The Mandalorian – Season One Reflections

I’ve gotta get this out of the way up front: I’m kind of over Star Wars.

I never thought I would ever say – or write – those words. When I was a lad there was a briefly-lived publication called Sci-Fi Invasion, and I can clearly remember one of the articles starting with the words, “There comes a point when you just can’t watch Star Wars again.” I thought to myself at the time ‘that will never be me’. The galaxy far, far away meant so much to me during my formative years. It was the campfire around which I was able to peacefully engage with my older brother, and form connections and friendships in times when I felt quite alone.

That’s the unspoken power of our stories, isn’t it? And it’s the reason people get so passionate about sharing them, or in some cases defending them. To consider critisism of a beloved film (or TV series, or comic, or novel et. al.) feels tantamount to critisising the relationships that formed because of it – and if those relationships have been an important part of shaping the people we have become, does that mean we need to question our sense of self as well?

No. I don’t really believe that…I just want to point out that I can understand why some people may believe that.

For myself, I have simple grown tired of Empires and Rebellions and Jedi and Sith. Part of it is over-exposure – I can’t go five minutes without being confronted with some piece of Star Wars merchandise; part of it is a reaction to the ugly behaviour of some “fans” in the wake of some of the more recent films release; and part of it is overwhelming sense of inter-connectedness, or continuity, with books and cartoons and comics that just feels like too much to try and absorb in the limited time I have.

Then the director of one of my favourite films of all time got involved…and I’m hooked once again.

In the same way that my growing disinterest in Star Wars was the result of many factors working against my brain, The Mandalorian has fanned the flames again because of many factors working together to engage me again.

Firstly, it’s a Western. If you’ve seen my review of the great series Firefly, or the underrated Sean Connery pot-boiler Outland, you will know that I am a sucker for the Space Western. It’s true, Star Wars has always been heavily shaped by the legacy of John Ford or Sergio Leone, but The Mandalorian puts that aesthetic front and centre. The tales are of lawless people in lawless places, alternately trying to make their way and survive their enemies. As a bonus, it is also a pretty great Samurai show, so Kurosawa fans should find a point of connection.

Secondly, it stands on its own. I am aware that, for fans in the know, The Mandalorian is dotted with references to characters and events from the wider universe, but as someone who has not seen a single episode of The Clone Wars I can attest that my ignorance does not diminish my enjoyment of the series one bit. In fact, I might even go out on a limb and suggest that one could very well enjoy The Mandalorian without ever have seen a single film in the franchise.

Thirdly, it feels…expansive. One of the little bugbears about some of the entries in the Star Wars Saga is that degree to which, for a story that encompasses an entire galaxy, the scope of events and the characters involved seems awfully limited. The Mandalorian, though small scale and featuring only a handful of characters, boasts a diverse and at times bizzare gathering of aliens & misfits. Watching these individuals from wildly different backgrounds interact is a true delight. And one of them sounds like Nick Nolte.

The series is episodic in the best way – in that there are very few details that inform the plot of one episode too heavily linked to another. As a “soldier of fortune” type, Mando (as the title character is called) seeks contracts which typically will involve him visiting violence upon another person. His code – or creed, perhaps – means that we the viewers can feel assured that this violence is likely justified.
But there is an arcing story – a quandry that contributes to the conflict of each episode. Discovering, piece by piece, the details of Mando’s past and pondering the hints dropped to a greater threat looming in season two does not feel like a chore. Most welcome is the fact that my good buddy and showrunner Jon Favreau does not feel the need to end every single episode with a damn cliffhanger.

The Mandalorian is truly a breath of fresh air for a weary Star Wars afficionado. It’s worth the price of a subscription to Disney Plus, at least for as long as it takes to watch all the episodes. This is the possibility of a brighter, more engaging future for this universe…so check it out.

This Is The Way.

Existentialism

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Today’s entry to make you smile runs a slight risk of delving too deep into angst, but hopefully it will be a gift that keeps on giving.

How many of you remember Garfield? For me, that fat ol’ cat with the penchant for lasagne was a staple of my comics diet as a youngster. I’ve not revisited the character at all in the way I have with Calvin & Hobbes or the Peanuts gang…but recently I’ve discovered that the comic is actually at its best when Garfield isn’t in it.

Several years ago Dan Walsh created this webcomic simply by curating the old Garfield strips by Jim Davis, and editing out the title character. What we are left with is hilarious and harrowing, as Jon Arbuckle (Garfield’s owner) goes through his day-to-day without a communicative feline to bounce his ideas off. He faces existence alone, and is revealed to be more than a little batty from the isolation.

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You can find Garfield Minus Garfield here.

For those curious, Jim Davis is familiar with Garfield Minus Garfield…and apparently loves it. You can read his thoughts on it here.

Fighting the End of the World

We’ve reached the end of the first week in which Esoteric Fish have attempted to lighten your mood a little. It was a little rough – we’ve lost some wonderful creators in these past weeks, along with the devastation caused by our collective microbial adversary.

But as we sign off for the weekend, we leave you all with our best wishes, our prayers for health and safety, and above all, a strategy that could save us all.

At least…maybe it could have saved this franchise.

