Thirty years ago, the Cold War came to a peaceful end. Germany was reunified. A wave of mostly peaceful uprisings occurred across the so-called Eastern Bloc in 1989 before finally in 1991, the Soviet Union itself disintegrated completely.
Such developments would have seemed unthinkable only a few years earlier. Russian communism had dominated Eastern Europe since 1917 with the intense rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States threatening to destroy humanity following the superpower arms build-up which escalated soon after the end of the Second World War.
As Archie Brown demonstrates in this book the fact that this amazing development was able to occur at all owes itself almost entirely to ‘the human factor,’ namely the unique personalities of three world leaders during the second half of the 1980s. The personality of one of these leaders in fact, was especially critical.
Many in the west were alarmed when Ronald Reagan won the presidency in November 1980. A onetime Hollywood actor who had been a liberal Democrat until his early fifties, Reagan had strong enough conservative credentials by 1980, that he was able to preside over a thaw in East-West relations without stoking fears that he might be appeasing the Soviets. The British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher meanwhile was not as slavish in her support for Reagan and the US as is sometimes made out. She and Reagan were friends and shared the same ideological free market perspective, but there were occasional fallings out. Crucially, on the major issue of East-West relations, however, she and the 40th US president always stood shoulder to shoulder.
However, it was the third actor, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who was utterly indispensable to the whole process. Make no mistake: without Mikhail Gorbachev there would have been no end to the Cold War. The Berlin Wall would not have fallen. The USSR would not have collapsed. Remarkable leaders though they in many ways were, the same cannot be said of Reagan or the so-called ‘Iron Lady.’
Gorbachev’s attitude and politics were utterly unique within Soviet politics at the time. Nor is it true that he (or anyone) was browbeaten into submission by the United States’ continued hard line. There is no evidence to support this whatsoever.
As the only one of these three figures still alive in May 2020, the world really owes the elderly Mr. Gorbachev a huge debt of thanks. As Archie Brown notes, it was he who made all the difference.
Gorbachev, not Reagan and certainly not Thatcher, ended the Cold War.
The Human Factor: Gorbachev, Reagan and Thatcher and the End of the Cold War, by Archie Brown. Out Now. Published by Oxford University.
Spaced is the story of Tim and Daisy, two young people in need of somewhere to live.
Daisy is a frustrated writer, keen to escape life in a squat. Tim is a small-time cartoonist who has been forced to move out after discovering his girlfriend has been having an affair with his best friend.
Together they hatch a plan. Despite not being a couple or even friends really (they have met by chance in a café), having spied a reasonably priced flat to rent advertised as being only available to “professional couples only,” they decide to present themselves as a happily married couple to the apartment’s landlady.
This in essence is the premise of Spaced. Although as Tim himself would say, “it’s a bit more complicated than that.”
Spaced ran for two series on Channel 4 in 1999 and 2001 and proved the perfect calling card for its two writers and stars, Simon Pegg (Tim) and Jessica Stevenson (now Jessica Hynes, who plays Daisy) with the show’s unseen force, the hugely talented director, Edgar Wright also making an impact.
Straddling the millennia, technically only the second of the two series is a 21st century sitcom and thus eligible for this list. But who cares? Both series are great anyway, for a number of reasons…
Firstly, whether its Tim railing against the evils of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (a film which Peter Serafinowicz who plays his hated love rival, Duane Benzie actually features in), Daisy attempting to write her masterpiece to the theme from Murder She Wrote, or Wright skilfully evoking memories of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Spaced is packed to the brim with clever popular culture references.
Secondly, many of the episodes are masterpieces in their own right. Tim and his war-obsessed friend Mike played paintball, long before the guys on Peep Show or US shows like Big Bang Theory and Community did it. Another episode skilfully turns the TV show, Robot Wars into a real life conflict while ‘Gone’ sees the stars engaged in an ingenious mimed gun battle governed by ‘masculine telepathy’ at the end of a drunken night out. And that’s not to mention the celebrated Epiphanies episode in which Tim’s odd friend Wheels (Michael Smiley) takes the gang clubbing.
Then, there’s the brilliant supporting cast. Pegg’s real life best friend and flatmate, the then unknown Nick Frost plays Tim’s war-obsessed pal, Mike, a man once expelled from the Territorial Army for “stealing a tank and attempting to invade Paris”. Or Brian (Friday Night Dinner’s Mark Heap) an eccentric artist who has an ‘arrangement’ with landlady, Marsha (Julia Deakin). There’s also a supporting cast which includes a whole host of rising comedy stars including David Walliams, Paul Kaye, Bill Bailey and Ricky Gervais.
But finally there’s the best reason of all: Spaced is likeable, endless quotable, highly watchable and very, very funny.
