The Obi-Wan Kenobi series: hopes, fears, and expectations

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including Obi-Wan Kenobi, The Book of Boba Fett, and recent films such as The Rise of Skywalker.

I’ve made no secret through my commentary here on the website that I’m not thrilled by many of the decisions and announcements that have come out of Disney and Lucasfilm lately. The Star Wars franchise as a whole feels stuck; bogged down by nostalgia and led by a team whose creativity is being stifled by a corporate board that is unwilling or unable to move on from successes that are now decades in the past. The divisiveness of the sequel trilogy will eventually abate, but for now the Star Wars franchise is intent on looking backwards.

This is why we have projects like Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first place. The very concept of the series is backwards-looking, and all it really offers, at a fundamental level, are more of the same nostalgia plays that tripped up projects like Solo: A Star Wars Story. As I said last time I took a look at the upcoming series – which is now less than a month away – if I were in charge over at Disney and Lucasfilm, a project like this would’ve never been greenlit!

Obi-Wan in a teaser for the upcoming series.

That isn’t all there is to say, of course. Another recent Star Wars project that I had relatively low expectations for was The Book of Boba Fett. Arbitrarily bringing back from the dead a relatively minor character and dedicating an entire spin-off project to him felt like it should’ve been the epitome of everything I’ve come to dislike about modern Star Wars. But as you’ll know if you read my review of the first season, I actually had a good time with The Book of Boba Fett. It was far from perfect, but it hid its imperfections in a story that was, for the most part anyway, just plain fun.

So as I look ahead to Obi-Wan Kenobi, there are reasons for optimism. Ewan McGregor’s performance as the titular Jedi Knight was one of the prequel trilogy’s highlights, and he did well to bring to life a younger version of the character we’d originally met in 1977. Though I’ve never been wild about the prequels – the first two parts in particular – McGregor inhabited the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi and showed us, at least in part through Kenobi’s eyes, the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, as well as the hubris that led to the demise of the Jedi Order itself.

Hello there!

My biggest concern when it comes to Obi-Wan Kenobi is how it will find a story to tell that fits into the existing saga of Star Wars. The series has to be very carefully-crafted to be able to slot neatly into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike The Book of Boba Fett, which could’ve gone in all kinds of different directions as an epilogue to Boba’s story, Obi-Wan Kenobi has to show us a chapter of the Jedi Master’s life that falls in between the parts we already know. It has the very difficult task of being interesting, exciting, and dramatic without overwriting anything we already know, nor robbing any of the other stories of their impact.

Between what we saw in the prequels and the original films, we know the story of Obi-Wan’s life. I’d argue that we’ve seen the most interesting parts already: how he rose from being a padawan apprentice to a master in his own right, the role he played in the Clone Wars, and how the Empire rose around him. We’ve seen him take on Luke Skywalker as his apprentice, and then sacrifice his life in a duel with Darth Vader. What can Obi-Wan Kenobi add to this story that we don’t already know or can’t infer from the parts we’ve already seen? How can it give its protagonist an arc that takes him from where we left him at the end of Revenge of the Sith to where we picked up his story in A New Hope? And how can it make that story something worth watching without feeling either incredibly tacked-on or like a bolt from the blue?

“Old Ben” Kenobi in A New Hope.

Those are just some of the narrative challenges that the new series faces, and they’re by no means small ones! Obi-Wan Kenobi has to thread the needle; it can’t stray too far from what we already know, but it also has to find a way to chart its own path despite that limitation. I guess another of my worries is that the story the new series ultimately tries to tell will ignore some or all of those points and blaze a trail that will take Obi-Wan on an adventure that undermines his arc in either the prequels, original films, or both.

For the show’s writers, it must be sorely tempting to pit Obi-Wan and Darth Vader against one another – but doing so would utterly ruin one of the most powerful sequences in A New Hope. As much fun as it might be for the writers and creative team to stage another duel between the former master and apprentice, these classic characters need to be treated more carefully than that. Star Wars is already in a strange place thanks to things like Palpatine’s survival after Return of the Jedi; to throw Obi-Wan and Vader into a conflict against one another a decade before A New Hope would take away one of the few significant moments that remain unaltered from the original trilogy.

Obi-Wan Kenobi mustn’t undermine the meeting between Obi-Wan and Vader in A New Hope.

In their rush to recapture the magic of Star Wars, the franchise’s current executives and producers have actually erased a good deal of what made the original films as meaningful as they were. The story of Anakin’s redemption and return to the light in Return of the Jedi, for example, is hideously twisted and undermined by the subsequent revelations that Palpatine was able to survive, live for another thirty years, start a new Sith Empire, and even corrupt Anakin’s own grandson. Obi-Wan Kenobi simply can’t repeat this kind of mistake. If it does, Star Wars will have very little left.

Part of what made the duel between Obi-Wan and Vader aboard the Death Star so powerful is that it was their first meeting in many years. Even when watching the original film years before the prequels came out, it was obvious that the hate Vader had for Obi-Wan had been building for a long time. Add into the mix the backstory that the prequels gave us and the moment takes on a different and even greater significance. For Vader, this was his opportunity to get revenge on the man who left him badly injured and dependent on his hated suit. It became one of the most powerful sequences in the film – and in the entire saga.

The iconic lightsaber duel.

A few months ago I took a look at a similar project over in the Star Trek franchise: Ceti Alpha V is a proposed miniseries that would revisit iconic villain Khan. Having already seen the two most interesting parts of Khan’s story – his awakening in the 23rd Century and his battle against Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, I argued that such a project is ultimately not necessary. What would we learn about Khan from that miniseries that hasn’t already been explored either by Space Seed or The Wrath of Khan? It’s almost certainly the least-interesting part of his story, one that would not only be kind of a waste of time, but if given too much leeway, one that could undermine one of the high points of the entire Star Trek franchise.

And it’s hard not to look at Obi-Wan Kenobi with a similar degree of scepticism. Since we clearly aren’t just going to watch Obi-Wan sit around in his desert hut for six episodes, the question of what exactly he’s going to do comes to the fore. What makes this chapter of his life worthy of a six-episode miniseries, and how will it balance the need to be exciting and entertaining with the constraints of a very definite beginning and end point?

An Imperial Inquisitor seen in the teaser.

All that being said, Disney+ has a pretty good track record with its original productions. Obi-Wan Kenobi will likely have a per-episode budget that fans of other franchises could only dream of, so on the technical side of things we can almost certainly look forward to a polished production that looks great and makes creative use of CGI and other visual effects. Recent Star Wars projects have brought back more of the puppets and practical effects that defined the franchise’s look in its original incarnation, and that’s something I’ve enjoyed seeing. And in terms of special effects, things like the de-ageing and digital character creation that we’ve seen employed in The Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian are nothing short of technological marvels.

Famed composer John Williams is returning to the Star Wars franchise yet again to compose the show’s theme, which is another neat inclusion. Just like The Mandalorian, Obi-Wan Kenobi will make use of an AR wall (similar to the one used in recent Star Trek productions), which should also look fantastic. In addition to Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen is reprising his role as Darth Vader, and the inclusion of actors like Rupert Friend rounds out what seems to be an excellent cast. Director Deborah Chow has a good track record, too, with directing credits in series as diverse as Turn: Washington’s Spies, Fear the Walking Dead, and The Man in the High Castle. She also directed two episodes of The Mandalorian, so she’s not a newcomer to the franchise.

A company of Stormtroopers in the teaser.

All of those things give me hope! There’s potential in Obi-Wan Kenobi, and there’s no denying that Disney and Lucasfilm have put together a great team, backed them up with a significant budget, and given the project a shot at success. For me, the biggest potential pitfall remains the premise of the series itself, and the limited storytelling directions it could reasonably take.

I’m trying to rein in both my scepticism and excitement on different sides of the project, and I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying I’m cautiously optimistic. The success of The Book of Boba Fett earlier in the year, which was similarly a series I had reservations about, has perhaps led me to feel a little more hopeful than I otherwise might about Obi-Wan Kenobi’s prospects.

One final note: it’s worth saying that Obi-Wan Kenobi exists, like several other recent and upcoming sci-fi and fantasy projects, largely because fans were asking for it. Fans who grew up with the prequel trilogy, viewing those films as “their” Star Wars, have generally reacted very positively to news about Obi-Wan Kenobi, and I’m happy for them that Disney and Lucasfilm have been listening. I hope they get the series they’ve been looking for – and with any luck it’ll be something that I can enjoy too!

Obi-Wan Kenobi is scheduled to premiere on Disney+ on the 27th of May 2022. The Star Wars franchise – including Obi-Wan Kenobi and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales – a review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise, including the following films and shows: The Mandalorian Season 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Rise of Skywalker.

It’s Spooktober – the spookiest month of the year! To celebrate Halloween at the end of the month, Disney and Lucasfilm released Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales on Disney+, a Star Wars-themed kid-friendly Halloween special. Last year’s The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special – which I didn’t get around to reviewing in time for Christmas – was a ton of fun, so I had high hopes going into Terrifying Tales. Stay tuned for a review of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special in late November or December, by the way, as I’m adamant that I’ll finally review it this year!

Terrifying Tales was incredibly funny, at least equalling last year’s Lego Star Wars offering. It was the kind of silly, irreverent style of humour that Lego Star Wars is known for, and also drew on a number of different classic horror tropes. I had a wonderful time with the forty-five minute special, and if I had one criticism it would be that I wish we got these Lego Star Wars special episodes more often!

Poe Dameron and BB-8 with new character Dean.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of horror. Some horror stories can be a mental health trigger for me, so I tend to avoid the genre as a whole unless I’m really sure that I’m in the right frame of mind. But Terrifying Tales was exactly the kind of child-friendly light horror that appeals to me. The animated special made use of a horror-themed aesthetic and horror-based stories, and played up some familiar tropes, but it did so without being frightening. If you’re concerned about younger kids or anyone of an especially sensitive disposition, I didn’t see anything in Terrifying Tales that I feel would be particularly scary or upsetting.

Lego Star Wars has been something I’ve adored since the release of the first video games in the mid/late 2000s; 2007’s Lego Star Wars The Complete Saga is undoubtedly one of the best video games I played during the Xbox 360 era. I’ve also been eagerly awaiting the newest Lego Star Wars video game which is due for release in the spring. Watch this space again, because I hope to review the game when it’s released!

I’m already looking forward to the next Lego Star Wars project!

Last year’s Lego Star Wars Holiday Special managed to get a great balance of prequel era, original era, and sequel era references and stories, and I was incredibly pleased to see Terrifying Tales managed to do the same. At first I was worried that the special was going to lean very heavily on the sequels, with Poe Dameron as its primary character. However, while the frame narrative focused on Poe, there were plenty of references and callbacks even then to past iterations of Star Wars. Overall, Terrifying Tales managed to get the right mix of characters and storylines from the cinematic franchise’s three main eras.

The frame narrative was typical Lego Star Wars silliness, with a Hutt having taken over Darth Vader’s abandoned Mustafar castle. Planning to turn the Sith fortress into a Las Vegas-style hotel, the setting was a great mix of creepy and silly – there was more than enough light-heartedness in the modifications made to the intimidating castle to tone it down and take the edge off the spookiness. At the same time, the castle was a great setting. It had a fairly typical “haunted castle” vibe, complete with darkened hallways and imposing architecture. Even in the lobby, which was brimming with Vegas-inspired (or perhaps Disneyland-inspired) kitsch and souvenir shops, there was still a creepy background note, as though the place wasn’t entirely safe.

Darth Vader’s castle – now with gift shop!

As the characters ventured further into Vader’s castle, however, the setting took on a different feel. It became less of a haunted castle and more akin to an ancient temple – or a pyramid from a classic mummy film. Deep within the bowels of Vader’s abandoned fortress, hidden rooms with unclaimed – yet cursed – treasures and cleverly-operated switches and traps awaited Poe, BB-8, and the rest of the cast. The castle thus served a dual purpose, and to cram both settings into one locale in a way that felt natural and that didn’t feel rushed shows some pretty great writing.

The only thing that the frame narrative perhaps lacked were more recognisable characters. I’ve argued on a number of occasions that the Star Wars franchise is overly-reliant on characters from its past and that I wanted to see more original creations – but Terrifying Tales isn’t really where I expected to meet a whole bunch of newbies! To see Poe without Rey or Finn was just odd, and as much fun as characters like Vaneé and Graballa the Hutt were, the frame narrative could’ve found a way to include more familiar characters. Lego Star Wars is the one place where bringing back classic characters makes sense – and it’s also where logic and internal consistency matter far less, so there’s plenty of ways to do so! It wasn’t a fatal flaw by any means, and I enjoyed Poe’s mentoring of young Dean in particular. But it was certainly noteworthy that this part of the story really only had Poe and BB-8 in terms of familiar faces.

Poe was the main character in Terrifying Tales.

Graballa the Hutt gave me almost a Ferengi vibe with his unchecked capitalistic greed, and though we didn’t get much time for any of these characters to be truly fleshed-out, there was enough of a moral shadiness to him that left me in no doubt the kind of character this was. Graballa’s the kind of money-driven dodgy boss who’ll cut any corner to save a buck and would’ve sold out Poe and Dean and everyone else for his own safety. He made a fun addition to the group as comic relief, but at the same time he was a constant cause for concern – he’d trade everyone’s lives for a shot at his own survival, and in horror stories those kinds of characters can cause a lot of trouble!

Vaneé is a character who first appeared in Rogue One, and whose role was expanded upon in the novelisation of the film. He’s also made appearances in a number of Star Wars comics – none of which I’m familiar with. For all intents and purposes, though, the character we met in Terrifying Tales was a blank slate upon which the animated special could craft a suitably over-the-top villain!

This character from Rogue One, seen bowing to Darth Vader and informing him of Krennic’s arrival, is Vaneé.

Vaneé definitely had a creepiness to him during the story. He set up the three vignettes in a suitably spooky manner, and the voice performance from Tony Hale was an exquisite parody of these kinds of characters from classic horror films and shows like The Twilight Zone. The downtrodden, overlooked butler or apprentice with an evil streak is an archetype of the genre, and Vaneé slotted into that role perfectly in Terrifying Tales.

At the climax of the story, after we’d been treated to the three vignettes, Vaneé made his grab for power via a Sith artefact that looked an awful lot like the wayfinder from The Rise of Skywalker. From that moment on he was no longer a creepy character but a completely over-the-top pantomime villain – and I loved that transformation! In a story like Terrifying Tales, with all of the silliness and light-heartedness of the Lego Star Wars brand, a villain who goes completely hell-for-leather into wanting to rule the galaxy was pitch-perfect.

The villainous Vaneé!

But we’re racing ahead of ourselves! Before we get to Vaneé’s endgame and thus the end of Terrifying Tales we first have to look at… well, the titular terrifying tales themselves!

