The strange case of George Lucas

George Lucas is the creator of Star Wars, and is a very,very, very,very, very wealthy man even before he sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney for billions of dollars so he could sit around spending the rest of his life counting his money. Sadly, Lucas decided to become a grumpy old man upon seeing The Force Awakens and decided that Disney and J.J Abrams had pissed all over his children.

This is a case of seller’s remorse. He’s seen something that he didn’t think of  be more popular than his own work and he’s thrown a strop, but here’s the thing about selling something: once it’s gone it’s not yours. Sure, you can comment upon it, but don’t act like a dick when people call you out and ask you if why you sold it for billions of dollars if you think you can do better?

But this is because for a long, long time nobody has ever called Lucas out or challenged him. He’s been surrounded by Yes Men/Women for far too long and when realising that he’s no longer at the centre of his own creation has kicked back in the media to try to make a case that he’s somehow been wronged, yet, unlike say, the case of Jack Kirby, or Alan Moore, or endless Disney cartoonists over the decades this isn’t a case of a Massive Corporation shafting a lowly creator. This is the case of a very powerful creator making a boat full of cash and getting pissy.

It’s bullshit basically, as are those people crying out for Lucas to be reinstated back at the head of the Star Wars sage. Tough, he sold out. Disney went off to do their own thing and that really is the end of it.

However this is an excuse to post the documentary of the making of The Phantom Menace. Apart from showing the fact that Lucas had turned into a terrible director by this point, it also shows the entire forelock tugging that went on around him in scenes that play like something written by Ricky Gervais in The Office. My favourite scenes are the one where Lucas tries to explain to his mate Steven Spielberg that the droid army is going to look cool with Spielberg doing that thing mates do of being nice, but at the same time thinking ‘fucking hell, really??’.

The second is after the first viewing of the film where everyone realises they’ve got a stinker on their hands. People’s faces are pale as they try to sort out a mess that never got sorted out because nobody had the bollocks to say, ‘actually George, that’s shite, let’s try something else”.

Anyhow, here’s the film, get ready to cringe….

What I thought of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

Spoilers ahead.

Don’t read on if you’ve not seen the film!

Ten years ago the last Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith was released and everyone had the same feeling of relief one has when a loved one finally dies after a long and painful illness. The prequels were finally over and we could all go back to remembering the Star Wars films when they were fit and healthy rather than dying on their feet. Few people thought a decade on we’d have a new Star Wars film, let alone one without the involvement of creator George Lucas, but in Christmas 2015 we’ve got The Force Awakens from director/writer J.J Abrams which is the fist of a series of new films under the new Disney ownership.

As a film it’s fantastic. As a Star Wars film it’s spectacular. This isn’t a dying relative, but some spritely young thing kicking your back doors in. It’s not perfect, not film is, but the gaping plot holes (and there’s two big holes in the film) are easy to ignore. The plot follows some of the same beats at the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, but it’s remixed not to mention this new trilogy seems to have been planned out in advance so there’s dangling threads in terms of plot and characterisation so I don’t mind that.

The plot starts with an opening scene where Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), a resistance pilot trying to find a map with the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (who’s went into hiding) is meeting on Jakku with Max von Sydow’s character and instantly the fact Sydow is speaking the first lines in the new film adds it a gravitas from the off that the opening drivel about trade and taxes in Phantom Menace doesn’t have. From there on in for the next 40 minutes or so the film doesn’t let up. We see the First Order massacre a village of innocents, Poe’s droid BB8 escapes into the desert with the MacGuffin (the map) then a Stormtrooper in the name of Finn (John Boyega) rebel against their brutality, and then escape with Poe in a TIE Fighter from the cruiser they’re on which is shot down and crash lands on Jakku.

