May The Thirtieth Be With You: The Mandalorian

James Proclaims (4)

feat-star-wars-the-mandalorian-title-card

‘The Mandalorian’ arrived late to the UK, given that Disney Plus didn’t launch here until March, having been available elsewhere as early as November. However, the hype arrived a long time before that and, consequently, this show had a lot to live up to by the time I got around to watching it.

Probably more so for me, given that I’ve just re-watched all of the movies and quite a lot of other Star Wars related stuff in order to be able to spend this entire month writing about the franchise, in what, I began to realise some weeks ago, was quite an ill-conceived and fairly pointless project.

But we’ve all had to get through lockdown in our own way haven’t we? I couldn’t escape to a farm in Durham, so I had to escape to ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far far away’. Which was probably the more ethical choice really.

Anyway, I saved writing about ‘The Mandalorian’ until last (I know there is one more day of May, but I thought I’d use that to craft some kind of ‘conclusion’ to this madness), because, based on everything I’d read, looking at who was involved and considering its astronomical budget, I pretty much expected it to be excellent.

And, having just watched the last episode of series one, I can confirm that it ticked all the right boxes for me. I can’t wait until series two.

But before I go any further, I should, for the sake of completion if nothing else, issue my final spoiler alert of the month:

Spoiler alert: I’m going to write about ‘The Mandalorian’ now. I doubt I’ll give too much of the plot away, but there may still be one or two spoilers in the text that follows. Because this is the way.

The first live-action Star Wars ‘TV show’ was always going to be a bit of a risk given the notoriously difficult to meet expectations of Star Wars fans, but ‘The Mandalorian’ is almost a masterclass in expectation management.

Firstly, it’s set between ‘Return of the Jedi’ and ‘The Force Awakens’ but much closer to the former, which is pretty much a blank canvas in terms of the Star Wars chronology. Perhaps that period has been covered in some of the novels, but there are no existing movies or cartoons set in the time period. Also, the sequel trilogy rendered a lot of the novels non-canon, so it’s fairly likely that there won’t be any existing Star Wars material that massively contradicts the events covered within the show.

Secondly, ‘The Mandalorian’ is deliberately set in the outer reaches of the galaxy, pretty far away from any likely era-defining events, and certainly far away from any Skywalkers. There’s not even a cameo for C3PO. And he normally turns up in everything, whether you want him to or not.

Thirdly, it centres around the coolest looking characters in the Star Wars universe – the Mandalorians. They’re cool because they all dress like Boba Fett, who was pretty much everyone’s favourite action figure. But, Boba Fett never really did anything in the movies and wasn’t even a proper Mandalorian, so the first live-action incarnation of the Mandalorians was also a fairly blank canvas. They did turn up in the various cartoon series a bit, but there was still plenty of room for interpretation in this show. As long as they looked a bit like Boba Fett. Which they did.

‘The Mandalorian’ manages to strike the (not always easy) balance of providing lots of references for die-hard Star Wars fans, while trying to be accessible to anyone who is coming to this without any knowledge of the movies. It’s hard to be objective, I am obviously a massive Star Wars fan, but I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy this show even if it wasn’t based on Star Wars. It looks and feels like Star Wars a lot of the time, but it is also very much its own thing and there were times when it reminded me a bit of the brilliant and short-lived 2002 show ‘Firefly’, which is probably not that surprising given that it would be reasonable to describe both shows as ‘Space Westerns’.

‘The Mandalorian’ is definitely a Star Wars show, but its greatest strength in many respects, is that it isn’t too ‘Star-Wars-y’. There are stormtroopers, X-Wings, and Tie-Fighters but there isn’t a Jedi in sight. Apart from ‘Baby Yoda’. But he isn’t technically a Jedi. Oh and there are no lightsabers. There is a darksaber. Which is a bit like a lightsaber. But it definitely isn’t a lightsaber. Although I couldn’t really tell you the difference.

The Force is strong with ‘The Mandalorian’ but it’s quite possibly because the Force isn’t in it very much.

Best character  – The Child (AKA Baby Yoda)

Baby-Yoda-in-The-Mandalorian-Chapter-4

Having been bombarded with ‘Baby Yoda’ memes for months before actually getting to see the character on-screen, I was apprehensive to say the least. But, while he has no dialogue, and is played, essentially, by a puppet, it’s hard to see past this little fella as the best thing about the show. Which is harsh on the titular character  who is pretty fantastic too. Although, if I hadn’t gone with ‘Baby Yoda’ I’d probably have gone with Taika Waititi’s IG11 rather than The Mandalorian, so he wouldn’t have got a look-in anyway. 

Worst character – Toro Calican

toro

I didn’t hate him or anything, but the show was mostly full of eminently likeable (if admittedly fairly two-dimensional) characters and this guy was pretty much the one exception. Being a bounty hunter without any of the requisite skills makes him one of the least cool characters anyway but then he kills off a character who had the potential to be genuinely pretty cool in Fennec Shand, before she got a chance to actually do anything cool. Which makes Toro even less cool.

Unsung hero – Paz Visla

Paz_Vizla

This honour could have gone to more significant characters, such as the aforementioned IG11, or the Nick-Nolte-voiced Kuiil, both of who sacrifice themselves to save ‘The Child’. However, Paz Visla gets the nod, because he’s a Mandalorian, in a show called ‘The Mandalorian’ and he’s barely in it.  Also, when he is in it, he goes out of his way to save the life of the titular Mandalorian, even though it’s been established in an earlier scene that he doesn’t really like him.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about ‘The Mandalorian’. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be attempting to write some sort of conclusion to my month long tribute to Star Wars in an effort to justify what has, almost certainly, been a colossal waste of time.

I have spoken.

 

May The Twenty-Ninth Be With You: Lego Star Wars: Droid Tales

James Proclaims (4)

lego

When I was a kid, Lego was essentially a load of plastic bricks that you tried (and generally failed) to build stuff out of. Even back then you could buy kits that had particular themes, I remember having a space themed set, but by and large most new packs of Lego were just dumped in with any you already owned, you built what you could out of what you had and your imagination did the rest. It was pretty good fun, everyone had a set, but hardly anyone would have said it was their favourite toy. Even if it was their favourite toy. It was ok to like Lego, but it wasn’t especially cool.

At some point that changed and these days you can get Lego in all kinds of different themes, and many of them are linked in some way, shape or form to major movie franchises. The likes DC and Marvel, Disney, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Ninja Turtles and countless others have been represented in small plastic brick form at one point or another.

And obviously Star Wars is no exception.

But Lego has become more than just small plastic bricks in recent years and most people would be familiar with 2014’s ‘Lego Movie’ and it’s subsequent sequels and spinoffs. Cynical marketing ploys or not, they are definitely entertaining and frankly hardly any animated feature film isn’t a little bit about selling lots of toys, so I’m not going to hold it against Lego – at least they had the decency to make their movie enjoyable.

People might be less familiar with the various Lego short films, and TV specials which are also available for consumption on various platforms. But there are a lot of them.

And again, Star Wars is quite well represented.

And given that some of them are on Disney Plus, which has been something of a facilitator in my making my month-long tribute to Star Wars possible, I thought I might watch one of them.

There were a few to choose from, including a proper full length TV series called ‘The Freemaker Adventures’. But that was too long, given how much other content I’ve been trying to cram in.

So instead I went for a shorter series, called ‘Droid Tales’, which consisted of five twenty-minute episodes.

And I’m going to write about it now.

But first a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: Are you really planning on watching a Lego Star Wars cartoon? Really? And you’ve decided, out of all the various options available, you’re going to watch the one I’m writing about here? Ok, well then I might spoil it for you if you read on. But probably not, because it is, after all, a Lego Star Wars cartoon and it’s probably not worth being that precious about plot details.

I actually did really enjoy this and not in a ‘it was slightly better than I thought it would be’ way but in a ‘that was really funny and very well made’ kind of way.

It’s genuinely really good. It’s not really Star Wars as you know it, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a parody more than anything. Made of Lego.

I suppose, having seen the Lego movie and 2017’s ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ I should been expecting this to be quite tongue-in-cheek, but it really is laugh out loud funny.

In essence, ‘Droid Tales’ is a recap of the first six movies, as told by C3PO (who is, as always, voiced by Anthony Daniels). But it’s also a complete send-up of the movies. It’s all in good taste and it’s done very affectionately, but it doesn’t take any prisoners and ‘The Phantom Menace’ is mocked pretty mercilessly.

I’ve pretty much enjoyed everything Star Wars related I’ve watched in the last month, but, given that I really only watched this on a bit of a whim, I’d have to say it was a surprising highlight and I’ll now definitely be watching all of the other Lego Star Wars cartoons at some point in the near future.

Best character – Palpatine

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Most of the characters are pretty funny, but Palpatine made me laugh more than most. Probably because he is still, even as Lego, completely evil, although somewhat less competent in small plastic brick form.

Worst character – Admiral Ackbar

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The characters tend to be funnier when they are exaggerations of their movie personas and Admiral Ackbar, possibly because he is essentially a minor character in the films, is less based on source material and the joke seems to be mainly about him having a spaceship called Daisy-Mae. Which isn’t all that funny really.

Unsung Heroes – Chewbacca and Nien Nunb

chewy

Because they cut short their holiday to help C3PO find R2D2 and also because they are wearing Hawaiian shirts. Which is pretty funny.

 

And that’s all I’ve got to say about ‘Droid Tales’. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be writing about ‘The Mandalorian’. And about time too…

May The Twenty-Eighth Be With You: Star Wars: Resistance

James Proclaims (4)

star-wars-resistance

As with ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’and ‘Star Wars: Rebels‘ I can’t claim to have seen every episode of this animated show. At the time of writing I have seen series one in its entirety but I’ve yet to see any of the second (and as it turns out final) series.

In fairness to me, although time was a factor, series two is not yet available on Disney Plus in the UK. I’m pretty sure I could have found it in other, less legal, corners of the internet, but, given that I’ve been operating on a pretty tight viewing schedule for most of this month, I thought series one would suffice for this post.

And I think it just about does, although I’m glad I did watch the first series to the end because frankly my views on the show after watching a few of the early episodes were very different to my views now I’ve seen twenty-one episodes.

But before all that, please enjoy this spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert – If you haven’t seen series one of this show, then the following may contain spoilers. But it’s highly unlikely to contain spoilers for series two, because I obviously have no idea what happens in that. 

Up until about halfway through this series (roughly around episode ten) I was pretty convinced I was going to be writing a pretty scathing post about this show. The animation, though stylistically very different to either ‘The Clone Wars’ or ‘Rebels’ is obviously of a high standard. But that was about all I could say that was remotely positive.

Just as ‘The Clone Wars’ is clearly linked with the prequel trilogy and ‘Rebels’ has some pretty obvious links with the original trilogy, this series is very much tied in with the sequel trilogy.

Except that it doesn’t seem like it really is in the early episodes. In fact it doesn’t much feel like it’s got anything to do with Star Wars at all.

Poe Dameron (voiced by Oscar Isaac no less) is in a few episodes, and ‘R2D2 wannabe’, BB8, is a regular up until episode 17 but that’s more or less it. OK, ‘Galactic Empire wannabes’ The First Order are also in it a fair bit, but mainly in the background – Gwendoline Christie voices Captain Phasma in a few early episodes but she’s barely in it really. The main antagonists early on are pirates. Pirates! And a lot of the early action seems to focus on racing. Not exactly pod racing like in ‘The Phantom Menace’, but not a million miles away either. 

The premise is that the main character, Kaz, is working undercover for The Resistance on an aircraft refuelling station, which isn’t all that enthralling as concepts go. Most of the early episodes are less about him spying on the First Order and more about him trying to fit in with his new surroundings. Which is as dull as it sounds. And frankly he’s a bit of an idiot. I’m not quite sure why the Resistance have recruited him.

Anyway, it’s all a bit silly and lightweight and not really much to do with Star Wars and most of the characters are quite hard to like.

And then all of a sudden it gets a lot darker and The First Order suddenly become quite prominent and Kaz stops being quite so much of an idiot and seems to be a vaguely competent spy after all.

And even though I thought I was quite indifferent to it all, I actually found myself quite enjoying the last few episodes.

And I’m now actually quite looking forward to watching series 2.

Best character – Neeku Vozo

Neeku_Vozo

Takes everything he hears literally which mostly results in the show’s funniest moments. Can be hit and miss as a source of comic relief and does have the potential to be an irritating character, but is generally too endearing to ever be truly annoying.

Worst Character – Jarek Yeager

See the source image

Meant to be a world-weary but ultimately wise and caring mentor for Kaz. Mostly comes across as grumpy and a bit of a killjoy. Has a bit more about him in the later episodes but will need to put in more of shift in series two for me not to regard him as a rubbish character.

Unsung hero – CB23

CB-23.JPG

BB8 is with Kaz in the first 17 episodes and in the few episodes we see Poe he is accompanied by CB23. Then Poe decides he wants BB8 back and swaps him for CB23, who is then with Kaz in the final four episodes of the series. And clearly is just as good as BB8. So why does Poe feel the need to swap? Harsh.

And that’s all I currently have to say about ‘Star Wars: Resistance’. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be writing about something else to do with Star Wars.

May The Twenty-Seventh Be With You: Star Wars: Rebels

James Proclaims (4)

rebels

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I have been somewhat unsuccessful in my attempts to watch every episode of every show in the Star Wars canon before the end of this month (although I’ve given it a pretty good go).

Unfortunately this 2014 successor to ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars‘ is one of the shows I haven’t been able to view in it’s entirety.

But I’ve watched a few episodes and I’d never let a little thing like ‘not really knowing my subject matter’ stop me from writing a blog post about it.

But first a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: I’m only up to about a third of the way through series 2 of this, so please don’t ruin it for me. Although if you haven’t seen any episodes, I suppose there’s still a small chance I could spoil it for you in the rest of this post.

I really like this cartoon. It’s very different in tone and style to ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ and some might say it suffers by comparison.

I haven’t seen enough to fully inform my views but I’d say that what I’ve seen so far holds up pretty well and there are definitely elements about this that I prefer.

The main things I like are probably nostalgia driven, because this show is chronologically much closer to the original trilogy. Which means that we get proper Stormtroopers, Imperial Officers and Star Destroyers.

Oh and we get Darth Vader. He’s not in every episode, but he shows up a few times and he’s voiced by James Earl Jones and everything.

And so far in the episodes I’ve watched, we’ve also had Lando (voiced by Billy Dee Williams) and C3PO (voiced by Anthony Daniels but that’s less of a novelty because C3PO is in all the Star Wars cartoons and he’s always voiced by Anthony Daniels). Grand Moff Tarkin has also been in some episodes although obviously not voiced by the original actor. But it was still nice to see him feature.

There are also recurrent characters from ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’, notably Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex, who were two of my favourites from that show and who are voiced in this by the same actors.

And while they haven’t yet shown up, I’m fairly certain from the marketing I’ve seen around this show that Obi Wan Kenobi (the older version from the original trilogy) and Darth Maul (who seems to be making the most of his implausible resurrection) are both going to show up too.

But the show really hinges on its central characters. I don’t really know how I feel about them yet, but so far I’m fairly optimistic. There’s no-one I actively dislike and potentially by the time I’ve got through all of the episodes there’ll be a few who’ll be up there with my favourites.

All the core characters in this were essentially new to Star Wars when this show first aired, which means they had no existing capital with fans (which seemingly can be a problem for some Star Wars fans). It does, however, leave a lot more room for character development, which, even though I’m still not that far into it, is already apparent in the episodes I have seen.

Aside from trying to win over the fans, the main problem with introducing new characters, particularly in a show that is set a few years before the original trilogy, is the difficulty in explaining why these characters aren’t around in those movies.

