Friday, 13 December 2019

Use the Porsche, Luke!

Stuggart-based premium car manufacturer Porsche has unveiled the Tri-Wing S-91x Pegasus Starfighter designed in collaboration with Lucasfilm. Whilst it takes design cues from the 911 and Taycan, the Pegasus Starfighter evokes conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie's unused starship design that was reused for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

The Tri-Wing S-91x Pegasus Starfighter will appear in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Go Figure: A Star Wars Toy Story 2

With only a week to go until Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released in the UK. Our resident US correspondent, Nick Smith, shares his toy stories from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

Guest post by Nick Smith

For one brief moment in February, 2019 was the new 1977 at the New York Toy Fair! Hasbro revealed a line of retro Star Wars toys featuring an Escape from the Death Star board game. Replications of six of Kenner’s original action figures were displayed: Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper [always rarer than Hen's teeth around these parts - Ed], Han Solo and Chewbacca – enough toys to recreate classic scenes from the original movie. Forget going to the gym – this was the must-have six-pack for nostalgic fans.

The black cardboard packaging harkened back to the originals too, with photographs of the characters and loud ‘retro collection’ branding, both a selling point and a warning that the articulation of these toys is charmingly primitive. Intergalactic heroes don’t need elbows and Stormtroopers don’t really need necks.

These little guys have vinyl sheets for cloaks and lightsabres stuck in their arms. The faux-battered packaging is reminiscent of the popular, beaten-up boxes and covers of Stranger Things merchandise. To me, retro means overpriced cleaned-up junk in a thrift boutique, like lava lamps and peacock chairs all smelling of the ‘60s. These toys smell better (new plastic!), but they’re still quaint.

This rerelease is a bold move in a year focusing on a new film – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. But aside from keeping merchandising on store shelves until December, it’s fitting for Hasbro to look back to where the Star Wars toy story started.

It’s hard to believe in this world full of merchandise, with billions of dollars made from the toys, but in 1978 British kids were content with a Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Darth and some random cantina aliens. Over in the US, where Star Wars (later rechristened A New Hope) was a blockbuster in the summer of ‘77, demand was so strong for toys that an ‘early bird’ deal was offered. American kids could get an empty box for Christmas – the perfect present for a cat, not so much for a human. But the venture worked since the box would be filled with four figures once they were produced. In the UK, a winter release eased the supply-and-demand problem.

Unlike larger toys like Action Man and Stretch Armstrong, the Star Wars figures fit perfectly in my young hand and were priced just right for my pint-sized piggy bank. This was a time when the coolest boy at school was the one with the die-cast Millennium Falcon (the coolest girl was the one who wanted to be Han Solo). I soon amassed a colourful collection of figures including Snaggletooth, Greedo and a ‘Sand People’ person. While we had the best ads (including a fine Brian Bolland illustration), the US Marvel comics hawked the best toys, such as the Kenner droid factory. I really wanted a Jawa Sandcrawler, never seen in my local Argos, grinding through my giddy imagination instead. I made my version of the Mos Eisley cantina out of a grocery box, complete with cardboard tables and chairs. I turned shoeboxes into freighters and the backyard became an array of alien planets. Scaling plants and dangling from fences, the little figures dealt with a vast landscape just as I navigated my way around the giant real world, so overwhelming to a kid.

My parents indulged my obsession, buying me a Falcon, an Imperial Troop Transport [hours of fun scaring the cat with electronic sound effects from the movie - Ed], an AT-AT, Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer [try flying that around a bedroom without the figures falling out - Ed], Yoda’s boggy hovel… I was spoiled and I will always be grateful. Still, I wanted more [didn't we all in the Thatcherite eighties - Ed]. The Star Wars range taught me to covet for the first time. Pity a kid bombarded by commercials for the latest, coolest playset.

While the toys gave me a sense of control over my irrepressible environment, they also helped me become familiar with the movie’s cast long before there was an easy way to rewatch the film. They also gave the opportunity to create new adventures for these characters, filling the three-year gap between episodes.

Some of those escapades were out of my hands, such as The Adventures of Luke Skywalker lost in a pub garden. Or The Empire Strives to Rescue Stormtrooper melting on the Radiator. I did manage to salvage the trooper; with one of his legs melted, I airbrushed him a random red and called him Redlighter. A poor imperial officer’s head fell off; I nailed it back on. Toy Story’s Sid would have been proud.