The first of the three was titled The Lost Boy, and focused on Ben Solo and the Knights of Ren some time prior to The Force Awakens. And it was surprisingly fun! The Knights of Ren were presented as basically a motorcycle gang, wreaking havoc on a village or community somewhere in the vicinity of Luke’s new Jedi Temple. The idea that the Knights of Ren already existed before Ben Solo became Kylo Ren is actually an interesting one, and the cameo from Christian Slater as the leader of the gang was neat as well.

The Lost Boy lasted six minutes, yet managed to contain more backstory for Kylo Ren than the entire sequel trilogy! And no, this isn’t going to turn into another rant about The Rise of Skywalker, but I really felt that the way we saw Ben Solo presented in this short story was far better and more sympathetic than we ever saw in the live-action films. We saw his bad attitude as a student, his arrogance and desire to learn the Force more quickly, and these things informed his fall as the story ran on. Feeling constrained and restricted by his uncle, he was tempted by the Knights of Ren and their charismatic leader, and that set him on a dark path.

The Lost Boy gave us Kylo Ren’s backstory that was missing from the sequel trilogy!

Sadly that isn’t canon! But it was surprisingly cathartic, especially after the way The Rise of Skywalker ended, to get some kind of origin story for Ben Solo that we could see for ourselves and not hear second-hand from other characters.

The dream sequence during this short story was fantastic. It was incredibly well-animated, and had a very trippy presentation that really did feel like we were following Ben Solo into a nightmare. The way Ben was haunted by a face seeming to come out of the ceiling, then was transported into a creepy dream-world was incredibly well-done, and by far the highlight of this part of the story. As the leader of the Knights of Ren appeared to Ben in his dreams I got a Nightmare on Elm Street vibe – as if something deadly was about to happen.

The leader of the Knights of Ren.

Though this was an “alternative” take on Kylo Ren’s creation and Ben Solo’s fall, I really liked it. There were some great moments of humour, particularly Ben commenting on Luke training for “like twenty minutes” on Dagobah – a reference to The Empire Strikes Back and how Jedi training seems to progress very differently for Luke compared to other characters! But it was also a story of teen angst, rebellion, and the fall of a character to the Dark Side. Because we didn’t get to see Ben’s fall in canon, I found it particularly interesting.

The second vignette brought us a battle between General Grievous and Darth Maul. Terrifying Tales called out how patently ridiculous it was for Darth Maul to have been revived – finally! The Star Wars franchise apparently loves to bring back characters who were clearly and unequivocally dead: Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker, Boba Fett in The Mandalorian, and of course Darth Maul in The Clone Wars television series and Solo. But the fact that such “back from the dead” moments are ridiculous needed to be called out, and it was done so here in incredibly fun fashion!

Darth Maul’s return from being dead was always ridiculous… and Terrifying Tales pointed that out!

Maybe you’ve always wondered who would win in a fight between Grievous and Maul. I hadn’t, but their duel was still action-packed and fun to watch. This was perhaps the least “terrifying” of the three stories, by which I mean it had the least focus on any horror trope or element. The cursed lightsaber was an interesting macguffin, but I didn’t really feel that it had much of an impact on either mechanical monstrosity as they fought over it. If anything, it had a similar effect to the Ring in The Lord of the Rings, giving both characters a Gollum-like craving.

The real standout star of The Duelling Monstrosities, though, was Palpatine. This version of Palpatine as a nonchalant, almost casual manager of his Empire is never not funny! If you’re familiar with the way Palpatine was parodied in the likes of Robot Chicken and the Family Guy Star Wars specials, this depiction is comparable. If not, go and watch the Robot Chicken Star Wars specials at the very least, because they’re hilarious!

Palpatine was hilarious in this vignette.

Palpatine carried this segment and provided much of its comedy. He was hilarious as he pitted Maul and Grievous against one another – accidentally, of course! And then betrayed the victor to claim his prize of the broken cursed lightsaber. We never did find out why he wanted it, but it didn’t matter!

The third vignette was inspired by the 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw, and there were elements of the 1960 Twilight Zone episode Man in the Bottle too – itself a loose adaptation of that short story. It was by far the creepiest short story in terms of its setup and premise, and Vaneé gave his best Twilight Zone-inspired speech to tee up the tale.

The Twilight Zone-inspired title card for The Wookie’s Paw.

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader were the stars this time around, with Luke wishing upon a Wookie’s paw to grant wishes for himself. In this alternate version of A New Hope, Luke becomes an Imperial pilot and Darth Vader’s Dark Side protégé. If you’ve ever wondered what might’ve happened had Luke been trained by Vader, The Wookie’s Paw gives us a glimpse into that alternate reality!

In true Monkey’s Paw fashion, though, everything is not what it seems. Luke’s wishes come with a price – and after using the cursed Wookie’s paw to rise through the ranks and become a pilot and Sith apprentice, Luke goes too far. By wishing for fame he actually gets notoriety, accidentally blowing up the Death Star while trying to defend it from a Rebel attack. It was actually pretty funny to see him make such a catastrophic mistake!

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

The interplay between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader was surprisingly cute in The Wookie’s Paw. Though both remained blissfully unaware of their familial connection, Vader took on a similar mentor/fatherly role to Luke as Obi-Wan had in A New Hope, and seeing Luke go through a Dark Side version of some classic training scenes – from the training droid to carrying Vader on his back – was both sweet and funny at the same time.

If you’ll forgive a short detour, what I liked about this story was that the cursed Wookie’s paw didn’t actually change the outcome of A New Hope. Princess Leia stepped up to lead the assault on the Death Star in Luke’s absence, aided by Obi-Wan Kenobi, who survived in this alternate timeline. Luke still fired the torpedoes that destroyed the battlestation, even if he didn’t mean to. The message, aside from “be careful what you wish for,” is one of fate and destiny. Even if Luke Skywalker were removed from the equation – or fighting for the other side – the Rebellion still prevailed.

Be careful what you wish for, Luke!

So we come to the finale! Once the three vignettes were over and Poe had been led deep into the heart of Darth Vader’s fortress, Vaneé revealed his ultimate plan. Using Dean to open the Sith holocron, he used it to seize the power of the Dark Side. Cloaking himself in armour he resembled a Sith monster, and he used his newfound power to turn an army of zombified battle droids on Poe, Dean, and Graballa.

This was perhaps the most intimidating battle droids have ever felt in Star Wars! From their first appearance in The Phantom Menace all the way through the prequels battle droids were presented as cheap cannon fodder and even comic relief to be laughed at. Turning them into zombies with glowing red eyes, and pitting a small band of heroes against them and their master, was an interesting and surprisingly fun turn. One of the battle droids even got a moment inspired by classic film The Shining, which was absolutely hilarious!

Zombified battle droids!

After a conversation between Poe and the charming Dean about how fear is natural and something everyone experiences, the duo were able to save the day and defeat Vaneé. There was a neat battle between Poe and Vaneé that showed off Lego versions of the AT-ST and AT-AT walkers, before Vaneé was finally thrown into Mustafar’s lava just like his master before him! It was a tense yet fun battle, and giving Dean the opportunity to save the day was perfectly in line with the kind of story that Terrifying Tales aimed to be.

I had fun with Terrifying Tales. It was a cute Lego Star Wars parody that delivered everything I wanted and expected, and even managed to throw in a few neat surprises and things I didn’t even know I needed to see! The animation work was fantastic, a perfect blend between computer-animated Star Wars locales and a distinctive Lego aesthetic for the characters and vehicles. A project like this could’ve come across as an extra-long toy commercial, but I didn’t get that sense at all. It was a fun Star Wars-themed Halloween romp.

Terrifying Tales was a great way to kick off the spookiest season of the year for me! There’s only a little over three weeks left until Halloween, and I have a few more spooky ideas up my sleeve before the month is over, so I hope you’ll come back for some of those! Happy Spooktober!

Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Jungle Cruise – film review

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Jungle Cruise.

Any review of Jungle Cruise on Disney+ needs to take into account the film’s price tag. Right now Jungle Cruise costs £20 in the UK or $30 in the United States to “unlock,” and thus the film’s value will vary from viewer to viewer. For my two cents, unless you’re a huge fan of the original Jungle Cruise ride at the Disney theme parks or a particular fan of either Dwayne Johnson or Emily Blunt, this is probably a film to wait for. In a matter of months, and certainly by Christmas, the film will be added to the regular Disney+ lineup, and though I had a decent enough time with Jungle Cruise, I’m not sure that I necessarily got £20 worth of enjoyment from it. If you’re on the fence, trying to decide whether to pay up or wait, I think this is one you can safely wait for.

That being said, Jungle Cruise was enjoyable. I’ve said this before, but in 2002-03 when Disney was talking about adapting Pirates of the Caribbean into a film, I thought it sounded like an atrocious idea! How could a theme park ride possibly translate to the screen, I wondered? I was wrong about Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl then, and if I had similar doubts about Jungle Cruise eighteen years later then I was wrong again! The film was decent, and paid homage to a classic ride which has been part of Disneyland since the very beginning.

Jungle Cruise poster.

If you’re fortunate enough to have ridden Jungle Cruise, you’ll recall that there is a “story” of sorts to the ride itself. Obviously the film takes liberties with this, chopping and changing things to make the story more suited to the screen rather than a semi-interactive theme park attraction. But I was surprised at just how well Jungle Cruise captured the feel of the original ride, with Dwayne Johnson’s character of Frank taking the role of the Disneyland boat captain from the attraction.

There were nods to other aspects of the ride as well, particularly in the film’s opening act with Frank’s literal jungle cruise entertaining the tourists with the same mixture of dad jokes and props as the ride itself. As the story went on, the film naturally stepped away from being true to the ride to focus on a story that was not dissimilar to the aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean film, complete with cursed undead sailors, a magical macguffin, and lashings of aquatic adventure.

Quila hits the rapids!

There were several surprisingly poignant and emotional moments in Jungle Cruise which I wasn’t expecting. Aside from the typical Disney happily ever after ending (complete with a fake-out sad ending which preceded it) the tastefully handled moment where Jack Whitehall’s character of MacGregor came out to Frank was a very sweet inclusion. Not only did it add personality and dimension to both characters – MacGregor gained a backstory of rejection and further reason to follow Lily, and Frank came across as accepting and kind – but it was a huge step for representation and inclusion. Seeing MacGregor experience rejection yet find acceptance in the most unlikely of places is a powerful message, and the mere act of LGBT+ representation in a blockbuster film is always fantastic to see. Such a message is especially important for younger viewers.

While we’re discussing some of Jungle Cruise’s deeper themes, the film took a dim view of wealth, aristocracy, and closed societies – despite practically all of its main characters being drawn from the upper classes of their day. MacGregor’s unease at having to experience life away from his home comforts was initially played for laughs – though he did become more comfortable with it as the film reached its end. The villain of the piece being a German aristocrat was also a continuation of this theme, as was the initial depiction of Frank as the last independent river boat captain – and the poorest.

Dwayne Johnson as Frank, the riverboat captain.

Having seen a number of films with British villains over the last few years, the decision to make the German Prince Joachim the main adversary to Frank and Lily was actually a bit of a change. There was a time a few years ago where villains in cinema were often German – or of German extraction. But enough time has passed and enough other villains have come and gone that the return to a German villain didn’t feel like stereotyping or a trope in the way it might’ve done had Jungle Cruise been made in the recent past.

The story itself took a couple of unexpected twists. The revelation that Frank wasn’t who he seemed to be definitely came as a shock – but in a good way! Sometimes twists of this nature can feel rushed or like they jolt the story in an unwanted direction, but learning Frank’s true origin managed to avoid that pitfall. It made his character feel more rounded and gave him motivation. We learn why he wanted to take Lily upriver – and why he was so convinced she wouldn’t succeed in her quest to find the Tears of the Moon.

Lily was seeking the Tears of the Moon.

Frank’s “betrayal” of Lily and MacGregor – which he apparently set up off-screen with Trader Sam and her tribe – was perhaps the weakest moment in the story. It did nothing to endear us to Frank, and while it was arguably in character for him it robbed what was initially set up as a tense moment of practically all of its drama. Though the threat and peril were restored after a brief respite, the way the film handled this moment was poor overall.

Representation of native peoples and their relationship to colonists has come a long way in recent years, and when looking back at past Disney depictions of indigenous peoples – such as in Peter Pan or even the original incarnation of the Jungle Cruise attraction – the way the “headhunter” tribe was presented was an improvement. Considering the tribe played a relatively minor role in the film, what we saw worked well. The depiction retained some of the mystery that westerners have of indigenous peoples – something that the original ride drew on for part of its threat – yet at the same time made at least one key character relatable.

The tribal chief.

Jungle Cruise also didn’t shy away from depicting the brutality of colonisation, showing Conquistadors savagely attacking a tribe of native people even after being offered shelter, food, and medicine. However, the film then immediately strayed into once again mystifying the tribespeople by giving them magical powers seemingly connected to the Tree of Life. Overall, the way Jungle Cruise handled its characters’ interactions with indigenous people was better than in some Disney titles, particularly older ones, but arguably imperfect and verging into some of the tropes commonly associated with such tribes in fiction.

Aside from the opening act, which was set in London, and a few other scenes near the beginning of the piece, Jungle Cruise broadly stayed true to its premise as a film about a voyage on a riverboat. The boat itself had character, being old and beaten-up, and was memorable for the way it looked while again retaining some of the charm of the original Disneyland attraction. Quila (Frank’s boat) was not only the characters’ home and method of transportation, but also played a key role toward the end of the story by blocking the river water and saving Lily and MacGregor. Giving the boat more to do in the story than simply be an ever-present stage for the characters made a huge difference to the film, and made its setting feel meaningful.

Quila – the boat – was almost like an extra character in the film.

Though the Conquistadors wanted to kill Frank – and later Prince Joachim – they seem to have had similar objectives when it comes to acquiring and using the Tears of the Moon, and as a result some of the moments toward the film’s climax felt rather forced. Obviously Lily and MacGregor had an incentive to stop the Prince and his gang of German submariners, as they clearly had nefarious intentions for the magical macguffin. But the Conquistadors had basically the same objective as Frank – to lift their curse – and it felt like there could have been a moment near the end of the film where they had all realised that they didn’t need to fight. In fact I initially wondered if Prince Joachim’s betrayal of the Conquistadors was going to set up precisely that kind of storyline. It feels like a miss that it didn’t, as the film basically ended with the heroes defeating two parties of villains.

There’s always room in fiction for that kind of narrative; not every story has to depict an emotional coming together and teaming up to defeat a worse villain. But the disturbing implication to the way Frank’s story ended is that he simply left the Conquistadors to endure endless torture; they’re unable to die and it didn’t seem as though he took action to lift their curse. Perhaps this is Disney leaving the door open to a sequel?

