Monday 29 November 2010


The late Irvin Kershner watches the filming of a scene in the Rebel Hangar bay for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, alongside off-camera actor John Ratzenberger as Major Derlin.

The sad, very sad, news has come in that top film director Irvin Kershner-the man who put such fantasy sparkle and dramatic intensity into the STAR WARS saga with his directorial work on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK-has sadly died today at the age of 87, and in the very year of the films Thirtieth Anniversary. Our greatest of condolences to his family and close friends for their loss, and his departure from us really is a major loss, not only to world cinema but to STAR WARS in general.

May the Force be with him...always!

Braving the Finse elements, Kershner directs Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca.
A true actors director, Kershner goes through a tense scene for Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker.
Kershner spends some quality time with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew)
Trio of talent: Kershner with George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan.

UPDATE 30/11/2010: A links selection of additional features and tributes (with thanks to Chris Baker):

Irvin Kershner: Remembering The Empire Strikes Back - (From an interview w/ Dan Madsen - April 1, 1990):

More comments, thoughts articles & reactions from the Official Star Wars Blog:
Coppola, Streisand & Billy Dee pay tribute:



Here's a great shot of a destroyed TIE fighter from the 1982/1983 model filming of the epic space battle for RETURN OF THE JEDI, supervised by ILM's Ken Ralston. I loved the shot so much I thought it might make a great cover for our MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI Anniversary special issue a few years back (its still available in PDF format in our main sites back issues area-our biggest ever issue as well!) - the TIE in flames signifying the death of the mighty Empire - resulting in a few cover ideas that were put up by myself and regular AFICIONADO contributor Chris Baker.

Here they are (and I do still like them!):

Ultimately, however, because the image was just too dark, I decided against it and went with another rare photo of Mark Hamill in prime Jedi action on the Sail Barge instead (from an image kindly provided by another AFICIONADO contributor, Ian Trussler). As a nice curiosity I thought readers might enjoy seeing the above unused images anyway.

Friday 26 November 2010


Our penultimate feature celebrating the Thirtieth Anniversary of EMPIRE can now be found on the main site, this time linked to the filming of the Wampa ice creature sequences.

Check out the rare photo feature here:

And don't forget, for all other things behind the scenes related to the film, our two EMPIRE special issues (from 2005 and our current BEHIND THE SCENES COMPANION) are still available as PDFs from the main site's BACK ISSUES area.

With thanks to Chris Baker for the above image.

Thursday 25 November 2010


Here's some great conceptual art for EPISODE III of Bail Organa's home planet of Alderaan, an iconic world with strong ideals of peace and admired by many of the peoples living within the once noble Republic. Until its destruction by the first dreaded Death Star battle station, the snow capped mountain planet had been a beacon of hope for the Rebel Alliance and its galaxy wide supporters during the fight against the tyranny of the now established First Galactic Empire.

Recently shown in THE CLONE WARS episode Assassin, we hope to see more of House Organa and its civilisation in later seasons...

Wednesday 24 November 2010


"You will take me to Jabba now." Luke trades Force-ful words with Bib Fortuna.

Newly arrived at Jabba's Palace, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) confers with the Hutt's Major Domo, Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter), who tries to prevent him from an audience with his master. This scene, for reasons unknown, was ultimately re-filmed a short time after, on the steps leading to the creature's Throne Room instead.

This image, which was originally provided to KENNER TOYS for reference in 1982 (note the scratches made by LUCASFILM to prevent copying), was sold online recently at an auction by the website ENTERTAINMENT EARTH.

Tuesday 23 November 2010


Out in the wilderness of sound gathering, the legendary Ben Burtt creates and re-records the iconic noise of the Rebel and Imperial blaster weapons, during some point between 1977 and 1979.

Check out our review of his and J.W. Rinzler's enjoyable new book, published by SIMON & SCHUSTER, on the unique subject of sound design for the saga here:


Monday 22 November 2010


Two Imperial Walkers prepare to penetrate the Rebel ground defenses and destroy the enemy shield generator in this great stop motion image from 1979/1980-the Walker battle is still one of the greatest scenes in any film, let alone a STAR WARS one.

Check out this early EMPIRE trailer, too, to see the Walkers when, in early footage, they fired blue lasers instead of red:

Saturday 20 November 2010


2011 will no doubt be the year of Savage Opress!
Note: This feature contains possible SPOILERS

Savage Opress. He's not just your "average horny little devil." He wants to spill blood. Blood, in particular, that belongs to the Jedi Knights.

