Reviews – Adventure Time: Obsidian, Soul, and WW84

Adventure Time: Obsidian is even better than BMO, delivering an even more emotional story that continues to show the healing relationship that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum continue to work at. I was surprised and delighted by how clearly, unmistakably queer and romantic their relationship was here (where it was only subtly implied through most of the show), and by how normal that relationship was portrayed as (you know, the weird part being that one’s a vampire/demon and the other’s a sentient candy avatar).

Obsidian also really showed how both Marceline and PB had grown and overcome many of their earlier traumas. They were more mature and able to adapt to tensions and stressors to become stronger together by the end. That’s not to say that this is purely focused on emotions and relationships (though there were some tearjerker moments for me); there were some excellent action sequences throughout and plenty of weird and imaginative characters and creatures.

I really want to scream about the implications of the appearance of some characters at the end of the episode, but since I’m rounding up a few short reviews here, I’ll keep that spoiler-free. But oh boy, there are some interesting questions raised.

Soul was a really good movie about what it means to find purpose and meaning in life, offering up a bit of introspection in the context of a unique portrayal of the spiritual realm. The film tracks a middle-aged music teacher and aspiring jazz artist (portrayed by Jamie Foxx) who dies just after landing his big break. Determined to get back to his body and fulfill his perceived purpose, he escapes the imminent Great Beyond and falls into the Great Before, where souls’ distinctive traits are forged. He eventually encounters an old soul (Tina Fey) who refuses to ever leave for a life on Earth, and they agree to work together so that he can go back and the old soul can stay out of living for good. They both figure out some things about themselves, about what makes life worth living and fighting for, and about when you have to let something or someone go. It’s a Pixar movie, so I sobbed hysterically at the end. My wife and I realized that the last time I’d cried so hard at a movie, it was Inside Out. But then I also cried at Onward and Coco and The Good Dinosaur just in the last few years, so I guess the point is that (A) I cry a lot and (B) Pixar movies are crafted in a way to really hit me (and I think most people) right in the gut. If you have Disney+, watch Soul!

Wonder Woman 1984 was fun to watch, it had a strong theme (unchecked desire leads us to lie to ourselves and warp the best of intentions to bad ends), it had some good fight sequences, it had a couple of emotional moments, and yet it was troubled by some head-scratching plot beats and an over-liberal usage of deus ex machina.

There was a particular type of perceived problem, however, that I didn’t feel actually existed in the film. I’d seen concern expressed on social media about apparent racist undertones to the movie, particularly a vilification of men of color in favor of a narrative about white women’s empowerment, but I felt that those concerns were overstated and somewhat misleading in favor of generating outrage and controversy. I recognize that as a white man, I have blind spots to issues like race and gender, but the concerns raised seemed to inaccurately characterize what happened in the movie.

I thought the film’s very transparent examination of desire was interesting. Set in the consumerist excesses of the ’80s, Wonder Woman’s biggest battle is not with an enemy but with desire, her own and others’. She makes a desperate plea at one point to not give up her greatest love again, declaring that she gives so much and she deserved this one thing. She must ultimately make that sacrifice nonetheless to be the hero she needs to be. I thought that was an interesting opportunity to hold the mirror up to our own lives, how we tell ourselves that we deserve something or other because of all we do, how commercials often suggest that we have earned a special reward or convenience we can purchase simply because we exist and do the things all humans must do. It gives you something to chew on after the movie, I suppose, but it’s hardly a revelatory concept, and I imagine the point will be rejected by many (and is more than a little ironic in an industry context, given its method of delivery in a major blockbuster superhero movie that will serve as escapism for many and primarily exists to generate profits for the studio and its corporate backers).

My wife loved the movie, but she’s not the one writing the review. I thought it was fine, though I get what appealed to her about it. I’m sure this movie will continue to generate a lot of reactions, if not a lot of deep thought or serious conversation. It’s not a vital film, but it remains entertaining throughout.

My Five Favorite Games in 2020

Continuing the theme from the past couple years, I’m listing my top five favorite games that I enjoyed the most while playing over the past year. As is now tradition, they weren’t necessarily released in 2020; that’s just when I played them.

