E is for Empire Strikes Back

Of course it’s also just an excuse for me to ramble on (probably at some length) about Star Wars in general.

If you need a recap, here’s the original Star Wars trilogy in two minutes. And in Lego. Awesome.

We pause briefly to bring you the stats. Mmm, crunchy stats.

1980. To give it its full title, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back arrives. I’d seen Episode IV at the cinema three years ealier – school was closed due to heavy snow and my dad took me to the cinema to see a film which would shape my future film-watching forever. I’d never seen anything quite like it (to be fair, I was six). My life was taken over by the action figures, reading and re-reading the novelisation (this was before the days of VHS, remember), and pretending to be Luke Skywalker whenever possible. Three years later, Empire arrived and I was there.

Clocking it at 8.8 stars on IMDb, it won the Oscar for best sound, and a special achievement award for best visual effects. Number 12 in the IMDb Top 250,  six places ahead of Episode IV, and a full 66 places ahead of Return of the Jedi.  The three prequels (quite rightly) don’t even feature on that list.

It’s widely regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies and definitely the darkest.

We pick up events three years after the first Death Star has been destroyed by Luke and his chums. The Empire is on the move and tracks the rebels down to the frozen world of Hoth. Luke wanders off to go become a Jedi in a swamp whilst the rest of the gang escape in the Millennium Falcon. Fun & hijinks ensue on an asteroid.

Sir, it’s quite possible this asteroid is not entirely stable.
~ C3PO

Han, Chewie, Leia and the ‘droids rock up at Cloud City, meet up with Han’s old buddy Lando Calrissian before things take a turn for the worse. Vader! Fett! Carbonite! Han and Leia share a moment

Leia: I love you.
Han: I know.

Smooth-talker, that Solo. Luke turns up just too late, ends up having an epic lightsaber duel with Darth, then…[spoilers]

I’ll talk about [spoilers] in a minute. If you’ve not seen the film by now (seriously, it’s been 34 years, what *have* you been doing with your time?) go watch it.

Actually, now is a perfect time to discuss running order. Before Episode I turned up in 1999, there was one way to watch Star Wars (albeit in various different incarnations – original, special editions etc). A New Hope > Empire > Jedi. Done, done and done.

Then Lucas decided he wasn’t finished and released Episodes I, II and III. We were left with a quandary. What’s the best order of watching the films?

Purists like myself argued that you watched A New Hope, Empire and then Jedi and tried very hard to ignore the prequels. If pressed, we’d grudgingly admit that if you *had* to, you’d go for release order, that is:

  • A New Hope
  • Empire
  • Jedi
  • Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith

Some would argue (they’d be wrong) that the best order was chronological order. Episodes 1 through 6, in that order.

The trouble with that is that it becomes an entirely different story.

Release order is Luke’s story, with the Anakin backstory. Chronological order is Anakin’s story all the way. It would rob you entirely of that moment in Empire where Darth Vader leans towards Luke and says:

Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Vader: No. *I* am your father.

WHAT? IS THIS TRUE? COULD IT BE? The audience were totally wrong-footed by this. Is it true? O.M.G. The cinema went bananas at that point.

If you go chronological, you’d be like ‘err, yeah. We totally knew that. Why is everyone looking so surprised?’

So, release order it is.

Or is it?

Let me introduce you to something I heard a while back called the Machete Order – the perfect way to enjoy the movies. Check out the link – it’s long but worth it. Before we get to that, there’s something called the Ernst Rister order.

In a nutshell, you put the prequels in to the middle:

  • A New Hope
  • Empire
  • Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Jedi

This means the story is still Luke’s. We get the bit at the end of Empire where everything is totally bleak – Han’s frozen & dragged off to Jabba, Luke’s just found out that Vader is dear ol’ dad and we, the audience, are still looking at each other going OMG! WHAT? DID THAT JUST HAPPEN??

Then we cut back to Anakin’s backstory, where we find out how he ended up turning to the dark side, and we end up with the climactic Return of the Jedi. Happy ending, it’s all good.

