Review – Watching Skies
Review of Watching Skies to follow but here is the press release for what look to be a very cool book. Ill take a look – but let me know what you think:
Watching Skies – A loving ode to a VHS galaxy not that far far away
As Ready Player One and Stranger Things prove the retro might of VHS era cinema, Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us is a universal and affectionate tale about the pop cultural remembrances stuck in all our R2 unit’s memory systems.
Like many a kid in an ‘80s world of VCRs, Reagan and Atari, Mark O’Connell wanted to be one of the mop-haired kids on the Star Wars toy commercials. Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman and of course Star Wars weren’t just changing cinema – they were making lasting highways into our childhoods, toy boxes and video stores like never before.
In this energetic and insightful memoir-through-cinema, O’Connell flies a gilded X-Wing through a universe of bedroom remakes of Return of the Jedi, close encounters with Christopher Reeve, sticker album swaps, a honeymoon on Amity Island and the trauma of losing an entire Star Wars figure collection.
A unique study on how a rich galaxy of movies continue shaping big and vital cinema to this day, Watching Skies is for all Star Wars kids – whatever their era.
It is about how George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, a shark, two motherships, some gremlins, ghostbusters, and a man of steel jumped a whole generation to hyperspace* (*action figures not included).
Mark O’Connell is an award-winning writer and author. As a
comedy writer he has written for a wide range of actors,
performers, titles, and media. As a warm-witted pop culture
pundit, he has written and guested for Variety, Sky Movies, The
Times, The Guardian, OUT magazine, Channel Four, Five, Yahoo
Movies and across BBC radio and television. He was one of the
official storytellers of London 2012, owns one tenth of a BAFTA,
once got praised by the Coen Brothers, and now travel writes.
He is the author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan.
Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us
by Mark O’Connell
The History Press
Paperback ISBN 9780750970198
ebook ISBN 9780750986151
Which do you prefer?
Nothing has divided the Star Wars fandom more than the debate over prequels vs. sequels. The only common ground between the two camps is that is that the original trilogy comprising A New Hope (1977), Empire Strikes Back (1980) and The Return of the Jedi (1983) is sacred. So what are some of the arguments from those who prefer prequels over sequels and vice versa, and can we objectively say who wins?
The prequels to the Star Wars Trilogy include Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), Episode II: The Attack of the Clones (2001) and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). The first chapter, Episode I, hit theatres on May 19th, 1999. As with its two successors, it was met with a mixed critical reception. Some championed the film for broadening the appeal of the Star Wars universe thanks to rich storytelling by creator, George Lucas. Add in some of the most stunning cinematography of all of the Star Wars films, and you’d think that the producers were on to a winner.
Others, however, took a very different view. The prequels were seen as an attempt to commercialise the series by including unnecessary plotlines (a trade war, an ill-fitting romance) and introducing characters with questionable comedic value (we’re looking at you, Jar Jar Binks). As the films were released, so was a ton of new Star Wars gadgets and memorabilia from Storm Trooper figurines to Death Star Lamps. The Internet became flooded with Star Wars gadget reviews telling us about the latest must-have fan collectibles.
Thus a divide was born between those who were more excited than ever about the re-birth of the franchise, and those who staunchly felt that the prequels dragged down the magic of the original trilogy. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that you either loved these new films, or hated them.
The Star Wars sequels are: The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017) and the yet to be named Star Wars: Episode IX (2019). These three films took a completely different direction, overseen by new production company Disney and three new directors including J.J Abrams of Star Trek fame.
The first two instalments of the sequels received a warm reception from critics and (most) fans. According to figures obtained by The Gadget Nerds, the first two films became some of the highest grossing of all time. Their success can be explained by the fact that they stayed true to the original trilogy, and even paying homage to many of the classic Star Wars scenes (although some of us think this was over done in parts). The visual effects, as one might have guessed, are better than ever.
But not everyone is impressed. The first two films have been criticised for underwhelming story lines that bring nothing new to the table. The notable exception is the inclusion of a strong female lead (Rey) and a more diverse cast than ever before. But many of the Star Wars fans that want to see the films evolve, were left cold.