Particularly as, so far, we’ve got two Jedi in Kanan Jarrus and Ezra Bridger, as well as the aforementioned Ahsoka, who isn’t technically a Jedi anymore but who still knows how to wield a lightsaber like the best of them. And there are no shortage of bad guys with red lightsabers called the inquisitors who are also not in the movies. Although at the stage I’m at with my viewing, one of those is already dead, so maybe the others will follow suit.

But will the good guys also die?

And if not, how will the show resolve itself to explain their absence from the movies, given that they are very much part of the Rebel Alliance?

Obviously I’ve done a lot of reading about Star Wars in recent weeks so, unfortunately, I have subjected myself to some spoilers and my understanding is that the show will have answered my questions by the time I get to the final episode.

To be fair, I’m not too precious about such things really, as long as the show is entertaining.

And on the evidence I’ve seen so far, ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ is a pretty good watch.

Best character (so far) – Ezra Bridger

ezra

The force is strong with this one. He’s a bit of an archetype, but I quite like him because in many ways he represents what I always imagined the young Anakin Skywalker should have been in ‘The Phantom Menace’. Rather than the Anakin we actually got in ‘The Phantom Menace’…

Worst Character (so far)  – Chopper

chopper

He’s like R2D2 but with a bad attitude. Sometimes he’s funny but he’s often quite annoying and frankly he’s a liability. Given the general disposability of droids in the rest of Star Wars, it’s a wonder the other characters in this bother to keep him around.

Unsung hero – Minister Tua

tua

Initially presented as a fairly unsympathetic official working for the Empire, not exactly evil but not especially nice. But with the arrival of Darth Vader things take a darker turn and she realises she’s out of her depth. Tries to defect to the Rebels and gets blown up for her troubles. 

And that’s all I’ve got to say about ‘Star Wars: Rebels’. Which is actually quite a lot given how few episodes I’ve seen. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be attempting to write about another show I haven’t seen in its entirety.

 

 

May The Twenty-Sixth Be With You: Star Wars: The Clone Wars (The Series)

James Proclaims (4)

Star_Wars_The_Clone_Wars

In all honesty, when I started this month long homage to Star Wars, I wasn’t actually planning on doing much more than writing about the nine movies of the ‘Skywalker Saga’ in episode order over the first nine days of the month. Then I thought, given that I’d seen both ‘Solo‘ and ‘Rogue One‘, I might as well write about those. Then it occurred to me that as I had, in the past, sat through the appalling ‘Holiday Special‘ I should probably write about that too. And once I’d committed to that, it seemed a shame not to include the Ewok movies, especially as the first of those was the very first movie I ever saw in the cinema.

Throw in a few posts with pictures of the various Star Wars merchandise that I own, and I probably had enough material to write about Star Wars for quite a few days.

But to write about it for the whole month?

To achieve that I’d have to watch the various TV series. And, aside from the Ewok cartoon of the eighties and the 2003 show ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars‘, I hadn’t seen a great deal of the animated shows really. And I hadn’t seen the Ewok cartoon since the eighties, so I’d definitely have to re-watch that in order to be able to write about it.

So, as well as writing a lot about Star Wars, I have spent most of this month (and quite a lot of the previous month) watching Star Wars in its various guises.

Which has been made easier, thanks to the UK launch, in March, of Disney Plus, which has made a lot Star Wars content available in one place. Although my quest has still meant some foraging around elsewhere on the internet. Particularly for Ewoks.

But still, it has been quite an undertaking and I have rather failed in my bid to watch everything.

Obviously if I was experiencing the kind of lockdown that the media would have us believe is the norm, I would have had plenty of time, but I have mostly still been working and when not working I have my little girl to look after. And she isn’t a massive Star Wars fan.

Yet.

I’m working on it but she still prefers Peppa Pig.

I have made a pretty good effort to cover the whole Star Wars back catalogue.

And I’ve watched enough episodes of enough of the series to be able to post something about most of them.

Which is a relief, because if I’m going to undertake a pointless month-long project, I’d hate to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Like the Empire frequently does.

But it would be lying to claim I’ve watched every episode of every show.

Part of the reason I’ve struggled to watch everything in it’s entirety is the series I’m writing about today. Because there are a lot of episodes of ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’.

I have managed to get through most of them, but at the time of writing I’ve yet to see series six and seven. I will watch both of them (because I am now a big fan of this cartoon) but as the show essentially wrapped up at the end of series five in 2014, with series six almost being viewed as bonus material (it’s subtitled ‘The Lost Missions’) and series seven essentially a short revival of the series made this year specifically for Disney Plus, it’s fair to say I’ve probably got a relatively good handle on the show, having watched the first 108 episodes (and of course the movie, which I’ve already written about).

But before I go any further, I will issue my now customary spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: This is a brilliant show and you should definitely watch it, but I am potentially going to reveal some plot details from this point onwards. Although there are a lot of episodes and consequently there are also a lot of intersecting plotlines and there’s no way I could cover them all, so it’ll probably be fine.

Not to be confused with the excellent, but very brief, 2003 cartoon, ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars’, which is only a definite article away from having the same name, ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ essentially renders that earlier cartoon null and void in the sense that both tell the story of what happened between ‘Attack of the Clones‘ and ‘Revenge of the Sith‘ but they tell very different stories.

Nonetheless the 2008 cartoon is arguably even more brilliant than its shorter predecessor.

It didn’t have the most auspicious of beginnings.  The movie which introduced the series was not beloved by critics. I can understand some of the animosity directed towards that particular cinematic release, not least when viewed as a stand-alone movie, but I still think the critics were overly harsh. And when viewed as part of the series as a whole, the movie does work quite well. However, it’s nowhere near as strong as the series would go on to be.

Obviously a lot of the action is centred around Anakin Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi, with the former being easily the best incarnation of that particular character. This is an Anakin Skywalker that is played by someone who can act, which really helps, but he also benefits from some well written storylines and some actual character development (as opposed to just having different hairstyles). It’s easy to believe that this Anakin was a genuine hero, but equally, his darker traits, though often subtle, are also there to see and once in a while he really loses it and is not a million miles away from the Darth Vader we know and love from the original movies. The dialogue is also well written, with this version of Anakin quite often adopting a turn of phrase that we hear Darth Vader say in the movies. Which as writing goes, is impressive. Most impressive.

However, one of the strengths of ‘The Clone Wars’ is the way it brings the other characters to life. We see a lot of Jedi in the prequel movies but we never get to know very much about them and in this cartoon we’re able to explore that world in greater depth. And although there are definitely good guys and bad guys, a lot of the time it’s more nuanced and very few of the good guys are completely good and very few of the bad guys are totally bad. Apart from Palpatine, who is palpably evil. And Count Dooku is pretty much always bad too. And General Grievous doesn’t have any redeeming features. But everyone else is more nuanced.

While it’s the characters from the movies that you start out invested in, it’s other characters who come to the fore. Ahsoka Tano, Anakin’s Padawan learner, was initially disliked by many, but, possibly because she is not weighed down by any preconceived expectations, her character has one of the most interesting journeys throughout the series. The same is also true for villain turned antihero Asajj Ventress, who’s only prior on-screen appearance was in the 2003 cartoon.

The other standout characters from the show are the clone troopers. I had huge misgivings about the clones in the movies, but in the cartoon, although they all look the same (although are distinguishable by having differing hairstyles, facial hair, tattoos, etc) and they are all voiced by the same actor (who is frankly incredible), they all have distinct personalities and some individual troopers (notably Rex, but there are others) have the most interesting narrative arks. There a several episodes that focus exclusively on a group of clones and they are some of the best.

A lot of the promotional material surrounding the later series did focus on the resurrection of Darth Maul, who absolutely and conclusively died in ‘The Phantom Menace‘. I was apprehensive about this particular storyline, but it’s done really well, and far from dominating the later series, he’s really only in a few episodes. They are some of the best episodes though, which confirms that killing him off in ‘The Phantom Menace’ was a stupid decision. Although that movie is full of stupid decisions…

‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ is by no means perfect. At times it gets bogged down by some of the same problems as the prequel trilogy, and any episode that focuses on ‘the politics’ tends to be a bit dull. Jar Jar Binks, although not a prominent character, does pop up a few times and is generally as annoying as he was in the films.  But there are far more good episodes than bad ones and in many ways this series serves as a far more satisfying prequel to the original Star Wars Trilogy than the actual prequel trilogy ever did.

Best character – Ahsoka Tano

ahsoka

When I was still on series one, Anakin was my favourite character, but as the show develops, Ahsoka comes more and more to the fore and you could make a convincing case to say that she, rather than Anakin, is the central character in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’. 

Worst character – Tan Divo

tan di

Despite it’s brilliance, there are quite a few annoying characters who pop up from time to time. The aforementioned Jar Jar Binks obviously and Ziro the Hutt, who irritated me in the film version of this show. But I think Tan Divo, who is a pompous, yet fairly inept, police officer is the one that probably annoyed me the most. Fortunately, like all the other annoying characters, he wasn’t in that many episodes.

Unsung hero – Riff Tamson

riff

OK, he was absolutely a bad guy. But he was also a shark. And he was hard as nails. He was only in three episodes. If you look like a shark, you should be in more episodes. 

 

Frankly I could I write about this series for days on end and still only scratch the surface. It’s utterly brilliant. But I must stop writing now, so I can cram in a few more episodes of the show I’m planning to write about tomorrow before my daughter wakes up from her nap.

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 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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May The Fourteenth Be With You: Star Wars: Droids – The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO

James Proclaims (4)

droids

I remember this cartoon from the eighties but I can’t really say I was ever that big a fan as a child.

Which is strange because I loved Star Wars and I also loved cartoons. I suppose I just didn’t find a cartoon about C3PO and R2D2 that inspiring.

But it wasn’t bad. No worse than a lot of cartoons I did like.

And I did quite like the Ewok cartoon that was made around the same time. Which wasn’t really any better.

But more of that another day.

Anyway, in the spirit of trying to write about all things ‘Star Wars’ I watched all 13 episodes of the only series of this recently.

There was a subsequent one-off special. I haven’t seen that yet. I might watch it later and write about it tomorrow. Who knows.

In a misguided attempt at humour, I’ve been issuing spoiler alerts on all my Star Wars posts. Except the one about mugs. So, for no good reason, I’m going to issue another spoiler alert now.

Spoiler alert – there is no point worrying about spoilers. This cartoon was made in 1985. It’s not the worst example of an 80s cartoon but it’s not worth watching now. You can find all the episodes on YouTube if you really want to watch it, but only someone who has decided, for no good reason, to spend the whole month writing about Star Wars would need to bother. And frankly that person needs to take a good long look at his current life choices. And make better decisions.

‘Star Wars: Droids – The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO’ unsurprisingly is about the adventures of R2D2 and C3PO. I don’t know if the hyphens were necessary but I’ve never bothered with them before, so I see no reason to use them now, just because a long forgotten cartoon chose to use them.

There are other characters, but the premise is really about how, prior to the events of the original Star Wars movie, they were quite itinerant and had lots of masters.

Which seems to have been largely debunked by the prequel movies.

So these stories have no bearing on anything that happens in the movies at all.

But every four episodes or so, the cast of characters changes and the only constants are our two droid friends.

For the duration of the episodes that they are with any given master, there is generally an overarching storyline of sorts, but most of the episodes work as stand-alone stories as well. Or don’t work depending on your point of view.

Certainly the plots are all fairly forgettable and most of the characters are archetypes. It doesn’t always feel like it’s really in the Star Wars universe but there are some minor characters from the movies that pop up from time to time, like Boba Fett (who, like his appearance in the dreadful ‘Holiday Special’ is way better in cartoon form than he ever was in the movies) and IG88, (who was even less of a presence than Boba Fett in ‘The Empire Stikes Back’).

There are also a few Stormtroopers in about four episodes.

As an 80s cartoon it’s OK. Maybe it deserved a second series. But it’s also fine that it didn’t get a second series.

None of the characters are really that memorable. Anthony Daniels does the voice of C3PO, but he does the voice of C3PO in everything so it’s no guarantee of quality. His presence helps make an ordinary cartoon slightly more memorable though.

Really, though, the main ‘take home’  from this is also something that I’ve found problematic in the movies. Which is the question of whether the droids are sentient beings or not. Because they always seem to be. And if they are, then they are essentially slaves. And I don’t think I’m OK with that.

Best character – Thall Joben

thall

One of the ‘masters’ of the droids for four episodes. They’re all archetypes really and Thall is no better or worse. But he does have quite a hairstyle and for that alone, he’s the most memorable character in the whole series.

Worst character – Coby

Coby_swenc

He’s only in two episodes and only a prominent character in one, but he’s so annoying in that episode that, in a cast of largely forgettable characters, he sticks in the memory for all the wrong reasons.

Unsung hero – Kybo Ren

kybo

When you’re already a forgetable villain in a pretty forgettable cartoon, the last thing you need is to have a name that is almost the same as the main villain in a much more memorable trilogy of movies. Not that anyone would ever claim that Kybo Ren was their favourite Star Wars character, but if such a person does exisit, they’ll now find themselves being contantly challenged. “Surely you mean Kylo Ren?” I’m not the sort of person who dresses up as Star Wars characters and goes to conventions but if I ever do, I’ll definitely go as Kybo Ren. Which, given my dietry choices during lockdown, will be quite an easy look for me to pull off.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about ‘Star Wars: Droids – The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO’. And some people might argue that even that is too much.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I’ve got the audacity to base another whole post around the 1986 ‘one-off special’…

 

 

May The Thirteenth Be With You: Ewoks: The Battle For Endor

James Proclaims (4)

Ilm-ewok2

Following on from 1984’s ‘Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure’, 1985’s ‘Ewoks, The Battle For Endor’ was another TV movie that somehow found itself in cinemas in the UK.

But you wouldn’t have found me in any of those cinemas. Because unlike the first Ewok film, which is firmly established as a seminal moment in my childhood, I had no idea this one even existed until a few years ago.

And I’m glad I didn’t in many ways because it just might have left me a little disturbed had I been exposed to it in my youth.

But before we get into the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of all that, I should issue a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: You probably have no intention of ever watching this, but if, like me, you did enjoy the first Ewok movie as a child, then you might be interested in seeing the sequel. So you should know that I’m going to discuss some plot points from here on in and frankly, although spoilers may not ruin your enjoyment of a movie that is about as complex as a two-piece jigsaw puzzle, there are some plot points you may find upsetting. And indeed deeply deeply traumatising…

So, the first Ewok movie ends with the Towani family happily reunited after the events of that story, in which the parents were kidnapped by a giant creature that apparently lives on the forest moon of Endor alongside the Ewoks. And that creature, the Gorax, died, which, assuming there was only one of him, would explain why there were no goraxes in ‘Return of the Jedi’.

So we re-join the family at the beginning of the second movie, and it’s about six months later and they’re still on Endor, but the dad, who in the intervening time appears to have turned into Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson from ‘Die Hard’ has nearly fixed their spaceship. Which is particularly impressive because there can’t have been too many available spare parts on the forest moon of Endor.

So far, so good. Cindel appear to be really good friends with Wicket, who by now has learned to speak English to a fairly proficient standard, (which begs the question, why didn’t he ever talk to Princess Leia? Because this movie is supposedly set before ‘Return of the Jedi’. Maybe Wicket is a bit of a ‘scoundrel’. Which would actually explain why he gets on so well with Leia. Because there aren’t enough scoundrels in her life…) The Towani family appear to have made no effort to learn the Ewok dialect though.

Anyway, it’s all good. The ship is ready to depart and the family will soon be able to get back to their normal lives after their unscheduled sabbatical on Endor. And while they’ve obviously struck up a bit of a bond with the Ewoks, it’ll be nice to get back to life under the Evil Galactic Empire, which is presumably where they normally live.

