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The Full Lid
8th May 2020

Hi everyone! Welcome to The Full Lid!

Here's The Plan: every Friday at 5 p.m. you get a double shot of pop culture caffeine. Everything I found interesting, weird or fun in pop culture this week, direct to your inbox. Reviews! Analysis! Recipes! Alliteration! It's like email, but fun!

If you want to catch an archive of the last six months, it's here. You can find me online here. I'm honored to be a Hugo finalist again this year so if you're eligible, please consider voting for me; you can find my voter packet here while we wait for voting to open. And thank you!

Contents ahoy!

Contents

All Rise
Flight Instinct: Into The Night
Sal and Gabi Fix The Universe
Signal Boost
Signing Off / Playing Out

All Rise


The Clone Wars finished and Rise of Skywalker arrived on Disney Plus this week with the exact combination of joy for the former and 'oh... hi...' for the latter you'd expect. Rise is far more the traditional Star Wars movie than Rian Johnson's defiantly, flamboyantly good space noir predecessor. In some ways -- nearly all of them in the last twenty minutes -- that’s good. In other ways -- in all of which Kelly Marie Tran is reduced to an extra -- that borders on unforgivable. It’s Star Wars playing Hotel California and honestly it coasts on the charm of the conceit. Despite that, the emotional beats were solid - I laughed and cried in all the intended spots. It's a good time, for most. But Star Wars, now more than ever, is bigger than the Skywalker Saga. 

So, join me on a journey to the Unknown Reaches of the Star Wars universe. Things are weirder and more interesting now Rise has happened.


Let's start with these two books. Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse, Hugo-award winning badass, is an incredibly clever idea as well as a piece of a larger capitalist constellation of content creation.

That's the last time I'll alliterate this week I SWEAR.

The book fills in the gap between Last Jedi and Rise of Skywalker, exploring how the Resistance grows from a terrified handful of wounded veterans and rookies, literally fleeing the scene of the crime in the back of a van, to the growing but terribly outnumbered force we see in Rise. It's a heist story and a thriller, set in the Star Wars universe.

Better still, it's a story that centers people we've spent less time with. Wedge Antilles, Wedge FREAKING ANTILLES, plays a pivotal role as does Norra Wexley from the Aftermath trilogy and Zay Versio, the daughter of characters from Star Wars Battlefront II. Time and time again, Roanhorse uses characters who’ve been in the background of previous stories and guides them to their moment to shine. First Order defectors, young hotheads and old hired guns all come together to stand not in rebellion but resistance. It’s a lovely, well-executed conceit, simultaneously giving the heroes we know lots to do but also grounding them in a force just as individualistic and likable as they are. 

Rae Carson, over in the Expanded Edition of Rise of Skywalker, has a differently challenging job. She has to both correctly adapt the emotional trajectory of the movie and fill in as many narrative holes as humanly possible. And, being charitable, there are a fair few holes to fill. Carson excels at it, even managing to give one of the parachuted-in 'Emergency Girlfriends' some welcome character. More importantly, she focuses in on a core principle common both to the Roanhorse book and the Star Wars universe as it now stands:

Everyone matters.

In a scene I don't recall being in the film, the galaxy’s foremost cape enthusiast gives everyone’s favorite Droid Dad pilot a clear look at the difference between the Resistance and the Rebellion, tying it directly into the incredible visual of the fleet arriving over Exegol. The Rebellions was a ragtag but organised army. The Resistance is a disparate galactic movement dedicated to opposing evil wherever it appears.

Everyone matters, everyone’s important and the nods to the characters of Resistance and Rebels in the Exegol sequence really drive that home. The First Order is the Empire’s children in ill-fitting uniforms. The Resistance is everyone else and they are not here for the First Order’s space nazi bullshit.

These novels are the first step out of the Skywalker Saga. Acknowledging that for this universe to survive, it literally cannot be limited to the endless exploration of three generations of two bloodlines. Everything here, from the battle over Exegol to the explicit note that Rey will not be staying on Tattooine, makes it clear the Skywalker Story has taken its curtain call, and this story is done.

What next then? The obvious answer is this:
Not just this little chap, adorable though he is, but what he represents.

The Mandalorian is an extraordinarily good piece of TV that moves with the confidence and elegance of its main character's reputation. It’s also, after a very shaky start where there are no apparently women in all of space, the most diverse Star Wars has managed to date, both in front of and behind the camera. Directors ranging from Bryce Dallas Howard to Taika Waititi worked on season one while actors like Richard Ayoade, Giancarlo Esposito, Carl Weathers and... Taika Waititi were on-screen talent. The result was a universe that felt diverse, deeply beautiful and on occasion intensely dangerous. An exploration of the Star Wars scenes other characters hurry through on their way somewhere more shiny and important.

