A short time ago, on a podcast quite nearby, two hosts talked about STAR WARS. Specifically, we talk about the new sequel trilogy, and what the heck happened with it. With the latest movie finished at last, it seems like these films were less than satisfying, to say the least, but why? What happened to make these films such a letdown? That’s what we’re talking about today. We discuss what went wrong, how it could have been avoided, and what we’re hoping to see in the future of Star Wars – plus, how much we love The Mandalorian.
You’re listening to the Mythcreants Podcast, with your hosts or Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock, and Chris Winkle. [opening music]
Chris: This is the Mythcreants podcast. I’m Chris and with me is:
Chris: [dramatic voice] and now we have an epic conclusion to our podcast. That’s going to have all of the cool things that you love from every previous podcast, and we’re going to do it all in a half an hour.
Oren: Oh, that’s, wait, what? Hang on.
Chris: [laughing] It’s definitely gonna work out for us.
Oren: This seems like a bad idea, but I said that at the beginning. Yeah. Okay. So today we’re talking about the Star Wars sequel trilogy, because that’s what we’re calling it, episode seven to nine, because no one has come up with a better name for it as far as I can tell.
Chris: Just to be clear, this is not the conclusion to our podcast. In case anybody was worried, there will be more podcast episodes.
Oren: But we have just seen episode nine, which sort of sucks my will to live. So maybe not. We’ll see. Okay. So for today, I am going to try to keep this to structural issues because obviously these are three movies with a lot of things that we could talk about and we only have half an hour, so I’m not going to try to break down every single thing that I didn’t like about them.
Chris: [laughing] Yeah. Trying to cover what we can, but, I like to just start about how I feel like this trilogy was set up to fail.
Chris: It’s a mess. Why is it a mess?
Oren: I think that the first thing that really hindered this trilogy, and I don’t think it ever really recovered from this, was the decision that this was going to be both a direct sequel, with all of the characters of about the age that their actors are now. Plus it was going to be a story of rebelling against an empire, even though our heroes had already done that and we won last time. And so they had to try to figure out a desperate way to make a new empire. And granted they didn’t do a good job, but I just don’t think that there was a good way to do that.
I’ve racked my brain trying to think of how I would have done that differently. And I can’t think of anything.
Chris: The question for me is, do you think that Disney really wanted another rebellion story, or do you think that was Abrams?
Oren: I have no idea. Abrams seems to be really nostalgic about Star Wars, so I could absolutely see that being his idea, but maybe it came down to him from Disney. These movies have so many hands on them that it’s really hard to trace the origin of an idea sometimes.
Chris: I mean, it’s possible that after the prequels, Disney just really didn’t want to take any risks, and I remember when the very first trailer came out for The Force Awakens. It was just a bunch of random shots, and didn’t really put together a cohesive story or like a story hook at all. But at the same time, those shots looked like the original trilogy, and it turns out that’s all everybody wanted. Everybody was so happy about that initial trailer that I thought, it’s just a bunch of random shots strung together.
I don’t know why this is so exciting, but it didn’t look like the prequels and that’s what people were excited about. And so it’s possible that . . . a lot of times executives who are marketers, all they want, they don’t like risks. All they want to do is look at what previously made money and copy it and avoid things that didn’t make money without really identifying why they didn’t make money.
A lot of times they ignore that, and so they see these prequels that everybody’s really mad about and they’re afraid to copy them. They’re not really paying attention to the fact that they didn’t make money because they were, I mean . . . actually, they probably did make money, now that I think about it.
Oren: They made a ton of money, just not as much as they could have.
Chris: Right. Not as much as they could have. Or . . . they’re just afraid that, okay, they made money, but everybody hates them so much that if they look anything like the prequels, they won’t make money. If these new movies look like the prequels, they won’t make money. So, the safest thing we could possibly do is just try to copy the original trilogy to give people what they want so that they will spend money. That could have happened.
But at the same time, Rian Johnson didn’t do that. So, obviously the two directors is a big problem with this trilogy. I mean, it would have been messy even if it had been one director. Even if it had been Abrams all the way down, which I think it should have. In comparison to what we got. But, even had it been Abrams all way down, it would still have been a handful to try to get this done. But Abrams wanted to repeat the original trilogy, it seems, and he repeated it too much to a point where everybody was mad that The Force Awakens was just copying A New Hope.
