This review comes at a strange time, just a little over a month since Pixar’s Onward hit theaters – long after I should already have been able to see this film in a pre-coronavirus world, and long before I should have been able to catch it on streaming. But here we are, entering a new and uncertain chapter of the film industry’s history: one in which films now leave theaters and hop into the ancillary markets much earlier than expected.
Unfortunately, Onward suffered the consequences of arriving on the very weekend that much of the world suddenly realized just how dangerous the coronavirus crisis was quickly becoming – it pulled only small crowds to the box-office, and even those became impossible to muster when theaters collectively chose to close down. As a result, I feel safe in assuming that not many people have seen Onward yet, and for those of you who haven’t, here’s my review. I will not call it “late”, for a movie review is never late – it arrives precisely when it means to.
Onward is not, strictly speaking, Pixar’s first adventure in the fantasy genre – but it is the first one with Elves, and that’s got to count for something. Set in a magic-infused world of wonder that has slowly declined with the inevitable advent of technology and industrialism, the film follows two Elves on their mighty quest to spend a single day with the ghost of their dead father, who can be brought back to life with a little help from a magical gemstone, a wizard’s staff, and an absent-minded Manticore.
Appropriately, the film revels in meta-humor, with plenty of loving shout-outs to mythical characters, creatures and locales; Easter eggs galore for the keen-eyed; and all the standard fantasy tropes we know and love. Because of the unusual circumstances allowing us to watch Onward from the comfort of our own homes, it’s tempting to watch the film with a finger poised over the pause button, trying to examine every corner of the screen for these whimsical details (though some are obvious: such as a fast-food restaurant whose giant neon signboard reads “Burger Shire: Now Serving Second Breakfast!”). I encourage you to try and refrain from doing so, at least on your first watch, so you don’t miss out on the story itself. As Martin Scorsese would advise – just try to pretend you’re in a theater.
Onward‘s multitude of callbacks to classic fantasy literature and myths get the film in trouble in more ways than one, unfortunately. Whereas other Pixar films usually involve some unique, hilarious twist, and immerse the viewer in a fully fleshed-out world rich with individuality, Onward‘s twist has been explored in dozens of books and movies before, most successfully in Terry Pratchett’s satirical Discworld novels, and its world is mostly built from borrowed material. This makes it hard to sell people on the worldbuilding premise, because the film doesn’t scream creativity like Pixar’s previous hits: Coco, Inside Out, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., etc.
So what do you sell them on? Well, Pixar seems to think that audiences just want a good long cry, and markets its films accordingly – but Onward is really more heartwarming than sad. Don’t get me wrong: it has plenty of sad scenes, but the story, and its resolution, are more poignant and subtly bittersweet than outright soul-crushing. This is sadness done right; sadness used as an essential ingredient of a larger story, rather than for shock-value or in a formulaic fashion.
The story is carried by two extremely likable protagonists, whose contrasting and conflicting personalities balance each other out very nicely – Ian Lightfoot (voiced by, and almost certainly modeled after, Tom Holland) is the indecisive, socially awkward youngest member of the Lightfoot family, who was born after his father’s death, and thus relies on second-hand accounts of his father to build his own impression of him. Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), the older brother, is something of a gentle giant, with relatable, but niche, interests: ancient history, magic, and mythology. The voice-work on both characters is solid, though unremarkable – which possibly benefits Pratt, as he is controversial enough in his personal life that distancing him from the characters he plays isn’t exactly a bad idea.
The small supporting cast is filled out by Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as the Lightfoots’ mother, Laurel, whose almost superhuman strength (seemingly obtained through routine aerobics sessions) feels like it should be more of a big deal than it is; The Manticore (Octavia Spencer), once an Athena-esque figure of legend who gifted heroes with magical weapons and wisdom, now a worn-down restaurant owner just trying to host karaoke night; and Lena Waithe as “Pixar’s first openly gay character”, a cop who appears in one scene and has a single line of dialogue referencing her girlfriend’s kid. It’s a small step forward for the LGBTQ+ community, but in a film where Laurel Lightfoot and The Manticore share several scenes together and have undeniable chemistry as they go on their own little lawless adventure to restore The Manticore to her former glory, it’s also a missed opportunity.
The quality of the film’s animation is nowhere near as spectacular as films like Coco or Brave – but in the world we now live in, it’s possible Onward will be nominated for an Oscar simply because so many other animated films will be pushed back to next year.
Honestly, if no better challenger arrives on the scene between now and next Oscar season, I wouldn’t mind seeing this unfortunate underdog eke out a win. Not only do I relish the thought of a sequel (yeah, yeah, I know, Pixar wants to focus on original content: well, tell them to stop coming up with original content that demands a follow-up!), but I think it would be welcome compensation for the film’s lost audience appeal and box-office returns – not to mention petty vengeance on coronavirus for all the damage and disruption it’s caused.
If this seventh and final season of The Clone Wars were the normal length of twenty-two episodes, I would probably be more willing to excuse the aimless, roundabout nature of this seventh episode, Dangerous Debt. But as it is, the long-running series only has six more episodes left: we simply don’t have time to bring the story to a standstill – especially not now, right after last week’s exciting, suspenseful installment in the voyages of Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein) and the Martez sisters.
As I guessed, today’s episode opens with the three characters trapped in a Pyke Syndicate prison chamber, while the Pykes take turns torturing them for information about the missing spice that Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali) dumped from her starship in an angry rage last week. Obviously, they make attempts to escape – and the results are…well, questionable. But without getting into spoilers yet, let’s discuss what makes this episode at least decent – in fact, right up until the end, it shows every sign of being a very good chapter in what is proving to be an excellent story.
As with last week’s episode, the unexpected core of this Clone Wars story arc is the dynamic between Ahsoka and the Martez sisters, both of whom have very different opinions on her (which lends itself to particularly snappy, back-and-forth arguments between all three of them). Trace, trying to emulate her dead mother’s compassion, gives the Jedi-turned-rogue a shoulder to lean on, while her more brusque and practical older sister Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez) is naturally suspicious of Ahsoka’s surprising talents and intelligence. When the Martez sisters entered the picture, I’ll admit I was worried: at first, they seemed one-dimensional and a little boring. But that’s not the case anymore – we keep finding out new details about them, their personalities and their complex worldviews, and each one is more interesting than the last. I’m hoping we don’t abandon them and their storylines before the end of the series.
As for Ahsoka, this is some of the best material she’s ever been given: despite being forced to hide her identity from everyone around her, the former Jedi is still put in dangerous situations where the only thing she can do is use her Force-training to protect herself and her friends – which results in a lot more suspicion from Rafa Martez, who seems more perceptive of these incidents than her younger sister. But Ahsoka gets extra incentive not to reveal the truth about her past in this week’s episode, which shows us that Rafa and Trace’s hatred of the Jedi Order is very, very personal.
One disappointing aspect of Ahsoka’s character in this final season is that, because she herself is no longer the showy, flashy warrior she used to be, her fighting style has evolved to reflect that: now, her action sequences are quick, punchy and, for the most part, grounded – which might not be so shocking if Ahsoka hadn’t been the character deemed most likely to use unnecessary acrobatic skills in combat in previous seasons. If this is an intentional decision made to underscore Ahsoka’s journey, I appreciate it – if not, I can’t see why they would change something that had been such an important fixture of the character’s persona.
Overall, however, this episode is nowhere near as good as last week’s – and that comes down to one glaring issue, which I will address in today’s SPOILER section! You’ve been warned.
Ahsoka, Trace and Rafa start the episode in prison. They also end the episode in prison – in fact, in the very same prison cell. The purpose for their short-lived escapade seems to have been so that the Mandalorian Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) could spot them fleeing through the city. Will she be the one to break them out of the Pyke dungeons next week? Maybe, but why couldn’t she do that…today? It’s not like we still have more than half of the series left to finish the story of the Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano, and the rest of this beloved ensemble cast: we only have a couple of episodes left, and we just wasted one on a story that took us full-circle.
The episode seems to have been intended as an introspective one, where Rafa and Trace could see Ahsoka in a new light, and vice versa. But the effort to achieve that effect falls flat too – not because Rafa’s reveal that Jedi killed their parents after deciding that taking a few lives was better than risking many more is a bad idea (in fact, it’s an awesome concept, because Ahsoka knows that it’s what the Jedi would, in fact, do), but because the excessively long and detailed speech in which she reveals this is composed of dry, emotionless exposition. After suffering through it, I was hoping that Rafa would throw in some witty one-liner to at least make the scene worthwhile: no such luck. Other than that, it’s a cool reveal, and it further convinces Ahsoka to hide her true identity – something that won’t be possible when she and the Martez sisters (hopefully) run into Bo-Katan, who knows Ahsoka was a Jedi, and, in fact, had memorable fights with her in previous seasons, when the two fought on opposing sides of the Clone Wars.
Oh yeah, and the Clone Wars themselves? Once again, relegated to the background. Once again, this wouldn’t be a problem if the series were longer and could devote more time to those wars, but it’s not, so every minute we spend away from the battlefront is time we’re losing – I’m not willing to make exceptions just because we’re spending time instead with Ahsoka, Trace and Rafa, regardless of how fun they are. Fingers crossed that Bo-Katan does rescue them next week, and gets them entangled in the tumultuous civil war currently raging on her home planet of Mandalore, bringing them (and us, the viewers) back to the forefront of the Clone Wars.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The past few days, we’ve been through all the basics: what Amazon Prime needs to do in their upcoming The Lord Of The Rings adaptation; what they should do; and, of course, what they should never do. So with that in mind…how many more “Top 10” lists can I think of? The answer is: at least one more, because today we’ll be looking at the ten characters I’m most hyped to see in The Lord Of The Rings.
