Thursday 31 December 2020

Star Wars fan film: Prequel Trilogy remake

It's New Year's Eve and most of the UK is now in tier 4 (the highest level of restrictions) due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tim Hoekstra, from New Zealand-based Knights of Renesmee, got in touch to 'shamelessly plug' his latest Star Wars fan film, a 6-hour prequel movie marathon filmed during the lockdown, that will help pass the time until 2021. How could I refuse?

I asked Tim: "What was the inspiration and, more importantly, is there going to be a holiday special in 2021?"

"The Star Wars Holiday Special would be extremely fertile ground haha. We'll see..." You heard it here first, folks! Tim went on to explain the creative impulse behind the shot-for-shot remake of Star Wars creator George Lucas' prequel trilogy. "We started almost 4 years ago with Revenge of the Sith, filming it over 5 days (it was holidays, we were bored and none of us had jobs). Our motivation was largely to have fun hanging out which I think you can see in our film. Another motivation was to make something nostalgic we could look back on in 10 years when we all have kids/families etc. After releasing it to Youtube and getting ~50 views in the first week, I woke up one morning and found it on Youtube trending with 100'000 views and from there, completing the trilogy was inevitable..."

If you have a fan film you'd like to share, please contact me.

Wednesday 30 December 2020

Star Wars fan film: Scorekeeper

This past year, I've not shared many fan films and wanted to redress that. And to make a new year's resolution to further support the creative fanbases of Doctor Who, Star Wars and more as we continue to navigate the 'new normal' together in 2021.

Scorekeeper is a fun not-for-profit mash-up of Star Wars and Predator franchises from Creative Force Films (CFF), based out of Atlanta, GA. Featuring bounty hunter Bossk from The Empire Strikes Back and The Clone Wars.

"An Elite Rebel Team infiltrates an Imperial outpost on a mission of securing an asset that has vital information. Unbeknownst to them, they are not the only ones on the hunt."

If you have a fan film you'd like to share, please contact me.

Sunday 27 December 2020

Wonder Woman shines in 1984

It's the festive lull between Christmas and New Year's Day filled with cold cuts and winter walks. In an especially turbulent year, comic book fans (myself included) are looking for an uplifting, nostalgic tale of hope in the 'new normal'.

Is Wonder Woman 1984, currently in selected theatres and on HBO Max at no additional cost, the superhero movie we're looking for?

From the comfort and safety of home, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, took time out of his hectic holiday schedule to see if Wonder Woman 1984 is a worthy successor to Superman II.

Guest post by Nick Smith

In 1984, my sister Becky was 9 years old and a perfect age to feel empowered by the TV version of Wonder Woman. Even though the show had long ceased production, Lynda Carter’s portrayal would stick in the public psyche for a long time to come [Lynda Carter was a childhood crush alongside Carrie Fisher - Ed]. Becky was enamoured with the heroine’s strength, confidence and above all, her ability to make boys tell the truth.

9-year-old Becky would have approved of the thrilling opening sequence of DC Comics’ WW84 movie, in which a young Diana (played by 13-year-old Lilly Aspell) participates in an Amazonian Iron Woman race, establishing the movie’s moral theme and offering the grand backdrop of Themyscira a la Thor’s Asgard or Black Panther’s Wakanda. The sequence is only marred by some unconvincing CGI, surprising after the excellent underwater shots in Aquaman.

Like the teen athlete Diana, this sequel’s creators must be feeling the pressure. With a dearth of superhero epics this year, DC’s WW84 movie has been highly-anticipated. Not only does it promise the celluloid extravaganza that hundreds of millions of production dollars can buy but it also reunites director Patty Jenkins with statuesque star Gal Gadot, reprising her role as the adult Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman.

Although it contained many elements that appealed to me, including a fascinating World War I setting and charismatic stars, I found the first Wonder Woman film a convoluted slog and I had to watch it over a 3-day period. Jenkins has stated that Warner Bros. insisted on inflating the ending, which she wanted to close on a more intimate note. The sequel is more enjoyable but still too long.

Taking its cue from the first couple of Superman and Spider-Man movies, WW84 opens its main narrative by showing its heroine using her powers to help everyday people, eliciting that innocent sense of awe that all good comic book characters should. An initial crime starts a chain reaction that leads to all kinds of destructive shenanigans. Wonder Woman has to make a painful personal choice to help restore the balance.

