“Onward” Review! No Spoilers!

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 Pixar
newsweek.com

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.

Onward
radiotimes.com

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.

Onward
forbes.com

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.

Movie Rating: 7.2/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 7 Review!

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.

Clone Wars Ahsoka
slashfilm.com

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.

Clone Wars
denofgeek.com

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!

Episode Rating: 4.9/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 6 Review!

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 The Clone 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.

The Clone Wars
meaww.com

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.

The Clone Wars
cheatsheet.com

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!

Episode Rating: 9/10

Rosario Dawson Is Ahsoka Tano In “The Mandalorian”!

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.

Ahsoka Tano
polygon.com

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.

Rosario Dawson
slashfilm.com

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.

“The Clone Wars” Season 7, Episode 5 Review!

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.

Ahsoka Tano The Clone Wars
collider.com

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.

Ahsoka Tano The Clone Wars
collider.com

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!

Episode Rating: 5.8/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 4 Review!

In its fourth episode, the final season of The Clone Wars expands the scope while simultaneously scaling back the action that was so extraordinary last week, resulting in a slow-paced, uneventful story that doesn’t quite seem to know where to focus: on the Bad Batch team, whose debut in the season premiere made them instant favorites in the series fandom; or on Echo (who, like all Clones, is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker), whose journey from being a frostbitten Separatist puppet to regaining his former status among the Grand Army of the Republic has been a strangely underwhelming one.

Clone Wars
denofgeek.com

In this episode, the mission led by Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter) to rescue Echo from the clutches of the Techno Union is revealed to have been successful: all the main characters are reunited and focused on delivering a crushing blow to the Separatist forces led by Admiral Trench (Dee Bradley Baker). And what’s more, they have Obi-Wan Kenobi (James Arnold Taylor) and Mace Windu (TC Carson) with them, giving the Jedi a strong presence in this episode that you would think would lend itself to cool lightsaber battles: alas, that is not the case, as Skywalker stands on guard duty for most of the episode, while Kenobi and Windu basically stand still and deflect laser bolts (though I have to give a shout-out to Windu for trying to convince the Separatist droids to surrender in what was ultimately an unsuccessful, but endearing, moment: I particularly liked how it gave us an insight into how tired and war-weary Windu and the other Jedi are as the Clone Wars drag on).

But while the Jedi are sidelined, the Clones themselves still get a scattering of great character moments: Echo is technically the focus, as the former Separatist prisoner struggles to gain his team’s trust, but it’s the Bad Batch who make a stronger impression, particularly Wrecker and Crosshair, who compete to destroy the most droids, leading to some of the best action sequences the episode has to offer. On the other hand, there’s Captain Rex, who just seems to be taking time away from other, more compelling, members of his team: despite being the character who initially cooked up the plan to rescue Echo, he has been completely ignored and overlooked ever since. I’m hoping there’s still time for him to make a comeback as The Clone Wars moves into more unfamiliar territory.

Now we move on into SPOILERS! And there’s actually two major ones – or at least, one which is major mainly because of what it signifies, and another which I really hope is major but also might not be depending on where the series goes from here.

Admiral Trench
inverse.com

The first is the death of Admiral Trench. A long-time The Clone Wars villain, Trench has been a thorn in the Republic’s side ever since the Battle of Christophsis. His effective tactics and deadly precision made him a particularly ominous villain, as did his ability to cheat death on multiple occasions. But the Separatist commander made one fatal mistake: thinking that Anakin Skywalker, like the rest of his Jedi brethren, would refrain from killing him. In a thrilling – but also brutal – moment of Darth Vader foreshadowing, Anakin sliced off a number of the Admiral’s arms before viciously impaling him. In the long run, this isn’t likely to be a major event: Admiral Trench was a notable villain, but he wasn’t exactly General Grievous or Count Dooku. This is more significant because it means we’re finally going to see the Separatist ranks whittled down as the series comes to its close. We’re in the endgame now.

Then there’s Echo, who makes a decision in the final seconds of the episode to leave the Clone Army and join the Bad Batch. It’s a logical conclusion to his arc, considering that he’s not the same Clone he was before being plugged into a Separatist database and enhanced with mechanical limbs, but it comes as a total shock: much as I liked On The Wings Of Keeradaks, I feel like we deserved one more episode in between Echo’s escape from the Techno Union and his decision to join the Bad Batch: an episode that could have given us a better look into the range of emotions he must have been feeling, his inability to fit in with his former friends, and his instant camaraderie with the team of mutants. As it is, we have barely any time to go on that journey of self-discovery alongside him. I would love to see Echo return sometime before the end of the series, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

So what did you think of this episode of The Clone Wars? Will Echo and the Bad Batch return next week, or will we be moving on? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 5/10

“Soul” Second Trailer Review!

