Tag Archives: Star Wars

Secrets and Spoilers

 “Frankly, if you want to open the presents early and spoil the surprise on Christmas morning, then don’t complain to me about it afterwards.” Willie Williams, U2’s Creative Director

U2 will launch the European leg of their iNNOCENCE+eXPERIENCE tour in Turin, Italy tomorrow night. I was very fortunate enough to be at the opening night of this tour back in the middle of May in Vancouver. To be among the first people in the world to see a major tour like this was a pretty great thrill, something I don’t expect to experience again in my life. It was one of the few times that I went into something pretty much completely blind. Of course there were rumours flying around of what the setlists would look like, what the stage set up would be like, but nothing was for sure. In fact when Willie Williams was asked about his favourite moment on the tour so far in this interview, he said it was the moment when the big screen (SPOILER!) comes down about 5 songs into the concert and Bono climbs up into it. He you could hear the gasps from the audience and that would be pretty tough to beat. He went on to admit that it does get a bit frustrating to plan a big show like this, only to have details leaked via social media as they play out. “I guess secrets died out with the 20th century,” he lamented. He said it was even worse with the 360 tour, since they were playing outdoor stadiums. Every time the band would soundcheck something new, twitter would explode, which was kind of funny to him, but also a little sad.

I remember during the last tour there were some fans who took vacation time around the tour and attended 3 or 4 (or more!) nights of the concert in a row, only to express disappointment online that the setlists were exactly the same each night. It bugged me when I read these comments, because I was jealous that these fans could see my favourite band so many times. I considered myself so lucky to see them TWICE over the two-year tour (Toronto in 2009 and Winnipeg in 2011). And with an incredibly complex stage, sound, light and video set up ike the 360 tour, I can only imagine that it was like trying to turn an aircraft carrier around every time you wanted to drop or add a sequence of songs. Also, come on. They are called tour rarities because they are supposed to be rare. Adding a song here or there on a special night is what makes them special. Plus: they shows are designed to be seen once for 99% of the people in the audience. It’s a little like buying tickets for a week’s worth of shows in London to see Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet, only to be disappointed that the play ends the same way every night.

Having said that, I HAVE been following the setlists every night of this latest U2 tour (and I fully expect to do so starting tomorrow night too.) I just find it fun, and it’s cool to see the variation from between shows. The song selection is more diverse on this tour than on any other U2 tour of recent memory. That may have to do with the “residency model” they are following this time round, where they set up camp in a city for anywhere from 2 to 8 nights. I suppose in cases like this, you COULD get fans going to multiple shows. I know I’d be tempted to get tickets to more than one night in my city if the opportunity arose. The trade-off is that the band is more settled, possibly more rested, and the structure of the i+e tour allows for a lot more “wiggle room” than other tours. Sure, you’ve got your big video and stage moments that probably can’t be changed from night to night, but there are also many moments on the b-stage (or the e-stage, if you prefer: tour nerds), for improvisation and spontaneity.

Where is all this going, you wonder to yourself?

This Friday, Disney is doing this thing called #forcefriday, where they are launching their toy line for the upcoming Star Wars movie. (Ha! You thought this blog post was about U2, but it was really about Star Wars all along. But you are TOO FAR IN to stop reading now. Might as well power through, right?)

They are calling it “Force Friday” but it’s already underway. There is some live youtube channel that is jumping between 13 cities around the world where b and even c list celebrities (and some children, but mostly adults which is kind of sad) are pretty much just opening boxes of star wars toys and showing them off for the first time.

Merchandising and Star Wars is not new. In fact, Star Wars (way back in 1977) was the first movie that really tapped into this whole “toys from the movie tie-in” thing. So you can only imagine that with almost 40 years worth of experience, they’ve gotten pretty damn good at it. Through in the muscle of Disney, and I just can’t even wrap my head around it. If this were 20 years ago, I would probably be lining up at Toys R Us tomorrow when they open to be one of the first in to grab up whatever I could.

Luckily, (and I mean this sincerely), that whole “collecting gene” has pretty much gone dormant inside me. It might be because I know I don’t have the physical space to store any of it, or maybe it’s because I know that I don’t have a lot of extra money lying around my bank account these days, or maybe it’s just because I have grown up and away from that compulsion. I don’t even collect comics anymore.

