Thursday 31 October 2013
Wednesday 30 October 2013
Commander Cody returns Obi-Wan's previously misplaced lightsaber to the Jedi, astride his faithful Boga creature, as they begin their final push against the Separatist forces entrenched within the sinkhole city of Utapau. But, within a few short minutes, the true fall of the Republic begins instead, as ORDER 66 is initiated...
Tuesday 29 October 2013
A satisfying constant to the STAR WARS universe across five episodes (with a spin-off solo movie to come at some point in our near future?), Jedi Master Yoda's mystery and popularity remains undiminished over the years for fans of all ages, within his various onscreen incarnations- either in his original realisation as a puppet in 1979, created by the late Stuart Freeborn (followed by Nick Dudman in 1997), or via the new realities of the CGI for the later Prequels.
With thanks to Chris Baker for the image.
Check out this great FACEBOOK page featuring alternate footage of Yoda's final conversation with Luke, from RETURN OF THE JEDI, here: Return of the Jedi long lost Edit Droid Laserdisc Discovered
Monday 28 October 2013
The enjoyable US HOLLYWOOD'S BEST FILM DIRECTORS documentary season which kicked off on the UK's SKY ARTS 1 channel last month turns its 28th November (9.30pm) spotlight on George Lucas, in a lively career overview of his directorial work on THX-1138, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, the original STAR WARS and its later Prequels- talking about how he had to fight the decrepit and powerful Hollywood studio system, the challenges of getting STAR WARS made, how he was lured back to the Prequels by the rapidly advancing technology, and other things besides. Alongside this is some extensive behind the scenes footage from the Classic STAR WARS Trilogy, most of it culled from the EMPIRE OF DREAMS documentary of a few years back, though a few little bits here and there seem slightly longer by a few seconds or so. Plus rare audition footage of Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat and others that I'd never seen before from AMERICAN GRAFFITI.
All in all, its well worth a look. For fans of that other sci-fi hit inspired from the success of STAR WARS, 1979's classic ALIEN, a Ridley Scott interview/career overview precedes Lucas on the 21st.
Hollywood's Best Film Directors
With thanks to SKY ARTS 1 for the heads-up...
Sunday 27 October 2013
|Legendary First Assistant Director David Tomblin clowning around with Anthony Daniels at Elstree.|
One of Britain and the world's finest and most respected First Assistant Directors, literally immersed in his homeland's film industry since the age of 14, David Tomblin's entry into the universe of STAR WARS didn't originally start off well. Interviewed for the role of Assistant Director on the original STAR WARS in 1975, his job interview with writer/director George Lucas (likely at the London FOX offices) was a disaster-the pair failing to click personality-wise, with the resultant position going to later James Bond series Associate Producer Anthony Waye-a shame really, as Tomblin, who'd had some background in doing pioneering UK sci-fi and fantasy with his writing/directing superb and exciting live-action episodes of the hit Gerry Anderson series UFO and SPACE: 1999, as well as co-creating, writing and directing the cult phenomenon that was Patrick McGoohan's mystery thriller THE PRISONER, would likely have been in much better stead and mental sync with Lucas in the creation of his universe than Waye, who proved to be amongst the majority of the UK team who originally just thought of STAR WARS as a mostly unintelligible, little league kids film- a vibe that I don't think Tomblin would have shared had he been by the director and producer Gary Kurtz's side in March 1976.
|In discussions about the in-development Yoda dummy with Irvin Kershner, Stuart Freeborn and co., at Elstree in 1979.|
|On the Bespin set of EMPIRE, clowning with Carrie Fisher: circa April 1979.|
|Far left, with Kershner, Billy Dee Williams and others.|
Nonetheless, things would improve for Tomblin by the time of UK pre-production on THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in late 1978/early 1979. Having previously worked with Irvin Kershner on the Richard Harris starring wild west sequel adventure THE RETURN OF A MAN CALLED HORSE, a project which had some tricky production areas, the director remembered him and recognised his co-ordinating and directing talents (especially with large crowd groups or extras)- a soon vital requirement for the next STAR WARS film with its hordes of clashing Rebels and Imperials, quickly signing him up. It was here that Lucas, dipping in and out of the UK filming, got to know and respect the real Tomblin, who re-acquainted well with the director and got on famously with the cast (especially the fun loving Carrie Fisher and fellow Brit thespian Anthony Daniels)- often well remembered on set for his post National Service-era personal discipline, deadpan but creative humour and bark worse than his bite demeanour, alongside a talent for keeping morale up, especially with the behind the scenes team working on the films often fraught and lengthy, sometimes seemingly unending, shooting from March to September 1979: travelling from the difficult climes of location filming in Norway (hilariously barking orders on his megaphone to some of the non-English speaking Norwegian Red Cross soldiers playing Rebels to not act like motionless and idle 'zombies' during far background filming), to the intensely hot and debilitating Elstree Studios and its Bespin Carbon Freeze Chamber. Additionally, Tomblin brought into the UK filming many experienced extras that he had known and used in previous film and TV productions, like Quentin Pierre and Boba Fett costume tester Alan Harris (both of whom he knew and liked from his SPACE: 1999 Season One filming days at Pinewood in 1973-74).