As always, let me throw out a quick reminder to all of my readers who haven’t been following along (though, if you haven’t been at least following this series of posts, then why are you here now?): Amazon Prime’s series is not a straight-up adaptation of the best-selling novel by J.R.R. Tolkien – instead, it’s set at least three-thousand years prior to the events of that story, during a time period known as the Second Age. Thus, most of the characters you know and love won’t show up in the series, except a handful of immortals such as Galadriel, Elrond, Thranduil, and Sauron. All of these characters, however, will be either significantly younger, or just very different with regards to personalities, appearances, motivations, etc.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at my list, shall we?
10: Thranduil. Firstly, let me apologize for a glaring factual error in one of my previous posts, where I referred to Thranduil and his father Oropher, both Sindarin Elves of great prestige, as Silvan Elves. In fact, it’s partially because of this error that I realized Thranduil belongs on this list – the King of the Elves of Mirkwood (called Greenwood in the Second Age, and ruled from the hilltop city of Amon Lanc, which would later fall into ruin and be renamed Dol Guldur) was a Sindarin Elf who nonetheless looked out for his Silvan citizens and treated them with respect and benevolence, seemingly even adopting their “rustic” customs – at least in The Hobbit, where he’s most commonly found feasting in the woods, hunting wild animals or merrymaking. This is the Thranduil I want to see: he should still have some of Lee Pace’s steely, ice-cold hostility, but in private, I’d love for the King of the Woodland Elves to open up to his citizens, to share in their traditions, and to come across as a powerful leader and a guardian for his people.
9: Ar-Pharazôn. Whereas Thranduil was actually a decent guy, Ar-Pharazôn, the twenty-fifth and final king of Númenor, only gets worse when you learn more about him. On the surface, he doesn’t seem too bad: he was just a particularly strong-willed, stubborn and slightly dim-witted military commander who happened to get tricked by Sauron into declaring war on the gods and invading paradise, right? But how did he become King of Númenor in the first place? Well, by unlawfully marrying his cousin against her will, of course. The Dark Lord Sauron, ostensibly the King’s prisoner, flattered Ar-Pharazôn with lies until he was at last given freedom to come and go as he pleased in Númenor. It wasn’t long before Ar-Pharazôn had consented to worshiping the ancient evil Morgoth, and the ritual sacrifice of political prisoners. He burned the White Tree of the Elves, severing that link between the two peoples. And, yeah, he did also doom his country (not to mention untold numbers of his own citizens) to a horrific, watery end – all because he thought he could live forever if he bested the gods in open warfare. Still, I can’t wait to see this villainous puppet of Sauron’s get pulled apart in real-time.
8: Elrond. We’ve seen Elrond Half-Elven, master of the Last Homely House of Rivendell and bearer of the Ring of Air, a couple of times on the big screen before – but always as a stern, proud scholar with a particularly melancholy attitude towards life and humans in general (not entirely surprising: considering that most of the problems of the Second Age resulted from his brother’s decision to become a human Man instead of an Elf). The Elrond that we’ll meet in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings is going to be very young by Elven standards: so when I consider what his personality might be like, I imagine him as a generally optimistic and light-hearted individual who hasn’t yet been weathered and worn down by centuries of pain and sorrow. He hasn’t probably even met his future wife, Celebrían (who will eventually be tortured by Orcs until she can no longer bear to live in Middle-earth), and he has no idea he’ll one day be called upon to bear the weight of one of the Three Rings (which I’m sure King Gil-galad will give to him shortly before his brutal death at the hands of Sauron). Let’s just say: he’s in for a ride.
7: Glorfindel. This guy is one of the coolest in all of Middle-earth’s history – and when I say all of it, I mean all of it, because he’s been around for just as long as characters like Galadriel and Círdan, and been to Valinor, Middle-earth, the Halls of Mandos and everywhere in between. Originally an Elf of Gondolin who sacrificed his life to save fleeing refugees in the First Age, Glorfindel was judged to be so pure and good that he was almost immediately reincarnated and sent back to Middle-earth to help out the Elves during their war with Sauron in the Second Age. Not only that, but he was given semi-magical powers that put him almost on the level of Maiar like Gandalf. Throughout the Second Age, he fought alongside the Elves, rarely using his powers in war, and continued on into the Third Age as a great warrior and hero of legend, challenging the Witch-King, leading armies and rescuing Frodo Baggins. Remind me again why Legolas was chosen to represent the Elves on Frodo’s quest and not Glorfindel? Oh right, becauseGlorfindel was so powerful that Sauron would have sensed him coming from miles away, that’s why. Yet despite this, we’ve never seen him onscreen. Even if they do nothing else right, I will be forever grateful to Amazon if they make Glorfindel a major player in the series.
6: Erendis. In The Lord Of The Rings, there are far fewer women characters than men, and even some of the most prominent, like Galadriel and Arwen, are still only in a couple of chapters. But that’s not the case in the Second Age and Middle-earth’s ancient histories, where strong and complex women populate the legends – and one of the most interesting is Erendis. This Númenórean noblewoman put up with a lot; from her husband, her family, and her patriarchal society. But she wasn’t afraid to make enemies (she even publicly declared herself to be the personal nemesis of the divine Maia, Uinen, one of Númenor’s patron goddesses), and she stood her ground when attacked for her beliefs – which were radical for her time, as she counseled her daughter never to submit to the will of men. She’s loud, she’s persistent, and she’s exactly the type of character I want to see in Amazon’s Lord Of The Rings.
5: Tar-Ancalimë. Erendis’ daughter was no less interesting: neglected by her absent father and raised only by her mother and the women of their sheep-farm, Ancalimë almost never encounters men before suddenly becoming the first ruling Queen of Númenor. This scenario screams to be depicted onscreen: in my mind, I picture it playing out much like the film Elizabeth (in which The Lord Of The Rings‘ very own Cate Blanchett starred in the lead role), but with the newly-crowned Tar-Ancalimë having no one to turn to for counsel but herself and the advice of her mother. We don’t know much about the Queen’s reign, save that it was one of the longest in Númenórean history, and, in an act of revenge against her father, she withheld aid from her father’s ally, Gil-galad, during his war against Sauron. With so much blank space, there’s plenty of room to write new material.
4: Celebrimbor. Though only briefly mentioned in The Lord Of The Rings proper, Celebrimbor is one of the few Second Age characters that general audiences might know, thanks to the incredible popularity of the Shadow Of Mordor video games – the games themselves are not a very accurate adaptation of Middle-earth (as should have been obvious when they had Celebrimbor’s ghost team up with a Gondorian Ringwraith, a human version of Shelob, and Gollum to forge his own Ring and take down Sauron), but they did at least introduce a bunch of people to the character of Celebrimbor, and his identity as the craftsman behind the Rings of Power. Last of the line of Fëanor, Celebrimbor inherited much of his grandfather’s rebellious attitude, though he is generally viewed in a more positive light than his violent ancestors. Most of his faults were either exacerbated by or derived from Sauron, who deceived Celebrimbor into trusting him. Sadly, that was to be Celebrimbor’s fatal mistake, and he was killed after months of exhausting torture, refusing to disclose the locations of the other Rings of Power that he had forged. The Elf’s mangled body soon became one of Sauron’s favorite military souvenirs and hung from a banner when the Dark Lord marched into battle.
3: The Witch-King. Very little is known about any of the nine mortal men doomed to die, all of whom willingly bound their lives to the fate of Sauron and his One Ring in a bid for…what, exactly? Did they desire immortality? Magic? Power? We don’t know. Tolkien wrote that at least three of them were Númenóreans – likely imperialist military officers dispatched to Middle-earth to safeguard the empire’s colonies, who fell under the Dark Lord’s sway while there. Some of them may have been sorcerers. The only named member of the Nine was Khamûl, and he was an Easterling. But who was the enigmatic Witch-King, whom prophecy foretold would never be slain by any man? There’s no hint as to his true name, personality, or motivation for accepting one of the Nine Rings – which means Amazon Prime can do whatever they want with the character.
2: Galadriel. She’s always been my favorite character in the Tolkien legendarium, and not just because she was masterfully portrayed by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s trilogy. In Tolkien’s published works, you only see a tiny fraction of this heroine’s long and eventful life in Middle-earth: it’s only when you begin to find mentions of her in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales that you realize she is fascinating, nuanced, and, honestly, more complex than most of Tolkien’s male heroes. She started out as a woman of great physical strength, who participated in a variety of sports in her homeland of Valinor and was described as being an Amazon. She openly defied the Valar and chose to leave Valinor to pursue fortune and glory in Middle-earth, and when called upon to repent for that “crime” at the end of the First Age, she refused. She was an open-minded and intelligent leader: she fostered a close friendship with the Dwarves when other Elves shunned them, and she viewed them with the keen eye of a commander, helping them to ready their armies against Sauron’s onslaughts in the Second Age. She and her husband traveled all over Middle-earth, searching for allies in the coming war, settling in several different locations. She presumably led troops into battle on many occasions. In the Third Age, she gave magical aid to heroes such as Eorl and Frodo Baggins, and she entered Dol Guldur and drove back the darkness that hung over Mirkwood. And these are just the highlights of her life! If she’s not also my favorite character in the Amazon Prime series, I’d be very surprised.