But, lo and behold, some other people apparently live on Endor. They’re called the Sanyassan Marauders. And, like many a marauder, they aren’t the loveliest of people. Somehow, even though they’ve definitely been on Endor for several years (long enough to have built a castle no less) the Towani family have managed to avoid them to date. Yet, just hours away from leaving Endor forever, they’re unlucky enough to be caught up in a raid.

Which is really very unfortunate.

Particularly as the marauders kill both parents and older brother Mace.

Yes, that’s right, 75% of the family whose entire reunion was the premise for the last movie are brutally murdered at the beginning of this one.

It’s not generally what you expect of a sequel. Particularly of a movie aimed at kids.

Mace was essentially the main character in the first movie and he gets about two lines in this one before he is blown up. The mum literally gets no lines. She’s already dead by the time she appears on screen. We see her corpse being dragged into a hut by Mace, shortly before the hut is blown up.

Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson lasts a bit longer but he too meets his end pretty quickly.

Cindel and all of the Ewoks are captured by the marauders but she and Wicket manage to escape. And so the entire narrative rests on the shoulders of a six year old girl and a talking Ewok.

And if you pitched that to me as a movie I might like to watch, I would laugh in your face.

But I didn’t hate this.

Even though it is, objectively, awful.

But somehow Cindel manages to not annoy me at all. She’s actually quite likeable. The actress who played her went on to star in literally nothing else and I can’t help but feel that a genuine talent was overlooked here, because she’s absolutely not the worst thing about this movie. And neither is Wicket. Although it is unsettling that he can talk.

Anyway, Cindel and Wicket hook up with some bloke called Noa who has also apparently lived on Endor for ages. And he’s a bit mean but it turns out that he’s quite kind really and they all bond and Cindel manages to get over the horrifying violent deaths of her family quite quickly.

But then she gets kidnapped by the witch. Because there is a witch. In a Star Wars spin-off. Which is a bit weird. Also the witch looks nothing like any of the marauders so I’m not sure why she’s hanging out with them. But she is.

The leader of the marauders is called Terek and even though he looks exactly the same as all of the marauders, he’s apparently more powerful. Somehow. It’s never really explained why he is powerful. And even though the marauders all use weapons that seem quite technologically advanced, they are also a bit naïve about technology because it turns out that they killed the Towani family and also killed Noa’s friend many years earlier, because they believed they had access to an unknown power. But it turns out that what the marauders think is a source of unlimited power is essentially a car battery. Except it’s a battery for, y’know, a spaceship.

So it’s really all a lot of senseless death over a misunderstanding.

But it turns out the the car battery from the Towani spaceship is exactly the same as Noa would need for his spaceship, even though they are clearly different models of spaceship. So that’s quite fortunate.

Anyway there’s a bit of a fight and somehow, I’m not sure how, Terek turns to stone and the witch, who can turn into a bird, is now stuck being a bird.

And Noa and Cindel fly off in Noa’s spaceship, to return to life under the Evil Galactic Empire. And Cindel’s family are still dead.

Most of the marauders survive but apparently are all hiding during ‘Return of the Jedi’.

There were no further live-action Ewok adventures after this one and I personally feel that was a missed opportunity.

Best character – Cindel

cindel

She wasn’t especially annoying in the first Ewok movie, which is all you can expect of a child this young but she’s actually by far the best thing in this one. And there were some pretty accomplished actors playing some of the other parts. Although they do have to work with some dreadful dialogue, which in some ways may be easier for a small child to carry off. 

Worst character – Noa

noa

He’s not that bad, but honestly when the entire family are killed off at the beginning, including Mace, who was pretty much the hero of the last movie, I wasn’t expecting someone like this guy to step into the breach. It’s not like he’s a even a Jedi or anything…

Unsung hero – Teek

The_Teek

Another native of Endor that we never saw in ‘Return of the Jedi’. But that’s probably because he was so quick. Because he is really fast. Which, had I seen this is a child, I would have thought was really cool. His speed is definitely the only advantage the good guys have over the bad guys, but he often seems to be overlooked by the others. And he seems like a really nice guy too.

And that’s it for the standalone Ewok movies. But there are plenty more entries in the Star Wars Universe for me to write about. And write about them I will.

May The Twelfth Be With You: Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

James Proclaims (4)

Caravan_bg

Originally a TV movie for American audiences simply called ‘The Ewok Adventure’ this 1984 Star Wars spinoff was retitled ‘Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure’ when it was released in cinemas internationally.

I saw it in the UK.

Which is where I lived in 1984.

Indeed it is where I live now.

And I saw it in a cinema.

In fact this film was the first thing I ever saw in a cinema.

I was five years old at the time. I already loved Star Wars, but at that point in my life I had never seen ‘Return of the Jedi’. I knew all about the Ewoks, of course, and by then I may even have had some Ewoks in my collection of Star Wars action figures. But I’d never seen an Ewok on screen.

So I was very excited about seeing this film.

I was also excited about going to the cinema, but I had no idea, really, what a cinema was.

My mind was officially blown by the whole experience.

But before we go on, I must of course, issue a spoiler alert.

Spoiler Alert: In the highly unlikely event that you are someone who has never seen this movie, but would actually like to see this movie, then I probably will be revealing some plot details after this point. But don’t worry, the plot is so derivative and predictable that it’s highly unlikely that a prior knowledge of the story will ruin this movie for you. What may, of course, ruin it is not being five years old…

Of course I loved this film when I first saw it. I was five and I’d never been to the cinema before. If nothing else, I fell in love with the big screen. I’m still in love with the big screen but we have a somewhat fractious relationship these days (or we would if it weren’t for that whole pandemic thing that’s going on at the moment) because I would prefer ‘the big screen’ and I to be alone for the cinematic experience, but ‘the big screen’ seems to enjoy large gatherings of people, many of whom fail to observe even the tiniest bit of etiquette when the movie is playing. So I tend to spend more time with the small screen these days.

But I really did think that seeing a movie about Ewoks on the big screen was the best thing ever when I was five.

Until recently, I hadn’t seen ‘Caravan of Courage’ since I was a small child. I’m certain that first time in the cinema wasn’t the only time I saw this, I think I probably watched a rented VHS copy at some point too, some years later.

But I would still have been very young even on that second viewing.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as an adult.

It’s not the most appealing of concepts – a film about Ewoks but without any of the rest of Star Wars…

But I did actually quite like this even as an adult. It helped having low expectations to begin with and the added bonus of nostalgia certainly didn’t hurt, but it’s really not that bad.

OK, it is quite bad, but in the most inoffensive of ways.

The story centres around a family of space travellers who crash on the forest moon of Endor, some time before the Galactic Empire decided to settle there to construct the second Death Star.

A giant creature called the Gorax kidnaps the parents for some unknown reason. Maybe he wants to eat them, or maybe he thinks they’re cute (they are very small from his perspective) and he wants them as his pets. His motivation is never clear really. He doesn’t eat them, he just keeps them in a cage. Maybe he’s going to eat them later, but, although the exact amount of time he keeps them imprisoned isn’t clear, it’s at least a few days and could well be weeks or months. I’m not sure if he feeds them during this time but they seem relatively well looked after when they’re rescued at the end of the movie. Because of course, in this most conventional of stories, they are rescued.

The Gorax is massive. He’s exactly the kind of creature that you would notice if you were the Galactic Empire and looking for a suitable moon on which to build a shield generator to protect your Death Star and I’d imagine that gigantic carnivorous monsters (assuming he was carnivorous) would be the kind of thing you’d want to avoid. Then again, the Gorax does die at the end of this, and maybe there are no other goraxes around. Maybe he was the only one of his kind. Which might mean he kidnapped the parents because he was lonely. Although I do have some questions about how, biologically speaking, the Gorax came to exist in the first place if he was genuinely the only one.

But lets suspend our disbelief regarding our friend the Gorax. Because the sequel to ‘Caravan of Courage’ is going to raise lots more questions regarding the many inhabitants of Endor that would seem inconceivable to anyone who’s seen ‘Return of the Jedi’. So we don’t want to get hung up on those questions today, because we’ll be dealing with those tomorrow.

Anyway, the parents are kidnapped by the Gorax, leaving the two children to fend for themselves. One of these is Mace, who is a teenage Luke Skywalker wannabe, (he dresses in the orange jumpsuit of rebel x-wing pilot, but I’m pretty sure he’s not got any military credentials). The other is Cindel who is a very small child. Given that the actress is only three months older than me, then she was definitely no older than five when this was made and maybe even younger. So you’d imagine she would be really irritating. But she’s not too bad. Way less irritating than Anakin in ‘The Phantom Menace’ for a start.

But it’s Mace who does all the heavy lifting, dialogue-wise. And aside from a very small child, the only other characters he gets to speak to for the vast majority of the movie are Ewoks. And a ‘wistie’ called Izrina, who seems to be a kind of fairy, made of light or something. But she doesn’t speak and the Ewoks obviously don’t speak English, so poor Mace doesn’t have many coherent conversations.

Indeed the dialogue would be highly problematic from a narrative perspective, so we also have an omniscient narrator to guide us through the action. Although he doesn’t seem to be aware of the Gorax’s motivations either.

Mace and Cindel hook up with a family of Ewoks, and not just any family but Wicket’s family. Wicket does get top-billing for this movie, although he doesn’t really do much. But he’s there and he’s the one we remember from ‘Return of the Jedi’ so I suppose it’s fair enough really.

Anyway, the Ewoks help the children to track down their parents and save them. And they have a few minor adventures on the way, but essentially that’s it in a nutshell.

It all ends well. Except for the Gorax. Who dies. And one Ewok, who also dies.

The family are reunited and there is absolutely no reason to believe that they won’t all live happily ever after.

Until you watch the sequel…

Best character – Mace

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To be fair he was fairly close to being a candidate for ‘worst character’ early on in the movie, because he is a bit of a whinger and he makes some perplexingly stupid choices, which put him and his sister in unnecessary danger more than once. But he gets his act together in the second half of the movie and it’s a pretty cool-headed hurling of an axe by Mace, which finally dispatches the Gorax.

Worst Character – Both of the parents

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They’re just a bit rubbish really. I mean who gets themselves kidnapped by a Gorax?

Usung Hero – Chukha-Trok

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He’s the Ewok who dies. He single-handedly takes on the Gorax in a fight. Even though the Gorax is huge and Chukha-Trok is the size of…well…an Ewok. Plus his dying act is to give his axe to Mace. And it’s this same axe that Mace subsequently uses to send the Gorax to its death.

And that just about sums up the first of the spin-off Ewok movies. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll probably be writing about the second one.

 

May The Tenth Be With You: Star Wars Holiday Special

James Proclaims (4)

StarWarsHS

Can you truly call yourself a Star Wars fan if you’ve never seen the 1978 ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’?

Yes.

Of course you can.

Indeed for your own sanity, you should avoid watching this at all costs.

And back before the Internet, it was easy to not watch this. It was only ever shown on TV once. And that was a year before I was born. And also in the States, which is not where I live.

It was never made available to buy on VHS, or DVD.

So without the Internet I would never have been able to see this.

The Internet is, in many ways, a wonderful creation that has made possible many things that were once inconceivable. But being able to watch the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ whenever and wherever you want is not one of the more positive aspects of the current age.

I first watched it on YouTube a few years back. At the time, the only way I could find to access it was by watching it in ten minute instalments. On the first instalment there were lots of comments underneath by bewildered people, wondering what it was that they had let themselves in for. As I moved through the different instalments, the number of comments below the videos began to decrease and it was almost a ‘badge of honour’ to make it to the end, where there were very few comments indeed.

These days you can watch the whole thing, uninterrupted, on a variety of platforms.

I’m not sure that actually represents progress.

I didn’t want to watch it again.

But for the sake of completion in my quest to write about everything Star Wars, I felt I was morally obliged.

Plus it was something to do.

On re-watching it, I discovered it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.

It was much much worse.

I don’t think I could watch it for a third time.

And the next time I hear anyone moan about ‘The Phantom Menace’…

Anyway, time for the pretty pointless spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: It is possible that I will reveal plot details about the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ in the text that follows. But I won’t be doing it on purpose, because I didn’t actually notice a plot when I watched it. So if there are any plot details and I reveal them and that is what ruins this absolute car-crash of a TV show for you then I’m sorry. But it seems unlikely.

Oh it starts promisingly enough. The opening shots are of the Millennium Falcon outrunning some Star Destroyers. We see Han and Chewie in the Cockpit. The dialogue isn’t the most convincing. But it’s Han and Chewie! From actual Star Wars!

The premise is set, Han is trying to get Chewie back home for ‘Life Day’, which is presumably the Wookie equivalent of Christmas.

It’s a bit stupid, but this is fundamentally a Christmas Special so no-one was expecting ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at this point. It was a bit of harmless fun. Everyone loved the 1977 movie so why not make a Christmas Special? Something for all the family to watch together.

And the premise of getting Chewie back home seemed reasonable. After all, the ‘difficult journey home for Christmas’ has proven a winning formula for many a Christmas movie and TV special.

Naturally you assume you’re going to be with Han and Chewie on their adventures.

Shortly after that opening scene we’re sort of given the opening credits. A loud TV announcer tells us what we can expect from the upcoming spectacle. And we can definitely expect to see all of the original cast. Luke is there, Leia is there, we’ve already seen Han and Chewie and we’ve also got C3P0 and R2D2 (although Kenny Baker, who played R2D2, was not involved and so we’re told that R2D2 is playing himself. Which is an early indicator that all is not as it should be). But that’s not all, we’re getting Darth Vader too, voiced by James Earl Jones no less. Sure there are a lot of guest stars, most of whom I’ve had to look up, but they mostly seem to be people who were well-regarded in either film or television. Oh and there are some music acts, which is another alarm bell really, but at this point there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about. This isn’t going to be a sequel to the 1977 movie. This is going to be something else. But it could still be fun right?

Oh you poor misguided fool. This is not going to go the way you think…

So, the opening credits end and we join Chewie’s family.

That’s right. Chewie has a wife and child. And also a father who appears to live with his wife and child. They were actually introduced in the opening credits, but they came after the original cast. So we knew we were going to see them, but it’s a surprise to see them this early. But perhaps we’re just checking in with them before we return to the main adventure.

And that belief will keep you going for a few minutes until you realise that, no, this is it. This is where we’re going to be for the whole thing.

We’re not going on the adventure with Chewie. We’re stuck at home with his stupid family.

And for about ten minutes they talk to each other. In Wookie. Which is not English. So you sit watching three actors, in costumes that are a good deal cheaper and less convincing than those used in the movie, growl at each other. And the costumes don’t allow for much in the way of facial expressions so it’s not all that easy to work out what’s going on. Also, although Chewie’s family home is in a tree, it does look, on the inside, like the kind of home that someone who lived on Earth in 1978 might have. Rather than someone who lives in, y’know, Star Wars…

And it really doesn’t get any better.

The original cast pop up for unconvincing cameos as we’re told the story of Han and Chewie’s situation through poorly written dialogue, some of which is in the aforementioned ‘Wookie’. There is literally no action. There are some skits involving the guest stars. None of which are especially funny. There’s one particularly surreal bit when Chewie’s dad (who is called Itchy) watches Diahann Carrol via a ‘virtual reality’ headset, in which she describes herself as ‘his fantasy’. And he does seem quite turned on. Which is unsettling on a number of levels.

It is beyond terrible. I’d say it’s ‘so bad that it’s good’ but it’s really hard to watch so I’m not sure that it even merits that dubious accolade.

