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

James Proclaims (4)

solo-a-star-wars-story-poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Han

Han Solo, Alden Ehrenheich

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

Worst character – L337

null

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

Unsung heroes – Val and Rio

nullRio_Durant_Databank

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

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

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

James Proclaims (4)

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

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

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

But it probably is the best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which it isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – K2SO

k2so 

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

Worst Character – Baze Malbus

Baze-Malbus_Big_6

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

Unsung hero – Bohdi Rook

bohdi

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

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

Or something more obscure.

 

 

 

May The 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

Jeremitt.JPGCatarine.JPG

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

Usung Hero – Chukha-Trok

chukka

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

star-wars-characters-luke-skywalker-1000x563

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

captain-phasma-featured

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

Unsung Hero – Chewie

chew

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

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

May The Sixth Be With You: Return Of The Jedi

James Proclaims (4)

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

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

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

And now to the spoiler alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Princess Leia

ROTJ_Han-and-Leia

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

Worst Character – Admiral Ackbar

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

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

Unsung Hero – Wedge Antilles

wed

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

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

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

 

 

May The Fifth Be With You: The Empire Strikes Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But incestual kisses aside it’s all good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Character – Han Solo

empirestrikesback-hansolo-jacket-selfpoint-700x330

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

Worst Character – Boba Fett

boba

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

Unsung Hero – Captain Needa

needa

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

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