1. Ring Fit Adventure

Last week’s post should make it clear how much I love this game and how special it is to me. It’s made fitness fun for me. Enough said for this post. I’m so grateful for this game.

2. Jurassic World Evolution: Return to Jurassic Park

I’ve written a fair amount about Jurassic World: Evolution, even before it came out. Steam tells me I’ve put 200 hours into the game. I have unlocked 69 of 73 achievements and finished all story content. I’ve been playing intermittently since the game came out. But I did not include it on my favorite games lists for 2018 or 2019. Partly that’s because I played a lot of great games in those years, but partly it’s because the game felt incomplete and a bit rough around the edges. With a couple years of polishing and enhancements in the form of several free updates and paid DLC packs, the game is in a much better place. Furthermore, the nostalgia of running a park with the aesthetics of the original movie and a slicker, more streamlined economy without some of the more ethically dubious contracts of the base game make the Return to Jurassic Park expansion the singularly best version of Jurassic World: Evolution available. (Its story mode, while not incredible, is also the strongest in the game.) Encountering this new mode finally gave me the ammunition to add this to a year’s best list.

3. Prey

This creepy, compelling sci-fi story grows from survival horror to power fantasy all while presenting a smoldering plot guided by mysterious figures with competing motivations aboard a derelict and alien-infested space station. Moral choice, manipulable environments, a crafting system that requires you to make tough decisions with limited resources, and a varied and robust skill system make for unique gameplay experiences. And as required for a game of this type, the environmental storytelling as you explore the station and uncover its secrets is top-notch.

4. Dishonored 2

This is the peak of the Dishonored series for me. I enjoyed sneaking and fighting my way through the levels, and I loved the intimate characterization of its cast. As I said in my review, its plot was largely a repeat of the original game’s, heightened by an emphasis on legacy at least when playing as Emily. But that just gives it the opportunity to be bigger and better, the Terminator 2 to Terminator. And just like Prey, Dishonored 2 is another example of Arkane Studios’ excellent environmental storytelling.

5. Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition

I didn’t write about this one for the blog before now. Baldur’s Gate came out way back in 1998, and the Enhanced Edition was released in 2012. So even this newer version is still getting up there. Baldur’s Gate was such a formative experience for roleplaying gamers of my age; more broadly, it was hugely influential and came to form much of the basis of the Bioware style and of what people expected from CRPGs moving forward; even those who had never played it, like me, heard plenty about it. I had a disc at some point with several old Black Isle Studios CRPGS on it, and I gave Baldur’s Gate a try then. I didn’t get far. The Enhanced Edition, courtesy of Beamdog and Overhaul Games, provides several modern conveniences and lower difficulty settings, but my first encounter with it a year or so ago didn’t go so well, either. I decided to give the game another try out of the blue, and while the initial hours were still frustrating, it clicked with me enough for me to persevere until I got my party to a high enough level to where the game was actually fun and challenging instead of punishingly difficult. The story is basic, nested in tired tropes even when it originally came out, and the excessive and convoluted lore in this game feels so detached from the actual world-building, but there are a lot of distinctive, quirky characters (to be expected of a Bioware game) and several fascinating side quests that range from weird to funny to strikingly poignant. I might be playing more out of momentum than anything else, but I do generally enjoy myself, and it’s seen a lot of hours logged in the past month or so. I’d been wandering the city of Baldur’s Gate more recently, wrapping myself in the city’s intrigues, but the last play session led me off to a voluntary detour to Ulgoth’s Beard, and now I’m making my way down through the torturous labyrinths of Durlag’s Tower as I attempt to complete content from Tales of the Sword Coast. I’m having enough of a good time that I’m considering more isometric CRPGs for 2021, perhaps building up to another attempt at Divinity: Original Sin II, which I’d given up on near the start of 2020. Heck, maybe my newfound patience for old-school RPG mechanics (and their associated difficulty) might finally lead me to take another crack at Arena…maybe! For getting me excited about isometric CRPGs, Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition deserves to make this list. It didn’t hurt that I lacked strong alternative contenders this year…

I did it! Beating Ring Fit Adventure for the first time

It came on me so suddenly that I didn’t realize it until the weekend in which I would accomplish it: I was going to beat Ring Fit Adventure. Last night, I knocked out three mini-boss fights, just so I’d be prepared to devote today to defeating Dragaux one last time. And that’s what I did this afternoon, in a roughly 25-minute activity session devoted to the final level alone.