And Darth Vader is not in it! There is one scene, which is essentially an unused scene from the original movie, and which has been dubbed so that the original dialogue has been replaced to something that better fits whatever narrative we’re supposed to be watching here. And yes, James Earl Jones does say the words in this updated dialogue but it’s very disingenuous of them to have claimed, in the opening credits, that Darth Vader was in this. And in that scene he is talking to a character that definitely died in the first movie. And he’s quite recognisable because he’s the guy that shortly before the Death Star is blown up, warns Governor Tarkin that, in fact, there is a possibility that the Death Star might get blown up.

Darth Vader does also briefly show up again in the only good bit of this atrocity. Which is a short cartoon. But even in that he only has one or two lines. And actually it’s not a great cartoon, but in the context of everything else on screen, it is a masterpiece of storytelling. It’s mainly about Boba Fett, and to be fair he’s much better in this cartoon than he ever was in the movies.

But aside from that happy interlude, everything else is awful.

Obviously Chewie does make it home, as do the rest of the original cast, even though it was clearly only Han that was travelling with him. Indeed that’s a point that’s reinforced multiple times throughout the running time, so I’m not sure how Luke and Leia end up there at the end.

But they do.

Which means that Leia can sing.

Because that is how the ‘Star Wars Holiday Special’ ends.

With Princess Leia singing to Wookies.

Best character – Animated Boba Fett

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As the only remotely good thing about this whole thing is a fairly bad cartoon predominantly about Boba Fett then he gets the dubious honour of being the best thing in it. Because I couldn’t, in all honesty, credit any of the characters in the live action bit as being anything other than genuinely dreadful.

Worst character – Lumpy

lumpy

It’s a tough one, as no-one emerges from this with any credit. But if one character annoyed me slightly more than everyone else, it was Chewbacca’s son, Lumpy. It’s no wonder Chewie stays away from home so much.

Unsung hero – The audience

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Anyone who manages to sit all the way through this is a hero in my book. And I’ve sat though it twice now. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I suspect that calling myself a ‘hero’ at this point would be selling myself short…

And that’s all I have to say about the very worst thing to ever be produced in the name of ‘Star Wars’. Tune in tomorrow when I’ll be writing about something that was better.

Only a little better though…

 

 

 

 

 

May The Ninth Be With You: The Rise Of Skywalker

James Proclaims (4)

rise

So here we are, on the last of the Star Wars movies, collectively known as ‘The Skywalker Saga’.

Episode IX of IX.

The official ‘end of the story’.

The culmination of a journey some 42 years in the making. And by definition the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. No, wait, that’s a different space-based adventure. But still, 42…

No pressure, Mr Abrams, but the world was watching and if you got this wrong…

Of course he got it wrong.

How could he have got it right?

Star Wars fans have got used to disappointment over the years, but we still always seem to be surprised when the next disappointment comes along.

And ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ seems to have come in for the same level of vitriol as ‘The Phantom Menace’ in some corners of the internet.

But it’s not that bad.

Before we get into all of that though, it’s time, once again, for the spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: There will be plot details in the ensuing text. And as this film is but a few months old, it’s more than possible that you haven’t seen it yet. But plot details won’t ruin this movie for you. What will ruin it for you will be the unrealistic expectations you had before you sat down to watch it.

It probably goes without saying that I liked this movie. I liked ‘The Phantom Menace’ so I was always going to like this, because, for all its faults, it’s much much better than ‘Episode I’.

It looks, feels and sounds like a Star Wars movie. There are no ten-year-olds in it. There are certainly no gungans in it. And yes the Ewoks pop up briefly but I always quite liked those little guys.

It has a relentless pace, there is a ton of action, and there are lightsabers aplenty. The main characters, as they have throughout the sequel trilogy, remain immensely likable. The dialogue is well-written. When the movie tries to be funny, it is, for the most part, quite funny.

There are camoes from Luke and Han, even though both characters died in previous movies. Luke is obviously a ‘force ghost’ and Han is…well I wasn’t quite sure what Han was meant to be, but I’m never going to begrudge anyone giving Harrison Ford screen time in a Star Wars movie. Carrie Fisher is also back as Leia, which is no small feat given that she passed away in 2016. Somehow unused footage from ‘The Force Awakens’ was able to bring her back for this movie. It works well for the most part, though in some scenes her dialogue seems to only just about fit. But, under the circumstances, it’s an appropriate send off for one of the best characters in the whole franchise and far better than having her character killed off-screen.

Lando is also back for this one, and his inclusion is a nice touch for those of us who watch Star Wars as much for the nostalgia as for the story. Unlike most of the original characters, Lando actually manages to survive this one too. As does Chewie, and given the apparently ageless nature of wookies,  and the fact that presumably anyone tall enough can play him, we might yet see Chewie in future Star Wars movies and TV shows.

Because while this is notionally the end of ‘The Skywalker Saga’ it’s certainly not the end of Star Wars. And, let’s be honest, it might not even be the end of ‘The Skywalker Saga’. We’ll all need a bit of time, but I can well imagine episodes X-XII being mooted in a decade or so. And we’ll all flock in our droves to see those too.

And that is really the problem with ‘Episode IX’. It tries way too hard to be ‘the end’. ‘Return of the Jedi’ was a fitting end to ‘The Skywalker Saga’. The sequels needed to be something else. By all means call them ‘Episodes VII-IX’ but tell a different story.

And actually have some idea of  what story it is you’re trying to tell before you start making the movies.

And if you’re going to have different writers and directors for each of the instalments then you absolutely need a George Lucas figure to oversee the whole thing and tell those writers/directors what they can and and can’t do. Obviously not George Lucas himself, not after the prequels, but someone surely needed to have overall responsibility for the story.

Otherwise you’ll just end up inexplicably bringing back the bad guy that was definitely killed off in ‘Episode VI’.

And that’s going to annoy everyone, especially if he wasn’t even mentioned in ‘Episodes VII and VIII’.

Palpatine was the ultimate bad guy. But he was definitely killed in ‘Return of the Jedi’ and his reappearance here is a problem because it massively undermines everything that has gone before. Also it’s not properly explained in the movie how he’s managed to come back. Yes it has been explained since, but it should be abundantly clear in the movie how he’s not only managed to return from the dead but also, how on earth he ended up with a  granddaughter.

Because that was, of course the other ‘big reveal’. Completely contradicting the revelation in the previous movie that Rey wasn’t the offspring of anyone important, which I personally thought was a nice touch, we now have the revelation that she’s the granddaughter of someone that was old enough to be her grandfather when Darth Vader was a little boy. And I know that this too has been explained elsewhere, but I don’t want to have to read a novel to understand a movie.

And frankly if she is also a Palpatine, then why are we even calling this set of movies ‘The Skywalker Saga’. Because at this point in the narrative, the Skywalkers look very much like secondary characters. Surely this is now ‘The Palpatine Parable’.

‘The Rise of Skywalker’ just tries too hard to be bigger and better than anything that has gone before. As I’ve said before, if the first movie has a weapon that can literally blow up a planet, you are not going to top that. And having lots of weapons that can blow up planets is no more ‘topping the Death Star’ than the weapon that can blow up several planets simultaneously in ‘The Force Awakens’. It’s all just variations of the same thing.

But if you ignore all the plot holes and the fact that the sequel trilogy just doesn’t work as a trilogy and you take ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ as just another Star Wars movie, then it’s fine. It’s not the best, but it’s by no means the worst.

It all depends how invested you are in the notion of there being a complete story that is being told in nine episodes. If you are, then I can’t see how ‘the Rise of Skywalker’ could be anything other than a massive disappointment.

If, like me, you just like watching Star Wars films, then it’s an entertaining couple of hours that is a nice homage to, but nowhere near as good as, the original movies.

Which is absolutely fine.

Best Character – C3PO

c3po rise

No-one is more surprised than me about this, but I really liked C3PO in this movie. There were moments when he actually made me laugh out loud in this and, even though he’s an ever-present of all nine movies, that’s never happened before. Also, he is quite heroic in his own way and he does play a much more pivotal part to this story than he does in any of the others, when he’s normally just there to provide misguided comic relief. Actor Anthony Daniels is pretty much ‘Mr Star Wars’ as he’s in all nine movies plus he always does the  voice of C3PO in associated cartoons and video games. And as I’ve mentioned before, I saw him when he narrated ‘Star Wars in Concert’ a few years ago and he was excellent. So I’m glad there was finally a movie in which I really loved C3PO. But I never thought it would happen.

 

Worst Character – Palpatine

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Much like I never thought I’d ever list C3PO as my favourite character, I’m genuinely surprised that one of my absolute favourite characters was the one that I didn’t like in this movie. But Palpatine is the worst thing about this movie and why it doesn’t really work. Ian McDiarmid does his best to make it work, and I certainly wouldn’t fault his performance, but this was not the end we were looking for.

Unsung Hero – Hux

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Partly because Hux does betray the First Order to help the Resistance, although he appears to be motivated more by his dislike of Kylo Ren than any altruistic rationale. But mainly he’s the unsung hero because he spent two movies positioning himself to be the main bad guy once Kylo Ren turned good again (which he was always going to do) and then he gets upstaged by some bloke called Pryde, who we’d never seen before. And to make matters worse, given that the aforementioned Pryde is the bloke who shoots him, it appears Pryde really does come before a fall for poor old Hux.

And that just about wraps up ‘The Skywalker Saga’. But worry not, there are plenty of other Stars Wars movies and TV Shows for me to write about. Tune in tomorrow to see if I’ll be writing about one of the good ones.

Or one of the shockingly bad ones…

May The Eighth Be With You: The Last Jedi

James Proclaims (4)

Last-Jedi-Poster-700x1037

Expectations were quite possibly at an all time high when this one hit the cinemas. Not only had 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ been generally well-received by fans and critics, but the first standalone Star Wars movie of the modern era (though not, of course, the first standalone Star Wars movie ever), ‘Rogue One’ had also enjoyed a lot of good publicity.

And then came ‘The Last Jedi’.

And depending on your point of view, this was either the moment when Star Wars movies hit an all-time high or conversely this is when they hit rock bottom.

But before we get into all of that, I should probably issue another spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: Plot details will follow. This may ruin your enjoyment of the movie if you haven’t seen it yet. And given that it’s a movie that only came out in 2017, it is perfectly reasonable for you not to have seen it. Although I’ve seen it a few times now. I don’t wish to brag or anything, but I have. Anyway, plot details probably won’t ruin this movie for you because simultaneously nothing much happens at all and also lots of things happen which seem to defy explanation. And you’re either going to love this movie or hate it and nothing I can write here will change that.

Obviously, I loved it. And not just because I love anything that is remotely linked to Star Wars but also because I did genuinely think this was a great film.

It will never topple my ‘top two’ of ‘A New Hope’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and it probably falls short of ‘Return of the Jedi’ because of my childhood investment in that one too, but out of all of the other Star Wars movies that exist, I think this is my favourite.

But I completely understand why some people hated it.

The biggest issue with it really is that this was the first time it became apparent that, although we had been promised a new trilogy, there were no over-arching plans for the story. Say what you like about George Lucas, but he always had the whole story in mind. He changed things as he went along and created some plot-holes, made them worse when he went back and re-edited the first trilogy and then created some absolute howlers when he made the prequel trilogy. But there was still a fairly strong narrative ark throughout the first six movies.

And the arrival of ‘The Last Jedi’ began to raise suspicions that this new trilogy had not been properly thought through. We began to sense that a lot of the questions that we were asking when we watched ‘The Force Awakens’ did not have answers.

And really, after all the build-up, that wasn’t good enough.

But, taken as a stand-alone movie, I still think ‘The Last Jedi’ is brilliant and I’d refute some of the other criticisms that have been levelled at it.

The main one being the depiction of Luke. I know we were all hoping that the return of Luke would be the return of the hero we imagined he would become after the original trilogy. And instead we were confronted with a bitter, cynical, downtrodden Luke who was, in many ways, the antithesis of everything we dreamed he would be. But the version of Luke we wanted could only really exist in a ‘happily ever after’ that you don’t ever get to see on screen. For there to be any kind of story to be told, there can’t have been a ‘happily ever after’ and in any case, we already know that there wasn’t because his nephew had gone over to the dark side. This version of Luke makes the most sense narratively. And it’s a great performance by Mark Hammill so, much as I loved Luke in the original trilogy, I’m perfectly happy with this version too.

Other problems appear to be linked to perceptions of ‘what the Force can do’ because we see things in this that we haven’t come across before. From Leia surviving in space, to Rey and Ren being somehow able to do a kind of Force empowered ‘Face Time’, to Luke’s ability to project himself physically to another place, it all seemed a bit far-fetched.

Then again this is Star Wars, it’s hardly meant to be realistic.

And maybe people were right to question all of those things, but I’m not a Jedi, so I don’t know what’s possible and not possible when using the Force.

So, I didn’t mind any of that stuff.

I also quite liked the big ‘reveal’ that Rey wasn’t actually the offspring of anyone important and I was quite disappointed that that was undermined in the next movie. And Snoke’s death, while leaving me with lots more questions, was quite an effective moment too.

Writer/Director, Rian Johnson, seemed to enjoy diverting expectations in this movie, and after the relative safety of ‘The Force Awakens’ and the entirely predictable narrative of the prequel trilogy (which in fairness is one aspect of the prequels it’s hard to be too annoyed about because they were always essentially telling a story that we already knew), I found ‘The Last Jedi’ to be a refreshing change.

And visually the whole thing looked spectacular, particularly the scenes on Crait at the end.

And despite the slight sense that ‘nothing much has actually happened’ and most of the movie was just one, very slow, chase, there is actually quite a lot of action throughout the running time and the finale is up there with the best of them.

There were bits I didn’t love. The whole ‘casino’ escapade just seemed like a way of giving Finn something to do, because he was not essential to the main two storylines, but he was too good a character to leave out completely. Then again, we’re introduced to Rose Tico through that sub-plot and she’s a great character too and one would imagine it would be hard to leave her out of the next one…

Really the biggest problem that I have with ‘The Last Jedi’ is not about the movie in itself, but where it sits within a trilogy. And clearly it does not sit well because we know what came next…

Best character – Luke

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I know this version of Luke didn’t please everyone and he may not have been the Luke we all wanted but I really feel he was the Luke that we needed. And in some respects, I actually like this Luke better than the Luke in the original trilogy. Certainly, in the original movies there were characters I liked more than Luke but he was head and shoulders my favourite in this one. And whether you bought into the whole ‘Force Projection’ thing or not, it’s hard to deny that he was every bit the hero we were hoping he would be at the end.

Worst Character – Snoke

snoke-star-wars-the-last-jedi-1537451809

Has there ever been a character so built-up only to be so unceremoniously dispatched without us ever really knowing who he was? He was always a poor man’s Palpatine but by the time we’re done with him he’s little more than a poor man’s General Grievous. I didn’t mind that he died, but the resulting plot hole was, unfortunately, too big to fill and Supreme Leader Snoke is one of the main reasons we ended up with such an unsatisfactory trilogy.

Unsung Hero – Paige Tico

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She’s only in it briefly at the beginning but has there ever been a more compelling and utterly moving scene in the whole of Star Wars? Paige is the embodiment of heroic as she sacrifices her own life to ensure the safety of her comrades. And yes, she is mourned by her sister afterwards, but she’s not mentioned by anyone else. Ever.

 

And that’s it for the penultimate episode in the ‘Skywalker Saga’. Tune in tomorrow to discover the extent to which I was disappointed by ‘The Rise of Skywalker’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May The Seventh Be With You: The Force Awakens

James Proclaims (4)

force

‘Return of the Jedi’ is the end of the story. It wraps everything up neatly. The Empire is beaten, the rebels are victorious, Luke is a Jedi, Han and Leia are in love and Darth Vader has found redemption. In 1983 Star Wars was pretty much complete. What we didn’t need were any prequels. But the first three films were episodes IV-VI so there was always a chance that someone would think making episodes I-III would be a good idea.

