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New Escapist Video! On How the “Star Wars” Sequels Didn’t Need a Plan, “The Rise of Skywalker” Needed a Vision…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with the Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week.

With that in mind, here is last week’s episode, covering the frequent argument that Disney needed a “plan” for the sequel trilogy, when in fact Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker just needed a vision. You can watch the pilot video here, and read the companion article here.

 

New Escapist Column! On “The Last Jedi”, “The Rise of Skywalker” and What Makes a Good Sequel…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Friday.

It seems like the arguments over Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker have at least entered that “justification” stage. This week, editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey reopened the conversation by trying to shift the blame on to Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, claiming that it represented a betrayal of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. This is nonsense, of course, but it does invite a larger debate about what exactly makes for a good sequel. What does a follow-up owe to an original?

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

Doctor Who: Ascension of the Cybermen (Review)

The cynical observation about Ascension of the Cybermen would be that Chris Chibnall has spent the previous season building to an excuse to do Earthshock on a modern television budget.

After all, for all that Ascension of the Cybermen seems to tease mythos-shattering revelations, there is very little in the episode that hasn’t been seen before. The episode builds towards two concurrent cliffhangers. The first is a standard “unexpected Master reveal”, a cliffhanger that Chibnall employed earlier in the season with Spyfall, Part I. More than that, it’s pretty much one of the most archetypal Doctor Who cliffhangers. (There is something be said for symmetry, but recycling the same cliffhanger beat from the season premiere is decidedly unambitious.)

“Okay, it’s season finale time. So generic grey battlefield.”

Similarly, a large part of the power of the climax of Ascension of the Cybermen comes from the revelation that Doctor Who now has the budget to offer a particularly impressive riff on the classic “army of monsters” cliffhanger of the kind employed in beloved stories like Tomb of the Cybermen and less beloved stories like The Leisure Hive. There’s a real sense at the end of Ascension of the Cybermen that the audience is meant to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Cybermen on screen.

There are other smaller familiar cues tucked away within Ascension of the Cybermen. Chibnall also borrows a few smaller touches from his direct predecessor. The seemingly disconnected snapshots of mundane life juxtaposed with science-fiction spectacle is a familiar narrative trick within Steven Moffat’s two-parters for the show, notably the thread focusing on CAL and Doctor Moon in Silence in the Library and Danny Pink’s bureaucratic induction into the afterlife in Dark Water. Brendan’s plot offers a broader sort of conceptual mystery, a plot waiting to tie in.

Lone ranger.

However, amid all of this cacophony, there’s a strange modesty to this season finale. Ascension of the Cybermen is very much a triumph of production; it features a big introductory battle sequence, a host expensive-looking sets, galactic stakes and a sense of escalating danger. It takes its cues from a variety of familiar and populist sources, from Russell T. Davies’ work with the Daleks in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways through to the set-up of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. The special effects are impressive. The production design is remarkable.

Despite all of this, even as it gestures at grand twists and turns, Ascension of the Cybermen seems to suggest that “Earthshock on a bigger budget” is the platonic ideal of Doctor Who in the twenty-first century. Like The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, there’s a sense in which Ascension of the Cybermen believes that a large part of any Doctor Who season finale should be spent running up and down large and atmospheric industrial corridors. It’s impressive, but it’s all rather hollow.

From the Ash(ad)s…

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57. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (#244)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week joined by special guest 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, J.J. Abram’s Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, the First Order 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 244th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the Star Wars film you’re looking for. Mostly.

In many respects, Star Wars was the film the helped to launch the modern “blockbuster” model of cinema, and a large part of The Force Awakens is the reassurance that not too much has changed in the intervening years. Sure, there are a few script tweaks to reflect more modern tastes for the post-Dark Knight era, but the basic storytelling engine is still the same underneath. If The Force Awakens is a hybrid, it is a hybrid fashioned from the parts of the three original Star Wars films and just a dash of something more twenty-first century.

The Force is strong with this one...

The Force is strong with this one…

After the issues with the prequels, it is reassuring to know that the engine still runs. The franchise’s history as one of the forerunners of blockbuster cinema makes it perfectly suited to JJ Abrams’ nostalgic stylings. Abrams gets a lot of flack for his evocation of seventies and eighties blockbuster cinema, but he does have a fundamental understanding of how (and why) it works. Ever the keen student of Spielberg and vintage Hollywood blockbusters, director JJ Abrams is able to effortlessly blend that classic aesthetic with a contemporary sensibilities.

There are moments when The Force Awakens threatens to suffocate under the weight of what came before, but it largely succeeds on its own terms as a doorway to something new and exciting.

Handover from one generation to the next...

Handover from one generation to the next…

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