Forces of Destiny, Round 6: “Triplecross”

Yet another Star Wars post today, because as usual I can’t help myself. There’s been a new addition to the Forces of Destiny episode line-up: “Triplecross,” which came out over Solo‘s release weekend and stars Qi’ra. It’s a cute little story guest-starring IG-88 and Hondo Ohnaka. I’m a big fan of both of these rogues; the self-destructive, double-crossing Hondo is in top form, and IG-88 had enough lines this episode to actually give him something of a personality.

I don’t know if the animators simply had more time to focus on this one-shot episode or what, but the production values seem improved. While still maintaining the stripped-down, minimalist aesthetic, I would say that the characters had a little more detail than usual. Colors popped. The city they’re in looks beautiful, even though it’s largely empty of other inhabitants wandering the streets.

Unfortunately, there’s very little connection to Solo, and there’s nothing really new or interesting about Qi’ra’s character here. (Wow, she’s a charming survivor who will do anything to get out on top and is quite comfortable with deception? That’s…exactly how she is in the film.)

I think a series of micro-episodes that focused on female characters would be cool, if it was either a continuous narrative over multiple episodes or slightly longer vignettes. The current convention is too short and disconnected to amount to anything substantial. My usual complaints, of course, but it’s especially jarring when a highlight episode for this series is so obviously meaningless next to the film it’s reflecting.

Forces of Destiny, Round 5: Season 2.5

Whoops. I was plain wrong when I believed that the first eight episodes represented the entirety of Forces of Destiny Season 2. Now we have another seven more. At this point, I feel fully indoctrinated into this series. The character models are crude, but the animation looks slick. The backgrounds are lacking in detail but make up for it with crisp architectural lines and paintbrush-like landscapes. And most importantly for my transformation of opinion, no moment in this batch of episodes felt forced or over-packed. We have some things happening in and around the movies and Rebels, but the moments happen in spaces that make sense (at least, I think so–I haven’t seen the final season of Rebels yet, and while I’ve been spoiled on plenty of the broad details, I wouldn’t be able to place where exactly the Rebels moments are happening).

One of my favorite new episodes was “Perilous Pursuit,” which appears to have been based off a deleted scene in The Force Awakens. It fits into the general chronology of the film, and it’s just a great buddy action scene between Finn and Rey. Rey’s the pilot, Finn’s the gunner, and they’re just a damn good team together (and so supportive of and excited for each other!). The episode left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I also liked “Monster Misunderstanding” for its focus on Padme. It let her use her intelligence and empathy to arrive at a solution for the central dilemma of the episode. And it was also a glowing reminder that there is so much room for storytelling throughout much of the period of Padme’s time as queen and then senator of Naboo. I’d love to see more involved stories following some of her political adventures (and occasional aggressive negotiations) during this decade-plus time period.

I enjoyed the Ewok-infused, post-battle episodes set on Endor, too. They were fun, fit conveniently into the timeline as our heroes are handling mop-up duties after the destruction of the Death Star, and provide happy little insular adventures. The Ewok episodes in this round–“Chopper and Friends” and “Traps and Tribulations”–were even more fun because of the goofy reincorporation of old Legends material, like the Gorax from Caravan of Courage or the little female Ewok who looks like (and apparently in fact is) Princess Kneesaa from the Ewoks animated series.

 

“Art History” and “A Disarming Lesson” are fun Rebels-adjacent moments that fit within the types of stories that show told. And “Porgs!”…it’s about porgs! Plus Chewie being sweet. (Actually, that’s probably my least favorite episode–not bad, but sort of boring, and I don’t love how sentient Forces of Destiny has made these little birds.)

All in all, another good batch.

 

Forces of Destiny, Round 4: Season 2

Forces of Destiny keeps growing on me, and I don’t know whether it’s simple exposure to the series or an actual improvement in overall quality. I liked most of the eight episodes that have comprised Season 2.

My favorites were “Unexpected Company,” “Bounty Hunted,” and “The Path Ahead.”

“Unexpected Company” has Ahsoka as a last-minute addition to Anakin’s escort assignment with Padme. Anakin’s initially frustrated that his alone-time with Padme was ruined, but Ahsoka helps them out in an unexpected starship battle, and she and Padme share a moment at the end of the episode. I think it’s implied that Ahsoka was able to deduce the relationship between Padme and Anakin because of the events of the episode, choosing to silently accept it with a knowing smile and some careful words.