Also: come on guys. Aren’t you worried about spoilers? (Refer to Willie Williams’ quote at the beginning of this post). Sure, I’m human, and I’ve clicked on a couple of the links to the new toys. Luckily I haven’t seen anything that is TOO spoilery, but it’s only a matter of time. I already know that the shit goes down on some planet called Jakka, and that Capt Phasma is a lady and she has awesome armour. And that’s all I need to know. MORE than I should know, actually. Also: looking at some of these toys, I just think of my daughter losing some of the pieces, or breaking it 5 minutes out of the box. She is 6, and probably the perfect age for most of these toys. And yet most of these toys seem like the types of things that are meant to be kept in their boxes. I feel like I’m at the stage of fandom where I can look at this toys, or NOT look at these toys and still look forward to seeing the movie in December. What I’m trying to say here people is that I’ve grown as a person and I’ve made some meaningful progress.

Admittedly, the some of the LEGO looks great, especially Poe’s LEGO X-Wing. Is it weird to want to stick a poster of Oscar Isaac as Poe up in my office somewhere? Check out the cool colours on that X-Wing! And it comes with BB-8! Does BB-8 fit in the Astromech slot? WHY CAN’T IT BE DECEMBER ALREADY???

Ahem.

Ahem.

Wait, STOP. I’m not buying any damn LEGO or sticking up any pictures of Oscar Isaac anywhere, okay? That was just a little lapse in judgment.

Believe me, I WON’T be tuning into the Star Wars toy opening stream tomorrow on #forcefriday at all. Trust me.

You know why?

I’ll be too busy looking up U2 setlists from Turin.

Not weird.

Not weird.

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Is this awakening felt? NOW it is.

Okay you guys, in the last few posts that have dealt with Star Wars, I’ve expressed an ambivalence towards tidbits about the next movie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, opening December 18th. On one hand, I really don’t want to know another single thing about it. I just want to go into deep freeze and stroll into the theatre opening night and have the whole thing wash over me. AND YET ON THE OTHER HAND there is a part of me that just cannot STOP clicking on every last thing related to Star Wars, new and old.

On the social media, I follow accounts that post pics of classic toys, stills from the movies, fun facts, and what not. In fact the other day I spent QUITE SOME TIME looking at behind the scenes pics of Carrie Fisher and I’ve come to the conclusion that she looks/looked hottest when she was in her Hoth uniform, NOT as Jabba’s slave girl. I don’t know what that says about me as a person, but there it is.

So yesterday, Disney released something on Instagram. I’m not sure you could even call it a trailer, because Instagram vids only last about 15 seconds or so. I saw the link and I said to myself, “I’m not gonna click. I’m not gonna click. I’m not gonna click.” but guess what, dear reader?

I clicked.

I don’t regret it. The little clip doesn’t really tell us much, but it definitely is hitting all the right buttons. Shall I describe it for you? I’m sure it’ll take longer than 15 seconds, so you might as well go and watch it yourself, if you are so inclined. OR, if you are like the better part of me, you’ll have nothing to do with this clip or this blogpost, and if that’s the case, then I bid “Good Day” to you sir or madam, and we’ll see you at the next post, sometime in September.

Waiting….waiting….waiting…..

All  right, I think all those self-righteous assholes are gone now. We can continue.

So, the clip opens up with a breathtaking “over the shoulder” shot of what appears to be an imperial officer flanked by a couple of stormtroopers (I know those new designs are cool but WHY did they have to change them? The old stormtrooper uniforms were one of the constants in the original three, despite the fact that they added modified armour along the way eg. Hoth Snowtroopers, Biker Scouts, etc). I don’t know. I would feel slightly better if the stormtroopers just LOOKED LIKE STORMTROOPERS. I guess after 30 years even the empire upgrades their equipment) and you can see that they are on some kind of platform overlooking an entire army of stormtroopers. I guess the whole “Blowing up the Second Death Star” thing didn’t completely wipe them out, and that makes sense.

The next shot is a quick new one of two new characters, the delightful little “soccer ball” droid known as BB-8, and a young women who is either called “Daisy Ridley” or “Rey”. I think Daisy Ridley is the actress’s name, but it is also a pretty cool Star Warsy name too. Both have worried and/or concerned looks on their faces. Or at least Daisy Rey Ridley does. The other thing is just a puppet.

