Monday, 6 July 2020

The Boys are back in town this September!

The Boys, Amazon Prime's darkly satirical superhero series adaptation comparing favourably with Watchmen, returns for a second season this September.

Amazon has released a first look clip introducing Stormfront played by Aya Cash. "I think Stormfront is like a nuclear bomb that goes off in the Seven," Cash previously said of the character. "Maybe nuclear bomb isn’t the right word. We’re in Chernobyl. There you go. It’s a Chernobyl thing. I think she’s here to blow up Vought. She’s here to try to get Vought back to the original idea behind creating superheroes... And she can be quite the feminist. There’s a lot of, I wouldn’t say misdirect, but she also is a very empowered woman."

The Boys' second season three-episode premiere is 4th September. The first season is streaming now on Amazon Prime (affiliate link).

Friday, 3 July 2020

Fallout from Westworld creators

The Last of Us isn't the only video game franchise getting a live-action adaptation and The Witcher is already on Netflix.

Amazon Studios has ordered Bethesda's Fallout from the showrunners of Westworld.

“Fallout is one of the greatest game series of all time,” Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan told The Hollywood Reporter (THR). “Each chapter of this insanely imaginative story has cost us countless hours we could have spent with family and friends. We’re incredibly excited to partner with Todd Howard and the rest of the brilliant lunatics at Bethesda to bring this massive, subversive, and darkly funny universe to life with Amazon Studios."

"Fallout is an iconic global franchise, with legions of fans worldwide and a rich, deeply compelling storyline that powers it. And Jonah and Lisa are the perfect storytellers to bring this series to life,” said Albert Cheng, COO and co-head of television at Amazon Studios. “We’re thrilled to join with Bethesda to bring Fallout to television.”

Unlike Fallout 76, this is a spin-off I can get behind. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Captain Marvel's Brie Larson joins YouTube

Brie Larson, who plays the titular Captain Marvel in the MCU, has launched her own YouTube channel in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic and was ably assisted by YouTubers including iJustine AKA Justine Ezarik.

"YouTube has been a place that I've learned so much, whether it's been like how to use my printer, or it's been watching like how to be a considerate activist, this is like the place to talk about things that are important and that matter," Larson said. "It doesn't mean that there also isn't silly content. That there are ways to express myself personally, but there will also be deep conversations, anti-racist rhetoric, inclusive content. So with all that said, the following video is just me getting warmed up and feeling this out and getting to talk to a lot of really brilliant creators."

In related news. Larson is purportedly set to play Mara Jade, a Star Wars Legends character who married Luke Skywalker, in Kevin Feige's untitled Star Wars movie.

Larson's personal YouTube channel promises to bring some sunshine into our lives and much-needed distraction from the 'new normal'. A lifelong Nintendo fan, I wonder if she also plays Animal Crossing?

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Retro Games reimagines the Commodore VIC-20

Retro Games, the company behind The C64 (affiliate link) and The C64 Mini (affiliate link), is expanding its successful 8-bit home computer line to include the Commodore VIC-20, which was the predecessor to the Commodore 64 and sold over one million units.

"We are really excited to bring you even more of the most loved retro games ever on two of the most iconic home computers of all time, combined in this latest incarnation of The C64 range - this time with full working keyboard and a classic VIC-20 style," said Retro Games' managing director, Paul Andrews.

William Shatner, best known for his role as Star Trek's Captain Kirk, featured in a memorable television commercial introducing the 'wonder computer' of the 1980s.

Whilst I didn't own a VIC-20, opting for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K and then Commodore 64, a few school friends did and we would play popular video games such as Gridrunner and Laser Zone, 8-bit classics by Jeff Minter of Llamasoft fame.

The VIC-20 (affiliate link) includes 64 built-in games from the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 back catalogue and is released 23rd October for £109.99. Koch Media is distributing and I hope to bring you a review in the future.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Normal People confess sins to Fleabag’s Hot Priest

Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal reprise their roles of Marianne and Connell respectively from Normal People opposite Andrew Scott’s Hot Priest (Fleabag) for RTE Does Comic Relief.

“I feel like I’m causing pain to the person that I love,” Connell reveals to the priest. “I’m just really torn. You know, the physical side of things is great, that’s always been so powerful. It's when I try to talk, you know, when I try to express what I’m feeling at the time that’s when things get confused.”

The skit, recorded socially distanced due to coronavirus, has become a huge hit with fans (myself included) of Normal People and Fleabag.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

The Last of Us Part 2 surpasses Spider-Man sales

The Last of Us Part II has eclipsed Marvel's Spider-Man to become the fastest-selling PlayStation exclusive in Sony's history with more than 4 million copies sold worldwide.

"The Last of Us Part 2 represents large scale innovation in gaming with a great blend of excellent gameplay mechanics and masterful storytelling," Eric Lempel, senior vice president of worldwide marketing for Sony PlayStation, said in a statement. "We strive to bring you unique, engaging experiences."

Neil Druckmann, vice president of Naughty Dog and director of The Last of Us Part II said:

“We are so immensely grateful to the millions of fans around the world that have played The Last of Us Part II and shared their experiences with us over the last week. We set out to tell a new kind of story, one that deals with difficult themes and would challenge you in unexpected ways. Hearing how the experience has resonated with so many of you and witnessing the type of thoughtful discussions it has sparked has been so incredible. We’ve also been so inspired by your creativity – whether it’s your gorgeous Photo Mode shots, jaw-dropping gameplay GIFs, or the songs you’ve recorded using Ellie’s guitar.

The Last of Us Part II was made possible thanks to the efforts of the hundreds of talented and passionate developers here at Naughty Dog. We can imagine no greater honour than seeing that same passion mirrored by the people playing it. Thank you for helping us reach this amazing milestone.”

Not only is The Last of Us Part II one of the greatest video game sequels ever made, Ellie is an openly gay female protagonist and I, for one, can't wait for HBO's live-action adaptation.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Cyberpunk 2077 trailer channels Blade Runner

CD Projekt Red has released an official trailer for Cyberpunk 2077. The long-awaited role-playing video game adaptation has been delayed until November. Positive comparisons with Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and Blade Runner franchises are inescapable.

New gameplay footage was revealed, showcasing extensive character customisation options (a staple of RPGs), alongside unanimously rave reactions from hands-on impressions.

As part of yesterday's Cyberpunk 2077 - Night City Wire event, an anime series tie-in from Netflix was announced for 2022.

"Wherever there are nerds, there's gonna be anime fans," Saya Elder, a Japan-based producer on the show, says in a preview video. "When we began this project, we were certain that we didn't want to make a recreation of the game," she adds. "Cyberpunk: Edgerunners is a standalone story set in the same universe. The stage is still Night City, but everything else is totally new: new characters, new story."

The developer behind The Witcher 3 has, justifiably, garnered goodwill from the gaming community for consumer-friendly practises. So, I've pre-ordered Cyberpunk 2077 digitally for Xbox One X. The upcoming title is optimised for Xbox Series X at no additional cost.

Cyberpunk 2077 is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Three Doctors unite on HBO Max

Every season of Doctor Who since 2005 is now available exclusively on HBO Max. To celebrate, 3 Doctors, played by David Tennant, Matt Smith and Jodie Whittaker, are reunited on Zoom with IGN's Terri Schwartz moderating the online panel.

“‘Doctor Who’ is one of television’s all-time, most beloved series, on both sides of the pond, and we are happy to be the exclusive streaming stewards for this BBC gem,” said Kevin Reilly, chief content officer at HBO Max and president of TNT, TBS, and truTV. “Another series to further define the high-quality content experience consumers can expect from HBO Max.”

