Please Make Other Kinds of Beer

A few years ago, a meme called “Read Another Book” first appeared in progressive/leftist circles on Twitter. Its purpose was to ridicule liberals for using Harry Potter comparisons with regards to politics (i.e. “Trump is Voldemort! Kellyanne Conway is just like Umbridge!”). If you are worried that a post titled “Please Make Other Kinds of Beer” is going to dabble in politics or problematic multimedia franchises, rest assured it will not past this paragraph. I just really wish I had the photoshop skills to make my own version of it that says “Anti IPA League: Please Make Another Beer.”

“Culture war” is far too strong a phrase to describe the shift in American beer consumption over the course of the 2010s, but I don’t know how else to describe it. Craft beer – and the ubiquitous IPA, which is 90% of craft – is king. You can buy microbrew in gas stations, 7-Elevens, Walmarts, and WinCos. Every place you go that sells beer is wall-to-wall with this stuff. It is unavoidable. Craft consumption started the decade as the cool alternative and ended it as the new default. In the 2020s, drinking Bud, Coors, or Miller feels more rebellious.

Thankfully the yard waste in liquid form approach to IPA brewing is less prevalent than it once was.

I don’t dislike IPAs. There are at least two – Belching Beaver’s “Phantom Bride” (a collaboration with Deftones that is named for one of their songs) and 21st Amendment’s “Brew Free or Die!” blood orange IPA – that I adore. These are both wonderful and I pick them up all the time. They also reflect a relatively new trend with IPAs (a “trend-within-a-trend,” so to speak) to make them just a little bit easier to drink. They both have citrus fruit in them which takes off some of the bitter flavor IPAs are infamous for. Hazy IPAs, which I don’t think contain fruit (drinking lots of beer does not actually impart any knowledge on how it’s made), also try to do this. I think they mostly succeed, but I’ve yet to have a hazy that amazed me. Ballast Point has one called “Passing Haze,” which implies that at least one person who works there has some modicum of self awareness.

I do think it’s nice and admirable that brewers are trying to make IPAs just a little bit more accessible. But do you know what else they could do? They could also make other kinds of beer. I know, sounds mad, right? But trust me, they do exist. Beyond the vast ocean of IPAs and IPA variants, there are lagers, pilsners, brown ales, red ales, white ales, scotch ales, porters, and stouts. There are also barley and rye wines, which are awful, but at least they’re something different. And this attitude of “everything must be an IPA” is extremely limiting. I mentioned earlier that Deftones does collaborative beers with Belching Beaver. They have done several at this point and last year one was made to celebrate White Pony‘s 20th anniversary. Now what sort of beer would such a momentous benchmark call for? A white ale feels appropriate. Or perhaps a white stout? Those aren’t common; it’s thematically a good fit for the crown jewel of Deftones’ discography. Nope. Alas, it is an IPA.

I’m not super bummed about this. I just really want micro brewers to have just a little more imagination. They are eventually going to run out of spins to put on bitter, hoppy flavor and they’ll have no choice but to go back to make literally anything else. Surely that will happen in my lifetime? I don’t want to will IPAs out of existence. I just wish the microbreweries of America would tone it down from 90% IPAs to a mere 60%. That sounds like a good compromise to me.

I Was Wrong About Darth Maul

I am one of those all things considered Star Wars fans. I have seen every movie, I watch and I am currently watching all of its TV series, and I have played a fair number of the videogames, and read some of the comics and novels. But it is easy for fans such as myself to forget that there are millions of people – possibly even billions – for whom Star Wars is just the live action films (though this might change post Mandalorian). Earlier this year, I decided to marathon all of the completed works in Star Wars: the saga films, the two spinoff features, The Clone Wars and Rebels. And as I finished watching Solo, I once again tried to put myself in the shoes of the casual fan during that inexplicable Darth Maul cameo. There had to be a lot of people out there scratching their heads and going “Hang on; isn’t this guy dead?” I also love how the almost Force-free Solo just can’t resist having Maul summon his lightsaber and ignite it right before ending his call with Qi’ra despite having no real need to do so. Maybe Disney was worried audiences would forget that they were watching a Star Wars film if there wasn’t at least one lightsaber scene.

