#REVIEW: The Princess (2022)

You could be forgiven– I would forgive you, at least— if you dismissed the idea of watching Hulu’s The Princess almost immediately upon hearing about it. You have literally heard the plot a thousand times; the titular Princess, who is never named in the movie, is expected to marry a Bad Guy to ensure the also-unnamed Kingdom has an heir, refuses to do so on account of he’s an obvious sociopath, blah blah blah everyone’s captured and she’s chained up in the top of a tower awaiting her forced marriage because apparently the Bad Guy’s only rule is that he can’t just usurp the kingdom by killing the king; he has to do it “legitimately,” even though the wedding is a farce.

The movie has the distinct feel about it, especially in any scene not starring Executive Producer and star Joey King, of something that Disney would make with 7-10 year old girls as the expected demographic. There’s a lot of broad humor. At one point there’s a trap pulled directly from Home Alone. There’s a guy whose only role in the film is to be fat. The first forty minutes or so are structured in a way that feels very video-gamey. It’s all very, very Disney, and while there’s nothing wrong with making movies for 7-10 year old girls, it is also fine (especially if you aren’t a 7-10 year old girl) if you are someone who does not enjoy said movies.

And then, maybe five minutes into the start of the movie, the Princess dislocates her own thumb on camera so that she can slip out of her chains and then messily kills the two men who are there to keep her quiet and under guard. And, uh, we’re off to the races after that.

So take that Disney movie you had in mind, and then cross it with a really hard-R Charlize Theron action film, only with better fight choreography and a petite redhead who doesn’t immediately scan as a monstrous badass, and understand that there is DNA of both of those things in this movie (which is, for the record, rated R), and that this film, which starts out with the Disneyest of imaginable plots, ends with a beheading.

It’s … really something.

I only found out about this movie from TikTok, which advertised it to me relentlessly for weeks until I caved. I haven’t seen any promo for it anywhere other than TikTok and Hulu.

You want to see this movie for a couple of reasons: 1) the fight choreography really is fucking amazing. It’s well-shot, which is getting rarer and rarer in action films, and the choreographer never (well, really rarely) forgets that his heroine is a 120-pound girl, and despite fighting lots of grown men who are much bigger than she is, she manages to come off … realistic? She uses her agility and size to her advantage throughout the movie, fighting with accuracy rather than strength– there’s a bit where she’s fighting a knight in full armor that is just remarkably well-done, as she focuses on dodging big, heavy swings and counter-attacking at the gaps in his armor, and the movie never lets you forget that swinging a sword around is exhausting, as King spends roughly half her time on-screen gasping for breath.

Oh, and she has virtually no dialogue at all for about the first 45 minutes of the film. There’s only escaping, hiding, and kicking ass. The film’s even really light on badass quippery, which wouldn’t feel appropriate with this character. She does get a great “to the pain” monologue late in the movie, but there’s surprisingly little badassery for the sake of badassery in this movie.

The second reason is closely related to the first: Joey King is awesome, and I want to see her in many many more movies, only movies that know from the start that they’re geared for adults. I don’t know how well this has done for Hulu (it’s possible it’s been a runaway success; I genuinely don’t know) but it straddles two genres that really don’t generally … uh … straddle together, and I fear that that might have cost it some well-deserved viewership. This kid’s the real deal, and the fact that she somehow snagged an executive producer role for this and a couple of other Hulu projects makes me think that she’ll be around a while. The movie itself? Harder to say, but the bad parts are wrapped around some seriously cool shit, and I think it’s probably worth your time.

SPOILER #REVIEW: Obi-Wan Kenobi

I’m going to be honest, here: if I had written this post a couple of days ago, closer to when I actually watched the show, it would have been much longer and, frankly, more interesting. All of my brain space for the last couple of days has been taken up by working my way through my To Do list and trying to rewrite the Constitution, which I wish was a fucking joke and isn’t.

Here’s the non-spoiler review of this show: It was pretty good until the final episode, but only pretty good, and the final episode was fucking stellar. Lemme toss a little separation line here, so that those of you who don’t want to read the spoilery parts have adequate time to dip out and come back later:


In some ways, the show’s most amazing trick happened in the first episode. I wasn’t exactly digging around for spoilers on this show, but I wouldn’t have bothered avoiding them, and the fact that I’d not even seen a rumor that Lil’ Leia was going to be a major character? Is fucking unbelievable. I have been a frequent and noisy proponent of casting Millie Bobby Brown as Leia and giving her a movie or two (and there are rumors flying recently about that finally happening) but she’s too old to have been in this show and, my God, Vivien Lyra Blair was amazing. I was entertained at the idea that people were complaining about her looking too young, as the actress is the exact same age that Leia was supposed to be; I can only assume that these people haven’t seen children in a while. Sometimes they are small! It happens. I promise.

