Tuesday 28 June 2022

Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2023

Punch it! Lucasfilm has announced tickets for Star Wars Celebration Europe 2023 go on sale this Thursday.

The official Lucasfilm fan event, which originally began in 1999 to celebrate the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and expanded outside of the US with Star Wars Celebration Europe in 2007, runs from 7th-10th April 2023.

Tickets will be limited and prices range from £33 per day to £795 for Jedi Master.

Star Wars Celebration Europe remains my all-time favourite convention and I hope to attend the 4-day event next April at ExCeL London. For further details visit here.

Will you be attending Star Wars Celebration Europe? Did you attend the last one in 2016? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 27 June 2022

Death stalks Stranger Things

The wait is almost over for Stranger Things fans (myself included).

Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill is number one on the charts for a second week and Stranger Things 4 Vol.2 is released on 1st July. Netflix has dropped a new trailer. However, don't watch if you haven't seen Stranger Things 4 Vol.1 and are sensitive to possible spoilers.

Read the official synopsis:

"It’s been six months since the Battle of Starcourt, which brought terror and destruction to Hawkins. Struggling with the aftermath, our group of friends are separated for the first time – and navigating the complexities of high school hasn't made things any easier. In this most vulnerable time, a new and horrifying supernatural threat surfaces, presenting a gruesome mystery that, if solved, might finally put an end to the horrors of the Upside Down."

Stranger Things 4 is a darker season and series co-creator Ross Duffer has warned fans to be concerned for their favourite characters.

“I don’t really want to say, but I would be concerned about the characters going into Volume 2, for sure,” Duffer told Variety. “I hope that that is sort of the sense, because it is a darker season and the kids are no longer kids. And there’s sort of an ominous feeling that things might not go well. Now, whether they do or not, you’ll have to watch.”

Are you excited for Stranger Things 4 Vol.2? Do you think anyone will die? If so, who? As long as it's not Steve Harrington (Joe Kerry). Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday 25 June 2022

Hayden Christensen talks Darth Vader

"I am not your failure, Obi-Wan! You didn't kill Anakin Skywalker... I did." Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi concluded on Wednesday with a haunting finale filled with nostalgic Force feels on Disney+.

Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader) appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to discuss his original casting in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and return as Darth Vader in the special event series directed by Deborah Chow (The Mandalorian).

Overall, I thought Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi was the perfect, mythological, farewell to a fan-favourite character played brilliantly by Ewan McGregor. The spin-off series may have redeemed the prequels for some fans, as it was a genuine thrill to see Kenobi training Anakin Skywalker in flashback before Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Their tragic tale reaches its zenith in an unforgettable duel between Kenobi and Darth Vader that nightmarishly meshed Christensen's and James Earl Jones' (purportedly via Respeecher) voices.

However, there's more to Darth Vader's story. And we'll see Christensen next in Star Wars: Ahsoka in 2023 on Disney+.

Did you enjoy Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi? Would you like to see a Darth Vader spin-off series? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

Paramount+ enters the streaming wars

Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) is now available in the UK and Ireland on a range of devices but not PlayStation or Xbox consoles at launch. Subscribers could sign-up a day early, and sci-fi cohorts (myself included) were able to begin streaming Halo: The Series and the Star Trek franchise on Tuesday.

I wasted no time in availing myself of a free 7-day trial (Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers will get 1 month for free as a reward and to promote Halo: The Series) and began watching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds on Apple TV. A stellar spin-off series spawned from Star Trek: Discovery. It's the best space western since The Mandalorian on Disney+.

Initial impressions of the latest entrant into an overcrowded streaming space are relatively positive.

The interface for Paramount+ is very similar to other streaming services such as Disney+. However, at launch, there isn't much content (due to pre-existing deals) unless you're a Star Trek fan (myself included) and streaming is capped at 1080p with 5.1 surround sound.

Therefore, I won't be watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture - The Director's Edition in 4K with Dolby Atmos for the foreseeable future. Of course, the UHD format could be added at any time.

It's worth remembering Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks are exclusive to Amazon Prime. That said, look what happened to Star Trek: Discovery on Netflix outside the US? Following a social media backlash in the wake of the series being pulled without warning, season four was shown for free on Pluto TV.

Is Paramount+ worth subscribing to as consumers emerge from a global pandemic, face a cost of living crisis and geopolitical unrest?

