Monday, February 09, 2015


28 Dec 2014 - Trailer for Star Wars Episode VII released.


Wombles; Little and Large; Treasury Edition; weekly comic; action figures; glow in the dark swords; all subsequent movies, and indeed all subsequent life something of an anti-climax.


I refer to Mr Abrams previous attempt to revamp a much loved science fiction franchise with the word "star" in the title only as The Abomination, and did not go and see the second one.

I thought Episode I was quite good, but a bit of a let down, when I first saw it, and have not significantly changed my mind since. I do not feel that the director made it out of personal animosity to me, as some people I believe do.

The TV cartoon series I positively like. 


0.10 Black screen, sound effects, leading to 

0.14 Desert scene. The trailer for Episode I started with an unfamiliar image of gungans walking through reeds,  but with the unmistakable "Luke Skywalker theme" telling us where we were. This one relies on the fact that Tunisian Desert says Star Wars without any aural clues. And it is not self-conscious about being Star Wars: there is not attempt to disguise itself as the Seven Samurai. 

When I saw Star Wars my head was full of Flash Gordon, or possibly I stuffed my head full of Flash Gordon because of Star Wars, and I felt that each film ought to be set on one of those mono-ecological kingdoms: the ice world, the city in the sky; the swamp world; the forest world. But more and more everything seemed to be about the desert world. (And they spoiled the desert world in Phantom Menace by making it big — huge Ben Hur arenas where it should have been bored farm boys racing each other to the canyon and back. It's a backwater. If there's a bright center to the universe etc etc etc.) Our first image confirms that It's All About The Desert World. Star Wars is about Tatooine and Tatooine is about Star Wars. 

0.20 Dark brown voice: "There has been an awakening; have you felt it." It doesn't sound like Yoda, and it isn't British enough to be Obi-Wan. I have no idea what "an awakening" could be: perhaps it means a new, powerful Jedi has come on the scene. (When Obi-Wan taught Luke to use the Force, could this have been described as an Awakening?)

0.23 Black man in stormtrooper gear pops up, looking perturbed. (This is John Boyega, an actor. There is no clue about his role, apart from the fact that he is playing a perturbed stormtrooper, or a perturbed man pretending to be a stormtrooper. Is he perturbed because he as just Awakened, or because he has just encountered someone who has Awakened?) 

In the original movies, we never saw a Stormtrooper take its helmet off, although Luke and Han spent the middle act in uniforms. In the Clone Wars period, "clone troopers", who are all clones of Jango Fett, are goodies; it is assumed (though we've never out and out been told) that the stormtroopers in the original films are clone troopers repurposed to be baddies by the Empire. This guy does not appear to be a Jango-Clone ... he doesn't look like the troopers do in the cartoon, at any rate.

0.29 A droid whizzing past some hardware. It is whistling like R2D2. The hardware isn't anything specific, although one of vehicles looks slightly like the tiny little ship that gets eaten by a Star Destroyer at the beginning of Episode I.  

The scene looks quite like Star Wars, grimy and run-down like the original films, not shiny and boring like the prequels.

0.39 Shots of Stormtroopers in a vehicle of some kind: presumably about to "parachute" down onto some alien planet. 

Sinking feelings: that technique of showing you a glimpse of what is happening before it blacks out, of everything being pressed together and claustrophobic works well in Battlestar Galactica and Alien and things which are meant to feel a bit like the real military would if it was in space, but is a poor match to A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far Far Away. The Abomination took something shiny and happy and 1960s and made it dark and cynical and crap. But surely if he hated Star Wars the way he hated Star Trek, Disney wouldn't have let him lose on their expensive new toys?

0.42  A young woman wearing a costume indistinguishable from Leia's in Episode VI, shooting across Tatooine in a vehicle strongly reminiscent of the speeder-bike from that movie. (This is presumably "Rachel" the 17 year old orphan who learned to make her way in a tough, dangerous town -- the role for which Lucasfilms did an open casting call in 2012.) This pretty much confirms what we guessed already: that "Rachel" is the "Leia" stand-in (and that "Tom", the other role they had open auditions for, is the surrogate Luke.)

