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I usually leave Star Wars stuff alone on this page lately, having overdosed on it during the prequel era, but I can’t help but note the sad passing of Ralph McQuarrie. While notable as an accomplished artist in his own right, he will always be remembered as the conceptual artist on Star Wars who more than anyone other than George Lucas helped crystallise the Star Wars “look.” He was crucial to shaping the quasi-mythical, lived-in, timeless aesthetic of the series; there’s also little doubt that his early paintings were pivotal in helping Lucas to sell the scope of the Star Wars vision and hence getting the movie made.
Tim Minchin’s Christmas song White Wine in the Sun is now pretty well known in Australia I think – or at least no longer obscure enough to seem novel when posted on a website like this. But I want to post it anyway, and I figure it will be new at least to any overseas readers who haven’t been chased away by my articles about Victorian urban planning. What I like so much about it is that it so completely and comprehensively rejects two of the cores of traditional Christmas iconography – the religious underpinnings and the northern hemisphere winter imagery – but gets instead to the core of what Christmas is (or should be) all about.
While I’m posting Christmas clips from YouTube: another favourite of mine is this duet by David Bowie and Bing Crosby, recorded for television in 1977. It’s such a strange juxtaposition of talent, and very corny, and yet it works. There’s something about Bing Crosby’s voice, in particular, that evokes Christmas in a very profound Pavlovian way for me.
Update:Ain’t it Cool have now posted the full Spielberg interview referred to in this post: it’s here and well worth a read for Jaws fans.
Ain’t it Cool have released some snippets of a forthcoming interview with Steven Spielberg that are at once infuriating and gratifying.
Gratifying, in that Spielberg confirms that the Blu-Ray of Jaws (forthcoming at an undisclosed date) will have no Star Wars Special Edition-style alterations. Spielberg, it should be remembered, practically invented the modern craze for re-cutting movies with his “Special Edition” of Close Encounters in 1980. That movies’ muddied history shows both the best and worst of this kind of thing. The cut he eventually came up with the second time he revisited the film, in 1998, is in my view the best version of the film. Yet between 1980 and 1998 he managed to keep the original version out of circulation, prompting Pauline Kael’s memorable complaint that “…when you remember something in a movie with pleasure and its gone, you feel as if your memories had been mugged.” George Lucas’ butchering of Star Wars has become the key example of this kind of chicanery, although Spielberg’s recut E.T. is very nearly as bad.
Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination (Powerhouse Museum, 4 December 2008 – 26 April 2009)
Film fans might not feel that much reluctance to admit to being Star Wars fans any more, but museums obviously still feel a cultural cringe. So, for example, when an exhibition of models, props and costumes from Star Wars tours, there has to be some kind of legitimising excuse. A decade ago there was an exhibition (which I saw at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.) which was based on the links between Star Wars and myth; it was marked by the companion book Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. You know the drill: Star Wars is the latest line in a long list of myths that tell universal blah blah blah blah. The latest exhibition touring the world, currently at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, is Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination. This time the focus is on the links between Star Wars and real-world science. But again, it’s just a pretense. The exhibition, if we’re honest, is really just about exhibiting really cool models.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Dave Filoni, 2008)
The first thing you need to know is that this is not a proper movie. It’s three episodes of an animated TV show strung together and released in the cinemas.
The second thing you need to know is that this is going to get (and has already received) some terrible reviews. Reading the first reviews from the usual geeky corners of the internet, like Harry Knowles’ rant or Alexandra Du Pont’s similarly disillusioned but much better written dismissal, you see these Star Wars nerds exorcising some demons and finally going to town on a Star Wars film. Even amongst all the hate for the prequels, there was always an undercurrent of indulgence as fans went looking for the good things. A similarly forgiving attitude was taken to the first animated Star Wars series by Genndy Tartakovsky (confusingly, also called Clone Wars, only without a leading “The”), which was generally well received by Star Wars nerds, who appreciated its emphasis on action and adventure. Now, though, by taking what is basically a CG-revamp of Tartakovsky’s take and having the temerity to put it on the big screen, it’s like Lucasfilm has given a green light to expressions of completely unabashed fan hatred. Those who respected Lucas’ past achievements, or Tartakovsky’s qualified success with a difficult format, are not going to feel any allegiance to Dave Filoni’s copy of a copy. In this context, the hate Star Wars: The Clone Wars is going to receive is perfectly understandable.
When George Lucas created the Star Wars: Special Edition (which soon became Star Wars: The Only Edition) he re-introduced two major deleted scenes into the film. The first was the awful Jabba scene early in the film, and the second was Luke’s reunion with Biggs, his old friend from Tatooine, just before the final battle. While fans mostly dislike the Jabba scene, generally the Biggs scene has been accepted as a good addition to the film. Biggs’ death in the final battle now has a little more weight, and incongruity in the original cut of Luke fighting alongside his friend (or someone with the same name) with no explanation is eliminated.
However, a much longer scene with Biggs was left on the cutting room floor, and it’s easily the most interesting of the various deleted scenes from the Star Wars trilogy.
Those who know me in real life (and does anyone else read this?) will know that really the only movie collectibles I indulge in are Star Wars Lego sets, which I’m afraid press my film nerd buttons too irresistibly to ignore.
Until now, though, I’ve ignored the really obscene items in the line: the magnificent Imperial Star Destroyer and the frankly ridiculous Death Star. Both of those were, at the time, the largest Lego sets ever released. Now, however, they have been knocked off the perch by the impending release of the Ultimate Collector Series Millennium Falcon. And my resolve is being tested.
By the miracle of YouTube, a clever remix of Darth Vader’s scenes in Star Wars with incongruous dialogue from James Earl Jones’ other films. Strange, overlong, but intermittently very funny. It doubles as a tribute to Jones and the range of roles to which he’s put that remarkable voice.
It should have been the decision that finally let George Lucas rebuild his relationship with his fans. For years he had said that he would never release the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy on DVD (or in any format, for that matter). The versions he released in 2004, which included two rounds of digital interventions and alterations (one from the theatrical re-release in 1997, and then another for the DVD release), would be the only ones we’d ever see. This has been the source of much angst among fandom, and has kept a cottage industry of bootleg DVDs operating for years. And yet, at the start of May, he relented. Lucasfilm announced that in September, we will indeed get the original original Star Wars trilogy on DVD. The press release even used the unpopularity of Lucas’ alterations as a selling point:
See the title crawl to Star Wars before it was known as Episode IV; see the pioneering, if dated, motion control model work on the attack on the Death Star; groove to Lapti Nek or the Ewok Celebration song like you did when you were a kid; and yes, see Han Solo shoot first.