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109. Star Wars (#22)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guests Marianne Cassidy and Grace Duffy, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, George Lucas’ Star Wars.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the Empire and the Rebellion struggle for control of the cosmos. Against this backdrop, three unlikely heroes ascend, embarking upon a mythic journey that will reveal dark secrets and promise new hope.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 22nd best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“It’s not over, it’s just not yours any more”: Thoughts on Fandom and Growing Old Gracefully…

It is not a new observation to suggest that modern audiences live in a world dominated by existing intellectual property.

It has been argued frequently and convincingly that the era of the movie star has surrendered itself to the era of the brand, where the biggest draw for audiences it not which actor is on screen but which universe is being developed. Cinemas are flooded with long-delayed sequels and spin-offs to beloved favourites, films often separated from their predecessors by decades; consider the gap between The Incredibles and Incredibles II or between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, even between xXx 2 and xXx 3 or between Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2.

It is easy to exaggerate the scope of these issues. After all, there have always been films based around established intellectual property, whether early films or television series or even novels. Gone with the Wind was a book before it was a film. The Magnificent Seven was a remake of The Seven Samurai. Philip Marlowe was continuously reimagined on film from Time to Kill in 1942 to The Big Sleep in 1978. Star Trek: The Motion Picture transitioned a failed television series into a big budget science-fiction film franchise. This is to say nothing of perennial favourites like the story of Robin Hood or Jesus Christ.

At the same time, the indie market is thriving. Although making any movie is a tremendous accomplishment, there has arguably never been a better time for people making movies. Companies like Netflix and Amazon are buying up as much “content” from film festivals as they can, and in doing so are making filmmakers and production companies whole. Companies like Annapurna are adopting a model that consciously puts creativity ahead of commercial concerns. Even technology has advanced to the point where it is possible to make films on a phone. Cinema is not endangered or under threat. It is vibrant.

Still, it feels like things are different in the modern era of blockbuster entertainment. For one thing, there are fewer big budget blockbusters based around wholly original ideas. In the past decade, only the work of Christopher Nolan stands out; Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk. There have obviously been other success stories, like J.J. Abrams’ Cloverfield and Super 8 or like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but these are notable for being the exception rather than the rule. There is a sense that the mainstream is dominated by revivals of beloved properties, and not just in film. Hannibal, Star Trek: Discovery, Fargo, Watchmen.

One of the interesting tensions of this era has been in watching the way that fandoms react to these revivals, the manner in which they approach these new takes on established mythologies. By and large, it has not been especially flattering or engaging. There have been death threats, misogyny, cultural wars, heated arguments, simmering disagreements. Recent years have seen the growth of a strange cult of fannish entitlement within the cultural mainstream, perhaps reflecting the manner in which the mainstream has embraced fannish desire. There is something deeply frustrating and disheartening about this.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Virtuoso (Review)

Virtuoso is an interesting companion piece to Blink of an Eye.

Blink of an Eye was in many ways an exploration and reflection of Star Trek as a multimedia franchise, looking at the way in which the franchise has touched and shaped contemporary culture in the thirty-odd years since its inception. As part of this, the episode touched on fandom in a variety of ways, whether the abstract fandom of those individuals inspired by the series to accomplish great things or the more specific fandom including merchandise. Blink of an Eye was very much an episode about loving Star Trek.

Music to our ears.

As a result, Virtuoso feels like a very strange choice to directly follow Blink of an Eye. The two episodes are not connected by plot, outside of the basic idea that the EMH might spend an extended period of time on an alien planet without access to Voyager. After all, Star Trek: Voyager had committed itself to producing standalone episodic storytelling. However, Virtuoso is also something of a metaphor for Star Trek fandom, a look at what it is to love a piece of popular entertainment and to eagerly embrace it.

Unfortunately, the proximity to Blink of an Eye does no favours for Virtuoso, emphasising the script’s weaknesses and tone-deafness. Virtuoso is an episode that feels very pointed and cynical in its portrayal of fandom, very broad and very unpleasant. It is a clumsy and muddled piece of television, on that struggles to hit the right notes.

Small pleasures.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Pathfinder (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has always had an awkward relationship with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always the rebellious middle-child, prone to make bold and defiant gestures like blowing up a surrogate of the Enterprise in The Jem’Hadar, bringing Jonathan Frakes back to play Riker’s evil transporter duplicate in Defiant, and have former Enterprise crew member Chief Miles Edward O’Brien praise Sisko as the best captain in the fleet in The Adversary. It was a television series that was dedicated to defining its own unique identity, and at least some of that identity was defined in opposition to its direct predecessor.