Are you excited Doctor Who is on HBO Max? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Foundation teased for Apple TV+

A free 12-month Apple TV+ subscription, included with a recent iPhone SE purchase, couldn't have come at a better time. Not only has Fraggle Rock been rebooted, but next year a lavish adaptation of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is coming to the Cupertino-based company's streaming service.

During yesterday's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), Apple released a first look at Foundation with David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Trilogy).

My earliest memory of reading Foundation was whilst on a school summer holiday in Spain. The prose were beyond my adolescent years, but I quickly deciphered how it had influenced popular sci-fi culture including George Lucas' Star Wars.

“Foundation was an enormous influence for Star Wars,” Goyer says. “It was the greatest science fiction work of all time. The scope is sprawling. It unfolds over the course of 1,000 years.”

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Normal People triumphs in the ‘new normal’

When we went into lockdown in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Fox's Anglo-French adaptation (I use the term very loosely) of War of the Worlds had already started. It was certainly no seminal sci-fi mini-series (read Andrew Lewin's review here), but I stoically stuck with it unlike the much-maligned BBC adaptation which wasn't helped by being scheduled after BBC/HBO's phenomenal His Dark Materials in the run-up to last Christmas - seemingly several lifetimes ago in the wake of our shared trauma.

Daisy Edgar-Jones played Emily Gresham who regained her eyesight whenever near an alien invader. For a while, War of the Worlds was a fun post-apocalyptic romp in the style of The Walking Dead until it became abundantly clear we weren’t going to see any tripods! Le sigh!

The later episodes washed over me in a comfortingly forgettable fashion given the emergent coronavirus crisis and the knowledge that, like so many, I would need to shield due to disability and asthma. Seeing family and friends would be reserved for social media, FaceTime and fond memories for the foreseeable future.

So, when Normal People, a BBC co-production with Hulu, started streaming on BBC iPlayer with considerable fanfare, I didn't appreciate it was the actress from War of the Worlds, playing Marianne opposite newcomer Paul Mescal's Connell, until a few episodes into this astonishing adaptation of Sally Rooney's award-winning book about millennials.

Amidst the modern day trappings of 24/7 digital connectedness and iPhones (I belatedly jumped onto the bandwagon with the new SE), Edgar-Jones and Mescal’s performances harken back to the silent era in this bittersweet examination of first love imbued with bokeh beauty. The brittleness of their on-off relationship distilled in lush, aching, glances. The leads inhabit their roles from divergent worlds so absolutely; a former college lecturer and family friend suggested I should never read the book; wise words.

The series, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Hettie Macdonald, triggered a multiplicity of marvellous and malignant memories from high school, college and university. Cognisant of the, crushingly, inescapable notion of imposter syndrome haunting so many of us throughout our lives.

How I yearned for a place at drama school as I tackled, with the support of family and NHS healthcare professionals, the challenging aftermath of a traumatic life-changing head injury. Finding myself mocked and ridiculed for being the only school student with a visible disability who had romantic crushes like everyone else.

Alas, there was no TARDIS, X-wing or Batmobile (Edgar-Jones reminds me of Anne Hathaway who played Catwoman in The Dark Knight Trilogy) in which to escape beyond the metaphorical. That said, I'll be forever grateful to my late mum for fighting to secure a return to mainstream school and this facilitated further disabled students' entry (where appropriate). Pathfinding is never easy as history attests.

It would be disingenuous not to suggest that I've always found making friends easy, but within the context of being disabled and, by extension, oftentimes discriminated against, each new encounter felt like another tiresome battle of wits to justify one's existence. None of this is in anyway unique to me, and I hope it doesn't detract from sharing my enjoyment of Normal People by becoming a worthless exercise in self-indulgence.

The creative arts gave me sanctuary and college was a second chance at an education stifled by systemic streaming and the need for years of rehabilitation. So much so, I was afforded the privilege of unconditional offers on several art courses at degree level. A far cry from what a career tutor prophesied in the final year of high school; having tried to sabotage a college application; an abject lesson in how not to inspire pupils.

The lecture scenes in Normal People resonated. This Gen Xer was transported back to English Literature class and debating the subtext of H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, a critique of British imperialism (infesting our current political discourse), which is where this journey of introspection began.

Like pop cultural touchstones The Wonder Years and My So-Called Life, Normal People is one of the most deeply affecting rites of passage in any medium. The fates of its charismatic characters will haunt you long after the end credits have rolled.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Star Wars: Squadrons gameplay at EA Play Live

Star Wars: Squadrons was teased on Monday and gameplay will be revealed during today's EA Play Live event.

The upcoming EA Motive title is set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi and the destruction of the second dreaded Death Star. The single player campaign follows pilots from the Empire and New Republic.

A demo will be available for EA Access subscribers (myself included) when Star Wars: Squadrons is released for PS4, Xbox One and PC this October. EA has announced it will feature cross-play and virtual reality (VR) support for PS4 and PC.

Let's hope EA can build on the goodwill for Jedi: Fallen Order and put Battlefront II's infamous loot boxes behind it.

Star Wars: Squadrons is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Warner Bros. announces free DC FanDome

On Tuesday Warner Bros. announced its own free 24-hour online-only event for DC Comics fans (myself included) 22nd August. This follows news of the free Comic-Con@Home from 22nd-26th July.

DC FanDome will include virtual panels for The Batman, Wonder Woman 1984, The Suicide Squad, Stargirl, more details from the Snyder Cut of Justice League for HBO Max and much more.

“There is no fan like a DC fan," said Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO of Warner Bros. "For more than 85 years, the world has turned to DC’s inspiring heroes and stories to lift us up and entertain us, and this massive, immersive digital event will give everyone new ways to personalize their journey through the DC Universe without lines, without tickets and without boundaries. With DC FanDome, we’re able to give fans from around the world an exciting and unparalleled way to connect with all their favorite DC characters, as well as the incredible talent who bring them to life on the page and screen.”

What do you most hope to see at DC FanDome? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Coming of age in unprecedented times

Paul Moxham, our resident film critic, editor and cameraman, continues his movie odyssey during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. Incidentally, Paul's a fellow PlayStation fan and I'm secretly hoping he'll review The Last of Us Part II, but that's between us, OK?

Guest post by Paul Moxham

I’ve only gone and done it; I’ve watched two previously unseen by me, non-franchise based films in a week. Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig and Booksmart helmed by Olivia Wilde. Between these and mine and Mrs. Moxham’s binge on Normal People, it has been quite the time for coming of age narratives at Moxy Towers.

Coming of age films are one of those genres that will never die. As long as people are growing up they’ll want to see films that reflect and remind them how devastatingly amazing and horribly devastating their formative years were. That strange combination of reminding us of the good and the bad whilst suggesting that everything will make sense once we’re a grown up. I’m still awaiting the arrival of the certificate.

I am a complete and unapologetic sucker for them; which initially seems strange considering my own adolescence felt largely like that feeling you get between tripping over something, and the moment you hit the floor with your head. In slow motion. Although I imagine that’s exactly why I like them so much; crystallised moments of teenage triumph that you always wish you were cool enough to have experienced. I imagine we all feel somewhat the same.

Booksmart is all about that moment of triumph, only not in the way the main characters envision. Amy and Molly have their eyes on the prize, top grades leading to top jobs. This pursuit has led them to eschew all forms of extra-curricular activity, parties etc. Necessary sacrifices surely, until on the eve of graduation they learn their classmates have forgone none of these heady delights and are on course for equally rewarding futures. They have one night to make up for lost time. The tension of ticking as much off the teenage experiences list in just one night, like a thrill-seeking Father Christmas, makes for a fun and lively adventure. The balance between the meaningful, the funny and the weird is a joy. Plus a sense of pathos that is genuinely earned without feeling forced or tacked on is a treasured thing.