Trouble with a capital T!
When Ray Park's indomitable and terrifying destructive force, Darth Maul, met his final end - sliced in half by Ewan McGregor's Force intuitive Obi-Wan Kenobi in one of THE PHANTOM MENACE's greatest scenes (which we can't wait to see in 3D. Take that, Mister Simon Pegg!) - audiences around the world were thrilled yet disappointed to see that he had been killed off so quickly and would not return for more high octane action. So, Opress, one of Maul's equally highly trained brothers, is George Lucas, his daughter Kaite, and Dave Filoni's attempts, which will be very successful, to try to atone for the fall of the earlier Zabrakian, and we're sure all kinds of hell will be following within his large shadow when he, a chaos causing gift to Count Dooku by the Night Sisters of Dathomir, eventually takes on the Republic forces for numerous acts of Sith propelled slaughter. There are also rumours floating about on cyberpace - and please take them with a pinch of salt - that Ahsoka may eventually (and we're talking at the end of the animated series entire run) fall victim to this new warrior, of which her death will propel Anakin further to his destiny with the Dark Side as he surely gets his revenge! Of these rumours, I can only quote Qui-Gon Jinn: "Be wary!"  

Things are about to get a lot worse for the Jedi. All images: copyright LUCASFILM ANIMATION

Time will tell on all things, but, in the meantime, the fireworks of battle will fly! Especially against Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi!


Coming from 7th January 2011 to CARTOON NETWORK in the US and SKY MOVIES PREMIERE and HD in the UK.

Friday 19 November 2010


Artoo (Cleveland) and Threepio (Quagmire) in Jabba's Palace for "It's a Trap!" Image: FOX

Available from December 21st, and we can't wait! The conclusion of the STAR WARS FAMILY GUY saga, with "It's a Trap!"

Here are the great two trailers now released (the re-creation of one of the early 1983 RETURN OF THE JEDI trailers is excellently done):

Darth Stewie lives!


One of the EPISODE III behind the scenes crew assists Tarfful the noble and fierce Wookiee leader, played by Australian star Michael Kingma, in a filming break on an ILM green screen stage somewhere between 2003 and 2005 in the US. Much of the footage for the Wookiee battle, albeit seen far too briefly in the finished movie, would be directed by respected animation supervisor Rob Coleman.

Thursday 18 November 2010


Indiana Jones and 007 together! It can only be COWBOYS & ALIENS! Image: copyright DREAMWORKS/PARAMOUNT

Harrison Ford + Daniel Craig + fighting aliens = Mega Blockbuster Summer Entertainment!!!

The first trailer, and its a goodie!!

UPDATE- 15/4/2010. Exciting new trailer: Cowboys and Aliens - Movie Trailers - iTunes

Wednesday 17 November 2010


A happy Wookiee family reunited for LIFE DAY! Ahhhh!

THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL aired on CBS this very date way back in 1978. Despite its faults- and there are many!- AFICIONADO still hopes that it will one day get an official release of some kind!

Tuesday 16 November 2010


The excellent film-noir'ish poster for the 1981 made, but January 1982 released, adaptation of Ken Follett's novel: THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE, directed by RETURN OF THE JEDI's Richard Marquand. Image: MGM/UNITED ARTISTS.

With his sad passing, at the tragically young age of 49, in 1987, the chance for STAR WARS fans to meet, share and celebrate the making of RETURN OF THE JEDI with its director, Richard Marquand, would be denied us-in some ways since his departure his important contributions to the finale of the Saga have now become quite mysterious and criticized by fans. Despite the fan hypothesis and speculations regarding his work on JEDI, the loss of such an iconic contributor to the series (one of only two directors of the film series outside of its creator, George Lucas) is bad enough, but also the fact that he would never direct any more films of which previously, outside of STAR WARS, his material had been varied and interesting, and, bar the odd exception (the tragic horror movie THE LEGACY), showed a continuing and improving collective directorial body of work in the making, would prove equally tragic. With the exception of JEDI, and his last true box office success post the STAR WARS films 1983 release: the classic 1985 US thriller JAGGED EDGE (starring Jeff Bridges and a pre-DAMAGES Glenn Close), there have been very few opportunities to see Marquand’s pre-JEDI directorial work on television (and his early documentaries, to my knowledge, even in this age of multi-channel TV devouring archive programmes, have never been repeated). I had seen his 1981 movie EYE OF THE NEEDLE many years ago and had been aware of it prior to JEDI’s original release (I even remember seeing a FILM 82 programme behind the scenes look at it), and had enjoyed it, but the opportunity to see it again after so long (nearly ten years) was something I decided not to pass up when it was repeated recently on the UK FILM FOUR film channel this year (June 2009) and now on this Wednesday in the UK on Channel 4 on Wednesday PM, if only so as to re-discover just what made the film special enough for George Lucas to take the risk of hiring Marquand in the first place-then a total outsider for the job-for the all-important directorial realms of his universe.