The second trailer for Pixar’s upcoming feature film Soul gives us our first good look at what really awaits beyond life – and more importantly to protagonist Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx): what came before.

When the middle school teacher and fame-seeking jazz musician stumbles through a manhole and is knocked unconscious, his baffled soul finds himself stuck on a slow-moving escalator towards the Great Beyond (which isn’t shown at all in this trailer: presumably whatever lies beyond will either be a major plot point of the movie, or kept completely offscreen to prevent conflict with various religious groups). But Joe’s soul doesn’t want to die, because he isn’t done living out his glorious life. So, in a desperate attempt to escape, he flings himself off the side of the escalator and falls even further into empty nothingness – until he lands in the Great Before.

Soul
denofgeek.com

Just as the Great Beyond takes us all when we die, the Great Before is where we all came from: with a few eye-catching visuals, the trailer explains how all souls live here in a vibrant lavender paradise before being assigned to various newborn humans and sent to Earth to live their lives, die, and go on to the Great Beyond. Here, Joe meets another soul, voiced by Tina Fey, whose entire goal is to never have that happen to her: she already knows everything about Earth, and has decided it’s just not the place for her. “Is all that living really worth dying for?,” she asks.

Yikes. From the looks of it, this may be one of Pixar’s heaviest films yet, and it’s going to take a lot of silly jokes (of which there are plenty) to lighten the mood in the theater. Joe’s mission to get back to his body, which currently lies in a deep coma at a hospital, is already going to be tough enough: now add on a subplot where he tries to convince Tina Fey’s soul that life is worth dying for. The end of the trailer has the two hurtling through a vortex towards Earth, which I’m hoping isn’t a spoiler. Could it really be as easy as Joe returning to his body, waking up and living out the rest of his life? Or could he end up taking that final path to the Great Beyond?

And is there a point to the strange little stinger that has two vague stick-figures counting the number of souls heading to the Great Beyond and noting that “the count is off”. Do they have a purpose? Are they heroes or villains? We have no idea.

So what did you think of this trailer for Soul? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 8/10

“Jungle Cruise” Second Trailer Review!

Whereas the first trailer for the Jungle Cruise movie leaned heavily on old action movie tropes, wondrous and fantastical elements, and a good old-fashioned spirit of adventure, this second trailer does…well, less of that, making me ever so slightly concerned about the quality of this upcoming adaptation of a Disney theme park ride. Nonetheless, there are still reasons not to be afraid, and most of them are right here in this trailer.

Jungle Cruise
joblo.com

Firstly, the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson as a cranky, underpaid riverboat captain on the Amazon River manning the titular jungle cruise and Emily Blunt as a wealthy, idealistic British explorer hunting for a magic cure-all in the jungle is off the charts: they’re hilarious together. I don’t know if their characters will end up in a romance in the film, but it seems almost a shame to put an end to their snappy, irritable banter with each other.

Then, of course, there’s the ridiculously fun scenarios we find our protagonists in: they get attacked by leopards, torpedoed by a rival explorer’s submarine, and stalked by an enraged demonic snake-god from the heart of the jungle: one whom I wish they could have hidden for a while longer. I assume this demon is their ultimate antagonist on the quest for the cure-all tree, yet we already see scenes of him that, unless cunningly edited, look like spoilers to me.

Interestingly, although Disney felt comfortable revealing the big bad in this trailer, they still haven’t shown us anything of their “first openly gay character”, who is here played by comedian Jack Whitehall, and should probably have had a sizable role in the film as Blunt’s character’s brother and the only other member of the Johnson/Blunt exploration down the Amazon.

But my main issue with this trailer is that it’s devoid of some of the antiquated charm that the first trailer had: it makes me feel that the first trailer was lying to me about the tone and atmosphere of the movie, and that’s not a good feeling. After that trailer came out, I raved about Jungle Cruise‘s nostalgic magic. I don’t feel the same way about this trailer. It’s good, but it’s not particularly engaging or eye-catching.

What did you think of this second trailer for Jungle Cruise? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Trailer Rating: 6/10

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 3 Review!

