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Tag: Star Wars

Editorials

Top 10 Films at the UK Box Office in 2020 (So Far)

May 22, 2020
The 2020 Box Office [Sources: Cineworld Cinemas,The Guardian; imdb]

With UK cinemas still closed we may as well run down 2020’s highest box office grossers so far. Today I’ll look at how much the highest earners took at the UK Box office (using Box Office Mojo and Google Money Converter). These numbers are rounded to the nearest hundred thousand and are correct at the time of writing (20/05/20)) and what critics; audiences thought of them.

10. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (£9,400,000)

Cathy Yan’s DC Universe offering sees Harley Quinn teaming up with a group of female heroines to fight against the evil Black Mask.

Audience Thoughts: 78% – Rotten Tomatoes / 6.2 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “While watching Birds of Prey, it becomes clear that comic book movies are still going to dominate the box office for many years to come. If any of those could be as much fun…then we would be over the moon.

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey
Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey swoop into 10th place at the UK Box Office [Source: Empire]

9. Parasite (£12,000,000)

Bong Joon Ho’s Best Picture winner sees the poor Kim family scam their way into working for the rich Park family. But do the Kim’s deserve our sympathy and what secrets are the Park’s hiding?

Audience Thoughts: 90% – Rotten Tomatoes / 8.6 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “It’s dark, funny, clever, surprising, and I’m sure I could use almost every adjective in my lexicon.

Parasite
Best Picture Winner, Parasite smashes into 9th place [Source: Americamagazine.org]

8. The Gentlemen (£12,300,000)

Guy Ritchie’s latest gangster films focused on an American marijuana emperor trying to leave the business. But various factions conspire to extort him for all he’s worth.

Audience Thoughts: 84% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.9 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “It is a coarse, convoluted, comical caper that exults in the joys of genre.”

The Gentlemen
The Gentlemen swan into 8th place [Source: Den of Geek]

7. Jumanji: The Next Level (£16,100,000)

The gang from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, along with new additions Danny Glover and Danny DeVito, return to Jumanji to face new challenges. 

Audience Thoughts: 87% – Rotten Tomatoes / 6.7 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Jumanji’s next level is rather satisfying.

Jumanji
The Jumanji gang jump back into the UK Box Office [Source: Entertainment Weekly]

6. Dolittle (£16,700,000)

Robert Downey Jr. leads an all-star cast as the famous doctor who can talk to animals sets out to find a cure for an ailing young Queen Victoria.

Audience Thoughts: 76% – Rotten Tomatoes / 5.6 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “It really is horribly inert, and every time Downey opens his mouth to say something unintelligible, the film dies a bit more.

Robert Downey Jr as Dolittle
Despite a critical thrashing Dolittle soars into number 6 at the Box Office [Source: GamesRadar]

5. Bad Boys for Life (£17,000,000)

Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett must team up with a team of younger cops to take down the leaders of a violent drug cartel.

Audience Thoughts: 96% – Rotten Tomatoes / 6.7 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Bad Boys for Life is … pure enjoyment and entertainment.

Bad Boys returns to the UK box office
The Bad Boys return in glorious fashion [Source: RogerEbert.com]

4. Sonic the Hedgehog (£19,100,000)

Sonic and his friend Tom race to San Francisco to find the rings to transport Sonic off-world before Dr. Robotnik catches them.

Audience Thoughts: 93% – Rotten Tomatoes / 6.6 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “The world contains many terrible video game movies. This isn’t one of them.

Sonic rushing into the box office top 10
Sega’s blue speedster rushes into the top 10 [Source: Hollywood Reporter]

3. Little Women (£19,400,000)

Greta Gerwig’s remake of the literary classic follows the March sisters as they experience career hardships, romance, tragedy, and triumph during and after the American Civil War.

Audience Thoughts: 92% – Rotten Tomatoes / 7.9 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “Though we can’t foretell whether time will be cruel or kind to Gerwig’s “Little Women,” it may just be the best film yet made by an American woman.”

Little Women stands tall at the box office
Greta Gerwig’s Little Women stands tall at number 3 [Source: Britannica]

2. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (£20,100,000)

The Skywalker Saga concludes. Emperor Palpatine returns to threaten the galaxy. Rey and the remnants of the resistance must find a way to stop him. While contending with the rage of Kylo Ren.

Audience Thoughts: 86% – Rotten Tomatoes / 6.7 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “It doesn’t do anything new or even terribly distinctive, but maybe it didn’t have to. It just had to be good enough to stick the landing, and it does that.

Rise of Skywalker rises to number 2 at the uk box office
The Skywalker saga’s final swipe took the 2nd place in 2020 so far [Source: Deadline]

1. 1917 (£46,600,000)

Presented in a pseudo-continuous shot 1917 follows two soldiers tasked with physically delivering orders for a battalion to stand down before German forces kill them all.

Audience Thoughts: 88% – Rotten Tomatoes / 8.3 – IMDb

Critics Thoughts: “1917 will have you on the edge of your seat from the very first moment and will leave you breathless.

1917 is number 1 at the box office
1917 stands atop the box office [Source: Letterboxd]

This year’s top 10 collective taking may be comparatively low (over £188 million) but with a relatively diverse group of creative teams (including 2 solo female directors and a foreign-language film) and an interesting mix of tales (including three original properties not based on pre-existing work or part of larger franchises), 2020 is more interesting than 2019. Which was dominated by comic book adaptations, remakes, and sequels to popular franchises (mostly from Disney and their subsidiaries). Hopefully, the upcoming months will bare good tidings for UK cinemas.

