Friday 31 January 2020

Watch test footage from Star Wars: Underworld

A Star Wars live-action series had been in development long before Lucasfilm was acquired by Disney and The Mandalorian brought Baby Yoda to the masses on Disney+ last November.

Originally, a television series was planned to follow Star Wars (1977). However, the box office success of George Lucas' space opera saw that idea (rightly) shelved and one of the made-for-television sequels was Splinter of the Mind's Eye, written by Alan Dean Foster who ghost-wrote the original Star Wars novelisation.

Fast forward to Revenge of the Sith (2005). Lucas planned to follow the conclusion of the prequel trilogy with a live-action series entitled Star Wars: Underworld. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, Underworld was envisaged as spanning one hundred episodes and John Knoll's script was developed into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A tie-in video game, Star Wars: 1313, was also planned before LucasArts was shuttered.

Ultimately, the live-action series was mothballed once Disney took over Lucasfilm. However, fans can watch test footage from Underworld, which depicts Coruscant's underbelly in the style of Blade Runner or Cyberpunk 2077. Stargate Studios has worked on Doctor Who, The Walking Dead and The Orville.

What are your thoughts on Star Wars: Underworld? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 27 January 2020

Colin Trevorrow confirms Duel of the Fates leak

Director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World) confirmed, on Twitter, leaked conceptual artwork is from his unmade Star Wars sequel, Duel of the Fates, after he left Lucasfilm, citing creative differences, and JJ Abrams took over the project to direct what would become The Rise of Skywalker. Thus, finishing what he started with The Force Awakens.

Trevorrow's tweet comes a week after a screenplay was seemingly leaked online. It sees Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) dispatched by Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the final act and the Emperor's (Ian McDiarmid) 7000-year-old master, Tor Valum, a "Lovecraftian" menace, playing a pivotal role. Pity, it wasn't Darth Plagueis, first mentioned in Revenge of the Sith, who some fans thought was Snoke's (Andy Serkis) true identity before Rian Johnson burned the house down in The Last Jedi.

Trevorrow spoke to Empire magazine about his time on Star Wars, “I don’t want to talk too much about it because I don’t want to affect the way that fans get to see these films.”

He added, “When we were kids, these movies came to us from far away. They were a gift. And the more we talk about how they’re made, the more it reveals that they’re just movies.”

Trevorrow continued, “But they’re not just movies, they’re more than that. Beyond that, I got the opportunity to tell a story that is a celebration of everything I believe in, I got to tell it to George Lucas and I got to tell it to Luke Skywalker, and those are experiences I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Saturday 25 January 2020

The Doctor and the BritBox of delights

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Doctor Who on BritBox. Our resident US roving reporter, Nick Smith, friend and fellow Whovian, has had more time (pun intended) to explore.

Here are Nick's thoughts along with an anecdote regarding how his adventures aboard the TARDIS began (he never cared to mention it during classic Doctor Who screenings on VHS at university).

Guest post by Nick Smith

Everyone knows the best babysitter isn’t Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee. It’s the TV set! That steadfast screen can show us the world, how to behave and how not to. It can show us how to get to Sesame Street. It can show us the past and possible futures, human nature and Mother Nature.

In September 1980, I had a human babysitter called Mrs. Baggs. Ten or more kids at a time, nothing fancy, just her living room to play in and a drink of water if we got thirsty. Mrs. Baggs knew how magical TV was to simple kids who wouldn’t have known what to do with a Gameboy if it bit them. Those gadgets wouldn’t be around for almost a decade, so at the age of eight, I was happy playing with a toy steering wheel. I was a mini-Mansell oblivious to my surroundings. Then Mrs. Baggs said a few words that pricked my attention above the roar of my World Championship Racing engine.

"Did you see Doctor Who the other night?", Mrs. Baggs asked her charges in her piratical Bristolian accent. "He got ‘is arms and legs pulled off. It was brilliant!"

Although I’d been casually watching the Doctor since I was a toddler, I had not seen the offending episode. I was fascinated by the lurid picture painted by my sitter, the way her eyes got Tom Baker-wide when she described the cliffhanger from The Leisure Hive. I had to find out what happened next!

From then on, I was an avid viewer. While the episode endings did not always have me clamouring for more, they got everyone talking about how the Doctor would escape his latest predicament. The school playground was rife with conjecture about what would happen next. Like Saturday matinee serials beforehand, Doctor Who had a life outside its 25-minute airtime, a life that transcended TV’s two dimensions thanks to our vivid imaginations.

Later, convention screenings, bootleg videos and VHS/DVD releases meant we could watch stories any time we wanted! UK Gold ran repeats for a staggering 15 years, from 1992 to 2007. BBC2 showed the occasional rerun as well. Although we didn’t always have to wait a week between episodes, there was a sense of chronology. We watched a story through from beginning to end.

Now, with the advent of BritBox, that’s starting to change. The online streaming collection of British TV shows from the BBC and ITV provides an a la carte menu of viewing. Want to watch your own Cyberman saga or check out an Auton oeuvre? Go ahead, binge away.

Other services such as Twitch (with the occasional marathon) and Pluto TV, which has a Doctor Who Classics subchannel, provide a different way of viewing. They don’t give you a choice of what to stream but they do show whole stories. Pluto’s choice of stories can be arbitrary, although it’s good to see that they show some ‘60s tales casting a black and white light on Tom Baker Street. Some of the programming is strategic – want to watch Tomb of the Cybermen followed by Earthshock? Pluto’s your planet. But because the shows can’t be rewound, you might find yourself catching parts 2-4 of Power of Kroll. The result is more of a pick ‘n’ mix than the banquet of BritBox.

There are pros to this brave new world of streaming sci-fi. It’s on all the time and you can dip in whenever you want. The major downside: commercials, popping up uninvited on Twitch and Pluto. Yuck. Pacing in these shows is very important, and even 25 minutes stretched to half an hour makes a difference.

More Who is never a bad thing. Personally, I’m very glad there’s enough interest in my favourite TV show to devote a 24/7 channel to it. And if streaming draws new fans, subsequently increasing the show’s longevity, then that is great too. The new series still has a cliffhanger ending or two up its masterful sleeve, and I can handle missing episode one of Meglos. A show about time travel doesn’t always have to start its stories at the beginning.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Star Wars: The Clone Wars this February on Disney+

Lucasfilm has announced the final season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars will start streaming on Disney+ on 21st February.

The award-winning animated spin-off, created by George Lucas, was cancelled in 2013 after Disney acquired Lucasfilm. However, fan fervour has helped bring back this beloved series. The 12-part season explores events leading up to Revenge of the Sith.

In related news. Disney+ will now launch on 24th March in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. The nascent streaming service will undercut Netflix at £5.99 per month or £59.99 per year, which is very tempting. Existing DisneyLife subscribers will most likely be migrated to Disney+, but no official announcement has been made.

Looking forward to the final season of The Clone Wars? Let me know in the comments below.

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-led (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.