Our Two Cents
One of the most irresistible aspects of Star Wars is that it immerses us into a Galaxy far, far away. We’re some of the most passionate fandoms in the world, so being able to share different opinions is healthy. It makes it exciting to be a Star Wars fan.
When it comes to the prequels vs. sequels debate, we won’t have heard the last of it. Those who preferred the prequels under George Lucas’ direction will be hoping that the last sequel due for release next year will deliver something more unique. At the same time, fans of the sequels will be expecting a thrilling end to the story that honours the original films while still keeping us captivated.
We can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
May 24, 2018
I wrote this article six months ago but did not publish it because it seemed that everything to say about Solo : a Star Wars Story had already been said. However, I will finally see this film tomorrow and realized that if I post the article, I can say “I told you so” or you can enjoy watching me eat my words. Win-win.
I am writing this after all the weird setbacks throughout making this movie, from the director being changed to the actor apparently not playing a good enough Solo.
This could mean that the Solo movie will be horrible. Han’s story is tough territory. He is one of the most beloved characters in the galaxy. How could anyone else play Han? No one will be good enough and the news we are hearing about having to re-shoot scenes or train his actor are probably indicative of that. Also, there is compelling evidence that we already have a young Han Solo movie and it’s called American Grafitti: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/harrison-ford-gave-us-a-young-han-solo-1973-1016035
The various setbacks could also mean that the Solo movie will be great, because they are doing everything in their power to make it the best it can be. Whether it’s getting a more suitable director to make the film what it needs to be, or by having an acting coach polish Alden Ehrenreich’s performance into a great Han Solo.
We won’t know until we see it. I am withholding judgment until then.
It’s my belief that no one else can truly “own” the role, and that we should not expect Ehrenreich to. There’s no reason to impose an impossible job on him. I do expect him to perform admirably, and that his Han will seem like a fuzzy memory — “yeah, he was kind of like that but not exactly.” It took place a long time ago.
Instead, I think this movie is a great opportunity to showcase other characters, other stories, and more of the Imperial-era galaxy in general. Judging from the trailers, Chewie and Lando are shining beacons of hope for this film; I’ve even heard that maybe Donald Glover should have been given the starring role for a movie called Lando: a Star Wars Story instead. I would love to see why he thinks Chewie is too cool to be hanging out with Han. I am curious if Lando has always been this suave or if this will be part of his character development, as it was in the now-Legends A.C. Crispin trilogy.
I am a bit curious about Emilia Clarke’s character, though not too optimistic about whether she will pull it off. It’s not that I think she is a bad actress, but that she has been badly miscast in pretty much every role I have seen her play. But perhaps, because it is Star Wars, this will be the time I am finally surprised. I am not interested in seeing a love triangle, or the character of Boba Fett, but I wouldn’t mind a Boba Fett love triangle.
I have been truly missing the original aliens of the classic trilogy beyond specific characters. In recent movies I have not seen Rodians, Twi’leks, etc.
I would definitely like what Han “pulled” to be something better than what happened in either the Crispin trilogy or Scoundrels — or whether it was, in fact Lando who pulled one on Han.
My money is on both. Neither will ever out-scoundrel the other.
THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS DO NOT READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW! BUT THERE IS NOTHING TO SPOIL ANYWAY
The last Jedi Review
I love Star Wars and I love film in general so it feels a bit like heresy to say I disliked ‘The Last Jedi’.
There are some good things about the film but they are few and far between. The truth is, ‘The Last Jedi’ is utter banal rubbish (I would use stronger language but for the sake of our younger readers I am self censoring.)
There is so much wrong with this film but let’s start with good. The film is beautiful and epic looking as you would expect and …… .. erm that is about it!
I can’t be sure but I think that halfway through post-production, when Carrie Fisher died, someone decided that Leia’s part needed to be extended. In order to do that they decided that her original intended death would be reversed and a resurrection scene was developed. Subsequent additional scenes were created using ‘cutting room floor clipping’ This may not be the case but if it is not, it seems like this is what happened. As a result there is a very strange sequence of Leia who suddenly has becomes super-human. Subsequent footage of her has no relevance to the story, although, to be fare, no-one has much relevance to the non-story, but I will get to that later. This is not only strange resurrection in the Movie. I saw Fin’s new girlfriend die. Minutes later she is injured but alive (in what looked like Lister’s bed from Red Dwarf).