Also Read: What Happens To Your Brain When Watching A Horror Film

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Editorials

Was It Really That Bad? Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker

May 20, 2020

The Rise Of Skywalker had the odds stacked against it very early on. Original director Colin Trevorrow was replaced by J J Abrams, legacy star Carrie Fisher had tragically passed away, and it had to not only follow up The Last Jedi, which proved incredibly divisive but also end the trilogy as well as the nine-film Skywalker Saga. Initial reactions were not positive. Fans on either side of The Last Jedi debate were dissatisfied with the “undoing” of several plot elements, the return of arch-villain Palpatine and the film’s reliance on nostalgia and references to the original trilogy. Now that some time has passed, it’s time to revisit Episode IX and ask, was it really that bad?

“I have a bad feeling about this”

Whatever faults this film has, at least it gave us Babu Frik (Disney, Luasfilm, 2019)
Whatever faults this film has, at least it gave us Babu Frik (Disney, Luasfilm, 2019)

Rise of Skywalker currently sits at a 6.7/10 on IMDb, putting it just ahead of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, and scoring the least of the sequel trilogy. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has the second-lowest score of the whole franchise, with only the animated Clone Wars film scoring lower. After the division that The Last Jedi caused in the fandom, it was important for the final installment to have more universal appeal, unfortunately, in trying to appease everyone, the film doesn’t take any risks and relies heavily on nostalgia, without any of the buildup that made the orignal moments so satisfying and iconic. In addition, many of the plot points were retconned, Rey did have an important lineage, Kylo Ren donned his mask again, and Palpatine was brought back from the dead by cloning or dark magic or… something.

So, without the magic of a midnight screening, would I see the stitches holding this film together? Well.. yes and no

“Bring balance to the Force”

Reading the reviews for Rise of Skywalker (Disney, Lucasfilm, 2019)

Some of the film’s faults are apparent right away, Palpatine, after dying in Return of the Jedi, has returned with an ominous and vague plan. How he returned is handwaved over, almost like the film is trying to jedi mind trick you, and his message announcing his return to the galaxy is never heard (except in Fortnite, because of course). Although it is always wonderful to see Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, his presence doesn’t really add anything other than tie up some plot threads that had already been dealt with. And while the film does seem to go out of it’s way to attempt to put things back on track, it really doesn’t do that much damage when compared to some of the orginal retcons. Let’s not forget that Vader and Anakin Skywalker were once two seperate people, and that Luke and Leia weren’t related. While the Rey reveal in particular does more harm than good, she does still have a solid arc about choosing her own family.

The film also has a few plot points that don’t make much sense, such as the Sith dagger. It does feel like it’s jumping through hoops to explain some elements but not others. Again though, this isn’t a problem unique to this entry, Palpatine’s plots are hilariously convoluted in the prequels as well as Luke’s rescue mission in Episode VI. It also leans very heavily on nostalgia. Nearly every iconic moment from the original films is referenced. Some of these moments work better than others. But the things the film expands upon are some real highlights. The connection between Rey and Kylo Ren remains the best thing about the trilogy. Their “Force Skype” power expanding to allow physical objects to pass between them adds an intriguing new dynamic. The final duel between them is suitably dramatic. The main trio finally being together is wonderful and some legacy characters get a great sendoff.

Was it really that bad?…No

It doesn’t manage to compete with top tier entries, but it certainly isn’t the worst. It feel more like a sequel to Force Awakens than Last Jedi and it can’t quite decide what it wants to be or have guts to stick with some plot points. It feels rather similar to Solo, which isn’t a bad thing, but feels to safe for what should be the final word in the story.

Would Trevorrow’s version have been an improvement? It’s hard to say as the two are very different, but have some interesting similarities.

Overall, this one just needed more time in the oven. The rushed development and behind the scenes drama creates a lack of vision, but there is still a solid action flick in here akin to Force Awakens or Abram’s Star Trek reboot.

Also Read: Was It Really That bad?: Star Wars Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace

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Editorials

Famous Movie Props in the Hands of Collectors

April 25, 2020

After the recent article looking at props for sale, it felt like time to look at some props that ended up in the hands of some very lucky collectors. Often times these props will sell for many times the amount it cost to create them, due to their status in pop culture and movie history. The most desirable props are often the version known as the “the hero” prop. Hero props are the ones used in close-ups or shots where they are the centre of attention. They are usually the most detailed version and sometimes are functioning, with lights, for example. Often multiple version will be made, such as rubber versions for stunts.

R2-D2 – Star Wars: A New Hope/ The Empire Strikes Back/ Return of the Jedi (1977-1983)

Several of the R2-D2 props that were used throughout the original trilogy (Lucasfilm, 1977)

Star Wars is full of iconic props, such as the miniatures for X-Wings, TIE Fighters, and of course, lightsabers. There are some very memorable costumes and creature designs, such as Chewbacca the Wookie, Stormtroopers and the fearsome Darth Vader. One of the most expensive mementoes from the series to have been sold at auction is an R2 unit. One of the Radio Controlled/Prop units was sold at an auction for over $2.7 million

The Maltese Falcon – The Maltese Falcon (1941)

“The stuff that dreams are made of” (Warner Brothers, 1941)

Perhaps the most famous Macguffin in all of cinema. The Maltese Falcon is a priceless statuette that Humphrey Bogart and several others spend the whole film trying to obtain. Several models were made for the film, with the hero prop being a heavy lead model. Ironically even though the (Spoiler alert, but come it’s been nearly 80 years) Falcon is a fake, the lead prop used in the film (complete with dents from Bogart dropping it several times) was sold at an auction for over $4 million dollars.

