The Mandalorian: Season 2 Review

Ye gods, it has been hard for me to avoid spoilers for Mandalorian Season 2. Even though I deliberately avoided every article, every review, still things would slide by on my Twitter feed, and then boom spoiled.

So two of the “biggest” reveals — well, okay, three — were basically spoiled for me before I even started rewatching Season One.

I…well, I hate that, so I’m going to be very careful here. The first part of my review will be completely spoiler-free, promise.

The second part will have spoilers, but I’ll label it in huge header-style letters first, so if you haven’t seen Season Two yet, you can stop before you get there.

Ready?

Let’s go.

Non-Spoiler Review

Season Two is a huge improvement on Season One.

In Season One, the episodes were very much disconnected, both tonally and plot-wise. It felt like the kind of show that a network that 20 years ago would have been shown out of order on a network, because they thought no one would notice.

Season Two finally gets its plot arc together. Each episode flows naturally from the last, and builds on it, till the final episode feels inevitable, instead of weirdly tacked-on.

As a result, every single part of the writing is stronger. The dialog is better, because it has a purpose. The individual plots are better, because they’re not mucking about, they’re building to a conclusion. And we get to see more character moments from Mando, learning more about him, and how he changes over the course of the Season.

Basically, everything that was missing from Season One is finally in place.

And thankfully, they don’t throw out the elements from Season One that mostly worked. They revise them a little, perhaps, but amidst the new cameos and characters, it felt good to see them tying into locations and events from Season One. It made the whole thing seem more grounded, more real.

So what’s not to like?

Well, I’ll save the details for the spoiler section, but basically they still don’t know what to do with Moff Gideon other than have him be SO EVIL, LIKE REALLY EVIL, HE WEARS BLACK AND EVERYTHING CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S EVIL?!!

And they can’t seem to think of a good name for something Imperial other than to call it “Dark,” which makes me think they drank the Dark Kool-Aid in their Dark Treehouse while wearing their Dark Hat (and listening to Dark Music) just a little too much. It’s not scary at this point, it just sounds uncreative (and a little racist, to be honest).

Finally, after all the buildup I heard online about the last episode, it was a complete and total letdown. Plot-wise, character-wise, and ending-wise. Just meh.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

This next part of the review has spoilers! If you don’t want ’em, skip out now. I’m going to give you till the count of 3.

1…

2….

3.

“Dark” Troopers? Seriously? That was the best name they could come up with? The scariest name?

And what’s scary about them? They have better armor than stormtroopers, they’re kind of strong? I mean, really, how are they a frightening force?

They’re obviously there so that the only thing that can rescue our heroes from them is a Jedi. Which is…so frustrating, and feels like a lost of wasted potential.

Ditto Moff Gideon. “I’m done with the Child, you can have him”? And then Mando just believes him? Mando, who a few episode earlier we saw shoot an enemy that claimed to be disarming? Mando, who we’ve seen call in a New Republic hit on an entire base? That Mando?

I don’t buy it, not one bit.

I feel sorry for Moff Gideon. They have him strutting around in that ridiculous armor, which he has no business wearing in the first place, spouting villain dialog which goes nowhere and does nothing.

Dear god, I just remembered: “Dark Saber.” Jesus Wept. What a horrible name for a MacGuffin.

And then Luke shows up, and he doesn’t sit down to chat, doesn’t explain anything, just this dude in black comes up and says “Give me the child,” and Mando just hands him over, no problem.

Hahaha, nope.

They’ve taken the ship. Why not have Luke stay for a bit? Discuss his plans? Get to know the Child?

Oh, it’s because de-aging CGI is expensive? Well, gosh, maybe they should have had some other Jedi come in and take the Child.

Like, oh….How about Qi’Ra? No computer-based aging required. We know she was working with Darth Maul, so her being a trained Sith is possible. And she can pretend to be a good person, at first, who’s willing to take the Child.

But having someone actually evil, actually, interestingly evil, take the Child gives us a plot engine for Season 3, and a cliffhanger for all of us who’ve seen Solo.

Instead, Luke’s flown in, taken the Child, end of story. What’s left to do?

Oh, the whole rule over Mandalore thing? That’s so obviously a fake problem, I don’t…I don’t really care.

I might care, if Mando had to try to protect the Child while getting involved in a plan to retake Mandalore and put what’s-her-name on the throne. That’d be interesting.

But that ship’s sailed, hasn’t it?

So for me, the final episode was just a big letdown. Going out with not a bang, not even a whimper, but more of a sigh.

I think the first five episodes of the Season are fantastic. But things start to wobble in Episode Six (it was good to see Boba Fett kicking ass, sure, but did Mando really need to throw himself at that force field three effing times?), and then completely come apart in the finale.

I don’t know if I’ll watch a Season Three. Having established their show once, and fixed it the second time, then thrown it all away, what’s there to draw me back?

The Mandalorian: Season One Rewatch

In preparation for diving into Season Two, I’ve been rewatching The Mandalorian’s first season. And there’s a lot of things I’m noticing, good and bad, about the series that I didn’t pick up on before.

Warning: Slight spoilers for Season One below.

The Good

I still love the decision they made to set it just after the original films. Both aesthetically, because it lets them recreate the look of those movies (which I’m still a sucker for), and story-wise, because it gives them a lot of room to play, with the Empire crumbling (but not gone) and the New Republic still finding its feet (along with everyone else). Lots of possibilities.

And seeing characters that got short shift in the originals, like the IG unit and the Ugnaught, finally get their due as fully realized people, warms the heart of this old fanboy.

