May The Thirty-First Be With You: Impossible To See The Future Is

James Proclaims (4)

star wars

And so we arrive at day 31 of May 2020, which means that my month long homage to Star Wars can finally end.

Which is something of a relief because, aside from vaguely thinking it might be quite funny to extrapolate the flimsy premise that the 4th of May is ‘Star Wars Day’ into the completely ridiculous premise that the whole of May could be ‘Star Wars Month’ I didn’t really think this through at all.

So, although I’ve watched most of the movies to the point where I could probably recite them word for word, I had no idea how I would fill a whole month of posts with Star Wars related content.

I’ve been pretty much winging it since day 10, but somehow I appear to have achieved my goal. It’s not much of an achievement, all things considered, but I am strangely proud of it nonetheless.

But what of the future?

“Impossible to see the future is,” according to Yoda, but given that he utters that line in ‘Attack of the Clones‘ then it’s not even true, because you can definitely ‘see the future’ from his perspective if you watch the original trilogy.

But will there be enough new Star Wars stuff for me to be able to do another month-long tribute to Star Wars next year?

Arguably there already is.

I didn’t watch all of the animated shows in their entirety, so there’s every chance I could write more about those next year. Whether anyone would want to read about them is another matter…

Series 2 of ‘The Mandalorian‘ is also due to come out before May 2021 rolls around so I’d be able to write about that.

There are also quite a few Lego Star Wars series that I haven’t seen yet.

And I didn’t even come close to writing about the various parodies of Star Wars that are out there, such as Family Guy and Robot Chicken and…erm…well definitely those two anyway.

And there’s the 1987 Mel Brooks spoof, ‘Spaceballs’.

And given that Star Wars was originally a kind of homage to ‘Flash Gordon’ then 1980’s ‘Flash Gordon’ movie would surely be deserving of a post. Not least because Ming the Merciless turned up in ‘The Force Awakens‘.

And lest we forget, there is a Star Wars reference in the second Indiana Jones film, when he pops into Club Obi Wan to get poisoned and have a fight. Surely that would be reason enough to write about all of the Indiana Jones movies?

And, although I had a few cheat posts this time around when I wrote about mugs, T-shirts, Mr Potato Head and a towel, I still have plenty of Star Wars merchandise on hand to produce a whole range of filler posts. And way too many action figures for a man of my age.

So even though I appear to have already scraped the Star Wars barrel, I can sink to even murkier depths and it is more than possible that ‘May the 2021’ will be with me. I’m not sure if that would be wise. I’ve always struggled with the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Probably because I’m not a Jedi.

But what of the future of Star Wars in more general terms.

In spite of the box office failure of ‘Solo‘, the general antipathy towards ‘The Rise of Skywalker‘ and the fairly polarised views surrounding ‘The Last Jedi‘ (all of which were films that I liked anyway), there appears to be quite a lot to be optimistic about.

The Mandalorian‘ and ‘Rogue One‘ are obvious templates for future projects – new stories in the Star Wars universe that aren’t bogged down by the weight of expectation surrounding anyone called Skywalker. Or Palpatine. Or Solo. Or Organa. Or Calrissian. Well ok probably not Calrissian.

Also, ‘The Mandalorian’ proved that Star Wars could work on the small screen. Provided it has a big screen budget…

And there are at least two Star Wars shows that seem almost certain to happen. The first is going to centre around the character of Cassian Andor (and perhaps more importantly K2SO) from ‘Rogue One‘. I’d watch that. The second is potentially more exciting, as Ewan McGregor is set to reprise his role as Obi Wan Kenobi. I can’t wait for that.

There are also potentially more movies on the horizon, with Taika Waititi apparently confirmed to be directing a stand-alone movie, which is definitely exciting.

And, depending on how you feel about ‘The Last Jedi’ (which I loved) the fact that Rian Johnson is still seemingly due to make an entirely new Star Wars trilogy is either going to be something to look forward to or something to dread. But I’m definitely looking forward to it.

I’m looking forward to all of it.

If, of course, any of it happens.

But it’s hard to be certain.

Impossible to see the future is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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

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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 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 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

mace

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 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

palpy2

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

hux

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

paige

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 24

James Proclaims (6)

Shazam-Xmas-1-min-1024x576

And so The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films comes to an end.

But what film could be lurking behind door 24?

Why it’s only the utterly brilliant 2019 superhero movie Shazam!.