Indy’s Hat – Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

If the owner isn’t running around wearing it while humming the theme tune then why did they even bother? (Credit: Nils Jorgensen / REX / Shutterstock)

Arguably the most iconic elements of the character of Indiana Jones, aside from Harrison Ford’s performance and that theme tune, are his hat and whip. Indy’s hat is so iconic that one could almost say “it belongs in a museum”. There were actually several hats, some of which were actually sat on and had dust blown on it before filming to give it a more well-worn look, making Jones seem more of an experienced archaeologist. In 2018 one of the hats sold for a more than half a million dollars.

Delorean – Back to the Future Trilogy (1985-1990)

“Roads? Where we’re going we won’t need roads” Because it’s going in the garage (The Hollywood Reporter, 2016)

Up there with the TARDIS for iconic time travel vehicles, the Delorean is as much a character throughout the trilogy as Doc Brown or Marty McFly. The only car ever manufactured by the company, a total of seven were used for the trilogy. Only three of which remain, one is on display at the Peterson Automotive Museum in LA, another is owned by Universal Studios and is also occasionally on display. The third was sold to a private collector, with some of the proceeds going to the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research

Sting – Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

“It’s not really a sword, more of a letter opener..” (New Line Cinema, 2001-2003)

When the Fellowship sets out on its quest to destroy the One Ring, Frodo is given Bilbo’s old blade, Sting. An elven blade that glows blue whenever orcs or goblins are near, this prop was used throughout the entire trilogy and has actually gained some scratches and nicks in the blade from some of the combat during filming. The sword is incredibly detailed, like all Weta’s work for the films, including Elvish engraving, although no word on it glowing blue. Several weapons, including Anduril, were given away as promotional sweepstakes for the release of Return of the King.

Ruby Slippers – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

“Close your eyes, tap your heels together three times, and think to yourself, there’s no place like home” (MGM, 1939)

The Wizard of Oz is a classic that has survived generations, and will likely continue to be a firm favourite to many people. Despite its enduring popularity, the famous ruby slippers worn by Dorothy upon her arrival in Oz, have had a rough time of it. Only four pairs are known to have survived from the original production, with one pair safely on display in the Smithsonian museum after Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Speilberg and others teamed up to save it, and another was recovered by the FBI over a decade after they were stolen. The other two pairs are thought to be with private collectors, although some believe that there are more slippers out there…

Also Read: 5 More Movies That Don’t Need a Sequel, Reboot or Remake

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Editorials

The Rise of Jon Favreau

January 31, 2020

Jon Favreau has quickly become one of the royalties of Pop Culture. Between kickstarting the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, creating a Christmas classic with Elf, and giving the internet its newest obsession with Baby Yoda in The Mandalorian, it’s hard to imagine he originally considered becoming a fireman.

It’s clear that pop culture would look very different without his contributions, so with the start of a new decade, let’s take a look back at how Favreau rose to power

“I’ve always wanted to call the shots because I would rather fail than not have a chance to figure it out on my own”

Favreau and Vince Vaughn in "Swingers"
Favreau and Vince Vaughn in “Swingers” (Miramax, 1996)

Favreau studied at Queens College in New York but dropped out (twice) to pursue a career in comedy in Chicago. While there he scored a role in Rudy where he befriended Vince Vaughn on set. He had a few smaller roles, including a clown on Seinfeld. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he would get his big break.

While in LA, Favreau wrote and starred in Swingers where he plays a struggling comedian from New York. Vince Vaughn, who plays a struggling actor, befriends him and helps him get over his ex-girlfriend. Despite the low budget and guerilla filmmaking, the film was a success, making a star out of Vaughn and director Doug Liman.

“For a movie – any movie – to work, all the bread has to fall jelly side up; everything has to go right. You have to hit the zeitgeist “

Photo by REX/Shutterstock (436743s) WILL FERRELL AND DIRECTOR JOHN FAVREAU 'ELF' FILM  - 2003
Photo by REX/Shutterstock (436743s) WILL FERRELL AND DIRECTOR JOHN FAVREAU ‘ELF’ FILM – 2003

After Swingers, Favreau had a few more acting jobs. Including a billionaire UFC fighter who dated Monica during several episodes of “Friends”. He also appeared as himself in an episode of “The Sopranos”. He plays a Hollywood Director faking interest in a screenplay, in order to use the material for his own.

He also made his directorial debut with “Made”, a film about aspiring boxers getting involved in mafia crime. While it recived positive reviews, it had a very limited release. A few years later he played Foggy Nelson in Daredevil, his first interactions with Marvel.

But before Marvel came “Elf” the first post-SNL film from Will Ferrell. Favreau wasn’t initially interested, as it was “too dark” for him, but another rewrite and it became the classic we all know. This was the biggest film Favreau had ever worked on, but things were about to get much, much bigger.

“‘Batman Begins’ set the bar very high for the superhero movie, as it showed that you could get a great cast for these movies and take a real filmmaker’s perspective”

Favreau on the set of "Iron Man" with Terrence Howard and Robert Downey Jr. (Paramount/Disney 2008)
Favreau on the set of “Iron Man” with Terrence Howard and Robert Downey Jr. (Paramount/Disney 2008)

After Elf, and several TV cameos, came his next film, Zathura: A Space Adventure. It received positive reviews but was not very successful at the box office.

In 2008 Iron Man was released. The film had gone through an arduous development process but was finally moving ahead. His experience on Daredevil had introduced Favreau to Marvel producers, and they liked his grounded, spy take. The casting of Robert Downey Jr in the title role raised many eyebrows, but Favreau insisted he was the perfect choice.

Downey proved his critics wrong of course. Iron Man went on to be the eighth highest-grossing film of 2008, and launch the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Many of the films in the MCU follow Iron Man‘s structure, as well as tone.

