Inside And The Avant-Garde

I wasn’t planning on watching the new special Inside from Bo Burnham, to be honest. I never got into stand-up and the only thing I knew about the guy was his name. And I especially wasn’t planning on watching it, even after I saw all the praise it got, because it has become progressively harder to do anything that doesn’t feel remotely productive, so I am careful with anything I watch or do in order to not waste even half an hour.

But a friend, a long-time fan of Bo, talked to me about the special. He’s now seen it three times, and when he first described it to me, it sounded interesting, with themes that would normally persuade me to at least check it out. So I asked him to tell me more just out of curiosity, without any intention of really watching it. Until he answered me, and went deeper into the structure of the special and how it was made, and that’s when I first thought that I may have to see it for myself. 

So the next day, I did. I left my phone charging at my side, put on my headphones, and started the special. And in the hour and a half that it takes to watch, I never once pressed pause or grabbed my phone. I was completely hooked. It was exactly what I thought it was going to be, only more. Inside is a journey that everyone will relate to, and for that, it takes what I believe to be the best approach possible; the avant-garde. Intentionally or unintentionally, Burnham made a movie (Or however you prefer to call it) that is, at its very core, reminiscent of works of the likes of Jonas Mekas and Nanni Moretti. A type of work that has become increasingly harder to find, at a time when blockbusters have become the centre of attention and movies made with 10 million dollars are considered small. 

This special, his fifth one to date, and the first one in five years, achieves a symmetry with the way it’s told and the way we all feel. It starts like any other movie and like any other day could start; with a normal room, and a person entering it. A bright flash of light comes from the outside, until the door closes, and then everything changes. Here’s when you realize that it’s not like any other movie, and when the avant-garde and the connections to the aforementioned artists start to show. It becomes an audio-visual diary, made up of fragments that he filmed throughout a whole year since the beginning of 2020, that go from random shots of him in his room, to monologues, sketches, and songs that could’ve been made by different people. But it was made all by himself, in the single room we see throughout the film. 

With a much more stylistic aesthetic and approach, it feels more accessible than the banners of the genre, but still using the resources it has to discuss similar general topics, like politics, in a way that avoids feeling like something entirely different. Any type of independent movie, be it traditional or experimental, is a political statement by its very existence. And just as other avant-garde artists before him, Bo Burnham is not afraid at all to get explicitly political concerning a lot of different topics, going from the involvement of his profession in the current socio-political landscape while putting its usefulness in question, to how the system of our world is built to be controlled by a few that are able to commit atrocities in order to maintain that hierarchy with the help of fascist groups like the police.

But while those are problems that have been talked about for decades, there are others that feel inherently modern. For example, making a sketch parodying the disingenuous attempt of brands to make the public believe that they care about anything more than profit, by trying to appeal to marginalized groups (Or, to be more exact, to those in the majority that support marginalized groups to some extent). 

And from there he also talks about regular, not so larger than life problems that happen every day to a lot of people. There’s a big focus on how prepared we were for the sudden connectivity with the whole world, and how it just makes more accessible and obvious the obscure and disgusting parts of people, as well as the toll social media, or any influential platform, can take for those who make their lives off of it. And it’s in those everyday problems that I think the connection with the avant-garde genre is more evident than in any other part of the special. Because as similar as the structure and execution is to other works, with the ever-changing rhythm, and style, and a sense of narrative incoherence being the only narrative coherence, I think what really sets apart this very special genre from others, is its sense of mundanity, the sense that we are seeing life just how it is, just how it happens to everyone. It creates something that couldn’t have been done any other way. 

Bo jumps around messily during the whole special, without the three-act rule or even any apparent structure, and while it may seem just what it sounds like; a bunch of things put together randomly lacking any thought or care at all, the truth is that it ends up being beneficial and giving it more meaning. Every song, sketch and random shot of his room feels like a representation of his thoughts, going around in his head, disordered and sometimes even contradictory, but real. All of it takes another meaning when it stops being seen as individual absolutes but as different parts of a single engine that just exist the way it does.

At the start he talks about climate change and how we have only seven years left before the damage that corporations have done to the planet is irreversible, but later, in the last song, he basically says that it doesn’t matter. We can’t do much of anything, so why bother? So you have two opposite statements present in one single vision. The thing is, neither is false, technically. I’m a very optimistic person about the world’s future, even though I’m able to see everything wrong with it. But since the pandemic started I became more hopeless without even noticing, not only because of the emotional implications that isolation has, but also because of all the problems that became more obvious than ever, like the economic system or the social injustice. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if it was worth it to try to change the world for the better, or if it was even possible at all. At the moment, both of those ways of thinking were true for me because that’s how we work. There’s not even one person that’s 100% mentally stable all the time, and since last year, that just worsened for most of us. So what better way to represent that instability than with random pieces of thought sewed together, each with their own meaning or lack thereof? What better way to represent us?

In my own opinion, I don’t think there is. I find that disarray familiar because I was also a mess in many different ways before and after the pandemic started, as I know so many people are. And I can also relate in some way with his failed attempt to come back to live comedy, since, at the start of 2020, same as Bo, I was planning a project, a really personal one that I wanted to do for a long time; my first short-film. And let me tell you, in retrospect, it was gonna be really bad. But I never even got the chance to do it, because everything just stopped, and now not only do I have to wait who knows how much time to do that, but I also have to deal with a lot of other things that have also been affected by the current state of the world and the problems that I already had.

So when I see this person that I know nothing about, saying that he isn’t well and starting to cry, in between lots of other things that have little to no correlation, I want to cry too. Because if I recall memories, or even if I think about the present, it will feel exactly like that. And it doesn’t matter how different the experiences are, if life is presented in such a raw and real way, everyone will see themselves in it somehow.

But because of the mere fact that it represents life in a very raw form, it means that it isn’t always all bad. When he talks with his mother, there are still some bad aspects about it, like his relationship with his dad, or more little details such as how his mother covers the camera with her thumb, but that time is still essential for him, and it’s a little bit of light when things are dark. It matters even if it’s something very small. Near the end, after one of the most euphoric songs I’ve ever listened to, that makes me feel chills even after I listened to it 20 times, Bo sits and watches what he just created, and a little smile comes across his face. And that’s the best thing about this genre, you get to see everything. You get to feel everything. Even when things are at their worst, you can catch those small moments that really matter. And when things are at their best, you get to see those moments that hurt. 

Maybe that’s why I not only felt sad after watching the special, but why I also felt a little bit hopeful. Maybe that’s why I suddenly had the urge to create and do things that can contrast all the bad there is, or some part of it, at least. And it’s something that we need, because as incredible as intrinsically wholesome or intrinsically sad movies can be, we also need this kind of work that tries to reflect all the spectrum of life. Sometimes, we need art to feel as real as it can be.