Onetime prequel trilogy lackey Darth Maul became canonically alive but not quite well a decade ago (Holy shit!) in Clone Wars‘ third season. Having survived both getting chopped in half and falling into a bottomless pit at the end of The Phantom Menace, the ex-Sith lord ended up on a junkyard world and over the years turned himself into a giant metal spider cyborg while also going completely insane, consumed by his hatred of Obi-Wan Kenobi and his abandonment by his master, Darth Sidious. Maul’s Wookiepedia page makes it all sound so much cooler.

I don’t remember when exactly I became aware of Maul’s resurrection, but my reaction was an ESPN-esque “C’mon man.” He was never exactly my favorite character; five years ago, I went on this deeply un-charitable rant:

“Hey, speaking of not being able to let go of stuff, what the hell is up with the continuing presence of Darth Maul in secondary Star Wars media? Have you seen that dense, spoiler-filled trailer for the second half of the current Star Wars Rebels season? Guess which spike-headed, full-body tattoo enthusiast with cyborg legs is STILL kicking around a mere five years before ANH? Seriously, fanboys, what is the deal with your obsession with Maul? I get that he was the only cool and edgy thing (in strictly visual terms; film Maul had as much personality as a sock drawer) in a movie that was overflowing with pandering little kid crap but your drawn out attachment to this vastly overrated character is getting insane. Let. Go.”

That was not nice of me. And it leads me to the point I made right up there in the title: I was wrong about Darth Maul. I considered him a one-note edgy badass, good only for generating action scenes – admittedly great ones. I believed that his returning to life was moving Star Wars closer to something like the DC or Marvel Universe than I would of liked; a franchise in perpetuity where characters die and come back to life with alarming regularity, where status quo changes are only ever temporary, and where progression as a concept just doesn’t exist. But Maul as a character was made so much better for it. In fact, its why he’s even a character at all and no longer just some guy who does flips and has a rad sword.

Due to the cancellation and resurrection of Clone Wars (Noticing a pattern here? It’s like poetry; they rhyme.), Maul’s character arc was assembled piecemeal. And while it took years and came together out of order, it works splendidly. It’s not groundbreaking to have a villain motivated by vengeance, but key ingredients to making Maul 2.0 work were bitterness and vulnerability. His near death at Obi-Wan’s hands reduces him to a crazed, broken mess. There’s also this lovely little moment when Maul (out of the loop concerning events in the wider galaxy for a decade plus) finds out that the titular Clone Wars are in progress and he says “So it started without me.” It’s a brutal realization of how little he actually mattered to Sidious’ designs. And this is where Maul’s other motivation kicks in. He desires revenge against Obi-Wan for obvious reasons but he also seeks to throw a wrench in his uncaring former master’s plans.

Since Revenge of the Sith exists, we know that Maul does not succeed at either of those things. He does not, however, give up his pursuit of Obi-Wan (cue this meme). While nowhere near as destitute as he once was, Maul is at another low point when he resurfaces again in Rebels, having lost all of the wealth and material power he acquired from the underworld. But Maul is far from helpless, and here is where he showcases that he learned more than just martial prowess from Sidious. His manipulation of Ezra Bridger would probably have made the Emperor proud if he and Maul were still on speaking terms.

Star Wars: Rebels is the unsung crown jewel of Star Wars‘ Disney era. While the series would have been S-tier even if it didn’t bother with wrapping up Maul’s story, this scene here is perhaps one of the saga’s finest, made all the better by how simple and short it is. While it is a duel – a brief one – Maul’s passing almost feels like a mercy killing. His strange and arduous journey has ended and he is finally at peace. Obi-Wan acts without wrath, despite all that Maul has taken from him. Maul is held by Obi-Wan in his final seconds of life; they share a moment where they accept that their respective parts in this grand galactic tale are at an end. This is further driven home by the following scene, where Obi-Wan passes the Lars homestead and hears Aunt Beru calling Luke.

This not something I ever expected to write but here it all is. In the absolute best possible way, I was wrong about Maul. At the rate that Star Wars is now redeeming one-note, style over substance badasses, I may have to write a spiritual successor to this essay once The Book of Boba Fett has wrapped up.

Watching TV is a Chore

One of my roommates being a couch potato. Photo by me.