Then we switch to a quick shot of something we’ve seen in the trailer before, but it’s so cool I didn’t mind seeing it again. It is a winter scene (Hoth? No, surely not, maybe? I’m okay if it isn’t, but BY GOD DO THEY GO TO HOTH?) in a wooded area and some sinister looking cloaked dude ignites his RED lightsaber (he’s gotta be sith, right?) and the damn thing ignites and not only does it have a long sword blade, it also has two smaller sideways blades like a medieval “King Arthur” style sword.

Then it cuts to another new character, who I believe is called “Finn” (see, I hate myself a little for even knowing that) played by a guy name John Boyega . I’m going out on a limb to suggest that since John Boyega is black and the ONLY OTHER BLACK GUY IN THE STAR WARS UNIVERSE is Lando Calrissian, then this guy is ACTUALLY LANDO and LEIA’s secret LOVE CHILD and guess what, nerds? I’m guessing that Daisy Rey is HAN AND LEIA’S DAUGHTER and so they are SECRET SIBLINGS, Luke and Leia style. What do you think of my crazy theory that I just came up with two seconds ago? It sort of calls back the original trilogy in a different way and if it means a SECRET CAMEO of BILLY DEE WILLIAMS saying, “Well, what have we HERE?” then I may just poop my pants in the theatre. Fair warning to any of you who may be brave enough to venture out with me opening night. [Editor’s note: Mace Windu and Captain Panaka were also black, so you’re little theory of Finn being Lando’s lovechild is doubtful]

So anyway, this Finn chap ignites HIS lightsaber in response and it’s BLUE so you know he’s probably a good guy and the last time we saw a blue lightsaber it was falling down that ventilation shaft on Bespin (along with Luke’s hand, LOLOLOL.) so COULD THIS BE THE SAME LIGHTSABER? If Finn was Lando’s secret son, then JUST MAYBE.

And then the music swells and the 15 second instagram spot just ends. No title card, no “Dec 18, 2015”, nothing. Which is fine. Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter on this and a little something called “The EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” has said that the movie will be tight, and you’ll be left wanting more, which is exactly what we want. I love the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but guys, come on. I hope the movie isn’t “insta video tight” if you know what I mean, but still. Two solid hours will be just the right thing.

I think it’s cool that this little clip only features the new cast. I really can’t wait to see how they balance the old with the new. Is it like 50/50, is it heavy with the old cast but introduces the new cast who will carry the next two movies. Are the olds more like cameos? Does Luke die and become a ghost? How does Chewy get his coat so nice and shiny? I bet he uses Teatree oil.

It wasn’t long before Funny Or Die? produced a little clip lampooning this one. It pretty much follows the original until it cuts to Finn and his darn lightsaber won’t ignite. He says something like, “My batteries! I’ve gotta change my batteries” or something. Cute.

Oh, I should mention too that you can hear a voiceover in the whole thing say something like, “There is an awakening in the force. Can you feel it?” The voice sounds vaguely like the emperor (But he’s dead, right?), or like Darth Maul (but they snipped him in two, right? Right?) so I don’t know WHO it could be, but yeah dude: We’ve all felt it. You can stop asking us.

So there you have it. A thousand words for 15 seconds. If I were head of Disney marketing, I wouldn’t even bother with a full trailer at this point. What’s the POINT? Do you really think there are people out there on the fence about seeing this? People going, “Hmmm. Star Wars. I’ve heard a bit about this. I hear it’s coming out at Christmas, but I don’t know if I want to go see it. If only I knew a little more about it…” NO. There is NO ONE like that out there. We are all going to go see it. I KNOW I’m going to see it twice. Once on opening night (or as close to opening night as humanly possible) and once later with my daughter. (The dream is still alive, you guys. Even though I haven’t shown her a single cel of any of the movies. She’s six! Is that child abuse? I mean I was six when Empire Strikes Back came out and I saw THAT in the theatre…)

Well, I promise you no more blog posts about star wars until December 18th. (Just like I’ve promised you over the last two or three months, and we all know how good I am at keeping these promises.) Did you know they are going to live stream the big reveal of all the star wars toys in early September? I mean, COME ON. Right? First of all, what about all the hugely major spoilers that will come of see what all the characters’ costumes, ships and vehicles look like? Also, I’m 41 years old. I should be arrested if my browser history showed that I spent an afternoon watching a live stream of action figures being released, right? I’m not gonna watch, I’m not gonna watch, I’m not gonna watch…

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“Everything’s changed but nothing’s changed”

So this past weekend the San Diego Comic Convention happened. Some people like to call this event SDCC, while others refer to it as “ComicCon”. It’s considered to be the biggest and most prestigious of all the dozens of Comic Conventions that happen in North America every year. That’s sort of like saying Wendy’s is the type of fast food that is least likely to do damage to you if you eat it all the time. It’s still fast food, people.

