My Robot Occupation Movies #5 – Star Wars Trilogy

Fifth in a series – Imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

Is there really any more you can say about Star Wars? Type those two words into Google and you get “About” 1,110,000,000 results. That’s roughly a third of the number of stars in our galaxy. And I’ve already written about how it changed me when I first saw it, so what’s new?

This Robot Occupation Movies thread is, let’s be honest, a thinly-veiled rip-off of Desert Island Discs. A radio show where you tell your life story through 8 pieces of music. And I couldn’t tell my life story without referring to Star Wars. Slice me in two and you’ll see this logo running through me like a stick of rock:

Daaaaa! Dun-dun...
Daaaaa! Dun-dun… dun-dun-dah-dah-dah-d-d-dun-dah-dah-dah-d-d-dun-dah-dah-dah-bu-bu-bum-ta-da-da-bum-bum…

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of RETURN OF THE JEDI, which made me think back to when I first saw it at the Odeon in Hastings. I was on holiday, it was quite late in the summer, I still hadn’t seen it, and was panicking that I might never. My mum was more of a Coronation Street fan and didn’t want to watch it, so, after checking with the lady at the box office that someone could keep an eye on me (oh, mum!), she paid for my ticket and I went in alone. The cinema was far from full; just a handful of people scattered around the auditorium, and so I found a quiet row and settled in. The sense memory from that first screening is still with me now, the thrills I got from watching Luke and Vader duke it out still resonate, and I have to confess that there were a few tears. It was over. Oh, there were rumours of more films to come, but I somehow knew that this would be it.

Of course, now we know that it wasn’t the end. But here’s a quick timeline of my Star Wars experience. Starting before the dark times… before the Jar-Jar…

A long time ago...

My fifth birthday. Dad taking me to see it for the first time. I’m pretty sure it was at the Odeon in Woolwich.

Now a church... pfft...
Now a church… pfft…

The next film I went to see was a re-release of Disney’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. As queued to get in, we stood by lobby cards showing scenes from Star Wars. It was still showing! I remember being annoyed that we couldn’t go and see it again.

So, I begged and begged until mum took me to see it again. I remember boasting to a lady on the bus that I was going to see it for the second time.

For my next birthday I got the film score: Star Wars highlights on one side, and Holst’s Planets suite on the other.

Collecting the trading cards, playing flicksies and winning more, chewing on the rock-hard pink, powder-dusted gum.

Bad guys! Boooo!
Bad guys! Boooo!

Being friends with Gregory, the kid next door, because he had a cool Stormtrooper gun.

Going to the Brent Cross shopping centre to blow my birthday money on figures and an X-Wing. Reading the Marvel comics every week and loving that Han was fighting alongside a giant green rabbit called Jaxxon…

Only 10p!
Only 10p!

Feeling betrayed and disappointed that suddenly everyone in my class was now into this Superman film! I thought we all loved Star Wars!

Buying a second-hand hardback copy of the Star Wars novel at the school jumble sale (which I still have!) and reading it again and again and wondering why it wasn’t exactly the same as the film – Luke is Blue Five?!

Being told by my uncle that a friend of his played a Stormtrooper! (I never verified this, but he did know a stuntman called Nosher Powell who is credited on IMDb).

Watching the Star Wars Holiday Special at Christmas in Ireland and getting cross with my granddad who kept switching over to the horse racing (of course, I now realise he was doing me a huge favour).

Mum and dad calling me downstairs to see a clip from the new film THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK on TV – it was the “I love you… I know” bit, and I recall welling-up and being terrified that Han was going to die.

Dad taking me to see TESB at the Odeon Leicester Square. We were in the front row of the balcony, and he ripped my bag of popcorn open, spilling it on the poor people below. Sorry if you were one of them.

Being in a daze afterwards, wondering if Darth Vader was lying out of his arse, or if Ben was the fibber.

More comics, though of course, they didn’t have Han in them any more. People moan about Ewoks, but we had Hoojibs…

hoojib

The longest wait between films ever.

Trying to use the Force one day. Didn’t work. The day I discovered disillusionment.