My roommates recently made the decision to cut our cable without consulting me. Far from being mad about it, I felt a tremendous sense of relief. On top of all the stuff I watch on streaming services, there are roughly three to five network TV shows that I follow throughout the year and I try to be a good American by watching at least some football. But as you get older, you can’t help but to notice how little time you actually have outside of your various commitments (kids, jobs, grad school, etc). This has slowly dawned on me for the past five years and it has led me to this very unpleasant conclusion: watching more than two shows at a time is basically a second job you don’t get paid for.

Things are going to get very “first world problems” going forward, so buckle up.

In 2010, The Dillinger Escape Plan released their fourth studio album, Option Paralysis. Whether intentional or not, its title essentially foretold the entertainment landscape of the decade that followed, which will almost certainly continue until the end of time. I call this a “problem” only because I don’t know what else to call it: there is too goddamned much entertainment. There’s a million shows on every streaming platform. Network TV is still putting up a valiant fight and some channels – CBS and CW come to mind – are basically trying to be streaming platforms. You like books and comics? The barriers to publishing are lower than ever (and to be clear, that is largely a good thing) and you have access to far more options than there were just 10 years ago. Music has been taking a similar route. And while I’m glad that the video game industry still caters to people who are only interested in single player, every single player title that gets put out now is a 100 hour commitment at least.

A few years back I tried to do a complete, front-to-back re-watch of the entire DC Animated Universe and it fell apart miserably around Justice League Unlimited. The odds of me ever sitting down to watch an all time classic series like Breaking Bad or Mad Men is slightly less than zero. I’ve been sitting on an Amazon Prime membership for several years now and haven’t the slightest interest in watching The Boys or Jack Ryan (though I might crack and cave in once that Lord of the Rings show comes around). I somehow manage to drag myself to the gym three or four times a week despite strongly disliking excercise but I begrudgingly see the necessity of it. Spending more than a couple hours a day watching TV is much harder to justify (please don’t “OK, boomer” me).

It feels more manageable to only follow one or two streaming shows at a time and it helps that I’ve been gradually losing interest in the Arrowverse and every other network show I’ve watched. I’m not sure how I’ll watch football but there’s the rest of the year to figure that out. Life is too short to waste on mediocre TV. As far as I’m concerned, Avatar: The Last Airbender is already the best show ever made and everyone else is just competing for second place. And even then, they’ll probably have to settle for third because I’m certain that The Venture Bros. will be the second best show ever once it wraps up.

It’s still too early to tell how our new cable-less life will effect my weekly productivity. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic; maybe I’ll have time to write more? I dunno, I better go stare off into space and think about it some more…

When Trilogies End



I distinctly recall where exactly I was in 2012 when the news dropped that Disney had just purchased Lucasfilm and that a new Star Wars trilogy was imminent. I was pretending to do some work in the computer lab of the Reynolds School of Journalism and I had a Facebook tab open when this Screen Rant article popped up in my feed. A very dumb sound emanated from my mouth after I blinked a few times to make sure it was real. I’m somewhat infamous for making dumb, weird noises when I get upset or started – so everyday, pretty much – and this was a particularly dumb noise that drew some confused looks from everyone else in the room.

We are now barely into the 2020s and the Sequel Trilogy is now completed. It’s over; done for good. Not Star Wars as a whole, of course, but the adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe, Rose, etc are now at an end. And it feels profoundly weird that it’s all wrapped up so soon. We got the news of the new trilogy and a couple years of buildup and speculation culminating in The Force Awakens, which was then followed by episodes eight and nine and a pair of spinoffs – and all of this unfolded within the span of a single decade.

Saying that you like or dislike any of the ST movies is basically a political opinion these days, regardless of whether or not you want that to be the case. I can’t change your mind on these movies; I can only tell you how I feel about them. I liked the ST as a whole and I believe The Last Jedi is its best entry by a mile and a half. The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker are firmly in good but not great territory. It is not the sole reason I love it, but TLJ pushed the franchise in a bold new direction in precisely the way I wanted the new movies to do. And because I’m a complete fool who can’t see obvious things coming, an extremely vocal segment of the fandom hated it so much that they are still hung up on it more than two years after the fact.