After growing accustomed to some repetitive gameplay and level design over the last several worlds, I was shocked to experience how refreshing this final level felt. There were interesting combinations of platforming challenges, as the game tested the variety of skills built up over the course of playing through the adventure; I zip-lined, stair-climbed, flew, paddled, sprang, and jogged my way to the final stadium battle. And that final boss battle was appropriately challenging, a proper synthesis of every fight with Dragaux before, reflecting how far the dragon and I had come. He used every tactic present before (blessedly free of any supporting enemies), which included hurling boulders and barrels, using a debuffing glare and a super-powered attack requiring Mega Ab Guard, and holding one of each main attack color’s special challenge attacks–that last set brutally delivered in quick succession here, one after another. Then, of course, defeating him the first time, knocking out a few full bars of health, only led to a Final Form battle against a Darkness-consumed version of Dragaux, requiring several more rounds to finally KO the dragon and free him of his curse.

The game ended in its charmingly cute, chatty, and blunt way. Dragaux released the Four Masters and was in turn released of the Darkness. Reformed, he was penitent and ashamed, but Ring convinced him that he should work with the Four Masters in opening training stadiums across the land. The end, for now. It’s a nice setup to the new adventure, a new game plus mode that promises more powerful enemies and more training gear to collect as I journey back through the land. I look forward to having Dragaux as a friendly rival and trainer, rather than an enemy, as I find him rather charismatic in his dorky way.

I’m a long way away from my ultimate weight goal, mainly at this point because my dietary changes have been more gradual than my activity changes. But I have lost weight, and more importantly for now, the last few months have seen me grow in strength and endurance; I feel good, and I have more energy. And I can see the results when I look in the mirror. It’s been a wonderful fitness journey, and I plan to continue it. Amazingly, I haven’t missed a day since I started, and that’s a wild achievement in and of itself. Fitness is now built into the fabric of my life, and I look forward to exercise every day with this game. Even back in August, I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever be this excited to get a workout in on a daily basis.

Ring Fit Adventure is not a perfect game. Its level design is great but not diverse enough, so levels become quickly repetitive even with mix-ups to atmospheric effects and enemies encountered. Monster design is fantastic and imaginative, combining classic RPG monsters with exercise equipment to create fresh, new, and often very cute opponents, but even so, the limited variety makes these feel somewhat stale after a while. The story is fine, but it’s elevated by cute and campy dialogue rather than a particularly compelling plot. For that matter, NPC assets are quite limited, so you see the same faces again and again when chatting up townsfolk in town for bits of info or side quests (in turn, overly formulaic and dependent on tired tropes like the classic fetch quest). Still, while other components may be less than excellent, the core of the game, the platforming and combat, remained stellar and engaging throughout. All these features come together strongly to provide a compelling gameplay experience, part platformer and part RPG but really something quite different and new. It’s a fitness game that offers both good fitness and a good game. I just can’t get enough of it, and while I look forward to the new adventure content and the jogging and custom exercise programs once I run out of story eventually, I certainly hope they consider making this into an ongoing franchise.

Yes, Ring Fit Adventure is not a perfect game, but it’s a perfect fit (pun intended) for me, offering a cute and colorful world, charming characters, and an addictive balance of (physical) challenge and advancement. And it gifted me a way to truly enjoy exercise, like never before, without skimping on actually providing a real work-out. This game might be my favorite of the decade for what it’s given me.

What I want to read in 2021

It’s been a stressful year for just about everyone. I don’t need to get into that, right? Some of us developed new hobbies and interests. Some of us focused on the familiar. Some of us read more than ever before; some of us could barely crack open a book due to constant mental buzzing. Unfortunately, I leaned more toward the safe and familiar in my down time this year. And I was lucky to stay employed, in a job that gradually took more and more of my time and attention, so it was very difficult to read more. At this point, I’ve accumulated quite a number of books to read that I just haven’t gotten around to. While my ambitions may simmer away to nothing, I’d still like to reassert a focus on reading.