GateBuster: An American Werewolf in London

The car door swung open as I gazed upon a ghost; not the one under the white sheet mind you, but rather the visceral one that elicits emotions long thought dead and buried. The blue and yellow sign was welcoming, but my mind pushed out a sentence, just to alert the spirits I was here: “GateBuster, weren’t they all called… erm, never mind.” The neon sign said open, but the lack of any human presence told another tale. The door was slightly ajar, so I pushed all the way in and was subsequently greeted with that acrid smell of cleaner. It was clearly used with reckless abandon, possibly trying to mask something more nefarious. Who knows, perhaps I was having a stroke. My eyes shifted from right to left until I spotted 25 V/H/S tapes lined up perfectly, like toy soldiers at attention, waiting for my approval. The names were familiar with an accompanying list behind them. I scanned the tapes until one leapt into my brain like a poker through the eye; the horror classic “An American Werewolf in London”. At this point, my body was practically yipping with excitement over its eerie cover of two backpackers with a foreboding full moon in the background. Had it not been for the chunk of my arm that was still missing (I’ll get to that), the cassette would’ve been thrown into my bag carelessly, so I gingerly placed it instead.

Heading back to the front of the store, the lights flickered like an ominous warning…or perhaps a warming invitation. No one was there at the counter, just a stack of review cards to fill out, and a simple set of sentences:  

Be Kind, Rewind. Return on time. If not, Late Fees for the Crime.  

The hairs stick up on the back of my neck, and I don’t hear my voice come out, but the word “odd” escapes. Possibly an unfair assumption, I mean where is the harm here…harm, sounds like arm, like that piece still missing, fuck. People really need to control their dogs, ESPECIALLY, when you are minding your own business running on a cool summer night. Apologies for the sidetrack there, the mind… it wanders. But, let me digress because we have a film to enjoy!

As I’m sure people who are over 65 are the last VCR holdouts, I take the video to my parent’s house. Recalling my father’s opinion on V/H/S tapes (in his best Terminator impression stating, “They’ll be back”), I slide the film into the VCR using my good arm. The screen brightens, and it’s as if a nostalgic aneurism goes off in my brain. The movie begins innocently enough as we meet David and Jack, young backpackers from the Big Apple making their way through the English countryside. A friendly farmer warns them, “keep off the moors, stick to the roads.” Why is it when any knowing Englishman tries to give sage advice to young Americans, it is so quickly left to the roadside? My nocturnal attack was different, there was no sage advice to heed, only a closed park sign. I ALWAYS run in the park, closed or not, it’s a PUBLIC park paid for by MY tax dollars. Leash laws exist for a reason, it’s… again, sorry, this gaping wound in my arm is still burning and reapplying Neosporin to it is like treating cancer with Kool-Aid. It ain’t worth shit. Last outburst, I swear. 

We find David and Jack as unwelcome patrons in a quaint English pub, “The Slaughtered Lamb,” where the locals unceremoniously tell them to move on. As any ignorant American does when abroad, they ignore all local customs and find themselves wandering the foggy moor, on a night very similar to the one I find myself watching this on; a full moon. Deep in the moor, a howl rents through the pitch of night. The screams of the beast convince the boys to make a run for it, but alas Jack finds himself torn to pieces while David is maimed, and subsequently saved by the same pub-goers who cast them out. 

David, now marked with the curse of the beast, begins convalescing at a hospital. He’s being cared for and eventually REALLY cared for by Nurse Alex (vis a vi they have adult fun). Jack appears in the initial stages of a decaying zombie to warn David of his eventual turn into a werewolf, and his need to commit suicide before the next full moon. As the damned are want to do, David passes off his rotting friend’s advice as trauma induced delusions. Like so many horror films, the protagonist rarely sees the light before the train hits. Itching, itchy, itchiness, more interruptions and more apologies, but god, this arm, THIS ARM, I would lop it off if I could. 

Where was I? Oh yes, enough plot, more review. Rick Baker steals the show here with his Academy Award Winning Makeup, it just… SOUND. WHAT IS THAT SOUND? THE DRYER IS SCREAMING! WHERE DID ALL THIS NOISE COME FROM?

Just need, to adjust here. God, my muscles feel so tight. The itch… the itch is under my skin. What is happening to…

Needles. Thin. Needles. EVERYWHERE. It’s as if 10,000 arrows are ERUPTING FROM MY SKIN. Hands,      HANds.   Hansds.   FIJngers    Aaarrr too bigd forr thissl

My mouth is dry, but tinged with a metallic taste. Dried Blood. Whose Blood? My blood, their blood….their..? The house is turned upside down, I don’t understand. Was there a robbery?? I DON’T UNDERSTAND. My muscles burn and my lungs won’t catch enough air. The movie is paused and an image is burned on the screen. I look into a pair of eyes attached to a beast glaring back at me, but I see the soul beneath it; David’s. His eyes were filled with fear, pure fear. The eyes of a son who has done wrong. The eyes of a man unable to control the animal it has become. My mind cannot keep up with the wave of horrible memories torturing me. But something is certain; late fees be damned, I don’t think this film is making it back on time.



Reagan’s Recs: Jesus Shit W/ Rob Secundus

Welcome to Reagan’s Recs. As you may have noticed, based on the title, things are a tiny bit different this time around. That’s because this is our first-ever guest spot! Before the first edition of Reagan’s Recs was even published back in April, I’ve wanted to have guests talk about movies they love and think more people should see. A big part of why I want more voices involved in this is because I firmly believe that there should be no one person who decides what is and isn’t worth watching. I am not the only voice in film criticism, and I definitely shouldn’t be. After all, I have blind spots both due to who I am and what I enjoy watching. That’s where guests come in. On the second Tuesday of each month, we’ll have a guest come on to recommend five(ish) movies based on a theme of their choosing. This way, a more diverse selection of films will be recommended than if it were only me picking the film. 

So, without further ado, I would like to introduce the first guest. Robert Secundus is someone for whom I have an immense amount of respect. His writing has been a massive influence on mine, and if not for his work at ComicsXF, I wouldn’t even be writing in the first place. Rob is someone whose work is always incredible and fresh, and I was absolutely ecstatic when he agreed to take the first guest spot because his taste in movies is fantastic. So rather than bore you with more housekeeping, let’s get right into it. Here’s Rob!

Hi! I’m Robert Secundus. I write mostly about comics, but I love movies too. I’ve really enjoyed the work Reagan has been doing on GateCrashers, and so I was honored and delighted to be asked to guest host Reagan’s Recs. I’m going to repeat her disclaimer that these aren’t necessarily going to be new or obscure recs—I’m a relatively normie cinephile, with tastes shaped by stuff like film twitter and the Criterion Collection. But I hope I can add an unusual perspective here. 

In my offline life, I’ve spent most of my professional career studying religious literature, and so I have a lot of thoughts on religious films. When you hear a phrase like “Christian Film” you probably think about atrocities like God’s Not Dead, or saccharine oldies like The Bells of St. Mary’s, but the truth is there’s a rich Christian tradition (or, really, traditions) in cinema that grapple with the glories and failings, the struggles and scandals, the creeds and the devotions of Christianity. There are Dantes and Miltons in cinema just as there are LeHayes. If that sort of thing sounds interesting to you, what follows is where I’d recommend you begin exploring. A lot of my favorite religious films didn’t make the list— you won’t find Doubt, Ida, Les Innocentes, In Bruges, or any of a great number of other Catholic movies, because even though Catholic literature/art is my focus, my guiding principle here was to ensure I addressed a variety of Christian aesthetic traditions. 

