Andor: A Different Star Wars Story

The latest Star Wars TV show, Andor, just concluded its first season with the episode “Rix Road”, and on the whole the series left Star Wars fans divided. Some applauded how it took a different approach to Star Wars, which was more serious and grounded. Others dismissed the show because of its deliberately slow pace and lack of typical Star Wars action and tropes. Regardless, it is clear that Andor tells a different kind of a Star Wars story, which is an unusual risk for Lucasfilm and Disney, but the effort largely pays off.

Diego Luna reprises his role of the title character, Cassian Andor, who was introduced as a shady Rebel agent in the film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. This series shows us his back story which takes place several years before the film, and  chronicles the events that turned him into a Rebel against the evil Galactic Empire.

Andor establishes immediately in the opening moments of the first episode “Kassa” that it is different from the typical Star Wars story by setting it in a brothel on a distant world. Andor visits the brothel in trying to search for his long-lost sister. Flashbacks in the early episodes show that Andor was part of a primitive tribe of humans on a backward planet and ran afoul of the Republic (the galactic government before the Empire) before being adopted by a visiting scavenger named Maarva (Fiona Shaw). This act of kindness separated him from his sister and his quest to find her as an adult gets him into trouble with local authorities. This in turn attracts the attention of the Empire, who has begun to tighten its grip on its subject worlds and systems.

Back on his adopted homeworld of Ferrix, Andor stays one step ahead of authorities. He is soon forced to flee Ferrix and work for a group of Rebels by taking on an off-world assignment to steal an imperial payroll on the planet Aldhani. Along the way, Andor meets many people who help change his outlook on life and see beyond his own selfish needs. At the same time, the audience sees through the people Andor interacts with, that life under the Empire is reaching a critical point as a legitimate opposition to the Empire rises.

These interactions between characters, many of whom never meet one another, are a true highlight for the show as is the acting from the many actors. Stellan Skarsgård gives a triumphant performance as Luthen, a morally compromised Rebel agent who recruits Andor and is all too willing to let others, including Andor, do his dirty work. In the best episode of the season, called “One Way Out”, Luthen gives a terrific speech about the choices we make and how they trap us. Andy Serkis appears in a few episodes as Kino, a floor manager in an imperial prison and supervises Andor, who was unjustly imprisoned there for hard labor. Andor encourages Kino to question their grim existence in the prison and to foment a prison break. The episode “One Way Out” where these two and other prisoners defy authorities and break out was one of the most thrilling and intense moments in Star Wars.

The series has about four story arcs that start off calmly and deliberately takes time to come to a conclusion. During the arcs, the series introduces fascinating characters, while developing other characters established earlier in the show. For instance, Andor follows a parallel journey of Syrill Karn (Kyle Soller), a low-level inspector who is obsessed with tracking down Andor. His actions do not endear him with the bureaucratic Empire, but he has a dogged determination to find his prey just like Inspector Javert in Les Miserables.

But a criticism about the show is that many sub plots and character arcs are introduced, but many of them are not concluded by the time of the final episode.

The many complaints from some Star Wars fans that Andor is too slow are a legitimate gripe. But the payoffs for the arcs are brilliant and intense, such as with “One Way Out”, “Rix Road” and “The Eye”. The tension was very gripping as Andor and his Rebel colleagues pulled off the heist on the depository in “The Eye” or when the prison break is about to happen. By the time the tension is broken by many action scenes, such as when Andor and Luthen escape Ferrix, or when Andor commandeers an imperial ship after the heist, well, these moments were so cathartic.  

It is true the show’s pace can be slow at times, but the pay off was well worth the patience it took to watch the episodes.

Perhaps the reason for the complaints about the show is that many times it does not feel like it takes place in the Star Wars universe and that is probably its greatest strength. None of the characters about the Force; for the most part we rarely see signs of the Empire in the early episodes; and the typical Star Wars blaster fights and space battles are rare.

Life in these worlds seems harsh and gritty as we see the Empire’s demoralizing effect on them. In fact, the pilot episode “Kassa” seemed like a cyberpunk show that took place in a seedy futuristic city. Occasionally, curse words are spoken, and it is quite clear during some scenes that characters had sex or relieved themselves. Characters deal with morally ambiguous situations, such as Mon Mothma’s (Genevieve O’Reilly) machinations to fund the growing rebellion in secret, or with Luthen allowing fellow Rebels to fall into imperial traps or being willing to kill Andor in order to protect the larger rebellion against the Empire.