Stars Donald Sutherland and Kate Nelligan pose for the camera.

Based on the highly popular novel of the same name by British thriller writer and award winning novelist Ken Follett (responsible recently for the smash historical book THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH), the story concerns the deadly German spy/killer, codenamed The Needle, working undercover in London during the war’s height, who quickly obtains vital information that, if his German masters get hold of it, could alter the Normandy invasion plans already underway by the Allied Forces. Under constant pursuit by the desperate British security forces, The Needle, awaiting submarine rescue, takes necessary refuge on the isolated Scottish island evocatively named Storm Island and has an affair with an English woman looking after her child and crippled husband. As their love affair of need intensifies, it isn’t long before the German spy’s identity is revealed…

His cover blown, The Needle attacks!

Portrayed by Donald Sutherland, The Needle is a dedicated, manipulative, driven and intense spy on his most dangerous mission for his German high command superiors, masterly using his charm to survive, but actually letting his guard down at times when he falls in love, albeit briefly, with the Englishwoman Rose on Storm Island. Making the most of a quality film, Sutherland is very good at a time when he was able to appear in films of a good caliber (let’s not mention more recent material like DEATH SHIP or FOOL’S GOLD). During the eighties he made several quirky English thriller type movies and seems very at home in them.

The lovely Kate Nelligan as Rose during the films suspenseful finale.

Though more subtle, the part of Rose, the wife of a tragically crippled ex-RAF fighter pilot, is equally important and played by Kate Nelligan with controlled subtly. Nelligan is in her eighties prime here as a British actress, after the success of her role in the 1979 DRACULA re-make alongside Frank Langella in the title role. Her “English Rose” looks betrays beauty and warmth with a simmering sexiness which proves essential to the film, and she proves well cast-vulnerable but with a hardened edge, lonely after years of isolation on the island, and looking after her crippled ex-RAF officer. The affair and subsequent love scene between her and Sutherland happens a bit too quickly in the film but, due to the nature of the plot, it has to, so as to send it towards its final act and her later discovery of Sutherland being a Nazi spy, which then leads to her gaining a toughness within herself that she’ll certainly need to make the most of during the film’s finale.

We must also have a special mention for the late actor Christopher Cazenove who, though not in the movie very much, brings more to the part than was probably scripted, with some notable heroism, to his disabled character of Peter. Sadly, Cazenove, despite some mild success in the US (on TV series like DYNASTY) never quite made it in the movies, and I was surprised that someone of his acting credentials and physical appearance didn’t play an Imperial in a STAR WARS film. Alas, as an actor, and as his character, he may have been the victim of the editing room here...

Alternate release poster.

In some ways the dramatic conflict between the woman, her husband and her new lover could at times be considered similar to the Han, Luke and Leia relationship triangle as it was during THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (prior, of course, to Luke becoming Leia’s brother in JEDI!). Perhaps that was another element on the character side that Lucas thought Marquand handled well in the picture, and which helped make the Producer sway towards him in the final decision making process.

As well as it’s distinguished main cast, the movie is also a veritable who’s who of experienced and upcoming stars in the making from the British and TV film industries-look out for one of the first screen appearances of Bill Nighy and Rik Mayall, as well as old British acting stalwarts like Ian Bannen (always great in anything he’s in. If you’ve never seen him opposite Sean Connery in the Seventies British drama SUSPECT, then do so) and Hugh Fraser.

