Friday, 17 January 2020

Taika Waititi approached to direct Star Wars movie

Director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnorak) is currently promoting his latest movie, Jojo Rabbit, and has been approached by Lucasfilm to develop a movie for the Star Wars franchise following the conclusion of the Skywalker saga in The Rise of Skywalker. This is according to THR.

Waititi has directed an episode and played a character, IG-11, in Jon Favreau's live-action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, for Disney+. So, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise as Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige is joining Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy to produce future Star Wars movies.

After the success of The Mandalorian, what are your thoughts on Waiti directing a Star Wars movie once he's helmed Thor: Love and Thunder? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Doctor Who on BritBox is a timey-wimey treasure trove

Classic Doctor Who materialised on BritBox on Boxing Day and quickly became the most viewed show on the newly launched streaming service from the BBC and commercial broadcaster ITV.

Reemah Sakaan, Group Director ITV SVOD, commented:

"BritBox becoming the first complete digital home of Doctor Who Classic creates a special opportunity for fans and streamers across the UK. We are looking forward to expanding the collection even further by working with the show creators to lovingly restore lost and previously unavailable episodes in the months to come and offering a truly exclusive experience."

Sally de St Croix, Franchise Director for Doctor Who at BBC Studios added:

“It’s thrilling to partner with BritBox and see all this amazing Doctor Who Classic content congregate in one place where subscribers can stream to their hearts’ content – some experiencing the show for the first time whilst others will simply be enjoying it all over again.”

I'd already availed myself of a free 1-month trial, during the public beta, but reached out to customer service who very kindly arranged another free month so I could explore the 627 episodes of Doctor Who post Christmas. This would more than tide me over whilst waiting for series 12, starring Jodie Whittaker as the titular time lord, to begin on New Year's Day.

BritBox hasn't asked me to review the service nor promote it in any way. However, I wanted to in gratitude for letting me watch classic serials - many of which I've never gotten around to seeing on VHS, DVD or Netflix - and to encourage fellow fans (old and new) to trial the new streaming service for free, themselves. The Wheel in Space is a tantalising exclusive from the Patrick Troughton era featuring my favourite villains. The Cybermen.

Like Disney+, there were launch day issues for some fans due to overwhelming demand. Personally, I was able to stream episodes of Doctor Who on my iPad Pro and Apple TV without any issues, however, a few friends weren't so lucky and had to wait a day or two for things to settle down.

BritBox has curated serials so that newer fans can savour the very best of William Hartnell to Paul McGann without being overwhelmed. As a lifelong fan, since Tom Baker's era, I dived straight into The Android Invasion and was reminded of how traumatic this serial was for a then 3-year old me. I was, literally, terrified that the adults in my life would be replaced by Kraal androids and there'd be no way of knowing until it was too late...

During the festive season, dad and I rewatched The Seeds of Doom - remembering how scary this serial was from the fabled gothic era. Due to the increasingly nightmarish nature of the show, I think Doctor Who was banned from the Hood household as I have no recollection of seeing season 14, coming to Blu-ray (affiliate link) this April, until an omnibus repeat of The Robots of Death! I'd missed the departure of Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) and was nonplussed to discover Leela (Louise Jameson) had replaced my first and favourite companion.

Subsequently, it's been mostly effortless switching between incarnations of the Doctor from the comfort of my sofa - no longer hiding behind it as in the mid-to-late seventies. I did notice The Masque of Mandragora is formatted incorrectly (BritBox assures me this will be fixed). The art direction is woefully inconsistent: varying from lush to generic artwork, which is a missed opportunity given the copious amount of material available. It would be nice to see more devices supported in the future including PS4, Xbox One and my Samsung smart TV from 2015.

Overall, the experience of watching Doctor Who on BritBox has been brilliant and will only get better. Back to the politically-relevant Inferno this winter.

Are you going to keep subscribing to BritBox after the free trial? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Willow sequel series begins production for Disney+

Willow, directed by Ron Howard (Cocoon) and written by George Lucas (Star Wars), is an eighties fantasy film that found a cult following on home video.

Upon initial release, as an adolescent, I baulked at seeing Willow on the big screen during a time when the adventures of Luke Skywalker and Doctor Who were seemingly less alluring. Surely, I was too old for this stuff?

Turns out I wasn't too old, nor ever will be, thankfully, as I rented the movie in the early nineties and fell in love with the adventures of Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) and composer James Horner's clarion call to heroism. Oh, and never stopped being a Star Wars and Doctor Who fan, but longtime readers already knew that.