As for TRoS, the easiest way to describe it is that it’s like Return of the Jedi on crack. If you know me at all, then you know that RotJ is my all time favorite Star Wars movie, which by extension, makes it my all time favorite movie. But crack is also, you know, very bad for you. The crack metaphor applies to the things that are good about TRoS just as easily as it applies to the things that are bad. And admittedly, the bad parts can be pretty cringe. I was able to begrudgingly accept that Emperor Sheev Palpatine/Darth Sidious was back for real and not a fake out but the reveal that Rey was his granddaughter made me roll my eyes and groan. Far less egregious but nonetheless annoying is how bogged down the first act is with McGuffins. I’m not sure why you’d need a magic dagger to pinpoint the throne room of the second Death Star’s not exactly hard to find wreckage, but I don’t write screenplays – either for a living or as a hobby – so what the hell do I know? I would also have liked to have seen more of Rose Tico; if only because her being pushed to the background gave the absolute shittiest Star Wars fans on the planet an undeserved sense of vindication. I don’t believe that JJ Abrams, Chris Terrio and Kathleen Kennedy were trying to appease the people who decided to make Kelly Marie Tran the scapegoat for TLJ‘s perceived wrongdoings but even the smallest of chances that that was the case isn’t something I want to think about.

Rey also gets a yellow lightsaber at the end and seeing one of those in live action for the first time has me more convinced than ever that yellow is the worst color. Yuck…

Given everything dragging it down, it’s remarkable that the good parts in TRoS work as well as they do. All of the hugely important emotional stuff that matters the most landed for me. Chewie’s breakdown after he finds out that Leia has passed? Fucking devastating; it made my eyes water and my throat tighten. Ben Solo’s scene with his dad? Also devastating. That chorus of the Force (you know which part I’m talking about)? Absolutely chilling in the best possible way. I may not have liked every idea TRoS offered up but due to either the strength of the cast, Abrams himself (God forbid), or some combination of both, it kept finding ways to elevate subpar material. Hell, you could probably make a whole second move that’s just about Lando, Chewie, and Wedge zipping across the galaxy in Falcon, getting all their old war buddies back together for one last battle. You could throw Hera Syndulla in there as well. Can I pitch this to Disney? I think this idea has legs.

There is never not going to be Star Wars movies, but 2020 will be the first year without one since 2014. There’s already some way too early speculation as to what’s coming next. I’ve no idea if Rian Johnson’s non-saga trilogy is still on, though it would worth it just to piss off his detractors. (Have you seen Knives Out? The dude’s great, whether you want to admit it or not). In the meantime, there’s still the excellent Mandalorian on Disney+, and we are for sure getting shows for Cassian Andor and Obi-Wan. We will not be starved for Star Wars content, but I recommend passing on Star Wars Resistance, which has been the only dud of the Disney stewardship.

I recently joked that I’d rather talk politics than Star Wars, and while the discourse the new movies have generated is certainly tiresome, I’ve never lost any enthusiasm or love for the thing itself. The Sequel Trilogy was a worthwhile ride and I’ll be down for whatever comes next.

Secret Societies that Run the World

I make fun of conspiracy theorists all the time but I think I’m turning into the very thing that I ridicule. I’ve been noticing some shit and it’s like…every where man! There is no hiding from…them.

I’m serious, man; we have overlords, and they are all members of the following secret societies that I have exhaustively documented.

1. The Brotherhood of Dudes with Hammers Who Knock Coat Hooks Out of Toilet Stalls

2. The Illuminati of Leaving Damp Paper Towels on the Counters and in the Sinks of Public Bathrooms (the odds that this group works with or is possibly even the same as the above group are extremely high)

3. The Secret Distributors of Broken Glass and Bottle Caps in Parking Lots

4. The Brotherhood of Putting Wood and Shredded Tires on Freeways

5. The Secret Coalition of Office Workers Who Print Shitloads of Documents and Then Leave Them on the Printer All Day

6. The Illuminati of People Who Put the Wrong Discs into the Wrong DVD and/or Video Game Cases

7. The Fraternal Order of People Who Will Bag Their Dogs’ Shit But Then Just Leave it on The Sidewalk Anyways

8. The Secret Society of People Who Put Cracks in CD Cases

9. The Illuminati of People Who Clearly Don’t Pet Their Cats Enough

10. The Clandestine Collective of Facebook Programmers Who Keep Sending You Notifications for Shit You’ve Already Seen

An Evening with Alison Sudol

Alison Sudol and her band performing at Cafe du Nord.

There is still no substitute for live music in our streaming dominated world. To put it as cheesily as possible, good live music is like a shot of euphoria straight to the heart. It’s a hyper unique feeling that no one has managed to replicate elsewhere. And given the world we live, we can use a lot more of that feeling.