.The TV Tropes website coins the phrase "flanderisation" to refer to the process whereby a character in a long running series becomes defined by one single characteristic. (In the first season of the Simpsons, Ned Flanders had a number of personality traits, one of which was church going. By season 6 he was The Comedy Christian.) The Clone Wars TV series shows signs of flanderisation: a small number of scenes and images from the movies are replayed over and over, as if they define the genre, which arguably they do. (The room falls silent, the music drops, we hear breathing and the swish of a light saber activating in a corridor. We see face shots of six pilots checking in with their calls signs in quick succession. I haven't seen Rebels yet, but the trailer is a close pastiche of the iconic opening seconds of Episode IV.) In my essay Little Orphan Anakin I noted that the iconography of Amidala in Episode 2 was so similar to that of Princess Leia in Episode IV as to effectively amalgamate the two characters. 

0.48 Amphibious X-Wings: and why not. Note that it only takes, what, half a second to allude to the seminal "Red 6, standing by!" sequence in Episode IV.

1.00 "The Dark Side...and the Light". The croaky voice makes one wonder if perchance it could be a revivified Emperor who is speaking the narration. 

The phrase "The Dark Side and the Light" tells us literally nothing about the movie; it's almost as if a Sherlock Holmes film had the tag-line "the detective must solve...a mystery". (I don't know if the two bits of speech are meant to run together, so it goes "There has been an awakening? Have you felt it: the dark side and the light?") 

I am not sure about the cruciform lightsabre. To me, what is and should be cool about skiffy is going back and seeing the same bits of hardware over and over again; the same phasers, the same jaunting belts; the same lightsabers. But I suppose we are committed to newer and cooler weapons in each episode and we've done the double-headed sword in Episode I. 

The lightsaber is red. In the Original Trilogy, the goody's lightsabers had blue blades and the baddy's lightsabers had red blades. So perhaps this person stumbling through the dark snowy forest is the baddie. His cloak slightly calls to mind Luke Skywalker at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, meaning that I can't quite shake the thought that the plot of the new trilogy might involve Luke having turned to the Dark Side. 

That had better not be Vader breathing we can hear in the background. 

1.10 Woot! Woot! Millennium Falcon. Woot! Woot! Proper TIE Fighters. 

Obviously the big big big problem with the prequels was that you couldn't have any of the really cool iconic stuff from the real movies; which made it harder and harder for us to grab hold of any part of the film and say "yes, that looks like Star Wars." One doesn't want to wibble too far the other way: Empire introduced AT-AT walkers and Jedi introduced those three winged shuttle craft, after all; there's no point in a series of sequels which just repeat images from Star Wars over and over again. But it's pretty sly to make a trailer which contains all of the cool stuff from the original trilogy (plus some stuff with strong Original Trilogy overtones). It's like it's saying — not quite sure about the prequels — that's fine...this one will be like coming home. 

Is that water the Falcon is flying over in the first seconds of the shot? Would that be the same lake the X-Wings are skimming? Does that mean that someone Tatooine is no longer all desert? (The latter Dune novels involved introducing water onto Arakis, didn't it?)


This doesn't tell us anything that we couldn't already have guessed, but we didn't expect it too. 

It's set partly on Tatooine; it's got X-Wings and the Millennium falcon in it; there's an evil Jedi with a cruciform sword; one of the main characters spends some of the movie in a stormtrooper uniform, and another is a dead ringer for Leia-Amidala. 

Nothing contradicts the default rumor, that this is basically going to go back to draft one of The Star Wars, two Jedi kids going to rescue their father from the baddies. I'd guess "Rachel" and "Tom" are the children of Leia and Han, though probably not the Jaina and Jacen of the now non-canonical Extended Universe. They are ignorant of each other's existence, and for some reason think their parents are dead. Uncle Luke has recently Gone Over To The Dark Side; but his Nephew and Niece "awaken" to the Force and set out separately to bring him back to the Light. 

It all looks quite a lot like Star Wars, and there's nothing to suggest that Abrams is going to take the piss out of whole franchise, as he arguably did in the abomination. 

Those of us who care about Star Wars can probably feel cautiously optimistic. Those who don't are going to have a tedious twelve months.

I wrote a book about Star Wars. I think it's the best thing I've done.