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This category is for reviews of products, services, movies, TV shows, music, etc. Sure, they are opinions, but focused on something specific for the purpose of providing a review and a rating.

Is Andor Near-Perfection? (Spoilers)

(Warning this contains spoilers on Season 1 of Andor, proceed at your own risk)

Season 1 of Andor wrapped up on Wednesday, and I am almost speechless. The consistency and quality over 12 episodes was breathtaking. It’s interesting because it’s Star Wars, but not Star Wars in the conventional sense. It’s like Star Wars, but with a real edge. I am keeping fingers, toes, eyes and whatever else I can cross crossed because I hope they can maintain it into season 2. And I hope beyond hope they don’t use the second season to hype up more spin-offs they way they did with season 2 of The Mandalorian.

Amazing Material

The depth of the characters, the dialog, the pacing, the dialog (again), and THE DIALOG. Holy crap, it’s nice to see someone who can write high-quality dialog that is expository and exhilarating, and doesn’t leave you thinking “c’mon, just get to the point”. Luthen’s (Stellan Skarsgård) speech at the end of episode 11, and Maarva’s (Fiona Shaw) speech via hologram on Rix Road were both poignant, powerful, but still to the point. There was very little wasted dialog.

The dialog was further bolstered by the sets. Those that should be pristine were pristine. But not everything was neat and clean and orderly, and the disorderly or well-worn looked the part naturally. None of the settings felt contrived or fake. They looked and felt like real places that you could visit. You felt the depth and history for those sets that were old. Niamos (aka Space Florida) looked as it should, sorta-new but sorta-tired at the same time. Few resorts are as nice as the brochure, and this was no exception.

The acting for every single character was incredible. I didn’t see a single flat or phoned-in performance, and even the truly minor characters that had a few seconds of screen time felt real. But the main characters were each able to shine, even when you had groups of them together. Their energy and their performances seemed to feed off each other.

There was a single, brief space battle. And as short as it was, it felt special, it was exhilarating. I suspect its because we weren’t immersed in action, so it stands out. It’s uniqueness in the story makes it more dramatic, and it’s pacing and composition as a small story was incredible.

Not-so-Minor Characters

Syril Karn’s (Kyle Soller) arc in the story was incredible, not because it was so compelling necessarily, but because it was so well done. His narcissism having his rent-a-cop uniform tailored. Every scene where he is eating at his mother’s home is him eating a children’s cereal, never “grown up food”. His demeanour around Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) and his uncertainty when dealing with other people in general was so well portrayed. I was sure he was going to kiss her after rescuing her from the street battle, and was impressed the writers had the courage to stay away from that trope. Syril had just enough growth to be plausible, but wasn’t entirely transformed, which is a good thing. People don’t change as much as we think in a short period of time, so why would he?

Watching Vel Sartha (Faye Marsay) switch between clean and coifed and grubby and ready for action was impressive. The first time, I wasn’t sure I was watching the same performer. Seeing a character that wavers between confident and tentative, from certain to uncertain, made that character more believable, more real, to me.

The droid B2EMO (voice by Dave Chapman) was made important, and had a personality. Watching the little guy reacting to Maarva’s death was truly emotional.

There are so many characters with limited time in the story, but that are still important to the story. You’d be hard pressed to remove any one of them and have the thing hang together. And every one of their performances left an impression. Kino Loy, Ruescott Melshi, Saw Guerrera. The list just goes on.

And Then There’s Cassian Andor

Diego Luna’s portrayal of Cassian Andor is simply spectacular. We can see someone who is still growing, still learning, becoming the character we eventually see in Rogue One. The man is an incredibly talented performer. He takes the amazing material at his disposal and creates a masterpiece on the screen.

The character’s strengths and flaws are there for us to see. Luna’s performance brings both the good and bad in Andor to the fore. And the storytellers never resort to cliche or stereotypes to get their tale told. It’s incredible.

Don’t Forget The Soundtrack

The music for the show is it’s own strength. The opening theme is the same melody, but a different performance each time. There are very few repeated musical cues, and none of the grand symphonic music from the rest of the Star Wars universe.