Andrei Rublev (1966), dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

(CW: Violence)

We’re beginning with the tradition (and the director) I understand least: Eastern Orthodoxy. The Protestants/Catholic split I can wrap my head around, because it’s centered in very clear doctrinal debates, but the Orthodox, as I understand them, don’t even conceive of the concept of “doctrine” in the same way I do. It’s a lot less catechetical and a lot more mysterious over there. Add the further complications of a religious film directed under the USSR, and you’ve got a product that I’ve got no chance whatsoever of understanding. I just know this—this biography of a medieval iconographer is intensely, incredibly beautiful.

Note: the first time I saw this movie, I was teaching at an extremely conservative institution. I wanted to give the kids a break, and we were reading some real dense Russian lit, so I thought, why not spend a class just watching some scenes from classic Russian cinema? And what better movie than the Tarkovsky flick about a monk? I watched the first half hour, picked a few scenes I definitely wanted to show them, a few to skip, and headed to class. I figured if I needed to fill time, I could just let the movie keep going. Reader: as I learned later when I finally saw the whole thing, it’s a good thing I did not do this, as I stopped the disk exactly two minutes before the appearance of an orgy of very naked witches. I was very close to losing that job. I tell this story not just because it’s funny, but because you need to know that one of the most beloved examples of religious cinema does include naked witches.

Calvary (2014), dir. John Michael McDonagh

(CW: Sexual abuse and trauma; graphic violence; violence done to animals)

This is probably the movie I understand the most of these; it’s not just the one Catholic film I’ve picked, but it’s also, specifically, a grotesque, darkly comedic Irish Catholic flick, which is extremely in my wheelhouse. The weird thing about Catholicism is that it’s, unlike the Orthodox Churches, very easy to break down doctrinally, but looking through that doctrine doesn’t really give you a good sense of what the religion is. Instead of a catechism, I’d hand someone a stack of books by Evelyn Waugh, Louise Erdritch, James Joyce, Kirsten Valdez Quade, and Toni Morrison if I wanted to give them a real sense of the actual religion as it’s lived rather than just what creed adherents claim to profess. Or maybe I’d just show them Calvary.

Calvary is directed by the far less famous brother of Martin McDonagh, John McDonagh. It’s about a priest who is told in the confessional that he’s going to be shot in seven days. It’s about how he spends those last seven days of his life. And it’s about his congregation, his community. Every single person in this movie is deeply traumatized; every person is suffering immensely. They’ve been harmed by poverty, by capitalism, by colonialism, by physical and sexual abuse. They’ve been harmed by the Catholic church, or by forces associated with it. They’ve been harmed by living in this fallen world. And they’re also all terrible people

It’s a weird experience, watching this movie; often you don’t know if you’re supposed to laugh or if you’re supposed to feel bad for laughing. It’s funny and horrifying. The characters are often sympathetic and often revolting. Monstrous things are done— and yet there’s also hope. There’s also beauty. The thing about Catholics is that their typical home decor isn’t the empty cross, signifying the resurrection, but statues of Jesus being tortured to death, and this is taken as cheery. Humor and horror, grace and suffering, hope and despair are all tied together in Catholicism. Calvary is the best movie I’ve seen that captures how that feels.

Winter Light (1963), dir. Ingmar Bergman

(CW: Suicide)

The first of our Protestants, Winter Light is the second movie in Bergman’s God Trilogy. All three are worth a watch, but Winter Light is my favorite because it’s the most exact. It’s about a few hours in the life of a Lutheran pastor as he fails to dissuade a member of his congregation from committing suicide. The title of the final movie in the trilogy, The Silence, is just as applicable to this one, as that’s what it’s really about: God’s Silence.

The thing that’s hard to convey about Christianity in this post-evangelical world is that it’s just as much a troubling thing to its devout adherents as it is a solace. There’s so much uncertainty; why does it seem like God has abandoned this world? Each of us? Why did Revelation come to an end? Why did Jesus not yet return? And Winter Light foregrounds the question that persists even if, in an act of faith, a believer is able to somehow move past the problem of God’s Silence and look still to eternity; it asks when we suffer, and when we inflict suffering, and when we sin.

First Reformed (2017), dir. Paul Schrader

(CW: Suicide, Blood, Pain)

This is the central question of my fourth pick, in which Paul Schrader sort of reimagines Winter Light in the modern day, through his Calvinist rather than Lutheran lens (and through his reaction against Catholicism, and more specifically against the kind of grotesque Catholic art that we find in Calvary; I can’t get into details without severely spoiling the film, but he picks up one of Flannery O’Connor’s most disturbing images and critiques it). The Reformed tradition really heightens the central anxieties in this Protestant artistic tradition, given the emphasis on predestination, on whether you are a member of the elect or the reprobate, on whether you from eternity are saved or damned.

Schrader’s great insight is that this very personal, individual anxiety is an extremely useful metaphor for the apocalyptic anxiety we all feel. The first three movies are all works of art that give you an idea of what it feels like to practice that faith tradition, but First Reformed finds that no matter what you believe, you know what it’s like to experience this kind of anxiety, because it’s what we all feel in this world of climate change and environmental destruction. We have broken our world. 

Again: Will God Forgive Us?

A Dark Song (2016), dir. Liam Gavin

(CW: Violence, Gore, Sexual Manipulation)

I knew when I sat down to write this list that I needed to talk about at least one horror movie (though First Reformed is arguably Calvinist Climate Horror), and I knew that I needed to talk about at least one movie about angels. A Dark Song is a movie about esoteric Christianity. Alongside all those different doctrinal traditions and feuding institutions are spiritual, mystical, and ritual traditions. A Dark Song follows two people practicing a real ritual (well, you know what I mean; a ritual that people do in our own real world) that is supposed to manifest an angel whom you can consult or ask for favors. The ritual requires total isolation, and it takes months to complete, so mostly this movie is watching two actors alone in a house draw marks of sacred geometry over and over again. It’s a slow and quiet movie; an early scare is from the distant barking of a dog. Is the ritual hokum, and is that just the outside world that they continue to ignore? Or is it real, and have they entered some spiritual plane? Is that really the sound of a dog, or is it a hound of hell

If First Reformed escalates the divine silence in Winter Light to apocalyptic horror, A Dark Song shifts it to psychological horror. It’s the movie that has best captured for me the feeling of dread and of hope that accompanies prayer and liturgy. 

The Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick

(CW: Child abuse)

I was tempted to cheat twice on this list: above with Bergman, and again here with Malick. In both cases, the impulse was to recommend whole trilogies. While I like Malick’s other movies about spirituality and sin and virtue and grace and life and death and twirling around in the golden light while music plays over a voice whispering strange and comforting things, this is the Big One. This is the one, infamously, with the dinosaurs. 