|Tomblin with an Ewok-suited Warwick Davis (presumably doing second unit work elsewhere), plus Nicki Reade (middle), on the Jabba's Throne Room set, circa Jan/Fen 1982.|
|A David Tomblin improvised scene for JEDI, featuring Bob Fortuna and Salacious Crumb, sadly cut from the movie.|
|On the STAR WARS STAGE, David Tomblin gives instructions to the many background extras playing Imperials via microphone.|
Straight after EMPIRE, Kershner recommended Tomblin for his speed and inventiveness to cinema wunderkid Steven Spielberg, hiring him for what what would be all three Classic Indiana Jones films- often seen in behind the scenes footage with a bullhorn in his hand, barking out orders to extras and flapping smoke across the studio soundstages- being an all-round team player with the acclaimed director. Richard Attenborough's epic movie autobiography of the influential Indian leader and pacifist Mahatma Gandhi soon followed into the second half of 1980 and proved to be one of his and film-makings biggest ever production undertakings, with Tomblin proudly putting on his CV the fact that he had organised one particular scene with 250,000 extras! All of this work on that and the overall film would put him in good stead in early 1982, as his trusted right-hand position saw him alongside director Richard Marquand for RETURN OF THE JEDI, which, for six epic months in London and the US would be even bigger in scale than EMPIRE, with larger sets, and a more diverse amount of first and second unit shooting needed for George Lucas's manipulation in the editing suite. It was on JEDI that Tomblin, heavily involved in the Jabba's Palace sequence and its numerous grotesques, even got permission to improvise some comedic material with some of its supporting characters: Bib Fortuna and the on-set much loved little beast that was Salacious Crumb: though that material never made the finished film, some of it can be found in the later MTV video of Lapti Nek. Additionally, working with the cuddly Ewoks in their village setting at Elstree, Tomblin was quick to recognise the talents of the young eleven-year old Warwick Davis playing the inquisitive and heroic Ewok later to be named Wicket, deciding to create a little 16mm "mini-film" for the star and his adventures in the STAR WARS universe: Revenge of the Ewok (later titled Return of the Ewok), which also secured the talents of the films cast and crew in certain areas (contributing because they liked Davis and Tomblin so much). Later on during extra location filming in the California Redwoods after the main shoot had been completed, Tomblin and a small team would capture vital action/comedic sequences for inclusion during the Battle of Endor sequence.
|Giving young Warwick Davis some movement tips on location in 1982, likely for Return of the Ewok. Image via the ACROSS THE STARS website.|
|With Ford, Lucas and Fisher during JEDI's outdoor Endor Bunker filming in May 1982.|
In and out of his completion of the STAR WARS and INDY films, Tomblin, who, sadly, was very rarely interviewed about his work, especially on STAR WARS, and never, to my knowledge, did any conventions or signings (likely because he was so in-demand for productions), would continue working on a diverse array of movies, including Irvin Kershner's unofficial James Bond adventure: NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, the first two SUPERMAN movies for Christopher Reeve and director Richard Donner, BRAVEHEART for Mel Gibson, plus many more classics. He would finally, deservedly receive a BAFTA award for his immense services to the film industry in 2003 (with a video tribute which included a scene from JEDI), before his sad passing, aged 74, in June 2005.
IMDB: David Tomblin - Biography
Remembering David Tomblin, First Assistant Director | Star Wars Blog | Star Wars Blog
Swiftly manoeuvring through the busy Mos Espa streets, a unipod droid rickshaw delivers Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala to Watto's Junk Shop, in a scene from EPISODE II
INDIANA JONES - THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
By James Luceno
Published by DORLING KINDERSLEY - MAY 2008 FIRST EDITION
Published by DORLING KINDERSLEY - MAY 2008 FIRST EDITION
Reviewed by Scott Weller
If adventure has a name then it has to be Indiana Jones. And if you’re looking for the name of a book publisher to chronicle his amazing adventures then I can think of nobody better than DORLING KINDERSLEY for their excellent new release, INDIANA JONES: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE visual/text reference work.
Having previously come up top trumps with their book range for STAR WARS, JAMES BOND and the hit TV series 24, the company seems the natural choice to present a superb compendium of the history of our intrepid archaeologist/ soldier of fortune, and his thrilling adventures throughout the world over the years. Expert travel writer/adventure fictionist James Luceno, whose previous STAR WARS original novels LABYRINTH OF EVIL and CLOAK OF DECEPTION carried on the grand tradition of the pulp adventure science fiction novels that also inspired George Lucas in creating the saga in the first place, showed writing talents on those books that impressed me greatly- his fast paced style proving totally in character to that universe that I have always loved, and bringing an equally precise concoction of character and adventurous flavour to the Indiana Jones series with his new work on THE ULTIMATE GUIDE.
Starting, where else, from the beginning, the book takes a look through, and charts, the history of Indy from his exploits as a youngster, as witnessed in the early 1990’s semi-educational TV series (presented in a way that almost makes me actually want to watch it (though, puzzlingly, THE SECRET OF THE BLUES instalment with Harrison Ford’s front and back end cameo seems to be strangely absent from the book), through to the final (so far??) adventure in the KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, and charting pretty much every other non TV/film event/adventure involving Mister Fedora man at the same in between, from the many adventures in books, to those of comic, video games and other media. The compilation of facts within Indy’s screen universe is very well done and Luceno’s prose style brings it all together well, adding great detail to events that lead in to the films (such as why Indy went to find the Chachapoyan fertility statue at the start of RAIDERS). As well as the words, the photography chosen to accompany the books epic adventure travelogue is equally excellent and there are quite a few new images I hadn’t seen before (C’mon OFFICIALPIX, go and release ‘em!). Where stills aren’t available for certain scenes/ moment, some great artwork from the comic books is used, as is the addition of screengrabs, the quality of which, presumably from the Lowry re-masterings for the DVDs, is extremely good. The design is beautiful (I loved the opening spreads intros for the films (done the same ways as with their previous STAR WARS books) and easy to read throughout-this really is one of those coffee table books that you really can dip in and out of properly and contentedly-today, if you feel like it, I may want to find out more about Walter Donovan, tomorrow, how about something on the Well of Souls or a look at the landscape of the Tanis excavation sites from RAIDERS. To add to the historical facts and educationalist stance of the YOUNG INDY TV series, KINDERSLEY, being a historical book specialist, also makes the most of the George Lucas doctrine to educate its readers, presenting accurate and highly interesting information on events happening in real life to the simultaneous fictional ones going on within Indy’s world. In some cases, the two have merged together beautifully…
On the other side of the visual coin, the diagrams and illustrations are, as ever, also first rate. Much like the ones created for the STAR WARS SAGA, showing you the insides of secret bases, heavy weaponry, and numerous fighters/alien craft, this book goes in depth into the landscapes and environments of the alternate universe of the Ark, the Shankra Stones and the Holy Grail, as the reader discovers all the exotic places Indy has visited, all the dangerous environments he has become trapped in, and all the foes he has just managed to defeat through sheer willpower, luck or a shrewd type of humanity and skillfulness (special notes must be made of the illustrations of TEMPLE OF DOOM, showing the Kali underground lair and the mountain/Pankot Palace in superb detail- bringing the environment to geographical, and logical, life). There’s even a nice spread on our heroes evolution as a character and that of his costume (including Indy’s weather beaten hat and action dusted casual fatigues).