When it comes to superheroes on the silver screen, there’s no denying that Marvel/Disney have had considerably more success in recent years than DC/Warner Bros and certainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe is far more coherent than the DC Extended Universe. That said, inconsistent though DC./ Warner Bros have been, on the few occasions that they get it right, they really get it right.

And with  Shazam! they got it spectacularly right.

Lighter in tone and eminently more fun than most superhero offerings these days, it still packs enough of a punch to keep action fans interested.

Given that the eponymous hero is a teenage boy who transforms into a an adult (Asher Angel and Zachary Levi do a remarkable job of convincing us that they are the same person) comparisons with 1988’s Big are inevitable, and it’s nice to see a little homage to one of the more memorable scenes from that film in this one.

Shazam! is immensely entertaining from start to finish and easily one of the best offerings within the DC Extended Universe alongside 2017’s Wonder Woman.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 5

In spite of its release in April of this year, Shazam! is about as Christmas(ish) as they come. Tinsel and baubles abound and there are multiple scenes with a cowardly (and foulmouthed) Santa. The final showdown between good and evil takes place in a Christmas fair and there is snow aplenty throughout the movie. Even the prologue at the beginning is set during Christmas 1974.  This is a movie that is virtually guaranteed repeat viewings every December.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 23

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crash

Time for door 23 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films, which, thankfully means we’re almost done with my delusions of film connoisseurship for another year.

Probably.

I have been known to throw in the odd film review that has nothing to do with Christmas in the past.

But it’s hardly a regular occurrence so once tomorrow’s entry is done and dusted I’ll be back to writing about …erm… whatever it is I normally write about.

Which is mostly nothing.

Or, as has been the case of much of 2019, I might not write anything at all. Which is the same as writing about nothing but with less words.

Back to today though and the penultimate entry in this years pointless cinematic Christmas countdown is 2005’s Crash.

Which is undisputedly a good film.

It won an Oscar for Best Picture for goodness sake.

And it has a fantastic ensemble cast.

Although, and maybe it’s just me, but it does seem a little bit trite at times. And heavy-handed with it’s core message.

Maybe it was more ground-breaking in 2005 than it seems to be in 2019.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely worth a watch. There are some genuinely great performances and some truly affecting moments.

I just don’t think it’s as good as it thinks it is.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 3

Crash definitely appears to be set around Christmas. But I’m not at all sure why. It doesn’t need to be. It seemingly adds nothing at all to the movie and aside from when there are obvious decorations in the background, you could easily forget the time of year. But there are enough trees, lights and baubles to make it undeniably a bit Christmas(ish).

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 22

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run

2015’s Run All Night is the third (of four to date) collaborations between director Jaume Collet-Serra and senescent superman Liam Neeson.

Like all their other collaborations (Unknown, Non-Stop and The Commuter)  it’s a pretty ‘by the numbers’ action flic.

This is fine if you like that kind of thing.

Which I do.

Unfortunately, at times, Run All Night seems to think it’s a better film than it is and  it probably takes itself a bit too seriously at times. It could definitely do with an injection of humour.

But it’s a perfectly serviceable if somewhat derivative thriller.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

Despite the absence of anything remotely resembling joy, there’s no denying that this film is quite Christmas(ish). There are Christmas lights and trees aplenty in the background. Also Neeson dresses up a Santa at one point. Admittedly a creepy and intoxicated Santa, but Santa nonetheless.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 21

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diner

Barry Levinson’s 1982 directorial debut, Diner  is an eminently watchable film.

Although nothing much really happens.

Set in 1959, it’s a sort-of coming-of-age story about a group of twenty-something guys who spend quite a lot of their time in a diner.

Notionally focussing on the build-up to the imminent wedding of one of their number, it touches on themes such as gambling, alcoholism, infidelity and unrequited love. But it doesn’t really focus on any of them for very long and there isn’t really a great deal of jeopardy for the characters.

It’s enjoyable enough though and boasts a pretty decent cast, including Kevin Bacon, Steve Guttenberg and a show-stealing performance from Mickey Rourke.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

It’s overtly, explicitly and visibly set over the Christmas period, opening on Christmas night and concluding on New Year’s Eve. The festive setting adds very little to the narrative, but it’s so obvious in most of the scenes that it would be churlish to describe this movie as anything other than Christmas(ish)

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 20

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Better Off Dead 2

Door 20 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films brings us 1985’s Better Off Dead.

Which is quite a strange film.