For at least the first half-hour, there are no good male characters except a starving homeless guy and a small child. Most of the adult males we meet are ignorant, selfish or rotten. Luckily Wonder Woman isn’t the only character around to put wrong-doers in their place. Kristen Wiig flips her trademark awkward comedy persona, as her character Barbara Minerva wishes for self-improvement and gains it… at a price. As she and sympathetic antagonist Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) find out, one should always be careful what one wishes for [This is the way. You saw what I did there, right? - Ed].

There are fanciful elements at play here but if we can believe in a magic lasso, why not believe in an ancient stone that can grant wishes? Wonder Woman doesn’t have to figure out the stone’s power – it’s literally spelt out for her in Latin – while other things are not spelt out enough for the audience. The bad guy’s abilities aren’t explained properly until later in the movie. There’s chaos in the streets of Washington DC but we’re not shown why in great enough detail, at first. In the third act, the stakes are raised and there is plenty of reason for panic in the streets but the build-up comes too soon. In Superman II (an obvious template for this sequel) the chaos is intrinsically caused by Zod’s Kryptonian criminals. In WW84, it seems to be caused by a traffic jam and some loose cows.

One of the movie’s best elements, aside from Pascal’s increasingly manic character, is the romantic subplot. Wonder Woman’s love for Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) remains unbound, even more than six decades after his death. Now that’s love. Sadly the relationship drama takes a back seat to the rock-‘em-sock-‘em scenes that weigh down all modern DC movies, including Shazam!

Despite more dodgy CGI in a climactic fight scene, and a mid-end credits cameo that received mixed reactions from my friends – everything from corny to respectful, WW84 satisfies, has a few chuckles at the expense of 1980s fashion and art, and manages to make some important comments about the greed and excess of that era. Wrongs are righted and Wonder Woman is represented with respect. Plus, she gets to wear cool golden armour! 9-year-old Becky would be inspired and delighted.

WW84 is a breath of fun fresh air just when we need it and I applaud HBO Max for streaming it and giving Christmas a good old-fashioned blockbuster, even for those who have to isolate their wonder to the comfort of their homes – just like we watched the classic show, back in the day.

Have you seen Wonder Woman 1984 in a theatre or on HBO Max and what did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 23 December 2020

His Dark Materials renewed for third season

The gift-giving season is upon us. The spectacular second season of His Dark Materials, based on The Subtle Knife, concluded Sunday on BBC One in the UK. The BBC/HBO co-production has been renewed for a third season based on Sir Philip Pullman's third, and final, book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass.

“His Dark Materials has been a truly global TV experience and a personal career highlight,” said executive producer Jane Tranter. “The creative team at Bad Wolf in Cardiff made the impossible possible and brought Philip Pullman’s worlds into vivid life. To see that hard work and dedication applauded and embraced by fans around the world has made all the hard work worthwhile. None of this would have been possible without the wonderful commitment and conviction of the BBC and HBO. I am excited, thrilled and honoured to be making the third part of Philip Pullman’s trilogy with their support and encouragement. Diolch.”

The third season of the, refreshingly complex and thought-provoking, family drama is expected to be filmed next summer in Cardiff, the home of stablemate Doctor Who, with a release in late 2022 due to the ongoing pandemic.

Are you excited for His Dark Materials season three? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 21 December 2020

The Book of Boba Fett

So, it's the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, Mando Monday and Christmas week.

Originally, I wasn't going to post again until the new year. However, the monumental events of The Mandalorian Chapter 16, The Rescue, changed all that.

The live-action spin-off has unified a fragmented and toxic fanbase with its Sergio Leone in space adventures and should be lauded for being Star Wars at its very best - a story of family and friendship in adversity.

Please be assured, there are no spoilers per se for the spectacular season finale. This is more about the surprise spin-off, The Book of Boba Fett, starring Temuera Morrison as the titular character, announced after the end credits. All the more poignant in the wake of fan-favourite actor Jeremy Bulloch, Boba Fett in the original trilogy, passing away.

