May The Twenty-Fourth Be With You: Solo: A Star Wars Story

James Proclaims (4)

solo-a-star-wars-story-poster

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ has the dubious claim to fame of being the first Star Wars movie to make a loss at the box office and it’s perhaps the main reason that the focus for future Star Wars projects, after the release of ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ has been more geared towards content for Disney Plus, rather than cinematic releases. There are still numerous big screen projects allegedly in the pipeline, but at one stage there were ambitions for an annual Star Wars movie, and that seems to have been somewhat dialled down since the relative failure of this film.

Whether there really is an ‘audience fatigue’ for new Star Wars movies or whether this film failed to achieve box office success because it was fundamentally flawed from the outset is up for debate, but it’s clear, with the benefit of hindsight, that this movie was always going to struggle to live up to expectations.

It is a shame, because, while it would be a stretch to describe this as a great movie, it’s a perfectly entertaining couple of hours and I did enjoy it.

But before I get into all that, here is my customary spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: As quite a lot of people didn’t bother to watch this movie, then there’s a more than reasonable chance that you haven’t seen it. But if you like Star Wars then there is a lot to like about this film. I doubt you’ll love it all, and some bits might actually irritate you, but overall you probably won’t hate it. I’m going to write about it now and I may include some details of the plot so consider yourself warned.

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ was always a gamble. Han Solo is one of the most iconic characters in the whole franchise, but a big part of the reason for that is that he is played by Harrison Ford. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill.

And to be fair to Alden Ehrenreich, he does a pretty good job. The failings of the movie cannot be levelled at his door. But, while I’m glad they didn’t go down the ‘Rogue One’ route of CGI(ing) a young Harrison Ford into the movie, I’d question the wisdom of making a movie about a young Han Solo, with a new actor, so soon after Harrison Ford had recently reprised the role in ‘The Force Awakens’. Maybe this one should have been given a few years.

Or perhaps, if a Han Solo back story was necessary (and of course it really wasn’t) then it might have been better suited to a TV format. The success of ‘The Mandalorian’ suggests that this is a pretty feasible outlet for Star Wars and the recasting of such an iconic character would be less likely to be an issue in a TV show.

But Alden Ehrenreich is not the problem. He’s better than anyone could realistically expect him to be and I didn’t find it too hard to accept him as Han. Donald Glover also does a more than credible version of Lando Calrissian, although to be fair, much as I love Billy Dee Williams in the original trilogy, you’d have to say his shoes aren’t quite as hard to fill as Harrison Ford’s.

The problem with ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is that it doesn’t seem to have much of a story to tell and instead seems to be a series of attempts at ‘fan-pleasing’ moments, strung together by the most prosaic of narratives.

The attempt at a love story between Han and Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is particularly perplexing because, as we all know, Han loves Leia. So I can’t possibly be invested in a love story between Han and someone else.

Paul Bettany’s Dryden Vos would also have to be in contention for ‘least interesting bad guy’ in the whole of Star Wars.

And while Darth Maul’s brief cameo at the end of the movie might mean something to those of us who have watched ‘The Clone Wars’ cartoon series, it would be quite jarring for anyone that only watches the movies. And only watching the movies is a perfectly acceptable position for a Star Wars fan to take. It’s a position I was in myself prior to undertaking this month-long homage to Star Wars. I love the cartoons but they shouldn’t be essential viewing in order to understand the movies.

Plus the Darth Maul cameo hinted at a sequel, which we now know is not going to happen and I hate it when movies make promises they can’t fulfil.

To be fair, the film can’t have been helped by a change of director six months into filming and while Ron Howard has a perfectly credible filmography, he wasn’t an especially exciting choice and seemed like a ‘safe pair of hands’ to replace the apparently more maverick Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who were not, seemingly, playing by the rules. I think, on balance, I’d quite like to see the version of this they were trying to make though.

But Ron Howard does as well as can be expected under the circumstances and though ultimately ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is a film that takes very few risks (beyond the original risk of trying to re-invent a character that didn’t need any re-invention) it’s enjoyable enough all the same.

Best character – Han

Han Solo, Alden Ehrenheich

Ok he’s not the Han we know and love from the original trilogy, but he’s still eminently likeable in this and if you can set aside your preconceptions, he’s definitely the best character in the movie.

Worst character – L337

null

Generally Phoebe Waller-Bridge can do no wrong in my eyes, but the first time I saw this I didn’t know that she was playing this particular CGI character. And I found L337 quite irritating and it’s quite hard to revise that opinion just because I’m a usually fan of the actor playing the role. In fairness the droids-rights activist was, in many respects, the most innovative character in the movie and in a different sort of film (perhaps the version that the original directors were trying to make) I might even be on board with L337. But I didn’t feel the character worked especially well in this film.

Unsung heroes – Val and Rio

nullRio_Durant_Databank

Part of the ‘crew’ that Han joins fairly early on in the movie. Both killed on a ‘heist that goes wrong’ and essentially never mentioned again, even though Beckett, one of the principal characters in the movie, was married to Val. 

And that’s all I’ve got to say about ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’. Tune in tomorrow for something else Star Wars related.

May The Twenty-Third Be With You: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

James Proclaims (4)

Day 23 of me writing exclusively about Star Wars, purely on the basis that it’s currently May and I can entitle each post ‘May the (whatever date it actually is) be with you’. Which possibly was never that funny. Or if it ever was funny, the joke is wearing thin now. Surely the end is in sight? And yet, for me not to have given up after 23 days would suggest that I am determined to see this through to the end of the month, in spite of the fact that my blogging stats, fairly resurgent only a few weeks ago, now seem to be in sharp decline. Fortunately if I were motivated by such things as blogging stats, I would long ago have retreated from the blogosphere with my head hanging in shame.