The special effects are simply spectacular. You can tell they poured a lot of money and time into them. And it’s not just The Child, either; the ships, the creatures, everything looks as good as (or better) than anything made for the movies.

Ditto the music. I love the theme: So sparse but memorable, really sets the Western tone for the series. They keep the music low-key or gone for most of the show, which I appreciate. It’s there to heighten some moments, but otherwise they know they don’t need it.

And sometimes — not often enough, but sometimes — the dialog crackles. I think the scene between the two speeder troopers at the open of Episode Eight is one of the funniest, most re-watchable scenes in a modern Star Wars production.

The Bad

Far too often, though, the dialog is clunky. There’s too many times where characters point out something completely obvious, like when they reach the lava river in Episode Eight and someone actually says “That’s a river of lava.”

Or the dialog simply makes no sense at all. Like when The Child approaches Greef, hand out, intending to heal him, and Greef cries out “It’s going to eat me!” Which is laughably bad. Nothing Greef’s seen in his time with The Child could make him think that tiny thing was going to try to eat him. It’s just ridiculous.

Often they recap something that the audience has heard already, sometimes twice. And I don’t mean the whole “I don’t take off my mask thing,” which they obsess over for some reason. I mean actual plot recaps they have two characters give each other after we (the audience) have just seen it happen in that same episode. There’s a scene in Episode Seven where Cara and The Mandalorian recap not just the situation he’s in (which we know because we saw him get it in) but also why he brought her along (which we know because we saw him recruit her).

It’s not just the fact that these recaps don’t make any sense in-story (because they’re often between characters that know the things they’re rehashing). They’re also wasted time, in a show that doesn’t have time to waste (only 8 episodes for season one, each only about 30 minutes long).

Setting aside the dialog, I also wonder if The Mandalorian changes at all over the course of the season? His circumstances change, sure, but he starts out a pragmatically ruthless, honor-among-thieves type, and ends the season as…a pragmatically ruthless, honor-among-thieves type. There’s no grand moment when he realizes something about himself that he wants to change, and makes a conscious decision to change it. The droid IG-11 has more of a character arc then he does!

The Ugly

There’s so many parts of this season that make me cringe.

Basically all of Episode Six (“The Prisoner”). For that episode to work at all, we need the other crew members to look and feel like a tight-knit group, moving and working like a well-oiled machine. That way, when they betray Mando, we’ll actually be worried about him being able to take them down. As it is, he’s the only member of the crew to display any competence at all, so it’s no surprise when he comes out on top.

The less said about Xi’an’s “I’m a bad girl and I’m into you, Mando” shtick, the better.

They really obsess over his helmet wearing. Too much. In a galaxy filled with all kinds of intelligent creatures, from Calamari to Tusken to Jawas, is it really so odd for someone to always wear a helmet? Re-watching it, I was struck by how much I really don’t care what Mando’s face looks like. I care about other things, like “Why did you leave The Child alone in an empty ship in the middle of Mos Eisley?”

And the whole sequence with Moff Gideon…Ooof. Where to begin.

Let’s start with why he doesn’t already know the troopers have The Child? The speeder guards obviously know The Child’s important. They have working comms. Why don’t they just tell Gideon? Because that’d eliminate the need for his “I’ll keep them alive to drag out this episode” speech.

Then he commits the sin of actually saying they know what the e-web thingy is, and then goes on to explain it to them anyway.

Gives them “till nightfall” to talk things over, as if he cares about their lives…When, if he did care about them, he wouldn’t have sprayed blaster shots into the bar in the first place.

It’s all such mustache-twirling villain stuff, I can’t help but roll my eyes.

Which is a shame, because the actor, and the character, is fantastic. An Imperial Moff, clinging to some semblance of control in his corner of space, defying the fall of the Empire. Great stuff.

I just wish they gave him something to do other than posture and bluster. Oh, and pilot a Tie-Fighter, something an administrator who came up in the intelligence services has no business doing. It’s kind of like if the Governor of Montana used to be in the CIA in the 1970’s but then decided to hop into an F-22 for funsies. Just…why??

Conclusion

On first watch, I felt The Mandalorian was a solid B-movie in TV show form, a nice little Western story told on the edges of the Star Wars universe.

After re-watching it, I still think that, but I’m more frustrated than before at the mistakes the series makes.

It’s hard not to compare it to Firefly, another Western-in-Space story that had a pulpy feel. The Mandalorian doesn’t come off well in that comparison: It stumbles out of the gate, with clunky dialog and “villains” that don’t act in ways that make sense.

Here’s hoping Season Two is better!

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S Dawson

I turned the corner, and my soul left my body.

My wife says I walked around slack-jawed, not speaking, not noticing anyone or anything else.

It was our first trip to Galaxy’s Edge, at Disneyland.

We’d been walking around the other areas of the park all day, in the lingering heat of early October, 2019. I’d wanted to go to Galaxy’s Edge straight away, but our friend had insisted we wait till the sun went down. When the crowds would thin, and the lights and special effects on the buildings would come out.

She was right.

Because when we finally made it there, the park was perfect. Not empty, but not crowded. Cool enough to walk around, but not yet cold.

And everything was lit up.

I’ve been ambiguous about a lot of things Disney has done with the Star Wars franchise. But that day, in that park, I forgave them everything.

Because they nailed it.

