Star Wars

The Empire Strikes Back Hits 40!

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The news that this month marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back would definitely have made me feel very old, if only I hadn’t already felt positively ancient long before this. Can it really be four decades since one of my all-time favourite films first premiered? In my mind I still think of it as being “the new Star Wars film” even after all these years!

Naturally our friends over at Generation Star Wars are celebrating the occasion in their usual understated fashion, bouncing around the place like a bunch of three-year-olds overdosing on industrial quantities of Haribo. Or maybe that’s just down to me feeling old again? Baby Yoda is proving to be a particular troublemaker, I can tell you!

Happily, I was honoured to be asked to contribute to a discussion with long-time friend of Taking The Short View and frequent collaborator John Hood to discuss our memories of the film – possibly the best cinematic sequel of all time? – as well as what we remember of the first time we saw it, and some of the happy days we had with all those 1980s toys and merchandise.

Read the full post on Generation Star Wars here

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

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Longtime readers of Taking The Short View will know that I don’t get to go to the cinema very often these days, but that solid exceptions to the rule are the latest entries in the James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars franchises. The latest of the latter series – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – opened just before Christmas but it’s taken until now for me to actually get to see it. Miraculously I had managed to avoid any major detailed spoilers, and it’s in that same spirit that I offer this review although those seeking an entirely spoiler-free review may care to look elsewhere – just a gentle advance warning.

I confess, I’d been a little trepidatious about this movie. Partly that’s due to all the expectations riding on it as the climax of a series that has captivated me and millions (billions?) of other fans who have been on this journey since 1977. But it’s also because the few comments I did hear about the film in advance of seeing it suggested that the studio had given into agitated fans who had been vicious about the previous instalment. They suggested that Star Wars: The Last Jedi had been effectively erased from canon existence and retroactively rewritten to placate that section of fandom unable to deal with anything new and challenging and only want something warm, cosy and familiar. That really annoyed me, as I had genuinely loved and respected the previous film for trying something new and different. Now I feared that the ninth episode would capitalate and retreat back into the safety of being yet another tame refurb of the original movie, as Star Wars: The Force Awakens had largely been.

My viewing of the film this week did not start well. Read the rest of this entry »

Solo – A Star Wars Story (2018)

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Contains no plot spoilers

Long time readers of this blog, if there are such things, will know that I rarely go to the cinema these days. The only films that can tempt me back to the multiplex tend to be the latest instalments in the Star Trek, James Bond and Star Wars franchises and then mainly for sentimental reasons – not having missed a new theatrical release in any of the three series since the late 1970s.

I was starting to think that Solo – A Star Wars Story was about to he the one that finally got away. A busy period of work meant I didn’t have time to get to the cinema for several weeks after it came out (and is also the reason for the lack of new posts here, for which I can only apologise), and its growing reputation as a commercial flop for Disney meant that it was already being ushered out of the local Odeon in favour of evermore superheroes and dinosaurs.

This week was probably my final chance to see Solo on the big screen – and to be honest, I was sort of non-plused about the whole idea anyway and not even sure if I wanted to make the trip. But I did, and I’m glad I did, because I can report with no little relief that I enjoyed the film. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

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It’s been a while since I’ve been to the cinema to see a fim on the big screen, and I was shocked by how much ticket prices had risen. They’re now the same as a new-release Blu-ray, which at least has re-watch and re-sale value. Small wonder then that these days I limit my theatrical outings to three specific categories of films – new James Bond, Star Trek and Star Wars instalments – which I’ve been faithful to ever since the Seventies.

Somewhat to my surprise I duly made it to see Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi before Christmas, and without having suffered any spoilers. I’d even kept away from official trailers in the build-up to the film’s release. I had seen the reviews, and noted that they’d started with euphoric raptures before curdling somewhat with criticism from fans who weren’t happy with the direction the series was going, but I made sure to avoid any details of either praise or gripes until I’d seen the film for myself. Which I now have.

