Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Spoiler Free Review

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes with so much baggage it actually feels difficult to write a full review after my initial viewing.

I came out with some hugely conflicting feelings, so rather than a fully considered review, this might best be considered a collection of immediate, post-screening thoughts.

The film, of course, is the conclusion not only to this most-recent Disney backed trilogy (comprising The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi), but it also concludes the entire Skywalker saga (preceded by the films in the Prequel and Original trilogies).

Many fans will, I suspect, find The Rise of Skywalker to be a hugely satisfying ending to the nine film cycle, as returning director J.J. Abrams and his team play far safer than The Last Jedi’s controversial Rian Johnson and pack the film to the rafters with many fan-pleasing elements. Perhaps too many.

And this seems to have been done to the detriment of a cohesive movie, as Rise lacks a certain elegance in narrative to play very episodically, with MacGuffins galore leading our heroes from one set piece to the next.

While Johnson seemed determined to use his film to kill off certain elements of past Star Wars films to suggest a new future path, Abrams and co have apparently paid careful attention to the howls of outrage over this approach from the hordes of man babies and over-entitled toxic fans and dialed back on this by making a film about resurrecting the dead. And boy, do the dead rise up in this film. Literally and figuratively.

There are tantalising glimpses of a thematic element, present in all three films of the Disney trilogy, of the Rebellion against the evil Empire spreading out beyond the usual resistance fighters and causing “the people” to find the will to rise up against their oppressors, but it’s almost too casually thrown away here, and not developed strongly enough to add depth to the narrative. A definite missed opportunity which could have given these films a far greater resonance.

It’s also difficult to see that these films were created with a firm road map, rather each feels like a reaction to the previous film, and so this might just be the least satisfying trilogy, thematically and in terms of overall arcs.

The trilogy leads (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Issac and Adam Driver) all do excellent work, even when their roles are not developed as well as we might have hoped – yes Finn, I’m looking at you. Personally, I’d like to have seen more emphasis on Boyega, who the camera loves, than on time spent with the introduction of a pointless droid or even (sorry, Bill Dee Williams), the largely irrelevant Lando Calrissian.

The film deals pretty sensitively with the death of Carrie Fisher and just about manages to give Princess Leia/General Organa a useful role and an emotional send-off. No mean feat, under the sad circumstances.

And, as mentioned previously, there are (many) nods to fans of all three trilogies (and event offshoots like Star Wars: Rebels), familiar faces and voices and callbacks, visually and thematically, that this mostly works as a wrap-up of the saga with a big bow on it. And of course, much of this may play well on repeated viewings, but it might have been a stronger film had it concentrated on finding its own identity instead. In fact, I’m not sure I could see the film working for newcomers to the saga, and those resistant to the charms of George Lucas’ creation will find nothing to persuade.

Now all this sounds as if I didn’t have a good time. I did, and will almost certainly enjoy revisiting The Rise of Skywalker. As a fan, I can say it certainly leaves the characters where I might have expected them to end up. And, as with all Abrams films, it moves like a bullet and looks beautiful. There’s also a rather nice coda which plays against the expectations of a vocal area of fandom with a central character, and leaves us with a touching return to the saga’s beginning.

Perhaps the film simply had too much baggage to be the conclusion of over forty years of filmmaking, or perhaps my own baggage won’t allow me to enjoy it for what it is.

Right now, however, I’m satisfied but lacking that triumphant, gleeful feeling something with less reliance on its own past might have left me with.

The Mandalorian – Simply Star Wars *spoiler free review

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If I tell you that the first episode of The Mandalorian – the new high profile, live action Star Wars series helping to launch the Disney + channel – is simple, I trust you’ll understand that I’m complimenting it.

Set five years after the fall of the Empire, as seen in Return of the Jedi, the extremely straightforward storyline of this premiere episode follows the adventures of a Mandalorian bounty hunter (played by Pedro Pascal, though so far he remains firmly under the helmet) hired to round up or exterminate a mark. And for the first 38 minutes, that’s pretty much it.

