The Return of Mystery Science Theater 3000!

Fans of the the cult favorite TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000 were justifiably upset when it was canceled back in 1999. But now they can rejoice as Netflix has revived the quirky, sci-fi satire for an eleventh season with fourteen new episodes that just started airing.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K) is one of those shows that cannot simply go quietly into the land of cancellation. Ever since it debut on a local TV station, KTMA, back in the late ’80s, the comedy has bounced around Comedy Central then the Sci-Fi Channel until it finally went dark. But its creator Joel Hodgson (who played the lead character Joel in the early seasons) would not let the show be forgotten and tried to revive it. He championed the show over the years and started a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $5 million to fund a revival. The result was that new episodes were produced in 2016 and are now available for hungry fans and those curious enough to see what the hoopla is about.

The new MST3K follows the same basic format of the old shows. An average Joe-character (this time it’s Jonah Heston played by Jonah Ray) is trapped in a spaceship by a mad scientist who wants to experiment on him by making him watch really bad genre films. What keeps Jonah Heston from going insane is that he has a group of wise-cracking robots who watch the films with him and together they heckle the films to shreds. As we watch the bad films we see the silhouettes of Jonah and the robots sitting in the front row on the bottom of the screen and we get to hear all their putdowns and puns.

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 is one of those shows that is best enjoyed if you can appreciate the fact that it’s actually a celebration of the cheesy side of sci-fi, horror and fantasy. The jokes and commentary are non-stop; some hit, some miss. With that rapid pace, many jokes are topical or may go over the heads of some viewers, but that is part of the fun. Sure, some jokes may become dated (as seen in older episodes), but that’s the way it is.

The show follows the tradition of the previous incarnations in that it uses distinctly below average production values with sets and model effects that are clearly fake. But that is part of its charm and how it tributes the films Jonah and his robot friends make fun of. The only difference is that the villains in this version of MST3K are played by more recognizable actors. Felicia Day as Kinga Forrester (the daughter of the older show’s head villain) and the great Patton Oswalt as Max or TV’s son of TV’s Frank are terrific in their roles. You can tell they’re having a great time playing evildoers, and they have lots of fun torturing poor Jonah Heston. In fact, the ultimate torture for Jonah is that Kinga Forrester tries to force him to marry her in one episode.

Of course, the big draw of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are the films themselves. And boy did they pick a bunch of stinkers who deserve the ribbing! The choices this time are mostly newer films that came from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s like Starcrash, Reptillicus, Carnival Magic, Avalanche and those “classic” Dough McClure epics The Land That Time Forgot and At The Earth’s Core. MST3K must be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ method of getting the last laugh on the last two films that adapted his works! And let me add that the choice of these films makes me feel old because I remember watching a couple of them in theaters back in the day.

The only thing lacking with the new episodes is that the original main heroes (Joel Robinson and Mike Nelson) are absent. But the new MST3K does feature guest appearances by former baddies like Pearl Forrester, Bobo and Observer. Of course, the robots and co-stars from the older episodes, Gypsy, Cambot, Crow and Tom Servo, are co-stars in the revival and pick up right when we last saw them in 1999.

Even though Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been gone for a good while, it’s fantastic that it has been able to pick up where it last left off and continue delivering the laughs. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish watching their skewering of At The Earth’s Core, a guilty pleasure of mine.

Waldermann Rivera

The Expanse Pushes Beyond Its Horizon

As its second season draws to a close, it is very clear that The Expanse, arguably the flagship TV series on Syfy, has thrived and become must-see TV.

