Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 14 – “War-Mantle” – Consequences of the Empire

“War-Mantle” is a great episode that feels complete even with it being a cliffhanger. We have fantastic action and the threat of the Empire is more fully realized and what that means for Kamino and the clones. This was episode was a favorite and I highly recommend it.

The episode is directed by Steward Lee and written by Damani Johnson.

Rex sends Clone Force 99 on a secret mission to save a captured Clone as on Kamino the Empire’s plans unfold.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – We have the Kaminoans attempting to escape Kamino as the Empire sends all the clones to an unknown location and Clone Force 99 saving a clone from a top secret highly armed facility. We get great gun fights and a fun ship battle in Clone Force 99’s escape.

Rex’s Mission – Rex appears to send them on a secret mission he can’t give intel on that divides Clone Force 99 on with Echo and Omega saying they should go and Tech saying they shouldn’t. Hunter decides to go with the mission for Echo since Echo trusts Rex and it unfolds from there as they must free a clone from a secret Imperial Base in a Mountain.

Gregor – The clone is Gregor from “Rebels!” It is great seeing him again and all his joking around. He quickly understood that he was training his replacements and tried to escape only to be captured. He is wonderfully cynical and I loved his dynamic with Clone Force 99.

Clone Force 99 – Rex and Omega help free Echo, Tech and Gregor as they are at the ship as Echo, Tech and Hunter are the ones saving Gregor. We see all of them in action and great tactics. I was surprised they kept stunning people though given who they were fighting.

Kamino and Consequences – Admiral Rampart orders Crosshair to track the Kaminoans which leads to him discovering their escape. He keeps Nala Se since Rampart needs a scientist but Crosshair’s squad kills the Prime Minister. The Empire is in full control of the planet and clones, which I didn’t expect. I thought the Kaminoans would have a fail safe built into the clones at the very least or experiments they could unleash on the Empire.

Hunter Captured – Hunter is captured and isn’t able to make the escape with the others as the Empire overwhelms Clone Force 99 with the sheer number of troops and ships. It is good at showing how serious things are and of course Crosshair shows up to greet the captured Hunter in the final scene.

The Cons:

Nothing Happened with Nala Se’s Betrayal and the Minister – Nala Se and the Prime Minister act as if nothing happened after all that went down with their bounty hunters facing off. Did Cad Bane not tell the Prime Minister what happened?

This is a fantastic episode that illustrates just what Clone Force 99 and the galaxy are up against and I can’t wait to see how the season ends. This episode had some of the best action and some wonderful character dynamics that were explored. This episode was a favorite and one I highly recommend.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 2 (2021) – Brought Down By Holes in Part 1

“Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 2” doesn’t solve the issues of “Part 1” but it is the better film. When they are edited together I’m curious if they’ll take anything out or add some more scenes in as “Part 1” does not set-up “Part 2” well in regards to the mysteries well at all. This Part does have some great action though and it is enjoyable. So if you liked the first part I do recommend completing your watch and watching “Part 2.”

The film was directed by Chris Palmer and written by Tim Sheridan.

As Bruce Wayne (Jensen Ackles) is being controlled by Poison Ivy (Katee Sackhoff) for Carmine Falcone (Titus Welliver), the Holiday killings continue as Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) continues to grow more unstable.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action is one thing this adaptation has done well as we get a great fight when Catwoman saves Bruce Wayne from Poison Ivy’s control, when Batman fights Scarecrow and the Mad Matter and in the final fight of the film. The action is kinetic and you can see what everyone is doing clearly.

Scarecrow – Scarecrow hits Batman with the fear toxin and with the Mad Hatter gets Carmine more of what he needs for his operation. I also suspect he and the Mad Hatter might have helped make the acid for Sal Maroni as that seems like a concoction they’d make. This version of Scarecrow looks haunting and we see him and he usually succeeds in causing chaos at least once before being taken down.

Poison Ivy – Katee Sackhoff’s Poison Ivy shows why she is easily the most powerful of Batman’s rogues. From mind controlling Bruce Wayne to sign over his assets to Carmine Falcone and later working with Two-Face to take out Falcone. She is a great threat and she ends up controlling Bruce Wayne for months.

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – Josh Duhamel is a better Two-Face than Harvey as I never believed his love for Gilda and Two-Face has a rough voice and is ruthless. This is the identity who only believes in chance and he is a great threat after Sal Maroni completes his birth into Two-Face with the acid in the court. He recruits Grundy, Joker, Mad Hatter, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy and takes out Carmine Falcone in the end before taking responsibility for the Holiday killings. He’s not as tragic as in the comics as he is fully another being while Two-Face in the comics was about revenge and it was personal. This Two-Face doesn’t believe in revenge, he simply is.