I couldn’t include so many films that attempt to grapple with the dread of silence without also offering at least one that tries to capture the feeling of presence. There’s a character in one Graham Green novel, Brighton Rock, that’s asked if he believes in hell, and he responds, thinking of all the horror and suffering he has caused and experienced, that of course he does. There isn’t a question for him that hell exists. And then he’s asked if he believes in heaven, and he stops. You get the sense that it’s not something he’s even really considered before. After a long pause, he admits that maybe. Maybe there’s such a thing. It’s possible.

It’s hard to imagine heaven. It’s hard to imagine grace. It’s hard to capture feelings of hope or joy in the face of pain and trauma. I think Malick succeeds in that, though. 

This isn’t a very linear movie. You’re not going to be able to latch onto a compelling plot or arc. Treat it like you would an extremely dumb action movie. Turn off your brain. Don’t try to make sense of it. It follows one guy as he reflects back on his childhood, on his loving mother, on his abusive father, on all the comfort and pain that his memories can bear. It’s scored as a funeral mass. And in the middle, there are, again, dinosaurs. But there are dinosaurs because, like First Reformed, this is a movie that wants to expand a personal spiritual experience to something cosmic. Instead of the end of the world, it turns to the beginning, and it finds there the same questions we are confronted with today: is our world naturally a world of suffering and horror? Or is there grace to be found there? Is it the creation of a benevolent being? If so, does it reflect His image? Or is it meaningless? Or can we fill it with meaning?

I’ve presented this whole list in a kind of amateur-anthropologist sort of way, framing each movie as a work of art that can tell you something about a cultural and aesthetic tradition you might not be all too familiar with, but I hope this last entry, in particular, shows that you don’t need to approach religious art (or at least, you don’t need to approach good religious art) from this outsider’s perspective. Put away the doctrine, the dogma, the institution, and you’ll find that, though it uses unusual tools, the religious film still asks the important questions, presents the important problems, engages with the important paradoxes and mysteries that we all encounter. The God’s Not Deads of the world are designed to heighten barriers, signal to in-groups, and increase conformity, but the First Reformeds and the Trees of Life of cinema honestly (though devoutly) acknowledge the problems and failings of their own religions while proceeding to an art that, though grounded in their very particular traditions, captures something universal. 

I hope you find a movie here that moves you, or troubles you, or brings you some measure of joy.

— Rob Secundus


The Blue Light that Never Went Out

It’s always been there, just on the edge of town. One small strip mall off the beaten path. But you remember going there when you were young. Mom would always let you pick out one movie to rent. It was the highlight of the weekend. You were so excited to tell all your friends what you watched when you met up Monday on the playground. Sometimes Mom would get take-out from the Great Wok II right next door.

After rushing from the car to the store front, you’d always look at the return slot and think “what if someone pushed a movie through there?” but that never happened. When you walked in the droning iridescent light made the yellow walls seem like a welcoming sight. Rows upon rows of aisles filled to the very brim with v/h/s tapes littered the store but those weren’t for you. They each had a label atop that said their genre “action”, “horror”, and so on and so forth. But where you would rush to was the wall. It was time to test your luck with the New Releases. A heavenly spotlight shone on their wall, as if touched by the video Gods themselves. If you were lucky, maybe Mom wouldn’t even check the rating so you could watch Mortal Kombat like all your friends had. These memories are ingrained in your mind. Walking around the store, the smell of popcorn, and the strange people of your town picking out their films. It was nearly over when you arrived at the counter. There was a sign for upcoming releases, a plastic crate filled with returned movies, and some form of the “be kind, rewind” phrase. They’d warn your Mom about late fees, you don’t want the late fees…

But you know as well as I do, that time corrodes all things. You grew up. Started to get too cool to hang out and watch movies with Mom. Started to get too cool to stay in on Friday nights to watch movies. You started to go out. You met new friends, learned about life, and all sorts of coming-of-age things. For a long time, you never even ventured to that part of town where the blue ticket stub light would flicker in the parking lot, a hauntingly beautiful  reminder of days past.

One of your friends mentioned the store to you a year or so ago. These memories came flooding back so you took a drive. You nearly missed the parking lot because the lights were out. The ticket stub was gone. Great Wok’s letters were missing but their shadows still lingered, and the movies… the movies were gone. Turns out it’s been closed for a number of years. The owner just went missing one day. He was always a weird fellow. Once you realized that your childhood had ended, those nostalgic feelings washed over you while sitting your car. You called your Mother to tell her you love her. Time is fleeting, tell someone that you love them.

Now, today, the lights are back on. There is a new sign outside that reads “GateBuster”. The Chinese food place is now a deli. There was no big Grand Opening event or anything like that. One night the lights were off and then the next day they were on. It was as if the reality you knew crossed over with a dimension of nostalgia. Now, I have to tell you the truth, or my version of the truth, because everyones experience is so drastically different. Some reports have said that there is never staff working. That the lights are on and the store is pristine without a single sign of human life. Others say they are greeted by a wonderful staff full of smiling faces in their blue polos. They help those people find what they need as if they knew exactly what they had come in for. There have been other reports, but there is one thing that is always nearly the same.

The list on the wall behind the counter.

Rumor has it that there was a tub of 25 films in a box on the counter from the previous owner. On the large tub were the words “Grave Robber” etched into it. But now those 25 films are behind the counter. The list is displayed carefully on the wall. It’s just there waiting for people like…well like you, whoever YOU are or want to be. This town is full of weirdos and upright citizens who are looking for a bit of entertainment. You can rent one of these movies, but we ask that you fill out our review card that accompanies every film. 500-1000 words about you, the movie, and your thoughts. All you need to do is to let us know what you’d like to rent, we will check if it’s available, and then you return it with your review card. Simple and clean.

But please… return them on time… you don’t want the late fees…

The Management 

Books Film

Out of the Shadows (Spoiler-free Review)

Star Wars: The High Republic – Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland

The High Republic takes the Star Wars universe to an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Some 200 years prior to the Phantom Menace and the beginning of the Skywalker Saga.  With the Jedi in their prime, they find themselves up against the mysterious Nihil, a gang of pirates and marauders dedicated to wreaking havoc across the galaxy and stopping the Republic’s expansion into the galactic frontier.

The second young adult book in the series, Out of the Shadows acts as a continuation of several plot lines established across the line so far.  Jedi Vernestra Rwoh and Imri Cantaros from Justina Ireland’s own A Test of Courage, alongside fellow Jedi Reath Silas and Cohmac Vitus from Into the Dark, go up against the dangerous Nihil, with some new faces joining them too.  With ships being mysteriously torn from hyperspace and attacked by Nihil, cargo hauler Sylvestri Yarrow finds herself on a simple bureaucratic mission to Coruscant that quickly sends her spiraling into a web of political intrigue between the Jedi, Republic, and the Graf family, once renowned hyperspace prospectors.   