The streets, the buildings, the design of the doors, the mother-fucking Milennium Falcon sitting right there, looking every inch a hunk of junk that’s ready to race around the galaxy. They even got the sound of the floors in the Falcon right, our shoes click-clacking on the floor panels exactly as if we were being followed around by a foley artist from Lucasfilm.

It was…uncanny.

And I wanted to go back the very next day.

As you can imagine, though, we haven’t been. We told ourselves we could return in the spring of 2020, just in time for my birthday.

What naïve summer children we were.

Thanks to the pandemic, there’s no return trip in my near future. No immersion in the world of Black Spire Outpost.

Except through fiction.

So I picked up Dawson’s book set on the world the park is meant to represent. I wanted to go back there, even for a moment, to let her words guide my imagination in invoking the spirit of the place.

Too much to ask, perhaps. But I had high hopes after reading Dawson’s Phasma, where she introduced two new characters — Vi Moradi and Cardinal — while building out Phasma’s backstory. That turned out to be a Mad-Max-via Star Wars tale wrapped inside a spy story; an incredible balancing act.

And once again, Dawson pulls it off, weaving a high-stakes story with a small-scale focus. She brings back both Vi and Cardinal, filling out more of their arcs and letting both of them shine.

But.

Something bothered me all throughout the book. I didn’t know what it was at first, just a vague unease in my mind as I read along.

It wasn’t until halfway through the novel that I realized what it was: the colonial attitude of Vi and the Resistance towards Batuu (the planet on which Black Spire Outpost is located).

Let me explain. No spoilers, I promise.

When the story begins, Batuu is not involved in the conflict between the Resistance the First Order. It’s too small, too unimportant. The war has passed it by.

Which is one reason Vi is selected to go there, as some place the First Order won’t be paying attention to.

Logical on the face of it. But it’s the start of my problems with the story.

Because no one on Batuu invites the Resistance there. No one on Batuu wants to be involved in the conflict, at all.

The Resistance just assumes they have the right to build an outpost there, regardless of what the local population wants.

Which means they assume they have the right to bring the war there. To bring violence and death with them. Because they know the First Order is going to eventually discover said base, and when they do, they will respond with oppressive force.

And throughout her stay there, Vi repeatedly acts like a colonial officer sent to a “backwards” place:

  • She quickly makes a deal to steal an ancient artifact and use it to bargain for supplies (instead of leaving it alone, as she has no rights to it)
  • She assumes the right to squat in ancestral ruins that the people on Batuu consider sacred
  • She receives medical care from a local elderly woman, which saves her life, and her thanks is to rip the woman’s only help — her grandson — away from her. She thinks she’s right to do so, as it’s “for the greater good”
  • She’s constantly saying things like “Don’t they realize I’m doing this for their own good?” every time she can’t bend someone to her will
  • When she finds herself using local expressions and greetings, she doesn’t think of it as being respectful, but as “going native”

I could go on.

It’s a frustrating flaw in an otherwise fantastic book. I like Vi, I like the other characters, I like the story, I even like the ending.

But the constant attitude of Vi and the Resistance that “we know better than you, so we’re going to make these choices for you” is so…belittling, so arrogant. It feels out of character for a movement that says it’s all about free will. And yet totally in line with the way we Westerners usually interact with other countries.

I still recommend the book. It’s the next best thing to being there, in the park. Which is an incredible achievement, despite the problematic nature of some of its plot points.

How to Fix: Rogue One

What Went Wrong

Almost everything. From casting, to story, to editing, this movie is a step backwards for the Star Wars franchise.

Let’s start with the protagonist. Throughout the movie, she is almost completely passive. I don’t know if the actress is any good or not, because most of her screen time consists of her gazing gratefully at the men that are doing things for her.

Compare this with Rey, who we see surviving just on her wits and her skills in her first few minutes of screen time.

An example of how blatant her passivity is: in one scene, there’s a glorified claw game that needs to be manipulated. Not difficult, certainly something that anyone with any manual dexterity at all could use. But rather than grab the controls herself, and execute the mission we’re supposed to believe she passionately wants to succeed, she hangs back and let’s the nameless guy next to her take over.

Her actions are just one piece of the story that’s problematic. At several junctions, characters make decisions that are out of step with what we know about them, and don’t make sense within the world as a whole. Why assassinate an enemy scientist, when you could capture them? Why send a signal to a fleet that you’re on the planet surface, when the reason they’re there is because they know you’re on the surface?

Why film a 2-minute scene with one of the classic villains of cinema, just for him to throw puns?

Perhaps the film as shot would have better explained all of these inconsistencies. But the edited film is so choppy, so eager to hop from place to place and set of characters to set of characters, that it becomes a confusing mess. We never spend enough time with the protagonist to care about her, or any of her companions (save for two, which I’ll get to later).

Again, I can’t help but contrast it with Episode VII, which used long takes and wide establishing shots to give us a sense of mood and place. And for the protagonist, it takes its time letting us know who she is, following her for a day before the main storyline gets going.

We get no such chance to learn about the protagonist of Rogue One. Only 2 min scene followed by 2 min scene, emotional beats chopped off at the wrist, ad infinitum.

How To Fix It

The real tragedy to me about this movie is that the core story is fantastic: Imperial scientist is working for them against his will, and instead of collaborating, uses his position to undermine them from within. Daughter finds out, and decides to mount a rescue. In doing so, she has to “go rogue,” rebelling against the rebels to get what she wants.

That’s a great story. It directly addresses the moral problems in the Star Wars universe, where we’re supposed to celebrate the destruction of a battle station on which hundreds of thousands of people were living and working. Were they all worthy of death?