Ever since the original Star Wars, I've always sat through end credits. Mostly. Not only to see who had worked on the movie but to savour the soundtrack, too. Ludwig Göransson's score for The Mandalorian is fantastic but nothing prepared me (or fellow Star Wars fans) for the dramatic shot of Jabba the Hutt's palace on Tatooine.

The events that followed culminated in the death of an obese Bib Fortuna, whom I'd always assumed had perished aboard Jabba's Sail Barge in Return of the Jedi, before Boba Fett took the throne.

Once I was able to compose myself after all the twists and turns in The Rescue, my immediate reaction was does this mean The Mandalorian series is over? Much in the same way series showrunner Jon Favreau launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Iron Man, now he's creating a new Star Wars live-action universe for Disney+ set between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.

There's still some confusion at the time of writing. What do you think? Is there going to be a third season for the Emmy-winning The Mandalorian and are you excited for The Book of Boba Fett? Let me know in the comments below. This is the way.

Friday 18 December 2020

Empire's legacy and departure of Boba Fett

This is the holiday gift Star Wars fans (myself included) are looking for from the fine folks at Lucasfilm.

Good Morning America (GMA) has shared rare and exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The sequel to Star Wars took the franchise to dark and unexpected places that Andrew Lewin and I explore for the movie's 40th anniversary.

An emotional journey transporting me back forty years ago to a time when I first saw, with mum and an aunt, gargantuan Imperial Walkers striding across a desolate snowscape in what would become my favourite film of all time...

In related news. Jeremy Bulloch, who played Boba Fett in the original Star Wars trilogy, has sadly passed away, aged 75. The infamous bounty hunter first appeared alongside Darth Vader (David Prowse) on the big screen in The Empire Strikes Back and quickly gained a cult following after capturing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and taking him to Jabba the Hutt.

Bulloch’s physicality imbued Fett with a steely coolness that suggested he could kill Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on Cloud City! Of course, the actor is also known to fellow Doctor Who fans for playing Hal the Archer in Jon Pertwee's classic serial The Time Warrior.

If you hadn't already guessed, Fett's one of my favourite characters from the franchise and the 12-inch action figure a cherished Christmas gift from childhood - I was too excited to sleep after discovering Santa had left a smuggler's bounty on the landing.

From celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes to The Mandalorian, we hope we've helped bring some cheer during this unprecedented year.

This is the ideal opportunity to wish you and yours a very safe holiday season. Here's hoping 2021 brings brighter days. May the Force be with you. Always.

Thursday 17 December 2020

Watch the opening scene from Wonder Woman 1984

The opening scene from director Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman 1984 was released during the return of DC FanDome on Tuesday. Gal Gadot reprises the role of everyone's favourite Amazonian princess.

The sequel to Wonder Woman is coming to theatres and HBO Max at no extra cost to subscribers on Christmas Day. The official HBO Max app is now available for PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Roku devices in readiness.

Wonder Woman 1984 is currently on limited release, due to the pandemic, in the UK. Reviews suggest it's the equal of the beloved original and let's hope fans (myself included) won't have to wait too long for a home release on Sky Cinema.

Jenkins' next film foray is Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Cyberpunk'd 2077

Following a delayed launch, the most hyped game of 2020 was released on 10th December for PC and last-gen consoles. It was meant to bring festive cheer during a torrid year.

Cyberpunk 2077, from developer CD Projekt Red, was announced in 2012. After 8 years of development - spanning 3 console generations - expectations were high, too high. More so given the success of The Witcher 3, and the seemingly consumer-friendly practises of the Polish studio with post-launch patches and free DLC in an era dominated by microtransactions and pay-to-win gameplay mechanics. Looking at you EA and Ubisoft.

This isn't a review of Cyberpunk 2077 as I'm only a few hours into the game, digitally, on PlayStation 5 (PS5) via backwards compatibility. Unlike many playing the game on last-gen consoles, my experience has been great aside from one crash to the PS5 dashboard.

Admittedly, as with the original Mass Effect trilogy and Skyrim, I restarted the game several times until I was happy with my character: Star Wars' Daisy Ridley in Westworld. If I discover any game-breaking bugs, things may go south.