Before I go on, a word about spoilers. I don’t intend to reveal any here – I’d rather everyone saw it in the unsullied state that I managed for myself – but inevitably there will be comments and hints in this review that betray more than a given reader might like. So if you are staying clean and pure from all spoilers, then perhaps it’s better to look away now just to be sure. And just to add, some elements of The Force Awakens are also discussed here since the statute of limitations on spoilers from that film has now expired. Read the rest of this entry »

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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rogue-1Almost exactly a year ago, the Star Wars saga was triumphantly rejuvenated by the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, a film that I really enjoyed and was happy to call “almost certainly the best Star Wars film that anyone could possibly have made in 2015,” despite being somewhat frustrated by the sheer metric tonnage of nostalgia and fan service it contained and just how far it was content to ride on the coattails of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The film’s best assets were its new cast and characters which offered an injection of new life and new hope to the franchise, but The Force Awakens itself was too busy revisiting the past and reheating the same themes and plots of the original trilogy to really get the best out of them. Still, it set things up nicely for Episode VIII assuming that the filmmakers can take advantage of what they now have in their arsenal.

Before that film, however, comes a cinematic intermission in the form of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which clearly positions itself as being a tale from and about the Star Wars universe while not being a part of the main saga itself. Such anthology tales could prove to be the future of the franchise as a whole, with new films headlining Han Solo and Boba Fett already in production, so the importance of Rogue One to the health and wealth of Star Wars can hardly be understated. Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars: The Spoilers Awaken

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force-0May the Fourth be with you. It’s been over four months since the long-awaited new entry into the Star Wars canon opened in the cinemas and began its remorseless assault on worldwide box office records. Now it’s setting its sights on world domination of the home entertainment market with its release on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.

When the film opened, everyone was commendably wary of spoiling the film in any way for those who hadn’t seen it yet, even though it inevitably meant whole swaths of the film were off-limits for analysis and discussion. At this point, however, we feel comfortable in saying that anyone who is going to view it at the cinema has already duly done so, and that the arrival of the DVD surely means it’s time to throw the shutters wide open and allow some light into the deepest, darkest recesses of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and finally talk about some of its biggest secrets.

Luckily, for the purposes of this endeavour, we have an expert on hand in the form of Generation Star Wars John Hood, who is so knowledgeable about all things in this field that we suspect he actually really was born a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and is only on Earth with us now because he took a wrong turning at the local spiral cluster roundabout. By comparison, Taking The Short Views Andrew Lewin is a mere dilettante in the subject, but he is also a classic example of where a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing in the wrong hands.

Andrew’s going to start off pitching the questions and John will be initially taking care of the answers, but anyone who has followed our previous collaborations will know that such a tidy and orderly format won’t last long before descending into chaos. Hopefully amid the turmoil along the way we’ll tackle all the burning issues arising from the rebirth of the Star Wars franchise, and even take a look at what we think might be to come in future installments of the sequel trilogy.

Now this should be obvious from the headline and the preceding introduction, but just to be completely clear here’s your first and final warning: this article will be smothered in major spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. If you haven’t yet seen the film and want to maintain your purity and innocence then it’s absolutely imperative that you stop reading now. Okay? Clear? Good.

Right. Let’s jump to spoiler space! Read the rest of this entry »

Home, the long way round: Doctor Who Series 9

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Generation Star Wars John Hood and Taking The Short Views Andrew Lewin take their customary look back over the latest series of Doctor Who.

drwho-titlesAs things turned out, there wasn’t enough time between the end of Doctor Who series 9 and the follow-up Christmas special for us to produce our now-traditional look back over the most recent run of stories featuring our favourite maverick Time Lord. Instead, we thought we’d allow the holiday festivities to well and truly settle down before finally turning our merciless combined fan gaze on the latest run of episodes. Plus, there was the small matter of John, self-confessed Star Wars superfan, experiencing an awakening of some sort…

Then, just as we were thinking of putting pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard and touchscreen), the news broke that Steven Moffat is to step down as showrunner after the next series and the torch is to be passed on to Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall – himself a man with impeccable Doctor Who fan credentials who has contributed several stories to the show over the years, and also to Torchwood which he co-produced for the first two series.

Does the confirmation of his impending departure colour our perspective of Moffat’s fifth complete series in charge of our favourite show? Will we get misty-eyed and sentimental about the Grand Moff’s achievements now that the end is in sight? You’ll have to read on and see, as we embark on a particularly timey-wimey trip through the highs and lows of series 9.