Starting in 1970 with not more than 100 attendees, it has now grown to a mutli-day event with thousands of people filling the halls to see exhibits, listen to panels, see sneak previews, meet cast members, authors, celebrities of every geekish stripe. There may even be a bit of cosplay that happens. Fair warning.

So anyway, back in April I wrote about the release of  the second trailer for the Star Wars movie. I think people are calling it “Trailer 2”. At that time I wondered aloud whether I would remain ignorant of any more information about the movie or would I go ahead and devour up every last factoid I could garner.

Well Friday night was my first test. J.J Abrams had the main hall (“Hall H” to those in the know) booked for his Star Wars panel. I can’t actually remember what I was doing Friday night, but it feels like I was multi-tasking. Maybe watching baseball? At any rate I walked the line between knowing and not knowing because I didn’t (and still haven’t) watched the footage of the main panel. I DID keep tabs on people’s twitter feeds though, and I couldn’t help but retweeting some of the more excellent details. Like this: JJ Abrams brought out his producer Kathleen Kennedy, who had a hand in just about every excellent thing in the last 35 years, including E.T., Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, and this little gem that I love love love: Young Sherlock Holmes, and JJ’s screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote a little something called “Raiders of the fuckin’ Ark” and “The Empire Fucking Strikes Back”. What more do you need? Well, I’ll tell you: he then brought out the so called “Heroes” of the new movie and talked to them for a bit, then the “villans”, and then as a lovely treat out came Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and yes: Harrison Ford, his first public appearance since he crashed that plane back in the spring.

The three amigos.

The three amigos.

It was a lovely moment to see these three together again. I never thought I would.

At these events it is usually customary to show a new trailer, or some footage, or something to “wet” the “whistles” of the collective fandom.

But J.J. Abrams did something even cooler.

He assembled a sort of “behind the scenes” montage on the making of the movie. And it focused not so much on the technical wizardry, but more on the experience of the actors and the designers going through the process. It’s brilliant, and I watched it through twice that very night (as soon as it was leaked) and I watched it again the next morning about 3 times with my daughter who wanted to see it again and again. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

It’s not quite four minutes long, but it really captures the feeling that must have permeated the sets through all of principle photography. You get to see a very Star Warsian desertscape, and then a shot of the interior hallways of the Millennium Falcon, as comforting as it is nostalgic, then our first shot of R2D2 followed quickly by a shot of the newly designed Stormtroopers, The old and the new. The darkness and the light.

They stress a couple of times in the clip that even with all the digital technology available to movie makers, many of the shots were based in practical locations. I love the sequence of showing the production painting of the crashed tie fighter (McQuarrie tribute!), followed by the model, followed by the full scale set burning out in the desert somewhere. Even Mark Hamill himself says that “everything’s changed but nothing’s changed” in terms of the film-making process. And did that shot show that they were actualling filming on “film”? Is that what we saw?

I love how the younger cast members can hardly seem to keep from geeking out that they are in a Star Wars film, and then it shows the shot of JJ addressing the cast and crew on the first day of filming and the sound of his voice almost breaking.

I also love the fact that it seems like so much of the film ties back to the original trilogy, and we see shots of Harrison Ford and Anthony Daniels with looks of almost incredulity and awe on their faces that this is, in fact, actually happening. We get to see Carrie Fisher in full costume and I just HOPE TO GOD that she gets to take someone or something out with a lightsaber at some point. Isn’t is sweet how she takes JJ’s face in her hands at one point?

I love the designer who said that it’s not every day you get to build an x-wing or the Millennium Falcon and that he came to work smiling.

I love that Simon Pegg (Peggy to his friends!) is in this, apparently as some random alien, maybe. And that he seems to be having the time of his life.

I love that they had to replace the Chewie costume frequently because whenever anyone saw Peter Mayhew in it they just wanted to give him a hug. I love that they HAVE Peter Mayhew in the damn costume, and that you get to hear him make a little “Chewie” noise in this clip.