We’re three episodes into The Clone Wars‘ final season on Disney+, and I’m finally beginning to see the appeal of the Bad Batch, whose team unit is the focus of this season’s first story arc. Today’s episode, On The Wings Of Keeradaks, is short (clocking in at just eighteen minutes) and simple, but has the benefit of being exquisitely animated, something that I feel this season’s first two episodes weren’t. With the same fluid, graceful cinematography that made the series’ earlier seasons so iconic and beloved among animation fans, this episode shows off the many ways in which the Jedi Order’s unique fighting techniques can be used to great effect onscreen (something that the Star Wars films, despite having considerably more resources available to them, have often fallen short of achieving).

Last week, we left off with our protagonists, whose mission is led by the legendary Jedi general Anakin Skywalker (voiced by Matt Lanter), trapped in the Skako Minor citadel of the Techno Union, having just successfully rescued their long-lost friend and comrade Echo (who, like all Clones, is voiced by Dee Bradley Baker). Now, they fight to escape from the clutches of the Separatist commander Wat Tambor (Matthew Wood), who unleashes a number of exciting new weapons upon them in an effort to reclaim the Clone – whose brain, as you may remember, was steadily feeding the Separatist war effort with inside information about the Republic’s military strategies.

The Clone Wars
denofgeek.com

As the title suggests, our heroes fight back with some interesting methods of their own, which includes employing the aid of the winged dragons known as Keeradaks, who showed up in last week’s episode alongside a new species of Star Wars aliens known as Poletecans. Surprisingly, though I wrote them off last week as seeming superfluous, these aliens do actually have a purpose.

Specifically, they are crucial to the episode’s climax, which simultaneously thrills the eye with swooping camera movements (complemented by Anakin’s similarly elegant leaps, fighting moves and usage of the Force) and relieves my fears that this season would tone down the series’ relatively aggressive action sequences. People get hurt in battle, and some of them happen to die: and that’s something from which previous seasons of The Clone Wars never shied away. Thankfully, even under the Disney banner, people still get hurt in Star Wars battles, and Clones and droids, unlike the stormtroopers of later years, actually know how to aim (I’d be ashamed if they couldn’t, considering one of the most prominent members of the Bad Batch team so far is an expert sniper literally named Crosshair). However, not everything will fly past Disney’s censors: a scene deemed too violent for the streaming service was supposedly cut from this week’s episode. It was non-essential, so I’ll let it go, but it’s unfortunate that The Clone Wars‘ creators have to work with Disney breathing down their back.

Now for some SPOILERS! Haven’t seen the episode yet? Then turn away, because we’re about to discuss a couple of small but significant surprises.

The Clone Wars
laughingplace.com

Firstly, though they’re probably not important to the overall plot and we’ll probably never see them again, I have to admit that I loved the new Separatist droids seen defending Wat Tambor’s castle on Skako Minor. The reveal that they fly – and on glassy, rainbow-colored wings, no less – was genuinely shocking and gave the Bad Batch a completely unforeseen new obstacle. Basically, this was how I should have felt about the flying stormtroopers in The Rise Of Skywalker but didn’t, because stormtroopers are underwhelming no matter how many times they get overused. Droids themselves have been underwhelming on occasion even in The Clone Wars, but this twist was fun and completely unexpected. The fact that these droids moved like prehistoric birds even while walking probably didn’t hurt their image either.

The episode teased us with some fake-out deaths: we nearly said goodbye to Wat Tambor after the Separatist leader was caught in the explosion of one of his new super-weapons (itself an exciting cross between a bomb and the sadistic interrogation droid from A New Hope), and I thought that Wrecker, another Bad Batch member, was done for on a few occasions. I still feel his days are numbered, in fact.

As for Echo, I have to imagine his story is just beginning: the Clone easily walks off the effects of being locked in a cryogenic compartment for a year or two, and seems to know his way around Tambor’s citadel pretty well. Could he be hiding something? Will he have a part to play in the action that will unfold in the very near future, as the Sith and Jedi collide? We’ll just have to wait and see.

What did you think of the third episode of The Clone Wars? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 8.5/10

“Loki” Photos Could Reveal TVA, Lady Loki And More!

The Loki series on Disney+, which will follow the trickster god on a journey through space and time, recently revealed an exceedingly brief snippet of teaser-trailer footage that got the entire Loki fan community talking about the Asgardian sorcerer’s connections to an obscure group of Marvel Comics characters known as the Time Variance Authority, or TVA – now, newly-released behind-the-scenes photos show Loki and the TVA teaming up, as well as the possible introduction of one of two (technically three, but we’ll get to that) Marvel characters that fans have been longing to see onscreen for a while now.