It's 2020 and there's no ray tracing for consoles yet. The PS5 brute-forces 60fps and, by disabling film grain, HDR (if enabled) and motion blur, the graphics are sharper on my Samsung 4K UHD smart TV, which will suffice as a workaround until the release of a free next-gen patch in 2021. Hopefully.

But my opinion wouldn't be so positive on last-gen hardware and, whilst the developer would have strived for the best possible experience on all platforms, CD Projekt Red shouldn't get a free pass. Cyberpunk 2077 wasn't oven-ready.

This satirical YouTube clip distils last-gen console owners' frustrations with hilarious results. Not even Keanu Reeves, playing Johnny Silverhand, can save the inhabitants of potato planet.

Cyberpunk 2077 (affiliate link) is the immersive video game I’ve always wanted in a genre that captured my imagination in the pages of 2000 AD back in the summer of 1980. However, the controversy surrounding the title's launch has been well documented elsewhere and I'm interested in what you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 15 December 2020

Marvel Studios: Legends on Disney+

To coincide with the launch of WandaVision in January, Marvel Studios: Legends has been announced exclusively for Disney+.

Here's the official series synopsis:

"As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, Marvel Studios: Legends celebrates and codifies what has come before. Revisit the epic heroes, villains and moments from across the MCU in preparation for the highly anticipated stories still to come. Each dynamic segment feeds directly into the upcoming series premiering on Disney+ — setting the stage for future events. Marvel Studios: Legends weaves together the many threads that constitute the unparalleled Marvel Cinematic Universe."

The first two episodes will focus on Wanda Maximoff and Vision from 8th January. WandaVision begins on 15th January.

Monday 14 December 2020

DC FanDome returns for Wonder Woman 1984

DC FanDome returns this Tuesday for the online world premiere of Wonder Woman 1984.

Hosted by Tiffany Smith, the virtual event will include exclusive interviews from the film's director, Patty Jenkins, and stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal.

"We have the best fans in the world and that’s why we’re so excited to celebrate the launch of Wonder Woman 1984 in such a big way," Jenkins and Gadot said in a statement. "Having it be a virtual event allows us to share the moment with Wonder Woman superfans everywhere who might not otherwise have the chance to experience a movie premiere."

Wonder Woman 1984 will be released in selected theatres and on HBO Max this holiday season with Sky rumoured to be in talks, too. The sequel has a secret post-credit scene. So, stick around till the end. Look out for Nick Smith's review coming soon.

Friday 11 December 2020

All the Star Wars things coming to Disney+

As a lifelong Star Wars and Marvel fan, it feels like Christmas Day in the morning, with so many gifts around the tree, you don't know what to open first.

During Thursday's Disney Investor Day 2020, the Walt Disney Company announced so much Star Wars and Marvel Studios content coming to an expanded, more expensive, Disney+ that will include the new Star brand from February 2021.

Star is essentially an international version of Hulu, which will show family and adult dramas including a new Alien live-action spin-off series for FX.

“Alien will be helmed by Fargo and Legion’s’ Noah Hawley stepping into the creator/executive producer chair, and FX is in advanced negotiations with Academy Award winner, Sir Ridley Scott—director of the first Alien film and the sequel, Alien: Covenant—to join the project as an executive producer,” FX chief John Landgraf said. “Set not too far into our future, it’s the first Alien story set on Earth — and by blending both the timeless horror of the first Alien film with the non-stop action of the second, it’s going to be a scary thrill ride that will blow people back in their seats.”

The prospect of a xenomorph series set on Earth is compelling and hopefully more interesting than executive producer Ridley Scott's Raised by Wolves for HBO Max.

The Mandalorian is repeating executive producer Jon Favreau's masterstroke with Iron Man with further spin-offs Star Wars: Rangers of the New Republic and Star Wars: Ahsoka starring Rosario Dawson. These series will have crossovers.

Then there's Obi-Wan Kenobi reuniting Ewan McGregor as the titular Jedi Master-in-hiding and Hayden Christensen as Darth Vader from the prequels.

“It was such an incredible journey playing Anakin Skywalker,” said Christensen. “Of course, Anakin and Obi-Wan weren’t on the greatest of terms when we last saw them… It will be interesting to see what an amazing director like Deborah Chow has in store for us all. I’m excited to work with Ewan again. It feels good to be back.”