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Naya Rivera continues to be an amazing Catwoman. Her arc in this is protecting Carmine Falcone until on his death bed she learns Louisa was her mother as Falcone was her father. It was a good arc and I liked how she saved Batman a bunch. She was the most successful hero in this. In the end she opens up too as both Bruce Wayne and her shared their secret identities and are shown to be a couple at the end. R.I.P. Naya Nivera.

The Final Fight – You have Carmine and his daughter Sofia against Two-Face and the rogues with finally Batman and Catwoman arriving to even things out. It is a fantastic fight and begins with the rogues causing chaos in Gotham, which was a nice touch and in character for them. It was a great fight and the reveal of Catwoman’s origin was neat.

The “Holiday” Reveal – We learn that Alberto Falcone was a “Holiday” like in the comics as was Gilda and Harvey as the final. The difference is Gilda was with Alberto until Carmine broke up the relationship and forced her to get an abortion. In the end she kills off the Falcone line as revenge. I liked that her motivations were explored more but none of this was setup in “Part 1” and “Part 2” the reveals of it being here were very obvious, but I liked the different lore.

The Cons:

The Batman and Harvey Dent Friendship – Batman says they are friends but all they did was burn Falcone’s cash together once. They never became friends that we could see so it took me out of the film when Batman called them friends. They were co-workers at most.

The Dent Marriage – Gilda says she loved Harvey but I never saw love fully from either of them. Them getting divorced is referenced in this film too. Gilda saying she fell in love with Harvey was never truly shown.

“The Roman” and his Arc – Carmine Falcone met a young Bruce and told him “All you have is what you take.” This is apparently the message? It is a mess and Carmine was never shown to have ever loved his son Alberto and his past of what he did to Gilda was never even hinted at prior. He dies but because of all the added story holes it becomes a mess rather than a clear revenge story like in the comic.

Batman is Still Dumb – Batman is still dumb in this and is playing catch-up to even Carmine who figured out Gilda was “Holiday.” This was annoying and I hate that we only see Batman is good at fighting. He also just lets Gilda stay which seems counter to what we had seen before. We needed more time with him letting Catwoman be a thief and him being okay with it for it to work.

“Part 2” is an enjoyable mess. I like the voice cast a lot. Ackles makes a great Batman and I hope he can voice him again. Duhamel also has a great Two-Face voice. R.I.P. Naya Rivera who voiced an extremely memorable Catwoman. This cast is great and I wish the story had worked better. The new lore needed more setup and certain characters more exploration for this 2 Parter to work. Still, if you are looking for a fun adaptation I would say it is worth checking out.

Part 1: 7 / 10

Part 2: 7.5 / 10

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

Batman: The Long Halloween, Part 1 (2021) – Adaptation That Isn’t Quite Working

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011): Letting Go of the Past and the Quest for Inner Peace

“Kung Fu Panda 2” is easily the best of the “Kung Fu Panda Trilogy” and of the best animated films out there. This is a film that deals with the themes of trauma, loss and found family as well as giving us some amazing action and character arcs. This film is a favorite and I think shows just how great animated stories can be. So without going into spoilers, this is one I highly recommend.

The film was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story follows Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five when they must stop Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his new weapon from conquest.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Opening – We get a great opening with Michelle Yeoh’s Soothsayer saying how Lord Shen used the invention of fireworks to come up with weapons leading to his exile after he heard a prophecy of a black and white warrior defeating him. This lead to his hunting down all pandas and his parents exiling him. After we see him return to Gongmen City, his home an defeating the martial arts masters with his new weapon. The stakes are immediate and we see what is at stake when Lord Shifu gets the message of what has happened and sends Po and the Furious Five to stop Lord Shen.

The Animation – The animation is almost realistic in the forest and some of the city settings with the details of ships looking almost lifelike. It is beautiful and plays into the dark tone of the film.

The Action – The action is great in this with memorable sequences being attacking Lord Shen at the palace and the docks where we see is cannons on full display as well as how great our heroes are against his wolf forces. There are slower moments too that add impact when the action sequences happen.

Wolf Boss – Danny McBride plays Lord Shen’s second-in-command and he is a good threat too as we see him hold his own against Po and how well he works wit his pack. He also isn’t all evil too as when Lord Shen says he should fire on their men to take out the Furious Five and their allies he refuses, leading to Lord Shen killing him.

