event transpire in animation – the Hosnian Cataclysm. We, also, found out that it was Kaz’s homeworld where all his friends and family lived. His pain was palpable, but he was determined to save the day – even if it was just on the Colossus. And he did.

Torra comforting Kazuda after they watched the First Order destroy the Hosnian system

              The second season started with so much promise but often found itself wandering aimlessly through space, sometimes literally and, almost always, metaphorically.  The primary driving factor was staying ahead of the First Order forces led by Agent Tierny and Commander Pyre.  The Colossus and its crew would always stay one step ahead, be attacked, face a close call, and escape.  Rinse and repeat.

              During the first season I found myself looking forward to Sundays.  I wanted more Resistance, more Kaz, more Aces.  Alas, during the second season I found myself having to catch up a week later.  The luster had worn off.  The story had gotten stale.  It felt as though Lucasfilm did not know what they had here and instead of giving it any attention, they let a child with ADHD and a limited imagination plot the course.  There were some highlights to be sure.  Ax Tagrin was a neat addition to the bounty hunters corps.  The Aeosians were an interesting species and culture and I want to know what happened to them after their suppression by the First Order at the beginning of the series finale.  Jade Squadron led by Venisa Doza and piloted by Norath Kev and High Sion were the only interaction we had with the larger Resistance.  Where was Leia’s plea for help after the Battle of Crait?  What about the call Lando and Chewbacca sent out prior to the Battle of Exegol?  So many questions unanswered.  That, I fear, will be the final memory of Resistance – so much potential untapped.  Even before it started it was clear that this could not match the scope of The Clone Wars or the deep lore of Rebels and that was ok.  Unfortunately for the show and us, even that limited standard could not be met, leaving the viewers with the feeling of “what if?”  I will be forever thankful for being introduced to the characters.  I loved every one of them – especially Kazuda, I just wish they had more to do and that their story was more complete.   Hopefully, they will get a Clone Wars style send off and Dave Filoni will come back to finish the job properly.

This Blog and What I Want to Do with It

Ok, I have written three posts already and it is my sincerest hope that you have enjoyed what you have read. Star Wars is obviously very important to me. Honestly, except for my family it is what I think about the most. I think about the story that has been given to us, what I would like to see, what I have seen means to me, and sometimes, to the world.

My big thing that I started on was the Hero’s Journey and Star Wars. I am going to continue on with this series in the future, next up will be Anakin Skywalker. But I will also delve into Rey, Ezra Bridger, Kazuda Xiono, and Din Djarin. It is that last quartet that truly excites me. If you know me, you know that the Kazuda Xiono essay will be my passion project above all others.

But the Hero’s Journey series is not the only thing that I have on the docket. I have some character studies that I wish to do. Currently at the top of my list: Amilyn Holdo, Yrica Quell, Vi Moradi, and Captain Cardinal. I also wish to do book reviews and plan on starting that with Chaos Rising, Queen’s Peril, and Shadow Fall all being released this year before July. I will also be visiting Batuu, er, I mean Galaxy’s Edge in March. I will share photos, thoughts, and experiences. I also wish to give my “Hot Takes” on the Star Wars universe. A few that I have planned currently are, “Kanan Jarrus > Obi-Wan Kenobi: Prove Me Wrong” and “Vice Admiral Holdo was the Perfect Choice to Lead the Resistance Fleet.”

This site is my conduit to the Force, I will do my best to collect and share thoughts, experiences, highs and lows. Do I expect this site to explode and become profitable? No. Do I hope that this site gathers enough people to create a community and share insights? Yes. I want this site to be overwhelmingly positive. Do I think Star Wars is perfect? Absolutely not. Do I think that Ahmed Best and Kelly Marie Tran should have their mental health attacked because of any perceived faults? Absolutely not. This world we live in is harsh, unforgiving, and if you live in Australia, quite literally on fire. In the Star Wars: Age of Resistance special, Han and Chewbacca help Maz Kanata with a secretive mission. When asked by Han why they did what they did, Maz enigmatically answers, “All you need to know Han, is everything we take from the dark side allows the light to shine brighter.” I cannot think of a better mission statement for what I want to do here . . . and in life.

My wife, despite not caring about Star Wars beyond my excitement for it, has graciously agreed to start putting stuff out on social media. The name she chose for InstaGram was faaaaaaantastic and made me love her even more – which I hardly thought was possible. This will debut soon.