Oren: Specifically copying New Hope in ways that didn’t actually work. Cause it’s like, “Hey, we’re copying New Hope in that there’s a droid with a MacGuffin in it. But this time the MacGuffin is trying to find Luke Skywalker.” And okay. Sure, let’s try that.
And, “Oh, also there’s a death star.” But why is there a death star? “Because the first one had a death star, so this one’s got a death star.” Sure. Okay.
Chris: And then Rian Johnson comes in, and I think giving the middle movie to another director is just the worst. If you have to split it between two directors, that’s just the worst thing to do. Much better would have been a different director for the first movie or the last movie. He comes in and he just wants to subvert everything. He just wants to turn everything on its head, which I don’t think is a good idea with a huge franchise like this. I think we should just stick to the basic premise of the light side of the force is good and the dark side of the force is bad, and not try to add complications where we deconstruct it.
I mean, if you want to make a deconstruction, make a Star Wars parody or a Star Wars that deconstructs it [instead of] trying to deconstruct it in a huge franchise that has more stories that are going to be made in this universe.
Oren: Right. The problem there is specifically that he wants to subvert everything, but clearly Disney is not going to actually let him do that because they still want to sell Star Wars toys. So they subvert everything and then they walk it all back at the end. Oh, okay.
So all of that was pointless is what you’re telling me, and I really want to know what the conversation was like in the room when they decided to do that, where Rian Johnson said, “I have all these cool ideas. What if the force was bad and the Jedi were bad? And there was moral equivalency. And also capitalism is evil.”
And Disney says, “Okay, yeah, you can do all of those things as long as you undo them at the end. And Johnson says, “Okay, I’m gonna.” I’m just very curious, because apparently Disney really likes working with Rian Johnson because they’re giving them a whole new trilogy. I’m just very confused what that production meeting must have been like.
Chris: Personally, I think the whole franchise, the entire star Wars universe, relies on Jedi good, light side of the force good, dark side of the force bad. And that’s just not something that you can turn on its head without doing damage to the whole IP.
How are you going to write stories in the setting in the future that have the elements that people loved about the original trilogy, while also dealing with the ramifications that now the force might be bad? I mean, that’s just not going to work.
But certainly doing things and undoing them again is not a very good way to go about this. So, if the mix of the two directors, neither the directors seem to have an approach that was actually good for this trilogy. I think Rian Johnson probably will do better when he has to write an entire three movies himself. Either one of them would do better because now they actually have to deal with the consequences of their own storytelling choices, and are responsible for the entire trilogy.
Is Rian Johnson still going to subvert himself? If he’s in charge of the entire trilogy, we’ll find out, I guess.
Oren: That’s the thing that I thought was really funny. The history just repeated itself because first, The Force Awakens ends in a place that’s kind of awkward. And, okay, how do we continue from here? Right? Because it ends with finding Luke, which is clearly the payoff, not the beginning of the next movie. Right? It’s like, what is that going to be? It would have been like if Luke started Empire Strikes Back on Dagobah with Yoda. It just would have been kind of a strange way to start the movie.
So I understand that The Force Awakens didn’t leave Rian Johnson a lot of places to go, but at the same time, Rian Johnson comes in and just throws out all of the stuff that was set up in Force Awakens, regardless of how good that was. That’s not a team player move. And then Rian Johnson does his own stuff and then also ends a movie in a place that is very hard to follow because in the end of Rian Johnson’s movie, there are 20 resistance guys left.
Their resistance is so gone that it may as well just disband. So how is the next guy going to follow that? And at first we thought the next guy was going to be the dude who did Jurassic World, but then they said, no we’re going to do Abrams instead.
So then Abrams does the same thing, where he throws out all of the ideas that Rian Johnson established. And then tries to make his own movie that’s different. Wow. Yeah, I can see why this trilogy is having problems. At the end, at the end of The Last Jedi, we were joking about the giant slap fight between Johnson and Abrams, but it actually happened. These movies cost millions of dollars to make, and the production company is letting these two directors duke it out with their visions of the Star Wars universe. And, that is amazing. And also bizarre.