The Furious Five – The Furious Five get more to do in this and we see how well they work as a team as they shout out tactics they use. They are there for Po in his identity crisis they use and each of them have their moment to shine in fighting Lord Shen or teaching Po in the case of Tigress. I loved them in this.

The Soothsayer – Michelle Yeoh’s Soothsayer is a character full of regret as we see she tries to help Lord Shen let go and heal but can’t though sh is able to help Po heal. We see the regret she feels for sharing the prophecy that lead to the hunting of Pandas and how much she wishes Lord Shen could heal. She is compelling andshines in every scene she is in.

Mr. Ping – Mr. Ping in this shares how he found and adopted Po and we see his arc as at one point he fears that Po has left him forever when Po doesn’t say “I love you” when he says good-bye. It is a heartbreaking scene and I’m glad one of the last scenes is Po returning to say Mr. Ping is his dad. James Hong is once again great and one of the most memorable characters. He never planned to b a dad but embraced it when it happened.

Lord Shen – Gary Oldman plays the best villain in this series. Shen is a villain with so much rage and regret who can’t accept love and it has driven him to hate everything. He is a brilliant inventor but in the end he can’t see anything beyond that which he can take. He is broken and alone and it makes him a fascinating villain. All he has is his ego, pride and resentment. Just like Tai Lung.

Po – Po’s arc is powerful in this as he figures out who he is as he never new his biological parents (though we see his dad survived Lord Shen and his wolves at the end) and his need to know puts the Furious Five at risks. He becomes driven for outside validation like Lord Shen and Tai Lung until he remembers his past and his mother saving him during his time with the Soothsayer. It is a powerful arc and with Inner Peace he is able to free his friends and defeat Lord Shen and his forces.

How the Past Can Consume – Lord Shen and Po are both consumed by feeling abandoned by their parents (for different reasons) and this leads to them acting out and ignoring those who care for them. Shen only has his hat and rage and Po only in accepting himself realizes the friends and family he has, finding peace in the present. They are contrasted in the message of the film.

Found and Created Family – Master Shifu, the Furious Five, Mr. Ping these are Po’s found family and it takes him nearly dying to realize it as he comes to understand that he may not have the family who saved him but he has a family who love him. These relationships illustrate why this Trilogy is one of my favorites.

This is the best film in the Trilogy and one of the best animated films out there. It has so many characters and they all have a chance to be amazing and nuanced. I love this film and each time I return to it I notice something new. I highly recommend this film and of course the Trilogy as a whole.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Kung Fu Panda (2008): Finding the Power Within and Accepting Yourself

I’ve been planning to finish up my reviews of this Trilogy as it is one that I come back to given how great the action, themes and characters are and once again I was not disappointed. Really the only weak part of the first film is First Act pacing and some of Po’s jokes early on. Besides that the core conflict and arcs are fantastic and without getting into spoilers I highly recommend this film.

“Kung Fu Panda” was directed by John Stevenson and Mark Osborne and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger.

The story follows noodle cook Po (Jack Black) when he is chosen as the legendary Dragon Warrior and must face himself and the trials of martial arts as the feared warrior Tai Lung (Ian McShane) breaks out prison to get revenge against his master and the valley.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – There is beautiful comic book stylized 2D animation when Po is telling his story of joining the Furious Five in a dream and after the main colorful 3D for the rest of the film. The animation looks amazing and captures the beauty of the valley and the isolation of Tai Lung’s mountain prison well. The animation is smooth too leading to some great action sequences.

The Action – The action is amazing in this with Tai Lung’s escape, Tai Lung against the Furious Five and Tai Lung against Master Shifu as the best action sequences. We have a prison falling apart, a fight on a bridge and at the top of a mountain temple. You feel the punches and action and it establishes how powerful the Furious Five, Master Shifu and eventually Po are.

The Characters – The characters are what make this film work as especially for comedy they have to. All the main and supporting cast I cared about and I’ll go into a few here.

Mr. Ping – Mr. Ping is Po’s adopted dad and owner of the noodle shop in the village. He is traditional in that he wants Po to carry on the family trade but he supports Po when Po discovers being a martial art master is what he wants. James Hong gives him so much empathy and he is one of the reasons this Trilogy works so well.

The Furious Five – The Furious Five are fantastic though they exist more as the great team with their base personalities being Mantis is voiced by Seth Rogen and grumpy but open minded, Jolie’s Tigress is distrusting and the leader, Jackie Chan’s Monkey is the jokester, Lucy Liu’s Viper is kind and Cross’s Crane is sarcastic. They are the main protectors of the village in the valley and are Po’s idols and eventual friends.

