Noah Howell

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Noah Howell is the Arts & Entertainment Assistant Editor for Niner Times. He is currently majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Journalism. He is a fan of all things "Star Wars" and "The Muppets," and spends his free-time playing too many video games and watching the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Gaming Roundup: January 2019

Image courtesy of Skybound Games

“The Walking Dead: The Final Season” Episode Three – January 15 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC

Following the closure of Telltale Games last September, the fate of Clementine’s final chapter was left in the air. Thankfully Skybound (the company that owns “The Walking Dead” and is run by its original creator Robert Kirkman) has stepped in to carry out the rest of the season. More importantly, many of the developers who were originally working on “The Final Season” at Telltale and were left without jobs have been brought on to finish the remaining episodes. The first two episodes of the season were a fantastic start and I am glad most of the team responsible for making them will be handling the final two. We’re so close to the end now and I am both excited and anxious to finally see how the rest of Clementine’s story plays out.

Image courtesy of Capcom

“Resident Evil 2 Remake” – January 25 for PS4, Xbox One and PC

As a recently turned “Resident Evil” believer, “Resident Evil 2 Remake” is a title I have had my eye on playing since beating the remake of the original “Resident Evil” in 2016. While I jumped ahead to “RE 7” since it is standalone for the most part, I’ve been delaying my playthrough of the entire series for this game. While the fixed camera angles were certainly helpful in building tension in the original “RE 2,” I am glad the remake is opting for the much more manageable third-person camera view. Like the original, the game features two campaigns that offer differing perspectives on the story through the eyes of Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. For those on the fence or just eager to play, there is a 30-minute demo available for an early part of the game. For the past two years, Capcom had been wisely capitalizing on the barren month of January with “Resident Evil 7” in 2017, “Monster Hunter: World” in 2018 and now “RE 2” for 2019. As excited as I am for Clementine’s story, this remake is easily the highlight release of the month for me.

Image courtesy of Square Enix

“Kingdom Hearts III” – January 29 for PS4 and Xbox One

It’s been almost 14 years since “Kingdom Hearts 2” released with only a few spin-off titles for fans to bide their time with till the next major release. “Kingdom Hearts” is a series that somehow successfully blends together the “Final Fantasy” series with numerous Disney properties and has a dedicated fan following. I only played a part of the first game when I was younger, and while I could not explain to you what happened plot-wise, I did have a fun time fighting enemies with Donald Duck, Goofy and whatever protagonist was a part of the Disney property I was currently in. This long-awaited entry in the series includes worlds and characters from films like “Frozen,” “Tangled,” “Toy Story,” “Monsters Inc.” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” While I probably won’t play on release, “Kingdom Hearts” is a series that I’ve been wanting to give another shot one day, and this newest entry seems to be great both in gameplay and visuals.

The Top Ten Games of 2018

Video games are great. They can range from a variety of different styles and deliver stories and experiences which can only be told through their medium. 2017 was a fantastic year for video games with titles like “Breath of The Wild,” “Horizon: Zero Dawn” and “Super Mario Odyssey,” and 2018 was no different. Part of the following games were some that I had been anticipating for years and the others came completely out of nowhere yet still grabbed my full attention.

Before I get on with the list, I did want to acknowledge Microsoft, who may not have delivered killer exclusives, but certainly made strides in appealing to the consumer. The Xbox Games Pass is an excellent value for those whose main hobby is gaming, and they also continue to push the standard of cross-play across all platforms. More importantly, they released the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a controller that makes gaming much accessible for those with certain disabilities. This is an area that both Sony and Nintendo have failed to improve upon, so I hope this offering from Microsoft is the spark to set things in gear for the other two companies.

Image courtesy of Annapurna Interactive
  1. “Florence”

A majority of mobile games — at least the ones I have come across — often hook you in with some neat mechanics, but quickly show a lack of substantial or memorable content to keep you coming back. “Florence” is a rare exception to this that delivers a thoughtful, near-hour-long narrative in the form of an animated graphic novel. The story focuses on a young woman named Florence and goes through the cycles of her new romantic relationship. The illustrations are beautiful, as is the game’s soundtrack. I would much rather pay something up front for a complete product that feels as though it had actual love and care poured into it, as opposed to some free-to-start game that plagues most of the Apple and Google app stores. Just about everyone has at least a smartphone these days, and I think “Florence” is well worth the price of admission for a thoughtful and gorgeous game like this one.

Image courtesy of SIE Japan Studio
  1. “Astro Bot Rescue Mission”

PlayStation VR is an intriguing piece of hardware and has a number of experiences that truly sell the effect that VR can have on immersion in games. “Astro Bot Rescue Mission” is one of these games, taking the 3-D platforming of something like “Mario Odyssey,” and using the entire world around you in-game as the camera view. The game makes some clever use of the environment through this, and has some spectacles inside that simply will amaze you. The gameplay itself is a blast, and Astro Bot is a charming companion to go on the journey with. If you own a PSVR headset, this game is a must buy.

Image courtesy of Matt Makes Games
  1. “Celeste”

“Celeste” first came out at the beginning of 2018 and was a game that I kept my eye on after seeing the near-unanimous critical acclaim for the little indie. I finally gave it a shot at the start of my winter break and was sucked in as soon as I booted up the game. The soundtrack is superb and it hits you right at the main menu. The game follows Madeline, a young woman dealing with anxiety who seeks to climb the mystical mountain, Celeste, in hopes of overcoming her mental illness. The gameplay is an analog to this, standing as a difficult 2-D platformer. Dying will occur often, but it never feels like a serious setback as the game quickly puts you right back at the prior checkpoint. The multiple chapters deal with different mechanics to keep you on your toes, and overall provide a rewarding experience by the end of the game and Madeline’s story. There is a load of content to dive into for alternate, more difficult takes on each of the game’s chapters, so completionists have their work cut out for them here. While I have finished the main story, I am excited to dive back into “Celeste” in 2019.

Image courtesy of Enhance Games
  1. “Tetris Effect”

Based on a real theory that individuals will begin to see shapes snapping into place in everyday life after playing “Tetris” for a long amount of time, “Tetris Effect” brings this to light in a very cool way. Developer Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a bit of pro when it comes to puzzle games, so bringing his own ideas to the biggest puzzle video game of all-time seems like a match made in heaven. The PS4 exclusive can be played with or without PSVR, and I opted for the former. The experience is like none other and I was quickly reminded as to why “Tetris” is the best selling game of all time. The visuals along with the music are incredible, and the zone feature adds an interesting mechanic without messing up the core of what makes “Tetris” so fun. I am sure it sounds out there, but this is a game that has to be experienced to fully understand what it accomplishes.

Image courtesy of Quantic Dream
  1. “Detroit: Become Human”

One pillar of the trio of excellent titles released by Sony this year, “Detroit: Become Human” delivers a story-telling experience that can only be done in video games. Set in the not-so-far future of 2038, the adventure game revolves around three androids’ storylines in the city of Detroit, the epicenter for android production. The game feels inspired by films like “Blade Runner” and “Terminator,” more specifically the former as it deals with the question of android rights. “Detroit” also touches upon topics like climate change, growing world powers, and humanity’s increasing reliance on technology. The game takes a dystopian approach. What struck me most about my time with the game was how scarily realistic some of these ideas could become. The core cast of Kara, Markus and Connor are all well-written and performed, and each felt like narratives I was equally invested in and dying to see what would happen after each chapter. The game forces difficult decisions on you, much like how Telltale used to do, but the effects of these decisions feel much more impactful here. The flowchart that is shown at the end of each chapter details the path you took and could have taken, and looking online at everyone else’s completely different endings to mine makes me even more excited for another playthrough.

Image courtesy of Epic Games
  1. “Fortnite”

The phenomenon of “Fortnite” is one of the most intriguing stories of the year to me. Its growth from an early-access game with only a simple base building and defense mode last year to the most popular game of 2018 now is incredible. While I have fallen off the train now, the game consumed a majority of my spring semester this year, along with all of my other friends. We played so much that it’s probably why we got so burned out come summertime, but the game continues to bring weekly updates and seasons of content that sets a strong standard for the games-as-service online titles. The thrill of entering the top twenty, especially with friends, is a lot of fun, and often resulted in some memorable finishes, win or lose. The above games may stand as overall better games, but the memories and moments I shared with my friends in “Fortnite” will stand as ones I look back fondly on.

Image courtesy of Nintendo
  1. “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate”

A culmination of over 30 years of video game history from across multiple franchises and developers, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” is a celebration of some of the best parts of gaming. I’ve already put in over forty hours since its Dec. 7 release and fully intend on spending even more time playing the game. The game is filled to the brim with content including characters, modes, stages and music, pulling from so many franchises you’d be hard-pressed to not find at least one you’re attached to. Whether you’re playing with friends at a party or competitively at a tournament, “Ultimate” is the most accessible of the fighting game genre. Including an entire roster of every character to ever appear in the series is crazy on its own, but all the newcomers are welcomed additions as well — my personal favorites being the squid-kid Inkling and mayoral assistant Isabelle from “Animal Crossing.” This is a game that will be a mainstay when getting together with friends and is easily the must-buy for the Switch this year.

Image courtesy of Insomniac Games
  1. “Marvel’s Spider-Man”

With both “Into the Spider-Verse,” “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” this is easily the best year for on-screen “Spider-Man” entertainment. The PS4 exclusive was my most anticipated game for the past year and still managed to exceed my expectations (which should be quite telling for the next titles considering this is only number three). It told one of the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man stories to date and accompanied that with fun gameplay that matched what playing as the vigilante would seem like. The character performances are great all-around, and the score itself is one of the best of the superhero genre from both film, games and television. Insomniac already created one of my favorites franchises in “Ratchet & Clank,” so doing it again in a much bigger way in terms of recognition is awesome to see.

Image courtesy of Rockstar Games
  1. “Red Dead Redemption 2”

It’s hard not to look at any stretch of landscape and environment in “RDR 2” and not wonder about just how much work had to go into creating just that singular slice. Protagonist Arthur Morgan may very well be one of my favorites to play as in any game period, and the narrative on its own is one of the best the gaming medium has put out to date. The gameplay is solid, but overall didn’t stand as the major takeaway once I was done exploring all that “RDR 2” had to offer. The online portion of the game has been a lot of fun so far with friends and Rockstar has fixed many of the gripes I had with the mode since my initial review. It is definitely a beast of a game and one that moves rather slowly in order to further immerse you, so it may not be for everyone. It’s an excellent cast of characters, strong score and beautiful environments were enough to grab me in for my around 60-hour playthrough.

Image courtesy of SIE Santa Monica
  1. “God of War”

I had little to no connection or experience to the “God of War” franchise going into this soft reboot of the series, but what Santa Monica Studios left me with by the end of my time with the game was the impression that this was easily the best of the year. Gone are the combo meters all across the screen, constant sprays of gore, quick time event love-making scenes and overall unrelenting violence. Instead, what you’re left with is a game that makes Kratos a relatable protagonist thanks in part to the relationship with his son, as they embark on a journey that is simply the pinnacle of what games are doing now. The title manages to keep the tricky balance of having great gameplay alongside an excellent narrative (which I think is where “RDR 2” and “Detroit” falter). Bear McCreary gives an epic score that matches the gravity of dealing with Norse mythology as the stage which the game is set on. This revitalization of Kratos and his story, while still paying respect to the titles to come before it, is near perfection. Throwing the Leviathon Axe and recalling it is incredibly satisfying and is one of the small details that make this game so great. I knew the game would be good with Sony’s recent caliber of exclusives, but I never thought it would end with me considering it as one of the best games that I have ever played.