Lady Bird also focuses on someone who is certain they have life planned out, if only everyone understood her. Although Lady Bird’s realisation that she doesn’t have all the answers is a less high-concept structure. I imagine enjoyment of the film might depend on how much sympathy you can muster for someone who changes their name to Lady Bird and shouts at their mother. Saoirse Ronan has yet to put a foot wrong (check out Brooklyn as well, so very good), she expertly balances between someone feeling their way towards maturity and all the vulnerability that entails, whilst fooling themselves that they exist in the universe to tell everyone else how much they’re getting it wrong. Witnessing the birth of her understanding does elicit a degree of empathy. I’m just not sure it was quite enough for me to completely forgive everything. Maybe that’s my failing; you don’t have to like a character to empathise with them, just understand where they’re coming from. And on that front Lady Bird puts Lady Bird’s case very well.

I can see why Greta Gerwig’s film was so richly lauded when released. It didn’t quite hold me the way her follow up Little Women did. So that’s a long way round of saying I preferred the characters and humour of Booksmart. Now I think I’ll have a lie down, all this angst is exhausting. I don’t know how I ever did it full time.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Pilots wanted for Star Wars: Squadrons

Lock S-foils in attack position! After the Microsoft Store prematurely leaked Star Wars: Squadrons, EA has officially confirmed the upcoming title, codenamed Project Maverick, ahead of EA Play on 18th June with a trailer dropping on Monday.

Squadrons is expected to be an aerial combat video game in the spirit of Rogue Squadron and seemingly overlaps with stablemate Star Wars Battlefront. It's the first new title from EA Motive and Criterion, who developed the space combat for Battlefront, doesn't appear to be involved.

EA has a chequered history with the storied franchise. However, Battlefront II has improved immeasurably since launching in 2017 and Respawn's Jedi: Fallen Order is one of the best spin-offs in years. Both are highly recommended.

Star Wars: Squadrons is available for pre-order (affiliate link).

Friday, 12 June 2020

Aloy and Spider-Man showstoppers on PS5

Sony's delayed PlayStation 5 (PS5) future of gaming event delivered and then some on Thursday.

Whilst the Xbox Series X third-party showcase slipped into controversy, PlayStation dropped Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales without warning and it's coming to PS5 this holiday season from the newly-formed PlayStation Studios in conjunction with Marvel Studios.

Sony's VP head of European Business, Simon Rutter told The Telegraph: "I guess you could call it an expansion and an enhancement to the previous game.

"There's a substantial Miles Morales component—which is the expansion element—but also within the game as well there's been major enhancements to the game and the game engine, obviously deploying some of the major PlayStation 5 technology and features."

Rutter continued: "I think what is very interesting for everyone to see is how familiar games might be to some degree changed through the workings of PlayStation 5."

Sackboy made a surprise return and Horizon Forbidden West is a direct sequel to the award-winning Horizon Zero Dawn with the continuing adventures of Aloy in a gorgeous post-apocalyptic world. Incidentally, I bought Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition in the Days of Play sale, but will save it for PS5.

The event culminated in the reveal of the PS5 itself. There'll be two SKUs. One with a 4K UHD Blu-ray disc drive (oddly omitted from the PS4 Pro) and a digital-only model. I'm going all digital (as I have on Xbox One X), but need an optical drive for those shiny silver platters I still own. The PS5 is a sleek slice of anime-inspired tech and can be stored vertically or horizontally. Yay!

Given the impact of current world events, the PS5 will most likely be in short supply this holiday season and the anticipated high price point maybe a barrier for consumers wanting to upgrade from PS4 in the short to medium term.

Your move Microsoft...

Thursday, 11 June 2020

San Diego Comic-Con at home for free

Like E3 and the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) is a summer staple for geeks (myself included). This year, SDCC will be going virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic:

"Plans for Comic-Con@Home include an online Exhibit Hall complete with everyone’s favorite exhibitors offering promotions, specials, and limited-edition products unique to the celebration. As well, Comic-Con@Home promises exclusive panels and presentations about comics, gaming, television, film, and a wide variety of topics from publishers, studios, and more. As if that weren’t enough, Comic-Con@Home will also have a Masquerade, gaming, and many other activities in which fans can participate from their own homes."

“For the first time in our 50-year history, we are happy to welcome virtually anyone from around the globe,” said SDCC spokesperson David Glanzer. “Though stay-at-home conditions makes this a very difficult time, we see this as an opportunity to spread some joy and strengthen our sense of community.”

Comic-Con@Home will run online from 22nd-26th July and is free. Online attendees are encouraged to use the official #ComicConAtHome hashtag to be included in the virtual activities.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

The future of Destiny 2

Yesterday Bungie outlined the future roadmap for Destiny 2. The online sci-fi shooter will continue until at least 2022 with three major expansions announced.

The Beyond Light expansion is released on 22nd September and focuses on the frozen moon of Europa. This expansion will be followed by The Witch Queen in 2021 and then Lightfall in 2022. The expansions are coming to PS5 (supports cross-play with PS4) and Xbox One X. There are currently no plans for Destiny 3 in the wake of Bungie breaking ties with publisher Activision.

Longtime readers may recall I was a huge fan of the original Destiny in 2014 and embraced the notion of a decade-spanning story. However, the release of Destiny 2 marred the experience to the point where I stopped playing, entirely, within weeks. When the game went free-to-play, I briefly revisited the title but it failed to rekindle my enthusiasm.

Are you excited for the Destiny 2 expansion Beyond Light or is CD Projekt's Cyberpunk 2077 more your thing this September? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Bill & Ted Face the Music in excellent teaser trailer

The titular time travellers are back in Bill & Ted Face the Music and it's excellent news for fans.

The third instalment, coming almost thirty years after Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, sees Alex Winter (Bill) and Keanu Reeves (Ted) reprise their iconic roles for some timey-wimey fun travelling in a phone box that isn't bigger on the inside. The dudes should have borrowed Doctor Who's TARDIS!

Back in 1989, I was studying at Exeter College and only interested in the Back to the Future trilogy when Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure debuted on cinema screens.

The first teaser trailer has been released and the dudes encourage everyone to be excellent to each other.

Bill & Ted Face the Music party's on 21st August.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

The Mandalorian: Behind the Camera

Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, streaming exclusively on Disney+, is a weekly behind-the-scenes documentary series delving into the legacy of Star Wars and the making of The Mandalorian.

Series showrunner Jon Favreau (The Lion King) moderates a roundtable with cast and crew in a fun and accessible format. For fans (myself included) who can't get enough of this, there's ATX TV... from the Couch!

The 3-day virtual series (available on YouTube) includes a pre-recorded panel with creator and writer Jon Favreau, executive producer and director Dave Filoni, alongside guest directors Rick Famuyiwa, Deborah Chow, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Taika Waititi discussing season one of The Mandalorian.

Favreau had a clear vision for The Mandalorian from the get-go: “It was specifically doing a version of Star Wars that felt small and felt like it reflected the genres that influenced George [Lucas] originally: space adventure, westerns, samurai films, WWII adventure films — those are the genres that inspired the tropes.”

Favreau added, “These were at once original, but also a reflection of our cinematic past.” The approach has culminated in, arguably, the best Star Wars spin-off to date.

The Mandalorian is expected to return to Disney+ this October as principal photography on the second season was completed before the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

Friday, 5 June 2020

The Force is strong with Jimmy Kimmel Live

During the coronavirus pandemic, folks on the frontline deserve our admiration, respect and support both now and for the future.

Jimmy Kimmel Live surprised a frontline nurse, Chloe Ducose from San Diego, who is a Star Wars superfan with an appearance from Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker).

Ducose began to tear up as Hamill told her, "The force is strong with you."

Hamill also added, "I applaud you for having seen the Star Wars movies more than I have."

So much live-affirming joy in these dark times.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

ILM celebrates Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Lucasfilm livestreamed a conversation with visual effects luminaries from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) who worked on Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica.