Chris: Yep. And again, the Star Wars universe has just gotten really complex and these movies already had too many things happening. Too many elements, too many characters. And all of those things don’t have good continuity from the first to the last movie. I think for the last movie, Rise of Skywalker, Abrams was basically put in an impossible position where trying to follow that up . . . Oren actually had a really brilliant idea that ideally the third movie would have opened after a bunch of time passed, like 10 years later. What the third movie really needed after all of that was a soft reset, because it’s just too hard to follow up on the second movie. It would have been really difficult.
Oren: What it needed was to do a legend of Korra where they realized that they had written themselves into a corner and had problems. So then, alright, a time jump lets us undo some of those problems in a way that’s not boring. Because with a time jump you could have [it be] the resistance went on a recruiting drive and met up with elements that survive from the new Republic and what have you.
And Kylo Ren got more comfortable with being the Supreme Leader and all of that stuff. And that’s nothing . . . we don’t want to watch that; that’s boring. But having it happen off screen would be a good way to kind of get the franchise back in a place where it needed to be. Instead, Abrams just kind of conjured a bunch of resistance fighters from nowhere, and, okay, well I guess that’s one way to address the problem.
Chris: Both the protagonist and the villains . . . their position could have been adjusted with some time passing. Not just the fact that the resistance, there’s no way for them to come back from where they were, but also we don’t have a villain. We end the second movie without a villain of a three part trilogy.
Kylo was way too ineffective as a villain. The Force Awakens started this by having him soundly beat by Rey at the end of the first movie. He’s had years to train in the force and the lightsaber and yeah, Rey has some weapons training and that’s great, but she’s supposed to be the underdog because she’s the hero of the story.
You know, the hero kicks the villain’s ass at the end. Not at the beginning.
Oren: And just to be clear, this isn’t a question of, is Rey too powerful? I think Rey has shown a reasonable amount of skill and ability by Star Wars standards. The issue is that they have her beat Kylo Ren, which they should not have done.
It’s fine that Rey knows how to fight with a lightsaber. It’s fine that she’s a good pilot. That’s all great. But having her beat Kylo Ren at the end of the first movie, just destroys his ability to act as a villain.
Chris: And then the second movie just again, Kylo is still just the worst and not an effective threat, not an effective villain. And then Snoke gets killed. So what are we left with? Nothing. But in 10 years if you wanted Kylo Ren to be the big villain, I think that could have been possible with a 10-year break. He’s had a chance to mature and consolidate his power and grow more, get more skills, you know, and now he is the remote, distant leader, and he’s got control over everything.
Oren: And it was interesting that in this movie, in Rise of Skywalker, they actually did a much better job with Kylo than they have in previous films. And I was willing to accept it just because I was so desperate for an effective villain. But there are definitely sequences where Kylo is fighting Rey and clearly just kicking her ass.
And she clearly can’t touch him. What happened between movies? Because Rey actually got stronger between movies. How come Kylo can beat her now? I don’t get it, but I was okay. I was willing to accept that because I desperately wanted Kylo to be more effective. But one thing that’s notable is that beyond even the issues of doing the individual movies, I realized another really structural problem with this trilogy was the inclusion of the original characters as major roles.
Once they’re around, once you have Luke and Han and Leia, and I mean Chewie is less of an issue, but like Luke and Han and Leia in particular, once they are around, there’s an issue where they’re not the main characters, and yet they are taking up spotlight time and also requiring the universe to acknowledge their accomplishments. And that’s one of the reasons why the new Republic getting destroyed offscreen mostly by the First Order, leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. Because it’s like, man, Leia worked hard for that, right?
We had a whole trilogy about establishing the new Republic. And apparently Luke founded a Jedi Academy and then it got murdered, also offscreen. And that also feels kind of weird.
Chris: Yeah. What we’ve got is a very nihilist world here. Nothing we do matters. Even the biggest victory is just going to be taken away later.
Oren: And this is where I know they would never have done this, but I think from a storytelling perspective, this series would have been better if we’d set it far enough in the future that the original characters weren’t around anymore. I think that would’ve just been a better choice or, you know, equally unlikely shrink it in scope so that it’s not like the fate of a whole galaxy and it almost feels like they waited too long to make these movies, but also not long enough.