Best Songs of 2018 as Selected by A&E Writers

Album art courtesy of Tessa Violet.

Elissa Miller

4. “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” by the “Mary Poppins Returns” Cast: If there was a machine that you could throw your interests in to create a new product, the entirety of the movie “Mary Poppins Returns” would be my result. A sequel to one of my favorite movies? Check. Lin-Manuel Miranda as a character reminiscent of Bert the Chimney Sweep, my first childhood crush? Check. London as a backdrop for musical theater? You got it. While the movie is not a perfect film, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is a practically-perfect song and dance number. Clearly mirroring “Step In Time” from the first film, this is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (and the movie’s) biggest number. It absolutely screams classic musical theater in both sound and design. Honestly, this felt extremely cathartic, because while I’ve loved the recent resurgence of musical films, they’ve generally failed to truly recapture that signature style. The dancing is absolutely breathtaking. The song is catchy and upbeat. Lin-Manuel Miranda looks like he is literally made of sunshine. I cried.

3. “Burn the House Down” by AJR: AJR crafted a perfect album with “The Click” in 2017. It was hard to imagine that adding anything could improve it, yet “The Click (Delux Edition)” somehow managed to do so when it included four new songs. While I’m a fan of generally every new addition, this the absolute best of them. It is a loud, angry anthem that reflects on Twitter and modern-day protest culture, while still being able to function as a dance track. The band allowed it to be used in conjunction with the March for Our Lives movement earlier this year. Everything about it, from the musical style (the horns in this are GREAT) to the lyrics, is compelling. More songs like this in 2019, please.

2. “Bad Ideas” by Tessa Violet: While Tessa Violet made waves with her other release, “Crush,” this year, I’m quite partial to this second song. One of many musicians to first find their audience on YouTube, Violet has continuously grown as an artist to create a signature style. This is incredibly clear with “Bad Ideas,” which stands out among indie-pop releases for its unique sound. Lyrically, it explores the concept of falling for someone you really don’t want to, while sounding upbeat and light as a musical piece. The music video for this is also a great time and uses color in one of the best ways I’ve ever seen. Violet will continue releasing her new album as singles in 2019; I’m incredibly excited to see how it evolves.

1. “Everybody’s Lonely” by Jukebox the Ghost: I definitely link songs to specific times and places in my life. “Everybody’s Lonely,” off Jukebox the Ghost’s fifth album, “Off To The Races,” was the distinct soundtrack of my study abroad trip in the spring. I listened to it during bus commutes, while stuck in airports and when typing papers at the very last minute. It is extremely fun to listen and sing along to, yet it is also complex musically. It uses a number of instruments and vocal layering; soundwise it is largely reminiscent of the band Queen. I cannot recommend it enough.

Photo courtesy of Sony Classical Records.

Noah Howell

4. “Spidey-Bells (A Hero’s Lament) by Chris Pine: “Into the Spider-Verse” was one of my favorite films of the year, and is easily the best animated feature of 2018. The whole ride is a spidey-bonanza, and waiting into the credits was worth the wait for this song alone. Chris Pine is hilarious here and he gives me the Spider-Man Christmas song I never knew I actually needed. This song, along with the album I discovered on Spotify after the movie, will be a staple in my Christmas playlist for years to come.

3. “Shockwave” by Elena Siegman: Easter egg songs are a staple within every zombies map in the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” series, and many of these, like “Shockwave,” are written by Kevin Sherwood and performed by Elena Siegman. There is a reason for this: simply because the duo is fantastic. Siegman’s vocal performance is always stellar, and while the lyrics take a bit to wrap your head around, her job on the song here is no different. I don’t usually find myself listening to much heavy rock/metal like this song, but perhaps it’s just a great backdrop to the actual gameplay of killing zombies that makes it work so well.

2. “That’s The Way it is” by Daniel Lanois: The score within “Red Dead Redemption 2” is already phenomenal, but the best moments of the game are the long, reflective horse rides which come after key story beats and feature songs from a variety of different artists. This song comes towards the game’s climax and is the perfect beat to go alongside the penultimate moment of the player’s journey. I can’t give away too much without risk of spoiling the game, but the song is right at home at this particular moment and is one that will stick with me for a while. 

1. “Kitster’s Song” by Trevor Moore: When a friend first suggested this song to me, I was on board right from hearing the title. A song about Anakin Skywalker’s somewhat obscure friend in “The Phantom Menace” who had only a handful of lines? Count me in. The song straddles the line of being outright hilarious and emotional all at once, with Moore singing from the point of view of Kitster years after his appearance on-screen, reminiscing on what his childhood friend — now Darth Vader — is doing these years later. I had never listened to Moore before this, but one thing is for certain, he knows his “Star Wars.” Parodies of “Star Wars” songs usually rely on simply changing up the lyrics of an already popular song, but Moore creates an entirely new song on his own for Kitster and it is a great one.

Album art for “EVERYTHING IS LOVE” courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment.

Breanna Herring

4. “Sauce All On Me” by CoCa Vango: Another song to contribute to my high self-esteem! This song raps about containing the sauce. “Sauce” is used to describe someone who has a style, confidence and attraction about them.

3. “Nice” by The Carters: Let’s be honest, The Carters are black royalty. This song serves as a confidence boost for me and motivates me to be successful. Some of the lyrics highlight how African Americans are told that they can do anything in America, but racism and inequality challenge the belief.

2. “Wasted Love Freestyle” by Jhené AikoThis song hit close to home for me. The song describes how sometimes our energy and love are not reciprocated back to us in a relationship. We find ourselves realizing that we wasted our time and energy on someone who was incapable of loving us the way we wanted to be loved.

1. “CPR” by Summer Walker: I adore Summer Walker and can completely relate to her and her music. The song “CPR” is a metaphor describing the artist’s lover. She characterizes his love as air bringing her back to life because she’s been misunderstood and alone for so long.

Album art for “Let’s Go Sunshine” courtesy of Lonely Cat Records.

Tyler Trudeau

4. “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA: As Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ erupted onto the screen as one of 2018’s biggest movies, the soundtrack, curated by hip-hop icon Kendrick Lamar, also made waves as it brought some of the top names in hip-hop together to showcase the massive influence of the superhero hit. Featuring the likes of The Weeknd, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz and Future, the song that comes to my mind first lies in the Lamar and SZA team-up “All the Stars.” With it kicking off the end credits for the blockbuster film, the rhythmic ballad of SZA mixed with Lamar’s rap inklings remains one of the top tracks from the soundtrack.

3. ”Holy” by King Princess: One of the most enigmatic new artists I uncovered this year was Brooklyn native Mikaela Strauss, or as her fans know her, King Princess. A multi-instrumentalist with soulful vocals to match the atmospheric synth melodies that run behind her, Strauss has already made a name for herself as the next bold revolutionary in the queer-pop genre. As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, the artist has expertly carved her way to the top as one of the most promising new artists out there. While her early hit “1950” might have won the hearts of fellow artists Harry Styles, Halsey and Mark Ronson, her somewhat haunting track “Holy” off her debut EP echoes with sonic nuance and cinematic flair.

2. “No Pressure” by The Kooks: After grappling onto other alternative rock groups like Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes, the unique sound of English band The Kooks quickly drew me into a similar fascination into their more recent releases. While their hit 2006 track “Naive” made for a worthy song to lodge itself eternally within my brain, I didn’t initially pick up their later records until this year’s “Let’s Go Sunshine.” With the rest of the record offering a foot-tapping catalog of drunken nights and unrequited affections, the closing number of “No Pressure” perfectly captures the ease and joys of a new relationship.

1. “Superposition” by Young the Giant: Easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year, the latest record from indie rock outfit Young the Giant kicked off with a trio of sensational, cinematic and undeniably catchy tracks. Escorting us effortlessly into their newest collection of soul-searching tunes of lost love, adrift ambitions and super-sonic melodies, the best of the trio in ‘Superposition’ shows off the band’s talented and atmospheric instrumentals, as well as the dreamy vocal nuances of frontman Sameer Gadhia.   

Album art for “Joy As An Act Of Resistance” courtesy of Partisan Records.

Aaron Febre

4. “One Point Perspective” by Arctic Monkeys: It was pretty difficult to pick one track off the new Arctic Monkeys album as I was thoroughly impressed with the overall product. This song takes the cake due to the wonderful layering of instrumentation, Alex Turner’s witty and observable lyricism as well as one of his best vocal performances. Plus, this reminds me of the 1970s for inexplicable reasons.

3. “Baby I’m Bleeding” by JPEGMAFIA: Released in January, JPEGMAFIA’s “Veteran” is one of the most exciting and intense albums of the year. “Baby I’m Bleeding” shows JPEGMAFIA’s fierce flow that is backed-up with an abrasive production that will leave your jaws dropped. Go ahead and play this, you won’t find another hip-hop track (or album) of this year that as fierce as this one.

2. “Dilemma” by Death Grips: As if all of their music wasn’t crazy enough, Death Grips returned with an even crazier album that made their previous work look more accessible. Out of my favorites from “Year of the Snitch,” “Dilemma” is my favorite for various reasons. Spoken word by Andrew Adamson (the director of “Shrek”), MC Ride screaming “DILEMMA!”, the video-game synthesizer and too many things that are incomprehensible to digest even for a fan of Death Grips.

1. “I’m Scum” by Idles: English Punk band Idles returned with a new album (“Joy As An Act of Resistance”) that is catchier and angrier than their 2017 album, “Brutalism.” This track encompasses the overall sound of the new album: Joe Talbot’s gruff voice, the steady and danceable rhythm, dirty guitars, a chorus that drunk soccer (or football) fans can sing along to, and the theme of “say what you want, I don’t care” in the lyrics make this song a favorite.

Artwork for “TINTS” courtesy of Aftermath/12 Tone Music LLC.

Cecilia Whalen

4. “Bring Me Love” by John Legend: Yeah, it’s a Christmas song. I get it; Christmas is over. But I love John Legend, so I take what I can get. He definitely has one of the most beautiful voices of this generation, and this song is upbeat, well-arranged, and of course, well-sung.

3.“TINTS (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” by Anderson .Paak: I don’t think there’s anything smart I can say about this song, but it’s just fun to sing along and dance to, OK? Plus Kendrick Lamar is featured on it, so you know it’s gotta be a win.

2. “1985” by J. Cole: I love J. Cole’s voice and basically every song he’s done. This song is kind of a diss track to all those who have come out dissing him, but Cole doesn’t just cuss them out and be done with it. Cole warns them about the harm their attitudes and their lifestyles are causing themselves and others — and he doesn’t sound like a bully or a punk defending his own pride. Really, he sounds like a big brother looking out for the hip-hop community, while peppered with the occasional big brother boast.