This is a must-see for fellow Star Wars fans and anyone with a modicum of interest in film production. Of particular note is the AT-AT attack utilising stop-motion animation pioneered by Ray Harryhausen.

"A special livestream conversation with effects legends Dennis Muren, Joe Johnston, Phil Tippett, and Lorne Peterson in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. ILM's VFX Supervisor Bill George will moderate the discussion."

I vividly remember reading The Empire Strikes Back Official Poster Monthly Issue 2, which focussed on the Empire. Learning that Stormtroopers were in fact clones and not robots, as I'd erroneously thought, was quite the revelation for my young mind.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020

Stormtroopers patrol Disney Springs

Disney Springs has enlisted First Order Stormtroopers to enforce social distancing as lockdown eases during the coronavirus pandemic. Ordinarily, this would be fun for Star Wars fans (myself included), and the playful banter between the troopers and crowd interaction is wholly appropriate.

However, due to current socio-political events unfolding in the US, the optics are inherently problematic and seemingly shows the House of Mouse as tone deaf. Now, there's no suggestion that this is the intention, but perhaps it would be an act of good faith to immediately change tack for the foreseeable future?

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Digging Eight Graves

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, has a new movie out and is eager to share the macabre making of Eight Graves (available on Amazon Prime).

Guest post by Nick Smith

On a remote former plantation in South Carolina, two actresses are performing an intense scene. One of them is playing a scaredy-cat character, wary of the house she’s staying in. The other character is more cynical but she listens to her friend’s fears. The sun is setting and the wind barely gasps through tall marsh grass. The scene must be completed before the natural light of the ‘golden hour’ is lost to the night.

‘Cut!’ the director has to stop the scene. Something’s rustling in the marshland.

It’s not a ghost or a murderer as the movie’s title, Eight Graves, suggests. It’s not a coyote either. As the crew takes a closer look, a head pops up from behind a bush. On the other side of the actresses, another head pops up. It’s the gamekeepers who cultivate the land around that scary house. They wanted to have a ringside seat on the shoot and they have just photobombed a feature film.

Once the rubberneckers have been cleared away, the scene gets completed just as the last drop of light fades. It’s time to rest up; the cast and crew watch horror flick The Descent - research - before getting some sleep. The next day has another long list of shots to cover.

There’s nothing shockingly new about Eight Graves’ storyline – a group of young women stranded in a haunted house – although there is a spine-tingling twist. As screenwriter, I focus on making the characters distinctive. A bossy lawyer. A poor little rich kid. A new parent with baby daddy issues. A mouse and a cynic. The women all have a unique voice but they all look forward to a getaway in the country, away from kids, money worries, job angst, all responsibilities.

And what a country. The first sight for the film crew driving into Georgetown, SC is the old steel mill, faded and eaten by Robocop rust. The crew, pumped up with a hearty Burger King breakfast, marvel at the old town, a skeleton of its former industrialized self.

Georgetown has a low-run local newspaper, an independent movie theatre, a Main Street and a barbecue joint or two. But it’s the plantation house that attracts us, old and full of stuffed hunting trophies. The house creaks and settles in the night. We don’t get much sleep.

We have fun during filming, though. To escape the tropes of our horror film, I’ve injected plenty of humour into the dialogue and early character interactions before people start… disappearing. The one joke I’m not sure about is from the director, Gus Smythe. A girl from Eastern Europe must be starving because she’s from…

Hungary? I groan, but Gus keeps it in (it turns out to be one of the audience’s favourite gags). There’s also an oddball character called Mitch, an oily hick of a tow truck driver played by Braxton Williams. Brax makes the guy highly memorable but chews a little too much tobacco and makes himself nauseous. Don’t try that at home kids!

Other cast members include Daniel Jones (Logan Lucky, Revolution) and Jessica Slaughter (One Tree Hill). Jessica plays one of the heroines who spends part of the movie drunk. We don’t ask her how she prepares for those scenes.

Surviving sleepless nights in a house we become convinced is haunted are a minor inconvenience compared to our postproduction problems. Our original editor drops out; some original footage goes missing, presumed wiped (luckily we have different-quality copies); a flood in our editing HQ in Charleston, SC delays us further, while our location in Georgetown is also threatened with flooding, hopefully washing any wraiths away. It’s only thanks to the unceasing hard work of Gus and Braxton, the latter taking on the challenge of completing the film, that it gets released at all.

Eight Graves is my third feature film and like the others it’s a labour of love, the fulfilment of a dream that began with experiencing the thrills and chills of Spielberg and Lucas films as a kid and greedily reading copies of Starburst, Monster Monthly and Fangoria. Even though the project cost my friends and I a cemetery’s worth of time and money, I would make another horror movie in a heartbeat… but it would mean going back to that dark, foreboding house.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

PS5 future of gaming event 4th June

PlayStation 5 (PS5) is, literally, emerging from the shadows on 4th June. Sony has announced a 'future of gaming' livestream showcasing PS5-only titles and seemingly teased the new console's startup chime.

Ordinarily, flaming June would be a month of major events. From the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it isn't safe and practicable for people to gather in large groups.

So, events like E3 have been cancelled and others, like WWDC, will be livestreamed. Incidentally, I mostly use the official Remote Play app for iPhone and iPad, since native DualShock 4 support was added with iOS 13, to stream games from my PS4.

"I’m excited to share that we will soon give you a first look at the games you’ll be playing after PlayStation 5 launches this holiday," writes Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO and president Jim Ryan on the official PlayStation Blog.

"This digital showcase will run for a bit more than an hour and, for the first time, we will all be together virtually experiencing the excitement together. A lack of physical events has given us an amazing opportunity to think differently and bring you on this journey with us, and hopefully, closer than ever before. This is part of our series of PS5 updates and, rest assured, after next week’s showcase, we will still have much to share with you."

Scans of the July issue of the Official PlayStation Magazine (OPM) have appeared online, revealing some of the games bound for PS5 with more expected to be announced exclusively during the livestream.

A Rat's Quest: The Way Back Home (ETA 2021)
Assassin's Creed Valhalla (ETA 2020)
Battlefield 6 (ETA 2021)
Chorus (ETA 2021)
Cygni: All Guns Blazing (ETA TBA)
Dauntless (ETA TBA)
Dirt 5 (2020)
Dragon Age 4 (ETA TBA)
Dying Light 2 (ETA TBA)
FIFA 21 (ETA 2020)
Godfall (ETA TBA)
Gods & Monsters (ETA TBA)
Gothic Remake (ETA TBA)
Madden 21 (ETA 2020)
Moonray (ETA Summer 2021)
MicroMan (ETA TBA)
NHL 21 (ETA 2020)
Nth'O Infinity Reborn (ETA February 2021)
Observer: System Redux (ETA 2020)
Outriders (ETA 2020)
Path of Exile 2 (ETA 2020)
PsyHotel (ETA TBA)
Quantum Error (ETA 2020)
Rainbow Six Quarantine (ETA TBA)
Rainbow Six Siege (ETA TBA)
Redo! Enhanced Edition (ETA 2020)
Scarlet Nexus (ETA TBA)
Sniper Elite 5 (ETA TBA)
Soulborn (ETA Late 2021)
Starfield (ETA TBA)
The Elder Scrolls 6 (ETA TBA)
The Lord of the Rings: Gollum (ETA 2021)
The Sims 5 (ETA TBA)
Ultimate Fishing Simulator 2 (ETA 2020)
Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines 2 (ETA TBA)
Warframe (ETA TBA)
Watch Dogs Legion (ETA TBA)
WRC 9 (ETA 2020)

Aside from software. Will PlayStation fans (myself included) get to see the 'box' itself? Well, the Tokyo-based company could borrow from late Apple CEO Steve Jobs' playbook with one more thing... Given manufacturing of the upcoming console is rumoured to have begun, Sony won't want someone to leak a photo of the PS5 and lose control of the messaging.