Did Frank and Lily condemn the Conquistadors to eternal torture?

Speaking of the way the film ended, with Frank and Lily only able to pluck a single petal from the tree, all Lily really got to do was write up her adventure and land herself a job. In the male-dominated world that the film depicted that is unquestionably a victory for her – but her original ambition had been to use the Tears of the Moon to “revolutionise medicine” and save countless lives, not least in the ongoing First World War. It seems as though this ambition was thwarted, yet the film skips over this point.

Jack Whitehall is not someone I would have expected to see in a film like Jungle Cruise, but he put in a creditable performance as MacGregor. His stand-up act often draws on his self-styled “posh” image, and his character felt like an exaggerated version of that in some respects. Emily Blunt was outstanding in the role of Lily, bringing real personality to the character and crafting a heroine that we as the audience wanted to get behind. Dwayne Johnson seemed at first to be playing a fairly typical “Dwayne Johnson” role, but the addition of an unexpected backstory for his character of Frank took the character to a different place and forced him to step out of his comfort zone and play things differently as the film passed the two-thirds mark. Though perhaps it wasn’t an Oscar-worthy performance, I found Frank to be a believable protagonist and someone I wanted to see succeed.

MacGregor and Frank shared a genuinely touching moment in Jungle Cruise that I wasn’t expecting.

Jungle Cruise relied heavily on CGI almost throughout, and not all of the animation work was as realistic as it could’ve been. Recent productions, even on television, have seen some truly outstanding CGI work, and while nothing in Jungle Cruise was awful or even immersion-breaking, there were quite a few elements that didn’t look quite right. At a number of points I felt that some of the CGI had that “too shiny,” plastic look that plagued CGI a few years ago, and I really thought that animation – especially cinematic animation – had begun to move past that particular issue.

I would’ve liked to have seen more physical props and practical effects, and the fact that a large portion of Jungle Cruise was filmed with green screens and other modern tricks wasn’t as well-concealed as it might’ve been. And perhaps this final point on visuals is a bit of a nitpick, but the fact that a number of the so-called “jungle” sequences were filmed not in South America but in Hawai’i was apparent to anyone who knows their flora! Different biomes do look different from one another, and a few scenes in particular which supposedly took place on the banks of the Amazon were very clearly filmed elsewhere. I know that’s a minor point that won’t have bugged many people, but I found it worth noting.

Happily ever after for the main characters!

So that’s about all I have to say, I think. Jungle Cruise certainly compares to the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean and other fantasy-adventure titles. It was fun, emotional at points, and set up its trio of main characters for a story that was easy enough to follow for kids while still having plenty to offer for adults as well. It stands up well against many adventure films, including classics of the genre like Indiana Jones – which Jungle Cruise was clearly channelling at points!

I had an enjoyable time with Jungle Cruise, and it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours. Whether it will be worth the cost of admission on Disney+ is something everyone will have to decide for themselves, but I think it’ll still be an enjoyable watch in a couple of months’ time. Jungle Cruise presented a fun story that drew inspiration from the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean, yet stayed true to its origins as a theme park attraction. It was a fun ride down the river with Frank, Lily, and MacGregor, and I’m sure I’ll have fun watching the film for a second and third time in the future; it’s definitely one to return to when I’m in the mood for adventure!

Jungle Cruise is available to stream now on Disney+ Premier Access (for a fee). Jungle Cruise is the copyright of Walt Disney Pictures and The Walt Disney Company. Some promotional images courtesy of The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars Biomes is a cute and clever way to spend twenty minutes

Released to mark Star Wars day, Star Wars Biomes is a short film that’s simultaneously something different yet very nostalgic. A silent tour over several locations from the original trilogy, prequel era, sequels, and even The Mandalorian, Star Wars Biomes was not the sort of thing I was expecting from the franchise. It’s “slow TV” – something to watch for relaxation or to have on in the background while doing something else, and it’s unusual for a major franchise to produce something like that.

In other ways – and you probably know what I’m going to say if you’ve read some of my recent critiques of the overall direction of the Star Wars franchise – this was Star Wars once again retreating to largely safe, well-trodden ground. The short film only visited planets we’ve previously seen in other iterations of the franchise, and made no attempt to branch out and look at anywhere new. But you know what? On this occasion, with this unusual short film, I think that’s okay.

The Millennium Falcon departs Ahch-To in Star Wars Biomes.

A work like this is 100% about the visuals. And on that front, Star Wars Biomes largely delivered. The animation and CGI work was streets ahead of many high-budget television shows of recent times, and far beyond anything the prequel trilogy or special edition edits of the original trilogy were capable of. For example, I would say that Star Wars Biomes showed off the single best representation of Tatooine’s twin suns that has ever been put to screen.

There were a couple of moments in the eighteen-minute broadcast where I felt the CGI strayed into looking a little unrealistic and video-gamey, but generally speaking the animators did a good job. The vistas – or I suppose we should really be calling them “biomes!” – looked fantastic, even stunning in places, and that’s exactly what a short film of this nature aimed to deliver.

I don’t think Tatooine’s twin suns have ever looked this good!

When I first heard the name “Star Wars Biomes,” I wondered if we were going to get something akin to a nature documentary, looking at some of the wildlife or flora of the visited locations. But it was clear from the start that that’s not what the objective was! That’s fine, and it’s not the purpose of a review to say “well I wish it had been a totally different kind of film,” so I’m happy with what was put to screen. That being said, a pseudo-documentary looking at galactic flora and fauna would be an interesting project – as I said when I proposed something similar for Star Trek a little while ago!

Of the locations visited in Star Wars Biomes, I would suggest that the salt-crusted surface of Crait was perhaps the boldest choice. There were only six planets that Star Wars Biomes took us to, and considering the incredibly controversial nature of The Last Jedi, picking one that was featured prominently in that film was very daring on the part of whoever was making that decision! I think we even saw the crashed ski-speeders of Finn and Rose, which was a plot point that was not popular with many fans. Perhaps that’s Star Wars sticking up a cheeky middle finger as if to say “The Last Jedi is still canon!” But perhaps I’m reading too much into it. I still think it was a bold choice, regardless of the behind-the-scenes reasoning!

The crashed ski-speeders on Crait.

Hoth looked beautiful in all of its snow-capped glory. I do love wintery, snowy scenes, and Star Wars Biomes rendered the snow on Hoth perfectly. Moving like a helicopter (or drone, I suppose) the camera panned across the snowy landscape, and spotted a probe droid – which made the familiar, slightly menacing whirring noise it made in The Empire Strikes Back. We also saw AT-AT walkers, and I think it was the first time seeing them from so high up or at such an angle. Both the droid and walkers contributed to a sense of nostalgia, but at the same time it felt new.

As Star Wars Biomes wrapped up its time on Hoth, we got the first of several typical Star Wars “wipes” – the transitions from one scene to another that the Star Wars franchise has always done with a particular flair! This was new in the ’70s, but modern films have largely left this style of wipe behind, with the result being that it feels unique to Star Wars – even though you can find similar transitions in other films of the original trilogy era.

AT-AT walkers seen on Hoth.

Tatooine is up next, and as already mentioned, its twin suns look amazing. Rendered to look similar to our own sun, the shot at the end as the camera panned up was really stunning. Sand, like snow, is more or less a single colour and texture, so perhaps the Tatooine section of Star Wars Biomes relies more on other visual elements – droids, skeletons, Jawas, and a landspeeder – in order to retain visual interest. It was a well-done segment, though.

After Tatooine, Star Wars Biomes heads to Sorgan – a planet whose name I had to Google! This is the planet with the rustic village that was visited in The Mandalorian, and we saw the Razor Crest flying in as the camera panned overhead. Sorgan was the first point in Star Wars Biomes where I felt the CGI – in this case used for some of the huts in the village – strayed from being 100% realistic into video game territory, at least toward the end as the camera zoomed in and got closer. It wasn’t bad by any means, but as we got closer to the village it was possible to tell it was CGI.

The village on Sorgan.

Crait, as mentioned, was the boldest choice in my opinion. The camera angle used here was odd, looking down at a 90-degree angle the entire time. I kept waiting for the camera to pan, showing us more of the surface of Crait, but it never did. The way the vehicles depicted left red trails in the salty surface of Crait was neat, though, and very well done – even if a couple of the large walkers depicted looked a tad video gamey!

Mustafar came next, and was probably my favourite segment. The lava fields were rendered beautifully, and Darth Vader’s castle looked suitably menacing, dominating the scene. Mustafar is, of course, the planet from Revenge of the Sith where Vader was badly injured. A shuttle and a couple of TIE fighters were seen during this segment, too, and they were done well.

Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar.

Finally we came to Ahch-To, the planet Luke travelled to to hide away, as seen in all three sequel films. We saw a couple of porgs in flight – but not up close – and at Luke’s island, the Millennium Falcon taking off which was neat to see. The island looked like it might’ve been a real shot taken from the Ahch-To filming location off the coast of Ireland, but it could just be very well-made CGI – at this point it isn’t always easy to tell! One CGI misfire during this segment came with a sea monster – the way it breached the surface then sank back beneath the waves didn’t make the right movements on the surface of the water. I know that’s a nitpick!

So that was Star Wars Biomes. Whether you sit and watch it intently – as I did – or put it on in the background as a screensaver, I think it’s worth a look. It’s a bit of fun, and a cute and clever way to celebrate Star Wars without going all-out on a movie marathon! Generally I think it was well-made, with just a couple of moments where the CGI was imperfect. It’s the kind of short film you can put on while you relax and unwind, and its short runtime means it doesn’t feel like a huge commitment.

I had fun with Star Wars Biomes, and I daresay I’ll come back to it again at some point to take another look and see if I can spot anything I missed! It’s the kind of thing I can see myself putting on in the background on a loop while I’m doing something, or even if I have people over (once coronavirus is over and done with). If you decide to check it out, I hope you enjoy Star Wars Biomes as much as I did.

Star Wars Biomes is available to stream now on Disney+. The Star Wars franchise – including all properties and titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Lucasfilm and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Will the Avatar sequels improve the franchise’s standing?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Avatar.

James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi film Avatar never really managed to break into pop culture in quite the way he hoped. It was a huge financial success – in part because folks were curious to see what this new project was all about – but it never really became a top-tier entertainment brand in the way Star Wars or Harry Potter did. In 1977, Star Wars became a phenomenon, and in the years afterwards the film was constantly on fans’ minds. The Empire Strikes Back cemented its place at the pinnacle of the sci-fi genre… even if Return of the Jedi perhaps tarnished its halo a little!

Avatar just isn’t on that level. There was a lot of hype leading up to its release, with a decent (if rather boastful) marketing campaign spearheading 20th Century Fox’s efforts to push Avatar as the “next big thing.” But for a lot of moviegoers, the film was just okay. It wasn’t bad; it was a solid, enjoyable summer blockbuster that went toe-to-toe with the best pictures of 2009 – including the rebooted Star Trek! But after leaving the cinema, I never really got the sense that fans were clamouring for more in the way Trekkies, Potter-heads, and Star Wars fans are for their respective franchises.

Avatar was a successful film – but can it become a successful franchise?

The creation of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World in Florida is a great demonstration of this. The new land attracted attention when it was built, and for months after it opened its rides were queuing out the door! But that happens for almost any new Disney attraction, and when compared to the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019, it pales in comparison. There was huge excitement to be transported to a galaxy far, far away. There was curious interest in Pandora… but that was all.

None of this is to say Avatar was bad. It wasn’t at all, and I thoroughly enjoyed it when I first saw it. But I was never desperate to re-watch it, and my latest revisit to the 2009 film – which may be the third or fourth time I’ve seen it – was prompted by nothing more than boredom. But it also led to this article, so at least I got something out of it!

Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World.

This is a much broader point that ties into another piece I’ve been writing, but the difference between a good one-off story and a good story that becomes a larger franchise is world-building. Any film, television show, book, or even video game that hopes to be “the next Star Wars” needs to put time and effort into creating a world that fans want to explore. Star Wars and Star Trek did so, and they did so by showing fans a relatively small piece of what felt like a huge picture. The galaxies depicted in Star Wars and Star Trek are so much bigger than the few characters we met in their original incarnations; it feels like there’s much more to see beyond what was depicted on screen.

Avatar – and a lot of other wannabe-franchises too – doesn’t have that, at least not yet. Partly that’s because the film doesn’t hint at anything more than what we see – Earth, Pandora… and that’s it. And on Pandora there’s one major human outpost. There are starships flying back and forth, and the glimpses we got of Earth had a futuristic vibe, but the world Avatar created doesn’t feel as though it extends beyond the places we see. There’s no other planets that we could imagine humans or Na’vi colonising one day. There’s no fleets of starships on missions of exploration or fighting battles; the few ships we see just fly between Earth and Pandora.

A starship seen in Avatar.

Pandora itself is absolutely beautiful; a location painstakingly created. And the Na’vi are more than just a simple analogue for Native Americans or other indigenous peoples; Cameron and his team went to great lengths to craft Na’vi culture, even going so far as to write a fully-formed Na’vi language. Those efforts may yet pay off, but they don’t seem to have thus far. Because as interesting as the Na’vi are – and they are undeniably interesting – they’re all there is. One tribe of Na’vi and one human settlement on Pandora, and… what? Nothing else, as far as the film showed us.

There’s a sense of scale missing from Avatar, and its world-building, while wonderfully done, is small. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one aspect of a story and a few characters – in the first film in a series that kind of needs to happen! But if the aim is to create a series with franchise potential, something to hook fans in and get our imaginations running, that sense of scale and the idea of a greater world beyond what we see on screen is essential. It’s the single most important element in building a larger story – and Avatar didn’t get it right.

So on to the question I posed at in the title of this article: can the planned sequels – of which there are four – improve the franchise’s standing? Can they spin out what was a decent one-off sci-fi blockbuster into something more? Can Avatar make the jump and become “the next Star Wars?”

Two Na’vi seen in concept art for the Avatar sequel series.

The length of time between Avatar and its sequels may be an issue. By the time Avatar 2 hits cinemas in December 2022 – assuming it meets its planned release date – thirteen years will have passed since the first title. Given the general apathy and lack of interest in Avatar this long after its premiere, the first part of this sequel series will have to spend at least some of its runtime refreshing audiences on what happened in the first film and what the setting is. When I sat down to re-watch Avatar earlier, I had only a vague recollection of the film, and I daresay a lot of folks will be in the same position.

When The Empire Strikes Back came out, it had been only three years since Star Wars had been in cinemas. And while Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released a decade after The Original Series ended, the only reason the film was made was because there was a growing fanbase who had watched the show when it was rebroadcast and those fans were clamouring for more. Is anyone clamouring for Avatar 2?

A scene on Pandora from concept art.