Max Von Sydow – Five Farewells: Flash Gordon

So I’ve referenced the fact that, to me at least, Max Von Sydow was an actor who was for the longest time one of those faces that very recognisable, but just never registered in the way that Harrison Ford or Tom Cruise or Sam Jones did. Whether or not this is shared by anyone else, I long had the impression that Uncle Max was no simply a “face”, but he had always been and “old face”. I recognised him as an old man (or at least older) in the films that I remembered him from – and this is a point we’ll come back to in a later post.

The truth is, however, that he was not perpetually “70 or so” – he was once a young, strong man with a young, strong face, and the first time I realized this was when I finally saw

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Oh Son…that is the cover from a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.

Flash Gordon

Year: 1980
Director: Mike Hodges
Writers: Lorenzo Semple, Jr. & Michael Allin
Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, Topol and…Max Von Sydow.
Based on characters created by Alex Raymond.

If you are unfamiliar with the 1980 film that defines “campy schlock”, you are most certainly familiar with it’s magnificent theme song by the legendary band Queen. It’s the one that goes *bu bu bu bu bu bom bom bom bom Bom Bom BOm BOm BOM BOM BOM* FLASH…AA-AAAAAAA, Saviour of the Un-I-Verse!”

I lack the necessary words to convey just how important it is that you go out and watch this movie immediately. Whatever the stories behind the making of this beautiful mess, watching it has felt a little like watching a massive prank being pulled on one man by his college-mates, plus a few professors. So many British thespians (plus Topol!) appear in this flick, and every one of them has stepped straight out of the River of Ham, and are having a marvelous time. The only guy “playing it straight” is the films lead, Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon. The result is hilariously entertaining, as the titular hero rockets to the planet Mongo to prevent galactic tyrant Ming the Merciless (Sydow) from destroying the earth.

Sydow effortlessly dominates this movie, establishing as magnetic presence that fixes the audience to the screen every time he shows up. I mentioned that in his great career, Sydow showed up in a fair bit of sci-fi or horror schlock, but in most roles he’s playing with sense of serious grace, raising the standard of the film he’s in. Flash Gordon is that rare occasion when he gets in on the over-the-top glory with his performance.

Flash Gordon has more than earned its place in the cult classic vault, and Max Von Sydow is a big part of that.

Oh go on then…I’ll leave you with the song.

Stuart Gordon, Gone Beyond – 24th March, 2020

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We bid a very fond farewell this week to Stuart Gordon – visionary director; subversive social commentator; cheeky bugger. In what is proving to be a crushing week for my creative spirit, Gordon has passed away at the age of 72. While he was not a household name the likes of Spielberg or Kubrick, to fans of genre cinema – most especially horror – he stands out among his peers as being one of the most unique filmmakers of the 80’s and 90’s. Whatever else one might say about him, his voice was truly his own.

There’s something of a rite of passage for movie guys of a certain generation – it comes about when one progresses from the point of being fascinated by the VHS covers in the genre sections of their local video store (ask your parents kids), to finally watching the movies themselves. When I was a kid our family would make weekly trips to the bargain video barn, and while my brother and sister searched and made their choices, I would slip away to the horror section, and gaze upon the terrifying, but engrossing, cover art. I would never dream of actually watching one, mind – I was way too intimidated. I was fascinated at their existence though. Many of those cover images are indelibly burned into my mind,  but none moreso than-

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Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, is an entry point for many into the magnificent fusion of horror and comedy. It is Gordon’s first and most widely known film, but is really indicative of his output as a whole. It is a film that combines genuine heart, biting satire, laugh-out-loud humour and gross-out horror sequences. It is bizarre, upsetting, tense, ridiculous, funny, awful, disgusting and at points in phenomenally bad taste…and I love every second of it.

While best known as a horror director, Gordon actually had a diverse output on screen and on stage, directing plays which may have been his greater passion. Gordon is responsible for bonkers sci-fi schlock Robot Jox, but also for a staple of my childhood, Honey I Shrunk The Kids.

Gordon scared me hysterical, and I loved him for it. Vale Stuart, I doubt we’ll see another like you.

We encourage you to read more of Stuart Gordon, who was a bizarre inspiration, but a great one.

Vale, Albert Uderzo – March 24th, 2020

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There’s not a single person I went to high school with – nor anyone who was a student anywhere at the same time as me – who is unfamiliar with the work of Albert Uderzo, though it is entirely possible they might not quite register the name. Collaborating with his long time creative partner, René Goscinny, they delivered to my generation the most constant source of entertainment on every school property, always located prominently on a display stand of the library.

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The Asterix series.

These timeless comics were a magnificent bridge between generations, nationalities and sub-cultures. Parents happily endorsed their kids reading the adventures of the diminutive resident of the unnamed village resisting Roman occupation and his rotund but kindhearted companion, Obelix. As a comic book reader and collector in general, I lost count of the number of conversations that went something like:

They: What are you reading?
Me: A comic.
They: Oh. I’ve never been into comics. I really like Asterix though.

Asterix was a common ground for so many people in life – a truly remarkable legacy that any artist would dream of being a part. Goscinny, who wrote the series, passed away in 1977, leaving Uderzo as the sole creator until 2008.
I first learned to draw by copying Uderzo’s characters; when I was too sick to go to school, Asterix books were my constant companions; I once dressed up as Asterix for a primary school book parade.

Albert Uderzo made an impact on my life I will never forget.

Still the Greatest Man on the Internet

It has occurred to me today that some of you may have some difficulty in remembering how to smile. I hereby turn you over to our Master and Sage.

Happy Thursday.