It's early days for Paramount+, so I'm hesitant to recommend paying £69.90 for an annual subscription (unless you're a Sky Cinema subscriber on Sky Q or Sky Glass, where it's available at no extra cost). This may change over the coming months, but it's a no-brainer for Star Trek fans. I'll post an update on Paramount+ in the autumn.

Are you subscribing to Paramount+? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 20 June 2022

Paramount+ launches this Wednesday

Hit it! Paramount+ launches in the UK with Halo and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds this week. To celebrate, Halo's season premiere will be shown on Channel 5, which is owned by Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS).

Paramount+ will launch in the UK and Ireland on a range of devices on 22nd June. Sky Cinema subscribers will get Paramount+ at no additional cost. However, there isn't a similar bundle for NOW subscribers so I've cancelled my subscription.

I currently subscribe to Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Netflix. However, I'll avail myself of the free 7-day trial to watch the exclusive live-action Halo series and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The latter is the best Star Trek spin-off series in years as evidenced by Nick Smith's review.

Will you be subscribing to Paramount+ for all things Star Trek? Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday 19 June 2022

AT-TE with Commander Cody at LEGO CON

LEGO CON 2022 was filled with exciting announcements to celebrate the beloved brick brand's 90 Years of Play.

From Galaxy Explorer, an homage to the original LEGO Space spaceship from 1979, which I still have in the attic, to Star Wars! There was something for brick builders of all ages.

Perhaps the most compelling news for LEGO Star Wars fans (myself included) is the AT-TE Walker with fan-favourite Commander Cody.

Read the official description of the LEGO Star Wars AT-TE Walker:

"Power into battle against the Separatist Droid Army, with the mighty AT-TE Walker! With Commander Cody in the cockpit, stride across rocky terrain and fire the rotating heavy blaster cannon. Grab weapons and thermal detonators from the cabin and deploy the 212th Clone Troopers to fight the Battle Droids on the ground. Who will triumph in the Battle of Utapau? It’s up to you!"

The LEGO Star Wars AT-TE Walker is available from LEGO AU, UK and US (affiliate links).

Will you be adding the LEGO Star Wars AT-TE Walker to your collection? What did you think of LEGO CON 2022? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 17 June 2022

Predator lives to hunt on Disney+

Parts of the UK are experiencing a heatwave. So it seems apt to share the official trailer for Prey, a Predator prequel directed by Dan Trachtenberg (10 Cloverfield Lane), coming to Hulu and Disney+ this summer.

Read the official synopsis:

"Set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago, “Prey” is the story of a young woman, Naru, a fierce and highly skilled warrior. She has been raised in the shadow of some of the most legendary hunters who roam the Great Plains, so when danger threatens her camp, she sets out to protect her people. The prey she stalks, and ultimately confronts, turns out to be a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries."

Prey premieres exclusively on Hulu and Star on Disney+ on 5th August.

Are you excited about Prey? What did you think of the trailer? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Spider-Man’s home on Disney+

Spider-Man's coming home to Disney+ this Friday.

Disney+ subscribers (myself included) will be able to watch Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Oddly, Spider-Man 3 is missing. However, at least fans of the friendly neighbourhood web-slinger will be able to watch Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in action along with Tom Holland's first solo adventure.

Whilst Netflix has a first-run exclusive deal with Sony Pictures, Disney teased the following: "Additional titles from Sony Pictures’ film and television library are expected to premiere on Disney+ in UK and Ireland later this year."

Are you pleased standalone Spider-Man movies are becoming available on Disney+? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

Celestial Toymaker returns to Doctor Who?

Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) has joined the cast of Doctor Who for the 60th anniversary in 2023.

A photo of the Emmy and Tony award-winning actor was shared on social media, and many fans (myself included) were reminded of the Celestial Toymaker from William Hartnell's era. The titular villain was played by Michael Gough (Batman) and pitted his wits against the First Doctor.

Russell T Davies, Showrunner said “It’s my huge honour to open our studio doors for the mighty Neil Patrick Harris… but who, why, what is he playing? You’ll just have to wait. But I promise you, the stuff we’re shooting now is off the scale. Doctor beware!”

Harris has previously worked with Davis on It's A Sin for Channel 4.