It’s worth noting that this book is set after the second flagship title of the High Republic, The Rising Storm, and does contain some mild plot spoilers for it.  I have not read it, so I can’t be entirely sure of the extent of those spoilers, but there are some seemingly important moments that are revisited and play a key part in Vernestra Rwoh’s motivations. 

Vernestra Rwoh

The biggest strength of this book lies in its protagonists.  Ireland has no issue bringing Vernestra and Imri from their previous all-ages book into the wider universe and Cohmac and Reath feel lifted straight from Claudia Gray’s Into the Dark.  All the new additions to the cast have unique voices that bring something new to both the book, and the wider High Republic Universe.  Despite Reath being one of our point of view characters and given a big cover focus, the chapter count is significantly shifted in Vernestra and new protagonist Sylverstri Yarrow’s favour.  Which is not necessarily a complaint, as those two are certainly the ones with the most interesting stories to tell.  When the book has the characters together and talking it’s at its absolute best.

The real problem lies in the Nihil’s point of view character, a familiar face whose identity I will not spoil.  The look into the Nihil in this book is short, perhaps only 4 or 5 short chapters throughout the story, but there seems to be a clear lack of purpose to them.  While the Marchion Ro chapters of Light of the Jedi gradually built the threat of the Nihil into something terrifying, here they merely remind us that they’re still there with the occasional check-in.  This also causes another issue, by letting the reader into what the Nihil are up to we don’t get to discover alongside our protagonists, which causes large chunks of the book to feel pointless as the characters slowly make their way towards discoveries we’ve known from early on.  This all leaves the book without a clear and compelling antagonist, as the Nihil presence looms over the book but rarely comes close enough to feeling like an actual threat.

This leads me to another big problem I had with the book; the mysteries that drive the plot.  Whilst the hyperspace mysteries are straightforward and predictable, even being given definitive answers by the Nihil chapters so early on, the political drama that our characters find themselves drawn into is often unfocused and boring, with no clear purpose other than to create confusion.  We also get teases to some mysterious Force powers and their connections to hyperspace, a plot the book drops and picks up at random despite being the most compelling part of the story.  The pace at which these mysteries develop is also glacial, with the book spending most of its time building up to a big event before shifting pace rapidly into a rushed and unsatisfying climax.

The Nihil

Although the book isn’t action-heavy, Ireland excels at the few scenes that are there.  The fights are clear and exciting, using the tools of the Jedi in ways I find only books can in order to really showcase how impressive lightsabers and the Force can be.  There’s still dramatic weight to the action though, with the Jedi feeling in real danger when they’re overwhelmed.  It avoids making them feel like unstoppable gods while still providing that essential cool factor.

One of my personal favourite parts of the High Republic thus far has been its worldbuilding, and this is another area where Out of the Shadows is a success.  The book features a wide variety of species from across the Star Wars universe, including many familiar species from both the original films and some of the more recent additions.  There are also a couple of new species introduced that were fascinating and unique, including the volka, a race of strange electric cats that I’d love to see more of (or have as a pet).  We discover more of the history of the Galaxy here too through the Grafs and San Tekkas, something I’m always happy to learn more about.  There are even a few familiar names thrown in that I was very excited to see.

As far as its importance to the larger plot of the High Republic, I was surprised to see Out of the Shadows pick up some major plotlines from Light of the Jedi.  This book has some big ramifications for the various factions of the High Republic and is an essential chapter in its larger story.  It also sets up some very interesting future plots and introduces a couple of new Force abilities that were very interesting, and I could see being important down the line.  

Out of the Shadows had a difficult task ahead of it, taking in characters and plots from across the High Republic.  And while it stumbles at times and drags in the middle, it is for the most part genuinely enjoyable.  The action scenes, while few, are exciting, and pull you right into the action.  The characters are likable and the central romance of the book is compelling.  And it leaves me genuinely excited for what’s next in the High Republic, from Justina Ireland, and the other writers.

Early review copy provided by Disney-Lucasfilm Press. Out of the Shadows releases 07/27/2021 in all good bookstores and digital storefronts.

Books Film

The Rising Storm (Spoiler-free Review)

Star Wars: The High Republic – The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott

Kicking off the next wave of the burgeoning High Republic publishing line of Star Wars media, Cavan Scott’s The Rising Storm had a heavy load to lift. It shoulders it in the end, but not without some effort and some bruising on the way. 

For those who have not been following the Star Wars literary line in 2021, The High Republic is an ambitious initiative spanning books and comics for all ages set in the golden age of the Jedi Knights, some two hundred years prior to the Prequel Trilogy. The Jedi are at the peak of their power and not yet the more ethically compromised characters we see in the fading years of the Galactic Republic, while their assorted foes are all very different to the Dark Side wielders with which we are so familiar from the films. 

The Rising Storm tells the story of the continuing conflict between the Jedi of this era and the most fascinating of these new enemies, the marauding Nihil. The focus of this second wave of titles is the Republic Fair, an event intended by the Supreme Chancellor to act as a symbol of prosperity and possibility to the Galaxy. 

While theoretically a standalone novel, The Rising Storm is in practice a direct sequel to the initiative’s debut in Light of the Jedi, picking up the vast majority of its expansive cast where author Charles Soule left them off in January 2021. Unfortunately, the invited comparison is not always a flattering one for this book. Where Light of the Jedi balanced a tremendous amount of worldbuilding with a fast-paced, propellant plot and instantly compelling characters, The Rising Storm becomes bogged down with an over-lengthy set-piece that loses all cohesion thanks to erratic jumps between an overwhelming number of character perspectives. 

With the already-expansive cast of Light of the Jedi only growing and the tangled web of connections between them becoming ever more intricate, few novels have ever cried out quite so much for a Dramatis Personae like the ones so commonplace in the pre-Disney canon. This problem is not helped by the novel’s rapid pace and fleeting chapter length, which allows the reader very little time to sit with any particular Jedi character before they are on to the next, and the next. 

A few members of the sprawling cast do manage to stand out in spite of this lack of focus, in particular newer characters such as the charismatic Stellan Gios and the very human Elzar Mann. Both have multiple memorable scenes that leave an impact on the reader long afterward, and the relationship between them is one of the few that is given the space necessary to flourish. However, most of the characters feel drowned within a story that is trying to do too much at once and repeatedly cuts itself off before it can settle into a rhythm. This is perhaps most regrettable with the intriguing new ‘saber-for-hire’ Ty Yorrick, who is never quite allowed the room to live up to her promising introduction. 

This is really a shame because when the book is good, it’s often very, very good. The strengths of the novel reflect the strengths of the High Republic as a whole, above all a compelling world that feels both related to the Star Wars Universe we know yet also wholly fresh. Scott is especially talented at weaving together references to the broader galaxy in ways that add multiple layers of richness. There are continual winks and nods to all aspects of Star Wars from the films to Legends continuity to the broader High Republic project, but they are carefully presented in a way that makes the world feel bigger and never makes even the casual reader feel that they are missing something. By the novel’s end, the Galaxy of the High Republic feels more full of promise than ever – and more full of danger for the Jedi. 

