A long time ago on a VCR far, far away…

It can hardly have escaped the attention of anyone that in the wee early hours of tomorrow morning, the first new Star Wars film in over a decade is about to be released to an anxious public.  The first reviews are in, and word by the jungle-drums is overwhelmingly positive, if what we are told is true.

Still, it’s difficult to balance the mixture of tense excitement with the repeated feelings of sodden disappointment at the previous entries into the series. Yet for someone of my generation, Star Wars has always been part of my life; for as long as I can remember I’ve been enjoying stories set in a galaxy far, far away. It’s hard to know what Thursday 17th of December 2015 will bring, aside from a steady flow of cash into the coffers of the already very rich denizens of Disney. I feel more cynical about it now, but I didn’t always; not before the dark times… before the Prequels.

Boys and their Toys

CSW-TESB-TapeLike most kids born in the late 70s and early 80s, it’s hard to know when Star Wars first permeated my life. I have an older brother, so it’s fair to surmise that he likely owned branded toys, or pyjamas with Jedi or wookies emplazoned on them when I was too young to even really understand what they meant. In fact, my earliest memories of Star Wars are vague in the extreme.
I have always had a fleeting recollection of seeing the Emperor’s throne room in the cinema, and have it on good authority that my mother took us to see a Star Wars triple bill as very small children (although she claims we left during Empire)

To add to the confusion, despite the fact we owned a king’s random in Star Wars figures and spaceships (I particularly treasured my B-Wing) and knew the films’ essential storyline, we never had any of them recorded until I was around 9 or 10 years old, when a wonky VHS recorder taped Return of the Jedi in black and white. Before that, I had to make do with watching A New Hope at my cousin’s house once or twice, and the Read Along book & tape version of Empire.  To add to the confusion, I had another read along book about creatures called Hoojibs, and the Return of the Jedi Comicbook annual, with some extra stories about Chewie and Lando looking for Han, and C3PO falling in love with another Droid.

But for me, it was about the toys. Having X-Wing battles and chases with Millenium Falcon, then long complicated adventures usually also involving Action Force figures (GI Joe to the Americans), and any other brand of toy that was nearby. But all that was about to change, by the time I was at the pivotal age of 13, the world turned and without warning, something happened.

Now I am The (re)Master!

If you remember back to 1994 with any clarity, and lived in the UK then you probably owned a copy of one or more of the “Remastered Trilogy” a VHS release of cleaned-up letterbox format editions of the Star Wars movies. Naturally, my brother snapped up copies of A New Hope and Jedi. Seeing them in full widescreen format was bizarre, as there were countless details I’d never noticed, and it was a revelation to me that the concept of widescreen vs pan & scan was a buying choice.  We never bothered with Empire because we had it taped off TV and the copy was good. Although watching some of it at a friend’s house one day, I noticed the wonderful “hologram asteroid death moment” which had always been cut off in the TV versions.

This renewed the love of Star Wars for me, my friends and for most people, I imagine. This was all we could imagine ever being the case, as in those pre-ubiquitous-internet days it was only in early 1997 that we learned there would soon be a release of some form of massively updated and “improved” versions of the saga. Versions that a making-of TV special sold to me as a great idea. And for the most part, I didn’t actually mind at the time.

How Special an Edition?jedi37jedi36

Time hasn’t been kind to the ’97 Special Editions, or the later editions of the movie for that matter. While some of the choices made, I support in their entirety.  Such as the recomposition of many of the elements using modern techniques, and digital colour correction.  Most notably IMHO in the Luke vs. Rancor battle, where the massive black lines around the creature’s legs and the clear colour differences never looked good.  Similarly, some of the space battle shots towards the end of A New Hope, and many of the minor additions to Cloud City & remattes of backgrounds bother me in no way. I ain’t no purist!

Of course,  for all the changes that work, there are those that fall flat, or worse, detract from the originals. Such as the woefully dated Dewback-riding Stormtroopers and the approach to Mos Eisley, as well as adding Hayden Christian’s Ghost at the end of Jedi and GREEDO SHOOTING FIRST!
Still, it was a chance for me and some teenage pals to enjoy the movies at the cinema back in the late 90s, and build up a wee drap of enthusiasm for the announcement of the prequel trilogy.

Now With 3 Times the NO NEED

There’s little that needs said about the prequel movies that hasn’t been said a billion times (And I could never say it better than Red Letter Media have done in any event)
Needless to say, I saw each film several times at the cinema, bought the dvds and grew to dislike each one more and more as I saw them more often. While I’ve finally come to accept The Phantom Menace as a fun kids film, which is utterly middle of the road, except for the Pod Race; Attack of the Clones is terrible, and Revenge of the Sith is just… a bit boring. More annoying to me is that episodes 2 & 3 are both shot on really shiny digital, which looks awful in modern high definition compared to ACTUAL 30mm FILM.