Avatar was a welcome addition to the sci-fi genre. Especially as the last decade has been dominated by reboots, adaptations, remakes, and sequels, it was a welcome breath of fresh air, and despite what I’ve said about its world feeling small, there is potential for it to be expanded upon. To say that the Avatar series can never be more than it already is would be ridiculous – there’s only been one film so far, and it was decent. It didn’t blow up the genre or redefine what a film could be in the way its pre-release marketing seemed to suggest, but it was good. I don’t dislike Avatar.

The sequels do have a pretty big job to do, though. The storyline of Avatar was exciting, but it was hardly original. Comparisons have been made to Dances with Wolves and even Disney’s Pocahontas, and while I don’t think it’s fair to call it derivative, it wasn’t a unique narrative by any means. That point of criticism will have to be addressed, and the sequels will have to try harder to be different from a story perspective if they’re to achieve the heights the films are aiming for.

Na’vi fly atop their banshees in more concept art.

The beautiful world-building that worked so well for Pandora and the Na’vi needs to be expanded upon. Perhaps we could see different Na’vi tribes and civilisations on Pandora, or better yet, expand the scope of the setting out into space. Are there other moons or planets in the Pandora system, perhaps? Or is there another human settlement on some nearby world? These are just a couple of ideas for how the Avatar series can build on the successes of the first film to be bigger – to achieve that sense of scale which the best and most successful franchises have.

Avatar was also a film which had contemporary real-world analogies. I noted influences of at least two of America’s recent wars in the depiction of the Marines, scientists, and Na’vi – Vietnam and Iraq. The dense rainforests of Pandora, and the way Jake and others had trouble navigating them, were the film’s answer to the jungles of Vietnam. And references to winning “the hearts and minds” of the locals was a phrase we heard often in relation to the Iraq war during the 2000s – which is when Avatar was in development. The latter of those themes is arguably less relevant in 2021 than it was in 2009, and Avatar 2 will need to adapt to changing times.

Night time on Pandora in this final piece of concept art.

One improvement we’re sure to see is in CGI and digital animation. Avatar was released at a time when CGI was improving – and was far better than it had been even five or ten years earlier – but there are still some aspects of its visual style that haven’t aged especially well. Some textures have that “too shiny” look that plagued cinematic CGI in the 2000s, and while viewing the film on a cinema or IMAX projector screen dulled the impact of some of that, on a television set in 2021 it’s something you notice. I wouldn’t say Avatar looks dated – but it’s right on the cusp. A film that relies so heavily on computer animation – many of Avatar’s sequences are basically fully-animated – is always going to run that risk, and while it has aged more gracefully than, for example, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, there are still noticeable places where the animation isn’t up to code.

There have been improvements in computer animation since 2009, which should mean Avatar 2 and the rest of the sequel series will be far more visually interesting. Pandora was already beautiful, but if that beauty could be expanded upon I think the sequels could really be something special. Some fans tend to turn up their noses at visuals, but if you think about it, a distinct visual style is another absolutely crucial element to a franchise. Star Trek has combadges, ships with saucer sections, Klingons, and the transporter. Star Wars has white-armoured Stormtroopers, lightsabers, Jabba the Hutt, and X-wings. Avatar introduced us to the blue-skinned Na’vi, but none of its technology, characters, costumes, or locations have become iconic in the same way as the other franchises we’ve mentioned. Part of that is down to the quality of the CGI, but partly it’s the film’s own art style. Avatar 2 could introduce a new design for a starship, character, or even just a costume that will go on to be emblematic of the series – in the way that Boba Fett became a symbol of Star Wars after his debut in The Empire Strikes Back, for example.

So yes, there’s work to do to expand on Pandora and the world Avatar created in 2009. But I’m really interested to see where Avatar 2 will take the story after the conclusion of the first film, and what the other films in the planned sequel series have in store. James Cameron is an amazing director, and having put so much work and effort into the Avatar series, I really hope it will see the kind of success he’s looking for. There’s always room for more sci-fi franchises!

Avatar is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, and may be streamed on Disney+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories. Avatar is the copyright of 20th Century Fox and the Walt Disney Company. Avatar 2 is due for release in December 2022. Logo and official promotional artwork courtesy of avatar.com. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

End-of-Year Awards 2020

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for some of the films, games, and television shows listed below.

Welcome to my first annual End-of-Year Awards! These are the best (and worst) entertainment events of the year – in my subjective opinion! Rather than writing a top ten list (like I did last year to mark the end of the decade) I’m instead choosing a few categories and awarding my picks for the best entertainment experiences of the year.

I’m including a few titles from the tail end of 2019 on this list simply because many people will have only got around to watching or playing them this year. These decisions are always difficult and I often feel that – because people put these lists together weeks or months before the end of the year – titles released in December tend to miss out. As such you’ll find a few titles from the final few weeks of 2019 being given an award – and perhaps next year there may be a title or two from the end of 2020 featured!

Most categories will have a runner-up and a winner; a few only have one, and in those cases that title wins by default.

A note about exclusions: if I haven’t seen or played a title for myself, for reasons that I hope are obvious it can’t be included. I’m only one person, and I don’t have every moment of the day to dedicate to entertainment. As such, some titles others may consider to be “massive releases” for 2020 aren’t going to be given an award. In the gaming realm, this also applies to titles that I haven’t completed. The exclusion from these awards of titles like Ghost of Tsushima and Tenet isn’t to say they aren’t good; they may be – but I have no experience with them so I’m unable to comment at this time.

With all of that out of the way let’s jump into the awards! If you like, you can try to imagine a fancy stage and some celebrity presenter handing out statuettes. That may or may not be what I’m doing as I write!

Web Series:

Nowadays many of us get at least a portion of our entertainment away from big-budget productions on websites and apps like YouTube. There are a number of top-tier YouTube shows that may have started off as typical amateur productions, but have since become far more professional. As better cameras and microphones become readily available, even low-budget YouTube productions can offer impressive audio and visuals.

Personally I watch a video or two on YouTube most days, and there are a number of channels which have produced top-quality entertainment this year. When the pandemic hit, many YouTube shows were able to keep going despite the chaos engulfing the wider entertainment industry. They had the means and the technology to do so, and that’s fantastic.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Linus Tech Tips

Linus Tech Tips is one of the first YouTube channels I began watching regularly, having stumbled upon it when looking for PC building tips a few years ago. Though some of what they do is complete overkill (what YouTube channel needs $20,000 cameras?) they have a lot of fun while doing it. Linus Tech Tips explores the high-end and cutting-edge of computers, cameras, and other technologies, and the presenters manage to make it entertaining.

The channel has continued its steady growth and now boasts a number of regular presenters in addition to the titular Linus, most of whom specialise in particular topics. There are also several other channels produced by the same team, including TechQuickie, Short Circuit, and TechLinked. The combined output of the main channel plus its subsidiaries means there’s at least one new video per day, which is great. Even less-interesting topics can be made fun when presented well, and the team at Linus Tech Tips manage to be interesting and entertaining every time.

🏆Winner🏆
SORTEDfood

I love a good cooking show. Not only can they be entertaining but also very relaxing. SORTEDfood has a usual output of two videos per week, and while in recent years they’ve stepped away from purely doing recipes and into things like kitchen gadget reviews, everything is food-themed and the enthusiasm that the five presenters have is infectious. During the coronavirus pandemic, London (where the show is recorded) was in lockdown. Despite that, the team found creative ways to get around it, and even incorporated it into their videos. In addition to recipes there were helpful things like reviews of food delivery services, which at the height of lockdown here in the UK was actually really useful. I was able to use a couple of the services they recommended to send gifts to people I couldn’t see in person; gift ideas I would never have had were it not for SORTEDfood.

Their pandemic programming was good, but when lockdown was lifted it was nice for the team to come back together and get back to their regular output. I’m a huge fan of their “ultimate battles” in particular, which pit the presenters head-to-head to create the best dish. The “pass it on” series, where all five take turns to create a single dish, is also fantastic – and often very funny. SORTEDfood manages to be both informative and entertaining, and their output during lockdown was phenomenal and undoubtedly helped many viewers during a difficult time. For all of those reaons, I’m crowing SORTEDfood the best web series of the year.

Documentaries:

I’m setting aside a whole category for documentaries because I’m a big fan. There have been some great ones in 2020, both standalone films and series. Netflix has surprised me over the last few years by growing to become a huge player in the documentary genre, funding many productions – including some Academy Award nominees. Disney+ joined the streaming wars late last year – or in March this year if you’re in the UK – and has also brought some fascinating pieces of documentary content to the small screen. It’s a great time for documentaries at the moment!

🥈Runner-up🥈
We Need To Talk About A.I.

This documentary was fascinating, if perhaps somewhat alarmist. Looking at the possible creation of general artificial intelligence, and the potential for such an AI to surpass humanity, it was a truly interesting peek behind the curtain at what researchers are doing on the cutting-edge of AI research. The documentary was presented by Keir Dullea, famous for his role as Dave in 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film saw his character go up against an out-of-control AI, and Dullea brings a gravitas to the role of narrator as a result.

The film made reference to a number of sci-fi films which look at rogue AI, most significantly Terminator 2: Judgement Day, whose director James Cameron was interviewed. From my perspective as a Trekkie, having just seen Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1, which both look at the potential for out-of-control AIs, the documentary brought the world of fiction uncomfortably close to the world we inhabit today. While most of the interviewees offered a fairly bleak look at future AI, particularly in the military realm, others did paint a more positive picture. The biggest thing I took away from it, though, it how little consensus there is among researchers and scientists not only on whether AI is a good idea, but whether it’s even truly possible, or how long it will take.

The film is a fascinating, slightly unnerving watch.

🏆Winner🏆
The Imagineering Story

Though it isn’t a subject I’ve talked about often here on the website, I have a great fondness for Disney’s theme parks. It’s doubtful given my health that I’ll be able to go any time soon, but I have fond memories of visits to several parks with both family and groups of friends. Combine that love of Disney with my aforementioned love of documentaries and I got what was one of the most underrated yet fascinating entertainment experiences of the year!

Prior to the launch of Disney+ in the UK in March, there was already a Disney-branded streaming platform here. I wasn’t sure what kind of an upgrade to expect when the new service arrived – except for The Mandalorian there didn’t seem to be much new. The Imagineering Story was one of the few documentaries on Disney+ at launch, but it’s absolutely fascinating, detailing the behind-the-scenes work that went into building Disney’s various parks and themed lands.

The addition of some National Geographic documentaries to Disney+ over the last year or so has made the platform into a good home for the format, though I would like to see more films and series either added from Disney’s extensive back catalogue or better yet, commissioned exclusively for Disney+.

But we’re off-topic! The Imagineering Story was beautifully narrated by Angela Bassett, and as a series made by Disney itself was able to get the perspectives of many senior people who worked at the parks and on many of the projects it covered.

Video Games:

Despite the all the chaos and pandemonium in the world in 2020, many new games – and two new consoles – managed to make it to release. While it’s true that some titles have suffered delays, by far the majority of planned and scheduled releases made it, and that’s no small accomplishment!

As a new console generation gets ready for its centre-stage moment, it’s often been the case that we get a quieter-than-average year as companies shift their focus. Despite that, though, we’ve seen some pretty big titles in 2020, including a couple that will likely be heralded as “game of the generation” or even “game of the decade!” If I’m still alive and kicking in 2029, by the way, check back as I may have a thing or two to say about that!

Though it’s far too early to say which of the two newly-launched consoles will do best in the years to come, 2020 has given all of us some great gaming experiences… and some crap ones.

Worst Game:

Let’s start by getting the worst games out of the way. 2020 has seen some stinkers, including big-budget titles from successful developers and publishers. They really ought to know better.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Marvel’s Avengers

Marvel’s Avengers is the Anthem of 2020. Or the Fallout 76 of 2020. Or the Destiny 1 of 2020. Or the The Culling II of 2020. Pick any of those live service, broken-at-launch disasters, and that’s what Marvel’s Avengers is. The “release now, fix later” business model has condemned what could have been a popular and successful title to failure. But Marvel’s Avengers hasn’t even failed spectacularly enough to be forever etched in the annals of gaming history alongside titles like 1982’s E.T. Instead it’s slowly fading away, and in six months or a year’s time, nobody will even remember it existed.

Disney and Square Enix looked at a long list of crappy video game business ideas, including paid battle-passes, console-exclusive characters, corporate tie-ins with unrelated brands like phone providers and chewing gum makers, in-game currencies, and microtransactions for each of the six main characters individually. They then decided to put all of these into the game, robbing it of any soul or heart it could have had and turning it into a bland corporate cash-grab. As soon as I heard the company planned the game as a “multi-year experience,” the writing was on the wall. If, underneath all of the corporate nonsense, there had been a halfway decent game with fun gameplay, perhaps more players would have stuck it out. But, as usual with these types of games, there wasn’t. I’m not the world’s biggest Marvel fan. So I’m not horribly offended by this game in the way some folks undoubtedly are. But I can sympathise with them, because fans deserve better than this steaming pile of crap to which Disney and Square Enix have attempted to affix the Marvel logo.

🏆Winner🏆
The Last of Us Part II

The Last Of Us Part II’s cover-based stealth/action gameplay is fine. Though better than the first game, I didn’t feel there was a colossal improvement in terms of gameplay – but that could be said about countless sequels over the last couple of console generations. Where The Last Of Us Part II fell down was its story. This was a game I was sceptical of from the beginning; the first title felt like lightning in a bottle, something that neither wanted nor required a follow-up. In 2020, though, practically every successful title ends up being spun out into a franchise.

With a theme of breaking the cycle of violence, The Last Of Us Part II considers itself “artistic” and clever. Unfortunately that theme led to a horribly unsatisfying narrative, with players not only forced to take on the role of the person who murdered Joel – the protagonist/anti-hero from the first title – but ends with Ellie letting her escape and refusing to take revenge. Had the same concept been part of a new game with new characters, it could have worked better. But crammed into this title it fell flat. I stuck with it out of stubbornness as a fan of the first title, but it was a profoundly unenjoyable ride, and that’s why The Last Of Us Part II is the worst game of 2020.

Best Casual Game:

How do we define a “casual” game? It’s a difficult one, and it’s one of those contentious topics where fans of a title who may have spent hundreds of hours in the game world will get upset at hearing their favourite game referred to as “casual.” When it came to choosing titles for this category, I looked at games that could be easily picked up for a short burst, then put down. Games that can be played for a few minutes and that have gameplay suited to that was one of the main criteria. Games in this category also had to be pick-up-and-play. Some casual games can indeed be hard to truly master, but for my money, any game to which we assign the “casual” title has to be accessible and easy to get started with.

So that was how I came to my shortlist. Now let’s look at the runner-up and winner… though if you’ve been a reader all year I doubt you’ll be too surprised!