And the source of that danger is one of the book’s highlights. The villainous Nihil deserve special mention, once again managing to steal the show from the protagonists as they often did in Light of the Jedi. These chaotic space Vikings feel like nothing else in Star Wars, in large part due to an ingeniously constructed and vividly depicted political structure and internal culture which makes their every scene crackle with tension. Indeed, one of The Rising Storm’s greatest accomplishments is the unique impression it crafts of a group who see themselves as the lead players in a tangled family drama with the Jedi featuring only in occasional walk-on parts. It helps that the number of Nihil character viewpoints is kept low, allowing the reader to become familiar with a core set of characters in a way that doesn’t happen enough with the Jedi protagonists. It’s easy to see why Scott will be returning to the Nihil with August’s Tempest Runner audio drama focusing on the character of Lourna Dee, one of the more memorable antagonists here. 

Following up an opening as well-received as Light of the Jedi was never going to be easy, and The Rising Storm often falls short of the bar that had been set. Through it all, with such a refreshing premise, the strength of solid worldbuilding, and original antagonists, The Rising Storm is an entertaining and worthwhile journey to an even longer time ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Early review copy provided by Del Rey Books. The Rising Storm releases in all good bookstores and digital storefronts 06/29/2021.

Comics Film Television

The Undoing of WandaVision

The below article contains spoilers for WandaVision.

WandaVision is one of the best shows of the year. It follows Marvel’s Wanda Maximoff and The Vision as they navigate life through a strange world of various sitcoms from across the ages, from the ’50s to present-day mockumentaries. A well-acted drama with a huge budget and a very intriguing and engaging premise, WandaVision was well on its way to being my personal best show of the year. That was until the very last episode where the awesome setup and conflicts didn’t pay off that well. I would even say the show shied away from the greatness it was showing.

Marvel had done an awesome job crafting an intriguing mystery, all the while creating a compelling drama about grief and loss. The only problem was closing the deal. The downside of the Marvel mold of filmmaking reared its head, the company had gotten so used to having a clear good and bad guy that they brought upon themselves a major problem come the finale. The show had an awesome villain, Mephisto. Just kidding. No, the great big bad of WandaVision was Wanda herself, not Agatha, not Hayward, Wanda. And this had amazing potential, the only issue was the writers and the show itself didn’t seem to realize it, or, they did realize and tried to cast others in a more negative light and walk back on that choice.

They had us with “Agatha All Along”, except It wasn’t. Agatha was maybe right, her only flaw was trying to steal Wanda’s powers (well, and threatening her kids), but Wanda kidnaped hundreds of people and tortured them for weeks. Should Wanda really be in charge of such power? In the final episode the directing, writing, and narrative choices seem to make a concerted effort to state that If there was a villain, it was not Wanda. But the truth is, no matter how we slice it, Wanda was the one who kidnapped an entire town and traumatized them.

Having Hayward be a sneaky villain makes no sense. The United States government wanting a powerful weapon like Vision is incredibly on-brand, no need to be sneaky about it. And more importantly, Wanda taking over the town pretty much gives him carte blanch, his being sneaky and duplicitous makes no sense. Lastly, and sadly for me, the biggest victim of these story decisions was sadly Monica Rambeau. Monica was a pretty cool and interesting character. Initially our guide into this world, who was trying to figure things out right alongside us, the audience. But after a while, she became fixated on Wanda and not the many victims in The Hex. Even when it became clear Wanda was the cause of it all, she didn’t have any wariness of her. It was particularly odd of Monica to absolve Wanda. How does Hayward stealing Vision’s body make him a bigger villain than Wanda? I still like Monica but hopefully she gets treated better in future instalments of the MCU. Regardless, wandavision is a great show but that last episode held it back from becoming a truly fantastic entry in the MCU.

By Bolu Ayeye.


Accidental Explorations of Contrition in the Saw Franchise

(CW: casual discussions of suicidality, suicide attempts, drug addictions, rape, domestic violence, loss of a child, cancer, gruesome deaths, gore, anti-black violence, and police violence)

As they were being released at a breakneck pace, I didn’t understand the appeal of the Saw movies. A friend of mine at the time was sharing how excited she was to take a day off and go see Saw 3 with her dad. Being the arrogant and ignorant jerk I was, I laughed.

“Why would anyone ever want to watch a Saw movie?

(Note: This is a bad way to be a supportive friend.)

What I understood of them at the time was that people get hooked into terrible machines and must mutilate themselves to avoid a grisly death. And, of course, the iconic shot of Cary Elwes realizing that he needed to cut off his own leg with a hacksaw.

Later, procrastinating several college assignments, I would go to the wiki pages of each Saw movie that had been released at the time (then 7), and I would read through the plot page, which would also include a passionless description of each trap and how the person survived it (or not).

This was a kind of thought exercise for me that also piqued my curiosity as someone who had always wanted to do production design for movies. I couldn’t help but think, “How would they decide what Hell to put a character through?” And, with my young literature-studying mind, I of course reached the groundbreaking conclusion: Symbolism.

The Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell)

The movies aren’t subtle about it, either. The first fully-revealed trap in the very first Saw movie (dir. James Wan, 2004) has the main character, the serial killer Jigsaw, explain that he placed a man in a timed maze of razor wire to see if he would cut himself to live instead of cutting himself as an attempt at suicide.

The symbolism on display is blatant, direct, and oftentimes playing on harmful stereotypes about marginalized or disabled people. The victims are most often people that the writers believe would be acceptable losses or deserving of righteous punishment. They’re most often addicts, drug dealers, arsonists, callous doctors, sex workers, and rapists.

The most common of Jigsaw’s victims are the kind of person that society believes should be punished, and that they would do so, if given the chance. This is how most folks understand the Saw movies. A criminal evades capture; Jigsaw finds them; Jigsaw tortures and/or kills them. Justice served.

In the framing of these movies, though, the traps are never glorious. The victims’ suffering is front and center, not their damaged bodies. The camera shakes and speeds up as they struggle or cry in pain. It cuts back and forth as they make a difficult cut. The camera often shows you the brutality and the gore, but it just as quickly cuts away to the person screaming.

This is most likely a budget choice as much as it is a stylistic one. They can spend less on effects if they show you less, but the impact is often not “Good. They got what was coming to them.” and is instead “That was awful that they had to go through that.”

At least for me, as a prison abolitionist, the Saw movies are an interesting exploration into what punishment is enough, and how best can you rehabilitate someone?

The answer within the fiction is, quite explicitly, to make someone face their own death and “appreciate their life.” Obviously, this has a whole host of issues inside and outside the movies, but, like all horror movies, it communicates this through blunt force and grotesque images.

Chris Rock in Spiral: From the Book of Saw

What stands out to me in actually watching these movies through in 2021 in preparation for the upcoming Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson movie (!?) Spiral: From the Book of Saw (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman 2021) is this aspect of criminality, and especially through the lens of policing.