The first ever US Academy Awards are held. First World War-based thriller Wings wins the first ever Best Picture Oscar.
In a scene reminiscent of the early scenes of the 2001 comedy film Zoolander, comedian Will Rogers opens the Best Director envelope and says, “Come and get It Frank!” Unfortunately, there were two directors called Frank nominated in that year. Frank Capra was half way to the podium before Rogers clarified that it was Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade who had won, not Capra. Happily, Frank Capra later won for Mr Deeds Goes To Town in 1936. In future years, the awards are always announced in a heavily scripted way, in the hope of preventing such an embarrassing error ever happening again.
Hattie McDaniel becomes the first black woman to win an acting Oscar (Best Supporting Actress: Gone With The Wind). Having been barred from the film’s Atlanta premiere due to the state’s racial laws, she is made to sit at a segregated table during the Oscar ceremony. She is only allowed to attend at all due to the Ambassador Hotel making an exception to its usual strict ‘no blacks’ policy. Her white agent sat with her at the ceremony.
How Green Is My Valley beats Citizen Kane for Best Picture. Citizen Kane subsequently became the most critically acclaimed film of all time.
Sidney Poitier (Lillies Of The Field) becomes the first black actor to win an Oscar.
A very rare occurrence: A tie in the Best Actress category.
Barbara Streisand wins for Funny Girl. Katharine Hepburn also wins for The Lion
In Winter (her third). As most Oscars are determined by votes from several
thousand Academy members, a tie is a frequent possibility.
George C. Scott wins Best Actor for Patton. He chooses not
to attend and instead stays home and watches a ball game on the other channel.
Native American Sacheen Littlefeather surprises viewers by
attending to reject Marlon Brando’s second Oscar won for The Godfather on his
behalf. t “He very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And
the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the
film industry,” she says. She is actually not a political activist herself but
a small-time actress who later appears in Playboy magazine.
In a famously impromptu remark, host David Niven comments on
a streaker who disrupts the ceremony: “Isn’t
it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in
his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?
Robert De Niro wins his first Oscar playing Vito Corleone in
The Godfather Part II. Marlon Brando played the same character in 1972’s The
Godfather. It is the only time two actors have won Oscars for playing the same
Tatum O’Neal becomes the youngest ever person to win a competitive
Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress – Paper Moon). She is ten (she turned
nine during filming).
Annie Hall beats Star Wars for Best Picture. Director and star Woody Allen begins a long tradition of not attending the Oscars (choosing to perform jazz music elsewhere on Oscar Night instead). He finally attends in 2002.
British actress Vanessa Redgrave (Best Supporting Actress: Julia) is audibly booed after she attacks opponents of her documentary film, The Palestinian as “Zionist hoodlums”. She also attacks former President Nixon.
Jane Fonda (Best Actress: Coming Home) uses sign language during her acceptance speech to highlight awareness of deafness. It is her second Oscar: she also won for Klute in 1972.
Robert De Niro wins his second Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s
Raging Bull. The timing is awkward as the new President, former actor, Ronald Reagan
has just been shot and wounded in an assassination attempt. His attempted
assassin John Hinckley was reportedly inspired by Scorsese and De Niro’s 1976
film Taxi Driver and a desire to “impress” his teenaged co-star Jodie Foster
(she is not impressed).
Katharine Hepburn wins her fourth and final Oscar for On
Golden Pond. No other actor, male or female, has ever won four Oscars. Cate
Blanchett later wins one for playing Hepburn herself in The Aviator in 2004.
Hepburn’s co-star Henry Fonda becomes easily the oldest ever
Best Actor winner at 76. Too ill to attend the ceremony, his daughter and
co-star, Jane Fonda collects the award on his behalf (he dies a few months
Screenwriter Colin Welland shouts “The British are coming!”
following the success of Chariots of Fire this year. In fact, the next decade will
prove a very lean one for British cinema, although Gandhi does win Best Picture
Sally Field wins her second Oscar for Places In My Heart. “I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect,” she says. “The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!” Seen my many as overly sentimental, Field’s speech is often misquoted as: “You like me, you really like me!”
Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) becomes only the second black actress to win Best Supporting Actress.
Silence of the Lambs wins in all of the “Big Five”
categories: Best Film, Actor (Anthony Hopkins),
Actress (Jodie Foster), Director (Jonathan Demme) and Adapted
Screenplay. This is the only the third time this has ever happened (the previous
films were 1932’S It Happened One Night and 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s
Rumours abound that Jack Palance read out the wrong name
during his announcement of the Best Supporting Actress winner Marisa Tomei (My
Cousin Vinnie) In fact, though a surprise result, Tomei undoubtedly won. That
said, Palance did seem to be in a somewhat “tired and emotional” state as he
announced the award.
