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 #1 – Blade Runner

My son is at an age where rating things is all-important. The most common question I get from him after we watch a movie is, ‘How many stars would you give that?’ This in turn has led to an extended ‘What’s your favourite movie?’ conversation.

Well, he’s got me thinking. Just what are my favourite movies? And why? So, over the next few blog posts I’ll be putting these thoughts into some kind of order. So, 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?

These have to be the movies you simply couldn’t live without. They don’t have to be the best films ever, just the ones that mean the most to you. The ones that tell your own story.

So that’s what I’m going to do. And I’m going to start, as all good stories should, in the middle somewhere…

I first saw Blade Runner at my friend Kristian’s place. It was his birthday, and I’m guessing we were 11/12 years old. The room was full of boys expecting a kind-of Indiana Jones in the future. That’s what the VHS cover art promised, and that never lies, right?

In stereo!
In stereo!

What we got was something that split the room. Most of the group found it boring. Just me, Kris, and another kid called David Snell thought it was cool, though if you asked any of us to explain it, I doubt we could have managed anything more articulate than “There’s this bloke who has to hunt these robots – no, replicants! – and there’s a cool bit where this guy gets his eyes gouged out, and it was all very dark…”

But then the Marvel comic adaptation started appearing in the back of my weekly Return of the Jedi comic, and the story started making more sense. I read this again and again, then rented the movie, and there was definitely more than first met the eye with this film.

Too late for my GCSE English (and probably just as well) I found a film tie-in copy of Blade Runner in my local second hand bookshop. Only it wasn’t a mere tie-in, this was an original book by some guy called Philip K Dick (snigger). This would surely answer all my outstanding questions! Oh boy, was I wrong. Dick’s incredible book, with its meditation on identity and reality, just brought a million more questions flooding to my brain.

Then, on my 18th birthday, I went alone to the Odeon on Shaftesbury Avenue to see the legendary director’s cut (yeah, I know how to party!). To see that grand opening on the big screen with Vangelis’s score turned up to 11 was just amazing, though – to be honest – I missed the much-maligned voice-over. And to fully understand the whole meaning of the unicorn footage, I had to read Paul M Sammon’s excellent book FUTURE NOIR.

Since then, I’ve bought various VHS and DVD special editions and box sets. It’s bloody exhausting trying to make sense of this film. I’m now not convinced that Deckard is a replicant. That whole backstory now feels like Ridley retconning, and I still miss that voiceover.

My wife has yet to see the film all the way through without falling asleep. I have younger colleagues who can admire the film, but wouldn’t rate it as a classic, and I firmly believe that this is because you had to make the journey with this film for it to have its full impact. From first viewing, to comic, to book, to more books, director’s cuts and final cuts, to box sets with little dinky toy Spinners in them.

It is imperfect, but its riddles will never fully be resolved, and that’s one reason why I love it.

Here’s the orignal trailer. In keeping with the film’s history, it’s terrible:

PS. My friend Kristian also introduced me to Mad Max 1 & 2, various horror movies, and Firefox, and for that I shall always be grateful.

Little League by Yale Stewart (update)

I’ve been following this wonderful webcomic by Yale Stewart on Facebook/Tumblr/Twitter.

To say it’s a kind of Muppet Babies with DC Heroes is probably doing it a terrible disservice. It starts cutesy, but I just read the final part of the current run and it ends with a stand-off as good as any you’ll see out there… That kid in the red hood… he’s going to be trouble for sure.

Quick update – due to legal reasons Little League has become JL8. Here’s the link for the new Facebook page. Tumblr and Twitter remain unaffected.