“I think the bigger the movie is, the harder it is to maintain the idea of an auteur. You’re servicing something beyond just your own vision”

As well as serving as a producer on the Iron Man, Avengers, and Spider-Man film, he also appears as Tony Stark's aide Happy Hogan (Sony/Marvel 2019)
As well as serving as a producer on the Iron Man, Avengers, and Spider-Man film, he also appears as Tony Stark’s aide Happy Hogan (Sony/Marvel 2019)

After directing the follow-up, Iron Man 2 and serving as a producer on crossover team-up, The Avengers, Favreau decided to step back on the third film. Instead choosing to direct Magic Kingdom, he still worked as a producer and appeared in his role as Happy Hogan though. He directed the adaptation of Cowboys vs Aliens which did not do well critically or commercially.

After working on several multi-million dollar studio films, Favreau decided to take a break and developed a pilot for the TV show Revolution as well as directing the first episode. He then made Chef a “back to basics” indie film about a travelling chef. Several people saw the film as a response to Favreau’s experience with Marvel and wanting to strike out on his own again. It was well received and has even spun off into a Netflix show

Although the Magic Kingdom project has yet to move forward, he did work on two beloved Disney properties, the “live action” remakes of The Jungle Book and The Lion King. He has continued his work with Disney, creating and show-running The Mandolorian a series set in the Star Wars universe, for Disney+. This has also received widespread acclaim, as well as introducing the “The Child” or “Baby Yoda”.

With a second season on the way, as well as the Jungle Book 2 in development, it doesn’t look as though he will be slowing down anytime soon.

Also Read: The Biggest Financial Film Flops

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Editorials

Weapon of Choice: Iconic Weapons in Movies

January 13, 2020
Leatherface - Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Whether you’re a hero or villain you need a great weapon to help you vanquish your foes. And cinema is full of amazing weaponry. So, today we’re going to look at seven iconic movie weapons, who wielded them and their real-world origins.

Lightsaber (Star Wars Franchise)

The weapon of the most powerful beings in the galaxy far far away, the Sith and the Jedi. Many famous Jedi and Sith have wielded the multi-coloured laser swords. Including Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, his son Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Maul, Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, and Rey. George Lucas decided to include a futuristic sword in the original Star Wars as a symbol of honour and chivalry. And with only a 4×5 camera flash attachment (the hilt), sticks wrapped in reflective material (the blade); the hum of a projector and the buzz captured from a TV set (the sound effects) Lucas and company birthed arguably the most famous movie weapon of all time.

Vader and Luke’s lightsaber duel from The Empire Strikes Back [Source: Arbin Instruments]

Freddy Krueger’s glove (Nightmare on Elm Street Franchise)

Horror films have created several iconic weapons, some of which we will get into later. But horrors most inventively creepy killing implement is Freddy Krueger’s Razor Glove. Envisioned by director Wes Craven as a throwback to mankind’s primal fear of claws grafted onto modern equipment, not only is Freddy’s glove inventive but its very look is surreal and frightening. Perfectly fitting with the story’s nightmarish aesthetic.

Freddy Krueger's iconic glove
Freddy Krueger’s iconic glove [Source: NME.com]

Nunchaku (Bruce Lee Movies)

This traditional Okinawan martial arts training weapon has become a staple of martial arts movies specifically because of Bruce Lee. Bruce used Nunchaku in several of his movies (Enter the Dragon, Way of the Dragon & Game of Death). He wielded them with such speed, grace, and effectiveness that they were transformed in the public’s mind from mere training implements into incredible weapons in their own right.

Bruce Lee's nunchaku in Game of Death
Bruce Lee’s nunchaku in Game of Death [credit: Columbia Pictures / Sony Entertainment]

The Infinity Gauntlet (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

The MCU needed to give its ultimate villain Thanos a weapon that would make an impression on audiences after ten years of build-up. Made of Uru metal, forged by the dwarves of Nidavellir, with a design ripped straight from the original comic and armed with the infinity stones that collectively give the wearer the ability to do practically anything, including wiping out half of all life in the universe, the Infinity Gauntlet is, without doubt, the most destructive weapon on this list.

Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.
Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet [credit: Disney / Marvel Entertainment]

Chainsaw (Texas Chainsaw Massacre Franchise)

Employing household tools as weapons is a common practice in slasher movies, and this is one of the movies to thank for that. Director Tobe Hooper originally thought of the idea to use a chainsaw as his movie’s weapon when he was wondering how to get out of the busy store and saw a chainsaw in the hardware section. One thing’s certain, audiences have never looked at chainsaws the same way since.

Leatherface's Chainsaw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Leatherface’s Chainsaw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) [Source: Syfy Wire]

The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch (Monty Python & The Holy Grail)

In 1975, the Pythons gifted us with possibly the silver screens silliest weapon. When confronted with the dreaded Rabbit of Caerbannog, King Arthur and his knights use the Holy Hand Grenade, originally used by Saint Atilla, to destroy the beast. Shaped like the Sovereigns Orb of the United Kingdom there is no better weapon to destroy your beastly foes and satirize religion.

The Holy Hand Grenade - Monty Python & The Holy Grail
The Holy Hand Grenade [Source: Addicted to Quack]

Revolver (Western Genre)

Everyone loves westerns and the one weapon that typifies the western is the revolver. Patented by Samuel Colt (later developed by multiple companies in the 1800s) as a singlehanded firearm, that can be fired several times without reloading. The revolver has become a symbol of the old west gunslinger. A weapon of great destructive capabilities that requires a keen eye and steady hand to master. No Mexican standoff is complete without one.

Clint Eastwood with iconic western revolvers
Clint Eastwood with iconic western revolvers [Source: AMC]

So ends my list of seven iconic movie weapons. Be sure to fire your suggestions for great movie weapons I missed into the comments.