Jon Kasdan (Solo: A Star Wars Story) has teased on Twitter that production on the Willow sequel series is going ahead for Disney+. Hopefully, Lucasfilm veterans Ron Howard and Warwick Davis will return.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Billie Lourd played Leia in The Rise of Skywalker

There are spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. ILM Visual Effects Supervisor Patrick Tubach revealed the creative process behind the late Carrie Fisher's (General Leia) inclusion in The Rise of Skywalker.

For the scene depicting Leia's Jedi training with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Billie Lourd stood in for her late mother.

"Billie was playing her mother," Tubach told Yahoo Entertainment. "It was a poignant thing, and something that nobody took lightly – that she was willing to stand in for her mom.

"It felt great for us, too. If you're going to have someone play [Fisher's] part, it's great that it's [Billie] because there are a lot of similarities between them that we were able to draw from."

The filmmakers also used footage from Return of the Jedi for Fisher's younger face, and visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett added: "What you see is what we developed.

"The idea was to provide this great surprise where they take the helmets off, and you see Luke and Leia's younger faces. We scoured outtakes from the original movies, and we took some pieces and then had to try and figure out the technical aspect of putting that shot together."

However, he noted that it was up to Fisher's family – particularly Lourd, who also plays Kaydel Ko Connix in the sequel trilogy – as to whether her likeness will ever be used in a Star Wars movie again.

He added: "When you see her in this movie, it's the live-action element of her face taken from outtakes of either The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, and then building a digital Carrie around that face.

"She's wearing a new costume, she's got new hair, she's got new jewellery. We didn't want it to feel like we'd simply taken previous shots from previous movies and just edited her in; we wanted her to be unique to this movie, and we wanted her to be integrated into the scenes.

"JJ's principle in pre-production was, 'I want Princess Leia to be played by Carrie Fisher. How do we do this?' That was the integrity that he wanted brought to it, so that he could really put his hand on his heart and say that Princess Leia was always played by Carrie Fisher."

Lourd writes in Time magazine about becoming the keeper of Princess Leia.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is in cinemas now.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker nears a billion dollars

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker may have divided fans and critics (what franchise doesn't?). However, the final chapter in the Skywalker saga starts 2020 as the dominant box office Force. JJ Abrams' Star Wars sequel is on course for a billion dollars and is the number one movie for a third week.

During the holiday season, Disney announced a new 27-disc Blu-ray box set spanning all 9 movies in 4K UHD. It is presumed these are taken from the 4K masters used for Disney+. This is available as an exclusive limited edition from (affiliate link).

Over the years, like many fellow fans, I've bought Star Wars countless times on VHS and DVD, but stopped short of Blu-ray due to format fatigue and switching to streaming services such as Netflix and most recently BritBox (to access classic Doctor Who). I'm going to make a rare exception for this.

Will you be buying the complete Skywalker saga on Blu-ray? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Star Trek: Picard renewed at CBS All Access

It's a new year and a new decade. Star Trek: Picard, the latest Star Trek spin-off from CBS All Access, has been renewed ahead of the season one premiere on 23rd January, which is coincidentally my birthday.

The new series sees Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart, haunted by the past. Stewart will be joined by franchise fan-favourites Brent Spiner (Data), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) and Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh).

Like many fans, I'm really looking forward to this. Now, if only CBS All Access would announce a Captain Pike-lead (Anson Mount) spin-off prequel series, too. Star Trek: Discovery's second season was so much fun with Pike at the helm.

Star Trek: Picard will stream exclusively on 24th January on Amazon Prime outside the US.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Heroic Star Wars fan remembered as a Jedi

A Star Wars superfan, who gave his life saving fellow college students from a gunman, has been immortalised as a Jedi by Lucasfilm.

Riley Howell was a 21-year-old ROTC cadet and student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He died in April while tackling a gunman on campus.

A tribute to Riley Howell appears in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - The Visual Dictionary. The entry in the book credits Jedi master and historian “Ri-Lee Howell” with collecting “many of the earliest accounts of exploration and codifications of The Force”.

“Riley’s courage and selflessness brings out the Jedi in all of us,” wrote fan relations team member Lucas Seastrom. “We hope that you may rejoice in his memory, and we join you in honoring his life and example.

“As a small tribute, our Story Group has incorporated a reimagining of Riley’s name as a character in the Star Wars galaxy.”

“You’re either going to run, hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department Chief Kerr Putney said. “Having no place to run and hide, he did the last.”