Couple Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon use the Best Film Editing category as a political opportunity urging the government to let HIV-positive Haitians being held at Guantanamo into the US.
“Oh, wow. This is the best drink of water after the longest
drought of my life.” Steven Spielberg (Best Director: Schindler’s List) finally
wins. Schindler’s List is the first black and white film to win Best Picture
since The Apartment (1960).
Tom Hanks wins two Best Actor Oscars in consecutive years for
Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, a feat not achieved since Spencer Tracey in the
1930s, He delivers highly emotional acceptance speeches both times, inadvertently
“outing” a high school teacher as gay in the first (a moment which later
inspired the Kevin Kline film In and Out) and in the second stating “I feel
like I’m standing on magic legs.”
Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) loses the Best Supporting
Actor Oscar to Martin Landau (Ed Wood). Lipreaders can see Jackson clearly says
“shit” on hearing the announcement from 12 year old, Anna Paquin. Jackson is
unrepentant afterwards, arguing he deserved to win.
George Clooney, Nick Nolte, Ed Harris and many other actors refuse to stand or applaud Elia Kazan’s Lifetime Achievement Oscar. The On The Waterfront director testified to the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952
Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) becomes the first black winner of the Best Actress Oscar.
Filmmaker Michael Moore (Best Documentary: Bowling For
Columbine) provokes a mixed reaction with an attack on President George W.
Bush: “We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that
elects a fictitious President. We live in a time where we have a man sending us
to war for fictitious reasons…Shame on you, Mr. Bush, shame on you. And any
time you’ve got the Pope and the Dixie Chicks against you, your time is up.”
Adrien Brody (Best Actor: The Pianist) kisses actress Halle
Berry on receiving his award.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King becomes the
third film to win eleven Oscars. The others are Ben-Hur (1959) and Titanic
(1997). All About Eve (1950) and Titanic remain the most nominated films (14
each). The Return of the King is the only fantasy film to win Best Picture (no
sci-fi film has ever won it) and only the second sequel (the first was The
Godfather Pt II in 1974).
Martin Scorsese finally wins (Director: The Departed) after years of being overlooked. “Could you double check the envelope?” he quips.
A showdown between Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker and
James Cameron’s Avatar. The Hurt Locker wins Best Picture. Bigelow becomes the
first woman to win Best Director (she and Cameron were married between 1989 and
The Artist is the first black and white film to win Best
Picture since 1993’s Schindler’s List. Contrary to popular belief, it is not technically
a silent film. Wings, the very first Best Picture winner, remains the only
silent winner in this category.
Christopher Plummer (Best Supporting Actor: Beginners)
becomes the oldest ever performer to win a competitive actor Oscar. He is 82.
Meryl Streep wins her 17th nomination (and her third win)
for The Iron Lady joking: “When they called my name, I had this feeling I could
hear half of America going, ‘Oh no. Come on… Her, again?’ You know. But,
whatever.” No actor has ever been nominated as many times as Streep has:
Katharine Hepburn won four times but was only nominated a still impressive 12
times. In 2018, Streep received her 21st nomination for The Post. Her other two
wins were for Kramer Vs Kramer and Sophie’s Choice.
Daniel Day Lewis wins his third acting Oscar for Lincoln.
Only five other actors have achieved three Oscar wins: Katharine Hepburn (who,
as previously mentioned, won four), Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Walter
Brennan and Ingrid Bergman.
John Travolta messes up his introduction to a performance
from Frozen by Idina Menzel: “Please welcome the wickedly talented, one
and only Adele Dazeem,” he says.
The Oscars are widely criticised for a lack of racial diversity in the nominations.
Leonardo DiCaprio finally wins Best Actor for The Revenant.
In an embarrassing cock up, La La Land is briefly announced
as Best Picture, instead of the actual winner, Moonlight. The mistake – which
seems to have resulted from veteran actor Warren Beatty being given the card
revealing La La Land actress Emma Stone’s Best Actress Oscar in error, and
Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s understandably confused reaction – is only corrected
after two minutes (“There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won best
picture…This is not a joke. Moonlight has won best picture”) by which time the
La La Land team are midway through their acceptance speech.
Casey Affleck wins for Manchester by the Sea despite
widespread controversy over sexual harassment allegations. Actress Brie Larson,
an advocate of sexual assault victims, presents the award to Affleck, but seems
unhappy with the result.
Comedian Kevin Hart steps down as host of the Oscars after controversy emerges over a slew of allegedly homophobic tweets he sent in the past. It is decided the Oscars will not have an official host for the first time since 1989.
Starring: George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey, Robert Patrick. Directed By: Grant Heslov
Fox Mulder was right. The truth really was out there, all along. But, as Jon Ronson’s excellent 2004 non-fiction book demonstrated, the reality of what certain elements of the US military and government were up to in the 70s and 80s, was far stranger than anything in The X-Files.
