Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Cinema Review)

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12A – 152mins – 2017 – 3D


 

THE BURDEN OF ALL MASTERS

“It’s time for the Jedi… to end.”

Having recently announced that writer/director Rian Johnson will spearhead a brand-new Star Wars trilogy unrelated to the principal Skywalker saga in the coming years, it is clear that Lucas’ successor Kathleen Kennedy et al at Lucasfilm/Disney are unequivocally thrilled with how Episode VIII has turned out. George himself is on record as praising it for being “beautifully shot,” while early reviews seem to be unanimously positive and box office projections astronomically high…

… Keep Scuttling!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Cinema Review)

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12A – 133mins – 2016 – 3D


SUPER TROOPERS

Ostensibly an orphan, Jyn Erso (Felicity Inferno Jones) has had a less than rosy upbringing after her mother was gunned down and her science officer father, Galen (Mads Doctor Strange Mikkelsen), kidnapped by the Galactic Empire to assist them in completing their “planet killing” orbital monstrosity, the Death Star. Rescued from an Imperial camp, Jyn is recruited by Mon Mothma (Revenge of the Sith’s Genevieve O’Reilly) and the Rebel Alliance to join Cassian Andor’s (Diego Luna) ragtag team of Rebels on a mission to track down Galen and seize the plans to the super-weapon in order to locate a weakness.

… Keep Scuttling!

NOR-CON 6 (Event Review)

NOR-CON 6 Norfolk TV Film and Comic Con

Saturday 8th October 2016, 9:30am-6:00pm – Norfolk Showground – £10.00 standard entry

www.nor-con.co.uk


NOR-BLIMEY!

After taking 2015 off, Norfolk’s premier TV, film and comic convention (or Nor-Con for short) returned to East Anglia earlier today for its sixth (almost-)annual celebration of all things geek and cult.

… Keep Scuttling!

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company (Book Review)

Written by: Alexander Freed

Published in the UK by: Century, 2015

397pages


 

WARS OF THE WORLDS

Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back in a post-Death Star, Vader-aware universe, Dragon Age comic author Alexander Freed does an admirable job of encapsulating the galaxy-wide scale of the fight against the Imperial Empire in this dense and often introspective companion story to last November’s hotly-anticipated Electronic Arts multi-player action shooter reboot, Star Wars Battlefront.

… Keep Scuttling!

Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 (Event Review)

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Sunday 17th July 2016 – ExCeL London Exhibition Centre – £32.00

starwarscelebration.com


 

ExCeL ExPeRiEnCe

A veritable smuggler’s horde of juicy first-looks and jaw-dropping reveals, plus an army of guest panels introducing anyone who’s anyone in The Force Awakens (besides an injured Harrison Ford), and last year’s Anaheim antics totally sold me on the benefits of attending Star Wars Celebration – doubly so as this year’s LucasFilm love-in was held on British shores for the first time in nearly a decade.

With work commitments restricting my availability across this past weekend’s three day fan-fest, I excitedly joined the massing throngs of Jedi, Princesses, Stormtroopers, Ewoks – and one Nute Gunray! – invading London’s ExCeL Exhibition Centre for yesterday’s final day of wall-to-wall Wars. If you thought the Mos Eisley Cantina was overcrowded – you couldn’t swing a womp rat in the ExCeL without hitting ecstatic fanboys or cosplayers on Sunday!

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With everything from Rogue One costume exhibits to exclusive Art galleries and radio controlled X-Wing dogfight displays, as well as a Bantha herd of interactive activities (The Star Wars Show vlog recordings, Empire magazine podcast recordings, Mandalorian parades, Battefront gaming zones, Build an R2 area), I can’t accuse the organisers of this official shindig of skimping on the celebrations – the atmosphere was positively jubilant!

It ignites my lightsaber (not like THAT!) to see a franchise I have followed so fondly for so long to be so well represented by such a (rebel) alliance of strong supporters. It is truly inspiring to see how George’s galactic vision from nearly 40 years ago has touched and inspired countless scores of artists, designers, tattooists, children and families – and will continue to for generations to come.

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But with a great turnout comes almighty queues, and while the crowds moved swiftly for the most part, I was less than impressed at having to join a tailback of human traffic to entre the event’s official Store – especially when so many of the over-priced convention exclusive products were sold out by the time we made it past the high-vis-adorned doorman!

The Autograph corner was also a slight bone of contention for me, with the thrill at being able to see saga stars such as Anthony “C-3PO” Daniels, Matthew “General Grievous” Wood and Ray “Darth Maul” Park gamely sign merchandise and chat with starstruck fans somewhat quashed by the two biggest names on the bill – Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill and Carrie “Princess Leia” Fisher – hidden within screened-off areas where only those willing to part with a extortionate amount of credits could see them.

