Author: mikeladano

Metal, hard rock, rock and roll! LeBrain's Record Store Tales & Reviews! Poking the bear since 2010.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Best of MusikLaden Live at the Beat Club

BLACK SABBATH – The Best of MusikLaden – Live at the Beat Club (1970 television performance)

When Black Sabbath released their Black Box in 2004 featuring all the original lineup’s studio albums in remastered form, they also included a bonus four-song DVD.  This disc was the oft-released television broadcast of a German show called Beat Club (later MusikLaden).  Sabbath made two appearances in 1970, and the Black Box was the most official release of them.  Before upgrading to the Black Box, I owned an earlier, unofficial DVD release.  I taped that DVD to cassette, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

“Black Sabbath” is torrential, as intense as the young band was able.  Ozzy sounds as if possessed, truly terrified and warning us that something foreboding and terrible is coming.  “Paranoid” is strangely echoey and distant, but still as incendiary as 1970 Black Sabbath should be.  Interestingly, in this version it really does sound as if Ozzy is singing “end your life” instead of “enjoy life”.  A sparse “Iron Man” announces its arrival with evil Gibson guitar sonic bends.  This version of “Iron Man” is a little stiffer than others, but not for long.  Towards the end, Geezer Butler unleashes the hordes and the song stampedes to a close.

Finally and most notoriously is “Blue Suede Shoes”, a performance pretty much everybody has since disowned.  It’s not terrible, although it’s certainly uncharacteristic.  It’s as if Black Sabbath were suddenly encroaching upon ZZ Top’s territory.  Tony’s speedy solo is interesting if not typical, and the band really stepped it up.  I get why some would mock it; it’s kind of goofy and definitely not as impressive as the Sabbath originals.  But it’s…fun?  Is Sabbath allowed to be…fun?

3.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: Star Trek – Picard (2020)

“Please, my friends.  Choose to live.”

STAR TREK: Picard Season 1 (CBS All Access 2020)

It truly is a shame that the most Star Trek of all the current Star Treks isn’t Star Trek at all.  It’s a goddamn show by Seth MacFarlane, and it is more true to the spirit of Gene Roddenberry’s vision than any of the three modern Trek incarnations.  If Seth can do it, why can’t CBS?  The newest series (which wrapped up its first season on Thursday March 26) is Star Trek: Picard, based on Jean-Luc of course.  It’s closer to the feel of Trek than Discovery or the Abramsverse, but only by small margins.

Warning:  This review will be light on major spoilers, but there will be spoilers, so proceed only if you don’t mind.

Short Treks:  “Children of Mars”

As set up in the final episode of Short Treks season 2: “Children of Mars”, 14 years ago a devastating attack occurred on Mars.  Mars is close to home, Earth, the seat of the Federation.  The attack, by a new line of androids with a golden skin like Data’s, was devastating.  Jean-Luc Picard was blamed for Starfleet’s inability to respond.  He had taken the fleet to Romulus to save their race from the supernova that would destroy the Romulan homeworld in 2009’s movie, Star Trek. To make matters worse, the Romulans blame Picard for not finishing the job and leaving their people behind when the fleet is urgently recalled to Mars.

Jean-Luc at home at Chateau Picard

In a last-ditch attempt to muster some relief for the Romulan race, Picard offered Starfleet a choice:  help assemble a new rescue fleet or accept his resignation.  They chose not to help.  The broken hero went home to the family vineyard of Chateau Picard while Romulus died and Mars burned.

With all this now in the past, a retired and shunned Picard bears a heavy burden.  Because of the attack on Mars, androids have been banned by the Federation.  The only people that seem to appreciate the former Admiral are his two Romulan housekeepers and bodyguards.  At age 94, Jean-Luc is not as spry as he was when he took command of the USS Enterprise-D decades earlier.  And not all Romulans blame Picard, for some understand that he was powerless when the fleet was sent back to Mars.

Picard’s quiet existence is soon shattered by the appearance of Dahj (Isa Briones), an android who thinks she is human.  Dahj has come to Picard for help.  Someone (Romulans!) tried to kill her in her home, and she somehow knows Picard’s face as one she can trust.  It doesn’t take long for Jean-Luc to recognise Dahj for what she is:  an artificial lifeform, created by unknown means as an offspring of Commander Data.