Spoilers ahoy, Sweeties! Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

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Contains spoilers, although hopefully not the really big ones.

force-0With the Christmas and New Year revels behind us, this week I finally managed to haul myself to the cinema and see the latest instalment of the Star Wars saga. Miracle of miracles, despite the fact that Episode VII: The Force Awakens has been on release for three weeks now, I had somehow successfully managed to avoid even a whisper of any significant spoilers in the meantime – a feat that might well end up ranking as my most successful accomplishment of the year! – and I was duly rewarded with a completely unsullied viewing experience despite my tardiness.

Rather than play games and withhold my verdict to the end of this review, let’s start with the conclusion: this is a really enjoyable film. Exciting, emotional, funny and thoroughly entertaining, it barely pauses to draw breath even once during its 135 minute running time. The Force Awakens manages to recapture almost all the magic of the original trilogy while purging all that went wrong in the prequels.

I’m confident in saying that it’s almost certainly the best Star Wars film that anyone could possibly have made in 2015. Many congratulations to director JJ Abrams for managing to both keep the same feel of the 1977 original film while at the same time bringing a thoroughly 21st century updating to the pacing, look and feel, stunts and FX. That is one incredibly tough balancing act to accomplish – actually almost impossible, I would have thought – and he’s achieved it with aplomb.

So all these things considered therefore, I have no hesitation in proclaiming Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens to be a very robust … four star movie. Read the rest of this entry »

“Spoilers, Sweetie!” (Part 3 of 3)

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Do spoilers spoil or do teasers tantalise?

Our epic spoiler-filled discussion between Generation Star Wars’ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin reaches its dramatic conclusion!

In part one of our discussion on spoilers we looked at whether they were all bad, and in part two we dived deeper to investigate the nature of different potential spoilers. Finally we reach the end of our journey which looks back to the 70s, takes in a tour of movie trailers and historical disasters, before touching on how long a ‘spoiler’ lasts for and finally getting around to drawing some conclusions…

So have you had any examples of where you’ve deliberately sought to puncture the suspense of something that you are actually intending on seeing? The only thing I can remember off hand is an old season of NCIS which ended with a cliffhanger in which a key character appeared to resign and leave for good. They were so important to the success of the show that frankly if they had exited then that would have been it for me, and I wanted to know sooner rather than later whether the actor was quitting the show so that I wouldn’t waste any more time or effort on it in the meantime. (To be honest, it was a pretty lame cliffhanger in any case so it didn’t feel like spoiling something so much as it was just taking care of an irritation!)

The Best of Both Worlds Pt I intimated a new direction for the Star Trek franchise with a psychologically damaged Captain at the helm, which was never properly explored until the movie First Contact. Read the rest of this entry »

“Spoilers, Sweetie!” (Part 2 of 3)

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Do spoilers spoil or do teasers tantalise?

Our spoiler-filled discussion between Generation Star Wars’ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin continues…

In the first part of our discussion posted last week, we started looking into the phenomena of the spoiler and asked whether it was all bad or whether there could be an upside to it. We continue our ruminations further this week, and wonder whether falling foul of spoilers actually stops us from watching programmes; which current shows are the most spoilered; whether a whodunit is automatically ruined by knowing the guilty party; and the question of whether novels are turning into spoilers for the TV and film adaptations made from them.

Have spoilers stopped you watching a movie or beloved series? The controversial conclusion to Lost spread across the social media space like wildfire. I never felt compelled to watch the final season! Incidentally, I originally joined Twitter solely to discuss Lost with fellow fans.

For me the equivalent would be The X-Files on a CompuServe forum which was one of the reasons I got online in the first place.. You never forget your first shared Internet fan obsession!

Halcyon memories.

And like you, I never did get to see the end of Lost either – Sky fell out with Virgin Media and pulled their channels from the cable platform mid-season so that was it for me. But in any case, I was never as into it as many people and actually found it more irritating than intriguing to be honest. I’ve never felt inclined to go back and finish it off. I’ve heard the gist of the way it finished if not the details, but it doesn’t make much difference to me.