David Tennant (Tenth Doctor) and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) are returning to Doctor Who, which is currently filming in Cardiff, with Ncuti Gatwa as the next Doctor after Jodie Whittaker leaves the long-running sci-fi series in the autumn. The upcoming new era is a co-production with Sony's Bad Wolf (His Dark Materials).

Who do you think Neil Patrick Harris is playing? The Celestial Toymaker or someone else? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 13 June 2022

Attack of the Clones at 20

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) are currently reprising their roles from the prequel trilogy in the spectacular Star Wars: Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off series on Disney+.

Nick Smith remembers the first sequel to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Guest post by Nick Smith

As I drove past the Odeon movie theatre in Lincoln, UK, back in 2002, I wondered if my son would be able to handle the scary, intense moments in the PG-rated Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Episode II in George Lucas’ sprawling space saga?

My kid, Sam, was only two years old, but I was itching to share my love of Star Wars with him. I’d heard the movie contained fantasy violence and I didn’t want my son to be so scarred for life that he’d turn to the dark side and become a Star Trek fan or something.

Better to check it out, myself, first. So I did.

I still remember the sheer joy I felt watching Star Wars: Attack of the Clones for the first time. Sure, Anakin Skywalker’s padawan training obviously did not include acting lessons, but this was a brand new Star Wars film on the big screen and there were enough breathtaking battles and cinematic moments to give me a two-hour adrenalin rush.

Rather than marking time before the main event of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, director George Lucas (Star Wars) threw plenty of memorable set pieces into the film – a flying car chase, the monster-crammed Petranaki Arena, and the subsequent Jedi battle.

In this film, we see how powerful the Jedi really are, from a sky-diving Anakin to a flipping little Yoda. The Jedi are almost too powerful, helping to explain – if not excuse – Order 66 in the sequel Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

It took a few more years for Sam to get into Star Wars. Now he’s graduated from college and the Nexu is his totem animal. He’s a big fan of Boba Fett, following the Young Boba books spun off from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and the violent bits in the movie don’t bother him one bit.

20 years after its release, the fight scenes are spectacular, the darker moments are still mesmerising, and Sir Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) is sadly missed. Hayden Christensen’s casting aside, Lucas tells another mythic story with symbolism that is easy to absorb whatever your age, appealing characters and enough dialogue to inspire an army of memes for decades to come.

What are your memories of watching Star Wars: Attack of the Clones? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 6 June 2022

Stay on Target: A Star Wars Toy Story

In this edition of A Star Wars Toy Story delayed due to the pandemic, Nick Smith, our US-based collecting connoisseur, goes on a toy hunt to Target in search of exclusive bounty.

Let's hope Nick doesn't get locked in overnight like teenage crush Jennifer Connelly (Labyrinth) and Frank Whaley in Career Opportunities. Does he find enough cargo to fill a space cruiser?

Guest post by Nick Smith

Toys can tell us a lot about past generations, from the war toys of the ‘40s to Malibu Barbie in the ‘70s. Somewhere, however, there’s a cultural island of lost toys, where a plastic RoboCop hangs out with Rambo and Ripley, and Boba Fett is an outlawed choking hazard.

From spring 1978 onwards, the Star Wars line was a genius move, toys small enough to fit in a child’s hand but big enough to incorporate details like Han Solo’s holster, a snake necklace for Yoda and snaggly teeth for Snaggletooth. The other brainwave was to sell the toys at a pocket money price of $1.97 each. Over in the UK, for around a quid you could pick up a plastic replica of your fave star warrior.

Now, with the price of spice much too high to dump at the first sign of trouble, you need pretty big pockets to shell out for Target’s ‘prize bounty’ selection or Hasbro’s Black Series. Which means fans have to be more selective about our purchases.

Target is a big deal in the USA, with at least one megastore in every major city. Call it the wine-drinking man’s Walmart. Their toy section is huge, and although shoppers have to pop online for some exclusives, there are no less than 50 prize bounty toys, books, pin and knickknacks currently available.

These include a backpack that looks like Mandalorian Bo-Katan’s helmet, a red chrome Funko Pop! Boba Fett, character T-shirts from Star Wars Visions and an Axe Woves action figure (from The Mandalorian) in vintage-style packaging (confusingly, from the original Star Wars trilogy).

Most striking of all, however, is an eye-catching wookiee from the retro collection. It’s the prototype for the original Chewbacca toy with a red face and torso, one yellow arm and leg, a purple arm and a green left leg. The actual prototypes of this toy are extremely rare and sought after; now everyone can have one – at least, when the toy gets released. Pre-orders are sold out.