The photos, which surfaced on Twitter, reveal Loki and a number of Time Variance Authority special agents walking through the rain in what could be a park or a field. Loki himself wears a police detective uniform, and a badge of some sort: though this one is gold rather than red, it is likely similar to the symbol of the TVA that was emblazoned upon his prison garb, which we saw in the teaser trailer. It’s impossible to say for certain whether this means that Loki will be imprisoned by the TVA first and then weasel his way into their good graces and start working for them (which sounds very Loki), or if it means he’ll work for the TVA first and then betray them and get landed in prison when a better deal comes along (which also sounds very Loki).

Walking alongside Loki and his band of soldiers (who appear to be wearing various articles of armored clothing from different time periods, including what could possibly be modified German Second World War uniforms), is a man dressed in a long blue raincoat with his hood pulled up over his face. Despite that, it’s not implausible to guess that this man could be Owen Wilson, who was cast in a top-secret role for the series. Fans have been wondering whether Wilson could be playing a major Marvel villain like Kang the Conqueror, but if this is him in these photos, I feel pretty confident saying that he’s playing Justice Peace, the head of the TVA and one of its greatest agents. Kang the Conqueror isn’t the type of character to sport a pencil mustache, trousers and brown loafers: Justice Peace is, and seems more like the type of comedic, zany character that Wilson would be asked to play, anyway.

If that is the case, however, it raises the question of why Marvel would go to such lengths to keep Peace a secret. Perhaps they have larger plans in store for him, or perhaps Peace will be revealed to be someone else entirely? Keep an eye on him, is all I’m saying.

Finally, we have a photo of a woman standing alone, who is almost certainly Sophia Di Martino, one of the first actresses to join the cast alongside Tom Hiddleston as Loki. She has short blond hair, and, though her pose and winter-jacket make it hard to see much of her costume, it’s undeniable that she’s wearing some sort of golden pendant or collar, and the rest of her outfit (what’s visible, anyway) appears to be dark green in color. We have no idea who Di Martino is playing yet, but this photo might have a bunch of clues.

Lady Loki/Enchantress
Twitter | @hiddlesgold

The green and gold color-scheme is shared by at least two characters in Marvel’s Asgard mythos: Loki, who wore his classic green-and-gold armor in The Avengers, and Enchantress, a powerful and usually villainous sorceress.

Enchantress is one of those characters who has multiple versions in the comics, with the two most notable being Amora, the original, and significantly more popular, iteration; and Sylvie Lushton, a human Oklahoman girl who gained magical powers through an encounter with Loki. While most fans would probably rather see the Amora version, an unconfirmed addition made to IMDb today could point towards Sylvie being the Enchantress we see in the Loki series: Cailey Fleming, a child actress, has supposedly been added to the series cast in the role of “Young Sylvie”.

Enchantress, no matter which other name she goes by, is almost always depicted as a blond woman wearing green and gold, and almost always has a connection to Loki in some way or another, whether as an ally or enemy. However, the possibility remains that Di Martino is playing neither Amora nor Sylvie Lushton, but could instead be portraying Lady Loki.

Loki, in the comics, is gender-fluid, something I’ve written about previously, and something which is rumored to be a factor in this new series. And even though Di Martino doesn’t strongly resemble Hiddleston, it’s been reported that she could be playing the female version of Loki. She’s blond in this new image, but she might just be waiting for a long black wig. And what we can see of her outfit looks very much like how Lady Loki dresses in the comics: the green is darker than Enchantress’ hallmark green, and gold jewelry is beloved by both Loki and Lady Loki. If that’s the case, then this could be our first look at gender-fluid representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What do you think? Are these images indicative of anything, or should we wait for context before we jump to conclusions? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

“The Clone Wars”: Season 7, Episode 2 Review!

The Clone Wars‘ final season has the unfortunate burden of having to start its thirteen-episode run with a story arc that was revealed to the public some years ago, before it was known that a seventh season would be developed to close out the hit TV series’ long and impressive tenure on the screen. The “Bad Batch” saga, which got off to an okay start in last week’s episode, doesn’t have the element of surprise going for it, and thus there’s very little for fans to talk about yet – though before long, we should get into uncharted territory with events like the Siege of Mandalore, and a retelling of the Jedi Purge through the eyes of characters like Ahsoka Tano.