To top it all off, outside of the character history compiled, there are also excellent sections going behind the scenes of the Saga’s creation, with some excellent artwork (it’s always nice to see that early Jim Steranko conceptual art used so well!) and some pieces that I hadn’t seen before (including unused logo designs early character sketches), nice storyboards from the early movies too, and nicely production photos of the cast and crew (which add the “family” feel to the book that has been clearly evident on screen for so long), an intriguing behind the scenes ILM spread with some distinctive images of the filming of the Nazi deaths from RAIDERS, and a look at all the publishing (from the early MARVEL comics to the numerous adult novels, and merchandise (from KENNER’S early figures for RAIDERS to their current mighty mugs range!), and even a nice section on the video games over the years. A creation/ behind the scenes timeline tops it off, which is most helpful if you want to see how the Saga came into being-from a few jottings by Lucas in 1973 to it’s current, we can’t wait to see it new release in 2008. All these sections have some great little tit-bits to enjoy that I wasn’t previously aware of.
But the most important question, on everybody’s minds I’m sure, as I write this, is...what about the CRYSTAL SKULL coverage!! Well, not to give anything away, there is a very good section on the film but I have deliberately tried not to read it too heavily-just skimming through parts of it have revealed plot info that I didn’t want to know, but hopefully it won’t spoil my enjoyment (in fact, I know it won’t cause that to happen-I just cant wait to see this movie, anyway!). Though there are no in-depth sections on the characters, environments and the Crystal Skull itself like the previous films (the Producers, quite wisely, wanting to keep it all secret), the on-set stills photography in this section is also superb, and ninety nine percent I hadn’t seen previously in any of the other current film magazines-again, the layout is good, but that really is all I’m gonna tell ya!! There is much deliberately missing in that section, with very little on the AREA 51 part of the movie in particular, though to compensate, there are nice production bits on the film in the making of section to continue to satiate the readers, alongside parts of the storyline (of which a fair bit of the film has probably been revealed-again, though, I haven’t tried to read it! It’s up to you if you want to read it!!). Perhaps they (LUCASFILM/DK) should have waited a little bit and released a fuller version of the book after the film was released. Would that have damaged sales? Possibly, but then they could still re-release the book with additional pages when it comes out on DVD, or perhaps when a fifth INDY film comes along (hopefully I won’t be at an age to match Harrison Ford, as he is now, when it finally turns up! Eighteen years was a helluva long wait, guys!) KINGDOM looks impressive to me in every respect, and the film’s photography within the book gives the impression of a well rounded, and heart pleasingly warm closure to the saga to come, with some nice references to the past thrown in (like the Ark of the Covenant and a special mention of the late, great Denholm Elliot’s character of Marcus Brody).
No matter what happens to cinemas, no matter what happens with movies, we’ll always love adventures stories. And whilst that is the case, Indiana Jones will continue to live on in our hearts and minds. This book is a wonderful celebration of that fact.
So, all in all, another exemplary book from the DK range to add, not only to their own impressive list of book case titles, but your own personal list as well!
REVIEW RATING: "X marks the spot!" An INDY-TASTIC 9/10
Saturday 26 October 2013
The lovely and colourful front cover art for the KENNER 1980 THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK mini-collector's case, capturing most of the characters and excitement of the pivotal first sequel. I don't ever remember this item being available in the UK, though we had the Darth Vader and Threepio shaped ones.
Vintage Kenner Collector's Cases: Warning! May Cause Hibernation Sickness for Action Figures | Star Wars Blog
Friday 25 October 2013
The first script table reading at LEAVESDEN for George Lucas, casting director Robin Gurland and the assembled cast of EPISODE I in the Summer of '97, minus Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, both of whom were not available yet and off making other films- Silas Carson and Ahmed Best filled in for them in their roles.
Early next year a new table reading will be taking place at PINEWOOD, for EPISODE VII, with a whole new cast and, hopefully, a few familiar faces, too.
Thursday 24 October 2013
The landmark MAKING OF books devoted to the Classic Trilogy, exhaustively researched and penned by J.W. Rinzler since 2005, are getting a new leash of life in the ebook format, alongside hundreds of newly incorporated pictures, behind the scenes footage and deleted scenes, making them ever more must-have items to fans young and old.
Here's a few recent electronic samples from THE MAKINGs of STAR WARS and RETURN OF THE JEDI that have surfaced online:
When Leia Kissed Luke: Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Star Wars Clip [VIDEO]
Exclusive: 'Making of Star Wars' Clip Is a Little Hot for a Stormtrooper | Movie Talk - Yahoo Movies
Exclusive behind-the-scenes 'Star Wars: Return of the Jedi' video! | Inside Movies | EW.com
An ambitious charting of all the new material across the three titles, to truly whet the appetites: The Making of the Original Trilogy eBooks Video/Audio — Complete Contents Revealed | Star Wars Blog
Highlights from the recent New York Comic Con panel talking about THE MAKING OF RETURN OF THE JEDI book, with Rinzler: NYCC "The Making Of The Return Of The Jedi" Panel Highlights.
JEDI NEWS coverage of RETURN OF THE JEDI's recent rare London theatrical screening and book launch with Rinzler, at the Prince Charles Cinema earlier in the month: Jedi News - Latest: Blog: Star Wars in the UK: J.W. Rinzler Hits London
Get hold of the ebooks here:
The Making of Star Wars (Enhanced Edition) eBook: J. W. Rinzler: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store
The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Enhanced Edition) eBook: J. W. Rinzler, Ridley Scott: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store
The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Enhanced Edition) eBook: J. W. Rinzler, Brad Bird: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store
Wednesday 23 October 2013
|The end is nigh for THE CLONE WARS. Images: LUCASFILM ANIMATION.|
STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS - THE COMPLETE SEASON FIVE (2-disc Blu-ray)
Available now from WARNER BROTHERS HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Reviewed by Scott Weller
Rampaging Sith, heroic droids, outrageous pirates and adventuresome Younglings, plus a lone outcast Jedi’s final destiny are the core of the fifth and final season of the creative extravaganza that is STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, out now on beautiful widescreen HD Blu-ray and DVD from WARNER BROTHERS.
