Category Archives: Star Wars series

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978, Steve Binder)

The Star Wars Holiday Special elicits a lot of sympathy. Not for the goings on, but for the cast. The easiest cast members to pity are Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford. Not only are they stuck in this contractually obligated ninety-some minute nightmare of terrible television, director Binder doesn’t even know how to shoot their cameos. For some reason, particularly with Fisher and Hamill, Binder shoots them from a low angle. Hamill and Fisher are lucky enough to just have regular cameos (Ford’s stuck with an extended one); only neither of them should be shot from low angle. High or eye-level, sure, but never low. Maybe it was a way to keep the actors (reasonably) happy and not to really involve them in the Special. More on Binder’s incompetencies in a bit (or not, there’s a lot to get through when it comes to incompetency and the Holiday Special).

But the most disrespected cast member is Peter Mayhew. The whole thing is about getting Chewbacca (Mayhew) back to his family for Life Day, the Wookie holiday where they either sit around the home with these luminescent balls or take the luminescent balls to the Tree of Life while enrobed. Again, Binder’s not a good director and Jerry Bixman and Vince Humphrey are worse editors, so it’s unclear if the eventual Life Day celebration at the Tree of Life is an actual event or just the Chewbacca family’s shared vision. The planet is under Imperial control, after all, and it seems unlikely the Empire would let the Wookies congregate.

Anyway, Mayhew doesn’t get anything to do. Ford’s trying to get him home for Life Day, so he’s second-fiddle to Ford for those scenes–which are an atrocious mix of Star Wars stock footage and close-up inserts–Holiday Special filmed before Empire so it’s not like the actors were already in character. And when Mayhew does get home, the Special (thankfully) is almost over. The disaster is almost complete. But it does mean Mayhew doesn’t get any time with his family and their Life Day celebration ends up hijacked by more cameos, terrible video editing effects, and, well, Fisher singing a bad song.

Because most of Holiday Special is about Mayhew’s family waiting for his arrival as they prepare for Life Day. Mickey Morton plays his wife, Paul Gale’s his dad, Patty Maloney’s his son. In some ways, it’s better they didn’t have Morton and Mayhew make out Wookie style, but not narratively. The Special already has Harvey Korman doing alien drag, fully committed, so why not just go for it. Mayhew and Morton’s eventual hug has nowhere near the emotional weight Holiday Special–not to mention a Life Day celebration–needs.

Until Mayhew (and Ford) show up at home for the celebration, it’s a rough day for the family. The Imperials are bothering them. Although Mayhew is galavanting around the galaxy, he’s still on the Empire’s census and they want to know why he’s not at home. That–way too long–scene has Jack Rader as the mean Imperial officer overseeing the search. Rader’s awful. And not in a way you can feel any sympathy for him. His subordinate Michael Potter is also awful, but at least Potter gets to Jefferson Starship and chill thanks to trader Art Carney.

About the only person in Holiday Special, at least of the featured cast, who doesn’t seem to recognize it’s an unmitigated disaster, is Carney. He’s got his shirt open to his navel, he’s maybe got the hots for Morton, and Carney’s all in. He’s never good or anywhere near it, but he doesn’t get any sympathy for the bad. Bea Arthur, who shows up as a Tatooine bar proprietress (Holiday Special shows the Star Wars cantina alien costumes need good cinematography not to look idiotic–John B. Field’s lighting is abysmal), she’s never any good, but she gets a lot of sympathy. Not so for Carney. He’s never unlikable, but he’s not pitiable.

I guess it makes him the most sincere performance in the whole thing.

Except Korman, who plays three different characters, all outside the regular action. His four-armed alien cooking show host is the best–and the only time Special is any good. The second, where Korman’s doing an instructional video on a gadget–whenever Special needs to kill time, someone watches something, usually supplied by Carney; anything not for young Maloney is inconveniently erotic. For his Life Day present, old man Wookie Gale gets a personalized holo-video of Diahann Carroll being way too suggestive for a televised kids’ holiday special before going into terrible song, which Gale enjoys in the basest sense.

In the living room, with his daughter-in-law and grandson over in the adjoining kitchen. Though Maloney might be upstairs. Carney spends a lot of time trying to keep Morton warmed up.

Then, later, Carney sits Imperial doofus Potter down in front of a Jefferson Starship hologram and Potter’s just as turned on by their performance of “Light the Sky on Fire” (a terrible song the band actually released). That holographic device Potter’s watching was meant for Morton too. There’s a lot to unpack with how the Special treats Morton. Hamill tells Morton to give him a smile, Carney’s always going in for a kiss. Why doesn’t Mayhew appreciate Morton more; must be too busy thinking of galactic galavanting.