However, today I am at least writing about a Star Wars film that most people have actually heard of, which is something of a concession to those intrepid readers who have stuck with me throughout this particular ‘blog project’.

For today I am writing about ‘Rogue One’, a movie that is oft thought of as the first Star Wars spin off. But as several of the preceding twenty-two posts will attest, it isn’t the first Star Wars spin off.

But it probably is the best.

Before I write about it I should issue a spoiler alert.

Spoiler Alert: This is quite a good film and if you haven’t seen it you probably should. But I’m going to write about it now and that might ruin it for you. So, if you haven’t seen it, go and watch it now and then come back and read this later.

Riding very much on the coattails of ‘The Force Awakens’, 2016’s ‘Rogue One’ appeared to confirm the return to form of Star Wars after the much maligned prequel trilogy. Not only that, but this was the first cinematic release that wasn’t either part of the main saga, predominantly about Ewoks or a cartoon.

‘Rogue One’ also offered up the tantalizing possibility that we could be getting a new Star Wars movie every year and that stories set outside of the main ‘Skywalker Saga’ could not only work well, but had the possibility of being even better than the movies in the aforementioned saga.

Obviously, a few years later, we know better. While the Star Wars franchise is very much alive and well, it’s fair to say that not every cinematic release since 2016 has met with universal acclaim.

But people did really love ‘Rogue One’, with some people mistakenly going as far as to claim that this was the best Star Wars movie ever.

Which it isn’t.

Not least because it relies quite heavily on the existence of other Star Wars movies to work. Prior knowledge of the Death Star, the Empire, the Rebellion, the Force, certain major characters, certain minor characters and the entire plot of the original 1977 movie all help you to enjoy ‘Rogue One’ a lot more than I think would be possible if this were the first Star Wars movie you’d ever seen.

In spite of that, it does dare to be different. There is no shortage of carnage in most Star Wars movies, but it’s generally minor characters who meet their end. Certainly if a main character dies, it’s a pretty big deal. So to kill off pretty much every central character at the end of this movie was a definite departure.

That said, I did find it hard to care too much about many of the characters and frankly, when the most emotional death is a droid, it probably hints at a slight lack of character development.

Equally, entertaining though the movie undoubtedly is, for two cameos by Darth Vader to steal the show, would suggest the rest of it maybe isn’t as compelling as it could be. Then again, Darth Vader is a very hard act to top.

If Vader was the most memorable, there were plenty of other cameos throughout the movie, from C3PO and R2D2, to Bail Organa, to the two barflies that attack Luke in the original movie. The most notable, and most controversial, was the CGI enabled return of Grand Moff Tarkin. Because at first glance it looks very much like the late great Peter Cushing is playing the role. Which would be impossible given that he died in 1994 . So obviously it’s not Peter Cushing, and when you pay closer attention you can clearly see the CGI at work. It’s an impressive technological feat nonetheless. As to whether it should have been done, given that the particular story that is being told deals with events that take place immediately prior to the original movie and heavily features Tarkin’s place of work, the Death Star, it would have been hard not to include the character. And to have a different actor play the role could have brought its own protests (I mean obviously a different actor does play the role, the CGI is not the whole story, but you get what I mean). So it was a no win situation in some respects and as Peter Cushing’s estate had approved the use of his image, it was perhaps worth the gamble. It mostly pays off.

Perhaps this predicament could have been avoided entirely if the character of Tarkin wasn’t so completely absent (aside from a token CGI background appearance at the end of ‘Revenge of the Sith‘) from the prequel trilogy. I always thought this omission was quite strange given his prominence in the original movie. If there had been a young Cushing-a-like cast in one or more of the prequels it would have been reasonable for that actor to reappear here without any need for CGI wizardry.

As things stand, I’d rather have the CGI Tarkin than no Tarkin at all.

A young CGI Leia also manages to appear at the end of the movie, but it’s the briefest cameos really. Unlike Tarkin, the movie doesn’t really hinge on Leia, but the scene does make narrative sense. It all depends on how you feel about this particular use of CGI really. I didn’t hate it.

Ultimately, ‘Rogue One’ is an easy movie to like. It doesn’t add a great deal to the overall mythology of Star Wars, but it’s a compelling enough tale set against a familiar Star Wars backdrop.

And the original stormtroopers are in it, and pretty much confirm that they are better than the versions that appear in either the prequels or the sequels. 

Although I was less sure about the black-suited death troopers that turn up in this, because they look a bit like Darth Vader wannabes.

Best character – K2SO

k2so 

Aside from Darth Vader’s cameos, K2SO is hands down the best thing about the movie. He looks fantastic, it’s genuinely hard to believe he is CGI, but it’s the voice performance by Alan Tudyk that makes him stand out from virtually every other droid that has ever been in Star Wars. Indeed I’d go as far as to say he’s one of the greatest characters in any Star Wars movie. Arguably the movie’s only concession to comic relief, it’s nonetheless K2SO’s ‘death’ that is by far the most moving scene in the whole film. Which is particularly noteworthy given that every character dies…

Worst Character – Baze Malbus

Baze-Malbus_Big_6

Possibly the biggest failing of ‘Rogue One’ is that a lot of the characters really aren’t all that memorable, but Baze is probably the least memorable of the lot. Which I think makes him the worst. I’m not sure. I don’t remember that much about him other than he has quite a big gun.

Unsung hero – Bohdi Rook

bohdi

In many ways, the bravest character in the movie. Gives up a presumably secure career in the Galactic Empire to join the rebels, providing them with some much needed intel and gets tortured for his efforts. No-one ever really says thank you and yet he still gives his life for the cause at the end. 

And that’s it for ‘Rogue One’. Tune in tomorrow to see if I write about the one Star Wars movie I’ve yet to deal with.

Or something more obscure.