Talking of comedy sci-fi ‘Red Dwarf’ is funny, ‘Guardian’s of the Galaxy’ will make you smile and laugh, and ‘Third rock from the sun’ is a great comedy soap, but Star War’s apart from heavy doses of irony from Han Solo, is not supposed to be ‘side splitting funny’ (unless you are Snoke). Of course there was Jar-Jar, but I thought we had learned that lesson. Everywhere there are jokes form the opening scenes with Po and Hux. Hux ,an Evil General is made to look buffoon. How could such an idiot be a general let alone the third/ fourth most powerful person in the Galaxy. The jokes are rarely funny there are too many of them, and they are in the wrong places. At times I thought I was watching ‘Airplane’. Especially not funny’’ were the beakless penguins. That brings me to cute and Disneyfication.
Ok so you have a film franchise and you want to sell some merchandise and some cuddly toys. Why not introduce a cute creature? Here’s how you can do this:
- Steal the concept of a rival (Star Trek Tribbles).
- Develop the size and structure from another franchise (Penguins of Madagascar).
- Steal the cute from a better film (Gremlins)
- Ignore previous failures (Ewoks).
- Overuse – to reinforce the image so younger viewers become fascinated.
- Give them their own cartoon series.
- Become a cynical SOB.
Only item 6 left to do then!
Now we come to the script. What exactly happened in this movie.?
At the beginning of this movie: Luke was elsewhere in the galaxy; Rey was a potential Jedi master; Kylo Ren was a Sith; The resistance were on the run.
At the end of this movie: Luke is elsewhere in the universe; Rey is a potential Jedi master; Kylo Ren is a Sith Lord; The resistance is on the run.
There were a lot of explosions in between, and there are fewer old character are left, although I expect some could be resurrected at any time. So the answer to what exactly happened in this movie? Is…. nothing much! Now that is OK providing you get something from the journey, but with increasing numbers of character becoming immortal (on this plane or the next), there was,and is no sense of peril. Rey’s story it turns out is one of irrelevant abandonment (although I expect that to be corrected in the next movie). So that mystery has gone. Luke ran away because he failed or something? So that mystery has gone, but makes no sense.
Oh! I don’t care about any of it! It is all full of holes. Not the best thought to have after 2.5 hours of movie and 48 hours to think about it.
I loved ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘Rouge One’ so it gives me much pain to declare that:
I hated ‘The last Jedi’
At best it is badly edited, badly directed, with a poor script. At worst it is cynical, exploitative, formulaic tat.
UK Fan Experience: UK Smelly Rubbers and Pencil Toppers
Back in the heady days of the original trilogy, while young kids at school looked out of the window and wished they were in the cantina, or blasting at AT-AT’s in a snowspeeder, there was always a peach-smelling Star Wars eraser to remind us that the galaxy far, far away wasn’t actually that far away at all.
Kicking off in 1977, the first Star Wars erasers were released by the now near legendary company Helix. Launching the range with a series of 8 flat erasers, the set comprised of C-3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Luke in his X-Wing outfit, Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin. Fast-forward to the modern era and via the design and concept skills of three prominent Star Wars fans Grant Criddle, Craig Spivey and artist Mark Daniels, these sets are making a comeback with the full force of Helix behind them. Keep your eyes out for some amazing looking sets which will both revisit and expand those classic sets of the 70’s and 80’s.
Helix also released a series of much-loved pencil top erasers, adding a Star Wars spin to the tops of chewed pencils everywhere. R2, Chewbacca, Vader, Stormtrooper, every side of the war was catered for and only added to what was an ever-swelling wave of product arriving for this ground-breaking movie. In years to come other characters would appear as pencil top erasers and pencil toppers including Luke X-wing pilot, Master Yoda and a plethora of characters from Return of the Jedi. Run through to the modern era and a number of pencil top erasers have just been released for Rogue One. These sets are going nowhere anytime soon, and any collector hoping to nab every set available is in for a busy time of it, as there are LOADS out there.