I went one further, breaking my stories into seasons and jotting down episode guides. Understanding that the best Star Wars stories feature an outgunned band of heroes facing a huge, evil space weapon, I called one epic ‘The Death Star 2,’ jotted down in my C-3PO exercise book. That story could never happen on the big screen, of course. A second Death Star was an impossibility (this was years before Return of the Jedi).

As an adult, I despair at the death of my childhood heroes in the sequel trilogy. But in my toy stories, I was also guilty of killing off several main characters, only to bring them back thanks to the power of the Force to start their war all over again in a tale I called ‘Full Circle.’ My personal adventures circled around as well, in a way, as my son Sam played with my vintage toys and his own prequel ones. He went one better than me, filming his scenarios, culminating in the epic ‘The Last Jedi’ (Lucasfilm owes us big time).

Now Sam is grown and our toys gather dust in his basement. Nevertheless, our interest in Star Wars has been maintained by the TV shows, most recently The Mandalorian – and that Disney+ show’s merchandise has sparked a toy story of its own because it is not ready in time for this Christmas. The fans, too impatient are they.

In the meantime, we have the retro range to play with, a fun concept and a crimson-tinted moneymaker, with six humble characters from a simpler, more graceful time, available again so that a whole new generation of kids can create their own epics in a galaxy far, far away, in their own backyards...

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Bose celebrates Star Wars

Bose has teamed up with Lucasfilm to celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The prestige audio brand has released a 360-degree augmented reality experience for compatible Bose products and limited edition Star Wars-themed Bose QC35 headphones II available in the US direct from the company.

“We’re working with authentic sound from the original film recordings, drawing from scenes that date all the way back to the initial 1977 movie release,” says Bose’s developer relations lead, Chuck Freedman. “We have been fortunate to collaborate with artists and engineers at Skywalker Sound, who advised us on sound placement and optimization for ideal spatialization and positioning. In addition to character dialogue and prominent sound effects like lightsaber movement, we also prioritized more subtle sounds, like wind and other environmental sounds, as well as the detailed effects created by the original Foley artists for the films.”

The official Star Wars app (for Android and iOS devices) works with Bose Headphones 700 (affiliate link), Bose QC35 headphones II (affiliate link) and Bose Frames.

As a Star Wars fan and owner of Bose products, I'm excited to explore a galaxy of immersive audio adventures this holiday season.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

A Star Wars Toy Story

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released in UK cinemas on 19th December and is the culmination of an epic 9-part saga that began over forty years ago with the original Star Wars in 1977.

George Lucas' space opera revolutionised theatrical technology and merchandising. My earliest merchandise memory is being gifted an R2-D2 action figure before seeing Star Wars at the Odeon Exeter. That little droid fired my nascent imagination post a life-changing childhood trauma and ignited a lifelong love of gadgets (I most recently added Hasbro's app-enabled D-O during Black Friday).

Palitoy, the defunct Coleville-based toy company, licensed Star Wars action figures and accessories from Kenner (bought by Hasbro) and released unique playsets including the fabled Death Star. The Death Star playset topped many children's Christmas wishlists, including mine, in the late seventies. Alas, I never got to recreate the rescue of Princess Leia or Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi's final duel. Instead, I was gifted Star Bird Command Base, which served as the Imperial HQ where the Death Star plans were stored decades before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

To celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Toy Empire: The British Force Behind Star Wars will be shown on BBC Four on 16th December.

What are your fondest memories of collecting Star Wars toys? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Baby Yoda won't be home for Christmas

Baby Yoda is the pop culture phenomenon you’re looking for. The character has proven such a huge hit since appearing in the first live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, demand for official merchandise was inevitable this holiday season.

However, fans (myself included) will have to wait until 2020 for Funko, Hasbro and Mattel collectables. The Child AKA Baby Yoda is available to pre-order (affiliate link). Is this showrunner Jon Favreau's knowing nod to Kenner's Early Bird Gift Certificate for Star Wars action figures in 1977?