But it’s not perfect. The Machete Order, however, is. Here we go:

  • A New Hope
  • Empire
  • Phantom Menace
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • Jedi

See what he did there? No Phantom Menace. There are several good reasons. Over to Rod Hilton, originator of the Machete Order:

Every character established in Episode I is either killed or removed before it ends (Darth Maul, Qui-Gon, Chancellor Valorum), unimportant (Nute Gunray, Watto), or established better in a later episode (Mace Windu, Darth Sidious). Does it ever matter that Palpatine had an apprentice before Count Dooku? Nope, Darth Maul is killed by the end of Episode I and never referenced again. You may as well just start with the assumption that Dooku was the only apprentice. Does it ever matter that Obi-Wan was being trained by Qui-Gon? Nope, Obi-Wan is well into training Anakin at the start of Episode II, Qui-Gon is completely irrelevant.

Bonuses for this – virtually no Jar-Jar (huzzah!), no Jake Lloyd (sorry kid, you were terrible), you don’t get the slightly uncomfortable bit where Padme gets off with someone she met when he was ten – you just assume they knew each other as kids, none of that taxation of trade routes malarkey. Everything you need to know is set up better in Episode II. No more midichlorian nonsense. Obi Wan is always the master. Hayden Christiansen is always annoying, just like Luke was in the first movie.

You end up with two films setting up Luke, two setting up Anakin, then a nice rounded ending with Return of the Jedi.

Genius. Give it a try.

previously, on The A-Z Challenge
A is for Alien
B is for The Breakfast Club
C is for Catching Fire
D is for Die Hard

D is for Die Hard

Of course it is. Die Hard is, as everyone knows, the perfect Christmas movie. I don’t really want to go into the sequels (for once) – they’re fine and have their moments, but the first is quite definitely the best.

Comes in at #114 on the IMDb Top 250, and scores a very healthy 8.3 stars. Every one of them deserved. Die Hard is, from the opening scene to the very last, a joy to watch. Did you know it was nominated for four Oscars?

“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs…”
~ McClane

You know the story. World-weary New York cop John McClane turns up at his wife’s office christmas party when Alan Rickman turns up with a ropey German accent, some wonderfully mulleted friends and a whole host of explosives and weaponry. Hijinks ensue.

This is arguably the film that made Bruce Willis into the movie star we all know and love. Fresh from his role as the wisecracking David Addison in Moonlighting, Willis got $5 million for Die Hard, a huge sum of money for someone so new to the movie business.

Apparently Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Don Johnson, Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Burt Reynolds and Stallone *all* turned it down. Fools. Though can you imagine Die Hard with Arnie? Clash of the accents… Interestingly it was also Alan Rickman’s first starring role, and look where *he* ended up! And, of course, it featured Paul Gleason who played Mister Vernon in The Breakfast Club.

I don’t just do these things randomly, you know? 🙂

It’s fair to say that Bruce earned his fee. Die Hard was hugely successful, spawning a number (some would argue too high a number) of sequels, becoming a money-making machine.

It’s a cracking film which, once it gets going, doesn’t let up. Bruce (and his vest) get shot at, blown up, chased, shot at some more, jump off an exploding building and even come up with his immortal catchphrase

“Yippee-ki-yay, motherf…”

I love it.

previously, on The A-Z Challenge
A is for Alien
B is for The Breakfast Club
C is for Catching Fire

C is for Catching Fire

Yes, I know it’s technically  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Shoot me.

As with yesterday’s Breakfast Club, Catching Fire gets a very respectable 7.9 stars on IMDb. Nominated for a Golden Globe (albeit only for Best Original Song).  At nearly two and half hours, it’s overlong (according to my perfect movie theory), but to be fair, the story trundles along nicely.

After the events of The Hunger Games, we catch up with Katniss and Peeta as they undertake the Victor’s Tour of the districts. Their… somewhat unusual win in the 74th Hunger Games has led to unrest and President Snow is keen to quash the imminent rebellion.