1. “Brackets” by J. Cole: J. Cole knows how to use rhythm. While a lot of rappers tend to repeat a similar rhythmic pattern, triplet and sixteenth after triplet and sixteenth, Cole masters syncopation. This matched with his poetry creates a whole album of reflection and creativity, and “Brackets” is the climax of both of these musical attributes.

Album art for “Love” courtesy of Reprise Records.

Mayra Trujilo-Camacho

4. “Taki Taki” by Selena Gomez, Ozuna, Cardi B and DJ Snake: It’s a song I can dance to that has a mix of Spanish and English.

3. “Money” by Cardi B: I just think it’s a very catchy song and even a good workout song. It’s very hype.

2. “Scripted” by ZAYN: This song comes from his second album “Icarus Falls,” after leaving One Direction in 2015.  It is a love song with a creative melody and nice chill R&B background.

1. “Love You Anymore” by Michael Bublé: From his new album “Love,” which was released two years after his son was diagnosed with liver cancer. “Love You Anymore” is a very beautiful song. It’s more of a song to forget your ex, but it just has a very nice melody and aesthetic.

Album art for “CARE FOR ME” courtesy of Saba Pivot, LLC.

Arik Miguel

4. Shoota (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)” by Playboi Carti: When I listen to this song, I know that half of what I’m singing is my incorrect decipherings of Uzi and Carti’s mumble rapping. The other half of the lyrics have about as much depth as the line “money on the floor just like some shoes,” but maybe that’s not a bad thing. “Shoota” is fun just for the sake of being fun, and that’s really all we could have asked of these two besties in 2018.

3. “Hunnybee” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra: This is one the most gleefully infectious songs I have heard in a long time. “Hunnybeehas the power to evoke the childhood joy that comes from somersaulting down a grassy hill.

2. “PROM / KING” by Saba: “CARE FOR ME” is Saba’s greatest album yet, and “PROM / KING” is its emotional peak. The seven and a half minute song builds up slowly until Saba is rapping at breakneck speed, describing his cousin’s untimely death. Saba has always had an incredible gift for storytelling, but he’s never told his story as breathtakingly as this.

1. “Noid” by Yves Tumor: Yves Tumor intertwines beauty and violence in an incredibly jarring and exciting way. “Noid” is unlike any song I have heard in my life. Almost as if you asked an alien to compose a song about police brutality.

 

Listen to the music featured in this article via the Spotify playlist below!

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘Secrets and Holograms’ & ‘Station Theta Black’

Warning: Spoilers for “Secrets and Holograms,” “Station Theta Black” and prior episodes of “Star Wars Resistance” follow.

While it hasn’t enamored me completely yet, “Star Wars Resistance” has continued to provide solid explorations into the sequel trilogy era, and these two episodes are no different. The threat of the First Order is fleshed out even more, especially in the most recent episode, “Station Theta Black,” with Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) taking charge for once. One of the things that has interested me most about the newest trilogy of films has been the mystery behind the formation of the First Order as well as simply the state of the galaxy at large. Both of these questions are being answered by the series, and besides its diverse cast, they may be my favorite aspect of “Resistance” thus far.

“Secrets and Holograms”

Probably my favorite of the Aces, Torra Doza (Myrna Velasco) gets the spotlight for this episode, as does her relationship with her father. I like that the episode tells the story through her point of view in a way and that it gives further insight into just how cool of a character she is. Myrna Velasco does such a great job at giving the character a sort of spunk and fun outlook on life, which pairs her nicely with Kaz (Christopher Sean) for the episode.

With Commander Pyre (Liam McIntyre) arriving to discuss a deal of protection from pirates with Captain Doza (Jason Hightower), Doza keeps his daughter locked in her room as his way of protecting her. Torra very quickly manages to sneak out and ends up coming across Kaz, who is on his own mission to spy on Doza’s meeting with Pyre. Starved of social interaction, Torra takes Kaz to hang out, which Kaz happily agrees to in order to gain access to where the meeting is being held. While Kaz does come to enjoy this spot of friendship as well, Torra is pretty quick to figure out his true motive.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

While I knew he had to have some sympathy to make a deal with the First Order, I will say I was surprised to learn the revelation that Doza was an Imperial Officer, which Kaz discovers through hiding in his closet and discovering his old uniform. This adds another dimension to his character, primarily showing how his decisions up until now can be viewed in this new light. Even though he wasn’t a bad character by any means, I think that this surprise — plus the deeper exploration into the relationship with his daughter — makes him a lot more interesting to learn more about.

Not much else was really explored more in this episode, though we did see the return of Jace Rucklin (Elijah Wood). Since blowing up his racer with the misuse of hyperfuel — which he still blames Kaz for — Jace is now working as a sort of server and errand boy for the residents of the Tower to make up the lost credits. There is also a cute moment where Kaz believes to have fallen into a trash compactor, though Torra calms him by assuring him it is not a trash compactor, it is actually a trash incinerator!

“Station Theta Black”

This was a bit more of a meatier episode, with Poe (Oscar Isaac) returning to take Kaz on a reconnaissance mission at an abandoned mining outpost of the First Order. Though I really dig the setting and atmosphere of the Colossus, it is nice to have these breaks every so often off-world to experience a new environment. A standout moment of the episode comes right in the beginning with General Leia Organa (Carolyn Hennesy) herself delivering the mission to the two, as we only got a glimpse of her on a hologram in the first episode. I don’t think her voice actress quite nailed the voice, though I don’t discredit her in the slightest as the late Carrie Fisher’s voice had a unique flair in the latest entries of the trilogy and I imagine it had to be extremely difficult to even get that close.

On the mission itself, Poe is a bit cockier than usual and even makes Kaz seem like the sane and responsible one. I appreciate this attention to detail though, as it does fall in line much more with the character we see at the start of “The Force Awakens,” since we’re still a few months out supposedly from the events of that film. The two discover that the First Order used the facility to mine dedlanite, used in the construction of blasters, and that the facility’s demolition was scheduled for that day. Phasma personally escorts the demolition team after learning of possible lifeforms aboard the station, which shortly ends in the pair’s quick escape. The escape of the two results in the station’s explosion, which both looks and sounds excellent as the episode’s climax.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

One thing I really like about this era of “Star Wars” storytelling is the cohesion of the different mediums with one another. In this episode, we see Poe and Kaz come across one of the First Order’s sentry droids, which was especially cool as it is one of Phasma’s abilities in “Battlefront 2” (I assure you it is a lot cooler than I am making it sound). While it is seen in the background of the most recent films, both here and “Battlefront” are the only instances we can actually see it in action and perform its job. I think it is just neat to see this thing that I often see in-game actually come across on-screen in another medium that I enjoy, despite how niche that thing may be.

As a pair of episodes, both “Secrets and Holograms” and “Station Theta Black” deliver another excellent dive into these characters and their problems. Torra is quickly becoming one of my favorites on the show, and I am glad that we finally got an episode dedicated to finding out more about her specifically. The adventure with Kaz and Poe was probably my favorite of the two, and it was cool to see Kaz become the level-headed one for once. Despite my overly-picky grievances, General Organa’s debut on the series was strong, and her relationship with Poe — especially with what we see in “The Last Jedi” — was on par with the films. The series keeps on showing this less-seen side of the galaxy and I am loving every minute of it. The latest episode was the first time the lead protagonist even held a blaster, which I think speaks to why I am personally enjoying this unique take within the show. Going into the mid-season break, I am pleased with what we’ve gotten from this new series so far and I’m excited for what’s in store for the second half.

GAMING REVIEW: ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’

In the lead up to “Red Dead Redemption 2,” most of the talk surrounding the game was about just how detailed it was. Rockstar Games is known for their expansive open-world titles that feel as though every inch was combed through in a scrupulous fashion. When I started hearing about things like having to keep protagonist Arthur Morgan (Roger Clark) well-fed, having to brush and care for your horse, and a number of other real-life activities, I’ll admit I got a bit nervous about just how realistic Rockstar was making their game. It seemed as though all of these activities were things that most were playing games to avoid, and I thought perhaps this could lead to the game’s downfall. I suppose I should have had a little more faith in Rockstar’s plan, because not only do these aspects of the game avoid its detriment, they enhance it.

Narrative

The story of “RDR 2” predates its predecessor by a few years, focusing on the gang that the prior protagonist, John Marston (Rob Wiethoff), was a part of before settling down with his family. In addition to John and his family, a few more returning faces are back, like gang leader Dutch van der Linde (Benjamin Byron Davis), Bill Williamson (Steve J. Palmer) and Javier Escuella (Gabriel Sloyer), just to name a few. While we do see John’s path to where he ends up in the original game, the story is very much focused on Arthur Morgan. Morgan has been with the gang for pretty much his entire life and both he and the rest of the gang must come to terms with the beginning of the end for the Wild West. As technology and civilization grow further inland, outlaws like the Van der Linde Gang are hunted down and captured for their crimes.

While “Grand Theft Auto” — Rockstar’s other open-world behemoth — is very much focused on satirizing the entirety of American culture with off-the-wall missions, odd characters and language used like a middle-schooler just learned their first “sentence-enhancer,” “RDR” has a much more mature and deeper story to tell than its close cousin. While there is still a bit of that DNA to be found in a few of its side missions, overall the game follows a much more character-driven and serious narrative. “GTA’s” tone certainly has its place, but I feel “Red Dead’s” just sinks me into the world and its characters to a more significant extent.

Image courtesy of Rockstar Games

Again, it is all about the characters for the purpose of this story. While the Van der Linde Gang are not saints, the game does do a great job at getting you attached to this family of outlaws and making most of them people that you can genuinely root for. Dutch views the group more as a Robin Hood-esque gang, and while there is some truth there, as things progress, this sentiment begins to unwind.

Rob Wiethoff as John Marston set a strong standard for the video game protagonist in the original “RDR,” so the fact that Rockstar one-ups themselves with Arthur here is even more mind-boggling. At first glance, Arthur comes across as an unwise country boy, but as time goes on and I spent more time with him, he really shows just how intelligent he is. His journal is the primary example of this, something that updates after each in-game day and chronicles his real thoughts on certain situations that I wouldn’t otherwise pick up on. The first time I thought about finally reading it, I set aside about two-hours to read up to where I was currently at. As you come across countless individuals for the numerous side quests and main story, Arthur begins to open up even more about how he views the situation at hand. This is something that is best experienced for yourself, and while I think I want to sit on it more, he might just be the best protagonist I have ever played as in a video game.

The rest of the cast’s performance is just as good, whether it be an integral character to the storyline or just some non-playable character (NPC) you come across for a one-time encounter. Another of my favorites includes Rains Fall (Graham Greene), a Chieftain of the Wapiti Indians whose place in the story brings to light more of the injustices done to Native Americans by the U.S. government. His actor, Graham Greene, delivers a great performance in the role, along with a relevant and superb soundtrack that typically accompanies missions pertaining to him and his people.

If I went on to talk about the other characters I loved, it would likely result in me just listing every character and make this article much longer than it already is. The story that Rockstar has pulled off here is incredible and is one of the best to showcase just how excellent of a narrative a game can pull off in comparison to films and television. The main story uses its biggest moments sparingly, which in return makes them all the more poignant. The rest, though, is far from being called filler and expertly drives the narrative from place to place in its near 60-hour run-time.