The show I went to last Saturday was pretty far outside of my heavy metal wheelhouse: it was indie rocker (I think) Alison Sudol, playing to what was maybe a hundred people at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. If you know Sudol at all, it’s because she plays Queenie Goldstein in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I don’t quite remember how her West Coast tour came to my attention – I think I heard through an episode of PotterCast – but I looked it up and tickets were like 20 bucks. Seeing her looked like a cool and rare opportunity and I also liked what I heard from her on Spotify.

Cafe du Nord is a square U-shaped room in the basement of the Swedish American Hall. It used to be a speakeasy and it absolutely looks the part. There was no visible security guards and I don’t think the stage had a barrier. The crowd was an eclectic mix of old (the bearded boomers wearing fedoras were out in force that night) and young. I ended up deep in conversation with a dude wearing a jacket decked out in Harry Potter pins and patches. He was also wearing an Episode IX beanie, which is how I found out he also attended Celebration (Motherfucker actually got into the Episode IX panel! Agghhhh!). He was a fascinating individual; I could have talked to him all night. I even apologized to the lady that was either his girlfriend or just a friend for hogging him.

The opening act was a local: Oakland’s Billie Gale. Per the about section of their Facebook page, they are a “atmospheric dream pop quartet,” though they were missing the fourth member that night. I don’t really have any opinions or knowledge to offer about dream pop. Billie Gale was certainly…dreamy? I wasn’t floored by them but they didn’t bother me either. The stand out of their set for me was when they finished a not particularly high tempo song and their singer said they were gonna “slow things down a bit,” which made me raise an eyebrow and whisper “Damn.”

After Billie Gale and the intermission/soundcheck, it was time for Alison Sudol. Her guitarist, drummer and keyboardist/pianist came out onstage first. Sudol herself stepped out after them, holding some incense matches and wearing some glitter on her face. She had a cup of tea with her, completing the appropriately witchy vibe she gave off. In addition to singing, Sudol also plays bass and percussion; there was a cymbal set up next to her, which she would occasionally beat the shit out of. Her mic stand had two microphones on it, one of which made her voice sound fuzzy and echoey. The only other artist I’ve seen with that set up was Les Claypool, of all people.

Sudol was a smiling, bubbly presence. I’m not familiar with her back catalog; she released three albums from 2007 to 2012 under the name A Fine Frenzy, so she’s been at this for awhile. Her set consisted mostly of material from her two recent EPs, which she released under her own name. I think it had been awhile since she toured, since she commented several times how glad she was to be playing in front of people again. Fantastic Beasts came up when some guy (I suspect it’s the same guy I spoke with) in the crowd shouted “Grindelwald is evil!” Sudol gamely replied “I know,” which led me to believe this wasn’t an isolated incident on the tour. If this brief, minor disruption bothered her, she didn’t show it.

My last show was at the Masonic in June, where I watched Mastodon (in between headliners Coheed and Cambria and openers Every Time I Die) play through Crack the Skye in its entirety. A quiet band in a small room with zero mosh pits was a lovely change of pace. Cafe du Nord’s sound system isn’t spectacular – the bartender shaking cocktails could clearly be heard through the music – but it didn’t bother me. If anything, it added to the intimacy.

I swear I’m not getting soft on you guys with all this dream pop and indie rock. I’ll be back on my metal bullshit in September when I see Kataklysm, Exhorder, Krisiun and Hatchet at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.

All of My Wrong ‘Game of Thrones’ Predictions


A forlorn Jon Snow. Image: HBO

I was one of those people who waited until after watching The Lord of Rings before trying to read it. Roughly a fourth of the way through The Fellowship of the Ring, I decided that the most profound difference between the books and the films was that if you took the number of speaking roles in Peter Jackson’s adaptation and multiplied them by 10, you would have a near enough number of how many characters are in J.R.R. Tolkein’s magnum opus. Almost a decade later, I began reading A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin – the “American Tolkein,” per Time magazine – in between seasons one and two of its hit HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones. I loved the show and I really liked Martin’s books, but they had the same issue that the LotR books have: characters from the adaptation times 10 equals the number of book characters.