Keeping up the best incredible action, superb locales and fantasy traditions of the supreme sci-fi saga was never going to be a problem for LUCASFILM ANIMATION. But despite its many bold ideas, half of the season’s storylines ultimately feel too long in duration, whilst several climactic stories have enough plot to warrant extra time but don’t receive it. Additionally, many of our main heroes from the Prequels make few contributions to the storytelling- previous seasons having spread them out better across the episodes. In particular, there’s very little of Sith Lord-to-be Anakin Skywalker in the first half- and he is much missed.
With the enforced wrap-up by the new deal LUCASFILM had with DISNEY, this was the season that had to have the most involvement regarding Jedi Padwan Ahsoka Tano, to the point where I had personal concerns that the show was becoming more like AHSOKA WARS than STAR WARS. Taking the reins of half the season, early on she gets to be reacquainted with former boyfriend Lux Bonteri, becomes a possible spin-off series lead in a Young Jedi series ultimately not to be, and gets to round the season off, and her storyline (at least for now), with the Jedi Temple sabotage series ender. For her considerable fans, there was much to enjoy. But as much as I like the heroine, voiced with spunk and dedication by Ashley Eckstein, it was the other Clone Wars heroes from the live- action films that got this all started in the first place, and I feel slightly cheated if those core characters aren’t in it enough.
The rearrangement of selected episodes due to the aforementioned, premature cancellation is now more apparent than ever in re-viewings of the season, as is the loss of the Padme/Anakin/Rush Clovis storyline-held over for the now cancelled then only partially competed Season Six, a non-appearance in the run that I feel hurt its early balance somewhat. In further hindsight, the overlong story lines throughout the first two thirds of the season are a shame, denying us of the potential for at least one more two or three part story.
In the continuing build-up to the fall of the once benevolent Republic, Supervising Director Dave Filoni and co. promised that death was in the air, and this season certainly delivers the Grim Reaper’s largest scythe swing yet, mostly via the vengeance fuelled return of bitter Sith Lord Darth Maul, whose season opener prompts what lies ahead- his involvement with the Death Watch terror group and the take-over of Mandalore, causing the Jedi even worse grief, especially sworn-enemy Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the slaying of his best female friend- the Duchess Satine.
Here’s a look back at the key storylines and what we thought of them…
DARTH MAUL RETURNS…
Brothers in blood, and brothers in spilling blood, Darth Maul and Savage Opress first effort in forging a criminal army fails, but not before bringing down Jedi Knight Adi Gallia (a short but sweet overall series appearance), fighting alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi, when they’re cornered on the almost desert world of Florrum. The presence of Maul in the series is starting to become comfortable, but Revival, a continuance from last season’s Brothers, is not one of the series greatest season openers, though, in some respects, its an improvement on Season Three’s quite sedate Arc Troopers.
As the Maul limelight brightens, poor Savage Opress, who had such a magnificent debut two years back, unfortunately begins to pale, coming across like Lennie Small from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men - a simpleton character alongside the more driven brother in Maul, though Savage obviously retains his statuesque vindictive streak in killing Jedi. Back to fight Obi-Wan, its ultimately his turn to face “The Negotiator”s blade, losing the odd limb to the stunning swordplay of the defiant and singular Obi-Wan- another sign that our Sith wannabe’s time is almost up…
Amidst the Force clashing, the episode thankfully saw the return to the series of fan favourite Hondo Ohnaka, who once more gets some great one liners, being "semi speechless" at events playing out around him with those Sith "tattooed crazies" as they wreak havoc on his junkyard planet.
Originally planned as a mid-season episode (where it appears on the Blu-ray set, and works better that way) but moved forward to kick- start the season- a decision by Lucas clearly designed to get the series off to a stronger start than the slow-building Onderon saga originally planned, Revival’s action is solid if lacking overall chutzpah.
AFICIONADO RATING: 3 out of 5
THE ONDERON SAGA
Here be dragons!
Serious themes underlie this interesting but overlong adventure. The thin line between terrorism and rebellion is explored, with echoes of 2012’s problems involving America and Syria (and the debate as to whether the super power should be aiding that country’s rebels), and past mistakes linked to the Vietnam war, as the Jedi and Captain Rex become observers to the small but so-effective Onderon Resistance, Che Guevara-like soldiers living in the jungle, against the Separatists, eventually going on to secretly aid them and supply weapons to their cause against a corrupt planetary government that has sided with Count Dooku.
Writer Chris Collins has fun turning STAR WARS history on its head and giving us some notable role reversals- it’s interesting to see Anakin as a rebel rouser before becoming the ultimate rebel hunter as the demonic Darth Vader- a move that adds another layer to our flawed but powerful character’s Jedi backstory.
Its also another slow knife in the back of the Jedi overall, as trust issues concerning them from within the Republic come to the fore- a plot strand gaining greater momentum by the end of the season and series.
For the most part, this story is a showcase not only for the Expanded Universe popular world of Onderon and the genesis of what will ultimately be the first Rebel Alliance (with some clever design echoes to Ralph McQuarrie’s design work from RETURN OF THE JEDI), but also for Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano, mostly on her own for the later episodes, though she has the presence of another rebel fighter, the on the run Lux Bonteri (once more voiced by Jason Spisak), to help both her and the people of the Separatist world in getting their house in order.
Like Ahsoka, the Lux seen here is also maturing-no longer the weak willed youngster and now a man with a mission, still determined to avenge his mother’s death at the scheming hands of Dooku. His romantic pull to the Jedi has now grown distant, as he finds his admiration's swaying towards Steela, a nicely written part, well-voiced by guest star Dawn-Lyen Gardner, makes an impression and proves to be one of the few new standout characters of the adventure- another welcome heroine for the saga’s animated universe.
Other pluses to the story include a new version of one of the series Tactical Droids and some occasional nice touches in action sequences linked to the hard to kill Droidekas. It’s also nice to see the return of simulated cloth with our cloaked Jedi heroes when they arrive in the jungles of Onderon. Expensive for the animation team, but worth it.