Based on James S.A. Corey’s series of novels, The Expanse tells several related stories that take place two centuries from now in our solar system as it has been colonized by humanity. From Earth to the the asteroid belt to Jupiter’s moons we see how life is for humans living under different conditions. People living in the Belt deal with harsh conditions and are stigmatized, while those on Mars appear war-like and disdainful of everyone else, especially Earthers. Meanwhile, life on Earth isn’t exactly a picnic from the few glimpses we’ve been shown as it seems that the citizens live under a severe dichotomy where most people are unemployed and destitute while the privileged few control the planet under luxurious conditions.

protomolecule julie mao and miller

The Expanse has many interesting characters with segments devoted to their diverse locales. Tying everything together is the mystery of the protomolecule. It’s an extra-terrestrial substance discovered on Saturn’s moon Phoebe by an Earth-based company called Protogen. It interacts with living tissue and radically alters it, and of course, the company tries to weaponize it. What happens is that the protomolecule is difficult to contain and quickly threatens humanity as it infects anyone that comes into contact with the substance.

Rocinante Crew

There are roughly three storylines devoted to the impact of the protomolecule. Out in the Belt and Jupiter’s moons, we follow the story of the crew of the Rocinante, who try to contain the spread of the protomolecule. The best way to think of them is to look at Firefly, meaning the characters are supposed to be your average joes who live in space in a hard-scrabble existence. The crew is made up of citizens from different planets such as the Rocinante’s Earth captain James Holden (Steven Strait), his lover and ship’s Belter engineer Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Martian pilot Alex Kamal (Cas Anvar), and Amos Burton (Wes Chatham), the ship’s Earther mechanic. The four have distinct personalities ranging from easy going (Alex), to brutish (Amos). In the first season, the protomolecule overran a colony on Eros and nearly consumed the Rocinante crew. Now, they’re on an unsanctioned mission to hunt down all traces of the protomolecule elsewhere and to destroy it. Thanks to their likable nature and heroism the crew are effectively the heart of The Expanse.

Bobbie Draper

We also follow the story of a tough-as-nails Martian marine, Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams). Introduced in the beginning of the second season, she came off as an unlikable thug who was itching for any opportunity to fight Earthers. But she saw firsthand the destructive nature of the protomolecule as a solider intentionally altered by the substance wiped out her team on Ganymede. This incident nearly starts a war between Earth and Mars as the two powers are bitter rivals. This experience has a profound impact on Draper and she starts to question her way of life. Out of all the characters in The Expanse, hers is the one that has grown the most and her development has made Draper a quick fan favorite.

Chrisjen Avarsarala

The other storyline is devoted to the United Nations assistant secretary Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who is trying to get to the bottom of the protomolecule and to prevent a war from breaking out between her planet and Mars. Aghdashloo easily provides the best acting in the show and presents a mature, regal presence that is so captivating to watch thanks in part to her husky, hypnotic voice that vaguely recalls Lauren Bacall. While the Rocinante crew are the show’s heart, and Draper the soul, Chrisjen Avarsarala represents its mind as her scintillating dialogue  with diplomats and corporate heads provide much needed food for thought.

The Expanse has another distinguishing element and that is its adherence to hard science. Although we still hear the sounds of spaceships flying about great pains are taken to show life under microgravity. We see the perils and fragility of life outside of Earth where being able to breath can be a life-or-death situation. There is time-delayed communications between colonies and Earth. One interesting segment had a group of Martians (including Bobbie Draper) arriving on Earth and having to deal with life under alien conditions. The gravity was hard on them, the sun was too bright for their eyes and they needed medication to be able to breath Earth’s air. These were nice, realistic touches. It’s not always accurate but kudos to the producers for trying their best.

martian marines on ganymede

Syfy should be applauded for championing The Expanse early on and allowing it to prosper in its second season. It has pushed the envelope in its story and given us fascinating characters. On a side note, it is regrettable that Thomas Jane’s hard-boiled detective Joseph Miller died this season but his final actions helped save Earth from being infected by the protomolecule. On the other hand, The Expanse’s second season has introduced interesting new characters that have kept its momentum. Add terrific scripts and superb production and special effects and it is easy to see why The Expanse is the best science fiction TV show airing right now.

Lewis T. Grove and José Soto

Logan & The Future Of The X-Men

Logan is the swan song for Hugh Jackman in his seventeen-year film portrayal of the iconic Wolverine superhero. The film is resonating with filmgoers and critics and especially fans of the X-Men films and comics. For 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Cinematic Universe (XCU), Logan’s success combined with last year’s Deadpool points to a bold and fresh direction for the cinematic universe.