I have now been reading ASoIaF on and off for at least seven years. As of this writing, I have three chapters left in A Feast for Crows. I should be finished with A Dance with Dragons by no later than 2023. My attention span has gotten considerably worse as I’ve gotten older and finishing books has become a chore, even when they are good. Sometimes I’ll set something down for so long that I’ll forget what’s going on in the story and have to start over; such was the case when I read Kevin Smith and Phil Hester’s Green Arrow run (Smith’s comic book dialogue is as dense as his film dialogue). But the sheer bulk of Martin’s tomes makes that strategy impractical. If I started from scratch every time I lapsed on an ASoIaF entry, then I wouldn’t finish any of them. A Wiki of Ice and Fire is an absolute godsend for the uneven reader who can’t remember this or that character or event.

I’m not a big fan theory guy; not in the sense that I don’t like them, rather I’m just not very good at coming up with my own. And a lot of that comes from me being unable to pick up on obvious clues. I was pretty certain that Harry Potter was not a Horcrux, even as many other fans figured out he was immediately after finishing the chapter that introduced the concept. But over the course of my attentive GoT watching and sporadic ASoIaF reading, I managed to come up with some theories of my own. I’m not sure if “theory” is the right word; maybe “prediction” is closer to the mark? Idle speculation? Stuff I wanted to happen? Whatever they are, I invite you to laugh at them with me.

1. I thought Ramsay Bolton would turn himself into the Night’s King I’m leading off with this one because it’s a doozy; my only huge, go-for-broke crackpot theory I conceived for this series. You have to hear me out on this one because A) I built it off of information from the books that ultimately didn’t make it into the show and B) I came up with it in between seasons three and four. There is a Night’s King in ASoIaF but he’s a different character than the Night King (that spelling difference is important) on GoT. The Night’s King was the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch who fell in love with a woman whose description matches that of a White Walker (“with skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars”) and the hookup turned him evil and crazy. He ruled over the Watch from the Nightfort and committed numerous atrocities during his tenure as Lord Commander before he was defeated by a coalition of northmen and free folk. I had no reason to think this would happen; it just sounded cool to me and Ramsay was certainly crazy enough to take a White Walker as a lover. But alas, this was not to be, as the legend of the Night’s King didn’t make it into GoT, even though Bran, Jojen, Meera, Sam and Gilly were right there in the Nightfort at the end of season three. I doubt this will happen in the books at this point but it would be awesome.

I thought Asha/Yara Greyjoy and Jon Snow would hook up This was my only ship of the series and like the above, I had no reason to think this would happen. It struck me as a cute and incest free pairing and such pairings became distressingly rare as the show went on. I thought Yara and Theon would help Jon defeat Night’s King/Ramsay and in the process she and Jon would develop feelings for watch other. I’m shocked I didn’t write fanfic of this.

3. I thought Jon would become King-Beyond-the-Wall Jon does go back to the Wall at the end of GoT, but he merely rejoins the Night’s Watch. I predicted he’d be a king, just not of the Seven Kingdoms. I didn’t think Daenerys would die (and certainly not by Jon’s hand) but rather they’d jointly rule Westeros with Jon taking all of the territory north of the Wall. I even thought Yara would join him (the Iron Islands would be decimated by the White Walkers in this scenario). Tormund would of course be his Hand.

4. I thought the Night King put a backup copy of himself in Bran As you can no doubt tell, this is the only recent one I came up with. I thoroughly enjoyed the often hard to see spectacle of “The Long Night,” but I was still disappointed in how the Night King got demoted to a Disc One Final Boss. That was way too easy, I thought. Surely that can’t be it for the massive existential threat this series has been building up to since literally the first scene of the first goddamned episode? Then I remembered when the Night King touched Bran while he was warging in season six. He turned Bran into a Horcrux! I theorized. The Night King has a back up plan! As it turned out he did not and Bran became king of Westeros. I really over thought this one.

I don’t think I’ve ever put so much mental effort into being so wrong. I totally called it on the Iron Throne getting destroyed though.

Star Wars Celebration After Action Report


I got to take a selfie with BB-8.

Star Wars Celebration was a sensory overload in a mostly positive way. Unfortunately, it has left me completely unable to organize my thoughts on it, so this after action report will come in list form. Writing is hard and I am lazy.

1. I’m pretty sure the term “bucket list” is a cliché now, so I’m trying to use it less, but should you ask: yes, attending a Celebration was absolutely at the top of mine.