Looking at my shelves right now, there are several books I’m eager to get around to. And while it might be blind hope, it looks like some of the added demands of the job should calm by the end of February at the latest. Maybe listing some of those books here will keep me motivated. So here are some of those books I hope to have finished by the end of 2021:

  1. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: From A Certain Point of View, because I loved the first anthology of stories for A New Hope, and because I’m reading it right now. I better finish this! There have been some phenomenal stories already. This is the first example of why I just need to set more time aside for reading–I’m actually enjoying this collection! There isn’t yet a story that I love like “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper,” but several I’ve liked rather a lot, especially the most recent one I finished, Seth Dickinson’s “The Final Order,” which finally gives a name and personality to the Star Destroyer captain who dies in the Hoth asteroid field but also provides a searing reflection on the nature of fascism and (although this is probably an instance of my own worldview strongly influencing how I interpret the story) some fans’ unhealthy obsession with Imperial aesthetic.
  2. The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David Shipler. This is another book I’m currently reading and want to finish. I’ve been reading an ebook version, though I prefer print, so it’s just something I pick up in rare idle moments. It’s also a book I skimmed through back in law school, and I’m finding it generally more interesting than I remembered. It remains unfortunately timely.
  3. Star Wars: Master & Apprentice and Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost, because I’ve become rather fond of Old Republic and Clone Wars content and because they’re books that I’ll enjoy discussing with my wife. She already finished Master & Apprentice for the Qui-Gon content and, while she doesn’t tend to read licensed fiction like this, she was thoroughly engaged.
  4. The Dinosaur Heresies and Raptor Red by Bob Bakker, because Dr. Bakker’s role in promoting the image of dinosaurs as smart, fast, warm-blooded, and closely related to birds was key to my early infatuation with dinosaurs becoming so dominating in my life ever after. He was a regular presence in many of the dinosaur documentaries I loved as a kid. But I never got around to his books, and they’ve been a little harder to find over the years. I’ve got both of these books now, though. While science has marched on, I’m still excited to read his popular nonfiction argument for the updated image of dinosaurs and his fictional companion novel that attempts to demonstrate what those dinosaurs might have actually acted like.
  5. Digging Dinosaurs by Jack Horner, for similar reasons to the above. He was similarly everywhere when I was a kid, for his discovery of Maiasaura and their nests, his theories on nurturing dinosaurs, and his influence on the Jurassic Park films.
  6. Michael Crichton’s Dragon Teeth is on my list for more nostalgia. Another posthumously published novel, this provides a fictionalized account of the Bone Wars. I was surprised to discover that I rather enjoyed his Pirate Latitudes, especially after finding his later technothrillers to be somewhere been jumbled and formulaic and unfortunately influenced by increasingly anti-science attitudes, and I would expect another historical fiction period piece to be similarly delightful.
  7. My Beloved Brontosaurus by Riley Black (though her former name is still used on the print copy I have). I’ve been meaning to start this book forever! She’s been a tremendous science writer with a paleontology focus who hooked me back when she was writing under the B. Switek name. And she has several more books out at this point that I want to read, too.
  8. Victor Milan’s Dinosaur Lords trilogy (well, it’s looking more like a series, but I have the first three, so that’s what I’m focused on). I read the first book when it came out. It was…fine, but I’ll keep reading for more knights-and-dinosaurs fantasy.
  9. Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff. I’ve slowly been watching the television adaption, and the setting was engaging enough for me to want to read the source material. I’ve been interested in more recent attempts to challenge and interrogate the racism and xenophobia in Lovecraft’s works, so this is a starting point for me (recommendations requested, though!).
  10. Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron by Michael Stackpole. I started this a while ago when I was reading a lot of the old EU, but I never finished it. Jason Fry’s “Rendezvous Point” was very fun and apparently loaded with references to the Rogue Squadron books, though, so I want to try again. We’ll see if I get through it or any other books in the series. Pretty good timing, what with a Rogue Squadron movie coming out!
  11. Last for the list, Star Wars: Darksaber and Planet of Twilight, just to round out the Children of the Jedi trilogy of EU books.