And I love that the last shot is of Harrison Ford settling into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, along with Daisy, a new character, with JJ looking on from the front. If one single shot could say everything that needed to be said about “passing the torch” to a new generation, this would be it.

I think JJ was so smart to show us how people are feeling about this project, rather than release another trailer. I’m sure we’ll get another full trailer before December, and yes: fanbase, I will probably blog about it. We certainly don’t NEED another trailer, though. I think this movie will do JUST FINE on its own at this point.

Showing us the human element in some way absolves JJ and crew of turning out perfection, because let’s say it right now: this movie will be a disappointment on some level. People’s expectations are such that even if they produce a solid next chapter that bridges the gap between the original trilogy and this next generation, we will still find things lacking. It’s just the way fans are. But if they fail, it will be failure with all the right intentions, and I can’t fault anyone for trying. (Plus, I have this thing for JJ Abrams. I just love him and what he’s all about.)

If we can go by what we see in this clip, this production has a totally different feel to the cold, antiseptic look and feel of the prequels. Rather than have an actor stand in front of a green screen and talk to a mop, it looks like actors are actually out in the desert interacting with each other (and with puppets.) That’s what we want to see, right? Real interactions, real sunburns, real hair blowing in the real wind, real man/puppet action (or lady/puppet action, if that is your particular cup of tea). Or as real as you can make it, considering it is just a movie.

I mean, it’s still just a movie, right?

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The Dark Side….and the Light

Something’s awakened in me, everybody! No, it’s not the ol’ herpangina, thank the Lord. It’s my excitement over a bunch of stuff that happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Just over a week ago, our man J.J. Abrams released this wee note on his personal stationery:

A note from J.J.

A note from J.J.

First of all, let me just say that I love J.J. Abrams’ movies. Did you know he got his start working with Mike Nichols as a screenwriter for “Regarding Henry” and then worked with Michael Bay as a writer for “Armageddon”? You really couldn’t think of two more opposite directors, could you? But when you look at Abrams’ expanding body of work, you often get some wry humour, insightfully layered characters, and of course some ‘splosions. Who knows how much of that comes from the mentoring he received in the early days? I guess we’ll never get a Mike Nichols/Michael Bay collaboration now, but maybe the closest thing we’ll get will come from J.J. Abrams. He has also described himself as growing up on Spielberg and Lucas (who between the ages of 35 and 45 haven’t, I wonder aloud?), and his movie “Super 8” looks and feels like a love letter to E.T., Jaws, and Close Encounters. When he was handed the Star Trek reigns back in 2009, the biggest complaint I heard was that it was “too Star Warsy”. Which I don’t really get why that would be a criticism. I mean, it would be like saying, “this bagel has TOO MANY sesame seeds”. I suppose if you were allergic to sesame seeds, or suffered from “The Sprue” then maybe I could understand your aversion to sesame seeds, but otherwise “Star Wars” the hell out of this franchise, baby! So when I heard he was “jumping” the Star Trek “ship” to direct the new “Star Wars” movie, I thought to myself, “Perfect.”

(Just between you and me, I always kind of found the Star Trek universe dull compared to the Star Wars universe, even though my younger brother and his friends were HUGE TNG fans. It just never captured my imagination in the same way that Star Wars did. I had ALL the Star Wars toys and played with them endlessly [until G.I. Joe inevitably took over]. I DO remember one birthday when some weird aunt gave me a “Captain Kirk” doll and I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. As a rule, Star Trek toys didn’t really exist in the same way as Star Wars toys did. It was like the Star Trek people didn’t honestly think kids were watching it, and from my experience  they were right. This “Captain Kirk” doll was about the height of a Ken Doll, but dressed in a cheap yellow top and black trousers. He didn’t come with any accessories or weapons. He just stood there like a doofus. It was totally the wrong size to even try to “work into” my Star Wars play, even if I wanted to pretend he was the cantina owner or some rando doomed citizen of Alderaan. I think I just neglected to ever pick him up again once the aunt left and resumed playing with the properly sized Star Wars figures. FYI, I was always a Hoth man, myself, trying to collect every last toy that belonged to that planet, whereas my friend Ed was an “alien and bounty hunter” man. We would often collaboratively play and there wasn’t much overlap between what he had and what I had, and it worked out, as long as we wanted to play the “let’s have all the aliens and bounty hunters fight it out on Hoth” scenario, which we often did.)