The final Charge of the Light Brigade-esque sequence showing horses and epic dragons (likely inspired by GAME OF THRONES perhaps?!) in battle against the Separatists (now using EPISODE III red-eyed Droid Gunships) and the corrupt king are nicely handled, as is the next cameo appearance of Hondo ("My, my, is that the time!”, he says scurrying off the planet ASAP after delivering the Resistance’s much needed heavy weaponry!).
Steela’s death ultimately proves a shock and is well handled, as is Ahsoka’s almost fatal wounding from an enemy tank-for a moment, just a moment, the audience is worried that she’ll bite the dust.
With a nicely directed first episode, the story ultimately feels too luxurious and padded out- its not until the last episode that the storyline has a genuine sense of threat and high-stakes drama- overall, the Onderon saga, despite evolved animation, fails to match anything like the epic quality of Season One’s Ryloth trilogy.
AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL): 3 out of 5
THE JEDI KIDS SAGA
Having caught the enthusiasm of Expanded Universe fans with the Onderon adventures, the series behind the scenes team lock their sights on restoring the series family audience balance for four episodes concentrating on a group of Jedi children, under the tutelage and guidance of Yoda and Ahsoka, and the trials they undergo to construct their lightsaber and build themselves into a cohesive team of friends.
Thankfully, the overall scripts from Christian Taylor don't play down to the kids and are intelligent and speedy- when I first heard that this was going to be a multi-part plot line linked to a group of young Jedi (and a potential side door opening for a future spin-off), I was dubious at best, but this tale actually turned out to be an enjoyable one, though again not a classic- lighthearted but with lots of adventure, before the darkness of the remaining Darth Maul and Mandalore arc.
Through two main arcs fused together, there are some clever moments looking into the lives of the diverse group of Jedi Younglings, alongside some lovely references to the original STAR WARS films-the seeker ball of EPISODE IV being one!- and even giving us more of a look at the important and secret Jedi world of Ilum and its immense crystal berthing caves, as seen in the first Genndy Tartakovsky animated series, though looking a little different visually and in contradiction to the past, especially the way the Jedi find the crystals for their lightsabers, to what was established in the previous animated series before EPISODE III, though also presented in a clever way where both versions can be integrated into the overall continuity.
Meanwhile, the diversity of the Jedi Padawans is interesting – especially pleasing to see the Wookiee Jedi Gungi amongst them. Part One’s finale, where her comrades finally discover their personal power crystals and complete their sabers is effectively done. Sadly, Master Yoda’s guiding role to them in the story is confined to the opener only, though villainous Hondo and his gang of pirates fare better from the second episode and prove a little more wickedly evil this time out.
Again, despite Ahsoka’s worthy presence, a part of me thought that Anakin should have been involved in the story, too, somewhere along the line. It would have given the Jedi Youngling massacre of EPISODE III a dark circular consistency, but his Padawan is now the star of the animated series and the most accessible to youngsters in launching the then planned spin-off (We even get to see a quick flashback linked to the heroine, seeing her as a baby with Plo Koon).
For part two, and the transfer of the story and action from Ilum to a Jedi star cruiser, former DOCTOR WHO and geek icon David Tennant effectively voices the faithful Jedi Droid servant, Professor Huyang, in the best Anthony Daniels tradition and proves much better in his casting the UK actor than they did with Simon Pegg as bounty hunter Dengar in Season Four, and snagging an Emmy award in the process! His character, one of the oldest droids serving the Jedi Order, is nicely realised into visual life by the animation team, based once again on some very early Ralph McQuarrie concept art for the protocol droid in 1975.
The stories third part becomes a padded out, but thankfully in a good way with a space battle and Obi-Wan battling Grievous, leading to the droid general’s eventual encounter with the younglings, but as this is his final appearance in the series, it's an enjoyable enough example of his continued antagonism and hatred for old enemy Kenobi and all things Jedi.
Back to the kids plot, their travelling under cover within a travelling carnival, in order to rescue Ahsoka from Hondo and his gang, ultimately didn’t generate much enthusiasm from me and felt too lightweight, but their soon rescue of her proves watchable enough. Just when I was starting to think that the storyline was running out of juice by it's fourth episode, a bright and breezy action finale ensues, as Grievous and the Separatists invade Florrum, bringing it to all to an enjoyable close, with Ahsoka getting the chance for a more agile and powerful rematch against Grievous, though once again she only just survives the encounter, with escape thanks to the iconic Slave One, under Hondo’s command, returned to battle glory, fully repaired and guns blazing!
So, for a four-episode duration, this was overall better than expected. The right of passage idea was a good one for the series but again a shaved off episode from the plot wouldn’t have hurt it too much. An overall success with family audiences it may have been, but I don’t personally think it would have been overall strong enough as a format to have separate series legs. Nonetheless, an interesting oddity for THE CLONE WARS series. Furthermore, some intriguing production design across this adventure will certainly inspire further great action figures and merchandise, like the wooden Wookiee lightsaber and the new Jedi Republic cruiser.
AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL): 3 out of 5
THE DROID SAGA
Small size, big ambition!
Heroism comes in all shapes and sizes in the next four-parter, as heroic STAR WARS favourite Artoo Detoo and a group of multi-coloured Astro Droid, led by an ideas above his station general and an over-eager droid, have to infiltrate enemy lines, steal a vital piece of Separatist technology, then come back in one piece!
I acknowledge that the writers must have felt that a whole storyline involving a group of bleeping/blooping Artoo’s on their own, with no real speech patterns, might be less dramatic than normal- hence the additional need for two quirky love ‘em or hate ’em new characters to exchange humorous dialogue around them, but I disagreed with their actions- Artoo and chums had enough character appeal to win over audiences and prove perfect for an overall visualist series, whilst pursuant baddies and other supporting characters around them could easily have shored up the narrative in other ways. Obi-Wan and Anakin may have been worthy of use in the adventure somewhere before their ultimate final episode appearance, to help the droids on and off, speeding the plot further along.