Tai Lung – Tai Lung is a snow leopard voiced by Ian McShane driven by the expectations he places upon himself and his master Shifu that eventually drive him mad with rage. He believes himself the best and it made him entitled and unwilling to have any self-reflection. It is this that leads to his undoing when Po takes the message of the Dragon Scroll that the answer is within yourself that defeats Tai Lung who never grows beyond outside expectations, ego and rage. He is a great villain and easily one of the best animated villains. He also has all the best action sequences in the film showing just how dangerous he is.

Po – Po’s arc is to accept himself and the power that is within. It is a great hero’s journey that works well because of his mentors of Oogway, Shifu and his father Mr. Ping. Jack Black gives the character so much humanity and I liked his arc of learning martial arts and coming to accept himself. It is organic an made sense as did his starting out as an outsider among the Furious Five and earning their respect.

Master Shifu – Hoffman’s Shifu is the heart of this film as his relationship to Tai Lung gives us some of the best drama. After his failure to teach Tai Lung humility he stopped complimenting his students. He becomes strict and it is only after Oogway’s death and him passing on leadership of the Temple to him that he learns and grows and finds how to play to Po’s strengths. He has a great arc and I like how he finally finds the inner peace he’d always been seeking since Tai Lung’s betrayal.

Accepting Yourself – A huge theme of the film is self-acceptance and we see it Shifu and Po who do and in Tai Lung’s failure to do so. The Tao and martial arts are used as the means of teaching it and it is done really well.

The Cons:

Slow Start – The beginning is all set-up from Po’s perspective, which is fine but the greater story is really that between Shifu and Tai Lung which is a lot slower to kick off than I remember. If Tai Lung had been made part of the story sooner the film would be better.

Some of Po’s Jokes – Po’s fake confidence is grating and I felt like Master Shifu in some scene of just wanting the action to move forward. When bad jokes happen and Po jokes too much the story stalls.

The first 2 “Kung Fu Panda” films are easily 2 of my favorite animated films and it was great returning back to the beginning of this amazing trilogy. If you haven’t seen it and want animated films with a deeper point and great action and characters than this is the film for you.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

“Masters of the Universe: Revelation” Part 1 – Solid Characters, Comedy and Animation Made This Memorable

“Masters of the Universe: Revelation” Part 1 is a sequel series to the classic 80s “Masters of the Universe.” The 80s show is a show I know mostly through cultural osmosis as it is before my time. I was drawn in though due to the voice cast and how neat the premise looked. This is a beautifully animated show that Netflix did good work on.

The show was created by Kevin Smith.

The story takes place after a final showdown at Castle Grayskull that leaves magic sapped from the world and our heroes exiled from the Royal Family as Leeta (Sarah Michelle Geller) must uncover the reasons why magic is disappearing as she finds herself in unlikely alliances after Adam / He-Man (Chris Wood) and Skeletor (Mark Hamill) and the Sword of Power are gone after that final battle.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of magic leaving a magic filled world and technology rising to fill that hole is compelling. The world feels broken after the final battle which sets the stakes really well and gives a reason for Leeta to work with Skeletor’s former allies.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful and brings the world to life. I loved how it illustrated the darkness of the underworld Subternia and the vibrant colors of the paradise of Preternia. All the people of Eternia feel distinct too and I loved the classic designs from the buildings and ships from the 80s.

The Characters – Most of the characters work, especially those core relationships to Teela. I liked how nearly all the supporting cast had their moment to shine and got some good character development.

Duncan / Man-At-Arms – Liam Cunningham is wonderful as Duncan, Teela’s father who is exiled after Adam’s death in the final battle. He lives with that guilt until Teela and his creation with his personality Roboto remind him of his responsbility as he protects his wife the Sorceress from the Techno Cult that is trying to destroy all magic in Eternia.

Teela / Man-At-Arms – Teela’s arc is becoming a hero again after she is living a life as a mercenary with her friend Andra until Evil-Lyn pulls her back into the quest to restore magic as she shows her people can change. Eventually she confronts Adam in Preternia after facing her fear of power in Subternia and they resolve things as he leaves Heaven to join her in the fight to restore magic in the world once more. Teela didn’t know Adam was He-Man and that secret hurt their relationship and her relationship with all their friends (Duncan, Cringer, Orko) who knew and never said. Sarah Michelle Geller was so good I didn’t even recognize her voice for the character.

Adam / He-Man – Chris Wood’s Adam’s arc is choosing to return to the world and risk permanent death as he’s been granted a reprieve in Preternia for saving the universe. It is a good and small arc that ends with him mortally wounded when Skeletor’s trap is revealed. I doubt he will die and will probably become He-Man or be healed by magic now that it is back in the world.