Sony's PS5 strategy will eclipse Microsoft's Xbox Series X as The Last of Us Part II is tracking to become the fastest selling first-party exclusive in the company's history, and the PS4 has dominated this console generation. Of course, I've championed Game Pass and PlayStation Now still lags behind.

The PS5 is on track for a holiday 2020 launch. The pre-order countdown starts now.

What are you hoping to see? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 29 May 2020

First look at Darkseid from Justice League

On Wednesday director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) teased Darkseid, played by Ray Porter (Argo), from his forthcoming Justice League recut for the newly launched HBO Max. The DC Comics supervillain can be seen standing in the midst of a lava field on Apokolips.

Following years of petitioning from fans. Warner Bros. has given Snyder carte blanche to refashion Justice League closer to his original vision before bowing out, due to a personal tragedy, and handing directing chores to Joss Whedon (Avengers). At the time of release, Justice League was met with derision by fans and critics alike failing to emulate Marvel Studios' Avengers blockbuster behemoth.

Are you excited to see Darkseid take on the Justice League? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Dr Strange director helms Labyrinth sequel

Jim Henson followed up The Dark Crystal, considered too dark for children, with the more commercial Labyrinth in 1986. Executive produced by George Lucas (Star Wars), the live-action musical fantasy film starred Jennifer Connelly (Sarah) and David Bowie (Jareth), and utilised tropes from popular tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D).

My most indelible memory of seeing the film, with high school friends at the local Odeon, is the opening sequence featuring a computer-generated owl and buying Citadel Miniatures' Chaos Marauders from a local model shop.

Labyrinth quickly became a touchstone of teenage lives (mine included) and I played the Lucasfilm Games' tie-in for Commodore 64 whilst listening to the iconic soundtrack. Talk of a sequel soon followed, but nothing materialised on the silver screen. Return to Labyrinth was an English-language manga series that ran between 2006-2010.

Fast forward to 2020. Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) will direct a sequel for Sony's TriStar Pictures. Without the late Jim Henson and David Bowie, it's almost impossible to envisage a follow-up to the beloved original as the world falls down...

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

The Last of Us Part 2 State of Play this Wednesday

This Wednesday's State of Play is a deep dive into The Last of Us Part II (affiliate link) from PlayStation first-party developer Naughty Dog.

The livestream, with director Neil Druckmann, will be available across multiple platforms including Twitch and YouTube.

North America: 1pm PDT / 2pm MDT / 3pm CDT / 4pm EDT
UK/Ire: 9pm BST
Europe: 10pm CEST / 11pm EEST
Asia/Oceania: 5am JST / 4am AWST / 6am AEST

The Last of Us Part II review embargo lifts 12th June and is released 19th June.

Are you looking forward to this Wednesday's State of Play and The Last of Us Part II? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Star Trek: Lower Decks is not a parody

The official confirmation from CBS All Access of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has fans (myself included) excited to see Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck reprise the roles of Captain Pike, Number One and Science Officer Spock respectively. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the spin-off series is some way off.

In the meantime, Star Trek: Lower Decks, an animated series from Mike McMahan (Rick and Morty), is coming to CBS All Access later this year.

SlashFilm spoke to McMahan about the animated series and not turning it into a parody of the beloved franchise. Here's an extract from the interview:

“I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and nobody needs a Star Trek comedy that made fun of Star Trek or punched down on Star Trek, nor was I interested in doing that that. I was interested in writing a Star Trek that could be canon, that follows the rules of other Star Trek shows that I loved, and has everything that you love about Star Trek, including the way you tell stories. But I’m a comedy writer. I’m never gonna write a serious Star Trek, so the way that we handled it is it’s on a ship that isn’t the capital ship. It’s not about the bridge crew. It’s about the lowest officers on that ship. But when we’re breaking stories for the lower decks, every episode also has a proper Star Trek episode that’s happening to the bridge crew, and our lower deckers aren’t involved in it. However, you can’t have a big sci-fi thing happening on a starship and not have it effect them because that’s their whole world. So if you’re watching Lower Decks, you’re getting a full Star Trek episode from the perspective of people who are having their own social and emotional stories and their own sci-fi stories, but they just aren’t on the bridge. They don’t have the information the bridge is getting, and they don’t have the responsibility.”

Star Trek: Lower Decks is expected to premiere later this year on CBS All Access. It's unclear whether the spin-off will stream on Amazon Prime or Netflix outside the US.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Zack Snyder's Justice League coming to HBO Max

The much-maligned Justice League (2017) is getting a $20 million dollar do-over for HBO Max by director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) who had to bow out of the production due to his daughter’s suicide. However, sources have subsequently suggested that there were studio concerns over the movie’s overly dark direction prior to Snyder’s familial tragedy.

Joss Whedon (Avengers) was parachuted in to finish Justice League but failed to replicate the critical and commercial success of Marvel Studios’ Avengers (2012) that would culminate in the Russo Brothers' Avengers: Endgame (2019). Following the movie's lukewarm reception - I bailed after the first ten minutes on Sky Cinema - fans have championed a 'Snyder cut' and their wish will be granted as a 4-hour event on HBO Max.

“I want to thank HBO Max and Warner Brothers for this brave gesture of supporting artists and allowing their true visions to be realized. Also a special thank you to all of those involved in the Snyder Cut movement for making this a reality,” Zack Snyder said in a statement.

Whilst I've been a lifelong fan of both DC Comics and Marvel, the DCEU has failed to capture my imagination on the big screen. Snyder's own Watchmen, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam! are notable exceptions.

Will Justice League usher in a new era of exclusive extended cuts direct-to-consumers? Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the most recent Hollywood blockbuster to witness rumours of a 3-hour cut that was subject to studio interference prior to release last December.

HBO Max launches on 27th May into an increasingly fragmented streaming market with Disney+ an unprecedented success. The new streaming service will carry content from across Warner Bros. brands including Cartoon Network, DC Entertainment, The CW and more.

“We’re going to put all of our muscle behind HBO Max,” Bob Greenblatt, chairman of WarnerMedia Entertainment and Direct-to-Consumer, said in an interview. “We think we have a really good and valuable product to offer.”

It is unlikely HBO Max will be released in the UK anytime soon as Sky only recently renewed its first-run film and television deal with Warner Bros. So, expect Justice League to appear on Sky Cinema or Sky Atlantic in 2021.

Are you looking forward to Justice League on HBO Max? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Muppets Now this July on Disney+

The Muppet Show was as much a staple of Saturday teatimes as Doctor Who in the mid seventies. So much so, Jim Henson’s creations played a profoundly personal role in my early life. If we ever meet, I may tell you the full story of the boy who lived.

So, it’s wonderful news Muppets Now will introduce a new generation of fans to their unique brand of mischief and mayhem on Disney+.

""Muppets Now” is The Muppets Studio’s first original series for Disney+. In the six-episode season, Scooter rushes to make his delivery deadlines and upload the brand-new Muppet series for streaming. They are due now, and he’ll need to navigate whatever obstacles, distractions, and complications the rest of the Muppet gang throws at him.

Overflowing with spontaneous lunacy, surprising guest stars and more frogs, pigs, bears (and whatevers) than legally allowed, the Muppets cut loose in “Muppets Now” with the kind of startling silliness and heartfelt fun that first made them famous."

Muppets Now streams on Disney+ 31st July.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Conan causes chaos at Lucasfilm

To mark Star Wars creator George Lucas' birthday on 14th May, Conan O'Brien shared a classic clip featuring his visit with producer Jordan Schlansky to Lucasfilm in 2007.

The Star Wars Show wasn't a thing. Schlansky is Conan's resident Star Wars expert and took a Lucasfilm employee to task.