That said, the actual first episode, Secret Weapons, has a good plot from Brent Friedman and proves quite snappily paced, as our heroes infiltrate a Sep cruiser and steal a viral data chip, but the inclusion of the aforementioned new characters, the dedicated pit droid pilot WAC-47 and the even smaller, miniature alien Colonel Meebur (as in amoeba) Gascon often irritate, coming across as unwanted rejects from the STAR TOURS ride- another example of THE CLONE WARS family friendly factor. I have no problem with that for the most part, but the creation of this duo was perhaps a bit too far and too zany for my tastes, of which I felt that the series was starting to lose its sophistication a little bit.
Artoo, with his heroic reliability and talents in holding onto secret knowledge, does get some crowd-pleasing action, though- in another one to one battle against a member of his own kind: a lethal Tactical Droid, in another exciting sequence- taking it out with flying pyrotechnical skills.
Part two unfortunately sees things take a nose dive in story quality, as the droids crash their shuttle after a run-in with a comet storm (again very STAR TOURS!), finding themselves on a desert planet and lost in a wilderness, amidst lots of story padding. Some of the building mild comedy moments equally fell flat on their face in one of the most disappointing episodes yet in this normally high quality series. I thought that the previously considered fan dispiriting episodes of Threepio and Artoo last season were far better than this one.
Thankfully, the situation picks up with part three, Missing in Action, and the discovery of amnesiac Clone Commando Gregor, missing believed dead, who, thanks to the gang, regains his memory and helps them escape on an orbit parked Republic cruiser.
The idea of this lone clone commando brings weight to a story that really needed it, though his supposed “death” in the firefight against overwhelming Battle Droids and Super Battle Droids is a waste. Additionally, part three’s inclusion of a few nice Classic Trilogy aliens is a welcome bonus, including a memorable appearance from a Sullustian cook who uses Gregor as a kitchen slave.
The final part of this all too long adventure, Point of No Return, ends the story with a great big bang, literally- nicely directed by Steward Lee and starting with a brief hint of mystery as the droids arrive to find the Republic vessel empty, and on automatic control, leading to Artoo once more in action, against the first appearance of small but lethal Buzz Droids in an excellently realized sequence, the enemy literally in their thousands, causing havoc as our heroes have to prevent the loaded with explosives ship from destroying a top secret meeting of Jedi and Republic forces, with Anakin, Obi-Wan and Tarkin amongst its populace (the latter in a nice little role, with greater prominence to come the season), resulting in one of the most spectacular explosions ever witnessed in an animated or live action series.
AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL) 3 out of 5
MAUL AND MANDALORE...
The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Villains of the universe unite, whether they want it or not, as the resurrected Maul and Savage Opress awake from space deep freeze by bloodthirsty mercenaries Death Watch, where, together, they hatch a grand scheme to incite terror on the Republic via the conquest of Mandalore and the thousands of systems within its neutral empire. Death Watch think they have the advantage, but Savage and Maul, enjoying this new fertile ground in which to thrive, are dangerous beyond belief.
Now, finally, the show is getting back on top form with Eminence, and what form this episode is-easily one of the series greatest, featuring some fascinating input from Lucas, who ultimately came up with the idea of the Maul alliances. The story has the kind of epic scope and character battles that STAR WARS fans imaginations could only enjoy in playing action figures, video games or Top Trumps cards. Cleverly not having a Jedi hero in sight within its 22 minute duration, the series diverse range of villains get the spotlight: Bounty Hunters, Sith, Death Watch, the Hutts and the first appearance of the popular Black Sun criminal empire- quite a considerable challenge to bring together, pulled off with aplomb by writer Chris Collins. Skillfully directed by Kyle Dunlevy, it was one of the fastest episodes of the series, of which so much was happening.
Zipping through the universe in the best tradition of the STAR WARS movies, it was great to see the volcanic planet return of Mustafar once more (a true hotbed of evil prior to EPISODE III, for a quick takeover of the Black Sun organisation and a quick series of beheadings), action on Nal Hutta, as Savage kills a Hutt, then onto Tatooine and making Jabba’s Palace a battle damaged wreck. Plus new alliances with the ambitious alien smugglers, the Pikes.
Caught in the battle to protect the Hutts, popular bounty hunters Dengar (thankfully silent, and without Simon Pegg!), Suki, Embo, and all have a great piece of the action pie, as do the Mandalorian pilots, Katee Sackhoff’s sexy Bo Katan and her flying warrior women, letting the explosive fireworks fly.
A terrific visual palette makes fine use of the established environs and characters of the last five years whilst Kevin Kilner provides suitably menacing music moments, like the variation on the EPISODE I Sanskrit choir theme for Duel of the Fates, for Maul and Opress on Nal Hutta.
Eminence was a very satisfying episode and a major highlight.
Revenge and destruction the renegade Sith way continues apace with Shades of Reason, as the Death Watch take control of Mandalore through a clever ruse but under-anticipate the power and pure evil of Darth Maul, as a new colour co-ordinated civil war breaks out between the mercenaries.
A bone crunching, teeth smashing lightsaber duel between the soon late Pre Vizsla (Jon Favreau) and a back to form Maul proves to be another one of the series finest action sequences. But there’s even better to come…
Continuing the fine work of Eminence, the aforementioned clever takeover of Mandalore is well handed but it feels too rushed in places-Chris Collins scripting here doesn't quite feel as sophisticated as his first episode’s evil empire battles.
Continuity-wise, its good to see government baddie Almarec back, once again voiced by Julian Holloway, plus some further nice moments of action savagery for Savage Opress to swing his lightsaber blades during his penultimate appearance. And goodbye Pre-Vizsla, it's been nice knowing you. But that's what happens when you underestimate the Sith.
Finally, the kind of epic Mandalore adventure we've been waiting for and deserve- the sins of the earlier, weak Season Three adventures on their planet almost forgiven (with The Academy’s young students getting a respectable finale appearance with the following episode), things in their domed universe will never be the same again...
And so the chessboard pieces are assembled and the game begins. The prior season trailers skillfully whetting our appetites for the end move: The Lawless, presenting the incredible duel between Darth Sidious and Sith Throne pretenders Maul and Opress. There can be only be two Sith at any one time, and Sidious makes that fact all the more clear to them, delivering one hell of a staggering backwards lightsaber whammy that slays Savage Oppress and leaves Maul a quivering, electrified wreck begging for mercy by episodes end. The choreography and animation moves of their three-way duel, a reverse of the heroic drama of Jedi versus Sith in EPISODE I, are stunning.