And this gets right to the crux of the weirdness of the show: at first glance, everything about it seems to utterly screw up the continuity that A New Hope set up, or at least screws up all the assumptions that absolutely everyone made, but are never actually specifically stated in the film.

Because Leia never says she and Obi-Wan have never met.(***) And Vader’s line about “when I left you, I was but the learner” does not actually mean that the last time they met was the battle on Mustafar. In fact, and I’m literally just realizing this right now as I’m typing this sentence, it’s really hard to reconcile the words “when I left you” with what happened there, since Obi-Wan left him for dead. And knowing that Obi-Wan already knew Leia adds a nice resonance to his last moments during the fight in ANH with Vader; just before he dies he looks to his left and sees both of them, at which point he recognizes that his job is done and sacrifices himself. I’d always assumed before that he was just looking at Luke, y’know?

So this show is, in a lot of ways, the best kind of retcon: never (that I’ve noticed, at least) does it explicitly contradict anything that came before, but it recontextualizes some moments in ways that are really interesting. The whole “from a certain point of view” conversation with Luke, where Obi-Wan says that Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Anakin? Vader literally told him that, and it’s interesting to think about that (outstanding) sequence in the final episode where Vader’s voice synthesizer is flipping back and forth between Anakin’s voice and Vader’s, because I genuinely don’t know if that’s Anakin talking and he’s trying to assuage Obi-Wan’s guilt or if it’s Vader talking and he’s bragging.(*) And what happens next? Obi-Wan calls him “Darth” for the first time.

Again: we all know that the real reason that Obi-Wan Kenobi called Darth Vader “Darth” on the Death Star is because at the time George Lucas hadn’t really decided that “Darth” was a title and not Vader’s first name. But from within the story? It’s kind of awesome, because to my recollection Obi-Wan never once uses the word “Vader.” Once whoever that is tells him that Vader is responsible for Anakin Skywalker’s death, Obi-Wan reverts to calling him “Darth,” because as far as he’s concerned there’s no person there anymore. There’s just the Sith. And in context, it makes perfect sense. Frankly, it’s disrespectful, and in a way I really enjoy.

You could probably criticize the show for setting up yet another situation where Kenobi leaves Vader for dead. At this point, he’s absolutely convinced his friend is gone, and they don’t give him any kind of out for not killing him; Vader’s incapacitated and he’s right there. I get why Obi-Wan leaves him on Mustafar. I don’t get why he doesn’t end Vader here, on whatever (very cool, by the way) planet that was.

(Oh, one criticism, just for the hell of it: the show leans a bit too hard into the idea that every Star Wars planet is two or three square kilometers in size and exactly the same climate everywhere. I generally liked Reva as a character but that bit where she just shows up to some random-ass spot on Tatooine and asks the first random-ass moisture farmer she meets where to find “Owen?” Come the fuck on. Also, I absolutely hate the post-sequels decision that anyone can get from anywhere in the galaxy to anywhere in the galaxy in seconds. It’s lightspeed, Goddammit, not, like, Warp Ninety.)(**)

Anyway. This is another place where the overarching story constrains what Kenobi was able to do. Obviously he can’t kill Darth Vader nine years before A New Hope, because Vader’s got three movies left. But they should have given us a reason Vader survived, and they didn’t. Obi-Wan just didn’t kill him, because reasons.

I also really liked Vader’s final conversation with Palpatine. The last thing he does before (he thinks) leaving Kenobi buried and dead is call him “Master,” and while I don’t remember the precise line of dialogue in the conversation, he has to tell Palpatine that he is his only Master who matters during that last conversation. Nicely done, and again, gives Vader a reason not to spend the next nine years constantly chasing Obi-Wan like we all felt like he ought to be doing.

So yeah, this is in Definitely Watch territory for me. Better than either season of The Mandalorian, and infinitely better than Book of Boba Fett. I’ll watch Andor, I suppose, but I don’t have especially high hopes for it, as Cassian Andor was one of the few characters in Rogue One that I didn’t feel like I wanted to know more about. Give me the Goddamn Baze Malbus/Chirrut Imwe show that I want! Give it to me now!

(*) It’s not clear at all how much actual work Hayden Christensen had to do in this show. Obviously Young Anakin shows up a few times, and guys, if there was ever a time to use your creepy de-aging magic, this was it, because Hayden’s got some serious crow’s feet– but a robot imitating James Earl Jones does the voice, there’s someone else in the suit doing the fighting, and I think there was even another person involved in the costume somewhere– but I’m pretty sure that’s him under all that makeup during this scene, and for what it’s worth, for a guy who’s trying to convey a whole lot of complex emotions with, effectively, one eye, and that eye covered by a contact lens nonetheless, it’s a really impressive little bit of acting.

