Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie review

For inSing

STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

Director : Rian Johnson
Cast : Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, Lupita Nyong’o
Genre : Action/Adventure/Sci-fi/Fantasy
Run Time : 2h 32m
Opens : 14 December 2017
Rating : PG

(The following review contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

In 2015, under the auspices of Disney, Star Wars came back in a big way. The Force Awakens launched a new trilogy, and sparked fevered speculation about where the story would go next. In The Last Jedi, questions are answered, expectations are subverted, and yet more questions are generated – all in engrossing, spectacular fashion.

We pick up where The Force Awakens left off: Rey (Daisy Ridley) has arrived on Ahch-To in search of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who has been in self-imposed exile. Luke blames himself for the creation of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the dark warrior who was once Luke’s Jedi apprentice, then known as Ben Solo.

Kylo’s mother General Leia Organa (Carrier Fisher) leads the increasingly battered Resistance against the First Order, headed up by Kylo’s master, the enigmatic Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Ace pilot Poe Dameron’s (Oscar Isaac) recklessness puts him in conflict with Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), Leia’s long-time friend and subordinate. Meanwhile, former Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance engineer Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) hatch a plan to infiltrate the Supremacy, Snoke’s Mega-Class Star Destroyer. The battle for the galaxy heats up as our heroes and villains inch ever closer to fulfilling their destinies.

The Force Awakens was criticised for being too much of a retread of A New Hope, but it can be argued that audiences needed to be reminded of what it was about Star Wars that hooked them in the first place. With writer-director Rian Johnson at the helm, The Last Jedi does what every great sequel should: build upon its predecessor while taking the story in bold new directions. There are some elements that echo The Empire Strikes Back, but it is not a beat-for-beat do-over of that film. There is a consistency to how the characters we know and love from The Force Awakens and the original trilogy are further developed, and the surprises that lie in store do not feel contradictory to what has been laid out before.

On the level of sheer spectacle, The Last Jedi delivers amply. Key creatives including production designer Rick Heinrichs and costume designer Michael Kaplan return from The Force Awakens, but Johnson brings his regular cinematographer Steve Yedlin, who has worked with the director since Brick, on board.

The opulent casino on the planet Canto Bight has a bit of a latter-day Doctor Who vibe to it, while the mineral-rich planet Crait is blanketed by salt flats that cover crimson clay – the clay is kicked up by the Resistance ski speeders as they hurtle towards the First Order’s walkers. Snoke’s throne room, surrounded by a seamless blood-red curtain, is the ideal locale for one of the film’s most dramatic scenes to unfold in. Hearing those John Williams-composed leitmotifs accompanying the appearance of each character just completes the experience in the best way.

The Last Jedi is also a masterclass in tone: this is an intense movie, but it’s also a funny one, and humour is employed in just the right doses. The levity never undermines the tremendous, galaxy-shattering stakes at hand. Johnson has achieved something which many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have struggled at getting right.

While many might decry the Porgs, cuddly little avian/mammalian critters, as obviously created just to make Disney mountains of cash in plush toy sales, this reviewer found them irresistibly charming. They pop up at just the right points in the story, and are nowhere near as annoying as some find the Ewoks and many find Jar Jar Binks to be. BB-8 gets more screen time and is straight-up heroic, actively aiding our heroes during conflict.

Hamill gets top billing, after making a silent cameo at the very end of The Force Awakens. Luke is characterised as disillusioned and bitter – Rey clearly wants him to mentor her, but given his past failings, Luke is reluctant to take on another apprentice. Hamill’s performance is unexpectedly abrasive, yet moving and deeply sincere.

Rey and Kylo Ren are pitted against each other in a compelling way, the film highlighting their parallels and the danger that Rey could go down the same dark path trodden by Luke’s old student. Ridley’s youthful energy is in full force, while the physical demands of the role are increased. The dynamic between Rey and Luke and between Rey and Kylo sparks with life and keeps the viewer invested.

The film delves further into Kylo’s fractured psyche. The character is ultimately a child playing pretend, trying to fill a void within by chasing the legacy of the grandfather he idolises. He’s destructive and impulsive, and is thus easily manipulated by Snoke. While Andy Serkis does a fine sneery performance, Snoke is saddled with some of the more cliched lines in the film, which veer dangerously close to Bond villain speechifying.

The late Fisher gets many moments to shine as the regal, wise Leia, who keeps her composure under the most stressful situations as she shepherds the Resistance. It is a quietly stirring performance and we can’t think of a better send-off for the actress.

While Isaac’s Poe Dameron was merely the roguish hero archetype in The Force Awakens, this movie deconstructs that trope, and floats the idea that sometimes being brash and anti-authoritarian, as cool as it looks, is self-serving rather than furthering the cause.

Tran’s Rose Tico is a fantastic character, and a great way to shine a light on the Resistance members who aren’t fighting on the frontlines. She’s a bit of a fangirl and is thrilled to meet Finn, the Stomtrooper-turned-hero. Rose also gives the film a chance to comment on social stratification, since her family was exploited by the rich and powerful.

While Dern and del Toro are both reliable, the role of ‘slicer’ DJ, a hacker and thief for hire, seems like a waste of del Toro’s distinctive talents. Dern doesn’t get too much to do, but Holdo is memorable as she is at the centre of a particularly dramatic moment.

If one has become fixated on and overly attached to specific fan theories, The Last Jedi will disappoint for not realising said theories – but then again, it never had an obligation to. Johnson has a bit of fun at the fanbase’s expense, toying with expectations while staying faithful yet not slavish to the Star Wars films that have come before.

The Last Jedi is as exhilarating as it is moving. The Last Jedi feels like a whole movie rather than a placeholder or a mere trailer for the next film to come. While it clearly functions as a middle instalment in the trilogy, it’s also a beginning and an end.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

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Built to last: meet the characters of The Last Jedi

BUILT TO LAST: MEET THE CHARACTERS OF THE LAST JEDI

Star Wars welcomes back heroes and villains we love from The Force Awakens while adding new ones

By Jedd Jong

Back in the 70s, 80s, late 90s and 2000s, Memorial Day weekend in mid-late May was when everyone knew to expect a Star Wars movie. Starting with The Force Awakens, the space opera franchise has claimed the Christmas period for itself, with that film and Rogue One opening in winter rather than summer. Star Wars frenzy is reaching a fever pitch with the release of The Last Jedi right around the corner.

The eighth instalment in the main series of films has a tough act to follow, considering how The Force Awakens grossed over $2 billion at the worldwide box office. While some have decried it for being too repetitive in following the template laid down by the original Star Wars film A New Hope, the film was critically acclaimed and announced loud and proud that Star Wars was back.

Beloved characters such as Han Solo, Leia and Chewbacca appeared in The Force Awakens supporting roles – in Luke Skywalker’s case, he barely appeared at all. We were introduced to a trio of intrepid heroes: Rey, the scavenger with a destiny to fulfil; Finn, the Stormtrooper who defects to the side of good; and Poe Dameron, the heroic ace pilot – plus Poe’s trusty Astromech droid BB-8. Leading the charge on the side of the villains was Kylo Ren, who answers to the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke.

Director Rian Johnson takes the reins from J. J. Abrams for The Last Jedi, and the trailers have teased that Johnson has plenty of tricks up his sleeves. Fans have been tantalised with the promise of an upended status quo – in the trailer Luke says through gritted teeth, “this is not going to go the way you think!”

Before you watch The Last Jedi in theatres – which we have a feeling you will (the Force told us) – get reacquainted with the characters who inhabit this galaxy far, far away, and meet a few who will be introduced in the new movie. Don’t worry, this piece is spoiler-free – we wrote it before watching the movie.

#1: REY (Daisy Ridley)

After clinching the coveted role of the new lead heroine in a Star Wars trilogy, English actress Daisy Ridley was launched into superstardom. The filmmakers received much praise for putting a woman front and centre – this reflects the reality behind-the-scenes, with Star Wars creator George Lucas ceding control of Lucasfilm to producer Kathleen Kennedy.

In The Force Awakens, Rey, the scavenger from the far-flung desert planet of Jakku, was plunged headlong into the adventure of a lifetime. She shares an unexplained link to Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, and touching it triggered a vision littered with little clues that fans were eager to decipher. The Last Jedi will see Rey undergo training at the hands of Luke Skywalker, while resisting the call of the Dark Side as Snoke tries to turn her, just as he has turned Kylo Ren.

Ridley characterises Rey’s arc in The Last Jedi as “more of an emotional journey, than a physical one.” Ridley added that Rey “gets to ask questions about herself and the world around her,” questions which encompass her “parentage and heritage – wherever that may be.” To undertake the combat scenes, Ridley said she trained for a year, and has become more confident in his lightsaber-wielding abilities. Ridley also revealed that even after she has become the new face of Star Wars, her father is still a die-hard Star Trek devotee.

#2: LUKE SKYWALKER (Mark Hamill)

It’s impossible to look at Rey’s arc in The Force Awakens and not draw comparisons to Luke – orphan (?) living on a desert planet who dreams of adventure inadvertently gets roped in to join the fight against an evil empire, taking their first steps towards their destiny. The plot of The Force Awakens involved tracking down a vanished Luke – after his nephew/pupil Kylo Ren (née Ben Solo) turned to the Dark Side, Luke considered this a personal failure and went into self-imposed exile on the planet Ahch-To. Bringing Luke’s lightsaber with her, Rey travelled to Ahch-To to find Luke and learn from him. Hamill says that Luke is dogged by “that guilt, that feeling that it’s his fault, that he didn’t detect the darkness in [Kylo] until it was too late.”

Hamill didn’t find the stardom that many thought would come after starring in the Star Wars trilogy, but he has gone on to become an established and sought-after voice actor, memorably voicing the DC Comics villain the Joker in various animated series, animated films and video games. To reprise the role of Luke Skywalker, once a wide-eyed rookie and now a wizened, haunted mentor figure, Hamill went on a strict diet and exercise regiment, losing around 22 kg.

Hamill admits to being shocked by the direction in which Johnson’s script takes Luke, and initially disagreeing with it. “It it took me a while to get around to his way of thinking, but once I was there it was a thrilling experience,” Hamill explained, saying he hopes the audience will share that thrill.