Sadly, Scottish character actor Alex McCrindle (General Jan Dodonna to you and me!!) scenes as the lighthouse keeper, Tom, on Storm Island, are all too brief, and it seems to me, like Cazenove, that his character was probably an early victim of the cutting room floor (I suspect that the version being shown currently on FILMFOUR and CHANNEL FOUR is the UNITED ARTISTS released version of the film rather than Marquand’s own preferred DIRECTORS CUT. It would be intriguing to have known what advice Lucas gave Marquand whilst he was cutting the film when the pair met up whilst Lucas was looking for a replacement for Irvin Kershner on RETURN OF THE JEDI). It’s nice that we get a chance to hear old Angus without the dubbed American voice he was given for STAR WARS in 1977.

Despite the film being edited down for its eventual release, which clearly shows at times- parts of the story seem to happen too conveniently and quickly- EYE OF THE NEEDLE is directed with confident flair and style by Marquand, and has the flavour of early UK made Hitchcock thriller films like SUSPICION. His prior work as a documentarian and a commercials director (like his contemporaries Ridley Scott and Alan Parker) is also clearly evident (another reason why he was probably chosen for JEDI by Lucas), especially in the opening scenes of war time London and the blitz. Though some of it is not shown on screen, or discreetly not shown to camera, the film is also intriguingly quite violent at times and Donald Sutherland’s character uses a deadly hand knife, that pops out of his hand (a bit like Palpatine’s lightsaber from EPISODE III, in fact!!), to chilling and lethal effect (with a very nasty and distinctive sound effect to boot) in efficiently directed action and suspense moments.

Rose is unaware of the new arrival's true identity as a lethal German spy. Image: CINEMASTRIKESBACK.COM

The old time look and period feel of the movie is effective and kudos to the strong atmospheric cinematography from fellow Brit Alan Hume, who, away from the Blitz damaged London streets, also shows us in the films second half the beautiful but harsh wilderness of the Scottish highlands. The movie, despite what was obviously studio interference, is also tightly edited by Sean Barton (who, like Hume, also worked on JEDI), with no wastage and very little exposition. Again, another notable factor for Lucas in getting Marquand, and his friends, to work on JEDI.

Capping things off, the legendary Miklos Rozas provides a familiar, nostalgic, but audience welcome mixture of danger, love and violence in his movie score-the kind that he has done so well in the past for films, and is an acclaimed composer for this type of genre and its emotionally complex subject matter.

Though it had not been a success during its original release, EYE OF THE NEEDLE has since become a charming little oddity- not just in its style and the way it was made, but also within the film industry of that time period, counter clashing with the type of big scale movies being made for audiences in 1981/82. Its does not, by any means, rank up there with the greatest noir drama thrillers, and I don’t think it was ever supposed to, but the film is an enjoyable, sometimes tense, well made relationship thriller, and an underrated little British movie gem which has some evocative moments, beautiful cinematography and a keen sense of capturing the period, especially in the movie’s first half, that certainly make it worth a look for it’s one hour and forty five minute duration (and especially if it’s being shown in it’s proper theatrical aspect ratio).


EYE OF THE NEEDLE is being shown on the UK's CHANNEL 4 and HD on Wednesday, 17th November 2010.


March/April 1976: On a Tunisian mountain within whats now known as STAR WARS Canyon, Mark Hamill, Sir Alec Guinness, and Anthony Daniels get ready to film a scene where our heroes look down towards the wretched hive of "scum and villainy" that is Mos Eisley space port (note Stills Photographer John Jay taking vista shots of the canyon, presumably for possible matte painting/photo background reference). The camera angle looking forwards from Luke's Landspeeder never made the final cut, instead replaced with a matte composite plate shot put over a wide image of California's Death Valley, filmed by Lucas and a small Second Unit later in STAR WARS 1977 Post-Production.

As seen from the other side: note Gary Kurtz taking the photo and John Stears laying besides Artoo. Image: via Filmumentaries site.

Angle as seen from rear camera, not in finished film. If used, the Mos Eisley matte would have replaced the foreground.

Monday 15 November 2010


The cast of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS Season Two, out now on DVD and Blu-ray. All images: LUCASFILM ANIMATION.

Review by Scott Weller

The term “Second Best” takes on a whole new, more positive meaning with the release of George Lucas’s sophomore season of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS being released today on Blu-ray and DVD from WARNER BROTHERS.

With its improved animation and a bold new direction of storytelling, bigger risks are taken this year on the episode front, and now has never been a better time to enjoy the action, honour and heroics of our favourite STAR WARS heroes as well as the grand ambition, evil and all round destructive power of the dark forces they fight against.