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I understand how escalating ticket systems and VIP packages at conventions work; I have attended many a similar event over the years, however at an officially arranged event focusing on celebrating one franchise, it seemed a little off to still restrict customers who have “only” purchased standard passes.

On the subject of missing out, as expertly organised as the annual event undoubtably was (schedules, maps, helpful crew, guidebooks, continually updated mobile app), I can’t help but feel like the ‘first come first seated’ wristband system for gaining access to the main event Celebration Stage panels was less-than-convenient for single day attendees – by the time we had queued to receive our entrance ticket lanyard, everything which sold the event to be in 2015 was “wristbanded out”.

Sure, I could catch-up on the live stream, or watch the shows on the giant video screen, but to hear thunderous cheers go up during the hotly-anticipated day-capping “Future Filmmakers” panel and not know why (the introduction of the young Han Solo; surprise guest Jon “Finn” Boyega, it transpires), felt like being so tantalisingly near yet so frustratingly far, far away.

SWC6I don’t want to sound like this is simply a case of sour meilooruns, because a lot of SWC was truly amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but when you miss out on EVERY main stage event you come to realise how many of the multitudinous stalls are simply mountains of readily-available merchandise. Now I enjoy a good peruse as much as the next person, but I really required an additional Force-push to elevate this ultimate fan experience from merely good into hyperspace.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day at Star Wars Celebration Europe, but for too long I could have been at any large-scale money-making convention, rather than in the same building as such luminous franchise legends as Kathleen Kennedy, Dave Filoni, Rian Johnson, Mark Hamill, Pablo Hidalgo and countless others.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

LEGO Star Wars: Droid Tales – Vol. 1 (TV Review)

Disney X D – Premiered: July 6th 2015 – now available on DVD
Written by: Michael Price
Directed by: Michael Hegner (1.1), Martin Skov (1.2)


FORCE BLOCKS

Having forged a successful toy partnership some years ago, and with The Force Awakens and The Lego Movie exceeding expectations at the box office, it was only a matter of time before TV executive started playing with the merchandise. Alongside the utterly hilarious The New Yoda Chronicles, Droid Tales is another colourful 5-part CGI mini-series which is ostensibly for children but thanks to some cleverly blithe wisecracks and fan-servicing in-jokes is just as appealing to young-at-heart adults, too.

1.1   EXIT FROM ENDOR

With the rebel victory in full swing following the destruction of the Empire’s second Death Star, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) regales everyone’s favourite band of heroes with tales of the adventures he and best bud R2-D2 witnessed in the preceding decades. Ably by-passing the continuity issue of 3PO’s wiped memory by having R2 re-install his hard-drive, this provides a simple excuse framing device for some mischievously facetious retellings of the iconic film series, starting in episode one with The Phantom Menace (1999) and Attack of the Clones (2002).

However, while The New Yoda Chronicles managed to brilliantly merge aspects and characters from the prequel and sequel trilogies into a fabulously witty and respectful comedy, “Exit from Endor” veers too close to derisive in its irreverence. I was surprised to learn that this episode was written by the same screenwriter (Michael Price), because I seriously got the impression this was written by a prequel-hater.

Some of the jokes succeed in gently ribbing the source material (Luke questions “Who’s this guy?!” when the prequel-era Anakin’s force ghost appears alongside Yoda and Obi-Wan; the audience fall asleep when 3PO starts talking Trade Federation blockades), but the mere multitude of potshots this takes at TPM and Clones means we do teeter on spoof territory – especially where a certain divisive Gungan is concerned. Think Robot Chicken without the swearing.

It’s not all bad – hearing Mace Windu appropriate Samuel L. Jackson’s oft-quoted line from Snakes on a Plane (2006) was a gloriously obscure (and adult) inclusion – but I did struggle to believe Lucasfilm okayed the unsubtle mocking of their (highly successful) property.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

1.2 CRISIS ON CORUSCANT

Episode one concluded with goldenrod’s glib reminisces being interrupted when R2 is kidnapped by a mysterious hooded figure who steals Admiral Ackbar’s new ship. So 3PO and the amphibious war hero set off in hot pursuit of the plucky astromech, winding up in the recently-felled Empire’s capital of Coruscant. Being back on familiar ground for the first time in years, 3PO is once more overtaken by the need to tell tales, beginning with a bridging story which incorporates General Grievous into the saga long before his filmic introduction in Revenge of the Sith (2005).

“Crisis on Coruscant” works better than “Exit from Endor” insofar as it is telling a new tale which fans aren’t as protective of. Even when the story does reach the events of the final prequel movie, it is handled with a mite more respect – yet still joyfully playful in tone.