Given the current lockdown, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's great that talk show hosts are sharing archive footage to bring some cheer. I hope someone fixed that AT-AT model.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Timothy Olyphant in secret role for The Mandalorian

Timothy Olyphant (Justified) is the latest actor linked to a role in the upcoming second season of The Mandalorian according to The Hollywood Reporter (THR).

Whilst Disney has not confirmed any new castings for the live-action Star Wars spin-off series, fans are eager to see whether or not the leaks are true. If so, Olyphant will be joining Rosario Dawson (Daredevil), Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Temuera Morrison (Attack of the Clones) and Michael Biehn (Aliens).

I remember Olyphant for his role in Scream 2. Those 'sequels suck' debates had some serious implications for Sidney Prescott's (Neve Campbell) friends and fellow students in director Wes Craven's postmodern slasher series.

The Mandalorian season two is expected to begin this October on Disney+. Confirmed directors include Dave Filoni (The Clone Wars), Robert Rodriguez (From Dusk Till Dawn), Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) and showrunner Jon Favreau (Iron Man).

Friday, 15 May 2020

Strange New Worlds coming to CBS All Access

Red alert! This is not a Kobayashi Maru training exercise. Fellow Star Trek fans rejoice, CBS All Access has announced a new spin-off and it's a doozy.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds reunites Discovery season two fan favourites, Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One and Ethan Peck as Science Officer Spock.

“Fans fell in love with Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck’s portrayals of these iconic characters when they were first introduced on Star Trek: Discovery last season,” said Julie McNamara, Executive Vice President and Head of Programming, CBS All Access. “This new series will be a perfect complement to the franchise, bringing a whole new perspective and series of adventures to Star Trek.”

Unlike Star Trek: Picard, this is the spin-off most fans (myself included) really wanted. I'd only seen Mount in Marvel's Inhumans. So, it was a revelation when he beamed aboard the USS Discovery, with Romijn, and assumed temporary command. This was Captain Pike and Number One, no questions asked.

Given Pike's tragic fate, the series has ample opportunity to explore optimism and the tragedy to come underpinned by the chemistry between Mount, Romijn and Peck.

Strange New Worlds is set before events in the original series and harkens back to creator Gene Roddenberry's vision. The new series is in early production, but filming will be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. It's unclear whether the spin-off will stream on Amazon Prime or Netflix outside the US.

CBS All Access is rapidly becoming the home of Star Trek with further spin-offs in the works.

Are you looking forward to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Let me know in the comments below. Hit it.

Thursday, 14 May 2020

Unreal Engine 5 demoed on PS5

On Wednesday Epic Games revealed Unreal Engine 5 running in real-time on the as-yet-unreleased PlayStation 5 (PS5), and the reaction could not have gone better for Sony!

Not only does Lumen in the Land of Nanite showcase the PS5's in-game potential, it also demonstrates what Epic Games has learned from its Hollywood partnerships. For example working with Lucasfilm on Star Wars properties including live-action series The Mandalorian.

What was your reaction to the Unreal Engine 5 tech demo on PS5? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Katee Sackhoff cast as Bo-Katan in The Mandalorian

Katee Sackhoff is expected to join the second season cast of The Mandalorian according to the latest SlashFilm scoop.

The Battlestar Galactica star is rumoured to play Bo-Katan Kryze in the Disney+ live-action Star Wars spin-off series. Sackhoff previously played the character in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels animated series.

Bo-Katan will be reunited with Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) and they'll be joined by Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison).

Newly-appointed Disney CEO Bob Chapek has confirmed the second season will not be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic and is currently in post-production.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Empire Strikes Back at 40

This May marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner (Eyes of Laura Mars), in the US. It's that rarest of sequels, one that successfully builds on the mythology of the original while taking the story to darker and unexpected places.

To commemorate this milestone, Generation Star Wars' John Hood and Taking the Short View's Andrew Lewin look back to one of the Rebel Alliance's darkest hours...

John: It's summer 1980, I've started the six-week school holiday after finishing primary school for good. Obviously, my thoughts were on seeing the next chapter in the Star Wars saga at the Exeter Odeon, where I'd seen Star Wars two years previously. However, ongoing rehabilitation following a life-changing head injury in primary school meant more hours spent undertaking hospital visits, physiotherapy and plaster casts. Alas, no recovering in a bacta tank, operated by medical droids FX-7 and 2-1B, for me!

Undaunted, I avidly listened to the latest double LP soundtrack by John Williams, played with existing Star Wars action figures and excitedly leapt upon the mention in the album liner notes that creator George Lucas was planning no less than nine movies in total. Now that was surely something to look forward to, right?

Then, following a hospital appointment with a surgeon who showed no empathy (a far cry from the surgeons who had saved my life in 1977 and set me on a cinematic path), mum surprised me with new Han Solo and Chewbacca action figures. Suffice to say, I was chuffed to bits. What I wasn't expecting was the Millennium Falcon in my bedroom adorned with Star Wars wallpaper! There was the so-called 'piece of junk', in all her glory.

I remember the hurdle my late mum and an aunt had to overcome helping me into the Exeter Odeon cinema (my legs encased in plaster cast for the umpteenth time). Of being enthralled by the AT-AT attack, traumatised by Darth Vader's scarred skull (triggering the trauma of seeing my shaved head and surgical stitches for the first time post surgery) and mesmerised when Master Yoda used the Force to lift Luke Skywalker's sunken X-Wing out of the Dagobah swamp, but somewhat nonplussed by Han and Leia's romance. Too much kissing and not enough PEW! PEW! PEW! Although I needn't of worried, the movie's climax in Cloud City brought more than enough thrilling blaster and lightsaber action.

Years later, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) hugged and kissed me at Star Wars Celebration Europe. Childhood me would never have believed it.

As for that shock paternal revelation, I thought Vader was lying to Luke and merely trying to coax him back from the edge of the gantry in order to kill or convert him. Ah, the gleeful mind of a young child, eh? So, what are your memories, Andrew?

Andrew: I'm afraid I'm going to be a major disappointment to you on this one, John! I have weirdly few actual first hand-memories of seeing The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, certainly far fewer than I can recall about seeing the original film three years earlier. Obviously, I did see the film on the big screen at the time - I can state with complete confidence that I've seen all 11 Star Wars first time on the big screen as a point of principle - yes, I'm including Rogue One and Solo, just accept it!

John: Controversial confession: I didn't bother seeing Solo at the cinema, nor since on Sky Cinema or Disney+! With the conclusion of The Clone Wars and season one of The Mandalorian, I've run out of excuses.

Andrew: Wow! I'm genuinely aghast. I figured that you would have at least streamed it by now. It's not at all bad, honest - if you can make it through Star Wars: The Phantom Menace then you'll definitely be able to get to the end of Solo without too much trouble!

Getting back onto safer territory, I'm strangely lacking in specific recollections of the very first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back. It would undoubtedly have been at the old Southend Odeon, which was so big and plush that it would even give today's Empire Leicester Square a run for its money in terms of capacity. (Alas long since gone and now part of the Southend campus of the University of Essex.) I remember staring at the screen curtains for hours as the lights faded endlessly from green to purple and back again - it was mesmerising, almost better than many films that followed once the curtains parted and the lights went out!

While I don't remember seeing the film itself at the Odeon, I know I did - and multiple times - because I have vivid memories of the short film that preceded it. Remember when there was a pre-feature British production on every programme? For The Empire Strikes Back it was Black Angel, the tale of an Arthurian knight returning from the Crusades who rescues a princess. It was shot in Scotland and atmospherically directed by Roger Christian, who'd actually won an Oscar for his set decoration on the first Star Wars movie. It was really quite brilliant.

