Friday, December 11, 2020

The Wages of Imperial Remnants

I didn't have high expectations for last night's new Mandalorian, knowing it was written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa. But, while it was certainly not among the better episodes this season, it was much better than Famuyiwa's work in season one and it featured another case of a season one character returning with better writing.

As soon as I saw the jungle planet with a big truck trundling through I thought, "Hey, looks like Sorcerer." Then it turned out that Din (Pedro Pascal) and Mayfeld (Bill Burr) were going to be driving a truck with volatile explosives and I knew it was a very conscious homage to Sorcerer or Wages of Fear, movies about a gang of misfit criminals of diverse backgrounds driving trucks carrying volatile explosives through South American jungle. But it's not exactly a retelling--the plot quickly pares down the characters to just Din and Mayfeld driving the truck, leaving Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) sidelined for most of the episode. Though Fett has a nice moment near the end where he uses one of the sonic charges from Attack of the Clones.

Of course, driving a truck on uneven ground with volatile explosives doesn't make much sense when there are hover cars and ships that can take them. The episode's biggest flaw is its many glaring logical problems, the biggest being the facial scan Din is required to undergo to access an Imperial terminal. Storywise, it's good to have a reason to put Din in this position--where he has to choose between keeping his helmet on and saving Grogu--but it doesn't make sense that he would need a facial scan when apparently it doesn't matter at all to the computer if his face is in the records as an Imperial officer or trooper. Famuyiwa is one of those people who evidently doesn't think this kind of thing matters but of course it does--the crucial thing here is Din's motivation and if his motivation doesn't make sense it seriously undercuts everything. We have to have a clear idea of the stakes he's weighing in his head.

The episode still mainly works because of the performances and the ideas. Like the rest of this season, it feels like the writers are much less constrained to show a particular black and white morality. While driving the truck, Burr's very good delivering lines about how there's not much difference to most people between the New Republic and the Empire. Which is developed nicely first by putting the stormtroopers and TIE fighters in a heroic position, rescuing Din and Mayfeld from pirates, and then having Mayfeld confronting an officer, played with savoury menace by Richard Brake.

At the same time, it all feels a little too fast, like these ideas should have been spread out over several episodes. I'd like to see more instances of people actually benefiting from an Imperial presence as, of course, it makes sense that they would in many cases. I suppose you'd rather have pirates? etc. Having Burr do it as info dump only works because Burr is such a good, natural performer.

Having Cara and Fennec hanging around like backup singers reminds me the writers haven't generally been very good at writing female characters. If it weren't for Rosario Dawson's performance, Ahsoka Tano would have been as boring as she was on Rebels.

I've noticed some weird fan worship around Dave Filoni and it seems to be supported by Lucasfilm PR. As I talked about before, I noticed that, on Ahsoka Tano's Wikipedia entry, her credited creator had been changed in 2018 from just George Lucas to George Lucas and Dave Filoni without any cited source. So a couple weeks ago, I put up a "citation needed" tag on the entry, explaining my reasons in the article history--the Clone Wars TV series only shows George Lucas as creator. A few days after I put up the tag, someone found a citation on the Lucasfilm blog--an entry that had been written only two days earlier. It was an interview with Rosario Dawson in which the blogger credited Filoni as Ahsoka's creator in brackets--notably, it never comes up in the interview with Dawson. I've yet to see any instance of anyone officially attached to production on Mandalorian or Clone Wars refer to Filoni as Ahsoka's creator, and that includes Filoni himself. Looking further on the Lucasfilm website, I can find no instance of Filoni being referred to as Ahsoka's creator before 2018.

It makes sense that Lucasfilm would do this. Maybe nothing in Star Wars media produced since Disney bought the property has quite caught fire as well as they hoped. Certainly nothing Dave Filoni has created under Disney has made much of an impression so it's useful to tie him to a genuine success.

Can we, in a real sense, though, call him Ahsoka's creator? He did direct the Clone Wars movie but he didn't write it. If that were enough to make him Ahsoka's creator we'd have to credit Irvin Kershner, director of Empire Strikes Back, for creating Lando Calrissian. Obviously there are many hands at work in any film production in creating a character--the director, the costume designer, and, of course, the actor. But generally "created by" goes to the writer, the person who came up with the concept. Stanley Kubrick drastically reworked The Shining but, still, most people would say Jack Torrance was created by Stephen King. Filoni had early designs for a Togruta girl named Ashla on Clone Wars but Lucas came up with the name Ahsoka and the concept of her being a Jedi padawan to Anakin Skywalker. It really seems like, even if Lucas wasn't sole creator, he had the lion's share. Certainly more than enough to make the numerous articles and interviews referring exclusively to Filoni as Ahsoka's creator look suspicious.

And I say, once again, look to the writers. Before the Disney takeover, Filoni had one writing credit on Clone Wars and it was as a cowriter. All of the stories that brought Ahsoka to life weren't written by him. And in all the stories he's written since the Disney takeover, Ahsoka has been, at best, unremarkable, aside from some decent action scenes.

So, yesterday, there was big Marvel and Star Wars news with many new films and series being announced, one of which was the Ahsoka Tano series. Now basically Disney has to put Filoni in charge of it, they've built him up too much. I can only hope he somehow wises up and gets other people to write the episodes.

Twitter Sonnet #1422

A plate of cheese considered late was good.
A dairy time was marked with creamy pen.
The butter's kept beneath the freezing hood.
A glass of milk completes the cattle win.
Confusion's ghost disturbs a random bag.
The hardened rice was boiled past the soup.
In reckless flight a shirt is sure to snag.
The runners lost returned in endless loop.
A choice explained the faintly darkened eyes.
Behind a row of rocks the rodent bakes.
A meagre coin would scarce requite the pies.
A movie budget's half the funds it takes.
The winding line connects a rounding bird.
The blurry font creates a hazy word.

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