1: Sauron. The only character I could see possibly vying with Galadriel for my undivided affection in the Second Age is…Sauron, base master of treachery, shape-shifting dark wizard and sadistic fallen angel. But that’s because Sauron, while he is indeed a villain, is still a villain with a purpose – and a good one, too. Originally a divine Maia whose chief virtue was supposedly perfectionism, Sauron was allured by the demonic deity Morgoth, whose visionary ideas of reformation appealed to him. Sauron, however, disagreed with Morgoth on many issues: in particular, he had no desire to see the world destroyed, instead hoping for a future in which he could be Middle-earth’s sole leader, and build a perfect utopia for himself and all his loyal subjects. Upon Morgoth’s fall, Sauron decided to make this a reality: he refused to repent for his crimes against the Valar, instead taking a beautiful human form and going among the Elves, offering them a chance to rebuild the world alongside him. At this point, Tolkien was explicit in saying that he was not fully evil. He did, in fact, want to make the world a better place – but because he could not be content with any imperfection in his plan, and because he had turned away from the teachings of Eru, the True God, and so could only mimic Morgoth’s flawed designs, he failed in his purpose and slipped into a feral rage, becoming tyrannical and too ambitious to be contained. That’s a great villain arc right there: all too often I hear people say that Sauron is a one-dimensional floating eye in the sky (I mean, it’s hard to even find an image for this post that isn’t of him as a floating eye!), and all I have to say to those people is that they’re wrong, and I will not tolerate your foolish arguments…and yes, I realize I just sounded like Sauron, so what?
Do you like my list? Would you add a couple more characters to it, or remove some? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Well, before we get into the list, let me remind you all that Amazon’s series isn’t a straight-up adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, the classic best-selling novel. Instead, it’s based on the tantalizing hints, references and scraps of unfinished stories about the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time period in the world’s history when Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, first rose to power with the help of the One Ring. That being said, Sauron isn’t the only thing you’ll find in this new adaptation that will be reminiscent of previous books, films and video games: characters like Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel will all presumably make appearances; locations like Rivendell, Mount Doom and Moria will be visited; events like the War of the Last Alliance and the forging of the Great Rings will be witnessed.
With that out of the way, let’s get to my list.
10: Sorrowful Elves. It’s important to remember that the Second Age ends about three-thousand years prior to Frodo Baggins’ quest at the very end of the Third Age. A lot of stuff happens in between those two points – including the events that cause the Elves to begin their slow decline into sorrow and grief. At the start of the Second Age, however, we should see the Elves in their heyday: a happy, peaceful people with a flourishing culture, working to rebuild after the traumas of the First Age. That means characters like Elrond, best known for being grim and dour, are going to be cheerful, bright and optimistic in the Amazon series; wise, experienced leaders like Galadriel will still be learning, growing, and making mistakes; aged, brooding wise men like Círdan…well, he’ll still be an aged, brooding wise man, but the rest of them will be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be singing “tra-la-la-la-lally,” but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be, either.
9: A Reliance On CGI. I’m flexible on this issue: on the one hand, I think CGI is an essential element in the making of any fantasy world, and particularly Middle-earth, and I definitely wouldn’t discourage Amazon from using it in many of the same ways Peter Jackson did in his original trilogy (to build fantastical locations, digitally construct armies, certain creatures, etc); but on the other hand, I’d counsel them not to rely on special effects as much as Jackson did with The Hobbit films – practical effects, real location shoots, physical props and sets: for the most part, these can do the job just as well as green-screens and digital wizardry.
8: A Fully Evil Sauron. It would be almost ridiculously easy to depict Second Age Sauron as a purely evil character, but that’s not the Sauron I want to see. Tolkien wrote that, in the beginning, Sauron was a perfectionist, whose plans for Middle-earth were ambitious, but no more evil than those of any reformer’s. He eventually grew to be a tyrant, thinking that Elves and Men could only flourish if they relinquished their own free will and submitted to his rule. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because the Sauron of the Second Age has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trickster god Loki (one of the most popular villains there is) than with the flaming eye of Peter Jackson’s films. Sauron, in fact, tried to do good – but his fate had been decided long before, when he turned away from the teachings of Eru and began learning from the devilish Morgoth, whose evil teachings Sauron implemented in his own plans. Amazon could do some amazing things with that storyline.
7: Eru. Speaking of Eru, it’s about time I addressed him. In my last post, I said it would be a mistake to leave the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods) out of the series, and I stand by that. But there’s one god I never want to see take a physical form in The Lord Of The Rings, and that’s Eru Ilúvatar, the One Above All. Eru is the highest, mightiest being in all of Tolkien’s legendarium – his song set all of history into motion; his plan is the divine plan, which cannot be undone by any design of Morgoth’s or Sauron’s; near the end of the Second Age, he intervenes one last time in the affairs of the world, reshaping the earth into a globe (it was flat previously), and sending the country of Númenor to the bottom of the sea. But though that means he’ll probably be brought up frequently in conversation, he shouldn’t ever be seen; at most, he should be a voice, but even that feels wrong. Eru is incomprehensible, on a plane of existence higher than any of our protagonists should be able to understand. Keep him offscreen. Leave the mystery intact.
6: Whitewashing. The fantasy genre already has a problem with diversity – series like Game Of Thrones employ one or two people of color in lead roles over the course of several seasons, and the few exceptions to the rule, such as The Witcher, get viciously attacked by an online community that resorts to the same tired excuses for why people of color are simply unthinkable in worlds filled with dragons, elves, orcs and wizards: it’s unrealistic because fantasy worlds are Euro-centric and Europe obviously never had any racial diversity; race-bending white characters is wrong because people of color need to write their own stories if they want to see themselves represented in mainstream media (but whitewashing characters of color is somehow okay?); Tolkien came from a different time period, and the series should reflect that by not having people of color, who clearly didn’t exist forty years ago. The cast of Lord Of The Rings currently includes a handful of people of color – but only fifteen actors have been cast so far, and I hope to see the number increase as more come onboard the project. I want to see Amazon take advantage of the amazing opportunity they have, and use their platform to hire talent of many different ethnicities – not to mention genders, sexual orientations and ages.
5: Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey, along with his partners Saruman and Radagast, were both sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age: to be the enemies of Sauron in that age, and that age alone. They didn’t witness any of the events of the Second Age, and they had never fought Sauron before the attack on Dol Guldur as depicted in The Hobbit; if they had, Gandalf would likely have been able to recognize the One Ring immediately, and Saruman might never have been deceived by Sauron’s lies. Having them arrive earlier in the timeline would be a very bad move – yet people continue to mistakenly assume that Gandalf is either going to be a major character, or a female lead, of the upcoming series. To avoid further confusion, I hope Amazon gives the series an official title soon that differentiates it from The Lord Of The Rings, which immediately brings to mind images of Gandalf and hobbits.
4: Hobbits. Allow me to clarify: hobbits did exist in the Second Age, even though they are only recorded in the Third Age and later. But these hobbits (a) dwelt only in Wilderland east of the Misty Mountains, and not in the Shire, and (b) had no impact on Middle-earth’s history at this time. Most importantly, there should be no interaction between Sauron and the hobbits: he, above all others, should never hear of them or even be aware that they exist. Why? Because the whole reason Frodo’s quest succeeds in The Lord Of The Rings is because Sauron (like Smaug before him) had never dealt with hobbits before. They were the unforeseen heroes of the Third Age, who “suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and Great.” So, Amazon: if you want to throw in some hobbits, put them in at the very end of the entire series, during the disaster of the Gladden Fields, when such an appearance might make sense. No sword-wielding hobbit heroics in the Second Age, please.
3: Game Of Thrones. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the series being more mature than the adaptations we’ve seen before: Tolkien’s world definitely isn’t grimdark or gritty, but the Second Age is a time of decadence, vice, violence and horrific evils (including, but not limited to, hundreds upon thousands of human sacrifices). So when I say I don’t want The Lord Of The Rings to be Game Of Thrones, I’m not necessarily saying it shouldn’t include violence (I refer you back to the human sacrifices), sexuality, and/or mature themes. I’m saying it should never revel in these things or use them for shock value, as Game Of Thrones was often accused of doing. So no, I don’t want to see violence against women used to subvert expectations; I don’t want to see nudity used to make exposition-heavy dialogue “more interesting” or whatever the excuse was; I don’t want to see fan-favorite characters get brutally murdered just to prove a cynical point. Tolkien’s world is one where hope survives even against immeasurable odds, where light endures in the darkest situations, where heroes are…for the most part…heroic. George R.R. Martin’s world is bleak, pessimistic, and, at least in the TV series, there is no end to its cycle of death, defeat and petty power struggles. That’s not bad: it’s just not Tolkien.
2: Incessant Callbacks. Often, a prequel to some successful film franchise (such as…oh I don’t know, The Hobbit) fails in part because it never tries to be its own thing: instead, with the help of callbacks, references and hints, it simply serves to remind viewers to go check out another, usually better, film or TV property that came before it. Using The Hobbit as an example: remember the really weird shout-out to Aragorn in The Battle Of The Five Armies that makes no sense, considering Aragorn was a ten year-old during the time of that film? Or how they refer to the recently drowned Master of Lake-town as being “half-way down the Anduin” when there’s no conceivable way he could ever have gotten there from the Lake of Esgaroth, as shown by their own maps? How about that bizarrely contrived scene where Legolas learns about Gimli sixty years before ever meeting him? These things serve no purpose in The Hobbit, except to remind us that, yes, we are still watching a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, as hard as it is to believe. Amazon doesn’t need to make that mistake: focus on telling a good story first, then weave in some subtle foreshadowing or evocative parallels later (also, for the love of Eru, choose better callbacks: one reason why those in The Hobbit fail is because they’re calling back to the weirdest things – athelas? Peter Jackson’s carrot-eating cameo? Why were these things necessary?)
1: Strictly Movie Canon. We know that Amazon wants to maintain some level of continuity with the classic Peter Jackson trilogy, and at one point they even approached Jackson – either for his help as a consultant, or simply for his blessing. It makes sense: Jackson defined Middle-earth with his award-winning, critically-acclaimed, hugely successful three-film magnum opus. He and his team are widely viewed as experts when it comes to worldbuilding of any kind. But there’s no need for Amazon to feel beholden to his specific vision of Middle-earth: while his is certainly the most iconic, it wasn’t the first, not will it be the last. Amazon should feel free to branch out, to use the books more frequently as source material than the movie, and along the way to establish their own unique take on Tolkien’s world. Let’s not forget: Peter Jackson has broken his own canon on occasion – Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring is completely different to the same scene in An Unexpected Journey: different actor, different scenery, set design, clothing design, everything. Amazon should be able to do that too.