Hamill said that being appreciated by the fans is a “reward that just never stops giving” and “really moving”. Hamill was conferred the Disney Legend award at this year’s D23 convention, which he called an “out-of-body experience”.

#3: FINN (John Boyega)

The man formerly known as Stormtrooper FN-2187 went from being a soldier for the First Order to a selfless champion of the Resistance. Boyega, who like his co-star Ridley is a 25-year-old from England, has also become a recognisable star. He will next be seen headlining and co-producing Pacific Rim: Uprising, as the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost from the first Pacific Rim movie.

Boyega is a self-professed Star Wars mega-fan, and he brought an action figure of Han Solo for Harrison Ford to autograph when Boyega first met Ford during pre-production on The Force Awakens. Boyega echoes the sentiments of cast members who say audiences are in for a surprise. “[Rian] had a chance to really go crazy, and I’m a big Star Wars buff so certain things I saw I was just like ‘Well, that’s a first,’” Boyega said, calling this “really cool to experience.” Boyega got along well with Johnson, comparing the director to Santa Claus because of his jovial nature. Johnson gifted Boyega the prop blaster that Finn uses in the film.

While it seemed like Rey and Finn were being set up as romantic partners, with Finn having an obvious crush on Rey in The Force Awakens, the characters spend the bulk of the movie apart from each other. “They are separate in this film; it’s like two separate stories,” Boyega said, teasing “maybe they are in a long-distance relationship right now?”

Instead of Rey, Finn is teaming up with Resistance technician Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), and both have to go undercover in a First Order installation. As seen in the trailer, he clashes with former boss Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie). Describing the scenario, Boyega joked “imagine you work at McDonald’s. You push your manager into a chute compactor and then a year later you decide to go back dressed as one of the colleagues. It’s not the best situation.”

#4: GENERAL LEIA ORGANA (Carrie Fisher)

One of the most iconic heroines in science fiction/fantasy film, the Leia character is now shrouded in tragedy. Onscreen, the character must deal with not only the burden of knowing her son has turned evil, but that he has killed his father; her husband, Han Solo. The real world lost actress Carrie Fisher, who has served as an inspiration to many thanks to her honest and humorous recollections of her tumultuous personal and professional life. Fisher died on December 27 2016 and just a day later, her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away too. The Last Jedi marks Fisher’s final film appearance.

Fisher had filmed all her scenes before her death, and Johnson has stated that he did not tailor the movie to be a send-off to her, but several emotional scenes have taken on greater resonance in the wake of Fisher’s passing. Johnson and Hamill both called Fisher “irreplaceable”. Johnson felt that he and Fisher “connected as writers”, and he welcomed Fisher’s input on the screenplay. When Fisher died, Johnson was deep into post-production, and he said that coming back to the editing suite after the Christmas and New Year break to watch Fisher’s scenes was “so hard”. Johnson called Fisher’s performance in the film “beautiful and complete”.

The film’s female cast members paid tribute to the trailblazing character and the actress who portrayed her. “[Leia] really stayed with me throughout my formative years,” Christie said, adding that she admired how Leia “doesn’t care what people think and isn’t prepare to be told what to do.” For Christie, this “was really instrumental…as someone who didn’t feel like I fit in that homogenized view of what a woman is supposed to be and there was inspiration there.”

Tran spoke of Fisher’s courage in putting herself on the public stage, flaws and all, to candidly talk about her struggles with substance abuse and mental illness. “She was so unapologetic, and so openly herself, and that is something that I am really trying to do, and it’s hard,” Tran admitted. “I think that she will always be an icon as Leia, but also as Carrie,” Tran saying, saying she was “so fortunate to have met her” and that Fisher “really will live on forever.” Fisher’s legacy lives on in part through her daughter Billie Lourd, who reprises the role of Lieutenant Connix from The Force Awakens.

#5: POE DAMERON (Oscar Isaac)

The dashing Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is the most swashbuckling figure of our trio of new protagonists – in The Force Awakens, he offers a whoop as his X-Wing skims the surface of a lake on Takodana. Many identified the Poe character as being in the mould of Han Solo. However, Isaac says that the character will veer a little away from that archetype, while retaining his heroism. “I think what Rian [Johnson] did was make it less about filling a slot and more about what the story needs,” Isaac considered. At this point in the story, the Resistance is low on manpower, fleeing for their lives from the powerful First Order, and in need of someone to take the helm. “Leia is grooming me — him — to be a leader of the Resistance, as opposed to a dashing, rogue hero,” Isaac said.

Isaac’s comments strengthen the impression that The Last Jedi will be considerably darker than The Force Awakens, and that our heroes are in for a rough ride. “The heroes get challenged very specifically. It’s almost like you get to discover their character flaws and those things get tested,” Isaac said, adding that audiences will get a better sense of Poe, Finn and Rey “because you get to really know somebody in a crisis.”

Large swathes of the internet are ‘Stormpilot shippers’ – they root for the characters of Poe and Finn to end up as romantic partners. There’s palpable chemistry on display between Isaac and Boyega, and Poe even names Finn. Isaac does a pretty telling lip bite when the characters are reunited in The Force Awakens, after each thinks the other has died. “I was playing romance. In the cockpit I was playing… there was a deep romance,” Isaac said.

Alas, dreams of ‘Stormpilot’ becoming canon have been dashed by Boyega, who said the romantic pairing “only exists in Oscar’s head”.

#6: KYLO REN (Adam Driver)

The villainous Kylo Ren is an impulsive, fiery character, someone whose unconscionable actions can be justified at least in part by having been manipulated by powerful dark forces. Driver, who has been described by some as “unconventionally handsome”, won over droves of fangirls with his portrayal of the brooding Kylo.

Kylo idolises his grandfather Darth Vader, and longs to bring the Empire, in its new guise as the First Order, back to the heights of its power under Vader. “He’s a vulnerable kid who doesn’t know where to put his energy, but when he puts his mask on, suddenly, he’s playing a role,” Driver said of the character. “J.J. had that idea initially and I think Rian took it to the next level.”

Kylo is at the centre of the most talked-about moment in The Force Awakens – the death of Han Solo. Driver understood the gravity of this moment, saying he felt “sick to his stomach” watching the movie at the premiere, in anticipation of the horrible deed his character would execute. “I was holding my wife [Joanne Tucker]’s hand, and she’s like, ‘You’re really cold. Are you OK?’ Because I just knew what was coming – I kill Harrison Ford – and I didn’t know how this audience of 2000 people was going to respond to it, you know?”

As part of playing the character, Driver was withdrawn and self-serious on set. “The things about that character that I find painful, that I really relate to, I kind of prefer to keep to myself,” Driver said of his process.

Various cast members attempting to get him to lighten up. Hamill invited Driver for lunch, but he declined. Boyega attempted surprising Driver with random hugs, which Driver did not seem to enjoy. “He just stands there,” Boyega said. “He just waits for me to be done.”

Driver does have a fun side though: he famously portrayed Kylo Ren going incognito on Starkiller Base as ‘Matt the Radar Technician’ in a side-splitting Saturday Night Live sketch that aired in January 2016.

#7: SUPREME LEADER SNOKE (Andy Serkis)

Other than Rey’s parentage, the other giant magnet for speculation in The Last Jedi is the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. The enigmatic head of the First Order who snatched young Ben Solo from Luke Skywalker’s tutelage, turning him into Kylo Ren. The character is portrayed via performance capture by Andy Serkis, famed for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies and Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot trilogy.

Serkis has been fielding many questions about the mysterious Snoke. “He’s definitely not a Sith, but he’s certainly at the darker end of the Force,” Serkis revealed, adding “that begins to unfold a little in this one,” – whatever “that” may be. Snoke is apparently “extremely strong with the Force,” but Serkis adds that while Snoke is “terribly powerfully”, he is also “a very vulnerable and wounded character.” Snoke’s deformities include a mangled jaw, and to help capture that in his performance, Serkis would tape down the left side of his mouth to restrict the lip movement.

The character was seen in The Force Awakens as a hologram seated on a throne, and appeared to be humongous. In The Last Jedi, we see Snoke in the flesh, and he’s about 2.7 m tall. Snoke has a penchant for luxury, which manifests itself in his gold robes and striking crimson-hued throne room. Snoke’s personal security force, the Praetorian Guard, also wear bright red armour. Serkis characterised Snoke as “flamboyant” and “slightly oligarch”.

In The Last Jedi, Snoke is none too pleased with his young apprentice. “His training of Kylo Ren is not yielding what he wants,” Serkis said. “Therefore, his anger towards Kylo Ren is intensified because he can’t bear weakness in others.” Serkis added that part of Snoke’s manipulation of Kylo involves playing Kylo and General Hux (Dohmnall Gleeson), Kylo’s right-hand man, off each other.

Johnson has warned fans that all the mysteries regarding the character might not be laid bare in this instalment, saying “We’ll learn exactly as much about Snoke as we need to.” Johnson added that it was “really exciting” seeing Serkis, whom he called “a force of nature”, play the character, since he got to do “much more in this film than in the last one.”

#8: ROSE TICO (Kelly Marie Tran)

The Last Jedi introduces several new characters, with Resistance engineer Rose Tico touted to have the largest part among these inductees. Rose is played by Vietnamese-American actress Kelly Marie Tran. This is set to be Tran’s big break – prior to clinching the role, she was active in improv groups, appearing in the College Humor Originals and Ladies Like Us web series. There are very few actors of Asian descent in the Star Wars saga – prior to Tran, the largest roles played by Asian actors were that of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Tran describes Rose as being “smart, brave and loyal, someone who knows she comes from a humble beginning – she’s not a princess, she’s not a superhero.” The character is someone who has always been comfortable fighting the good fight while remaining firmly in the background, but circumstances draw her to the forefront of a galaxy-spanning conflict. Rose’s older sister Paige (Veronica Ngo) has taken a more active role in the conflict as a gunner.

“I think she symbolises that there are always so many background players in any revolution, and without those people you can’t have those people at the forefront,” Tran said, reasoning that “if their ships aren’t working, they can’t be fighting the First Order.

Tran has admitted to having never seen any of the Star Wars films prior to clinching the role. She has said that because she wasn’t a die-hard fan to begin with, she was able to approach the audition as if it were for any other part, lessening the pressure in the moment. Of course, the fact that she is part of a worldwide phenomenon will sink in sooner or later. “When I saw the action figures, I was like, ‘This is insane,’ but it still hasn’t sunk in or registered on me,” Tran said.

