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: The Last Days of the Dinosaurs: An Asteroid, Extinction, and the Beginning of Our World, by Riley Black

I say this a lot, but it’s as true now as it’s ever been: I don’t need to review this book, because you already know if you want to read it or not, so really, my job here is just to make sure that you know it exists. And did you know that Riley Black’s The Last Days of the Dinosaurs existed? Yes? Then you have it already. No? Go buy it. I was about to say “It’s about dinosaurs!,” which actually isn’t quite true, because the book begins on what Black quite reasonably refers to as the worst day in the history of the entire world: the day that a 6-mile-wide object, possibly an asteroid, possibly a fragment of a much larger asteroid, and possibly even a comet, slammed into the Chicxulub region of what is now the Yucatán and basically killed every living thing on Earth. Including all the dinosaurs, except for the ones lucky enough to be living underground or underwater when the object hit. She goes into some pretty intense detail about what happened in the immediate aftermath and then skips ahead a bit in each subsequent chapter– the next day, the next year, 100 years later, and so on. “That sounds fascinating!,” you think, if you’re the type of person who would be reading this blog in the first place.

Yup.

I like the description on the cover, there, that refers to the book as “narrative prehistorical nonfiction.” This is definitely a work of pop science; there are notes, but they’re confined to the back; Black is not citing sources or arguing with specific paleontologists during the text, because it’s not that type of book, but neither is she engaging in wanton speculation. Where things are fuzzy, she says so, but she talks about the different changes on Earth after the explosion through narrative, fictionalized stories about the various creatures that would have been alive (or could have been alive, at least) during whatever time period she’s discussing. In other words, we might not have uncovered the fossils of the specific Triceratops with bone cancer in the Hell Creek formation in what is now Montana that she discusses in the first chapter, but there were definitely Triceratops there and we’ve uncovered evidence of some that appear to have had cancer. Do we know for sure that this particular turtle might have been in this river at that time, staying alive partially by breathing through its cloaca? Nope! But they can do it now, so it’s reasonable to project that ability backwards given other trends in the evolution of prehistoric turtles.

You get the idea. This book tells stories; the stories are not specifically true, necessarily, but they are carefully fictionalized, and there’s forty pages of extra “stuff” in the back past the official end of the book if you want to read in more detail. Which I do, of course. What you need to be able to pull off a book like this is a fine grasp of the detail, a good journalist’s instinct for getting your story straight, and a novelist’s flair for storytelling, which is a rare combination, but one Black (an amateur paleontologist but not, I believe, a Ph.D) has in spades. This is a great read for anyone who thinks deep history and dinosaurs are cool, and if you’re not one of those people, you’re not here anyway, so everybody else go buy it.

(Oh, and also: I found out about it on Twitter, and bought it on the spot, so those of you who don’t think Twitter can sell books are doo-doo heads.)

#REVIEW: Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, by R.F. Kuang

I admit it: I thought about just putting Babel in as the name of the book for the headline there, but really, when a book has this grandiose of a title and more especially when it earns this grandiose of a title, you really need to lean into it. So you get the whole thing.

First things first: this book does not come out until August 23rd. I have had absolutely incredible luck lately with getting advanced reader copies of books I was frothing at the mouth to read– first getting a copy of Jade Legacy several months early, and now lucking out and getting my hands on Babel by winning a Twitter drawing. I have reviewed all three books of her series The Poppy War, and two of the three ended up on my Best Of list at the end of the year. To be brief– because this book has nothing to do with those books except for some overlapping themes– they are an astounding achievement in fantasy, particularly when you take into account that even now, four books into her career, R.F. Kuang is somehow only 26 years old, meaning that I was in college when she was born.

Christopher Paolini, eat your fuckin’ heart out.

Anyway.

Babel is set between 1826 and, oh, the mid-1830s or so, primarily at Oxford, and is at least mostly a historical fiction novel. Why “mostly”? Because in the real world there wasn’t a gigantic tower in the middle of campus that housed the Royal Institute of Translation, which kept the British Empire afloat via a translation-and-silver-based magic program. That’s … new. And it’s weird to say that Kuang mostly adheres to real history other than this thing that literally touches every aspect of the British Empire, but she does. And this is where I’m kind of perfectly situated for this to be my favorite of her books: you might recall that at one point I was working on a Ph.D in Biblical studies– the Hebrew Bible, specifically– which means that while intellectually I can’t hold a candle to any of the four students who form the main cohort of this book, it does mean that I’ve had a lot of the same conversations that they have at various points in the book, and that I’ve spent lots of time thinking hard about a lot of the same issues that are inherent to the concept of “translating” something from one language to another, even before you get to the part where one of the things being translated is literally considered holy Scripture.

Also, one of my buddies from that graduate program is now an actual professor at Oxford, so while I’ve never set foot on the campus I know people who work there, which … doesn’t mean anything at all, actually, but I’m happy to bask in Bill’s reflected glory– and if you’re reading this, my dude, you must find a copy of this book when it comes out. And then send me one, too, because the UK cover is way better than the US one and books with sprayed edges make my jibbly bits feel funny.

The main character of the book is called Robin Swift, a Chinese orphan who is taken as a ward by a professor at the Institute of Translation and brought back to London, eventually to become a student at Babel himself. Why “called” Robin Swift? Because Dr. Lowell tells him that his actual name– never revealed in the text– is no fit name for an Englishman, and makes him choose another one. When Robin arrives at Oxford, he meets the rest of his cohort, composed of two women, one Black, and a young Muslim from India. You may perhaps be raising an eyebrow at this, and you’d be right to, as Oxford didn’t admit women or anything other than white people in the 1830s, but Babel has different standards and different rules than the rest of the university. The book follows Robin and his friends through their first four years at the university, as they learn more about Babel’s workings and about how the silversmithing that underlies so much of Britain’s power works, all while living in Britain and attending a university while, for three of them at least, being visibly Not British.