Also Read: The Best Action Films of the Decade (2010 – 2019)

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News

Star Wars: Origins [Fan Film]

December 13, 2019
Star Wars: Origins

Star Wars: Origins takes a unique look at where it all began. A thrilling action-adventure, this film draws inspiration from both STAR WARS and INDIANA JONES to tell an epic story based on Earth during WWII.

The film described as “the epic fan film that will change the game” comes from award-winning team and life-long Star Wars fans; writer/director Phil Hawkins and Executive Producer Gary Cowan of Velvet Film Production.

Filmed in the Sahara Desert, Morocco, Star Wars: Origins is the culmination of three years’ work and stars Marie Everett (What Happened To Monday, Netflix), Jamie Costa (Han Solo: A Smuggler’s Trade), Hadrian Howard (The Mummy, Mi Rogue Nation) and Philip Walker.

Star Wars: Origins [Fan Film]

Also Read: Star Wars: May The Fan Film Be With You

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Editorials

Was It Really That Bad? Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

October 25, 2019
Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace

Star Wars, the franchise that conquered the world. The troubles making the first film are now legendary. But George Lucas and his team created something truly special with Star Wars and its direct sequels Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Popularly considered three of the greatest sci-fi films ever.

After Return of the Jedi satisfyingly closed the trilogy in 1983, the franchise lay dormant, until 1999 when Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. This was the first part of the prequel trilogy which told the story about the fall of the Jedi and the rise of the empire from the original trilogy (retroactively renamed episodes 4, 5 and 6). But it wasn’t the glorious homecoming fans hoped for.

Episode 1 currently sits at a 6.5 on IMDb and a 53% on rotten tomatoes. Quite a dip in quality compared to the first three movies (Star Wars- 8.6 IMDb, 93% RT, Empire Strikes Back- 8.7 IMDb, 95% RT and Return of the Jedi- 8.3 IMDb, 81% RT). But 20 years later, is the Phantom Menace really that bad?

The most hated character in the whole Star Wars Saga, Jar Jar Binks (Source: Mickeyblog.com)

“Be gone with him”

After years of anticipation, initial reviews for The Phantom Menace were resoundingly negative.

Nothing has the right to bore and disappoint us this much.”

-The Guardian

Everything about the movie has been criticized over the years. Whether it’s uninteresting characters, flat performances, the dialogue, the boring story, a lack of understanding of is audience or the use of CG effects. Everyone has a bone to pick with the Phantom Menace.

So, I find myself in a difficult position when I say, Phantom Menace doesn’t deserve the hate it gets.

The looks you get when trying to defend the Phantom Menace (Source: Den of Geek)

“I have a bad feeling about this”

That’s not to say Phantom Menace isn’t flawed. The film suffers from a lack of compelling characterisation. Many characters are mythic archetypes who aren’t relatable on a human level. Though they are still entertaining.

The script is full of ham-fisted dialogue that explains things rather than adding personality to the universe. Some of the performances are lacklustre (Jake Lloyd’s Anakin) or grating (Ahmed Best’s Jar Jar Binks).

And the film has a very confused tone, mixing adult political drama with kid friendly wish fulfilment and blazing action. Which just don’t gel together.

“Weren’t you supposed to be defending Phantom Menace?” (Source: Geektyrant)

“Defiance I sense in you”

But personally, I appreciate Phantom Menace trying to grow with its audience. After 16 years the kids who grew up on Star Wars were becoming adults, so Lucas tried to take an adult look at how the problems of the original trilogy came about.

Granted it wasn’t successful, and it needed the guiding hands of others to help iron things out, rather than George doing everything himself, seemingly unchallenged. But I will always take something different but flawed over safe and boring.

“Agree with you the council does”

And there are many positives to appreciate about Phantom Menace. There are some fine performances from Ewan McGregor as the charming, younger Obi-Wan Kenobi, Liam Neeson as calm, rebellious Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn and Ian McDiarmid is endearing and menacing as both sides of Chancellor Palpatine.

While the film drags in some parts, there are plenty of incredibly enjoyable action beats to make up for that. Like the Naboo escape scene, the pod race on Tatooine and even the overstuffed but enjoyable four-pronged finale.

The movie also has a great design and look. It’s colourful, inventive with a large variety of creature designs, sets, and costumes and it mixes early CG and practical effects in great ways to make its worlds feel bigger than the original trilogy.

And this film features some of composer John Williams’ best work. Will anyone argue that Duel of the fates isn’t one of the best songs of the entire saga?

The best part of the Phantom Menace, underscored by some of the best music of John Williams’ career (Source: Moddb.com)

Was It Really That Bad? …. No

The Phantom Menace is flawed, certainly. It would’ve benefited from having others around to iron out Lucas’ vision rather than giving him complete control.

But at its worst Episode 1 is an entertaining popcorn sci-fi film. Packed with a lot of creative ideas and it features some genuinely good work behind and in front of the camera that deserves appreciation rather than simple hate. Because as Yoda said, “hate leads to suffering.”

Also Read: Was It Really That Bad? Robin Hood (2018)

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Editorials

Harrison Ford: Nerf Herder or the Grave Robber?

September 3, 2019
Harrison Ford

When I was a child my favourite actor was Harrison Ford. I mean, how could he not be? This was before I knew of Blade Runner, Frantic or any number of great Ford performances. My opinion was based on two sets of films: Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Star Wars was the huge monolith of space opera sci-fi perfection and Indiana Jones was the ultimate hero from the past – fighting Nazis, battling evil cults and outsmarting his enemies. It is rare than an actor gets such an iconic role, Harrison Ford has two (let’s leave Rick Deckard for another article). Such was the cultural might of these characters both were brought back for more adventures but which is the more iconic character?