The films did however make me aware of the strange phenomenon of “New Star Wars Syndrome” where your critical faculties simply stop engaging when that opening crawl and music starts. It’s a strange one, but I’ve never left a Star Wars film feeling anything other than really happy. It’s only later that reality returns.

However, the prequels did spur on the growing concept of Fanedits, which led to a load of peole making home-made revisions of the trilogy, most of which were better than the originals. In particular, try to find Jedi Love, if you can. A weird bizarre masterpiece of comedy construction.

The End of All Things Cinematic?

At this point, it was simply assumed that there would not be any more Star Wars, or at least not in the manner it had been before. There were the Clone Wars cartoons, and now there is the new Rebels series, but neither really drew me in. That would be left to the world of videogames.

star_wars_the_force_unleashedDark Forces, the first-person-shooter stormtrooper death simulation, had been a favourite of mine as a lad, as well as the X-Wing & Tie Fighter flight sims. However, the game that really drew me in was The Force Unleashed.

This is  a (at the time) canonical story of Vader’s Sith apprentice, Starkiller; his conversion from the dark side to the light, and his final martyrdom to save the young Princess Leia and her rebel cohorts. It’s great fun to play, doesn’t muck up the continuity of the movies particularly, and lets you literally force pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky and crash it into the dirt of a giant junkyard planet. Great stuff.
The sequel wasn’t quite up to scratch, and I still haven’t finished it, but, hey-ho. I also haven’t played The Old Republic, but I’m not really an MMO guy.

So here we arrive, the day before the new movie, and of course I have a ticket to see the film. I full expect to walk out of the film with a thumping happy heart and a head full of thoughts of Jedi and the Force.

Star Wars: The Future Awaits

When the first films came out, I was a boy. The prequels when I was in my youth, and now I’m a grown man in his 30s. As such, I’ve learned to hold my excitement back and take everything with a pinch of salt. I’ve seen the trailers for the new film, and kept fairly clear of most other information, despite its pervasive presence everywhere and the geekery of most of my pals threatening to let me know more than I want all the time. It looks great, and the trailer is spine-tingly excitment building stuff.
But I’ve been burned before by Star Wars, and some things just worry me….


Aside from silly wee niggling gripes, like the bafflingly silly & potentially harmful lazer-crossguard on the new bad-guy’s lightsabre; I’ve got some more wide concerns. Mainly stemming from.. JJ Abrams.

All the right parts and none of the Soul

I’ve got a lot of time for JJ Abrams. I was a fan of the TV show LOST, I thought Mission Impossible 3 is a grand action thriller romp in a series of movies that pay homage to a classic TV show, Super 8 is a wonderful homage to movies like E.T. and the new Star Trek films are great fun in their own way while still paying great homage to…. see where this is going?

JJ Abrams is a great director, and he knows how to shoot a scene, get a great performance, and can helm a blockbuster with ease. Yet still, his films always feel like they’ve been assembled from parts.  Watching his films is like buying something from IKEA; it’s easy to use, looks fine, does exactly what it says on the tin and won’t look out of place among your existing similar items of furniture. But somehow, that old smelly Narnia-esque wardrobe with scratched panels, moths and creaking doors will always have a bit more… soul.

Watching the trailer for The Force Awakens, I initially felt great, because it looked like “proper Star Wars” then I realised, it doesn’t just look like proper star wars, it looks like Star Wars. Nearly half the shots in the trailer look similar to shots from Empire or A New Hope, if not exactly then in similar composition or design.

On the face of the trailer alone, it looks like the new movie, and first instalment of this new trilogy is a straight up re-working of the first movie. Even then, that doesn’t mean it’ll be bad. Star Trek wasn’t ‘bad’ it was great fun, but it wasn’t Star Trek. It felt like someone had fed a  Star Trek fact book into a computer and set it to churn out a Space action movie with those designs and character names. My worry will be that the JJ’s Star Wars will end up being the same sort of experience. Fun, but ultimatly a soulless modern action movie that happens to be using the iconography and names from Star Wars.

In any event, in five short hours I’ll be in the cinema, listening to that music and reading a new opening crawl, which will have followed a Disney Logo rather than the old 20th Century Fox one. But maybe that too is a change that I’ll grow used to, in time.

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