🥈Runner-up🥈
Fall Guys

Fall Guys seemingly came out of nowhere in August. It wasn’t a title I’d heard of, let alone one I was looking forward to, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Taking a format inspired by television game-shows like Gladiators or Total Wipeout, the basic gameplay consists of running a series of obstacle courses, looking to be the last one standing at the end to win a crown.

I’m not usually interested in online multiplayer titles, but Fall Guys was something so genuinely different that I was prepared to give it a go. And what I found was a game that was shockingly fun. Each round lasts barely a couple of minutes, meaning even if you don’t qualify it’s not a big deal. Just jump into the next game. Though there are microtransactions, at time of writing they aren’t intrusive and the game is quite generous with the in-game currency given out simply for playing. There are fun cosmetic items to dress up your adorable little jelly bean character in, and the whole game is cute and lots of fun. Though it did have a cheating problem for a while, the addition of anti-cheat software appears to have fixed things. I’m probably about done with Fall Guys as I move on to find new things to watch and play, but I had a wonderful time with it this summer and autumn.

🏆Winner🏆
Animal Crossing: New Horizons

With over 120 hours played, I’ve spent more time this year with Animal Crossing: New Horizons than with the next two games on my list put together. That’s no small accomplishment – even if my 120 hours seems paltry compared to the amount of time some players have put into this title. Time alone doesn’t make a title worthy of winning an award, though. Why Animal Crossing: New Horizons deserves the title is because practically all of those hours were enjoyable.

It’s true that the base game at launch was missing features from past entries in the series, notably 2013’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf. And I find that disappointing, even if updates have since improved the game. But despite the missing content, what the game did have was fantastic, and there really isn’t anything like New Horizons on the market. It’s cute wholesome fun, and the kind of game that can be played for even just a few minutes at a time. It doesn’t demand a huge commitment in the way some titles do – but if you get stuck into it, you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more and more time on your island.

Best Racing Game:

There’s only one game in this category this year, simply because the other racing games I’ve played in 2020 were released in previous years. I had a lot of fun with Forza Horizon 4 in particular, but as a 2018 title it can’t be included here for obvious reasons.

🏆Winner🏆
Hotshot Racing

Congratulations to Hotshot Racing for winning by default! Jokes aside, this game is a lot of fun. An unashamed arcade racer that makes no attempt at realism, it’s fast-paced, exciting, and ridiculous in equal measure! What attracted me to the game when it was released in September was its deliberately mid-90s aesthetic; a beautifully simple art style inspired by racing games of the Sega Saturn and PlayStation 1 era.

At a time when many games feel overpriced, the £15 I paid for Hotshot Racing actually feels cheap! For how much fun the game is, even when simply playing against the AI, it could arguably ask for a lot more money! Speaking of playing against the AI, that’s something Hotshot Racing encourages, and considering how many titles that supposedly offer a single-player mode still try to force players to go online, I appreciated that. In the mid-90s, some games could do four-player split-screen, but many titles were limited to just two players at the most, so racing against the AI was something all gamers had to do; that was just how those games were meant to be played!

As a visual throwback to games past, Hotshot Racing caught my eye. But there’s more to it than just the way it looks, and what’s under that cute retro skin is a genuinely fun arcade racer.

Best Star Wars Game:

It’s unusual for two games in a single franchise to release within a year of each other, but that’s what happened! There was even supposed to be a third Star Wars title this year – Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – but it was delayed until 2021.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Star Wars: Squadrons

Though Squadrons is less arcadey than classic starfighter titles like Rogue Squadron, it’s a remarkably fun game. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a pilot in a galaxy far, far away, this is about as close as you can get! Though I don’t play in VR, the option to use a VR headset – as well as to set up a proper HOTAS or other flight controller on PC – surely makes this the most immersive Star Wars experience out there. Even just with a control pad, though, Squadrons truly transports you to the cockpit of an X-Wing, TIE Fighter, or one of the game’s other starfighters.

The single-player campaign was fun, giving players the opportunity to fight on both sides of the war as the New Republic seeks to defeat the rump Empire – the game is set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, so the fact that there is an AI mode, allowing me to continue to have fun just playing against the computer, is fantastic. I had a truly enjoyable time with Star Wars: Squadrons, and I keep going back for more.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jedi: Fallen Order was released in November 2019, so including it on this list is a bit of a stretch, I admit. But I got to play it this year, and it was the first game where I fully documented my playthrough. Jedi: Fallen Order managed to feel like a cross between Knights of the Old Republic and the Uncharted series, with protagonist Cal taking on a quest to visit several ancient worlds in search of a Jedi Holocron.

There were twists and turns along the way, but the whole time I felt like I was taking part in a Star Was adventure all my own. After the disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker, playing through Jedi: Fallen Order convinced me that the Star Wars franchise was going to be okay, and that there were still new and original stories worth telling in this universe.

The gameplay was great too, with lots of exciting action and lightsabre-swinging as Cal took on the forces of the Empire. I won’t spoil the ending if you haven’t played it for yourself, but Jedi: Fallen Order was a wild and incredible ride, and one I heartily recommend.

Best Action or Adventure Game:

This category ended up with two first-person shooters, but I’m keeping the name the same! There were many great action, adventure, and first-person shooter titles released this year, and I didn’t have time to play all of them. Here are the two I enjoyed most.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Doom Eternal

The sequel to the wonderful 2016 reboot of Doom is just fantastic. Gone is the horror vibe that Doom 3 mistakenly introduced, and instead what you get is action and excitement – with some interesting platforming sections thrown in for good measure. There is a story, of course, but unlike many games I’m not really all that interested in it. I come to games like Doom Eternal to feel like a demon-killing badass, and that’s precisely what the game offers.

There was a lot of fun to be had in the days leading up to Doom Eternal’s launch, as it coincided with the launch of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I greatly enjoyed the memes and artwork created by folks on the internet, depicting Doom Guy and characters from the Animal Crossing series together! All in all, this is just a fast-paced, fun shooter that doesn’t try to be anything more. It isn’t a jack-of-all-trades; it does one thing and does it to perfection.

🏆Winner🏆
Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Throughout 2020, developers 343 Industries have brought the Halo series to PC. Halo: Reach arrived late last year, and in the months since we’ve gotten every other title in the series – except for Halo 5! It had been a long time since I played Halo: Combat Evolved on the original Xbox, and I had a lot of fun rediscovering the series and enjoying it all over again. The updated graphics improved the experience in a lot of ways, but it was also fun (and innovative) to be able to switch between visual styles on the fly.

I hadn’t played either Halo 3: ODST or Halo 4, so I not only got to recreate my Halo experience from years past, but expand on it too. The setting the series uses is as unique and interesting as any sci-fi video game I’ve played, and I’m very curious to see what Halo Infinite can bring to the series when it’s eventually ready.

Television Shows:

There have been some wonderful television shows this year. While the pandemic led to the shutdown of cinemas and a delay in many films being released, a lot of television shows were able to press ahead – at least, those that had completed filming before the worst effects were felt. I hoped to include more categories, such as best miniseries, but time got away from me and I have a number of shows still on my list of things to watch!

Worst Television Series:

Luckily there’s only one in this category! If I’m not enjoying a television series I tend to just stop watching – unless there seems to be a real prospect of improvement. Likewise, if I feel something won’t be to my taste I’ll just skip it; life is too short, after all, for bad entertainment. That said, there are exceptions, and I found one in 2020.

🏆Winner🏆
Supernatural

Supernatural is the king of running too long – a crown it inherited from The Big Bang Theory! Fifteen years ago, when it debuted, there was a great premise as brothers Sam and Dean Winchester set out to hunt ghosts and monsters, all the while keeping an eye out for the demon that killed their mother and Sam’s girlfriend.

But by the time the show reached its third season, many of its ongoing storylines had concluded. The writers began reaching for new and different demons and creatures for Sam and Dean to tackle, and the quality dipped. By the time the show crossed over into the self-congratulatory fan-servicey mess it has been in recent seasons it had just become ridiculous; a parody of itself.

As the seasons dragged on, writers began pumping more and more Biblical themes into Supernatural, transforming its protagonists into invincible prophets anointed by God. An episode a few seasons back saw Sam and Dean cross over into a world where their adventures are a television show in what has to be one of the worst examples of fan-service I’ve ever seen.

Thankfully Supernatural has now wrapped up its final season. I tuned back in – against my better judgement – to see if the impending end of the series would make a difference to its quality. But it didn’t, and I stand by something I’ve been saying for years: many television shows have a natural lifespan. Supernatural had maybe three decent seasons, and should certainly have ended a long time ago.

Best Animated Series:

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Rick & Morty

We got five episodes of Rick & Morty in 2020; the back half of Season 4, which had premiered last year. The show’s entire premise is wacky, sometimes over-the-top humour, and that doesn’t always stick the landing, especially when the creative team have been working on it for seven years already. So with that in mind, I consider four episodes out of five being decent to be a pretty good run.

When the show stopped flying under the radar and really hit the mainstream in 2017, there was a fear perhaps that the newfound popularity would lead to changes. But I don’t really think that’s happened, and I wouldn’t say that this year’s episodes were substantially different to those in past seasons. They weren’t necessarily any better, but certainly no worse.

There were some great jokes, some hilarious moments, and some weird and wonderful aliens as Rick and Morty (along with Summer, Jerry, and Beth) took off on their interdimensional adventures.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Lower Decks

It could hardly be anything else, right? Building on the success of both the Star Trek franchise and animated comedies like Rick and Morty, Star Trek: Lower Decks represented the franchise’s biggest attempt to try something new – and arguably its biggest risk – in a very long time. Despite the controversy surrounding Lower Decks’ lack of an international broadcast, judging the series on merit it was a very enjoyable ride.

There were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in Lower Decks, but more than that, the show paid homage to my personal favourite era of Star Trek – the 24th Century. There were so many callbacks and references to events in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager and the series managed to feel like Star Trek while at the same time having an overtly comedic style.

While its sense of humour won’t be to everyone’s taste, there’s no denying that Lower Decks was made by fans for fans, and I’m really excited to see its second season whenever that may come – especially now that the show’s international broadcast has been settled meaning that fans everywhere can enjoy it together.

Best Live-Action Television Series:

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Cobra

Right at the beginning of the year I watched Cobra, a British thriller about a government dealing with the aftermath of a disaster. Such an interesting fictional concept, I thought. How innocent we were back then, eh?

Cobra wasn’t what I expected. Having read the pre-release marketing I was expecting a disaster series, something dealing with an apocalyptic event. Instead it’s much more of a thriller with elements of political drama. Even though that was completely not what I expected, I had an enjoyable time with the series.

Robert Carlyle – who plays the role of a British Prime Minister clearly inspired by Tony Blair – is an actor I’ve always felt was underrated. I saw him a few years ago in a miniseries called Hitler: The Rise of Evil, and ever since I’ve found him to be a decent actor who can take on a variety of roles. He was the star of Cobra – but didn’t overwhelm the series. It was an entertaining ride with some truly tense moments.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Picard

This should come as no surprise to anyone who’s followed my articles and columns this year! Star Trek: Picard did something I’d been desperately wanting the franchise to do for basically twenty years: move forward. Since Enterprise premiered shortly after the turn of the millennium, Star Trek has looked backwards, with all of its attention focused on prequels and reboots. Many of those stories were great, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to know what came next, and Picard scratched that itch.

But its premise alone would not make it the best television series of the year! Star Trek: Picard told an engaging, mysterious story as the retired Admiral Picard set out on a new adventure. The story touched on contemporary themes of artificial intelligence, isolationism, and mental health, and was an enthralling watch. Though it stumbled as the first season drew to a close, the first eight episodes were outstanding, and have hopefully laid the groundwork not only for future seasons and more adventures with Picard and his new crew, but also for further Star Trek stories set at the dawn of the 25th Century.

It’s difficult to pick out one individual episode and say it was the best the season had to offer, because Star Trek: Picard is designed to be watched from beginning to end as one continuous story. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try!

Star Trek Episodes:

2020 was the first year since 1998 with three Star Trek productions, so there’s a lot of episodes to choose from! As Trekkies we’re spoilt for choice at the moment – long may that continue! This year I reviewed every single Star Trek episode that was broadcast. The year began with Picard in late January, then Lower Decks came along in August, and finally Discovery premiered in mid-October.

Worst Episode:

There weren’t a lot of options here, because the quality of modern Star Trek has been high. That said, every Star Trek show has misfires and duds from time to time, and this year was no exception.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (Star Trek: Picard)

After an incredibly strong start, Star Trek: Picard stumbled as its first season drew to a close. My primary complaint about Et in Arcadia Ego as a whole (aside from that godawful gold makeup they used for the synths) was that it introduced too many new characters and storylines, most of which didn’t get enough screen time to properly develop. The first part of a finale needs to bring together everything that’s already happened, not dump an awful lot of new things onto the audience, but that’s what Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 did.

The episode was also very poorly-paced, which is down to a combination of scripting and editing. The story jumped from point to point without sufficient time for the audience to digest what was going on. It also skipped over what should’ve been massive emotional moments, like Picard and Soji learning Hugh’s fate, or Elnor learning of Picard’s illness. Dr Soong and Sutra in particular needed more development and more screen time – though Isa Briones’ terrible, one-dimensional performance means that’s something I’m half-glad we didn’t get!

Overall, this was Picard’s worst episode by far. The aesthetic, editing, and pacing were all wrong, and if the story of Season 1 wanted to include all of these new characters, factions, and settings, we needed not only more episodes, but to have brought them in much earlier.

🏆 Winner 🏆
Envoys (Star Trek: Lower Decks)

Envoys’ opening sequence, in which Ensign Mariner kidnaps a sentient energy lifeform “for a laugh,” was the closest I came to switching off Star Trek’s second animated series and not going back. Where Lower Decks succeeded was in making the regular goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed was in attempting to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick Sanchez (from Rick & Morty). This sequence encapsulated all of Mariner’s worst qualities, and was about as un-Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

It’s a shame, because the episode’s B-plot starred Ensign Rutherford in what was one of his better stories as he hopped from role to role aboard the ship, trying out different postings in different departments. The main story stuck with Mariner and Boimler, and derived much of its attempted humour from her mean-spirited selfishness. The ending of the episode did go some way to humanising Mariner, and arguably set the stage for her becoming a much more likeable character across the remainder of the season. But that opening sequence in particular is awful, and is the main reason why I’m crowing Envoys as the worst Star Trek episode of the year.

Best Episode:

This is a much more fun category than the one above! And there are plenty of candidates. All three shows managed to have some real gems, and picking just two was not an easy task.

🥈 Runner-up 🥈
Far From Home (Star Trek: Discovery)

After Michael Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in the season premiere, Far From Home saw Discovery and the rest of the crew arrive too. We were treated to an excellent crash landing sequence that was reminiscent of Voyager’s fourth season episode Timeless, and we got an interesting storyline which saw Saru and the crew forced to adapt to a very different and difficult future.