But back to this letterhead. Aside from the fact that I kind of love that J.J. Abrams still uses paper letterhead to make announcements, I was excited to know that by the end of the week someone will have probably leaked the new teaser trailer online, and I’d be that much more knowledgeable as to what to expect a year from now.

Last Thursday, someone posted a link to what claimed to be a bootleg copy of the trailer, furtively recorded during an advance preview screening at Disney HQ. “Holy SHIT!!!” I thought to myself and eagerly clicked on the link before the Disney lawyers took it down. We got to see a shakily held camera in the back of a full theatre that focused in on the Disney and Lucasfilm logos, before the screen went black……Rick Astley appeared singing “Never gonna give you up”. SHIT, man. I was Rickrolled and I totally fell for it. What is this? 2011? Who does Rickrolling anymore? I was so mad, you guys.

But then it got me to thinking: maybe the trailer DOES exist out there somewhere already, and all I needed to do was find it before the lawyers did. I spent the better part of an afternoon checking out sites “online” and although there were a bunch of what were clearly “fanmade” trailers out there, I came across the following that I thought was real:

 

I loved the tone of this trailer, and the fact that they tied it into the last scene of “Return of the Jedi”. I also liked that you heard Han Solo but didn’t see him. It was all very hopeful, UNTIL I FOUND OUT IN THE COMMENTS THAT THIS WAS A FAN MAKE FAKE AND THAT THE HARRISON FORD LINE WAS TAKEN FROM HIS CAMEO IN “ANCHORMAN 2” A MOVIE I HAVE NOT SEEN!

I was so mad, you guys! But I wasn’t daunted. If anything, my resolve was even firmer than before.

So I kept clicking past the obvious jokes, like the one that had Yoda sleeping and then you just hear an alarm clock going off and you see the title card “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. Very cute, guys, but not worth linking to, I’m afraid.

I came across this one that I thought, almost KNEW was the real thing. So much so that I showed it to my wife and a couple of co-workers the next day (the Friday that it was supposed to “go wide”). I was telling them all it was the real thing.

 

Looking back on it, this one looks even faker that the first one I posted, but I was willfully blind. I wanted to believe it was real, but there were many things that troubled me. The first was the use of James Earl Jones’ voice. I mean, Vader is dead, we all know that, but it seemed like it was a character with a similar breathing apparatus to Vader’s, which I thought was kind of cool, but still? And the trailer had speeder bikes and I’m a sucker for the Scout Troopers. I also didn’t like the mention of the emperor and the “children of the Jedi” talk. Jesus, are we going to have to deal with Han and Leia’s kids like we did in the EU? And although I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to show Harrison Ford (Look everyone: he isn’t dead. He’s actually in this damn thing!), something troubled me in that scene. He wasn’t wearing Soloesque wardrobe, and his tone seemed too serious and dour. It actually prompted me to come up with my own Han Solo impression, which I’ve performed on at least one occasion to the slight bemusement of a small group of friends (and several times in front of my wife until she finally had to say, “Okay, that’s enough”).  And you know what? Again, they used a clip from Ender’s Game, I movie that I fell asleep in (but which my wife, oddly enough watched to the end even though it wasn’t her thing or her choice).

But this one too proved to be just a fake, and when I broke the news to my wife, she said “I knew it was a fake because they were using music from Harry Potter at the end”. Now I didn’t want to contradict my wife at this point, but it clearly wasn’t Harry Potter music, it was the Imperial March, but played on a harp or something, so my wife was wrong on her reasoning but correct in her result, so we were back to square one.

I’m happy to say that by Friday night the actual trailer was readily available and I finally watched it. I had to confirm this with a number of independent sources before I felt confident I was right. If you haven’t seen it yet, here it is:

 

So this is it. There are the 88 seconds that JJ Abrams mentioned in his personal note to us a week ago. And you know what? I’m freakin’ stoked. No one can say this is too “Star Warsy” because IT IS FUCKING STAR WARS you guys, and from what I can see they are not tying themselves to the EU and the thing just looks gorgeous, doesn’t it? A disoriented stormtrooper in the desert? Stormtroopers that give off a decidedly “Cybermen” vibe, that breathtaking shot of those x-wings gliding over the water? That bone-chilling image of a sith lord in the snowy forest igniting a red, almost Excalibur-looking light saber? (which is now my facebook background, everybody!) and of course that stunning acrobatic shot of the Millennium Falcon turning about and facing two TIE fighters head on. But even more than the visuals, it was that familiar sound of that Falcon’s engines that really shot me back 35 years. I knew then that the Star Wars universe was in good hands. The best possible hands, I think, for this point in time.