Dr. Agnes Jurati and Jean-Luc Picard

After a visit with Dr. Agnes Jurarti (Allison Pill) at the Daystrom Institute in Japan, Jean-Luc learns that Bruce Maddox (remember him from “Measure of a Man” in The Next Generation?) was working on a technique called fractal neuronic cloning to create a new kind of android.  Using a single neuron taken from Data’s prototype B-4 (remember him from Nemesis?) Maddox apparently succeeded despite the ban on synthetic life.  Interestingly, fractal neuronic cloning always results in two androids.  Meaning, Data had twin daughters — Dahj has a sister!  Due to her familial relationship with Data, the android that gave his life to save Jean-Luc, he decides he must find and protect the sister.

We have a mission!  To find Dahj’s twin, he needs to locate Bruce Maddox who disappeared when the Federation banned synthetic life 14 years ago.

It takes Picard a few episodes to assemble a crew and get the hell back into space.  Once more, Starfleet refuses to help, and drops the first of many unnecessary F-bombs when asked.  “Just because you can swear, doesn’t mean you should,” says Rob Daniels.

Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker

The first three episodes of the show move slowly, as we are spoon-fed dribbles of information about this new Star Trek world.  Jean-Luc had another another first officer after Riker; Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd), and guess what?  Preposterously, here’s yet another individual who blames Picard for a whole bunch of things related to the Mars incident.  She’s hooked on booze and smoking “snakeleaf”, but she does have a lovely little motorhome-looking place right near the Vasquez rocks.  Due to the slow moving nature of the writing, it takes a while for Musiker and her motivations to come out.  Apparently she’s a conspiracy theorist, and when Jean-Luc (or “JL” as she calls him) reveals that Romulan agents are running wild on Earth looking for androids, that’s right up her alley.

Raffi is very much correct about her conspiracies, and they go deep.  Dahj’s identical twin sister is named Dr. Soji Asha, and she has been on Romulan radar for some time.  She is blissfully unaware of her own true nature.  Tal Shiar agent siblings Narek and Narissa plan to manipulate her to reveal information they need to wipe out the android homeworld once and for all.  Wait — homeworld!?  That’s right.  Apparently Maddox, on an unknown planet, has been very busy making Data babies.

But why do the Romulans care so damn much about androids?  Things get complicated when you ask that question, and the slow-coming answers never completely satisfy.  It’s all a little too Battlestar Galactica.  “All this has happened and will happen again.”  Cylons uprising against their creators.  Picard digs itself into a pit with this whole storyline, the ancient and previously unmentioned Romulan hatred of artificial life.  A sub-sect of the Romulan Tal Shiar secret police, called the Zhat Vash, is sworn to end all synthetic life — before it ends them, as they have mysteriously foreseen.

Captain Cristóbal Rios

As we slowly piece this information together, Picard also gradually picks up the pieces of the crew in sloth-like fashion.  Next is Captain Cristóbal “Cris” Rios (Santiago Cabrera), yet another former Starfleet officer with a dark, hidden past.  What, are there no happy people left in this world?  What would Gene Roddenberry say about this?  Rios drinks, he smokes cigars — vices that Roddenberry thought most people would recognise as dangerous.  Additionally, Rios has a whole series of holograms of himself, all with different accents and nationalities, to help out around the ship.  Wait…what?  Holograms of himself, with different accents? What the hell is that?  While it’s fun to see Cabrera play five or six “characters” together in a single episode, this makes no sense whatsoever.  Who has that much ego, that they want to be surrounded by holograms of themselves all the time?  With different accents?  Though he’s portrayed as a dark and mysterious captain on an existential journey to heal his broken past, apparently Rios is also a raging narcissist.

OK, are we ready to launch yet?  At the last minute Dr. Jurati from the Daystrom Institute decides to join the crew.  We board Rios’ ship La Sirena and we’re off!

Wait, wait, hold on.  Hit the brakes.  We still have to make a stop.  Once upon a time ago, we learn that the once child-hating Jean-Luc Picard befriended a young Romulan boy named Elnor during the attempted rescue.  Now an adult and fierce warrior raised by an obscure sect, Elnor (Evan Evagora) becomes another of Picard’s new allies.  Needing muscle, we make this one last detour at Vashti to pick up the adult Elnor.  Here we find that…oh, come on — Elnor has a grudge against Picard, too?  It takes one episode (a really good one, admittedly) to introduce Elnor and the Roluman warrior nuns (Qowat Milat) that raised him and taught him those awesome ninja skills.  Only for Elnor to be underused in the instalments that follow.