Watching a trailer for Return of the Jedi on the Jonathan King‘s show Entertainment USA and nearly exploding with excitement.

That screening of Jedi in Hastings and thinking it was over forever.

Years of keeping the faith, reading and re-reading the comics and the books. Watching the movies on VHS again and again and again.

Reading the Timothy Zahn novels and liking that the franchise had grown-up a bit. The characters still felt alive.

Thinking about having the Throne Room and Finale cue for our wedding march music, deciding against it and later regretting it.

Working at Unity Theatre with the wonderful Declan Mulholland – the original Jabba the Hutt! – and learning that Harrison Ford loved a pint with the cast and crew.

Hearing rumours of a new movie. Maybe episodes 7-9!

A prequel, you say? Hmm… interesting…

Hearing the title THE PHANTOM MENACE for the first time, and not being too worried that it was silly. All the titles are a bit silly if you think about it, aren’t they (the years of denial began here).

Seeing the trailer on The Big Breakfast and sharing everyone’s excitement.

Listening to the soundtrack in the car with friends and liking Duel of the fates.

Watching the Phantom Menace and, honestly, being okay with it. The anger came much later.

Watching ATTACK OF THE CLONES when holidaying in Spain so I could see the Obi Wan headbutt that was removed in the UK to get a 12a certificate (it lasted little more than a second). And Yoda in Spanish is always fun…

Being late for a screening of REVENGE OF THE SITH and not really minding.

Giving my nephew my old Star Wars figures, which he then eventually gave to his younger brother, who then handed them back down to my kids.

Watching the movies with my kids, and making it clear that any preference for the prequels over the originals will result in immediate ejection from the home.

Writing a movie with so much Star Wars in its DNA that… well, we’re back to the rock analogy again.

And now we have the new movies on the horizon, with that guy from the Big Bang Theory directing them…

Well, I've never seen them in the same room together, have you?
Well, I’ve never seen them in the same room together, have you?

So it looks like Star Wars will always be with me. It’s affected some people so much that they dress up as characters (cool)…

Hey, we were in a rush, okay?!
Hey, we were in a rush, okay?!

…or even declare it as their religion (crazy).

I wouldn’t go that far, but for a movie about knights, scoundrels, droids, princesses and dark lords, it’s had a pretty profound affect on my life. I didn’t name my kids Luke, or Leia, but I did become obsessed with its making, and through it discovered how movies were created. I started reading Science Fiction and Fantasy literature, I fell in love with film scores and classical music. Through its contemporaries I found Coppola, Spielberg, Hammer Horror, David Lean, Ridley Scott, Peter Weir, Kurosawa and so many other artistic avenues that I might never have found without it nudging me in their direction.

So, thank you Star Wars. It’s been and up and down relationship, but I wouldn’t be the same without you.

And may the force be with you… always.

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My Robot Occupation Movies #4 – Reservoir Dogs

Fourth in a series – Imagine for a moment that the world has been invaded and occupied by an army of robots, and you could only grab a handful of DVDs before you were incarcerated… what would they be?

“When I’m getting serious about a girl, I show her RIO BRAVO and she better f-ing like it!” says Mr Tarantino of his prospective dates. Now, putting aside whether or not someone should “test” one’s sweetheart, or indeed what that says about your attitude to relationships, the desire for the film fan to share their favourite films with those close to them is a strong one. And we’d be lying if we didn’t judge people based on their responses. It’s entirely wrong, of course, but I’m sure sports fans do the same when they take their beloveds to the big match (do they still call it that? Who cares…).

Then, imagine my trepidation when taking the girl I loved to see RESERVOIR DOGS for the first time. Our first date film had been HOOK, a crashing disappointment, and so a lot was riding on this exciting debut that I’d read about in Empire. I’d like to pretend that I was cool and knew all about the Hong Kong movies that had inspired Reservoir Dogs, or that I was entirely cognisant of how he was subverting the genre, but I didn’t. All I knew was that this was the film that everyone was talking about, and I just had to see it. Also, he worked in a video rental store and so did I, so maybe there was hope for me yet. Back then, an indie film like this rarely got a chance to be seen outside of London (actually, that’s pretty much the same now), but the UCI cinema chain used to run Director’s Chair screenings of foreign and indie films on Tuesday nights, and Dogs was showing for one night only. The lights went down and we sat through 99 minutes of mayhem, violence, betrayal, torture, and the finest on-screen swearing since GOODFELLAS.

