The star of the show

So, yes…our family is following the trend. We viewed the much talked about THE MANDALORIAN this past holiday vacation. If you count the fact that we (my husband and I and our two kids in their twenties) actually plunked ourselves down in theater seats and watched the new Skywalker film, our eyeballs were largely captivated by the Star Wars universe.

A big win for Disney because I’m guessing we weren’t the only family doing this.

THE MANDALORIAN is a PG-13 show. Don’t let cute child Yoda-like character charm you into thinking this is for little kids. Many of them will be terrified by the series, in part because the cute little character is often in danger.

There is also graphic violence in the series. The main character, Mando, is a bounty hunter in the spirit of Jango/Boba Fett.

First, The Short Review: Five Reasons to Watch THE MANDALORIAN

  1. Similar to Stranger Things, this series is turning out to be an international phenomena. If you don’t watch it, you’re bound to miss about 1 out of every 5 late-night tv jokes and tons of cultural references.
  2. The production is well done overall, including the special effects.
  3. Each of the 8 episodes are action packed and tension filled.
  4. Baby Yoda (this isn’t actually baby Yoda, but a child of the same species as Yoda) is adorable.
  5. The story helps to expand and fill out the Star Wars universe and that is kind of fun if you have enjoyed the previous stories.

The Longer Review…

The story and the main character evolve in this production. I was a little bothered by never being able to see the face/read the face of the hero, but the Star Wars film folks have genuinely figured out the best possible way to convey feeling even when a character is a robot or wears a helmet that covers the face. Speaking of helmets…one of the most delightful interactions took place between two storm troopers. At one point, they are alone and commenting on their superiors’ orders and interacting over a creature/prisoner in their possession. It’s funny and humanizing to hear their banter, though the two of them still seem bent on serving their evil overlords.

As is typical of our most beloved Star Wars tales, the protagonist adores his ship and seems to have a particularly affectionate relationship with it. Star Wars writers do a good job of making machines, like ships and droids take on personality. Droids are a sore subject with our hero. He mistrusts all of them and the story arc grapples with this view. The teaching character introduced in an early episode is called Kuiil. He not only assists Mando when our hero is in need, he represents the gentler and more peace-loving side of the universe. Where Mando can seem brutal and hard, his moral angle on the universe is expanded as the audience sees him interact with the child first and second with Kuiil.

As usual, Star Wars writers are good about villains and rogues, some of whom are weird looking aliens. Yes, there is even a bar scene right at the getgo in episode 1. In addition, the audience visits new planets, sees new creatures and encounters cultures not previously shown in any Star Wars film. This happened organically and it didn’t feel like overload to me. I appreciated the universe getting filled out in more details for the fans, all while telling a story that I cared about. Moreover, the new planets and creatures kept each episode action-packed and visually interesting.

Mando is a loner, but eventually the task of caring for the child becomes bigger than him. He needs allies and those allies are an interesting group as well, gritty and loyal to the cause. Mando’s willingness to team up with others, including a droid, reveals the character growth he has undergone.

Timeline Note:

This story takes place a few years after the Empire has fallen (post Return of the Jedi, 1983), but 25 years before the the rise of the First Order, the authoritarian regime that is firmly in control of the galaxy when Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) begins.

DisneyPlus Streaming Note:

If you want to watch THE MANDALORIAN, you might be able to access it illegally…these things I try not to know, but I realize it happens. If you want the legit way to watch, you’ll have to obtain DisneyPlus. Google search DisneyPlus deals and see what you can find. Our family found that our carrier, Verizon, gave the service free for a year because we have unlimited data. After one year, we pay $6.99 per month. This article in Business Insider will fill you in. We obviously took the deal.

Free is awesome, but will we re-up at the one year mark? We might, but it depends on the overall content value. Right now, our family subscribes to Netflix and now DisneyPlus. We are Amazon Prime Members and we use YouTube/Roku/Apple TV combo for lots of other content.We do not subscribe to HBO or Hulu or other subscribe options. I do try to watch Hulu shows when I fly Delta, which I do often, so I haven’t felt like I’ve missed that service. HBO would be nice, but there are only so many hours in a day and I still want to read! So…that’s it for us, for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Antedean on Star Trek

A Study of Non-Humanoid Characters

(Beware. A Few Spoilers Below. For a no-spoiler review of the film, ANNIHILATION click here, for a review of the novel, click here )

Since my second viewing of the film, ANNIHILATION, I have been musing on my own sci-fi writing, thinking about how difficult it is to portray non-humanoid aliens in a novel, even more so on the screen or stage. The audience may not ponder this, but sci-fi authors grapple with the problem every time they sit down to write.

 

If you do a google image search of Star Trek aliens, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Scroll down and down and down to view many colors of skin, odd make up and costumes, but most of the images you see will be faces that look a lot like human faces. In particular, those aliens that become super villains are almost always humanoid…Klingons, for example. Why do Star Trek writers/producers seem to prefer the humanoid alien?