2. Last year in June, Facebook helpfully shoved an ad in my face announcing tickets had gone on sale. This could be the only useful thing Facebook has ever done. It cost me roughly $250 for a five day pass.

3. I didn’t go alone. I successfully lobbied a dear friend of mine I almost never get to see to come along and we split a hotel room. I am eternally grateful to him and we had a blast.

4. I absolutely adore the Rebel special forces guys that accompany Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio to Endor and I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to dress up as. Assembling this costume involved multiple trips to a Vallejo military surplus store, becoming a lifetime REI member, spray painting a Nerf gun and buying a plastic pot from Home Depot which I cut into a helmet ring. Altogether, this costume was…adequate. There were other people doing a much better job at that same cosplay which made me feel a little envious, but I’m still glad I dressed up. Even shitty cosplay is fun.

5. I’m not even going to try to describe every single amazing cosplay I saw because there was just so much of it. There are some really talented people in this world; I’ll leave it at that.

6. You could easily spend the entirety of Celebration stumbling around the expo floor in awe of all the stuff packed onto it.

7. If you absolutely must buy a celebrity photo op, get one with one of the voice actors, as they go for considerably cheaper than the live action ones.

8. We ended up staying for four of the five days on account of the fact that we didn’t book our hotel past the last night of Celebration and that the bus ride was long. Plans change sometimes and I’m adaptable. At any rate we were pretty much spent four days in and we had absorbed a whole lot.

9. Fun times always come with a cost, and not just in a monetary sense. Among the many sacrifices you’ll be subjected to at Celebration: not getting into a panel you really want to see in person, waiting in lots of lines, having to sit on floors, having to skip meals to hold a position in line and having to eat convention center food. And no matter how much you do and see, you will still dwell a little bit on all the things you missed. For instance, I’m kind of miffed over not getting the exclusive Clone Wars poster, despite the fact I got to see the panel itself, which is a far more substantial experience than acquiring a sheet of paper to hang on my wall. I’m outright embarrassed by that small, nagging disappointment; what the hell is wrong with me?

10. As far as I can tell, the toxicity of online fandom was all but absent from McCormick Place. Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) and Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) both received standing ovations and I spotted a bunch of Admiral Holdo cosplayers in the exhibit hall. The notion that “everybody” hates those characters is a load of bantha shit. Star Wars is for everybody; deal with it.

11. We got into the Galaxy’s Edge panel but I couldn’t attend because it conflicted with one of my photo ops. As far the larger panels went, we got to see half of Alan Tudyk’s interview with Warwick Davis, the Clone Wars panel (check out this sweet trailer) and we got into one of the streaming rooms for The Mandalorian

12. The Mandalorian‘s trailer was exclusive to its panel attendees (which thankfully included those of us in the overflow rooms where it got streamed). That show looks pretty sweet and it has practically guaranteed that I’ll fire up a Disney+ account come November. The trailer still hasn’t been officially released but there are some bootlegs of it on YouTube.

13. It would have been remiss of us to not get Chicago pizza, so we got some at Giordano’s. I’m no authority on Windy City pizza, but this place was excellent. It was also flooded with Star Wars fans, because you couldn’t go anywhere in Downtown Chicago without seeing at least a dozen.

14. Star Wars Celebration was a profoundly wonderful and life affirming experience. I don’t know if I’m up for going again so soon but there will be another one in Anaheim next year – probably to coincide with the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. If you love Star Wars and have the money and the time off, you should consider going.

I Don’t Know What to Think About ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’


Image: Warner Bros.

I didn’t particularly like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I found it to be a C- movie at best with two immensely likable characters (Jacob and Queenie) who felt like worthy editions to the universe but otherwise it had nothing else terribly compelling to offer. If it was just a one-and-done standalone feature, I wouldn’t really give Beasts much thought outside of “Hey, remember Queenie and Jacob? Those two were great; too bad they had to be saddled with that annoying dork with the giant bird and Queenie’s sulky sourpuss of a sister.” But therein lies the problem.

Harry Potter is now a franchise in perpetuity and so Fantastic Beasts is of course becoming a series. That’s the reality of show business at the moment and it isn’t a deal breaker for me. I love Star Wars, James Bond and Marvel and DC, and those institutions have refused to conclude since before anyone even heard the phrase “franchise in perpetuity” (if Disney hadn’t bought Star Wars, the now defunct Expanded Universe would have gone on until the end of time). A cultural touchstone like Harry Potter was of course going to follow suit.