Obviously, cops are trying to stop Jigsaw, and the fight between them is put more in the forefront of the plot starting as early as Saw 2 (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman 2005) when the lead detective on the case Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) corners and interrogates John Kramer (Tobin Bell) aka the Jigsaw killer, who is dying of cancer. The wrinkle is that Jigsaw has trapped Eric’s son in a house with six convicts who the detective had framed for various crimes.

And later, the series starts to move closer to stances on law enforcement when a detective of over 20 years is revealed to be the protege of the Jigsaw killer, and he sees it as his duty to punish various people for their crimes. We see him roughly roll an unconscious black man out of a wheelbarrow to get him into position for a device that the audience knows will ultimately kill him.

“Be careful. That’s a human being,” John scolds him.

“What’s it matter? He’s going to die anyway,” the protege responds.

The detective and several others like him clearly see the world as people who should be punished and a world that is unable to or refuses to punish them. The series constantly plays in various grey spaces of morality that it pretends are black and white, and it makes the viewer uncomfortable at every step of the way. I don’t know whether all of this is intentional, but I find it incredibly enthralling.

After the firm stance of “Health insurance companies are evil and irredeemable” from Saw 6, I’m certainly excited to see where Spiral will take the plot of a cop killer who heavily plays with the series’s pig imagery, and what conclusions the movie will draw.

One of the nice things to me about horror, though, is that even when I wholly disagree with the philosophy of the creators, I can sometimes find a way to firm up my own beliefs.

Or maybe even just sometimes ignore the creators entirely and use their metaphors to suit my own needs.

By Casey Crook.


Reagan’s Recs: Animation (May 2021)

Beyond the heavy hitters of Pixar and Disney lies a diverse world of animation that oftentimes remains unexplored by the general public. Movies like Perfect Blue, one of Satoshi Kon’s masterpieces, can become massive influences to Hollywood films (Black Swan being an example in the case of Perfect Blue), and go unseen by so many. So, in an effort to introduce some of my favourite animated movies to more people and to just get a chance to talk more about some well-known movies that I love, I’ve chosen to make this month’s theme Animation, and I’ve made the deliberate choice to include movies from multiple countries and time-periods. 

Sidenote: I am not trying to say that these are lesser-known movies. They aren’t and that is perfectly fine. I’m just telling you all to watch them. 

The Last Unicorn (1982), dir. Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass, United States

Based on Peter S. Beagle’s novel of the same name and directed by Rankin and Bass with a screenplay by Beagle, The Last Unicorn is the story of the titular last unicorn as she attempts to discover where the rest of her kind has gone. 

The Last Unicorn was animated by Topcraft, a now-defunct Japanese animation studio that would eventually become Studio Ghibli and it shows. The backgrounds are gorgeous and vibrant and aside from Eyvind Earle’s work on Sleeping Beauty (1959), are my favourite backgrounds in any movie. Interestingly enough, the unicorn tapestries that the opening credits of The Last Unicorn take their inspiration from were also a massive influence on Sleeping Beauty (a little bit more on that movie later). I’m so glad that Topcraft’s work continued even after it ceased existence. 

Aside from the animation, The Last Unicorn’s soundtrack is great and if you somehow haven’t heard the title song yet please listen to it with the understanding that I spent many a day yelling it at the top of my lungs as a child no doubt causing quite a few headaches for my parents. 

I was a unicorn kid growing up and I still adore this movie. To be perfectly honest, I still love unicorns, they’re great. 

Destino (2003), dir. Dominique Monféry, France

Destino began its life in 1945 as a collaboration between Salvador Dalí and Walt Disney. However, due to Walt Disney Studios’ financial troubles in the years surrounding the Second World War, it would not be completed until 2003. After being storyboarded for eight months by Dalí and John Hench, a short animation test was made in the hopes that interest in the project could be rekindled. Instead, it was put on indefinite hiatus. 

It wasn’t until 1999 when Roy E. Disney discovered the project while working on Fantasia 2000 that Destino would get a second chance. Walt Disney Studios Paris would be tasked with completing the project. After deciphering Dalí and Hench’s storyboards, the team of 25 animators led by director Dominique Monféry brought the ill-fated love story of Chronos and a mortal woman named Dahlia to life using a mixture of traditional animation (including Hench’s original animation test) and computer animation. 

Destino is a one-of-a-kind short film that very nearly didn’t exist, it’s one of those rare pieces of media that has a backstory as interesting as the actual plot and very specially in the case of this short film, the imagery. Dalí’s work and influence are plain to see in this. After all, it even has a melting clock. 

Princess Mononoke (1997), dir. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan

Princess Mononoke is one of Miyazaki’s many masterpieces. A nuanced story that explores environmental themes through a story about nature spirits, Princess Mononoke is a must-see. It has the gorgeous art you would expect from a Studio Ghibli movie and more than delivers on the heart aspect. 

The first time I saw Princess Mononoke, all I could do was marvel at the fact that someone was able to just come up with that story. It was (and continues to be) astounding to me that someone had the vision for this movie floating around in their head and was able to bring it from a kernel of an idea to a fully formed plot. Of all of his films, Princess Mononoke is easily Miyazaki’s masterpiece. It’s nuanced and gorgeous and it’s in my favourites on Letterboxd for a reason. 

Also, it features Gillian Anderson as a wolf which is far more than can be said for most other movies. 

Song of the Sea (2014), dir. Tomm Moore, Ireland

Song of the Sea is the equally gorgeous follow up to The Secret of Kells (2009), the first film in director Tomm Moore’s “Irish Folklore Trilogy” which concluded with 2020’s Wolfwalkers.

The film follows Ben, a ten-year-old boy who discovers that his sister Saoirse is a selkie (a mythological being who can change from human to seal by shedding her skin), just like their mother was. Ben is antagonistic to his sister Saorsie, something that is clearly a part of the grief he feels at the loss of his mother, which he feels his younger sister played a part in. At the same time, Ben and Saorsie’s father is grieving the loss of his wife in a way that prevents him from taking proper care of his children, leading their grandmother to take them away to live with her in the city. 

Song of the Sea is a story about grief and how different people process it. Ben aims his anger at his sister, his father Conor shuts down, and the villain Macha decides that perhaps emotions aren’t worth it when they hurt so much. It’s always lovely to see animation tackle complicated themes, and it’s even nicer when those themes are not frequently explored in a realm of filmmaking usually reserved for children’s films. Tomm Moore is a masterful storyteller for being able to fit so much magic and heartfelt emotion into his works and I am so excited to see what he does next. 

Sleeping Beauty (1959), dir. Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, Clyde Geromini, and Les Clark, United States 

When I started this I told myself I would stay away from Disney and yet here I am with two entries by Disney. How the mighty have fallen. 