On Felucia, the Clone Troopers provide cover fire for the Jedi in the season's opening episode THE HOLOCRON HEIST.

Resplendent, especially on the Blu-ray format where everything is so crisp and alive, presented in their correct aspect viewing ratios, with piercing sound design, this unique series feels even more remarkable and individualistic than ever. And, despite what could have been a heavy continued war backdrop (which is marvellously realized in the epic four part attempt by the Jedi to re-take the weapons factory world of Geonosis, starting with LANDING AT POINT RAIN), the beauty and wonder of the STAR WARS saga is as evocative as ever, made by a production team whose love for the subject matter shines through. Supervising Animation Director Dave Filoni and his team continue to build on what has been developed with the shows successful premiere season cementing further the building blocks of a series that will last a few more years yet, and getting to indulge themselves in an exciting new arena for STAR WARS adventure and characterization. Just as excited with the possibilities of the show is the series creator, George Lucas, who contributes many of its overall storylines this year, even getting to make a personal tribute to his late iconic film-making friend, Akira Kurosawa, with his unique STAR WARS take of the Japanese film THE SEVEN SAMURAI (known in the US as the ever classic THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) that’s worth checking out. And there’s all kinds of other storytelling to keep the pot warm, too, from humour to comedy, and from action to horror (check out the yucky parasites in the episode BRAIN INVADERS or the undead Geonosian insects in LEGACY OF TERROR. Yuck!)

A little quality time together for the Skywalkers in SENATE SPY.

Readers of the AFICIONADO Blog will already know what our top five episodes were of this season, but special nods must also be given to CHILDREN OF THE FORCE, BOUNTY HUNTERS, CAT AND MOUSE (set before the events of the 2008 pilot movie), and WEAPONS FACTORY for their great storytelling and fast paced adventure. There’s also some intriguing, if not perfect, individual stories to compliment the epic battles, with several tales set on the political homeworld of the Republic, Coruscant, and involving Padme Amidala (nicely voiced by Catherine Taber) as she investigates murder, corruption, and deceit within the political system (look out for a STAR WARS variation of the classic Hitchcock movie NOTORIOUS when our favourite ex-Queen gets caught up in spying on an ex-lover). Despite the occasional story flaws of these quieter tales, these episodes are still generally more enjoyable than most other dramatic series on real-life TV!

The Mandalorian warriors known as Death Watch make their first appearance in Season Two.

The series also bravely, if sometime confusingly, starts to play around with its own time frames, setting some episodes from Season Two before certain episodic events seen in Season One. And adding to the general acclaim of the storytelling are a lot of innovative firsts, including premiere appearances in the animated format for the young evil-to-be Boba Fett (voiced by original actor Daniel Logan), with his continuing story arc in wanting revenge for the death of his father from the movie ATTACK OF THE CLONES, and the introduction of numerous bounty hunters (including the classic THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK reptilian villain, Bossk). This seasons overall title: RISE OF THE BOUNTY HUNTERS effectively covers its first and last quarters with some very enjoyable episodes and the new set of villains, including last years freshly introduced, fiendishly clever and adaptable rogue Cad Bane, who proves a serious challenge to our Jedi heroes, and equally provides the shows writers with some valuable breathing space whist they plan bigger and bolder stories for the previous seasons existing line-up of baddies so as not to make them feel stale. Sadly, bald female assassin Asajj Ventress makes no appearance this year, but cyborg Jedi-killer General Grievous makes up for this and returns for more foul deeds in a very exciting and highly effective two part adventure. Overall, there’s a little bit more darkness thrown into the mix this season, what with the extra bounty hunter threat, which the production team have obviously initiated so as to make the animated series occasionally a little bit closer to the harder edged sequel movie, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, rather than the fantasy of STAR WARS.

Outside of the conflict of Jedi/Clones against Separatists there’s also destruction on an even bigger scale with the fun homage to the monster movies of the fifties and sixties, with the GODZILLA/ KING KONG like Zillo beast rampaging and striking terror into the citizens of planets Malastare and Coruscant in another memorable two parter that’s especially fun to watch for the younger audiences.

Our heroes use their abilities to find the missing Jedi-to-be in CHILDREN OF THE FORCE.