There’s the army general, for example, who became so convinced that he could will his body to pass through solid objects that he actually physically ran into his office wall. He failed to go through it. He just crashed into it.
Then, there are the military operatives who, taking their cue from an earlier science fiction franchise, named themselves “Jedi warriors”. And then there are the men who stare at goats themselves: a crack division who become convinced that they could actually kill animals merely by deploying their ‘psychic’ powers while staring at them, causing their hearts to explode. Goats are judged to be the perfect test subjects for these experiments, it is revealed. While many soldiers felt uncomfortable staring at dogs, it is apparently much harder to forge an emotional bond with a goat.
Yet while the book was by turns hilarious and fascinating, there are causes for concern here. For one thing, this isn’t a documentary. Director Heslov has gone down the route of dramatising a non-fiction book – a feat attempted before by Richard Linklater on his version of Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation’. The result then was a failure. Ewan McGregor is also cast unconvincingly as a fictional American journo (presumably based on the book’s author Ronson, which is odd as both men are British anyway) partly, it is presumed, so the ‘Star Wars’ star can make play of the story’s Jedi references.
The film also makes little attempt to confront the darker aspects of the book. The bohemian freethinking of the First Earth Battalion ultimately led to some of the torture methods used in the War on Terror, but this is only alluded to here.
Despite everything, this still manages to be a consistently entertaining, compelling and amusing film. It doesn’t hurt that a bit of effort has been made on the extras, although neither the commentary from director Heslov or from the book’s author Ronson are as exciting as they could have been. Other featurettes, however, give added weight to a narrative that is always difficult to fully believe.
This is, however, fascinating enough to overcome most of its flaws. And yes, in case you’re wondering, one goat did die during the many goat staring experiments. It may well have been just a coincidence, but for safety’s sake, perhaps don’t try it out on your hamster at home. Just in case.
Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion Featurette
Project Hollywood: A Classified Report From The Set Featurette
Audio Commentary with Director Grant Heslov
Audio Commentary with Author Jon Ronson
Rating: 4 out of 5
Undeniably a bit of a mess, but the story is bizarre and fascinating enough to win the day.
Book review: Movie Geek: The Den of Geek Guide to the Movieverse by Simon Brew, Ryan Lambie and Louise Mellor. Published by Cassell, a division of Octopus Publishing.
This may come as something of a shock to my most regular readers but there are other websites out there. You don’t have to read this one. There’s apparently one called Amazon which is pretty popular and another called YouTube. There’s also one called Den of Geek.
Den of Geek have been a valuable dispensary of geek info for well over a decade now, long predating the likes of the excellent Nerd Like You site or my former employers, the sadly now defunct Geeky Monkey magazine. If you want clues about the latest series of The Walking Dead or a review of the latest Game of Thrones episode, the website is the place for you.
This movie-themed volume is the site’s first soiree into the world of books (big papery versions of websites: ask your mum) but I doubt it will be its last. Film-related articles featured include How The 1990s Changed Blockbuster Cinema, The Movie Sequels You Might Not Know Existed, Films You Might Not Know Were Based On A Comic Book and A Few Remarkable Things About Some Remarkably Bad Movies.
Do these topics float your boat? I’ll confess they do mine. But then, I am a geek. What do you expect?
But I would recommend this, genuinely. It’s a great coffee table read. Buy it. And perhaps Den of Geek, will one day be as popular as the website you’re reading now.
Let’s face it: here is something about Star Wars. Nothing compares to it. It is simultaneously one of the biggest films of all time and a cult favourite. These reviews cover just a small sample of the huge range of Star Wars books released (mostly) in the past year. 2017 is, of course, the 40th anniversary of the original film’s release. The strange thing is none of these books are even being released because of that. There are always just lots of Star Wars books being released anyway and these are some of them.
Art of Colouring: Rogue One A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rogue One Profiles And Pictures have both been released by Egmont to capitalise on the success of the recent mildly enjoyable Rogue One film. The colouring book has its weaknesses -why would any one want too colour in storm troopers who are black and white anyway? – but both are otherwise competent enough. Make Your Own U-Wing (also Egmont) similarly does exactly what it says on the tin.
A more philosophical supposedly grown-up approach to the franchise is taken by former Obama Administration official Cass R. Sunstein in The World According To Star Wars (pub: William Morrow). It is good but mostly quite silly.
By far the best book on the history of the franchise here and indeed, perhaps anywhere, is Chris Taylor’s How Star Wars Conquered The Universe (Head Zeus, 2015). Utterly absorbing and totally comprehensive.
Finally, before her untimely death last year, Carrie Fisher’s memoir The Princess Diarist (Bantam Press, 2016) generated a disturbance in the Force by revealing the then teenage actress’s on set affair with Han Solo actor Harrison Ford, then in his thirties and nearing the end of his first marriage.