There's no Help the Aged sticker needed for old guy Sidious, as he completely annihilates his prey in the finest Dark Side moment of the Prequel Saga in animation form. It’s finally great to see the character in the flesh after years as a hologram, whilst Ian Abercrombie’s final episode for the series shows the actors excellence in capturing the pure evil and menace of the character, alongside a cruelly playful streak which we’ve come to expect over the years.
Despite my unhappiness with Maul’s overall return last season, he’s once again well placed in Season Five events and Chris Collin’s supercharged final episode- his slaying of Duchess Satine securing his animated wickedness- so its another great shame that his final fate as the planned tool of Sidious' will is now likely never to be revealed.
Things are just as bad for our venerable Obi-Wan Kenobi, unable to get the Jedi or Republic’s help, his unlucky streak linked to Mandalore continues, going off on a failed solo mission to rescue the captured, soon dead in front of his eyes, Duchess Satine. Likewise, Anakin’s once trusty, now seriously run down and literally falling apart vessel, the Twilight, comes a cropper- soon disintegrating in the flames of battle against a fraction of Death Watch controlled by Maul, with their nifty red-coated insignia.
The ultimate love of Obi-Wan’s life she may have been, but I wasn’t the greatest fan of the Satine character in the series, though the aftermath of her shocking death is sensitively handled, and it's a genuinely sad moment when Obi cradles her as she tells him that she’s always loved him. Aw, bless…
Epic ground and air battles within the city blaze on, intensified with Satine’s passing, and prove an equal animation triumph opposite the Sith duel. With the end of the series approaching, we’re also now denied the final fate of Mandalore. We assume the Republic forces did indeed go on and take the world as Bo Katan, now revealed as the late Satine’s sister, predicts to a departing Kenobi-let’s hope a comic series or novel wraps this all up. But, with all the unresolved plotlines brewing, is it still wise to consider the series as fully cannon to the live action movies?
(Note: Eminence and Shades of Reason are presented on the Blu-ray in slightly extended Director’s Cuts…)
AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL): 4.5 out of 5
AHSOKA THE FUGITIVE!
Finally, Anakin Skywalker is back in the series, and once more in partnership with Ahsoka, for the beginning of the series final tale: a tense and vital sky-battle conflict of which our Padawan shows how much she has grown in her abilities and attitudes as a Jedi, saving his life in an exciting opening sequence.
Kevin Kilner’s music for the series and his themes, especially for Ahsoka, re-emerge here and for the rest of the four-parter, alongside some of John Williams iconic work, too. The scores sound bigger and grander, too, in a reunion with the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (something that Kilner himself mostly paid for out of his own pocket!). The nods to the visual universe of the live-action films also continue, as the series animation seeing gets ever nearer to EPISODE III- notice the first appearance of the new Jedi Star fighters, the return of the Buzz Droids and the environments of the Cato Neimoidia bridge planet.
After vitally re-establishing our main duo’s relationship, we then make a welcome return to the galaxies main seat of power-Coruscant- though we've now reached a point where its becoming a police state, with rebellion by the people against the never ending civil war now reaching critical mass- the Jedi bearing the main brunt of hostile public opinion and rising unrest, leading to the Jedi Temple’s sudden bombing and a CSI-like forensics investigation (right down to a droid version of David Caruso’s iconic Horatio Caine) swiftly underway (I liked the severed hand of the suicide bomber-another entry to the long list of lost STAR WARS character body parts!), though it isn’t long before the possibility of it being the handiwork of a rogue Jedi, at first ruled out, soon starts to see the cold light of reality…
Charles Murray script shows maturity and builds on the kind of storyline last seen with Season Two’s Coruscant intrigue drama (where the lights went out), and building on the planets almost police state atmosphere-a plot element to EPISODE III that didn’t quite make it to the screen. Its always nice to see a bit more of the Jedi Temple, too, despite the doom and gloom of the intriguing funeral service they give to their fallen comrades, and a nice cameo appearance from Jedi Master Cin Drallig-voiced by Robin Atkin Downes: a deserved tribute to the Prequel series excellent Stunt Coordinator, Nick Gillard.
Anakin’s friend, his pupil, now under suspicion- her duties and honour to the Jedi and the Republic incredulously in doubt, Part Two ramps up the tension and suspicions gathering around poor Ahsoka with the arrival of the snidey Tarkin and her being framed for the murder of the bombing suspect in prison via a powerful Force choke worthy of Darth Vader. With Anakin powerless to help her (as well as Obi-Wan also pretty much excluded from the plot), Ahsoka soon has no choice but to prove her innocence on her own, making a desperate escape amongst atmospheric dark clouds and rainfall from the Clone prison facility in another one of the seasons best action sequences, dodging pursuant Clone forces (including EPISODE III’s Oddball!), outrunning mastiffs and avoiding stun blasts the way Princess Leia couldn’t, culminating in a cornered, and heated, exchange of words between her and her master (showing shades of the Darth Vader theme about him as the resentment of his Padawan’s situation grows) as she makes a jump, in the best Harrison Ford/THE FUGITIVE tradition, into the labyrinth of crime that is Coruscant’s immense level 13:13 underworld.
The concept of trust and Anakin not wanting to lose a loved one are obviously vital elements of his psyche by EPISODE III and this all acts as a nice prelude to that. His search for his on the run Ahsoka in Part Three becoming another intriguing role reversal of his later hunt for the remaining Jedi in the form of Darth Vader. Getting deeper into the mire, with an enemy that seems to know her every move, her brief team-up with the liberated Asajj Ventress adds to the intrigue within 1313.
By part four, the evidence against Ahsoka gets worse and worse, framed still further, and overwhelmingly prescient enough to see her severely punished. The return of her friend and war comrade, popular Jedi healer Barriss Offee, seemed a given after their successful pairing in Season Two’s Geonosis arc. So, by making her a baddie, proved a surprising yet sensible idea by Murray and the writing team, though the clues of what was to come with her had been subtly signposted during the early stages of part two.