There are other books I want to try to read this year, including several books stuffed away elsewhere in my house or currently only remembered thanks to my Goodreads “Want to Read” list. We’ll see how far I get, but if I even get through most of this list, I’ll be doing better than I did in this pathetic reading year of 2020. Fingers crossed!

Now, shall I do a similar post for games I want to try to get through in 2021? Hm…probably not. There’s a tension between time spent on video games and time spent on books, as both are time-consuming hobbies that demand my focused attention. Still, there are games I want to get to for next year. And no, I won’t be doing similar lists for TV shows and movies–sadly, I get more than enough of that in.

And don’t worry, I don’t see this “things I want to get to” post being annual. (Have I done something like this before? Uh…maybe?) Just trying to set some positive goals for next year, after such a dreary 2020.

Holiday Special

Happy holidays, everyone! If you’re looking for something different to watch instead of or in addition to the old holiday classics, might I suggest The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special? It’s heartwarming, cheeky, and fun. Its time-traveling shenanigans don’t make a whole lot of sense, but Star Wars, especially its Lego alternate version, doesn’t always make sense. No deeper analysis here; this was a cute little movie appropriate for the whole Star Wars-loving family, and it’s far more watchable than the non-Lego version.

Young Justice

Young Justice (the TV show) has some pretty obvious parallels with The Clone Wars. They’re both animated series providing some fresh storytelling in established pop culture franchises. They’re both aimed at younger audiences, but they still provide long-form storytelling around a core team of protagonists with shifting and evolving relationships, and they both explore dark and mature subjects like death, loss, the risks of abandoning your principles in pursuit of victory, and alienation from people you care about. And they also had near-miraculous renewals from cancellation after years of fan lobbying. The Clone Wars ended its Cartoon Network run in 2013, and “The Lost Missions” of the sixth season were released on Netflix in March 2014, but that show didn’t return to the screen, this time on Disney+, until February of this year. Young Justice, in contrast, only got two seasons on Cartoon Network before cancellation, ending its run in March 2013, and it only got revived again for DC Universe in January 2019.

I don’t remember how I first came across Young Justice. It must have been on Netflix. I do remember binging its two available seasons and falling in love with its setting and characters. I’m a sucker for a show that provides a sense of built-in history from the start. We didn’t have to stick around for an origin story of one or two heroes before the show could broaden its focus to bring more in. Instead, we jump right into a setting where Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Speedy have already been fighting crime for their hero mentors for a few years. Rather than spending time on how they got into these roles, the show kicks off with a moment of setback and disappointment for the sidekicks: they think they’re finally being inducted into the Justice League, but they quickly learn that they basically have honorary memberships at the public Hall of Justice, rather than true membership and access to full team resources and the top-secret Watchtower HQ. The show goes on to introduce characters from the comics, twists on those characters, and new creations entirely. We do see some heroes starting out, but it feels natural and organic, never like the seeds of a spinoff for a new series (looking at you, Arrowverse) but rather merely the result of new metahumans and other determined do-gooders taking up the mantle of superhero as they follow in the footsteps of those who came before them. We also see quite a number of personae from the comics appearing to pick up legacy identities–by the third season, there have been two heroes using the Flash identity, two as Kid Flash, three as Robin, three as Blue Beetle, and so on. Characters actually age, retire, die. Relationships are at the core of the show, even as the cast of young covert operatives working under what becomes The Team in the Justice League’s shadow continues to grow. Death of a hero is rare and quite permanent in most cases, and when a major team member dies in the second season, the fallout from that and characters’ efforts to move on (or cling on) becomes central to the emotional arc of the third season. Stakes matter; it’s not just soap opera melodramatics (again, looking at you, Arrowverse).

Now’s definitely the time to watch Young Justice if you haven’t already. I just re-binged seasons one and two and finally watched the third season for the first time now that it’s on HBO Max. DC Universe was too niche in its streaming content, and I read comics too rarely, to justify the continued subscription for me, so I dropped that before I’d had the opportunity to watch Young Justice: Outsiders there; having so much DC content rolled into HBO Max is excellent, and the breadth and depth of content in this streaming service makes it look likely to be the biggest rival to Disney+ moving forward, at least for my viewing time. So, if you subscribe to HBO Max for any other reason (its extensive collection of movies, including more classics than on most of the other big streaming services, or the back catalogue of HBO television series, or the original HBO Max content, or the availability of all Studio Ghibli films in one single streaming service, for instance), then you’re ready to watch Young Justice.

