How Star Wars was saved in the edit

I still love the original Star Wars trilogy. Nothing in my life has ever come close in terms of sheer awe and wonder to that evening when I watched the first Star Wars movie in my local cinema. I was eight years old and the only film I'd seen before was 'The Cat From Outer Space'. Suffice it to say, I walked out of that cinema a different boy. Later on, as a young man, I still enjoyed the drama, the acting and the cinematography but I also enjoyed the Eastern Philosophy ideas of the Force, 'an energy web connecting all living things', and its connections to the Tao Te Ching. It was a gift that kept on giving.

Unfortunately, as many, many other Star Wars fans would agree, things went pretty much downhill from there. The Empire Strikes Back was a good movie. The Return Of the Jedi was so-so but after that… I'll say no more. Simon Pegg's brilliant rant about 'the Phantom Menace' in the second tv series of Spaced summed the whole thing up very well. What was particularly odd for me was that he did it in my local comic shop, 'They Walk Among Us', in Richmond upon Thames, which made his lament even better.


This blog article isn't going to be a rant about what's happened to Star Wars. Instead, here's a very good documentary about how the first production version of Star Wars was a mess, and how the film's editors, in particularly Lucas's wife Marcia, changed it into something taut, dramatic and brilliantly honed. I think there are lessons to be learned here for anyone writing any story, whether it's a screenplay, a short story or a novel, and especially for anyone writing science-fiction. Enjoy!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens review

I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and here’s my review. Warning, there are plot spoilers.

I loved the first three Star Wars movies. I've mentioned this before and although I've written critical articles about ‘What on Earth is an underwater monster doing in a trash compacter on a metal space station?' and 'Why is Star Wars an allegory for conception?', I still love those first three films to bits. There are so many good aspects to them. In fact, here's my extensive list of all the things I liked about the first three Star Wars movies:

A Star Destroyer looming over the camera. (Awesome!)
A tall guy in black who’s powerful in the Dark Side of the Force, wears a mask and striding around corridors with stormtroopers. (Boo!)
A plucky Rebel putting vital data crucial to the Cause into a chirpy, loyal droid. (Drama!)
A plucky rebel who’s captured by Imperial Forces but resists torture designed to extract reveal information. (Laugh in their faces, dude!)
Rebels escaping from a Star Destroyer (Ha ha! Outsmarted those evil goons!)
Rebel fugitives crash-landing on a desert planet. (Dramatic and desolate…)
A vulnerable droid finding a down-at-heel desert town filled with exotic but unfriendly aliens. (it's a Western with Fantasy Characters! Neat…)
That same droid making friends with a young hero who’s a ‘diamond in the rough’; poor but strong in the force. (Yay!)
The young hero zooms around in a Land-speeder (Two-stroke anti-gravity!)
The heroes escaping the Imperial Forces in the Millennium Falcon using their brilliant dog-fight skills.
A young, inexperienced hero fighting off tie-fighters in the Millennium Falcon gun-copula.
Harrison Ford as Han Solo charming the audience by making fun, wise-ass remarks.
Harrison Ford suddenly realising he’s in big trouble and switching to ‘fire-fight’ mode.
Lots of running around darkened corridors.
The heroes hanging out in a bar with lots of ugly or strange aliens while a band plays cool music.
A small but very wise alien explaining the Force to the heroes. (Philosophy!)
A hero experiencing a scary vision as part of understanding the Force. (Creepy…)
A bad character turning out to be actually a good character’s offspring, or vice-versa. (Shock!)
C3PO talking too much when he should really shut up. (What an endearing dork!)
The Rebel Forces preparing for battle on a forested planet, which looks a lot like a World War 2 fighter airfield in Norfolk, England. (Goodness Gracious!)
The Imperial Forces preparing for battle and looking a lot like Nazis. (Double Boo!)
Carrie Fisher bantering acerbically with Harrison Ford. (Isn’t she a peach?)
Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford embracing. (Ahh, it was inevitable..)
The Death Star threatening the forested Rebel planet. (Those poor trees!)
The young heroes avoiding StormTroopers on the Death Star, using their wits and acrobatic skills. (Go Team!)
Han and Chewie walking across on an ice planet and moaning about it being cold. (it’s a Buddy movie too!)
The Dark Side Knight of Blackness suffering conflicting thoughts about being on the Dark Side (Well, who wouldn’t?)
The young heroes fighting stormtroopers in a forest (White really shows up on dark green).
A confrontation on a high gantry. (The Bridge of Kazadhum meets Cloud City)
A hero falling off a high gantry. (Is he a tumbler or a diver?)
An Emperor of the Dark Side who shows what prolonged malevolence does to one’s skin complexion. (evil destroys collagen).
A light-sabre fight, especially one where the scenery gets chopped up.
The young hero growing strong in the force, surprising the bad guy. (Ha ha! Gotcha!)
The Rebel base command room pointing out a weak spot in the Death Star. (It’s Bletchley Park all over again!)
X-Wing Fighters attacking the Death Star.
An X-Wing Fighter pilot shouting ‘I’ve got one on my tail!’
Rebel fighters flying through the guts of the Death Star.
X-Wing Fighters fly along a trench on the Death Star.
X-Wing Fighters blowing up the Death Star.
X-Wing Fighter pilots saying; ‘let’s go home’ after they blow up the Death Star.
And finally, most importantly of all, a wise, old, bearded Jedi Master in loose clothing (monks can kick ass!).

It’s a long list, isn’t it? There are so many things to love about the first three movies, with the exception of the Ewoks, who were daft. So, if you like the above list too, you'll be doubly pleased because… the new movie IS THAT LIST!! I’m not joking. You can take a print-out with you into the cinema if you like and tick the items off as you go. They all happen, roughly in that order.