Captured, the show trial of a Jedi, one so loyal as Ahsoka, shows us that the series has now gotten back its sophistication, and its nice to see Padme return to the series after such a long absence (a shame she couldn’t have been slotted into the story a little earlier), this time squaring up to Tarkin and defending the Jedi within a John Barry/ Ralph McQuarrie court-room area production design tribute set that goes all-out to be immense and impressive.
Portraying justice’s seemingly incorruptible guardian, it must have been a difficult job taking over from Ian Abercrombie’s excellent vocal performance as Sidious/Palpatine, but Tim Curry handles the reins well, and I think he would have made a bigger and more pleasing impression with fans if the planned and voice recorded Season Six had been animated in its entirety…
As one fight for justice begins, another goes on in and outside of the Jedi temple, with the thrilling lightsaber duel between Anakin (two sabered once more, whilst getting some pre-Vader aggression off his chest!) and the revealed Barriss outside the confines of the Temple- intriguing to see the temple guards with their white double lightsabers getting caught in the drama.
As a healer, Offee’s actions, once revealed, seem out of character at first but are ultimately understandable in the long-term and with the backdrop of EPISODE III looming- her end statement of the Jedi having been used by the dark side, and as living weapons, proving painfully accurate.
And so we come to Ahsoka’s final scenes. Poorly treated and abandoned by the Jedi Order, her distinctive braid removed from her with her arrest for sedition, Ahsoka’s higher-powered superiors (even friend and mentor Plo Koon) are arrogant enough to assume that she’ll return to them after her ordeal. Or her “trial” as they now like to call it. Think again- anybody who's suffered that kind of abuse and emotional torment, even a young Jedi, is going to say stick it, and if it was Anakin in his Vader persona he'd have probably killed ‘em all for it!
Bringing this important character arc to a so far on-screen end, it was only right that one of her creators-Dave Filoni- would handle her all-important finale, in a script of emotion and subtle pain-the fade to black sign-off and the use of her distinctive theme being a striking end note to all that had gone before: her fate now up in the air and undecided- a hoped for brave demise during ORDER 66, or at the hands of Darth Vader a scenario so wanted by many adult fans- now unlikely to happen. Think of her rather than being permanently taken off the chessboard, as simply being put to one side for a future key strategy. Such is the inevitability that she’ll return somewhere in the STAR WARS universe, most likely in novel and video game form, and with renewed vigour, or with the possibility to make a key appearance in STAR WARS: REBELS...
With the DISNEY takeover deal being made as the season was coming to its behind the scenes completion, the overall destiny of the series was tragically stopped shy of going into the opening events of Revenge of the Sith, with no renewal planned beyond Year Five. The long-term goals for our characters are for the most part scuttled. It’s disappointing that, when Lucas quit, he didn’t secure the series future with Disney for at least one more full season wrap-up.
Still, this climactic Jedi tale, alongside other elements of the previous four seasons, proved a major step towards the dark intensity of the final Prequel chapter and overall proved a very satisfying end to a mixed bag season.
AFICIONADO RATING (OVERALL) 4 out of 5
As with the previous releases there are accompanying short but sweet behind the scenes featurettes (“Video Commentaries”) on each episode, featuring vital contributions from Dave Filoni but also, finally, a lot more from the series dedicated voice over cast talking about their characters, including Sam Witwer (enthused about Maul with CELEBRATION host David Collins and Filoni in a STARWARS.COM talk, originally done for the launch of Revival as a season opener), Jim Cummins on his contributions as Hondo Ohnaka in the final season, and actress/businesswoman Ashley Eckstein on the way that Ahsoka’s character has developed so much and now come to such an important crossroads. Plus, featurette’s on the Onderon rebels designs with Kilian Plunkett, the creation of the sometimes bizarre Astro droid arc with writer Brent Friedman, and a look into the evolving series sound design with Matthew Wood and David Accord. The featurettes include some nice footage from the aborted STAR WARS: 1313 game and the newest form of the STAR TOURS ride that began operation these last few years. One of the most interesting things coming out of the videos, though, is the fact that George Lucas was working on story ideas and charging up ILM for the new STAR WARS Sequels far earlier than we thought was early!
At nearly two hours duration, the final Jedi Temple Archives area remains a fascinating and always too brief behind the scenes look at the shows artistic range, with spotlights on individual character animation renderings, episodic animatics and final scenes comparisons, production art (including unused character pieces and lovely mood setting illustrations by Dave Filoni) and some very good, mostly animatic, deleted scenes, including the reason why Anakin didn’t go off with Kenobi to fight Maul in Revival (something I always wondered about), a little bit more on the Sith three-way duel from The Lawless, and an alternate finale to The Wrong Jedi, with a more bitter Ahsoka’s departing the Jedi Order.
Surprisingly though, there’s no mention or previews of the remaining, now completed episodes of Season Six, which is a bit of a lost opportunity. Perhaps this was due to contractual reasons with WARNER BROTHERS and CARTOON NETWORK?
SPECIAL FEATURES RATING (OVERALL): 3.5 out of 5
A FINAL WORD ON THE FINAL SEASON
Starting off with a relatively weak batch of opening adventures compared to previous seasons, this unexpected concluding run of THE CLONE WARS redeems itself by year’s end with eight superb episodes, showing DISNEY what a big mistake it made in not continuing the series towards its planned seven season run, and how we often took this landmark, innovative series too much for granted with its ground-breaking animation and bold storytelling. It may have now departed the airwaves, but its quality legacy within the STAR WARS universe and in television animation will certainly not be forgotten by its millions of dedicated fans worldwide…
The upcoming 2014 STAR WARS: REBELS series now has a helluva lot to live up to!
AFICIONADO SEASON RATING (OVERALL): 3 out of 5
Get hold of STAR WARS: THE COMPLETE SEASON FIVE on Blu-ray here: Star Wars Clone Wars - Season 5 Blu-ray Region Free: Amazon.co.uk: Film & TV
Dave Filoni talks about Season Five here: Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Dave Filoni Talks about the Death Watch/Darth Maul Arc and the Casualties Along the Way - IGN
Dave Filoni talks about Season Five here: Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Dave Filoni Talks about the Death Watch/Darth Maul Arc and the Casualties Along the Way - IGN