At first I thought it was an 80s teen comedy in the mould of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Which would be no bad thing because that is a great movie.

But, although there are many elements of that genre present and correct, Better Off Dead is quite different.

Which, as it turns out, is no bad thing either.

A movie in which the lead character periodically tries to commit suicide possibly doesn’t sound like much fun, but it is a pretty funny film albeit the humour is on the dark side. It’s also surprisingly surreal and often subversive.

I’m not sure it’s fully stood the test of time, and at times it is a little too weird for its own good, but there is plenty to enjoy in the 97 minutes running time.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

Quite a lot of the movie is set around the festive period and visibly so. It does feature one of the strangest on-screen Christmases of possibly all time, but there’s no denying that for much of the running time ’tis very much the season.

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 19

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soldier3

1998’s Soldier seems like exactly the kind of film I would have been watching in the late 90’s. It’s as generic a sci-fi action flic as you could hope to find and it was made at a time when I was watching little else.

Somehow, however, it passed me by.

Which was no great loss really.

Because it’s quite bad in most respects.

But I’ll always find it hard to hate a late 90s action movie and I did quite enjoy this.

And it does have a surprisingly good cast, including a pumped up Kurt Russell as the eponymous hero, and Jason Isaacs as the main bad guy.

It was written by the same screenwriter who wrote  Blade Runner and is notionally set in the same ‘universe’.

Although to compare  Soldier to  Blade Runner is a bit embarrassing really.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 3

For a mindless action movie set in space, with pretty much non-stop violence throughout, this is surprisingly Christmas(ish). There is a lively Christmas party about 40 minutes in, complete with a guy dressed as Santa, and then when the bloodshed really kicks in, there are visible Christmas decorations in most of the scenes. But a lot of people still die in a variety of gratuitously violent ways…

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 18

James Proclaims (6)

edward

It’s December 18th, which means we’re now only a week from the big day. Probably time to start wrapping the presents. Be careful with those scissors though.

Particularly if your name’s Edward

And the scissors are your hands.

Yes, behind door 18 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films is none other than Edward Scissorhands.

Tim Burton’s 1990 gothic fairy-tale is as mad as it is brilliant. It manages to be poignant, tragic and funny, often simultaneously. Johnny Depp delivers an astonishing performance as the eponymous hero, all while seemingly saying and doing very little.

I liked this movie when I was a kid but I like it even more now. Indeed, it seems to get better with every viewing.

Admittedly if you’re of a cynical disposition you could argue that a number of plot points don’t stand up to scrutiny, but this is one movie where it’s better to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the weird and wonderful world that Burton creates.

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 4

Although only the last twenty minutes are specifically set at Christmas, the fairy-tale aspect of the film does augment the overall Christmasishness of the movie. Plus Edward is directly responsible for there being snow in the town. And snow always helps. So all in all it is pretty Christmas(ish) but it’s a very ‘Tim Burton’ sort of Christmas. Which isn’t necessarily the happiest of Christmases. 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 17

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boat that rocked

If  yesterday’s entry, Love Actually found me conflicted over my feelings about Richard Curtis as a filmmaker, then his directorial follow-up The Boat That Rocked did little to help resolve those conflicts.

The Boat That Rocked is a ‘sort-of’ love letter to the pirate radio stations of the 1960s. I wasn’t alive then, so have no recollection of the time when popular music was not allowed to be played on the BBC, and teenagers had to get their fix by tuning in to illegal radio transmissions by the likes of Radio Caroline, which was, quite literally, broadcast from a boat.

Presumably a boat that rocked.

My mum remembers it. But she listened to Radio Luxembourg. Which kind of did the same thing. But wasn’t on a boat so much as in a country.

Presumably a country that rocked.

And was called Luxembourg.

The radio station in The Boat That Rocked  is not Radio Caroline. It’s a fictional radio station called Radio Rock. But it is, one imagines,  essentially supposed to be Radio Caroline.

The Boat That Rocked (apparently known by the much less satisfying title of Pirate Radio outside of the UK) is quite typical of Curtis’ ouevre insofar as privileged bumbling British people make up, if not all, then certainly the majority of the characters. Also, while it’s generally conventional for a Richard Curtis film to have one character who is a bit more stupid than everyone else, that character in this film is just a bit too stupid.

It’s ultimately a ‘not-great’ film with some ‘still-pretty-great’ bits. The cast, as with Love Actually, is nothing short of stellar. And they’re all fine.

