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Thursday, 19 September 2019

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: HOLDING BACK THE INTRUDER!


In the desert beyond Mos Espa, Qui-Gon Jinn faces the skilled attack play of a deadly intruder, and a foe from the darkest past linked to the Jedi Order, in this great non-lightsaber retouched image of Liam Neeson and Ray Park in posed character action for EPISODE I. Note the close proximity of the Mos Espa set to the Naboo Cruiser landing area in this Tunisian location shot.

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: SNEAK ATTACK!

Darth Maul leaps into action in this specially posed image taken during location fight staging rehearsals.

"Anakin, DROP!"

Almost at the ready-to-depart Naboo Cruiser, Qui-Gon and Anakin are soon attacked by a mysterious speeder bike pilot, leaping into battle and ferociously displaying his lightsaber skills against the Jedi, whilst his young Padawan-to-be races to get help.

Though Liam Neeson played Qui-Gon for most of the first conflict between Jinn and Maul on location in Tunisia, certain aspects and fight moves linked to his character necessitated the help of stand-in duellist/stuntman Rob Inch, who'd continue his association with the franchise as the Stunt coordinator to Episodes VII, VIII and Rogue One.



Qui-Gon prepares to counter the attacker's flying leap lightsaber moves.

Several moves from the action sequence never made the final cut, as seen in the two images below.

Qui-Gon makes a low level attack in a deleted moment from the duel.



Wednesday, 18 September 2019

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'THRAWN - TREASON'

Loyalties tested and warfare emergent for Grand Admiral Thrawn in Thrawn - Treason, out now from Century.

The eagerly awaited finale to the presumed second trilogy of the world famous SW Expanded Universe Uber villain Grand Admiral Thrawn is here, and once again his creator Timothy Zahn delivers a page-turning adventure with Thrawn - Treason, UK published by Century, that fans will be delighted by.

We last encountered Thrawn aligned with the formidable powers of his true rival Darth Vader, the infamous Dark Lord of the Sith and right hand man to the Emperor himself, the results of which, whilst keeping at bay a determinedly growing alien force emergent from the Outlying Regions of the galaxy, the alien leader would ultimately piece together Vader's true past identity as the once greatest Jedi, Anakin Skywalker. Now, in the aftermath of that stand firm conflict against the Grysk Hegemony, armed with the knowledge that the militaristic manipulators will undoubtedly cross into the Empire's territory sooner rather than later, the Grand Admiral returns back to Imperial Centre only to find himself mired in all-new conflicts with rivals old and new, at a critical time in the development of the Emperor's vision and stranglehold of the galaxy via the birth of a unique and powerful construction project nearing completion: code-named 'Stardust'. A development that, if successfully realized, may threaten Thrawn's own unique plans to aid the Empire, to whom he has allied his past and future ambitions so intrinsically in ways beyond anything from his past history and dedication as an esteemed warrior for his own species- the warriors of the Chiss Ascendancy.

The Grand Moff Tarkin will stop at nothing to achieve his own goals for power.

And Thrawn couldn't be more caught in a nest of viper's like the one established in Treason, primarily the pawn of a much larger game orchestrated by the infamous Grand Moff Tarkin, carving his own powerplay strategy against the ambitious, lower down the Imperial elite chain (but nonetheless rising up) determination of Director Orson Krennic, whose caretaker/orchestration of Stardust and its powerful and prestigious potential, though dogged by years of delays and production problems, has nonetheless gained him considerable grace and favour with the Emperor- a project he personally wishes complete whatever it takes. Tarkin, wanting Stardust and its power all to himself, is determined to unseat Krennic, even if means sacrificing Thrawn as part of that scheme. Krennic is already aware of Tarkin's underhand scheming, but Thrawn himself has no choice but to follow the undercurrents of battle between the two rivals- a mysterious scenario now affecting Stardust potentially threatening the go-ahead by the Emperor to the successful creation/production pipeline of his unique TIE Defender fighter program, rendering it forfeit and extinct through lack of funding.

Eli Vanto returns, alongside the efficient Chiss officer Admiral Ar'alani. Art by Darren Tan.

Entering into the Stardust problem, a certainly unique mystery is revealed- a seemingly natural and unusual situation nicely linked to The Empire Strikes Back, though its ultimate solving leads to even greater danger with the return of the Grysk threat, acting in ways more cunning, bigger in ambition than we discovered in book two, and whose powers in control of other races remain cruelly effective. As Treason carefully unspools the threat, plot strands and characters from book one return to provide an effective closing symmetry to this trilogy finale. We discover just what happened to Thrawn's friend Eli Vanto, the Imperial officer with whom he developed a strong early rapport with, and who disappeared under a cloud a year earlier, seemingly never to return to the Star Destroyer Chimera. Under mysterious orders and a shroud of secrecy, Vanto now acts as the ultimate race relations liaison of sorts with the Chiss, of which his reemergence during a critical point sees him uncomfortably caught between worlds just like Thrawn has been over the decade since his 'discovery'. Cleverly, Vanto is our window into the world of Thrawn and his unique gifts, though he too now understands what it's like to be a stranger in a strange but fascinating land.

