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 Thirtieth Be With You: The Mandalorian

James Proclaims (4)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character  – The Child (AKA Baby Yoda)

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

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

Worst character – Toro Calican

toro

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

Unsung hero – Paz Visla

Paz_Vizla

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

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

I have spoken.

 

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

James Proclaims (4)

lego

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

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

And obviously Star Wars is no exception.

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

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

And again, Star Wars is quite well represented.

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

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

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

And I’m going to write about it now.

But first a spoiler alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Palpatine

palpy 3

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

Worst character – Admiral Ackbar

acky

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

Unsung Heroes – Chewbacca and Nien Nunb

chewy

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

 

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

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

James Proclaims (4)

star-wars-resistance

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

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

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

But before all that, please enjoy this spoiler alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Neeku Vozo

Neeku_Vozo

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

Worst Character – Jarek Yeager

See the source image

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

Unsung hero – CB23

CB-23.JPG

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

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

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

James Proclaims (4)

rebels

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

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

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

But first a spoiler alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But will the good guys also die?

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

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

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

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

Best character (so far) – Ezra Bridger

ezra

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

Worst Character (so far)  – Chopper

chopper

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

Unsung hero – Minister Tua

tua

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

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

 

 

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

James Proclaims (4)

Star_Wars_The_Clone_Wars

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

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

But to write about it for the whole month?

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

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

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

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

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

Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Ahsoka Tano

ahsoka

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

Worst character – Tan Divo

tan di

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

Unsung hero – Riff Tamson

riff

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

 

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

May The Twenty-Fifth Be With You: Do Or Do Not, There Is No Dry

James Proclaims (4)

Today is Towel Day, an annual celebration in honour of the late great Douglas Adams, and in particular ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, which is celebrating it’s 42nd anniversary this year. As fans of that particular guide will know, this is especially pertinent, what with ’42’ being the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

I love ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’, I’ve read all the books multiple times and consumed it in many of its other various guises (radio show, TV show and movie), so I feel it’s only right that I join in the fun of Towel Day this year.

But I’m currently (for reasons I can’t quite remember) committed to writing about Star Wars for the entirety of this month, which presents something of a conflict of interests.

To be fair, there are some links between the two; both are set in space and although both are frequently mistaken for science fiction, there isn’t much in the way of actual science in either (a bit like current government policy surrounding ‘you know what’, which frequently claims to be guided by ‘the science’ but might as well be guided by ‘the force’ for all it has made any actual sense, and certainly ‘knowing where your towel is’ seems infinitely wiser advice than anything that has come out of the mouth of Mr Johnson of late, although his recent defence of Dominic Cummings was a new low even by his standards).

Also they’re fairly contemporaneous, with Star Wars coming into our lives in 1977 and the first incarnation (the radio version) of ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ popping up in 1978.

Oh and there were 42 years between the first Star Wars movie and ‘The Rise of Skywalker’, and while the latter seems unlikely to be the last Star Wars movie, it did notionally wrap up the story started by the first movie,  a story now commonly referred to as the ‘Skywalker Saga’. So I think ’42’ has some pertinence to Star Wars.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to justify writing a post about ‘The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘Star Wars’ without a more forensic, detailed look at the parallels and differences between the two.

Unless you happen to own a Star Wars themed towel. Then you can cheat and just post a picture of that…

 

Thanks to Pedantry at Wibble for blogging fairly regularly about this year’s Towel Day, otherwise I might have missed it and today you could be reading about some obscure Star Wars cartoon that you have never seen and have no intention of ever watching….

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

James Proclaims (4)

solo-a-star-wars-story-poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Han

Han Solo, Alden Ehrenheich

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

Worst character – L337

null

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

Unsung heroes – Val and Rio

nullRio_Durant_Databank

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

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

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

James Proclaims (4)

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

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

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

But it probably is the best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which it isn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – K2SO

k2so 

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

Worst Character – Baze Malbus

Baze-Malbus_Big_6

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

Unsung hero – Bohdi Rook

bohdi

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

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

Or something more obscure.

 

 

 

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

James Proclaims (4)

forces-of-destiny-logo

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

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

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

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

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

But first a spoiler alert:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best character – Leia

leia

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

Worst character – Qi’ra

qu

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

Unsung hero – Kneesaa

kneesa

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

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