(**) Last gripe: way too many people survive getting stabbed with lightsabers in this movie show. Okay, granted, it’s a self-cauterizing wound, so I suspect getting stabbed with a lightsaber is actually a little better than getting stabbed with a blade, but in general lightsabers are surprisingly nonlethal in this series– Reva survives getting stabbed twice!– and the bit with the Grand Inquisitor felt especially unnecessary.

(***) This is the third postscript because I didn’t realize it until after hitting publish, so this is a late edit: this also recontextualizes Han and Leia’s otherwise completely inexplicable decision to name their son Ben, which you might now was the name of Luke’s son in the pre-Disney Expanded Universe books. Han thought Kenobi was nuts, and Leia, as far as anyone knew, barely even laid eyes on him. It even makes “Ben” a better name choice than “Obi-Wan” might have been, because Ben Kenobi was the guy who Leia was saved by. I don’t know if they even thought about this when they were writing the show, but it fixes one of the more nitpicky problems I had with the sequel trilogy in a way I really like.

#Review: LIGHT OF THE JEDI, by Charles Soule

Or Star Wars: The High Republic: Light of the Jedi, but these headlines can only be so long.

Here’s the thing: I’m pretty definitively in they keep pulling me back in mode with Star Wars. I actively despise the fandom as a group, and while there were definitely some things I really liked in the sequel trilogy (I continue to love The Last Jedi, and after a couple of rewatches The Rise of Skywalker has settled in at “dumb, but fun”) I still don’t like the broader decisions that those movies made. Or, to rephrase it in a way might not be helpful, I don’t mind the way they told the story they told, but I wish they’d told a different story.

And with the single exception of Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars and Timothy Zahn’s new Thrawn books, I haven’t really liked any of the books that have come out since Disney took over. The comic books have been uniformly pretty superb, but they’ve stuck within the confines of the OT and haven’t really roamed the timeline in either direction. And yet I’m still buying them. I could have dipped out with The High Republic, or at least shifted to waiting for paperbacks, and … well, you see how that worked out. It was a perfect excuse; set 200 years before the events of any of the movies, it would involve all new characters and had little risk of reinventing anything that I’d grown to love over the years.

But, damn it, the list of authors they’d gotten to work on this thing was something else. All of them great. And while authors I love have failed at Star Wars books before– one of my favorite authors, a guy who has written a number of books I’ve reviewed here and a few that have made it onto my end-of-year lists, wrote a Star Wars book that was so bad I couldn’t finish it— it was still all encouraging as hell.

So, yeah, fuck it, let’s read The High Republic. And while I’m not going to go so far as to recommend that anyone who wasn’t already thinking about it pick this up, this is good Star Wars. Charles Soule has written Star Wars comics in the past– and, again, the comics have been uniformly good-to-great, even after Disney took over– but to the best of my knowledge this is his first SW novel, and the high quality continues. One interesting thing that hit me at about the 50% mark of the book was that because they’re starting over with a clean slate (a couple of the longer-lived Jedi are still around, of course; Yoda gets namedropped several times but isn’t actually a character in the book, and there are a few other members of the Jedi Council who showed up in the prequels) he can really get away with doing whatever he wants to his characters. It doesn’t matter how dangerous the situation in the book is, you know Leia is going to be fine, right? You only ever had to worry when the books were pushing “now” forward, so they could kill Chewbacca off at the beginning of the Yuuzhan Vong war, but anything set before that, all of the major characters were going to end up intact at the end of the book.

Well, High Republic doesn’t have any “main characters” yet. If anything, that’s a weakness of the book– it never really settles on a main protagonist, and there’s a lot going on and a lot of characters, so the characterization is a little on the thin side. But the plus side of that is that Soule is free to kill off whoever the hell he wants and nobody is wearing plot armor. You don’t ever get to the level of holy shit did that just happen that, say, A Game of Thrones managed, but this isn’t a 600-page book, either. This is a good setup for whatever they have coming; the central struggle starts off feeling like a natural disaster and becomes more sinister as things roll on, the villains started off really giving off cut-rate Yuuzhan Vong vibes and became something more distinct and unique by the end, and the actual mastermind of the whole thing really comes into his own at the end of the book. Again, if you’re not already a Star Wars person you probably don’t need to join the club for this, but if you were kind of teetering on the edge like I was, this is worth the buy.

Because capitalism

Yes goddammit of course I have a Disney+ subscription. I may actually have already mentioned ponying up around here; I signed up a few weeks ago and have been waiting impatiently ever since for the damn thing to actually launch. The entertaining bit is that after those several weeks of impatience I actually forgot until an hour or so ago that the thing was launching today, and didn’t get everything signed in and hooked up until just before dinner.