Zahn adds further intriguing facets to the alien Chiss, notably introducing a female warrior the equivalent to Thrawn, Admiral Ar'alani, unhappy with his seeming defection to the enemy side with the Empire and always probing where his true loyalties lie. The Chiss have a sense of honour and clan power basing not unlike the Klingons of the modern Star Trek series, it seems- a unique race with more secrets about their personal nature and technology to be revealed in future media-related tales, for sure.

With Death Troopers at his side, Director Orson Krennic remains steadfast to the 'Stardust' project.

Despite lots of advance publicity, the only real disappointment to the book is the true lack of Director Orson Krennic within the story. He was such an interesting baddie, not an elitist but an angry man with a grudge who had had to work hard to join the ranks, within the core of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I'd hoped he would properly lock horns with the Grand Admiral throughout the entire story. Sadly, despite one Imperial meeting chapter early on, they share little time together, the potential character clashing of the story instead relayed via one of Krennic's less interesting yet key lackeys. A genuine wasted opportunity - perhaps the author was restricted in using the character for some reason on the Lucasfilm creative side?

But Zahn, whose writing style is never less than subtly depthful and efficient, instinctively knows how to give the Expanded Universe lovers more of what they want, and what that 'more' is is Thrawn. With his strategic and tactical genius, he continues to shine under his creator's storytelling, always able to out-think, out-anticipate and jump three steps ahead of all his rivals, leading his taskforce to an ending that pulls out all the stops via a forty-page finale space battle split in two, as opponents lock horns and laser cannons in conflicts that will surely blow the minds of Imperial Navy fans and those SW readers who appreciate battle tactics in both history and the franchise's history. The battles not just showcasing Thrawn but the book's other core characters most effectively too, including his efficient and capable female second-in-command, Faro.

Will Thrawn's post Star Wars Rebels fate be revealed in a later trilogy?

So, a satisfying end to this already acclaimed new trilogy featuring the complex and enigmatic alien warrior who serves the Empire with thoughtful distinction. But will there will be more of Thrawn? I'm more than certain there will be- some interesting little plot strands are resolved, but most can be reopened and expanded. Just as Harrison Ford is Han Solo, I'm sure there's a lot of Thrawn (in a good way, of course) is buried within Timothy Zahn's DNA. And where there's intrigue and warfare to come, from whichever side of the galaxy he may end up, the Grand Admiral will be centred at the bridge of the Chimera, ready and waiting to serve in the Emperor's name and legacy...

AFICIONADO RATING: It's Thrawn. It's Zahn. It's a must-have! 4 out of 5

A trilogy now complete, available from Century UK.

Get Thrawn - Treason here:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Thrawn-Treason-Star-Timothy-Zahn/dp/1529124018/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=thrawn+treason&qid=1568807241&sr=8-1

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: PROBE DROID ENCOUNTER!


Qui-Gon Jinn and the young Anakin Skywalker (who has just said goodbye to the kindly Jira at her fruit stand, giving her money to buy a cooling unit- a deleted scene) make their way to the outskirts of Mos Espa, though the seasoned Jedi is soon aware that eyes of the most unusual and disturbing kind are watching them, in this eerie moment from EPISODE I, shot on location in Tunisia, that ultimately made its way to DVD in 2001.

A disturbance sends Qui-Gon into swift action.

The Sith Probe Droid is revealed.

A discovery that must hasten our heroes departure.

Lucas and his team prepare the scene for filming.

A filming break and a time for liquid refreshment for Jake Lloyd.

"The (location filming) heat was draining. I tried to be conscious of how everyone was holding up - especially Jake. He would never tell me if he was having a problem. So I'd check with his mother; and there were a few times when he really needed a rest."

George Lucas - The Making of EPISODE I book - 1999

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: ON A NEW PATH!


With the strong presence of the Force inside him, and with the dutiful and loving support of his mother, Anakin Skywalker has survived a harsh existence on Tatooine that would normally break the spirit of most adults. Now he goes off to an incredible future, but at the expense of losing Shmi, in this memorable and emotional scene from EPISODE I

A couple of lines were lost between Shmi and Anakin before his final departure:

SHMI hugs ANAKIN. QUI-GON watches from the distance. She kneels down and looks him in the face.

Shmi's filmed but deleted line: "No matter where you are, my love will be with you."

SHMI: Annie, remember when you climbed the great dune in order to chase the Banthas away when they wouldn't be shot... Remember how you collapsed several times, exhausted thinking you couldn't do it?

ANAKIN shakes his head.

SHMI: (Cont'd) This is one of those times when you have to do something you don't think you can do. I know how strong you are, Annie. I know you can do this...