The Mandalorian continues every Friday exclusively on Disney+.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The Rise of Skywalker final battle begins TV Spots

The final trailer may have been released, but that hasn't stopped Disney's daily dose of TV Spots in the run-up to the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

The latest, entitled "Adventure", features Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) dualling in front of Darth Vader's melted mask. The location is reminiscent of Cloud City and Ralph McQuarrie's original concept art for Star Wars.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opens on 19th December in the UK.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Daisy Ridley talks to GQ about The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas this month and Daisy Ridley (Rey) talked exclusively to British GQ magazine about the emotional end of an era that began with director JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens in 2015.

You can read the full candid interview with Ridley here.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

E.T. home for the holidays

Christmas 1982, director Steven Spielberg (Jaws) broke the collective hearts of millions of UK cinemagoers (myself included) with his story of an abandoned alien befriending a fatherless child.

The movie was, of course, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial: a life-affirming tale of friendship in the darkest of times, yet hope prevails in Hollywood composer, and longtime Spielberg collaborator, John Williams' supernatural soundtrack.

Spielberg's most autobiographical movie resonated deeply with my ten-year-old self - still coming to terms with a life-changing trauma and struggling to make sense of where I fitted into the fabric of the cosmos - a crippled child who looked to the night sky for escape, but had to deal with the day-to-day reality of rehabilitation on terra firma. So much so, when a kindly friend of my late mum, who worked at the ABC Exeter, offered to let us watch the movie a second time (for free), I was too upset...

Fast forward to Christmas 2019, E.T. and Elliot (Henry Thomas) are reunited for the holiday season in a commercial for Xfinity. Peak nostalgia for children of the eighties in the wake of Stranger Things.

Speaking about the commercial, Thomas said:

"The audience is going to get everything they want out of a sequel without the messy bits that could destroy the beauty of the original and the special place it has in people’s minds and hearts. It’s really a win-win. ... Looking at the storyboards, I could see exactly why Steven (Spielberg) was really behind it, because the integrity of the story isn’t lost in this retelling."

Does this make you yearn for a full sequel to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Top Trumps for Star Wars Christmas gifts

Star Wars fans (myself included) growing up in the seventies and eighties will have halcyon memories of owning packs of Top Trumps cards. So, what better way to celebrate the conclusion of the Skywalker saga this Christmas than with Star Wars Top Trumps Quiz (affiliate link).

"Are you a Star Wars expert? Can you identify the difference between Episodes 4-6 & 1-3? Can you remember specific scenes from Episode 7: The Force Awakens? Travel to a galaxy far, far away and test your Star Wars knowledge to see if you are a force to be reckoned with. With 500 questions to answer, it’s great for the whole family, whether you want a quick game on the go or to spend some time seeing how much you really know! With a Top Trumps twist at the end to test your memory, can you remember what you learned just moments ago?"

There's also the excellent Star Wars Top Trumps Match (affiliate link), which makes for an excellent stocking filler.

"Top Trumps Match is the crazy cube game. Match 5 of your favourite Star Wars characters in a row to win, but everything could change when the cards are turned!"

Special thanks to Top Trumps for sending this lifelong Star Wars fan sets of Top Trumps Quiz and Top Trumps Match.

Friday, 22 November 2019

NOW TV Boost with Full HD and 5.1 ahead of Disney+

Since NOW TV launched in 2012, the Sky-owned streaming service has lagged behind competitors Netflix and Amazon Prime by offering only 720p and stereo sound. With new entrants including Apple TV+ and Disney+ entering the fray, NOW TV has to level up.

Today the company has announced NOW TV Boost, which adds 1080p and 5.1 surround sound (on compatible devices) for an extra £3 per month and works with the Entertainment, Sky Cinema, Sky Sports and Kids Passes. That's £62 combined!

"NOW TV Boost is an important step in offering our customers a higher quality viewing experience," said NOW TV's managing director, Marina Storti.

"It’s launching ahead of the Christmas season so you can enjoy the best and biggest blockbusters and box sets of the year, together with live coverage of your favourite sports in Full HD with surround sound."

Whilst this is a welcome improvement, behind a questionable paywall, NOW TV falls short of 4K with HDR and Dolby Atmos + Vision already available on Sky Q and its competitors. Disney+ will launch in the UK with 4K support in March 2020.

I'll be trying out a free 7-day trial of NOW TV Boost with the premiere of Captain Marvel on Sky Cinema Disney.

Will you be subscribing to NOW TV Boost in addition to the existing Passes? Let me know in the comments below.