“Growing up I watched a lot of [pop culture] and didn’t really get to see a lot of people that looked like me,” Tran said. “I think that I’m really lucky to be this person, and I get to be part of this franchise. I hope that it is a move in a better direction.”

Tran worked long hours at a temp agency to pay the bills, and revealed that she nearly quit acting. Her persistence has led her to join the Resistance, and we can already see Rose being an inspiration to many young viewers of all backgrounds.

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – 7 Best Moments from Trailer #2

For inSing  

Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer #2 – 7 moments that have us shook
We dig into the much buzzed-about trailer that has everyone excited for The Last Jedi

By Jedd Jong

As Darth Vader put it so well in The Empire Strikes Back, “it is useless to resist”. The second trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi has us, and numerous Star Wars fans around the globe, in its thrall. The eighth instalment in the main series of Star Wars films continues the stories of Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and the villainous Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), characters who were introduced to audiences in The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his sister General Leia (Carrie Fisher), reeling from the events of the last film and events preceding it, also return.

This being a Star Wars film, secrecy is key, and the marketing for the film must maintain a balance between guarding the details of the plot while doling out enough morsels to maintain high anticipations levels. The trailer for The Last Jedi does just this, demonstrating an expansive scope and giving us a glimpse of the various new locales and large-scale battles that will feature in The Last Jedi.

The trailer also promises intense and emotional arcs for its key characters, especially for Rey. It seems to imply that as Luke Skywalker trains his new pupil, he is taken aback by the power she demonstrates, power that could make her susceptible to the Dark Side. The trailer is tantalising, but also appears to be craftily edited, combining and changing the order of scenes to plant red herrings in audience’s minds.

Best of all, it doesn’t feel as if we’ve seen too much – Benicio del Toro, Laura Dern and Kelly Marie Tran, who are set to play significant roles, do not even appear in this particular trailer.

 

Let’s dig into seven of our favourite moments from the trailer!

#1: AT-M6 Walkers

The First Order makes no bones about displaying their military might, and the organisations inventory has only grown since the previous film. Early on in the trailer, we see a phalanx of All-Terrain Mega-Caliber 6 (AT-M6) Walkers marching on the surface of the planet Crait. These are new, heavier-duty versions of the AT-AT (All-Terrain Armoured Transport) Walkers we saw in Empire Strikes Back, but those, as well as the bipedal AT-ST Walkers, are still in use – they can be seen being deployed as Kylo Ren looks out onto a loading deck in the trailer’s first scene.

Design Supervisor Kevin Jenkins explained that the AT-M6 is inspired by the stance of a gorilla, walking on its knuckles with a high, arched back. This allows the Walker to support the Mega-Caliber cannon it carries on its back. Jenkins reasoned that these new Walkers would be impossible to take down with Snowspeeders. “I feel that it’s an iteration forward. A spitfire and a modern jet, you can see the link there,” Jenkins said, explaining the in-universe logic behind this design evolution.  “They’re part of the same thing. That was always my intention with the gorilla. It’s not a start from scratch.”

#2: Raw strength

The trailer intentionally establishes parallels between Rey and Kylo Ren, implying they could be cut from the same cloth, and that Rey has the same potential to be turned as Kylo Ren had.

“When I found you, I saw raw, untamed power, and beyond that, something truly special,” Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) ominously intones, presumably about Kylo Ren. The trailer cuts from this line to Rey igniting her lightsaber on Ahch-To, where she is being trained by Luke.

“Something inside me has always been there, and now it is awake, and I need help” Rey tells her newfound mentor. However, Luke must confront the horrifying possibility that history will repeat itself, as it is wont to within the Star Wars mythos.

“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before,” the Jedi Knight says. “It didn’t scare me enough then. It does now.” We are shown a flashback of the new Jedi Order’s temple/training facility being burnt down, an expansion of a scene glimpse in The Force Awakens. This appears the moment in which Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, betrayed his Jedi master Luke by razing the facility. Something about Rey reminds Luke of his apprentice, and that can’t be good.

#3: “Let the past die”

Kylo Ren has already taken down one of his parents – the haunting scene of his confrontation with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in The Force Awakens, ending with a lightsaber through Han’s chest, was one of the most talked-about moments in that film. Now, it appears Kylo Ren is intent on killing his mother too. With a high-tech carbon fibre-esque bandage over his scar, Kylo sits at the controls of the TIE Silencer, his personal starfighter. The TIE Silencer swoops towards the Raddus, the Resistance flagship named for the Mon Calamari Admiral who died in the Battle of Scarif in Rogue One. Standing on the bridge of the ship: General Leia. Kylo Ren has the bridge in his crosshairs, his finger on the trigger. He hesitates, and the trailer cuts away.

Does he end up killing his own mother? Or is there the chance of redemption, and that seeing his mother again might reawaken the good that lies dormant within Kylo Ren? It does seems like two separate scenes have been cut together, because the bridge of the Raddus doesn’t look like it’s in the thick of battle. Having been promised a respectful send-off for the late Carrie Fisher, we’re intrigued to see how it plays out, but know that whatever happens with General Leia, we’ll have to suppress tears.

#4: Porg!

The Last Jedi introduces new cuddly critters called Porgs, adorable little penguin-owl-otter-hamster creatures native to Ahch-To, where they have been keeping Luke company during his self-imposed exile. The Porgs seemed designed expressly to sell toys, and a wide variety of Porg-based merchandise is already available. Many Star Wars fans have become stridently anti-Porg, comparing the creatures to the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. However, we find their inherent adorableness impossible to resist. At least one of them makes its way onto the Millennium Falcon, perched on the console as Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew/Joonas Suotamo) sits in the captain’s chair.

Director Rian Johnson was inspired by the thousands of Atlantic puffins who flock to the Irish island of Skellig Michael from April to August each year. Skellig Michael is where the Ahch-To scenes were shot. Ireland will no doubt see a spike in tourism from Star Wars fans eager to visit Luke’s hideout, but only 180 visitors a day are allowed to set foot on Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some organisations, including An Taisce (the National Trust for Ireland), have expressed worries that the influx of visitors will endanger the site and its ecosystem.

#5: Finn vs. Phasma

Before he was Finn, he was reluctant First Order Stormtrooper FN-2187. It seems that Finn will never be able to shake off his former life, and the trailer shows him facing off against Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), who trained him and other members of the FN Corps. Phasma was hyped up as being a cool new character, the first prominent female Stormtrooper in the Star Wars films, but ended up doing very little in The Force Awakens. This trailer indicates she’ll finally get to showcase her badassery: wielding a telescoping spear, Phasma fights with Finn, who is armed with a Z6 riot control baton. There already is a prequel comic detailing how Phasma escaped Starkiller Base, surviving the end of The Force Awakens.

#6: “Fulfil your destiny”

In this scene, Supreme Leader Snoke is torturing Rey. Rey is wearing her Jedi outfit, writhing in pain as she is suspended in mid-air by the tyrannical Supreme Leader. This scene apparently takes place in Snoke’s throne room aboard the Supremacy, the Mega-Class Star Destroyer that is the flagship of the First Order’s fleet. The trailer is edited in such a way as to make us think Snoke’s line “fulfil your destiny” is directed towards Rey, and that after successfully seducing Ben Solo to the Dark Side, Snoke now has his sights set on Rey.

#7: Rey turns evil?

The trailer ends with a corker of a scene that has ignited heated discussion. “I need someone to show me my place in all this,” Rey says. In the next shot, Kylo Ren extends his hand towards her, seemingly inviting Rey to join him in service of the Dark Side. Keen-eyed Star Wars fans have already seen through this apparent misdirect: the two scenes are distinct, and have been edited together to trick viewers into thinking that this is what’s going on. Since Rey is in her Resistance outfit which she wears earlier in the film while being trained by Luke on Ahch-To, it stands to reason that she is addressing Luke, and not Kylo Ren. The scenes are similarly lit, and that’s why they work cut together. The prevailing theory is that Kylo Ren is really stretching out his hand to his mother Leia, and that we are seeing part of a potential redemption scene.

Either way, all (okay, most – we’ve got to save some secrets for Episode IX) when Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits Singapore theatres on 14 December 2017.

Coming later: 5 belated sequels/prequels

For inSing

Coming later: 5 belated sequels/prequels

As Blade Runner 2049 is released, we look back at 5 other examples of the ‘sequel gap’

By Jedd Jong

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

What’s the logical thing for a studio to do when a film is successful? Make a sequel! Audiences have become to expect sequels at a steady pace: when the Harry Potter film series was ongoing, there was only a one-two year gap between instalments, and the four Hunger Games films were released one each consecutive year. In its heyday, we got a James Bond film about once every two years – now that has increased to three-four years, but the series is still chugging along.

Sometimes, audiences must wait a little longer to see how stories they’ve become attached to continue. There were eight years between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 12 years between Judgement Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, six years between Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation, and six more years between Terminator Salvation and Terminator: Genisys. Sometimes, they must wait a lot longer. The 2006 direct-to-video animated film Bambi II holds the record for the longest gap between film sequels – the original Bambi came out in 1942, a whopping 64 years earlier.

Blade Runner (1982)

There are a variety of reasons for sequels or prequels being released many years after the previous instalment in a series: a project can enter development hell with a tussle for creative control ensuing, it can take a while for a film to gain popularity or cult status that would lead to demand for a sequel, or the rights to the original film might have lapsed, with new rights holders making a sequel without the involvement of the original creators.

This week sees the release of Blade Runner 2049, 35 years after the release of the original Blade Runner. The 1982 film, directed by Ridley Scott and based on Philip K. Dick’s novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, did not initially catch on with audiences and critics. However, it gradually became viewed as an influential sci-fi masterpiece, and was re-evaluated as Scott released his director’s cuts of the film. A sequel has been in development since 1999, and has finally come to fruition. Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners) takes the director’s baton from Scott, with Harrison Ford reprising his role as Rick Deckard. Ford is joined by Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto.

Here are five other sequels/prequels that took their time in getting to the big screen. We’re not counting straight reboots like the current Planet of the Apes series, but we will bend the rules a little – you’ll see if you read on!