The only scenario I can think of where a spoiler might stop me from watching something would be if the entire thing hung on a single reveal – whodunits being the most obvious example. Would I still want to see Se7en even knowing who John Doe and his last victim are? Or see all of Twin Peaks if I knew from the start who killed Laura Palmer? Or sit through 23 episodes of Murder One if I already knew who killed Jessica Costello? Or 20 episodes of Forbrydelsen (the original Danish version of The Killing) if the identity of Nanna Birk Larsen’s killer was known at the outset? Or even eight episodes of Broadchurch if I knew for certain who the killer of Danny Latimer was from the first scene? Read the rest of this entry »

“Spoilers, Sweetie!” (Part 1 of 3)

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Do spoilers spoil or do teasers tantalise?

A brand new spoiler-filled discussion between Generation Star Wars’ John Hood and Taking The Short View‘s Andrew Lewin…

The return of Game of Thrones for season 4 has once again made the Internet a minefield for those of us who aren’t able to watch the show in real time because of not having the right satellite, cable channel or streaming service to see the show before it makes its way to DVD and Blu-ray in 11 months time. How on earth do we manage to stay pure and spoiler-free for that amount of time without accidentally finding out something devastatingly pertinent in the meantime?

Does finding out about some major plot twist or dramatic event in advance of seeing the show in question end up ruining it beyond repair? Or is it no big deal really and everyone should just get over it? To put it simply: are you a spoilerphobe or a spoilerphile?

Since it was mentioned in the introduction, I should confess that I am – as you know – very far behind in my viewing of Game of Thrones. Despite absolutely loving the first season, I’ve yet to even get cracking on the second box set. While it might be vaguely reasonable to insist that no one spoils the current season now airing on television for at least a few weeks or months, it’s clearly ridiculous to expect them not to speak freely of events that happened a year ago or further back still.

As result, even before I watched a single episode of Game of Thrones I knew that the person who was the evident star of the show – Sean Bean playing Eddard Stark – didn’t make it to the end of the season without a sudden reduction of about a foot in height. This is, as you can image, a rather huge spoiler – arguably it’s the shocking pivotal point of the entire first year. Knowing that, you would think, would irretrievably wreck the viewing experience.

But actually, it really didn’t. It certainly changed the viewing experience, I’m sure, and given a free choice then I’d have preferred not to have known in advance, but I’m not sure it did any major damage – party because the key moment came so much earlier than I’d expected, a sudden twist in fortune that still caught me off-guard when it happened. While I knew Stark’s ultimate fate in the show I had managed to stop myself from knowing the details of how we got there and that made all the difference, it seems to me. In the same way I know in a general way about events such as Blackwater and the Red Wedding and now the Purple Wedding, but it doesn’t impact my eagerness to get to those points in the box sets, or lessen my enjoyment of the show or the effect of those shocks when they happen anyway.

So while I don’t tend to seek out spoilers, I also don’t fly into a rage when one lands in my lap, and I wouldn’t declare the whole show ruined for me for all time if and inevitably when it happens. Does that make me an unusually forgiving and forbearing sort of person, or are you the same?

I’m of the same mind, Andrew!

Inadvertent spoilers don’t phase me per se, but I try to be discreet in how I disseminate information. For example my enjoyment of Captain America: The Winter Soldier was distilled in a spoiler-free review, which made no reference to the titular character, nor identity. It piqued friends interest in a movie they were otherwise disinterested in. Perhaps Marvel should appoint me to the company’s social media division?

I’ve been guilty of very rare, and unintended, spoilers, myself! The most infamous pertained to the appearance of a ‘Red Supreme Dalek’ in a teaser trailer for The Stolen Earth. This was at a time when BBC America wasn’t showing the series day and date with the UK. Twitter replies lit up, aptly, like the Fourth of July and I hastily apologised. Losing a few followers in the process…

Of course there’s an omnipresent issue that friends can post spoilers on perfectly innocuous status updates on Facebook. I’ve received disgruntled direct messages from friends complaining about this. It’s exhausting policing my own timeline for fear someone will reveal to the world that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. D’oh! Read the rest of this entry »

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (Blu-ray)

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Well, here goes. I think I’m about to blow any artistic credibility I might have ever thought I had with the following admission.

My guilty little secret is: I happen to really quite like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the much-maligned first (in numbering if not chronologically) chapter of the Star Wars trilogy.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means the best of the six-film cycle (that of course would be The Empire Strikes Back, as everyone knows!) In fact if you push me I would even agree that it does indeed come at the bottom of the rankings for the six films, but that says more about the strengths of the others than about this one being a steaming pile of execrable outtakes. It certainly doesn’t change my view that it’s a perfectly fine, enjoyable film, a solid three stars out of five at least. It’s one that I can cheerfully watch again and again without flying into a furious rage or an apathetic torpor, which seem to summarise the bi-polar reactions of most Star Wars fans to this film.

