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New Escapist Column! On the Cautious Conservatism of the Mandalorian…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine late last week. This one looking at the big streaming news of the week, the release of The Mandalorian.

I have very mixed feelings about The Mandalorian. There are parts of the show that I enjoyed, like its obvious debts to samurai cinema or its exploration of the aftermath of Pax Imperiosa as a way of anchoring the franchise in the present moment. However, I was much less convinced of how decidedly retrograde it felt. So much of The Mandalorian seems designed to assure viewers that “this is Star Wars“, retreating away from the relative ambition of projects like Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi or even Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the safe and the familiar.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! How Disney Have Monetised Spoiler Culture…

I published a new piece at Escapist Magazine over the weekend. I’ve been thinking about this for a little while, since the release of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, and it came bubbling to the surface with the announcement that the first episode of The Mandalorian would include “a dramatic Star Wars-universe spoiler in the first episode.”

This got me thinking about the way in which, more than any other mass media company, Disney have weaponised spoiler culture as a selling point, to create urgency among consumers and to use that to drive the market. They have also used it to shape the conversation, to control what can or cannot be said about their films and at what point. Spoiler culture has grant Disney a surprisingly strong control of the fandom-driven market. It’s an incredibly canny move from the company, one which has exploited a core part of current nerd culture.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! The Flawed Redemption at the Heart of “Return of the Jedi”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one has been kicking around inside my head for a little while, but came to the fore with the recent trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. Primarily, the flawed redemption at the heart of Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi.

Look, everybody knows the basic arc of the Star Wars saga. Luke discovers that Darth Vader is his father, sets out to redeem him, manages to turn Vader away from the dark side before Vader dies. However, that’s never been quite how it works. The actual arc is a lot messier and more complicated, and a lot less conventionally heroic than it is remembered. Return of the Jedi never actually bothers to redeem Vader, instead focusing on redeeming Luke’s idea of Vader. At its core, Return of the Jedi is a story about how hard Luke wants to believe his father was a good man, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Along the way, Luke gambles the entire future of the Rebel Alliance and his sister’s fate on the assumption that there is goodness in Vader, while the film never actually bothers to demonstrate that there is any. It’s a fascinating incomplete arc, and one that hints at a gaping moral void at the heart of the larger Star Wars saga. It’s a story about how an individual’s redemption doesn’t matter, only other people’s idea of that redemption. In its own way, it marks Return of the Jedi as a quintessentially eighties movie; it is a story about how the most important thing to Luke is not the fate of the galaxy, but his own self-image.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! How “The Empire Strikes Back” Invented the Modern Sequel and Franchise…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine late last week, hopefully one a little bit less contentious than discussions of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

The piece takes a look at Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, and the impact that it had on shaping a lot of modern blockbusters. We tend to think of Jaws and Star Wars as the cornerstones of the modern blockbuster movie, and that’s certainly fair. However The Empire Strikes Back has arguably had an even greater impact on the way in which franchise movies are built – from ballooning budgets to the idea of the perpetual second act.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! Luke Skywalker, “The Last Jedi” and “Star Wars” as a Saga of Generational Failure…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this week, looking at the (in some quarters controversial) handling of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi.

The Star Wars saga has always been – at its heart – a story of generational failure, about how the older generation inevitably fails the younger one. This was true of the prequels with characters like Qui-Gon Jinn, Mace Windu and Count Dooku. It was also true of the original trilogy with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader and Yoda. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke in The Last Jedi, and that has always been the franchise’s core philosophy. The only problem is that some of the audience grew up with Luke, and are not yet ready to grow beyond him.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

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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