Carl Weathers crops up, as does (in a much-ballyhooed, sublime piece of casting) existential German film director, Werner Herzog, who appears to be having a blast in his role, plus we meet (sort of) Nick Nolte and Taika Waititi (director of Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit). It’s a heckuva cast for what amounts to a little spaghetti western in space.

What you really want to know is: does it feel like Star Wars? Yes, it does, and it feels like exactly what I had hoped for, Star Wars without the Skywalkers, or Jedi, or the Force (at least so far), and what a lot of fun it is. The Mandalorian comes across as if show creator Jon Favreau and pilot director Dave Filoni are just kicking back and enjoying themselves in the Star Wars universe. They even manage to throw in a deep-cut gag taken from the infamously reviled Star Wars Holiday Special TV show from 1978.

The Mandalorian looks and sounds totally Star Wars too, with some really top notch VFX and creature FX (many of which, I’m overjoyed to say, are practical). Whoever thought we’d live to see a weekly Star Wars TV series with movie level special effects? Not this kid who saw the original movie more than twenty times at the cinema in 1977 and 1978, that’s for sure.

There’s no great human drama, so far, but we get a lot of world-building in just over half an hour (with no necessary Star Wars knowledge needed, but plenty of nods to fans), events are set neatly in place and some intriguing threads are left dangling. We’re offered just enough of what might make the title character of interest (he’s a bounty hunter with a heart of gold), but the main point here is to make us want to come back for more. And if the showrunners can ensure this level of pure enjoyment for the next seven episodes then that won’t be a problem.

Simply put, The Mandalorian is uncomplicated fun.

The Final Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Trailer

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Okay, I know what you’re here for, so here’s the final Star Wars trailer ever…

Yeah, well, I lied, obviously. This isn’t the final Star Wars trailer ever, Disney have way too much invested into George Lucas’s baby for that, but it is the final trailer for the nine films which will comprise the Skywalker saga.

And in customary J J Abrams style, it looks beautiful, with some really stunning ‘trailer moments’. Let’s just hope he and the crew are able to pull this together for a satisfying film – it comes with rather a lot of baggage, of course, not least the ire of a lot of entitled man-babies who shed copious fanboy blood and fury blood over Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.

Personally, I’m rather excited to see how this all wraps up, and now we’ll find out – after forty two years and eight previous movies. I guess I’ll see you in the queue for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20th…

Rogue One Writer For Disney Plus Star Wars Show

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Tony Gilroy, co-writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, has jumped aboard the Disney Plus series based on that film’s central character, Cassian Andor.

Variety just dropped an exclusive report, stating that Gilroy would write and direct several episodes for the forthcoming, as yet untitled, live action show for Disney’s streaming channel.

The series will star Diego Luna, reprising his role from Rogue One, and follows Rebel agent Andor in adventures set before the events of that film, in the early days of the Rebellion against the Empire. Alan Tudyk will also return as K-2SO, Andor’s droll droid sidekick.

Gilroy was originally an uncredited writer on Rogue One, and came onto the production to handle extensive reshoots on the film, earning a screenwriting credit in the process. After the reshoots, he is also said to have worked closely with director Gareth Edwards to supervise the editing of the film.

No air date has been set for the show, but previous reports suggest it will launch in 2021. Disney Plus launches in the US and other markets (but not here in Norway, curse you Disney) on November 12th.

Terrance Dicks 1935 – 2019

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Terrance Dicks passed away today and I’m not even sure where to begin when it comes to talking about the importance of his work to me.

Dicks was the script editor on Doctor Who, from 1968 to 1974 (and a writer on the show for much longer), seeing the torch of the lead actor passed from Patrick Troughton to Jon Pertwee, and standing down with the arrival of Tom Baker (for whom he wrote the first story). Important years for the show and for this young mind, as this period saw me transformed from an avid, regular viewer into a full-blown fan.