The third season continued the dramatic and mature storytelling of the earlier seasons. It also continued the show’s progress in substantially diversifying the cast. There are more and more female heroes and people of color, as well as people of varying cultural/ethnic backgrounds and even sexual and gender orientation. There are some stumbling blocks, though. Presumably because the return to DC Universe was meant to target hardcore Comic Book Fans in particular, the show’s become a little edgier, with more brutal violence. I was mostly okay with this, but one new hero, Halo, took the brunt of the violence, given her ability to resurrect after death. This meant watching several graphic depictions of her death again and again and again. It especially stuck out to me that this particular character was of Middle Eastern / North African decent (though her particular nationality is fictional), identified as nonbinary (I’m using female pronouns because she and her friends continued to do so), and continued to adhere to certain cultural traditions like wearing a hijab though she did not identify as Muslim in her unique post-empowerment identity. So we see this person of color, appearing female and identifying as nonbinary, and portrayed as culturally connected to Islam, killed repeatedly. That did not sit right with me. The story also introduced Cyborg, providing his origin story and having him go through a horrifically disfiguring accident and repeated rounds of excruciating pain before he could fully embrace his heroic identity. Building people of color into superheroes by repeatedly, graphically torturing them is a bad look and a bad trope and suggests that more diverse writers are needed in the writing room. At the same time, by the third season, we already had a large and diverse cast, and the third season itself continued to add an array of new characters with a variety of backgrounds. Heck, it even revealed this version of Aqualad, now Aquaman (and a person of color), to be bisexual, providing a surprising and welcome example of LGBTQ representation in the series.

The third season did manage to bring the story to new heights, wrestling with the fallout of the previous two seasons. I love that there’s always a time gap in between seasons, providing the characters time to respond to what has happened and grow, giving some space so that we can see clear developments whenever we return to them. The show doesn’t document everything, leaving plenty up to the imagination–and given that it didn’t start with an origin, this style of storytelling has been there from the beginning.

While there is still a core cast of characters–at this point, probably Dick Grayson (currently Nightwing), Aqualad, Miss Martian, Superboy, Artemis Crock (currently retired), and Will Harper (that one’s completed)–each season brings more into the fold and explores characters otherwise left out of the spotlight. Zatanna has had a significant arc throughout the series, and Roy Harper has certainly had a complicated and important story in the background. Season two brought the focus to Blue Beetle, Impulse, and Beast Boy, while season three sent Geo-Force, Terra, Halo, Forager, Cyborg, and Black Lightning to the forefront. And that ignores a great number of characters who have significant supporting roles and who have their own full character arcs playing out in the background. The show also keeps bringing in interesting new takes on villains. In comparison to most of the antagonists, the Joker’s brief role in the show actually makes him one of the less-interesting characters, even compared to The Riddler, which is remarkable. The chaos agent in this show is Klarion the Witch Boy, an actual Lord of Chaos in this interpretation, and he’s so evil and yet so silly, truly chaotic and unpredictable. Klarion’s bizarre sayings are memorably iconic. “See you later, armadillos!” He’s just one villain, though. Most remarkably, Sportsmaster takes a major role as the chief enforcer for the big bads for much of the show; he’s the ex-husband of disabled former assassin Huntress, father of vigilante Artemis and assassin Cheshire, and a formidable foe who can go head-to-head with any of the heroes with strength, agility, cleverness, and an assorted toolkit of weaponry and gadgets that makes him something of a working-class and villainous Batman. Plenty of other villains weave in and out of the story, and as it goes on, it becomes clear that most are motivated by greed or vengeance or honor or a misguided belief that they are doing good for humanity, even if that means adhering to a harsh brand of Social Darwinism, while few (Klarion or Joker, for instance) are truly antisocial or psychopathic. The status quo keeps changing, and the show mines deep for characters to bring in as heroes, villains, rogue actors, and “normal” civilians.