“I love you!” “I know!” is the couple’s famous exchange in the film. And we should know too. The affair had already been referred to in Chris Taylor’s book mentioned above. This was published some time before Carrie Fisher’s confession. Why did nobody pick up on it then?
Fisher’s final book is not really a fitting tribute to the late author’s formidable talent. The diary extracts written by her younger self are not really fit for publication. The rest is lightweight fare from a great writer on lazy form.
Ultimately, though, consider this: no books have been released entitled How Smokey and the Bandit Conquered The Universe. Or How Annie Hall Conquered The Universe. Or How Saturday Night Fever Conquered The Universe.
Why? Because Star Wars is utterly unique. Truly, a Force unto itself.
In 1978, Alan Moore decided to quit the job at the Northampton gas board and dedicate himself full time to breaking into the comics industry as a writer. It was a high risk strategy. He was twenty-four years old and his young wife was pregnant. But Moore saw it as his last chance to exchange the job he hated for the career he loved.
Success came slowly with occasional one-off stories (Tharg’s Futureshocks) in the new science fiction comic, 2000AD. Later, came Skizz, D.R. and Quinch and my own personal favourite, The Ballad of Halo Jones. More success came through the short-lived and inappropriately titled Warrior comic (it was not war-related at all). Moore provided the backbone to the comic between 1982 and 1985, most famously with V For Vendetta, set in a late 1990s futuristic fascist dystopia. He also wrote Marvelman, now known as Miracleman, a promising superhero strip derailed by a legal dispute with Marvel Comics. This proved an forerunner to his greatest success, Watchmen for DC.
Today, Alan Moore is still in Northampton, in his sixties and is renowned as one of the most successful comic writers ever albeit one with a bit of reputation for disputes with his employers or prospective filmmakers attempting to adapt his works (Moore has famously never seen any of the four films directly based on his own comics).
His fascinating story is detailed thoroughly by the always excellent Lance Parkin in this comprehensive biography.
Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore by Lance Parkin, published by Aurum Press (2013)
Have you ever fancied trekking around Tatooine? Hiking around Hoth? Basically, visiting anywhere that you’ve seen in any of the Star Wars films?
Well, basically you can’t. As none of these places really exist. However, for eighty pages of large, (27 x 1.5 x 37 cm) attractively illustrated maps, timelines and such like based around the Star Wars universe, The Star Wars Galactic Atlas (Egmont, RRP £20) cannot be faulted.
Star Wars Propaganda (Egmont) written by Star Wars aficionado Pablo Hidalgo purports to be an anthology of propaganda posters from from throughout the fictional history of saga e.g. “Remember Alderan: Never Forget” and “Trump and Vader 2016: Let’s Make America Great Again” (okay, I made the last one up. There are no references to contemporary politics here at all).
To be honest, posters have never been an obvious background feature of the films. Fictional propaganda played a much bigger role in the Paul Verhoeven film Starship Troopers. Despite this, the book is undeniably marvellous to browse through, whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not. It is an inspired idea, beautifully realised.
The Impossible Has Happened: The Life and Work of Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek. Author: Lance Parkin. Aurum Press. Published: July 21st 2016.
It has been fifty years since the creation of Star Trek and the franchise is undeniably going strong. A new film and a new TV series are both scheduled to appear later this year.
Twenty five years after his death, the reputation of the series creator Gene Roddenberry is more uncertain. On the one hand, he has been subject to a personality cult almost as elaborate as that surrounding Scientology creator and sci-fi author. On the other hand, he has been demonised as a fraud, a philanderer and a phoney. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.
He was born in 1921 and served with distinction as a pilot in the Second World War. After the war, ironically he came very close to death in a Pan Am air crash which killed seven people in 1947. He served in the US police force drifting into TV writing and creating one non-Star Trek series, a police-themed one called The Lieutenant. He then created Star Trek which ran for three series between 1966 and 1968. At the time, it was neither very successful or a failure. Mission Impossible which ran at about the same time was probably more successful. Leonard Nimoy indeed joined the Mission Impossible cast after Star Trek ended. But unexpectedly, Star Trek became a huge success after it had ended through syndicated repeat showings. The show grew and grew and grew.
Many of the myths surrounding Star Trek seem to come from stories Roddenberry himself told at science fiction conventions in the 1970s. Some had the commendable aim of consolidating a following for the series but others clearly had more to do with Roddenberry’s ego. Yes, the series did end after three series but Roddenberry’s claims that it was ended unfairly by small-minded producers don’t add up. It was no longer profitable and the last series was significantly worse than the others. Roddenberry also subsequently exaggerated his own role as a champion of equality and civil rights claiming falsely that he fought narrow minded studio heads over the issue In fact, though he wasn’t racist by mid-20th century standards, the 1960s series only ever featured as many other minorities as most other US TV series of the time. Nichelle Nicholls’ Uhura, for example, was barely ever given anything important to do. She was one of many women Roddenberry had affairs with and in truth, the original series really didn’t have a progressive role towards women at all.