Saru and Tilly both stepped up, and the dynamic between these two characters has been continued through the rest of the season. As two main characters who hadn’t spent a huge amount of time together before this episode, their relationship was somewhat new and very interesting. Saru stepped up to become the captain we all hoped he could be in Far From Home, and Tilly showed us that there’s more to her than mere comic relief.

As the second half of the series premiere, Far From Home does a lot of world-building, establishing the violent, chaotic nature of the 32nd Century. It was also rare in that it was a Star Trek: Discovery episode with practically no input from Burnham – something which allowed many other crew members to shine in unexpected ways.

🏆Winner🏆
Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a Star Trek episode than I was for Remembrance. This was the moment Star Trek returned to the 24th Century for the first time since 2002’s Nemesis – and it was the first time the overall story of the Star Trek galaxy had moved forward since we heard about the destruction of Romulus in 2009’s Star Trek.

Children of Mars – the Short Treks episode that served as a prologue to Picard – had been somewhat of a let-down, so there was a lot riding on Remembrance as far as I was concerned! And I’m so happy to report that it delivered. It was mysterious and exciting, with moments of tension and action, and although the now-retired Admiral Picard was not exactly the same as he was the last time we saw him, flickers of the man we knew were still there.

Remembrance set the stage beautifully for Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. It took things slow and didn’t overwhelm us with storylines and heavy plot all at once. By the end of the episode we’d only really met two of the season’s principal characters. Perhaps seen in the light of the rushed finale this could be argued to be a mistake, and that we needed to get a quicker start. But I don’t think I agree with that assessment; Remembrance is perfect the way it is, and probably the best single episode of television I saw all year.

Films:

Let’s be blunt for a moment: 2020 has been a catastrophic year for the film industry. So many titles that should have been released simply didn’t come out due to the pandemic, and as a result it’s been slim pickings. A few bigger titles managed to premiere in January or February before the worst effects hit, but since the end of February very few titles have come out. We’ve missed out on films like No Time To Die, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Dune, all of which have been delayed to 2021. And there will be ramifications for years to come, as titles planned for 2021 are being pushed to 2022, and so on.

There have been some titles that managed to come out this year, and from my selfish point-of-view, I’m happy that more have come straight to streaming! My health is poor, and one thing that I sadly can’t do any more is get to the cinema (I haven’t been able to for several years). So in that sense I don’t feel that I personally have missed out in quite the same way! However, the massively-curtailed release schedule has had an effect, and as a result I don’t really have a lot of titles to choose from for this section of the awards. In another year I might’ve split up the films into several genres, but instead we just have three categories.

Worst Film:

Luckily there’s only one film in this category this year. If you recall my review of it from the spring, it perhaps won’t be a surprise!

🏆Winner🏆
Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker is saved from being the worst Star Wars film solely by the existence of The Phantom Menace – and it’s not always clear which is worse. The clumsy insertion of Palpatine into a story that was clearly not supposed to have anything to do with him is perhaps the worst example of corporate-mandated fan service I’ve ever seen. Not only does Palpatine ruin The Rise of Skywalker, but the revelation that he’s been manipulating the entire story of Star Wars from behind the scenes undermines every other story that the cinematic franchise has tried to tell. It was a monumentally bad decision; the worst kind of deus ex machina. And his presence wasn’t even explained.

But while Palpatine stank up the plot, he wasn’t the only problem in The Rise of Skywalker. The ridiculously choppy editing meant no scene lasted more than a few seconds, leaving the audience no time to digest what was happening. There was some truly awful dialogue. General Hux’s story makes no sense at all and was totally out of character. Rose Tico was sidelined, despite her character being a huge part of the previous film. Palpatine’s plan – and his decision to announce it to the galaxy before enacting it – makes no sense. The stupid limitation to his fleet also makes no sense. Rey’s character arc across the trilogy was ruined by the decision to listen to bad fan theories. Poe and Finn basically did nothing of consequence. And the scenes with Leia – I’m sorry to say given Carrie Fisher’s untimely demise – were so obviously lifted from another film that it was painful.

JJ Abrams ran around undoing so many storylines from The Last Jedi that The Rise of Skywalker felt like two films haphazardly smashed together, but cut down to the runtime of a single picture. There was an occasional moment where either something funny happened or perhaps the nostalgia hit hard, but otherwise it was a total failure, and by far the worst film I’ve seen all year.

Best Animated Film:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Frozen II

Disney does not have a good track record when it comes to sequels. Most of the time their big animated features are one-offs, with any sequels being relegated to direct-to-video offerings. But Frozen had been such a cultural landmark after its 2013 release that a sequel was, perhaps, inevitable. And far from being an afterthought, Frozen II was a film that equalled – and occasionally surpassed – its illustrious predecessor.

There was some fantastic animation work in Frozen II, such as the effects used for the fog. There was less snow than in the first film, and the snow in Frozen was beautiful, so that’s a shame in a way! The soundtrack was fantastic too, with several catchy songs that are well worth listening to.

Frozen II’s story was engrossing and genuinely interesting, and unlike some Disney sequels managed to avoid feeling tacked-on. The parents of the two sisters at the heart of the story had been killed early in the first film – and Frozen II saw them learn more about what happened to them, as well as discovering the source of Elsa’s powers.

🏆Winner🏆
Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

Phineas and Ferb went off the air in 2015, and as Disney Channel shows are usually one-and-done affairs I didn’t expect to see it return. But Candace Against the Universe premiered in August on Disney+ and was absolutely amazing.

After a five-year break the film brought back practically everything that made Phineas and Ferb great. There was a wacky but fun plot that brought together the kids and Dr Doofenshmirtz, there were some great musical numbers, and above all a deep story that had heart. Candace – the sister of the titular Phineas and Ferb – took centre-stage in a story that made depression accessible to even the film’s young target audience. It ended by telling a story that showed kids that they don’t have to be the centre of the universe to matter, and I think that’s an incredibly powerful message.

I’m a big advocate of sensitive depictions of mental health in entertainment. Not every story has to touch on the subject, of course, but Candace Against the Universe did – and it did so in a way that was relatable and understandable. But beyond that, it was a fun return to a series I thought was over. It’s possible the film could be the springboard for more Phineas and Ferb, but even if it isn’t I’m still glad we got to see it.

Best Live-Action Film:

Ordinarily I’d try to split up films by genre, and at least have sections for comedy, sci-fi, and maybe one or two others. But so few films have staggered out the door this year that there’s not really a lot of choice. As I’ve seen so few new films I just picked my top two. It wasn’t even all that difficult.

🥈Runner-up🥈
Sonic the Hedgehog

In any other year, Sonic the Hedgehog wouldn’t have got a look-in as one of the best releases. But this is 2020, and as we’ve already discussed, there aren’t a lot of options. After receiving backlash for its visual effects when the first trailer was released in 2019, the creative team behind Sonic the Hedgehog went back to the drawing board and redesigned the titular Sega mascot, bringing him closer to his video game appearance. The willingness of the studio to delay the project in response to fan criticism is appreciated, especially when many other studios have chosen to double-down in the face of such backlash.

The film itself is surprisingly fun, though as with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., features a storyline quite far-removed from the video game franchise it’s inspired by. Jim Carrey hasn’t exactly disappeared in recent years, but has been nowhere near as ubiquitous as he was in his late-90s heyday, so his performance here feels like a return to form. And that’s all I have to say, really. It was a fun film, and an enjoyable way to kill a couple of hours. Is Sonic the Hedgehog going to be hailed as a classic of modern cinema alongside Lincoln and Bohemian Rhapsody? Of course not. But out of the available titles this year, it’s one of the best.

🏆Winner🏆
1917

Now for a complete change of tone! 1917 was released in December last year, and is a truly epic war film that missed out on winning any of the top Academy Awards. However, despite the snub by the Oscars, it’s an outstanding piece of historical cinema, and though its novel “one-take” style of editing was perhaps less impressive than I expected it to be, it was nevertheless interesting.

I fully expect 1917 to be considered a classic of the war genre in decades to come, such is its quality. At its core is an emotional story of two young men thrown into a gut-wrenching situation. The First World War was one of the worst and bloodiest in history, yet few films have depicted that horror with such brutal accuracy as 1917.

Though it isn’t the kind of popcorn flick you’ll want to watch a dozen times in a row, 1917 is artistic and inspired in all the ways that matter. From the performances to the costuming to the camera work, every tiny detail has been honed and perfected. Director Sam Mendes deserves a lot of credit for putting together this masterpiece.

Announcements:

In this final section I’ll briefly cover a handful of announcements for upcoming productions that got me excited in 2020. There are so many interesting projects in the works, and while some of these may not see the light of day until 2022 or even later, they’re still genuinely appealing and I’m keeping my ear to the ground listening for news!

Video Games:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Mass Effect: Legendary Edition

I’d been hoping for an announcement of the remastered Mass Effect trilogy ever since rumours of its existence began to swirl earlier in the year. Though EA and Bioware kept us waiting, the remaster was finally announced a short time ago and is due for release in 2021. Whether it will really tick all the boxes, and whether enough time has passed for a remaster to feel like a substantial improvement are both open questions… but I’m very interested to find out!

🏆Winner🏆
Hogwarts Legacy

It’s been a long time since a video game announcement got me so excited – and an even longer time since anything in set in the Wizarding World did! Hogwarts Legacy looks like a game with great potential – telling a new story set decades before the Harry Potter books. It also seems to be a game that offers a great degree of player choice. That combination worked very well for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and I think it could do wonderful things here.

Television Shows:

🥈Runner-up🥈
Alien

There’s a television show based on the 1979 classic Alien in development! Practically everything is being turned into a streaming television series right now, so perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m truly interested to see what the Alien franchise can do with more than a couple of hours. Television as a medium allows for longer and more complex stories than can fit in a two-hour film, so there’s a lot of potential here.

🏆Winner🏆
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Almost since the moment he beamed aboard Discovery at the beginning of the second season, fans had been clamouring for a Captain Pike series, and Alex Kurtzman and ViacomCBS listened! Strange New Worlds was announced in May, along with a short video from its three principal cast members. The show has already begun production, and while I doubt it’ll see the light of day before 2022, it’s one of the things keeping me going right now!

Films:

🥈Runner-up🥈
The Matrix 4

Though I have no idea where the story of The Matrix 4 could possibly take the series, I’m cautiously interested. Filming has already begun, but was disrupted by – what else – the pandemic. The two sequels to 1999’s The Matrix didn’t quite live up to the first part of the saga, but nevertheless were solid action-sci fi titles. I’m hoping that, after the series has taken a long break and with access to better CGI than was available in the early 2000s, The Matrix 4 will be just as good as the first. Could this be the beginning of a greatly expanded franchise?

🏆Winner🏆
Dune

The first part of this new Dune duology should have been released this month, but because most cinemas remain closed it’s been pushed all the way back to December next year. Dune has previously been difficult to adapt, with at least one attempted film version never making it to screen, but this adaptation has clearly been a labour of love. It seems to feature a great cast, and based on the trailer will have some stunning visual effects. Here’s hoping that it can get the cinematic release that the director and studio hope for.

So that’s it!

Those are my picks for the entertainment highlights of 2020. It’s been a very unusual year in terms of what all of us have been able to watch and listen to. A number of big titles weren’t able to make it to release, especially in the realm of cinema. We’re also going to be feeling the knock-on effects of this disruption well into 2021 and 2022, even if things get back to normal relatively quickly – which hopefully will be the case!

2020 brought Star Trek back to the small screen in a huge way. There literally has not been this much Star Trek to get stuck into for decades, and as a big fan of the franchise I think that’s just fantastic. It’s also been a year which has accelerated the move toward streaming as a main way of accessing content. I wouldn’t like to guess how many cable or satellite subscriptions have been cancelled in favour of Netflix, Disney+, CBS All Access, and the like!

I hope that you managed to find some fun things to watch and play this year – even as the outside world seemed to be falling apart. Entertainment is great escapism, and we all needed some of that in 2020. This may be my last post of the year, so all that remains to be said is this: see you in 2021!

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. Some promotional images and artwork courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Wars doubles down HARD

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Wars franchise, including The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, and announcements for upcoming productions.

A few months ago I wrote an article titled “Star Wars needs to move on.” In that piece I looked at how the Star Wars franchise has only ever told one real story since it debuted in 1977. Prequels, sequels, and spin-offs all played into or expanded the only real story the franchise has ever told – that of Palpatine and minor characters like Anakin, Luke, and Rey who apparently don’t get to act of their own volition. I argued that, just like Star Trek had done with The Next Generation in 1987, Star Wars needed to put the Skywalker Saga behind it and genuinely move on, telling new stories with new characters.

The Mandalorian should have done this, but hasn’t. The inclusion of Baby Yoda, the Force, Boba Fett, and so many elements copied from the Original Trilogy overwhelmed that series and left me disappointed. I was desperately hoping that, after the reaction to The Rise of Skywalker, the team at Disney and Lucasfilm would think hard about what to do next.

The inclusion of Palpatine ruined The Rise of Skywalker.

Instead they’ve once again retreated back to the Original Trilogy, its spin-offs, and familiar characters. I would have hoped that the failure of Palpatine’s ham-fisted insertion into The Rise of Skywalker would have served as a warning, and that with the only story the franchise has ever told now at a seemingly-final end, the franchise could genuinely move on.

The Star Wars galaxy is up there with Tolkien’s Middle-earth as one of the finest fantasy worlds ever brought to life, yet the creative team at Disney and Lucasfilm seem intent on never exploring the wonderful sandbox they paid $4 billion for. They’re instead going to show us the same tiny sliver over and over again, bringing to life ever more ridiculous spin-offs looking at characters of decreasing importance. What a disappointment.

Star Wars: Andor is a spin-off from a spin-off and a prequel to a prequel.

Let’s look at these disappointing announcements. A Droid Story will focus on R2-D2 and C-3PO. The Bad Batch is a spin-off to The Clone Wars, which was itself a spin-off to Attack of the Clones. Andor is the previously-announced series based around Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. Lando is bringing back Donald Glover, who took on the role of the smuggler in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Rangers of the New Republic is a spin-off from The Mandalorian. Ahsoka is another spin-off from The Mandalorian. And in the previously-announced Obi-Wan Kenobi series, we have the return of Darth Vader.

The only announcements which seem to have any potential to tell new stories are 2023’s Rogue Squadron, a project called Acolyte about which no information was revealed, and an as-yet-untitled film helmed by Taika Waititi. Everything else falls into the same trap that the franchise has fallen into repeatedly since the prequel era: overtreading the same ground, forcing fans to look back, and overplaying the nostalgia card. There’s nothing bold or innovative in any of these announcements. They represent a backwards-looking cowardly corporation, desperate to rekindle the magic of the Original Trilogy but without any clue of how to do so.

