The Mandalorian – Chapter 13 “The Jedi”



Ok then.

Oh…’spoilers’, I guess.

So we’re well into the second season of “The revitalisation of the Star Wars franchise”, and while there’s much about this episode that I can be invested in, I have to admit to a slight sense of anxiety that The Mandalorian is starting to tread into the dreaded territory of “continuity”. Of course I get that Star Wars is a grand and sweeping mythos, and that much of the love of fans for the franchise is tied up in how connected the ongoing saga has become over the course of film, television, books and comics. The idea that something I watched or read twenty years ago might pay off in the story as I engage with it now is a wondrous, almost magical tie to the earliest experience of the franchise. But, as I said before, I’m tired of Star Wars being bound – shackled – by the obsessive need to tie everything together. It means, in an entire universe full of worlds and characters, we end telling the story of like, three people. It takes the magic out of it all.

To whit: in this episode, Mando seeks out and meets a character that featured significantly in The Clone Wars, and has strong ties to the central figures of the series. Asokha Tano (wonderfully played by Rosario Dawson) has set herself against a despotic military governor. When Mando comes to the compound looking for the Jedi, he first meets Morgan Elsbeth, who attempts to hire him to take out Tano. Like many of these set-ups in the series, this is little more than the means to connect the characters, to once again give an opportunity for Mando to ply his skills and code in the service of those who can’t defend themselves.

By this point, if you’re sticking with the series, it’s because you appreciate the things it does well. Mercenary escapades that are tense, thrilling and still have a slight edge – because the only fixtures of the series are the titular Mandalorian and The Child, there is a genuine question as to whether guest characters will make it through the conflict.

Where this episode walks the line between the show being it’s own thing and being interwoven with Star Wars mythology is in the interactions between The Child and Asokha Tano. A well-established Jedi refers to Yoda by name, and is able to communicate with The Child finally unveiling some of the cute little tykes shrouded past.

Also, he has a name. Doubt anyone’s going to use it, but anyway.

Why this works well is that it serves to strengthen the connection between Mando and The Child. It results in ultimately another quest that will force Mando to continue his journey, but that is the whole point of the series. If anyone wants to complain that the show repeats itself, they need to take aim at most television in existence.

A shout out goes to the fabulous Michael Bien guesting as a hired gun to the crooked governor. It’s a thankless role, but he gets one moment in which he brings the world-weary charm that he does so well.

As it stands, The Mandalorian is still the best thing connected to Star Wars in decades, and I’m not going anywhere as long as Jon Favreau is in the saddle.

In honour of David Prowse – I Am Your Father (2015)

I Am Your Father

Year: 2015

Written and Directed by Toni Bestard & Marcos Cabota

I am young enough that while Star Wars is ever-present in my memory (I have no recollection of the first time I watched any of the original trilogy) I do not recall learning of the deaths of those legendary performers who lent so much class and prestige to what was supposedly trashy sci-fi nonsense – Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. In my experience, Star Wars exists as this kind of tribute to the last performances of these great actors, but their passing wasn’t something I was ever aware of enough to mourn.

For more reasons than my fondness for those original movies, the news of the death of David Prowse is something I feel keenly.

Passing yesterday after struggling with illness, David Prowse leaves behind a legacy that few could hope to match in their lives.

He was the Green Cross Code Man, protecting British children and families by enforcing proper street safety:

He was the man who transformed Christopher Reeve from 98 pound (admittedly tall) weakling into Superman:

and appeared as Frankenstein’s Monster, villains in Dr. Who and the BBC adaptation of A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as…someone’s bodyguard.

Of course, I’m not going to steer clear of his most famous role: Darth Vader. While much of the iconic villain was contributed by James Earl Jones as the voice of the evil space wizard, it cannot be overstated how important was Prowse’s physcial performace as the character. His every step radiated threat and menace, and his stature intimidated my younger self even through the television screen.

In thinking how I could honour his passing, I figured I’d recommend a beautiful moment in the big man’s life, as captured by the touching 2015 Spanish documentary I Am Your Father.

Being encased in the Vader costume for three movies, one might think that the incredible moment when young Luke Skywalker looks at his fathers real face in his final moments would be almost a reward to the performer who has worked so hard for so many years. As any Star Wars fan will tell you, for that heart breaking scene where Luke meets Anakin, only to be forced to say goodbye in the same moment, it was not Prowse beneath that mask, but a newly recruited actor, Sebastian Shaw.

Spanish documentarian and filmmaker Toni Bestard was long bothered by this fact. He was unable to understand what possible reason there could have been for withholding such a powerful moment from a hard working actor.

So he made a documentary about it.

The joy of this brief feature is in meeting the gentle giant who brought to life this fearsome villain, and observing the grace with which he faced his difficult relationship with the original Star Wars films, the Lucasfilm company and their head man, George Lucas.

The film’s denoument involves a painstaking recreation of that unmasking scene from Return of the Jedi, filmed some 30 years after the films release, this time with Prowse finally able to perform the role of the loving father, saying goodbye with gratitude.

While entrenched in Star Wars fandom, the film rises above the usual geek trappings of rabid devotion to a property or repeating the cycle of talking about what we love the best about being a fan. Instead it grapples with the difficult reality of accepting that these films were made by people who sometimes couldn’t get along with each other, and sometimes did wrong by one another. It examines the effect on the life of a performer, who has only ever wanted to do his best in whatever role he is invited to play, and do the best he can for his family. It asks whether we as fans are content to consume and demand, or whether there may be an opportunity, from time to time, to give something back.

In saying farewell to this performer, I can think of no better tribute than to know what he went through for the sake of our entertainment.

God bless David.

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.

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


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.