The only issue is by squishing the film’s events into just half a 20minute episode, a lot of the twisty-turny plot is skimmed over or left out entirely. Some of the cheeky changes can be excused for humour’s sake (Count Dooku doesn’t get decapitated, for instance), and if we’re being stringently canonical we can excuse them as storyteller 3PO’s embellishments. However, it’s so brisk that I think without a reasonable familiarity with the film, I would have been bamboozled.

Palpatine’s faked kidnapping is wonderfully over-egged, while a running joke about Anakin using a window as an exit to save time is delightfully hammy – I’m just curious going forward about how much ribbing the original trilogy will get in Droid Tales‘ concluding three episodes? I would guess nowhere near as much (a glance at the prequel-ignoring DVD cover makes the production team’s favouritism all too transparent), so a return to the humorous heights of The New Yoda Chronicles would be my (new) hope.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Star Wars: Headspace (Album Review)

Release date: February 19th 2016 (Digital), March 18th (CD)

Label: Hollywood Records


 

DARTH PUNK

While the electro-rocking helmet-wearing duo from France have long brought some shiny sci-fi sensibilities to the dancefloor, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who felt that what the contemporary music scene was missing was an injection of space opera. But in yet another example of how ever-present Star Wars has become in modern society, that is exactly what we get with new club-friendly compilation Star Wars: Headspace.

What sounds like an underground mixtape cobbled together in some obsessive fan boy’s bedroom is actually a fully-licenced album endorsed by Lucasfilm and Bad Robot. Those concerned that this is no more than John William’s iconic orchestral score sped up and set to a synthesized drum beat need fear not, as Headspace contains 15 all-new compositions written and performed by such accomplished disc-jockeys as Röyksopp (pictured below), Bonobo, Rustie and Breakbot, and co-executive produced by industry supremo Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C.).

True, the results are a mixed bag, but the majority veer on the decent and endearing side of experimental. Album opener “C-3PO’s Plight” by Kascade was clearly chosen to lead the pack due to its Bespin-high quality – mixing a summery, piano-led vibe with scant interpolations of goldenrod’s dialogue. Track 2, “Help Me!” by GTA is the closest offender to cheesily derivative, sounding mightily reminiscent of an Imperial March remix.

Track 6, “R2 Knows” by Claude VonStroke deserves special mention due to its extravagant robot rap by Barry Drift, which recounts an often cheeky summary of the original trilogy to music (let’s just say they broach the controversial topic of who shot first). The first time I heard it I winced in embarrassment, but a couple of listens later and I was gleefully chanting along with its catchy rhyming couplets!

A number of artists mine the same popular samples, so Darth Vader’s breathing and Leia’s “Help Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi” line are oft-repeated, while certain elements such as alarm and siren calls become noticeable in their over-use, but Headspace is not the absurd laughing stock it could so easily have been. Audacious, trippy and a lot of fun, I can well imagine Ponda Baba twerking the night away in the Mos Eisley Cantina to “Scruffy-Looking Nerfherder”.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Book Review)

By: Alan Dean Foster, 2016
Released in the UK by: Century
260 pages


AS SEEN ON SCREEN

As precursors to the big-screen bows of Episodes I-III, the release of the prequel trilogy novelizations were events – our first indication of where the expanding Star Wars universe was heading. I can vividly remember Channel 4’s cheesy morning show The Big Breakfast back in 1999 reciting excerpts from Terry Brooks’ The Phantom Menace novel as the presenter sat on a green-screened magic carpet flying through space!

With secrecy so high and spoilers such a toxic subject these days, such a high-profile release was robbed of Alan Dean Foster’s literary take on The Force Awakens, which belatedly saw its way to bookshop shelves a whole month after the film had debuted in cinemas.

But still, I thought, this will be well worth a read, right? After all, this is ADF, the man who penned Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the first ever prose sequel set in a galaxy far, far away (two years before Empire struck cinemas). Prior to this he also ghost-wrote the Star Wars novelisation (under George Lucas’ name), so he is an author held in high regard by fans and the perfect choice for this retro-relishing saga refresh.

Sadly, The Force Awakens made for a trying read – despite being little over 250pages long! Whether I am half to blame for having seen the film six times (so far), I cannot say, but whereas other film-to-book adaptations delve deeper into the story and the internal processes of the characters, TFA is a far sketchier and more literal as-seen-on-screen transcript.

A couple of additional scenes – notably earlier appearances by Leia at the Resistance base and Poe’s post-crash escape from Jakku – add words but little substance. The former would have ruined the impact of Leia’s on-screen entrance, while the latter only tells half the story, with Poe still on the sandy backwater planet when the chapter ends and the action flits back to the film narrative. Ultimately superfluous.

