Star Wars Celebration Europe 2016 – Day 2

Day two at the Star Wars Celebration was far more busy than the first. A sold out ticket allocation meant that queues were slightly longer, walking from A to B was slightly more stressful and events were slightly more over-subscribed. That didn’t really matter though. Because Star Wars.

The day kicked off with the familiar dash for wristbands for the headline events in the Celebration Theatre. If you’ve never experienced this at a convention before, it is my understanding that this is about as mellow as it gets. You just need to be there on time and know what you’re looking for.

Panel – ‘The Creatures, Aliens and Droids of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Chancellor Villecham, Wollivan and Quiggold


The first port of call was the panel discussion titled ‘The Creatures, Aliens and Droids of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. Hosted by Warwick Davis (who acted as Wicket and Wollivan, amongst others), this was truly spectacular. Where else would you get a chance to hear an hour-long discussion with several members of the team behind the practical special effects in Episode VII? The panel included Neal Scanlan (Creature Effects Supervisor, Force Awakens); Brian Herring (BB-8 puppeteer, The Force Awakens); Vanessa Bastyan (Supervising Animatronic Designer); Chris Clarke (Animatronic Designer); Maria Cork, (Hair Department Supervisor).

The key moment here was the reveal of a new character from Rogue One, provisionally called Space Monkey. Portrayed by Nick Hennings, he had a bit of fun misbehaving on stage and throwing some of Warwick Davis’s Ewok paraphernalia around.  

There was also demonstration of some Force Awakens characters, including Wollivan, Chancellor Villecham and Quiggold. The intricacy of the animatronics involved were easy to be missed in their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearances just didn’t do them justice.

Exhibition – The Costumes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Three Shoretroopers line up in the costume exhibition

There is an exhibition all weekend featuring the costumes of Rogue One, which was fascinating for anyone keen to get more of a glimpse of the new film.

Moon?

The detail in the costumes is something missed when watching films anywhere but in a cinema so getting a chance to take my time with them was a unique experience that was only really afforded due to the close proximity of the venue to the recently-wrapped filming at nearby Pinewood Studios.
Panel – ‘Anthony Daniels: Without Protocol’

Anthony Daniels provides a reading from C-3PO: The Phantom Limb

‘Anthony Daniels: Without Protocol’ was a wholly different and bizarre experience. It started off like any other Q&A session before quickly descending into chaos, with Daniels and Warwick Davis trying to direct audience members on stage in a recreation of a scene from A New Hope. He then gave a reading from the recent C-3PO comic book that finally explained the red arm that has been on everyone’s minds since the film was released. 

Exhibit – Star Wars High-Performance RC Experience

The RC Experience was, in all honesty, not worth checking out. It was something a bit different, but unless you’re a huge fan of remote control helicopters it will pass without any wow factor. Sorry guys!

Panel – ‘The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The concept artists behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens


The final panel of the day was a discussion between some of the concept artists behind the development of The Force Awakens. This was a really interesting one hour that I’m glad I attended. Hosted by, there were several artists involved in the discussions, including Doug Chiang (Executive Creative Director, The Force Awakens); Rayne Roberts (Lucasfilm Story Group); Phil Szostak (author, ‘The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens’).

There were a few revelations. One image seemed to reveal that Rey used to be called Sally in an early stage of the film. It was interesting to hear how many ideas were scrapped along the way, but the artists didn’t seem to care about that and were candid in explaining their thought processes around each of their drawings.

There was a surprise visit from Rogue One director Gareth Edwards, who were spotted looking uncomfortable in a Stormtrooper outfit throughout the panel. He asked a ridiculous question in a very broad northern-England accent (I think) and laughed as the panel looked on nonplused. A great moment!

Gareth Edwards creates a storm


Mark Hamill?

Stop! Hamill Time!


Mark Hamill surprised fans as we left by appearing on the Star Wars Show stage and entertaining guests until we were all ejected. A nice surprise given we were heading for the exit anyway!!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Bonus Features

I received my copy of The Force Awakens in the post earlier today and have busied myself watching a handful of the bonus features.

For fans of the film, or of Star Wars in general, there is plenty on offer to warrant a purchase. All the things imaginable are covered and have details galore far beyond what you’d have heard before.

The deleted scenes are largely disappointing. There’s no Constanble Zuvio and Chewbacca doesn’t rip anyone’s arms out of their sockets. There is a nice little scene with a chase on a snowspeeder, complete with Phantom Menace-level CGI. There’s also a cool clip featuring Kylo Ren searching the Falcon and sensing Han Solo.

Watching them and their limited nature makes me feel like there are some more completed scenes out there that might surface as an Extended Edition at a later date.