Elnor

“Please.  Choose to live.”

You will love every time those four words are heard on screen.  You would choose to live too when you see what Elnor can do with a sword.  Those warrior nuns mean business, and they do not like the Tal Shiar one bit.  Elnor practices a lifestyle called the Way of Absolute Candor — total honesty in every word.  This results in some of the lighter, more humourous dialogue in the series.

Picard excels in this first season when going deeper into Romulan culture.  It was never really explored in detail during The Next Generation.  No, instead TNG took it upon itself to define the Klingons.  Deep Space Nine did that with the Ferengi.  And Voyager greatly expanded upon the Borg.  It’s about time the Romulans were fleshed out onscreen, and it’s quite well done.

Because of its setting in time, Picard is also the first exploration of the galaxy post-Romulus.  Its destruction in Star Trek (2009) was established but the repercussions never seen until now.  And guess what — those Romulans have been busy.  They’ve established a colony on a derelict Borg cube, cut off from the collective.  This cube, called the Artefact, and its Borg drone inhabitants are harvested for technology.  And that’s where we find Dr. Soji Asha, assigned to work and study.  Zhat Vash agent Narek (Harry Treadaway) has her wrapped around his fingers.

Seven of Nine

The ties to the Borg story allow us to revisit a couple old friends:  Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Hugh (Jonathan Del Arco).  These characters are shoehorned into the plot just so that they can be in a new Picard series.  Though once upon a time they were all connected by the Borg collective, Seven’s never met the other two on screen before.  Hugh’s storyline is warm but short.  Seven is…oh man, not again?  A broken soul searching for meaning.  Why can’t any of these damn characters have had a happy life after their series ended?

At least there’s Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis).  They seem happy on planet Nepenthe, with their daughter Kestra Riker-Troi.  Riker’s making pizza, and there’s grass and trees and nature and…oh come on!  They have a tragedy too?

Listen, tragedy strikes.  It hits us all.  Lord knows it does.  Star Trek has been building characters on tragedy ever since it killed Sisko’s wife in the DS9 series premier.  It doubled-down when it murdered Kirk’s dad and Spock’s mom in Star Trek (2009).  But why can’t some of our heroes just have life turn out the way they wanted it to?  The way we hoped it would?  Just one character?

Frakes, who directs several episodes of Picard, is still Riker.  The booming voice is augmented by a bigger stature.  Captain Riker has several great moments in this show, in some of the best episodes.

Jean-Luc’s adventures take him from a glitzy Vegas-like planet, to an apprehensive reunion with a Borg cube.  They put our hero in great danger and shine a spotlight on his highest moral standards.  Though the galaxy may have fallen into disarray since we last visited it, Picard himself is just as dedicated to his principles as before.  Perhaps now he is truly able to act according to his moral beliefs, freed of the yoke that was Starfleet command.  Patrick Stewart, as if without pause, has simply become Jean-Luc Picard again.  He still inspires that sense of greatness and meaning that we should all strive for in our lives.  When the adventure concludes, we are reminded that all events set in motion happened because of Picard’s loyalty to his friend.

Commander Data

The lynchpin of the series is Data (Brent Spiner).  Though the beloved android sacrificed himself for Picard in Nemesis (aka Star Trek X, the 10th film), there was always a thread left behind for him to return.  The comic books depicted his return in one way.  Picard takes it in a different direction, one which could either make fans cry or seethe in anger.  Personally speaking I found it to be appropriate and incredibly well performed and directed.  Nemesis was not a great film (perhaps the worst of the original 10) and Data’s farewell was not nearly as impactful as Spock’s was in The Wrath of Khan.  Perhaps this series helps set things right.

We already know a Picard season 2 is in the works, which means we know that the titular character was never in any real danger.  I anticipated one plot twist that happened in episode 10, but a full episode earlier.  It’s a shame they can’t just leave such things unannounced and let the story unfold in surprising ways, not predictable ones.