But his work weaved an even greater magic, as he would become the most prolific writer of novelizations for Target Books’ Doctor Who range, penning more than sixty of these books which helped to expand my vocabulary and excite my imagination – particularly in the days before blu-rays, DVDs or even VHS tapes.

Dicks’ punchy novels are often highlighted for their relative brevity, but his economy of style also showed a flair for vivid descriptiveness and a beautiful, dry wit, which never spoke down to its audience.

Dicks’ ideas and words helped to form the pages of my own creativity. For that and for so many adventures with the Doctor through space and time, I’ll always be grateful.

“No point in being a grown-up if you can’t be childish.” 
― Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who and the Giant Robot

Time To Get Excited About Star Wars Again – The Mandalorian Trailer Has Arrived

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The trailer for Jon Favreau’s new live-action Star Wars TV series, The Mandalorian, has arrived, and it looks amazing:

So much to unpack from this: bounty hunting in the Star Wars universe, movie quality special effects, a wonderfully gritty look and, yes, Werner Herzog. This thing looks crazy and crazy good. Even if you’ve found your enthusiasm for all things Star Wars waning in recent years, you have to admit there’s a weirdness to this that Lucas’s (and Disney’s) universe has been calling out for.

Creator, writer, and director Jon Favreau (that’s Happy Hogan to YOU, sir and Madam) has promised The Mandalorian will dig into the “darker, freakier” side of Star Wars and it doesn’t look like he was kidding.

Set after the fall of the Empire (in Return of the Jedi) and before the rise of the First Order (in The Force Awakens), the series stars Pedro Pascal (in the title role), Gina Carano, Nick Nolte (really!), Giancarlo Esposito, Emily Swallow, Carl Weathers, and Omid Abtahi. Yes, and Werner Herzog appears.

Disney have a lot of faith in this show, so much that they’ve already announced Season Two will begin shooting this autumn.

As noted in many other pieces here, because this autumn Disney will take over our viewing habits entirely, the new Disney Plus streaming service launches on November 12.

Why I Love Doctor Who

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Note: an earlier version of this article originally appeared in the Norwegian publication, Z Filmtidsskrift, Number 4 in 2013, editor-in-chief: Ingrid Rommetveit, guest editor: Marte Stapnes.

For those poor, deprived souls who have never encountered this most wonderful institution, Doctor Who is a weekly British sci-fi (or more accurately, fantasy) television series, produced by the BBC, which began, just a few months before I was born, in November 1963 and ran successfully until 1989. Apart from one brief revival attempted in 1996 it lay dormant until a major relaunch in 2005, which has seen it scale heights of mass popularity with the general viewing public that are genuinely surprising in an age of dumbed-down, lowest common denominator appeal programming.

At its core the show is a simple and ingenious idea, a person of mystery on the run, able to travel anywhere in time and space, through means of a machine permanently disguised as a 1960’s London Police Box (which is bigger on the inside), alongside one or more companions who act as the viewer’s eyes on the Doctor’s never ending adventures.

Rather unusually, the show was created not for children and not for adults. Instead it was a drama show intended to appeal to the entire family, broadcast in an early evening spot where it was reasoned that everyone would be together. That reasoning worked perfectly in my household; I can still feel flickering, luminous black & white images of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor imprinting on me, as he did battle with Yetis on the London Underground and evil Daleks swirling around Victorian England while my parents and grandparents sat close by, never more than the safety of a comforting lap away. Thankfully, young and imaginative minds such as mine were oblivious to the show’s paucity of production budget during its original 26 year run, reveling instead in its wild flights of fancy.

The show took a bold leap in regards to its casting. After three successful years in 1966, lead actor William Hartnell’s deteriorating health could have signaled an end to its run; instead, the producers decided to take a chance on re-casting the role with a new actor, the mercurial Patrick Troughton, by use of a plot device which saw the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, able to physically regenerate themselves twelve times, thus gifting the character with a distinct new personality every few years and thereby ensuring a potentially limitless run for a successful TV show. It was a brave move from the producers, but one that still attracts massive amounts of publicity for the show, as seen with the recent casting of the Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, boldly changing the character’s gender for the first time.