Star Wars VIII – The Last Jedi.
After all the false trailers, fan trailers, leaked trailers and the ‘Is Vader really back?’ trailer, here is the real thing. Finally Luke says something although it is not exactly what we want to hear:
Tell us what you make of it all!
Appearing onscreen first—and only—in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as Lando Calrissian’s executive assistant in Cloud City, Lobo has since been fleshed out into a 3-dimensional character with an interesting history as Calrissian’s version of Chewbacca.
Appearing onscreen first—and only—in Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as Lando Calrissian’s executive assistant in Cloud City, Lobo has since been fleshed out into a 3-dimensional character with an interesting history as Calrissian’s version of Chewbacca.
When heroes Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa, Chewbacca, and C-3PO take refuge from the Empire amid the bucolic cloudscape of Bespin’s Cloud City, they find Solo’s “old buddy” Lando Calrissian in charge of the Tibanna gas mining colony that Cloud City comprises. Ever at Calrissian’s side, silently effecting the Baron Administrator’s directives and managing top-level operations, is a human whose bald pate is ringed with a blinking cybernetic halo.
Fans—especially young fans—are instantly curious about the character. Is he a human? Is a he droid made to look human? Is he a combination of both? Some later viewers wonders if the device was similar to the visor worn by Georgi Laforge in Star Trek the Next Generation.
The other characters’ lack of fascination with Lobot made him all the more interesting to fans. Like so many other fantastic elements of Star Wars, Lobot was treated as commonplace and unremarkable, which piqued viewers’ interest and made them want him remarked upon. Also like so many components of the Star Wars films, Lobot’s genesis was a mixture of inspiration, expedience, snark, and budget.
Lobot is never named in the dialog of The Empire Strikes Back, though his name appears in the credits and on the action figure Kenner released current with the film debut. Originally, he is listed in the script merely as “Lando’s Aide” and “Aide.” He is given the name Lobot late in production as a tongue-in-cheek nod to his origin story; Lando’s aide was lobotomized. The lobotomy that granted the character his cybernetic implant also cancelled out his previously significant spoken dialog, rendering the character a mute. Because his scripted lines were largely throwaway responses to Calrissian, filmmakers did, indeed, throw them away, as they did several of Lobot’s would-be memorable scenes.
Several death scenes for Lobot were filmed and discarded because, as Lobot actor John Hollis stated, filmmakers “were very wary about showing people die.” That attitude is consistent with the switch from filming the character dying to his being captured. “Men in white masks… carted me off,” Hollis said of one scene. The one that was released as a deleted scene from The Empire Strikes Back shows Lobot sneaking around Cloud City before being arrested by Imperial Stormtroopers.
As interesting as Lobot’s production story is, the character’s in-canon history is more compelling.
Lobot’s brain was connected directly to Cloud City’s computer network. This connection is what enables him to open and close sliding doors and summon the blue-clad Bespin Wing Guardsmen in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s also this connection that enables Lando to activate and summon Lobot with a cadre of Guardsmen double-crossing the Empire with a four-button wrist piece communique about.
Before becoming the creature whose name is a contraction of “lobotomized” and “robot,” Lobot was born in Cloud City. Where he goes from there differs between the old and the new narratives.
Star Wars Legends ne Expanded Universe tells us that Lobot was once a human who, as a young man, was convicting of thievery. Electing community service over imprisonment unfortunately was the worse choice. The youthful offender was lobotomized and implanted with an AJ^6 cyborg construct or Lobot-Tech headgear. The headgear connected him to the city’s central network, and thus the convicted youth began an intended life-sentence of community service during which he would control “issues of bureaucracy, law enforcement, computer programming and repair, and security, as well as the communication systems, repulsorlifts, and life-support systems.” He fulfilled this role through Calrissian’s administration as well as occupation by the Empire and Zorba the Hutt following Calrissian’s abandonment of his post.
In the new Canon, told largely through the Marvel Comics series Lando, we discover an alternate history for the efficient aide-de-camp.