Do we really need a Star Wars film about these two droids?

Spin-offs to spin-offs and the increasingly minor characters given starring roles is indicative of a franchise out of ideas. There’s absolutely no creativity in any of these projects that I can see. At a fundamental level they’re all trying to do the same thing – use nostalgia as a hook to bring fans back. If the Star Wars galaxy looked bland and uninteresting, perhaps that would be a necessity. But it’s always been presented as such a vast, interesting setting that it’s positively criminal to only ever look at a tiny portion of it. There are tens of thousands of years of galactic history to dive into, as well as an uncertain future in the years after the war against the First Order. Could we see some of that, maybe?

And how about new characters? The idea of a show based on the two droids is patently ridiculous, as are those focusing on minor characters from spin-off projects. Donald Glover’s portrayal of Lando was certainly one of the better elements of Solo, but does that mean he needs an entire project of his own? What will Disney and Lucasfilm do when these projects run their course? Are we going to see Star Wars: Snowtrooper #7 and Star Wars: That Two-Headed Podrace Announcer? At this rate that’s what’ll happen.

Is this guy getting his own spin-off too?

The sequel trilogy got two things wrong when considering the fundamentals of its storytelling. Firstly was the inexplicable decision to split up the writing, leaving it with no direction and no overarching story. But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, was the decision to re-tell the Original Trilogy, drag Star Wars full-circle back to where it started, and spend too much time looking backwards. The sequel trilogy was an opportunity for Star Wars to lay the groundwork for future success, but instead it’s dragged the franchise backwards.

The Original Trilogy is a weight around Star Wars’ neck. The popularity of those three films compared to any others means that cowards in a corporate boardroom can’t see beyond it. Instead of looking at ways to take Star Wars forward to new adventures, all they know how to do is look backwards at the only successful films the entire franchise has ever produced.

Star Wars is being run by a corporate boardroom that clearly has no idea what to do with the franchise.

The end of the Skywalker Saga saw Luke, Han, and Leia killed off. It saw the final demise of Palpatine. And despite the story of Star Wars having been dragged through the mud, there was an opportunity that hasn’t really existed before – an opportunity to move on to greener pastures. With the only story Star Wars has ever told brought to a conclusion, it was hardly an unrealistic expectation to think we might get something new.

I’m disappointed, as you can tell. The lack of vision and the lack of boldness on the part of Disney and Lucasfilm means that we’re once again looking at the same miniscule fraction of the Star Wars galaxy that we’ve always been shown. There’s nothing interesting about that, and even though I have no doubt that, on an individual level, many of these projects will be at least decent and watchable, I just feel Star Wars could do better. These shows and films are a franchise aiming for a grade C. They’re middle-of-the-road attempts to scrape by, coasting on past success.

If the franchise ever wants to do more than get a basic pass, they’ll have to be bold and aim higher. Do something genuinely different. Step out of the ever-growing shadow of the Original Trilogy and do what Star Trek has been doing for thirty years – tell new stories.

The Star Wars franchise, including all films, series, and upcoming projects listed above, is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten of my favourite Disney films

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers for the Disney films on this list.

Disney+ finally reached the UK in March, several months after its US release. I was actually already a subscriber to a different Disney streaming service, Disney Life, and had been for a while, but Disney+ is better-organised, sharper, and does offer more content. Given that you may find yourself with some time on your hands at the moment, it could be a good moment to check out this streaming platform – and I believe it’s free to try for seven days.

I don’t intend for this to be a review of Disney+, but just to discuss it in a little more detail, the service delivers what it promises. Disney’s library of films – including from brands now under the Disney umbrella like Marvel and Star Wars – and Disney Channel original television shows. There’s also a limited amount of content from National Geographic, including some documentaries made specifically for Disney+. I hope to see them add more to this in future, as I love a good documentary. There are also a couple of original shows, including the first live-action Star Wars show, The Mandalorian. But save yourself time on that one because I’ve honestly not seen such a boring series in a long time.

As a childless adult fast approaching middle-age, I admit I still feel a certain embarrassment at admitting I’m a huge Disney fan. Perhaps that’s a product of the time and place I grew up, as nowadays it seems far more acceptable! Disney has created some of the best animated feature films of all time, and even today, almost a century on from when Walt and Roy founded the company, Disney sets the bar that other animation studios wish they could reach. In the last couple of decades, the company has greatly expanded both its content and the brands it owns, growing to become one of the biggest and most powerful entertainment companies in the world.

For this list, I’ll be picking ten of my favourite Disney animated films. This isn’t a “Top Ten” ranked list; instead these are just ten films I really enjoy and I’ll be listing them in order of release. All of them are available to watch on Disney+ if you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the world where the service is already live. If not, I daresay you can find copies on DVD, Blu-ray, or by, shall we say, other means… matey.

So without further ado, let’s jump into the list. Please be aware that spoilers may be present, and that a couple of the entries on this list may have scenes that are outdated and/or insensitive.

Number 1: Peter Pan (1953)

The titular Peter Pan.

There’s a ride at Disney World – and I believe at other Disney parks too – based on 1953’s Peter Pan called Peter Pan’s Flight. If you ever find yourself at the Magic Kingdom I highly recommend it; it’s one of my favourite rides there.

By 1953 Disney was already well-established as the best studio in town for animation. Peter Pan retells – faithfully, at least by Disney standards – the JM Barrie story, which had been a play in 1904 and a novel in 1911. You know the story, of course: Peter Pan lives in Neverland, a place where children never grow up, and has adventures with the Lost Boys while trying to stay one step ahead of his pirate nemesis, Captain Hook. It’s a story which has become a classic, in fact it already was a classic when it was given the Disney treatment. Disney films have been incredibly successful using this formula – taking a classic story and presenting it in a child-friendly manner. In 1953 that explanation described a good portion of Disney’s back catalogue, as indeed it still does today.

Peter Pan introduces a number of characters who would become Disney favourites, including Captain Hook, who is, in some respects, the archetypal film pirate even today (though the “pirate accent” is based on another film of the 1950s, Treasure Island). Tinker Bell, Peter’s fairy friend whose magical dust allows him and the children to fly, also debuts here. Tinker Bell has become a legend in her own right in the wider Disney universe, and is the subject of numerous spin-offs including her own film series.

One thing that always surprises me about older Disney films is how good the animation is – even rendered in full HD on a big-screen television. I was downright shocked to learn, in my youth, that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was as old as it was; it still holds up today. As does Peter Pan – the animation, which was all hand-drawn and hand-painted, looks amazing and hasn’t aged a day. Unlike some computer-animated titles, Peter Pan and other hand-drawn films are timeless.

The story is a pure-hearted swashbuckling adventure, as Peter and Wendy lead the Lost Boys to victory against the nefarious Captain Hook. Some of the scenes and references are undeniably dated by today’s standards – I’m thinking in particular of the way Wendy’s leadership is only seen as something maternal, and of course the now-infamous portrayal of Tiger Lily and the Native American tribe. I don’t believe, however, that either of those things are reason to hide Peter Pan or try to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Number 2: The Aristocats (1970)

Abraham de Lacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley… O’Malley the Alley Cat!

Often overlooked, as it came out only three years after the incredibly-successful The Jungle Book, The Aristocats is nevertheless a brilliant and fun film with some great musical numbers. Production began shortly before Walt’s death in 1966, and thus The Aristocats is the last film he actively worked on and approved before passing away.

1961’s 101 Dalmations had proven a great success as an adventure story with animal protagonists and human villains, and that basic formula was reused for The Aristocats too. When a rich older lady decides to leave her fortune to her cats – instead of to her butler – he schemes to get rid of them to get his hands on her money. Taking the cats far away from their home, they meet a fun and eclectic cast of characters on their journey home.

As someone with several cats of my own, I do enjoy a good cat-themed story! And while The Aristocats doesn’t do anything radically different or new in terms of its animation style or story – both of which are comparable to Disney’s earlier output – it’s a sweet film that’s greatly enjoyable. Its music celebrates the jazz era of its 1910s-20s setting, and there’s a distinctly old-fashioned feel throughout – but not in a negative way.

There are some great musical numbers, all of which fit into that jazz/swing theme, as the cats make their way home. Marie, one of the kittens, has become a permanent fixture on Disney merchandise, though many of the younger people picking up those items haven’t seen The Aristocats in full! If that applies to you or your little ones, I definitely recommend sitting down to watch the film.

Number 3: Robin Hood (1973)

The Lion King! Oh wait, wrong film.

I mentioned at the beginning that this list doesn’t rank the films in order of how much I like them, but if it did, Robin Hood would be the undisputed number one. It’s my all-time favourite Disney film. Purely from a subjective point of view, of course!

Disney’s output between the “classic” era of the 1930s-50s and the “Renaissance” of the late 1980s-90s that we’ll look at in a moment is often ignored by fans today, and I think that’s a great shame. Perhaps it’s because I grew up on titles like Robin Hood, but I think that it has a lot to offer.

The hand-drawn animation retains much of the Disney charm of years gone by, and though it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table compared to earlier titles, it still looks fantastic today – and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! There was some recycling present in the film’s animation – most notably in the character of Little John, which is a copy of Baloo, the bear from 1967’s The Jungle Book. In fact, both characters are actually voiced by the same actor – Phil Harris, who also voiced Thomas O’Malley in The Aristocats – which further drives home the point. Even this recycling was actually Disney being cutting-edge; the process used to make exact copies of drawings was an early precursor to photocopying.

Robin Hood is a classic story, an old-world legend of a bandit who steals only to turn around and give away his money to the poor people in the community. In Disney’s adaptation, all of the characters are anthropomorphic animals, but otherwise the story doesn’t really stray too far from the confines of its source material. The inept Prince John – represented by a cowardly thumb-sucking lion, which as a kid I found to be absolutely hilarious – and his evil cohort are outsmarted by Robin and his brave Merry Men. Disney has always been great at using animals perfectly – portraying the Prince’s adviser as a sneaky snake, and the Sheriff’s men as wolves and vultures is definitely a great example of that!

The opening of Robin Hood introduces one of my favourite Disney songs, too – the beautiful Oo-De-Lally.

Number 4: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

The Beast!

After The Little Mermaid revived both the fortunes and reputation of Disney animation in 1989, a period known as the “Disney Renaissance” kicked off, in which the studio churned out a series of films which were both critical and commercial hits. Beauty and the Beast is the second of these films, and it’s amazing.

One of the first animated feature films to use CGI, Beauty and the Beast is groundbreaking in that regard, and the lessons Disney learned about computer animation would bear fruit later in the decade with releases like Toy Story. In that sense, Beauty and the Beast is a very important moment in the history not just of Disney, but of animated films and indeed all of cinema – as CGI has gone on to be massively important in all kinds of titles.

Beauty and the Beast managed to tell an engrossing story that was tense and dramatic, as a cursed prince learns to love for the first time. After a spell was put on him, a prince and his household staff (which seems a tad unfair to them!) were cursed to live as non-human objects, with the prince himself turned into a monster. Belle, a social outcast in her village, falls for him while in captivity.

By making Belle the protagonist, Disney has changed up its traditional princess formula. Belle is a “commoner”; a girl from the village as opposed to aristocratic or royal by birth. She’s disliked and gossiped about for enjoying reading and being intelligent, and with these points Beauty and the Beast says that it’s okay to be smart, and that any girl can be a princess – being a princess is less about where you come from than about being a good person, a theme which has carried through other Disney titles in some ways.

Number 5: Aladdin (1992)

Aladdin and Abu.

Aladdin marked Disney’s first real attempt to make a major film based on a non-European or American legend. It’s a title which marked a change in the way Disney operated, and a risk which could have backfired. It’s a title which is now famous for the Genie – voiced by Robin Williams close to the peak of his career – who has gone on to be a major character in Disney’s merchandise empire.

The story of Aladdin was perhaps uniquely suited to get the Disney treatment as a non-European legend, as it was quite well-known even in Europe and North America, and had been for many years. I remember, as a child, seeing a pantomime version of Aladdin before the film came out. It was probably one of the very few stories from “elsewhere” that Disney could have readily adapted, at least at the time. Nowadays, with the exception of those people who want to screech “cultural appropriation!” at everything, making stories from all across the world into Disney films is something we’ve come to expect and would be fine with; in 1992 it was something different and its success was less than certain. In that sense, Aladdin paved the way for future titles – like Mulan and Moana.

Following The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin kept the “Renaissance” going, winning critical and commercial acclaim for its fun characters, great musical numbers, and exciting storyline. The Genie was, of course, the breakout star – though apparently Williams and Disney didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things during the film’s production and marketing. It would also win two Oscars, and became the highest-earning film of 1992.

There would be two direct-to-video sequels to Aladdin – the first of which, The Return of Jafar, is a rare example of one of these Disney sequels being a success (at least in my opinion!) The film would be remade in 2019 in a live-action format, and while it lacks much of the character of the original, it remains probably the most watchable of the live-action remakes.

Number 6: The Lion King (1994)

Simba and Mufasa in The Lion King.

For many people, The Lion King’s 1994 release was the high-water mark of the Disney Renaissance, and while there will always be a debate on that front, what shouldn’t be contentious is that this film is fantastic. A star-studded cast, including James Earl Jones, bring the characters to life, and Elton John provided an incredible soundtrack, resulting in The Lion King being spun-off to create a long-running West End and Broadway musical.

There was, at the time, some degree of controversy regarding how similar The Lion King was to a Japanese series called Kimba the White Lion, with some fans of the manga/anime franchise going so far as to accuse Disney of ripping off a significant amount of material. Whether you believe this was intentional or not, it’s worth noting that there are similarities in terms of plot and certain characters – I’ll leave the final judgement on that up to you.

The Lion King billed itself as the first ever Disney film to be a wholly original story. Setting aside the Kimba controversy, this marked a change in the way Disney would approach writing stories for its major motion pictures, and while the studio would return many times to legends, history, and existing works of fiction, The Lion King laid the groundwork for future original stories.

The cast included Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, and Whoopi Goldberg among other stars, and while The Lion King is Simba’s story, the whole main cast gets a turn in the spotlight, including being able to sing. Many of the film’s songs have become well-known classics, often heard on playlists and CDs representing the best of Disney music.

Number 7: Pocahontas (1995)

Colors of the Wind is the best-remembered song from Pocahontas.

Pocahontas remains an outlier in the Disney canon. Other films are based on folklore, legends, and other published works, but the characters in Pocahontas were all real people – people whose lives are surprisingly well-documented. As you may know if you’re a regular, I’m somewhat of a history buff, and the early 1600s – the period in which Pocahontas is set – is really when record-keeping in England had begun to vastly improve in quality. Records of England’s first colony in mainland North America were meticulous, and while some information has been lost over time, for the most part we know a lot about John Smith, Pocahontas, and others who lived at the time.