Max Von Sydow – Five Farewells: Judge Dredd

The world has said a fond farewell this week to one of the acting professions true legends – the inimitable Max Von Sydow. At 91 years old, Sydows list of film credits is epic and impressive, having worked with no small number of master film craftsmen.

He also appeared in his fair share of schlock.

There was nothing pretentious about Max. Like his fellows who have achieve the rank of Legend (Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins and Christopher Plummer to name a few) he was happy to lend his own brand of gravitas to ridiculously budgeted sci-fi or horror B-movies in Tentpole makeup. He was never overshadowed by these appearances, instead somehow elevating the movies to something that would not be so easily disposable. His legacy embraces the most critically acclaimed Biblical Epic ever made, what was once considered the most terrifying film of all time, and one of the hands down greatest films of all time.

I came to know him, however, because he was not too proud to appear in schlock, such as…


Judge Dredd

Year: 1995
Director: Danny Cannon
Writers: John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra, Michael De Luca, William Wisher, Steven E. de Souza
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Jurgen Prochnow, Rob Schneider who never once speaks to…Max Von Sydow
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner, Carlos Ezquerra and Pat Mills.

1995 was a strange era. Established properties were considered gold by studios, and there were no greater hopes for a global smash hit than those hung upon comics. Comic book properties were hot commodities, thanks to the insanely profitable Batman from 1989. These were far from the days of the meticulously crafted MCU – where the Character is King (except, perhaps, for Robert Downey Jr.) – but a time when the consideration was how a well known funny book character could benefit a movie star looking to up their profile.
Judge Dredd; the most recognised character from Britain’s longest running anthology comic series, 2000 A.D.
Sylvester Stallone; at one time in the running for the Biggest Movie Star In The World, or
at least Biggest Action Star.

2000 A.D. wasn’t particularly well known beyond comic book circles, and Stallone – while still undeniably huge – had not seen stellar returns from his early 90’s efforts. He wanted a hit, and a simple, action-packed story with an iconic look for a character was a good
bet. This was not a film done on the cheap either. Sets were lavish and well designed, special effects were well-polished for the era, and someone convinced Gianni Versace to do costumes. Comedy duties would be handled by Saturday Night Live alumn Rob Schneider – part of the same lineup as Adam Sandler and Mike Myers, who had become insanely popular. With a true international cast and crew to raise the global profile, by number alone, this must have seemed a great idea.

So, we’re all clear that the movie’s trash, right?

I have never been a fan of the “Guilty Pleasure” concept. My motto for film has always been “like what you like”, and no one should ever be able to tell you what you can feel about a movie. None of that is a reflection on any concept of objective quality, so I want to be perfectly clear: Judge Dredd is not a good movie…but I enjoy it a whole lot. Part of it is just the basic cognitive enjoyment that comes from seeing something I already enjoy in one medium become visible in another. The film looks like it came out of the comic, I don’t think anyone could argue that point. Additionally, it’s just fun when to watch actors having fun on screen…and Armand Assante looks like he’s having the time of his life. Seriously, that man is the Manifest River of Ham.

And then there’s Chief Justice Fargo – Max Von Sydow.

There’s a particular type of role I’ve begun to notice, whereby an elder-statesman actor is brought in for one unenviable purpose. Exposition.
Like Patrick Stewart in X-Men and Anthony Hopkins in Thor, Max secures his place among the greats because of his capacity to explain the most ridiculous parts of the story, or the world around him, and be completely believable. The character of Fargo is tasked with providing the audience with context for the film’s environments, motivations for various characters, and back story that factors into the film very little…but it’s totally engaging storytelling because it’s Max Von Sydow. There was something about the man that conveyed a sense of experience and authority. I  buy into these worlds, these characters and this ridiculous series of events largely because he tells me to.

This is a quality that is seen in a fair few of his film and television appearances, even the brief ones such as Star Wars and Game of Thrones. He reminded me so much of a grandfather involved with whatever games the kids are playing. He’s taking it every bit as seriously as they do, and that makes the immersion all the more complete. It’s like his presence gives permission for everyone else to go all in.

It’s also important to note that every single emotional beat of the film involves his character. Every one. Understanding the horror that Judge Dredd himself has been proven guilty of a crime is sold by the expression on Fargo’s face. The drama of Dredd’s sentence is only effective because it is intercut with Fargo’s exile. We are drawn into the tale of Dredd’s birth because Fargo is telling the story, and it may be the last thing we hear from him. In contrast a later scene in which Dredd shows vulnerability to love-interest Judge Hershey is simply not believable, even though it is played as an emotional moment for both characters.

Put simply, Max Von Sydow is the only reason I care about what’s happening in Judge Dredd. That is perhaps the more lasting impact he has had on me as a fan of movies, and I suspect others would have a similar experience. It’s part of the reason why I am finding that his particular passing moves me so much. He was the reason I cared in quite a few movies. It’s like he was a bridge for people to connect with stories, and I think that may be the best legacy he could leave behind.
It’s the reason why a brief testimonial, or even a list of favourite appearances didn’t seem enough of a farewell. That’s why I introduce this new feature “Five Of…”, to celebrate Max Von Sydow through five of his feature roles that had an impact on me.

Vale Max.


Esoterica – Metropolis

Here, at the commencement of a New Year, is a time when so much new stuff lay ahead to look forward to. For many people, it is inevitably a time when we look back at what has been…if only to figure out exactly where it was in the past it all went so wrong.

Thus the New Year is simultaneously a time of reflection & anticipation – and if you’re the unfortunate soul who has little to anticipate, then it is the time make the Old things New again.

And so with that tenuous philosophical tether, allow me to take a New look at an Old film – something that perhaps you have anticipated watching at some point in your life; something that the title of “esoterica” was, quite simply, made for. Continue reading