Gameplay

In conjunction with the narrative, the gameplay in “RDR 2” is certainly the weaker link. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t excellent either. If you played the original “RDR” or any of the “GTA” games, the gunplay will likely feel familiar to you. While it is not as revolutionary as the narrative, the gunplay does feel true to the older weaponry being used in terms of the minor tweaks done to how accurate you are based on how fast you shoot. Making a return from the original game, the deadeye slowdown ability is a big help in making fights go by easier, and it is incredibly satisfying to come upon a camp of bandits, target them all in deadeye, and dispense of them in about two seconds.

The best I can compare the game to is to “Breath of the Wild,” another game with a gorgeous and fully realized open-world. While “BOTW” has a typical “Zelda” narrative with some interesting twists thrown in, the real draw is the pure gameplay of the exploration, and freedom in how you choose to carry out a variety of your tasks. “Red Dead” is the opposite, where the narrative is, by and large, its strongest suitor; yet the gameplay takes a bit of a back seat. Both are exceptional games, and again, their weaker aspects are not necessarily bad either.

Image courtesy of Rockstar Games

A good portion of the game is spent on horseback, and thankfully the mechanics here work really well for the most part. There is an emphasis on bonding with your horse, which includes feeding, brushing and petting it when it gets anxious or hurt. Riding feels fun, but as the game progressed, making large treks across the map and through the same scenery did get a bit dull. Thankfully, there is an option with the cinematic camera to auto-drive the horse to where ever your marker is on the map, which alleviates this a bit. There are also some issues I found with the horse taking on a mind of its own when cutting through something like a forest, which would occasionally end with both my horse and me colliding face-first into a tree. The story itself does incorporate this bond for a good reason though, and through all the labors of caring for it, I never thought that the horse would be the thing I got the most emotionally invested in.

One of the main focal points of how you play is the honor system, which is based on a number of your choices as Arthur and dictate how the world sees you and how some key story beats play out. Say you’re riding out to town and a man comes out of the woods with a snake bite, you can choose to suck the venom out or leave him to die. I chose to suck the venom out, and later down the line, I passed him on my way into a general store. He then offered to buy something for me in the store (I chose the most expensive outfit I could find). There are countless more examples of these that you can come across in your play-through which really solidify the living world Rockstar has created here.

Coming across any random NPC will present you with the option to either greet or antagonize, which can lead to a number of possibilities. Once, I bumped into a guy in a saloon where he then drunkenly challenged me to a duel in the street, then once there, he passed out. The honor system plays a big role into the kind of individual Arthur is, and based on just how well these characters and the world are designed, I found it hard to go any way but the honorable route.

Tying into my original worries over the game, the core system is what dictates your health, stamina and deadeye ability. Making sure you eat and sleep are the primary contributors to the cores, and while it sounds like a lot, I never thought it got in the way of my enjoyment. Eat too much and Arthur can get fatter; eat too little and he can get skinner. The same applies to sleep, as towards the end of long days, Arthur will progressively walk more tiredly. While not applied to cores, you also need to bathe or else your fellow gang members or people in towns comment on your look and stench. Your horse also has a core system of its own, but really the items you’ll find in homes or off bodies help to maintain both yours and your horse’s to where it never really becomes an issue.

Design

Just looking at any screenshot of the game, it’s pretty clear just how much Rockstar has put into “RDR 2.” The variety of landscapes you’ll come across are all gorgeous and house their own ecosystem, pulling from the game’s 200-some number of species. Walk into a general store, and you can inspect just about every item sitting on the shelves and counters to buy if you please. Each individual cranny of the world has been thought out and further immerses you into the world that Rockstar has created.

The ultimate design choices that Rockstar made for this game make it one that starts off slow and only picks up slightly after the prologue. I think this really works to the level of immersion that they are trying to instill in the player, but if you’re not one to settle in for a gaming session of at least two hours, it may not be your cup of tea. Each in-game day for myself, I would start off by picking out my outfit and then grab a cup of coffee and converse with the other gang members. There are a number of random interactions to be had with them and even some activities can pop-up to further bond with them.

Image courtesy of Rockstar Games

Music can make or break a scene, and composer Woody Jackson has done a terrific job with the score here for “RDR 2.” Similar to its predecessor, the music outside of cut-scenes is reacting to what is happening in the game. Moseying along on your horse will have some calmer beats, where suddenly you’re held up by a rival gang and the score rises up with it. You can definitely hear the influence that films like the Eastwood classic “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” have on it, with a lot of loud brass, orchestral strings, heavy percussion and electric guitar. The score is excellent and further enhances the cinematic moments. Like the last game, there are long horse rides in key story beats, which are usually accompanied by original vocal tracks from names like Willie Nelson and D’Angelo, all of which here match the tone of their respective moments perfectly.

Besides the main story and stranger missions, there are a number of activities to spend time with. You can go on a hunting or fishing trip, search for a bounty set by the law for cash, play poker or another game with your gang, shop for a new outfit, or even get your hair/beard done at a barber shop. One of my favorites to do were the shows in one of the later game areas, which lasted about twenty minutes each and were comprised of multiple acts like magic tricks — dancing and singing to name a few. Each show was different the four times I went, and Arthur can even interact with the people on stage to your choosing through applauding or antagonizing. Hearing him give off wholesome compliments was a treat and again was a part of why I grew so attached to him as the protagonist.

As detailed as the world is, I think that can sometimes work to the game’s detriment. With how scrupulous Rockstar has tried to make their world, that only makes its imperfections more visible. One example of this was a mission where we blew up a bridge used by a train, and only during a mission later on the same day, I could see the bridge in the foreground perfectly intact. In a game that makes use of a system that shrinks or grows your horse’s testicles based on the weather, this seems like something that you wouldn’t let slip by. Looting bodies after a fight is one way to get ammo or stuff to pawn off, and having to make Arthur walk sometimes in a full circle around the corpse to get in the right spot for the animation each time was a bit of a drag, especially with how many bodies are usually left over. These issues are extremely minor and infrequent in the grand scheme of things, but when the game prides itself on being extremely detailed, the imperfections become a bit more clear. They didn’t really take away much of my enjoyment; they just took me out of a game that serves to be as immersive as possible.

Online

In the lead up to the game, I was looking forward to the online mode just as much as I was with the main single-player portion. The prospect of the online being even more in-depth — based on what they did with “GTA V” — was exciting. The online was finally released nearly a month after the game launched and just in time for Rockstar’s “November” time frame: waiting until the very last week to release. The foundation of the mode is pretty much what I wanted it to be, but there are a few glaring issues that have kept me from enjoying it to its full extent.

Getting the bad out of the way first, the main problem with online at the moment is connection issues. It seems to be on a case-by-case basis, but while I usually get disconnected either as soon as I join in or anywhere from five minutes to two hours of playing, most of my friends stay connected just fine. Looking into it further on Reddit, it seemed to be a common issue with other players as well, and Rockstar has since acknowledged it and claimed to be working on a fix. The only other issue is the in-game economy is the prices of guns and other items being high with missions paying out little, which Rockstar has already tweaked (though I don’t think that they have found that happy balance yet). They are calling this their “beta” period though, so I suppose these issues should come as expected.

Image courtesy of Rockstar Games

What I do love about online the most though is that it allows me and my friends to play in this giant sandbox that Rockstar has created. While some of the options aren’t fully incorporated like they are in single-player, the ones that are there are fun to take part in. Even for the side missions with basic objectives, the journey there is one of the best parts of the game. The freedom allowed makes the possibilities endless, especially when coming across other players. There is always the uncertainty of friend or foe, which helps to ante up the stakes a bit. Once I was riding with a friend only for him to accidentally crash into a rival posses horse, which resulted in a fistfight between him and the owner as everyone watched. The comedic moments are simply endless with friends, and I am not sure how enjoyable the mode will be for those looking to simply go at it solo.

Final Thoughts

“Red Dead Redemption 2” has been one of the most hyped up games since its original reveal in 2016, and for the most part, it lives up to that anticipation for me. It contains one of the most compelling narratives to be told in any game and leaves me excited for where the industry as a whole can go from here. While it is not without its flaws, the gameplay was enough to keep me well-engaged during fights and satisfied for the most part. Their process of design yields fantastic results as the music, sound design, visuals, story and truly in-depth world harmonize perfectly with one another. This is a slow game though, and it demands a lot of time for each play session, so I don’t think it will be a title for everyone. The online also has its issues that will hopefully be fixed, but the foundation in place is strong for future updates. My original worries mentioned at the beginning were thankfully unwarranted, and overall I think “Red Dead Redemption 2” is one of the best of the generation.

A Sponge’s Impact: Reflecting on ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’

Millennial humor is a strange thing; just take a look at the most recent memes and you will quickly see how absurd, chaotic and seemingly random our sense of humor is. Why is that? The Nickelodeon animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” has to play some role in the formation of who we are as a generation. A cartoon based around a talking sea sponge who lives in a pineapple and works as a fry cook is a wild concept for a television series, but the jokes that come from the individual episodes shine a light on where our humor comes from. Even as adults, the millennial generation just can’t seem to move past this iconic series as reaction images and memes from the show seem to pop up constantly on our social media timelines. There are also plenty of quotes that find themselves in conversation and in social media bios.

Following the death of “SpongeBob” creator Stephen Hillenburg on Nov. 26, the Internet created countless tributes and many shared how they were personally impacted by the series and its band of lovable characters. To pay tribute to Hillenburg and the wonderful world he created and its timeless legacy, four Niner Times editors have selected their favorite episodes to share just what this sea sponge means to them.

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Pizza Delivery”

Adulthood is finally realizing that not only is Squidward justified in his anger, but that you may also be Squidward yourself. There’s nothing more relaxing to me than going home after a long day of school and work, but it isn’t always that simple. In this classic episode, SpongeBob and Squidward are tasked with delivering a pizza, which Mr. Krabs has suddenly decided to start selling as a means to make more money. Being that this is “SpongeBob SquarePants,” Squidward is relentlessly tortured throughout the episode during what should have been a simple delivery by the two losing their boat and ending up in an undersea tornado. Between the “Krusty Krab Pizza” song that SpongeBob sings and Squidward’s desperation to eat said pizza after becoming lost, there are so many hilarious moments and jokes packed into this episode. The standout line and my personal favorite quote comes as they finally reach the customer’s house and realize they have forgotten one important part of his order: “How am I supposed to eat this pizza without my drink?!” This just adds to the absurdity of the episode and the series as a whole. And who could forget the “big, beautiful, old rock” that the “pioneers used to ride for miles?”

Jeffrey Kopp, Editor-in-Chief

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Rock Bottom”

The greatest SpongeBob episodes are nonsensical, clever, and, yes, social commentaries. The astutely named “Rock Bottom” from the first season meets all of these requirements in the weirdest way. It starts when Patrick and SpongeBob take the wrong bus on the way home and end up in Rock Bottom, the abyssal zone of the ocean. They are coming from Glove World…yep, a glove-themed amusement park. Patrick immediately catches the next bus home, leaving SpongeBob to fend for himself in the dark, strange area. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to get on the bus, SpongeBob goes to the bus station where he waits for hours, only to be told the next bus won’t arrive until the morning. He goes back outside and meets a frightening anglerfish who appears to only communicate through spitting noises. SpongeBob tries to speak with him, but the anglerfish can’t understand his “accent” — speaking without spitting. SpongeBob grows increasingly frustrated and wary of the fish, but in the end, he is the one to retrieve SpongeBob’s balloon from Glove World, which ultimately helps him float home.