Taking his Neelix.

In contrast, Voyager always felt a little more desperate, a little too eager to assert its connection to The Next Generation and to insist upon itself as a spiritual successor to that beloved (and incredibly successful) series. Despite the fact that Voyager was set primarily in the Delta Quadrant, the series never missed an opportunity to crossover with The Next Generation. Barclay appeared as a hologram in Projections, Riker was summoned across the universe in Death Wish, LaForge was rendered a captain in the future presented in Timeless.

This is to say nothing of the minor crossovers taken at every available opportunity; the use of Q and the Borg Queen among the relatively small number of recurring guest stars, the original plan to build 11:59 around Guinan, the decision to produce the dire False Profits as a sequel to the dire The Price. Repeatedly over the show’s run, Voyager feels very much like a young child digging through its elder sibling’s wardrobe for something that might possible be claimed as a hand-me-down. It is depressing, particularly considering the raw potential that was baked into the premise of Voyager.

Course correction.

Pathfinder is perhaps the apex of this approach. It is effectively a stealth episode of The Next Generation, packaged and released under the Voyager brand. The primary plot of Pathfinder focuses on two characters from The Next Generation sitting around and talking about how great Voyager is, with one of those characters even escaping into a holographic fantasy of life on board the ship to help him think. In many ways, Pathfinder could be seen to prefigure These Are the Voyages…, the catastrophic finale to Star Trek: Enterprise that borrowed the same template and somehow pushed it even further.

There is a smell of desperation about Pathfinder. Whatever the plot of the episode might suggest, Voyager feels more lost than ever.

The Last Generation.

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Black Mirror – USS Callister (Review)

What is Space Fleet? I’ll tell you what it is. It is a belief system founded on the very best of human nature. It is a goal for us to strive towards for the betterment of the universe, for the betterment of life itself.

And you assholes are f%$king it up!

Black Mirror originated in the United Kingdom, broadcast on Channel 4 and written by Brass Eye and The 11 O’Clock Show writer Charlie Brooker.

The first two seasons of Black Mirror tended to focus on British talent, drawing in a wealth of talent from the British Isles to tell a set of stories about technology run amok: Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Jodie Whittaker, Toby Kebbell, Domhnall Gleason, Lindsay Duncan, Jessica Brown Findlay, Rupert Everett, Hayley Atwell, Rafe Spall and Oona Chaplin. Jon Hamm appeared in White Christmas, but Hamm is arguably an honourary citizen of British television, having appeared in shows like Toast of London and A Young Doctor’s Notebook, and the film Absolutely Fabulous.

In contrast, the third and fourth seasons of Black Mirror moved over to America. This shift was most obvious in the change in locations and talent employed by the series: Bryce Dallas Howard, Jodie Foster, Wyatt Russell, Mackenzie Davis, Rashida Jones, Mike Schur and Cherry Jones. However, it is also quite clear from a shift in emphasis in the stories being told. In particular, the two stories being told that bookend the fourth season of Black Mirror feel uniquely American. Black Museum plays as an allegory for one of America’s foundational sins, its exploitation of its racial minorities.

The feature-length season premiere, USS Callister is transparently a riff on the larger Star Trek franchise and a broader cultural war raging over ownership of established franchises like Ghostbusters or Star Wars. There are undoubtedly ways in which this story could be told with an emphasis on British experience, but USS Callister is very firmly a story about the ownership of one of America’s most beloved and abiding pop cultural mythologies. It is at once a deconstruction of certain strains of fandom and a love letter to the idealism at the heart of such stories.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Resolutions (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, shipping.

Times change surprisingly quickly. It is fair to say that Star Trek: Voyager emerged in a different world than the original Star Trek. However, it also emerged in a different world than Star Trek: The Next Generation. In a way, the show had acknowledged as much through its experiments with serialisation earlier in the second season. Michael Piller was trying to keep the franchise at the bleeding edge of contemporary television, realising that the medium was not the same as it had been when Jean-Luc Picard emerged at the end of the Reagan era.

Reach out...

Reach out…

Resolutions nods towards a different type of change in the way that television storytelling worked, particularly conversations about television storytelling. Although it could be argued that Star Trek helped to popularise the notion of romantically (or sexually) pairing off television characters through the practice of “slashing” Kirk and Spock, the notion of “shipping” had begun to enter the mainstream during the mid-nineties. The raw sexual chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on The X-Files played no small part.

Resolutions is essentially about “shipping” Janeway and Chakotay.

... and touch somebody.

… and touch somebody.

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