SPOILER WARNING – It’s hard to imagine someone reading this who isn’t fully up to date but there will be spoilers for Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Han Solo

Harrison Ford as Han Solo (source: comicbook.com)

Han Solo is the lovable rogue of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker may have been the lead character but Han Solo was cooler, funnier and far more handsome. Introduced as little more than a dodgy freighter captain with a bad-ass best friend he becomes one of the heroes of a rebellion and wins the love of a princess (and senator, general and many other awesome things). I think for a lot of people Solo is the most identifiable character in Star Wars – he doesn’t have magic powers, he’s not a princess or emperor and he’s not an alien. He was an ordinary guy trying to make the best of living through a bad time but couldn’t just do nothing when confronted with evil.

Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (source: thewrap.com)

Dr Henry “Indiana” Jones is a prominent archaeologist and professor known to be popular amongst his students. He is also a ravine-jumping, Nazi-punching, evil-defeating hero. I always loved the combination of intellectual and action-hero and while it has been done before and since nobody did it better than Indiana.

Iconic Moments

Both have a plethora of iconic moments, ranging from the funny to the brave to the romantic. Han Solo’s frantic conversation on the Death Star intercom trying to explain away a gun battle is hilarious but does it beat Indiana posing as a ticket inspector who promptly throws a Nazi off of a zeppelin?

Han Solo dressed as a Storm Trooper (source: youtube.com)

The moment where Han shows up to save Luke at the end of A New Hope is the defining image of the hero riding in at the last minute to save the day. For romance, Han wins easily – he has a moment that is arguably the most well-known in all of Star Wars: Leia- “I love you”, Han- “I know.”

Indiana Jones has at least two of the greatest action sequences of all time – the first is in Raiders of the Lost Ark where he races after the truck carrying the Ark and takes it over. He jumped on vehicles, fought soldiers and at one point was hanging onto the front of the truck while the metal he was desperately holding onto snapped off. The second being Indiana rescuing his father from a tank in The Last Crusade which is another all-round amazing sequence.

Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Arc (source: youtube.com)

Han Solo also has something Indiana doesn’t have (not yet anyway) – an iconic death. Being murdered by your own son while you try to reach any goodness still within him is brutal and heartbreaking. Han already seemed to feel like he had failed his son and there was no way he was going to try and fight him (I do love that just after Kylo Ren kills Han, Chewbacca shoots him, as he had no qualms about fighting him).

The Look

(movieweb.com)

Both characters are instantly recognisable and have surely been used millions of times as cosplay and fancy dress. Han Solo’s simple black trousers, white shirt, black waistcoat is so good that when everyone else wore full camouflage on Endor he chose to wear his normal stuff with a camouflage coat. As for Indiana, again simple but it’s the hat that makes it and because of Indiana Jones, the fedora is officially the world’s coolest hat. What’s amazing about Indiana is not only the default treasure seeker outfit, he also has the default old-fashioned professor look too.

Harrison Ford in his iconic Indiana Jones attire (source: bbc.co.uk)

The Character

There are a lot of similarities between the two – both are charming risk-takers who like doing things their own way. Both started out as mainly being concerned for themselves but their innate goodness takes over. Both are people who fight the bad guys, even when they outnumbered and almost certain to lose. They differ in background – Indiana’s parents were both academics and had a better life than young Han Solo, who even before his past was filled in a bit more in Solo was safely assumed to be fairly tough. Indiana has a respectable side – as well as an adventurer he is an esteemed academic, while Han does become a general this is part of a rebellion and as The Force Awakens showed he fell back into his old and more questionable life.

The Winner Is…

Which is the more iconic role? And which did more for Ford’s career? It’s an incredibly tough choice but I’d have to go for Indiana Jones, the clinching argument is the film isn’t called Han Solo and the Return of the Jedi. In acting terms, the success of the Indiana Jones films rests entirely on Harrison Ford.

Also Read: Star Wars: Course Correction

Editorials

Androids And The Actors That Play Them

August 23, 2019
Love-Death-Robots

A staple of the science fiction genre, robots and androids can sometimes be interchangeable, (although there is a difference). They are often some of the most iconic characters in a science fiction story, whether that be because of their unique design or their personality, there are many memorable machines in films brought to life by talented actors, this list takes a look at a wide variety of the spectrum, including robots, androids, cyborgs and everything in between.

“C-3P0” played by Anthony Daniels (Star Wars)

Daniels has portrayed Threepio in several projects outside of the live-action films

C-3P0, along with his companion R2-D2 are the first characters we are introduced to in “Star Wars”, and have appeared in every chapter of the saga since, including a cameo in spin-off “Rogue One”. Daniels has played the droid in over 20 different projects since the original film. He is also the only actor to appear in all nine films in the main Star Wars saga, all the more impressive when the first film was released in 1977, and that he wasn’t a science fiction fan. Despite their numerous adventures together in space, Daniels reportedly did not always get along with his costar.

“Ava” played by Alica Vikander (Ex Machina)

Promo image for Ex Machina, featuring Ava (Universal Pictures, 2014)

Ava is an android designed with artificial intelligence, so advanced that she is capable of independent thought and consciousness. The android challenges the traditional “Turing Test”, a common method used to determine if a machine has consciousness used in tons of science fiction by her body clearly being mechanical. Vikander was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award for her role as Ava. She later went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in “The Danish Girl” the following year. While she had some success in her native Sweden, “Ex Machina” was a role that made her a name in other countries.

“Alita” played by Roza Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel)

Rosa Salazar as Alita (20th Century Fox 2019)

Alita is based on the Japanese manga of the similar name. Originally James Cameron’s passion project Robert Rodriguez eventually took over. Alita is based in a near-future where most people have cybernetic enhancements. Alita herself is a highly advanced combat unit, rescued and rebuilt who slowly gains her memories over the course of the film. Salazar plays the character via a mix of motion capture and CGI, with the cyborgs look inspired by the original manga and anime, with the medium’s traditionally large eyes transferring into live-action as a tribute, as well as reinforcing the idea the Alita isn’t human.