Leonard Nimoy certainly grew to hate Roddenberry. The man would often claim sole credit for the success of the series, ignoring the contribution of many others. He had no role at all in the making of the most acclaimed film 1982’s The Wrath of Khan (which he hated) and his own increasingly drunken, ageing cocaine-addled influence partly explains why the ultimately excellent Next Generation series had such a dull start.
Author Lance Parkin provides a balanced portrait of a man who for all his many flaws took TV on a journey where no one had gone before.
Today is, of course, International Star Wars Day. And what better way could there be to commemorate this date which sounds a little bit like a phrase never actually said in the original trailer than by buying these magical new Star Wars books from Egmont?
Actually watching the films. That would be a better way to celebrate clearly. But get these books too. Although technically none are out until May 5th, so you will have to wait until tomorrow. But you can order them today. And what could be more fun than ordering things?
If you like Star Wars but also love transforming things from black and white into colour, then you should love the Star Wars Galaxy Of Colouring Book pictured above. It is actually bigger than it looks here – 250 x 360mm – and has 112 pages. The front cover is dominated by a storm trooper, in a uniform which is clearly meant to be black and white anyway so not actually very good to colour in. But there are better pictures inside.
Yoda is green,
Greedo’s sort of blue,
Ewoks are brown,
May the Force be with you!
Next up, is the Star Wars Dot To Dot book, pictured below. Rest assured, even though this is Star Wars, you are expected to start with 1 each time. Not 4! Alternatively, miss out 1 to 3 and then come back to complete the puzzle twenty years later.
Finally, if you’re a total geek, there’s the Star Wars Graphics book featuring lots of ships and locations with all the specifications, none of which really exist.
Star Wars is 40 next year so expect much more of this in 2017.
Some of you may not like to hear this, but Star Wars is to some extent supposed to be for children. How else do you explain the Ewoks? Jar Jar Binks? Cast your minds back: Who are the stars of the opening scenes of the original film? Luke? Obi Wan? No. C3PO and R2D2. Doubtless you yourself were a child when you were first sucked in by the Force. It is thus hardly surprising then that the franchise (now ultimately ran by Disney) is still keen to attract as young audience.
With this in mind, Egmont Publishing have released the following three books aimed at children of eight and above in a new series entitled Adventures In Wild Space. These focus on Milo and Lina Graf who embark on a perilous journey across space to rescue their parents who have been kidnapped by agents of the Empire. The action takes place between the events of Revenge of the Sith (the last and best of the three prequels) and A New Hope (otherwise known as the”first” one). All three books are good fun and have pictures throughout.
Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Snare by Cavan Scott
Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Nest by Tom Huddleston
Star Wars: Adventures In Wild Space: The Escape by Cavan Scott (a prequel to the other two books, in true confusing Star Wars style).
Also released, are a novelisation of The Force Awakens by Michael Kogge, a picture book version of the same recent enjoyable film and a fun flap-lifting interactive book set in the Star Wars universe, Bounty Hunt.
It is an odd point in human history when we find ourselves devoting our resources towards producing a Star Wars Anti-Stress Colouring Book. It is even odder that I, of all people, am reviewing it.
For I don’t enjoy colouring in. I never have. I certainly don’t find it as relaxing as many people apparently do these days. Quite the opposite. At Junior School, we always seemed to being made to colour things in with horrid felt tips or pencils, sometimes at speed. I remember once having to colour in a big picture of a medieval banquet with some urgency to finish some project or other on time. I consider it one of the many blessings of adult life that since my teenage years I have never had to colour anything in again. I hope this continues.
The question remains, what was all that colouring in practice in aid of? I am still rubbish at it. I colour in different directions and over the lines. If colouring in was considered as important a skill as English or Maths, I would never have progressed beyond play school.
Fortunately, I do like Star Wars and happily as I approach middle age, the franchise is not only still very much with us but is still just about acceptable for me to like.
Anyway, if you like images which look like the films viewed through a kaleidoscope while having an LSD trip, you should love this. Unlike the Star Wars prequels, this shouldn’t disappoint.
The first film, initially entitled just Star Wars is released. It is an unexpectedly big hit, easily beating its nearest rivals Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Smokey and the Bandit to become the biggest US film of 1977. Taking inflation into account, as of 2015, it is the third biggest grossing film of all time. None of the younger members of the cast are well known at the time of the film’s release. Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia)j is the daughter of actors Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Harrison Ford (Han Solo), an ex-carpenter had appeared in director George Lucas’s second film American Graffiti and had been in the as yet unreleased, much delayed Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now (1979). Mark Hamill plays Luke Skywalker, a character Lucas once envisaged being called “Luke Starkiller”.