Unfortunately, that story has been buried underneath disconnected characters, sloppy editing, and a tension-free plot.

We need to make some major plot tweaks, trim several characters, and bring the focus back to the central character.

We open by fleshing out the party scene that was a 10-second fuzzy flashback in the film. It’s a good-bye party for her dad, one last night of drinking and dancing in his Imperial uniform before moving out to farm country. Jyn’s sneaking downstairs to grab some extra dessert after bedtime, mostly oblivious to the dialog between her father and the Director (who is trying to convince him to stay, ribbing him about getting his hands dirty, etc). She gets caught, of course, giving her father a chance to sweep her up in arms and dote on her, calling her by her nickname.

Right away, we establish that we’re going to humanize the Imperials a little, and that our protagonist’s allegiance might be ambiguous.

Next we show the family at work on the farm, years later. Jyn doing chores, eating with her parents.

There’s a knock on the door. It’s their old family friend, the Director.

Her father invites him inside, outwardly friendly but it’s clear there’s tension between them.

They talk. The Director pushes her father to come back to work. Says he can’t do it without him. When her dad refuses, the Director responds with a threat: “You won’t like it when I come back tomorrow. I won’t be alone.”

Her dad again refuses, and the Director leaves. Her parents stay up late, talking about what to do. They decide Jyn and her mom should leave at first light, heading to the shelter.

But when the Director returns the next day, with troops, as promised, they’re ambushed by a rebel squadron. Jyn and her mom flee as her dad is captured, but her mom is killed in the crossfire — by the rebels.

Jyn gets to the shelter, waits as she was told, where she’s found by Saw.

Now we’ve established a lot of backstory in just a few scenes: the ambiguous relationship her father has with the Empire, the dangers of living in a civil war, and why Jyn might hate the rebels as much as she mistrusts Imperials.

Next scene: Jyn a little older, running a scam for Saw. We learn Saw is a scoundrel, one of those living just outside the law that sometimes help the rebels, sometimes the Imperials, as suits them. She returns home, flush with cash, when she sees a rebel leader leaving. She confronts Saw, finds he’s been helping the rebels out, sometimes without pay. Angry that he’s working with those that killed her mother, she strikes out on her own, leaving Saw’s home and his friends.

So now we have more backstory, another layer to Jyn’s personality. And we’ve introduced Saw, and know who he is and what he’s doing in the movie. We care about both, the protagonist and her surrogate father. We can take either side in their argument, and feel justified.

Next we see Jyn, a little older now, committing another theft. She gets caught this time, and sentenced to a labor camp for her crimes. It’d be nice if we could see an example of swift-but-cruel Imperial justice here. It would give the audience a reason to lean toward the rebel side later on.

The rebels attack the prison transport, freeing everyone, including her. Most of her fellow prisoners are rebels, but she curses them. They restrain her, take her back to base — can’t let her go, she’ll run right to the Imperials and give them away — where they find out who she is, and her connection with Saw.

Saw, it turns out, is their only connection with a mole deep inside the Emperor’s Death Star project. The mole’s used Saw to pass intelligence to them for years. Saw’s holding the last message for ransom, though. He says it’s too important to let go without getting properly paid for it.

The rebels make Jyn a deal: if she meets with Saw, and negotiates a fair price, they’ll let her go.

She agrees. They assign her Cassian and the droid as her minders (jailers), and send her off.

She still meets Chirrut and Baze, but not as strangers. She knows them both, because she grew up on their planet. They know where Saw is, and readily take her there (after disposing of the Stormtrooper patrol that tries to grab them).

Notice: we don’t need any backstory on Cassian, or the pilot, or any mysterious goons working for Saw that capture them. Since everyone knows each other, we can spend more time showing what matters. Also, the stakes are higher, because these characters all have relationships with each other.

We also don’t need any scenes showing Director Krennic and his problems. Why do we care? It’s enough to see the Death Star looming over the horizon, and firing on the city. We can find out later they did it just to test-fire it.

So, we have Jyn reunited with Saw. This scene is filled with tension now: will he welcome her back? Will she put aside her antipathy for rebels long enough to get free?

And: what’s the message Saw’s holding on to?

Saw is glad to see her, still feels guilty for letting her go. Won’t stop working with the rebels, though. He’s seen too much of the Imperial yoke to want to wear it forever. Jyn says she doesn’t want to negotiate, that her jailer should do that.

Saw tells her negotiating won’t be necessary. Because the message is for her.

That’s when he takes her back and plays it for her. She hears her father for the first time in years, explaining how he was taken from her, and how he’s been working against the Empire from within.

This scene is the turning point of Act One. The moment when Jyn starts to have something to live for besides herself. And when she starts tilting toward the rebel side.

We still have the Death Star blow up the town, and Saw’s people have to leave. He doesn’t hang back to commit a pointless suicide, though.

Instead, the pilot kills him.

We don’t know anything about the pilot at this point. We’re told he defected, and so Cassian breaks him out of jail when things start collapsing around them. He breaks off from the group, though, and finds Saw gathering some last-minute things to take with him (including the message from Jyn’s dad).

The pilot shoots Saw, then hurries to the transport. Tells everyone Saw died under a pile of rubble. Too bad the message was lost.

Because the pilot’s a double agent. The Emperor’s set one of his classic traps for the rebels: give them what they think they want, but be there to snatch it away at the last minute.

Now we’ve got a reason for the pilot to matter, for the audience to care about him. And to worry about Jyn’s survival.