“T-800” played by Arnold Schwarzenegger (Terminator)

The Terminator is a metal endoskeleton, that disguises itself as a human in order to carry out its mission (Tristar pictures, 1991)

Arguably the most iconic character on this list, the T-800 is a killing machine from the year 2025 (or whatever year the updated timeline moved things to), it disguises itself as a human and is incredibly durable. Although it is his most famous role, Schwarzenegger was originally approached for the role Kyle Reese, despite the fact that the Terminator is designed as an infiltration unit and Arnie sticks out in a crowd.

“Chappie” played by Sharlto Copley (Chappie)

Chappie is a police robot given intelligence and taken in by gangsters

Chappie was created as part of the new police department, but when his creator imbues him with artificial intelligence, Chappie is forced into hiding and is taken in by gangsters, as his consciousness is new, he is childlike, with the gang members taking advantage of his naivety. Unusually for a film like it, the title character was actually not created with motion capture, but Copley performed as the robot on set which was used for reference, before being created both digitally and physically for some shots.

Honourable Mention- Rick Deckard? – Harrison Ford (Blade Runner)

Deckard spends his life hunting replicants, but is he one of them?

In a list about androids, it wouldn’t seem fair to not include a character from “Blade Runner”. While Pris and Batty or even characters from the sequel are all memorable, the debate about whether Deckard himself is a replicant is one of the reasons the film is so iconic. Even the sequel deliberately avoided answering the question definitively, offering clues to sway audiences on both sides of the debate. Ford himself thinks that the character is human, while director Ridley Scott, thinks he’s a replicant, leaving it up to viewers to decide who to believe.

Also Read: 5 Horror Films And The Real Events Behind Them

Editorials

Star Wars: Course Correction

May 10, 2019
Star Wars Episode 9

Spoiler Warning – this article will contain massive spoilers about The Last Jedi and The Force Awakens

The Last Jedi divided opinion while still being a tremendously successful film, but you would assume in an ideal world Disney would want both the money and the fan approval. I had mixed feelings on the film – parts of it were undeniably great with some amazing ideas, first-rate fight scenes and stunning visuals. But I was also annoyed by a lot of it. An article about the criticism of The Last Jedi has to deal with the issue that some (but not all) of the criticism was awfully misogynistic. I liked the addition of Rose, she was a character that to me represented the grass-roots of the organisation, she wasn’t a Jedi, a general or a cool fighter pilot but she believed in the cause. Kelly Marie Tran was subject to such abuse she abandoned social media. This was absolutely appalling but I have never understood anyone’s specific problems with her (of course, no one should have to go through that). The first trailer for the concluding part of this trilogy has just been released so should be different in The Rise of Skywalker?

Rules Exist For A Reason

The controversial light speed collision tactic (medium.com)

The Last Jedi seemingly broke the accepted rules of the Star Wars universe in a couple of ways. First, General Hux announced they were able to track ships once they jumped to light speed. Second, Admiral Holdo light speed jumping into another ship to destroy it. These might seem like minor points but they are potentially hugely important. Regarding the first point, this effectively means no one can ever get away. At the end of The Empire Strikes back the Millenium Falcon jumps to light speed and escapes – if they had had the technology Hux has Darth Vader would have found them easily. Of course, that’s in the past, but it is still true, how could anyone ever escape again?

Using light speed to jump into another ship raises the question that why had no one ever done this before? Why didn’t the Rebels do that to the Death Star? In any good science-fiction or fantasy, there need to be rules to how things work otherwise it’s just nonsense and you can get out of any situation just by saying there is a new bit of technology. It might seem – and probably is – a bit pedantic to dwell on how made up technology works but it suggests it hasn’t been thought through by the writer.

No more “Casinos”

The much maligned Casino Planet (bizjournals.com)

I don’t literally mean casinos, I mean no more weird side-plots that take up a lot of time but don’t really serve much purpose. The side-plot in which Rose and Finn looked for an expert hacker on a casino-planet to help the Resistance fleet escape is universally unloved. The only purpose I can see for in the film is to provide a visually pleasing spectacular of aliens, droids and people in fancy outfits to contrast with most of the rest of the film taking place on spaceships. And look, each and every one of us would, given the opportunity, write in a part for Benicio Del Toro but he could have been used so much better.

No More Rehashing Scenarios From The Original Trilogy

This is a hard one as they get criticised either way – if they try and forge their own path and come up with new ideas people are upset – or absolutely furious in the case of The Phantom Menace. If they rely on setups from the original trilogy they are criticised for bringing nothing new. The Force Awakens had a huge world-destroying superweapon. The Last Jedi saw an assault by the bad-guys on a remote base. We’ve seen this before and I want something new even if it’s just drawing from films other than Star Wars. I thought it was a such a missed opportunity that we ended up with the exact same dynamic of the First Order (which is virtually identical to the Empire) fighting a handful of Resistance/Rebels.

There Better Be Something About Snoke

Supreme Leader Snoke (pinterest.com)

Who was Snoke? Where did he come from? How did he become so powerful? To introduce him as the mastermind behind the First Order but be eliminated so easily seems odd and I really want answers, as it stands he just seems like a lazy Palpatine rip-off.