#1: TRON: LEGACY (2010)
28 YEARS AFTER TRON (1982)

Tron Legacy (2010)

1982’s Tron, directed by Steven Lisberger, is a milestone in the development of visual effects technology. The film stars Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who enters the digital realm of a video game and fights for survival. Tron was a modest success, and gradually became regarded as a cult film. Following the rise of Pixar, there were rumours that the animation studio would pursue a sequel to or remake of Tron. The desire for a Tron sequel was further fuelled by the release of the video game Tron 2.0 in 2003.

Tron (1982)

Development on a follow-up to Tron began in earnest in 2005, with visual effects artist Joseph Kosinksi being hired to direct the film two years later. Kosinski disagreed with Disney’s mandate that the film be modelled after The Matrix, and set about creating a proof-of-concept short film to demonstrate his vision for the sequel. This convinced Disney, and in 2008, a teaser trailer for what was then called ‘Tr2n’ was screened at Comic-Con. Jeff Bridges reprised his role as Kevin Flynn, who had been living in the Grid for many years. Kevin’s son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) goes off in search of his father, teaming up with an ‘iso’ named Quorra (Olivia Wilde) to defeat Clu (also Bridges), the tyrannical digital duplicate of Kevin. Bruce Boxleitner returned alongside Bridges from the first film. Tron: Legacy showcased cutting-edge visual effects technology, including extensive digital de-aging used to make Bridges appear younger. The film received mixed reviews, but the visual effects and the score by Daft Punk were widely praised. Tron: Legacy spawned the animated series Tron: Uprising, and development on a sequel was underway, but those plans have been shelved in favour of a possible reboot, to which Jared Leto is tentatively attached.

#2: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)
19 YEARS AFTER INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

Before Harrison Ford made a belated return to Star Wars and Blade Runner, he reprised the role of adventurer archaeologist Indiana Jones in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had originally made a deal with Paramount Pictures for five Indiana Jones movies in the late 1970s, but after 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lucas decided he couldn’t find a satisfactory plot device to base a follow-up on. Lucas turned his attention to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, a prequel TV series in which Indy as a young man interacted with various historical figures and got entangled in world events. Ford made a cameo in the series, narrating an episode as a framing device. This led Lucas to pursue a film sequel set in the 50s, with Lucas setting his heart on making it an homage to sci-fi B-movies.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Spielberg and Ford were initially resistant to the idea of the movie featuring aliens, but Lucas convinced Ford by saying the ‘aliens’ in the movie would instead be ‘interdimensional beings’. A succession of writers, including M. Night Shyamalan and Frank Darabont, were hired. Darabont’s draft, entitled ‘Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods’, featured ex-Nazis hiding out in Argentina. After making Schindler’s List, Spielberg decided he could no longer use Nazis as cartoonish villains, with Soviet operatives chosen as the villains of the piece. Numerous attempts were made to find out more about the secretive production, with an extra violating a non-disclosure agreement, and a separate incident in which photos and documents were stolen from Spielberg’s office. Returning alongside Ford was Karen Allen, who played the feisty Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shia LaBeouf played Mutt, their son. Cate Blanchett turned in an enjoyably over-the-top performance as the villainous Irinia Spalko. Ford is set to don that dusty Fedora again in a fifth film, due in 2020.

#3: STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE (1999)
16 YEARS AFTER STAR WARS EPISODE VI: RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

The other franchise Lucas is known for is no stranger to significant gaps between major instalments. The production and development of the Star Wars franchise is as storied and eventful as the mythos of the films and related media themselves. Lucas had originally intended to remake the classic sci-fi serial Flash Gordon, and when the rights were unavailable, set about devising his own space opera, cobbled from influences as varied as Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, WWII-era dogfight movies like The Dam Busters and 663 Squadron, and Frank Herbert’s Dune. Weathering a torturous production process, 1977’s Star Wars became a smash critical and commercial hit, leading to the sequels The Empire Strikes Back in 1980 and Return of the Jedi in 1983.

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Lucas said he was “burned out” after working on the original trilogy, but having fleshed out the backstory, did not close off the possibility of eventually returning to make prequels. What became known as the Expanded Universe, consisting of books, comics, video games and other media beyond the films, was developing. A driving force of this was the trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn, which took place after Return of the Jedi and introduced the villainous Grand Admiral Thrawn. These books caused a resurgence in the popularity of Star Wars in the early 90. Lucas became fascinated with the advancements in computer-generated visual effects technology, modifying the original trilogy to create the ‘special editions’, which were released theatrically in 1997. He decided that the prequels would tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, who would eventually become the Sith Lord Darth Vader. Attack of the Clones would follow in 2002, and Revenge of the Sith in 2005. The prequel trilogy has generally been derided for its over-reliance on visual effects and its poor writing and stilted performances, but there are those who enjoy it for its depiction of the Jedi and Clone Troopers.

There is a 10-year gap between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, which picks up the story 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. The Force Awakens was released 32 years after that film, its immediate predecessor in the series’ chronology. 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released 39 years after A New Hope.

#4: THE THING (2011)
29 YEARS AFTER THE THING (1982)

The Thing (2011)

John Carpenter’s The Thing is often cited as one of the most influential sci-fi horror films ever made. The film was adapted from John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?, which also served as the basis for the 1951 film The Thing From Another World. Carpenter’s version did not perform extremely well at the box office, but went on to become a cult classic. Its gory, inventive and spectacular creature effects were devised by Rob Bottin, with Stan Winston making the dog creature when Bottin’s crew was swamped with the other creatures made for the film. The Thing begins with a Norwegian helicopter pursuing an Alaskan Malamute across the Antarctic ice. The helicopter’s pilot is shot dead by the station commander before he can fully issue his warning – the dog is not what it appears. What ensues is a frightening sequence of mistrust and monster mayhem as a parasitic alien life form wreaks havoc in the American base.

The Thing (1982)

The prequel film, also titled ‘The Thing’, sought to answer the question of what exactly happened at the Norwegian base. Producers Marc Abraham and Eric Newman convinced Universal Studios that the film should be made as a prequel rather than a remake. Writer Eric Heisserer, who would go on to become an Oscar nominee for Arrival, described constructing the story as “doing it by autopsy”. He carefully went over the original film, working backwards to ensure everything would line up. Director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. insisted on casting Norwegian actors to play the Norwegian characters – you might recognise Kristofer Hivju because he went on to play Tormund in Game of Thrones. van Heijningen also took inspiration from Alien, casting Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the protagonist. The film’s animatronic effects were created by Amalgamated Dynamics Inc (ADI), but most of them ended up being replaced by computer-generated effects in post-production, much to the chagrin of ADI founders Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. The film received mixed to negative reviews, but is worth checking out to see how the filmmakers stuck to rigid parameters in creating a film that takes place just days before the events of the original film.

#5: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)
30 YEARS AFTER MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Here’s where we’re bending the rules: technically, this is a soft reboot and a sequel, and retains the same director as the earlier three Mad Max films: George Miller. Mel Gibson starred in the three films (released in 1979, 1981 and 1985). Miller refrains from referring to the film as either a reboot or a sequel, calling it a ‘revisit’. The post-apocalyptic action thriller had been mired in development hell for ages. Miller decided to make a fourth instalment in 1998, which was set to begin production in 2001. This was halted due to the economic collapse in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which led to the film’s budget inflating. Miller decided to recast the role, given the controversies that Gibson had stirred up with his increasingly questionable behaviour. The road to making a fourth film was only beginning, with more potholes along the way for Miller and his crew to contend with: production in the Australian desert was about to begin, but unexpected rainfall put in a spanner in those works. Miller was forced to relocated to Namibia, but production was put on hold due to travel and shipping restrictions imposed as the Iraq War was beginning in 2003.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

Miller briefly turned his attention to a possible 3D animated film, but eventually abandoned these plans to resume production on a live-action film, which would now be shot in 3D. In 2010, the casting of Tom Hardy as Max Rockatansky was announced. Charlize Theron joined him as Imperator Furiosa. Miller originally intended to shoot the fourth and fifth films in the series back-to-back. Shooting was set to begin in Broken Hill, New South Wales, Australia, but once again, Mother Nature had different plans. Unexpected heavy rains caused wildflowers to sprout, ruining the desolate post-apocalyptic setting. The crew picked up sticks and moved back to Namibia, for an arduous 120-day shoot in the desert. Elaborate vehicular action sequences and daring stunts were staged with an emphasis on practical effects. Even so, the film ended up containing more than 2000 visual effects shots. After the R-rated cut tested better than the PG-13 one did, Warner Bros. went ahead with that version. Mad Max: Fury Road was a smash hit, praised for its feminist themes, strong performances and captivating action. It received ten Oscar nominations and won six, more than any other film nominated that year.

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 2

Here’s the Mega Picture Post for Day 2. I had a little more fun because I had gotten my bearings, but the layout still did throw me for a loop. I spent most of this day hanging out with my friend Shaun, who was dressed as the Joker and stopped for lots of photos with children, none of him he killed – so he didn’t go all the way into character. Please check out Day 1’s Mega Picture Post here.

Jay as Doctor Strange

Shaun as the Joker in the Millennium Falcon

Is the Joker worthy?

Mjolnir may have made its choice, but that doesn’t mean Thor has to approve.

KO!

The Marvel gang seems quite accepting of the Joker.

Eunice as Harley Quinn and Alice as Poison Ivy

Joker gets all the gals

Something the Joker is very used to.

Another Tiny Rey

The reptilian conspiracy is real!

The First Order assembles

Theresa as Velma

Joker and Dany

Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock

Abigail as Wonder Woman

Another Harley and her best friend (or maybe something more)

“Chewie…we’re home”

Alexander as Anakin Skywalker: “Grandson, why?!!?”

All the Tiny Reys!

The Comic Giants panel (From left): C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Art Adams, Frank Cho, Sonny Liew

Don’t breach the quarantine zone!

Cheryl as Black Canary

James C. Mulligan speed-painting

I wonder what that could be

Ah, I see it now

5 minute master piece

ILM Singapore visual effects supervisor Nigel Sumner speaking about the visual effects of Rogue One

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Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: hammerhead

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Batman

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Don’t know what this resembles

Viv as Kida and Dom as Milo

Tiny Rey!

Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond

Red Hood and Joker

Hikka as Rapunzel

Joker and Deadpool slapfight!

With the gorgeous Cara Keilani as Miranda Lawson

Jaye as Chell

Fiz as Narrator Core, Neptys as GLaDOS and Jaye as Chell

Life-sized Gladiator Hulk and Thor by Hot Toys

Hot Toys’ Wonder Woman

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman

Hot Toys’ Executioner Trooper

Hot Toys’ Kylo Ren

 

Big ol’ group shot to cap off the event

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 1

Here’s the annual instalment of my STGCC Mega Picture Post. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. It’s purported to be bigger and better than previous year – the former, certainly, but I can’t say I agree about the latter. The layout of the show floor did mess with my head and did a number on me. It was tricky to get from one area to the next, and to exit the hall, one had to pass through the gaming area GGXP. The security checks made entering and leaving a hassle, but I acknowledge and appreciate the purpose of those safety measures.

That said, it’s hard not to have fun when being surrounded by various and sundry geekery, and STGCC is the time of year when I get to meet many friends whom I don’t see on the regular. The star of the show definitely was the life-sized instalments built by Belgium’s BCD-VZW studio: the interior of the Millennium Falcon, and Rey’s Speeder. Here are the photo highlights from Day 1. If you can identify any cosplayers I haven’t named, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to credit them. Thank you, and enjoy!

BCD-VZW chairman/head engineer Stefan Cembolista with his handiwork

The secret autograph panel, which includes the signatures of J. J. Abrams and product designers from Lego and Hasbro.

This is my geeking out face

Hot Toys’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lineup

Hot Toys’ Rocket and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Gamora

Hot Toys’ life-sized Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Star-Lord and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Yondu and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Drax and his sensitive nipples

Iron Man and the Hulkbuster, aka Veronica

Hot Toys’ Boba Fett, style after his appearance in the Droids animated series.

Hot Toys’ Anakin Skywalker

Hot Toys’ Hoth Princess Leia

Hot Toys’ Grand Moff Tarkin

Hot Toys’ Netflix Punisher

Hot Toys’ Netflix Daredevil

Hot Toys’ armoured Batman

Hot Toys’ Justice League

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Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Thor: Ragnarok display 

 

 

 

Hot Toys’ Hela. Cate Blanchett is gonna be so much fun in this role.

Hot Toys’ Loki

Hot Toys’ Gladiator Hulk

Hot Toys’ Spider-Man: Homecoming lineup

Hot Toys’ life-sized Spider-Man from Homecoming

Han Solo in the Falcon

The Scavenger astride her speeder

Look what Rey found!

Constable Zuvio wandered over from the deleted scenes corner

Han in the Falcon, in both their primes.

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“Something about this feels so familiar…”

Jack Sparrow and a fellow rouguish scoundrelly Captain

The first of many Tiny Reys!

Beast Kingdom’s life-sized Gladiator Hulk

Beast Kingdom’s life-sized Thor

With Shaun Lu as a Ghostbuster

Shaun and photographer Mezame goofing about with Mezame’s camera pole

Millennium Falcon model kit

Homemade Spidey

Frank Cho live drawing Venom

 

Disney fine artist James C. Mulligan with a print of his Rey piece

Legendary artist Art Adams

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Poison Ivy statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Catwoman statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Joker prototype

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batman

XM Studios’ Avengers figures

XM Studios’ Magneto prototype

XM Studios’ Boba Fett statue

XM Studios’ epic X-Men vs. Sentinel battle statue

XM Studios’ Pilot Luke on Hoth statue

XM Studios’ Black Widow statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Bane prototype

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batgirl

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batgirl closeup

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XM Studios’ Venom statue

XM Studios’ Spider-Gwen statue

Hot Toys’ Nolanverse Batmen

Hot Toys’ Jail Cell Joker

Hot Toys’ Joker

Speedy cosplay

Wonder Woman and Dr. Poison cosplay

Anna of Arendelle cosplay

Predator vs. Wolverine statue

1/2 scale TIE Silencer

Kylo Ren and the S. S. Whinypants

It’s Star-Lord, man!

Han Solo wants YOU to join the Rebellion

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*Inquisitive uteeni*

Rebel shipyard diorama

Trench run diorama

Lego diorama

Black Series Rey and Speeder

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Exclusive George Lucas figure

Jabba the Hutt

Neptys’ Robo-Geisha cosplay from Ghost in the Shell. Her mask opened up, I’m bummed I didn’t get to see that

Boba Fett has captured his target

Alvin as Kylo Ren

Tiny Thor battle cry!

Eunice as Poison Ivy

Caetuna as Mulan

Cheryl as Vigilante Felicity Smoak

Ihsan as Green Arrow

Tiny Ollie!

Marvel vs. DC teams forming up

Marvel and DC united

Theresa as Baroness

Star-Lord dancing; Gamora not dancing

Victoria as Poison Ivy

Vic as Poison Ivy holding Poison Ivy

WHITE CHICKS!!!

Dawn as Supergirl. She’s holding Han Solo because Kara’s boss Cat Grant is played by Calista Flockhart, wife of one Harrison Ford.

Tiny Spidey with Spidey statue

Harley Quinn and her best pal

Rocky as Wolverine downing his sorrows

DC Super Hero Girls Katana

Riyuukii as New 52 Harley Quinn

Starfire and Blackfire

SISTER FIGHT!

Katy as Starfire

Christopher as Ron and Samantha as Kim Possible

Dave as King Leonidas, with Wonder Woman

Princess power!

Jay as Sherlock Holmes

Jinko as the Joker

“Grandson, I am disappoint”

“…But I still love you”

This Kabuki cosplayer got to meet David Mack!

DC crew

Newt and Gwen as Percival Graves

Black Panther and Shuri: FOR WAKANDA!

Look at how happy this tiny Jyn Erso is!

Mulan gang with X-23, also a lady who’s good with blades

Somebody scowling on the sketch wall

Teen Titans gang

Oh man there was a Go-Go Yubari

Road to darkness by XM Studios

Deadpool and his buddy

XM Studios’ Sentinel vs. X-Men battle again

Me with friends! From left: Shuan as Ronald McDonald, Jaye as Red from Transistor, and Neptys as Robo-Geisha from Ghost in the Shell

Jaye as Red from Transistor

SZECHUAN. SAUCE.

They are Number One

Shaun sketching the Joker – foreshadowing for Day 2!

Building The Fandom: Star Wars Replica Propmaker Stefan Cembolista Interview

For inSing

BUILDING THE FANDOM: INTERVIEW WITH STAR WARS REPLICA PROPMAKER STEFAN CEMBOLISTA 

 

The Star Wars franchise has one of the most devoted fan followings of any property. Many fans are inspired by the space opera to create their props, costumes and artwork. Stefan Cembolista is one such fan, and his passion for prop-making, costume design and engineering has taken him to places many Star Wars fans can only dream of. As the chairman and head of engineering at BCD Props, the German-born, Belgium-based Cembolista specialises in creating detailed replicas of props and sets. These are displayed at conventions around the world, and even at Star Wars movie premieres. Cembolista’s installations have been exhibited at the Star Wars-centric Celebration conventions in Orlando, Anaheim and London. Cembolista and his team display an obsessive attention to detail that has gained the recognition of Star Wars creator George Lucas, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and The Force Awakens director J. J. Abrams, amongst others.

inSing spoke to Cembolista at the press preview event for the 2017 Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC) at the Friends-themed Central Perk café. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the convention, which is organised by ReedPop and will be held at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre over the weekend. Two installations created by Cembolista and his crew will be on the show floor: a life-sized partial interior set of the Millennium Falcon, and a life-sized replica of Rey’s speeder from The Force Awakens – signed by Abrams himself.

Cembolista was ebullient and had a twinkle in his eye, visibly passionate about his chosen craft and about Star Wars. He had arrived in Singapore the previous afternoon, and was treated to a night on the town by members of the Singapore Star Wars fan community. “It’s the best Asian food I have ever tasted,” Cembolista said of Singaporean cuisine. He was adamant that getting paid is not his primary motivation, describing the joyful reactions from fans when they see his work as “soul money”. Cembolista spoke exclusively to inSing about how he became a Star Wars fan, what it was like meeting Harrison Ford and Abrams, and the uniting power of Star Wars fandom.

INSING: What were the movies that had the biggest influence on you growing up, in creating your interest in costume and set design?

CEMBOLISTA: The first movies that gave an impact on costuming were not only the science-fiction movies like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, even the black and white series from the ‘30s, but also historical films. For example there was a submarine movie, Das Boot. My first prop when I was a little kid was the submarine. I built it for myself to play with my action figures. It was five metres long. I went into the big things right away, because the action figures were already quite big. If you want to play [with] them in that scenario, the set has to be quite big. My first replica was the boat, it all started with that.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, it was one of the few examples of a used future. People weren’t used to seeing science fiction movies where everything wasn’t shiny, and was instead lived-in. What was your impression of that style when you first watched Star Wars?

The first impression was that due to the used and worn effect, it felt authentic. It felt way more authentic than Star Trek, where the bridge was shiny and new and looked like it just came out of the yard. It was worn off, the characters were worn off, there was no typical brand new space suit kind of thing. And also, the story was so intriguing.

When Star Wars came out in 1977, my father started to hype me before the movie came to the theatre, just showing me the poster. Back then, we didn’t have social media, there were only posters. I saw the posters and I really wanted to see the movie. But he went silent just before the movie came out. As a little guy, seven-years-old, I went “bummer. I probably will not see it.” The day of the release, he pulled out two tickets, he brought me to the theatre and it took me maybe 30 seconds into the movie and I became a fan for a lifetime.

This is parenting done right.

Definitely.

What has your experience been meeting some of the professional costumers, prop makers and crew members who have worked on the Star Wars movies?

The crazy thing is we do that as a hobby community. We started maybe 20 years ago, and we got acquainted to Lucasfilm, to the filmmakers, to the production crew. By now, it has come that far that we exchange information, we learn from them how they build it. Meanwhile, with the world release of Rogue One in L.A., we were invited with our set to the [premiere]. So a fan set was at the world premiere of the movie. We had the TIE Fighter there. The TIE Fighter is built by a group which we cooperate with. The Belgian crew was kind of the example in the prop-building world. We started it. We had the first big-sized or full-scale props, and we showed them around in the world, thanks to ReedPop and Lucasfilm at the conventions. Other guys got into it. There was one guy in Germany who really took me as an example to start his own prop group. He created two, three TIE Fighters, and after that we started to cooperate. Now, we have two crews in two countries working together. So we built the tank from Rogue One. It’s a co-production, they built the tank, we built the crates.