By season’s end, Picard is a new man again.  With a family-like crew by his side, bonded by life and death and life, the future is promising.  Fans have campaigned for a season featuring Q (John DeLancie) as an antagonist.  This does not seem impossible given that Q’s nemesis, Guinan (Whoopie Goldberg) is confirmed for season 2.  But there are still unresolved threads left hanging in Picard that might be picked up in the second season.  One might even directly tie into Star Trek: Discovery or its spinoff Section 31 starring Michelle Yeoh.

Here’s something else the writers should consider doing next season:  standalone episodes.  We’ve set up Picard’s new ship and crew, as if the season was one 10-hour long pilot episode.  It would be cool to visit strange new worlds every once in a while.  Discover new civilisations.  To boldly go!  To do something more akin to the Seth MacFarlane show, because he’s proven you can do it.  If standalones aren’t likely because overarching seasons are the current fashion, then at least feed us information more quickly and resolve questions sooner.  Picard took forever to get off the ground and moving.  Once that happened…they still spoon-fed the audience in drips.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  To quote Jean-Luc himself, “To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination.”

Soji Asha

Most valuable players:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes (as director and actor), Evan Evagora, Jeri Ryan, Jonathan Del Arco, composer Jeff Russo, and newcomer Isa Briones.  In key dual roles as Data’s daughters Dahj and Soji, and even as a singer in the finale, Briones never ceased to impress.  Welcome to Star Trek, Isa.  You’re in it for life now.

Star Trek series typically have rough first seasons.  The Next Generation‘s first season was quite awful.  Deep Space Nine took several years to get moving (literally since it was a space station and they used a new starship to expand horizons).  Discovery underwent a complete re-jigging after its controversial first season.  It would be nice if Star Trek would stop being afraid of its own shadow.  Be what you are, Star Trek.  Don’t try to be Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or anything else that followed in your footsteps.  Writers have always complained that Star Trek is hard to write for, since it has such a long and extensive canon.  Well, Picard is how you avoid those problems — by moving forward into unknown territory, instead of trying to shoehorn your series between others in the timeline.  The future is wide open.  Not only did 2009’s Star Trek create a new playground for the franchise to exist in the cinemas, but it also allowed a “reset” of sorts in the original Picard timeline.  Something bad happened, and the galaxy changed.  This enables freer writing of stories.

It was a good season.  Now run with it, and be intelligently true to Trek at the same time.  It can happen.  To say you have no choice is a failure of imagination!

3.5/5 stars

The next Next Generation.  Engage!

Sunday Chuckle: That time Laura dedicated a Bieber song to me

March 27 2020Laura Geddes from 105.3 Virgin Radio asked for listeners to submit messages to our friends and family listening.  So I submitted a clip — little did I know Laura was going to dedicate a Justin Bieber song to me as well!  First time for everything.

Incidentally that’s the first time my voice has been on Virgin, now making it three local stations that have been LeBraaaained!

Thanks Laura!

#824: “I’m Outta Here!”

GETTING MORE TALE #824:  “I’m Outta Here!”

A sequel to Part 287:  Closing Time

Name one person who doesn’t love closing down for the day.  Work completed, clock ticks 9:00 pm, and the doors are locked.  Time to go eat some dinner and unwind.  At the Record Store, we got paid until 9:15 pm, the approximate amount of time it would take to cash out and close.  Sometimes we could do it in 10 minutes, sometimes far longer.  It was always considered a victory if you could completely close out in 10 minutes, and get paid for 15.  Small triumphs.

My favourite location to close was the original mall store at Stanley Park.  It was probably my favourite for closing because I was working alone.  Closing a store by yourself gives you a greater sense of responsibility.  Plus you could listen to whatever (metal) you wanted.

Listen, I don’t care where you work, everybody wants to go home and get refueled.  It’s a basic right.  Once you stop getting paid, you’re a free human being again.

There was one occasion at the mall I’ll never forget.  I was closing up normally and had just returned from the bank to drop off the night deposit.  I shut down the lights, packed up my stuff and locked the door.  As I was heading to the parking lot to meet my dad who was picking me up, I spied a group of three or four kids down the hall heading to the store, arms loaded with CDs to sell.  Just loaded — the group must have had 100 discs altogether.  I stealthily sneaked out of the mall via a seldom-used side entrance, hopefully unseen.