Skeletor – Mark Hamill is great as Skeletor. He is in the beginning as he destroys the source of magic that causes the conflict and later mortally wounds Adam and takes the Sword of Power as he had been hiding in Evil-Lyn’s staff. I liked the flashbacks where he clearly just loved being evil and I wonder what he’ll do now that he is a Master of the Universe and won at the end of Part 1.

Orko – Orko is the heart of show as he is dying from the lack of magic and we learn he might be the last Trollen. He grows to form a friendship with Evil-Lyn as she helps him overcome his parents lack of faith in him as he holds off Scare Glow in Subternia giving time for the heroes to escape to Preternia. I loved this character and he was my favorite besides Evil-Lyn. Griffin Newman did a great job.

Evil-Lyn – Lena Headey gives us the most compelling character in the show as Evil-Lyn is left to question her assumptions as she sees the selflessness of heroes and realizes that Skeletor caused the problem of magic dying in the first place. In the end she does rejoin Skeletor but I suspect she will betray him. She left her crown at Orkos tombstone so she’s been changed by all that she’s experienced. She and Orko were my favorite characters.

Okay:

Tri-Klops – Tri-Klops has a techno cult and has taken over Snake Mountain and believes technology will fix people and the world. He is the primary antagonist and I wish we’d seen more of the influence of the cult. I’m also curious how the Royal family and their forces interacted with his.

Andra – Andra is Leeta’s engineer friend who wants to be a hero which in turn inspires Leeta to be a hero. She has a lot of moments she helps but we never learn her backstory, which was a shame.

Roboto – Roboto is Duncan’s creaion and the being who reforges the Sword of Power and gains a soul in the process as feels the fear of death. I wish we’d had more time with him. The arc is interesting but we needed more time and backstory like Andra.

Beast-Man – Like Andra and Roboto I wanted to know why Beast-Man was still loyal to Evil-Lyn and Skeletor as all the other minions went rogue. Kevin Michael Richardson is great but I wish he’d gotten some development.

The Cons:

More Skeletor Set-up Needed – Skeletor hiding in Evil-Lyn’s staff needed more set-up. I had no idea what is overall plan was and not one of his former minions says what his plans were before his “death.” Given how key he is to the plot this story development was needed.

The Missing Royal Family and Their Power – King Randor exiles Duncan for failing to protect Adam and outlaws people from Castle Grayskull. Given Leeta and her group were going against the Royal Family I’d like to have seen their power. They are shown to be so core at the beginning but never come up again beyond being referenced.

Part 1 is promising and I like how it ended in tragedy as Part 2 has Skeletor with his ultimate power as the main threat. I do think Skeletor’s plan and agenda needed more set-up but the core character relationships are what made this show good and I’m looking forward to Part 2 of the series. Kevin Smith has done a good job on the show so far.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 13 – “Infested” – Underworld Mission

“Infested” is another solid addition to “The Bad Batch.” It doesn’t ever reach the level of great but it does a good job of using all the members of Clone Force 99 and giving us more development of the world that Cid inhabits and why where she is is so important. I definitely recommend checking it out if you’ve been enjoying the show so far.

The episode was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Amanda Rose Muñoz.

When a new gang takes over Cid’s operation, Clone Force 99 must do a mission to help her reclaim her place.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of needing to help Cid and deal with the underworld gangs is compelling and where the mercenary stories feel strongest. I’m glad we got that here.

Roland Durand – We learn Roland is from a crime family his mother runs and is trying to make a name for himself. He fails but keeps his life and seems to be the wiser for his experience. I’m curious if we will see him again.

The Pyke Syndicate – The Pykes are a fantastic threat and wipe out Roland’s troops when he fails to get them the spice. They let him live but take a horn for not watching over the Spice. They never don’t feel like a threat in the episode and even Cid talks Clone Force 99 down as negotiation is the only way she sees as the out with them. I’m curious what part they will play as they are part of Maul’s Shadow Collective.

Cid and Clone Force 99 – Seeing Cid work with the squad and her using the underground tunnels that are infested was great. She risks her life to get the Spice to save Omega from the Pykes and shows why The Bad Batch trusts her. I loved seeing Tech’s invention put to use, Wrecker’s strength, Echo’s hacking and Hunter’s awareness. It is a good team episode. We learn that her power comes from the planet being a major hyperlane route which is how she gets all the jobs.

The Cons:

Cid’s Escape – There needed to be more with this given the amount of soldiers we see Roland has. Did he just let her go? This was never explained.