X Men Films Roster

Ever since its debut in 2000 with X-Men, the X-Men film franchise has seen its share of ups and downs. Creative and commercial highs like X-Men: Days of Future Past or X-Men: First Class were quickly followed or preceded with disappointments such as X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine. On the whole the XCU films are exciting and colorful but it seemed as if these superhero films had hit a creative wall as seen with X-Men: Apocalypse. By itself the film was fine, but it had a nagging feeling of déjà vu. We’ve seen these theatrics before; a big, bad mutant comes along and threatens the world while the superheroic mutants complain about how they’re ill treated by humanity, yet go out of their way to save it because, well, they’re the X-Men!

Along Came A Merc

As we all know that template changed with Deadpool. Funny, gross, self mocking and full of vigor and pizzazz, the film proved that something new can be created from the standard X-Men superhero formula with the Merc with the Mouth. Deadpool was a gamble for 20th Century Fox who resisted the idea of greenlighting the film in the first place. Executives worried about funding a superhero film that was vulgar, violent and comedic. After all, an R-rated superhero film is considered blasphemy to studio execs and marketing departments. They feared that the under-18 crowd wouldn’t be able to see, rather spend money to see the film. But to not allow that in a Deadpool film would betray the character.

Of course, Deadpool surprised the industry and delighted giddy fans who wanted an accurate film portrayal of this beloved character that stayed true to his violent, fourth-wall-breaking roots.

Deadpool’s success helped give Fox execs the confidence to allow Logan’s creators to take a creative gamble. This resulted in the film being an adult, hard-hitting, violent film that truly reflected the dark comic book story that inspired it, “Old Man Logan”.

Requiem For Logan

However, Logan’s creative success is not just due to its grim and violent tone. Rather this mature film is more than that, it is about facing mortality and Logan feels so poignant because of the nature of the title character. Logan aka Wolverine, played so skillfully by Hugh Jackman, is a broken, old man who realizes that the world has moved past him. Having long given up the good fight, Logan simply wants to be left alone and face his last days in peace with his mentor Charles Xavier.

Logan at his hideout

Like Logan, Xavier is grappling with the challenges of old age and both men know they are reaching their twilight. Having seen these two characters on film for nearly two decades, it is rather heartbreaking to see the indignities they face as we are reminded of our own mortality. Meanwhile, we have to admit that after seeing Jackman playing this iconic hero for 17 years, it is hard to see him go, but we must, which is why the film’s ending hits so hard.

Logan, Xavier and Laura

At the same time, Logan is looks at the issue of how an adult deals with a degenerating parent. It is a part of life that most will face and by taking care of an ailing Xavier, a man who is not his father makes Logan more heroic than he realizes. Further adding to his growth is the realization of how he has bonded with Laura, aka X-23, the young mutant he and Xavier are protecting. By the film’s end, he has come to not just feel responsible for her but to accept her as his child, which is a bittersweet conclusion to his emotional growth that Xavier urged him to explore earlier in the film.

Logan at hotelDiscovering these themes in a superhero film is actually surprising and gives Logan much more gravitas than the standard superhero film. In many ways, it seems more like a western thanks to its themes of the harsh consequences of violence and beautiful outdoor cinematography. That is why many are proclaiming it to be a film that has outgrown its genre and is now compared to The Dark Knight or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It is needless to add that this modern classic is already considered by many to be the greatest X-Men film to date.

So now that Logan has reinforced the idea that an XCU film can be unexpectedly original, where does Fox go from there? Continue reading

Despite Controversy & Flaws Iron Fist Hits Its Mark

The latest Netflix/Marvel TV show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is Iron Fist. The main character and his story are based on the Marvel Comics hero created by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane. As the final piece of the superhero puzzle that will make up this year’s Netflix mini-series, The Defenders, Iron Fist has been mired in controversy. Most of it having to do with charges of that the title character is just another white savior type since he emulates a stereotypical Asian monastic lifestyle. Other complaints about Iron Fist are that it is slow moving and uninvolving.