Such a situation sounds brilliant, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it isn’t, because a few things have changed since 1977. For example, in 1977, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher were young, sparky and fresh with a point to prove in the first movie and now they’re… not. They do a valiant job in the new film’s scenes but they look like they need a lie down half-way through each one. There’s also the niggly problem that if you bung in all the above elements into a two-and-a-bit-hour movie, there’s no room for a coherent script, or believable changes in characters’ behaviour, or, well, basically anything. In the new film, characters appear out of nowhere for no reason, characters suddenly have skills with no explanation. Characters change allegiance for the briefest of reasons, and then back again, and back again like some sort of moral ping-pong. The new film is basically a cobbled-together derivative fan-movie smorgasbord that's bereft of inspiration, but does have a very big budget.

To be fair, there are some new elements in the film that haven’t been seen before. For example, we now know that good stormtroopers bleed but bad stormtroopers don’t. Also, Death Stars have got bigger, but they’re still stupidly designed. In addition, that red-crayfish-alien rebel general from ‘Return of the Jedi’ hasn’t changed at all, indicating that he’s either immortal or that he’s very old and wrinkly but it’s just very hard to tell when someone’s a crayfish. Oh, and there’s a new stormtrooper outfit that looks like it’s a medieval suit of armour, which I can only guess is there for merchandising reasons, as the character who was wearing it was completely superfluous to the story and seemed to have gatecrashed the set.

That’s pretty much it. I’m a big fan of J.J. Abrams; I think his reboot of Star Trek was inspired but his foray into Star Trek seems to have been shoved through the Disney corporate product mincer and turned into Jedi sausages. Ketchup, anyone?

Warp drive isn't science fiction!

Since I've been knee-high to a grasshopper, I've been a huge fan of Star Trek, both the original series, the Next Generation series and the recent J.J.Abrams movies. Quality stuff. But recently, since I've becoming a budding science fiction writer, I've felt duty bound to write science fiction that is based on solid science. In other words, if the technology in a story is not evidently scientifically sound or no attempt is made to explain how it is scientifically sound, then I can't write about it as it's not science-fiction, it's fantasy fiction.

This is where Star Trek has become a big problem to me, because Einstein, in his famous Theory of General Relativity, makes it clear that no material object can go faster that the speed of light. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that travelling between the stars is an impossible task. You either go so fast that you're rapidly smeared all over your pilots chair like a coating of gravy, or if you go slow enough to stay in one piece and end up dying of old age or being turned into a biological colander by endless cosmic ray bombardment, or both, or all three. We all may be used to the crew of Star Trek zooming between the stars in a few hours, enough time to develop a slow-burning romance, or play an odd version of chess, or play an instrument that neatly doubles up as a kitchen implement, but that doesn't mean it's scientifically okay. Read More...

Star Wars XVCXIIIVXCVX trailer 2

The second teaser trailer for the new Star Wars film has appeared and it's good! (I still have a hang up or two about the original film, but I love it all the same) Check out the wrecked Star Destroyer! Check out Harrison Ford! and Carrie Fisher's hand! (possibly) and Mark Hammil's mechanical replacement hand! (possibly) and a-stormtrooper-that's-not-a-cardboard-bad-guy! I'm not excited, I'm very excited…

My hang-ups with Star Wars: Part 2

What is Star Wars about? A lot of people would say it's about courage and action and ability and the Force, but maybe that's being a bit too idealistic. I think, in truth, it's about much more basic stuff. I think Star Wars is about cool technology and sex. On that level, its story is as follows:

Sexy woman's in danger. Robots tell young, frustrated man that sexy woman's in danger. Young man travels in cool machine to tell old bloke the news. Old bloke gives young man an impressive weapon and tells him to go for it. Both men then travel to a spaceport and meet an even cooler man who uses his weapon, then they all escape in a really cool spaceship. They reach a super-impressive space station and find the sexy woman. They fire their weapons, rescue the sexy woman, hug her repeatedly, then escape on their cool spaceship from the super-impressive space station. Afterwards, they chat about which of them fancies her.

But it's the finale of the film which is really, really about sex. This might be hard to spot at first glance. The attack on the Death Star by the Rebel Alliance X-Wings seems, on the face of it, to be about a bunch of fighters attacking a space station and destroying it, but in fact, it's a vast, detailed allegory about conception. Here's that climactic scene described in symbolic terms: Read More...

My hang-ups with Star Wars: Part 1

Yesterday evening, I watched the original Star Wars movie again. It's still brilliant. But this time when I watched it, something happened that had never happened before. I was watching the film and I suddenly thought:

‘What on Earth is an underwater monster doing in a trash compacter on a metal space station??’

I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before; I’ve seen the film probably fifty times. But what on Earth is it doing there? Not only that but that space station is pristine. Totally pristine! There aren't even any wastebaskets on it! Where did all that rubbish come from? Also, why is the trash compacter two-foot deep in water? How does that help compacting trash? Read More...

My Star Wars: conception article is on the Sci Fi now website

A modified version of my earlier article: Star Wars is about conception is now on the Sci Fi Now website. They've run a series of entries from different people describing their memories of that great film. It's fun and a bit weird to see my musings on a professional website. Fortunately, it seems to be liked so far! :) Read More...

The film 'Star Wars' is really about... conception!

I loved the first ‘Star Wars’ film, I still do. I don’t think any film will ever have as profound affect on me as that movie. A big part of its influence was because of its timing. It came out when I was seven years old; a skinny kid living in suburban london who loved fantastic ideas and stirring stories. I wanted something big and awe-inspiring and slick and glorious and grandiose and absurdly naive. Read More...