Before the dreadful Special is over, there’s a cartoon introducing Boba Fett (voice actor Don Francks didn’t return to the part in Empire), with some odd animation choices. Though the abnormally long-faced and squinty-eyed Han Solo (voiced, of course, by Ford), is something of an amusing standout. It’s not good or interesting, but it’s bad in an amusing way, which is often the most The Star Wars Holiday Special can achieve.

I suppose the whole thing could be worse–and I realize I didn’t get back to Binder’s inept direction but, really, I can’t. I don’t want to think about what could make the Holiday Special worse. It’s terrible enough as produced.

Props to Korman, though, for managing to do a solid sketch and a half in this catastrophe of brand exploitation.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Binder; teleplay by Pat Proft, Leonard Ripps, Bruce Vilanch, Rod Warren, and Mitzie Welch, based on characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, John B. Field; edited by Jerry Bixman and Vince Humphrey; music by Ian Fraser; produced by Joe Layton, Jeff Starsh, Ken Welch, and Mitzie Welch; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Mickey Morton (Malla), Patty Maloney (Lumpy), Art Carney (Saun Dann), Paul Gale (Itchy), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia Organa), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Bea Arthur (Ackmena), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), Don Francks (Boba Fett), Diahann Carroll (Mermeia Holographic Wow), Jack Rader (Imperial Officer), and Harvey Korman (Krelman / Chef Gormaanda / Amorphian Instructor).


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The Ewok Adventure (1984, John Korty)

There’s a strange effectiveness to The Ewok Adventure during Burl Ives’s narration. With his voice, with the lameness of the script, Ewok Adventure feels like a storybook come to life. Much of the movie is exquisitely produced, whether Peter Bernstein’s score, director Korty’s lovely photography or John Nutt’s editing, there’s a definite precision to the film. And some fabulous effects sequences.

But most of the film isn’t Ives narrating the quaint lives of Ewoks and their madcap, gentle misadventures. Most of the film features annoying kid Eric Walker, who learns important lessons from the Ewoks. Not metaphorical lessons, but really obvious ones. Ewok Adventure is obnoxiously didactic. It’s a very strange mix of quest picture–with some of it even feeling like a Western–and children’s film. Then the end rolls around and it’s something else entirely. Still adventure, I suppose, but a lot more annoying.

Korty isn’t good with the kids. He’s not much better with the parents, but with Walker and Aubree Miller, Korty just doesn’t care. There are so many bad deliveries, so many scenes obviously not working… Ewok Adventure has “it’s good enough for kids” stamped all over it.

But the special effects are phenomenal. It’s rather good looking for a TV movie, even if it does feature a stupid giant at the end. It also features a “giggle” fairy, which is an amazingly manipulative scene–it’s just Miller and Walker laughing. Along with Warwick Davis’s Ewok sidekick, of course, but it’s like someone told the filmmakers kids respond well to scenes of kids laughing.

And the Ewok performers are all good.

The big action finale with the giant is awful though. It hurts the picture. It’s technically fine, but it really doesn’t work. There’s not room for giant monsters. Maybe if the effects on it were better, but it’s just a giant.

So with a better finish, a lot less of Walker and a little bit less of Miller (and a lot more Ives narration), Ewok Adventure might be something. The production values are outstanding and Korty does do well with the costumed performers.

It’s just way too tedious to wait for Walker to get through his scenes. He’s bad, his character’s obnoxious and he’s inexplicably the star of the Adventure.

1/4

CREDITS

Photographed and directed by John Korty; teleplay by Bob Carrau, based on a story by George Lucas; edited by John Nutt; music by Peter Bernstein; production designer, Joe Johnston; produced by Thomas G. Smith; aired by the American Broadcasting Company.

Starring Eric Walker (Mace), Aubree Miller (Cindel), Warwick Davis (Wicket), Daniel Frishman (Deej), Kevin Thompson (Chukha-Trok), Fionnula Flanagan (Catarine) and Guy Boyd (Jeremitt); narrated by Burl Ives.


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Darth Maul: Apprentice (2016, Shawn Bu)

Darth Maul: Apprentice is a fan film. It’s an excellent fan film. Director Bu has a wonderful vision sense–he goes for grandeur and drags it out (the short is an extended fight sequence) but it never gets boring. It should get boring, because absolutely everyone in the short except Ben Schamma’s Darth Maul is lame. Bu’s approach to the villain is to make him into a slasher movie villain hunting Jedi. Except he’s not, so Bu lets Schamma develop throughout.