With Year Two there are also more attempts to have different characters interacting with each other, and less stories of Anakin and Obi-Wan together than previously. This year we see tales with Jedi pairings like Ahsoka Tano with new Jedi characters like the marvelous old timer Tera Sinube (in the episode LIGHTSABER LOST) or with her ex-Master, Plo Koon (for a LETHAL TRACKDOWN), plus intriguing combos like Mace with Anakin, or Obi with Adi Gallia, which helps keep the series fresh and interesting whilst stimulating the series writers more.

Boba Fett and his new Bounty Hunter allies get ready for a LETHAL TRACKDOWN.

Die-hard STAR WARS fans will also find out a little bit more about the race who constructed the armour later worn by the enigmatic Boba Fett - the people of Manadalore, a planet almost wiped out by war years before, and whose Monarch is struggling to stop the return of her people’s war-faring ways. Called in to help, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s past relationship with the alluring Duchess of Satine is plutonically re-kindled in a three part tale which has some good moments. In this more serious season, another plus is that, for haters of comedy character Jar Jar Binks, they’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief that he’s not in this second year, though I personally thought there were a couple of new irritants far worse in replacing him, namely the Seth Green voiced droid Todo and Republic Police Inspector Divo, the latter I found particularly despicable and out of place in the series.

The Duchess Satine: one of many intriguing new characters in THE CLONE WARS Season Two.

Beyond my individual preferences, though, Lucas and his empire continue to create stories that appeal to the broad spectrum, and that’s the ultimate key to STAR WARS evergreen success in films, TV and beyond. This particular series is deservedly popular with four generations and has now uniquely reached the point where selected classic characters, translated into animation from both movie trilogies, now seamlessly interact with the new series cast (like Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, herself an emerging character with a healthy fan base), with more additions on the horizon, from not only the films but the STAR WARS Saga’s vast history in the Expanded Universe media of publishing, too!

Following on from the animated adventures, on the extras side of things, sadly there are no extended episodes as seen with the Season One boxset, as the production team pretty much have the episodes running lengths constructed to a key art form now, with little plot and character wastage, though some brief extended scenes do appear here and there in the special features area, alongside 2 and 3-D animation, key interviews with some of the artists/designers, animatics and character templates. There’s also several enjoyable, if still too short, documentaries on key episodes of Season Two, like the Holocron Trilogy that opened the year, the Geonosian saga, the Zillo Beast and the return of Boba Fett.

Overall, the extras are very good, high quality and value for money (including a lovely 68 page production journal book with selected notes and info linked with key artwork of the developing series and characters), but there’s still not enough of them and I wanted to see and know more, in addition to things like stills galleries, episode commentaries, and putting out all the original episodic trailers done for the US CARTOON NETWORK. Especially more from the production side (in both the US and Singapore) would have been very satisfying. As with all Lucasfilm STAR WARS related extras, we always get a good amount of them, but never as much as we’d hoped. Let’s hope the upcoming Blu-ray set of the movies breaks that tradition and gives us much more than we could ever have dreamed!

DVD release trailer:

STAR WARS AFICIONADO RATING: Overall season rating 3.5 out 5. Special features content overall rating: 3 out of 5

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS Season Two-out now in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD from WARNER BROTHERS.

Sunday 14 November 2010


Anakin Skywalker leads the charge in LANDING AT POINT RAIN. Our top episode of THE CLONE WARS Season Two.

We've reached the top of the tree in our list of STAR WARS AFICIONADO's best five episodes of STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS Season Two (out tomorrow in the UK on DVD/ Blu-ray from WARNER BROTHERS) and, we have to say, last year didn't get any better than with its critically acclaimed fifth episode: LANDING AT POINT RAIN. I think you'll all agree with me that this was THE CLONE WARS at its finest moment so far, and that it truly stands apart by quite a distance from many of the other excellent stories of the year, especially with its tough war to the hilt story (the prior liberation of Ryloth was a picnic compared to this!) and superbly advanced animation, in what was a combined and ever evolving effort from George Lucas, Dave Filoni and their animation teams, and an adventure which was also one of the the most difficult to pull off with such a short production schedule. Faith manages, however, and LANDING would prove to be an absolute winner from start to finish.

The attack on Geonosis begins...

And here's just five reasons, from so many, why it deserves its success:

..but the Clone casualty rate is horrific.

