Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016

I’ve just arrived at the Star Wars Celebration Europe event in London, a weekend of fun for anyone who loves all things Jedi!

It was a bit of a rush this morning but we’ve managed to get on site, pick up our tickets and get wristbands for two popular events:

– An Hour With Mark Hamill

– Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

With about an hour to go until the pandemonium that is the opening of the hall, we couldn’t be more excited. Our group is setting each other small trivia questions, most of which result in a correct answer (eventually). Apart from any answered by me – I couldn’t even tell a Magnaguard from an Imperial Guard.

I just feel sorry for the guy who came dressed as adult Anakin for the cosplay event. Why?!

See you around here.

ANNOUNCEMENT – EWOK ADVENTURES COMING TO BLU-RAY

UPDATE (07/11/2016): For no reason at all I’ve had a sudden influx of people finding this page after searching for “Ewok Adventure Blu-ray” or similar. Just in case you hadn’t realised… This was an April Fools joke. There is no scheduled HD re-release of these films. You can buy the films on DVD here

There has been an exciting announcement this morning from Walt Disney Pictures. Following the increased interest in Star Wars following the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the first sign that the Walt Disney company are going to mine the Star Wars back catalogue has seen the light of day.

Set for release on 1st August 2016, digitally restored versions of both Ewok Adventure films – Caravan of Courage and Battle for Endor – will be released in a specially-commissioned 4K transfer. What’s more – any fans who are lucky enough to have tickets to the Star Wars Celebration on 15-17 July 2016 will be able to pick up a limited edition numbered steelbook of the release. How limited these will be is yet to be announced, though they are set to be one of the hottest items at the event.

It is thought that the unexpected announcement is a way to test the waters for future 4K transfers of other Star Wars releases. Of course, the dream release for most fans is the cinematic releases of the original trilogy, fully restored with no Lucas interference. Perhaps this will see the light of day at a later date, though we won’t hold our breath. This will be an excellent stop-gap release.

There are several bonus features set for inclusion on a third disc of the set, with more yet to be announced. The features listed are:

  • Brand new 4K transfer of both films;
  • Brand new storybook gatefold packaging;
  • 48-page booklet with on-set photographs, cast interviews and press articles;
  • Brand new commentary from directors John Korty (Caravan of Courage only), Jim and Ken Wheat (Battle For Endor), along with actors Eric Walker, Aubree Miller and Warwick Davis (both films);
  • All deleted scenes restored to both films;
  • Making-of Documentary – for the first time ever the making of created by Warwick Davis and Eric Walker during the filming of Caravan of Courage will be released on home video, with an optional introduction from both actors;
  • Three episodes of the Star Wars: Ewoks cartoon series (The Cries of the Trees, The Haunted Village, Rampage of the Phlogs) – SD only
  • Original TV spots – SD only
  • 1984 and 1986 Primetime Emmy Acceptance Speeches – SD only
  • Languages: English audio description, Spanish, French and Portuguese
  • Subtitles: English for the hard of hearing, Spanish, French, Dutch, Portuguese, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish

Pre-orders are not yet live for this release.

The Force Awakens… quite a few questions…

Warning: This article contains spoilers. Reading it will probably ruin the film for you.

The film is out now and the whole world is busy digesting their first viewing, whilst kicking themselves for not buying more tickets earlier now they’ve realised how good it is.

Whilst the film has achieved a lot, it has also left us with a few questions that may not be answered for another 18 months. Here are a selection.

Rey’s History

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Rey has abilities never-before-seen by any untrained Jedi. The ability to use mind control, telekinesis and force pushes are usually only achieved by Jedi masters, yet she was able to perform everything with no training whatsoever.

In this case, it does make us wonder who her mother and father are. One guess would be that she is the daughter of Han and Leia – Leia is after all a carrier of Jedi abilities (though has never been seen to use them on screen).

Perhaps instead her father is Luke Skywalker, though this would require an explanation as to who her mother is. Given the final sequence of The Force Awakens, this could be a more feasible option and gives room to develop Luke’s recent history through flashbacks.

I’m foreseeing the line “Now the circle is a figure of eight.” Or something.

Where did this guy go?

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Constable Zuvio Ph: Elena Dorfman © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Right Reserved.

Constable Zuvio has a very sinister look about him. In the pre-release press he was a reasonably prominent character, and was most recently featured in a large Empire Magazine article about the new film. There was also an action figure released when there wasn’t really many characters to get your hands on.

In the article, Empire reported that LucasFilm described him as a “vigilant law officer on a mostly lawless world” and a man who “keeps order in a frontier trading post”.

Well, his story obviously wasn’t important enough to warrant avoiding the cutting-room floor. I fully expect to learn about his whereabouts when the Blu-ray is released as his is inevitably going to be one of the deleted scenes, probably around the same time as the alleged Chewbacca arms-ripped-from-sockets scene that made the novelization but not the film.