They get back to the rebel base, where they’re assigned to go fetch Jyn’s dad, now that they know he’s the mole.

Cassian still gets secret orders, but they’re to kill her father only if it looks like he’ll be captured and interrogated by the Imperials. Since he’s been their mole for so long, if they fail to get him out, the Empire can learn exactly how much they know, and change it so their knowledge is useless.

They get there, stage a rescue, but it all goes bad when Imperials bomb the place. The pilot, forced off his vantage point by Cassian (who was readying his sniper rifle), used the opportunity to sneak off and radio them what was going on.

So no Director Krennic, but we still have Cassian make a choice not to kill Jyn’s dad, when it’s clear the mission has failed and the Imperials know about their mole. He and Jyn still have a fight as they take off in a stolen shuttle, but this time it’s him as the only rebel against her crew of rogues, instead of Jyn the captive against a group that Cassian leads.

When they get back, there’s more reasons for Jyn to abandon the rebel cause. She makes her case to the Council — shrunk to just a dozen people, instead of seemingly everyone in the rebellion crowded into one room — but they decide not to go after the Death Star plans. They want to prep for a conventional assault on the station, they don’t want to waste people and resources on a likely suicide mission with dubious benefit.

She’s crushed, wondering what to do, when Mon Mothma takes her aside. She can’t give her any official backing, she tells Jyn, but she can see that she gets off the base safely and has access to enough equipment to pull off her raid to get the Death Star plans.

So there’s hope. Jyn gathers her crew — the defecting pilot, the two temple priests from her childhood — and starts prepping the raid. Cassian comes to her, asking to be part of it, to prove to her that he can be trusted.

She agrees, and her crew is complete. There’s no group of redshirts going with them. They’re going in stealthy and quiet, using the pilot’s knowledge of the facility and her ability to get into places she shouldn’t to pull it off.

One more change: as they’re stealing the shuttle for their mission, and asked for the call sign, she tells the pilot: “Tell them our call sign is Rogue. Rogue One.” It’s a symbol of her independence, her refusal to submit to authority of any kind, no matter how seemingly benign. She’s on the rebel side, for now, but she’s not really a rebel. She’s a rogue.

When they get to the planet, things still go pear-shaped. The pilot betrays them again, radioing Darth Vader that the rebels are there.

His betrayal turns out to be a boon, though: since he’s connected them to the Imperial network, they’re able to get a signal to the rebel fleet that they’ve gotten the tape, and they should send a ship into orbit to receive the transmission.

So we still get our space battle, with the rebels sending in more and more ships to both get the plans and then try to get their people off the surface (which is the real reason they need to drop the planet’s defense shield). We still have Jyn’s squad being picked off one by one, as they race against time to both get the plans and get them transmitted off-world.

But having spent so much more time with them, as a group, we care more. The victory — their victory — comes at a high price.

Brief Comics Reviews, Take 3

Southern Cross Vol 1 – Great art. Very creepy. Felt there were some strange jumps or discontinuities in the narrative, but overall it’s well-done.

Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol 1: Disappointing. Dialog is clunky, and none of the characters sound like themselves. Art gets confusing, especially during the action scenes. Final moments of the volume don’t land the emotional punch they want to.

Godzilla in Hell: Fantastic use of graphics over dialog. Only the 1st and last entries have an interesting story. The rest seem fine with rehashing monster battles in elemental locales, rather than exploring what Hell might be like for Godzilla.

Wicked + Divine Vol 3: Slow going in the beginning, then picks up later. Not nearly as moving as Vol 2. Feels like the heart might be missing from this one. Art shifts are possibly appropriate, but strange and off-putting. Best segments deal with the gods’ pasts, though not all of them are coherent.

Pretty Deadly #1: Good writing. But the art, to me, is incoherent. Often can’t tell the people out from the backgrounds, and none of the lines seem sharp enough to distinguish objects from each other. Even the panels are cut off in odd ways that made it hard to tell what’s being shown.

Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

Fantastic. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve been a Chuck Wendig fan ever since Blackbirds (you have read Blackbirds, haven’t you?). Nor am I saying that because his blog is a fountain of NSFW writing inspiration (though it is).

I’m saying that because it’s a Star Wars book that tells a great story, fills in some of the time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and manages to feel like a Star Wars movie in novel form. That’s a tough balancing act, and kudos to Wendig for pulling it off.

Here’s what I learned about writing from it:

  • Don’t be afraid to be opinionated in giving description. It can help keep things brief while still being vivid.
  • Part of what makes a hero feel scrappy is not things going right, but things going wrong, all the time. Little blunders and bad luck that they just manage to survive make them feel more real and keep the reader rooting for them.
  • You can frame the start of scenes just like framing a shot in a movie. Think of a character’s head popping through a hatch, or opening on a lightsaber glowing in the darkness. Can be a visual hook into the rest of the chapter.

How to Fix Revenge of the Sith

Almost done with the prequels. Thankfully this is the best of three, though given the generally low standards of the first two that isn’t saying much.

What Went Wrong

I’d be remiss if I didn’t once more point to the most comprehensive take down of these movies.

Most of the problems with Revenge of the Sith are carryovers from mistakes made in the first two movies, emotional beats that fail to land with as much impact as they should because the foundation work for them hasn’t been done.

For example, Padmé and Anakin’s romance should feel tragic, with Anakin’s concern for her driving them apart even as they try to keep their growing family a secret. But their interaction in Attack of the Clones was so still and formal, it’s hard to believe either of them would miss the other, except that the plot calls for them to. Instead, their “love story” feels like a piece of background that Lucas wanted slotted into place, as cold and unfeeling as a CGI’d starship.