The Battle of Geonosis: Take Two. The majority of STAR WARS fans may have all thrilled to the amazing revolutionary CG action of EPISODE II's Geonosian arena and the outwards spill of fierce battle between thousands of Clone Troopers, led by numerous Jedi Knights, against Separatist Battle Droids (amidst amazing vehicles and heavy weaponry of all shapes and sizes caught in between!) - the stuff of my imagination when thinking about what happened in the mysterious Clone Wars years ago as a child, but George Lucas, ever the effects challenger, wasn't. There was still so many ideas and action sequences planned for the film in the animatics pre-visualisation that, for time and pace reasons, he just wasn't able to bring to the conflict, resulting in LANDING AT POINT RAIN being the ultimate chance to rectify this, whilst also proving to be the most exciting, perilous, scary and heroic episode of the season, and totally living up to our high expectations from its opening scenes. Its STAR WARS meets APOCALYPSE NOW meets BAND OF BROTHERS, with cinematography thats one step above so many other modern cartoons, and realistically close to the kind of conflicts our soldiers are involved with in our modern day world, but also brilliantly transferred into the kind of STAR WARS universe action that viewers of all ages are excited to see. And there hasn't been an episode as well paced and immaculately plotted as this since.

Despite overwhelming losses, the Jedi and Clones fight on!

"It's a Trap!" Right from the start, the Republic invasion plans are thwarted -well, they would be, with Palpatine being told of them!- as the Geonosian army lays ready for their attackers every move. Gunships and Clone Troopers as are quickly taken down in savage numbers, and the odds of the Jedi fulfilling their their objectives in reaching the Geonosian droid foundries looks grim as their three pronged attack becomes confused and then shattered. Its only through the sheer determination of Jedi leaders Anakin Skywalker and newly introduced to the animation front Ki-Adi Mundi that victory is finally grabbed from the jaws of defeat.

Death from the skies! The Geonosians attack.

Geonosian swoops. Its a disturbing sequence, effectively realised with great sound design, when the repellent Geonosians, weapons blazing, fly down from the skies to kidnap and brutally kill Clone Troopers left, right and centre. Its the type of scene with the creatures that was almost in EPISODE II but didn't make it to fruition. The dread atmosphere continues when Ki-Adi and his remaining forces enter the dark and foreboding caves shortcut as they press onto their destination, and then come under attack from an enemy, working best within its natural habitat, picking them off one by one. Thankfully, to cheering fans of the Clone Troopers, our Republic friendly soldiers didn't forget to bring their flamethrowers to use against the alien bugs!

Down but not out, Obi-Wan Kenobi prepares for rescue.

Obi-Wan injured. We've seen him resolute and determined in the face of battle and triumphing against overwhelming odds, and we've seen his raw physical power as a Jedi in action against the likes of Darth Maul, but we've never seen him so badly wounded and almost down for the count as he is in this episode, when his Gunship takes the full brunt of an enemy counter-attack and crashlands on the desert plains of Geonosis- his men dead, and overwhelming enemy firepower moving in. Bravely, if barely able to walk, and his Force resources weakened, he only just manages to hold out for rescue. You can see in his brilliantly animated war and injury strained eyes, just able to clutch his lightsaber, that, when hes finally rescued, he's out for the count and exhausted by battle -  a shocking sight to see for one of the series most beloved and action orientated characters, and a further indication that this episode is showing us the most brutal and decisive conflict yet in the Clone Wars.

Heroes of the Republic: Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano.

The heroes without fear: Anakin, Ahsoka and Rex. Never has their been a more centralised, daring and courageous group of Republic era war heroes than these three as, against all odds and any risk of success, they storm into the heart of the enemy defenses. One of the episodes many adrenalin charged moments, which keeps the audiences on the edge of their seats, must be towards the end of the episode when Anakin and Ahsoka are fighting back to back on the wall of the Geonosian barricade battlements, outnumbered and just about holding their own until the moment where those dread blaster ball Droidekas burst upwards from hidden emplacements and begin their laser volley onslaught. Seeing their friends cornered, ever loyal Clone Captain Rex, with the help of his fellow officers, propels himself upwards to become their surprise ace in the hole in what must surely be one of the most memorable moments of STAR WARS action packed heroics ever seen in any of its mediums, ending with the enemies enclosure breached and Anakin and Ahoska making the kind of leap from a huge explosion that wouldn't have been out of place in a DIE HARD movie, with a screaming, soon Force held Rex following right behind them in full Bruce Willis scream mode! A tremendous sequence.

Ki-Adi Mundi and Obi-Wan are temporarily out of the fight. 

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS Season Two available on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from November 15th.

