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Fast & Formal
A lot of Star Wars, a little Clay Christensen, a ton of asides...
With my wife on the road this week, once I put our little one down each night, I found quite a bit of time to write. Not only on 500ish — but even a couple Reviews in Haiku! (For the first time in far, far, far too long.) With each new year I set a goal to write more — as many people do — and I largely fail — as many people do — because after a strong start out of the gate, I get sidetracked by other things. In this regard, it’s no different from any other resolution. But I keep trying to hack and crack this particular one by telling myself to write more succinctly (the original point of 500ish) and more casually (the original point of my newsletter experiments). I usually end up failing at both of these goals as well, which is interesting. But I keep trying.
Star Wars, Indeed
I found myself largely agreeing with this piece by James Whitbrook:
The Mandalorian might not be in such a hyperactive mood, but it would be hard to deny that its commitment to fan service isn’t as deep as The Rise of Skywalker’s. So what is it about The Mandalorian—a show that made some people scream in adulation over a return to the Mos Eisley Cantina and some sand—that makes its catering-to-fans approach so well received in a way The Rise of Skywalker’s hasn’t? If anything, it’s a question of scale. If what makes Rise’s indulgent approach equal parts eminently frustrating and delightfully silly is the fact that its stakes are so grand—that it is shaping our understanding of what Star Wars is, what the Skywalker Saga at large is, on a galactic scale—then having a preponderance for calling back to what came before gets in the way of what could’ve been set up for the future. In turn, The Mandalorian’s intimacy is one of its greatest strengths.
To us as an audience, the existence of Baby Yoda is a huge event because we only know of one such other being of his species on the galactic scale, but for Din Djarin and the rest of The Mandalorian’s heroes and villains? The Child is just that: a child. Who he is and where he’s from are concerns, but they are concerns because they want to see the Child protected from harm (or, in Werner Herzog’s case, exploited by the ashes of the Empire). The thrust of The Mandalorian’s season arc is not in fleshing out Baby Yoda’s Wookieepedia page, it is Din coming to care for his new ward and how it changes him as a man and a bounty hunter.
Which is to say, they got the story right. Whereas the most recent trilogy is like a war between directors over their individual visions with the story a secondary concern, The Mandalorian set out with a singular vision and guess what? It worked!
Bigger picture: this is why I think Disney needs Kevin Feige (or someone like him — perhaps Jon Favreau, another Marvel alum now in this universe, will do?) to step in and tighten the main Star Wars ship up. Kathleen Kennedy has had her shot — many of them, in fact. And things just keep slip, slip, slipping away.
Nick Statt reports on Netflix’s um… interesting use case of Google Trends to show the popularity of their new show, The Witcher when compared to The Mandalorian (Disney+), The Morning Show (Apple TV+), and Jack Ryan (Prime Video). The only problem? It’s a worldwide chart when only one of these shows — hint: the Netflix one — is really available worldwide.
Still, the chart is interesting for another, tangential reason:
But if the goal for all of these services is to create the next big, buzzy hit show in the post-Game of Thrones era, the all-at-once release method may not be the best approach. And the Google Trends data proves it.
Hidden in the charts is the notion that whereas The Witcher had a massive spike around its release, because all the episodes were launched at once, binge-style, the show’s interest fell pretty steeply pretty quickly. The same was not true of, say, The Mandalorian, which held pretty steady over time as the shows were launched on a weekly cadence. To be clear, I don’t think this needs to be an either/or thing, I think both strategies could and should work. I’m guessing a show like The Witcher could undoubtedly benefit from a build-up and in-sync chatter…
Alan Yuhas on the performance of the franchise in the world’s largest market:
One after another, “Star Wars” movies have flopped in China, defying efforts to bring one of the most successful franchises in history into a market that has printed money for the heroes, monsters and robots of other films. The latest “Star Wars” movie, “The Rise of Skywalker,” has followed the trend by grossing nearly a billion dollars worldwide and barely breaking $20 million in China.