Even Count Dooku’s death, which should be a pivotal moment, is treated so perfunctory that it feels trivial, just one more Sith slain by a righteous Jedi. No big deal.

How to Fix It

For starters, we need to make the changes I outlined previously, for the first two movies.

This means there’s no Count Dooku in this one. He died in Attack of the Clones, a tragic end for a renegade that thought he was doing the right thing.

We also have to continue rewriting the scenes between Padmé and Anakin. Two people in love, hiding their child from their superiors, should display a lot more fear and desperation than they do. We need to see their relationship deepen and grow, despite their need to keep it in the shadows.

It would help if we got some hint that Padmé made an effort to hide her relationship with Anakin. We should see her dating other men, or dropping hints that she was being courted by someone else, to deflect attention from the young Jedi that apparently spends every night in her quarters.

Ditto for Anakin. We need to see him lying to the other Jedi, making excuses and begging away from assignments that would make him leave the capital. We need to feel the danger that Anakin and Padmé are in, and how far they’ve already gone to maintain their relationship. So when we see Anakin slipping to the Dark Side in order to save her, its one more small step along the path that he’s been on for years.

We also need to see more tension between Anakin and Palpatine, preferably over Padmé. As a Senator that’s presumably alarmed at the direction the Republic is going, we should witness her at her work: campaigning for re-election (with Palpatine possibly campaigning for her rival), lobbying for support for bills from her other Senators (bills that would likely reduce Palpatine’s authority), giving interviews with the media to support her position.

All of this should make Palpatine grit his teeth, and Anakin should be constantly defending Padmé to the Chancellor. It’d be one more sign to the audience of his feelings for Padmé, and it would tip off Palpatine to the significance of Anakin’s devotion.

And once Palpatine realizes that, he decides to kill Padmé.

That’s the final change we make. The visions Anakin sees of Padmé dying are not of her “losing the will to live” — which is frankly insulting for such a headstrong character — but of Palpatine draining her life force.

We know Palpatine has manipulated the Jedi’s visions of the future before. He decides to kill Padmé, knowing the visions of her in danger will drive Anakin further down the path to the Dark Side.

His plan is originally to blame her death on the Jedi, pushing Anakin to break with them for good. But when he finds Anakin near death after his fight with Obi-Wan, he drains her life force and uses it to keep Anakin alive, in a single stroke sustaining his most powerful apprentice and sealing Anakin’s allegiance to him.

How to Fix Attack of the Clones

Another tall order. I like this one more than Phantom Menace, but it’s flaws are deeper, even if there aren’t quite so many mistakes.

Let’s dive in.

What Went Wrong

Again, I’ll refer you to the abundant literature on what’s wrong with this movie.

How to Fix It

There are two major changes we need to make, and a few minor ones. The major ones involve Count Dooku and the romance between Padmé and Anakin. The minor ones are shifts in emphasis that make the movie more interesting.

Let’s start with the assassination attempt on Padmé’s life, which leads to Obi-Wan and Anakin guarding her and makes the entire romance subplot possible.

The assassination makes no sense. They put it down to Padmé being the leader of the opposition, but the opposition to what? The Chancellor is from her world, so Naboo is basically ruling the galaxy at this point. How could she be part of opposing her own government?

There’s also no tension in that first explosion. We don’t know what’s happening, suddenly things are blowing up, and now we’re watching a scene that should be moving and sad between Padmé and her guard. Unfortunately, since none of the guards even have names in the last movie (or this one), let along personalities, none of this works.

The explosion needs to almost kill Padmé. We need to see her coming down the runway, and watch it blow up, and her vanish under a pile of rubble. They dig her out and get her to a hospital, where we learn that several leading senators have had unfortunate accidents in the last few months. None looked like assassination attempts, until now. That’s why the Jedi get involved: to solve a genuine mystery.

With this change, the confusion at the beginning adds to the tension. We care about Padmé, and we share her confusion at being targeted. Who is after her? Why are they targeting Senators? We want to know, so we want to watch the rest of the movie.

This leads directly into our first major change: the romance between Padmé and Anakin.

It has to be entirely rewritten, from start to finish. Anakin spends the first part of the movie glowering at Padmé like he wants to take her in the basement and do weird things to her with a pair of pliers. He spends the second half glowering at her like she’s just hit his favorite puppy. All of that, along with the lines about “teasing the Senator” and “I hate sand” and everything else, all need to go.

Instead, their feelings for each other should be a surprise to both of them. They should remember each other, and be friendly — but nothing else — at the start. As they flee Coruscant, they reminisce about their adventures from the first movie, and catch up on what’s happened in their lives since then (this sharing will also catch up the audience, filling in details on how Palpatine has taken Anakin under his wing and why Padmé gave up being Queen to become a Senator).

Once on Naboo, among the beauty of her retreat, they both start to relax their guards, and discover they enjoy talking with each other, perhaps too much. This should climax with the kiss on the balcony, as a mix of everything their feeling: the danger they share, their past history, the way they can confide in each other.

The very next scene is Anakin having his nightmare about his mother and waking up in his room, sweating. We skip the fireside scene and its awkward “I’ve brought you into this incredibly romantic room to break up with you” vibe altogether.