Riley Howell’s mother, Natalie Henry-Howell, told the Charlotte Observer that her son would have loved the idea.

“I like the way they actually left his last name,” Henry-Howell said. “I think he would really be appreciative of that. Because, you know, they could have just said Ri-Lee – Jedi Ri-Lee – and we’d be guessing the whole time about whether or not that was really [him], but they put his last name in there just to really honor him ... and that really made me cry when I heard about it.”

Lauren Westmoreland, Howell’s girlfriend, wrote in an email that Star Wars was incredibly close to his heart.

“Though he wasn’t an artist, he loved to draw the clone trooper helmets all the time, sometimes even on my birthday cards,” Westmoreland said.

Lauren’s father, Kevin Westmoreland, said Howell was a Star Wars scholar for most of his life.

“He had a very strong sense of good and evil, and how to live life as someone who looked out for others,” Westmoreland said. “Seeing him listed as both a Jedi and a historian in Star Wars lore is a perfect way to connect him to this story and the characters he loved.”

Friday, 20 December 2019

Star Wars at the speed of light

Director JJ Abrams (Star Trek) had the unenviable task of rebooting the Star Wars franchise with The Force Awakens in 2015. Fast forward to 2019, Abrams has the Herculean task of wrapping up the 9-part Skywalker saga in the shadow of the fandom menace.

Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi (2017) remains divisive among fans. However, I still stand by my review, but am delighted to say The Rise of Skywalker eclipses Johnson's subversive instalment with interstellar zest and ends George Lucas' space opera with an emotional flourish.

At the speed of light, The Rise of Skywalker is a deliriously brilliant conclusion to a saga that is closest to my heart than any other! It features inevitable lightsaber duels between Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), that pack an emotional punch equalling those from the original trilogy, as echoes of the past reverberate around them.

Johnson laid the groundwork for 'Reylo' in The Last Jedi and this is taken to its bittersweet conclusion in standout performances from both Ridley and Driver. Their battle of wills is the beating heart of Disney's sequel trilogy underscored by composer John Williams' rich repertoire spanning the entire Skywalker story.

The maestro John Williams is on hand to finish what he started in 1977. His ninth soundtrack for the Skywalker saga is a joyous journey through light and dark, tinged with sadness in the knowledge this will be Williams’ Star Wars swan song. For 42 years, his music has been the soundtrack to many fans (myself included) lives. More than once, familiar leitmotifs evoked memories of loved ones long since passed away and I was unable to hold back tears. Rey’s theme becomes the centrepiece as her story reaches its conclusion with an ending that witnesses one of Williams’ most beautiful orchestrations with nods to Harry Potter, Indiana Jones and Schindler’s List in a galaxy-spanning symphonic celebration.

The gang's back together. It's an unalloyed joy to be in the company of Rey, Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). This plays to Abrams' greatest strength. His innate ability to create compelling character relationships that began with Felicity and continued in Lost.

Where would Star Wars be without droids? C-3PO gets to shine, not just literally, in the final episode alongside best friend R2-D2, BB-8 and newcomer D-O, a delightful droid with PTSD. C-3PO and R2-D2's humorous exchanges were sorely missing from the prequel and sequel trilogies up to this point. It would be churlish not to mention Zorii Bliss' (Keri Russell) droidsmith Babu Frik.

Star Wars has always served as an anti-fascist allegory and none more so than here with the repeated stance of the First Order, about to become the Final Order under the auspices of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Allegiant General Pryde (Richard E Grant), making the Resistance think they're alone, which is, to invoke Marxist cultural criticism, false consciousness. Suffice to say, with Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) back at the helm of the Millennium Falcon, the good guys will never give up, never surrender (borrowed from Galaxy Quest).

The Rise of Skywalker meshes Lucas' sci-fi opus with the explosive exuberance of Marvel Star Wars Weekly, school playground adventures with friends long gone and is a love letter from a superfan to fans that still believe in hope over despair. I geeked out with fellow fans, strangers brought together by the Force, as it should be.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Jimmy Kimmel Live After Darth: A Star Wars Special

Jimmy Kimmel Live has played genial host to the Star Wars franchise starting with The Force Awakens in 2015. The Rise of Skywalker, in theatres worldwide this week, is no exception and the cast (sans Adam Driver) and director appeared with Kimmel last Monday ahead of the lavish LA premiere.

"J.J. Abrams, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie & Keri Russell talk about the premiere of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, gifts that J.J. gave them, what they stole from set, and they surprise the audience with IMAX movie tickets."