So, yes, Andor is more mature and adult oriented than the typical Star Wars story. It and its showrunners like Tony Gilroy must be commended for going in a different direction. That is because by trying to be a different Star Wars story, Andor has proven that Star Wars can be a rich and complex universe.

Celebrating The Death Of Superman

Thirty years ago, one of the most monumental events in comic books took place with the release of DC Comics’ Superman #75. As comic book fans know, the issue was the finale to the epic “Death of Superman” crossover storyline that ran across several other Superman titles, Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, and Superman: The Man of Steel. Superman met his physical match with the alien monstrosity called Doomsday that escaped from an unknown prison and rampaged across the countryside.

During the rampage, Superman and his allies desperately fought the hulking, grey behemoth, but were unable to stop Doomsday as he finally made his way to Superman’s home, the city of Metropolis. It was in that fictional city that Superman made his last stand against the creature and ultimately killed him, but not before Doomsday killed him, as well.

It was one of the finest Superman stories ever told, it was a true epic full of action and heart. It demonstrated why Superman was one of the greatest superheroes ever conceived, as he used all his strength and drive to stop Doomsday before making his greatest sacrifice.

Before the storyline came out in 1992, the creative team behind the Superman titles, which included Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice and Jon Bogdanove, were following in the wake of John Byrne’s run with the character in Superman, Action Comics and The Adventures of Superman. Byrne radically revamped and modernized Superman in the 1980s, which raised the superhero’s profile to an extent. But when Byrne left the titles it was up to this small army of writers and artists to continue creating quality storylines. The creative team at that time often would get together in a so-called “Superman Summit” to map out and brainstorm ideas for Superman.

Marriage & Death

During this period, they were developing the concept of Superman/Clark Kent marrying Lois Lane. But they came upon a huge stumbling block in that the same story was being used by the TV show Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. This postponed plans to marry off the two lovers in the comic books because the TV producers wanted to be the first ones to play with the marriage concept and have the comic books coincide with the TV event. This frustrated the creative teams because this decision by the higher ups disrupted their carefully planned stories for the year.

It was back to the drawing board as the creative team held another meeting to conceive an alternative plot for Superman. Despite their efforts, they could not come up with a story that was as good as marrying off Superman. On a frustrated whim, it was suggested by Ordway to kill off Superman. At first, the idea was dismissed because he often would bring this idea up as a joke in previous summits. But this time, the joke began to germinate as the creators wondered what if Superman was killed, and their brainstorming led to the crossover event.

Pending Doomsday

The “Death of Superman” garnered so much media attention because many who did not follow or understand comics actually wondered if this event was a publicity stunt to generate sales or if DC actually intended to kill off its flagship superhero.

When the storyline first debuted in Superman: The Man of Steel #18 (where all readers saw were fists thumping through reinforced walls at the end of the issue), interest in Superman was already percolating as fans latched onto the storyline and wondered themselves how it would play out. After all, for the first time one of the most prominent comic book icons was going to be killed off. Sure there were big deaths in comic books before such as Supergirl and the Flash in the Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series and lesser known heroes like Invisible Kid and Ferro Lad, both from the Legion of Superheroes died, as well. But this time it was different. This was Superman we were talking about. By the time Superman #75 came out the storyline morphed from a media event to a pop culture event.

At this time, the story played out weekly as each title advanced the plot. It was a slow burn as each tightly coordinated issue advanced the plot, which enticed readers to come back to the stores the following week to find out what happened next. This generated a lot of interest not just with readers, but with trade magazines like Wizard. By the time the story culminated in Superman #75, the confrontation between Superman and Doomsday took up entire splash pages and concluded with a multiple page spread featuring Lois crying over Superman’s lifeless corpse.

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DC Films’ Pending Comeback

It has become a bit of a running joke and a sore point for fans of DC Comics that the films based on the popular comic books have not been as well received as those from Marvel Studios.

For years, the films of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) have had a mixed reaction from critics and fans. The result was a perceived lack of quality or consistency, which was quite frustrating as the potential for the films and various DC characters was squandered. Two examples are Superman and Batman. After their joint film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice turned out to be disappointing it seemed as if DC Comics’ owners Warner Bros. (now Warner Bros. Discovery) gave up on the two characters, especially Superman, and focused on DC films not set in the DCEU.

Then there were extensive behind-the-scenes production problems, the most recent and glaring were the issues behind The Flash and its star Ezra Miller. Other properites were announced then abandoned. These issues in turn gave the perception that properties from the DCEU were inferior or at the very least were inconsistent as the film universe lacked direction.