Roland’s Family Development – So he has a powerful family but we never see them talking to him. Given his working with the Pykes and how powerful they are, this was a missed opportunity.

The Swarm – They get no development beyond being nocturnal and fearing night so they never felt like a threat. There is just a bunch of them.

It was great seeing the Pykes again as they are such an intriguing threat and I’m always down for more Cid. It was also good to see all of Clone Force 99 using their skills to succeed in the mission. What would have made this episode great would have been developing Roland’s family more or having a greater threat than the Swarm for where the Spice is needed to be recovered from. Still, this was good and worth watching.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 12 – “Rescue on Ryloth” – Seeds of the Clone Rebellion

“Rescue on Ryloth” is an episode that does a lot with the little time it has. Really the only problem I had with it was I wanted more time for the mission and B Plot as each were so well written and I wanted to see them expanded. Suffice, to say this is one of the best episodes this season and I highly recommend it.

The episode was directed by Nathaniel Villanueva and written by Jennifer Corbett.

The story follows Clone Force 99 when they are hired for a rescue mission on Ryloth.

The Pros:

The Syndulla Family – Hera and Chopper are the heart of the episode and Omega and Hera have a grat friendship and I love Chopper’s chaos. Her parents are great too with her mother denouncing Rampart (“I have seen how you treat your allies, Admiral. I prefer to be your enemy.”) Hera’s father also appeals to Captain Howzer’s humanity and their history leading to Howzer’s turning against the Empire. In the end Clone Force 99 lets them keep the payment as they see the stakes the Syndulla family is up against.

Clone Force 99 – We get to see them be effective as a squad with Hera, Omega and Chopper working with Tech and Wrecker to cause a distraction at the Imperial mine and Hunter and Echo rescuing the Syndulla family members. They all are shown to be great but still would have lost if Howzer hadn’t given the Syndulla’s, Hunter and Echo an out when Crosshair called out the plan and set a trap at the entrance. They have some great action and I like that they only take up the mission once Hera has a plan.

Crosshair – Crosshair is a great antagonist. In this we see him callout the plan of Clone Force 99 and nearly beat them if weren’t for Howzer warning the squad. He is driven too and in the end Admiral Rampart grants him his request to hunt Clone Force 99.

Captain Howzer – Captain Howzer is the best character in the episode as we witness his regret and questioning of Rampart. In the end he helps Clone Force 99 free Hera’s family and even convinces some of his squad to turn against the Empire. So curious to see

Rebellions – We got the Syndulla’s leading the rebellion to free Ryloth at the end of the episode and Captain Howzer and his men openly going against the Empire. I bet we’ll see more of this too, especially if Captain Howzer is freed or his actions spread among the clones. In the end I bet it will all come down to the final rebellion on Kamino.

Okay:

Length – This episode should have been longer to explore Howzer an Cham Syndulla’s relationship more as well as referencing if Order 66 ever reached Ryloth. Still, for a 20 minute episode the storytelling was efficient.

The Cons:

Failed Assassination – The senator was shot in the head. There should have at least been a small explanation of how that didn’t kill him.

We got Bounty Hunters and the Empire and Crosshair all hunting Clone Force 99 now. Can’t wait to see where this goes and how the actions of Howzer playout among the other clones. The seeds of rebellion are happening and it among both the populaces of Imperial occupied worlds and the clones. This was a great episode and easily one of the best this season.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 11 – “Devil’s Deal” – Weighing the Costs of War

“Devil’s Deal” feels the most like an episode of “The Clone Wars” as the Bad Batch barely make an appearance and focus is on a family dealing with the Empire and what peace with them means. It is a good episode and I appreciate how it explores Ryloth and the conflict they face. I definitely recommend checking it out.

The episode was directed by Steward Lee and written by Tamara Becher-Wilkinson.

The story follows the Syndulla family as tensions rise between family members and among the people of Ryloth on if there can be peace with the Empire.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Return to Ryloth – This episode we return to Ryloth and witness the tension between the citizens and Empire. We get to see this expressed through the tension in the Syndulla family where Hera’s father wants peace and laying down weapons where his brother does not and Hera is caught in the middle of it.

Vice Admiral Rampart – Rampart was effective finally as we see him frame General Syndulla and capture the fledgling rebellion in Ryloth. It was well done and his calm and outwardly kind nature was good for disarming. I could see why he was promoted by Tarkin.