What am I watching first? Captain Marvel, of course, but we will absolutely be watching the first episode of The Mandalorian before bed, especially now that I have confirmed that a certain thing I was worried about does not actually happen in the show. (No spoilers, of course.)

We spent a couple of minutes scrolling through the available offerings and my wife went entertainingly nuts over some of the possibilities, so I think our $6.99 for at least the first month or two are going to be pretty well-spent. For me, the Star Wars and Marvel content is gonna be more than enough to keep me busy for a while, and having all the classic Disney films, many of which my son hasn’t seen, is icing on the cake.

So, yeah. See you in a month. ūüôā

Creepy Children’s Programming Review: SPECIAL AGENT OSO

oso

This is, I believe, the fastest I’ve ever written one of these things, as my son just discovered this terrible program last night. ¬†I banned it forevermore before he went to sleep, only to get up this morning and discover him watching it again, apparently because my wife overruled me. ¬†I shall have my revenge, I swear it. ¬†Because Special Agent Oso is godawful, and I will¬†not have any of its stupid songs running through my head.

Lets start with the theme song, which is like 20 minutes long. ¬†First of all, Oso’s last name is¬†Special. ¬†Oso Special.

GET IT IT’S A PUN DO YOU GET IT HE’S OSO SPECIAL THAT’S A JOKE DO YOU GET IT.

Oso is a special agent for some unnamed agency, and the names of the episodes always contain James Bond references, which is the only interesting thing about the show, because it’s not like any of the kids watching the show will get any of them so they’re clearly the result of the writers trying desperately to entertain themselves. ¬†This special agency hires stuffed animals– yes, Oso is a¬†stuffed bear, and the theme song specifically describes him as such. ¬†He’s not a real bear. He’s an animated toy. ¬†What dark magic allows his limbs to move is also left unclear.

At any rate, the episode always starts with Oso doing some secret agent shit, which would be cool if it weren’t for the part where Oso¬†does not know how to do even one thing. ¬†It’s amazing that he can even breathe given how dumb the show represents him as. ¬†But they’ve got him doing all sorts of stuff. ¬†He was in freaking outer space in one episode:

At some point the show will cut away from Oso doing his secret agent shit and find some kid on Earth who has a completely random problem. ¬†This problem is always terribly minor on a level reminiscent of¬†Super Why.¬† At that point the doohicky on his wrist will vibrate and Mr. Dos will let him know that he needs to drop everything and go solve this kid’s problem. ¬†This is true no matter what he is doing or where he is. ¬†Including¬†outer space. ¬†Go help this kid find the library or tie his shoes or whatever. ¬†LEAVE OUTER SPACE FOR THIS.

You may wonder how they find the kids who have the problems, because these kids never actually contact the agent themselves. ¬†It’s because this horrifying organization has the entire world under drone surveillance. ¬†Think I’m kidding? ¬†I’m not kidding:

Screen_Shot_2014-01-28_at_10.29.59_AM

The drones, who are always watching you,¬†tell a floating space station that there’s a kid with a minor inconvenience, and then Oso is notified. ¬†He finds the kid and then begins asking questions that make it clear that he has no idea what the hell he’s doing and shouldn’t be a secret agent. ¬†For example, on TV just now, he asked what a circle was. ¬†Secret agents should be able to identify circles.

And then the worst part happens. ¬†He asks his chest computer, who is called his Paw Pilot, what his “three special steps” are to solve the kid’s problem. ¬†There are always three steps, and, underpants gnome style, the second is always “do the thing.” ¬†For example, if the problem is you need to find a book at the library,¬†the second step is “find the book.” ¬†Need to wrap a gift? ¬†The second step is “wrap the gift.” ¬†It’s fucking weird.

Also fucking weird?  The floating animated head that is the Paw Pilot sings a terrible song and looks like nothing so much as Mystique giving birth:

You see it I KNOW YOU SEE IT
You see it I KNOW YOU SEE IT

Let’s pause for a moment to let that image sink in.

So, yeah. ¬†Initially he will know literally nothing about how to solve the problem without help, but spoiler alert: he’s gonna solve the problem, whatever it is.¬†¬†He solves the problem, Paw Pilot sings another terrible song, and then something about whatever he just did helps him with whatever his special agent shit was at the beginning of the episode.

They also always manage to contrive some way to have a 10-second countdown at the end of the episode as Oso is trying to solve the problem. ¬†Is Oso trying to write his name on a library card? ¬†10 SECONDS UNTIL THE LIBRARY CLOSES. ¬†Is Oso trying to wrap a present for someone’s little sibling? ¬†MOM WILL BE DOWNSTAIRS IN 10 SECONDS. ¬†Kite Day starts in 10 seconds. ¬†It’s never anything where could¬†ever possibly matter¬†if the thing he’s doing takes 12 seconds. ¬†Ever.

I hate this show.