A greater commitment to diversity isn’t new to the franchise (Rogue One, take a bow! AND OUR EMOTIONS!) but seeing it as policy rather than happy accident makes a pleasant change. Especially when compared to, oh I don't know a single gay couple getting one and a half whole seconds of eminently removable for overseas markets screen time...

Fake laugh. Real pain. Etc.

But despite, or because, of the intensely annoying conservatism of The Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars continues to slowly, and surely, become something for everyone. As the Skywalker Saga is finally put to rest the franchise finds itself forced both by creative and capitalist necessity to seek out new directions and voices.

And yes there was a Star Trek joke here and yes I deleted it. I’m growing. As a person.

The Mandalorian is the most obvious example of this but there’s so much more on the way. Leslye Headland, co-creator of the incredible Russian Doll, is developing a Star Wars show. Cassian Andor, sad space Wooster to K2’s murderous Jeeves, is getting his own show. Taika Waititi will direct and co-write, along with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, a standalone Star Wars movie. I can promise you absolutely none of these projects will look like any of the others. I can also promise you they’ll all look like Star Wars

Likewise this:
An entirely new setting giving us a new narrative lens with which to view the entire franchise.

So if the first step out of the Skywalker Saga is the acknowledgement of how things are different in the future, and the second is the diversification of the franchise, then The High Republic is the third. The diversification and exploration of the past and, through that, placing the largest franchise in Western movie history as a definitive, but finite, jigsaw piece of a larger puzzle.

That’s an impossibly cool, ambitious thing to do. It’s also the sort of ‘Content! For! Ever!’ conveyor belt that franchises like this have baked into their narrative DNA. More people, more money, rise and repeat. 

Of course this isn’t the first time the series has tried to branch out this wide. Rian Johnson’s Star Wars trilogy continues to trundle through development in the exact way Benioff and Weiss’ does not. The mooted Josh Trank Boba Fett movie was cancelled, Solo’s writers and directors were removed and Rogue One was completely rebuilt. Star Wars isn’t good at sharing its toys or changing how it plays with them, but it seems to be making the attempt.

Frankly, it has to. Otherwise the inherent conservatism of the franchise will continue enabling the exact sort of racist abuse John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran have faced for years. 

And fans will keep taking matters into their own hands:
This is Bucketheads. It’s great, balancing nice action with nuanced character work. Check the sidebar and you'll see a dozen more fan movies with countless more to be found beyond that. The fan film community for Star Wars is in rude health. So much so you don't even need a film crew.

Enter TikTok! The world’s most user friendly data miner! As long as you’re pretty enough!

While the intellectual property implications and deeply awful past business practices of the platform mean I’ll never be on it, I am in awe of the creators who are. TikTok feels like a wellspring of creativity, comedy and potential that hasn’t quite coalesced into the unstoppable force I suspect it will someday become to the mainstream. It’s approached it several times, and each time it has, it’s been through role playing. One of the biggest role playing hashtags is in the middle of some rebuilding thanks to this but two of the others (#starwarsoc and #jedioc) are doing great.
Star Wars as a sandbox for everyone to play in. Remix and mashup culture attacking the largest entertainment monolith on the planet and finding the exhaust port. Isn't that awesome?

It's not just for individual characters either, look at hashtags like #starwarsrogueraven to see folks starting to stitch longer form stories together. Sanctioned? Hell no! Enthusiastic, inventive and often brilliant? Absolutely!! These folks are the new Sam Raimi's, backroom rocket scientists learning their craft and turning a limited toolbox into the exact thing they need to get the job done and save the day. 

Sounds...kind of like a widespread but well organised Resistance doesn’t it?

Rise of Skywalker was, for many, a disappointment. But for everyone, it's an opportunity and a choice. Turn back towards what we hoped we’d get and didn’t, trapped forever by the disappointment and entitlement that so much of genre fiction orbits. Or? Let the past live as foundation. There’s a whole galaxy to play in and detail and explore. So go play.
Lockdown Fight Club: The Bubbly Bunch

This takes a bit to get going and a lot of its charm depends on how much of Jericho's heel persona you can take. If you stick with it, the build and payoff are both glorious.

Flight Instinct: Into The Night


Editor's note: spoilers

A terrified soldier hijacks a flight to Moscow, convinced the dawn will kill everything on the planet. No one believes him, but everyone believes the gun in his hand. Until the reports start coming in...