Because if they had waited a little longer until after the actors were passed, and I hope that that doesn’t happen for a long time, there wouldn’t have been all this pressure to include them. Right. Whereas if as long as the actors were still alive, everyone’s like, yeah, obviously put them in the movie, even if it doesn’t really make sense.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I think the problem was that there was all this mystique around the fact that George Lucas originally had planned nine movies. He had the original trilogy, the need, the people. I don’t know what his vision for the sequel trilogy is. Maybe it depended on all of the actors being younger, but people came expecting that this was the conclusion of the storyline that was in the original trilogy and the prequels.
If we just didn’t have those characters, we had a completely new set of characters, it would be really hard to make that feel like that connection was relevant. Right? As opposed to, this is just another completely separate story in the Star Wars universe, which wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but it wouldn’t have met the expectations for this final trilogy that I think is one of the reasons that people came to the theater.
Oren: And I’m kind of wondering would it be possible to go the opposite direction and just have this movie be about the original characters, but they’re all older now. Like, is that possible? It would have to be a very different kind of movie, right? Because it just wouldn’t make sense for the original characters, at their current ages, to be running around the inside of the death star shooting storm troopers. The more I think about that, the more I think that’s the kind of movie I would want to watch. Having this be space politics Mark II.
But obviously that it probably isn’t what most people wanted, and also they definitely wouldn’t have done that.
Chris: I mean, we’d have the problem with Harrison Ford just being, “Oh no, I don’t want to be Han Solo again,” and mumbling through three movies.
Oren: Yeah, yea, that would be an issue.
Chris: The production constraints, obviously, the death of Carrie Fisher would have been tough on that. But, assuming that we had Leia and Luke and Han solo, and all the actors were up and ready to go, I don’t think that would’ve been a bad way to do it.
Because again, having any sequel to any story where the original heroes are around, whew that can really do a number. Because they’re supposed to be, you know, bad-ass and have all the candy, because they are fresh from their victory, or not fresh. But they had a victory in the previous story. The storyteller always feels like they need to honor those original characters, but you need the new protagonist, if the protagonist is different, to actually be front and center and save the day and having another character around hogging the spotlight, it doesn’t work out. It really doesn’t.
In this situation, I think having Leia be a general that was in the background where the protagonists were, then, you know, agents of the resistance, you know, out in the field. I think that was actually a pretty good solution.
Oren: I agree.
Chris: I think Luke was a much bigger problem because, of course, he’s the powerful Jedi character, and even his role in the second movie. I don’t know. To me that whole, “I’m secretly a forest ghost bad-ass Luke”. I couldn’t get behind that, but I understand why it was done.
Oren: Wait, are we talking about when he was projecting himself across the galaxy?
Chris: Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.
Oren: Yeah. It felt weird. Like on the one hand, I kind of thought the reveal that he wasn’t actually there was kind of cool. Having a nonviolent solution to a problem in Star Wars is always interesting. It did feel weird that after all this time of trying to focus on the new characters that Luke ended up being the one who saves the day.
Chris: I think that’s my issue. The problem is that he’s not really the protagonist of the series anymore. Right. So him coming in there. You know, I might’ve received it better, if not for the fact that Kylo Ren, once again, just came off as incapable of doing anything right. So it’s coming at the cost of the guy who should be the big villain.
Oren: Luke is a real problem because I just didn’t buy the explanation that they gave us in Last Jedi that he’s like, “I ran off because I was very sad.” Yeah, I could see how Luke could be traumatized by having one of his students murder the others, but also he knows that there’s a dark Jedi out there. And that he probably has to stop him.
It just doesn’t seem at that point that he would give into existential ennui and go live on an Island. It’s not that I can’t imagine that happening. It just doesn’t seem like that is the thing that would have caused it. But at the same time, Force Awakens didn’t give us any reason why Luke would just leave. So I do sympathize with Rian Johnson happened to come up with a reason for that.
Chris: Yeah. I guess I would have gone with Luke legitimately having to guard that temple, or else the forest will become unbalanced or something and he has to stay there and maintain it.
Oren: It might be kind of interesting if he had gone there specifically as part of his fight with Snoke because Snoke had been trying to do something there and he’d been, like, “Alright, well, I’ve put myself in the breach that was created here. And I can’t leave because if I do, the whole universe will get swallowed in darkness.