And they made them.

And it was not such a good idea.

But those prequels did make a lot of money.

So, it was presumably only a matter of time before someone thought sequels would be a good idea.

Particularly as George Lucas sold the rights to Disney. Who are never averse to making money.

But how would it work?

All the main bad guys were dead. The Empire was defeated. What story was there left to tell?

We should have been worried.

But like everyone else, I was actually quite excited when I heard there was going to be a new trilogy. I was particularly excited when I heard the original cast were going to be in it.

And then, in December 2015, we were given ‘The Force Awakens’.

And now for the obligatory spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert: I’m definitely going to discuss some elements of the plot and this movie only came out four and a half years ago, so you genuinely may not have seen it yet. Although if you haven’t seen it but you have seen the original 1977 movie then you basically have seen ‘The Force Awakens’. Because they are exactly the same.

Well, not exactly the same. But it’s fair to say that JJ Abrams learnt the lessons of the prequel trilogy quite well and he set out to please the fanbase from the off.

But maybe he was a little too focussed on giving the fans what they wanted, because ‘The Force Awakens’ really is a lot like ‘A New Hope’. And maybe that is what the fans wanted but there are times when it feels more like a reboot than a sequel.

Nonetheless, I did really enjoy the movie. And I still enjoy it now when I re-watch it. But I don’t feel like I’m seeing anything new. And say what you like about the prequels, but they were different to the original trilogy.

There is a lot to love about ‘The Force Awakens’. In trying to channel the spirit of the original trilogy (by essentially copying the original trilogy) it really does feel like a Star Wars movie. It’s fast-paced, full of action and the dialogue is so much sharper and wittier than the prequels.

The new characters, Rey, Finn and Poe are immensely likeable and while Kylo Ren does feel like a poor man’s Darth Vader, he is supposed to be a poor man’s Darth Vader. Worrying about ‘not being quite as good as Darth Vader’ is central to his character’s whole identity in this movie. So, we can forgive him for not being quite as good. He does have an interesting looking lightsaber though, which was important from a toy retailer’s perspective if nothing else.

Toy retailers must also have been thrilled that the Storm Troopers look a bit different from the original trilogy too.

It is brilliant to see the return of Han, Leia and Chewie (and to a lesser extent C3P0 and R2D2, because obviously they were inexplicably in all the prequels too). Luke is not really in the movie until the very final scene, although he is referenced a lot throughout the story. His absence was a bit of a kick in the teeth but it set up the next movie nicely (obviously we’ll deal with that movie tomorrow).

As a spectacle, it’s hard to fault the film, but it doesn’t’ stand up to a great deal of scrutiny. The Starkiller Base is basically just another Death Star and we’ve had two of those already. Making it bigger doesn’t make it worse. The Death Star could blow up a planet. The Starkiller Base can blow up several planets simultaneously. Does that make it worse? Technically yes, but really it’s exactly the same thing. At least ‘Return of the Jedi’ had a brilliant showdown between Vader and Luke to offset the fact that it was just another Death Star. The showdown between Kylo Ren and Rey is a perfectly acceptable denouement to ‘The Force Awakens’ but we’re nowhere near as invested in their narrative arks at this point so it holds less value. Perhaps it would have been better to not have been quite so reliant on another Death Star for the climax of this film.

The scene between Kylo Ren and Han is quite powerful, because we are obviously quite invested in Han as a character. His death was quite predictable but no less effective for that.

Aside from that one scene though, it’s all just a lot of lightsabers, spaceships and explosions. This is no bad thing in itself, indeed it’s mainly what I want from a Star Wars movie, but I walked out of the cinema with a lot of questions.

Who is Rey? Who is Snoke? Why, after the Empire fell, are the First Order so powerful (because they seem to be a lot like the Empire but with better funding). How did Ben Solo end up going to the Dark Side and becoming Kylo Ren? And obviously what has happened to Luke?

‘The Force Awakens’ was partly loved because it gave the fans a lot of what they wanted, but it also suggested that what was to follow was going to be even better.

And with the benefit of hindsight, it was less than honest in that respect.

 

Best character – Rey

 

rey

I liked all the new characters, but Rey was the most interesting. Yes she does seem to be a bit too good at using the force, according the rules established in previous films and she’s obviously way too old to be trained to become a Jedi, but she can fly the Millennium Falcon like nobody’s business and she’s pretty handy in a fight even without a lightsaber. Plus the mystery surrounding her backstory is interesting. Obviously the subsequent movies would manipulate that intrigue to take us on the most unwanted of rollercoaster rides but that element of mystery does help to establish her as a compelling character in this movie .

 

Worst Character – Captain Phasma

captain-phasma-featured

Gwendoline Christie is great in ‘Game of Thrones’ and she deserves better than she’s given here. Phasma looks really cool, but is essentially just another action figure waiting to be sold. She promised a lot in the build up to the movie but on-screen she doesn’t really do anything much.

Unsung Hero – Chewie

chew

I never thought he was especially overlooked in the original movie, (he got to stand on the stage afterall  – maybe they just didn’t have enough medals to give out – the rebellion was quite cash-strapped I’d imagine) but Chewie does get a bit overlooked in this one, with everything else that is going on. But without his timely arrival in the Millenium Falcon, Rey and Finn would have perished on the soon-to-explode Starkiller Base. Also, prior to that, he sets off the explosives that take out the shield that was stopping the Resistance from blowing the thing up in the first place, and this shortly after seeing his best mate get murdered. And he shoots and seriously injures Kylo Ren, which probably contributes to Rey beating him in their subsequent lightsaber dual. So Chewie is fundamental to the success of the Resistance and no-one really seems to notice. Although no-one gets a medal this time around because the Resistance appear to be even less financially solvent than the Rebellion was.

And that’s all I’ve got to say on ‘The Force Awakens’. Tune in tomorrow to find out whether I was one of the people who loved ‘The Last Jedi’ or one of the people who hated it. Because there’s no middle ground on that one apparently.

May The Sixth Be With You: Return Of The Jedi

James Proclaims (4)

return-of-the-jedi-movie-poster-1983-1020482237

And so, to the last of the original trilogy, a movie that is not quite as good as its predecessors but still much better than the prequels. Which is not necessarily much of a compliment, but this is a good film with some really great bits that more than make up for the ‘not great’ bits.

As a very young child I might even have claimed that this was actually my favourite, but that’s only because I had the opinions of a small child. Still, I did see this at a young enough age that nostalgia helps me to overlook some of this movie’s worst faults.

And now to the spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert – I expect that I’ll be revealing some plot points in the text that follows. This may ruin your enjoyment of a movie that came out it in 1983 but probably much less than the Ewoks will.

This movie is not about someone giving back a Jedi that they borrowed like a library book– George Lucas reserved those kind of perfunctory plotlines for the prequel trilogy. No, this is either about the notional return of the Jedi order, as Luke completes his training, or possibly about the return from the dark side of Anakin Skywalker. And if it is the latter you could argue that it is, in fact, about someone giving back a Jedi that they borrowed like a library book. But you would be wrong to argue that because Palpatine doesn’t give Anakin back at all. Anakin chucks Palpatine into the reactor of the Death Star. Library books don’t tend to do that. At least not in my experience. Although I did borrow a book on ‘referencing’, when writing my MA dissertation, which was so dull it made me want to hurl myself into the nearest Death Star reactor. So, it was lucky for me that Death Stars don’t exist in real life.

‘Return of the Jedi’ is mostly brilliant and some of the best moments of the whole franchise happen in this one. But it’s also the first to confirm that once you’ve established a weapon that can literally blow up planets in your first movie, there’s nowhere else to go in terms of raising the jeopardy. So, the main threat in this is just another Death Star. The main difference this time is that that Death Star is still under construction. Or is it? Well yes it is. But also it isn’t.

It’s not really the point anyway. Blowing up the second Death Star just gives the rest of the good guys something to do while Luke is dealing with the main bit of the story, which is the build up to, and realisation of, his final battle with his dad. Because Luke can’t become a Jedi until he defeats his father in battle. Which is a pretty demanding final exam really. Obviously, Luke doesn’t kill his father in the end. But he does beat him, fair and square, in a pretty fantastic lightsaber dual which is up there with the best of the franchise.

‘Return of the Jedi’ also introduces us properly to the real villain of the saga, one Emperor Palpatine. He popped up briefly in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ but he’s centre stage here and tremendous fun. In the most evil of ways. And he can shoot lightening from his fingers, which is quite a skill. Obviously ‘force lightening’ has featured in a few Star Wars movies now, but this was the first time we’d ever seen it. And Luke certainly didn’t see it coming. Just as well his loving father was there to save him. Good old dad…

Compelling though those final scenes in the Emperor’s throne room are (quick note to Mr Palpatine, probably best not to have a direct shaft to the core reactor of the Death Star in your throne room. Because if it’s not there, no-one can throw you into it…), the rest of the action is pretty great too. Sure, the Death Star is nothing new, but you can still have fun blowing it up and we mostly do.

Except down on the forest moon of Endor, where Han, Leia et al. are trying to destroy the shield generator which protects said Death Star. It’s a compelling enough adventure, no doubt, but these furry little things show up called Ewoks. And they aren’t great. It’s almost as if they were only put in the movie to sell toys.

And as a kid, I loved those toys. I had loads of them before I even saw the movie for the first time. Indeed, I saw the first stand-alone Ewok movie (the first of two no less) long before I saw ‘Return of the Jedi’. So, I didn’t hate them at all, and now they are protected from my wrath by the power of nostalgia.

And if you don’t hate the Ewoks, then there really isn’t much to dislike about Return of the Jedi.

At least there wasn’t, until George Lucas decided to tinker. To be fair, ‘Return of the Jedi’ was not badly affected by the nineties CGI ‘amendments’. There’s the stupid song and dance routine in Jabba’s palace at the beginning, which is pretty irritating, but it didn’t make me apoplectic. I could live with it.

But then he had to mess with it again. With almost the final shot of the movie. As the victorious rebels are celebrating, Luke looks over to see the ‘force ghosts’ of Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda and they are joined by the spirit of the now redeemed Anakin Skywalker. And this incarnation of Skywalker senior was played by Sebastian Shaw, the same actor who we see earlier in the movie as the unmasked Darth Vader, shortly before he dies. But for some reason, Lucas thought that we hadn’t all been upset enough by the prequels so he digitally replaced Shaw with the visibly much younger Hayden Christensen. Which is just a kick in the teeth really. It should be noted that Christensen was not complicit in this ‘update’ and it was archive footage of him that was used. But he was still rubbish in the prequels, which is partly why this change hurts so much.

Still we shouldn’t let the fact that George Lucas desecrated the final scene of his original trilogy, detract from the fact that, as the last chapter of epic sagas go, ‘Return of the Jedi’ was a fitting finale.

Because let’s be honest, this is where the story should have finished…

Best character – Princess Leia

ROTJ_Han-and-Leia

Much like Han in the preceding movie, Leia steals the show in this one. And not just because of ‘that outfit’. Although I was a fan. But from her initial rescue attempt of Han dressed as a bounty hunter, to strangling Jabba, to a reckless highspeed chase through a forest and finally casually shooting two stormtroopers immediately after she has been shot and wounded, Leia is pretty unstoppable throughout this one.

Worst Character – Admiral Ackbar

admiral-ackbar-return-of-the-jedi-153580-640x320

I loved his action figure as a kid and he does say the immortal line “It’s a trap!”. But he’s pretty useless in the final assault on the Death Star and if it was down to him the rebels would all have retreated long before they had any chance of victory. There is a moment when it seems like he has been quite astute in his military tactics, when his plan results in two Star Destroyers crashing into each other but it’s not down to him at all. Essentially his plan only works because one of the rebel pilots loses control of his ship and crashes into one of the Star Destroyers. And in light of that gruesome death, the look of relief on Ackbar’s face shortly afterwards is really in very poor taste.

Unsung Hero – Wedge Antilles

wed

Yep it’s Wedge again. After being overlooked in the original movie, I’m not sure he’s given due credit here either. Ok, it is Lando Calrissian, ably assisted by Nien Nunb, who fires the shots that ultimately destroy the second Death Star, but shortly before that Wedge destroys the power regulators. Now I’m no Death Star engineer, but my understanding is that he’s not doing that for fun, it’s a pivotal part of the plan to destroy the Death Star. So, he makes another massive contribution to the rebel cause and all he gets for his troubles is a hug from Chewie. None of us had a Wedge Antilles action figure when we were children and I’m starting to feel a bit guilty about that.

And that wraps up the original trilogy and frankly it should wrap up the whole saga. But it doesn’t because someone thought it was a good idea to make another trilogy.

And whether that was a good idea or not, that’s where we’re off to next.

 

 

May The Fifth Be With You: The Empire Strikes Back

James Proclaims (4)
empire-strikes-back-poster

Today is not Star Wars Day. That was yesterday. But I’m still writing about Star Wars. Because I’m doing that all month. Or for as much of this month as I can manage. I explained why I’m doing this in a previous post, but in all honesty it’s not for any good reason at all other than that’s what I feel like doing at the moment.

Today I’m not writing about the original movie, the one some people call ‘A New Hope’ but which I still refer to as ‘Star Wars’. Today I’m writing about the movie which came next.

Which, to be clear, was not the atrocious 1978 ‘Holiday Special’ because that isn’t a movie. That’s something which defies explanation.

The second movie proper was ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Although, of course, it is notionally ‘Episode V’ in the whole ‘Skywalker Saga’.

I love ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. It’s my second favourite of all the Star Wars movies and there was a time when I did pretend it was my favourite. But it wasn’t, because I always really preferred 1977’s ‘Star Wars’. I just said I liked ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ better because I wanted the cool kids to like me…

Anyway, as is now becoming a kind of unwarranted tradition, I must issue a ‘spoiler alert’.

Spoiler Alert – I’m definitely going to refer to plot details at some point and there is a chance that could actually ruin this movie for you. Because there was quite a shocking twist in this one. But it was probably only really shocking if you saw this film in the cinema in 1980, because frankly, since then, that once surprising revelation has become so ingrained in popular culture that even if you have no interest in the Star Wars franchise, you probably already know it.

As a follow-up to the greatest film of all time, this was a sensational effort (unless you’re of the incorrect view that ‘Citizen Kane’ is really the greatest movie of all time – then ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ would be an appalling follow-up). Most sequels rarely manage to live up to expectations but this one surpassed any expectations anyone could realistically have had. I imagine. I wasn’t actually alive when the first movie came out and I was only a little past my first birthday when this came out so I really had no expectations at the time.

One of the obvious highlights of the whole movie would have to be the climactic battle between Vader and Luke, which of course culminates in the former chopping off the latter’s hand and then telling him he’s his dad. Not the warmest of family reunions but still marginally better than when the same pater stood next to his daughter while his boss blew up her whole planet. Yes, he didn’t know she was his daughter at the time but it’s fair to say we’re not talking about ‘father of the year’ here.

Although the father-son relationship is not the only dysfunctional family dynamic on screen, given that Luke clearly fancies Leia, who is his sister and she is quite happy to manipulate this attraction by snogging him to make Han jealous. Now, obviously at the moment this particular kiss happens, they don’t actually know they are brother and sister. And it’s never officially revealed in this movie. But there are some pretty heavy-handed hints, so it’s obvious that George Lucas has already made that particular narrative choice. And I know Lucas didn’t actually direct this one, but it’s hard to believe he was ever that far away from the project.

But incestual kisses aside it’s all good.