"There was a scene where he (Jake Lloyd as Anakin) had to say goodbye to his mother (Pernilla August as Shmi). I didn't want him bursting into tears and carrying on, but I wanted to portray that he was emotionally upset without going over the top. That was a difficult scene."

George Lucas - Premiere magazine - May 1999

Prior to saying goodbye to his mother, Anakin also said goodbye to his friend Kitster in a filmed but deleted scene:

KITSTER runs up to ANAKIN as he and QUI-GON  exit Anakn's hovel. SHMI stands in the doorway. ANAKIN pulls a handful of coins out of his pocket and gives them to KITSTER.

KITSTER: There are so many of us who want you to stay, Annie... You're a hero.

ANAKIN: I... (looks to SHMI) I... have to go.

QUI-GON has moved a short way down the street.

KITSTER: Well.

ANAKIN: Well.

KITSTER: Thanks for every moment you've been here. You're my best friend.

ANAKIN: I won't forget...

ANAKIN hugs KITSTER and runs towards QUI-GON, then stops to look back at his mother standing in the doorway. He turns back to QUI-GON, then turns and runs back to his mother.

The scene continues as in the film...


Shmi gives her son the love and confidence he needs to pursue his destiny.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: POINT OF DEPARTURE!


Anakin has finally earned his freedom from slavedom, with his remaining pod racing winnings give to his mother. The boy's future as a Jedi seems certain now as a mother prepares to see her child leave the nest, though she is mildly comforted by the fact that Anakin will have the noble Qui-Gon Jinn as his mentor.

"There is just a hint of romance in these encounters (between Shmi and Qui-Gon), something very subtle. Both Pernilla (August) and I were very conscious of that. There was warmth between them when they looked at each other. It didn't have to be obvious, just subtle and loving."

Liam Neeson - The Making of EPISODE I book - 1999

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: KSOURS OF THE PAST AND PRESENT



The intriguing granary stores housing of Medenine would be transformed into the memorable slave quarter dwellings of Mos Espa on Tatooine, home to the just about surviving mother and son Skywalker family. The set decorators for EPISODE I clearly did an incredible job, as seen in these great Tunisian location images from Summer 1997, with great continuity to the original work established for A New Hope twenty-one years earlier..



Rick McCallum and George Lucas with the remote controlled Artoo, prior to filming the sandstorm scene at the location.

Though suited perfectly for EPISODE I, the Ksours had originally been planned to be used back in 1976 as a location for Mos Eisley, scouted by producer Gary Kurtz and production designer John Barrr, who provided the sketch below for the scene, ultimately cut from the production time for schedule and budget reasons, where Luke and his party landspeeder through an area of town that would be home to a Jawa community.

John Barry production sketch.

Monday, 16 September 2019

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: A HINT OF DARKNESS...


No child is born evil. Nonetheless, a dark aspect of Anakin Skywalker's personality come to the fore early, as seen in this ultimately deleted scene from EPISODE I where the young Pod Racing champion fights off hurtful accusations of cheating from an equally young Rodian bully...named Greedo!

The scene, cut from the film because Lucas didn't yet want to show any major negative aspects to young Anakin, thankfully made it to later DVD release.

"In EPISODE I we meet Anakin, and he's this perfect little boy, but in the music (by John Williams) there's some minor chords which tell us, 'Uh-oh, something's not right. There's some damage here.'"

Rick McCallum - Star Wars Insider magazine - 2002

Anakin confers with Wald (Warwick Davis).

THE 'PHANTOM' AT TWENTY: OF BEAST AND BURDEN!


The hyperdrive has been delivered from a bankrupt, now debt ridden Watto, but there's still unfinished and important business to settle requiring Qui-Gon's immediate return to Mos Espa, as George Lucas directs Liam Neeson for his Eopie travelling scene on location in Tunisia.

A behind the scenes image also captured by Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair magazine's coverage of EPISODE I.

A closer look at the CGI design of one of the Eopies of Tatooine.

As seen in the finished movie.

"(Working with digital creatures added later.) You felt like a pillock sitting there in 150 degrees heat. You have to turn your body then they cut and the magicians do their stuff afterwards."

Liam Neeson - Film Review magazine - 1999

Further filming of Qui-Gon atop the beast was shot on Blue-screen at Leavesden upon the crew's return from Tunisia, literally Liam Neeson once more atop a stirrup and scaffold.

Scripted but excised was a moment where one of Darth Maul's Sith Probe Droids discovers the location of the Naboo Cruiser from a far hill, seeing Qui-Gon heading back to Mos Espa.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

THE CLONE WARS: SPACE SHOWDOWN!


A space blockade of lethal Droid Tri-fighters are making life difficult for a Republic rescue team heading to an urgent mission on the planet Lola Sayu, in a memorable image from The Clone Wars Season Three episode, Citadel Rescue.