07 February 2021

Was Star Wars: The Clone Wars a Satire?

 Good evening, folks! Are you watching the Super Bowl right now? I've gotten so angry at Tom Brady that I'm instead diving into a topic that has been on mind for literally days. Despite my long history with Star Wars, I have had a significant gap in my knowledge in that I have never gotten into The Clone Wars animated series. Oh, I watched all of Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars back in the day, but I never quite dipped into Dave Filoni's work.


In what I'm sure is perfectly targeted corporate synergy, my mind was changed after watching The Mandalorian on Disney+. There are a handful of characters and events that directly reference The Clone Wars, and obviously with the series conveniently located on the same streaming platform, I decided to check it out. I have always heard good things about the show, but had been turned off for years mostly for two big reasons:

First, the Clone Wars movie from 2008 was terrible. All of it felt like the death knell for Star Wars - instead of an epic, only nine-times in a lifetime event, it just seemed like a glorified made for TV movie. It just wasn't a very high quality experience. I may have just been aging out of it, as well. By this point I was 22 years old, and this movie was clearly made for children. I don't know, I was watching a lot of Ben 10, Generator Rex, and Total Drama Island in this era. Shit, also a lot of Flapjack and Adventure Time. Okay, I have no excuse because I was watching a lot of children's shows. Or maybe that is enough of an indictment - I watched all this crap around the turn of the decade and The Clone Wars STILL felt like a children's show to me.

Second, the very idea seemed flawed. Not only did it seem superfluous since the movies released years prior showed us both the beginning and end of the Clone Wars, seemingly robbing the show of its narrative potential, but the entire in-universe point of the war seemed to give the show cringey connotations. This was a show designed to market Clonetrooper toys and cheer on their exploits - how was that possible when we knew that in the end they would be programmed to execute Order 66 and slaughter all the Jedi? It always felt very naive to center a show about these armies, when the entire point was that these were Clones vs. Droids in the biggest fake-out war of all time. Again, it seemed to rob the story of any weight.

But, Mandalorian, so I watched a few episodes. I specifically checked out the episodes centered around Mandalore. These spread out over both early and later seasons, and culminated in the final couple stories that tied in directly to the events of Revenge of the Sith (2005). There is a marked difference between the first few season and their later efforts.

The early episodes are nigh unwatchable for all the reasons I feared. Characters blatantly lay out their emotions, lack coherent motivation, and it feels generally designed to pander to a more child-like audience. It falls very heavily on the side of cheering on the Clonetroopers, which while that is technically cheering the Republic and perseverance of democracy, we also know that Sidious is behind everything. They present no qualms with this juxtaposition and play it straight. Clonetroopers are heroes, saving the day!

As the series progresses, though, the possible satire becomes more evident. The way I have always interpreted Star Wars is that Anakin is basically right in Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi have become corrupt and too involved in Galactic politics. They are so far removed from the order of peaceful monks established in the Original Trilogy. This is all over the films. Instead of a peaceful hermit, Yoda is a huge power player, spinning lightsabres and pushing agendas. Instead of being one with nature, the Force is commodified, quantified, and analyzed through midichlorians. This seems purposeful - the institution had to be destroyed in order to be rebuilt. The Prequels seem to demonstrate this intelligently but always muddled their message by framing the corrupted Jedi as the ostensible heroes in the story. Their actions are glorified in a pretty straight way, not in say, a Starship Troopers (1997) way. It makes me think that George Lucas genuinely had something interesting to say about how powerful institutions lose their way and become corrupted but he also really wanted to sell a lot of toys and not stray all thaaaat far from a successful blockbuster hero formula.

It makes a lot of sense - why were the Jedis generals? This doesn't vibe at all with the peaceful hermits in the original trilogy. The Clone Wars finally actually hones in on this, mainly through Ahsoka. She's really a brilliant character that they can use to point out the Jedi's hypocrisy - she's not a main character from the movies that would require some heavy explaining, or more importantly, would actively be criticising the Galactic institution they are working for. Anakin is an admittedly weird example, but his fall does have a tremendous amount to do with the realization that the Jedi are not serving their original purpose. Sure, the reaction probably shouldn't be to kill all the younglings, but he's still right.

The Clone Wars begins to hone in on this, especially in the last few episodes. The cracks in the war start to show, though the unlikely sources of Darth Maul, Ahsoka, and a Clonetrooper Commander named Rex whose Order 66 brain chip Ahsoka disables. The thing is, though, it's not necessarily blatant. There is still room to take everything that happens straight. It really depends on your perception. There is a lot of hokey elements, though. The opening 1940s serial narration you could interpret as genuine or as over-the-top propaganda. Again, the ascension of Palpatine is obvious, it's the whole point. So that shadow looms over the entire series - which makes treating everything at face value feel very awkward.