This is, after all, the movie which introduced us to Yoda for the first time and very cool he was. Although I’ve read that he was viewed at the time by some fans with similar animosity to that levelled at Jar Jar Binks. But people grew to love Yoda quite quickly whereas some 21 years on, you won’t find too many people championing Mr Binks. Which seems about right.

Much of this movie is actually taken up by the romance between Han and Leia. Romance doesn’t always work especially well in Star Wars movies, so it’s a testament to how well this is done that so many people champion this as being the best movie in the franchise.

It’s hard to find fault with any of it really. If I was to level a small criticism at it, it would be that Darth Vader doesn’t show up until we’re twenty minutes in. But he’s well worth the wait, so it would be churlish to dwell on his tardiness.

I don’t think George Lucas really messed it up too much with his nineties CGI tinkering either. There are a couple of moments when it’s obvious but it’s not too distracting. The most noticeable change that I can recall is the insertion of Ian McDiarmid as Palpatine in place of the original combination of Marjorie Eaton in a mask as his face and Clive Revell as his voice. Which is fine, given that McDiarmid plays every other live-action version of Palpatine. Also, Boba Fett’s voice appears to have been altered to that of the bloke who played Jango Fett in ‘Attack of the Clones’, which seems a fairly unnecessary change but Boba Fett is so irrelevant that it’s hard to care.

I suppose one negative that I could throw at ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is that this was the movie that made the prequel trilogy an inevitability.

Because although the first movie was always notionally, if not always explicitly, ‘Episode IV’, if there had never been an ‘Episode V’ then we’d have all just gone along with (what I believe was) Lucas’ original concept that it was a stylistic choice to suggest the original 1977 movie was a smaller part of some bigger space opera. Once you’ve established an ‘Episode V’ to go with ‘Episode IV’, then people are naturally going to want to see ‘Episodes I-III’. Until you make those episodes obviously. Then most people wish they could ‘un-see’ them quite quickly…

Having said that, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ also ended on the cliff-hanger that made ‘Return of the Jedi’ an inevitability. And Ewoks aside, that is also a great movie.

And regardless of its legacy, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ still has to go down as one of the best movies of all time. The second best in my humble opinion…

Best Character – Han Solo

empirestrikesback-hansolo-jacket-selfpoint-700x330

Carelessly gets himself frozen in carbonite some twenty-five minutes before the end of this movie, but up until that point this is really Han’s time to shine. Although Luke’s journey to becoming a Jedi is part of what makes this movie great, it’s really the scenes on the Millennium Falcon that are the most fun as they go from one hazardous scenario to another. And it’s Han’s mercurial ways that get them in and out of most of that trouble. Plus, his response when Leia tells him she loves him is one of the great lines of the whole sage. Although I should add a cautionary note that it’s not a line that works in real life particularly well.

Worst Character – Boba Fett

boba

Seriously cool action figure, easily one of my favourites as a kid. But he does nothing of any note on screen. His stupid death in ‘Return of the Jedi’ would make him a contender for worst character in that movie too, but he’s not in that one long enough and he’d already disappointed me so much in this one that my expectations were already much lower for him by the next one. His most irritating moment is when, shortly after Darth Vader has effortlessly deflected laser shots with his hand and used the force to steal Han’s blaster, Boba rushes in and stands menacingly by Vader’s side. Like Darth ever needed his help. Boba does look cool. But he isn’t cool.

Unsung Hero – Captain Needa

needa

With Darth Vader murdering his own crew for fun half the time, it takes real guts to admit your mistakes. But Captain Needa takes one for the team by assuming responsibility for losing track of the Millennium Falcon. He apologises to Lord Vader and to be fair, after he has choked the poor captain to death, Darth does accept his apology.

And that’s it for ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Tune in tomorrow to see if I liked ‘Return of the Jedi’. Although I’ve obviously already acknowledged that I do in this post…

 

 

 

May The Fourth Be With You: A New Hope

James Proclaims (4)

StarWarsMoviePoster1977

Happy Star Wars Day everyone!

When did this become a thing?

I think I first came across the notion that the 4th May was considered to be Star Wars Day around eighteen years ago when a colleague (in whatever mundane admin job I was doing at the time) told me their birthday was on Star Wars Day.

Having no idea what they meant (but equally very excited about the idea that there might actually be a Star Wars Day) they told me it was this date. Indeed if I was remotely still in touch with them I would wish them happy birthday but I’m not. So I won’t.

I still needed it explaining to me though.

And I sort of get it. ‘May The Fourth’ sounds a bit like ‘May The Force’ so I’m ok with it. Indeed I’m using it as tenuous rationale for writing about Star Wars a lot this month.

But, until this year, I’ve never really ‘celebrated’ Star Wars Day. Does one celebrate it? And if so how?

Probably not by writing a load of blog posts about Star Wars throughout the month of May. That would just be stupid.

But here we are and today I get to write about the original Star Wars movie, now known as ‘Episode 4’ and/or ‘A New Hope’. Which it was always technically called. But I only remember people really embracing those titles when the prequel trilogy arrived.

And for me it will always be ‘Star Wars’ really.

If someone asked if I’d seen ‘Star Wars’ I wouldn’t ask which movie. I’d assume they meant this movie.

Now, as I have with all of my Star Wars posts to date I have to issue a spoiler alert:

Spoiler Alert – I’m going to write about the original ‘Star Wars’ movie now and I may well reveal some plot points, which could ruin the movie for you. But they won’t because this movie is so good that nothing could ever ruin it. I’ve seen it so many times I can probably recite the entire script, but I still enjoy it. It’s just that good. So relax, you can keep reading knowing that nothing at all could ever make watching this movie anything less than awesome.

Now I’m not going to do anything silly like pretend this is the greatest movie ever made.

Because I don’t have to pretend.

It really is the greatest movie ever made.

I remember a few years back that ‘Citizen Kane’ was declared the greatest movie ever made. And if Orson Wells had wielded a lightsaber in that film I’d be open to a conversation about it. But he didn’t. So 1977’s original ‘Star Wars’ is the greatest movie of all time.

“But James,” I hear you cry, “surely you can’t mean that! Even Star Wars fans don’t think this is the best. Clearly ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ is actually the best?”

And if you think that then I’m not going to argue. I love ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Indeed, if I compiled a top ten of my favourite movies of all time then ‘A New Hope’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ would be my top two. But in that order.

“But ‘Empire’ is better,” I hear you continue to argue, in spite of my obviously resolute position, “because it’s darker!”

Is it?

Is it darker than a movie in which the one of the main characters discovers the charred skeletal remains of his aunt and uncle (the only parents he has ever known) mere hours after he last saw them alive and well?

Is it darker than a movie in which one of the other main characters witnesses the mass genocide of her entire people, including everyone she has ever called family, when her planet is literally blown up in front of her very eyes?

Is it darker than a movie in which, during the final battle that the good guys admittedly emerge triumphant from, most of said good guys actually die violent and horrifying deaths?

Is it darker than that?

No it isn’t.

Mostly people think of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ as being darker because it ends on a bit of cliff-hanger. But aside from a fairly ‘tacked on’ happy ending, the first movie is just as bleak for the most part.

And yes, there is ‘that revelation’ in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, but a lot of the groundwork that goes into making it so shocking actually happens in the first movie too.

So basically ‘A New Hope’ is the greatest movie ever made and there’s nothing more to be said.

Except George Lucas didn’t agree, so he decided to ‘upgrade’ the original movies in the nineties. He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway.

Mostly it was by sticking in a lot of CGI. Which was unnecessary and looks a bit weird when juxtaposed with the original footage. But over the years I’ve learned to live with it and although he continued to tinker for a few years after his original ‘updates’ most of them have been there now for longer than they weren’t. Indeed it must be over twenty years since I last saw the un-updated versions of the original movies.

He also put back a few previously deleted scenes but, although the insertion of a CGI Jabba the Hutt was probably not necessary, the additional scenes do add a little context to the characters we know and love, so no problem there really either.

The main irritation for most fans was the decision to change what was once a ruthless assassination carried out by Han Solo into an act of self defence, by altering the scene so his victim, Greedo, appears to shoot first. That upset a few people. When I recently watched this movie on Disney Plus I noticed it has been amended again so that Greedo and Han shoot at the same time, thus returning some of Han’s original coldness but also still offering the moral loophole that he would have been killed if he hadn’t struck first. But the way the original scene played out, was that Han was never in any mortal danger and he shot Greedo in cold blood. Like most people, I prefer the original version of that scene, but honestly I wouldn’t get too hung up on it. The one thing George Lucas couldn’t edit out of that scene was Harrison Ford’s acting and he is absolutely playing someone who would happily kill Greedo in cold blood. View it that way and it’s irrelevant who shoots first because Han was going to kill him either way. Indeed in the versions where Greedo does shoot first, he misses by a mile, so you could decide to interpret it that he’s noticed Han positioning his gun under the table, panics and fumbles his shot before Han coolly does what he was always going to do. Which is murder Greedo in cold blood.

But regardless of Lucas’ tinkering, the original and best Star Wars holds up remarkably well for a movie that has, for the most part, been around since 1977. The original visual effects and costumes were always pretty ground-breaking, and it moves along at a fair old pace.

Obviously it’s not the kind of film that requires you to use all of your brain cells. It’s an action-packed adventure set in space. And it’s not the boring ‘space’ of a movie that relies heavily on science to underpin the key concepts. Star Wars isn’t Science Fiction. It’s pure fantasy. All it’s meant to do is entertain and it does just that.

I’m not sure I could find fault with it if I really tried, but I have no intention of trying. It’s more than a movie, it’s a fundamental part of my childhood.

And if there were no other Star Wars movies, if this was all there had ever been, it would be enough.

Best character – Darth Vader

darth vader

It could be any of them really and I doubt anyone would object if I picked Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan or Chewbacca. They’re all memorable in their own way. But this was the first movie which ever featured Darth Vader and the moment he appears through the smoke in that opening scene, I still get goose bumps. Well I don’t, but metaphorically I do. And some of his most quotable lines are from this movie. Plus the bit when he casually chokes one of his colleagues to near-death because he insults him is awesome. Although that guy was asking for it – why would you insult Darth Vader? Even if he didn’t have ‘the force’ he’s a massive bloke who dresses up…well…like Darth Vader. When he’s at work! Definitely not a man to pick a fight with.

Worst Character – C3PO

c3po

A few years back I went to see something called ‘Star Wars in Concert’ which was mainly a live performance of the John Williams score for all of the (at the time) six movies. But there was also someone narrating a summary of the storyline of the movies. And that person was Anthony Daniels who plays C3PO. And I was genuinely excited by this fact. Nonetheless, C3PO is my least favourite character in the original movie. It’s not that I actively dislike him, but he is a bit annoying at times and if there is a weak link it’s him.

Unsung Hero – Wedge Antilles

Wedge-Antilles1

One of the very few good guys to survive the final battle, other than the main characters. A lot of people moan that Chewie doesn’t get a medal at the end of the movie, alongside Han and Luke, but neither does Wedge. And he actually does save Luke’s life early on in the battle. Which is all Han and Chewie do later on. At least Chewie got to stand on the stage at the end. Poor Wedge is just in the rank and file. He doesn’t get deterred though and goes on to be awesome in the next two movies too. What a guy.

And that’s my take on the very first Star Wars movie to be made. Tune in tomorrow to see what I thought of the second cinematic release in the franchise.

May The Third Be With You: Revenge Of The Sith

James Proclaims (4)

star-wars-episode-iii---revenge-of-the-sith-52130347679d5

So we get to the last of the much-lamented prequel trilogy.

This one did at least have a slightly better title.

And clearly no-one learned anything from the preceding two films about managing expectations because there was a massive hype surrounding this one too.

To be fair, it actually did deliver in some respects. Although it was not without its failings.

And so to the obligatory ‘spoiler alert’.

Spoiler Alert – if you haven’t seen this movie then I’m going to spoil it for you if you keep reading. But if you haven’t seen it, it’s fairly likely that’s because it’s not your kind of film. So we probably shouldn’t worry too much about me spoiling it for you.

Part of the reason that we were all excited about this movie is that we assumed that we’d get to see Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader. And that totally happens.

So, irrespective of anything else, it did its job.

There were some great fight scenes in this one.

And we get to see Yoda fight the Emperor, which was pretty cool.

Haden Christensen still fails to convince anyone that he can actually act, but using the barometer test of Ewan McGregor and Natalie Portman, it’s still reasonable to assume that the poorly written dialogue does him no favours. He is still worse than either of them though.

There is, again, way too much CGI, which was a hallmark of the prequels that more recent efforts seem to have mostly kicked into touch.

And there are, as per the preceding movies, some unwarranted attempts to shoehorn in characters from the original trilogy who don’t really need to be there. In this case Chewbacca turns up for a bit and does nothing. It was, admittedly, quite nice to see the Wookie home world presented in a slightly different manner to it’s previous incarnation in a live-action offering (which was 1978’s misguided ‘Holiday Special’ – more of which in a couple of weeks), but Chewbacca didn’t need to be there and his presence contributes nothing to the plot, except the suggestion that he is somehow friends with Yoda. Which raises unnecessary questions.

Also Padme’s death, at the end of the movie, kind of works within the narrative of this specific film, but as this was a prequel to a much beloved trilogy, her death actually renders quite a poignant scene in ‘Return of the Jedi’, where Leia remembers her mother, as somewhat less significant because we assume at the time she is telling Luke about his mother, which obviously now can’t be the case as she must be remembering her adoptive mother who had nothing to do with Luke whatsoever.

On the whole though, ‘Revenge Of The Sith’ was much better than might have been realistically expected, based on the preceding two films. The rise of Palpatine and his Galactic Empire and Anakin’s fall to the dark side are more compelling stories upon which to base a movie, rather than a trade dispute. That both ultimately feel a little rushed is because the previous movies didn’t develop the story enough so there is a lot to fit in to this movie. Clunky dialogue doesn’t help but there are some genuinely emotional moments and when a triumphant Palpatine issues the now infamous ‘Order 66’ and we see the Jedi being systematically picked off it’s hard not feel moved.

The much darker tone does help the film, and Ian McDiarmid makes the most of Palpatine’s more central role to completely steal the show. However, Anakin’s fall from grace is maybe a little too spectacular. We know Darth Vader is a baddie, but he’s also a baddie who is supposedly redeemed in the original trilogy. When we first saw ‘Return of the Jedi’, most of the really bad stuff was hinted at rather than shown on screen. Sure, he sadistically murdered a few of his own men because they failed to meet their performance management targets and he cut off his own son’s hand, but the very worst stuff done by the Empire tended to be carried out by someone else – Governor Tarkin in the original movie and Palpatine himself in ‘Return of the Jedi’. So, while it was always a stretch to claim that Vader could genuinely find redemption, it was vaguely possible if you suspended your disbelief. But then, in ‘Revenge of the Sith’, he brutally murders a load of children. And the evil becomes rather less implicit when you do that. He is definitely a wrong ‘un and frankly there’s no coming back from that kind of atrocity no matter how many times you chuck an Emperor into the reactor of a Death Star.

Whatever criticisms you can level at this movie though, the pacing and the action are significant improvements on what came before and it’s hard to find too many moments that are boring. And while ‘not being bored’ are the minimum expectations one should have of a Star Wars movie, by the time we got to this one, it was something off a relief.

Best Character – Palpatine

palpy

The unwieldy dialogue that cripples the other characters, seems to sit rather well with Palpatine. Maybe it’s McDiarmid’s years of working as a stage actor, but he thoroughly enjoys himself in this movie and an over-the top performance is exactly what was needed to make that most nefarious of bad guys really shine. He is the ultimate pantomime villain except, y’know, actually quite evil too.