Star Wars: Andor, Star Wars: Visions, Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Lando... And a new movie, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, directed by Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman).

“It’s been a lifelong dream as a filmmaker to one day make a great fighter pilot film,” said Jenkins. “As the daughter of a great fighter pilot myself, some of the best memories of my life are of seeing my father’s squadron take off in their F4s every morning, and hearing and feeling the awe-inspiring power and grace. When he passed away in service to this country it ignited a burning desire to one day channel all of those emotions into one great film. When the perfect story arrived in combination with another true love of mine, the incomparable world of Star Wars, I knew I’d finally found my next film. I’m extremely honored and excited to take it on, and grateful to Lucasfilm, Disney, and the fans for extending that thrill to me.”

“Patty has established herself as one of the top directors working in the film industry today,” said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. “She’s a visionary who knows how to strike the balance between action and heart, and I can’t wait to see what she does in the Star Wars galaxy.”

If that wasn't enough. There's also Willow and a final Indiana Jones movie starring Harrison Ford. Really wish they'd stopped at The Last Crusade.

After all these announcements, I'm going to need a nap like Grogu AKA Baby Yoda. Suffice it to say, Disney+ has a lifelong subscriber in me but I hope the studio amicably resolves its royalties conflict with author Alan Dean Foster.

What are you looking forward to most? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 9 December 2020

Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop in Hawkeye

Hailee Steinfeld has been linked with the Hawkeye spin-off series for Disney+ for over a year.

Filming for the live-action spin-off series was delayed due to the pandemic but now the actress can be seen as Kate Bishop (in a comic-accurate costume) alongside Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton AKA Hawkeye.

Barton is expected to pass on the baton of Hawkeye to Bishop in the limited-run series. The character of Bishop will most likely appear in further spin-offs and movies.

Hawkeye will also star Vera Farmiga as Eleanor Bishop, Fra Fee as The Clown, Tony Dalton as Swordsman, Alaqua Cox as Echo and Florence Pugh reprising the role of Yelena Belova from Black Widow.

In related news. Charlie Cox will reprise the role of Daredevil in Spider-Man 3. Cox will play Peter Parker's lawyer in the multiverse-spanning adventure.

WandaVision will be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) spin-off on Disney+ starting this January, which nicely coincides with my birthday. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will follow later in the year.

Are you excited for the Hawkeye spin-off? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 7 December 2020

Lucasfilm celebrates 50th anniversary in 2021

Lucasfilm celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021.

Founded by Star Wars creator George Lucas, the independent production powerhouse became a hotbed for film, television and technological innovation spawning Skywalker Sound, Pixar, ILM, THX and much more.

In recognition of this milestone, the Disney-owned studio will be releasing all-new merchandise, throughout next year, honouring its many exciting properties beginning with Star Wars.

“Consumer products have always been an integral part of the Star Wars fan experience, and they remain a constant force in pop-culture today,” says Paul Southern, Lucasfilm senior vice president, Licensing and Franchise. “To commemorate Lucasfilm’s 50 years of storytelling, we look forward to honoring this consumer products legacy and bringing to life brand-new products, games, and publishing offerings that celebrate our future with Lucasfilm’s exciting feature films and Disney+ series ahead.”

"Lucasfilm was founded in 1971 by George Lucas. Films such as Star Wars and Indiana Jones took the world by storm and revolutionized visual effects, sound design, animation, and other groundbreaking filmmaking techniques. The artists and technicians of Lucasfilm have never stopped innovating and continue to influence the film industry today. The Mandalorian is currently one of top series on Disney+. Across the Company, Lucasfilm has won 29 Emmy Awards, 38 Academy Awards, 32 Sci-Tech Awards, 18 Webby Awards, and 12 awards for ILMxLAB’s groundbreaking work in immersive entertainment. Lucasfilm Publishing has had over 180 books on the New York Times Bestseller List and has won a multitude of awards, including the 2020 GLAAD Award for Outstanding Comic Book. Lucasfilm Games has delighted fans across multiple platforms and genres with games that push the boundaries of interactive entertainment, winning numerous awards including BAFTA Game Awards, D.I.C.E. Awards from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences and Game Developers Choice Awards."