The best part of this episode is the concept of Glove World, made even funnier because it takes no real role in the plot. Patrick and Spongebob could have been coming from anywhere — the store, a friend’s house, etcetera. Why include this random aspect of the episode? Perhaps the obsession with anything glove-shaped is a commentary on consumerism, just as the bus station could be a criticism of bureaucracy or the interaction with the spitting anglerfish an analogy to xenophobia. Or perhaps it is just SpongeBob, and we need not take the talking sea sponge and starfish that wear clothes and go to a beach in the ocean at anything other than face value.

-Megan Bird, News Editor

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Club SpongeBob”

Almost every episode from the first three seasons of SpongeBob are iconic, classic pieces of cinematic history. And while I believe they, as a whole, form one of the many foundational chains in the block of what established our generation’s sense of humor, a personal favorite episode of mine would have to be the “Club SpongeBob.” This episode is among one of my top ranks because it is utterly ridiculous. It also features some of the most iconic jokes of the entire series. The flawed, absurd and ludicrous logic presented in it makes absolutely no sense and it sets the stage for a downright comical experience. Why do SpongeBob and Patrick spend an entirety of three days stuck in “Club SpongeBob” without asking for help? Why do they listen to a “Magic Conch Shell” toy, and why do they literally nothing to get out of the forest, just because it told them to? How does that plan even work? How does there just so happen to be a plane overhead that releases food magically into a perfect picnic around them? Just when you think the episode has finally reached its climax with a park ranger coming in to save them and no more idiocy can be had, said ranger also ends up being a follower of the Magic Conch and has brought along his own. Squidward seems to be the only sane voice of reason in this episode, and watching him get driven to the brink of insanity by SpongeBob and Patrick’s shrewd logic actually working for their benefit is what really cranks up the humor in this episode.

I felt like I spiritually related to Squidward throughout this entire episode, from the start when he gets offended by SpongeBob and Patrick not letting him into their club to the end when he gets riled up trying to understand how everyone except for him is getting good favors from this “all-knowing shell.” The script is incredible; the jokes are incredible; everything about this episode is just incredible. Sometimes I too find myself wanting to ask the Magic Conch for advice on my life.

-Pooja Pasupula, Photo Coordinator

Photo courtesy of Nickelodeon/Viacom Media Networks.

“Band Geeks”

Long before I even started marching band in high school, “Band Geeks” stood as my favorite episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” It has humor all throughout, with standout moments like Patrick’s inquiry on whether mayonnaise was classified as an instrument, which alone may be the series’ most iconic line. I think what pushes it to the top, though, is the spotlight on Squidward, and not just that, but the fact that the main gang of characters rally behind him, resulting in the episode ending in his favor (which I think is the only time that ever happens for him in the entire series). The episode also makes use of pretty much all of the major characters as well as side ones like Plankton, Mrs. Puff, Pearl and even Larry the Lobster. Watching the group fail miserably at trying to be musicians is hilarious throughout, though when they come together at the end, it results in one of the greatest moments in television history. The performance of “Sweet Victory” (David Glen Eisley) is just so out of left field and amazing that it remains just as iconic to this day. Overall, this episode excels at incorporating the whole cast, solid band humor, the greatest halftime performance of all-time, and the sweet satisfaction of Squidward’s rare success being rubbed in Squilliam Fancyson’s face.

-Noah Howell, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The Platform Classic’

Warning: Spoilers for “The Platform Classic” and prior episodes of “Star Wars Resistance” follow.

While maybe not one of the best, the latest episode of “Star Wars Resistance” once again delves deeper into Yeager’s (Scott Lawrence) past. The show continues to thrive on its ensemble roster of characters, and while there is surprisingly no Synara in this one, the closer look into Yeager’s family history is a nice consolation.

The basic gist of the episode centers around the big race Captain Doza (Jason Hightower) is holding on the platform, where he brings in the famous racer Marcus Speedstar (Keston John) who is revealed to be Yeager’s younger brother. Immediately a rift can be noticed between the two, and Marcus explains to Yeager that his only reasoning for coming was to make amends. Yeager is hesitant to do so until towards the end, which is shown to be for a very good reason.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Marcus himself is an interesting character, and his sort of swagger at Aunt Z’s (Tovah Feldshuh) cantina reminds me a bit of a hybrid of Han and Lando, but just in his manner of speaking and way of sweet-talking when two of the Guavian Death Gang confront him (the same who confront Han aboard the freighter in the beginning of “The Force Awakens”). They take his non-basic (basic being the English equivalent in the “Star Wars” realm) speaking partner Oplock (Jonathan Lipow) hostage to settle a debt, forcing Marcus’ only option to be to win the race for the prize pool. Marcus and Oplock mirror Han and Chewie, and these similarities were made more clear when I checked starwars.com where I learned Marcus was originally supposed to be Han himself in the early development of this episode.

After a bit of heckling from Kaz (Christopher Sean), Tam (Suzie McGrath) and Neeku (Josh Brener), Yeager disgruntledly agrees to take part in the race and prove he is the best, which is unfortunate for Marcus as he is well aware he can never beat his older brother. This leads us to the main event which turns out to be the best part of the entire episode.

The race consists of the Aces, Marcus and Yeager, though the latter two essentially hold the top two spots for the majority of the race. This race is not only exciting to watch, but the animation is downright phenomenal and furthers my prior sentiment that the ships look incredible in this art style. Throw on top of this the tension between Yeager and Marcus about what happened in the past between them and everything culminates in an overall compelling climax. The major takeaway here is that Marcus was responsible for the death of his older brother’s wife and daughter, the result of a crash gone wrong in a race between the two. Marcus was at fault because he used hyperfuel to try and finally beat his older brother, which as we learned from “Solo: A Star Wars Story” and a previous episode, is a very dangerous substance to play with.

Right as the race ends, Yeager veers off before the final checkpoint, allowing Marcus to win. While Yeager makes it clear afterward that he hasn’t fully forgiven his younger brother, they are on the path towards reconciliation. Overall, Marcus was an interesting new character to add to the cast because he allows us to learn more about Yeager’s own motivations.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

I think what stands out the most in this episode is just how visually appealing it is. Like I mentioned before, the race itself with all the ships looks great in contrast with the bright blue ocean setting. The Guavian Death Gang also looks great with their armor really solidifying how good metallic surfaces look in this show.

While Kaz has some solid screen time along with Tam and Neeku, the focus on Yeager and his relationship with his brother was well worth the time spent. While I liked Yeager before, learning about the fate of his wife and child at the fault of his brother and his actions which lead to their demise really made the old mechanic even more compelling. This episode did not get much into the Synara/pirate plotline with the First Order which I am alright with. Each episode doesn’t need to be a bombastic tale of espionage like last week’s, and reserving episodes for these deeper character developments have been well worth the investment thus far. Look out for the next episode of “Star Wars Resistance” when it airs next Sunday at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘Synara’s Score’

Warning: Spoilers for “Synara’s Score” and prior episodes of “Star Wars Resistance” follow.

Last week’s episode of “Star Wars Resistance” introduced us to Synara San (Nazneen Contractor), a spy for the nearby pirates who had been giving the Colossus trouble, which is completely unbeknownst to Kaz (Christopher Sean) and company. This episode continues the series’ excellent work in fleshing out its wide roster of characters, especially Synara, as the title would imply.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

The two things that immediately stand out in this episode are the ending action sequence and the great development into Tam (Suzie McGrath) and her newfound friendship with Synara. One of this show’s strengths is its wide, compelling cast. With the episodes usually running about 22 minutes, every second is imperative to get you further attached to them. We explored part of Tam’s past a couple episodes ago, but here we get to see her open up even more in her chat with Synara. Synara herself is an interesting character; primarily because you can see her inner conflict drawn out by both Kaz and Tam being friends with her.

Synara’s leak of the Colossus’ vulnerability leads to a big action sequence for the end of the episode; the largest we have gotten yet and the best in my opinion. For starters, the designs of the pirates are simply cool, with their ties to the First Order evidenced by the older Imperial gear they are equipped with. While Kaz and Yeager (Scott Lawrence) work on fixing up the Colossus’ targeting computer, Tam races off to make sure Synara is alright in the attack. Even though we in the audience are well-aware that she’s the one behind the attack, the act of kindness from Tam has a clearly significant effect on Synara. One thing I would also like to point out is we get to see Tam in action as well, where she quickly dispenses of some pirates in hand-to-hand combat in what is overall a very cool sequence.

Another strength of the episode’s action-packed climax is Kaz himself, who is still very much the protagonist of the show and is portrayed in a much more serious demeanor rather than his often clumsy self. I think it’s good to have those moments of levity, but seeing Kaz having to come to terms with some pretty dire circumstances is great and is something that I think Christopher Sean pulls off well in the character. Yeager makes an interesting claim afterward that Kaz was never the only spy on the platform, which really drives my intrigue into who the heck he is talking about.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

I made the incorrect assumption that Garma (Greg Proops) was an old man in a previous review, but the episode guide on starwars.com this week does confirm her gender and name. This still does not change the fact that the bizarre elderly lady is really creepy, though I thoroughly enjoy her cameos in episodes. Here, she is seen a couple times, with the last being her shuffling away with some looted supplies in the middle of the pirate attack. I point out this minor background character to mainly drive home the point about the animators’ attention to detail, specifically in making these background characters have mini-arcs of their own. All of this comes together in making the Colossus and its inhabitants feel like a real place.

While the number of episodes to compare it to is small, I do think that this episode is the best one yet. It presents Kaz in a way that makes me much more compelled to enjoy his presence, straddling that thin line between his goofy and serious nature, as well as really giving the spotlight to Tam and her budding friendship with Synara for the episode. I am honestly unsure of whether Synara will follow through with a redemption arc, but what has been presented so far has been really interesting. The climax itself was the best yet, and it let everyone get in on some action, including Yeager. I think this will be a difficult episode to follow up on, but with the tease of Commander Pyre (Liam McIntyre) coming in to present a new offer of protection to Captain Doza (Jason Hightower), I am optimistic. You can catch the next episode of “Star Wars Resistance” for yourself when it airs on Disney Channel next Sunday at 10 p.m.

Gaming Roundup: November/December 2018

“Fallout 76” – November 14 for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Image courtesy of Bethesda Softworks

A bold move for a historically single-player only franchise, Bethesda takes its prized “Fallout” series online to West Virginia. Set before any of the prior “Fallout” games, “Fallout 76” has players emerge from Vault 76, which was created for the purpose of housing the next generation and allowing them to rebuild in case of a nuclear armageddon. This move to a full online experience has been met with both controversy and praise from fans. I think it is a good move for the company to stake a claim in this games-as-service era, especially since Bethesda has stated this won’t be replacing their core single-player releases. The West Virginia setting is a compelling one, a land sparsely populated with buildings, making it ideal for players to build their own settlements. While the beta was met with a number of issues, I think Bethesda can build something good with this title if they rectify those problems and continue to support the title with free content post-launch as promised.

“Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu & Let’s Go Eevee” – November 16 for Switch

Image courtesy of Nintendo

The main-line “Pokémon” series finally makes the jump from 3DS to Switch, with this title appealing to both newcomers and to those who hold a deep nostalgia for “Pokémon Yellow.” Much like “Yellow,” these two releases have you locked in with a starter in either a pikachu or an eevee, depending on your version. As the name implies, these games also incorporate some twists on mechanics influenced by the mobile phenomenon, “Pokémon Go.” Catching pokémon consists of doing a throwing motion with the joy-con controller, much like a pokéball, while in docked mode. However while in handheld, the process is much more streamlined without the motion-control gimmick. One change I do like about this iteration is the abandonment of random encounters, with the new system in place allowing you to see the pokémon roaming in the tall grass.

Part of the charm of the game is growing your attachment to your pikachu or eevee, where you can pet, groom and dress them up in a variety of outfits. Another welcome addition is the fact that the need for HM moves has been relegated to abilities within your starter, which means a move slot will no longer be needlessly taken up. Besides the catching mechanic, the rest of these changes are welcome in my book and are something I hope to see carried over to future releases. With these sister-games aiming to be much easier for newcomers, those looking for the usual experience can look forward to the arrival of the Generation 8 titles slated for next year.

“Battlefield V” – November 20 for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Image courtesy of EA

Developer DICE makes the return to World War II with their staple “Battlefield” series, a series that I have played each title of in some form or another since “Bad Company 2.” The series has never particularly grabbed me, with “Battlefield 4” being the only one I have spent significant time with friends in. The sandbox style gameplay with a big map, player counts and an array of vehicles certainly leads to fun moments, but never enough to keep me coming back on a consistent basis. The series certainly has an audience though, and WWII in the latest version of the Frostbite engine is a sight to behold. With the battle royale mode not launching until March, there is not really much else new that interests me in particular, though I realize I am likely in the minority. While “Battlefield” may not grab me, DICE’s “Star Wars Battlefront 2” has kept me entertained for the past year, with the next update bringing in Obi-Wan Kenobi and Geonosis at the end of the month.

“Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” –  December 7 for Switch

Image courtesy of Nintendo

What better way to cap off 2018 with none other than gaming’s biggest crossover ever, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” Since it was first teased in March earlier this year, the speculation on the game’s final roster has been a wild ride. They could have kept it simply at the reveal from E3 that the game’s roster would encompass every single fighter to appear in the series before and people would be happy, but adding on more fighters like Simon Belmont from “Castlevania,” Isabelle from “Animal Crossing,” and the most-requested character, Ridley from “Metroid,” was all icing on the cake. With 74 fighters, 108 stages and about 900 music tracks in total, it is not hard to imagine how they came up with the “Ultimate” subtitle of the game. “Smash” is a fighter that excels as both a party and competitive game, remaining both easy to pick-up and difficult to master for newcomers. It is a celebration of gaming’s biggest franchises and I could not be more excited for its release.

‘One-Man Star Wars Trilogy’ brings a fresh take to a familiar franchise

If the pre-show music of John Williams’ fantastic score wafting through Booth Playhouse wasn’t enough, then the two gentlemen close to my seat debating the quality of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” cemented it. I was at the right show. Everyone around me shared a common love for the “Star Wars” saga, which meant Charles Ross seemingly had his work cut out for him in the form of the beast that is “Star Wars” fandom. The fandom can be a bit too overprotective of the saga at times, though from my talk with Ross a couple weeks before the show, it was apparent that he was one of these fans as well.

As a one-man act, Ross carries out his one hour version of the original trilogy in a splendid way, producing his own sound effects and music on top of his performance. While the pace is a bit jarring at first, I quickly settled in right around R2-D2 and C-3PO landing on Tatooine. This isn’t simply a run-down of the plot, but Ross injects his own humor and comments into the show itself; a bit like a parody similar to the likes of “Family Guy’s” or “Phineas & Ferb’s” “Star Wars” specials. For example, he makes note of the fact that General Dodonna, who gives the attack plan for the Death Star on Yavin IV, is the only person in the entire saga to pronounce Princess Leia as “Princess Leah.” It’s moments like these, as well as some quick-witted improv based on some mic difficulties which occurred the night of my show, that make this hyperactive version of the original trilogy feel worthwhile.

Images courtesy of Charles Ross and One-Man Star Wars Trilogy

While it is an unrealistic expectation for Ross to nail each voice for every character, he instead makes it perfectly clear which character he is performing by greatly exaggerating the character’s mannerisms, such as Lando’s suave and confident nature or Luke’s early whiny tone. While someone who may have never seen “Star Wars” before may still be confused — though I would wonder why they were even there — it is helpful for keeping track of all that is happening in this sped up version.

What impressed me most was how well the version of the trilogy Ross presents flows. Even though I was aware of the fact that the show is only an hour long, it never fully sinks in just how amazing of an accomplishment it is until you see it for yourself. Boiling down nearly seven hours worth of film to just one is no small feat, especially when making sure it still makes sense and is entertaining to the audience. Throw on top of that the fact he is having to remember lines while switching between characters, flying around stage with his arms in an x-wing position, and making sure he gets Vader’s “Imperial March” at the right time and it is mind-blowing, let alone that he is doing it as a single person with no props for an entire hour. The show’s lighting is the only real assistance, which is reserved for moments like the Death Star exploding or spotlighting the emperor’s evil monologue.

With all of that energy expended during the show, what the audience gave in return at my showing was a phenomenal applause. After the show, Ross accurately remarked that people are passionate about “Star Wars,” and even those who dislike it, love to express their hate towards it. Ross is just like everyone who sat around me last Friday: a fan who holds a deep love for the “Star Wars” franchise. Ross touched on this concept after his show, as it is the world of “Star Wars” that offers an escapism from life’s everyday woes which causes so many fans to gravitate toward it. Ross shows a clear understanding of this concept throughout his show and is able to display his own passion in a hilarious way; a way that connected everyone in the audience to a singular passion.

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The Children From Tehar’ & ‘Signal From Sector Six’

Warning: Spoilers for “The Children From Tehar,” “Signal From Sector Six” and prior episodes of “Star Wars Resistance” follow.

“Star Wars Resistance” has been a treat to watch each week so far, and while it may lack the nuance of a truly exceptional show, its compelling cast of characters and unique setting have made it stand out among the rest of “Star Wars” media. The first of the episodes continues the exploration of the First Order’s mysterious involvement on the Colossus, of which Kaz (Christopher Sean) learns more about from trying his hand at a sort of bounty hunting on the station. The second finds Kaz on his first real mission with Poe.

“The Children From Tehar”

Short of any amount of self-sustaining funds, this episode finds Kaz attempting to locate two lost children, who have a well-compensated bounty on them for their safe return. Unbeknownst to Kaz, this bounty was set by the First Order, who made the claim to Captain Doza (Jason Hightower) that they merely belong to a wealthy, well-respected family from within the FO’s allies. Once Kaz and Neeku (Josh Brener) find the brother and sister, Kel (Anthony Del Rio) and Eila (Nikki SooHoo), they learn of the true intent of the bounty placed on their heads. This episode is probably my favorite one yet as it connects the series and its characters to both the recent films and books, as well as features a lot more of the always-positive Neeku.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

One of the coolest subjects of the episode was the two runaway siblings. We learn that the duo are from the planet Tehar, which is located in the Unknown Regions. As of right now, the Unknown Regions have largely been untapped from on-screen material and is essentially a large area of the galaxy that has yet to be charted. It is where the remnants of the Empire escaped to under the guidance of the mysterious Snoke and contains the origins of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Luke’s island refuge on the planet Ahch-To. It is one of the most interesting parts of the new canon, and I am excited for the series to explore it more.

The two siblings from Tehar explain that their family and entire people were wiped out by the First Order who were led by a figure cloaked in black called Kylo Ren by his troops. This is the most shocking part of the series thus far, as even though it was apparent that it would deal with the First Order, I did not think we would even reach Kylo’s area (or at least this soon). While we know what his role in the films plays out as for now, this mere mention builds up his frightening persona. He is only attempting to match his grandfather, albeit in a much more chaotic and unruly way.

Something I have stated before is how the series excels at mixing species from across the trilogies, all while introducing its own into the fray as well. In this episode we are introduced to the Chelidae (Frank Welker), later referred to by Neeku as simply shell-folk, who are a really cool turtle/sloth hybrid that remind me a bit of the caretakers seen on Ahch-To in “The Last Jedi.” Their slow-moving animation contrasts well within a series that has so far focused on quick movements and facial expressions from its characters (more so than previous series). The species are the crew that keeps the Colossus up and running and end up being key to locating the runaway duo as well as saving them from First Order operatives. In addition to Porgs, the Chelidae are one of my favorite new additions into the aliens that inhabit the “Star Wars” galaxy.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

In addition to a few appearances by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), we are also introduced to another shiny high-ranking First Order operative in Commander Pyre (Liam McIntyre). Pyre dons a gold armor akin to that of Phasma’s clean, shining outfit, which I even thought in the series’ initial trailer was just Phasma with simply a weird lighting effect reflecting off of her. Here, Pyre is on the hunt for the siblings in order to take them out and prevent the spread of the news of the First Order’s conquering of multiple systems within the Unknown Regions. This is the first piece of real intelligence Kaz has gathered for the Resistance and he shares it with Ello Asty (Matthew Wood) at the end of the episode, wingman to Poe Dameron in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.”

While again there is a noticeable lack of Yeager (Scott Lawrence), who does get at least a line at the beginning of the episode, this episode sees Kaz accompanied by Neeku for much of the episode, which is welcomed in my book. Neeku’s forthright way of speaking and looking at typical situations leads to a number of humorous scenarios, but it is his generosity that adds a whole other layer onto his character. With Kaz essentially flat-out broke, Neeku pays for his glass of “basic hydration” at Aunt Z’s (Tovah Feldshuh), as well as the medicine needed for Eila’s injured leg. When Kaz takes note of his generosity and inquires about it, Neeku simply replies that money should go towards anyone lacking the basic necessities. It is Neeku’s generosity and overwhelming positivity that stands out to me and, despite the show carrying a light-hearted tone overall, is something to highlight in a galaxy that can carry some pretty depressing events.

“Signal From Sector Six”

While I am a bit mixed on the episode as a whole, “Signal From Sector Six” does have a good number of neat moments. It is not especially plot heavy, but does give us a trip off of the Colossus in the form of an adventure with Kaz and Poe (Oscar Isaac). The two come across an abandoned freighter with some nasty inhabitants, and rescue a seemingly abandoned worker named Synara San (Nazneen Contractor). By the end of the episode though, we learn that she is in league with the pirates, and you can even spot her in the dogfight between the Aces and the pirates from a few episodes ago — a minor continuity detail which I appreciate.

