Rogue One, You’re an Odd One

As much as I liked Solo, that doesn’t seem to have been reflected by the market’s reception of it. I’m inclined to blame three things:

  1. The bizarre decision to not really market it to anywhere near the extent any other Star Wars movie had been promoted.
  2. The especially bizarre decision to yank its release forward to the spring after The Last Jedi came out, rather than putting it in the Star Wars-shaped gap in the release schedule this past December.
  3. The incredibly weird decision to make the protagonist an unshaven straight white dude, because everyone knows that movies about such niche minorities just don’t cut it at the box office.

Either way, Solo‘s stumble has meant that Disney’s given second thoughts to just how much appetite there is for spin-off Star Wars movies, and decided to put a whole swathe of other movies on ice – primarily projects which, liked the proposed Boba Fett and Obi-Wan movies, existed to follow the Rogue One/Solo path of telling some story that the existing canon had hinted at but not already covered.

That’s probably for the best when it comes to the long-term health of the franchise. Ultimately, fiddling about in the shadow of the original trilogy is going to yield diminishing returns; for the purposes of shepherding Star Wars into the future, it’s probably more sensible to look at ways of expanding the boundaries of what Star Wars is about whilst still making it feel distinctly Star Wars. It’s notable that Rian Johnson’s proposed new trilogy – which is explicitly meant to tell a whole new story separate from the arc of Episodes I-IX – was one of the projects which escaped the axe after Solo‘s release, and I suspect that’s for precisely this reason.

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The Decanonised Clones

Once upon a time, in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas got Genndy Tartakovsky of Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls fame to produce a fun little cartoon series chronicling the events of the Clone Wars that unfolds between those two movies. The series was well-loved, which meant that Lucas had to jump on the bandwagon with a followup/retelling in horrible CGI (including a tie-in movie that everyone’s been glad to forget exists), and naturally whilst the awesome Tartakovsky Clone Wars animated series has been declared not-canon by Disney, the Lucas-helmed CGI’d The Clone Wars TV series has been endorsed as canon. I guess Disney either are contracturally forbidden from declaring certain things not-canon, or simply lack the spine to say “No, Lucas made a mistake, this thing he made is not canon and this thing he didn’t make is canon”.

Still, Disney can’t make our DVDs of the Clone Wars series disappear; so, how do they hold up over a decade later?

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Star Wars Prequels: Not As Bad As I Remember

I actually don’t mind that George Lucas spruced up and modified the Star Wars prequel for the Blu-Ray releases. CGI dates poorly, after all, and the prequels are extremely reliant on it. On top of that, whereas the original trilogy was made at a time when the prospect of redoing the special effects at a later date was simply unthinkable, the prequel movies came out in the wake of the Special Editions.

Plus, of course, there’s the fact that the impact of the prequels was rather different to that of the original movies. The original Star Wars changed the direction of cinema and revolutionised the use of special effects; the prequel trilogy instead changed the direction of fandom, and not in an especially positive way. Cast members – and Lucas himself – have had to suffer enduring abuse for what the movies have wrought.

This is largely undeserved. Ahmed Best and Jake Lloyd in no way deserve the abuse that’s been rained down on them for their roles as Jar Jar Binks or baby Anakin, for instance; it’s pretty evident from most behind-the-scenes featurettes and stories that George Lucas was wholly in control of the production process and was the final decision maker, so if the blame lies anywhere it’s with George.

At the same time, there comes a point where piling on George becomes tiresome in its own way. Sure, there’s aspects of the movies which are unconscionable and which he richly deserves to be called out for; the reliance of The Phantom Menace on a range of crude racial stereotypes as a means of providing cheap, lazy characterisation for alien species was abhorrent at the time, and only feels more and more dated and disturbing as time goes by. There’s really no debate needed on that – if you can’t see that the Trade Federation are based on thinly-veiled stereotypes about Japanese business culture, or that Watto draws on cartoonish antisemitism, I’m not sure what I can say at this stage to persuade you.

However, two of the three prequel movies are perfectly cromulent family entertainment – not excellent, often not even good, but functional at what they do. The remaining one is an utter mess, but still, overhyping how bad the prequels are does everyone a disservice: it lets the really unforgivable errors and mistakes off the hook whilst casting aside the redeemable bits.

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Star Wars As I Remember It

This is the first year in a while when we haven’t had a big Star Wars release around Christmas, Disney deciding to unleash Solo on us early – the combination of botched promotional marketing and market oversaturation killing off a range of the spin-off movies they were planning on doing. I’d already tended to associate Star Wars movies with Christmas anyway, since I recall seeing the original trilogy on television when I was little at around that time (thankfully the Star Wars Christmas Special didn’t make it across the Atlantic), so to fill the gap I thought I’d rewatch the movies and share my thoughts on the rewatch here.

For this first article, I decided to finally get around to acquiring Harmy’s “despecialised editions” of the original trilogy. These fan edits by a team headed by Petr Harmáček are about as close as you can get to Blu-Ray-quality versions of the original theatrical releases of the movies. The desultory 2006 releases of the original cuts – sourced from Laserdiscs and not even presented in anamorphic widescreen – felt like adding insult to injury to many fans offended by the tweaks made to the Special Editions, and Harmy is famously the one who stepped up and, using a range of sources, produced fan edits showing just how good the movies could look with a bit of effort. Subsequent incremental updates to Harmy’s editions have incorporated a range of commentary tracks, bonus features, and most significantly improvements to the main feature here and there as a result of more sources coming to light.

But is all this really necessary, and even if it were, is it equally necessary for each film in the original trilogy? Let’s dive in and consider that.

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A Few Non-Spoilery Things I Can Tell You About Solo (and One Minor Spoiler)

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Doing a review of Solo this early after it comes out is a minefield. On the one hand, you don’t want to spoiler people. On the other hand, a good deal of what you want to say about a project boils down to how it ties in with the wider Star Wars saga, the particular direction Disney is presently taking with it, the expectations you have going in and so on.

In particular, as a prequel it spoilers itself in some respects. We know that by the beginning of the original Star Wars trilogy Han Solo is going to be buddies with Chewbacca, somewhat more long-distance buddies with Lando, in possession of the Millennium Falcon and working on the wrong side of the law. (In some editions, he also has sufficient smarts to shoot Greedo before Greedo shoots at him.)

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