Crosshair and Imperial Effectiveness – Crosshair puts a tracer on Hera’s Uncle’s ship and later shoot it down leading to an Imperial ambush where he kills the Rylothian senator, framing the Syndulla family. It is a complex play and Crosshair is shown to be smart and dangerous when working with Rampart. Curious how the rematch with Clone Force 99 is going to go.

The Syndulla Family – We get young Hera who wants to be a pilot and her Uncle smuggling weapons to Ryloth as her father tries to make peace with the Empire. It is a good drama and I liked what the conflicts revealed about each character and I’m glad Hera escaped the Imperial ambush with Chopper.

Clone Force 99 Cameo – Clone Force 99 is the one selling weapons to Ryloth via Cid and Hera and Omega become friends. It is a cool scene as the hand-off happens on a moon. It was nice seeing the crew but not as main characters.

Captain Howzer – Howzer is a clone who still has unique hair and painted armor and is seen questioning Rampart’s orders. Did he ever get Order 66? Is the chip wearing off? All these are questions his every existence shows and he seems to be friends of General Cham Syndulla. His arc is the one I am most curious about in ow it will unfold.

The Cons:

Senator Orn Free Taa – This guy was selfish, envious and annoying and I have no idea how he was elected senator. I can see why the episode killed him off to frame General Syndulla and his family.

The Cliffhanger Ending – I get why it was a cliffhanger as Clone Force 99 barely appeared in the episode but it was still annoying. I’ve been liking the completed story format and self-contained stories. Let finals be done as arcs but everything else is just fleshing out the galaxy.

Once again I could do without a cliffhanger and a more complete story, but this episode was really good at capturing tension between Ryloth and the Empire and I’m curious where Captain Howzer’s arc is going to go as he doesn’t have the aggression of other clones post Order 66. This episode is worth checking out. Felt the most “Clone Wars” in tone out of all the episodes so far.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Luca (2021): A Powerful Story of Acceptance and Friendship

“Luca” is easily one of my favorite Pixar films. This is a slice of life type of film that functions as a “coming out” narrative and also a general tackling of prejudice within communities. The characters and their designs are amazing and without getting into spoilers, a film I highly recommend.

The film was directed by Enrico Casarosa and written by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones.

A sea monster named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who lives off the coastal Italian city of Portorosso in the 1950s dreams of the human world who makes friends with a sea monster who lives alone on he surface named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer). When his parents learn he is going to the surface they threaten to send him to the deep ocean leading to him and Alberto escaping to Portorosso in their quest to get a Vespa.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – The animation is fantastic and I can see the Miyazaki inspiration in the simple and beautiful style that is brought to life. Some sequences look like paintings and the ocean world and Portorosso feel so alive. The animation changing between sea monster form when water is on the sea monsters and human when dry is organically done too.

The Sea Monsters – The sea monsters have wonderful colorful designs with distinct fins for hair that are also on their tales. They also look like humans when dried off from water. This is never explained but gives them a unique relationship to humans and the surface world. There are also deep sea monsters like Uncle Ugo who have dark colors and angler fish faces. I loved the variety of them and how they related to each other and the surface.

Portorosso – Portorosso is a beautiful town with many local traditions that feels lived in. In the film you get to know the local bully, the shops and their owners and everyone who makes up the town. It is gorgeous too and right on the bay making it’s economy primarily fish, which is where the sea monster myths the town tells probably arose form.

The Parents and Guardians – Whether it is Luca’s concerned parents who come to accept him and the surface world or Massimo, Giulia’s divorced father who takes in Alberto as his son we see so many wonderful forms of acceptance from guardians and family. Luca’s Grandma is also the one to first support him going to the surface as she did it herself and still does.

Giulia – Giulia is the one who helps Alberto and Luca better blend in as people and helps them to get the Vespa when they team up in the competition to beat the local bully. They are the Underdogs and Giulia ends up forming a friendship in a love of learning with Luca. It is sweet and eventually ends with them going to school together. She also defends Alberto and Luca from the bully when he is trying to kill them and crashes her bike into him. She reminded me a lot of Ellie from up as their both very honest and passionate in their interests and caring for their friends.

Alberto – Alberto is an orphan sea monster who has been living alone for a long time until he meets Luca who gives him the courage for them to get a Vespa and run away together. Alberto because of being abandoned by his father and has trust issues because of it. This leads to him trying to out Luca and feeling betrayed when Luca chooses to stay hidden. It is only after Luca finds him and is there for him that he returns to help Luca and the Underdogs to win. Massimo also adopts him as a son too as he was born with one arm and supports Alberto whether he sees him as human or sea monster.