Star Wars is nominated for the Best Picture Oscar but loses to Woody Allen’s acclaimed comedy Annie Hall. No other Star Wars films have been nominated for Best Picture his in the years since. In fact, no science fiction film has ever won the Best Picture (although Avatar appears to have come close).
The first toys and novelisations of the saga appear. Some of the books contradict things which occur later in the films (some feature Luke and Leia marrying, for example).
The famously terrible Star Wars Holiday Special is broadcast on US TV.
Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back is released. The first film is now dubbed Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (in 1981) and prequels are clearly planned for the future. Empire is directed not by George Lucas but by Irvin Kershner. New characters include Yoda, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett. Debate continues to rage as to whether A New Hope or Empire are better.
Hamill also appears in World War II drama The Big Red One this year, in a largely futile bid to escape typecasting.
Star Trek II changes its name from The Vengeance of Khan to The Wrath of Khan, to avoid any confusion with the forthcoming Star Wars film, Revenge of the Jedi. In the end, the Star Wars sequel’s name becomes Return of the Jedi anyway.
Episode VI Return of the Jedi directed by Welshman Richard Marquand is released. It is fondly remembered for the Ewoks and for Jabba the Hutt but is usually considered narrowly the worst of the original trilogy. It is still a smash hit though. There will be no more official Star Wars films for another 16 years. Indeed, at this point, Lucas seems less keen on the idea of ever producing episodes I-III at any point at all.
President Reagan, a Star Wars fan, calls his new ambitious (and ultimately unworkable) Strategic Defence Initiative, “Star Wars”.
TV movie Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure is released. A follow up Ewoks: The Battle For Endor is released in 1985.
The Ewoks, an animated series aimed at younger children, runs for two series.
Animated series Droids starring C3P0 and R2D2 runs for one series, with Anthony Daniels reprising his role as C3PO. It is set somewhere before A New Hope but after the three as yet unmade prequels.
Ten years on from Star Wars, George Lucas seems to have abandoned plans for any Star Wars prequels and is distracted by Indiana Jones and Star Wars related projects as well as the aftermath of his divorce.
Star Wars has also trigged a sci-fi boom at the movies since 1977.
Carrie Fisher begins a career as a successful novelist with her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards From The Edge. Despite a troubled personal life, she enjoys smallish roles in The Blues Brothers, Hannah and Her Sisters and When Harry Met Sally during the decade. Harrison Ford is now one of the biggest stars in Hollywood thanks more to Indiana Jones and well received roles in the likes of Witness and Blade Runner than specifically to Star Wars itself. Hamill, stung after being rejected for Tom Hulce’s role in Amadeus (1984) has taken a break from acting.
Mel Brooks releases his rather belated Star Wars spoof Spaceballs. Featuring Pizza the Hutt and the catchphrase “the Schwartz be with you,” it receives mixed reviews.
Jedi director Richard Marquand dies suddenly, age 49.
Now in his forties, Mark Hamill begins voicing The Joker, for Batman The Animated Series. It proves to be probably his most successful non-Star Wars role and leads to lots of other voice work.
Lucas announces plans to make three films set before the 1977-83 trilogy, after all.
Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin) dies, aged 81.
To mark the franchise’s 20th birthday Special Editions of all three films. Although many fans are keen to see the films on the big screen, many are annoyed by the sometimes intrusive changes Lucas inserts into these and later new editions.
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace is released. It is directed by George Lucas and is his first film as director since 1977’s Star Wars. He also directs the two subsequent sequels Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The cast (with the exception of newcomer Jake Lloyd who plays young Anakin) are, unlike the 1977 film, mostly quite well known already: Ewan McGregor , Natalie Portman, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson.
The Phantom Menace makes more money than any of the first six Star Wars films (ignoring inflation).
The film disappoints many however, criticism (now often on the internet) largely centring on, the racial stereotyping evident in the character of some of the alien species, the character of Jar Jar Binks and the apparent overuse of CGI (and many other things). The character of Darth Maul proves popular, however.
Sir Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi) dies age 86. He did not enjoy the production of Star Wars (Harrison Ford dubbed him “Mother Superior” on set) but liked the finished product when he saw it. The role did make him very rich but he disliked the fact that he was soon better known for it than anything else in his forty years on screen.
Episode II Attack of the Clones is released with Hayden Christiansen (then largely unknown and indeed still so, aside for this role) joins the cast as the older Anakin. A light sabre fight featuring Yoda proves popular and generally the film is slightly better received than Phantom (although does much less business).