But for now, we have to get through the “Bad Batch” arc. Thankfully, this second episode ups the ante and gives us a bit more action, as well as a welcome dose of drama, with small, quiet moments between characters allowing us more time and reason to sympathize with them and their individual plights – whether that’s Captain Rex (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, as are all the Clone Troopers) covering up for his friend Anakin Skywalker (Matt Lanter) while the Jedi tries unsuccessfully to hide his relationship with his secret wife Padme Amidala (Catherine Taber), in what has to be the episode’s most touching and humorous moment; or something as small as the Bad Batch’s strongman Wrecker revealing, and then working past, his fear of heights. This episode has time to breathe, something that is hard to achieve in just twenty-four minutes, but which The Clone Wars used to excel at, in its heyday. I’m tentatively beginning to hope that may be the case with the rest of the season’s episodes, too, even once we get past this recycled material.

The Clone Wars
usatoday.com

There’s still a surprising lack of action, even with two Separatist antagonists – Admiral Trench (Dee Bradley Baker) and Wat Tambor (Matthew Wood) standing in the Clones’ way as they break into the prison facilities on Skako Minor to try and rescue their long-lost Clone companion, Echo. As in last week’s episode, the sniper Crosshair is still the Bad Batch’s most visually-interesting character, and he gets a couple more opportunities to shine here, even single-handedly taking on a very random squad of dinosaur-flying aliens.

Aliens are a bit of a mixed bag in The Clone Wars: you get some really good ones, and then you get the ones who are usually described as “primitive” and whose exposition-heavy monologues have to be manually translated by other characters – a job that is best left to C-3PO, who at least gives his line-readings some sassy attitude. On the other hand, the use of translators does help to make the series more realistic, and adds a valuable lesson about linguistic diversity, so I’m not going to complain about this too much. I will, however, note that the aliens in this episode fall into the latter category, and, considering how little they do to advance the plot, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the minutes we spend watching their conversations get translated could have been used in other areas of the episode, particularly the end.

Spoiler Warning, but Captain Rex and his band of Clones find their missing friend Echo at the very end of the episode, as we knew they would. He’s frostbitten and hooked into a device that’s been using his mind to power the Separatist war effort, but he’s still alive. His extremely brief reunion with Rex is the only part of the episode that feels rushed, or at least could have been fleshed out a little more. However, there will be plenty of time for the two to catch each other up on everything that’s happened in the next episode, which will likely see the squadron trying to escape from Skako Minor.

What did you think of the episode? Are you enjoying the Bad Batch arc, or are you ready to move on? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!

Episode Rating: 7/10

James Mangold To Direct “Indiana Jones 5”!

Expect more delays for the fifth (and presumably final?) installment in the Indiana Jones franchise, as a big shakeup has just happened behind the scenes that is almost certain to result in much more tumult and turmoil. Steven Spielberg, who has directed all of the past four Indiana Jones movies, has stepped back from the project and passed the responsibility on to James Mangold. Spielberg will continue to serve as a “hands-on producer”, but his decision to exit the director’s chair was inspired by his desire to have a fresh, new perspective on the long-running franchise.

Indiana Jones 5
cinemablend.com

Mangold himself is an inspired choice to take over – leaving aside the fact that he’s earned multiple Oscar nominations, he has had previous experience on a project very similar to Indiana Jones 5: in 2017’s Logan, Mangold successfully closed out the storied characters arc of fan-favorite X-Men heroes Wolverine and Professor X in a final chapter that managed to be appropriately nostalgic while still working as a stand-alone film. In Logan, Mangold also tried to set up the foundations for future stories in the X-Universe – a universe which ceased to be after the Disney acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Considering that the Indiana Jones franchise is safely in Disney’s hands already and thus unlikely to go anywhere for a while, Mangold might have an opportunity to actually plant the seeds for new Jones stories, whether focused on Jones’ canonical son Mutt, or another character better suited to wear the trademark fedora and carry on the family tradition of globe-trotting and illegal looting.

Spielberg’s decision to leave marks the latest in a long string of setbacks and unfortunate events that have plagued this film’s development. Indiana Jones 5‘s release date has been pushed back twice already (and now, with a new director coming onboard with his own unique vision, could be in for a third delay), and the film has breezed through writers. Besides Harrison Ford, no one has yet joined the cast – though a number of Ford’s original cast-mates have expressed interest in returning for a last hurrah.

Until we learn more, let’s take comfort in the fact that Ford himself recently promised an epic, action-packed finale to the rogue archaeologist’s adventures. Fingers crossed that we ever get to see it.