I can't recall a time when Lucasfilm didn't have an impact on my life. From seeing Star Wars, following a life-changing head injury in primary school, to using Photoshop on a daily basis. The Lucasfilm Fan Club magazine (rebranded as Star Wars Insider) printed a letter of mine in 1993.

What are your earliest memories of Lucasfilm? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 4 December 2020

Warner Bros. to release movies in 2021 on HBO Max

Is this the end of mainstream cinema as we know it in the wake of a global pandemic?

Warner Bros. will release all-new movies simultaneously in selected theatres and on HBO Max in 2021 in a paradigm-shifting move that will have repercussions for the way Hollywood movies are distributed day-one.

The announcement was made by Ann Sarnoff, Chair and CEO, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group (of which Warner Bros. is part) and Jason Kilar, CEO, WarnerMedia.

“We’re living in unprecedented times which call for creative solutions, including this new initiative for the Warner Bros. Pictures Group,” said Sarnoff. “No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do. We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021. With this unique one-year plan, we can support our partners in exhibition with a steady pipeline of world-class films, while also giving moviegoers who may not have access to theaters or aren’t quite ready to go back to the movies the chance to see our amazing 2021 films. We see it as a win-win for film lovers and exhibitors, and we’re extremely grateful to our filmmaking partners for working with us on this innovative response to these circumstances.”

“After considering all available options and the projected state of moviegoing throughout 2021, we came to the conclusion that this was the best way for WarnerMedia’s motion picture business to navigate the next 12 months,” said Kilar. “More importantly, we are planning to bring consumers 17 remarkable movies throughout the year, giving them the choice and the power to decide how they want to enjoy these films. Our content is extremely valuable, unless it’s sitting on a shelf not being seen by anyone. We believe this approach serves our fans, supports exhibitors and filmmakers, and enhances the HBO Max experience, creating value for all.”

“This hybrid exhibition model enables us to best support our films, creative partners and moviegoing in general throughout 2021,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “We have a fantastic, wide-ranging slate of titles from talented and visionary filmmakers next year, and we’re excited to be able to get these movies in front of audiences around the world. And, as always, we’ll support all of our releases with innovative and robust marketing campaigns for their theatrical debuts, while highlighting this unique opportunity to see our films domestically via HBO Max as well.”

The Walt Disney Company trialled the release of its live-action Mulan, at a premium price, on Disney+ last September and Pixar's critically-acclaimed Soul will be available to stream on Christmas Day.

HBO Max will be rolled out to international markets from next year with Sky in the UK purportedly showing Wonder Woman 1984 only a few weeks after it's in selected cinemas this Christmas.

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

Thursday 3 December 2020


Ahead of the Doctor Who holiday special, Revolution of the Daleks, Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, has been checking out the latest spin-off series streaming on YouTube.

Daleks! Tell on...

Guest post by Nick Smith

It’s not easy being mean. Just ask the Daleks, who sucker-punched their way into pop culture almost six decades ago, thrilling and chilling readers and audiences ever since.

My first encounter with the Skaro squad came with Genesis of the Daleks back in the mid-seventies. But it was their search for Davros in 1979’s Destiny of the Daleks that really captured my imagination. I didn’t care that they were a bit tatty, or that Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor made fun of them. I found them fearsome, fascinating and most important of all, easy to imitate in the school playground. The bullies of the small screen took my mind off the real-life bullies I couldn’t exterminate [you had me at exterminate - Ed].

A few years later I got hooked on a periodical called Doctor Who Monthly (DWM). One of the strips I loved to read was a reprint of Dalek adventures first published in TV Century 21 magazine from the sixties. Ron Turner’s art was packed with eye-catching design and colour, the supporting characters were memorable, and the Daleks’ devious plans were a big draw too.

Since then, I have been drawn to any little reference to those comic strips, whether in the Dalekmania documentary or in the hovering Dalek hordes of Bad Wolf. Imagine my delight when BBC’s new five-part animated series Daleks! delivered a golden emperor, hoverbouts, galactic machinations and conniving robots, all Terry Nation and David Whitaker-spawned staples retooled for 2020. Furthermore, this was new Who material, the first official on-screen spin-off since 2016’s Class [I didn't get beyond the pilot with Twelve - Ed].