So what do you think of my list? Do you disagree with my picks (it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty positive person, so it was hard for me to even think of ten things I didn’t want to see)? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Yesterday, I laid out ten defining moments from the Second Age of Middle-earth that will probably comprise the backbone of the Amazon Prime The Lord Of The Rings series coming to streaming in the near future: the misleading title would have you believe that Amazon is simply adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s iconic and beloved novels (and I’m sure Amazon is fine with that, if it lures you into watching their series), but this is anything but a retelling of the author’s most popular work. Instead, Amazon is going to be telling some of the less well-known stories from the depths of Middle-earth’s extensive history, specifically the Second Age.
But because J.R.R. Tolkien wrote so little about the Second Age, and so much of what he did write was only published posthumously by his son, many people don’t have a very clear idea of what to expect from the series, which is why, today, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten things that I want to see in The Lord Of The Rings. These aren’t necessarily things that will happen, but I feel that each one is a necessary element that would add whole new layers to our understanding of Middle-earth.
10: The Ent And The Entwife. While it would obviously be a non-canonical answer to an age-old question, it’s about time we finally saw what happened to the mysterious Entwives after Sauron swept through their gardens with a destructive slash-and-burn policy, near the end of the Second Age. By the time of Frodo Baggins’s quest, these gardens had been deserted for so long they were only known as the Brown Lands: but in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, we have a chance to see a flourishing Entish culture, maybe even some of the elusive Ent children that were so rare in later days. The Entwives passed on their agricultural knowledge to humans during the Second Age, giving them a narrative purpose (remember that one of the rumored main characters is said to be a farmer). As for what happens to them after Sauron attacks, well, that’s up to Amazon to decide: if they want to be really controversial, they could have them escape to the Land of Rhûn, backing up the claims of a recently uncovered map.
9: The Blue Wizards. This is a complicated subject. The two Blue Wizards are usually believed to have arrived on the shores of Middle-earth at the same time as their more well-known brethren – characters like Gandalf, Saruman and Radagast – and to have failed in their purpose, becoming servants of Sauron or founding mystic cults in lands like Harad and Rhûn. But one version of the story, written later in Tolkien’s life (and thus, by the generally-accepted laws of determining canon, the more accurate version), outlines a scenario where the Blue Wizards, individually named Alatar and Pallando (or Morinehtar and Rómestámo), entered Middle-earth during the Second Age, and journeyed far into the East and South, helping to disrupt Sauron’s plans and playing a crucial part in his defeat, both in the Second and Third Ages. In this version, they enter Middle-earth at about the same time as Glorfindel, a resurrected Elf of Gondolin sent back from death to aid in Elrond and Gil-galad’s defense of the citadel of Imladris (Rivendell). This is the version I want to see: while one of the two Wizards could potentially be corrupted by Sauron or otherwise fall from their higher purpose in the series, I’d like to see them depicted in a more heroic light – and since they’ll be journeying into lands more akin to the Middle East and Central Asia than Western Europe, I’d want to see them played by actors of color: specifically women of color, if that’s possible.
8: The Haradrim. In all of Tolkien’s legendarium, only two Haradrim are mentioned by name – and both come from the Second Age. Herumor and Fuinur were both Black Númenórean lords of Harad who fought alongside Sauron in the War of the Last Alliance. In the Amazon Prime series, we should see storylines – entire story arcs – set in the desert country, providing a welcome change from the more familiar lands of Eriador and Mordor, and giving us more racial diversity in Middle-earth. Helped by the subtle efforts of the Blue Wizards, we could see heroic Haradrim characters rise up against their villainous kings and resist Sauron’s influences.
7: Galadriel And Celeborn. Even Tolkien himself never came to a conclusion on how Galadriel and Celeborn met, what they did in the First Age, how they came to Middle-earth, or what they did when they got there. In the scraps of his unfinished tales, the two characters are constantly changing: at one point, they’re the parents of a son and daughter, but later they only had a daughter; sometimes Celeborn was a Telerin Elf, other times Sindarin; in some versions Galadriel rebelled against the Elf, but in others she left Valinor for different reasons. Amazon can’t adapt every variation on the same story. My suggestion is that, rather than try to stick to just one version of the tale, they’ll take all the best parts from many different versions and piece them together into one cohesive whole. Just so long as we see the Galadriel who was obsessed with Dwarves and the Celeborn who stayed behind in Eregion with Sauron rather than travel through the Dwarven city of Khazad-dûm, I’m good.
6: Valinor And Valar. Amazon will be limited by the restrictions placed upon them by the Tolkien Estate, but if they want to fully flesh out the ancient history of Middle-earth in a way it never has been before, they’d be wise to make it clear that a number of gods, demigods and angels inhabit the world of Arda. Even Peter Jackson hinted at this, during Gandalf’s rebirth. With the Númenóreans constantly praising Maiar like Uinen and Ossë, the Elves worshiping Varda, and the eagle messengers of Manwë showing up to forewarn people of impending doom, there are many opportunities to slip in references to these deities. As for Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar, there’s no way to tell the story of the Fall of Númenór without seeing that far green country at least once, through the eyes of the would-be conqueror Ar-Pharazôn, just before he and his army get crushed under a mountain.
5: Different Elves.In previous adaptations of the Tolkien mythos, there haven’t been many obvious distinctions drawn between the different Elven cultures, but in the Second Age, such a distinction will be necessary with so many characters sharing the screen. The High Elves or Eldar are the ones we’ll probably be following most closely: after being forced to migrate en masse from their ruined homelands in Beleriand, the High Elves settle down in the vast lands of Middle-earth, often uprooting the defenseless Silvan Elves from their own homes.Silvan Elves whom we might see include Amroth, the Prince of Lórien; Nimrodel, a notable Lórien resident and inventor of the flet treehouse; and a young Thranduil then living in Amon Lanc (which would later be overrun by Sauron’s forces and turned into Dol Guldur) with his father, the proud king Oropher. Though the simmering resentment the Silvan Elves feel toward the High Elves never boils over into aggression in Tolkien’s works, there’s certainly room for Amazon to go there with their story: not only to give the Elves some interesting dynamics, but to parallel the similar situation between the Númenóreans and the Men of Middle-earth.
4: Númenórean Imperialism. Tolkien himself went on the record as being anti-British Empire, and in his stories, imperialism is never viewed in a positive light: the Númenórean desire to rule over the “lesser” Men of Middle-earth during what was already the heyday of their power led them to ever bloodier, more brutal conquests that in turn led them straight to a watery end. To stay true to Tolkien, depicting the Númenóreans faithfully will require Amazon Prime to turn the initial heroes of the story into the villains, as the once peaceful culture devolves into an ambitious, power-hungry assortment of misguided kings and warmongering military leaders. It’s not going to be pretty.
3: The Refusal Of The Gift. One of the darkest – but most crucial – elements that Amazon will have to nail down in their series is the Númenórean society’s fear of death. In the beginning of the Second Age, the Men of Númenor are long-lived, surviving for hundreds of years and being given the ability to basically die whenever they feel like it, thus “giving up the gift” – that being the gift of death that was given to them by Eru, Middle-earth’s ultimate deity. But as the Second Age wanes and Númenor tries to extend its reach around the world, killing and pillaging in the process, these Men begin to grow jealous of the immortal Elves, and they become more obsessed with their own inevitable mortality than the years they have left to live. This is the volatile situation that Sauron the Deceiver will enter and masterfully manipulate to his own advantage – it’s critical that we understand why the Númenóreans would be so willing to listen to his lies.
2: Aldarion And Erendis. There’s absolutely no better place to begin foreshadowing Númenor’s downfall than in the story of Aldarion and Erendis. One of the only complete stories from the Second Age that Tolkien ever wrote, this tragedy tells the complicated tale of a long-lived Númenórean Prince named Aldarion who falls in love with a woman, Erendis, whose lifespan is far shorter than his own. Aldarion disappears on voyages to Middle-earth that last for years, sometimes even decades, as he establishes colonies, starts wars, and fells entire forests for timber, caring little for his duties back at home. Erendis, meanwhile, after openly declaring herself to be hateful of the Sea and a foe of the Maia Uinen, is forced to watch and wait for her sea-faring husband, while precious time slips through her fingers, robbing her of the best years of her life. Not only does it shed light on the interesting gender dynamics of the Second Age, but, with just a little tinkering, it could become an effective prelude to all of Númenor’s later troubles, with Aldarion and Erendis representing both the imperialistic tendencies and the fear of death that would combine to bring about the empire’s downfall.
1: The Lord Of The Rings. Confused? Well, don’t be, because what you might never have considered is that the title of the novel, which refers – obviously – to Sauron, is perhaps still just as fitting a title for the Amazon Prime series. After all, Sauron is going to be the prime antagonist of the show, and Amazon will give us an opportunity to finally see his true power. Throughout The Lord Of The Rings (the novel, not the series: I can see why using that title would be confusing), we’re told that Sauron reclaiming his One Ring would cause a second darkness, and give the Maia almost unlimited power – but in the Second Age, when Sauron did have the Ring and was still busy causing his first darkness, he was defeated (albeit temporarily) by one lucky guy with a broken sword. Amazon has a chance to show us, for the first time, what the Ring is actually capable of doing when bound around its dread master’s finger. I’m not saying I want to see the Lord of the Rings summon whirlwinds of fire or rain ruinous lightning down on his foes or anything…but no, actually, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
So what do you think? Would you care to see any of these ten things, or does it not matter to you what ends up in the series, so long as it’s good? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
With the coronavirus currently raging around the world and no end to the health crisis in sight, expect to see an increase in these sort of hypothetical think-pieces from my blog.
