Tag: Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed – A Canon Divided

Star Wars Force Unleashed Deathstar

Star Wars Force Unleashed Stormtrooper

As Star Wars The Force Awakens bursts the Big Screen, a look at one of Star Wars greatest moments that’s been force pushed out of history… The Force Unleashed.

* Includes spoilers for The Force Unleashed, not so much The Force Awakens *

IT WAS JUST BEFORE HALLOWEEN 2012 THAT STAR WARS PHASE TWO STARTED. Disney had seized control of the Senate, undermined the Jedi order and taken control of Lucasfilm and Star Wars. With the ominous suggestion that the franchise was underexploited, plans were sown for a future that few had suspected. And frankly, many who had, dreaded.

But when George Lucas said at the time, “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of film-makers,” he really meant it. Three years on, the first Star Wars film in ten years ready and poised to break records as it kicks off a new trilogy sparked by three different hot property directors. And filming is already under way on the first Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, taking a punt at providing a proper prequel to the original Episode 4. But it wasn’t all positive for creativity as far reaching surgical cuts were made to give the future of the franchise absolute freedom. It took just over a year for Disney to issue their own Order 66 against Star War’s expanded universe and wipe the canon clean.

The search for canonicity

The strained emergence of what one of entertainment’s largest brands led to confusion from the outset…

Canonicity is a hotly disputed topic in fan bases, especially around genre properties. Even under strict control, the issue can get murky across divergent media. The rule of all official material being canonical quickly gives way to caveats that it’s only canonical if it doesn’t contradict a more important and compelling part of the canon.

As it stands, the current core of canonical Star Wars is formed by the six film sequence, with the notable addition of the well regarded Clone Wars cartoon series joining new animated series Rebels as part of lore. The expanded universe of novels comics, videogames and animated series is now branded (relegated) under Star Wars Legends. The decks cleared, all future created content across multi-media will be officially canonical forming Disney’s next great shared universe. And on the basis of Star Wars The Force Awakens, signs are very good indeed.

But now there’s no room on the timeline for Star Wars Holiday Special or Droids. No imperial cargo decks reserved for Knights of the Old Republic or shooting galleries where Shadows of the Empire or Dark Forces can hang out.

Disney’s move was a shrewd, ruthless and necessary one. After all, the strained emergence of what would become one of entertainment’s largest brands led to confusion from the outset. Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 Star Wars: Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a prose sequel to the original Star Wars film, intended to be filmed as a low budget follow-on should the original film’s box office not have come up to scratch. History records that Star Wars set the box office alight, instantly enabling a high budget sequel in The Empire Strikes Back and the writing off of Mind’s Eye. But still, it lingered until it met Disney’s scythe. While not contradictory, there’s an uneasy link between those duelling sequels, even considering Mind Eye’s distinctive and iconic front cover. Disney has now shredded this very early tension, along with the vast majority of expanded universe stories that followed. Those books and storylines that followed the original trilogy, many of which spun out to explain the events that took place after Return of the Jedi were complicated and mainly the preserve of completists rather than the ticket buying mainstream that inspired Disney’s purchase. Although all were signed off by Lucasfilm, that didn’t guarantee their canonicity for what will always primarily be a film based franchise and Disney have proved it. The instant impact of this decision has been thousands of column inches dredging the irony that some elements of the ever-tweaked film run remain canon. Yes, gungans, Darth Vader being called “Ani”… But aside from reducing the many volumes of Star Wars universe encyclopaedia, the real cost has been the relegation of some of the franchise’s greatest moments. In particular The Force Unleashed – quite possibly the highlight of 21st century Star Wars.
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Back to the Future – When the Future Zoomed Past

Back to the Future Day

Back to the Future Day

It’s already two weeks since Back to the Future went the way of so many science fiction prophecies tied to a set date in the future… We sailed past it. The baffling exposure Back to the Future Day achieved makes Judgment Day’s continued slide in the Terminator franchise look like an act of mercy. At least there’s still a dystopia waiting, while those ‘proper’ hover boards are nowhere in sight. Jokerside takes a look at that definitive series…

“Marty, you’re not thinking four dimensionally”

THERE ARE MANY REASONS FOR BACK TO THE FUTURE’S SUCCESS. THERE’S THE CONFIDENT ORIGINAL THAT MARRIED A GREAT AND HIGHLY QUOTABLE SET OF SPARKLING SCRIPTS WITH SOME OF HOLLYWOOD’S BRIGHTEST AND BEST. There’s the bold film-making that enabled the second and third instalments to be produced back-to-back bringing and brought an unprecedented approach to continuity. There’s Huey Lewis and the News. But perhaps most importantly, there’s the genuinely amusing, good natured and cartoonish fun of it all. And that’s powered by superb comedic performances, particularly from one of the finest physical comedians Hollywood has every produced in the central role of Marty McFly.

Still, it’s remarkable that a trilogy that fell short of $1billion takings, inflation unadjusted, inspired such strong devotion from the youth of the 1980s come 21st October 2015. As every social network reminded us, that was Back to the Future Day.