The film takes a lot of liberties with the real-life story, which is always a contentious topic in historical fiction. But if we can set that argument aside, what Disney created is a film that tries very hard to celebrate Native American culture, recognising that they were the victims in Europe’s rush to colonise North America.

Compared to earlier depictions of Native Americans – like the one we talked about in Peter Pan a moment ago – Pocahontas represents them in a much fairer and less stereotypical manner. There is definitely a case of the “noble savage” – the presentation of Native Americans (and other indigenous peoples in other works) as being “better off” without contact, living peaceful, natural lives that were disrupted. Stereotypes like this aren’t always true, and while the song Savages in particular has sometimes been criticised for portraying the conflict between English settlers and Native Americans as if both were equally in the wrong, it’s worth recognising that Native American tribes, like all groups of people everywhere for all of history, could be violent. I feel like I have to justify some of these aspects of Pocahontas, as the film has recently come in for criticism, so I apologise for going off on a tangent.

Following up The Lion King was always going to be tough, and I think for that reason some of the things Pocahontas did very well, in terms of its animation and music to name but two examples, were overshadowed, especially at the time it was released.

Number 8: Lilo and Stitch (2002)

The titular characters.

After seeing Lilo and Stitch in 2002, it was one of the first films I ever bought on DVD. I was so keen to be able to rewatch it that I even bought a DVD-player kit for my Xbox (it was cheaper than buying an actual DVD player at the time) to be able to watch it! I would go on to collect many other DVDs – before the rise of HD and streaming made the whole collection redundant.

The widely-accepted definition of the Disney Renaissance I mentioned earlier puts 1999’s Tarzan as the final film, but I’d absolutely include Lilo and Stitch alongside titles of that era. Unlike the other films of the Renaissance, Lilo and Stitch tells a wholly original story and introduces new characters to the Disney canon. Release of the film was delayed due to the 11th of September attacks in the United States in 2001, with one section of the film’s climax being reworked to avoid comparisons to that atrocity.

Lilo and Stitch steers away from the often-sanitised world of prior Disney titles, showing Lilo and her sister Nani as a dysfunctional family, with Lilo on the cusp of being taken into care by the state. By Disney standards, this was something radical and different, taking a look at the “real” world in a way no prior film really had. This is complemented by the film’s present-day setting. Lilo herself is a misfit – but someone who refuses to change or conform to fit in. The message she sends is that it’s okay for kids to be themselves, and even that it’s okay to be weird – something I wholly embrace!

Stitch is adorable, but also naughty in a way that undoubtedly appeals to kids. As the film progresses, he has a chance to show his good nature and big heart, in a story that tells the audience that genetics and how you’re born doesn’t matter – what matters is being a good person and making the choice to do the right thing. Stitch overcomes his innate badness – the desire to misbehave instilled in him by his creator – thanks to the time he spends with Lilo and her family, choosing at the end to remain with her on Earth.

The film’s soundtrack definitely deserves a mention. While there are a couple of great original songs inspired by the music of Hawaii (where Lilo and Stitch is set), the soundtrack also features several of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits, including greats like Devil in Disguise and Burning Love. As an Elvis fan, I couldn’t be happier about this, and introducing more than one new generation of kids to the music of the King is definitely something great that Lilo and Stitch has done.

Number 9: Frozen (2013)

Anna and her friends meet Olaf for the first time.

When Frozen was released in 2013 I was living overseas for work. While browsing local cinema listings for English-language titles, I spotted Frozen, and it was the first I’d heard of it! Having missed all of the marketing I had no idea what to expect – and I was absolutely blown away.

I’m a big Christmas fan, and being released a few weeks before Christmas and with such a wintry setting, Frozen was absolutely perfect for that time of year. It was the first Disney film I’d seen in years that I felt was on par with some of the studio’s offerings in the 1990s – the height of the “Renaisannce” we’ve already mentioned.

Focusing on two sisters instead of the traditional prince and princess, Frozen shakes up the traditional Disney fairytale formula while keeping things royal for the sake of its Disney Princess brand. It was a change that absolutely worked, and the film’s “one true act of love” being sisterly love instead of romantic love was beautiful.

The big twist that Anna’s beloved Hans is in fact a villain and not the heroic prince charming she thought he was was shocking – and I can still remember the audible gasp from the audience at the cinema at that moment! By Disney standards, this was absolutely stunning, and tied in perfectly to the level-headed reasoning Elsa had shown earlier in the film when she forbade Anna to marry him. Indeed in many ways, Frozen is a film of its time, just as earlier titles were films of theirs. Acutely aware of the fact that its princesses are often seen as role models by young girls, the need to be socially responsible within the story definitely led to some of these decisions.

Frozen also has the best soundtrack of any modern Disney title – with several memorable songs like Do You Want to Build a Snowman, Love is an Open Door, Fixer Upper, and of course Let It Go, which remains an amazing song despite how frequently it was heard for at least a year afterwards… but perhaps parents of young girls would disagree on that point!

I picked Frozen for one of my top ten films of the 2010s when I made a list back in December – you can find the full list by clicking or tapping here.

Number 10: Moana (2016)

Moana aboard her canoe.

In 2016, when it was released, at least some of the hype surrounding Moana was lost due to the release six months earlier of Zootopia – which was retitled, for some stupid and inexplicable reason, Zootropolis in the UK. We’d been used to only seeing one Disney film a year, at most, so this meant that some of the pre-release marketing surrounding Moana didn’t get as much attention as it otherwise might’ve. Zootopia was a big hit, but of the two films released in 2016, Moana was by far the more enjoyable title.

Disney had begun to diversify away from Old-World European fairytales and folklore for its inspiration as far back as Aladdin and Mulan, and had brought in other non-European protagonists and princesses in films like The Princess and the Frog and even Pocahontas, but Moana was the first foray into a lesser-known culture – lesser-known, that is, from the point of view of Disney’s western audience.

The history of Polynesian peoples is long, diverse, and fascinating, with a blurred line between history and legend due to stories being passed down orally. It’s also something most people in the west have never encountered; scattered across small and remote Pacific islands, most Polynesian legends stayed within their own communities or were recorded by academics and anthropologists and never made it into the cultural mainstream. Moana looks at one of these legends and spins it into a Disney tale for the modern age.

Moana is adamant that she isn’t a princess, even reacting angrily when Māui says she is. Where Frozen had finally told a Disney Princess story in which the princesses are the heroines and have genuine agency as characters, Moana amplifies that trend by having just a single protagonist. Her bravery and determination to overcome the obstacles in front of her drives the story forward, and eventually her courage leads her to stand up in the face of a terrifying foe. Moana had help, but ultimately she had to make those decisions and fight those battles – thus out of all the princesses in Disney’s canon, Moana is the bravest and most determined, which is a great message for the film to have.

The film also has a great soundtrack, with several hit tunes such as You’re Welcome going on to be played time and again.

So that’s it. The list doesn’t include live-action Disney films like the Pirates of the Caribbean series, so perhaps we’ll have to come to live-action Disney films on another occasion. However, several of the titles on this list have had live-action remakes – and in my opinion at least, not one of them has managed to live up to the original work. A couple of them are well worth a watch – Aladdin, in particular, was at least a decent film – but none of them come close to recapturing the Disney animation magic, at least not for me.

There are more films on the horizon, with Raya and the Last Dragon being the only one with a title so far, scheduled for release in 2021. Disney+ has, in some respects, changed the way Disney approaches its films and back catalogue. Gone are the days of the “Disney vault”, with titles given only limited home video releases. Instead, the company plans to leave all of its films available all the time, and in some cases will even be experimenting with simultaneous releases in cinemas and on streaming. That has the potential to really shake up the way films are released. From a selfish point of view, as someone who can’t go to the cinema in person any more, I think it’s a positive change. But whether it will work as intended is anyone’s guess.

Several generations of people have now grown up with Disney films – even my parents’ generation, people born in the 1940s and who are now well into their 70s, remember with fondness the Disney films of their childhoods. Which titles someone may prefer is probably, at least in part, dependent on when they grew up and which ones they saw at that time. But each “era” of titles, whether we’re talking about those made before Walt Disney’s death, the “Renaissance” of the 1990s, or the modern films like Frozen all have merit, and while the way they’re made may have changed through the years, the effort and attention to detail has not. Disney remains the market leader in animation because each film is meticulously created. There may be some flops and failures, but broadly speaking, the studio’s output has been phenomenal. The fact that they’re still around and still making films after such a long time is testament to that.

It was great fun making this list, and if it helped you decide what to watch on Disney+, then as Māui said… you’re welcome!

What can I say except “you’re welcome!”

I really hope the Boba Fett rumour isn’t true…

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Season 1 of The Mandalorian, as well as minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

The Disney+ series The Mandalorian was the first subject I wrote about here on the website after I founded it last year. Suffice to say I found the show disappointing and boring, and a lot of that disappointment stemmed from the fact that the show seemingly promised a new and different look at the Star Wars galaxy, but ended up bringing back overused tropes and sending the characters over already-trodden ground. I wanted something new, a look at the Star Wars galaxy away from the Force and familiar characters, but The Mandalorian’s producers at Disney didn’t have the confidence to make a series that stood on its own.

I spotted a rumour earlier today, which has apparently been doing the rounds over the last 24 hours or so, that Boba Fett will be included in The Mandalorian’s second season. And when I saw that I sighed with disappointment and said “really?”

Boba Fett, mere moments before his death in Return of the Jedi.

While it is unconfirmed at this stage and should be taken with a pinch of salt, this rumour has been picked up by a number of reputable news outlets and is at least credible. While I generally avoid rumours here, this is one that I wanted to tackle. The Mandalorian was disappointing to me personally, for the reasons I’ve already laid out. I also found Pedro Pascal’s protagonist impossible to get behind, as he was a blank slate – a helmet-wearing, seldom-speaking, monotone bag of nothing. With no personality came no motivation – why did he do any of the things he did, like turn on his client to save the child? The answer seemed to be “because a room full of TV show writers decided that’s what he was going to do.” There was also The Mandalorian’s runtime – for a flagship series, thirty-minute episodes is pretty pathetic. And when practically all of those episodes would have benefited greatly from a few extra scenes providing background, explanation, or even just to show the passage of time from one moment to the next, the show felt poorly-edited or that corners had been cut.

But the worst part was the introduction of the child – nicknamed “baby Yoda” by the internet. The revelation that the Mandalorian’s target was a child is not in itself an issue. In fact it’s a major driving force for the rest of the season’s plot. Nor is my issue with the idea that the child is a member of Yoda’s species. That’s a little unoriginal, but there were always going to be little callbacks to other aspects of the franchise present in The Mandalorian. What bugged me was that, inside of two episodes, the Force comes back into play. The Force. In a show that promised to take a look at the Star Wars galaxy away from the Jedi and Sith. The Mandalorian told us it was a show about a lone gunslinger far beyond the reach of the Republic, and that premise sounded amazing. The Jedi and Sith are a tiny minority of the denizens of the Star Wars galaxy, and seeing how the 99% live, far away from the Force, is something that appealed to me. That concept still does – but it isn’t what The Mandalorian delivered.

Recent Star Wars projects – practically all of them, in fact – have overplayed the nostalgia card. The Force Awakens and of course The Rise of Skywalker may seem the most egregious, but there’s also Solo: A Star Wars Story and the Darth Vader sequences in Rogue One. I named the latter my favourite film of the last decade, but those sequences detracted from it, at least for me.

I would have preferred to see Rogue One stand on its own without Darth Vader – the story was good enough.

The Mandalorian has the same issue. At a number of points in its short runtime it strayed across that invisible line which divides a nod and a wink to returning fans from boring unoriginality. The overuse of nostalgia, such as in the sequences with the Jawas and their sandcrawler and epitomised by the child being a Force-user, went a long way to spoiling the series for me. The return of Boba Fett would just be another example of how the show’s producers don’t trust any Star Wars story to succeed without the crutch of nostalgia.

I really do find that to be disappointing – and it’s apparent, too, that Disney has learnt nothing from the overwhelmingly negative response fans had to the overuse of nostalgia in The Rise of Skywalker if it really is their intention to bring Boba Fett into this series. The only reason why The Mandalorian Season 2 was something I was even considering watching was because I hoped that we might finally get to see some character development and to see Pedro Pascal shine, finally bringing the nameless, bland protagonist to life and giving him some colour. But the Mandalorian is, at best, a pale clone of Boba Fett – even down to the identical armour design – and standing him up alongside the original would not make for a good comparison.

The Mandalorian’s unnamed and boring protagonist.

Boba Fett was himself an uninteresting character in Star Wars – his expanded role, such as his cameo in the prequels, was due simply to the popularity of action figures and merchandise. But despite that, he’s an established character now, someone we’ve seen as a child and as an adult, and while fortunately his role in the franchise’s awful Expanded Universe has been erased, he will still stand up next to the nameless protagonist of The Mandalorian and draw positive comparisons.

The Star Wars franchise has never been able to successfully move on from its first three films. The prequels told the backstory of some of the characters in the originals. The sequels (two of them, anyway) just remade those same films. And of the two spin-offs, one was a prequel focusing solely on one of the main characters, and the other was also a prequel which led directly to the plot of the first film. There is scope within Star Wars to move away from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. But so far, no one has tried. Every major Star Wars project has relied excessively on its first three films. The characters, themes, and storylines have been rehashed so many times that at this point they really are flogging a dead horse. I long for some genuine originality in the Star Wars universe, and to see a project which finally steps out of the shadow of those three films. As wonderful as the original trilogy is, Star Wars should be able to be more than that.

The Knights of the Old Republic video games told a story that didn’t rely on the original Star Was films.

Knights of the Old Republic was a duology of Star Wars video games from 2003-04. These games are among my favourites, and are also among my favourite stories told in the Star Wars galaxy. Why? Because they’re original. They take an original premise and an original setting, ignoring the first three films entirely, and tell an exciting and engaging pair of related stories. Knights of the Old Republic is basically the only property from the old Expanded Universe worth reviving, largely because of its uniqueness and originality.

Why can’t The Mandalorian be as bold as that? Why do they feel the need to rely so heavily on what we’ve already seen, bringing the Force and Boba Fett into the show? The premise sounded so interesting and genuinely different, yet what we got was bland and dripping in cheap nostalgia. The return of Boba Fett – setting aside the dumb story point of reviving yet another dead character, which is a whole issue in itself – just stinks. It’s yet another example of the higher-ups at Disney not understanding Star Wars. There’s a whole galaxy to explore with trillions of inhabitants and perhaps thousands of years of history to dig into. Yet time and again, they drag the franchise back to the same handful of characters and the same overtrodden ground. I really hope this Boba Fett rumour turns out to be untrue.

The Star Wars franchise – including The Mandalorian – is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.