These criticisms levied at Iron Fist are unfortunate because it’s generally an enjoyable, well-produced entry of the MCU. It does have its share of problems and is not as engaging as Daredevil or Jessica Jones. On the other hand, after last year’s disappointingly dull and overacted Luke Cage, Iron Fist is a course correction for the Netflix/Marvel shows.

danny rand at kun lun

The TV show centers on Danny Rand (Finn Jones), a homeless heir to a multinational corporation who reappears in the company’s Manhattan headquarters after he was believed to have died fifteen years ago. In his backstory, he and his parents were in a plane crash in the Himalayas that killed his folks, but he survived and was rescued by monks. They take Danny to K’un-Lun, a mystical, extradimensional city that appears every fifteen years on Earth. Once there, Danny is raised by the monks, learns martial arts and eventually becomes the latest in the line of a mystical warrior called the Iron Fist, the Living Weapon. His duty was to protect K’un-Lun from an evil mystical group called the Hand but is shocked after his return that the Hand are on his native world.

It takes some time for him to convince the world that he actually is Danny Rand. What doesn’t help is that when we first see him he’s barefoot, unkempt and disheveled. He spends much of his energy trying to reconnect with two childhood friends, the siblings Joy and Ward Meachum (Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup), who run Danny’s company and are a couple of corporate douchebags, especially Ward. They see him as either a fraud or worse a genuine threat to their hold on the company that was founded by their fathers. The twist is that Meachum’s father, Harold (David Wenham), who supposedly died years ago, is alive and in hiding. An amoral and abusive type himself, the father takes an interest in Danny Rand’s re-emergence. This is because he sees Rand as an opportunity to take on his enemy the Hand (featured in Daredevil), who have a hold on him. With this in mind, Harold forces Ward to allow Danny into the company. Once in place as a majority shareholder, Danny begins righting the wrongs done by the company.

Rand wing and night nurse

As this corporate plotline unfolds, Danny meets a downtrodden karate instructor Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick), who operates a dojo, and the two connect. She becomes his partner as he tries to get behind the reason of the Hand’s purpose on Earth and how they are connected to his company.

Iron Fist may not be immediately engaging at first. The first couple of episodes are actually frustrating with drawn out flashbacks of the plane crash and Danny trying to convince people of his identity. While he is sympathetic, Rand comes off as being too naïve and trusting. This leads to a dull stretch where he is imprisoned in a psychiatric ward and the narrative injects a pointless notion that he may be insane. While this works so well in Legion, here the subplot is plodding. But in the end, after he exhibits his first manifestation of his superhuman martial arts the show picks up momentum.

iron fist attack

Speaking of martial arts, a major drawback to Iron Fist is that for a TV show about martial arts many of the fight scenes lack power and energy. They look too choreographed and listless. This is seen in the first few minutes of the first episode “Snow Gives Way” when Danny has a by-the-numbers fight with some guards as he tries to contact the Meachums. This is a dangerous flaw for a show of this type. We are supposed to be shown that he is a superhuman martial artist, but the show has a hard time showing this to viewers. There are some good fight sequences though, many of which involve Wing, who is one of the best characters on the show, but they pale when compared to Daredevil or even Arrow.

But take heart in knowing that whenever Danny’s hands start glowing, you will be treated to some climatic displays of raw power. One drawback to keeping this show in the gritty and grounded MCU shows from Netflix is that it prevents the more mystical aspects of Rand’s backstory from being shown. It might’ve lightened the show’s mood and better matched Danny’s persona.

Of all the heroes in these shows, he seems to be the most optimistic and exudes an inner calm. This presents a challenge in that it makes it difficult to showcase any of the inner turmoil and demons which plague the stars of Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. In reality, this different kind of personality is a welcome change of pace from all the brooding and conflicted heroes, though it makes him a bit one dimensional. Danny just wants to do good for others during his return to our world. He just has to go through these hurdles to achieve this goal.