I’m going to get the unpleasant business out of the way first: the pre-release period of Crimes of Grindelwald has just been a parade of unpleasantness. Johnny Depp’s continued presence in the series. The initial erasure of Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality (hopefully that isn’t the case anymore). The Nagini-is-actually-a-person business, which is both stupid and probably racist. All of the above makes me leery of giving this franchise any more support.

Those are all significant problems and they are stacked on top of the fact that I didn’t even like the first movie and that I find the direction Beasts is taking to be baffling. If this series was just about Newt having whimsical adventures with silly magical creatures then it would be a harmless distraction. But because it also has to function as a five goddamned part prequel series about the global wizarding war, it’s a bloated mess instead. If you wanted to make a Dumbledore versus Gellert Grindelwald story why not just make that? Why does it have to be shown from the perspective of wizard Steve Irwin? And if you absolutely must capitalize on one of the peripheral Harry Potter books, then why not just choose Quidditch Through the Ages and make a magic sports movie franchise? That’s something no one’s seen before.

There’s already a great deal of talk about J.K. Rowling turning into prequel period George Lucas. I don’t really have anything to add to that, though the Nagini reveal is pretty much on the same level of Darth-Vader-building-Threepio in terms of “Who the hell asked for this?” Creators losing touch as time progresses is an extremely normal career arc. I can live with the fact that I won’t like the Beasts series, but Rowling’s and Warner Bros.’ continued support of the credibly accused domestic abuser headlining their shared blockbuster franchise is much harder to swallow.

I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter, in addition to re-playing the LEGO Harry Potter games. This series is a huge deal for me and will always be a big part of my life, almost as much as Star Wars is. As you could no doubt tell by this article’s headline, I haven’t come to any satisfactory conclusion. I probably will see The Crimes of Grindelwald at some point; it’ll make a billion dollars with or without my ticket purchase. But whereas going to see the Harry Potter movies always felt like the best kind of adventure, seeing new installments of Fantastic Beasts just feels like a chore at this point.

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender,’ Take 2

I never thought we’d see it happen, but I’ve been hoping for awhile now that someone would take another stab at a live action Avatar: The Last Airbender. Evidently, series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and the folks in charge of Netflix feel the same way because that’s what we’re getting. Not a sequel series, such as the almost as great Legend of Korra, or a prequel or a spinoff. A full on remake.

M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender is every bit as terrible as you remember – though also kind of hilarious – but personally I feel like it still doesn’t catch enough shit for whitewashing its leads. In their statement, DiMartino and Konietzko give us the assurance of a “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast,” so at least that base is covered. As for everything else wrong with that movie, being better than TLA is an extremely low bar to clear.

I totally missed out on Avatar the first time around; hell, I saw TLA first. I didn’t check out the series itself until 2013, when it became my go to for Netflix-and-chill on hungover weekend mornings. I am living proof that being late to a party is better than not showing up, because I was all in before even finishing the first season. I don’t love Avatar quite as much as Star Wars, Harry Potter or The Incredibles, but at this point it’s planted firmly in my personal canon of “Shit that is Awesome.” Hell, it even inspired one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever written.

The world of Avatar has magic (“bending”), hybrid animals, spirits, otherworldly dimensions, steampunk vehicles and huge cities and continents. I’ve no idea how Netflix is going to visualize all of that, though they did pretty awesome work on the new Lost in Space; maybe they’re ready to step up to the next level. I’m just trying very hard to not think about that other Netflix series that featured mystical kung fu and the occasional dragon. It went…poorly.

The world doesn’t need another live action Avatar adaptation, but I’m choosing to be optimistic about it for the following reasons:

  1. It could not possibly be worse than The Last Airbender. DiMartino and Konietzko would have to actively try to make their live action version shittier and the effort involved to do so would kill them.
  2. No one named Jackson Rathbone will appear in this series.
  3. It could grow the fan base and maybe get newcomers to check out the original show and Korra; like, for instance, certain family members who have weird hang-ups about watching cartoons.
  4. A whole new generation will get to here the words “then everything changed when the fire nation attacked.”
  5. I will probably like it more than the four sequels James Cameron is still making for his Avatar.

See? We have so much to look forward to.