The show itself is no longer static, either. Not only did we get that third season, but a fourth one is coming! I’m looking forward to it: flaws and all, Young Justice is my single-favorite version of the DC superhero setting.

The Mandalorian Season 2 Finale

[Warning: plenty of spoilers for The Mandalorian.]

I really rather enjoyed the finale of the second season of The Mandalorian. It was action-packed, it had some great tense sequences in which I was really dreading what would happen and entirely unsure of how it could be resolved, and then the ending was so bittersweet and hopeful, delivering some quiet character development. I thought it was a good cap to the season and, for that matter, to the overall story arc of the first couple of seasons, even while being a clear signal that future content is on the horizon.

Of course future content is on the horizon. Ten Star Wars series and a couple movies planned for the near future? That’s too much Star Wars! I’m not even keeping up on the books, and I gave up a couple years back on even trying to track the ever-increasing glut of comics being released for the new canon. Mixed feelings as usual here about this development: (1) more Star Wars gives more opportunities for new creators to dabble in the universe, for new stories to hook new fans, and for plenty of different characters and settings and subgenres so that everyone can probably find something they’ll like; (2) more Star Wars means that it will soon be unmanageable for most people to get a good footing in the universe, especially as it’s leaned more into MCU-esque winks for hardcore fans, like including Maul in Solo or Ahsoka in The Mandalorian, which at some point will surely begin to alienate people not already obsessed; (3) more Star Wars means I’ll have plenty to read and watch in my preferred sci-fi/fantasy setting, which is great, but it’s not so great to have me so insularly focused on one massive franchise when so much great independent sci-fi and fantasy has been and continues to be published; (4) more Star Wars means more talented writers writing for an existing property instead of exploring their own ideas, while also meaning that Star Wars becomes less of a thing defined by George Lucas’s vision and more of a bland product produced by committee; and (5) more Star Wars means that a monolithic corporation within the ever-narrowing band of oligarchic entertainment companies is going to tighten its grip even further by giving plenty of people reason to only watch/read/play/listen to (and thus pay for) its particular intellectual property, IP that in this case it just went out and bought after the fact rather than having any role in creating (as though IP law wasn’t already so corrupted toward longstanding corporate interests).

But enough of that. I actually just wanted to yell about Luke and Boba Fett.

Boba’s interactions with the “real” Mandalorians in the finale were fascinating. It’s easy to see why he remained such an isolationist outsider throughout his life, as he faced bigotry as a clone and a refusal by purists to accept him as a member of Mandalorian culture. Bo-Katan’s hostility toward his use of Mandalorian armor, despite his rightful claim to it, is somewhat ironic given her own wariness toward the extremist sect that Din belongs to. It’s interesting to see a lot of different Mandalorians in this diaspora all finding ways to identify themselves as “real” Mandalorians in the wake of the loss of their homeland, often creating identities in opposition to other ideas about what a Mandalorian can be. All that aside, that post-credits scene was some sweet Boba- and Fennec-badassery, and I am intrigued to see what The Book of Boba Fett does to further develop these characters. There are certainly plenty of subjects to explore. Why did Fett want his armor back now, and why did he not reclaim it earlier? Why was it important to him to claim Jabba’s palace? Does he plan to start his own criminal empire, or a new bounty hunter’s guild? Does he plot to build a coalition to retake Mandalore and rise as its ruler? Or perhaps does he want to assemble a warrior society of his own, an outsider group that rejects the formalistic traditions of Mandalorian culture? And now that he’s more of a team player and working with others, does he make any attempt to reconcile with the “friends” and mentors he’s had in the past, like Bossk or Dengar? I’ve never been great at speculation, so who knows if the story even follows any of those leads, but I’ll be interested to see what they do. Boba’s still not my favorite character, but I like this take on an honor-bound, brutal warrior who seems to be doing a tightrope walk of reflecting on and honoring his father’s heritage while facing and accepting rejection from the culture his father was raised in.