That’s when in the ancient year of 1989, we first saw the DeLorean arrive in the skies of 2015 and exactly how the 21st century would pan out. Almost. It was the furthest point forward in the trilogy’s springed jump of 30 years that had started in 1985 and already taken us back to 1955 before an extra boost of energy carried us back 100 years to 1885 at the finale.

Back to the Past

“I finally invent something that works!”

It’s always fascinating to watch the original Back to the Future’s opening. In a film of remarkably well directed, with exquisitely framed shots from Robert Zemeckis, it’s a masterclass. So many story points are laid down in that pan through Doc Brown’s studio – from the central conceit of time carried bluntly through the many clocks on the wall, past the subtle foreshadowing of the press cuttings of the Brown mansion and fortune, to the box marked plutonium stashed on the floor. Before Marty’s legs and skateboard appear at the door, before the punchline of the overcharged amp and we see Marty McFly’s face or heard the Doc’s voice, we’ve seen so much of what’s in store. The tone is perfectly set and we know this is going to be a hell of a ride – starting with the Huey Lewis powered skate dash to Marty’s school.

In the film that unravels there are countless mysteries and half suggestions of something more. The recurring importance of Wednesdays, the guns that jam on several occasions… Those may suggest a pre-ordained edge to the paradoxes that unfold, seemingly hermetically sealed in the franchise and often in the brilliant visual conceit of photographs. In the first instance, it’s certainly a jammed gun that sets off the three films chain of events.

It’s crucial that those films follow the cause and effect set by that chain of events. Unfortunately the only link that doesn’t quite make the grade falls at the close of the first film, the one that takes us to Back to the Future day. Not only does the spiral of despair waiting to kick-start for the McFly family on that day not quite cut the grade for pulling Marty (and his girlfriend) Jennifer into the future, it doesn’t quite fit that the time-conscious Doc would to take such desperate measures to deflect the future. Especially, as the films spend a considerable amount of time drawing out the personalities, including Marty’s mysterious uncle “Jailbird” Joey Baines, it seems to be wilful distortion of nature. By dint of happening in the future, any of those events could be remedied in the present. That points spelled out by surely the most serious, when Marty dodges his ‘chicken accident’ in the final act of the trilogy. And once that change had been made, it probably reset the future chain of events in the first place. Continue reading “Back to the Future – When the Future Zoomed Past”

Marvel: Disney and the Age of Marvel

Disney Age of Marvel

Disney Age of Marvel

The Walt Disney Company’s costly acquisition strategy looks increasingly shrewd as Avengers: Age of Ultron pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe to being the world’s highest grossing film franchise.

First published by Molewood Consulting on 29th April 2015.

THE NUMBERS ARE IN AND QUITE UNLIKE THE EVENTS THAT OFTEN ASSEMBLE EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES, THEY’RE EMINENTLY PREDICTABLE. The latest installment in the unstoppable march of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) looks set to break records all round. At home, highly aggressive estimates suggest Avengers: Age of Ultronmay make up to $230million and in actual terms is likely to smash $200.3 million taken by its 2012 predecessor in the United States. Opening across 44 international territories, it’s confirmed as setting a Hulk-like record of $200.2 million, despite alleged boycotts caused by rental fee disagreements in the German market.

Under the unrelenting march of Marvel’s new heroes, the UK showed the changing of the guard more than most. Ultron’s £20.18 million debut beat the opening set by James Bond with 2012’s Skyfall.

Not Just a Phase

Phase 2 will conclude this July

It’s safe to say that the second Avengers film has comfortably surpassed its estimated $280 million budget and is well on track to beat the $1.518 billion grossed by its predecessor. It also continues the phenomenal performance of the Marvel movies as their structured development process reaches the end of its second phase. Phase 2 will conclude this July with a new and lesser known Marvel IP Ant-Man. Even if that film matches the lowest grossing MCU film so far (2008’s Incredible Hulk took $263.4) Phase 2 will likely exceed $5.12 billion. Not bad, when you already have Phase 3 lined up…

Continue reading “Marvel: Disney and the Age of Marvel”

Star Wars: From the Empire to an Ankle Far, Far Away

Chewbacca Star Wars

Chewbacca Star Wars

A few mishaps, from broken bones to awkward Chancellors, showcase how well the Star Wars resurgence is actually going…

UPDATE [21/06/2014]: Since publication, it’s been revealed by none other than Harrison Ford’s publicist that the Hollywood icon actually broke his leg colliding with a door.  The plot thickens, although the Milennium Falcon is likely to remain a key part of this speculation despite its culpability looking increasingly unlikely.  Please feel free to read/re-read replacing the word ‘ankle’ with ‘leg’ where appropriate.  Get well soon Harri!

IT WAS THURSDAY NIGHT THAT THE SHOCKING NEWS BROKE. HARRISON FORD RUSHED TO HOSPITAL AFTER BEING CRUSHED ON NEW STAR WARS SET. It was alarming at the time, and although further details emerged almost immediately, it was still enough to make front pages the next day. Before it did, colour was added, the threat level reduced. Various people were changing the bulb.