Fans of the show are often asked “Who (pun no doubt intended) is your favourite Doctor?” the answer to which is usually the one you grew up watching. For me, however, that’s a tricky question, as I have brief memories of irascible First Doctor, William Hartnell and stronger memories of the playful Patrick Troughton. I suppose Jon Pertwee’s eccentric but groovy, uncle-like Third Doctor was probably where I became hooked (probably because I also had an eccentric but groovy uncle in real life), but it was with the truly off-the-wall Tom Baker that I became a die-hard fan, rubbishing rival TV channels’ attempts to lure me away with imported productions such as The Man from Atlantis and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century; glossier undoubtedly, but with far less substance.

We are regularly treated to storylines which feature the likes of shape changing robots powered and driven by miniature people, religious orders focused on bringing about the death of the main character, multiple timelines, Winston Churchill ruling the Roman Empire from a steampunk London overrun by Pteranodon, life or death chess games, heartbreaking nods to characters in the show’s past, ingenious resolutions to character relationships and infuriating solutions to questions posed in the last few years of story lines and yet more questions set up for the future.

And the show still has the ability to chill and delight, as illustrated by one of its more recent creations, the Weeping Angels; a fearsome race of aliens which disguise themselves as stone statues, unable to move so long as you watch them, but ready to ready to pounce as soon as you blink or look away. The children’s game of peek-a-boo has been craftily subverted by successive showrunners Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall, and is guaranteed to have children and adults alike scurrying to watch from behind the sofa.

The show’s attitude to sex and relationships has also been a delight since the relaunch, openly espousing not just a confident attitude to heterosexuality or homosexuality, but indeed to omnisexuality: just one more way in which the makers refuse to speak down to the audience, and one more reason why the BBC should be held in such high regard, for supporting such a consistently adult outlook for a family appeal show.

And above all these values, Doctor Who consistently succeeds at what its far-sighted creators set out to achieve in the dim and distant early 1960’s, to make a drama show for the whole family that educates and entertains. Almost fifty years later it’s still doing that, with a flair, creativity and an ability to stimulate the imagination that dazzles and leaves me breathless with envy and awe.

Doctor Who’s approach to creative drama is one of the reasons I pursued and have succeeded in a creative career, and it continues to inspire me as an adult as much as when I was a child. Its sheer breadth of imagination stirred, thrilled and excited me, fanning the flames of my own need to create stories, a thread which has run through my career, from my years as a comic book writer and artist into my later work as a writer and director for animation.

My love for the show also led me to bring the 50th anniversary film, The Day of the Doctor, to Norwegian cinemas in 2013 (but that’s a story for another time).

Doctor Who is a series which rewards both the casual and dedicated viewer, and in a television landscape littered with deathless reality shows and tired genre formats; it rises high above its faults (which now tend towards a surfeit of ideas rather than the dearth of budget which often plagued the original run). It is unique, charming, exciting, terrifying and thought provoking in equal measures, and I will always adore this wild and wildly eccentric show.


Dave King is the creator and editor of Out Of Dave’s Head. For his sins, which are many and varied, he also works in animation as a writer, director, producer and lecturer. He still waits to be acknowledged for his talents as a lounge singer. 

Engage With Some Familiar Faces In The Extended Star Trek: Picard Comic Con Trailer!

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You’re here for Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Picard, so let’s take a look at him before we talk more…

This extended trailer (and its shorter variant) just dropped at the San Diego Comic Con, and seems set to allay fears that the new CBS All Access show will be all about the beloved Starfleet Captain treading grapes.

Giving us a much clearer idea of where the story will be headed, and what (or rather who) will lead Jean-Luc Picard out of retirement and back into space, I find myself becoming increasingly excited for this show. The glimpses of familiar faces in the trailer certainly adds to that excitement.