Storywise, my expectations were low. This was a show for kids, surely; at just over ten minutes, the episodes didn’t have room for deep themes or grand character arcs. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Daleks in this show are fallible, backstabbing, on the run from a powerful space entity but still as devious as ever. The brass-bumped emperor is pompous and the scarred old strategist is loyal. Along with the entity, they face stubborn librarians, reprogramed rivals and (finally, after 55 years) the Mechanoids. I‘ve always had a soft spot for these big bots from the First Doctor story The Chase, with their beautiful architecture and their high-pitched voices, speaking a mix of code and broken English. It’s a delight to see them back in action.

Although the episodes are brief, there’s enough meat in them to tell a solid story, develop the main Dalek characters and squeeze in a twist or two. These Daleks aren’t as menacing as they appear in Doctor Who but their threat is in their numbers – we see their armada in full force – and in their Machiavellian antics.

The animation is uneven; while most of the spacecraft and alien cities are highly detailed, the explosions and robots are highly simplified and unrealistic [should've used the Unreal Engine - Ed]. Nevertheless, the faceless Daleks, obviously easier to animate than humans, are imbued with life and momentum, as are the slick ‘camera’ moves.

Daleks! provides a great opportunity for a new audience to familiarize themselves with Doctor Who’s main menace, and for die-hard fans to get a fix before the New Year’s Revolution. I dearly hope that this show leads to more seasons and more spin-offs. Anyone for Saturday Morning Cybermen? [an excellent suggestion - Ed]

Watch Daleks! for free on YouTube and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Tuesday 1 December 2020

Way of the Mandalorian

With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker concluding the epic nine-part Skywalker saga a year ago. The Disney+ live-action spin-off series continues to fill the void during the pandemic.

This contains spoilers for The Mandalorian Chapters 12 and 13 streaming now on Disney+. You have been warned, Padawan!

Following Din Djarin's (Pedro Pascal) memorable meeting with Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff), Mando and The Child AKA Baby Yoda take a detour to visit some old friends on Nevarro and repair the battle-damaged Razor Crest before continuing the search for the Jedi. Kryze told Mando to seek fan-favourite Ahsoka Tano (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) on the forest moon of Corvus.

Director Carl Weathers, who plays Greef Karga in the live-action Star Wars spin-off, dives into George Lucas' original trilogy sandbox and serves up a thrilling tale filled with 'toyetic' moments that transported me back to childhood; playing with Kenner and Palitoy action figures, playsets and accessories at Christmas.

All the while connecting the prequel, original and sequel trilogies with midi-chlorians sourced from The Child and allusions to the creation of Emperor Palpatine's (Ian McDiarmid) puppet: Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). And that's before Moff Gideon's (Giancarlo Esposito) Dark Troopers, first seen in the Star Wars: Dark Forces video game, seemingly appear aboard his Arquitens-class light command cruiser. Oh, boy!

Ahsoka lives!

Chapter 13, directed by Dave Filoni (Star Wars Rebels), sees Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) immediately enter the fray in an episode that will be long remembered as it explores the grander mythological themes of the Star Wars saga, sets up a new spin-off series and rewards longtime fans (myself included) amidst scorching lightsaber and blaster fire action.

The Jedi is an emotional tour de force in which we learn Baby Yoda's name is Grogu, how he was saved from certain death in the Jedi Temple, on Coruscant, by a mysterious rescuer when the Emperor passed Order 66 as Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) turns to the dark side, becomes Darth Vader and goes on a murderous rampage (Revenge of the Sith). This lent further poignancy to the knowledge Ahsoka was Anakin's former apprentice.

There's tragic foreshadowing as Ahsoka refuses to train Grogu (he'll always be Baby Yoda to me) due to his attachment to Djarin. If Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is any indicator, I've got a bad, very bad, feeling about this.

If this wasn't enough to process, Grand Admiral Thrawn (Heir to the Empire) is namechecked when Ahsoka defeats the Magistrate (Diana Lee Inosanto). Wherever the Razor Crest, tracked by Moff Gideon's Imperial forces, is taking us, it's going to be the very best of Star Wars.

This is the way.