Once the show gets going after the early episodes, it picks up the pace and becomes more action-oriented as we want to see what happens next to these characters. The villains are not the greatest but there are attempts to give them some layering, which keeps things interesting. In Joy’s case, groundwork is laid for making her more amendable to Danny’s cause. While we try to figure out what is Harold’s ultimate agenda and though Ward comes off as one dimensional at first, there is more to him than being a corporate tool.

When compared to Daredevil (season one) or Jessica Jones, Iron Fist does not reach their levels of quality. Yet, it has its merits and is a welcome addition to the MCU. Frankly, much of the criticism is unfortunate because Iron Fist is being faithful to the source material, in the comic books he is a white man who grew up practicing martial arts in an Asian-inspired dimension. Although on the surface it may seem like it, he does not embody the white savior cliché in the comics or this show despite what some critics may want to believe.  Others may simply be tiring of the MCU and are looking for a reason to take it down a notch. Whatever the case may be, try to keep an open mind and sample this show. Iron Fist takes a while to engage you, but once it does it’s worth binge watching.

José Soto

Top 10 Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episodes & Arcs

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars was an epic TV series that vastly expanded the Star Wars canon and was a boon for Star Wars fans after the conclusion of the prequel trilogy in 2005. The animated show originally aired on the Cartoon Network from 2008 through 2013 and since then has been available to stream on Netflix. However, Netflix will stop streaming it very soon (March 7, 2017) and the only way to see this terrific series is through downloads or DVDs/Blu-rays. It has lots of devoted followers because it had so many different adventures and stories that spanned the galaxy and showed the reach of the huge conflict that engulfed the galaxy. Star Wars: The Clone Wars also took its heroes to so many different places, not just physically, but in terms of their lives and development as characters. Here are 10 of the best story arcs and episodes of the show.
cad bane
10. “Hostage Crisis” Season 1, Episode 22: The first season finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars introduced the notorious bounty hunter Cad Bane and it was a memorable debut. He was someone who specialized in hunting Jedi, thus, he has armor at the sides of his neck to prevent Force chokes. The cruel executions of hostages in his invasion of the Senate building was both shocking for an animated series and also let the audience know that he was no pushover. His later appearances in the show further cemented his place in Star Wars: The Clone Wars as a great adversary for its heroes.
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9. “Obi-Wan Undercover” arc Season 4, Episodes 15-18 (“Deception”, “Friends and Enemies”, “The Box”, and “Crisis on Naboo”): A very interesting storyline that has Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi going undercover as a prisoner in a Republic detention facility, in order to gain information about a plot to kidnap Chancellor Palpatine. This arc has him attempting to survive life on the inside, then going on the run with bounty hunter Cad Bane with a vengeful, fellow Jedi Anakin Skywalker in pursuit, who believes Obi-Wan was killed by the person Obi-Wan is impersonating! This story is quite different from the usual Star Wars plot and shows the strength of the show in that it really expanded the idea of what Star Wars could be.
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8. “Padawans Hunted” arc Season 3, Episodes 21-22 (“Padawon Lost”, and “Wookiee Hunt”): Another familiar character in a new setting is fan favorite Chewbacca, who appears on the show when Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano is captured by Trandoshans and sent to a world to be hunted. She allies with other Jedi padawans to escape and meets Chewie, who was also captured by the Trandoshians. Together, they are able to turn the tables on their captives and escape. Having Chewbacca on the show is a nice link to the original trilogy and demonstrates Chewie’s heroism and resourcefulness, as well as a nice back story to an iconic Star Wars character.
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7. “Darth Maul Returns” Season 4, Episodes 21-22 (“Brothers” and “Revenge”) and Season 5, Episode 1 (“Revival”): Darth Maul’s return to Star Wars was a nice surprise for fans of the great Sith villain. The introduction of his brother Savage Opress was also an interesting revelation. Their back story as natives of the world of Dathomir and Opress finding his long lost brother in a state of insanity on a distant Outer Rim junk world with mechanical legs are definite highlights of the show. Maul (obsessed with getting revenge) and his confrontation with Obi-Wan Kenobi was thrilling and a treat for fans of the much maligned Phantom Menace.