But some of them are phoning it in a bit.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Not really a Christmas movie, but the big day does feature (and there is a juxtaposition of the Christmas dinners of the ‘groovy people’ on the boat and the ‘straights’ who are trying to shut them down). Also the denoument of the narrative appears to be around New Year.

So sort of Christmas(ish).

But not very.

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 16

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love actually

Richard Curtis is a man who divides opinions. Specifically he divides my opinions. In some respects the man achieved a God-like status in my esteem in my formative years, because he was one of the people responsible for bringing the world  Blackadder. No-one linked with that peerless television programme could ever do any wrong in my eyes. Except that some of them obviously have.

It’s not anyone’s fault, when you’re involved with something that good, everything else you do is bound to suffer by comparison. Fellow  Blackadder writer, Ben Elton, has certainly produced his fair share of crap in subsequent years, and even Rowan Atkinson, a man who generally renders any movie or TV show significantly funnier by just being in it, did blot his copy book by starring in Elton’s genuinely dreadful 90s sitcom  The Thin Blue Line.

As for Curtis, as well as  Blackadder, he’s been the creative force behind a lot of TV shows that I’ve loved over the years, almost too many to list. But when it comes to his cinematic output, I’m not sure how I feel about him.

I mean I’m genuinely not sure.

Notionally, both Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill seem, on paper, like movies I wouldn’t like.  But I do quite like both of them.

However, enjoyable though those movies both are, there is a tendency, within Curtis’ films, towards a world in which fairly privileged Brits bumble around being slightly awkward. It’s a cliché that works well in Four Weddings and a Funeral. It still works in Notting Hill  but you get the feeling that it’s a stchick that will eventually run its course.

I didn’t go out of my way to avoid subsequent movies linked to Curtis, but I hadn’t seen Love Actually until this year. A fact which has been greeted with incredulity by every person I have known over the years. It’s almost as if watching this movie is like a rite of passage or something. Like you can’t be truly British if you haven’t seen Love Actually.

The movie was Curtis’ directional debut (he served as screenwriter on the other aforementioned movies) and it is everything I feared it would be. Saccharine, sickly, with more clichés and platitudes than would seem possible in 136 minutes, it’s a bit of an incoherent shambles in many respects. It sort of works, but it’s best not scrutinise the narrative too closely.

The cast is, quite simply, phenomenal, but with that much acting talent on display, it’s hard for anyone to really shine. Hugh Grant’s prime minister did seem quite a refreshing, albeit, implausible alternative to the kinds of choices we’ve had on offer in recent years. Although it’s not hard to imagine Bo Jo having a relationship with one of his staff, it wouldn’t be the endearing romance that Grant’s character enjoys with Martine McCutcheon’s ‘Natalie’.

I can see why people would like this film. It’s the kind of feel good movie that is bound to appeal to certain audiences.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But, based on my usual cinematic tastes, it really shouldn’t appeal to me.

But I did quite enjoy it.

Damn you Curtis.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 5

When, two years ago, I started the first ‘James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films’, a friend of mine suggested that I had to include Love Actually, and insisted that I leave the pub that we were sitting in imbibing alcohol to go and watch it immediately (having been as appalled as everyone else that I hadn’t yet familiarised myself with this most seminal exemplar of British culture). 

I was a bit sceptical, assuming it that it was an out and out Christmas movie and therefore had no place on a list of  Christmas(ish) movies.

But, after two years I succumbed and watched it.

And I suppose it could be argued that it isn’t technically a movie about Christmas.

Because it’s about Love.

Actually. 

But it is very Christmas(ish) and you probably wouldn’t watch it at any other time of year.

 

 

 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 15

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american psycho

Door 15 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films reveals the third in this year’s collection, which is an adaptation of a novel by Brett Easton Ellis. And of the three it is by far the best.

It’s also the second film in this year’s ensemble to have the word ‘psycho’ in the title. Although the last one was just called Psycho. This one is called American Psycho.

American Pyscho is as much a satire as it is a horror movie and while it doesn’t hold back on the violence and gore (although it is significantly toned down from the novel) it is also genuinely funny and irreverent towards the world it depicts, which is that of the invesment banker in the 1980s.

The whole cast is decent enough but this is all about Christian Bale who gives a tour de force performance as Patrick Bateman, the titular psychopath.