There is also the simple fact that the CIS' reason for seceding from the Galactic Republic are never really explained well. Did they just...not want their corporations to be taxed? They really are Trade Federations, Intergalactic Banking Clans, and of course the Techno Union. It's really like they all just didn't want to be regulated so they went to war with the government. That sounds like such a farce, but the added layer is that no one really questions the reasons for war. Even the Jedi are like, "Whelp, time to fight droids I guess. Choppy choppy!" There is a lot of "Fighting to preserve Democracy!" which sounds insane coming from a series and films that premiered during the Bush years.

We also don't talk enough about how this war featured mass-produced droids fighting mass-produced clones. It just all feels like bullshit produced by higher powers who didn't want to get their hands dirty. This is built into the premise, of course, but where it gets weird is when they demonstrate these clones fighting with real valor and droids with real personalities. Is it truly postmodern? Or does it exist in a space where genuine emotion can exist despite its superfluous and hollow origins?

So, to level with everyone, this show is a money-making machine designed for children without much room for nuance. It's not a dirty, underground satire designed to upset the natural order. At the same time, though, it totally is. We don't give Lucas and Filoni enough credit for pulling this off - or maybe they deserve derision for sincerely bunging and muddying a clear message of parody. All the glory of war, patriotism, and celebration of heroics rings so false in this world, but you need a top-down view to understand that.

In the end, I'm torn of whether or not this was all on purpose. There is other supporting nonsense. Obi-Wan is a total dick and borderline fascist. Anakin is cocky, arrogant, and above it all. The show does a nice job of highlighting a lot of other weird side characters and shows their story, but it all feels very off.

So, I'm pretty torn on this - what do you think? Is The Clone Wars the most brilliant satire of both its own universe and war in general or is it just nonsense?

29 January 2021

Super Movie Reevaluation 2017-18

 That's right! You thought we had forgotten these years, eh? No - these are the critical years! Just as we have done over the last few weeks with every year since this blog was conceived in 2009 we are going back and reevaluating which films were TRULY great, which have stood the test of time, and which ones I still care about today. These years are a little more recent in the memory, but here is where we are right now:

2017:

COCO
A Ghost Story
I, Tonya
Colossal
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Ingrid Goes West
mother!
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Good Time
Blade Runner 2049

It was hard dropping a few favourites, especially The Bad Batch. But the said truth is that 2017 is a SUPER over-hyped year. Dunkirk, Get Out, and Baby Driver were all super popular at the time and have great moments but when I sat here distilling the whole, I didn't find any of them to be Top Ten worthy. Yeah, I picked like, Colossal over them. There is a lot of high concept weirdness going on here, but films like A Ghost Story and mother! brilliantly use the media they inhibit to tell their stories, and I have thought about them long LONG after the fact. Blade Runner 2049 is and will likely always be my #1 for this year. Suprisingly, only three from my original list remain, but seven from my 2018 reevaluation. I suppose my tastes haven't changed dramatically since then.

2018:

A Star is Born
Widows
Annihilation
American Animals
The Sisters Brothers
Assassination Nation
Vice
BlacKkKlansman
Sorry to Bother You
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse



Black Panther was pretty close. I know, I know, I try to avoid "Honorable Mentions" because that's such a cop out. I still knock it down points for the ending and villain - don't get me wrong, Michael B. Jordan is amazing, but I hate when superhero films just make the villain the same as the hero and have a big fight where their powers are the same. Loss of points! Infinity War is a tough call - I really don't even think it's a movie, though. I JUST watched A Star is Born, so that is super recent for me, and I think it lived up to a lot of the hype. I converted. Eight films from my 2019 reevaluation - I'm surprised my love for Assassination Nation and American Animals was so high, even then. but only six from my original ranking. Why do I even bother ranking the year things come out? I suppose it is valuable to see what I'm passionate about in the moment, and that surely counts for something. Buster Scruggs fell off because when it hits it hits so well, but when it misses, that's a rough miss. I also disliked Death of Stalin quite a bit on a rewatch, so that sadly dropped. I don't see Spider-Verse going anywhere any time soon.

That's it, folks! It's a tough call with these, I don't have too much reevaluation going on. I still think it's a worthy effort every couple of years. Stay tuned for more self-doubt!

10 January 2021

Super Movie Reevaluation 2013 - 2016

 We are all about ranking things around here - we are a competitive movie blogging website, after all. What other purpose of life is there? But if there's anything more important than ranking, it is surely re-ranking as the slow march of time ebbs on through the mountains of yesteryear. We did this quite a while ago with a few earlier movies, namely every year since we came into existence - 2009. Back in 2017, here is where we ranked 2012 - 2014. And here is where we put 2009 - 2012 four days ago.