I am always there for the pulp maxim of 'start late, finish early' and that is the magnetic north on Into The Night's frantic, frequently checked compass. Other shows would spend a full episode confirming Terenzio (Stéfano Cassetti) was telling the truth, using it as the first episode closing sting. Instead it's implied in the first two minutes, confirmed by the top of the pilot's third act, and the show is off to the races and away from the dawn as fast as it possibly can go. No episode cracks fifty minutes, each starts with a serious situation and ends with a flat out 'WHAT NOW?!'. Time and again the show takes its basic premise and expands it, digging into the unforeseen consequences of a global catastrophe writ both large and small.

The broad strokes gives the story its shape. The hijacked plane finishes the first episode at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, gaining assistance from a trio of airmen left behind when it was evacuated. Airmen, it's revealed by the middle of the next episode, that war criminals left to die by their colleagues. Dealing with them costs more than one character their life, and brings the simmering racial tensions between Terenzio and Ayaz (Mehmet Kurtulus) to the fore. The characters are in constant debate over who's in charge, where they should go and the logistics of keeping an understaffed airliner in the air for, as we find out in the final seconds of the season, almost a full week.
This is where the human stories come in, none more successfully than Sylvie's. Played by Pauline Etienne with exhausted competence, Sylvie is a former military pilot who volunteers to help when Terenzio forces them to leave with half the crew missing. She's grieving the recent loss of her partner (his ashes are in her luggage as the show opens) and fluctuates between terrified, determined and bloody furious.

Sylvie, to touch on That Thing Happening Right Now, is very much the heroine 20FUCKINGWHATNOW?! needs. She's the rock the show is built on. One of the show's highlights sees her put in the impossible position of landing the plane for the first time so they can get Mathieu, the captain, desperately needed medical attention. The moment she realizes what she has to do is this glorious cathartic beat of apocalyptic exasperation and you can't not instantly like her for it.

Heroes do the impossible. Authentic 'real people in shit situations' heroes do the impossible and then need a long sit down and a cup of coffee afterwards.
And speaking of heroes, this asshole isn't one. Or is he? 

If Sylvie is the point where the show's plot collides with humanity, Terenzio is the point where the show's tropes collide with reality. Cassetti is the other strongest player here, his character shifting constantly under your gaze. Terenzio is categorically responsible for saving their lives, but that's just a side benefit for saving his own. Terenzio is instrumental in keeping them moving, but also can't resist butting heads with Ayaz and manipulating the other passengers. Terenzio is fundamentally concerned with keeping Terenzio alive. In order to do that, he hides behind what's always served him well: being the loudest, meanest dog in the pack.

This airline, it turns out, does not take dogs.

The show is at its finest when Terenzio is at his worst and that's especially true of the fifth episode. Back in Brussels to refuel, he leads a team to NATO HQ where we learn he and the other staff were abandoned. Terenzio, to all intents and purposes, is destroyed by this revelation. A man who has dedicated his life to service, abandoned by those whom he serves. It doesn't justify what he does, at all, but it does contextualize it. He leans on the machismo, on the ridiculous 'well YOU never won a war' chest-beating that culminates with him and Ayaz beating each other half to death. He leans on it not just because it's comforting, but it's all he has and in the end, it isn't enough.

The show's willingness to change and interconnect narrative levels like this is impressive. The show itself? Sometimes isn't. Ayaz being revealed to be a criminal is lazy in the exact way the racial clashes in the show are not. Horst, another passenger, becomes something of an all purpose scientist whose sole job is to explain how screwed they are this episode. Osman, a cleaner trapped aboard when the plane takes off, basically has nothing to do for the back three episodes besides help carry things. None of these are show-stoppers but when the rest is so consistent, they do stand out.

That being said, Into The Night is an enjoyable ride (if you'll pardon the lazy metaphor). It's clever, quick paced, fundamentally compassionate and does things you don't expect it to on average once an episode including the final episode's most narratively-required scene of mass partial nudity I've ever seen. I have no idea how a second season could work, but I'd love to watch it.

Into the Night season 1 is on Netflix now.
Lockdown Fight Club: The Stunt Community

The build on this is GLORIOUS! The hand-off of props, the improvisational comedy the frequent breakfalls. It's almost the best one of these. Almost.


New reader? Find The Full Lid archive here.
Follow this link to toss a bean in the caffeine cup.