 

One theory emerges…

 

When telling stories, facial expressions and body language hold meaning. When my editor asks me to show and not tell in my story, I rely on movement, posture, actions as well as dialogue to show character. So, if my alien is a purple blob that does not speak human language and is flying a space vessel into lower Earth orbit for the first time and feels anxious, how do I show the reader its anxiety? My editor will scold me if I write: The blob creature was anxious as it flew into low Earth orbit? This is an example of telling and not showing. Substandard writing. She wants better and I pay her for that advice…so how does a writer manage? Maybe I decide the blob alien doesn’t have any feelings. It’s machinelike. I don’t need to show anything beyond the flying. That option is backed up by the way human beings often view the other, whether alien or human. That’s how people objectify the other.

 

It/he or she feels nothing = I feel no connection = I don’t relate = I can despise it, him, her. 

 

The not-feeling portrayal of the alien works sometimes. A number of successful sci-fi stories deliver to its audience the alien as monster, a creature or entity both sinister and destructive. The Thing as well as the first Alien films are good examples. Both follow the script of the haunted house drama. Humans are in grave danger, trying to defeat a monster that has found its way into the sacred living space. It will use up and in the process destroy all the good guys, unless the good guys destroy it/them first. The monster is objectively all evil.

 

What about non-human characters that might not be all evil?  Those are of interest to me as they are to many other sci-fi writers.

 

Back to the purple blob.

 

So, how would I portray the anxiety in my  blob character? Maybe I show the blob sweating while it nears planet Earth. Okay…that won’t work. How about a trembling blob? Would my audience interpret a trembling blob as an anxious one? For all they know, the trembling is a physical reality of a ship entering Earth orbit. You see the problem, which brings me to R2D2.

 

R2D2 on Tatooine

R2D2, not an alien but wildly different than a human, holds one answer. Recall a number of Star Wars franchise films. R2’s personality makes his mark in all of them and does so as a non human…How do the writers pull this off? How does R2 connect with the audience, which he does in a big way? (Note: in the Star Wars universe, all droids are programmed male or female. R2 was programmed “male” which is why I use the male pronoun when referring to him.) How do we know R2 has feelings when he can only bleep, squeal, whistle, spin its carapace from left to right, roll here and there and lunge back and forth on his three-wheeled legs? He doesn’t have facial expressions, arms and doesn’t even speak a human language, but the audience, especially children, feel a connection and an affection for this character. Why?

Dig deeper into the screenplay of the earliest film…Notice how humans, Luke and Leah, or another verbal and humanoid robot, C3P0 interpret for the audience what R2’s squeals, bleeps and actions mean. The audience sees and hears C3P0 responding to R2D2 in STAR WARS, A NEW HOPE and comes to understand the determined personality of this character.

 

Here’s an early R2D2 scene most of us are familiar with…the droids have just crash-landed on Tatooine and are journeying together across the planet’s desert-like dunes.

 

C3P0: What a desolate place this is…

R2: squeak, whistle

C3P0: Where do you think you’re going? Well I’m not going that way. It’s much too rocky.

R2: bleep, squeak

C3P0: This way is much easier. What makes you think there are settlements over there?

R2: bleep, bleep, whistle

C3P0: Don’t get technical with me. What mission? What are you talking about?

R2: whistle, bleep, bleep

C3P0: I’ve just about had enough of you. Go that way. You’ll be malfunctioning within a day, you nearsighted scrap pile!

R2: (turns to the left and begins heading in a different direction than C3P0)

C3P0: (calls after a departing R2) And don’t let me catch you following me and begging for help because you won’t get it.

Clever writers! This is one way to give that bucket of tin a whole lot of personality…put him alongside another verbal character who will always react emotionally (even though he is a droid, who of us would deny that C3P0 is highly emotional?) and interpret bleeps and whistles for the audience. After a while, the audience doesn’t even need the interpretation. We begin to hear the difference between a happy squeak or whistle and a sad bleep.

Back to the purple blob. If another humanoid is flying co-pilot and happens to speak a human language…now I can have the co-pilot respond to the trembling.

Purple Blob: (trembling as flames erupt around the nose of its space vessel)

Humanoid Co-Pilot: I’ve never seen you tremble before, Sir.

Purple Blob: (squishes 2 hoots and a few groans out an opening on the side of its gelatinous body.)

Humanoid Co-Pilot: Well. I can see why you would be nervous. The gravity on this planet is stronger than we thought, but our heat panels should protect us.

Purple Blob: (squishes out 1 hoot)

Humanoid Co-Pilot:  I’m just glad it’s you flying a not me.

 

That’s it for now. Thursday, I’ll tackle the fantastic aliens in the film and short story, ARRIVAL.