John: I too remember the prothetic Black Angel and it was around this time that a neighbour friend gifted me a copy of The Lord of the Rings, which would only cement a lifelong passion for fairytales and by extension story telling. Darth Vader as a Ring Wraith... Sorry, please go on.

Andrew: Having been put off Tolkien for a long time by a forced school study reading of The Hobbit, it was many years later - almost 20 in fact - before I finally dipped my toe into The Lord of the Rings. Back in 1980, Black Angel was simply the ideal dark fantasy accompaniment to The Empire Strikes Back that followed.

Sadly, the film originals for this short film were reported lost shortly after, but I do still remember seeing it multiple times at the Odeon. In fact it's the only support feature I do remember from those days, so it follows that I must therefore also have seen The Empire Strikes Back many times too. But the rest of my recollections from that time are now all just part of a general "The Empire Strikes Back memory" in which I know every line and shot and music cue, but not whether I'm recalling it from watching it 1980, 1999, or last week!

Being slightly older at the time than your good self, I think I was more, umm, open to the idea of the Han/Leia romance for some unknown reason. I do have a strong sense that even on first viewing I completely accepted Vader's shock revelation without question as it was surely too delicious a twist to be a lie (as opposed to the similar attempted revelation between Rey and Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi, which simply never had an equivalent ring of satisfaction to it and therefore never felt quite right). And I do remember desperately wanting a Snowspeeder for Christmas - which I don't think I ever got, now I think of it...

John: Did someone mention toys? Not only did The Empire Strikes Back give us, arguably, the greatest instalment (spawning the prequels years later), but also a fine collection of new Star Wars action figures, playsets and accessories. Sorry you never received that coveted Snowspeeder; mine arrived alongside an AT-AT and Rebel Troop Transport, Christmas 1981. Do you have a favourite piece of merchandise from the era, Andrew?

Andrew: For me it was always all about the Millennium Falcon. I think it must rank as one of the all-time greatest, most iconic science fiction spaceship designs, up there with the likes of Space: 1999's Eagle transporter, Star Trek's Enterprise and the Liberator from Blake's 7 (and a smorgasbord of International Rescue craft, of course). I remember I had a wonderfully detailed and high-quality metal die-cast model Falcon which was small enough to almost fit into the palm of one's hand - surprisingly heavy for its size but nonetheless ideal for whooshing through the air as the leading player in many imagined thrilling chases and dog-fights.

John: I was gifted die-cast Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and Star Destroyer one Christmas along with a Millennium Falcon. The tooling on those toys was peerless, and - as you've already suggested - of a premium build quality. In fact, I've now remembered receiving Boba Fett's Slave 1. However, the very rare TIE Bomber proved too elusive.

Andrew: Alas, poor ultra-elusive TIE Bomber - the Doctor Who: The Collection Season 14 Blu-ray limited edition boxset of its day!

The apex Millennium Falcon back in those days was unquestionably the much larger playset version that you could use with all the standard-size action figures fitting inside it. Try whooshing that behemoth through the air over your head and you'd definitely do yourself an injury! Sadly, when I finally got one for Christmas, there was a part missing - one of the landing struts. I was absolutely devastated, as the model couldn't stand upright without it. My dad leapt into action, and cut and glued two pieces of soft wood together which slotted in and actually worked surprisingly well once painted the right shade of grey. In the end I grew rather fond of it, and proud of being the sole possessor of this unique "peg leg" edition Millennium Falcon.

Before we close, one final question: I trust that we still in full agreement that even four decades later, The Empire Strikes Back remains the very best of all the Star Wars films? Or do you have a controversial (and obviously wrong!) alternative opinion on this seminal matter?

John: Longtime readers will already know my answer! Not only is The Empire Strikes Back my favourite Star Wars instalment, it also, conveniently, happens to be my all-time favourite movie. Kershner's sequel to Lucas' original casts a long shadow…

Andrew: I was pretty sure that would be your verdict, but I just wanted to get you to say it anyway. After all, you are a man of rare distinction and refinement; even if you still haven't got around to seeing Solo yet!

John: Well, that's our recollections of The Empire Strikes Back. What are yours? Let us know in the comments below.

In the meantime, why not checkout our previous conversations regarding Doctor Who and Star Wars.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Boba Fett is back in The Mandalorian

Boba Fett, arguably the coolest intergalactic bounty hunter until his seemingly untimely demise in Return of the Jedi, is set to return in the second season of The Mandalorian. The first season concluded on Disney+ in the UK ahead of May the Fourth celebrations.

According to The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Temuera Morrison (Attack of the Clones) will play Boba Fett in the Disney+ live-action Star Wars spin-off. He'll be joining a cast that includes Rosario Dawson (Daredevil) and Michael Biehn (Aliens).

Fett's cameo should come as no surprise to fans, as a mysterious Mandalorian was teased in season one.

Looking forward to Boba Fett appearing in The Mandalorian or would you like to see Rex reunited with Ahsoka Tano following the conclusion of The Clone Wars? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Are you sitting comfortably?

During the global coronavirus lockdown, many of us are looking for comfort in our favourite things. From books to video games. Personally, I've immersed myself in Star Wars and classic Doctor Who whilst friends and family are on the frontline, deserving far more than a nationwide weekly clap on a Thursday evening once this is over.

Paul is here to guide us through these uncertain, and frankly traumatic, times. Stay safe!

Guest post by Paul Moxham

My daily scrolling through Twitter was paused recently by someone who essentially wrote - if you’ve not used lockdown to enrich your life somehow, you didn’t lack time only discipline.

A sentiment I wholeheartedly agreed with. Which is why I thought to myself at the start of all this that it might be nice to try to watch all those films I’ve always said I’ll get around to. A sofa-based film festival, taking in all countries, genres, directors and time periods. There are some absolute potential doozies in the line up; Bait and Portrait of A Lady on Fire, Midsommar and Uncut Gems; via classics like The 39 Steps and Cat People. It doesn’t even cover new straight to streaming releases like The Assistant and Why Don’t You Just Die! The list goes on and on. Every evening would be a voyage of discovery into uncharted cinematic waters. Ask me how many I’ve watched. Not a single one. The voyage has become more of a sunbathe in the balmy glow of nostalgia.

At every single opportunity to watch something new, I’ve opted for something I’ve already seen. I’ve chosen the warmth of a cosy duvet over the bracing winds of discovery. I’ve been quite tough on myself about this; in the same way that I’m tough on myself for not going running. I huff disappointedly, have another biscuit and sit on the sofa. I’ve sat back and continued to work my way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the umpteenth time. Thanks, Disney+ for making that far too easy (for the curious, I’m going through them in chronological order rather than by release date). I’ve always considered myself open to the cinema in all its guises; on my shelves, you’ll find Spielberg alongside Lean, Wilder, The Cohens, Nolan, Kubrick etc. But when the chips are down I’ve bolted back into my cave. Which incidentally you can tell is not alphabetized.

The fundamental question is, is this such a bad thing? Surely there’s nothing wrong with craving certainty in uncertain times? And at the end of a day of (attempted) home-schooling and cat herding, my mind just wants to go to places with no sudden, unpredictable movements.

Seeking those sorts of experiences is not unusual, but where is the guy who was always looking for different, exciting films to rave about to his friends? Somewhere along the way I’ve conflated film exploration with effort, with fear, with eating my greens. Now, kids, greens are good for you, and they’re nothing to be scared of. You never know you might just love them.

So maybe it’s time I embraced the new again, find a new favourite, see the world in a different way. And if I commit it to print, I might just do it.

Although not right this second, Guardians of the Galaxy has just started...

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Watch The Last of Us Part 2's story trailer

The past few weeks haven't been too great for Sony's first-party studio Naughty Dog and upcoming title The Last of Us Part II (affiliate link). There was a significant leak that, inevitably in this digitally connected era, spiralled out of control amidst allegations of disgruntled employees and a server hack.