This is something I feel like I should have written about ages ago. But now, while we wait for production on Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings streaming series to resume, we have to wonder: what will the series actually be about? Hint: it’s not The Lord Of The Rings – or, rather, it is, but not quite in the way you were probably expecting, if you haven’t been following along with every tidbit of news about the series.
You see, while Amazon Prime does have the rights to J.R.R. Tolkien’s most well-known and influential novel, that’s not what they’re choosing to adapt in their billion-dollar, five-season production. Instead, they’re rummaging around in the depths of Tolkien lore, in a little-known and oft-overlooked period of Middle-earth history: a time period known as the Second Age. The average audience member introduced to the Tolkien fandom through Peter Jackson’s movies probably doesn’t know this term, but they do know two major events that happened in the Second Age – namely, the forging of the One Ring, and the first defeat of Sauron the Dark Lord. Both events happened in rapid succession in the prologue to The Fellowship Of The Ring, but in Tolkien’s timeline there are more than a thousand years between those two things.
That’s why today we’ll be looking at ten events that shaped the Second Age and will likely define the series.
10: Rebuilding After The First Age. Amazon Prime does not have the rights to adapt material from J.R.R. Tolkien’s posthumously published The Silmarillion, meaning they probably won’t be addressing too many events from the First Age of Middle-earth’s history, at least not in great detail. But they don’t really need to: the Second Age picks up right where the First left off, with all of Arda (basically, the entire world, of which Middle-earth is actually only a small piece) in ruins following the fall of Morgoth the Accursed and the destruction visited upon the earth’s surface by the trampling feet of the host of the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods). Continents get pushed around, coastlines change, mountains crumble – just an average day in Arda. Assuming the series starts roughly around the beginning of the Second Age, it’ll have to cover several events that happen here: the migrations of Elves, Men and Dwarves across Middle-earth, the foundations of new cities and strongholds, and the establishment of empires such as Númenor, a star-shaped island kingdom given as a gift to Mankind by the Valar; Lindon, which becomes the chief dwelling-place of the High Elves under the rule of King Gil-galad; and Eregion, a small but hugely influential kingdom settled by Celebrimbor, last of the crafty Fëanorian Elves. Even if the series starts later in the Second Age, these events will still probably be covered in flashbacks.
9: The Heyday Of Elves And Men. This is the time period during which we can probably expect a large part of the series to take place. Basically, what you need to remember about the Elves we’ll see living in Second Age in Middle-earth is that they chose to stay there. After the First Age, when the world was remade and Morgoth was undone, the Elves were offered a choice by the Valar: to repent for all their sins (which included killing some of their brethren and defying the will of the Valar) and return to the Blessed Realm of Valinor across the Western Sea, or to remain in Middle-earth. Some chose to head back home, but a lot decided to stay: the ones who stayed grew arrogant, and tried to prove to the Valar, in a way, that they could make Middle-earth just as blissful and peaceful as Valinor. This motivated Celebrimbor to welcome a stranger who came among his people claiming to be an emissary from the Valar who had taken pity on the Elves of Middle-earth. This stranger, going by the name of Annatar, Giver of Gifts, was welcomed into the kingdom of Eregion and quickly rose to power there. Meanwhile, in Númenor, human Men began to sail far and wide across the seas of Arda, settling in colonies along the coasts of Middle-earth and venturing even to the edge of the world. Something else to remember, for future reference: at this point in the timeline, the earth is flat. A flat, roughly circular disc just floating in the cosmos, minding its own business. So when I say the Númenóreans ventured to the edge of the world….I mean that literally.
8: The Rings Of Power. Remember that stranger who showed up in Eregion? Yeah, well, it’s at this point in the timeline that he basically comes out and says what every Elf in Middle-earth has already been feeling: it’s time to radically redesign the balance of power in Arda. He and Celebrimbor work together to forge a set of Rings, each of which is imbued with terrible power. These Rings are given out to all the major players in Middle-earth: King Gil-galad gets one, Círdan the Shipwright gets one, the Lady Galadriel gets one; seven Dwarf-lord get one each; nine of the most powerful human sorcerers, kings and warriors get one each. But in secret, Annatar, Giver of Gifts, has been stealing Celebrimbor’s secrets to forge his own Ring – a master Ring, a Ring that will rule all the other Rings and bind them to his will. Oh wait, did I forget to mention that Annatar is actually Sauron the Dark Lord in disguise? Yeah, he totally is, and he’s intent on getting vengeance on the Valar for what they did to Morgoth, his master and mentor in the First Age. But when he puts on his One Ring and declares himself to be the Lord of the Rings, Celebrimbor senses his true purpose and hides all the other Rings, buying himself a little time.
7: The War Of The Elves And Sauron. Unfortunately for Celebrimbor, his quick action meant that the Three Rings given to the Elves were saved – but he himself was captured by Sauron during an attack on Eregion, tortured for that information until he died of exhaustion, and then was tied to a flagpole and carried like a banner into battle by Sauron’s armies of orcs. In the end, Celebrimbor only disclosed to Sauron the locations of the Seven and Nine Rings they had made, and Sauron took most of those at this point. For a long time afterwards, Sauron was at war with the Elves of Middle-earth, and this is where the series will be able to fit in some awesome battles: Gil-galad and his herald, Elrond, lead the main assault against Sauron, but they are joined by several others, including Círdan with his fleets of Elven ships; Galadriel and Celeborn, leading joint efforts from both sides of the Misty Mountains; the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm; and Glorfindel, a resurrected Elf from the First Age who is sent back to Middle-earth by the Valar to aid in the Elven Wars. But even with all of this aid, the Elves still would likely have been defeated, had not Númenor arrived just in time.
6: The Decline Of Númenor. While the Elves are busy fighting Sauron in Middle-earth for centuries, the Men of Númenor are feeling the Dark Lord’s shadow from afar. At the height of their power, the Númenóreans were a naturally long-lived people, but as time went on their longevity began to wear away, even as they clung to it. In their heyday, they had welcomed Elves to their island paradise: even Elves who came from Valinor with gifts and wise advice. But now, they’re starting to wonder why only Elves were “blessed” with immortality, and their jealousy of Valinor grows until it becomes a disease. Amazon will need to get this exactly right: we need to feel that desperation that will drive the Númenóreans to madness and acts of blatant aggression; we need to see the terror in the eyes of their Kings, holding onto life even as they slip away; we need to smell the decay that creeps through their culture, foreshadowing what’s to come.
5: Sauron In Númenor. When the Númenórean army arrives in Middle-earth, bringing an end to the war between Sauron and the Elves, Sauron realizes at once that he is outnumbered. But Sauron is cunning: pretending to be defeated, he willingly surrenders to the Númenórean king and commander, Ar-Pharazôn, and is subsequently taken back to Númenor to be a prisoner. Here, he pulls the same trick he used against the Elves: he promises Ar-Pharazôn his greatest desire – in this case, everlasting life. This, he claims, can only be won if Ar-Pharazôn musters the courage and the army to invade Valinor, the Blessed Realm of the Valar. Ar-Pharazôn, not known for being the brightest Edain in Arda, finally succumbs to his prisoner’s seduction, and allows Sauron to counsel him in every matter: when Sauron begins the building of his army, the King agrees to it; when Sauron builds a temple to Morgoth and starts practicing bloody human sacrifices there, the King agrees to it; when Sauron sends him off to his death, the King agrees to it, ignoring all the warnings of doomsday that the Valar send his way. He and his army do make it to Valinor, and they even set foot on the Blessed Realm’s shores – and then, in the greatest act of comeuppance ever, the Valar kill him and almost everyone else in Númenor by sending the island hurtling into the ocean abyss and burying Ar-Pharazôn under a mountain. Sauron is temporarily killed in the cataclysmic disaster, and he loses his ability to ever again take a human form.
4: Gondor And Arnor. At this time, the world is remade again by the Valar, and becomes a globe. Oddly, the only effect this has on the Middle-earth map, aside from the complete disappearance of Númenor, is changing one island in the Bay of Belfalas. Coincidentally, it’s in this bay that the next chapter of the Second Age begins, as this is where one small group of battered ships arrives after a long and arduous journey by sea, manned by the Númenórean prince, Isildur, and his brother. Their father, Elendil, gets washed ashore in the far north of Middle-earth. At these two points on the map, these men set up two kingdoms: Gondor in the south, and Arnor in the north. These kingdoms become one vast empire in these last few years of the Second Age, and are united in opposing Sauron. Isildur builds the city of Minas Anor (later changed to Minas Tirith), and plants the sapling of the White Tree of Gondor there. The seven seeing stones, or palantíri, are placed in secure locations around Middle-earth. The tower of Orthanc in Isengard is built. With callbacks like these, who needs hobbits?
3: The War Of The Last Alliance. Needless to say, Sauron isn’t done haranguing our heroes just yet. Gathering his forces for a final push, he leads his armies of corrupted Ringwraithes, orcs, and foul creatures into battle against the fledgling force of Gondor. But in this dark hour, Mankind does not stand alone. Elendil, King of Arnor, goes to Gil-galad and Elrond and requests their aid: they form a Last Alliance of Elves and Men, and lead their armies together into the south, relieving the siege of Gondor and eventually entering Mordor, Sauron’s dreadful realm. As they approach Mordor, they are joined by Elves out of Lórien and Greenwood, Dwarves from the Misty Mountains, and even Ents out of Fangorn Forest. There are several battles along the way, most notably on the plain of Dagorlad that would later become bogged down and renamed the Dead Marshes. In Mordor, the Last Alliance besieges Sauron’s fortress of Barad-dûr, which lasts for several years.