On the freighter itself, Kaz and Poe face off with escaped Kowakian monkey-lizards as well as their much larger ape cousin. You’ll probably recognize the smaller ones as the same species as Jabba the Hutt’s court jester, Salacious B. Crumb, from “Return of the Jedi,” though we never have quite seen one the size of the ape in canon. One small animation touch I appreciated was Kaz’s pupils dilating when he first hears the Kowakian ape roar, which I only noticed upon second viewing but is something that goes that extra mile of selling these as real characters.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

The first time I’ve had a problem with the show’s writing comes in a moment of dialogue exchanged between Kaz and Poe when practicing aerial tricks. It just feels rather forced, but for it to be the first time I have had a real problem with the writing is a really good sign, I think. One of the minor relationships covered in the sequel trilogy is the adorable one found between Poe and BB-8, which luckily for us, this episode brings up a fair amount as the two are reunited once again. Similar to my comment on the animation before, this helps to set up the characters as genuine people the audience can relate to. Poe’s genuine care for his droid is a sweet spot among a chaotic galaxy.

Kaz’s actions in this episode straddle the line between annoyingly goofy and enjoyable. The sort of slapstick humor is something “Star Wars” is no stranger to, but here it nearly crosses the line of being just a bit too much. From the way the show is progressing now though, I foresee that this won’t still be an issue come the end of the season. I do like that, so far, Kaz has been one of the few “Star Wars” protagonists to not carry around a blaster or lightsaber on a regular basis. I think this again speaks to the unique perspective we are getting from this show, which is something I hope it will stay like for a while longer.

“Resistance” is the type of show that handles the balance of self-contained plot in conjunction with a season-stretching arc well, and this is why I look forward to getting to watch week after week. The first in particular is one of the best, as I think the show is at its best when it can connect these freshly established characters to the overarching “Star Wars” plot through things like the Kylo Ren callout. What will become of that is unknown, but I am looking forward to seeing where this story leads in regards to the First Order, the pirate Synara and seeing more of the sweet shell-folk gang. You can catch the next episode of “Star Wars Resistance” for yourself when it airs next Sunday night at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

INTERVIEW: Charles Ross details his Charlotte-bound ‘One-Man Star Wars’ show

Since its initial release in May of 1977, “Star Wars” has remained a cultural touchstone across multiple generations. Charles Ross is one of the many people affected by the franchise and actually went as far as to create a whole one-man show based around his love of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. In preparation for his show’s arrival in Charlotte this weekend, I got to speak with Mr. Ross about how the franchise and his show have impacted his own life.

First thing I want ask is: where does your love of “Star Wars” stem from?

Well I grew up in the ‘70s. I guess that in the ‘70s, there was a lot of crappy sci-fi that was out. I mean, it wasn’t all crap, but it wasn’t extremely high quality. I also lived on a farm around the time that “Star Wars” came out, so the story of a farm boy living on a farm-y kind of planet like Luke Skywalker [did], it definitely appealed to my disenfranchised way of life (laughs). And yeah, I mean, the idea of being able to be whisked up into space was unthinkable. Totally awesome. And we didn’t have access to lasers and laser-swords and stuff like that. I mean, it was amazing. There was just, as far as the other films that were out, there wasn’t anything of that kind of quality. They made those special effects just unthinkably good — for the time at least. Just in the fact that there was nothing to compare it to, and back then, everybody liked it.

That isn’t totally true. There’s people that have said that they never liked it or whatever. But, well, these are people that enjoy kicking clowns or something. I don’t know what it is. If you enjoyed life and breathing oxygen and have the ability to have a smile, you kind of like “Star Wars” because it was just ridiculous fun.

I agree. And so where did that love of “Star Wars” get you into a position where you are developing an entire show around it?

Well, okay, so I have the ridiculous, bad idea of trying to be an actor for a living. I went to university, studied theater, and it’s great to be able to spend time studying that stuff, but when you get out you got to work. I live in Canada, so when I graduated I was living in Canada, and you know, we don’t have free reign to sort of just come down to the States and work. There’s tons more work down in the States, but I kind of had to do something up here in Canada. So I was willing to go where the work was, but even though we’ve got a large land-sized country, we don’t have a lot of work to go around, so I kind of just tried to make something of my own. It was just an idea of trying “Star Wars” on stage, by myself, just using my whatever general knowledge of it to try to recreate it, just as a doofus would. And I really didn’t think the idea would have any legs to it, but you just never know what idea is going to strike a chord and what isn’t.

I think for my own purposes, like when my show had an opportunity to do some kind of fun things, was sort of when the rise of YouTube was happening, but it wasn’t quite there yet. And I mean, I think that YouTube really does define the way that we share our ridiculous and great ideas, not just YouTube, but all forms of social media, or just digital transmission. Though I wasn’t just putting the show up on to YouTube, I was doing the show in the old school way that it was intended, which was a piece of theatre or a ridiculous one-man show. I think if I had tried doing this show, even like, just to try doing it five years later then when I did, I don’t know what would have happened. I think it might have been something people would look at online, go ‘Okay, well, whatever. Next.’ and move on, and it’s over. But I mean, people do that now. They serve these things that way now and even my show.

Image courtesy of onemanstarwars.com

I came out of the analog world that the original “Star Wars” was, the thing that digital cannot recreate, which is that we were living in analog society. Things moved slower. We watched movies that were slower paced. We kind of listened to stories even though blockbusters were coming out and things were kind of ramping up, and as far as the expectation of summer releases of movies, it still was moving at a slower, I don’t know, maybe measured-out pace that we aren’t so used to anymore. It’s funny because when I make new shows now, it’s funny how different the people are that come to see the shows. Like how different they are than just the old “Star Wars” folks. Because for so many people in the population, they saw “Star Wars” around the time it came out, and because of that, people kind of reminisce like a bunch of bozos about how great things were back in the day. They weren’t all great back in the day but our time, when we were sort of hit by “Star Wars,” it was kind of cool.

I can’t think of anything [today] that’s culturally happened on a what I call, like, your big-scale theater sort of stage. Where people were still going out watching shows in the movie theater and happened to go line up and maybe not even get into the movie. Kind of ramp up your expectation of how great this thing must be because it was sold out for weeks. [Now] we are satisfied immediately with what we want or we move on. And that’s not to say that is right or wrong. That’s just the way we are. We get instant gratification. So when you create a new show, it has to be for that new kind of insatiable monster. It has an audience in mind. It’s a fun monster, like, it’s fun to sort of get up in front of that monster and go like ‘Oh I hope it doesn’t eat me. I hope it likes what I put out.’ It’s just a conversation that spreads the the sort of critical ability of people to comment, and is immediate. It’s just a very different world.

So going off of that, how did you initially go about preparing for the show for the first time? How do you practice it now?

Oh, I don’t really practice so much because, I mean, it’s the job I do.

So it’s more second nature now?

Kinda! What a weird thing to have a second nature, but you know, if you were a pilot of a very specific type of vehicle, be it an airplane or whatever —  and this is far from being an airplane of a show — it’s what I’ve been doing for a long enough now that, I mean, nobody else does it, so I’m not comparing myself to the legions of other “Star Wars” folks. At the time, preparing for it was just kind of testing new ground. What’s going to make a person laugh? The only way I could find that answer was by putting it up, at first in front of my director. What did we laugh at? And then start putting it up bit-by-bit in front of audiences and then, you know, it worked! I mean it’s not so much that preparation, because today if I was to make a new show, and watch, say, for instance, I do a one-man “Stranger Things.” When I watch a show today I’m thinking about, like, when I was a kid I watched “Star Wars” because I liked it. I now look at shows and go, ‘I wonder if this would work?’ It’s weird! I’m like, why can’t I just go back to being that kid and just enjoy things for when they’re great and not great?

I guess when you get older you get jaded (laughs).

So do you think that has affected your perspective when rewatching the original trilogy?

Like in how they lack in quality or how great they are?

Like, you condense it down to an hour. Does it ever feel like its going too slow?

(laughs) No, in a sense of what the movies actually are, the movies remind me of being a kid. That’s kind of a cool thing to sort of still be able to be reminded of, being a kid when you’re an adult, and even though I do the show that I do based on the original trilogy, I just in some ways get transported back because I can’t do every single moment of the trilogy, I only do my own version of it. So they still, God, my show is one hour, and I think it shows. The full trilogy runs something like over eight hours, so there’s seven hours of stuff that I can still be genuinely delighted about rather than bored. The only reason why it didn’t make it into my version is because just time factors.

It’s amazing how you can condense the essence of that story down like that, though.

Yeah, well it’s weird, but when you try to figure out what to cut out and what to leave in, it’s hard to just have to go with what you know and just go with what you can remember. I didn’t bother to sit there and have the video playing and stop it and start it and stop it and start it because, well, that’d be really frustrating number one, and you lose sight of what to keep and what to take out. What I did was sit down with my own memory of it and wrote from what I could remember off the top my head, because the idea is that whatever I remember should, in theory, be what the average person can remember, and it turned out that I was right.

Image courtesy of onemanstarwars.com

So you’re doing this one hour show including sound effects, music, lines and everything else all by yourself. How do you keep that energy up throughout the show?

Like I said, it is actually what I do so I don’t know. I have to wonder how there’s people who keep going to do certain jobs that I would find impossible to do. I guess it’s what you learn and you get used to the geography that is your life and is your job and you know when to push and when to hold back and when to coast. I know I don’t have a lot of people that can relate specifically to doing a “Star Wars” show. There’s actually quite a lot of people that do stand up or they tour as a band, or they too are doing solo shows and I mean, the way you sustain it is that you to sort of take every single show as a small beginning and treat it that way and have to sort of remember; that even though you might feel really tired or maybe you’re just feeling like things are stale, for every person in the audience, this is usually the first time that they have ever seen you do it live and that’s kind of the special part of doing live performance. I guess if you are a radio DJ or are just dealing with the public you know, customer service in every interaction is slightly different.

You touched on the beast that can be “Star Wars” fans. Are there any standout interactions from the audience that you have had?

It was weird; I actually had these folks that came to see my show many years ago, but they had just come from their own “Star Wars” themed wedding. I thought it was kind of cool. Like they came to see my show after they were married, in costume. The woman was dressed up as Leia, but the groom was dressed up as Boba Fett. So I’m like, I guess in their idea, when Han was frozen, maybe Leia and Boba had a thing (laughs). I didn’t get into it too much and I didn’t get too many descriptions as to why, but yeah; they obviously got the show very well. And it was kind of neat to think that I was in between their ceremony and the reception. I don’t actually know where they went after that, but it was pretty funny.

So for someone who is trying to develop something creatively that they’re passionate about, what advice might you share?

I think the only advice I can really say is that it’s not so specific as much as it’s a feeling, and for me to sound like some sort of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or some crap. Your heart really does lead you in the right direction, as easy as it is to get distracted by what other people suggest what you should do, remember that your love and passion for something is that. It’s yours, and as much as other people want to have some sort of say, or post some kind of weird sense of ownership over your love, it is still yours.

There is a fine line between listening to what others say and following your own heart. If you’re going to follow your own heart, remember one day you might be looking back and going like, yeah this is what you wanted. You just have to learn to say ‘well, yep, this is what I chose.’

I think also the opportunities sometimes arise out of moments where things seem like they’re at a low point. I think you have to understand at some point when to hang up the gloves, that things aren’t working. Sometimes when it feels like you’re dealt a very negative card, it’s amazing how quickly things can twist around and become totally in your favor. I guess just trying to be really active and reacting, but also not trying to get down on yourself too quickly.