 

Score for Christmasishness

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Although the timeline of the movie covers a number of months, one of the stand-out moments is the Christmas party scene, which simultaneously lampoons the vacuous and obscenely opulent world that Bateman inhabits, while also setting up a murder, which resonates throughout the rest of the film. Not really a Christmas film then, but one in which Christmas plays a small but integral part of the narrative. So a bit Christmas(ish). 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 14

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time machine

We’re up to door 14 The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films and it’s as if time is literally flying by as we head toward Christmas.

Maybe we could do with a time machine. Like the one in 2002’s The Time Machine.

Although it doesn’t seem to be the most reliable of devices, so maybe it’s best avoided.

The Time Machine is adapted from the H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name. Which I haven’t read, although it is exactly the kind of thing I would read because I like to occassionally  sample a smattering of the classics for entirely pretentious reasons.

But in this case  I haven’t, so I watched this movie without any knowledge of its source material. I don’t know if that in any way hampered my enjoyment but it seems unlikely.

It was directed by Well’s great grandson. I don’t suppose we can accuse the author of nepotism because he died some 56 years before this film was made. But obviously being a direct descendant might have swung the gig for Simon Wells. Although he’s been involved in a few animated features in his time, The Time Machine  remains his only live-action movie. And rightly so, because it is rubbish.

I didn’t hate it though. It’s disjointed and muddled with enough plot-holes to make a decent metaphorical golf course, but it all pretty inoffensive and, it it’s own flawed way it is strangely quite charming.

But to be clear, not good in any way.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

Quite a lot of the film is set in some weird dystopian future where Christmas probably isn’t even a thing, but the beginning is set in New York at the end of the 19th century and here ’tis very much the season. Indeed it’s all rather lovely until things take a turn for the darker. Then it’s less lovely. But still fairly Christmas(ish). Until the time travelling begins in earnest. Then it isn’t at all.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 13

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Psycho1

It’s Friday the 13th. Which is considered unlucky by some. And possibly it is for the entire population of the UK who might well be waking up to find out that someone truly awful is now their prime minister. I wouldn’t know as I’m writing this in the past. Although given that both of the leading contenders were pretty dreadful, it’s probably a safe bet that no-one good actually won. In fact even the outsiders were all very much in the ‘hard to like’ mould so it probably is a safe assumption that we have a rubbish leader of the country this morning.

Then again – plus ça change.

What I do know with absolute certainty is that today is the 13th day of December, which must mean that it’s time for door 13 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

Because it is Friday the 13th, maybe it would be appropriate to go for something from the darker side of cinema. And what could be more appropriate than Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece, Psycho?

I had never seen Psycho before this year, but, because it’s a classic and it’s almost sixty years old, I had read one or two spoilers over the years. At least part of the appeal of this movie is that it contains a lot of twists, and given that I knew about a lot of those twists before I started watching, I assumed that I wouldn’t get that much out of the movie.

I was wrong. Even though I pretty much knew what was coming, I was on glued to the screen for the entire running time. In 1960  Psycho was pretty ground-breaking stuff, but it still seems pretty unique and certainly holds up well today. So much so, that the 1998 remake (which to be fair I’ve never seen) seems like it was probably a pretty pointless endeavour.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 1

Ok, so this one is not even remotely Christmas(ish). Except for one scene, right at the start of the movie, when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is leaving town and we can see Christmas decorations on the high street. This wasn’t intentional – they were just there on the day that scene was filmed but this visible reference to Christmas led to the whole movie being set in December. Indeed, at the beginning of the movie a caption informs us that the date is the 11th December. This would in turn, according to the movie’s own timeline, mean that many of the events should actually take place over festive period. But aside from that one scene, Christmas is never mentioned again. 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 12

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a long way down

It’s December 12th and, if my understanding of current events is in any way accurate, then I believe there is a general election happening in the UK today. I don’t think too many people are feeling very optimistic about the outcome of that election.

Hopefully we won’t all feel the need to throw ourselves off a building tomorrow though.

And if that seems like a fairly clumsy way to deal with mental health and suicidal feelings then it’s no more clumsy than 2014’s A long Way Down.

Which is the movie behind door number 12 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

Like yesterday’s entry,  About A Boy, this movie is based on a novel by Nick Hornby. However, wheras  About A Boy is a really good film,  A Long Way Down is not. Which is a shame, because I remember really enjoying the book. It’s probably not Hornby’s best work and maybe the material never really lent itself to adaptation for the screen,  but it still deserved better than this.