Saturday 13 November 2010


Jail-breaker Ziro the Hutt gets some quality time with his girlfriend Sy Snootles in THE HUNT FOR ZIRO.

With her great introductory musical opening number (deliberately reminiscent of Kate Capshaw’s ANYTHING GOES from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM), and a now revealed relationship with Ziro the Hutt, Jabba the Hutt’s prized singer/entertainer Sy Snootles turned out to be one of the true stars of THE HUNT FOR ZIRO episode of THE CLONE WARS shown last night in the US. The episode was a fun, fast paced tale of intrigue and action, and was also a fine introduction to a more audience friendly version of rogue Jedi Quinlan Vos, whose Han Solo-ish attitudes worked well with Obi-Wan Kenobi by the book intelligence. And what about that superb fight with Vos and Kenobi against Cad Bane, eh? This was the kind of action Boba Fett should have had in the Classic Trilogy!

In celebration of lippy Sy’s return here’s a classic shot of her best live action visual incarnation from the original version of RETURN OF THE JEDI. With thanks to Chris Baker for the image.

And here’s a link to the MTV released pop video for the original 1983 JEDI song from Jabba’s Palace, LAPTI NEK, put together by John Williams and his son, which includes the film's Second Unit director David Tomblin's footage of Jabba, and his den of dangerous acolytes, that never made it into the finished film:


Jedi Trap! Ahsoka Tano: prisoner of Cad Bane in CARGO OF DOOM.

"Almost there!"

Yes, Red Leader's words are in our heads as we're about to reach Pole Position as to the Top Five episodes of Season Two of THE CLONE WARS (out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from 15th November, from WARNER BROTHERS), and it was a toughie to make the final selection, but CARGO OF DOOM, despite much worthy consideration, is ultimately Number Two.

1. Cad Bane. At his most intimidating, dangerous and cunning, this Bounty Hunter without remorse is ruthlessly and efficiently determined to fulfill his current mission for the Separatists, and he proves one slippery customer for our brave Anakin and Ahsoka in trying to corner and battle. Its a shocking moment later in the episode when he captures and electrifies Ahsoka, then threatens to blast her into space if Anakin refuses to co-operate. Voice actor veteran Corey Burton truly brings this unique character - who would have been marvellous in a live action STAR WARS film - to animated reality, whilst the Durosian Bounty Hunter's overall design, with that amazing DEADWOOD-style hat, is superb.

2. Death of a Jedi. The grim, tortured demise of Rodian Jedi, Bolla Ropal, is quite a shocking and sad moment in the series, subtly underplayed and sensitively handled for the series younger audience by the production team. Despite Bane's lack of concern, even the Battle Droids in the episode join us in our sorrow at his loss.

3. Zero G battle. Kudos for the inspired opening space conflict with the Republic Walkers on the Separatists cruisers hull, but its the superb Zero Gravity battle interior sequence that is the highlight for me, which apparently proved quite a challenge to choreograph and edit to the right length during the production process. Love the moment when Skywalker almost has Bane and the stolen Holocron before Artoo restores the hangar to normality, the ceiling walking Clone soldier with the heavy weaponry and the balletic but deadly movements of Ahsoka.

4. Amping up the tension. George Krstic's script is a winner: full of incident and building up the menace and the threat of the damaged and destructing Separatist cruiser as the episode progresses. Its an action/ adventure set within a race against time disaster movie, as Anakin and co. have to rescue Bolla, get the captured Holcron and Kiber crystal, capture or take out Cad Bane if they can and get off the exploding enemy vessel. And there's that great ending where everybody presumes Bane is dead. Think again. CARGO OF DOOM is pure STAR WARS, executed with style and visual flair by the much missed Rob Coleman. And on the humour front, how can we not make special mention of the fun little moment where Captain Rex bangs his head ala the Stormtrooper in EPISODE IV. Nice touch!

5. The Jedi Holocron/Kybur Crystal. They've been the stuff of legend in the Expanded Universe (with the Kybur Crystal having been at the very dawn of the printed STAR WARS world with 1978's Alan Dean Foster fun tale, SPLINTER OF THE MIND'S EYE), and here we get a brief but intriguing look at how they operate, demonstrated in a mysterious and fascinating scene (with nice accompanying sound design) involving Anakin's forced opening of them. I imagine we'll see more of these devices, and what else they store, at further points in the continuing series.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS Season Two, available in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray from November 15th.