Chris: Or even an imbalance or fluctuations enough for being partly responsible for Kylo Ren going dark. Right? And him seeing that happen and be like, “Oh, this thing is the cause. You know, if I fight Kylo Ren instead of tending to this temple over here, it’s actually gonna get worse. More Jedi more, more force sensitive people that pop up are going to fall to the dark side. So I need to . . . it’s better if I go there and hold that off.
That way Rey can come to him. Right? And he can train her, but he can’t leave. He’s busy with something else. And so he’s out of the way. And it’s still plausible that he doesn’t want anybody to find him, because if an enemy finds him, that could be really bad. So then he just tells no one because that minimizes the chances it’s possible. But yeah, it was definitely tough to figure out how to work them in. What I heard was that Abrams was really the person who really wanted to bring all those characters back.
Oren: Yeah, I’ve heard that. I’m not positive how true it is, but I have heard that the original concept was that it was going to be more of a passing of the torch movie, and Abrams really wanted them to be more front and center. Again, I don’t know that that’s the case, but that is what the Internet has told me.
One thing that I’m just really surprised by is that Disney, which also owns Marvel, just didn’t think it was necessary to do any kind of planning for the Star Wars trilogy. They’ve been doing that with Marvel fairly well, you know, with a much more ambitious set of movies.
And this time they were just like, no, whatever. You know, Abrams does his thing and then Rian Johnson does his thing and then the Jurassic World guy will do his thing and that will probably be fine. It’s just an odd choice.
Chris: Well, I mean, Disney owns Marvel, but sometimes some of the talent is actually separated, right? So, I have to wonder if whoever has been taking care of the Marvel franchise and very carefully maintaining the health of that franchise so that it can make money. It’s just not the same people who are making decisions about the Star Wars universe. Disney’s a large company.
I know when they bought Pixar, there was a lot of talent swapping. People from Pixar came into Disney, people from Disney came into Pixar and that was supposed to be good for both divisions. But I don’t know exactly how Marvel’s run and who’s in charge of it cause they could be just different people.
Oren: So, they are giving the guy who’s sort of in charge of Marvel, Kevin Feige, is in charge of the MCU anyway. They are giving him some Star Wars movies, apparently. I mean, I don’t think that’s going to fix the problem. Because the issue here wasn’t the individual writers, it was that there was no unifying plan to keep them all in line with each other. And people sometimes say, well, the original Star Wars films weren’t planned either. And, yeah, that’s true. But also, we got really lucky.
Chris: The other thing that I would be worried about with somebody in charge of Marvel moving to Star Wars is the fact that superhero genre . . . The world is all over the place. There is, in the superhero stories, there’s generally no world consistency whatsoever, and that holds out in Marvel, right?
Whereas you have an intellectual property like Star Wars, it has a specific world with a very specific field that needs to be maintained, and I’m kind of worried about what might be introduced to the setting that doesn’t make sense in other Star Wars stories, because I feel like somebody who is mostly working on superhero stories has not learned how to make the world . . . give it like a cohesive feel and theming fit.
I’m just thinking about this because I was thinking about all of the world builders I’ve encountered who get their world-building experience from roleplaying games, specifically Pathfinder in D-n-D. They’re always thinking, not about the whole world, but about the individual things in it usually.
And how many are, like, I want to make a really cool monster. Not, I want a cool theme for my world. Now let’s make the monsters emphasize that theme, right? They’re thinking small at the small level, because the world is so eclectic. D-n-D just has everything in it. There’s not really . . . nobody’s trying to make the whole world . . . like some separate worlds like Eberron within D-n-D do have very cohesive theming, right?
There’s one person who’s in charge of Eberron. That guy has made that world have repeated theme throughout. But a lot of times, the other people who are just working within those settings that are very eclectic, just don’t have a concept of a cohesive world. And so that’s what I would be concerned with.
Oren: That could definitely happen. At which point we will just be left with the Mandalorian. That’ll be our only, option.
Chris: I mean, I’m hoping that Disney will see the Mandalorian and be like, “Oh, actually this is really successful. How do we make more of our stories Mandalorian like?” You know, small in scope, simple in plot, you know, a few characters that people really get attached to and not try to do everything. I would like to see that.