The first act of the film takes place almost exclusively on Jakku, a desert planet designed to invoke the original but one that had one of the final battles between the Empire and the Rebellion. It’s here that Abrams has some frankly astonishingly framed shots that blow the closed, tedious shots of the prequels. It’s also on Jakku we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is this generations Luke Skywalker, and that comparison becomes clearer in the third act, but the rest of the first act involves Rey and Finn meeting, being found by the First Order, fighting and then escaping Jakku in the Millennium Falcon (which just happens to be on Jakku) before being captured in space by a freighter piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Harrison Ford is clearly having some fun playing Solo as a grumpy old man, but it’s really the new characters that sell the film as Ridley, Boyega and Adam Driver’s gloriously pissy Kylo Ren (a Darth Vader cosplaying fanboy acting as the First Order’s muscle) that steal the film from the established cast, though Ford has a lot of screentime with all three with some scenes being charming, and one in particular being shocking if you’re not expecting it.

Act two is about filling in the plot which involves a mega Death Star called Starkiller Base that threatens the new republic, but baddies being baddies the First Order use it to destroy the heart of the republic. What I do like here is that the First Order aren’t as organised as the Empire was, plus they’re more bloodthirsty, so they’re the ISIS to the Empire’s Al Queda.

In a very Cantina type bar (and another nod to the original films) on another alien planet that Han takes them to, Finn and Rey find Luke’s old lightsabre thought lost in Empire Strikes Back,but Rey rejects it after experiencing a vision. As the First Order catch up with them (as they too want the MacGuffin so Kylo Ren can find and kill Luke therefore completing the task Darth Vader couldn’t) a battle breaks out, Rey is captured by Kylo Ren, and Finn takes up the lightsabre in battle against his former comrades. After a bit of some frankly dodgy exposition, we’re taken to the home of the resistance after being reintroduced to Leia (Carrie Fisher’s Stallone level botox will make you gasp) there’s a desperate final attempt to blow up Starkiller Base, and to rescue Rey. Also around now it’s revealed Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s son who was being trained as a Jedi by Luke, but he went to the dark side, hence why Luke fled into hiding.

Rey however proves to be more than capable as she’s not only able to resist Kylo Ren’s force assisted torture, but she’s able to throw it back at him. Indeed, I read this scene as Kylo Ren fiddling around with someone he’s underestimated and misunderstood, not to mention that he triggers something in Rey who manages to use the force to escape, join up with Finn, Han and Chewie on Starkiller Base, However as they sabotage the thingy they need to so the resistance fighters can blow everything up at the end of the film, Han confronts Kylo Ren who has been struggling with being pulled to the light side of the Force. Han and Ben (Kylo Ren’s real name) have a moment where we think perhaps his father has pulled him from the edge, but no, as the sun blinks out and everything turns dark, Kylo kills his father.

At this point Chewbacca goes mental against First Order stormtroopers, as Finn and Rey chase down Kylo. The three face off in a nearby forest to the thingy that needs to get blown up to help end the film is, and just as we think we’re in for a big fight with all three Kylo knocks out Rey, so Finn takes up the lightsabre against the better trained Kylo. He manages to hold his own for a bit but Kylo starts battering him, before nearly killing him and knocking Luke’s old lightsabre into the snow. Kylo reaches out for it using the Force (he is after all, a Jedi fanboy and this is the ultimate bit of memorabilia)  but as the lightsabre flies out of the snow it passes Kylo’s hand and smacks into a surprised looking Rey. The pair have a fight that’s infinitely better than all the fights in the prequels combined.

Rey gets the upper hand on Kylo, gives him a scar to remember her by but before the battle can end, they’re separated by an earthquake as the planet falls apart as the resistance have blown the thingy up. Fortunately Chewie turns up in the Falcon saving Rey and the comatose Finn. Everyone escapes. Plot threads are left dangling for the next two films, and the film ends with Rey, Chewie and R2D2 finding Luke on a remote planet that looks like Ireland. We has a final shot of Luke and Rey meeting. The End.