 

Sal and Gabi
Fix The Universe


Sal Vidon has a very specific way of dealing with the loss of his mami: pulling alternate versions of her from other universes into his. It’s not perfect, it’s not his mami after all, but it’s enough. Until his dad, a calamity physicist, creates a machine that will close the multiverse-crossing portals Sal uses. Which turns out to be the least of his problems...

If you were wondering when I was sold on the book, it was the phrase ‘calamity physicist’.

Carlos Hernandez’s funny, inventive and kindhearted book is crammed full of that exact sort of turn of phrase, creating a sense of a sunny, gleefully untidy utopia. A world where science is harnessed not just to make the world a better place but to make it an AWESOME one.

Sal is an instantly likable kid: fast talking, fast thinking and utterly incapable of taking the easy choice. He’s a magician, too, so you know he’s my people. Even better, he’s just a goodhearted, compassionate boy. No pun escapes his gaze and his never-ending supply of delightfully inventive insults keeps his enemies on their heels and his friends just amazed by his verbal skills. 

Oh also? There’s an artificially intelligent toilet.

Seriously, it’s one of the best parts of the novel. Sal bonds with Vorágine (yes the toilet has a name) and it plays a vital role in several pivotal scenes at the Academy. All of which are based as much around the relentless horror of adolescence as they are the threat of feral AI and evil doubles.

Except, and here’s where Hernandez plays every ace card, the antagonists here aren't cardboard cut-out villains. Each have background, context and depth. No relationship, whether between Sal and his American Step-Mom (His name for her) or Sal and brilliant hard-charging friend Gabi, is free of friction or love. These are all complex, brilliant, charming untidy people doing their best. Sometimes they’re complex, brilliant, charming, untidy AIs doing their best. They try anyway, because that’s what you do.

All of this is wrapped up in a plot which puts a new spin on every major multiverse trope and emotional honesty that will absolutely draw you up short. Sal and Gabi are  good but never boring, and it’s an absolute delight to tag along on their adventures. I read this before the first book and had no problem picking it up too so if you fancy it, give either a shot.

Just remember, always be nice to your AIs and they’ll be nice to you.

Sal and Gabi Break The Universe and Sal and Gabi Fix The Universe are both available now.
Lockdown Fight Club: The Boss Bitch Fight Challenge

Legendary stuntwoman Zoë Bell decides to pick a fight. With her friends. All of them. Not only is this hilarious (Florence Pugh's spot especially) but it's beautiful, burly work shot through with the absolute fizzy glee of getting to cut loose. Also Tracy Thoms kicking ass in her Stitch onesie is every life goal rolled into one.
 

Signal Boost

Geese

  • York Station is now so quiet that a Greylag goose has set up nest out front and LNER have set up Goose!Cam. No problems caused on purpose, as yet. Big thanks to Tim Wingard for the spot.

Art

  • Spacetwinks on Twitter is doing a sale on their remarkable Maine photo set. 'A Place Without Bodies' is 177 photos of beautiful, sinister tranquility that will set you back $2.50 for a personal licence and $20.00 for commercial use. Go get it.

Zoom Backgrounds

Books

Comics

Podcasts

  • Eerie Earfuls is a new podcast that discusses horror movie double bills and yes I HAVE already subscribed and so should you.
  • Tomorrow, The Void is a new SF audio drama series about the crew of the Dellingr and their struggle to right the ship, their mission and stay alive. It sounds great, I'm diving in.
  • Vault of Horror does audio adaptations of old EC Horror comics and pulp has rarely been this pulpy or this FUN.

Music

RPGS


That's this week's Signal Boost, folks. If you have a project you'd like to see here, get in touch.

Signing Off / Playing Out


Thanks for reading, folks!  I hope the week went at a tempo approaching normal and had good things in it.

TFL will return next week. The Team KennerStuart Instagram continues to ride shiny and chrome and the Twitters are always in effect.

Our weekly Bedtime Stories stream on Twitch WAS SO COOL this week! Mary Shelley! Romance! Comedy! No Frankenstein! It was a good time, I hope you check it out. Join us every Wednesday at 10 p.m. BST.

This work is produced for free. If you like what you read please consider dropping something in the tip jar. Thank you :).

Playing us out this week are The Blanks. Sam Lloyd, permanently horrified lawyer Ted in the magnificent Scrubs, passed away last week. Lloyd was a colossus in a cast of comedic giants, a man who could steal a scene with his mere presence, immobile and silent, let along singing. But when he sang? The show reached a level of comedic absurdity nothing else touched. Thank you, Sam.

And thank you, because this?
is a Full Lid.
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Agathon Towers · Cheapside Road · Reading, Berkshire RG1 7AG · United Kingdom

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