 

Worst character – General Grievous

GeneralGrievous

Presented as a new bad guy, presumably with half an eye on selling more toys, he’s easily the least threatening of the antagonists in all the movies. I just found him a bit annoying really. I can sort of see why it was helpful to the story to kill off Count Dooku in an earlier scene, but really General Grievous just highlights the stupidity of having killed off Darth Maul in ‘The Phantom Menace’. And actually, given that they managed to bring Maul back for the cartoon series, it’s a shame no-one had the foresight to consider resurrecting him for this movie too.

 

Unsung hero – Bail Organa

bail-organa-star-wars-prequels-sm-1430730272

Princess Leia’s future adoptive father doesn’t have much to do in the preceding movies (indeed he’s not even in ‘The Phantom Menace’) but does manage to save the lives of both Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi in this. Not that anyone really thanks him for it. Also, it would have made way more sense as a lead in to the original trilogy if he’d offered sanctuary to Padme rather than her dying. But he doesn’t even get that level of narrative importance. Because she dies. Special mention in the unsung hero category should also go to Owen and Beru, who don’t even get any lines to say in this movie, but still agree to take responsibility for raising Luke, even though it’s abundantly clear that they only met Anakin once and didn’t really like him.

 

And so ends the prequel trilogy. Join me tomorrow when I tell you all about how awesome the first Star Wars movie is. And how George Lucas tried to ruin his own masterpiece in the nineties.

May The Second Be With You: Attack Of The Clones

James Proclaims (4)

star-wars-episode-ii--attack-of-the-clones.13950

Three years after everyone got upset by ‘The Phantom Menace’, we all failed to learn our lesson and flocked to the cinemas in our droves to see ‘Episode II’, the equally badly titled ‘Attack of the Clones’.

I actually went to a midnight showing, so I could see it before everyone else.

And I thought it was brilliant.

I was clearly wrong, but that’s what sleep deprivation will do to you.

Going to see films at midnight is not a good idea.

It was genuinely better than ‘The Phantom Menace’ though.

Now I’ve got to offer the obligatory spoiler alert.

Spoiler Alert – if you haven’t seen this movie then don’t worry. It’s not going to change your life. But if, some eighteen years after its release, you do still fancy giving it a go, then I’m possibly going to ruin it for you by revealing some plot details. Honestly, it won’t ruin it that much – it’s all quite predictable really, but it only seems fair to warn you.

The main benefit was that Anakin Skywalker was no longer ten years old. Not that Hayden Christensen’s version is much less annoying than Jake Lloyd’s incarnation (I’ve no idea if Christensen is a good actor or not because I’ve only really seen him in the Star Wars prequels. He’s not great in this, but there are times when Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor also seem quite wooden and they are both generally great in most things, so it could be the script rather than Christensen’s acting that’s the problem). But he is slightly less grating and far more plausibly someone that could become a bad guy. It’s still a stretch from this version of Anakin to actual Darth Vader, but we’re closer in this movie. Which was something.

Also, there was far less Jar Jar Binks. He’s barely in it. Although he is still in it a bit. And his main contribution is to allow the main bad guy of the whole ‘Skywalker Saga’, a certain Mr Palpatine, to establish a dictatorship of sorts. It is a necessary plot development, but it seems pretty stupid that Jar Jar Binks was ever in a position to be that influential.

Don’t worry though, in the absence of Jar Jar, there is still all kinds of stupid in this movie. In particular, C3PO, a character who I initially disliked and then grew to quite like during the original trilogy is back to his annoying worst in this. George Lucas just cannot do comic relief.

The plot is still generally quite feeble but there are no trade disputes in this one. Which is also a bonus.

Too much screen time is dedicated to the love story between Padme and Anakin. It’s never especially convincing and it’s one of the places where the poorly written dialogue really hurts. It actually physically hurts to listen to it.

But they have to fall in love. It’s quite important. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia need parents after all. Although Anakin got by with only one parent, lest we forget, so maybe they didn’t need a mother. But there would be all kinds of biological questions to answer if Anakin was established as the sole parent and I’m not sure ‘midi-chlorians’ would cut it.

So we needed Anakin and Padme to fall in love. I just wish they could have done so without me needing to vomit.

Like Han and Leia managed in Empire Strikes Back. Proving it is possible to have a compelling love story in the Star Wars universe. Surely, given that template, the Padme/Anakin love story could have been better.

But the love story in ‘Attack of the Clones’ is definitely the worst bit of this movie.

Although there are other bad bits.

If there was too much CGI in ‘The Phantom Menace’ then ‘Attack of the Clones’ takes things up a notch. It sometimes looks like the most expensive cartoon ever made. Which it sort of was at the time. It’s technically very impressive but it’s just too much.

The whole ‘Clone Army’ thing is quite weird. I know ‘The Clone Wars’ are referenced in the very first Star Wars movie (known back then as ‘Star Wars’ but now oft-referred to as ‘Episode IV’ and/or ‘A New Hope’). And you do need to be able to suspend your disbelief when watching Star Wars movies – they were never meant to be realistic. And it was nice to see Storm Troopers after the annoying droid armies of ‘The Phantom Menace’ (although the droid army is still around and as annoying as ever and the Storm Troopers are called Clone Troopers and look ever so slightly different, presumably so more action figures could be sold). But the fact there appears to be a service where you can just order an army seems to be quite thin as plot developments go. And if it is that easy, why haven’t other people also ordered armies? And I don’t care if this is all explained in some novel or in the cartoon series, it should be clear in the movie. It was lazy writing.

And for some reason George Lucas persisted in trying to explain things from the original movies that just didn’t need explaining. Like pointlessly giving a minor character from the original trilogy (Boba Fett – cool action figure, little more than a prop in the movies) a back story. And the Death Star apparently being invented by the Geonosians (the CGI insect creatures who talk with weird clicking sounds). It was unnecessary, pointless and distracting.

Conversely the introduction of the characters who would go on to raise Luke Skywalker, Owen and Beru, is unsatisfactory and massively underuses the considerable acting talents of Joel Edgerton. That was actually a backstory I would have been interested in seeing develop but they barely feature.

But there were some good bits. If you’re going to stupidly kill off Darth Maul, the coolest and most marketable character in the first movie, then Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku might have a ridiculous name, but he was not a bad replacement as antagonists go. Coming across as an evil version of Alec Guiness’s original incarnation of Obi Wan Kenobi, Lee steals pretty much every scene he’s in. And he survives! Admittedly only to be killed off ridiculously early in ‘Episode III’ but at least we know we’re going to see him again.

The main progression from ‘The Phantom Menace’ is that there is a lot more action. And way more lightsabers.

Also, we see Samuel L Jackson’s Mace Windu fight with his purple lightsaber for the first time. And we see Yoda fight. Admittedly he does look a bit like a video game character but I remember an audible cheer in the cinema when we saw that scene for the first time. Granted it must have been near enough 2am at that point and we weren’t responsible for our actions, but it was a definite fan-pleasing moment.

Best Character – Obi Wan Kenobi

obi

Obviously not Ewan McGregor’s finest on-screen performance, but he does his best with some quite shockingly bad dialogue. The majority of the movie either deals with Anakin and Padme’s romance or Obi-Wan’s hunt for the bad guys. And it’s definitely the latter which is far more interesting. I actually like Ewan McGregor’s portrayal of Obi Wan Kenobi in all three of the prequels but in this movie he’s at the heart of most of the action and seems to be enjoying himself immensely.

Worst Character – Jango Fett

JangoInfobox

Controversial choice this, given that a lot of people love Boba Fett. And I liked the action figure, but I never thought the character did anything much on-screen and it felt to me that Jango Fett was only ever put in this movie because George Lucas realised he should have done more with Boba in the original trilogy. But he didn’t, so there was no need for an origin story. Jango Fett, much like his offspring, looks cool, but he doesn’t really do all that much apart from an admittedly fairly good fight with Obi-Wan. And he takes his helmet off way too much, which inherently makes him less cool.

Unsung hero – Zam Wessell

zam

Because bad guys can be unsung heroes too. And Zam Wessell seems to do all the heavy lifting in the early part of the movie in terms of villainy, only for Jango Fett to swoop in, kill her, and take all the credit for her hard work.

 

And that concludes my views on ‘Attack of the Clones’

Tune in tomorrow to see what I thought of ‘Revenge of the Sith’.

May The First Be With You: The Phantom Menace

James Proclaims (4)

star_wars_episode_1_the_phantom_menace

Thus, begins my mission to write about Star Wars for days, if not weeks, on end.

And where better to begin than Episode One?

That would seem like the obvious place to start.

Except for two important reasons:

  1. As most people know, it wasn’t even close to being the first Star Wars film to be made.
  2. It’s not a very good film.

Allow me to deal with both of those points.

With regards to it not being the first film to be made, I’m working on the assumption that everyone knows that and I’ve decided to deal with the nine episodes of the ‘Skywalker Saga’ before looking at other movies and spin-offs. And I’m doing that in episodic order rather than release date order for the very simple reason that it naturally allows me to write about the very first Star Wars film on May the fourth. Which as everyone knows is Star Wars Day.

With regards the second point, if I restricted myself to only writing about the good Star Wars movies, then I’d have to rule out quite a few. Indeed, based on the various opinions that seem to float around the internet, I could perhaps find myself only writing about two movies. Which doesn’t seem in the spirit of this endeavour at all.

And while I acknowledge that ‘The Phantom Menace’ is objectively not a very good movie, I still quite like it.

No, I love it.

I love all things Star Wars, therefore I love this.

But also, I really do love it.

However, it is a bad film and if you’ve never seen Star Wars before then probably best not to start with this one.

Even though it is technically supposed to be the first episode.

Nonetheless, it is the movie I’m writing about today and why I love such a bad film will hopefully become apparent as we go on. Before we go any further though, I should probably issue that whole ‘spoiler alert’ thing that people do when writing about films.

Spoiler Alert – There is a more than reasonable chance that I will reveal some plot points in the subsequent text. Whether this will genuinely spoil the movie for you is anyone’s guess. It’s such a bad film that there is every chance that nothing I could write here would make the viewing experience worse. Also, it came out in 1999 so really you should have seen it by now if you were ever going to bother watching it. Although if you didn’t bother watching it then no-one would judge you. It’s a really bad film.

And so, on to ‘The Phantom Menace’.

‘The Phantom Menace!’

Even the title annoyed people.

Before the movie came out, back before we knew what a colossal disappointment this film was going to be, there were mutterings about the title.

‘The Phantom Menace’? Really? Is that the best George Lucas could come with after eighteen years?

Oh, those halcyon days when all we were annoyed by was the title.

Because this movie was a big deal.

Arguably no Star Wars movie has ever been this anticipated. Possibly ‘Return of the Jedi’ might have been. But in truth, however big Star Wars was in 1981, it has become bigger. And this was the first Star Wars movie to be released since ‘Return of the Jedi’ (if we don’t count the Ewok films. Which I do. But more about them in a couple of weeks). Maybe 2015’s ‘The Force Awakens’ was awaited with similar anticipation, but I suspect the disappointment surrounding the prequels quelled expectations a little. Plus, the gap had only been ten years between movies at that point.

No, I’m pretty sure that the expectation surrounding the release of ‘The Phantom Menace’ was massive. I doubt any movie has ever been quite so overhyped as ‘Episode One’ was.

So, when it came out, and it was a bit rubbish, the vitriol of the response was all the more acute.

And perhaps the vitriol was a little unfair with the benefit of hindsight.

Because it is a bad movie as a whole, but there are some good bits.

No, really there are.

More than anything it is a movie of missed opportunities.

It could have been so much better.

The reality is that George Lucas had a bit too much control over ‘The Phantom Menace’. Why wouldn’t he? Not only did he bring us the original trilogy, but he was also the brains behind Indiana Jones (another legacy he would go on to tarnish but not until 2008). Before ‘The Phantom Menace’ the man could do no wrong.

But in those earlier films, he collaborated with other people. Notably for the original trilogy, script doctors were employed to improve the dialogue he wrote. Because George Lucas cannot write dialogue. As not only ‘The Phantom Menace’ but the ensuing prequel movies confirmed.

Also, he got a bit overexcited about CGI. We’d already seen this when he decided to ‘improve’ the original trilogy by unnecessarily inserting CGI creatures (and some other changes that we’ll get onto when I write about those movies) but he really went to town on the prequel trilogy. To the extent that they look like cartoons rather than live action movies at times.

But this could all be forgiven if the plot had been any good.

And for ‘The Phantom Menace’ it cannot be overstated how dull the plot is.

It revolves around a trade dispute.

A trade dispute!

In Star Wars!

Ok there are more nefarious dealings going on in the background, all controlled by our friend, the actual ‘phantom menace’ whose identity was a secret to no-one who had seen the original trilogy.

But it was still a bit dull.

Nonetheless, a boring storyline wasn’t even perceived as Lucas’ biggest crime. That fury was reserved for one character who irritated like few others can.

And his name was Jar Jar Binks.

I get why people hated Jar Jar. I didn’t love him. He was beyond annoying. And far too much screen time was given to him and his ‘exploits’ and too little to a character that had been heavily utilised in the promotion of the movie and who has gone on to become a fan favourite in spite of hardly being in the movie at all – one Darth Maul.

But to blame one stupid character for this film’s failings is to miss the point. And in any case, if you blame Jar Jar Binks, then you really are blaming the wrong annoying character.

Star Wars films have always had irritating characters (C3PO and the Ewoks spring to mind). Comedy is also not among Lucas’ arsenal and whenever he has introduced ‘comic relief’ it has only ever served as a distraction and irritation. It never actually made anyone laugh. When Star Wars has succeeded with comic relief it was usually because someone else was at the helm and/or the aforementioned script doctors had made the dialogue wittier.

Jar Jar Binks perhaps still stands head and shoulders above all the others as the worst and most misjudged attempt at comic relief in cinematic history, but if he was the only problem there would be no problem. People would have got over the gungan if the rest of the movie worked.

And it doesn’t.

Really, what Lucas actually got spectacularly wrong was a failure to acknowledge that a core section of the movie’s audience were not going to be the kids he appeared to be pitching this towards but adults who loved the original movies. People who probably by this point remembered the finer details of the early films in greater detail that even he did. And narratively he made some huge mistakes.

What George Lucas needed was someone to tell him when he was getting it wrong.

“George, mate, you know those midi-chlorian things you’ve come up with?”

“Yes,”

“The things that apparently mean you can do a bloodtest to see how ‘strong the force’ is with someone?”

“Yes, I know. Great idea eh?”

“No George, totally rubbish.”

“Oh”

“Also George, while we’re on the subject, why would Obi Wan Kenobi already know the results of Yoda’s blood test? Wouldn’t that information be highly confidential?”

“Nope, you’re right. Midi-chlorians are rubbish – I’ll take them out. The movie will work just as well without them. Probably better in fact.”

Those conversations needed to happen a lot more than they apparently did.

But the worst thing about the movie was Darth Vader himself. Or as he’s known in this abomination, ‘Little Anni’.

Why the decision was taken to cast a ten-year-old as the young Anakin Skywalker is anyone’s guess. It makes no sense narratively and massively undermines the original trilogy. If ‘Little Anni’ is deemed to be already too old to be trained to be a Jedi, then why wasn’t Luke too old in the original trilogy (I know Yoda says he is too old in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ but Obi Wan certainly has no qualms about his age in the first movie)? He was obviously significantly older when he started his training so a precedent had already been set in the Star Wars mythology that roughly sixteen years old was about right for Jedi-training (admittedly it also sets the rather worrying precedent that killing your father is the only way to complete that training…). It would have made far more sense to have had an older Anakin, who was already established as petulant and angry. ‘Little Anni’ is far too innocent for us to believe that he would eventually become cinema’s ultimate bad guy. Plus, he is really annoying.