In this new history, it’s the Empire that implants the AJ^6 cyborg construct as a condition of Lobot’s voluntary employment. The result is the same reduction of personality in exchange for enhanced cerebral processing and productivity. Lobot uses his new ability to run battlefield simulations for the Empire before leaving its employ to join smuggler Lando Calrissian as his First Mate aboard the Millennium Falcon.
Some time after Calrissian loses the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc, the pair find themselves embroiled in a complicated, multi-part scam involving a crime boss, Imperial Moff, partners whom Calrissian had harmed in the past, and the theft of Emperor Palpatine’s personal yacht. After a double-cross, a space battle, and an infiltration, Lobot is severely wounded. As a result of the injury, his implants attempt to take over his brain; it’s all the wounded man can do to fight them back and maintain control of his own mind. Ultimately, he loses that battle, sacrificing his personality to save the lives of Calrissian and another friend.
Lobot remains with Calrissian, following him to Bespin as Chief Administrative Aide when Calrissian assumes leadership of the mining colony as Baron Administrator.
Imperial occupation of Cloud City ends shortly after the Emperor is killed at Endor and Cloud City falls under the rule of Zorba the Hutt. Lobot continues his service running day-to-day operations of the colony but also secretly feeding intelligence to Calrissian, now a general of the New Republic.
What in the Galaxy are those Symbols?
Throughout Who in the Galaxy is That? profiles you may encounter one or more of the following symbols.
Here’s what they mean:
- Sources and media cited as canon contain information that is officially part of the Star Wars film universe, which also includes non-film media such as books, comic books, games, and more. This means the information is officially part of the history of Star Wars that appears in the films. It came from, or may appear within or influence, the events of a Star Wars film.
- Following Return of the Jedi, George Lucas stated that he would not make other Star Wars movies. He then opened Star Wars to other creators and media. Carefully overseen by Lucas’s company, Lucas Arts, hundreds of new Star Wars novels, comic books and graphic novels, video games, and television shows were created to expand the Star Wars universe and tell stories in all directions—from thousands of years before Luke Skywalker was born to thousands of years after, from filling in the histories of the greatest Star Wars legends to bringing life to every background alien in the Cantina scene. This was the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and it was all canon until new Star Wars films were once again possible. Disney and Lucas Arts then found themselves penned in by the massive amount of material from other creators and projects. They simply couldn’t make Episode VII and beyond because every moment in the lives of the major characters of Han, Luke, Leia, and others had already been chronicled in the Expanded Universe, and very little of that could easily be translated to feature films easily followed by, and appealing to, the many different types of Star Wars fans who loved the Original Trilogy. As a result, a large portion of the formerly-canon Expanded Universe stories were declared non-canon, unofficial in terms of the film continuity. The stories still exist and continue to expand, but now in an alternate reality called Star Wars Legends while other new stories are created alongside them within the universe of the films.
- Though rare, you’ll see this symbol appear from time-to-time in Who in the Galaxy is That? Star Wars fans are many and varied, and they like to create their own movies, stories, comics, artwork, and more based in the Star Wars universe. Occasionally, a fan-created work is so good and becomes so popular that it gains super star status all on its own. When such rarities relate to the characters profiled in Who in the Galaxy is That?, they are identified by the Fandom-Created symbol.
Suggest a Character to Profile
Have you ever wondered, “who in the galaxy is that?” Tell us in the comments who you’ve wondered about in the Star Wars universe of films, books, comics, games, and even toys. If you know the character’s name, tell us, but if you don’t know a name, tell us where we can find the character that has piqued your curiosity. Something like “the third bounty hunter from the left in the Star Destroyer scene in Empire Strikes Back” works quite well in directing us to who you’re thinking about. Whomever you wonder about, we might just profile in Who in the Galaxy is That?
Untold Star Wars: Padme’s Family
Perhaps due to George Lucas’ enjoyment of crafting a new generation of Star Wars characters in the prequels – who then couldn’t all have the requisite amount of screen time – Padme Amidala was the character who suffered most in the editing room. In Revenge of the Sith, her story arc that hints at the beginnings of the Rebel Alliance was excised. In Attack of the Clones, the exploration of her home life on Naboo was removed before the final cut was locked.