 

 

 

May The Twenty-Second Be With You: Star Wars: Forces Of Destiny

James Proclaims (4)

forces-of-destiny-logo

I’m not sure too many Star Wars movies would pass the Bechdel test, but there’s no denying that there have been some great female characters throughout the franchise.

Having said that, I approached ‘Star Wars: Forces of Destiny’, which is a series of short animated stories, predominently centred around the aforementioned female characters, with some trepidation.

The concept is fine, but it was heavily linked with a new line of Star Wars toys that seemed to be marketed specifically towards girls. I find the notion of ‘girls toys’ and ‘boys toys’ a bit outdated given that this series first aired in 2017.

Then again, Star Wars has always been intrinsically linked with the selling of toys and frankly my nephew and niece mix and match each others’ action figures/dolls all the time so I suppose it doesn’t matter whether there was an archaic marketing policy with regards the actual product, so long as fun is had by the children who own them, and no-one felt they couldn’t watch the cartoon because it wasn’t ‘aimed’ at them.

And as it happens the cartoon itself is pretty good. It lacks some of the energy of the 2003 series of animated shorts, Star Wars: Clone Wars, but it has plenty going for it nonetheless.

But first a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: This series is made up of a lot of unrelated, very short, episodes, centering on different characters within the Star Wars universe. So it’s unlikely I’ll be able to spoil it for you. But I am likely to reveal some minor details, so it’s up to you if you want to read any further. It’ll probably be fine, but don’t come crying to me if I ruin this cartoon for you.

This is definitely a cartoon aimed at children, rather than adults. Which is obviously true of a lot of Star Wars stuff, but it’s probably more apparent with this one.

That said, I’m a fully grown adult and I did enjoy it. And actually, if you’d spent the last month or so watching nothing but Star Wars, including some of the more obsure spin-offs, then you’d enjoy it too.

Because there are actually one or two little references in there that you could only get if you watched the Ewoks cartoon. And the Ewoks movie. Which I have. So I did get them.

One of those references is the appearence of an Ewok wearing a pink hood, for this is none-other than Kneesaa, one of the principal characters of the aforementioned cartoon series. She’s never been featured in any other Star Wars movie of TV show outside of that long forgotten cartoon, but she turns up in this. Which I found genuinely quite exciting.

Another episode deals with Leia and Luke getting attacked on the forest moon of Endor by a gorax. And that was only ever featured in the first Ewok movie, Caravan of Courage. So if, like me, you have sat through that ‘not very good’ movie, then you can smile smugly when the gorax pops up in this.

I like things like that. It’s like a little reward for those of us who really should use their free time more wisely.

Although most of the episodes predominently center around one or sometimes several female characters, there are some exceptions. At least one is about Luke and Yoda and another is mainly about Chewbacca and R2D2. But these episodes are the exception. All the episodes are stand-alone, but if you’ve seen the movies, it’s generally pretty clear where they fit into the wider Star Wars universe.

The voice cast is actually quite exceptional, the characters from other animated shows like ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ and ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ are voiced by the same actors who played them in those shows, but quite a few of the actors from the movies lend their voices to their animated characters too, including Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones (for some of the episodes), John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran. Obviously Anthony Daniels does C3PO. Oh and some bloke called Mark Hammill does the voice for Luke Skywalker too.

I really liked this cartoon. It was pretty fun and it covers the whole of Star Wars in easily digestable bite-sized chunks.

Best character – Leia

leia

I was torn on this one. It was pretty much between Rey, Ahsoka Tano and Leia. And Leia, for obvious reasons, is the only one of the three that isn’t voiced by the original actor that played her. But she’s still Leia and when all is said and done, that’s enough to make her the best.

Worst character – Qi’ra

qu

If you haven’t seen ‘Solo’ you wouldn’t know who she was. And a lot of people haven’t seen ‘Solo’. She only merited one episode of this, she wasn’t even voiced by Emilia Clarke who portrayed her in the movie.  It’s not a bad episode but the other characters are more memorable.

Unsung hero – Kneesaa

kneesa

Because her appearance in this made me smile but also because she shot down a tie-fighter in one episode and was instrumental in stopping the gorax in her other appearance.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about a cartoon that really wasn’t aimed at me, but which I enjoyed in spite of that fact. Tune in tomorrow when I will once again be writing about Star Wars in some capacity.

 

 

 

May The 21st Be With You: I Have A Bad Peeling About This…

James Proclaims (4)

There are still quite a few days left of May.

Which is surprising because it feels like I’ve been writing about Star Wars forever.

Although there remains plenty within the Star Wars back catalogue for me to write about. Which is good news. From a certain point of view…

But today I’m going to have to go with the slightly lazier option of posting a picture of something Star-Wars-y that I own.

Fortunately I have plenty of stuff that ticks that particular box.

Today I thought I’d go with this little guy:

He’s one of my favourite things.

Indeed if I was to update that famous song from ‘The Sound of Music’ I’d change it to:

Cadbury’s Roses and memes of cute kittens
A functioning kettle and droid oven mittens
Amazon packages when the doorbell rings
But Darth Tater is my most favourite thing

Obviously some of the above is not really true. I like a Cadbury’s Rose, but I’m just as partial to a Quality Street. I have no interest in kitten memes, and you can’t prove otherwise. But if you’re going to do a rubbish parody of a verse of a well-known song, it’s important to keep a hint of the original elements in it I think.

I do actually own some R2D2 oven mittens, but they’ve seen better days (because they are functional as well as fun) so I won’t include a picture of them.

Darth Tater is brilliant though. Few things can make me smile like this fella.

You can get other Star Wars themed ‘Mr Potato Heads’. I believe there is a Spud-Trooper, a Luke Frywalker, an Artoo Potatoo and most recently a Frylo Ren.

I don’t own any of those.