Oren: The Star Wars trilogy has just been fascinating as a dev editor because I can’t help myself. I always, whenever I see a movie I don’t particularly like, I’m always, like, how would I have done that differently? And like the sequel trilogy is under so many constraints that it’s like, ah, that’s hard. I don’t know if I want that job.
Chris: The whole thing is a nightmare. I mean, even The Force Awakens would have been hard, but by the time we get to The Rise of Skywalker, there’s just no way to win. I think for a lot of those choices. I mean, bringing in Palpatine, well Palpatine’s coming out of nowhere.
I do think that just deciding, “Oh, I have powers you wouldn’t understand. I’m back to life now,” and just not go into any more detail than that about how the hell Palpatine is still alive was a good move, because there’s just no way you could come up with an explanation that, you know, withstands scrutiny.
Oren: Yeah. I really was hoping Palpatine would be a force ghost. I really wanted him to be a force ghost and I wanted him to make an offer to Rey so that she could have the power she needs to defeat the First Order. That’s what I was really hoping was going to happen and that was going to be Rey’s arc was, like, learning to resist that. But no, it was not to be.
Chris: One of my concerns about how many force ghosts we have in this universe, like the implications of having a big bad be a force ghost. I mean, depending on whether or not you want Palpatine to be a big bad, right? But then it’s like, does any character that has the force ever die at this point? Because if they could come back as a force ghost and be a big bad and have that much influence on the story, it’s almost like it doesn’t matter that they died and now all of the characters that have ever died are still present in the story and we can’t get rid of them ever again.
Oren: I wasn’t actually thinking of him as the big bad. I was thinking of him more as a manipulator, but I mean, who knows. The main thing that I have difficulty with when I’m outlining what would I have done with Rise of Skywalker, is that I don’t what to do with Kylo Ren. The previous two movies definitely implied that he had some kind of arc going and that he had some possibility for redemption even though I don’t think that makes sense.
That was clearly an implication and so it feels wrong to just slam the door on that and be like, no, he’s just the big villain now. But at the same time, I don’t know what to do with him. It’s like, what does he, what is he trying to do? What does he want? And I can’t think of anything.
Chris: I mean, I think the Rise of Skywalker, for all of its failings, Kylo Ren was where it was strongest.
And you know, the only thing that Kylo Ren is meaningly shown to care about in the first two movies is Rey. He actually makes a concerted effort. He has a psychic link with her. He makes a concerted effort to try to get her to join him. And so that’s what they went with. Right? His entire personal motivation plot work revolves around Rey.
They went with . . . he was shown to be a sympathetic villain, so we’ll try to make him actually a sympathetic villain and it doesn’t really fit with him slaughtering Han Solo in The Force Awakens, but we’re just going to go with that. And I think that was about as good as could have been done given the situation.
Now granted, you know, I feel like the end with him dying, but kissing Rey was intended as a compromise between people who wanted that romance and people who hated him, and instead of pleasing many people just made everybody angry.
Oren: It was especially weird just because they hadn’t been particularly romantic, that movie. They felt much more romantic in the first two. And then this one, they just felt not romantic at all, which I was very happy about because I hated that romance. And then suddenly they kissed and I didn’t even feel like Rey was going to kiss him. I didn’t see any body language indicating that. It was just . . . it’s kiss time now.
Chris: They should not have done the kiss. But otherwise I feel like they handled him as well as they could have. The only other option I could see is . . . if they really wanted to try to clarify why he wanted to be a Sith, it would feel very late in a third movie to suddenly go into . . . This has been Kylo Ren’s motivation for being a Sith all along, right?
He wanted to accomplish X with his powers, and now he finally has a chance to do it. I mean, that should’ve been done earlier, but maybe better late than never. But yeah, that’s a really, really hard one to do.
Oren: Yup. I agree. Speaking of hard things to do, we are going to have to end this podcast now because we are out of time, so if anything we said piques your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at Mythcreants.com. But before we go, I want to thank a few of our patrons.
First we have Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Ayman Jaber, who writes urban fantasy and knows all there is to know about Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo, and she lives at therambogeeks.com. We’ll talk to you next week.
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