What happened to make Leia and Han lose touch?

forceawakensleia

One of the most unexpected elements of the film was when Han and Leia were reunited after a seemingly long time. They passed some comments that seemed to suggest there was some history between them. Furthermore, when the final battle had finished and the remaining team returned, Chewbacca and Leia didn’t seem to even acknowledge each other. That seemed a little strange. Clearly something has happened beyond the fallout from the unexpected turnout of their son Ben, and I’m not buying that Han was just wanting to keep “doing what he did best”. I wonder whether this will be explored in future films or left as it is.

How much of Episode VIII has been filmed?

There were clearly some shots in the trailers that weren’t used in the film and whole characters that were taken out. Given the final scene left Luke with Rey on a distant island, it would seem like a bit of a waste to get everyone over there just for 30 seconds of film. This makes me wonder if they’ve also filmed the opening sequences of the next film.

Why was Captain Phasma so underused?

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Captain Phasmastic

This may be the same reason as Constable Zuvio, but Gwendeline Christie seemed criminally underused when she was so featured in the run up to the film and the press. Perhaps it was due to filming conflicts between The Force Awakens and Game of Thrones, but I’m hoping we either learn her backstory through future installments or perhaps a comic book series. It just seemed really unusual when she’s done so much promo for it and was limited to just a handful of appearances.

Why was C-3PO’s arm red?

Maybe it was explained at some point but I don’t recall when. Seemed a little pointless.

The full review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is here.

Film review – THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) – Asian Dub Foundation Re-score

A long time ago, precisely ten years before Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977, George Lucas was a young and experimental college student at film school at The University of Southern California. Packed with rich ideas and concepts of science fiction and Orwellian futures, he set about making the short film that would first bring him to the attention of Stephen Spielberg – Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. This short won prizes and accolades, including first prize at the National Student Film Festival in 1968.
Soon after Lucas left college, production began on a feature length adaptation of the story, using the short film as a basis of the climax to the film and providing a backstory and richer background to the concept.
The film stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a worker at a factory that manufactures android police officers. His roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie, in her only major film role) is a CCTV operative. After she switches their mind-controlling pills, they disobey strict rules and have sexual intercourse, which is a punishable crime. Imprisoned with SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance), LUH’s co-worker, and fuelled by the fear of being trapped for the rest of his life, THX launches an attempt to escape from this underground dystopian prison.

At times overwhelming

At times overwhelming

I have to confess that this live scoring event was the first time I’d seen THX 1138. This is a film that is itself much less immediate than the Lucasfilms pictures we are now more familiar of, and one that requires a level of concentration to follow the plot. Unfortunately, Asian Dub Foundation’s live scoring was somewhat relentless and unforgiving. On several occasions it simply drowned out the limited dialogue, making understanding the film almost impossible. Not only that, but the music didn’t really match up with what was happening on the screen. It felt like an Asian Dub Foundation gig for which they’d decided to use the film as a backdrop for their performance.

Sadly for the film and the musicians, a large portion of the crowd decided they weren’t on board with either element and left before the end. Perhaps it was a victim of clashing with the opening night of the latest Bond film Spectre, and maybe some of the attendees decided to catch a late showing instead of seeing how THX’s escape plan player out.

Where it did work, it was very impressive. The car chase in the final act of the film was excellent and the music added a lot to the scene. This is one of the most exhilarating car chases I’ve ever seen and is a worthy pay-off the often times slow paced story development in the preceding hour of film.

I’ll be seeking out the original version of the film to see if I enjoy it more without the distracting score.

THX 1138 is available on Blu Ray and DVD now. Of course, this is a George Lucas release so it is impossible to see the original film in its originally planned state. It has been tampered with. Since most probably never saw it in its original form, however, there shouldn’t be many issues here.

Star Wars (Lucasgames, 1991)

There are plenty of candidates for the greatest Star Wars video game ever made. Perhaps Battlefront II, Knights of the Old Republic or The Force Unleashed are high on the list. Or even Empire At War. Maybe Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga deserves a mention. Not for me. The video game that I will hold up as my favourite will always be the 1991 NES game, simply titled Star Wars.

Firstly, it had a badass trailer. Your mum almost got killed by Darth Vader? Who cares? Because video games.

Secondly, it’s one of the toughest games out there. If you manage to get hold of the game, you’ll immediately see why. The controls aren’t necessarily frustrating, but the sheer length of the game, limited continues and the fact you have to do it all in one sitting (yes, in 1991 nobody had invented a way to save a game) all stack up to make it a tough ask.

The goals of the initial part of the game are fairly simple. Take Luke around Tatooine, retrieve R2-D2 from the Sandcrawler, find Obi-Wan Kenobi in a (really annoying dripping) cave, collect Han Solo from the Mos Eisley cantina (with beautifully recreated 8-bit audio), all whilst collecting shields for the Millennium Falcon. These tasks can be done in any order you wish, though I always found it easier to get Obi-Wan first. Then you take the Millennium Falcon for a spin towards the Death Star. Once inside, you destroy the tractor beam generator, rescue Leia, then destroy the Death Star itself.

Sounds simple, but don’t forget that in 1991 anyone wanting to make a sidescroller game really hard would just throw in more near-impossible jumps and flood the screen with enemies and harmful projectiles.