“Bounty Hunted” provided the (potentially) canon explanation for how Leia got Boushh’s armor. The encounter with Boushh is a little silly and arbitrary, but I’m willing to accept coincidence when Maz seems to intuit this occurrence through the Force. Seeing Maz and Leia meet–and Maz and Chewie embrace!–definitely made the episode special, though. And I’ll take any explanation for how Leia got her armor over the EU account with rapey Prince Xizor.

Finally, “The Path Ahead” shows a moment in Yoda’s training of Luke. Yoda gives Luke some sage advice that sounds appropriately cryptic and mystical. At the conclusion of the lesson, Yoda remarks, “Trust what you see [through the Force], not what you think you see [through your senses].” When he says that there will be more training through tree-climbing pathways, Luke asks, “Are we trying to get somewhere?” And Yoda replies, “Always, yes, always.”

Most of the other episodes were fine–mildly adventurous, or humorous, or heart-warming, but not particularly remarkable vignettes.  The only episode I did not like was “Shuttle Shock,” starring Finn and Rose as they approach Canto Bight. It’s actually a fairly good character moment, but the bit of action squeezed into the segment feels like too much loaded into what was otherwise a relative moment of brief quiet in the film itself. I didn’t like the episode for the reason that I didn’t like many other Season 1 episodes–there’s the sense that everything is overstuffed with moments of action and suspense, as if the movies actually trimmed down on the heroes stumbling through one gun fight or narrow escape after another.

In the end, Forces of Destiny will probably never provide essential Star Wars moments, but it does seem that with each new batch of episodes, it gets closer to the promise of consistently joy-filled short stories.

Forces of Destiny, Round 3

Well, there’s been another round of four episodes of Forces of Destiny. “Accidental Allies” sees Sabine fleeing from stormtroopers with a MacGuffin, then losing the MacGuffin, which is recovered by Jyn Erso; Sabine helps Jyn out and convinces her to give the thing back. In “An Imperial Feast,” Leia convinces Han to go to General Syndulla to get rations to trade with the Ewoks so that the Ewoks won’t roast captured Imperial prisoners of war. “The Happabore Hazard” has Rey deal with a lethargic beast blocking some salvage. And “Crash Course” follows what happens when Sabine lends her bike to her friend Ketsu.

As is usual and now expected with this show, the episodes are a mixed bag. I was disappointed with the Sabine episodes–both are boring, and for different reasons (in “Allies,” the stakes are low, the “map” MacGuffin is uninteresting, and the galaxy feels smaller by unnecessarily mashing Sabine and Jyn together; in “Crash Course,” Sabine just reluctantly loans a bike to a friend and gets it back in…less than mint condition). The episode with Rey was fun and cute, and since the stakes were fairly low and it was set in a time before Rey met BB-8, it was easy to just enjoy the silly little side adventure.

But my favorite episode, an episode I really enjoyed, was “An Imperial Feast.” Leia is sassy; Han and Chewie are lovable goofballs; Hera and Chopper have amusing yet brief appearances. And it addresses a weirdo fan theory: that the Ewoks, who have been shown to be willing to eat humans, cooked and ate stormtrooper prisoners of war after the battle of Endor. The episode rather humorously shows that the Ewoks would be quite happy to eat the stormtroopers, but Leia won’t be allowing any war crimes today, thank you very much, so to pacify them she sends Han to pick up ration bars from “General Syndulla” to trade with the Ewoks. Hera won’t trade until Han “admits” that the Ghost is superior to the Millennium Falcon; at the end, Leia, seemingly aware of Hera’s request, reassures Han that no one seriously thinks that. It’s a cute episode. It actually filled in a tiny little gap with a fun side story. And it very directly offers up the fantasy of Ghost versus Falcon, even if it doesn’t show it.

Just how “canon” is Forces of Destiny, anyway? Hera, Chopper, and the Ghost appeared in Rogue One, so we knew they at least made it to Yavin. Does this mean that Hera, her droid, and her ship made it all the way through the Galactic Civil War to celebrate post-Endor? What role did she have in the years after Endor? Did anyone else make it? Lots of intriguing questions prompted by “An Imperial Feast,” that’s for sure. Maybe we’ll get more glimpses in future seasons.

Forces of Destiny, Round 2

I watched the new set of Forces of Destiny episodes. I was more receptive to them this time. Maybe my expectations were reset after my initial disappointment; maybe they were better; maybe the included episodes resonated with me a little more. Or in other words, is it me, is it the show, or is it my relationship with the show that has changed?