Fans who were either spoiled or actively sought out the leaked footage were seemingly incensed by the story, for the most part. It's always worth remembering that these clips are viewed out of context.

Today Sony revealed a new story trailer for The Last of Us Part II, which will be released on 19th June following a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Are you excited about The Last of Us Part II or have you cancelled your pre-order in the wake of controversy? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series coming to PS VR

ILMxLAB has announced all 3 episodes of Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series is coming to PS VR this summer. The title was originally released in 2019 for Oculus.

Episode I

You will need the Force to survive the journey ahead.

"Step into a galaxy far, far away and experience the first Star Wars story designed exclusively for virtual reality. Descend into Darth Vader’s mysterious fortress alongside new allies and encounter fearsome enemies, including the Sith Lord himself. Be at the center of a story in which you hold the key to the galaxy’s salvation… or destruction."

Episode II

He will not be denied.

"Continue your journey into the heart of Darth Vader’s dark fortress in Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series – Episode II. With the fearsome Sith Lord as your guide, you’ll perfect your lightsaber skills against terrifying new enemies, and master the Force as you discover the truth of an ancient mystery beneath the fiery surface of Mustafar."

Episode III

Embrace your destiny.

"Complete your journey in Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series – Episode III. With an ancient lightsaber by your side and the Force as your ally, you’ll gain an army and launch an all-out assault on Darth Vader’s fortress. Face legions of stormtroopers and a vengeful Imperial officer before facing off with the dark lord himself in a heart-stopping lightsaber battle that will determine Mustafar’s fate."

Are you excited for Vader Immortal: A Star Wars VR Series coming to PlayStation VR? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Celebrate May Fourth on Disney+

To celebrate Star Wars Day on Disney+, there's a host of new galactic goodies for fans of George Lucas' beloved space opera.

From Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker to Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and The Clone Wars series finale to new profile avatars including Jabba the Hutt and Porg.

With the conclusion of The Clone Wars, why not revisit Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars Resistance.

Today it was officially confirmed director Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), who recently won an Oscar for his Jojo Rabbit screenplay, will direct and co-write an as-yet-untitled Star Wars film with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who co-wrote 1917. Waititi most recently directed the season one finale of The Mandalorian and voiced IG-11 in the first live-action Star Wars series.

There has been a wealth of new merchandise released. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, I've ordered a Disney Store exclusive Imperial Probe Droid Elite Series Die-Cast Action Figure and the much-sought-after Build-A-Bear The Child from The Mandalorian, which sold out in the US.

How are you celebrating Star Wars Day? Let me know in the comments below.

May the Fourth be with you.

Friday, 1 May 2020

Is the Force still strong with Star Wars?

Star Wars fans can look forward to an unprecedented intergalactic bounty on Disney+ on May Fourth AKA Star Wars Day: Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian, the final ever episode of The Clone Wars and The Rise of Skywalker.

Whilst I'll be eagerly watching The Rise of Skywalker for the first time since seeing it at the cinema last December. Other fans will be approaching the conclusion to the Skywalker saga from a certain point of view.

Guest post by Simon Judges

The Rise of Skywalker hitting Disney+ earlier than expected got me to thinking about my relationship with the saga.

I was there at the beginning. When I was six years old, my dad took me to see the original Star Wars at the local “fleapit”. I’d be lying if I said I could remember how I felt coming out of the film, but I do know I saw it again at a bigger, better-equipped cinema not long afterwards. And it dominated my childhood. Playground games, comics, books, toys, stickers. I lived and breathed Star Wars, and wanted more. Luckily, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi fed my hunger.

My love of Star Wars hasn’t diminished much in the 42 years since. It’s true that, as I approach 50, I tend not to play at being Han Solo so much, but I regularly watch the films, read the books, play the video games, and generally keep up with all things Star Wars.

In December last year, however, something strange happened. For the first time ever, I watched a Star Wars film and left the cinema underwhelmed.

Now, while I didn’t love the prequels, I did find something in each of them to enjoy. The pod race, the duel of the fates, the battle of Geonosis, the opening and closing moments of Episode III (although the less said about Vader’s “Nooooooo…” the better).

I really enjoyed The Force Awakens. Yes, it was a retread of A New Hope, but it had energy, pace, and genuine wit and humour. And I still don’t understand the hate for The Last Jedi. It’s certainly not the best of the bunch, but it ain’t that bad. Rightly or wrongly, Rian Johnson made some bold decisions. Personally, I loved Luke as a grumpy old man. (That’s my opinion - don’t @ me.)

But The Rise of Skywalker just felt wrong. On first viewing, it seemed to be a bad story, badly written and badly acted. A friend described it as the worst kind of fan fiction up on the screen. And I think that was the problem. JJ Abrams was facing a double-edged sword. He had to service the story, and he had to serve the fans; fans who, if Twitter and YouTube were to be believed, were VERY unhappy about the way things were going. In doing so, he managed to create a glorious mess. To me, it felt rushed and sloppy. There was just too much crammed in. The story and the characters had no time to breathe. Worse, the two main plot points - Palpatine’s return and his connection with Rey - just felt lazy.

I’ve seen it a couple of times since - once, again, at the cinema. Going in with lower expectations, I didn’t find it quite so… bad. I’ve also seen it at home. Somehow, TV seemed kinder to its flaws; while still present, they’re less glaring. And of course, I’ll be watching it again now that it’s on Disney+.

I love Star Wars. I love everything about Star Wars. I always have. And I’ll always defend the rights of Abrams and Johnson et al to make mistakes. Their intentions are good; they come from the right place. You just can’t please everyone, especially with a property as hot as Star Wars. But I think I’ll always be disappointed with the way this current saga ended.

The Mandalorian has given me hope. It’s clearly affectionate for the past - you only have to watch the Mos Eisley episode to see that - but it’s already ploughing its own furrow. Let’s see what season two brings. But, while I am looking forward to what the future holds, I’ll admit to a tiny bit of trepidation. For the first time ever, I’ve felt let down by a Star Wars film. “Faster, more intense!” may have worked for Lucas, 45 years ago. But it’s a phrase I think should be best avoided by whoever’s next in the director’s chair.

What do you think? Is The Mandalorian and further live-action spin-offs the future of Star Wars? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

The Skywalker Saga on Disney+ May Fourth

Lucasfilm is celebrating Star Wars Day with The Clone Wars series finale, Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and the entire 9-part Skywalker Saga on Disney+.

The Rise of Skywalker is being released early on Disney+ and Sky Cinema due to the coronavirus lockdown. The Blu-ray (affiliate link) was released earlier this month.

May also marks the 40th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back. Not only my favourite Star Wars instalment, but also my favourite film.

Are you looking forward to watching the Skywalker Saga on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Doctor Who: Time Lord Victorious

Brace yourselves fellow Whovians for some timey-wimey transmedia storytelling later this year.

Much like Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire or similar event stories, Time Lord Victorious will be told over 12-weeks in multiple mediums: from books to audio spin-offs and action figures to video games.

"Time Lord Victorious will tell a new and untold story, set within the Dark Times at the start of the universe when even the Eternals were young. Following several Doctors across space and time as they defend their home planet from a terrible race, this is a story like no other."

The story seemingly sees Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant reprising the titular role alongside Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. Expect more cast members to be announced nearer release.

“BBC Studios’ Doctor Who licensees have come together to tell an amazing epic – one that’s full of monsters, fun and heart,” producer James Goss said in a press release.

“All strands of the story unite into a mighty patchwork that ranges from one end of the universe to the next. There’s more to be revealed, but the enthusiasm and ideas which the licensees have come up with are breath-taking. It’s going to be such fun.”

Are you excited for Time Lord Victorious? Let me know in the comments below.