The same thing with cosplay: the community of Star Wars is worldwide, it’s like a family. I was commanding officer for 15 years for our [501st Legion] Garrison, I founded it 15 years ago. It’s the same feeling. We got the honour at the world premiere to talk to the people who build the props for the new movies. The funny thing is, you really exchange information. They’re also interested in how we work. We work together with the guys who set up the Rogue One X-Wing at the red carpet. It was really great. Also from the old movies. Due to the fact that we visit shows for 15-20 years now, once in a while those artists are invited to the shows and you run into them in the hotel lobby. It’s the backstage talk you have with those people. You exchange the memory, the knowledge of building things. Building a prop is one thing. But making it look authentic like a real machine, that’s the weathering, that’s the detail. My crew members, many of them are very young, have never touched a brush or paint. They get into to learn those processes, so we share that knowledge.

With Star Wars, the fans are such an important part of the success of the films, and of continuing the legacy. How would you describe the power of Star Wars fans?

That’s a good and very global question, as we talk about the global phenomenon. The people from the 501st, Rebel Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, all the fan films and prop builders, we consider Star Wars as a kind of family. Due to the internet, you get acquainted to people like never before. This morning, I got a post from a friend from the Emirates. He’s a pilot, and I met him about a year ago at Celebration in Orlando. Yesterday, when we came in, all of a sudden, he was standing in front of me. I said “what are you doing here? You’re from Dubai. We’re in Singapore!” It just happened that he had a flight to Singapore. We took a picture and I posted it with the caption “Star Wars makes the world a small place, but the family of us is getting bigger and bigger”. That’s the feeling that Star Wars and the fandom of Star Wars brings us.

The special thing in Star Wars that I feel is that we don’t make any difference in culture, in race, in origin, it doesn’t matter. Whatever they share in their own culture, Star Wars brings them together. If you ask me, if everybody in the world were a Star Wars fan, there would be no wars.

What was that feeling like when you saw Harrison Ford walk onto your installation of the Millennium Falcon at Celebration?

That was one of the most stunning experience[s]. In all the years, we have those milestones: when we first met George Lucas, for example, it was like ‘oh my god’. For Star Wars fans, to meet this person, and talk with him, we never could imagine that this could happen. But Harrison Ford is a special one. He avoids the public, he’s never at conventions.

He’s a very private actor.

Yeah. And we heard about it. We’re in Orlando, and we heard he was on the main stage, which was not our stage, so we never even dreamt that he would visit us. We were busy backstage, and we heard some rumblings. We saw people from security walking in secretly, and there was a grey-haired man who looked pretty familiar to us. We had a quick chat backstage with him, and he enjoyed some Belgian chocolate. We watched him walk through the hallway of our Millennium Falcon. It’s a replica, fan-made, and to have the original Harrison Ford, Han Solo walking through, it was a dream come through.

We in Singapore will get to see that same installation this weekend.

Exclusively and for the first time in Asia. We have two sets: we have the Millennium Falcon set, which is the interior, and we invite all the visitors to come over, queue, we hurry to make the queue not that long, and have yourself pictured in the Falcon. Like seated at the chess table, or take a seat at the navigation console to find out the next hyperspace course so you don’t crash into a star, because it would be a very short flight if you do that.

What was it like meeting J. J. Abrams and having him sign Rey’s speeder?

The story with J. J. was very special. It was the first time we managed to actually get plans, pictures and reference material from Lucasfilm, a year before the movie came into theatres – top-secret material. It was a very hard procedure to get that done. We actually passed the president of Lucasfilm, Kathleen Kennedy. She knows us over many years, and she likes the idea that we built something. But still, there’s legal office, and legal office can overrule the big boss, because if they say it’s too risky to get the material out, they will not allow that. It was a vice-versa communication between Kathleen and the legal office, and it also came on the table of J. J. Abrams. J. J. Abrams was the man responsible, and he granted us access to the plans – we really got the secret plans. We actually created the bike in five weeks.

Many Bothans died to bring you those schematics.

Yeah, many of my brain cells also died to get this prop done. I worked day and night over five weeks to create the replica with the difference between the original prop and ours – only 5mm. Every scratch, every screw, every detail on the original bike is replicated. When the show started in Anaheim, J. J. Abrams came over in the morning because he wanted to see the creation. He just walked around the set from the backstage, and I just saw his face like very big surprise – like “wow”. He came over to me and he said “Stephen, actually your bike looks more authentic than the one we used in the movie”. In movies, you have moving images, some of the details can fade away. Ours is made for visitors to see live, so it must be accurate.

I was bold enough to ask him, “would you mind signing it for us, just for approval? Because you are the man who made it happen.” He said “cool idea”. I invited him backstage, and on the back side of the bike, pulled out my sharpie and handed it over. He said “where should I sign it?” I said “J. J., please don’t ruin the outside of my prop.” I opened the hatch and said “could you please sign here?” We had a little present for him: a BB-8 unit that was made from tropical wood by one of our prop-builders. On the chest, we used a sign – two arrows and a zero, which was from a TV series J. J. Abrams produced, Lost. He recognised it right away. He looked at the droid and said “is that for me?” And I said “That is our gift for you.” We tricked him a little bit with the signing thing to get him to his gift. He is very friendly and a very motivated man. Not only as a Star Wars fan, but also Star Trek, he’s brilliant.

He’s someone I admire, because he’s a fan who entered the industry and got to build upon something he loved growing up. To me, that’s the pinnacle.

It is, it is. He keeps on surprising people. He also published a book, I don’t know if you know that. S. I just read it a couple of weeks ago. It is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. It’s an amazing story, a complex product, it sucks you in. You have to read it in one turn. You don’t stop reading it, it’s a blast. That’s the thing with J. J. Abrams: everything he touches is a blast. Everything he touches is a success. I have not seen something that he’s done fail.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to in The Last Jedi?

Not the Porgs. [Laughs]. No, they’re adorable, but I’m a little bit afraid which kind of role they will play in the movie. For the moment, I’m getting an Ewok feel. But it’s still cool.

Technically speaking, for prop building, there are a couple of things that amaze me. There is an A-Wing which we know from the old saga, and I’m looking forward to seeing that in action. There is a new AT-AT: the AT-M6, the gorilla. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to build one. We have an AT-AT Walker from The Empire Strikes Back and it’s six metres high, at one-sixth scale. We use that at conventions and it would be very, very cool to add to the family, to add the AT-M6. Another thing we have seen in the teaser are those Sand Hoppers, the fighters that are scratching the surface of the desert planet. That would be another project. For our case, we are really interested in the props.

The story? Of course I’m interested. I want to know what happens with Rey! Where is Rey coming from? All that questions that they raised with The Force Awakens. They did a great job. Of course, they made one mistake. They made Rogue One, which tops it all. Rogue One is, for many fans, one of the most brilliant Star Wars films. I’ve talked to so many Star Wars fans, and their opinion of Rogue One is equal: it is top. For me, The Force Awakens, it is the perfect way [to] continue the saga. They made us, the fans, curious. They made new characters, but how can you top Darth Vader? He’s no longer there. We have a new villain. An evil villain who fights the good side. He’s psychologically unstable. It’s perfect.

I love the concept of Kylo Ren because he’s trying to live up to Darth Vader, just like the new movies are trying to live up to the originals, so he embodies that theme.

He embodies that. If we see the new characters that are just joining in with the old characters, it is just the perfect job. I’m really looking forward to how this story continues, and how it ends.

STGCC runs from Saturday 9th September to Sunday 10th September at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre. Please visit http://www.singaporetgcc.com/Tickets_Merchandise/ to purchase tickets.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

For F*** Magazine

By Jedd Jong

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY 

Director : Gareth Edwards
Cast : Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed
Genre : Action/Sci-Fi
Run Time : 2h 14min
Opens : 15 December 2016
Rating : PG (Some Violence)

rogue-one-posterStar Wars devotees have long known that the galaxy has innumerable stories to tell beyond the Skywalker family saga, and moviegoers are getting their first taste of that with this spin-off.

Set just before the events of Episode IV, Rogue One reveals how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the blueprints for the Empire’s planet-annihilating superweapon, the Death Star. Jyn Erso (Jones) is the daughter of Galen (Mikkelsen), an Imperial science officer and secret Rebel sympathiser. Separated from her father at a young age, she was raised by Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), a hard-line Rebel fighter. When Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), an Imperial pilot who has defected, delivers a message to the Rebels from Galen regarding the Death Star, Jyn is roped in to reach out to her father. Jyn teams up with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Luna), who has his suspicions regarding Jyn’s loyalties. Also part of the team is K-2SO (Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial droid; Force-sensitive blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) and Chirrut’s partner, the mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang). Standing in their way is Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn), the treacherous director of advanced weapons research who is overseeing the Death Star program.

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The premise for Rogue One seems like a no-brainer in hindsight: a war movie, with spies going behind enemy lines to complete a high-stakes mission, set within the Star Wars galaxy. Director Gareth Edwards has done everything humanly possible to assuage fears that this is merely a cash grab. Rogue One looks and feels like an authentic part of the Star Wars series, but has plenty of surprises in store despite being a prequel. We have a rough idea of where it will all lead, but the journey is still an exhilarating one with just the right amount of grimness. There still are jokes and amusing characters, but this is the right pitch of grim. The screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz (with Gary Whitta and John Knoll receiving a ‘story by’ credit) has a satisfying amount of depth to it. We get to experience the shades of grey and the confusion cast by the fog of war, somewhat refreshing in a franchise that often trades in moral absolutes.