While Obi-Wan investigates the mystery of Jango Fett and the Kamino saber dart, Anakin is tasked with protecting Senator Padme Amidala. The pair go into hiding on Naboo, heading for the Lake Country to keep her safe – it is there that their romance becomes to blossom.
The scene in which they fist arrive on Naboo sees them discussing their lives, catching up on what has happened in the ten years since they met. In the deleted scenes section of the Attack of the Clones DVD, an extended version of the scene reveals that a longer conversation was originally planned. The conversation offers a number of insights into Padme’s character – she never expected to find herself living in Theed Palace as queen, and had expected to have a family by now. Her reason for not having a family is being asked by the Queen to become Senator for Naboo, demonstrating her commitment to public service.
The prequel trilogy is filled with references to how democracies fall to become dictatorships, and in the extended version of this scene Padme tells Anakin, ‘popular rule is not democracy’. This is in reaction to him mentioning that when her terms as elected queen were up, the people wanted the constitution to be amended. Although not referenced in the final film, this was intended to contrast with Palpatine, who has used various crises to stay in office beyond the usual period. Padme genuinely believes in democracy, whereas Palpatine will circumvent it where necessary – her character is an important counterpoint to his.
The next scene shows Padme and Anakin arriving for dinner at the Senator’s family home, where her parents and sister welcome them into a much more humble abode than she is seen in on Coruscant. The contrast between her parents offering typical familial comments and expressing concern about her wellbeing with the grand political life on Coruscant demonstrates that Padme has not lost touch with her more humble roots. It shows a less formal side to the character, a reminder that she too is human and fallible.
A few short scenes that follow the dinner see Anakin walking and talking with Padme’s father while her sister tries to get Padme to open up about her feelings for Anakin. These moments do seem somewhat out of place in a Star Wars film, more appropriate for a period drama – but Star Wars has always drawn on many cinematic influences, and the Padme side of this scene is more naturalistic than some of the more stilted dialogue that occurs later in Attack of the Clones.
The next scene in this sequence sees Anakin fascinated by Padme’s bedroom. A nice little touch are holo-frames on the wall, depicting moving scenes – it is not often that domestic scenes are depicted in the Star Wars movies. Anakin and Padme share a lack of a fixed home, both relating where they belong to their families. His questions about her play out much like any potential partner seeing the other person’s space for the first time, like the earlier scene making this one of the more genuine feeling scenes in their courtship.
Padme also talks about time she spent relocating children as part of a relief effort, further underscoring her altruism. She talks about the children then dying – a dark subject matter, even for a film that involves cloning an entire army for the sole purpose of war – but it demonstrates the character’s resilience, continuing to serve a greater cause despite seeing such tragedies first hand.
It underscores the contrast between Padme and Anakin that is developed further in the final film, with her genuine selfless passion for democracy and his for authoritarianism. Although it is brushed off as a joke, there is a certain earnestness underscoring his insistence that ‘they should be made to’ agree, when discussing the Senators with Padme. Her character is driven by a desire to do good, to improve the situation of those around her. Anakin, although he wishes to help others, tends to be driven more by a desire to protect those who matter to him personally – he doesn’t have grand ideals about democracy like Padme. This allows Chancellor Palpatine to manipulate him, using his fear of loss to plant the seeds of a new worldview in the young Jedi’s head.
Anakin Skywalker’s journey is of course tragic, which is underscored when seeing him interacting with Padme’s family in these deleted scenes. It’s another contrast between the pair – he only had his mother, who in this film will be taken from him. Padme has a big, supportive family to rely on. It perhaps suggests that the support Padme had around her, and the relatively gilded life she led, allowed her to make more positive choices than Anakin did.
The cast portraying Padme’s family are only seen in the finished saga during her funeral in Revenge of the Sith, which at least gives them a brief moment of screen time, if not the speaking roles they originally had in this sub-plot. Although the plot functions perfectly well without them, it is a shame that these scenes, that would have fleshed Padme out further, had to be excised. In the finished movies, she is painted in broad brushstrokes, as is common for Star Wars. Her altruistic, determined nature shines through and these deleted scenes serve to deepen that character.