Plot wise The Force Awakens borrows a lot of beats from the original films so you could say it’s ‘fan service’ but Abrams would have been damned had he done nothing, so he couldn’t win. For me, he gets it right and yes, I think you could go into this film and not needing to have seen the original films because what’s being done is that Abrams is playing with the culture of Star Wars. In fact, Kylo Ren is a meta-comment on fans (dressing as his hero, collecting relics) and a great character in his own right as we’ve not really seen the baddies in a Star Wars film being developed, or having a story arc outwith of Darth Vader and even then that felt tagged on a bit. This doesn’t. Neither does Finn’s arc, or indeed Rey’s. Only Poe Dameron’s character feels thin not to mention is at the centre of one of the film’s plot holes as how did he escape Jakku??

Most of all it feels like Star Wars. I care about the characters from the minute Poe is cracking gags at Kylo Ren, or Finn undergoes a crisis of conscience and decides to redeem himself, to Rey being a lonley scavenger on a backwater planet to  someone that can beat Kylo Ren in a lightsabre fight. It also helps that the script is good. It’s tense, action packed and funny in all the right places, though there’s a lull in the second act and the Starkiller attack is a bit gubbins as it gets in the way of the more interesting battle between Kylo, Finn and Rey, the script is splendid. Just let yourself go and let Abrams hammer you with nostalgia and you’ll love The Force Awakens.

I don’t think it’s better than A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back, but it is better than Return of the Jedi because it’s got real actual character development plus it gives us an important cast member death scene that the films needed (Ford wanted Han to die in Jedi, and he’s right, he should have. It’d have made the situation clearly grave enough that one of our heroes died, but Lucas talked Ford out of it. 30 years later he gets his death scene) plus the new characters are delightful, fun, exciting and threatening. I give a fuck for Finn as he tries to escape the First Order and in the process become a hero. I empathise with Rey locked away waiting for something to happen to her. I even get Kylo Ren’s emo angst. In fact I want to see more of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB8, Kylo Ren and everyone in the film, apart from Supreme Leader Snoke who is just not threatening, or evil enough.

There’s been complaints online that these characters haven’t been fleshed out. We’ve not been told everything about them, or that Rey’s use of the Force in the third act is ‘unrealistic’ in a film where space travel is easy.This is the first of a new trilogy of space fantasy films, so not that word ‘fantasy’ as this is just fantasy, and there’s clearly a plan for the next two films so in this era of people being spoonfed everything it’s going to be hard for people to realise that they’ve got two years to wait til more of the puzzle is revealed but it’s clever. After all, if you’re one of the millions of people that aren’t fans going to see this film and you like it, then you’ll want to come back to get the next chapter. That said,the film probably needed a bit more in the Jakku scenes to give us a bit more of Rey’s life but this is a minor point.

I can’t believe that in 2015 we’ve finally gotten a good Star Wars film that’s a couple of hours of entertaining fun as opposed to a load of bollocks.A year ago the new characters were introduced and people were wary, but now looking back at that teaser I can’t help thinking how great a bit of marketing it is as these are the people we’ll be turning into icons from now on.

See The Force Awakens. It’s blockbuster that doesn’t disappoint.

Looking back at the Star Wars saga: Part Two: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi

In the first part of my rewatching the Star Wars films I endured the prequel trilogy again, something I’m not going to put myself through again in a hurry. Moving on quickly to the original trilogy, and the first film, Star Wars, or A New Hope if you’re a proper pedantic fan.

If you look at the first film it’s an amazingly simple film, but it isn’t. Creator George Lucas puts together a perfect faiytale fantasy that does what it does not simply, because that wouldn’t have worked. No, Lucas creates archetypes that are casted so well so the actors help tell the story, so we know Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker is a dreamer. We know Princess Leia played by Carrie Fisher is a smart, tough fighter. We know right away that Alec Guinness is a wise old man, or that Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is a bit of rough but has a soul deep down.