Sleeping Beauty deserves to be on this list if only because of how gorgeous the art is. Drawing on both medieval art and art deco, Sleeping Beauty is both beautiful and distinctive. Eyvind Earle’s backgrounds are some of my favourite work in any animated film ever and continue to be massively influential (see: The Answer, an episode of Steven Universe). One look and it isn’t hard to see why I love the art as much as I do. 

As well, the music which is heavily based on Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty is phenomenal. George Bruns (One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone) does an incredible job of blending Tchaikovsky’s work with his own and the end result is nothing short of amazing. 

Also, Skumps slaps. 

The Mitchells vs. The Machines (2021), dir. Michael Rianda, United States

Look. I know this is a new movie and is also super well-known. Odds are that you’ve seen this one by now which is totally fine, if that is the case then feel free to skip this section and focus on the previous five recommendations.

The Mitchells vs. The Machines was not going to be part of this until almost the last minute but after seeing it last week, I knew I just had to talk about it. I get affected by movies in many ways and this one affected me deeply and made me so happy that kids who are like I was; a bizarre film nerd who’s just discovering her identity as a queer person, will have this movie as they grow up. When I first noticed the writing on Katie’s hands I broke out into a grin because I still almost constantly have notes written on my hand in various colours of ink. Katie is the kind of character that I would never have let go of as a kid.

Beyond Katie, this movie is so heartfelt as it shows us a messy family and the fraught relationship between a father and a daughter who’s on the cusp of adulthood in ways that I’ve never really seen in an animated movie, and to think it does all of this with a robot apocalypse happening. 

Mitchells vs The Machines is just another bit of proof that Sony Animation knows what they’re doing and that Hollywood animation is able to rise to the occasion and deliver some real gems. Please, if you haven’t already taken the time to watch it, do so. 

I’ll be back next month with more recs, but in case you missed the last column, check it out here.

Comics Film

A Rogue’s Guide to The War of the Bounty Hunters

Starting in May, and continuing from there, Marvel will be launching their first line-wide Star Wars comics crossover; War of the Bounty Hunters. Picking up some time after The Empire Strikes Back, the crossover follows the hunt for Han Solo’s carbonite-frozen self by various parties from all over the Galaxy Far Far Away.

The crossover, shepherded by writer Charles Soule, will be following various threads throughout each separate series. The War of the Bounty Hunters mini-series will follow the main plot, Boba Fett’s attempts to protect Han and ensure delivery so he can collect his reward. The main Star Wars series will center on the Rebellion’s efforts to locate and rescue Han. And Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra, and Bounty Hunters will each follow their respective players as they get engulfed in this war.

Now, if that sounds like something you’ll be interested in, allow me to give you a rundown on the major players, presented from a unique in-universe perspective.

<<From the Archive of DATA CORRUPTED>>

<<Recording of conversation between Falleen Bounty Hunter Zuuban Gruztar and unknown individual, Mos Eisley Cantina, Tatooine, 2 years post-Endor>>

<< Subject sits in a booth at the Cantina, one leg propped on a table. A long scar across his face. The data files are transcribed from a conversation regarding individuals involved in the War of the Bounty Hunters >>

So, you want to know about the War of the Bounty Hunters, eh? Well, first you need to know what was going on before it kicked off, and to do that I’ve gotta start with the man at the center of it all; Boba Fett. He’d been on assignment for the Empire, hunting Han Solo, y’know, the smuggler. After catching up with him at Cloud City, Solo got frozen in carbonite for transport to Jabba’s. There was some sort of deal arranged there, I don’t know the specifics. Anyway, Fett was escorting him, and turns out, a lot of folk wanted to catch up with the pair of them. Honestly, he’s an alright Bounty Hunter. Man of few words. But hey, most Mandos are. Well, what’s left of them after the Empire’s Great Purge of Mandalore.

One of them hunting Fett was Princess Leia, one of the Rebellion leaders. Never met her myself, always tried to stay away from royalty, and besides, the Rebels tried to avoid using Bounty Hunters as much as possible. They had Rebel covert ops for that. Now, Leia, she and Solo were a “thing” if you get my meaning? They’ve got a kid and are pretty happy now as far as the holovids say, but back then, it was a dark time. The man she loved had been captured and was gonna be sold off to the Hutts. She was trying her best to get him back but she had a Rebellion to lead and get back into fighting shape.

Then there was the big guy, the man in black, Vader. Other than failing to capture some high-value target at Cloud City for the Emperor I don’t really know what was going on with him before the War. There were rumors of course, some personal mission to Naboo against his master’s wishes. Apparently, this put him in the Emperor’s bad books. So there was a test. Vader had to regain loyalty. Now like I said, I don’t know for definite this happened, but apparently, he ended up on some ancient Sith world with Ochi. Side note, don’t meet Ochi, he’s an ass. But anyway, whatever happened there, by the time they got back, Vader was in the Emperor’s good graces once more, ready to do his master’s bidding. I’ve only ever crossed paths with his kind once, the dark brooding beam-sword-wielding types. That’s what happened to the Ol’ charmer. 

<<At this point of the conversation, Zuuban Gruztar pointed to his face. Closer analysis reveals lightsaber burns>>

Now Doctor Aphra, what a gal. Never trust her with anything, absolutely nothing, you hear me? But still, what a gal! She’d been doing some work for the Tagge family, under duress, I might add, after getting one of them killed. The good doctor was on the hunt for some fabled experimental hyperdrive, from back in the High Republic days. She’d gotten one of her old flames, Sana Starros, to help her out but they’d gotten into trouble with the Unbroken Clan syndicate. Because of course Aphra would end up running afoul of yet another group of fraggin’ criminals. Bad, bad business if you ask me. But yeah, like I said, stay away from Aphra, she’ll get you killed.

And then there was Valance. “Ptoo.” Gah, I hate that cyborg. He’d been on the trail of Fett for some time but had had no luck. Cause he’s bad at his job. So you know what he did? He recruited Dengar. DENGAR! Hahahaha. He was so desperate was our Valance that he captured, then recruited the worst Bounty Hunter imaginable. It’s a shame Bossk was busy on Malastare, at least then there’d have been one competent person to try and track Fett.

So there you have it. That’s what was going on before the War, but you want to know exactly what went down don’t ya? Well, get a fresh drink kid. Get comfy. It’s a doozy, I’ve not even mentioned Durge yet…

<<Recording ends>>

To follow the adventures of these characters in War of the Bounty Hunters, check out the following books, available at all good comic stores and digital storefronts starting May 5th:

  • Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters – Alpha #1 by Charles Soule and Steve McNiven (05/05/2021)
  • Star Wars #13 by Charles Soule and Ramon Rosanas (05/12/2021)
  • Star Wars: Bounty Hunters #12 by Ethan Sacks and Paolo Villanelli (05/19/2021)
  • Star Wars: Darth Vader #12 by Greg Pak and Guiu Vilanova (05/26/2021)
  • Star Wars: Doctor Aphra #10 by Alyssa Wong and Ray-Anthony Height (05/26/2021)
  • Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters #1 by Charles Soule and Luke Ross (06/02/2021)