Sunday, December 20, 2020

A New Joy...


WARNING: Spoilers for the season 2 finale of The Mandalorian, so if you haven’t seen it then piss off.


On a weekly basis I watch two sci-fi shows. I look forward to both of them, one more than the other. On Thursdays it’s Star Trek: Discovery which, after the magnificence of the second season, has now gone right up its own gender non-specific orifice and become a mess of virtue signalling and wagging its finger at the audience (hint to the writers: Star Trek isn’t suppose to be trying at inclusivity, the future it has portrayed since 1966 is that it is no longer relevant because human beings have evolved past petty prejudice). The other is on Fridays and it’s the wonderful STAR WARS: The Mandalorian.

For those not in the know, this show is set IN the Star Wars universe, roughly 5 years after the destruction of the second Death Star. A bounty hunter from the planet of Mandalore (who has sworn an oath to NEVER remove his helmet in front of another living being) is tasked with finding a child and when he does it looks like a baby version of the Jedi master Yoda. Ignoring his mission and instead becoming a surrogate father to the child, the Mandalorian (named Din) goes on adventures trying to keep his adopted son safe and, in season 2, becoming involved with the few remaining Jedi that are left after Order 66 way back in Revenge of the Sith.

I have always enjoyed this show, mainly because it is Star Wars for grown ups and not the woke crap that the new trilogy has become (Force Awakens is pretty good, Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker are fair to middling at best). It is hard hitting and the fight scenes look like two or more people actually trying to hurt one another, not the rendition of Swan Lake you get when Daisy Ridley or John Boyega pick up a light saber. I have been a fan of Pedro Pascal since Game of Thrones, through Narcos and the Kingsman sequel. He’s a top rate actor and has proved his acting chops here by taking on a role where his face is only revealed once in the first season and twice in the second. Karl Urban stated when he played Judge Dredd in the 2011 movie** that he had to emote with his nose and mouth due to Dredd’s helmet never being removed. Pascal has to emote with voice and body language only for 99% of The Mandalorian, and achieves it magnificently.

The show references and pays respect to established canon but it did not feature any main or even secondary characters from days gone by until we got to season 2 where Boba Fett was reintroduced along with one or two characters from the Star Wars cartoon shows. The remnants of the Empire are still kicking about, including a Moff (sector governor) and the name of Grand Admiral Thrawn has been spoken. Stormtroopers still can’t shoot for shit and the Empire have retained their penchant for creating dangerous walkways above massive drops (or even open space) with no guard rails. The series was glorious because it was its own thing. A selfish, isolated  and violent man and his awakening conscience due to his bond with a small child. The action and adventure were a separate entity to the main canon, similar to the events of Rogue One, which effected the story of A New Hope but were their own thing.

The show rocked because it had a grown-up feel to it. Forget the Casino Royale Grand National from The Last Jedi and taking out Tie Fighters with backflips, this was a show where ammunition was used sparingly and people’s decisions would come back to haunt them. Din doesn’t fight fair, he gets his job done and makes no attempt to show mercy unless it is to his own advantage. Dying from his injuries in season 1 he refuses medical help because this would mean removing his helmet. “No other living thing can see my face” he tells the droid attempting to help him. After a pause the droid replies “I am not a living thing”.

We also got to see the story from the perspective of the imperial troops. Some were evil but, in a poignant moment, an imperial soldier angrily castigates a survivor from Alderaan for the millions of people who died when rebels blew up both Death Stars. The lack of order in the galaxy now the Empire is gone is noted on several occasions.

The Mandalorian is awesome because it took one of the primary joys of my childhood and made it into a show I could enjoy as I neared my 50th birthday.

And then we had Covid.

Netflix and Disney+ and HBO Max and all the other streaming services have now become a lifeline for many people. I spend my days fluctuating between teaching English (100% of my lessons are online now) and finding something to do to avoid going insane from boredoem. I cycle a lot and do yoga and meditae and clean my apartment and try to focus on a day when all this mask-wearing, distance-bearing, not-shagging, misery will be over.

TV shows have been a crutch for me, along with movies, since I was a child. This has become more apparent now with the isolation that the Corona restrictions have brought. I live in Rome and in May and June remember the utter boredom of being at home 6 days a week; only going out to empty the trash (this I began to look forward to) or on that magical seventh day, going shopping (where I had to queue like a gimp along with everyone else just to get in the supermarket). The rules changed again yesterday and over Christmas we have even more lockdowns. Last Christmas Day I spent the day with a female friend who had walked to my house from the centre of Rome. It took her about three hours and we spent a pleasant day eating, watching films and fucking. This year I’ll be watching Die Hard alone and might treat myself to a walk to the park if the rules allow me to.

So…back to The Mandalorian.

In the final episode Din launches a rescue mission to get the child back and encounters many obstacles on the way. This episode was already very good but the ending took it to a new level, in the best way possible.

Cornered by dozens of scary, red-eyed, Cylon-esque Dark Troopers (Terminators with no skin on) the heroes are trapped on the bridge of a space cruiser with no way out, while two Troopers hammer down the blast doors. When it seems all hope is lost a single X-Wing fighter appears in the background, docks in the landing bay and a single, cloaked and hooded, figure emerges. Through security camera footage we see this person cut through the Troopers with ease while wielding a light saber. We then see the figure for real, and the light saber is green. The person is blatantly a Jedi and he’s got a green lightsaber and his right hand has a black glove and….and…AND


No, it can’t be. They’re just baiting us. We can’t see the face so this is going to be a fake surprise. This show’s biggest Original Trilogy name so far has been Boba Fett for Chrissakes! No way is that THE biggest star of the entire franchise.

But then as the figure despatches the last of the Troopers (by Force crushing the fuck out of it, like it was a tin can) and enters the bridge, we finally see the face and it is indeed Luke Skywalker.

Now…I watched this on Friday night and I felt that joy rise up within me that I haven’t felt watching Star Wars since I heard the line “I am your father” when I was 10 or 11 years old. As soon as the X-Wing hoved into view in the background I hoped where this was going and it didn’t disappoint. I felt emotional, I felt elated and above all, I forgot for just a few moments that I have gone from holding down three jobs last April and working about 30 hours a week, to having one job and being contracted for only 4 hours, with sporadic freelance work to back that up.

The videos that have cropped up on YouTube in the last couple of days include compilations of grown men and women crying and joyfully freaking out when they slowly start to realise who the badass is that’s cutting his way through ranks of elite imperial soldiers. The one that had the biggest impact on me was the guy crying while his girlfriend/ wife affectionately places a hand on his shoulder and says “It’s OK babe”.

In all this misery and uncertainty that the world has given us, where Christmas is going to be utterly fucking shite for thousands or even millions of people, where we have to wear masks just to walk down the street, where we have a US President who is behaving like a spoiled child who has stayed up past his bedtime, this one little thing reawakened a childhood joy in a multitude.

Seeing Luke “Fucking” Skywalker swinging his lightsaber again gave a very simple joy and a much needed dose of dopamime to people who are potentially very close to their own Godzilla threshold. One of the biggest heroes of the 1970s and 80s was again back on form and it made people feel good.

John Favreau…I thank you.


** I stress the 2011 movie and not that pile of dogshit that Sylvester Stallone made back in 1995.

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A New Joy...

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