This will all change thanks to the hiring of James Gunn and Peter Safran who will take over the newly formed DC Studios. The duo promise to bring a creatve and consistent approach to the DC films, TV shows, animation and other media. While the non-DCEU films and TV shows will continue to be made, such as sequels to Joker and The Batman, the two film executives will have a firm hand on the DCEU films and TV shows. Needless to repeat to fans that the two are well known for their work in previous DCEU films such as Aquaman, Shazam!, The Suicide Squad, and Peacemaker.

Also worth mentioning is that Warner Bros. Discovery has had a change of heart when it comes to Superman. Henry Cavill who originated the role with the first DCEU film Man of Steel, has already reappeared in the DCEU with a cameo in Black Adam, and will star in a new solo Superman film.

Meanwhile, Ben Affleck, who played Batman in the early DCEU films is also slated to return and in fact will appear as the Caped Crusader in The Flash, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and future DCEU films.

After the release of next year’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, it is not clear what exactly lies ahead for DCEU films. At this point, all we can speculate on are reports of another Wonder Woman film being developed, as well as sequels to Black Adam and The Flash. But keep in mind that David Zaslav, the president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery has committed to developing a 10-year plan for the DCEU films. With the proven and talented guidance of James Gunn and Peter Safran, DC Studios will be quite successful with the effort.

It is an exciting time for DC fans, as the future holds a lot of promise for the DCEU. Now, if only we can get some kind of confirmation of a Green Lantern film…

Top Ten Horror Video Games

Video game players know quite well there are tons of horror video games out there in the market. Naturally some are better than others, while a select few are so well developed and memorable that they helped define the genre of horror video games and even crossed over into other media. These are the best horror video games to play in the dark, by yourself, or maybe not…

10. Outlast

This game has an investigative journalist going to an asylum that is overrun by homicidal patients. The first-person perspective makes this experience truly frightening as you are chased by people who have been subjected to terrible mind control experiments, which turned them into dangerous lunatics. The sequel also has a journalist investigating a creepy cult in the desert that has also been subjected to similar experiments. The stealth action and lack of weapons makes this series of games a truly frightening experience.

9. Alan Wake

In a story that features a quirky town in the Northwest, Alan Wake is an author that goes in search of his missing wife while fighting shadow men that attack in the dark. Players have to run to areas of light amid dark forests and highways while using their flashlight to keep enemies at bay before destroying them. This makes the action both tense and interesting. The DLC Alan Wake’s American Nightmare continues the story and the upcoming sequel is finally coming out after more than a decade in the making. 

8. The Evil Within

This game from the creator of Resident Evil has a detective trapped in a dream world induced by a machine that can access people’s dreams. It causes their subconscious to create horrific creatures based on the persons’ own fears. While investigating a mass murder, he is caught in this strange cycle of nightmares and monsters while questioning his own sanity. This title is a great blend of horror and action and is a call back to classic survival horror games.

7. F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R., or First Encounter Assault Recon, is a horror first-person shooter that has an elite army unit investigating a private military company’s secret research program where they encounter a powerful psychic girl named Alma who can kill with her thoughts. Her appearance is reminiscent of Sadako from The Ring movies and the ability of the player to slow down time while fighting makes this franchise a unique FPS experience.

6. Castlevania

This classic series features the Belmont clan fighting Dracula and his minions. The ongoing saga spans centuries and numerous side scrolling adventures, as well as some less regarded 3D action titles. The first game showcased Simon Belmont and his trusty whip, storming Dracula’s castle and confronting the Grim Reaper as well as Dracula himself. Subsequent games featured both his ancestors and descendants still fighting the forces of evil. There is also a highly regarded animated series on Netflix that revitalized the franchise and has fans hoping for more entries of vampire-busting action.

5. Fatal Frame

An Asian horror story franchise, these games feature female protagonists that actually combat ghosts with their mystical cameras. This unique spin on the survival horror genre gives it a different feel. The spooky atmosphere and tales of sacrifice and hauntings in Japan are a real treat for fans of films such as The Ring and The Grudge. This series has numerous sequels as wel,l and hopefully this original series will see more installments in the future. 

4. Doom

This series is more of an action game, but its setting with demons invading Mars shows its horror roots, especially with Doom 3, which is basically a survival horror FPS. Its numerous sequels have gamers literally traveling to Hell to confront the demonic creatures that threaten to destroy Earth. The numerous strange looking beings that arrive through inter-dimensional gates in the Doom games are always a terror to behold.