And she hooted with laughter throughout!

It was then that I knew I had met the woman I would marry. Not only could she tolerate A-grade film brutality but she also knew that what we were watching was essentially a black comedy with great dollops of psychological drama. At the time we were both auditioning for drama schools, and we were in awe of the acting chops on display. I asked Claire about it today (yup, we’re still married!) and she said that she’d never seen a film like it before. She’d always seen nice family movies like ET and BACK TO THE FUTURE, so what Reservoir Dogs was, as she just put it, “Opened her up to new experiences…”

Which is why our next date movie was BASIC INSTINCT. But that’s another story…

In defence of the Ewok nation on #starwarsday

For the full debate on this important issue, head over to the Gollancz Blog…

Here’s my side of the argument:

At a recent Gollancz marketing meeting (yes, we plan this stuff) it was suggested that someone write a blog entry about the divisive and controversial subject of Ewoks. What followed was like a scene from a Western, where chairs are scraped across the floor, tables thrown to one side, as gunslingers reach for their sidearms.

Divisive doesn’t even begin to describe the hot passions on display.

The arguments against the Ewok peoples are slim, getting old, and, let’s be honest, racist.

1. They’re too cute

Naysayers will argue that they’re “too cute”, as if Lucas hadn’t done cute already…

Aww... look at that widdle poonum!
Aww… look at that widdle poonum!

But they’re far from cute. When they go into battle, they hit the Stormtroopers in their blind spot, smashing them on the back of the head with socking great lumps of wood. The vicious little buggers really lay into the Emperor’s most elite legion, using fight techniques surely honed in the nightclubs of Blackpool, “Glass him Teebo! Cut his face!” (there’s a reason the Ewoks don’t get subtitles – they’re uncouth, sweary, little mofos…)

And we can’t say that we didn’t see this coming. After all, their first reaction to finding armed outsiders was to try and spitroast Luke, Han and Chewie (I’ll let that image settle for a moment).

Cute?! Do me a favour…

This little hoodlum has already swiped your wallet and keyed your landspeeder.
This little hoodlum has already swiped your wallet and keyed your landspeeder.

2. They’re dumb

Dumb, eh? Well I would point m’learned friend to their keen sense of strategy. When it all kicks off, the Ewoks are smart enough to draw the Empire’s forces away from the safety of their bunker and into the woods, into the Ewoks’ own territory. This gives them the upper hand, using the forest itself against the invaders. Pity the poor crew of the AT-ST smashed between two logs. They didn’t stand a chance against these cunning little warriors.

Film fans will know that Lucas very nearly made Apocalypse Now. In the battle for Endor, Lucas finally gets that out of his system – this was his chance to do Vietnam, he just chose to do it with short, hairy football hooligans.

3. They’re only in the movie to sell toys!

There are those who suggest the Ewoks were a toy marketing ploy… because up till then Lucasfilm hadn’t even thought of releasing any toys from the film. Oh, waitasec…

Got, got, got, NEED!
Got, got, got, NEED!

Oh, and these are kids’ films, you big galoot! What kid wouldn’t love a movie featuring teddy bears beating the crap out the bad guys? The Ewoks tap into a huge childhood fantasy: if you’re small and repressed, you’re going to love these guys. Anyone who doesn’t, must be the Empire!

4. Self loathing.

There may be a scientific explanation for the irrational hatred of the Ewok nation: one’s age. As brilliantly explained in an episode of How I Met Your Mother, it could simply be down to when you were born:

Science!
Science!

You may have been young enough to enjoy Star Wars, but too much of a cynical teenager to fully appreciate the Ewoks. Yes, if you hate Ewoks, you had lost your innocence by 1983 and that’s heartbreaking.

So there you have it. The Ewoks are awesome, and anyone who says otherwise is a cynical, old racist. The defence rests…