What’s equally impressive is the diversity of musical styles throughout the show. You have classical, synth, basic rock, and a host of other styles, sometimes all within one episode. I read an article (I’ve lost the link) that interviewed the composer, and he spent as much time making the music as they spent filming and editing. He spent hours on a piece that would only be heard for a few seconds in one case, but wanted to write the entire song to it felt complete. There is one song that they decided would be a “galactic hit”, so it appears in its original form, and in various forms including muzak throughout the rest of the show. Brilliance.

Hopes for Season Two

I have high hopes for season two. My wish is for them to put the same care and attention into it, and to avoid a sophomore slump. I hope beyond hope that Disney leaves them alone (and with Iger at the helm again, that may just happen). Don’t use it as a vehicle to push other products. Stick to the story.

If the producers, cast, and crew can make season two with the same stunning quality as season one, I will be thoroughly impressed. It can be hard to carry on something at that high level. At some point, there will be stumbles. That it never happened, at all, in 12 1-hour episodes is truly impressive. If they can repeat that in season two, then they deserve all the accolades possible.

The Rings of Power Could Use a Boost

(Spoilers ahead) Season one of the The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power from Amazon Prime has finished. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it could use some improvement. I’m looking forward to season two, and hope they are able to address some of the shortcomings I see in their storytelling.

Spoiler Alert: The following contains descriptions that are likely to spoil key plot points for people who have not yet watched the series. Read at your own risk.

The Challenge

There are complaints that the series isn’t hewing close enough to the original storylines, derived from a combination of The Silmarillion and various notes Tolkien made over the years. I get the complaints, but as the showrunners pointed out, the various stories in the original written work take place over thousands of years. While the elven characters would be continuous, the humans, dwarves, and other characters would be replaced virtually every episode. Either that, or the story would drag out so long that only die-hard Tolkien fans would likely pay attention. And unfortunately, we aren’t a big enough group to sustain a TV show whose estimated costs run close to $1 billion dollars.

As a result, the story has to be compressed. That means finding a balance between telling the stories that make up the foundation for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but keeping them in a timeframe that a large enough audience will want to pay attention. It’s a challenge to be sure.

Overall, Not Bad

Overall, I think the season was reasonably good. The sets, the visual effects, and the costumes are very impressive. They have captured the same sort of essence that we see in the Peter Jackson movies, which is a good thing. It is different enough so we know this isn’t the Third Age from the core books. But it is similar enough that we can trace the lineage and not wonder “well, where did that come from, and then where did it go?” (I’m looking at you Star Trek: Discovery).

The performers are quite good in their roles, and that we (again) get a host of largely unknown actors means we see the characters, not the actors. The only suggestion I would have is for Morfydd Clark is if she could please unclench her teeth when she speaks. Enunciation is very much appreciated by the audience.

Lameness Isn’t Pleasant

The first glaring bit of lameness is the opening credits. Frankly, the dancing sand is horribly lame. After a couple of episodes, I now skip that part entirely. Yes, we get the right music with the right tone to impart the sense of gravity and importance of the events we will see. But the dancing sand takes away from all of that, ruining the mood. It’s as if that sand is trying terribly, terribly hard to look serious and important, and falls short in that regard.

Okay, so we can skip that part each episode. But then the season finale ends with an even more lame, verging on horrible, “song” where they attempt to set the explanatory poem about the rings (“three rings for the elven kings under the sky…”) to music. It doesn’t work. It’s bad. What makes it worse is it sounds like a feeble attempt to mimic a Shirley Bassey version of a James Bond theme. And it fails on every front. The bit of verse Tolkien wrote is structured in an odd way. It works when just read or is spoken aloud. It does not lend itself to be lyrics for a song. Fortunately, in the future I can stop the last episode before that travesty of a tune assaults my ears.