Cue the 75th Hunger Games and a twist on proceedings known as the Quarter Quell, in which Snow decides to hold a Hunger Games where previous winners will compete again… Ooh, you dastardly dastard, you.

I must confess that I’d not read the second book in the trilogy before seeing this movie. I read the first book some years ago and utterly lost myself in the story, devouring it almost in a single sitting. Not sure why I didn’t read the others (something shiny came up, no doubt), but I was keen to see what happened in the movie.

It’s more of the same, really. It takes an inordinately long time for President Snow (Donald Sutherland on splendid form) to decide that dear old Katniss needs to be brought to heel, so engages the talents of Plutarch Heavensbee (the late and much missed Philip Seymour Hoffman – more of him in later posts, no doubt) to concoct a devious scheme to see her off.

The leads crack on with the job in hand. J-Law is on fine form and is always eminently watchable, as are Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. Stanley Tucci positively glows as Caesar Flickerman – please please can we have a spin-off TV series of what he does between the annual Hunger Games? I would *love* to see that. Perhaps he and Effie (Elizabeth Banks almost as unrecognisable under almost as much makeup as Tucci) could co-host something?

Along with Tucci and Banks, I *loved* Amanda Plummer’s and Jeffrey Wright’s characters. At first glance, against the bigger and stronger teams, you think they’ll be the first to go. But they’ve got cunning and smarts on their side…

The story itself is fine, but for me the first is better. That said, there are weird things in both which have always bothered me about the actual Hunger Games themselves – why do the kids gang up together? There’s only ever going to be one winner, so surely it’s everyone for themselves. It kind of makes more sense in this one once we work out what the big plan is, I suppose. But in the first film there are bits where you’re just left wondering why on earth you’d go to sleep next to four or five other people who ultimately want to see you dead.

Towards the end I found myself paying more attention to Katniss’s quiver of arrows than the action. It seemed to magically refill itself on several occasions. Look! Attacked by monkeys! Arrows gone. Back on the beach five minutes later? All back. Fire some more, down to three. Five minutes later? All back. And the lightning striking the tree – big boom as the lightning strikes. But the tree is *way* over there. Sound travels slower so it should be lightning *then* the noise, surely?

I’m being overly picky, I know. The ending caught me entirely off-guard, having not read the books, and it’s always fun when that happens. I’m looking forward to Mockingjay, though heaved a sigh when I found out they’re splitting it into two movies.

Perhaps I should go read the books.

previously, on The A-Z Challenge
A is for Alien
B is for The Breakfast Club

B is for The Breakfast Club

Day 2 of the A to Z Challenge and we’re (obviously) on B.

B is for The Breakfast Club.

It gets a very creditable 7.9 stars on IMDb and, at 97 minutes, almost the perfect length for a movie.

This is one of those films that I never tire of watching. I’m a huge fan of John Hughes’ movies anyway (keep an eye out for Ferris Bueller later!). He had a real ear for dialogue and helped inspire the ‘Brat Pack’ movement in the eighties. Hugely influential.

Five students meet in detention one saturday morning and over the course of the day, learn more about each other and themselves.

It is now 7:06. You have exactly 8 hours and 54 minutes to think about why you are here – to ponder the error of your ways. You will not talk… you will not move… from these seats.
~ Mr Vernon

I remember being horrified and fascinated that these kids were in detention at 7am on a Saturday morning. Saturday! 7am! Two things which, at that time in the mid-eighties, were largely unknown to me.

But at school they were. A brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. The Breakfast Club. Each a stereotype of a clique in the school. Each in detention for a different reason.

It’s one of those eminently quotable films – find a fellow fan and you’ll inevitably start riffing on the dialogue. We’ve all got our favourites, but Judd Nelson’s John Bender gets the lion’s share of the best lines. From his “Eat… my… shorts”, the deadpan “Impossible, sir. It’s in Johnson’s underwear.” to his curtailed joke about the naked blonde who walks into a bar with a poodle under one arm, and a two-foot salami under the other…

By the way, if you know the punchline to that joke, I’d love to hear it. I’ve spent nearly 30 years wondering what it is.