I’m still not overly excited by it. I also recognize that this isn’t really a project for me, and I’m entirely okay with that. Not everyone will like everything.

I will say that one improvement (in my mind) is that the stories actually served more of a purpose than just pew-pew. Of the four new episodes, my two favorites were “The Starfighter Stunt,” which showed Padme and Ahsoka bonding (and Padme demonstrating her relatively unestablished piloting skills), and “Newest Recruit,” which saw Sabine’s old pal Ketsu finally make the decision to join the Rebellion. While I thought that “Teach You, I Will” veered towards a cheesy lesson because of the reduction of what probably should have been a considerable bit of development (martially and psychologically) into the short format of a single-scene micro-episode, it was still telling a story. It had a point. “Tracker Trouble,” though, appeared to exist only to insert yet more action into The Force Awakens.

Last time I talked about Forces of Destiny, I gave a specific call-out to IG-88. This time, let’s cheer this cute lil’ Chadra-Fan:

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Maybe it’s just because I’ve got “The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” on my mind, but doesn’t that baby Chadra-Fan look like it could be a young Kabe? For reference:

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Not that every single Chadra-Fan in the galaxy has to be the same one. But a little Chadra-Fan, apparently parent-less, stowing away in a crate and stealing food? Sounds like that could be Kabe. How long does it take a Chadra-Fan to reach adulthood? Maybe a few years is long enough. I don’t know. Aimless speculation here. And I call the youngling a “baby,” but she can talk.

Also, somewhat relatedly, the outfit on the baby Chadra-Fan looks familiar, but I can’t quite place it. It’s sort of like Leia’s Cloud City attire, I guess. No, I’m pretty sure Leia has nothing to do with this.

Okay, so, if I have a bottom line to all the above, it’s that I enjoy the episodes enough, and they’re such a small time commitment, that I’ll probably keep watching. But I’m not really excited about them, they don’t do a lot for me, and they’re fairly easy to forget about.

Fairly weak Forces of Destiny

I watched Star Wars: Forces of Destiny this weekend, making me remarkably up-to-date for once on a Star Wars project that doesn’t involve a theatrical release. It’s a fun little concept, with one-off adventures focusing mostly on the heroic ladies of the Star Wars galaxy. The end result is a bit of a mixed bag.

I thought some episodes, particularly the ones involving Leia, were pretty engaging, but all in all they didn’t really show or tell anything vital. All style, no substance. It’s the nature of this micro-episode format, but I already have a more interesting point of comparison: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars. Those super-short episodes still managed to have something substantial to say and were incredibly effective at packing in a lot even within bite-sized chunks. I suppose the comparison is not entirely fair, since Tartakovsky’s series had a long-form story being told across episodes, while Forces of Destiny is just a scattered collection of one-offs. But it does seem like the creators want the comparison to be made, with an animation style that apes the stylized visuals and minimalist animation of the preexisting property. Even here Forces of Destiny feels distinctly less than; the animation falls flat, more along the lines of an amateur Flash video than a true spiritual successor to Clone Wars, and many of the character models were just sort of ugly. I was especially unhappy with the smooshed-up look on Anakin Skywalker’s face.

In short, I wanted to like the show, and what I could like I did, but there was a lot that I was not a fan of. This is especially disappointing in contrast to the continually great Rebels. While I think it’s fantastic to give more screen time to women in genre fiction, including in Star Wars, I would point to Filoni’s work with The Clone Wars or Rebels, or the new movies coming out, or many of the new-canon books, as better examples. Women should be in the story to do things, not to simply highlight the fact that they are women; diversity should not be synonymous with tokenism.

My final concern is that while Star Wars has always been used to sell merchandising, Forces of Destiny appears to exist only as a catalyst for the resultant merchandising. Even the press release announcing the series premiere concludes as follows:

A new short will premiere online each day at 10 a.m. PT, culminating with their broadcast debut on Disney Channel, Sunday, July 9; books, apparel, bedding, and toys based on the series will arrive August 1

Maybe this concern is a little silly, given that Star Wars has always been commercial, but normally the franchise has been more than just a vehicle to sell stuff.

Oh, by the way, and as evidenced by my header image, IG-88 is briefly in the series, in “Bounty of Trouble.” IG-88 is shown to be…fairly incompetent here. Further support for my theory that the Empire bounty hunters are far from the best, just the closest and most desperate!