The centre point of the disc is by far the one titled ‘Secrets of The Force Awakens: A Cinematic Journey’. It’s a four part, hour-long documentary feature that takes you on the journey from concept to final product. Do yourself a favour and make sure you watch this. Treat it like a proper film.

The first read-through feature is a little disappointing. It’s nice enough but with a title like that you might be forgiven for expecting video footage of the whole script read. It is less than five minutes and is just the cast reminiscing on that special first day.

Elsewhere, there’s a mini feature on BB-8 and another on the creatures from the film, plus ones covering the music and ILM.

Overall a disc worthy of your time if you’re the type of person who wants to learn as much as possible about such a fantastic film.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (J. J. Abrams, 2015)

Warning – this review contains spoilers.

Well, here it is. The new Star Wars film. The first film in the series for a decade. The first good film in the series for three decades. Well, that’s what we’ve all been hoping for anyway. But once the lights go down at the cinema and everyone settles in, there’s nothing the hype train can do about it except sit back with everyone else and hope it lives up to the hype. So does it deliver? For me, the answer to that is a resounding “Yes”.

From the opening crawl, it sets its stalls out on a far more approachable basis than the prequels. It’s quite basic really. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing. There are two groups doing everything they can to locate him: the evil First Order, borne out of the remnants of the fallen Empire; and the Resistance, a military operation led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and backed by the Republic.

As the action opens on the planet Jakku, we see starfighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) on a mission at the behest of Leia, meeting with old ally Lor San Tekka (Max von Sydow). Tekka gives him information about Luke’s whereabouts moments before the First Order arrive and start wiping out everything in sight. It is a brutal opening sequence.

Shortly after storing the information in a small droid called BB-8, Poe himself is captured and taken in for heavy-handed interrogation by the sinister First Order leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). BB-8, now stranded on Jakku, is befriended by scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and they are subsequently joined by defector stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and set off on a fate-driven mission to get the plans into the right hands.

forceawakensscreen01

Vast and expansive contribute to a wholly immersive experience.

Whilst The Force Awakens is not a perfect film, in comparison to the prequel trilogy it is a breath of fresh air to the extent that any shortcomings can be overlooked. The things that J. J. Abrams has got right here are enough to ensure its popularity will be maintained for years to come.

The most immediate element of success is one that directly combats one of the biggest criticisms of the prequels: the real-world setting. One of the great shots of the opening third of the film is the first time we see Rey. Having scavenged the inside of a derelict ship, she steps out into the open desert planes of Jakku, then slides down a large sand dune on a creatively-fashioned slide mat towards her Landspeeder. This shot achieves several things. Firstly, it underlines her solitude by showing her to be a small spot in such a vast open space. Secondly, there is an implied playful innocence in the way she slides down such a huge dune. Thirdly, it plants the action very much in a palpable and believable setting. This scene is also the first time the action is truly slowed down after the action of the opening sequence, forcing the viewer to take stock of what we’ve already seen and be immediately awed by the spectacular landscapes.

It is a long time before there is any obvious CGI in the film, particularly the characters inhabiting the screen. In direct response to the negative feedback for Episodes II and III, and the remastered editions of all six films where everything was perceivable ruined by over-zealous use of computer imagery, this is kept to the bare minimum for as long as possible. Indeed, when it is used, it feels like a juxtaposition against all the other good work seen throughout. In particular, the character Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) is as a real let down. Here we have an Oscar-winning actress in a small but critical role and they’ve needlessly realised her with computers when her diminutive size and colour seemingly have no relevance to what her character is doing. My guess is that they were going for a new Yoda-type character and got lost along the way. Similarly, there was a definite feeling of disappointment when Supreme Emperor Snoke first appeared – it felt like something we’d seen previously in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and lacked the sort of dread we were being showered with by Kylo Ren.

forceawakensscreen02

The Force is strong in this one.

Which brings us nicely on to the next point. If any of the performances needs to be singled out for excellence, it has to be Adam Driver as Kylo Ren. Sinister and powerful from the start, Ren’s emotionally unstable and rage-filled actions are a real highlight, revealing a side to Driver’s acting ability little-seen before. There is almost nothing to like about him, which is perfect for such a pivotal villain. When he showed his emotional frailties towards the end of the film, before making an about turn and doing that thing, it really packed a punch (no matter how much we thought it might happen). It puts the likes of General Grievous to shame.

Another star performer is Daisy Ridley, in her first cinematic role of note. It can’t be easy to step into a universe this large with almost no experience and deliver a performance to the standard she has achieved. She flexes the emotional depths of a character scared by her new surroundings and scarred by guilt for leaving behind her former life to pursue the adventure she has in front of her. At times cocky and mixing in humour, she is something of a blend of Han and Leia and is well placed to combat the future of her character in the next installment.