While the Chewbacca Prototype Exclusive makes a colourful talking point, it also smacks of desperation. All the main Star Wars characters – and a lot of minor ones - have been turned into toys and released.

Luckily, new shows like Andor, Ahsoka, Skeleton Crew and Obi-Wan Kenobi mean new toy choices. Until those shows inspire fresh merch, I can pick up Mandalorian and Grogu action figures at my local Five Below for five bucks a piece. Pocket money well spent.

Wednesday 1 June 2022

Warp factor fun in Strange New Worlds

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has exclusively beamed onto Paramount+ with Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One and Ethan Peck as Science Officer Spock reprising their fan-favourite roles from Star Trek: Discovery's second season, which seems like a lifetime ago in the new normal.

Paramount+'s protracted launch (outside the US) means UK fans (myself included) are unable to see Star Trek: Strange New Worlds until 22nd June. ViacomCBS isn't unique in this. The Mandalorian dropped onto Disney+ months before the streaming service was available elsewhere.

Nick Smith, our resident US-based stellar scribe, boldly goes.

Guest post by Nick Smith

Let us never forget: Akiva Goldsman wrote Batman & Robin, a film so silly and clunkily scripted that it destroyed a multi-million dollar movie series, costing Warner Bros. untold riches in box office and merchandising that could have been earned from more potential ‘90s bat-movies (he blames the audience).

So if you’re ever at the end of your tether, make a booboo at work, upset your significant other or eat the profiteroles in the fridge that were supposed to be for your house guests Friday night, just remember if Goldsman can bounce back from his fiasco to steer shows like Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

"I'm a deep, deep, deep, deep old comic book fan," Goldsman told Collider back in 2020 when the series was announced. That gee-whiz, kinetic storytelling sensibility shows in Strange New Worlds, where he is credited as co-creator, co-executive producer and writer of the pilot and other episodes.

Like 2001’s Star Trek: Enterprise, this new streaming series takes us back to a time just before the original series, although unlike Enterprise it lacks a MOR rock song intro. Instead, Strange New Worlds' opening music is like an off-note version of the Star Trek tune we grew up with. Those who would prefer something unique need not apply. The rest of the show similarly celebrates what makes Trek enjoyable: a charismatic captain (Anson Mount), a likeable crew, interplanetary moral dilemmas, teleporting and tolerance.

Judging by the pilot, the show most resembles Star Trek: The Next Generation, using archetypes and broad-stroke situations to debate the value and danger of progress and advanced technology. It also successfully captures the feel of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies, although this show eases off the fake lens flares.

Science definitely serves the story; although Strange New Worlds is set a decade before Captain Kirk’s televised mission, genetic tech is developed enough to change an Away Party’s appearance to help them blend in with an alien civilization, causing tension when Spock’s (Ethan Peck) gene shot wears off.

Part of the charm of the original stories was that the science behind the fiction was relatively simple – we were watching the crew of a glorified space submarine, following military rules, with specific tools and weapons at their disposal. Hopefully, Goldsman and his team won’t resort to more unlikely pseudoscience in their efforts to create a sense of wonder. Yes, I’m looking at you, Star Trek: Voyager.

Likewise, La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong)’s outburst seems out of place on a starship and it’s a surprise that such a hothead is serving in a critical position. Khan’t she control her temper? It makes for a good bit of conflict, though.

Beyond its fancy effects, Strange New Worlds' success hinges on the allure of its cast. Mount holds the show together, with Captain Pike the focus and fulcrum on and off the Enterprise. He struggles to cope with a portent of his own death, a possible meditation on the reminder of mortality the global pandemic has brought us all (a similar plot point runs through Amazon’s weird western series Outer Range). How’s that for a universal theme?

It’s fun to connect the dots with the beloved original series and see how Pike fares before the events of The Menagerie, or the JJ Abrams movies, or whatever mirror universe version of Gene Rodenberry’s creation we’re watching.

It’s also a joy to see a young Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) and other Strange Old Favourite characters get larger roles in a show that might not be bold but has the capacity to further explore age-old themes of effecting and policing other cultures, and how the way we choose to treat others makes us so wonderfully, illogically human.

Have you seen Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Are you subscribing to Paramount+? Let me know in the comments below.