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

The episodes themselves are very unevenly paced. There are many sections where the dialog just isn’t that interesting, isn’t telling us anything new, at times is beating us about the head on something we’ve already figured out, and seems to be long for the sake of being long. I’ve found myself a few times asking “could we just please get on with it”. Yeah, I get that Nori is taking a big step in going with the Istari that will be known as Gandalf (the “follow your nose” line was an amusing way to make that clear). It’s a parallel to both Bilbo’s journey in The Hobbit, and the one the four hobbits take in The Lord of the Rings. But Nori doesn’t need to spend what seems like an eternity explaining how hard it is for her emotionally to go.

The fact that the penultimate episode felt like the season finale, but nope, there’s one more to go, says something. Here we have things wrapped up in a bit of a bow, with a bunch of open story lines to be continued next season. The Southlands become Mordor, the Numenorians return home to regroup, and Galadriel is going to take Halbrand to get some healing. A potential new hero, in the young man Tyroe Muhafidin, is ready for his own story arc. We know that the mystery man from the sky has more to unveil, and the Harfoots (Harfeet?) are settled for a bit.

Apparently they felt the need for a “just one more thing” moment, as if they didn’t trust that we would be back for another season. The first three rings, for the elves, are made. Halbrand is revealed to be Sauron. The stranger from the sky is revealed to be Gandalf (after briefly and poorly flirting with him actually being Sauron). And a hobbit predecessor is “going on an adventure”. Really? This could have waited until season two? It’s not like there isn’t a lot more to come, because we know there is. There are still 17 more rings to be made and handed out. Gandalf needs to develop his powers, and there are four more wizards (Saruman, Radagast, the two unnamed blue wizards) still to arrive (or be found). The Greenwood needs to transform to Mirkwood. The harfoot need to evolve to become hobbits. That’s a lot to cover.

The last episode felt more like a filler, a need to make sure they had an even eight episodes. It contains nothing that couldn’t have waited to season two. But since they had a requirement to make eight episodes (and filling them was apparently already a challenge, given the pacing), we get eight. Plus so much is wrapped up in a bow in the episode that if they cancelled the series, we wouldn’t be left hanging all that much. It was almost as if they were afraid to leave things too open-ended.

Definitely More To Come

There is a lot more to come in the story. The question will be how many seasons have they planned, and how far do they take the story. Will it go as far as the war where Sauron is defeated (leading into Third Age)? Will it only go as far as the forging and distribution of the remaining rings? There is so much that can be covered. What happens to the dwarves after they get their rings, and how are they lost? What about the nine rings given to the nine human kings? We’ve seen nothing of those kingdoms at all at this point. The founding of Osgiliath, Minas Anor (which will become Minas Tirith). and Minas Ithil (which became Minas Morgul). The appearance of the Rohirrim. The construction of Orthanc and the Ring of Isengard. There is so much yet to be covered.

Part of the question is how much will be included in the next seasons of The Rings of Power. There is a lot, and even leaving out big chunks will make for a substantial story. Hopefully they can improve on some of the issues the first season has, and continue to tell a compelling story.

Finally, Actual Star Trek (Spoilers)

[Spoiler Alert!] I have been a Trekkie since I was a child, having watched the Original Series shortly after it entered syndication in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. It was a Saturday evening tradition at my grandparent’s house (along with The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour and Land of the Giants). But I haven’t always liked everything made in the franchise, and lately it has been less than enjoyable for me. But I have renewed faith with Strange New Worlds.

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Prehistoric Planet Review (Spoilers)

The BBC and AppleTV+ released their 5-part series on dinosaurs called Prehistoric Planet this week, featuring the voice of Sir David Attenborough. It focuses on 5 different general biomes at varying times in the cretaceous. It’s visually stunning for the most part, but it has some rough spots. Before you begin this, please note that this review is NOT spoiler-free, so proceed at your own risk.

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Greyhound Runs Fast

AppleTV+, in association with Sony Pictures, released Greyhound last Friday. While some might assume the setting, a US Navy destroyer escorting a convoy to England in World War II, might not be the most gripping, the movie tells a tense, suspenseful story, packed into 90 minutes of tension. This is meant to be a spoiler-free review.

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