First it was a door that had crushed the septuagenarian, then a hydraulic door, then the door – the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon itself! Then it emerged that his ankle had been crushed, then broken. Maybe both. Maybe by the hydraulic door of the Millennium Falcon and not a garage door… And that was where it ended. All the best to Harrison Ford for his recovery.

Return of the Myth

The mystery of Han Solo being crushed by the Millennium Falcon is another part of the curious publicity myth growing around the new Star Wars film. Unlike the prequels, this is being very much considered a film rather than a trilogy. It helps that some fine directors are being tapped up to direct stand-alone films that will slot into JJ Abram and Lawrence Kasdan’s new Star Wars trilogy. The pressures off in some ways, but then again, this first film is the flagship kick starting the largest franchise assault Hollywood has ever seen.

Ford’s ankle incident happened just a couple of days after George Osborne showed his best C3P0 stance next to R2D2, announcing that the new standalone Star Wars film would be shot in the UK alongside the main film. Played as ever, it’s clearly far more of a coup for Disney to secure filming in the UK, a nostalgic association with the first trilogy heightened when the prequels ignored it. It also make great financial sense to film the rolling franchise in one place, with Disney happily setting up a London branch of Industrial Light & Magic for long-haul deployment.

Return of the Phantom

At the end of the 20th century, there was a lot of buzz around the prequel trilogy. With a lengthy gap between the US and UK release of the first film, that continued well beyond The Phantom Menace’s US unveiling. From there, a little unaware of the nadir we were in or perhaps hopeful that it would all make sense, the other two films met with considerable but not stellar anticipation.

This time round it’s running differently. When Disney surprisingly swooped for Lucasfilm, they did it not for Indiana Jones or LucasArts but Star Wars. The House of Mouse was quick to establish that the Star Wars brand was underexploited. As those who wandered through the morass of post trilogy cartoons, videogames, Woolworths and Vodafone adverts knew, it wasn’t so much that the brand was underexploited, just not exploited with enough quality.

Return of the Heaveyweight

Disney’s game plan is reassuringly sensible and follows their shrewd work with the Marvel franchise. With their comic arm, they’ve not changed the film programme too much, just adding weight to draw bigger names, and hopefully the mild unravelling of Ant Man isn’t a sign that this will change. Even better, it’s taken a few years for Marvel animated films to come out – Big Hero 6 is the first this year. By wisely taking their time with both, while simultaneously making a host of announcements, the result is a more anticipated Star Wars made by a wonderful mix of old and new talent. And alongside the heavyweight returns of Hamill, Fisher, Ford, Daniels, Baker, Mayhew – there’s this recent, literal ‘break a leg’. And of course the fact it was Solo on board the Falcon.

This renewed rise and rise of Star Wars is clearly having an impact. That The Empire Strikes Back ranked first in Empire’s recent film poll can only be helped by the mounting promise of this new trilogy against the disappointment of the last.

Return of the Empire

That said, Empire‘s renewed standing also signifies the enduring quality of the film itself. In endless cycles, people praise then lambast the darkness of Episode V. It’s not all dark and certainly some of those darker moments, though effective, are a little incomprehensible. But there are opportunities that come with its position. It was fuelled by the unexpected success of its rather slow prequel, but not too much that commercial concerns could damage the story as they did with Return of the Jedi.

It shows the real strength of the middle film, the lack of a beginning results in the best set-piece in the trilogy, the lack of an ending creates a mysterious cliff-hanger that nobody could even speculate on. Years later, The Two Towers would pick up hints where it could with similar standing.

Following the rulebook, Empire spreads its wings, nicely dividing characters while introducing new ones neatly. There’s misdirection of course, classic themes of betrayal and love but mostly, an unbelievable scope. It moves from snow tundra to cloud city to the swamps of Dagobah. Against this, primal plots are laid, culminating in ‘that’ exchange and Luke’s fall.

Perhaps the best part is the talent. Remarkably consistent onscreen, behind the scenes which director could George Lucas turn to than his film school mentor Irwin Kershner? One of the best anecdotes from the original trilogy production is Lucas not believing screenwriter Leigh Brackett was actually she. Scripter of noir classics and classic adventures, she had a mean background in science fiction and Empire gave her the chance to combine those. The result of her collaboration with Kasdan was sublime dialogue including the “I know” exchange that sums it up. Empire is a rare beast, and easily the best Star Wars film thanks to its confidence and scope. All the while it never loses momentum unlike every other Star Wars film, and manages to set up a domestic tragedy on a galactic stage. The end scene is the family together, nuclear but not complete. And they’re overlooking a galaxy to boot. Brilliant.

When comparing the Star Wars Prequel trilogy with The Hobbit, it became clear that Star Wars had become unnecessarily constricted by Darth Vader’s success. Now we’re back, at least seemingly, with a trilogy that can write itself one at a time. There is no giant of the franchise that can derail it, but there is a clear sense that the right talent is being added in the right areas.

Excitement is building and there’ll be stranger tales told yet than Hans Solo and the Hydraulic Door of the Falcon.

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