Close call!  The last thing I wanted was to have my dinner delayed by a group of kids needing last minute (booze) money after closing time.

This kind of thing still bugs me.  When I’m out shopping I’m very conscious of closing time.  I’m not going to get some sales rep to perform handstands just before closing, and definitely not after!  Some kids don’t know any better, but they should.  Didn’t they have their own part time jobs that they didn’t like to stay late for?  Did they get paid extra if they had to stay late?  We didn’t.

I was glad to say “I’m outta here!” at closing time even if there were still people wanting to come in.  Maybe we could have made more money if we did stay open, but none of it would be coming my way.

 

Friday Live Streaming — tune in while you are shut in!

We’re all in this together.  For your entertainment, and let’s face it mine too, I will be live streaming on Facebook tonight at 9:00 pm Eastern Standard Time.

We tried this last week, sort of an impromptu live session and it was fun!  There were loads of music questions, lots of air guitar, great comments, and even a couple of my rock heroes stopped by to see what was going on.  So what’s up for tonight?  That’s up to you, folks!

How long it goes will depend on how many people are watching; I’ll call it a night if it’s a slow one.  Otherwise we could go until midnight.  I’ll be pulling the plug then no matter what, so I can watch Rob Daniels live show on Visions In Sound.  He will be playing the music of Star Trek: Picard by Jeff Russo.  You might want to make sure you catch that.

I will admit the longest I’ve gone (haha!) is an hour and a half.  Never done three hours before.  So this will be interesting to say the least.

Look for me on Facebook — I’m Michael there — and tune into the live stream at 9:00 PM EST.

 

#823: A Cure for The Cult

GETTING MORE TALE #823: A Cure for The Cult

The Cult were big in highschool. “Fire Woman” debuted in the spring of ’89. It was an instant hit. Their momentum continued through the fall with “Edie (Ciao Baby)” and into the following year with “Sweet Soul Sister”. There was no stopping The Cult! With a new unknown drummer named Matt Sorum, The Cult toured the world and cleared up any remaining confusion that this was indeed a rock band.

The only Cult confusion that remained might have been with my friend Danesh.

Ian Astbury

I discovered that we both liked The Cult. I recall his amusement at the lyrics for “New York City” off Sonic Temple.  In particular he thought the aggrandizement “Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ” was pretty funny.  It might have had something to do with the annual school trip to New York, that we didn’t attend but a friend of ours did.  Their bus was broken into and they had their stuff stolen.  Not particularly funny in and of itself, but I think we were amused because of who it happened to:  The legendary Brett Bowerman of Brett-Lore fame.  Indeed, in our highschool comic strip, the Geography teacher Mr. Robinson went to New York City to find a missing Brett!  This was inspired by us assuming Brett would get lost in New York and left behind.  In our sketches, Ian Astbury himself made a cameo.  This happened in a chapter titled “Brett Lore III:  Brett Takes Manhattan”.  In one panel, we find the Ayatollah Khomeini, a dead cat, and Skid Row (presumably because I didn’t know the difference between New York and New Jersey).  The Cult’s logo was scrawled on a wall, but scratched out.  Hell’s Kitchen is a DMZ after all!

Note that Elvis visited New York in 1989, apparently.  I also like that you can actually identify each Skid Row member by appearance alone.

Adding to the comedy, I recall that Brett purchased a samurai sword in New York.  I don’t remember if it was among the stolen possessions.  I think it probably was.

Back to the Cult.  Danesh was getting into rock music and wasn’t as well educated in the fine art of electric guitar as I was.  I think it’s very possible that he accidentally bought Disintegration by The Cure, confusing them with The Cult.  I do know that Danesh was terribly embarrassed about owning that Cure CD.  Compact discs were a new thing, and he owned up to having The Cure when we were listing some of the CDs that were in our collections.  I asked if he owned any discs that had “bonus tracks”.  The Cure did — two in fact.  That’s when he told me about it.  But he refused to tell me how he got it.  I had the Cure/Cult mixup theory, but he never confirmed nor denied.  To this day, 30 years later, I still don’t know!

Danesh really hated that Cure album.  When my family had a garage sale in 1991, he handed me the Cure CD to get rid of.  The garage sale was his only hope.  I put a sticker on there that said “BONUS TRACKS” and priced it at $12.  That was about half as much as you’d pay new.  But too much for garage salers.  I dropped it to $10 but no go.