"We are coming to you from a galaxy not so far away for our special Jimmy Kimmel Live After Darth: A Star Wars Special. It's easy to forget sometimes that Star Wars was made for kids, so we decided to give children a chance to ask questions of Director J.J. Abrams and stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell & Joonas Suotamo."

"J.J. Abrams, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Kelly Marie Tran, Naomi Ackie, Keri Russell & Chewbacca from the cast of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker play Force Family Feud!"

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released December 19th in the UK.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Star Wars and The Rise of Accelerator Science

Science often follows art, and with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker soon to hit the big screen, Professor Carsten P Welsch, Head of Communication for The Cockcroft Institute and Head of Physics at the University of Liverpool, explores how some of the scientific fantasies in Star Wars are no longer so ‘out of this world’.

Photo: Professor Welsch with Kylo Ren, R2-D2, Rey, Darth Vader and Stormtrooper

Light Side vs Dark Side: Probing the most fundamental laws of nature
“A Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware anger, fear, aggression – the dark side are they.” 
Matter and antimatter are a mystery of the real world that is close to fantasy. To some extent they are very similar to the light side and the dark side in Star Wars. In our research, we use particle accelerators to produce antimatter in a laboratory environment and this allows us to probe the most fundamental laws of nature. Today there are almost 50,000 particle accelerators in operation worldwide, in a wide range of industrial and medical applications. Our research helps optimize these machines to the benefit of science and society.

From Death Star Destruction to Tumour Reduction 
“Use the Force, Luke.” 
In the original Star Wars, Luke Skywalker uses proton torpedoes to destroy the Death Star at a very specific weak point. 40 years on, we are now using ‘proton torpedoes’ in cancer therapy. Science fact has caught up with science fiction and we are using proton beams to target something hidden deep inside the body, which is very difficult to destroy.

Within our Optimisation of Medical Accelerators (OMA) project, we have been exploring ways to better control high energy proton beams to improve cancer treatment. This is an advanced treatment technology available in the UK at the Christie Hospital since 2018, ensuring destruction of a tumour hidden deep inside the body.

Our research targets the development of monitors that can sense the beam used for cancer treatment without touching it – not by using the Force, but by measuring precisely the beam halo surrounding the beam and correlating this information to the dose delivered to the patient.

Frozen in Time and Space
“They've encased him in carbonite. He should be quite well protected – if he survived the freezing process, that is.” 
When Han is frozen in carbonite at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, there is concern that he will not survive the extreme cold of the process - although he does, of course, get thawed out at the start of Return of the Jedi.

In the real world, very cold temperatures, close to absolute zero, are needed to create a vacuum pressure in a particle accelerator that is better than outer space. This ensures that the beam accelerated and stored in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN or other particle accelerators does not hit any residual gas particles. Researchers from the Cockcroft Institute take advantage of such an excellent vacuum to measure the profile of the Large Hadron Collider beam without any background noise.

Mind over Antimatter
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?”
Throughout the Star Wars series, the Jedi and Sith use the Force in a manner similar to telekinesis to hold and move things with their minds – most memorably when Yoda is attempting to teach Luke the ways of the Force in The Empire Strikes Back.

Electromagnetic fields are used in discovery science to trap particles so they can be studied. At CERN, antimatter experiments such as GBAR use ion traps to capture and store anti-hydrogen for fundamental studies and the Liverpool Group is strongly involved in the optimization of such experiments through the project AVA. The fields confine the antimatter particles within an ultrahigh vacuum chamber so that the antiparticles do not come into contact with normal matter – if they were to do so, they would annihilate instantly in a small burst of pure energy.

The Precision of Lightsabres
“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a blaster; an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.”
One of the defining and memorable things in Star Wars is the lightsabre, and although they wouldn’t be possible according to the laws of physics in the real world, there are already many exciting applications that are real, such as laser knives for high precision surgery controlled by robot arms and adaptive manufacturing using lasers for creating complex structures in metals.

We also use lasers in the EuPRAXIA project to realise extremely high electric fields and build particle accelerators that are up to 1,000 times smaller than current technology. This has huge potential to enable entirely new fundamental research and applications that benefit society.

Prof Carsten P Welsch is Head of Physics at Liverpool University and Head of Communication at the Cockcroft Institute. His research covers the development of novel beam instrumentation, as well as the design and optimization of particle accelerators.

The Cockcroft Institute is an international centre of excellence for accelerator science and technology in the UK, based on the campus of Daresbury Laboratory. To find out more about its work go to