Darth Tater more than meets my ‘Mr Potato Head’ needs.

 

 

May The Twentieth Be With You: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (The Movie)

James Proclaims (4)

clone wars movie

So, what’s the worst Star Wars movie in existence?

Many people will have their views. A lot will tell you it’s ‘The Phantom Menace‘ and they might have a point. Others will tell you it’s ‘The Last Jedi’ and, although they are entitled to their opinions, they would be wrong, because ‘The Last Jedi’ is great.

Some of us, those of us who count the two stand-alone Ewok movies as Star Wars movies, would point out that they aren’t great.

And if you include 1978’s ‘Star Wars: Holiday Special’ then one would imagine that you would have to believe that is the worst of the worst.

Fortunately we no longer need to rely on our own opinions because there are websites that tell us what to think.

Probably the best known of these websites is Rotten Tomatoes and although they don’t have a score for the 1986 Droids feature length special ‘The Great Heep’ (presumably because no-one ever actually watched it in the first place, let alone reviewed it), they do have scores for every other Star Wars ‘movie’. And I’ve collated them into a handy little table below:

Star Wars Movie Rotten Tomatoes Score
The Empire Strikes Back 94%
The Force Awakens 93%
A New Hope 92%
The Last Jedi 90%
Rogue One 84%
Return of the Jedi 82%
Revenge of the Sith 80%
Solo 70%
Attack of the Clones 65%
The Phantom Menace 53%
The Rise of Skywalker 52%
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor 51%
Star Wars: Holiday Special 27%
Ewoks: Caravan of Courage 23%
Star Wars : The Clone Wars 18%

Which should leave us in no doubt that 2008’s ‘The Clone Wars’ is officially the worst Star Wars movie ever.

Now, I’ll be honest, I don’t necessarily agree with the Rotten Tomatoes scores, but that is because opinion is subjective, and frankly if websites could think, there’d be none of here…

Nonetheless, Rotten Tomatoes is an attempt to be objective by collating lots of reviews and extrapolating ‘meta’ scores from those reviews. In that context, although my favourite Star Wars movie is the original, I’m not surprised to see ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ topping the list. And while I personally feel that ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ was ultimately a better movie than some that are listed above it, I know it wasn’t well-received by a lot of critics and so it’s not a huge surprise to see it score as low as it did.

But to see ‘The Clone Wars’ score below ‘The Holiday Special’ and both Ewok movies is definitely a surprise.

Because it is in no way as bad as any of those.

And I actually quite like it.

Before I get into that though, here is a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen this then you might be put off watching it based on the ‘data’ I’ve shared with you. And frankly this is only something you should watch if you are a completist (as I apparently am) because it isn’t a brilliant movie. But it’s not the worst thing ever made by any stretch of the imagination and it is definitely better than the ‘Star Wars: Holiday Special’. By some distance…

This movie has nothing to do with the similarly named 2003 TV show that I wrote about yesterday, but it was a forerunner for the identically-named  2008 TV show and could be viewed as an extended episode of that series.

But this movie did come out before the TV show and it was released in cinemas so it’s reasonable to view it as a separate entity too.

Indeed, until recently, I hadn’t seen the TV show, but I did see this movie quite soon after it was released. I don’t think I saw it in the cinema, but I’m pretty sure I rented it on DVD, because I think renting DVDs was still a thing back in 2008.

And I definitely didn’t hate it.

But obviously I didn’t love it enough to bother with the subsequent TV series.

Which was my mistake, because the TV show is excellent. Or what I’ve seen of it is, because I’m watching it on Disney Plus at the moment. Well not at this exact moment because I’m writing this. But when I’m not writing blog posts and not working and not looking after a toddler, I’m watching ‘The Clone Wars’ series. It’s slow going. I don’t know if I’ll finish watching it in time to write about it because there are a lot of episodes.

But what I’ve seen of the TV show is really good.

So why is the movie so hated?

I think there are a few reasons.

One reason would have to be that, when viewed as an extended episode of the TV show, this is one of the weaker episodes. The storyline is about the kidnapping of Jabba the Hutt’s son. Who even knew Jabba had a son? But the underlying rationale behind the kidnapping is that the bad guys want Jabba to agree to give them access to his ‘trade routes’ and the good guys try and rescue Jabba’s son because they also want access to those ‘trade routes’. And there is something about ‘trade routes’ that makes any Star Wars offering seem a bit more boring than it should be. It was the curse of the prequel trilogy and it’s here again too.

Also ‘The Clone Wars’ TV show, and by extension this movie, are all about what happens between two of the prequel movies. So it’s heavily linked with the prequel trilogy and, as we all know, people didn’t really love those movies. And even though the subsequent TV series is generally beloved by fans, when this movie came out there was still a fair bit of animosity towards those movies, so it would have needed to be excellent to overcome the negative preconceptions. And it isn’t excellent, it’s only OK.

The main thing would probably be that, because this came before the TV show, it asked a lot of its audience. The character of Ahsoka Tano was introduced for the first time in this film and, although she is now fairly firmly established as a fan favourite, she was an unknown quantity in this movie and for a major character to be introduced (as Anakin Skywalker’s padawan learner no less) was a bit of a stretch for audiences. You were either going to hate her (in which case you would have to hate the movie because she’s in it a lot) or you’re going to quite like her but be constantly troubled by the fact that, given her absence from ‘Revenge of the Sith’ she’s probably going to die at some point.

And while (double-spoiler alert) she doesn’t die and indeed pops up in subsequent Star Wars shows (and is due, I believe, to make her live-action debut in series 2 of ‘The Mandalorian’) back in 2008 her inevitable death was the only reasonable conclusion you could reach.