Instead, we let their decision about their relationship be ambiguous. Neither of them has decided to take things any further than that initial kiss. They could still pull back and stay friends, stay loyal to the causes they’ve pledged themselves to. Or they could take the plunge together, and damn the consequences. It’s not knowing that adds tension to the scenes that follow.

Anakin doesn’t tell Padmé about his nightmare at first, but over breakfast that morning she pulls what’s wrong out of him. And when she hears, it’s *her* idea to go to Tatooine and look for his mother, not Anakin’s. He wants to keep Padmé safe on Naboo, and doesn’t want to put her in danger. She sees a chance to distract both of them from their feelings for each other, while helping out a friend (she might even feel her own debt to the woman that sheltered them on Tatooine and allowed her own son to risk his life to help them).

She wins the argument, setting them on their course towards the final third of the movie *and* reinforcing our impression from Phantom Menace of Padmé’s willingness to take risks.

Now instead of the stiffness of the kiss between Anakin and Padmé before they’re led out to the Coliseum to die, a stiffness that comes from it being a kiss with no risk behind it, a “might as well say this because it has no consequences” scene, it’s one of mutual discovery, of the two of them realizing that they do love each other, and deciding to act on it.

So that’s Padmé and Anakin sorted. Now for the last major change: Count Dooku’s role.

As written, he screams villain at every turn. He dresses all in black, he speaks in ponderous “I’ve got you now” style, and he’s played by Christopher Freakin Lee.

While I’m a Lee fan to my core, the character as written is completely uninteresting. He’s a cackling capital-V Villain in a trilogy that’s all about how good intentions can lead you astray, about how evil can masquerade as virtue, about how hard it is to tell what’s the right thing to do.

Dooku should be an earnest renegade. Instead of being Palpatine’s Sith apprentice, Dooku discovered that Palpatine was a Sith, and broke with the Jedi Council because of it. He didn’t tell them because he didn’t think they would believe him, or if they did that it would be because Palpatine had already corrupted them. He went from system to system, cobbling together an Alliance to fight Palpatine and bring down the Sith.

He’s behind the assassinations, but only because he thinks the Senators he’s targeting are in league with Palpatine. In Padmé’s case, it would make perfect sense for him to add her to the list: she’s from Palpatine’s homeworld, she helped him become Chancellor, and if Dooku looks into her future, he can see the rise of the Dark Side.

Dooku thinks he’s the good guy, doing something hard but necessary to fight a greater evil. We should see him as being very similar to Qui-Gon, if Qui-Gon had lived and disagreed more with the Jedi Council.

He doesn’t want to fight Obi-Wan when he captures him. He makes an earnest attempt to get Obi-Wan to join him, to help him overthrow the Sith that have taken control. The scene between them should be fraught with tension, and we should actually wonder if Obi-Wan will join the rebels at this point, especially once he realizes that Dooku is telling the truth. When he refuses, and Dooku sentences him to death, it should be with regret and reluctance, not relish.

All of Dooku’s scenes should be shifted to show the conflict within him. When Mace Windu shows up with the other Jedi, Dooku should be horrified, not triumphant. He doesn’t want to see the Jedi Order destroyed, but he can’t let them win, either. He’s in an impossible situation, and his dialogue with Windu should be a plea for his one-time friend to join him, to stop doing the bidding of the Sith.

All the way up to the final combat between Dooku, Obi-Wan, and Anakin, he should be trying to get out of the fight, trying to find a way to work with the Jedi instead of against them. His reluctance should be clear at every point, and it should be the Jedi that act as the aggressors, that push him into fighting them.

This will inject a sense of tragedy into each scene Dooku’s in: we know he’s only playing into Palpatine’s hands, even if he doesn’t, and we can see how the Jedi are blind to how they’re being manipulated as well. Dooku becomes a much more interesting character, and we should feel sorry for him when he dies.

That’s the last change we need to make to the movie: Dooku should die at the end.

He should still take Anakin out early, by lopping off his right hand. He should still fight Obi-Wan off, and then move to escape. But Yoda stands in his way, blocking his path.

Here, Dooku refuses to fight his old master. He’s lost his way, but he’s not a Sith. He won’t go that far.

Trapped, he turns back to fight Obi-Wan, to see if he can get out a different way. Obi-Wan has gotten Anakin back on his feet, and together they manage to fight Dooku till he is on his knees, and disarmed. Helpless, he agrees to go back with them, to face trial and punishment.

Yoda turns to go back into their transport, and Obi-Wan as well. Dooku and Anakin are left alone for a moment.

This is when Anakin finds out Dooku was behind the assassination attempts. Dooku tells him as part of one last plea for mercy, for Anakin to help him, and as a warning about what he thinks Padmé will do. Instead, Anakin is enraged that Dooku would threaten Padmé’s life. Filled with anger, he kills Dooku.

Thus the movie ends with three things certain. Palpatine has grown so powerful that even the opposition to his rule is playing into his hands. Padmé and Anakin are going to act on their love while keeping it hidden. And that love, though unlooked-for and hard-won, is driving him towards the Dark Side.

How to Fix The Phantom Menace

Stay with me on this one. Underneath all the Jar-Jar antics and the layer-cake of special effects is a good movie, I promise.

But there’s a lot of work we have to do to uncover it.

What Went Wrong

I don’t think I can add anything to the many others who have chronicled the movie’s shortcomings.

Let’s move on.

How to Fix It

Three major changes will do most of the heavy lifting for us.

First, Anakin needs to be older. Preferably pre-teen, say 11-12 years old. Just this one change by itself makes so much more of the movie make sense.