Back in 2017, 2016 had JUST happened, so this is pretty new territory, people. Remember when we thought 2016 was a horrible year? Anyway. It's got nothing on 1873! But since that moment each year when we rank all the best films of the year, we ALSO re-rank last year's ranking. This is common practice at this point. A year is a good time to catch up with films we missed, let things digest, and see what film really took hold and we still think about.

I hate to say that so often my far-out rankings reflect that - which films have stuck with me, which do I remember, and which hold up. This is, I think, distinct from the experience of first watching something. Sometimes what might feel fresh in the moment grows stale over time. Or maybe what seemed incredibly interesting fades over time. I loved District 9 (2009) so much when it came out, but I can't say it's something I enjoy returning to. I thought The Muppets (2011) was so new and fun, but now it seems so dated. Sitting in the theater I loved Moon (2009), The Lobster (2016), and Death of Stalin (2018), but none of these were particularly enjoyable re-watches. So, that is something I have to take account of - if I have a recent bad taste in my mouth, it's ranking is falling. I might note that I re-watched Haywire (2012) and Sorry to Bother You (2018) this year and those were just as enjoyable as the first time around.

Without further ado, let's get into this:

2013:

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Stoker
Spring Breakers
Inside Llewyn Davis
The Place Beyond the Pines
The World's End
Pacific Rim
Pain & Gain
This is the End
The Wolf of Wall Street


It truly, truly broke my heart to leave off Frozen and The Lone Ranger for the first time ever. But I also wanted to half-highlight out legit great Anchorman 2 is and also troll a little bit. Other than that, one thing we've noticed is that there is definitely a core of immutable films that never change, and 2013 is especially egregious with this. I was so high on Stoker in 2017, it's a great film, but definitely faded a bit in the last few years. What is with 2013 and crazy films about the excess of hubris like Wolf, Pain, Spring Breakers, and even Pacific Rim?

2014:

Interstellar
Foxcatcher
Snowpiercer
Guardians of the Galaxy
Gone Girl
Inherent Vice
The Interview
Birdman
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Under the Skin

Something struck me with this list - This is based so damn much on the male perspective. The Skeleton Twins and Obvious Child were 12th and 13th, and I hate to say I want to stick with that with where I'm at right now. Maybe it's quite simply because I am in fact a straight white male that straight white male stories stick with me, but it also doesn't help that the vast majority of stories told are straight white male stories, which perpetuates itself on lists like this. It all makes me a little uncomfortable. But I also think Noah is super underrated as a bizarre cinematic experience (who am I kidding, it's an hour too long). It was definitely 11th. There are a lot of mainstays here that haven't changed. For my money, Under the Skin is also one of the greatest films of all time, so there's that for the female perspective. Sort of.

2015:

Joy
Creed
Dope
Inside Out
The Hateful Eight
The Duke of Burgundy
Ex Machina
Bone Tomahawk
Straight Outta Compton
Mad Max: Fury Road

Anyone remember Unfinished Business? This is really just a means of me to highlight underrated comedies of the past decade. That movie's great! It didn't make this list. It's so weird that the Best Picture winner was Spotlight. It is good, but is it that good? Also, I'm squeezing in honorable mentions, which I typically try to avoid. I actually think about Straight Outta Compton all the time, But Mad Max: Fury Road is still a movie that you can put in anytime, for anyone, at any moment and they will enjoy it. Mark my words! There is a good mix of big blockbuster and small indies no one's ever heard of here. AS IT SHOULD BE.

2016:

Captain America: CIVIL WAR
Arrival
Moana
The Founder
The Neon Demon
The Love Witch
Silence
Swiss Army Man
The VVitch
American Honey

I really thought about this one. I don't want to completely discount super hero films and blockbusters. I think what CIVIL WAR does is really underrated across legitimate great movies. There's still six movies here from my original list, but it feels so different. Maybe that's because only four have been on every list. This year had a lot of films that are in that "haven't held up" zone like The Lobster, Green Room, and Train to Busan. I have watched others like Zootopia and Deadpool recently, and they certainly hold up, but not quite enough to warrant inclusion here. Maybe instead of arrival. I really wanted to add Popstar because it's by far the funniest and one that has grown in time, but it's also still a pretty shit movie that works better as an outlet to make a soundtrack than an actual satisfying plot.

So we still have 2017 and 2018 to think about. 2019 is a little too close to us, but it's worth it to aggressively reexamine these pretty recent but not that recent years. Stay tuned for more hard-hitting entertainment journalism, folks!

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