Also, if you were unfamiliar with the unrelated 2003 Clone Wars cartoon, then Asajj Ventress, one of the principal antagonists in this movie, would also be a character that you’d never met before. Because she also isn’t in the movies (although to be fair [triple spoiler alert] she does die prior to ‘Revenge of the Sith’), and while, again, she is now very much a fan favourite, to give her so much weight in this film when no-one really knew who she was, perhaps didn’t help people warm to this movie.

Ultimately it is not a great stand alone movie. It’s an ok episode of a TV show that no-one had seen yet.

It’s still way better than the ‘Holiday Special’ though.

Best character – Anakin Skywalker

anakin

Finally an Anakin that is actually pretty good. Every inch the hero, but with subtle hints of the darkness that would eventually lead to him becoming everyone’s favourite Sith Lord.

ziro_the_hutt_sw_2518

Inexplicable. Doesn’t get better in the TV show. Fortunately he’s only in a few episodes and then he gets killed off.

Unsung hero – Captain Rex

rex

If you’re unfamiliar with the TV show then he might seem like just another clone trooper. Which he is. But despite the regular and somewhat unceremonious deaths of lots of clones throughout the series, the clones do have their own distinct personalities and none more so than Captain Rex. But even though a lot of that character development hasn’t taken place at this point in the narrative, he is still, hands down, the hardest clone out there and single-handedly takes on a lot of the bad guys.

And that’s in for the most critically panned (but definitely not the worst) movie in the Star Wars back catalogue. Why not come back tomorrow and see if I’ve written about something else Star Wars related?

 

 

 

May The Nineteenth Be With You: Star Wars: Clone Wars

James Proclaims (4)

Star_Wars_Clone_Wars

Not to be confused (but very easily confused) with ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’, which is a different cartoon (and movie), this series of animated shorts aired between 2003 and 2005 and aimed to ‘fill in the gaps’ between Episodes II and III of the prequel trilogy.

And it’s as bonkers as it is brilliant.

Before I get into it though, please enjoy this spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: Nothing I could write would spoil this animated series for you. There aren’t too many surprises in terms of plot and, actually, there really isn’t a lot of plot full stop. It’s just a lot of spaceships, lightsabers and violence. Which is a good thing.

I’m not sure there is much to say about this series beyond the fact that I loved it. After the disappointment of ‘The Phantom Menace’ and ‘Attack of the Clones’, this series was a breath of fresh air.

Technically it’s no longer considered ‘canon’ as the similarly named 2008 series also deals with the same time period and tells a different (and much more in-depth) story, but during the build-up to ‘Revenge of the Sith’ this series was the definitive version of the clone wars.

And the only negative I can really offer about this iteration is that everyone is just way too cool.

Which is no criticism at all.

But, alongside an Anakin Skywalker we can all finally get on board with, we see all of the Jedi doing incredible things. Mace Windu and Yoda are particularly impressive, with the former probably getting my vote for ‘most awesome’. Samuel L Jackson is the definition of cool, but his version of Mace Windu is essentially a librarian (who are also cool in a different way) in comparison to the depiction in this cartoon.

The clone troopers look like a well-oiled military machine, and even the battle droids have a more menacing air in this than they ever managed to convey in any other on-screen depiction.

Alongside Count Dooku and Palpatine, there are three main bad guys, only one of whom made it to Episode III. The one is General Grievous and he’s so much better in this than he was in the movie.

The other two are General Durge, who to be fair, would have been a nightmare to try and recreate for a live-action movie (but he’s very cool in this) and a nameless assassin, who would go on to appear in the subsequent Clone Wars cartoon and be known as Asajj Ventress, and who is the closest thing we get to a Darth Maul type (given that at this point in the continuity he was still officially dead and wouldn’t be resurrected until the fourth series of the later cartoon).

The early episodes were bite-sized at under 4 minutes each. Later episodes were longer, but still only 12 minutes. This really was a series for people with limited attention spans, but the brevity meant the focus was far more on the action and far less on ponderous dialogue.

And after the first two prequel movies, this was exactly what we needed from Star Wars.

Best character – Mace Windu

mace

It’s really a toss of a coin between him and Yoda, but as Yoda is cool in quite a lot of other Star Wars stuff and Mace is often not as cool as we’d like him to be, he gets the nod. He’s basically superman in this. But with a purple lightsaber.

Worst character – Anakin Skywalker

anakin clone

It’s a sign of how much I loved this cartoon that I couldn’t think of a bad character. Anakin is actually fantastic in this, but he still has a slightly winey voice. And when the competition is as fierce as this, he still ends up bottom of the pile.

Unsung hero – The Jedi who looks like a wolf

wolf

Because he looks like a wolf! And he’s a Jedi! He’s only in two episodes of this, but that’s two more appearances than he’s made in any other Star Wars movie or TV show. Which seems like a huge oversight if you ask me.

 

And that’s it for ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars’. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be writing about something else Star Wars related. Which might also be a cartoon.

 

 

 

 

 

May The Eighteenth Be With You: The All New Ewoks

James Proclaims (4)

EwoksS2intro

Eighteen days into my month-long homage to Star Wars and I appear to have lost all reason.

Not that I had much of that at the start of all this.

I could have just stopped when I’d written about Episodes I – IX, though I’m sure no-one would have begrudged me writing about ‘Rogue One’ and ‘Solo’ as well.

But that would still only have been eleven posts.

That’s not excessive.

And had I done that, I’m sure most people would have agreed that I’d completed a pretty thorough retrospective on Star Wars.

Instead, here I am, on day 18 of this madness and I haven’t even touched on the aforementioned spin-off movies.

Because I’ve been writing quite a lot about Ewoks.

Some might say too much.

But it ends here.

The Ewok stuff I mean.

Obviously I’m going to carry on writing about Star Wars.

However, I assure you that this is my last post about the bloody Ewoks.