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Rogue One’s visuals remain faithful to the look of the original trilogy, while also feeling dirtier and more tactile than ever. We revisit the Rebel stronghold on Yavin IV, and travel to new moons and planets including Jedha, home to a holy Jedi city; perpetually-stormy Eadu and Sacrif, a paradise-turned-warzone. There is no shortage of battle sequences both on land and in space, including a full-fledged dogfight which provides astounding spectacle.rogue-one-scarif

The effects work is an ideal combination of digital and practical, with what appear to be miniature effects used to depict the Star Destroyers in certain scenes. Every hit of blaster fire, each clump of dirt kicked up in an explosion, every time a Stormtrooper gets clunked on the head – it all feels real. That said, there are some digital face replacements which aren’t 100% convincing.

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Creating a new Star Wars character must be a daunting task, given the iconic status of Luke, Leia, Han, Darth Vader et. al. Lead characters Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor will remind fans well-versed in the Star Wars expanded universe of Jan Ors and Kyle Katarn respectively, who recover the Death Star plans in the video game Star Wars: Dark Forces. Given her slight frame, Jones might not seem like the most obvious candidate for an action heroine, but she pulls it off. While many protagonists have back-stories as tragic as Jyn’s, the Oscar nominee sells Jyn’s defiance in the face of sorrow. Despite both characters being played by English women, Jyn is sufficiently different from The Force Awakens’ Rey, steelier and world-wearier, if understandably nowhere near as fun.

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Luna’s Cassian Andor is gruff yet suave while not being a knockoff of the galaxy’s #1 loveable rogue, Han Solo. The development of Cassian and Jyn’s working relationship is believable and is mercifully devoid of twee romantic comedy bickering. They might not like each other, but they have a job to do, and are going to complete said job at any cost.

 

In Hollywood, Mikkelsen is known mainly for his villainous roles, and Rogue One gives him a chance to showcase his softer side as Jyn’s tortured father. The character has relatively little screen time, but Mikkelsen makes considerable impact in the given time.rogue-one-forest-whitaker

Whitaker gives Saw a dangerous edge – he’s ostensibly one of the good guys, but his extreme methods warrant wariness. The character first appeared in the Clone Wars animated series, and it’s fun to see a pre-existing character incorporated into a live action Star Wars film.

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Donnie Yen’s casting as a blind martial artist monk who spouts fortune cookie aphorisms should be greeted with an eye roll or two. While falling back on these stereotypes is not particularly progressive, it’s hard for us to get upset at Yen delivering an epic smack-down to a pack of Stormtroopers. Those familiar with Jiang’s work might have a hard time picturing him as a burly bruiser, but his Baze Malbus fits that position just fine, and complements Chirrut nicely.

rogue-one-alan-tudyk

There is a grand Star Wars tradition of comic relief droids, but K-2SO differs from his predecessors in that he actually is intimidating. The character’s design is striking and Tudyk’s bemused, ever-so-slightly stilted delivery sounds just right emanating from the lanky, powerful droid. Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook is not as memorable as the other characters, but he does get the distinction of coining the call-sign Rogue One.

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Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic is everything this reviewer hoped for in a villain. Krennic is cold, supercilious and brutal, fitting right in with the Imperial higher-ups of the original trilogy. At the same time, he is eager to please and seeks the validation of Darth Vader and the Emperor. Speaking of Vader, he is used judiciously here, Edwards resisting the temptation to be overly reliant on one of the greatest screen villains ever. James Earl Jones returns to provide the voice, with “a variety of large-framed actors” donning the helmet.

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Reshoots months after production had completed and the replacement of composer Alexandre Desplat with Michael Giacchino led to rumblings that Rogue One might be on shaky ground. Edwards has soundly disproven sceptics with a film that hits all the right notes. There are homages to the series’ past without it turning into a mere parade of fan-service, the action sequences are plentiful and visceral, and the characters are easy to care about. Consider this battle won.

Summary: A riveting, richly-realised adventure tinged with the right amount of darkness and maturity, Rogue One transcends the notion that spin-offs aren’t as worthy as the ‘real thing’. An auspicious first entry in the Star Wars anthology.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Jedi Jedi Abrams

For Issue #71/72 of F*** Magazine

Text:
J(EDI) J(EDI) ABRAMS
F*** tracks the career of the man chosen to reawaken the Force
By Jedd Jong

Getting the gig to direct the first Star Wars film in ten years is at once an incredible honour and a daunting, Herculean task. After all, we’re talking about one of the most beloved, iconic film franchises in history, and one with a massive, passionate fanbase. Said fans have been burned before – once bitten, twice shy and all that. The man taking the Starfighter controls behind the scenes of Episode VII just so happens to be a huge self-confessed Star Warsfan himself. This is the voyage that the writer/director/producer embarked on which led him to that fabled galaxy far, far away.

Jeffrey Jacob “J.J.” Abrams was born in 1966 to TV producers Gerald W. Abrams and Carol Ann Abrams. This would make him 11 when the original Star Wars film was released. “11 is a great age to have your mind blown,” Abrams said at the Star Wars Celebration convention in Anaheim earlier this year. “I will never forget that feeling of seeing ‘Long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away’ fade out. It was the first time a movie made me believe in another world that way.” He recalled that the title ‘Star Wars’ struck him as an odd one when he first came across it in the classic sci-fi culture magazine Starlog. He saw the movie on opening day, and left the theatre “never being the same again”.



At age 13, Abrams’ grandfather gave him a Super 8 camera which he used to create his own homemade movies. “I would take anyone who was available — my sister, my mother, any friends — and I would kill them in crazy ways,” he told NPR’s Fresh Air program. As a teenager, Abrams entered a short film of his into a festival showcasing Super 8mm movies made by kids. Other contestants included Matt Reeves, who would go on to direct Cloverfield and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as well as Larry Fong, who would become the cinematographer for 300and Watchmen. Steven Spielberg read an article titled The Beardless Wonders of Film Making in the Los Angeles Times and hired Abrams and Reeves to restore and edit his own childhood 8 mm films. A couple of years later, a 16-year-old Abrams composed the music for Don Dohler’s low-budget sci-fi horror movie Nightbeast. This was the beginning of a very promising career.

Abrams had planned to enrol in a film school, but attended Sarah Lawrence college instead. The advice given to him by his father was that “it’s more important you learn what to make movies about, than how to make movies.” In his senior year, Abrams co-wrote a feature film treatment with Jill Mazursky that became the 1990 movie Taking Care of Business, starring Charles Grodin and Jim Belushi. Abrams and Mazursky also wrote the comedy Gone Fishin’, starring Danny Glover and Joe Pesci. In between those two films, Abrams wrote the amnesia drama Regarding Henry, starring none other than Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, and the sci-fi romance Forever Young, starring Mel Gibson. Abrams was one of four credited writers on Michael Bay’s sci-fi action film Armageddon.

In 1998, Abrams and Reeves created the TV series Felicity, starring Keri Russell and set at a fictional New York university. “I miss writing for a show that doesn’t have any sort of odd, almost sci-fi bend to it,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, noting the difficulty inherent in devising stories for a show without a villain or high-stakes intrigue. Abrams co-founded the production company Bad Robot with Bryan Burk, and created the spy action show Alias in 2001. Now, here was a show that was wall-to-wall high-stakes intrigue. On Sydney Bristow, portrayed by Jennifer Garner, Abrams said “She was a character with a secret, and that is always a fun place to start. But she wasn’t a superhero; she was terrified at almost every step. But still, she would do the right thing. I think we would all like to believe we would behave like that when the going gets rough.”

In 2002, Abrams wrote the screenplay for Superman: Flyby, a project that eventually failed to materialise. Abrams’ script contained many deviations from established Superman lore, including a Kryptonian civil war between Jor-El and his evil brother Katar-Zor, Krypton remaining intact and Lex Luthor as a UFO-obsessed CIA operative who is revealed to be have been a Kryptonian sleeper agent all along. The leaking of this script played a large part in Abrams’ desire to keep as tight a lid as possible on later projects. “To have a script that is nowhere near the latest draft, let alone the final draft, being reviewed online, it frankly made me a little bit paranoid,” Abrams told NPR. “There are certain things that are, I think, important to keep quiet.” He further explained that “it’s not a Machiavellian sort of thing”, but that the secrecy stems from a desire for “people to have a good time and to have a little bit of a surprising time.”

2004 saw the premiere of Lost, which Abrams co-created with Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof for ABC. The network thought that Alias was too serialised in its storytelling, and Lindelof and Abrams promised the network that the show would be self-contained, with no ‘ultimate mystery’ to be solved. This might well be one of the great ruses in TV development history, as Lost was all about ‘ultimate mystery’, the show and its complex mythology soon becoming a pop culture phenomenon. Busy with other projects, Abrams left the show in the hands of Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, though it is a common misconception that he was involved throughout Lost’s six season run.

To return to the topic of secrecy, Abrams explained the appeal he finds in this practice in a TED Talk in 2007. During the presentation, he brought out a “magic mystery box” that he bought 35 years ago from a magic shop and which he refused to open. “It represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential,” he declared. “What I love about this box — and what I realized I sort of do, in whatever it is that I do — is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility and that sense of potential. And I realise that mystery is the catalyst for imagination…What are stories besides mystery boxes?”

Abrams’ first feature film directing job was 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, starring Tom Cruise. In an interview with IGN, Abrams said he was able to create elaborate set-pieces, the likes of which he would love to have done on Alias but “we could never in a million years afford.” Mission: Impossible III proved that Abrams could handle explosive spectacle with sequences like an ambush on a bridge, a helicopter chase, the IMF team breaking into the Vatican and a heart-stopping leap off a Shanghai skyscraper. Abrams also set out to “see who these characters were as people not just as spies,” showing Ethan Hunt’s home life and his relationship with his wife. Abrams would take a stab at the spy genre again with the 2010 show Undercovers, which was cancelled after a season.

In 2008, Cloverfield, which was produced by Abrams and directed by Reeves, was released. The found-footage monster movie was promoted using a viral marketing campaign that captured the curiousity of many moviegoers. Abrams said the seeds of the project were sown when he was in Japan to promote Mission: Impossible III and was visiting toy stores there with his son. “We saw all these Godzilla toys, and I thought, we need our own American monster, and not like King Kong,” Abrams said at Comic-Con in 2007. “I love King Kong. King Kong is adorable. And Godzilla is a charming monster. We love Godzilla. But I wanted something that was just insane and intense.”