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6. “Mortis” Season 3, Episodes 15-17 (“Overlords”, “Altar of Mortis”, and “Ghosts of Mortis”): Anakin Skywalker actually sees his future as Darth Vader in this set of episodes. He, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano are stranded on the mysterious world of Mortis that has only three beings on it, Father, Daughter and Son. They seem to embody the Force itself and the Son sees Anakin as the Chosen One and gives him a vision of his future as a Sith Lord. This causes Anakin intense grief and pushes him to ally with the Son against the other two. The Father eventually erases Anakin’s memory of his future, thus sparing him further pain, but at the cost of letting Anakin continue on his eventual path to evil. Again, this shows how Star Wars: The Clone Wars puts familiar characters in fascinating situations that were previously unknown to audiences.
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5. “Clone Conspiracy” season 6 episodes 1-4 (“The Unknown”, “Conspiracy”, “Fugitive”, and “Orders”): This group of episodes starts the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars on a very ominous note. Clone troopers Tup and Fives are embroiled in a conspiracy which takes them from the clone home world of Kamino to the heart of the Republic on Coruscant, as they try to uncover the reason behind Tup’s sudden violent attack on a Jedi Master. This results in them discovering the secret of Order 66 and Chancellor Palpatine’s plot to destroy the Jedi. Unfortunately, they are thwarted at every step as they try to unmask all of this treachery as Palpatine’s all-pervasive power in the Republic is shown, which will have very tragic consequences for the galaxy.
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4. “Landing At Point Rain” Season 2, Episode 5: This episode most embodies the name of the show. A clone war. This action-packed story shows the Jedi and their clone troopers assaulting Geonosis and a massive droid factory. The special effects are great and demonstrate the high quality of the work done for this series. The fighting is both intense and brutal, and demonstrates the horrific cost of Darth Sidious’ plans to embroil the galaxy in this seemingly never-ending conflict.
Star Wars malevolence
3. “The Malevolence Trilogy” Season 1, Episodes 2-4 (“Rising Malevolence”, “Shadow of Malevolence”, and “Destroy Malevolence”): This story arc kicks off the show with a bang and has Jedi Knights Anakin Skywalker, his apprentice Ahsoka Tano and Master Plo Koon attempting to destroy a new Separatist warship called Malevolence. These episodes feature great space battles and visual effects and really showcase the huge struggle between the Galactic Republic and Separatist Alliance. They also introduce the iconic Y-Wing bombers to Star Wars canon and demonstrate their usefulness to the Republic and of course, later on to the Rebellion.
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2. “Ahsoka’s Trial” Season 5, Episodes 17-20 (“Sabotage”, “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much”, “To Catch A Jedi”, and “The Wrong Jedi”): Ahsoka Tano’s last appearance in Star Wars: The Clone Wars was both memorable and tragic. She is framed for a bombing at the Jedi Temple and forced to go on the run, chased not only by Republic forces, but also by her mentor Anakin Skywalker. The betrayal she feels at being abandoned by the Jedi Council and her subsequent decision to leave after she is exonerated is one of the most striking events in the whole series. Ahsoka’s last scene shows her sadly walking off into the sunset as her devastated mentor can only watch. This no doubt had a huge influence on Anakin and his feelings toward the Jedi as a whole.
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1. “Yoda’s Journey” Season 6 episodes 11-13 (“Voices”, “Destiny”, and “Sacrifice”): The last arc of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and the best one. Master Yoda hears the voice of Master Qui-Gon Jinn and journeys to the Sith home world to find the origin of the Force, all the while his Jedi Council members fear for his sanity. This last series of episodes goes right to the heart of Star Wars mythology and shows how Master Yoda was able to persevere in the dark times of the Empire; by using the lessons he learned from his departed friend and from the Force itself. His last words in the final episode of learning lessons that will help not only during the Clone War, but for all time, demonstrate the lasting power of his wisdom.
C.S. Link