Damn. The Breakfast Club will be thirty years old next year. Man, I feel old.

Speaking of old, most of the cast were much older than the characters they played. Judd Nelson was the oldest of the ‘kids’, at 26. Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez 23, and Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall at 17 were closest to being high school students.

Did you know that Bender’s character was nearly played by Nicolas Cage (too expensive) and John Cusack, before Judd Nelson was cast?

I’m sure I’m not alone in having a *huge* crush on Ally Sheedy in this movie, and much preferred her before Claire (Molly Ringwald) got to work on ‘all that black shit under your eyes.’

Over the course of the day the students are asked to each complete a thousand word essay on who they think they are. They spend the day talking instead, and find out they have a lot more in common than they originally thought. They ask Brian (the brain) to write the essay for them  – instead we get the classic letter to the assistant principal.

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…
Andrew: …and an athlete…
Allison: …and a basket case…
Claire: …a princess…
Bender: …and a criminal…
Brian: Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Utterly wonderful.

That’s my ‘B’ movie. Tune in tomorrow for C!

previously, on The A-Z Challenge
A is for Alien

Banished – Liz de Jager

Banished (The Blackhart Legacy, #1)Banished by Liz de Jager

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolute, unashamed gloriously good fun.

Fabulous characters and a non-stop roller-coaster of a plot. Liz manages to deftly turn scenes on their head, shifting effortlessly from action to humour and back again, with Fae princes, werewolves and assorted other beasties and creatures (not to mention the odd Elder God), all of which are there to help (or mostly hinder) our heroine Kit Blackhart along the way. Oh, and a dragon. 🙂

Classic girl-meets-boy-who-turns-out-to-be-a-Fae-prince. Cross Buffy with Harry Dresden, add a touch of Lovecraftian elder gods and simmer gently for 400 pages. Serve hot.

And this is just book one! Book two please, Liz. Quick as you like. 🙂

View all my reviews

Red Rising – Pierce Brown

Red Rising | Pierce Brown

I first heard of Red Rising through Twitter. Various people I follow were waxing lyrical about this new book. Then Liz from Liz Loves Books put it at the top of her books of 2013 and I knew that I had to add it to my list. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy from Hodder & Stoughton and dived right in.

Nearly everyone will compare this book with The Hunger Games and there are echoes of that here, along with shades of Ender’s Game, but laced with the outright brutality and deviousness of Game of Thrones.

It’s hard to talk too much about the story without giving away too many twists and turns, but suffice it to say that it’s brilliant. It’s a veritable rollercoaster of a book – the first third is one of the best openings for a book I’ve read for a long, long time. Then it kicks up a notch and you’re swept along.

Is it a YA novel? Much like in the Hunger Games, the main characters are quite definitely young adult, but this is quite definitely much darker and far nastier than that. The huge cast of characters are beautifully realised and well-rounded, and the world-building is absolutely top-notch.

It’s one of those books that you just lose yourself in, and emerge blinking into the daylight at the far end. I devoured it over the course of a couple of days, staying up entirely too late (and getting up entirely too early) to read just one more chapter.

Fair warning though, it’s the first in a trilogy and whilst Red Rising wraps up nicely, you’re definitely left wanting more.

More now. I want book 2, now.

Please.

Surgeon General’s warning

Just finished watching The Bourne Legacy. Whilst the movie itself was fine (more on that later), I noticed this warning in the credits:

“The depictions of tobacco smoking contained in this film are based solely on artistic consideration and are not intended to promoted tobacco consumption. The surgeon general has determined that there are serious health risks associated with smoking and secondhand smoke.”

Made me laugh. Seriously, the cigarette smoking is the bit you’re worried about?

Nothing about the guns, shooting people with nails out of fire extinguishers, chasing across rooftops, sliding motorcycles down stairways…