I feel sorry for Jake Lloyd, the actor who played the part. He must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when he was cast in Star Wars and to play the young Darth Vader of all things. But it was wildly misjudged and from what I’ve read, the impact on Lloyd’s life post-Star Wars, given the hatred directed towards his portrayal, was nothing short of horrendous. It wasn’t his fault was it? He was, to be fair to him, only ten.

That casting decision is really what undermines the whole movie more than anything else. Plus the whole ‘immaculate conception’ thing. Utterly unnecessary. There are ways to explain it that kind of fit with other narrative points within the saga as a whole but it would have been better if Anakin had just had a father. We’d all have been more comfortable with that.

So why do I love this movie?

Nostalgia really. I remember when it came out, and it was a pretty rubbish time in my life. A new Star Wars film always perks me up, but this was the first new Star Wars film in eighteen years (again not counting the Ewok movies. Which I do. But I shouldn’t) and I didn’t really have much else going on. I was properly excited about this. And I enjoyed all the hype. I knew, deep down, that the movie could never really meet my expectations, but I loved all the build-up.

For that, I’ll always be grateful to ‘The Phantom Menace’ and watching it now still brings back all of those feelings, in much the same way that a song from a particular era, whether you loved it or not, can evoke the emotions of that time. ‘The Phantom Menace’ makes me feel weirdly optimistic about life. I can only imagine how I’d feel if it was any good.

Plus, as I’ve said before, there really are some good bits. Darth Maul was massively underused, but he was really cool. And Ewan McGregor, Liam Neeson and Natalie Portman are all good actors who really do the best with what they’re given (which isn’t much admittedly). And the whole thing looks fantastic. Better when there is less CGI, but there are some spectacular scenes in this movie. And the final lightsaber battle between Darth Maul and the two Jedi is easily the best lightsaber fight in any Star Wars movie. I’d have bought tickets to see the film for that bit of it alone.

Also the double-bladed lightsaber – just awesome. Probably quite impractical as a weapon in reality but it looked amazing.

 

Best character – Darth Maul

220px-Darth_Maul

Not in the movie enough, and stupidly killed off at the end (I know that according to ‘canon’ he survives and comes back in ‘The Clone Wars’ cartoon and also makes an inexplicable cameo in one of the spinoff movies, but as far as the main saga is concerned he dies here. And he is cut in half so he should be dead). Ray Park is a fantastic martial artist and Darth Maul moves and looks like a total bad-ass. However much people hate this movie, most people love Darth Maul.

Worst Character – Anakin Skywalker

547720-anakin-skywalker

It pains me to say it but Anakin, not Jar Jar, is why this movie is not good. Without wishing to repeat what I’ve already said, if he’d been older it could have made the movie much better and also stopped the unnecessary and somewhat cruel anger aimed at a real life ten year old boy.

Unsung hero – Captain Tarpals

tarpals

Not all the gungans were idiots and bless him, Captain Tarpals seemed like a pretty nice guy who was half decent at his job. And he had to answer to the newly promoted ‘General’ Jar Jar Binks in the final battle, which was a total slap in the face. Frankly, he conducted himself with aplomb. Deserved far more credit than he ever got.

 

And that pretty much concludes my views on ‘The Phantom Menace’. And I didn’t even mention the Battle Droids. Which were also rubbish.

You’d imagine it could only get better from here really.

But you’d be wrong. ‘The Phantom Menace’ is not the worst thing ever produced in the name of Star Wars.

But it probably is comfortably the worst of the nine ‘episodes’ that make up the ‘Skywalker Saga’.

Although ‘Attack of the Clones’ was only a bit better really. Tune in tomorrow to find out what I thought of that one.

Spoiler alert – I’ll be saying it’s a bad film, but I still love it.

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 26: Zeitgeist

James Proclaims (4)

And so we arrive at ‘Z’ in my shamelessly nostalgic A-Z of albums that I liked to listen to when I was young.

Thanks to everyone who has chipped in with comments along the way, even if it’s to tell me that you’ve never heard of the bands I liked or that you completely disagree with my choices.

But, unless I’m much mistaken, ‘Z’ is very much the last letter of the alphabet, so it ends today.

And whether you’ve enjoyed my jaunt down the memory lane of the musical tastes of my youth or been largely indifferent to it (I assume if you’re reading this then you haven’t actively disliked these posts because, y’know, why would you have bothered to read them at all…) what you cannot deny is that they have involved me writing words.

Which, in the spirit of generating content for a blog, is largely better than not writing words.

Whether I’ll continue to use words to write about things other than music from the nineties is something only time will tell.

But today I will, again, write about an album from the nineties.

One that begins with ‘Z’

Z2020

Z is for Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist_(album)

The Levellers are another band that headlined Glastonbury in the nineties, which seems a strange thing to write in 2020. But they did, in 1994, performing to what was then a record number of people.

They hadn’t even released the album ‘Zeitgeist’ at that point. It came out in 1995 and it remains their only album to top the UK album charts.

The peak of the Levellers success does correspond roughly with the general Britpop phenomenon, but they had been enjoying a bit of success prior to that, (hence the headline slot at Glastonbury), and they don’t seem an obvious fit for the Britpop label. Whether they’d have been quite as big in the nineties without Britpop is doubtful though. They’re still going, still seem to have a loyal enough fanbase, but their days of headlining Glastonbury and the like are long behind them now and the demise of Britpop also seems to correspond with their general decline in mainstream popularity.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a massive fan; I like them, I’d probably see them live (I think in fact I did see them live but I saw a lot of bands in the nineties and unless I held onto the ticket stub I struggle to recall whether I was actually there, or just saw them performing at a festival on TV and my memory has subsequently placed me in the crowd…), I’ve listened to most of their albums at one point or another but only a few tracks really stayed with me.

‘Zeitgeist’ would be the one album I really listened to a lot (which is quite serendipitous when it comes to writing an A-Z of nineties albums, because there weren’t any other ‘Z’ albums leaping to mind) and it’s the one I’d probably stick on if I was in the mood for the intrinsically left-wing folk-rock sound that the Levellers bring to the table.

I liked the single ‘Just The One’ and I think a lot of people enjoyed that as a kind of ‘pre-getting-drunk’ anthem (the nineties was perhaps also the beginning of the British bing-drinking culture that appears to continue to this day. I was very much a part of it in my time – I like to think I’ve outgrown it but it could be that increased responsibilities have reduced the opportunity rather than the inclination to drink irresponsibly). Alas though, the album version of ‘Just The One’ is not the same as the single version so we can’t end on that.

So we’ll end instead on ‘Hope Street’, which seems as good a place as any to conclude my A-Z.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 25: You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

James Proclaims (4)

It’s the penultimate day of the A-Z challenge 2020 and it’s time to ask ‘Y’.

Specifically we must ask ‘Y’ to tell us what today’s album is.

It wasn’t easy. I assumed a lot of album titles would begin with the word ‘you’.

Or ‘yesterday’.

But these were not popular choices in the nineties apparently.

So I’ve had to step a little outside my comfort zone.

I could have gone with Pearl Jam’s ‘Yield’ but I stopped listening to Pearl Jam after their third album ‘Vitalogy’ and didn’t get into them again until many years later. If I was going to include Pearl Jam it would’ve been for ‘Ten’ or the aforementioned ‘Vitalogy’. And I didn’t so I’m not going with ‘Yield’ either. It would feel dishonest.

Another option was Welsh band Feeder and their 1999 album ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’, but while Feeder always seemed like a band I would probably like, the only album of theirs I really know is 2001’s ‘Echo Park’ so, again, it would be disingenuous to include them.

Ultimately I’ve switched genres and gone with something that screams the nineties like few other albums could.

Y2020

Y is for You’ve Come A Long Way Baby

220px-YouveComeALongWayBaby2

While two members of The Housemartins went on to form The Beautiful South, one decided to go in a slightly different direction.

Or a very different direction.

Norman Cook became known as Fatboy Slim and was a pivotal part of the Big Beat movement that was very different to Britpop but largely seemed to exist at roughly the same time.

Not really my cup of tea in theory but I actually did like a lot of the acts associated with that genre of music and they were easily as big a part of the nineties soundscape as any of the indie music I was listening to.

In any case, ‘You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby’ was a massive album that transcended its genre.

The singles off that album were everywhere and on everything.  You’d be hard pushed to listen to Radio One (my default radio station until I outgrew their target demographic) without hearing ‘The Rockafella Skank’.

‘Gangster Trippin’ must have been the accompaniment to many a sporting montage.

And you certainly couldn’t expect to go on a night out without at some point finding yourself drunkenly dancing badly and singing loudly to ‘Right Here, Right Now’.

It was unavoidable.

It pretty much was the sound of the late nineties.

And because this A-Z has always been a nostalgia driven exercise, I have to go with the ‘Y’ album that invokes the most nostalgia.

Even if it was rather forced upon me at the time, it’s as evocative of my youth as anything else I’ve written about.

And it’s hard to argue that it isn’t an excellent album.

The track that I liked best back then would definitely have been ‘Praise You’

The video was genius too.

 

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 24: XTRMNTR

James Proclaims (4)

No A-Z would be complete without the letter ‘X’.

Because ‘X’ is very much a part of the alphabet.

But it’s not the most accommodating of letters and it’s pretty hard to do an A-Z of anything without cheating a bit on ‘X’.

But I don’t think I’ve cheated too much today.

The album I’ve come up with is very much in the spirit of a nineties retrospective.

It just wasn’t quite released in the nineties.

But if you’re going to miss your self-imposed window of a specific decade then being one month out isn’t too bad.

X2020

X is for XTRMNTR

XTRMNTR_album_cover

Could any nineties retrospective be complete without Primal Scream, the band that put out what is oft regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time in ‘Screamadelica’?

Of course it couldn’t.

But this post isn’t about that album.

What about the much less critically-acclaimed ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’? Yes it was universally panned but it still produced two of their biggest hits in ‘Jailbird’ and ‘Rocks’ and was an album that I was quite fond of, even if the critics weren’t.

Nope, can’t write about that either.

Because much as those two albums might be worth revisiting, neither of them begins with ‘X’.

That honour goes to ‘XTRMNTR’, which may not have been released until January 2000, but was clearly recorded in the nineties. Plus the first single off it, ‘Swastika Eyes’ was released in 1999.

So it counts.

It does.

Forrest Gump’s mama apparently claimed that life was like a box of chocolates because “you never know what you’re gonna get”. If only someone could have pointed out the little card that comes with the box of chocolates that tells you exactly what you’re gonna get.

What she might have said, were she not a fictional character living in a different time period, is that life is like waiting for the next Primal Scream album to be released because you really don’t know what you’re gonna get.

You have to admire the band for constant reinvention, but if you love one Primal Scream album, there’s no guarantee you’re going to like anything else they put out.

XTRMNTR is a more aggressive album than a lot of their other records, but releasing their rage clear suits Primal Scream (the clue was perhaps always there in the band’s name) because it is generally regarded as one of their better efforts. Not quite up there with ‘Screamadelica’, but as close as they’ve ever been.

Any of the singles would be a fitting way to see us out, but let’s go with ‘Accelerator’. If ever a song was aptly named this would be it.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 23: Wake Up!

James Proclaims (4)

Who, what, why, where and when are all words that begin with ‘W’.

And so does today’s album.

Because we’re on ‘W’ in my A-Z of albums.

So it should begin with ‘W’.

That is literally the only expectation we can reasonably have of this album.

But it is also one of my all time favourite albums.

W2020

W is for Wake Up!

Wakeup_thebooradleys_cover

Wake Up! was the album that was by far the biggest commercial success for The Boo Radleys, and until recent years it was the only album of theirs that I really knew.

Which is strange because I enjoyed this album so much that you might imagine I’d have investigated the rest of their back catalogue. But their 1996 follow-up, ‘C’mon Kids’, didn’t really generate the same level of interest as ‘Wake Up!’ and I neglected to add it to my collection. Which with hindsight was a mistake because that too is an awesome album.

I have rectified this error in recent times and after paying closer attention to their other work, I feel it’s probably fair to say The Boo Radleys deserve to be recognised as more than ‘just another Britpop band’.

But the success of ‘Wake Up!’ did owe a lot to Britpop.

I don’t know if an album like this would have been successful in another era, but I’m glad it came out in 1995.

Firstly, because I might not have heard it otherwise.

But also because, the day after I finished my last GCSE exam, it was absolutely brilliant to switch on my CD player the following morning, with the longest summer of my life awaiting me and listen to the opening track, ‘Wake Up Boo!’ as I lay smiling in bed. It really is the perfect post examination track.

 

 

James’ Shamelessly Nostalgic A-Z Of Albums That He Liked To Listen To When He Was Young – Part 22: Version 2.0

James Proclaims (4)

As we near the end of this A-Z of albums that I liked when I was younger than I am now, and mostly still like today (except for some albums that frankly only made the cut because they began with the right letter) I feel I should acknowledge the heavy bias towards UK acts.

This in part stems from the fact that I am British. I don’t go out of my way to only listen to music made by people from these isles but there is obviously an element of increased exposure. This is particularly true, given that I’m mostly writing about albums I encountered in the nineties when there was a definite media bias towards British acts.

Not that my music tastes are that international anyway. Aside from a few albums I purchased when I lived in Paris, the vast majority of my music collection (for it is a collection – I have now uploaded it to ‘the cloud’ for ease of consumption but I mostly listen to stuff I bought and so large was my music collection before streaming became a thing, that I have eschewed subscribing to a streaming service to date – occasionally parting with my cash to download albums I really want still seems to be cheaper overall, particularly as most music can be sampled for free via various platforms before I decide whether it is worth spending my money) is English-language, but that does tend to include a fair number of artists from the US.

Why then, have I neglected to include any US acts apart from Weezer and Green Day in my list to date?

I’m not sure.

I definitely liked a lot of American bands back then. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, REM and Foo Fighters all could have made the cut for a nineties-themed extravaganza such as this.

That they didn’t is perhaps a little disingenuous on my part because I liked all of them a lot. To be honest, although it pains me a little to admit it, even Bon Jovi was no stranger to my CD player back then. But when it came to it, while I’d happily concede that Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ is a far superior album to Ash’s ‘1977’ (to the point where even comparing the two is beyond ridiculous) it’s the latter album that spoke to me more as a teenager. I may have been wrong as a teenager, but as this has been a largely nostalgia-driven exercise, we have to go with the judgements I made back then.

And so to ‘V’ and Pearl Jam were really in with a shout for this. They released not one but two albums that began with ‘V’ back in the nineties and both ‘Vs’ and ‘Vitalogy’ spent a lot of time in my CD player.

But instead I’ve gone with this:

V2020

V is for Version 2.0

Garbage_-_Version_2.0

It may come as some consolation to my American friends that 75% of the rock band, Garbage, do indeed hail from the States. And indeed if you’re apoplectic with rage that I overlooked one of the seminal albums of all time in ‘Nevermind’ then it may be some consolation to know that Garbage’s drummer, Butch Vig, was the producer who worked on that record.

Nonetheless Garbage are fronted by Shirley Manson who is Scottish, so I may still be employing a certain level of British bias.

But it is unintentional.

I did really like Garbage.

If you put a gun to my head and asked me which Garbage album I liked the best then I’d be very scared and wonder why you’d pointed a gun to my head to find out such a trivial piece of information.

But I’d tell you truthfully that I preferred their 1995 eponymous debut.

But ‘G’ was taken and I did still really like this 1998 follow-up.

So did quite a lot of other people.

Because it is really good.

So put the gun down and let’s listen calmly to one of the better tracks on the album.

Which is, perhaps unhelpfully, called ‘I Think I’m Paranoid’.