The casting is perfect. Yes, the pace of the film itself is slow compared to 21st century film, but again, it’s this pacing that works. It’s asking questions of the audience as it’s constantly dropping lines that tell of a larger world but we don’t know anything of this world and that allows our imagination to run riot. One of the best examples of this is the initial conversation between Luke and Ben where the Clone Wars, Jedi Knights, lightsabres, the Force, the Empire and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker are all introduced to the viewer

As a scene it’s brilliant. It’s probably the most important bit of world building and exposition in any of the films, but it’s sold by Hamill’s naive innocence and Guinness’s sincerity. In fact the ensemble casting is probably the best you’ll ever see in any film but it’s Alec Guinness that’s important because if Lucas hadn’t got someone of that quality as Obi Wan Kenobi then it’d have ended up failing.

Star Wars is genius. Watched at the right age it will swallow you alive because there’s so much to explore in this world, plus the good guys win and at the end the beautiful princess stands over all our heroes. The End.

To this day I remember that cold December 1977 night in Glasgow where myself and my parents queued for hours, and I mean hours, in the bitter cold waiting to get to see what was by then a phenomenon. It was a fantastic experience and I’ll never forget that night but what Star Wars does is to teach you to try and how to win. It’s overwhelmingly positive. The next film isn’t.

Sure, The Empire Strikes Back is a great SF adventure film but it’s also a film where we see our heroes lose over and over again. By the end, Luke’s been maimed and beaten by Darth Vader, Han’s been captured by Boba Fett and is being taken to Jabba the Hutt, the rebellion has been scattered and humbled by the Empire. All those heroes we loved at the end of the previous films are beaten at some point in this one.

The Empire Strikes Back is the substance of the Star Wars story. It’s ‘dark’ but if Star Wars is the heart of the saga, then Empire is the brain. It explains the entire plot, the backstory and reveals that everything isn’t as we thought. In short it’s a bit like how things are in life which for a child is a major revelation. Forget for a minute that Empire has some amazing setpieces including the best lightsabre fight of all the films, it’s a serious film if you can say such a thing about a fantasy faiytale.

There’s good reason as to why this is considered the best film in the saga by so many people. It’s because it is. It also sets up the climax in such a way that at the end of the film you wanted it to be 1983 there and then but to a kid in 1980 that wait was utterly agonising. I don’t think people today realise how that three year wait made people go mental waiting for the big ending of the saga.

That big ending came in 1983 with Return of the Jedi. Now Jedi gets a lot of stick mainly because of the bloody Ewoks, but for a film that is essentially giving over half it’s running time to a Big Climax split between the battle in space, the battle on Endor and the battle between Luke, Darth Vader and the Emperor, it ties things up well.

But, those bloody Ewoks. They’re annoying. Best to ignore them and enjoy Return of the Jedi for the rollicking good fun it is. It doesn’t stop apart from maybe three, or four scenes of exposition before it gets back to the action so by the time the second Death Star is destroyed and the Empire defeated (or so we think) we’re satisfied. Now Return of the Jedi isn’t the best Star Wars film, but it’s the most action packed, and ultimately we though in 1983 that this was the end, though Lucas had made it clear he’d do episodes 1-3 at some point and we knew how badly that turned out.

The original trilogy is glorious though. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen all three original films. I don’t particularly care as every time it’s fun not to mention it’s an easy and simple way to relive a part of childhood which is the key to Star Wars. It captures childhood at whatever point you see it like an insect trapped in amber which for me is why people go back to these films again and again. You can have the years slip back easily so you’re young again.

And in four or five days time the next Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, opens and we’ll get to see if director J.J Abrams manages to recapture what the prequels couldn’t and give us a glimpse of what it’s like to be young while setting things up for a new trilogy.

I hope he does. It’ll be nice to have a bit of shamelessly nostalgic fun and I’m going to be queuing to see this one along with millions of people worldwide next Thursday.

Just please don’t fuck it up!

John Boyega’s reaction to The Force Awakens trailer is a joy

The other day a new trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens sneaked out into the world.

What then popped up in my YouTube recommendations was this fantastic reaction video for the previous trailer from actor John Boyega who was seeing the trailer, and himself in that trailer, for the first time.

If you don’t smile or grin at this then you really are a corpse.