3. Dead Space

A perfect combination of outer space horror and cults that spawn hideous creatures, this series is also on the rebound with an upcoming remake of the original from 2008 that showed an astronaut going to an outpost overrun with parasitic creatures that reanimated corpses and transformed them into deadly and horrific monsters. Legendary filmmaker John Carpenter is a fan of the franchise and has expressed interest in making a movie of it, which shows how far reaching this game is. If only a film studio would let Carpenter actually film it a live-action version of Dead Space, the film could wind up becoming an instant classic.

2. Silent Hill

More of a psychological horror tale as opposed to Resident Evil’s focus on action yarn, the haunted town of Silent Hill has unnerved gaming fans since the original game showed Harry Mason looking for his lost daughter in the fog and creature infested town, while traveling to a creepy and eerie alternate dimension. Its sequel is regarded as one of the best games of all time. The just announced remake of Silent Hill 2 has generated huge excitement and is seen as a comeback for the dormant franchise.

1. Resident Evil

The ultimate horror video game zombie franchise, this game has spawned dozens of sequels, as well as movies and TV shows, and is still going strong to this day with a highly anticipated remake of Resident Evil 4 coming next year and a just released movie and Netflix series. The original story of a police SWAT team known as STARS getting trapped in a decrepit mansion filled with not only zombies, but other mutated creatures still terrifies fans to this day, and its evolving story of corporate intrigue and bio-terror is a true horror video game classic.

C.S. Link

She-Hulk Smashes Her TV Show

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law just completed its season at Disney + with a literal smashing finale that went all out with comedy, guest stars, and unexpected meta moments as She-Hulk destroyed the fourth wall in her TV show.

Tatiana Maslany starred as both Los Angeles-based lawyer Jennifer Walters and her alter ego, the sensational She-Hulk. In the pilot episode, Jennifer is involved in a car accident with her cousin Bruce Banner aka the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and his gamma-infused blood is mixed with hers, which turns her into She-Hulk. Unlike Banner, Jennifer is able to maintain her personality when she transforms into She-Hulk, and is able to continue her career as an attorney, who now represents superhumans in court.

The Disney + show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is supposed to be the first comedy series for the MCU as numerous guest stars and new characters popped into the show. Many of them were obcure Marvel Comics characters, others were more notable MCU personalities like the Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong) and Emil Blonsky/Abomination (Tim Roth) and most recently Matt Murdock/Daredevil (Charlie Cox). Many of these guests are welcome, though with his many appearances in recent MCU projects, Wong is starting to overstay his welcome. Meanwhile, with his charm, Cox practically stole the episode he first appeared in, which was one of the best in the series.

It was alarming that the Daredevil-centric episode was one of the best because it was the second-to-last episode. Many episodes felt flat and too cute, and worst of all, a couple were not funny, which is deadly for a comedy. There was a feeling throughout most of the series that it was playing things too safe and holding back its punches. A good example was when She-Hulk breaks the fourth wall during episodes. For anyone who does not understand, breaking the fourth wall is a narrative technique where a character in a story directly addresses the audience and steps outside of the story to do so. We’ve seen this done in the Deadpool films and comics, though She-Hulk did this first in John Byrne’s The Sensational She-Hulk Marvel Comics series to great effect.

In the TV show, the fourth-wall breaking was sparingly done to add some wry commentary to what was going on. While the comments were humorous the show did not run with this technique until the final episode, which happened to be its the best. During the third act, a frustrated She-Hulk has had enough with a predictable slugfest that made little sense and actually left the series, broke out of the Disney + menu and entered the real world looking for Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios. Antics like this often occured in the comic books and should have happened more often in the TV show. These antics were not the only hysterical moments, but the opening credits for the episde was a hilarious recreation of the 1970s TV show The Incredible Hulk, but with Jennifer Walters and She-Hulk acting out scenes originated by Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno. Things like that should have happened more often in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, which turned out to be a very light-hearted legal dramedy. To be honest, if the show was not set in the MCU and was just a regular legal comedy, most of us would not bother to watch it.

Another thing that was deadly at times for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law were its special effects. It had its moments, but many times, the CG was quite dodgy and rushed. There were reports about how overstretched special effects companies were with MCU properties and this show is evidence of that. It’s a shame because MCU films and TV shows have great special effects. But here with this show, it had to convince us that this ultra tall, green woman actually existed, but on too many occasions the show failed to trick us. It might have been better if they use more conventional tricks like makeup and tall body doubles instead. Let’s hope Marvel Studios goes back and patches up the effects in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law because it is sorely needed.

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