But it is still probably a post too far.

Because I’m writing about series 2 of the 80s cartoon.

I wrote about series 1 yesterday.

But I irrationally felt the two series deserved separate posts.

Because, they were, essentially two different shows.

But before I go on, here is today’s redundant spoiler alert:

Spoiler alert: On the off chance you were planning on watching this long forgotten cartoon, then I would implore you to reconsider. It is not good. It is bad. Series 1 wasn’t great, but series 2 was abysmal. Nonetheless, if you insist on putting yourself through the horrors of this, then I may reveal some plot details in the text below. If I can find any to reveal. I don’t remember there being too much in the way of plot though. 

So, 1985’s ‘Star Wars: Ewoks’ was renewed for another series. But it was also ‘revamped’ and made into something different.

The new version was called ‘The All New Ewoks”.

And it was ‘all new’.

Rather than each episode being dedicated to one 20-minute story, they were split into two 10-minute stories.

Although the first series also concentrated on the exploits of the four main characters of Wicket, Kneesaa, Teebo and Latarra, there were a few other Ewoks who featured quite regularly. Most of those characters, while notionally still in this series are very much in the background.

And, aside from Kneesaa, who is, in fairness, largely the same character, the others are all completely different. And not just because they’ve been drawn differently and they are being voiced by different actors (both of which are true) but because they have entirely different personalities. And they’re much less likeable. Oh and bizarrely, whereas it used to be Latarra who had an unrequited crush on Teebo, it’s now Teebo that has an unrequited crush on Latarra.

Series 1 had recurring villains, and some sort of continuity across the episodes, but each of the mini-stories in series 2 has a new villain and there is no continuity at all. There are so many new characters and species introduced in this series that it appears that the forest moon of Endor (which we’ve established across the two stand-alone movies and the first iteration of this cartoon, is only partially forest at best) is incredibly densely populated with creatures who all possess varying degrees of magical powers. And the Ewoks are the most magical of all because they possess the Sunstar, which is a kind of magical stone, that everyone else wants to steal. I don’t remember the Sunstar from ‘Return of the Jedi’. Or the two Ewok movies for that matter. It is in series 1 of the cartoon, but it’s only central to a couple of episodes. In series 2, virtually every story is about someone trying to steal the Sunstar. And failing obviously.

The two main antagonists in series 1 were Morag the witch, who was killed in that series, and the inept Duloks. The Duloks are back for series 2, but only in a couple of episodes. They mostly have to make way for the plethora of new antagonists, who mostly show up for ten minutes and then are never seen again.

It is rubbish, but it is a kids cartoon. And I didn’t notice any of the changes when I was young and I still watched it so I shouldn’t be too annoyed. But I am a bit annoyed because series 1 was better and I don’t know why anyone would go out of their way to make an ‘ok but not great’ cartoon into a really bad cartoon.

Both versions of the cartoon were extremely far removed from anything resembling Star Wars. But series 2 is the one when any pretence that these are the same Ewoks that helped the rebels defeat the Empire has finally been eroded. ‘The All New Ewoks’ was a cartoon about some bears who live in a magical land and have magical powers. It was a bit like another 80s cartoon, Disney’s ‘Gummi Bears’, but nowhere near as good.

So when, in the penultimate episode, the Empire turns up in a Star Destroyer, complete with stormtroopers, it really is quite a surprise.

Particularly as Emperor Palpatine is referenced a few times and is sort of, but not quite, in the actual episode (he’s notionally in a shuttle that we see a few times on screen).

And you kind of remember at this point that the Ewoks did originate in ‘Return of the Jedi’, but it’s all been so different to Star Wars for so long that it’s actually quite weird when Star Wars appears. It just doesn’t feel right.

I can’t bring myself to fully hate this cartoon, because I did watch it and love it as a child. But I do wish I had only watched the first series as kid, because then I could dismiss ‘The All New Ewoks’ as utterly worthless.

Sadly, however, I know I loved both series equally, so nostalgia does help to redeem this abomination a little bit.

Best character – Kneesaa

kneesa

She was one of the more likable characters in series 1 anyway and as she’s pretty much the same character in this, she is the best by default, because the others have all become so much worse.

Worst character – Teebo

Teebo

Was pretty cool in series 1 and really isn’t at all cool in series 2. Seems to by a hybrid of some different characters from series 1 that were subsequently written out. Possibly the most irritating of all the irritating changes that were made.

Unsung Heroes – The Duloks

duloks

As antagonists, the Duloks were the most fun in series 1 and they’re severely underused in series 2. But when they do appear they are still pretty good value and those rare appearances are definitely the best episodes.

And that really is all I have to say about the Ewoks. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll probably still be writing about a cartoon, but it will be a much better cartoon than this was.

 

 

 

May The Seventeenth Be With You: Star Wars: Ewoks

James Proclaims (4)

Ewoks-promo

Alongside ‘Star Wars: Droids – The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO’, another Star Wars inspired cartoon was made in 1985. It was about the Ewoks. It was, appropriately enough, known as ‘Star Wars: Ewoks’. The two shows ran alongside each other, though aside from the fact they both notionally stemmed from the same source material, there was nothing much to link the two. Apart from the fact they were both fairly underwhelming.

Whereas ‘Droids’ lasted for only one series, the Ewoks were granted a second go, in 1986. This time around the show was called ‘The All New Ewoks’.

Unlike ‘Droids’, I did regularly watch ‘Ewoks’ as a child, and I remember really liking it.

But I was a small child, so it’s not that surprising really. Ewoks were always aimed at small children from their initial appearance in ‘Return of the Jedi’, and certainly throughout the two spin-off Ewok movies, Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor. So a cartoon series was, in many ways, the natural home for the little bears.