Later in 2008, the sci-fi procedural television series Fringe premiered. Abrams co-created Fringe with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, citing The X-Filesand The Twilight Zone as inspirations. Abram’s favourite TV series is The X-Files, and there is a large collection of memorabilia from the show on display at his Bad Robot offices. The show’s overarching mythology involves the presence of a parallel universe, similar in some respects to the “mirror universe” of Star Trek.



Speaking of which, Abrams directed the 2009 Star Trek reboot in what is likely his most high-profile feature film directing gig prior to The Force Awakens. Co-writer Kurtzman said “I always think of it as, Star Trek is beautiful classical music and Star Wars is rock ‘n’ roll, and it felt like Star Trekneeded a little more rock ‘n’ roll to connect to a modern audience.” Abrams certainly brought the rock ‘n’ roll with a kinetic, exciting and action-packed take on Star Trek, which alienated some stalwarts of the original series but which opened what had become a slightly stodgy franchise to audiences at large.

Abrams has been upfront about being far more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek one. “I was never really a fan of Star Trek to begin with but the idea of working on something that is not necessarily your favourite thing can actually help, because it forces you to engage with it in a way an outsider can appreciate,” Abrams told The Sunday Times. “My love of Star Wars, the energy of it and sort of the comedy and rhythm of it I think affected Star Trek,” he said in a separate interview with PBS. Naturally, there were many ardent Trekkers who weren’t on board with this new take on the material and they felt further maligned with the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, but both films received an overall positive critical reception. While Justin Lin is taking over the director’s seat for Star Trek Beyond, Abrams is remaining as a producer.

Beyond his early screenplays, Abrams has dabbled in comedy, directing an episode of The Office and starring in the musical sketch Cool Guys Don’t Look At Explosions alongside Will Ferrell and Andy Samberg. Abrams also got to perform a rockin’ keyboard solo in the video which spoofed the “unflinching walk” cliché seen in many an action movie.

Abrams was contemplating two ideas for an original movie: a coming-of-age movie about a group of kids making their own movie, drawing on his childhood love of film, and a thriller about the Air Force transporting an alien creature to a secret facility, with said creature naturally escaping. He combined both these ideas into Super 8, which was an unabashed love letter to his childhood idol Spielberg. Things came full circle in a way, from Abrams editing Spielberg’s Super 8 home movies to having Spielberg produce a film about the Super 8 movement in the late 70s-early 80s. Abrams told The Guardian that he loved how Spielberg’s films carried “a sense of unlimited possibility,” but that way lay around the corner “could be terrifying, it could be confusing, it could be disturbing, or it could be wonderful and funny and transportive.”

Interestingly enough, it was super-producer Kathleen Kennedy, now the head of Lucasfilm, who suggested to Spielberg that he should hire the then-teenaged Abrams and Reeves to restore and edit his home movies. “We followed J.J.’s career, so when he committed to Star Wars, it was this kind of fantastic coincidence of fate, I guess—preordained destiny or something,” she said. Abrams was handpicked by Star Wars creator George Lucas over directors including David Fincher, Brad Bird and Guillermo del Toro.

In 2008, Lucas told Total Film that he’s “left pretty explicit instructions for there not to be any more features. There will definitely be no Episodes VIIIX.” In 2012, after the acquisition of Lucasfilm by Disney, Lucas said “I always said I wasn’t going to do any more, and that’s true, because I’m not going to do any more. But that doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to turn it over to Kathy [Kennedy] to do more.”

As a mega-fan taking the reins of a storied, long-lived franchise, there is the danger of being self-indulgent. Abrams addressed this in a Vanity Fair interview, saying he resisted the temptation to make The Force Awakens “meta-Star Wars” as that would be “an ironic approach, which feels anti–Star Wars,” saying he was focused instead on “inheriting and embracing the elements of Star Wars that are the tenets of what is so powerful.”

Like all Star Wars fans, Abrams was enamoured of the iconic John Williams score. In the era before home video was readily available, the biggest piece of the movie Abrams could take home was the soundtrack, which he would often buy before the movie was even released. “I would lie on the floor in my room with my headphones on listening to the soundtracks which would essentially tell me the story of the movie that I didn’t know,” he said. For Abrams, the most surreal moment in the making of the film was getting to meet the legendary composer. “I can’t describe the feeling. All I will say is, just to state the facts of it: I am about to show John Williams 30 minutes of a Star Wars movie that he has not seen that I directed.”

While Abrams won’t be sticking around to direct Episodes VIII and IX, which are being helmed by Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow respectively, there is no doubt that The Force Awakens will shape the franchise in a monumental way. “I do feel like there’s a little bit more of a burden on [co-writer] Larry [Kasdan] and me to come up with a story that could at least be the beginning of what transpires over three films,” Abrams told Wired. The framework has already been planned, the foundation for the new trilogy been laid, and, according to Abrams, Episode VIII has already been written.

As Yoda said in Empire Strikes Back, “always in motion is the future.” Abrams has set a course for the future of the Star Wars franchise and there’s no stopping the jump to hyperspace now. 

Infinity Times Three: Disney Infinity 3.0 Launch

Oops, just realised this is pretty late. Anyway, here’s my coverage of the launch of the Disney Infinity 3.0 video-game:

As published in Issue #68 of F*** Magazine

Text:
INFINITY TIMES THREE
F*** leaps into the toy box and emerges in a galaxy far, far away at the Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition launch
By Jedd Jong

F*** was at the Sandcrawler Building, Lucasfilm’s Singapore headquarters, for the launch of Disney Infinity 3.0. Disney Infinity, which had its first version released in 2013, is a “toys-to-life” video game which utilises collectible figurines that can be synchronised with the game, unlocking new characters from various Disney properties that can interact and go on missions. The characters in Versions 1.0 and 2.0 have included Disney and Pixar characters such as the Incredibles, Elsa and Anna and Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney Infinity 2.0 Edition introduced Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. 3.0 marks the much-anticipated arrival of Star Wars characters into the Infinity toy box.

“We wanted people to play much like Andy and Woody played in Toy Story,” Disney Interactive producer Jason Moffitt says of the Disney Infinity concept. “The brand, that’s what’s strong with us – having Olaf sitting on an AT-AT leg and getting taken away because he wants to hug it, this is the only place that can happen,” Moffitt continues, referring to a trailer we were shown that depicted just that – Frozen’s loveable snowman, feeling right at home on the snow planet Hoth, embracing the foot of the Imperial Walker from Empire Strikes Back.

Disney Infinity encompasses various styles of gameplay, with open world sandbox elements alongside platforming, top-down dungeon crawl and cart racing modes. Developed by Avalanche Software, other developers were brought on for 3.0to enhance the gameplay. Ninja Theory of Devil May Cry fame were enlisted to devise the lightsaber mechanics and Sumo Digital, known for Sonic Racers, helped build out the cart racing mode.

The game has been touted as offering the “complete Star Wars experience”, with the Twilight of the Republic playset which covers the prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars, as well as the Rise Against the Empire playset, which covers the original trilogy. The Twilight of the Republic playset comes with Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figurines, while the Rise Against the Empire playset is packaged with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia figurines. Players will get to relive iconic moments from the films, including the Death Star trench run and the Endor speederbike chase and battle villains such as Darth Maul and General Grievous. Fan-favourite Boba Fett is available as an exclusive figurine with the PlayStation bundle.

There will also be a playset for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Finn and Rey were revealed as Disney Infinity characters at the recent D23 expo. There will also be more characters to be announced further down the line. Moffitt revealed that while Star Wars Battlefront will incorporate elements from The Force Awakens, Disney Infinity 3.0 will be the only video game that features the story of the film, at least for the time being.
The Playset Mode can only be occupied by the characters appropriate for their worlds, but in 3.0, any Star Wars character can inhabit any Star Wars world, which means Luke can go back to the Clone Wars. Toy Box Mode is an open world playground where players can create whatever they imagine. Moffitt described a “Lion Kingchallenge”, in which a contestant was able to re-create the famous opening scene to the Lion King using Toy Box elements.

The other main draw of 3.0 is the Inside Out playset, based on the Pixar film. The Inside Out playset is designed as a platformer where players control Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger as they traverse various areas inside Riley’s mind. The Inside Out playset was designed with cooperative gameplay in mind. “It’s an easier game to play when you play co-op,” Moffitt says. “You can be running on top of the level and your friend can be running below the level doing different things.” A Marvel playset called “Battlegrounds” is in the works.
The “Toy Box Takeover” is Moffitt’s favourite mode in the game. The rough storyline features Incredibles villain Syndrome snatching away the player’s magic wand, enlisting the help of other Disney Infinity villains such as Davy Jones and Loki. The player will have to go into each villain’s world to fight them and eventually reclaim the wand. Any character from 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 is fair game to jump right in and play.
Lead character designer Jeff Bunker Inset: Han Solo
During the Q&A session, this writer asks Moffitt if Han Solo was intentionally designed to resemble Flynn from Tangled, since he’s even got the smoulder. Moffitt replies that the development team believes lead character designer Jeff Bunker made Han a little bit of a self-portrait. Another reporter asks Moffitt about his views on Disney Infinity’s competitors in the toys-to-life video game category, such as Skylanders and Lego Dimensions. “They’re all great games, I have nothing bad to say about Skylanders, I hope everybody buys every toys-to-life game but if you’re gonna buy one, buy ours,” Moffitt replies diplomatically. “I think what sets us apart, honestly, is Toy Box. The Toy Box mode, when we were first selling it, we had to say ‘this game is Little Big Planet mixed with Minecraft mixed with Skylanders’…and it’s like that, the logic connections, we just continually grow what you can do.” Referring to the Toy Box mode, Moffitt claims “no other game has that and no other game’s going to have that because it’s just such a huge undertaking for someone to do and I think that’s what sets us apart.”  On the future of the series, Moffitt states “we hope to make a hundred of these [versions] and maybe by then we’ll run out of Disney characters.”

Exasperated parents should prepare their wallets come 1 September 2015, when Disney Infinity 3.0 is released. The Starter Pack includes 1 Disney Infinity 3.0 video game disc, 2 Star Wars figures – Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker, 1 Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition base, 1 Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic playset piece and 1 web code card that unlocks content for PC/mobile. The standard retail price of the Starter Pack is SGD $99.90. Additional Disney Infinity 3.0 playsets, Toy Box expansion games and character figurines are sold separately. The game is available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, iOS and Android platforms.