Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife Anne and I subscribed to Disney+ a year behind the rest of the world and are doing our best to catch up on the content that matters most. So far that means Pixar’s Soul and the Star Wars universe. On a more inessential note I also watched Cars 3, which was better than the second one, which wasn’t too high a bar to jump.
But our primary objective has been Star Wars because for the past year everyone around us has been “Mandalorian” this and “Baby Yoda” that and of course they had to take turns asking us every ten minutes, “Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet? Do you have Disney+ yet?”
YES, WE HAVE DISNEY+ NOW. Um, finally. Sorry for shouting.
Catching up wasn’t easy. I mean, it could’ve been. The Mandalorian is only sixteen episodes so far. Then we learned that, while it’s technically self-contained, it also continues plot threads from previous Star Wars TV series. Anne and I were behind on those, too. Prior to kicking off our Disney+ subscription we’d only seen all the films and the first six seasons of Clone Wars. We’d originally given up on Star Wars Rebels after four or five episodes because we weren’t enamored of the shift to kid-friendlier animation — photorealistic SF sets and spaceships overshadowed by a bunch of PBS-looking mascots — and the overall tone and premise amounted to Firefly Junior. According to some longtime Star Wars fans, we had a lot of catching up to do.
This culminated in a Zoom argument between Anne’s siblings. One sister-in-law knows zilch about the Star Wars Expanded Universe or the New Canon and enjoys The Mandalorian without any preexisting baggage except recognizing a Yoda when she sees one. In the other corner, my other sister-in-law knows full well the extent of Anne’s fandom and her dedicated, jam-packed EU bookcase, and believed we’d prefer taking the long, scenic binge route. Because longform storytelling continuity can be fun if it’s cohesive and if it doesn’t take years for would-be latecomers to catch up.
Our total homework syllabus, in the viewing order we chose, was:
- All 8 episodes of The Mandalorian season 1
- The twelve-episode final season of Clone Wars
- All 75 episodes of Rebels
- The four Rebels shorts that preceded the series
- All 8 episodes of The Mandalorian season 2
Now we’re caught up. And glad we took the long way around.
Clone Wars‘ final four-episode arc was also the series’ finest. Ahsoka Tano, the clone Commander Rex, and any surviving allies took a thrilling Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead jaunt through the backdrop of Revenge of the Sith, realized the full gravitas of what Order 66 meant for every side, and tied a great big bow on the Prequels era. As my son had promised, Rebels got better as it went, we got used to the jarring animation, and it’s the best animated series I’ve watched in years. Maybe I could stand to see more animated series, but that’s where I’m at just now. I was especially enamored of the episode where Sabine Wren undergoes swordfight training so she can learn to properly wield the Darksaber, as well as the fantastic “Twin Suns” — the final battle between a middle-aged Sir Alec Guinness and ex-Sith Lord Maul, staged as a Kurosawa samurai duel in all the best ways. I could rattle on more favorite episodes and was tempted to create a Top 10 list. Maybe another day. It will likely include a few choice bits of Lars Mikkelsen’s sinister turn as Grand Admiral Thrawn, survivor of the now-imploded Expanded Universe.
Then we gave ourselves permission to watch and love The Mandalorian. I presume it’s the most expensive TV show ever made, and it looks every dollar of it. There’s nary a dull episode in the bunch. All the supporting cast and guest stars bring three-dimensional heft and as much unbridled thespian awesomeness as a space Western can handle. I appreciated deep nods to returning faces and subjects from Clone Wars and Rebels — Mandalorian’s fall and rise and fall, Katee Sackhoff’s Bo-Katan, the Darksaber, and Ahsoka Tano’s quest to find Thrawn, which to me is odd because I was sure we’d never see Thrawn again. Perhaps I misinterpreted the Rebels finale.
I loved that Katee Sackhoff, voice of deposed Mandalorian leader Bo-Katan on the two previous shows, now plays her in person. (Bo-Katan is no Starbuck, but she’ll do.) I loved seeing guests invited to the party like Natalia Tena, Clancy Brown, Timothy Olyphant, and of course the Giancarlo Esposito as every villain he’s ever played but in space. Anne tries to track all the Expanded Universe concepts that are being salvaged and repurposed in the New Canon, such as the Krayt Dragon and beskar. I’m fine with how it took forty years and director Robert Rodriguez to make men’s action-fashion icon Boba Fett actually cool. And the fact that recognizable feature-film directors are on board! The makers of What We Do in the Shadows and Down With Love and Chef, all of which I enjoyed. (Someday I need to check out Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope.)
In all, the journey from Clone Wars season seven through The Mandalorian season-two finale was a great way to chase away the winter doldrums and reassure ourselves that Star Wars has found new life after the Sequel Trilogy, even if nothing is allowed to take place after it.
Best of all, now we can legally pursue BABY YODA MANIA.
Grogu is the most adorable, cuddliest creature that has melted my heart since Gizmo the Mogwai got to me as a 12-year-old, which was an odd age for anything to be melting my heart. Grogu is every cute-baby movie, TV show, and meme distilled into one puppet and executed flawlessly, sweetly, and neatly. Whether he’s mimicking his guardian’s motions, getting sooooo sleepy after every Force-trick, throwing up blue cookies during intense aerial dogfights, or thoughtlessly murdering endangered species, Grogu is impossible to hate.
I’ve no clue if his fifty-year-old self is a toddler in his species, or if he’s a traumatized teenager, or if he’s developmentally behind and just needs the right social services assistance. Either way he’s keen. Remember when everyone thought BB-8 was the cutest Star Wars character of the 21st century? BB-8 is a generic-brand Roomba with an inflated sense of self-worth. BB-8 is tired; Grogu is WIRED.
Grogu is so powerful, he’s gotten Anne wondering if it’s time to start buying Star Wars merchandise again after a years-long, self-imposed moratorium. I can’t remember the last time she added a new SW figure to her collection, but this viewing experience has awakened the old temptations. I mean, I do have to question her commitment levels after catching her referring to him alternately as “Gorgu” and “Gorku”.
My, how far we’ve come after just one extended TV binge.
Me, one year ago: “I guess this Baby Yoda thing is fine, whatever, I don’t watch the show.”
Me, now caught up on Star Wars TV: “ACTUALLY GROGU IS HIS NAME AND YOU WILL SHOW HIM RESPECT.”
…we’ll see Grogu again someday, right? They won’t just lock him up in a windowless New Jedi Boarding School like he’s now an inaugural classmate at Space Hogwarts and never show him to us again, right?