Genndy Tartakovsky produces Clone Wars, an acclaimed animated series set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
Episode III Revenge of the Sith, the third and final prequel is released. It is much more popular than either Phantom or Clones with fans and is the second highest grossing SW film thus far (ignoring inflation). Most fans prefer the 1977-83 trilogy, however. There are no more proper Star Wars films for another decade.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars, an animated film is released. It is panned by the critics and flops at the box office. Despite this, a new Star Wars: Clone Wars TV series begins. Tartakovsky, who was behind the first Clone Wars series is not involved.
Empire director Irvin Kershner dies aged 86.
Disney buys the Star Wars franchise off Lucas for $4.05 billion or £2.5 billion. Plans for a new trilogy, the first directed by JJ Abrams, then at the helm of the two recent Star Trek films.
Clone Wars is cancelled as focus shifts towards the new films.
Star Wars Rebels, a 3D CGI animated series set between Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope begins.
Rogue One, a spin off Star Wars film is due for release in 2016, followed by another spin off film based around Han Solo’s early years.
Ford, scheduled to feature in The Force Awakens is slightly injured in a light aircraft crash. His 73rd birthday is in July.
Christopher Lee (Count Dooku in the prequels, though better known for many other roles) dies aged 93.
The Force Awakens is scheduled for release later this month.
Joss Whedon was born to be a writer. Not only were both his father and grandfather, successful writers of radio and TV but he even managed to have an unhappy childhood. How could he fail?
As one of Whedon’s colleagues puts it: “if Joss had had a single happy day at high school, none of us would be here.” He proved equally socially awkward in the UK as well as the US, attending Winchester School in Hampshire the early Eighties. In short, he was geek long before it was fashionable.
As an adult, Joss Whedon would become one of the most accomplished TV and movie writers of the last twenty years. But he’s certainly had his ups and downs as Amy Pascale’s wonderfully thorough biography reveals.
His first job, writing for sitcom Roseanne was generally frustrating with only one of his scripts really getting to the screen, albeit in a particularly good episode in which cynical daughter Darlene (Sara Gilbert) has a poem read out at school. Whedon’s first film also had a neat twist: what if one of the dippy high school girls (a “Buffy”) typically killed off in horror films early on, asserted herself and became a vampire slayer herself? But Whedon was young and lost control of the project. The end result in 1992 (the film Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Kristy Swanson) was technically a hit but pleased few people who watched it, least of all Whedon himself. Something similar happened with Whedon’s later attempt to revive the Alien franchise, Alien Resurrection. Whedon’s script was good but the directors, the Jeunet brothers went their own way.
Whedon’s attempts to save Waterworld from disaster also fell on deaf ears largely due to resistance from star Kevin Costner. Whedon found the production of the 1995 sci-fi film in disarray. “This guy has gills man! What on Earth were you guys thinking?” Whedon recalls thinking on his arrival.
However, when Whedon’s script doctoring has been given full rein as in the cases of Toy Story and Speed, he not only “saved” both movies, but made them amongst the most memorable films of the Nineties. Actress Sandra Bullock to some extent owes her career to Whedon’s love of strong female characters for transforming her winning turn in Speed into her breakthrough role.
It was the return of another such character Buffy, now played by Sarah Michelle Gellar now on TV which brought about Whedon’s most perfectly realised project and the main topic for much of this book. Building on the foundations of ground-breaking mid-Nineties teen dramas My So-Called Life created by Winnie Holzman and Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman’s Party of Five, Buffy was never massive ratings hit but nevertheless changed TV forever. With the characters speaking in their own witty highly sophisticated lingo reflecting Whedon’s love of Shakespeare, Buffy also spawned classic episodes Hush (in which all of the main characters are temporarily rendered speechless), The Body (in which Buffy’s mother dies suddenly, echoing the death of Whedon’s own mother ten years earlier) and Once More With Feeling (the hugely acclaimed musical episode).
Buffy also spawned the successful spin off Angel. Yet Whedon’s career faced a setback in 2003 and 2004 when he suddenly went from being the master of three series – Buffy, Angel and sci-fi drama Firefly – to the master of none when all three shows ended. Just as Whedon revived the failed film of Buffy for TV with huge success, acclaimed but short lived TV show Firefly was revived for the big screen as Serenity. But though good, the film too failed at the box office.
Although clearly a huge Whedon fan Amy Pascale never shirks from dealing with Whedon’s failures (TV show Dollhouse flopped, various projects such as an animated series of Buffy never got made) to his successes which include a production of Much Ado About Nothing to the current TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as well as the recent huge smash hit movie Avengers Assemble. Amy Pascale has produced an essential guide to one of the greatest screenwriters of our time as he enters his fiftieth year.