But my biggest gripe with this novel is in the dialogue. A lot has been made of these new Disney-era books being official canon – therefore what happens on page and what happens on screen should complement and not contradict one another. ADF was clearly given free rein to expand upon the script, which I would have no issue with if it was additional to what we saw in the film, but he almost flippantly alters lines and adds words seemingly for no better reason than to bolster the word count. It makes for a frustrating, if admittedly pedantic, flaw in the continuity.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Dark Disciple (Book Review)

Written by: Christie Golden, 2015
Published in the UK by: Century (A Penguin Random House imprint)
302 pages


Dark Disciple CoverLETHAL ALLIANCE

Prior to Disney’s acquisition of the franchise, it is fair to say that Star Wars’ vast expanded universe was bordering on the impregnable. With all previous novels now relegated to “Legends” status and all new publications going forward being deemed official canon, I was provided the perfect opportunity to get back into the literary side-arm of a galaxy far, far away.

As of December 2015, we are seven books in to the new timeline, with Alan Dean Foster’s The Force Awakens novelisation in January to be the eighth. Of these seven I have now read six, with only videogame companion Battlefront: Twilight Company still to digest. Sadly, the much-anticipated output so far has been a real ragbag, ranging from the slow and boring (A New Dawn) to the slight and underwhelming (Heir to the Jedi), to the needlessly vociferous (Tarkin).

The more recent publications have seen a – thankful – upswing in quality, with Vader and Sidious story Lords of the Sith and Chuck Wendig’s Return of the Jedi sequel Aftermath both proving far more engaging reads (although the latter title, which flits across the galaxy in first-person perspective, is not without its detractors).

But it is bestselling media tie-in author Christie Golden’s Dark Disciple which has so far proved to be the jewel in the prose crown. Set during the Clone Wars period between prequel Episodes II and III, we follow headstrong and roguish Jedi Master Quinlan Vos as he is tasked by the Jedi Council with a dangerous – but potentially war-ending – task: to assassinate Separatist Leader and Sith Lord Count Dooku.

It’s a big ask of a keeper of the light to go against all they have been trained and to murder a man in cold blood – even one as deserving of such a fate as the former Jedi-turned-traitor. So, to go about his challenging mission, Vos is partnered with a fitting but unwitting accomplice – one with the skill and motivation to take down an enemy as powerful as Dooku: his force-sensitive, former dark-side assassin, Asajj Ventress.

A striking character both physically and psychologically, Asajj has truly been through the wringer. From embracing the dark side as Dooku’s “pet” to turning against her former master for his treacherous wiping out of her clan of Nightsisters, she truly toes the paper-thin line between the dark and the light, and usually works much better alone. How will the lone wolf fair with a dashing, silver-tongued Jedi by her side?

As much as this is Vos’s story, it is when the dominant and spunky Asajj is centre-stage that Dark Disciple truly sparks to life; her mind a jumble of light and dark, right and wrong, love and war. She is a fascinatingly complex, playful and well-rounded soul to get under the ice-white skin of and her conflicting characteristics – particularly when coupled with Vos’ rebellious qualities – bring an astounding emotional depth to this dark elimination story.

As the characters themselves struggle with their loyalties to the Force, I was impressed by how willing Golden was to show the flaws of the Jedi way. As much as their weakness is seen in their fall on film, Dark Disciple often highlights how their regimented religious coda closes them off to feelings and intuitions which the Dark Side is more attuned to. Sometimes it is frustrating to behold as their adversaries feel one step ahead of them and it is no wonder so many have questioned the Jedi Code.

Based on unproduced episodes of Lucasfilm’s popular – and cancelled at its prime – animated series, it is unclear how much the success of this novel is down to Ms. Golden’s propulsive, writerly skill, or The Clone Wars’ scriptwriters, who are credited in the novel with having penned the eight episode arc upon which the novel is based. Did the author expand, amend or significantly revise the story, or merely adapt the script verbatim into story form?

Regardless, Dark Disciple is a stunning, heartfelt read with truly calamitous consequences. This is not mere money-making filler, but a legitimate and worthy addition to the universe. It is a travesty that Disney’s game-changing plans scuppered our opportunity to ever see this deep, redemptive and character-defining story unfold on our screens, but if novel form is the only way we can get such poignant, page-turning and well-structured character-driven fare going forward, then I am happy to take it – and any more Asajj stories still lingering in the script library, too, please!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Cinema Review)


12A – 136mins – 2015 – 3D


THE SAGA STRIKES BACK

Mild Spoiler Alert: I will not give away any of the STUPENDOUS story spoilers here – mainly because a vindictive twitter troll ruined them for me and I would not wish such needless twattery upon any other fan – but there may be a few tidbits I allude to or touch upon which you may prefer not to know, pre-viewing.

You have been warned.

… Keep Scuttling!