What I didn’t realise at the time, but what is abundantly clear from re-watching these cartoons as an adult, is that ‘Star Wars: Ewoks’ and ‘The All New Ewoks’ were completely different shows.

When doing my ‘research’ (for I do research these bizarre posts about long forgotten cartoons) the latter is often described as ‘Series 2’ of the Ewoks cartoon, but, even though the narrative ark through both series is fairly weak for the most part, there is even less continuity between the two series. The characters look different, they sound different and they have quite different characteristics. Characters that were prevalent in the first show virtually disappear in the second.

So really, although I’ve already spent far too much time this month writing about Ewoks, it seems only fair to give each series its own post.

And, in the spirit of doing this in chronological order (which isn’t necessarily the ‘Star Wars way’) the rest of this post will be about the 1985 iteration of the show.

But first, the stupid, pointless spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: You aren’t going to watch this so it’s probably not worth me warning you that plot details may follow. But they may and you can still find this show on YouTube so you might be inclined to waste your time, as I recently did, re-watching these. In which case, this series is better than ‘The All New Ewoks’. Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good. It’s just not as bad as the one that followed. 

‘Star Wars: Ewoks’ has absolutely nothing to do with Star Wars. Whereas ‘Droids’ featured two prominent characters from the movies in C3PO and R2D2, and also had ‘cameos’ from Boba Fett, Stormtroopers and other minor characters, there is absolutely nothing to link the first series of Ewoks to the original trilogy, other than the Ewoks themselves. And frankly they are barely recognisable as the little primitive bear-like creatures that turn up in ‘Return of the Jedi’.

But taken in the context that the two spin-off movies had already moved quite a long way from the Star Wars universe, particularly the second of those movies, portraying the ‘forest moon’ of Endor as a magical place (and also, quite clearly, not exclusively a forest) with lots of different creatures, the majority of which would have been very hard for the Empire not to notice when they set up camp there, then the Ewoks cartoon does make some kind of sense.

In some ways it was slightly disingenuous to promote this as a ‘Star Wars cartoon’. But that’s probably why most kids watched it.

If you can accept it on its own terms though, it’s fine. Not great, not ground-breaking, but not the worst animated show of the 1980s by some way.

The Ewoks can all speak ‘English’, which doesn’t necessarily jar with the movies where they couldn’t, because they don’t ever interact with any of the characters from the films, so we just assume that they’re actually speaking ‘Ewok’ and we can just understand them through the magic of this being a cartoon.

Wicket, who was in all the movies, is essentially the principal character, but he is joined by three friends for most of his adventures called Teebo (who apparently was one of the Ewoks in ‘Return of the Jedi’), Kneesaa and Latarra (who weren’t in any of the movies but there were lots of nameless Ewoks in those so it’s fine). There are other Ewok characters who pop up quite regularly, but those four are supposedly the principal Ewoks for the show.

There is a vague hint of a romantic connection between Wicket and Kneesaa. Latarra has something of an unrequited crush on Teebo. Teebo also has magical powers and is the apprentice of Logray (who was the Ewok that wanted to cook and eat Han, Luke et al. in ‘Return of the Jedi’ but who, by the time we get to the cartoon, is quite a wise and powerful wizard. He doesn’t seem to want to eat people any more. Which would be progress but apparently this series was set before ‘Return of the Jedi’ so one can only imagine what developments led to his desire to eat people later on).

The Ewoks are led by Chief Chirpa who was also in ‘Return of the Jedi’.

There are a host of other creatures, and some recurring antagonists, notably the Duloks, who are largely inept but occasionally get it together sufficiently well to pose a threat. The main antagonist is a witch called Morag who really has it in for the Ewoks and is genuinely competent and, as 80s cartoon characters go, quite scary.

Some episodes are quite dark for a kids cartoon and Morag is particularly nasty, until she is killed off towards the end of the series. And it was pretty unusual for a villain to die in a cartoon back in the 80s, particularly a recurring character. The final episode of the series is about the discovery of Kneesa’s long lost sister who has been living alone, in the wilderness, presumed dead. Again, not exactly the sort of storyline that you’d expect to find in a kids cartoon in 1985.

Series one of ‘Ewoks’ was flawed, but it had the potential to become something better, particularly if it could establish a stronger narrative ark between the individual episodes. And the decision to keep Star Wars out of it, seemed quite clever, because it gave the cartoon the freedom to become its own thing.

Certainly on the evidence of those first 13 episodes it’s pretty clear why this was the show, rather than ‘Droids’ that was commissioned for another run.

But, for whatever reason, they decided to take the show in a ‘different’ direction for the follow-up series.

Best character – Logray

Logray_Cartoons

Nothing like the man-eating Ewok in ‘Return of the Jedi’, Logray is a wizard of some significant power. And he’s wise. He’s basically a cross between Dumbledore and Gandalf. But he’s an Ewok.

Worst character – Bozzie

Bozzie_scolding

Always telling the Ewoks off for no good reason. Doesn’t seem to have any redeeming qualities. One of the few characters whose omission from the subsequent series was a good thing.

Unsung hero – Paploo

Paploo_(Cartoon)

Viewed as a bit of a bad influence on the younger Ewoks but often involved in the adventures of the ‘main four’ and generally quite heroic for the most part, yet somehow completely ignored for series 2.

And that’s it for ‘Star Wars: Ewoks’. Join me tomorrow when I’ll be concluding my dealings with the little fur balls by writing about ‘The All New Ewoks’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May The Sixteenth Be With You: Who’s Scruffy Lookin’?

James Proclaims (4)

Much like when I decided to dedicate a post to my collection of Star Wars mugs, I’m not feeling quite up to writing a review of an 80s cartoon that no-one remembers today. Which may come as a relief, in many respects, to those of you who loyally read my posts regardless of their content (and although that is quite a small collective, you have no idea how grateful I am that you exist…).