2: The Fall Of Sauron. At last, Sauron breaks the siege, though not before many have died, including Isildur’s brother Anárion and Oropher, king of the Elves of Greenwood. The Dark Lord arrives on the battlefield wearing the One Ring he created, making him almost invulnerable – he drives the attacking armies back to the slopes of Mount Doom, and there, with the fiery heat of his hand, he kills Gil-galad and Elendil. But Isildur, Elendil’s son, takes up the hilt-shard of his father’s broken sword and deals the fatal blow to Sauron, cutting the One Ring from the Dark Lord’s finger. Sauron is vanquished, and his evil spirit flees, incorporeal and weakened. His armies are easily defeated. His Ringwraithes vanish from history. And the war is won. But Isildur refuses to listen to the counsel of Elrond and Círdan, who both advise him to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom. Instead, Isildur finds himself unable to get rid of the Ring, and holds onto it as a souvenir of his victory.
1: The Disaster Of The Gladden Fields. This one is entirely up to the showrunners: it’s possible they’ll want to end the series on a more hopeful note, with the survivors of the war picking up the threads of their broken lives and moving on, and all that. And certainly there should be some happy endings – but at the same time, it would be deliciously exciting to end the entire series with the disaster of the Gladden Fields, something that was glimpsed briefly in The Fellowship Of The Ring. Isildur, returning home from the war, is attacked by a rogue band of orcs and killed – and the One Ring slips from his finger as he falls and drops into the River Anduin. Imagine it: Howard Shore’s familiar, eerie score closing out the final episode of the final season, as we watch the Ring settle into the mud at the river-bed, there to lie in wait for the next two and a half thousand years…
So what do you think of these ten events from the Second Age timeline? Will they define the series, or do you think the showrunners will focus their adaptation on a singular moment from the chronology, rather than trying to fit three-thousand years worth of story into just five seasons? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Last night, I had the chance to watch Avengers: Endgame again for the first time in a while. As on previous rewatches of the film, I found myself appreciating most of the first act of the movie (where, SPOILER ALERT I GUESS?, the Avengers kill Thanos), and most of the third act (where the Avengers kill Thanos a second time). I even liked a lot of stuff in my least-favorite part of the movie, that troublesome second act that has the team split up across different timelines and try to steal Infinity Stones from history.
But I still cringed at the absolute worst part of Avengers: Endgame – the scene in which Natasha Romanoff, the legendary Black Widow, sacrifices both her life and years of character development in exchange for the mysterious Soul Stone, willingly leaping from that accursed cliff on the godforsaken planet of Vormir to her very certain death. Cue the outrage. Natasha Romanoff, Marvel’s first (and for a long time, only) woman Avenger, was sacrificed in much the same way as another woman a year earlier: Gamora, who was tossed from the cliff by her own father. As womens’ bodies continue to pile up at the foot of that stupid cliff, fans (and especially, female fans) asked Marvel one simple favor: could you please stop fridging women?
Natasha Romanoff’s death is doubly infuriating because it came just before her long-awaited solo movie, Black Widow, which is supposed to explore an adventure in her past, before the events of Avengers: Endgame. But many are still clinging to a desperate hope that the Widow is still somewhere out there, either alive on earth or fighting to get back home. So let’s take a look at a couple ways Natasha could come back to life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
5: It Wasn’t Really Her.
This theory is a bit preposterous, but still worth noting: the idea is that Natasha Romanoff’s “sister”, Yelena Belova, who will make her debut in the Black Widow film, actually traded identities with Natasha before Avengers: Infinity War, or at some other point before Avengers: Endgame. There’s a little bit of evidence that supports this: Natasha wearing Yelena Belova’s jacket in Infinity War; a shot from a recent Black Widow trailer that shows Yelena Belova on a surgical table with a strange scar around her forehead, as if her face had been removed or changed. This option is undoubtedly the least appealing, not only because it would mean that the rest of Natasha’s awesome character beats in Endgame weren’t her own, but because this only changes the identity of the woman victim. As Infinity War Captain America would say: “We don’t trade lives.” Nonetheless, expect the super-spy sisters to swap identities frequently in the Black Widow film.
4: Multiverse Shenanigans.
As I mentioned previously, Gamora was the first person to lose her life on Vormir – but she has since returned, thanks to the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. Coincidentally, it was when Black Widow, Nebula, Hawkeye and War Machine traveled back to 2014 to retrieve the Power and Soul Stones that a 2014 version of Gamora was able to slip through into the present Marvel timeline, along with the 2014 Nebula and Thanos. If the Avengers wanted to bring Natasha back, they could simply find a version of her from another timeline – but that poses a whole bunch of other problems.
3: Bruce Resurrected Her.
One of the plot-lines left over from Avengers: Age Of Ultron that went nowhere was the love story between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner a.k.a. The Hulk. The two characters both regarded themselves as “monsters” (let’s not even get into the reasons why), and bonded over that. But after Bruce went missing for two years and the Avengers films switched directors, that story was mostly left unfinished. Except for the fact that, when Bruce Banner finally got his hands on a fully-operational Infinity Gauntlet at the end of Endgame and snapped his fingers to bring back the people that Thanos had dusted, he also tried to bring back Natasha. This is only mentioned in a throwaway line in the film’s final few minutes, but it’s still intriguing – could Bruce have been successful? How would he know? Natasha would presumably be resurrected on Vormir where she died, meaning she’d have to find her own way home.
2: Captain America Came To Bargain.
At the end of Avengers: Endgame, Captain America takes it upon himself to go back in time and return all the Infinity Stones the Avengers had taken from time. The Space Stone went back to New Jersey, the Time Stone back to the Sanctum Sanctorum, the Reality Stone…I don’t even want to know how he somehow injected it back into Jane Foster without her knowing. But the Soul Stone is the most interesting one: to bring it back, Captain America would have to return to Vormir, to the exact moment of Natasha’s death, and hand it over to…Red Skull, I guess. But does returning the Stone mean that Natasha’s life is also returned? If Natasha is to be brought back to life, this is by far the most likely explanation as to why.
1: Natasha, Daughter Of Ivan.
And then we come to my theory. I’ve always believed that there’s a reason the Black Widow solo film is supposed to kick off the epic, cosmic events of Marvel’s Phase 4. But what business does the decidedly human heroine have in this universe of gods, aliens and mythical lore? Well, my theory is rooted in comic lore and a very intriguing name that gets dropped minutes before Natasha’s death. Red Skull calls her “daughter of Ivan”, and Natasha comments that he must be telling the truth, because she didn’t even know her father’s name. But who is Ivan? While there are any number of Ivan so-and-so’s associated with Natasha in the comics, there’s also another character who goes by that name, who has a connection to the events about to unfold in the MCU: Ivan Druig is the alias that Druig, an Eternal (who will be played by Barry Keoghan in The Eternals), takes when he impersonates a sadistic Russian KGB officer and the leader of a small Soviet state named Vorozheika. If “Ivan” is Ivan Druig, and Natasha is Ivan’s daughter, that makes her a demigod – similar to how Peter Quill was revealed to be the son of a living planet. Druig might have an interest in resurrecting his daughter, maybe even giving her new powers in the process. If this were the case, Natasha could hold her own in the next phase of the MCU, while her film would have a major tie-in to The Eternals that would help to get audiences excited for that film.
What do you think of these theories? Do you even want to see Natasha brought back, or were you happy with her sacrifice? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
For some, I’m sure it’s a bit of a disappointment that the final season of The Clone Wars has so far devoted less time to the Clone Wars than the interpersonal dynamics of our main characters, with small-scale, introspective interludes providing insight into our heroes’ motives and agendas. So far, there’s only been a handful of battles, and for the most part they too have been smaller than in previous seasons.
But while I too felt the same way, my feelings on the current season have changed since watching today’s episode: as far as TheClone Wars stories go, this is one of the best I’ve seen – not because of showy action-scenes (there are none!) or shocking revelations concerning Star Wars lore, but because of the fascinating relationships between the core trio in this new story arc, and the surprising depth and complexity of their motivations.
Once again, I have to hand it to Ahsoka Tano (voiced by Ashley Eckstein): the Jedi padawan turned exiled Coruscant rogue has always been one of The Clone Wars‘ greatest weapons in its fight to maintain relevance and pop culture significance – her lovable character, burdened as she is with regret, sadness and longing, touched our heartstrings when she made the bold decision to leave the Jedi Order, after being framed for a horrible crime and forced to turn against her friends. Now, stuck in the criminal underworld far below the surface of Coruscant, Ahsoka relies on her wits and social skills to carry her expertly through even the most dangerous situations.
Joining her for the ride (or rather, inviting her on the ride in the first place) are sisters Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and Trace Martez (Brigitte Kali), a tough, wise-cracking duo. I found both characters to be mildly interesting in last week’s episode, which introduced viewers and Ahsoka to them for the first time, but now, with much better writing, both women come off as clearly defined, charismatic characters. Rafa, the older of the two, endangers them all when she enters into a risky bargain with the Pyke Crime Syndicate, which involves a journey through hyperspace to the planet Kessel (an important location in Han Solo’s origin story as a smuggler), but her heart is in the right place and she made the deal to try and buy herself and her sister an escape ticket from Coruscant. Trace and Ahsoka, who have developed a very close bond during their time together, quickly become entangled in the bargain as Rafa’s plan begins to unravel, with Trace having to pilot her work-in-progress starship The Silver Angel to carry out Rafa’s illegal scheme – and Ahsoka having to use all her Jedi training to figure out a way to keep the trio safe.
This task is made more difficult because Ahsoka is currently trying to keep her past a secret, especially since discovering that, in Coruscant’s lower levels, Jedi are looked upon as a corrupt police force prone to violence: when pressed about how she knows so much about everything from starship engineering to the political situation on Kessel, Ahsoka has to come up with more and more elaborate explanations – one of her best excuses is when she claims she graduated from “Skywalker Academy” in the upper levels of Coruscant. Another fabulously constructed moment involves Ahsoka nearly running into her former Jedi master by chance when Trace Martez accidentally steers her amateur ship directly into a military flight lane, prompting Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) and Admiral Yularen (Tom Kane) to question the ship’s crew over the radio. But it’s Anakin who tells the Admiral to back down when he reaches out into the Force and senses Ahsoka on the ship. The moment is absolutely heartbreaking: but Ahsoka’s subsequent silence only reinforces the divide between the two characters, who were once as close as siblings. Later in the episode, Ahsoka has no qualms about making a pointed jab at the Republic she used to serve for not shutting down the slave-worked spice mines of Kessel.
