It’s been said that there’s more to life than music and, while we remain sceptical, we’ve decided to test the premise with our new bi-weekly Cool People Column!
Noyan and Eden already bring you great pop culture recommendations and discussions each week on the Heavy Blog podcast, but why should they get to have all the fun? (Just because they essentially maintain and run the blog itself? I think not!) Now it’s the rest of the staff’s turn to share all the cool things from beyond the world of music that have been tickling their fancy over the last fortnight; everything from books to films, TV shows, video games and beyond!
We also want to know what all you cool people out there have been getting up to as well, so make sure to let us know in the comments.
Star Trek: Picard (2020)
Is it possible to have nostalgia for something you never experienced in the first place? The answer is (of course): yes. Even so, as someone who only got around to watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994) over the last year or so, it’s striking how comfortable and welcoming Picard feels. Seconds into the show and I already felt like I was being wrapped in the warm embrace given to Picard by Marina Sitris‘s Deanna Troi in the trailer.
Yet, for all it’s nostalgic comfort, Picard isn’t entirely playing it safe. The series opens with a Picard who – in a very Deep Space Nine-feeling move – has quit Star Fleet in protest over its failure to uphold the respect for all life that it preaches, and when he marches back into the head-offices demanding reinstatement at the humbly reduced station of Captain, he is promptly called on his hubris. I also have to disagree with Noyan, and say that it doesn’t feel overly Treky to me at all. Until it’s final fan-servicey (yet effective) reveal, there’s hardly a spaceship to be seen, with the pilot operating, for the most part, within the domestic, introspective sphere of episodes like “Family” (1990) or even “The Inner Light” (1992).
…oh, except there are also android assassins now. Although its tale of Romulan conspiracy is tried and true, what Picard really feels like – with its implanted memories and immaculately conceived androids – is Blade Runner: 2049 (2017). The look and feel of the show also more readily recalls recent hit sci-fi series such as Altered Carbon (2018) or The Expanse (2015–), far more than it does forced set pieces and scattered plot threads Discovery (2017), with Patrick Stewart acting the pants off every scene and every one in his vicinity. Although the second episode felt slightly less assured Picard‘s pilot feels entirely natural and expertly controlled and I can’t wait to see where it goes. Also: RIKER! HOLY SHIT IT’S RIKER!! RIKER’S GOING TO BE IN THIS !!! I CAN’T FUCKING WAIT TO SEE RIKER AGAIN!!!!
Star Wars: The Mandalorian (2019)
Let me start off with admitting that I personally think some nerd media needs to slow its roll. Not everything requires an adaptation, and it starting to feel like we’re overloading. Things like Star Wars were really great because movies and media only came out every so often. We’re reaching a point of diminishing returns because it’s just becoming over-saturated, and not all of it is worth a damn (looking at you, Rise of Skywalker). At a certain point, you have to say enough is enough.
However, Disney/Big Brother has decided to go in the opposite direction but with a twist: What if we make even MORE Star Wars stuff but we actually plan it out so it’s good? A novel concept, but it resulted in The Mandalorian so it’s definitely worth it. Personally, I’m in love with the concept for a lot of reasons. First and foremost being that all Star Wars fans want something Boba Fett related. Well, it’s not quite that, but it’s damn close and I’ll take it.
Second, the last few years have shown that people aren’t necessarily craving more of the Star Wars saga, but they do very much want to live in that universe. Expanding the universe via video games, cartoons, and Rogue One-style storytelling is what we all really want. You can tell different kinds of stories with different kinds of themes or with different dramatic styles, be those heavier or lighter emotionally. The Mandalorian does that by creating a story with a much more severe tone. It still dabbles in the unique humor of the original saga, but the themes are much heavier to deal with.
Third, it simply tells a different kind of story. The original saga tells of a fantasy epic with some whimsy to it, but it’s also telling a black and white story of good vs. evil. The Mandalorian, on the other hand, is just a straight western. Alliances change frequently based on a mutual need to survive. Compelling characters can stand for good while still having to do bad things. Unlikely partners succeed frequently. It makes the universe that much more compelling and interesting.
Finally on a more personal note, I’m super glad to see this because I was absolutely obsessed with the extended universe when I was a kid. Particularly Tales of the Bounty Hunters (1996), an anthology of stories about the bounty hunters seen in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). It tells tales that you just don’t see in Star Wars generally. All the stories are interesting pieces on their own and tell stories that make sense in a universe where the law often seems to fail in reaching its targets, much like stories about bandits and outlaws in the American Wild West. The Mandalorian could easily be one of those stories, too.
Beyond that, this series is really well-made in general. There are incredible actors, excellent effects, and top-notch writing that keeps you engaged. I was particularly fond of Taika Waititi’s IG-11 and Carl Weathers’ performance as bounty hunter leader Greef Karga. Even more surprising was the emotional performance out of Pedro Pascal who didn’t let a helmet get in the way of emotion. All in all, it’s quite wonderful. As Nick Nolte’s Kuiil would say, I have spoken.
Void Bastards (2019)
Humor in video games is a notoriously difficult things to pull off. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense; any joke heard over and over again for what could potentially be hundreds of hours becomes boring and stale. The trick is to actually create a good game around your humor, making the repetition something that becomes endearing or even comforting as the game progresses. Void Bastards, more or less, has successfully done that. Centered around a rogue-lite mechanic of death upon death, the humor in Void Bastards is “organically repetitive”. You, a prisoner of a dubious and brutal, ultra-capitalist, far-away company/government, must struggle to plunder your way out of the nebula where you ship crashed. Thing is, you suck. You’re not a superhero and you will die and another prisoner resurrected in your stead, with your items.
If you’ve played rogue-lite games, this should be nothing new to you. What makes Void Bastards enjoyable however is how much character the environments through which you move have. From the corporate itself, and its condescending, cold, brutally efficient representative, to the mutated monsters you’ll fight and the weapons you’ll use by doing so, Void Bastards veritably sings with character and style. Add in a host of upgrades, both to stats and to your ever-increasing arsenal of destruction, and you’ve got yourself a game that’s fun to play and fun to progress in. It helps that some of the jokes, like the randomized attributes your characters can start with (like “formal”, where all monster names become honorifics like “Mister Smith” or “smoker”, where your random coughing breaks stealth), actually work and aren’t too oppressive and in your face.
End of the day, you probably won’t find yourself playing hundreds of hours on Void Bastards but you will probably have a bunch of fun with it. I’m getting close to its end and it’s still engaging, drawing me in with a mix of good combat, great items, and quippy one-liners.