I don’t know what any of it means right now and I almost want to go into “radio silence” mode from now until next December and just let the thing work its magic on me (and my daughter). A side note about taking my daughter to see it. She’ll be six and a half when it comes out. I was six and a bit when I saw “The Empire Strikes Back” in the theatre with my Dad for the first time. I have not yet watched a single Star Wars movie with her yet, although she and I have been making our way through the very excellent “Star Wars: Rebels” animated show currently airing on the Disney Channel. There’s a part of me that thinks “She’s too young” but a bigger more selfish part of me that just wants to experience this with her. A dear friend of ours got some troubling, potentially life altering medical news a couple of weeks ago, and when he got home from the doctors he said to his three daughters, “We’re watching Star Wars tonight” without saying why. He didn’t want to worry them, but he too was harbouring this secret yearning to watch these movies with his kids but just didn’t know when the right time would be. Sadly, life doesn’t allow for things to play out as we imagine sometimes. After watching the first one (episode IV, obvs) he was about to show them “Empire Strikes Back” when his wife intervened and thought his youngest daughter was too young. HIS YOUNGEST DAUGHTER IS NINE, EVERYBODY. So they stopped after the first one, and I hope and PRAY that he gets to show the entire trilogy AND the disappointing prequels to them when all his kids are old enough. Hell, I hope he gets to show them to his future potential grandkids, but we just don’t know how everything is going to play out. But we never do, do we?

Like the voice in the trailer says, there is the dark side…..but also the light. And I’m trying to stick to the light, despite the potential for being blinded by lensflare.

 

 

 

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Sandcastles

Last week we had a PVR installed. For the past 7 or 8 years we’ve had an ancient second-hand VCR that didn’t even record anything because it was too old to communicate with our TV. We just got used to missing shows, or making sure we were home in time for certain ones. On Sunday evenings in the summer, for example, we’d always make sure we left my in-laws’ cottage early enough to get home for the newest Mad Men.

Anyway, this new PVR unit is slightly bigger than our old digital box. Our old box sat snugly on top of the aforementioned VCR that was really just a VC because all it would do is play tapes, not record. The technician said that he could probably cram the new box in somehow, but I made a decision that moment that it was time to let the VCR go. It was detached and whisked away downstairs before my wife or daughter noticed.

“Where’s the VCR?” questioned my wife minutes after the technician left. “Oh, well, you know. Now that we have this PVR thing, we, um, don’t really it. Right?” I was met with the look of skepticism. ” I tell you what, ” I said. “Let’s go without it for a week or so and see if we miss it. We can always hook it up again. I didn’t get rid of it, it’s just downstairs.” We do have a few kids’ tapes that our daughter watches, but most of her stuff is on DVD now anyway.

The main reason why I’ve held onto it for all these years is because of Star Wars.

Back in the mid 1990’s I attended a comic book convention and I bought the Original Trilogy Widescreen Box Set (at that time it was the, ahem,  only trilogy,) for a ridiculous amount of money. I can’t remember how much exactly I spent on those three VHS tapes but I do remember a) I had to go to an ATM and get more money out and b) it was TOTALLY worth it.

My preciousssssssssss.

Back in those days, it was really hard to track down Widescreen editions of movies. Almost everything was “pan and scan”. This article does a good job of sorting out the lingo. I always loved to see movies in their original aspect ratio, and would quiz the clerks in HMV or wherever I was buying movies. “But is it widescreen? Are you sure? Can I bring it  back if it’s not?” That actually happened one time. I bought a VHS tape of “The Bridge on the River Kwai” that was clearly marked “widescreen” and yet when I got it home it was totally “pan and scan”. I marched it right back to The Bay and got my money back. I must have been an infuriating little shit sometimes. I also knew at the time I got that Star Wars Widescreen box set that there was a lot of optimism that George Lucas was about to re-release the Star Wars movies in 1997 as “Special Editions”. We didn’t quite know what to expect, as the internet wasn’t then was it is today, but we were all pretty jazzed about seeing that restored Jabba the Hutt scene from “A New Hope” as well as enhancements in sound and picture quality. When the movies actually came out, we were “underwhelmed” to say the least with most of the changes. To get a sense of the number of changes made take a look here. The most egregious of them was having Greedo shoot first in the cantina scene. Excuse me, but Han shot first. He always shot first, and as far as I am concerned  that is the only way it needs to be. Having Greedo shoot first changes the meaning and feeling of that entire scene, if not the timber and tone of Han’s basic character. It totally makes Han less of a bad ass if he was firing in self-defence, and there’s no way Greedo would miss in such close quarters. It just looked dumb. I’ll stop now. The Jabba the Hutt scene was cool at first, but upon subsequent viewings, the CGI looks kinda fake and we soon realized that the original movies without the changes were actually better. The only problem was that George Lucas stopped selling those versions. The “special editions” became the “official editions” and everything else became collector’s items. My widescreen VHS tapes became even more valuable to me after 1997.