Then there’s Luke. It’s incredible that they really brought Luke into the show as the Jedi to respond to Grogu’s call. It was also incredible fan service to finally show Luke at the height of his powers, easy dismantling a platoon of super-soldier droids after we’d seen a single one of these Dark Troopers nearly pummel Din to death. I haven’t particularly been interested in the Disney Gallery series for The Mandalorian, but I’d love to see some behind-the-scenes discussion of how they got Mark Hamill’s younger voice and likeness spot-on for his appearance. Obviously most of the time, he was silent and hooded, and it’s not hard to figure out that you’d have a stunt double in any sort of sequence like that, but we have some extended periods where Luke is interacting with the Mandalorian posse.

Will we see more of this younger Luke? Will we finally see him starting his own Jedi Academy? I’d love to get more of that story. It’ll be interesting to see where Grogu goes; I suspect that, like Ahsoka, the little guy will find a way to escape the upcoming Jedi Purge (just as he did the original, come to think of it). And, though this is somewhat surprising to me, I’m really eager to see not just what comes of the potential conflict between Din and Bo-Katan, but also what exactly Boba Fett is up to.

Going Pew-Pew: A Revision

I decided to change the site header a bit. When I first started the blog, I’d run through some jokey names with my wife, including the one we settled on, “Overthinking Things Going Pew-Pew.” I liked the implication that everything I was writing was a little overblown and self-important. I liked what I perceived as somewhat self-aware winking at the idea that I knew I was spending way too much time thinking about pop culture interests.

The thing is that plenty of people are thinking and writing and podcasting and recording video series about many of these same topics! I’m hardly overthinking these things, I’m just part of a vast sea of people obsessing over the pop culture topics they’ve become invested in. At some point, I began to see “overthinking” as something of a humble-brag, though I’d never intended it that way, as though I was indicating I had some special level of insight or devotion. It also seemed more and more dissonant with the types of blog posts I tend to produce, which are often rather light and airy, not over-detailed analyses. There was a time in my life when I did lean toward the latter, mostly before I’d considered blogging at all. I find I don’t have the time or energy (or even the smarts) anymore for those sorts of posts ordinarily, and this blog long settled into me just writing about things I like (or happened to dislike, from time to time).

It also appeared to me that I wasn’t really limited to a narrow focus anymore–if I ever really had been, that is. I write about sci-fi and fantasy sometimes (all too often big IPs like Star Wars or Jurassic Park), but I found over time that my focus was broadening, volatile, hopefully eclectic. I wasn’t “overthinking” any one thing, just mulling over a lot of different subjects. Anything of interest to me eventually gets folded into the site in some form, whether that subject of interest is crime dramas or ufology and cryptozoology or paleontology or Filipino film or whatever else I might be spending time with in a given week. While I’d always intended this to very much so be a personal blog, I’d tried at first to keep somewhat of a narrow topical lens, but over time, I couldn’t help but have the site reflect who I am as a person: someone with a breadth of interests, rather than someone with particular depths of unique focus. As I’ve come to recognize that shift, I’ve allowed more and more of my interests to leak in, and I expect that the site will become even more varied as I continue this process of relaxation into self here. (If there’s something I want to try to incorporate more than anything else in 2021, it’d be dabbling in some of the fiction I’ve suggested on this site for a while now.)

Another thing that bugged me about the name of the blog was that it was just a bit too long. There was a reason I’d settled on as the site URL. It would be nice to have a punchier name. To say “pew pew” is common onomatopoeia. Kids might use it when playing make-believe with their toys. Adults might use the same phrase in an attempt to do the same thing, if with a bit of acknowledgement of their childishness. My wife’s always been a fan of that component of the title. When I considered changing things up, she took the opportunity to point out that the common core phrase worked just fine.

So here I am: “Going Pew-Pew.” It’s enough. It reflects what I hope is often a whimsical, childlike (or childish) engagement with the stories and ideas that I’m most interested in. That’s what I think the site’s become, and it’s how I hope it will stay.

With the change of the title, I felt the subtitle needed a refresh. “Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Video Games, and Other Miscellany” felt a bit clunky, simultaneously too much and too little. I figured I’d instead grab two of the things that draw me most: spaceships and dinosaurs. The rest could all get swept up in that miscellaneous category.

All that said, welcome to the newly renamed “Going Pew-Pew: Spaceships, Dinosaurs, and Other Miscellany.”