Luca – Luca is initially like Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” as he is fascinated by all things from the surface and even starts collecting them, which is parents disprove of at first and attempt to punish him when they learn he went to the surface. This leads to him like Ariel running away and like Ariel has parents accepting him in the human world where he has the chance to learn in ways he can’t in the ocean. This is happening while he also is hiding his being a sea monster until Alberto is in danger and he risks the rain revealing his true form to the town, leading to their eventual acceptance when Giulia stops the bully from killing them and Massimo stands up for them against the fearful townsfolk. It is powerful and I loved that Luca got to go school to study like he wanted to.

“Luca” as a Coming Out Story – Sea Monsters can hide their identity as long as they are dry on land. There is fear around coming out given prejudice and hate against sea monsters which is akin to coming out as LGTBQA and the wider culture and the conservative elements in it. Luca and Alberto come out to the town as sea monsters which in turn empowers the old lady sea monsters who were hiding as humans for who knows how long. This also fits reality as people coming out empowers others to do the same.

Overcoming Prejudice – Prejudice being overcome is a major theme as well. From Luca’s parents getting over their fear of humans to the people of Portorosso overcoming their fear of sea monsters. It is done powerfully too within the narrative and I love that we see how the sea monsters and some people from Portorosso become closer in the art in the credits.

The Cons:

Lack of Villain Backstory – He is a one-dimensional baddy and I wish we’d at least seen why he was that way. It was the only issue I had with the plot. He’s a fun villain but needed more to be a pro.

“Luca” is a powerful story that I highly recommend. Pixar has done it again with giving us amazing characters, animation, world and a story with a deeper point. This is easily in my Top 5 films of the year so far and I hope it wins at the Oscars. There is beauty in the simple stories that have something important to say and “Luca” is a shining example of exactly that.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 A favorite Pixar film.

Star Wars: The Bad Batch – Season 1, Episode 10 – “Common Ground” – More Could Have Been Made of the Premise

“Common Ground” is an episode that had so much potential in the premise but only stays great in the action. I wish we could have gotten to know the thoughts of more of the team given the nature of the mission. Without going into spoilers, the episode is still good and fun and worth checking out.

The episode was directed by Saul Ruiz and written by Gursimran Sandhu.

Clone Force 99 takes a job to rescue a Separatist Senator from the Empire and former Separatist capitol world of Raxus as Omega is left behind with Cid.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The idea of Clone Force 99 having to rescue a Separatist senator from the former Separatist Capitol is a cool idea. Echo was turned into a weapon by the Separatists and Clone Force 99 was always fighting them. It is a shame more wasn’t done with this.

The Action – The action is great. We see the team in action and how great they are when they work together. We see some tank warfare and lots of clone troopers in action.

Omega and Cid – The Omega and Cid story is a lot of fun and I liked ow she pays off Clone Force 99’s debts by figuring out the strategy game Cid is playing with clients. It is a lot of fun seeing her stand up to Cid and Cid’s compassion and grumpiness, as well as her slyness when she realized Omega’s strategy can earn her a lot of money. They have a great dynamic and Cid is the parent even compared to the other clones in Clone Force 99.

Clone Force 99 – This episode is great for showing how they work as a unit. Wrecker’s strength and compassion at the end of the episode, Tech’s hacking, Echo’s technology and also a little of his trauma and Hunter’s combat ability and fear as well as his leadership. They function best in the action and I wish the emotional aspects had been explored deeper.

Okay:

The Separatist Senator Avi Singh – Senator Avi Singh is shown to have initially going along with the occupation to protect his people but we don’t see why the change happens or what being a Separatist means. I like the idea of an early rebel coming from the Separatists but more should have been done. There is no depth to the character. He functions jut as an interesting idea.

The Cons:

Captain Bragg – Wasn’t clear what her plan was as when she was about to torture Senator Singh it could have killed him. She also didn’t use any tactics to recapture him.

Echo’s Prejudice Left Unexplored – Echo voices his distrust of Separatists (they did turn him into a Cyborg and use him as a weapon) it is never addressed. He never talks to Senator Singh and just tells him to survive to fight on…when and why did the switch happen?

The Separatists and Clone Force 99 – Echo has the most issues but Wrecker doesn’t trust either. What this means to the team is never explored and why they so quickly took the job after after denying it at first.

I wish we’d gotten to see Echo interact with the senator beyond single line, given what was done to him by the Separatists. We needed more on who Singh is and what being a Separatist meant to him and deeper exploration of Echo. We got better versions of this story in “Clone Wars” and “Rebels” sadly. Still, I thought the Omega and Cid plot worked and the action in this was great. I’m curious to see where the last 5 episodes will go.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Good but flawed.