With no dialogue. It’s all expressions. Much like in Phantom Menace, when the character does speak, it’s lame. Schamma’s expressions, however, along with the astounding make-up effects, make Apprentice an engaging experience.

Technically, it’s phenomenal. Narratively, it’s bad. There’s also Bu’s tendency to beat up on Svenja Jung’s young female Jedi. She’s always treated as weak. When she has her “final girl” moment, she doesn’t even get a good one. Bu gives all the good stuff to Schamma, which makes Jung a red herring. Apprentice is eighteen minutes and a tribute to one of the most disappointing films in mainstream film history, if not the most disappointing. There’s no time for red herrings.

Even if Bu edits it together so well. The way he cuts the character reactions into the lightsaber battle is amazing.

As the short progresses, even as it accomplishes even greater technical feats, it becomes more and more obvious. Bu runs out of good will. It’s a fine run though. Schamma’s great, Bu’s technically great (especially the editing), but it doesn’t work out. It might have helped if you didn’t want the Jedi to get killed off; Mathis Landwehr is really good if he’s suppoed to be really annoying.

I wish I would recommend it, but I’m also glad it’s so technically solid, I don’t have to recommend it.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Edited, produced and directed by Shawn Bu; screenplay by Bu, based on a character created by George Lucas; directors of photography, Vadim Schulz, Vi-Dan Tran and Max Tsui; music by Vincent Lee.

Starring Ben Schamma (Darth Maul), Mathis Landwehr (Jedi Master), Svenja Jung (Jedi Apprentice) and Lee Hua (Sheev Palpatine).


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Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015, J.J. Abrams)

It’s very easy to talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens as an event. Or maybe just talk about returning stars Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher and even Peter Mayhew (who gets actual scenes with Ford this time, for the first time ever). But those avenues aren’t the most interesting, because the window dressing–all of it pretty good looking (with real sets), a lot of it sounding good (John Williams’s score is successful forty percent of the time)–just distracts from what director Abrams accomplishes.

He hands off the franchise. Not just from Ford and Fisher to Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, but from George Lucas Star Wars to Walt Disney Star Wars. Abrams is making the latter, but in the style of the former. The script, credited to Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan (presumably writing all of Harrison Ford’s dialogue to get the cadence) and Michael Arndt (who scripted a version for Lucas, pre-Disney), is a bit of a disaster. The movie flows great. It goes very long, but only because there needs to be a cliffhanger and a bit of audience pay-off. Abrams knows how to play for the viewer, whether they be sixty-five, thirty-five, twenty-five or five. He certainly should show off more than he does, given that accomplishment.

But Abrams’s success comes not from his script (obviously) or his direction. It comes from the casting. Abrams understands how to cast. Ridley, Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac (the trio model becoming a quartet, what with Ridley actually available to all of her male co-stars). They’re all good, all occasionally great. Driver’s the best. Can’t say why without spoiling, but maybe the neatest “geeky” part of the film is catching where Abrams is playing with familiar, distinct conventions.

Ridley’s really good too. She both does and doesn’t get enough to do; as one of the leads, yes, but not as an actor.

Ford and Fisher are both good, though Abrams can’t figure out how to shoot them. He keeps his distance and looks like he’s keeping his distance. It’s hero worship. And it’s also supposed to look like hero worship. Abrams has to acknowledge it. It’s pandering. But it’s also Abrams just not knowing how to do it. And Fisher isn’t in it enough (the messy pace sacrifices everyone but Ford).

The film is never organic. Everything is forced into place, whether for narrative reasons, commercial reasons, Hasbro reasons, cast reasons. It’s should be a Frankenstein, but it isn’t. Abrams holds it together, because he’s knows how to tell a story, knows how keep characters’ stories simultaneously compelling. Even if he does cheat at it a lot.

The only bad performance is Domhnall Gleeson and it isn’t even his fault. It’s Abrams’s fault, one of the times he tries and fails. He’s wrong about something (but, note, it’s something new, not something retro).

In the end, Abrams knows how to fly Force Awakens casual. Though, really, Williams’s score isn’t okay. They need to either fire him or get him to actually work.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by J.J. Abrams; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams and Michael Arndt, based on characters created by George Lucas; director of photography, Daniel Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey; music by John Williams; production designers, Rick Carter and Darren Gilford; produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams and Bryan Burk; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn), Adam Driver (Kylo), Oscar Isaac (Poe), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Leia), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3P0), Lupita Nyong’o (Maz Kanata), Domhnall Gleeson (Hux) and Andy Serkis (Snoke).


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