Completing the trilogy of excellent performances is John Boyega, proving that this film is one for the new guard rather than those from the original trilogy. His portrayal of Finn is quite a departure from his performance as gang leader Moses in 2011’s Attack The Block, bringing in a lot more comedic aspects to the film following an intense opening sequence that gives his predicament gravitas.

In the final battles we get to see both Finn and Rey fighting Kylo individually in a much rawer manner than the polished choreography of the previous six films. It’s a refreshing take and appropriate to the story, but every time a hit is landed on Kylo there was a huge feeling of achievement – an indication of the successful portrayals of all three characters.

Where the film gains in pacing successes it loses its way in lacking clarity and a few presumptuous jumps in character development and inter-character relationships. One example of this is when Poe and Finn reunite towards the end of the film. They had previously successfully escaped from the Starkiller Base, which would undoubtedly have brought them together to some extent. However, when they are reunited later in the film they act like the oldest of friends with a lifetime of shared history. It was one thing that had to be taken at face value.

However, it’s difficult to compare this character development to that of the previous films. Surely once we have seen the next two installments of the main storyline their relationships will grow further and therefore this won’t seem so over-friendly. If the compromise is that we got to see a tightly-packed and intensely entertaining action film, then it’s an agreeable trade-off.

The biggest criticism the film should expect will come from the biggest fans of the original. The way this film deals with the Force is bound to upset a few people. It took Luke a whole film to develop his Jedi powers in The Empire Strikes Back. Anakin took an entire trilogy. Both were at the side of two great Jedi masters. In this film we’re being asked to accept that Rey was able to gain this knowledge and understanding… how, exactly? Just by touching Luke’s lightsaber? It’s bound to be seen as disrespectful to the franchise but to develop properly the film needs to find its own space to breathe. This route was far more convenient to create a fast-paced finale.

These are minor criticisms of a film that will inevitably be over-analysed forever more. They shouldn’t detract from the overwhelming feeling of joy I had when I left the cinema. The film finishes on a cliffhanger,with a hugely rewarding two hours tying itself together to a reasonable position before dangling a thread of things to come for our main hero Rey.

J. J. Abrams has managed to pull off a minor miracle. In just over two hours he has erased most of the memories of the prequel trilogy, reminded us of the best of the original trilogy and set up a new storyline that has the whole world anticipating where the next steps will take us. The prospects for the future of the franchise all of a sudden look extremely rosy.

The Force Awakens is showing at cinemas worldwide for the foreseeable future. 3D IMAX is well worth the additional price to experience the full effects of the Force.

Star Wars: Shattered Empire (Marvel Comics, 2015)

There have been quite a number of Star Wars comics released by Marvel over the last few months, all in the run up to the release of The Force Awakens. First came the Jason Aaron and John Cassaday Star Wars series, which focuses on the original series heroes in events after A New Hope. Then there was the Darth Vader series from Kieron Gillan and Adi Granov, following a similar time period. There was also the five part Princess Leia series from Mark Waid and Terry Dodson, which is a neat addition to the story.

The one I picked up first was the Shattered Empire series, written by Greg Rucka and pencilled by Marco Checchetto. It covers the time immediately after Return of the Jedi and follows the main characters of the original Star Wars trilogy as they attempt to rid the galaxy of the last remnants of the Empire.

Single page from Shattered Empire

 

The biggest appeal for this is that it begins to bridge the gap between the last film and the one we’re so excited about seeing next week. Indeed, as the panels above show us, it is actually a backstory of sorts for Poe Dameron, the fighter pilot portrayed by Oscar Isaac in The Force Awakens. What we learn here is that his parents were part of the Rebellion with Han, Luke, Chewbacca and Leia. It’s perhaps not a revelation but it paints a broader picture of the situation he’s in and the relationship he might have with Han and Chewbacca when they interact.

The story is neat and the artwork is high quality, with plenty of detail afforded. Exactly what you’d expect from a Marvel comic these days.

The trade paperback also comes with the first issue of the Leia comic at the back, providing a flavour of what to expect from that series. Overall well worth a purchase.

Star Wars Articles

If you’re in need of even more of a Star Wars fix this week, you could check out some of these past articles here on Cinema, Etc., all related to Star Wars in some way.

Film Reviews
THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)
The Star Wars Holiday Special (Steve Binder, 1978)
Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kirschner, 1980)
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (John Korty, 1984)
Star Wars: Episodes I-III (George Lucas, 1999-2005) – Guest reviewer!
Elstree 1976 (Jon Spira, 2015)
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Video Games
Star Wars (Lucasarts, 1991)

The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens – Do Your Homework
The Force Awakens – It’s Going to be Good, Right?