Nonetheless, despite how cleverly Ahsoka is able to disguise herself, it’s very clear that Rafa has her doubts about the Martez sisters’ new working partner. She drives a wedge between Trace and Ahsoka’s close friendship, which in turn causes them to argue, which then leads to…well, SPOILERS.
Basically, the end result of the episode is that Trace Martez dumps three-thousand credits worth of quality Kessel spice into the void of hyperspace, an action she quickly regrets after she realizes she was misinterpreting Ahsoka’s “ethical argument”. Ahsoka, for her part, might have been wise to clarify that when she said she didn’t want to hand over spice to the Pykes, that didn’t actually mean she wanted to get rid of the spice entirely. But when the trio do come face to face with the Pyke Crime Syndicate at the end of the episode, it’s Ahsoka who briefly saves them all when she utilizes a hasty Jedi mind trick against the Pyke leader – which would have worked, had there not been other Pykes present: we leave our heroines stuck in a Pyke tractor beam, their escape plan foiled, their futures uncertain. Will Ahsoka be revealed as a Jedi in next week’s episode, as the three women presumably find themselves locked up in a Pyke prison? Will Rafa and Trace ride Ahsoka’s coattails to freedom, or devise their own plan? We must wait and see.
What did you think of this episode of The Clone Wars? Personally, I’d say it’s been my favorite of the final season so far, but I’m hoping the series can find a way to outdo itself next week. Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Considering that I went into The Letter For The King expecting to be bored out of my mind, I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with what I got: which, indeed, is mostly a blend of various tired fantasy tropes and scenes or even entire characters plucked straight from other, better, works of art, but also has just enough new – or mostly new – content to distance itself from the pack.
Based on an obscure Dutch fantasy novel from the 1960’s, The Letter For The King simply doesn’t have the name recognition that would enable it to jump into the midst of Netflix’s crowded schedule with a built-in fanbase. In English-speaking countries, there wasn’t even a proper translation of the novel until a few years ago. So it’s unsurprising that the six-part series has to look for inspiration elsewhere: almost the entire plot is comprised of original content, and almost all of that original content is…shall we say, lifted, from fantasy books, films and TV series as wide-ranging as The Lord Of The Rings, Game Of Thrones, The Witcher, The Chronicles Of Prydain and Starlight. The latter two, with their largely simplistic worlds, basic magic systems, and archetypal characters, are by far the most obvious source material – even with Lord Of The Rings trilogy production designer Ra Vincent working behind the scenes, The Letter For The King still looks and feels like a small-scale children’s fable (and that’s not a criticism of Prydain or Starlight, by the way: both are fabulous) that might have attracted more attention if it had been released fifteen years ago, when studios were trying desperately to replicate the success of The Lord Of The Rings by using as little money and effort as possible. These days, as the hunt for the next Game Of Thrones heats up, The Letter For The King, with its antiquated fairytale style and low stakes, has little chance of being an underdog champion like its protagonist, Tiuri (alternately pronounced “Tiuri” or “Churri” – I doubt it was intentional, but the constantly changing pronunciations of his name often reminded me of a similar problem in Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic TheLord Of The Rings, where the villain Saruman’s name was changed halfway through production to “Aruman”, leading to a perplexing continuity error).
Oftentimes, adaptations of fantasy and sci-fi literature fail because they try to excessively build their worlds rather than doing the same with their characters or plot: cramming detail and deep lore into every inch of your expansive world is certainly much more fun than patching up plot-holes or charting character arcs, but if done incorrectly, it can bog down a film or TV series within minutes, as the audience struggles to catch up with a constant flow of place names, history lessons and nonsensical exposition dumps. The Letter For The King somehow does the exact opposite and still runs into a problem: because it does the bare minimum to flesh out its world (for example, the world actually has no name: its simply referred to as “three kingdoms”), it ends up looking like any of a thousand generic fantasy worlds – a sprinkling of vague magic, Medieval European societies dotting a map, and an obligatory Chosen One prophecy.
But once it becomes apparent that this is a problem (about five minutes in, I think?), the show starts hurling things at you that give the impression of depth: specifically, actors from other fantasy franchises. David Wenham, who portrayed Faramir, the young, idealistic son of a stern and demanding father, in The Lord Of The Rings, has here been upgraded to playing the stern and demanding father of a young, idealistic son (and make no mistake: he does a fantastic job of it). Andy Serkis, whose revolutionary motion-capture performance as the creature Gollum earned him worldwide renown, here delights in a brief cameo as an actual human being: something of a mix between the Master of Lake-town from The Hobbit and Capricorn, the villain of Inkheart (who, coincidentally, was also portrayed by Serkis in the film adaptation of that novel). Serkis’ daughter Ruby Ashbourne Serkis also shares the screen with him, playing his character’s daughter Lavinia, and then goes on to become the female lead of the series – her acting career is off to a good start, judging by the strength of her performance here. And in a very smart move, Kim Bodnia plays the sword-fighting abbot of the monastery at the edge of the world: Bodnia will portray the Witcher Vesemir in The Witcher‘s second season, and this is a tantalizing first look at what he could do in that role – Witcher fans would be smart to check out his fighting and acting skills here, and simultaneously give The Letter To The King some much-needed views.
Because despite being derivative, the series actually does have quite a lot of strong elements: especially if you’re into the more romanticized, outdated style of fantasy that was popular throughout the middle of the 20th Century. It has charm, for one thing – the series is TV-PG and family-friendly: a welcome break from The Witcher‘s gothic horror and Game Of Thrones‘ vicious brutality. And the core cast of characters are all fairly well developed: Tiuri, played by Amir Wilson, isn’t exactly a memorable hero, but he’s also not quite as dull as Starlight‘s Tristan or Prydain‘s Taran (what’s with all the T names, may I ask?). His character also has interesting things to say regarding the racial dynamics in his world – none of which ever actually get said, but still exist in subtext. Thaddea Graham’s hardened rogue Iona evolves into an Arya Stark prodigy (her final scene in the series actually seems to direct imitate one of Arya’s memorable scenes with The Hound from Game Of Thrones, season 8). Jussipo, initially one of the most annoying characters in the series, quickly shows his true colors as a delightfully smarmy, wickedly sarcastic bard. And along with gender and racial diversity, there’s even some surprising LGBTQ+ representation among the main cast – which, after all the recent queer-baiting from other studios, deserves a round of applause for how direct and straightforward it is.
Any good fantasy needs a good villain – a Cersei Lannister, a Smaug, a wicked old witch. The Letter For The King has an up-and-down relationship with its villain, Gijs Blom’s raven-haired goth necromancer Viridian: first it depicts him as a cartoonishly callous sadist without any moral complexity; then it tries to turn the tables on our heroes and reveal Viridian’s noble purpose, which actually works until said noble purpose turns out to be thinly-veiled racism; then it underutilizes him in its own finale before turning him into an overpowered Morgoth knock-off.
Speaking of which, we have to talk about the series’ poor use of action. Action, in a fantasy series, is something of a given: even if its special effects wizardry, you need some sort of action. The Letter For The King, being almost exclusively the story of Tiuri intercepting an incriminating letter from Viridian and trying to deliver it to a neighboring nation’s king, relies heavily on horseback fight and chase scenes. Now, these are easy to do right, with the help of a good cinematographer: in The Lord Of The Rings, Arwen and Frodo’s flight to the fords of Bruinen is a thrilling, suspenseful sequence where horses interlace between trees in a graceful, dangerous dance while Howard Shore’s score wails hauntingly in the background. Unfortunately, the thousands of horse chases in this series never once come close to paralleling that one epic scene, no matter how many times they pan over beautiful landscapes: the music accompanying these scenes is unmemorable, while the cinematography is questionable – mounting a camera on a horse’s head probably seemed like a good idea to make one chase scene more realistic, but did no one stop to consider that it takes the viewer out of the world completely?
It’s the same situation with the special effects budget. Most of the CGI seems to have been used up on Viridian’s finale transformation, meaning that throughout the rest of the series there’s just a bunch of patchy fire and smoke effects and one truly horrific CGI castle wall in the city of Unauwen – which was made doubly inexcusable because of how many times the city was made out to look like Game Of Thrones‘ Winterfell from afar, despite the fact that the one is a mess of bad special effects and the other was an almost entirely practical set.
So is The Letter For The King a must-see? Not by any means. But while we’re all self-quarantining, I don’t know if we’ve got any better options right now. And it’s actually not that bad. Pretty bad? Yeah, just a little. Game Of Thrones season 8 bad? No. Not even close.
Netflix’s Self-Made is a mere four episodes long, and each episode is under an hour long, but somehow never once feels too short or too fast-paced: in fact, at multiple points while watching the miniseries, I found myself mistakenly thinking I had watched more episodes than I really had. And that’s because there’s a lot of material in this show – because, shocker, the story of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made female millionaire and a pioneer in black history, is actually just as fascinating as the oft-repeated tales of rich white men. Who’d have guessed?
Showrunner Kasi Lemmons doesn’t just focus on all the defining moments of Madam C.J. Walker’s life either: while the series does center around this incredible woman’s rise to fame and fortune and the legacy that outlasted her, Lemmons also finds time to turn the spotlight on two equally interesting women who circled the Madam during her life: her daughter A’Lelia, who became a fixture of Harlem culture during the 1920’s; and Addie Monroe, a fictional character heavily based on Madam C.J. Walker’s real-life business partner and later rival, Annie Malone.