The cast is decent enough. Pierce Brosnan feels a little miscast, but Toni Collette, Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots all do their best with what little material they have to work with. It is, however, to little avail.

Such is the reverence that I have for Nick Hornby that I really wanted this to be good.

But it isn’t.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

There’s more of a ‘New Year’s Eve’ vibe to this rather than any explicit references to Christmas. The film opens on December 31st, at a time when things have hit rock-bottom for the four main protagonists, and conclude on the same date the following year when (spoiler alert!) things are a bit better. The majority of the action takes place in the six weeks which immediately follow the Christmas period, rather than during the festive season, but we do spend a lot of time getting to know the protagonists on that first New Year’s Eve, so there are lots of Christmas decorations and the like in the early scenes. Plus New Year is very much part of the whole Christmas experience so this still counts as a bit Christmas(ish). Which still doesn’t make it a good film sadly.

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 11

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about-a-boy

11 days into The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films and we arrive at 2002’s About a Boy. Which is about a boy. And also some other people.

Adapted from the 1998 novel by Nick Hornby (an author who occupies God-like status in my esteem)  About a Boy is not really like any other movie. And that is a very much a good thing. It deals with some pretty serious issues such as mental health and bullying but manages to remain light in tone and eminently feel-good throughout. A young Nicholas Hoult gives an early indication of the career that awaits him and delivers an excellent performance as Marcus, the ‘boy’ of the title. This is very much Hugh Grant’s movie though. Being a fan of the book, I wasn’t especially convinced that Grant was the right choice for the role, but with the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the part of shallow but self-aware Will.

About a Boy is a near perfect adaptation of what is arguably Hornby’s best novel. Thow in a completely original soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy and it really doesn’t get much better.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 3

It’s not ostensibly a Christmas movie but two Christmases feature in the story – one at quite a pivotal stage in the development of the relationship between Will and Marcus and one at the denouement of the movie, which wraps the narrative up rather appropriately. Throw in the fact that Will’s bachelor-pad lifestyle is funded solely through the royalties generated by a Christmas song that his father wrote and there is certainly enough to evoke a Christmas(ish) feeling to this film.

 

 

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 10

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rules of attraction

Door 10 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films brings us 2002’s The Rules of Attraction. Which is not the helpful guide that you might imagine it to be. Indeed I’m not sure that there are any rules of any description on offer.

As with Door 7’s entry  Less Than Zero this movie is an adaptation of a Brett Easton Ellis novel. According to those in the know (which definitely doesn’t include me, given that I have read only one novel by this particular author and isn’t either of the above) The Rules of Attraction is more faithful to the original novel.

The movie is, much like Less than Zero, largely about some fairly unpleasant and overprivileged young people who seem to not like anyone, least of all themselves. Starring James van der Beek, who at the time was probably best known as being Dawson off of Dawson’s Creek and …er… probably still is, the film is possibly easier to follow if you’ve read the source material.

But, as I haven’t, it all seemed like a bit of an incoherent mess.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 2

It’s not especially Christmas(ish) but the movie does begin at what appears to be a New Year’s Eve Party (dubbed the ‘End of the World’ party). The film then back tracks to the beginning of the academic term (so presumably circa September/October) before events lead up to the same party, which is where the film concludes. There are, therefore, visible Christmas decorations for enough of the running time for this to be considered, at least a bit, Christmas(ish). Also there is a lot of snow at the denouement of the film, which always helps.

The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films – Door 9

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Shaft 2000 - Samuel L. Jackson

As it is very much the 9th Day of December, it seems only right that we open door number 9 of The Third Annual James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films.

And behind the door we find John Shaft II, protagonist of 2000’s Shaft, which is a sort-of-reboot/sort-of-sequel to the 1970’s trilogy of movies. Starring Samuel L. Jackson as the nephew to Richard Roundtree’s original John Shaft (although I believe that has been retconned in a subsequent sequel to him actually being his son), the 2000 iteration is an entertaining enough affair. Jackson is a suitably charismatic lead, while Jeffrey Wright and Christian Bale more than hold their own as the two (very different) main antagonists.

 

Score for Christmasishness

stocking 1

Ok, this is one of the more tenuous films to make the cut (although probably not the most tenuous). Christmas is largely irrelevant to most of the movie, but the opening scenes do appear to be set around Christmas. However those scenes also depict the aftermath of a particularly brutal and racially-motivated murder. So not really one to get you in the festive mood.