So in addition to being another really good R.F. Kuang book about a young scholar in over their head (no uterus-removals in this one, though) this book is also about racism and colonialism. In fact, I’d say it’s mostly about racism and colonialism, and specifically the way both manifest themselves in the university, and about what it’s like to be complicit in the oppression of your own people, and what “your own people” even really means if you were raised away from them. And all of that sounds really deep, and it is, but it’s also a hell of a good story, with fascinating characters and lots of worldbuildy magic stuff that may as well be serotonin injected directly into my brain.

I loved the Poppy War books. I loved this more than any of them, and if R.F. Kuang wasn’t one of my favorite writers before, she absolutely is now. Pre-order this, immediately. You can have it in August.

#REVIEW: The Peacekeeper, by B.L. Blanchard

I kinda feel bad about this one, I’ll admit it.

The last time I did a review of a book I’d been sent for review purposes was Scorpica, which turned out pretty well. In fact, rereading my review just now, it seems like that book has grown in my estimation since I read it. After that review got posted the publicist emailed me and sent me a list of the other books she was currently representing, and, well, the description for The Peacekeeper really grabbed me:

Against the backdrop of a never-colonized North America, a broken Ojibwe detective embarks on an emotional and twisting journey toward solving two murders, rediscovering family, and finding himself.

North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.

Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.

The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family―and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.

Like, y’all know me by now. That’s my shit right there, and I jumped at this book. I’d have jumped at it even if it hadn’t been offered to me for free. A murder mystery set in an uncolonized North America? I’m in. Gimme.

I’ll cut to the chase, because I don’t like writing bad reviews unless I can make them entertaining: I needed more from this book than I got, and ended up disappointed. “North America was never colonized” is kind of a big deal, and it’s just sort of taken as a given, to the point where this book might as well have been set on another planet. It’s “now,” roughly, but there’s reference to a few big wars in the last couple of decades, and we’re on Mars, and the Ojibwe nation is more or less a utopia, in a way that ends up feeling kind of patronizing to the actual Ojibwe.(*) The murder mystery itself is kind of boring, the main character is a bit of a wanker, and the killer is clear from roughly a third of the way into the book, and I am generally very bad at predicting the killer in mysteries.

If any one of these elements were where I wanted them to be– either a little bit of explanatory history, or at least a map, or if the central mystery was more compelling, or the main character less one-note and whiny, I’d have been able to ignore the other flaws. But unfortunately the only thing that kept me from putting this down was the idea that I’d agreed to review it. I didn’t hate it– if I had, this would have been more fun to write– but I just don’t have anything good to say about it. As it stands, unfortunately, it’s just kind of blandly mediocre, and a book with this interesting of a premise being mediocre is a serious letdown.

(*) I kind of want to spend a lot of time talking about this and I kind of don’t; the notion that Ojibwe culture is the best in the world is so consistent throughout the book to the point where it feels weirdly jingoistic and propagandistic, and that’s a damned weird thing to say about a fictional country. Like, one character is an economist and a university lecture, and his alibi for the murder is that he was giving a lecture about how the Ojibwe economic system was the best in the world at a prestigious conference. That is … not how economists talk, and generally not how “prestigious conferences” go, either.

Covid Update, Day 5

This kinda sucks, y’all.

I’m taking at least one more day. The earliest I could go back is tomorrow and I’m not going to; I still have a fever, or maybe have a new fever, and the fatigue over the last couple of days has been intense. I’ve taken three naps today. That’s not a joke. I probably could have spent the whole day asleep today if I’d really wanted to.

Part of me feels like I ought to suck it up and go in, and part of me is like 99.5 is a fucking fever, dude, and you have to stand for eight hours. You can’t even lie down for eight hours right now. The really weird thing is that I genuinely don’t have a hell of a lot right now in terms of other symptoms. I had the one night of nightmare chills, about a day and a half of a rough cough, and today there’s been some digestive stuff, which is weirder than it sounds because I haven’t been eating all that much.

I dunno. I’ve been sicker. I’ve been a lot sicker. But this reminds me of going on to brain drugs right now. All I want is to sleep.


I’ve been promising book reviews for a couple of days now, and I haven’t had the energy for them, so let me do this at least: I’ve just read Hunger of the Gods, the second book in John Gwynne’s Bloodsworn trilogy, and The Rage of Dragons, the first book in Evan Winter’s The Burning. The second book of The Burning is out and on my Unread Shelf; I’ll probably get to it pretty quickly. I’ve already reviewed the first book in the Bloodsworn quartet, and the short version is that the second book absolutely lives up to the promise of the first; right now these two books are my favorite things I’ve read this year and I don’t know how I’m going to make it a year (at least, as there’s no release date yet) for the third book.

Rage of Dragons actually scratches a pretty similar itch to the Bloodsworn books, only with a culture inspired by the Xhosa and the Zulu instead of the Norse. I kind of feel bad discussing it in the same post as the Bloodsworn, because it’s not the achievement that those books are– but it’s important to point out that this is Winter’s debut novel, and John Gwynne has been around for a good while now. This book focuses on a single main character rather than employing rotating POVs, and it’s pretty explicitly a revenge story, to the point where it can feel a little one-note at times. But it’s done well and I’m looking forward to the sequel. Honestly, if you enjoyed Bloodsworn, you’ll like this one too.