We are, today, over halfway through May, so even if I keep this nonsense up for the rest of the month, we will soon be back to a world in which I no longer blog exclusively about Star Wars.

I don’t know what June has in store for this blog. Perhaps I’ll go back to blogging about the worldwide pandemic, or maybe I’ll focus on my usual mundane offerings.

Or maybe I’ll come up with a new theme. I toyed with the idea of another George Lucas inspired project. I was going to call it Indiana June…

Anyway, back to today and rather than writing about some obscure spin-off in the Star Wars universe, I’ve decided to post some pictures of some Star Wars attire that I own.

It should be noted though, that although I do love Star Wars, if the garments below imply some kind of obsession then rest assured I own at least the same number of tops proclaiming my love for the Welsh rugby team. And a surprising amount of t-shirts which might indicate my support for several football teams that I don’t, in fact, support.

And Superman, Batman and Spiderman are also well represented in my wardrobe.

Essentially I own too many t-shirts.

But these are the Star Wars ones:

img_6032
An Adidas/Star Wars mash-up that has resulted in more than one person stopping me to tell me that I’m wearing a cool t-shirt. Because Star Wars is cool…

 

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A gift from my lovely wife and quite probably my favourite t-shirt out of all the t-shirts I’ve ever owned.

 

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Another gift from my wife who frankly knows me too well…

 

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Sometimes it’s too cold for a t-shirt, and on those days, I can still proclaim my love for Star Wars by wearing this.

 

And because sometimes it’s Christmas, I also own the following:

 

Anyway, I’m off to watch more Star Wars cartoons so I can write about them in the near future.

I might even write about one of them tomorrow.

May The Fifteenth Be With You: The Great Heep

James Proclaims (4)

star_wars_droids_the_great_heep_tv-765688000-large

‘The Great Heep’ is a bizarre entry into the Star Wars ‘back catalogue’. A feature length special of an already cancelled TV show, which very few people actually watched.

It would be easy enough to have viewed this as just an extended episode of the aforementioned show, which I wrote about yesterday, as it seems to take place between episodes 9 & 10 of that show.

But it was released separately from the series and it is a little different in some respects.

So maybe it deserves its own post.

Even if all I’m going to tell you is that it wasn’t worth the 50 minutes of my life that I spent watching it last night and it definitely wouldn’t be worth you watching it either.

But before we get to that, I should issue a spoiler alert.

Spoiler alert – Don’t watch this. But if you do intend to watch this and you’re worried that plot details will ruin it for you then I may reveal some of those in the ensuing text. But what little plot I could discern was largely uninspiring stuff and to be honest, it didn’t make a massive amount of sense.

You don’t really need to have seen the preceding series to be able to watch this. Which is a bonus because although the series was a perfectly acceptable 80s cartoon, it hasn’t stood the test of time and you’ve got better things to do than watch that.

But you’ve also got better things to do than watch ‘The Great Heep’. In terms of characters, obviously C3PO and R2D2 are in it, and there are also some Stormtroopers and an imperial officer called Admiral Screed, who was also in some of the episodes of the TV show, but they were set chronologically after this and in any case he didn’t do much in those and he doesn’t do much in this.

The droids’ ‘master’ is someone called Mungo Baobab and he was also in the series but only in the same episodes as Admiral Screed. And he was fairly indistinguishable from the ‘masters’ in the other episodes. Except that he had a beard.

The main baddie, and titular character, is a giant droid called ‘The Great Heep’. And he’s rubbish. He eats R2 units though, so we’re vaguely aware that R2D2 might be in some danger. But he’s not an especially interesting character.

Ultimately it’s R2D2’s girlfriend who actually gets eaten. Because R2D2 has a girlfriend in this.

‘She’ looks like this:

Kt-10

Apparently she is called KT10, but I don’t remember her ‘name’ being mentioned in the cartoon, it’s just something I found out on the internet.

I don’t think KT10 would be an acceptable addition to a cartoon these days. But this sort of thing was apparently fine in 1986.

Although, to be fair, no-one watched this, so it would’ve been hard for anyone to be offended.

Anyway she gets eaten by The Great Heep. But no-one really cares. Except R2D2. And she’s miraculously brought back to life at the end. Although it presumably doesn’t work out between her and R2D2, unless they’re in some kind of long distance relationship during the events of, y’know, Star Wars.

There are other anomalies. We see a droid listening to a walkman, for example. Which is a bit weird.

Anyway, some stuff happens. I was quite tired when I watched this so it’s possible I’m not giving it due credit but none of that stuff seemed particularly exciting. The good guys win and the bad guys lose. But given that the bad guys are ultimately the Empire, the celebrations by the good guys at the end seem a little premature, because one imagines the Empire will be back shortly to crush them.

I didn’t see this when I was the ‘target audience’. I might have quite liked it back then. But, as I missed it, it holds no nostalgia for me now and that is the only value this cartoon could hold for anyone.

Best character – C3PO

c3po

More by default than anything else. Anthony Daniels does his voice (because of course he does) which gives the whole thing a bit of Star Wars ‘authenticity’. I wouldn’t say I loved C3PO in this so much as the times he was on screen corresponded quite strongly with when I was the least bored.

Worst character – The Big Heep

heep

If you’re going to be the titular villain, you need to be either scary, or charismatic, but ‘The Big Heep’ is neither. So he’s rubbish.

Unsung Hero – KT10

Kt-10

Objectified by the other droids, having to fend off unwanted advances in a male-dominated sector and then ultimately eaten by her boss, KT10 does not have an easy time of it. And, then she’s supposed to be grateful because all the ‘male’ droids club together to save her life at the end. Frankly it’s the least they could do…

 

And that’s it for one 1980s animated Star Wars spinoff. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be dealing with the other one.