Danesh was heartbroken when I returned the disc to him the following Monday.

“I would have been fine with a lower price if you called to tell me it wasn’t selling.”

Well, shit.  Sorry man.

I did feel bad.  I would have preferred selling it for him too.  But he still wouldn’t tell me why he owned it!  Was it a gift?  Did he like one song and then hate the rest?  Did he freak out when he saw what they looked like?  I remember his reaction the first time he saw a photo of Night Songs-era Cinderella.  It wasn’t positive!  The only album he owned was Heartbreak Station.  He didn’t know about Cinderella’s glam past and he wouldn’t let it go!

But these are just guesses.  For whatever reasons, Danesh would never tell me why he owned Disintegration by The Cure, nor would he tell me why he was ashamed of it.

As a final explanation, I’m going to go with the Cure/Cult mixup and consider this case closed.  An understandable mistake like that can be easily forgiven.

 

#822: Record Store Daze – Gallery #6

As time goes on, old photos are more and more fun to dig up.

This batch dates back to 2004-2005.

First up, I have a feeling a marillion.com order came in!  I was one of thousands who pre-ordered the double Marbles album and got my name in the credits.  In the following picture it’s the singles for “You’re Gone”!  Two CDs and a (UK) DVD.  I had to have them all even though I couldn’t play the DVD back in 2004.

 

Ahh, this is a good one.  Sarge from Metal Fatigue in Bournemouth, England was visiting his friends The Legendary Klopeks in Canada.  That’s Josh “Sweet Pepper” Klopek holding my hand.  Hey man, I’ll take any support I can get when a bald British dude is shoving a needle through my flesh.  Sarge did the piercing in my home, the first and only time I have had such a comfortable piercing experience!  Josh has a black eye because of the onstage punishment he took nightly.

These two photos were taken with cardboard standees with webcams, but for the time, they looked pretty good.

Just some goofing around.  I was doing some live streaming, it looks like.  And the Wheaties box may have been done by Sarge!

WORST.  MASCOT.  EVER.

 

Finally, these last two pictures are really special.  They were taken the day before I met Jen.  It’s strange that they are the only ones timestamped.  But I would have known the date regardless.  The Bob Marley and Slash shirts are obviously new (you can see the tag) and I bought those shirts the day before I met my wife.  I bought them at St. Jacob’s farmer’s market, on a date with another girl.  It was memorable because it didn’t go well.  She was really hurrying me along when I was looking at shirts.  I knew it wasn’t going to work out.  The next day I met Jen.  She wrote about her side of it in Getting More Tale #434:  The Man in the Bob Marley Shirt.  If I had chosen the other shirt to wear that day, maybe the story would have been called The Man in the Slash Shirt!

 

 

RECORD STORE TALES Part 171:  Record Store Gallery
RECORD STORE TALES Part 279:  Record Store Gallery Deux
RECORD STORE TALES Part 280:  Record Store Gallery III – Furry Friends
RECORD STORE TALES Part 311:  Record Store Gallery IV (Shite Photies)
GETTING MORE TALE #607:  Every Picture Tells a Story

Covideo #4

Yet Another Coronavirus Video

TV REVIEW: The Mandalorian (2019 Disney+)

“Look outside. Is the world more peaceful since the revolution? I see nothing but death and chaos.” — The Client

THE MANDALORIAN (2019 Disney+ series)

2019 might have been the biggest year ever in the history of the Star Wars franchise.  Not only did the original Saga finally come to an end after 42 years of wondering if it would ever happen, but even the very first Star Wars live action TV series came to be.  This comes a full 15 years after its aborted predecessor, Star Wars Underworld was announced.  Headed up by Jon Favreau, The Mandalorian Season One was a commercial and critical success.

But was it as good as its hype?

Pedro Pascal headlines as the mysterious Mandalorian, a bounty hunter trying to make ends meet about five years after the battle of Endor.  The New Republic rules the roost and times are lean, but the Empire is not gone.  Not yet.  The Imperial Client (Werner Herzog) needs a very important asset.  The Client leads a run down, rag-tag Imperial force in hiding on a backwater world.  Via Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), the Client acquires Mando’s services.  Deliver the package alive, but dead will suffice if necessary.  Bounty hunting, after all, is a complicated profession.

