How to recognise Star Wars from quite a long way away

This may sound a tad hypocritical after my critique of Rise of Skywalker a few days ago, but I don’t envy J.J. Abrams. In fact, I don’t envy anyone engaged in delivering new Star Wars content to a 2020 audience, a task that I imagine to be very similar to feeding the hungry inhabitants of a lion pit while dangling from a slender, fraying rope. The problem is this: what is Star Wars, what constitutes proper Star Wars? These are questions that a vast number of fans with different levels of zealotry and entitlement will answer very differently – but when George Lucas released his prequels to, let’s say, mixed results, the megaphone/Death Star combo that is Twitter didn’t yet exist. These days, creating, or even just acting in, a Star Wars thing that some people dislike can pretty much result in this:

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Fear is the path to the dark side: Rise of Skywalker (2019)

We get it, Disney: a lot of very vocal fans didn’t like The Last Jedi. We don’t even have to call all of the dislike of Episode VIII an expression of toxic fandom; Rian Johnson’s stab at Star Wars was designed to be something of a slap in the face of business as usual, and while I loved the daring of many of its ideas, they weren’t always executed altogether well. At times I could see what Johnson was going for but felt that he was doing so in ways that were clunky or at odds with other things the film was trying to do.

Nonetheless, The Last Jedi had ideas, it had a vision, it was interested in doing more than being the Star Wars cover band that The Force Awakens was, even if that one delivered its version of A New Hope‘s greatest hits with panache. If Rise of Skywalker wants to do something, it’s kowtowing to the loudest and most toxic critics of The Last Jedi. It doesn’t have a vision other than that of apologising loudly and unthinkingly for the perceived mistakes of the previous episode. In short, Rise of Skywalker may just be the most cowardly expression of fan service I have ever seen.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #6: The Last Jedi

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3Tune in for episode 6 of A Damn Fine Cup of Culture podcast, which returns us to a long time ago¬†(all together now!) in a galaxy far, far away: what did we think of The Last Jedi? What role did that mega-franchise play in our childhood? And has Rian Johnson ruined or renewed Star Wars? Also, some thoughts on The Leftovers – the novel, not the series – and on Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

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The legend is dead – long live the legend

It’s been a while since Star Wars had the ability to surprise me – and in part that was its appeal: being the galactic equivalent of comfort food. Pop in a Star Wars episode and you generally know what you get, namely an epic fairy tale with farm boys destined to greatness and cloaked space wizards of the good and evil variety. You get secret weapons blown up after a one-in-a-million plan pays off. You get grand revelations, redemption and heroics.

The Last Jedi

Along comes The Last Jedi, and guess what – Star Wars has the ability to surprise me again. Continue reading

Fan service, nostalgia and storytelling

When I first heard about Warner Bros. Pictures’ plans to bring the Potterverse back to the big screen with Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them, I pretty much dismissed those plans as them going back to their favourite cash cow: a decision based primarily on monetary interests. Rowling’s book, published in between the fourth and fifth Harry Potter novels, was more of a sourcebook for the fans, so why turn this into a film – or, indeed, a series of films? For the many shiny sickles and galleons the producers would add to their hoard at Gringotts, obviously.

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Force of Habit

“Remember when…?” is the lowest form of conversation.
– Tony Soprano

Now, I’m far from considering Anthony John Soprano the touchstone of film criticism, but I kept thinking of this particular dictum of his throughout much of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Don’t get me wrong: in almost every respect I consider the movie better filmmaking than the sequels.* J.J. Abrams knows how to stage zippy, effects-heavy action with enough personality so it doesn’t just feel like a VFX showreel. The performances are good throughout, with Harrison Ford bringing more of his erstwhile charisma to the screen than he has in a long time.

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