Since late September, I’ve found myself eagerly awaiting new weekly installments of a television show. This hasn’t happened for years. I think the last time I was this excited about a TV show was during the early 1990s when Star Trek: The Next Generation was my drug of choice.
I was a die-hard TNG fan. I mean, I was crazy about it. Not only did I watch every episode, which is a given, but I videotaped them and audio taped them. That’s right: At one time, I had every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation on cassette tape. (I sold that unique collection at a garage sale, and I regret that.)
Star Wars: Andor
Anyhow, the show that has me so excited in 2022 is Star Wars: Andor. Although I’m a life-long Star Wars fan, I’ve been markedly disappointed with most Star Wars media since The Phantom Menace came out in 1999. (Here’s my 2005 rant about why Star Wars sucks.)
Star Wars: Andor is a surprise and delight. It deliberately avoids all of the things I hate about what the franchise has become — The Force, Jedi, stormtroopers, Skywalkers, the emperor, etc. — and instead focuses on everything I’ve always wished the franchise would tackle. Andor is fundamentally about the day-to-day lives of average people in the growing Imperial bureaucracy and (most especially) those suffering under its reign. There are no lightsabers. There are few known characters (and zero major known characters). There’s nothing that makes Star Wars stupid. Yet, at its core, Andor is still very much Star Wars.
In fact, I’d argue that Andor is the best Star Wars we’ve seen in 45 years. Only the original film is its equal in the franchise. I love this show.
What pleases me about Andor is that it’s one of three projects this year that I feel have broken the mold in all the right ways.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
In the spring, I was awestruck by Everything Everywhere All at Once, a genre-defying mad mess of a film that lives up to its title. EEAaO was just the film I needed after I’d spent two months with my cousin Duane as he died. At the start, the movie seems dull. Dull turns to crazy, and viewers are left to wonder: “What the fuck?” But at the start of its final act, EEAaO pivots from crazy to deeply philosophical and its true magic kicks in.
Everything Everywhere All at Once was an important movie for me to watch (four times) after my cousin died. Duane’s death had sent me into an existential spiral. I was embracing nihilism. EEAaO‘s core message is this: “When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I learned to survive through everything…The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.”
Last night, Kim and stumbled upon a Netflix film that I believe is just as good as Andor and Everything All at Once. Kim wanted to watch a Bollywood film, and I remembered reading that the new movie RRR was supposed to be good. We went into it blind.
Well. It’s true. RRR is good. It’s bombastic. It’s chaotic. It’s three hours long. But it’s also powerful and mythic in a way that modern Hollywood blockbusters can only dream of being.
RRR tells the story of two tribal struggling in colonial India one hundred years ago. The British are portrayed as cartoonish, cruel, inhuman monsters. They beat and kill the native population as if its nothing. The chief villain repeatedly chides his officers for wasting bullets on the locals. “Do you know how much a bullet costs?” he asks again and again, then prods his underlings to kill the Indians with hammers and tree stumps instead.
Against this backdrop, both Ram and Bheem mount private rebellions.
Bheem’s is simple and direct. He wants to rescue his sister from the clutches of the British overlords. He wields the power of water and recruits India’s wild animals to his side.
Meanwhile, Ram is playing a long game. After watching his village massacred, he vows to return to the survivors with a gun for every person. To that end, he’s become an Imperial police officer. He’s willing to sacrifice the lives of his countrymen in order to obtain his greater objective: guns for his village. He wields the power of fire and righteous anger on his relentless drive to fulfill his quest.
Ram and Bheem meet and become best of friends (in that way only Indian men can do). They’re bound to each other. Yet, of course, fate tears them apart.
RRR is pure spectacle. Like some mad mash-up of Star Wars, Crouching Tiger, and The Jungle Book, this movie is relentless with its pacing without ever becoming exhausting. At no point during its three-hour runtime was I bored, yet at no time did I feel overwhelmed. We started watching the movie late in the evening, yet neither of us was willing to pause and go to bed.
Generally, I’m cynical about what Hollywood has to offer us. Film and television, like the rest of U.S. culture, have been descending into a monotonous homogeneity. It pleases me to have three great examples this year of how originality can be bold, refreshing, and fun.