There’s a great walkthrough of the game here by Heroes of Xanadu – Sloth. Watching it brings back a lot of fond memories. If you want to know just how tricky it got, look at the video around the 26 minute mark.

I’m not saying it’s the best Star Wars game ever. I mean, it doesn’t even allow you to have a dance off with the Emperor. But it was technically advanced for its time and was mesmerizing as my seven-year-old self. I’ve never been as gripped by a Star Wars game as I was for this one.

In researching this article I’m astonished to discover that there was a sequel to this game, again with the simple title of The Empire Strikes Back. I’m not surprised this wasn’t big news for me. I remember the game cost £60 when it was released. That’s a whopping £121 in today’s money! Thanks mum.

Find it, play it, cry.

Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

The Secret Cinema Presents: Empire Strikes Back event was easily the most immersive cinema experiences I have ever been involved with, and it will probably never be beaten. Having spent £70 on each of the two tickets, my wife and I understandably had a bit of trepidation. I can honestly say that it was worth every penny.

The event actually kicked off way before the day with a steady trickle of emails about the rebellion, the empire and things like that. We had to fill out a personality test, which resulted in me being a Galactic Explorer. This drove the costume recommendations, which consisted mainly of a white-to-cream loose shirt, beige trousers, a utility belt, boots, goggle and, most importantly, a tan and black shemagh scarf.

We were provided with precise co-ordinates to go to, near Canada Water Tube Station in London. We arrived early and were amazed to see that most cafes were shutting long before the 5:30pm entry time. This was clearly a ridiculous move as hundreds of people descended on the site every day hoping to get something to eat or drink. Never mind. Just a few thousand galactic credits lost there over the summer.

“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”

Once there, we were lined up by reasonably aggressive security guards, moved into a holding area and quickly briefed about what the situation was. We were told we were under surveillance by The Empire and they’d released a toxic gas into the atmosphere. We therefore had to cover our faces up with our scarves and keep low as we ran through a couple of corridors into a large hangar, where our phones were heat-sealed [1].

Once in the hangar we received rudimentary training and had a quick physical fitness test before being put into a spaceship (a simulator ride) and transported to the next area. This is where the real fun began as we all realised we were at the space port Mos Eisley on the planet Tatooine.

The moment of realising we were now IN the film at this point was overwhelming. Basically, the plan was to live in A New Hope before we watched The Empire Strikes Back on the big screen. It was impossible to take in at first. My wife is a ridiculous addict to Star Wars and was giddy with excitement for a good twenty minutes. The attention to detail was superb.

We went straight into interacting with actors in character. We chatted with Obi-Wan Kenobi, who informed us where we needed to go to trade spice to board the ship to leave Mos Eisley. We traded our seeds with Luke’s Uncle Ben for a circuit board, which we then traded with a Jawa, who we annoyed by stealing our original circuit board back and re-trading for a second pack of spice. We got cheated out of a game of Sabacc by Lando, before he was busted by a security guard and put in prison. We nipped into the Cantina to see the band playing away and grabbed a glass of some space-themed odd cocktail, before witnessing the famous Han v Greedo scene. We chatted with Han and Chewbacca for a while. I even got taken aside by a guard at one point and had to sing Moon River to get out of trouble. Very bizarre!

It was just great fun to be in there and the fact that everyone was in character and stuck to it just added to the occasion. Very quickly all the general punters were fully in character too.

The reason the scarf was important was that it sort of overruled the exact costume choices – we were given a goal once in there to trade some spice to get onto a spaceship and the trading material was dependent on the colour of your scarf. It was quite a simple means for the actors to identify the faction each person belonged to, especially since some people had made no effort with their clothing.

When the time came, we departed to the Death Star as we neared the end of A New Hope. Apparently the time at which we left drove what we saw when we arrived at Alderaan – we were in the middle so flew straight into an asteroid field (just like the film), though some saw the explosion happen and others arrived to find nothing there. Once on the Death Star, we were put in prison briefly before breaking out and witnessing the end of the film, lightsaber battles and all [2].

When the film began, everyone quickly settled in. Throughout the film actors and actresses appeared on the stage to act out key scenes and segments for us all to enjoy. This was a nice touch. It was a pleasure to be able to watch the film (if you’re interested, it was the 2004 version with Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor) with such a large group of avid Star Wars fans, all cheering and booing at the same time. It created a unique atmosphere that won’t be forgotten for a long time.

The best thing about the event was rejuvenating our love for Star Wars. As soon as we got home, Return of the Jedi was straight on the television (the original theatrical cut, if you’re interested). This Secret Cinema event has done wonders for the interest in The Force Awakens.

There hasn’t been an announcement about the next Secret Cinema event but regardless of the film choice it will be something to look out for next summer.

[1] This was probably the smartest move of all. Sitting there in the Cantina in a completely different world only to look over to see someone uploading a selfie to Facebook would have completely ruined the immersion. Well played Secret Cinema. You pre-empted the douchebag idiots.

[2] A special mention has to be said for the choreography and abilities of the actors during the battles. Perfectly in sync, excellently executed.