The episodes that came before it didn’t do much better, for reasons that include history, geopolitics and a distinct lack of the nostalgia that drove viewers in the United States. Thousands of Americans lined up in costumes for each premiere: “The Force Awakens” opened to almost a quarter-billion dollars in the United States in 2015; two years later, “The Last Jedi” made nearly as much; and “The Rise of Skywalker” raked in $177 million in its first few days last month.
In China, those movies opened to $52 million, $28 million and $12 million, respectively.
Wow, those numbers are paltry. And Disney spends a lot of time and money there. And I don’t need to tell you how many people live there… Also:
Chen Tao, who manages China’s biggest fan website, Star Wars Fans China, estimated that China’s fan clubs have fewer than 200 members in all.
As ticket sales for “The Last Jedi” dwindled in China a few years ago, a college student in Beijing, Xu Meng, told The South China Morning Post that the filmmakers should try new stories, new characters — and a new name. “If the new ‘Star Wars’ sequels were not named after ‘Star Wars,’ it would be better,” she said.
Another student, Lang Yifei, called the series “heavy and gloomy,” adding: “I think they need to give up on the old stories.”
That seems like a pretty fair summary of some of the issues the franchise has been having as a whole!
Rest In Peace, Clay Christensen
This Friday brings some sad news as well, unfortunately. Clayton Christensen has passed away at age 67. This weekend should be filled with a lot of great tributes and looks-back on his life and work. For now, I enjoyed this interview he did with Quartz a few years ago, debating his own “Disruption Theory” — I love this bit:
There are criticisms that are very important. Never does a theory just pop out in complete form. But rather, the first appearance of the theory is half baked. Then it improves when people say, it doesn’t account for this, or this is an anomaly and it doesn’t explain that. It’s very important to have people willing to criticize it for that purpose.
It’s not all bad news out of the Star Wars universe, as they’re apparently courting Taika Waititi (who directed the last episode of The Mandalorian this season) to helm a new Star Wars movie.
It’s also not all bad news for Netflix as they landed 24 Oscar nominations, the most of any studio. Sure they were shut-out at the Golden Globes, but this rise to prominence in the film industry in such a short time is truly incredible.
Meanwhile, there were 532 scripted television shows that aired last year — an astounding 153% jump in one decade.
If you think the average body temperature — something we’re all taught as children — is still 98.6 degrees, you’re wrong. It’s now lower than that likely thanks to many facets of our modern world.
Should there be a “PBS for Social Media”? Mark Coatney, formerly of Tumblr, makes the case.
Spotify may be acquiring Bill Simmons’ The Ringer. Which is fascinating on many levels. But it seems unlikely that it’s about putting exclusive podcasts behind their paywall. In fact, it may be about building up the opposite side of the business. Unclear: what happens to the actual writers?
As the age of streaming gets into full swing, Facebook is cancelling shows, and Instagram is seemingly pulling back from IGTV. Neither should be too surprising given that they’re not what those networks were built for.
Marco Arment makes the case for a “low power” mode for MacBooks. This makes a ton of sense to me. Perhaps this will be a feature of that long-awaited ARM MacBook? Though, as John Gruber points out, it’s curious we don’t have it for iPads already…
It’s looking like a newer lower-cost iPhone is approaching once again. The iPhone SE2/iPhone 9 may have the same chip in the iPhones 11 and Touch ID — both of which sounds amazing, actually. The wildcard will be the camera system. Also, the screen is likely to be larger than the first ‘SE’ iPhone, which is too bad. I still think there’s a huge market opportunity here for Apple.
Finally, one last bit of somber news, Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R. Tolkien also passed away this last week at 95. Worth reading a bit about him as he devoted much of his life to pushing his father’s work forward — notably, we would likely not have The Silmarillion without him. Just incredibly selfless.
The Retcon of the Jedi — Some thoughts on the macro storytelling and construction issues of The Rise of Skywalker (and this latest trilogy as a whole) after a second viewing.
“One Step Ahead” Companies — An extremely simple and comically nebulous framework for thinking about “winning” big companies. You’re welcome.