As well as the very unexpected return of Brent Spiner’s Data, I’m sure we’re all happy to see Jeri Ryan’s Seven of Nine, plus less unexpectedly (given that character’s return) the reappearance of the villainous Borg!

Star Trek: Picard is coming early 2020, and I can’t wait for CBS to make it so!

This Is The End! Avengers: Endgame* *spoiler-free review

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This is, without a doubt, the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, because in order to keep it spoiler-free, there’s really very little I can tell you.

Certainly, in terms of specifics I’m going to tell you absolutely nothing, because the film will work even more effectively if you go in cold. Suffice to say if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you know nothing, Jon Snow!

So, let’s keep this general: directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, left the universe in a much-reduced place this time last year – cosmic villain Thanos (father of Gamora and Nebula, from the Guardians of the Galaxy films) achieved his aim to place the Infinity Stones in his gauntlet, snapped his fingers and wiped out half the population of the universe in an instant. The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, lost.

Avengers: Endgame picks up some twenty-plus days later, the remaining heroes split asunder in different corners of the galaxy, in bad places both geographically and emotionally.

What happens next is, quite simply, astonishing. The structure of the (three hour long and not a dull moment) film is continually surprising: the first thirty incredibly intense minutes arguably take the story where you might have expected the entire film to go, and then you’re left with two and a half hours of some of the most bravura narrative you’re likely to see in a franchise movie for a long time.

That the film acts as a total summation of Marvel Studios’ bold and innovative, ten year, interconnected, multi-franchise, long form storytelling is perhaps no surprise: this is where we, and the characters, have been heading all along. But the sheer level of smarts on display is something to be admired.

Because the story is concluded so satisfyingly should not however, lull you into thinking this is an easy ride. The fact we’ve had so long to become attached to these characters means that Marvel pull out all the stops to put the audience through an emotional wringer: I can honestly say I lost count of the amount of times I cried, but I can tell you there were tears of both sadness and joy.

I sat with a goofy grin on my face, with tears of pure happiness streaming down my face, at the audaciousness of the penultimate forty-five minutes. And in the last fifteen minutes the real tears began. To be clear, the film left me a total wreck.

This unrestrained emotional response is a testimony to the genuine skill not only of the storytellers, but also of the actors. I’m sure it would be so very easy to coast through roles like these, but there isn’t a single moment where the cast aren’t completely in the moment.

There is a strand, an emotional arc involving Thor, where the balance between comedy and pathos strains to tip too far in one direction, but Chris Hemsworth manages to keep things just in check.

There might also be an argument to be made that some of the solutions (and yes, I’ll avoid details) lead to a little head-scratching which will no doubt fuel fan arguments for months to come.

It’s also fair to say that while all previous Marvel films have strived to pay-off for both casual viewers and fans, Avengers: Endgame, rightly, is full-on about resolution, and therefore will probably leave newbies wondering what the heck is going on. But after ten years, that’s perfectly right and fair. And earned.

But these are very minor negative points in what can only really be considered as Marvel’s crowning achievement.

Avengers: Endgame not only gives you everything you could possibly have wanted from this finale, but also gives you so much more in terms of narrative twists and turns, satisfying emotional arcs, thematic pay-offs for threads linking almost every single Marvel film and genuine surprises, particularly for those of us who’ve been along for the ride for the past decade.

And while there are plenty of seeds for the next Phases of Marvel movies (interestingly, Phase 3 officially ends with Spider-Man: Far From Home, in July), you’d better believe this is the end, beautiful friend.

The Rise of Skywalker Trailer Is Here!

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If ever there was an instance of me not needing to write a single thing for a piece, I guess this is it – the teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker…

Just launched at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, this teaser will be sure to have us all speculating like crazy, I know I already am.

We’ll discuss the film in more detail when a fuller trailer hits, but for now let’s just gear ourselves up for December and the end of the nine film Skywalker saga.  But hey, BILLY DEE WILLIAMS AS LANDO CALRISSIAN, EVERYBODY!

Star Wars opens on December 19th.