You don't want to mess with Star Wars fans.

When the movies came out on DVD, they had all the changes from the special editions, plus a few more. Once George Lucas got a taste of the tinker, he could not stop tinkering. With the arrival of the anemic prequels, more tinkering was undertaken to match up the original movies with the prequels. Replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen as Anakin’s ghost in the final shot of “Return of the Jedi” is one such change that caused a renewed round of anger among the fanbase. Due to a massive and unrelenting outcry from the fans, George “gave in” somewhat and included the original versions alongside the “special editions” in a special release in 2006. The only problem was that these ‘original editions” were not touched up at all and looked awful. The prints were dirty and the aspect ratio was not anamorphic and the sound would drop periodically. I think that was Lucas’ point. He wanted to show how much better his “special official” versions were by comparing them side by side with the untouched originals. Fans were understandably outraged. Why even bother releasing them if you’re going to release such shitty looking and sounding editions? That is almost worse than not releasing them at all. The “Complete Saga on Blu-Ray” released in 2011 has no sign of the original movies at all. The only version you can get on Blu-ray is the tinkered-with one. Why not give the original movies, the ones that us fans fell in love with as kids, the same sound and picture restoration you gave your precious special editions and sell them side by side and let the people decide? It’s what Steven Spielberg did with “E.T.” He fell victim to the tinkering bug too, and in a “special edition” of his famous 1982 alien movie replaced the army’s guns with cell-phones because he thought it would be more palatable to parents. Again, fans were outraged by this doctoring of a classic. I mean COME ON. Government officials carry guns, and if you’ve got some fucking alien coming at you you’re going to probably use those guns against it, even if that alien is adorable. Also, who the hell had cell phones in 1982? Lame. The difference between Lucas and Spielberg is that Spielberg saw the error of his ways and released both the original and the special editions in the same packaging. Both editions looked great, and the viewer can decide for himself which version to watch. An excerpt from a phone interview back in June 2011 reveals Spielberg’s feelings on digital restoration here.

I remember Robert Altman receiving his lifetime achievement Oscar a few years ago. During his acceptance speech he said:

“I’ve always said that making a film is like making a sand castle at the beach. You invite your friends and you get them down there are you say “You build this beautiful structure, several of you”. Then you sit back and watch the tide come in. Have a drink, watch the tide come in, and the ocean just takes it away.

While Robert Altman was sitting back, watching the tide come in, and dreaming of his next sandcastle (he was in pre-production for his next film when he died of cancer at age 81), George was busy building a high fence around his precious sand castle. The sand castle he built in 1977, 1980 and 1983 for God’s sake. While we all fell in love with those castles, he never let the tide take them away. He stubbornly told a whole generation that wanted to come and play that this new and improved castle was the only one they could enjoy and they might as well forget about those other ones. He couldn’t and can’t let go. You can make the argument that these are his sand castles after all, and he can do whatever the heck he wants with them, right?

I guess so, but I still have my three widescreen VHS tapes in my closet at home, and a broken down second-hand VCR on a basement shelf ready to go in a moment’s notice. I watched my “Empire Strikes Back” on New Year’s Day about a month ago, and it still holds up, warts and all. I think it’s because of the imperfections that I love it even more. A movie doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect, right? A few days later, I watched Star Wars. The original Star Wars. It’s going to be the version I’m going to watch with my daughter when she’s old enough. In my daughter’s version, Han shoots first.

Waiting for the tide to come in. Matlock, 2011.

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