Today in 2020, the entire world knows what came as a tremendous surprise back when the pilot episode first aired.  There are no spoilers.  The asset, though claimed to be 50 years old, is just a child.  An alien child with a familiar green hue and large, pointed ears.  The internet quickly dubbed it “Baby Yoda”.

Through the course of eight episodes, we learn that Mandalorians are almost extinct, “purged” by the Empire like the Jedi were.  Those remaining live in secret.  We also discover that the Child the Empire wants so badly can use the Force; powerfully so.  Instinctively with no training.  The implication here is that Yoda’s species are uniquely strong in the Force.  The only other members of the species that we have seen were on the Jedi council.  The Child can do things that only one Jedi in the entire history of the Saga (Rey) has been shown to do.  What isn’t clear is what the Empire wants with the Child.  The Client is just as happy if it ends up dead.  Dr. Pershing, a scientist under his protection with cloning insignia on his uniform, clearly wants it alive.

The Mandalorian is not the average bounty hunter.  Though hard on the outside, he has a soft spot for “foundlings” (orphans), since he was orphaned by a droid army during the Clone Wars.  This also left him with a strong distrust for droids.

Mando’s quest takes him, in his gleaming pre-Empire ship the Razor Crest, all the way to planet Nostalgia in the Fan Service sector.  Every alien species and reference from Saga and spin-off films will await you.  The animated series are likewise plundered for references and threads to pull.  Don’t ask yourself how the scavenging Jawas managed to spread through the galaxy, ask how they brought a sandcrawler with them.  Also ask how the Mandalorian, who lived through both the Clone Wars and the Galactic Civil War, has never heard of anything resembling the Force in his life.  Not impossible, true, not impossible.  But certainly unlikely?

To the show’s strength, Mando surrounds himself with allies including the wise Ugnaught Kuill (Nick Nolte) and the former Rebel shock trooper Cara Dune (Gina Carano).  He even reluctantly forms an alliance with bounty hunter droid IG-11 (Taika Waititi).  Each one of these bring out another aspect of Mando’s disguised personality.

Unfortunately, the show’s weaknesses are apparent by the second episode.  It lacks a consistent tone and even the soundtrack is all over the board.  Mando’s path is too twisted by side missions and quests, like a video game biding its time before you’re back to your main story.  A few episodes play out like actual video games, particularly the sixth. Some such as the fourth suffer from substandard acting and poor direction (which came as a surprise, being directed by Bryce Dallas Howard).  While there is nothing low-budget about the Mandalorian, some of the performances are pretty cut-rate.

The meandering season finally returns to form when Mando and the Child encounter the Imperials once again.  And guess what — they’re not as poorly equipped as we were led to believe.  Giancarlo Esposito, who was unforgettable on Breaking Bad as drug kingpin Gus Fring, menaces our heroes one more time as Moff Gideon.  With a squadron of crack Imperial Death Troopers and a custom TIE Fighter, Moff Gideon is willing to sacrifice his own men to get the Child back.

The show is a hit.  “This is the way” is a phrase that has entered our modern lexicon, along with “I have spoken” and “I can bring you in warm or I can bring you in cold.”  To say that season one was successful is an understatement.  Season two is already locked and loaded, bringing in Rosario Dawson to the fold playing former Jedi Ahsoka Tano.  She will likely be the first protagonist on the show to understand who the Child is and what Moff Gideon wants it for.

Hopefully season two will cut down on the obvious fan service.  (Did Bill Burr really have to do a Gungan impression in episode six?)  With one season down, we look forward to a tighter story with fewer episodes where nothing really happens.  And we certainly anticipate what Pedro Pascal will bring to the role next time.  His performance, limited to voice and body language, was without flaw.  The set must have been electric any time he was together with Werner Herzog.

Episode highlights of the season:  four out of of eight great episodes.

  • 1. “The Mandalorian” directed by Dave Filoni
  • 3. “The Sin” by Deborah Chow
  • 7. “The Reckoning” by Deborah Chow
  • 8. “Redemption” by Taika Waititi

The rest don’t bring much to the story and can be skipped with little lost except most of the fan service.

3/5 stars