Stay The Course – Things The Last Jedi Got Right

  • Rey’s parentage – the obvious and easy route would be to tie Rey to someone already mentioned in the saga, make her a Skywalker, or a Kenobi, maybe even a Palpatine. I know for many fans this was the biggest issue but I really liked it and Kylo Ren explicitly stated that she wasn’t part of the story. Well, you know what? The fate of the galaxy shouldn’t just be the concern of the extended Skywalker family.
  • The End of the Jedi – well, maybe not the end, but I loved how it was pointed out by more than one character that the Jedi weren’t all they were cracked up to be. They never saw who Palpatine really was, they let themselves be manipulated into fighting a huge war and were then so easily eliminated. Maybe the Jedi Order as it was had run its course.
  • Luke Isn’t Perfect – Luke was essentially the main character of the original trilogy. He was good, noble and had amazing superhuman powers but The Last Jedi showed he was still a flawed human. He made a terrible mistake with Ben/Kylo Ren and essentially drove him to the Dark Side. I’d also say his confrontation with Kylo Ren at the end of the film was genius – Luke had already confronted Kylo Ren with violence once and made things worse, his solution seemed a very Jedi thing to do.

The Last Jedi wasn’t perfect but it was a very enjoyable film. The problem is when it comes to Star Wars films it seems the fans want something amazing or nothing at all.

Also Read: The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those That Didn’t) – Part 4 [Star Wars]

Editorials

The Movie Villains Who Nailed It (And Those Who Didn’t) – Part Four [Star Wars]

April 21, 2019
Supreme Leader Snoke

Back by popular demand but better than the fourth Indiana Jones film is the next instalment in our ‘Villains’ series, where I share my thoughts on which movie bad guys have been worth the wait, and which have been a big ol’ let down.

So far, I’ve put villains from the Harry Potter, James Bond and Marvel series under the microscope – this time around, I’ll turn my attention to the glorious and often polarising space opera saga that is Star Wars (and I’ll do my level best not to geek out too much in the process).

Before I get into it, though, here’s an important disclaimer: there are a TON of heroes and villains in the Star Wars universe and while it would be fun to compare a baddie from the prequel trilogy with someone in Rogue One, it may not be entirely fair, especially if their character spans more than one trilogy and we have more time to love or hate them. So I’m going to stick with the new trilogy on this occasion. 

Also, the new trailer for The Rise of Skywalker dropped as I was writing this and almost made me go in a completely different direction on this one (that laugh…!), but I decided to stick with my original choice in the end.

Part four: Star Wars Villains (Sequel Trilogy)

Kylo Ren – heir apparent to Lord Vader indeed

Kylo Ren

I love Kylo Ren. I love Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. I love J.J. Abrams for making Kylo Ren such a badass in The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson for developing his character in the right way in The Last Jedi. He was probably the best thing about both movies.

Remember the first teaser trailer for The Force Awakens? Andy Serkis snarling “There has been an awakening…have you felt it? The Dark Side, and the Light.”

There’s a shot in that teaser that hit the cutting room floor of Kylo Ren igniting his crossguard lightsabre in the snowy woods on Starkiller Base. That was the beginning of the Kylo Ren hype that never really let up at all, even after he took off his mask to reveal the wavy dark locks of Adam Driver (I know a few people who hated that). Here was a villain deliberately modelled on Darth Vader, complete with his own distorted voice and hidden visage.

What I love about Kylo is the fact that we never really know just how good or bad he actually is, or whether or not he’s truly as powerful as other characters in the films keep telling us. At the end of The Force Awakens, he screams “TRAITOR!” at John Boyega’s Finn (something akin to Anakin’s “I HATE YOU!” shriek at Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith), reminding us that he’s still quite young and lacking in self-control – he’s also just murdered his own father at this point, so the capacity for evil is definitely there. And yet in The Last Jedi, he often seems just as conflicted as Rey, even veering tantalisingly towards the Light at times.

Ultimately, it’s all a mirroring of Vader, making Kylo Ren the first truly worthy successor to the heavy-breathing Dark Lord of the Sith. And like Vader, as The Rise of Skywalker approaches, we still have no real idea which way this particular Force-wielding villain is going to go in the end. As it should be.

Supreme Leader Snoke – just a red herring?

Supreme Leader Snoke
Supreme Leader Snoke

I thought Rian Johnson did a fantastic job with Snoke. Abrams hadn’t given us much to go on other than a gloomy-looking hologram with a booming voice, but Johnson wasted no time in revealing the First Order’s Big Bad shortly after the opening scene of The Last Jedi. Snoke’s fairly hideous appearance, given life by the brilliant Andy Serkis, was pretty much what I’d been hoping for. I also loved the fact that his throne room was mostly bright and red, and Snoke himself wore gold-coloured clothing instead of the usual black ensemble.

And I genuinely loved the moment when Kylo Ren sliced his master in two – it was totally unexpected and completely threw the audience at the time.

However, I was gutted that we never discovered who the heck the Supreme Leader actually was. Like many fans, I’d spent months trying to work out who he was: Palpatine? Darth Plagueis? Mace Windu (yes, someone actually suggested that!).

So when the credits finally rolled and we were no closer to finding out who he was or why he wanted to take over the galaxy, I felt a little cheated. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the positive end of Star Wars fans regarding The Last Jedi, but I’d wanted some answers and hadn’t gotten anyway. Maybe we’ll find out in the final instalment who Snoke was, but I fear that ship has sailed.

The bottom line

I don’t think many Star Wars fans would argue that Kylo Ren isn’t a great villain. He has all the makings of a classic cinematic figure on the cusp of a satisfying character arc completion (I hope!), and the trailer shots of his mask being repaired got me even more excited for The Rise of Skywalker than I already had been (he’s cooler with the mask on, right?). On Snoke, I wanted some answers and Rian Johnson didn’t throw any my way, so I can never really feel at peace with that one.

Here’s to a satisfying end to the greatest movie saga of all time!

Read the rest of “The Movie Villains Who Nailed It” series:

Part 1: Harry Potter

Part 2: James Bond

Part 3: Marvel Cinematic Universe