These three women each find themselves using different tactics and strategies to navigate through early 20th Century America, but it’s Madam C.J. Walker, a St. Louis laundress who starts out the series having just been abandoned by her abusive, alcoholic husband, who comes out on top, rising to prominence as the leading creator and seller of hair and beauty products for black women. From her humble beginnings as the daughter of former slaves to sharing a scene with another Gilded Age tycoon, John D. Rockefeller himself (who offers her some characteristically unhelpful advice on how to deal with workers’ strikes), the Madam is portrayed as a woman determined to make a name for herself and find independence and purpose in what was almost exclusively a man’s world. Octavia Spencer, of course, delivers a fantastic performance, bringing out Madam C.J. Walker’s humor, big heart, and fiery determination: though the series could easily have depicted the Madam as an invincible character breaking down the patriarchy one business deal at a time (and indeed, the idea is tempting, never more so than when our heroine challenges the noted activist Booker T. Washington over his sexist views), it instead succeeds because of how it shows her as a woman with ordinary flaws and weaknesses, as well as incredible strength. This is most apparent when it comes to her relationships with her family: from her husband, C.J. Walker, who has some…difficulty…being anything less than the Walker family’s sole breadwinner; to her father-in-law, who somehow manages to be the funniest character on a show that also stars Tiffany Haddish; to Haddish’s A’Lelia, Madam C.J. Walker’s daughter and closest confidante.
A’Lelia is a brilliant, larger-than-life figure alongside her more reserved, steely mother. She kind of has to be: A’Lelia became most famous later in life for her contributions to the arts as a patron of black musicians, artists, writers and other creatives. The series spends a considerable amount of time following A’Lelia as she come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t share her mother’s dreams, and simultaneously discovers her true calling. But she and her mother clash a number of times as they diverge on how to establish a legacy for the Walker company and family. This situation is made more volatile when it becomes clear that A’Lelia is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, who has no interest in settling down with a husband or having children.
And then we have Carmen Ejogo’s Addie Monroe, a character who, as I previously noted, is based on Madam C.J. Walker’s actual business rival. Though she initially comforts and cares for Walker (back when the Madam was still only destitute Sarah Breedlove, doing chores for Monroe in exchange for hair-growth treatments), she quickly parts ways from her former friend after Walker expresses an interest in helping Monroe sell her product – which Monroe, a light-skinned African-American woman, thinks will destroy her public image. But when Walker’s own products outsell Monroe’s and threaten the latter’s business, the rivalry between the two entrepreneurs forces them to think up bigger, bolder plans for their companies, until they both become obsessed with trying to outsmart each other.
But in the end, even though Monroe is still mostly a villainous character, she’s also a businesswoman just like The Madam – and a theme prevalent in Self-Made is that when one woman succeeds, all women succeed. It becomes the cornerstone of Walker’s career, and we see its effects near the finale of the series during a montage (which is strongly reminiscent of an infomercial, but I’ll let that slide) of various women who break the fourth wall to talk about the ways that Walker inspired them to pursue their own dreams and forge their own paths in life – interestingly, there’s a fair bit of fourth wall breaking in the series: for instance, the events of the first episode are intercut with a scene of Walker and Monroe battling it out in a metaphorical boxing match. This is one of the series’ few questionable creative decisions, since it seems to have no real impact other than to make the aforementioned infomercial ending organic rather than jarring.
Apart from that, the series has impeccable production design, cinematography and, of course, hair and makeup (“Hair is power,” Walker declares in one scene: and she couldn’t be more right). Kasi Lemmons and her team have done an excellent job bringing this historical heroine’s life story to the screen in a way that makes her feel very much alive, and just as monumental as any of the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and Carnegies.
So what did you think of Self-Made? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below!
By a bizarre coincidence, the same day that Ahsoka Tano made her hotly-anticipated return to The Clone Wars in the series’ final season, news also broke that the former Jedi warrior would make her very first live-action appearance in the second season of The Mandalorian on the Disney+ streaming platform. The report, since verified by a number of other sources and trades, states that actress Rosario Dawson will portray Tano in the Star Wars spinoff, which will find Pedro Pascal’s titular Mandalorian and his adorable sidekick Baby Yoda hunting for the few living Jedi spread out across the galaxy in the aftermath of the Empire’s fall.
Obviously, Ahsoka Tano is exactly the type of character one would expect to run into the duo, so the fact that she’s showing up isn’t surprising at all (especially considering that Dave Filoni created Ahsoka’s character for The Clone Wars and is now part of The Mandalorian‘s creative team). Along with Luke Skywalker (and possibly the oft-forgotten Yaddle), Ahsoka is one of only a couple of Jedi who were still around during the time period between the fall of the Empire and the beginning of the sequel trilogy. But now that she’s supposedly making her live-action debut, the reaction has been…mixed, to say the least.
That’s not because people dislike Ahsoka. The optimistic, idealistic Jedi started out as Anakin Skywalker’s opinionated apprentice and went on to become a nuanced, introspective character betrayed by her own faith. Forced to survive on her own without friends or family, Ahsoka quickly became one of the Star Wars franchise’s most beloved heroines. The controversy surrounding this casting has everything to do with the actress chosen to play the coveted part.
Rosario Dawson, best known for her roles in Daredevil, Rent and Alexander (and for being the girlfriend of 2020 Presidential hopeful Cory Booker, whose campaign she endorsed), was the subject of a shocking lawsuit last year: an openly transgender man employed as a handyman by Dawson and her mother, and charged with renovating the family’s Los Angeles home, claimed that both women subjected him to verbal and physical abuse, which included repeatedly misgendering and mocking him. Their harassment of him apparently culminated in Dawson and her mother restraining the man while beating him up and threatening to kill his pet cat, before allegedly stealing his cellphone. The victim claims all of these events had to do with his gender identity, and the case, if verified, would incriminate Dawson as a violent aggressor guilty of a serious hate crime.
As of yet, there is no other evidence to suggest that Dawson is transphobic, and we only know a little about her views on the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. The alleged victim was said to have been close with the Dawson family before coming out as transgender, when they only knew him as a lesbian woman, and this year, Dawson appeared to come out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself. However, the allegation has had long-lasting impacts, and has made the casting of Ahsoka Tano a tumultuous and hostile occasion rather than a joyous one, as it should have been (and probably could have been, with any other actress). Unfortunately, even (or perhaps, especially) if no further evidence comes out against her, there’s simply no way of determining whether Rosario Dawson is transphobic or did commit a hate crime, and so this case will loom over The Mandalorian like a dark cloud. What with the show having just recently united Star Wars fans in their love for Baby Yoda, it would be a shame to disunite the fandom once again over something as serious as this.
What do you think of the casting of Rosario Dawson? Would you have cast someone else in the role of Ahsoka Tano, and how would you feel if the gentle, lovable character was played by someone who may or may not have committed serious crimes (for reference, I’d be really angry and disappointed)? Share your own thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Not a whole lot actually happens in the fifth episode of The Clone Wars, and the Clone Wars themselves might as well be background noise barely audible over the clamor of Coruscant’s criminal underworld, but that doesn’t make this episode forgettable or weak. How could it be, when it features the long (and I mean long) awaited return of fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano?
After the turbulent events that caused Ahsoka Tano (voiced once again by Ashley Eckstein) to abandon the Jedi Order, the former Clone Wars commander and optimistic padawan has found herself living a miserable life in the depths of Coruscant’s lower levels, where she operates a malfunctioning speeder bike – a far cry from the days when she piloted entire fleets of Republic warriors. In this small-scale episode, Tano teams up with the Martez sisters, Trace (Brigitte Kali) and Rafa (Elizabeth Rodriguez), two struggling mechanics trying to navigate a dangerous world of smugglers, crime bosses and villains, after crash-landing into their repair shop.
The episode gives us a great opportunity to see the Clone Wars through the eyes of the ordinary civilians whose lives have been affected by it: Ahsoka soon discovers that Trace and Rafa, for instance, are no fans of the Jedi Order. In their eyes (and, clearly, in the eyes of many), the Jedi are a brutal police force responsible for most of the galaxy’s wars and problems. Ahsoka was already undercover and on the run from her past, but the revelation that her new friends would view her as a murderer and warmonger if they knew her true identity only adds to the insane amount of pressure on her shoulders.
Ahsoka has always been one of The Clone Wars‘ most brilliant fighters, so it’s a bit of a shame that she only gets one action sequence in this episode – and it’s both brief and one-sided. Much more notable is her vague comment about having learned these exceptional martial arts skills from her “older brother”, which will bring to mind happier times when Ahsoka used to be Anakin Skywalker’s young, inexperienced apprentice. She’s come a long way, and her journey is still only just beginning.
There are no noteworthy spoilers from this episode. Of course, there’s a little bit of conflict – and a couple of fun moments where Ahsoka has to find ways to explain her profound knowledge of droid warfare that don’t include any mention of her once being a military leader – but other than that there’s not much to say about this charming little interlude in the final chapter of the Clone Wars. I would definitely have appreciated a couple of cameos from some of Coruscant’s most notable scum, such as the ex-Sith antiheroine Asajj Ventress or even Cadmus Bane and company.
Overall, however, Ashoka Tano’s return is a win, maybe because the episode is so much smaller in scale than what we’re used to, and so much more introspective and quiet. That reflects how Ahsoka has changed since we saw her choose to leave the Jedi Order because she could no longer trust them to do the right thing: she’s quieter, more reserved, and less outgoing and exuberant than she was when she believed in a higher purpose. On her own, fighting for herself and with no faith to turn to, she’s still figuring out who she is. Maybe next week’s episode will give us a clearer insight into what that might be.
What did you think of the fifth episode of The Clone Wars? What do you want Ahsoka to do next? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!