When Anakin meets Padmé for the first time, his lines are kind of creepy for a little kid. Make him a pre-teen, though, and suddenly he’s a very young man trying (and failing, horribly) to hit on an older woman.

The Jedi’s later remark that Anakin is “too old” to be trained is nonsense for a boy that looks no older than any of their younglings. If Anakin were 12, though, and already arrogant and head-strong, those objections would be sensible.

Second, we need a different motivation for the Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo. I know, I know: the second movie gets bogged down in Senate procedure and no one cares. But that’s my point: the movie as written does a horrible job of making us care. The right explanation, embedded into the script, would go a long way to fix that problem.

Instead of some vague “trade dispute”, we should have a concrete problem. Naboo has an ore that gets mined by the Gungans and processed by the land-based Naboo into some material needed for making droids. Both the Trade Federation and a rival group buy that material from the Naboo and make their — rival — droids from it.

The Trade Federation comes to Naboo and asks them to sign an exclusive trade deal, so Naboo will only sell to the Trade Federation, which would give the Trade Federation a lock on the droid market.

Naboo refuses, of course, so the Trade Federation cranks up the heat: a blockade of the planet, cutting off all trade to the rest of the Galactic Republic. The Senate has to get involved at that point, since the Trade Federation are breaking the free flow of goods across the galaxy.

This is the dispute the Jedi fly in to resolve at the start of the movie: not a vague thing, but a concrete drama with greedy officials and brave (if naive) patriots facing off.

This scenario also sets up the “symbiont circle” between the Naboo and the Gungans that Obi-Wan talks about. Without the Gungans to mine the ore, the Naboo wouldn’t be able to refine it and sell it, generating trade. In return, the Naboo provide the Gungans both money — of course — and technology, by maintaining the systems that keep the Gungans underwater cities going.

The Trade Federation, with their invasion, break this circle. They not only take control of what industry the Naboo have, they start mining the planet themselves, using droids instead of Gungans.

This is why the Gungans have to flee their cities toward the end of the movie. No one is maintaining them — the Naboo are rather busy — and they’ve lost their main monetary supply. Not to mention all the extra drilling the Trade Federation is engaging in, to suck Naboo dry before the Senate can act.

Our final change is a series of small ones that add up to a big one: we need to shift both both Jar-Jar and Padmé’s roles in the story.

Jar-Jar needs a purpose. He’s a goofy-looking character that’s supposed to provide some comic relief, which is fine in theory, but he needs to serve some use for the other characters.

We should give him several things to do. To start, when he runs into Qui-Gon at the beginning, he should accidentally save the Jedi’s life: when they fall under the bot transport, Jar-Jar shields Qui-Gon from the heat of the transport’s engines using his large, floppy ears, keeping them both safe. When they leave the Gungan city to travel through the Planet Core, we should see Jar-Jar giving them directions, acting as their navigator. In their initial encounters with Trade Federation droids, Jar-Jar should take out a few, if clumsily and slowly. And when Qui-Gon goes hunting for parts on Tatooine, Jar-Jar should follow at a distance, unseen, “swimming” through the sand with just his eye-stalks showing, determined to keep watch over the human to whom he owes a life-debt.

Finally, Jar-Jar, not Anakin, should be the one locked in the fighter that ultimately — and accidentally — takes out the Trade Federation’s droid command ship. Taking Anakin to Naboo makes no sense, he’s too young (at any age) and should be left safely on Coruscant (perhaps under the watchful eye of Senator Palpatine?). Jar-Jar’s goofiness fits in perfectly with what happens in this sequence, and playing the hero here sets up his presence in the Senate later on.

Padmé’s scenes should all be shifted to show her headstrong, sometimes reckless, nature.

When the Queen and the Jedi are debating going to Tatooine, we should actually see the debate. Her Captain should make his case for not going, the Jedi should make their case for it, and the Queen should have her handmaidens weigh in. This last will frustrate the Jedi, so used to being obeyed without question, and give the fake Queen a chance to hear from the disguised Padmé what she should do.

And when Qui-Gon actually leaves the ship to search for parts, the Queen should send Padmé because he needs a translator: it turns out Padmé speaks Huttese. Instead of Qui-Gon playing reluctant tour guide to the handmaiden, we should reverse this. It’s Padmé who has seen poverty up close — which is perhaps why she ran for Queen in the first place — and the Jedi that has been coddled in the Inner Worlds. This change will give Padmé much more depth as a character, and reinforce the sense that maybe the Jedi are a little out of touch, a little too arrogant, to play their role properly anymore.

A final Padmé change: in the final assault on the palace, when she and her guard are pinned down by droids, *she* should be the one to shoot out the glass window and insist they winch up. It’d be a nice echo of Princess Leia’s garbage chute solution during her rescue, and again show us that Padmé is able to think sideways to get around problems.

With these changes, we take a movie that can be skipped without missing anything to one that is crucial to understanding the rest of the series.

Anakin, the young hotshot, both too old to be properly trained and too young to be left alone, shows both great potential and great risk.

The Republic is coming apart at the edges, its reach shortened and its ability to settle disputes peaceably in doubt.

Padmé’s recklessness in the pursuit of what she wants lets her reach her goal, but only at the cost of launching Senator Palpatine’s career as Chancellor, paving the way to his ascent to Emperor.

And the Jedi, assured and passive on the outside, are shown to have grown too insular, too used to their comfortable lives in the Inner Worlds to see the dangers to the Republic from within, or even to find a child as talented as Anakin in the Outer Rim.