Charlie Ross will be performing his “One-Man ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy” show from Nov. 16-18 in the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. General tickets can be purchased at $19.50 and students can also order them in advance for $15 at: www.blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/one-man-star-wars-trilogy

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The High Tower’

Up until now, “Star Wars Resistance” has mostly been a self-contained plot in a niche side of the galaxy, leaving only hints about how its characters would tie into the overarching galactic narrative. From eavesdropping on a top-personnel-only meeting to being chased down by First Order stormtroopers, Kaz (Christopher Sean) gets a real taste of what the spy life is like in this episode. While I enjoy the small stakes plotlines and don’t expect those to go away completely, I am happy to finally dive into why the First Order is so interested in the Colossus.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Much like prior episodes, this one starts off with Kaz struggling as a mechanic in Yeager’s workshop, with Neeku (Josh Brenner) testing out his new communicators so that he and Kaz will always be in contact with each other no matter where they are. When the Colossus’ power begins flickering on and off, Kaz, Tam (Suzie McGrath) and Neeku head into Aunt Z’s (Tovah Feldshuh) diner. Here, Aunt Z reveals her suspicions regarding the Colossus’ leader, Captain Doza (Jason Hightower), having ties with the First Order. We also finally meet another pilot of the Aces, Hype Fazon (Donald Faison), who is a very egotistical individual. Tam reveals that the two were friends before he became one of the Aces, a goal they were working towards together. Despite being resentful for his abandonment, Tam accepts Hype’s offer to check out the tower and brings along BB-8 and Kaz, who are eager to get a glimpse after seeing the arrival of First Order troops.

Once at the tower, Kaz is taken with the finer accommodations provided in the Aces’ lounge. Meanwhile, Tam and Hype discuss how their friendship fell apart. Not getting to know the characters besides Kaz was one of my only grievances with the start of the series, though last episode with Yeager and this one with Tam give us a better understanding of what these characters are motivated by. The exploration of Tam’s goal to become the best racer on the platform is a lofty one; something that I will be interested to see further explored, especially with Kaz seemingly working towards a similar goal. Speaking of, Kaz sneaks away with BB-8 to find out where the First Order troops went only to discover a meeting between them and Captain Doza. Major Vonreg (Lex Lang), the red stormtrooper pilot seen multiple times in the series so far, offers Doza a deal in protection from the pirates who have been attacking the station. We of course know that the First Order themselves are the ones supporting these pirates, though why they are so interested in the platform still remains a mystery. Doza remains firm in his stance against them though, and on their way out, Kaz manages to get spotted by the troopers, resulting in a chase.

Despite never really fearing that Kaz would actually somehow get killed or caught, the chase itself offered up some humorous moments which I enjoyed. Kaz first stumbles into Torra’s (Myrna Velasco) room, who was the Aces pilot he raced in the first episode, and is also daughter to Captain Doza. Her room offers a number of references, like stuffed animal versions of different species like Ewoks and even a poster of Sabine Wren’s icon from “Star Wars Rebels,” which I get the feeling isn’t there merely to be regarded as an easter egg. Kaz quickly jumps out the window and runs along the tight edge while dodging blaster fire, which the patrons of Aunt Z’s diner get the full show of, including Tam and Neeku. Kaz manages to make it back safely to the workshop, meanwhile Torra covers for his events at the tower with her father and Vonreg. Because of Doza’s backing of his daughter, the First Order back down and soon leave as planned. Despite Doza helping his daughter in covering for Kaz, the episode ends with his eyes still on what Kaz’s true intentions are.

If there is one thing I think the show struggles with the most, it is its way of balancing its lighthearted tone against having actual stakes for its characters. This is a series that I think is aimed at a more general audience than its two predecessors in “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” both of which also had a bit of maturing to do past their initial season. I don’t think “Resistance” is aiming to get as dark, nor do I even want it to drop its lighter tone, though it wouldn’t hurt to help get the audience a bit more invested in tenser scenes. I like the way the latter half of the chase handled comedy, with Aunt Z and her patrons placing bets on Kaz’s survival odds, so if they continue to substitute it with this kind of humor in future episodes then I won’t be disappointed. I think I am being a bit too harsh though as it is only episode four out of what is assumed to be about a 20-episode season.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Looking ahead, I am very curious to learn what exactly warrants the First Order playing both sides just to gain control of an isolated station in the Outer Rim. I’m mildly shocked to find that we had no Yeager in the episode, which was disappointing after what we learned of both his past and future potential in the last one. We did get to see Tam get fleshed out more, giving her further relevance than simply being used as a sort of cliche ally for Kaz who constantly gives him grief. Her drive to fix the Fireball so she can become a top racer herself certainly gives her character more of a compelling take, which I am excited to see followed through for the rest of the season. Torra also gets more screen time in the episode, and she is left in a position to be more of a potential friend of Kaz, and possibly to help get him into the Aces. Hopefully that all leads to more exploration within the Aces themselves.

This was another solid episode to add to “Resistance’s” debut season, one which sets up a number of exciting plot points to follow in the future. One minor detail from Hype’s ad-laden jumpsuit serves as an exciting reminder that a restaurant called “Admiral Snackbar” exists within “Star Wars” canon, which I love despite how cheesy it may seem. Since the episode was at night, we get a different perspective on the art style, though I would have hoped to have seen more ship combat in this style. The plot for Kaz to discover the First Order informant on the ship continues to thicken, even though he still kind of sucks at spying and being a mechanic in general. I’m excited to see where “Star Wars Resistance” goes from here, which you can see for yourself when the next episode debuts next Sunday at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

Five of gaming’s scariest people and creatures

WARNING: The following article contains MAJOR spoilers for “Resident Evil” and  “Undertale.”

Lisa Trevor – “Resident Evil”

“Have to find Mom. Have to give face back to mother.” – Image courtesy of Capcom

Just as terrifying as she is tragic, Lisa Trevor was a frightening addition to find inside the remake of the original game. Her introduction comes in a lone shack in the middle of the woods, far away from the main mansion. Inside it contained a typewriter and storage chest, two things which signified up to that point that you were in a room safe from any type of enemies. Once you go back towards the exit in your first time in the shack, you hear the door slam shut. When you head through the door way, you are knocked out, later waking up to find a horrific monstrosity in front of you. Lisa Trevor is a sight to behold, one that you can never get a clear grasp of because of the amalgamation of human faces that make up her upper body. With her hands bound together and chains around her ankles, you can always hear the monster lumbering towards you throughout her specific areas.

Lisa Trevor’s origin lies in the family who created the twisted mansion (unknowingly) for an evil corporation. Once it was completed, Lisa was taken away as a test subject from her parents — who were eventually killed — to have a number of experiments completed on her for multiple years. Lisa was later thought to be killed once tests were over, but because the experimentation resulted in her becoming nearly invincible, she continued to wander the grounds in search of her mother. Her end is a touching moment, and her overall arc is part of why I fell in love with the series two years ago. Growing up, I viewed the overall series as cheesy horror, but when I finally gave this remake of the original a chance, I wished I had tried it sooner. There are a plethora of stories like Lisa’s in not only the first game, but the rest of the series, though her’s is definitely one of the best.

Happy Mask Salesman – “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” – Image courtesy of Nintendo

In a game that depressingly shows how people will deal with an impending doomsday-level event and features a number of shady characters, it takes a lot for this guy to stand out among the rest. The happy mask salesman is one of the first characters you meet in the game and his constantly grinning face immediately fills you with a sense of dread. He never really antagonizes and only helps Link in his quest to save Termina from its constant three-day-loop of the moon crashing down on the entire city. The combination of his creepy laugh and jerky animation is what really brings on the goosebumps. Why he carried around a mask, said to be created by an ancient tribe for dark rituals, that could easily be taken off his bag is beyond me. Lastly, when you fail to play the “Song of Time” and reset to day one by the end of the 72 hours, he is the one who speaks to you as the world abruptly comes to an end. There are many creepy characters in the “Zelda” series, some maybe more frightening than him at first glance, though the happy mask salesman is the one who remains on my mind till this day.

Flowey – “Undertale”

“Howdy! I’m Flowey! Flowey the Flower!” – Image courtesy of tobyfox

Thrust into an unknown land, Flowey the Flower is the first to greet you at the wonderful land called the Underground. His pleasant demeanor in your initial meeting lulls you into a false sense of safety only for you to quickly realize this “flower” is not to be trifled with. His happy smile turned murderous grin is terrifying, but not as much as his final form (again, please turn back now if you plan on trying this game at some point). His omega form at the end is the one time the game abandons its 8-bit art style in favor of a much too realistic art style, which can only be described as a plant/computer abomination. His tense soundtrack, menacing laugh and use of constantly resetting your save file to have the opportunity to kill you over and over again is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in a game. I have tried to remain as vague as possible, but Flowey will simply be a character that sticks with me till the end of time.

Everything – “Bloodborne”

“Die! Die, die! Hunters are killers, nothing less! You call ME a beast? A Beast? What would you know? I didn’t ask for this!” – Image courtesy of FromSoftware

“Bloodborne” is a game that’s setting lies in horror, and with so many unique enemies, it was hard to just pick one (which is why I listed everything). For the unfamiliar, “Bloodborne” is set in Yharnam, a land filled with gothic/Victorian-era architecture. For the deep yet vague lore, everyone who remained outside for the night turned into a horrible creature with some H.P. Lovecraft-inspired beasts thrown in for good measure. Whether I was walking into a pitch-black room inhabited by a crazed old man in a wheelchair armed with a gatling gun or breaking another crate only to be given yet another heart attack by an enlarged crow, “Bloodborne” was constantly throwing something new at me. What was impeccable was that each enemy, boss and NPC felt unique in their design, and it’s not just in their looks but in their fighting style and the cool environments that caused them to shine. The game’s difficult learning curve and terrifying world make it hard to get into. If you manage to conquer the game though, it serves as not just one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in a game, but any piece of entertainment period.

Mr. Resetti – “Animal Crossing”

“My patience gauge is now officially on EMPTY!” – Image courtesy of Nintendo

Perhaps more aggravating than he is scary, Mr. Resetti certainly has the resume to back up his spot on this list. The grouchy mole comes to visit you throughout all of the main-line “Animal Crossing” games, but usually only when you fail to save before quitting, or attempt to time-travel by changing your system clock to get holiday-locked items. When I played the original game on GameCube, I remember being distinctly shaken up by my first visit from Mr. Resetti, mainly because how bewildered I was at how this mole could possibly know I forgot to simply save my game before turning it off. His fourth-wall breaking rants could even last for about ten minutes, and some could go even longer if he made you type out your apology exactly as he asked for it. Much like Tom Nook’s interest free mortgage loans though, I came to realize that Mr. Resetti was actually teaching a good lesson in his now-humorous dialogue. Sadly, because of some complaints sent to Nintendo by parents about Mr. Resetti’s quick-temper scaring some children, the company has since toned down his appearances in the series, eventually becoming completely optional in the latest entry, “Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Despite his slowed inclusion in recent games, I am greatly looking forward to the mole’s return in next year’s game for Switch.