So why does it inspire such loathing? It looks great. It has some terrific sequences (the opening arrival of Qui-Gon and Obi-Won on the Trade Federation’s space station; the podrace; the assault on the palace, the space battle and the awesome duel with Darth Maul toward the end.) Sure, it can get a bit talky in between times and there’s a little too much slapstick humour, but overall it nicely conjures up the feel of one of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials which took you on a journey through different cities and species on an alien world. I’m not even among those who loathe Jar Jar Binks – he’s not nearly so bad as the sodding Ewoks in Return of the Jedi as far as I’m concerned, and he does provide some sorely-needed humorous relief in the later part of the film. No, the only really troublesome figure here is the slave-owning scrapyard Fagin who is so nastily stereotypically anti-Semitic that it really does make me squirm.

The film does make things harder for itself by trying to be too clever at times – the switching of the queen and her decoy (how? where? when? why?!?) is very unclear, for example. And I have always wondered how many people missed the fact that the trustworthy Senator and the evil Sith Lord/future Emperor were all one and the same? The film hardly tries to hide it, but then again it doesn’t make it plain for those who need it spelled out, either, and if you miss it then you have lost a huge chunk of the ‘phantom’ part of this phoney war. Anyone who dismisses Phantom Menace as being a boring film about taxation of trade routes (and that’s certainly a horrible phrase with which to start an opening intro crawl, Mr Lucas) has evidently completely missed that what really goes on here is a rather clever plot by which said Senator gets everything he wants and wins completely, while everyone else is obliviously celebrating victory in a meaningless distraction affair.

Only Yoda seems to have an intuition on what’s going on. And Yoda is one of the few changes to this film for the Blu-ray release, where the previously-used puppet is replaced by a digitised version. Purists might hate that, but judging from the pictures I’ve seen of the original prequel puppet this is a welcome alteration: something went very wrong in the puppet moulding facility on the day that unlamented and rather freakishly scary mutant Yoda was spawned. Otherwise I wasn’t aware of too much tinkering, but then I’m not really that much of a purist when it comes to these sort of things.

As for a review of the Blu-ray release, let’s start with the easiest part, the sound: it’s terrific. Seriously, Star Wars was always pioneering in its use of sound (and Lucas went on to set up the THX cinema sound system after all) and you wouldn’t expect anything less than perfection coming from your loudspeakers. No worries: you get it.

Picture quality is slightly more tricky. For the vast majority of the time, I was wowed by it – truly. Pretty much all of the CGI and exterior scenes were just dazzling in their sharpness, clarity and detail, a couple of shots so vibrant and packed with information that it’s almost impossible to look at them without slicing your eyeballs open with it all (that’s meant as a good thing, by the way!) It has just the right amount of contrast and the black areas never overwhelm the frame during darker moments. Some critics have said that it looks too artificial, too “video game”, but I recall that it had that feeling at the cinema on release – because this was one of the first films to be mainly shot on a green stage with the sets created in digital post-production, so that’s probably just a matter of the technology of the day not being quite up to the highest levels of modern HD rendering today. Although for the record, I still thought it looked great.

However there were some scenes that oddly didn’t quite come up to that standard. Mostly they seemed to be location close-up shooting work; Qui-Gon seemed to particularly suffer from looking soft and lacking detail in several shots that I noticed, which was odd. Some reviews have suggested that it’s because of excessive digital noise reduction techniques, and it may well be – I don’t have the technical savvy to comment on that. Personally I was starting to think there might be something something about the actor’s make-up that didn’t work in high resolution and had to be slightly concealed (his hairpiece looks distinctly ropey even as it is.) But really, how picky is this getting now?

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first dip into the Star Wars Blu-ray experience. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I hadn’t intended to start with Phantom Menace – I’d meant to take out the original film, chapter IV: A New Hope, and instead absent-mindedly took out the first disc from the set without thinking. But I’m glad I did, it’s a good way to start the viewing.

And I still don’t get why everyone’s quite so vehemently against Phantom Menace.