1977, and a seven-year-old me, like a multitude of seven-year-old other people, falls under the spell of Sir George of Lucas. Star Wars has arrived and life will never be quite the same again. Suddenly there are spaceships and wookies and lightsabers and Jedi and strange figures called Darth Vader who dress all in black and breathe funny. Suddenly, science fiction is fun.

It’s easy to forget that there was science fiction before Star Wars. Lots of it, in factAt least, it was easy for a seven-year-old to forget. In 1977 the genre was reanimated completely, bathed in a new sense of wonder and imagination. Two men can take the credit for making Star Wars the phenomenal success it was. One is George Lucas, the other is Ralph McQuarrie.

Up until he was approached by George Lucas, McQuarrie had worked as technical illustrator and designer. Star Wars was the first movie that McQuarrie worked on, charged by Lucas to visualise his ideas in an attempt to drum up interest with prospective producers. Lucas himself admits that everything changed for him once he began approaching studios with McQuarrie’s conceptual drawings to hand, so vividly did they present the possibilities. And one has only to compare McQuarrie’s conceptual art with the finished movie to understand how many of his ideas became reality, including several that were replicated almost identically onscreen.

So, there’s the seven-year-old me, happily reading everything he can lay his hands on about the making of his new ‘favourite movie ever’, when he eventually stumbles upon the work of Ralph McQuarrie. What a discovery that was! I had always been a keen artist, always drawing or making something, and at that age inspiration is everything. Few figures inspired the artist in me like Ralph McQuarrie and his wonderful inventions, his strange worlds and his amazing characters. I would spend hours staring at those illustrations, marvelling at the movement, the detail and the beauty he brought to his work. I wanted to be that good, but of course, I couldn’t come close. There’s good and there’s Ralph McQuarrie.

It’s no accident that the three Star Wars prequels are unable to match the originals in imagery and design. McQuarrie was approached but declined, feeling his best work was behind him, and his absence is felt in every frame.

McQuarrie died on 3rd March, 2012, aged 82. He leaves behind a remarkable body of work, a celluloid legacy that few have matched and, back in the year 1977, a young boy who felt inspired to pick up that pencil and keep drawing. Thank you, Ralph McQuarrie.

Below is a selection of my favourite McQuarrie pieces from the Star Wars series. Each will open larger when clicked. Enjoy, and pay a visit to his site here, or his Facebook page here.

The classic. McQuarrie designs Darth Vader. It was McQuarrie who came up with the idea of Vader’s breathing apparatus.

I can’t tell you how many times I copied this one as a kid

This one appears in the movie almost exactly as seen here.

The Millennium Falcon. The greatest spaceship design in movie history.

A beautifully realised painting of Luke on a Tauntaun. I love the colours in this one.

Cloud City. Stunning, and almost impossible to realise to such a degree in the movie itself.

The AT-AT Walkers were a great invention, and McQuarrie uses distance to intimidating effect.

Okay, everybody. Altogether now, ‘I am your father’. Yay!

Ralph McQuarrie
1929 – 2012

This one has been doing the rounds for a while and I was finally caught, bagged and tagged by my good friend Custard over at Front Room Cinema. So, ever the dutiful taggee and Mememeister, here are my astounding and mildly amusing answers to 15 seemingly random movie questions.

Enjoy.

 

1. Movie you love with a passion

Raiders of the Lost Ark

For me, Spielberg’s first outing for Harrison Ford’s archaeologist and mercenary is one of the finest pieces of celluloid ever made. This is the reason why cinemas were invented. Some movies make us think, some movies teach us stuff and some movies just give us a ride. This one has a little bit of everything. Pure cinema, no pretensions. Perfect.

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2. Movie you vow to never watch

Anything with ‘Movie’ in the title

Scary Movie, Epic Movie, Date Movie, Disaster Movie, etc. Dreadful, lame, unfunny spoofs churned out to make a quick buck without actually making anyone with a brain larger than a popcorn kernel laugh. Mel Brooks could spoof, Jerry Zucker could spoof but Jason Friedberg and his gang can kiss my pink ass. Kiss it!

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3. Movie that literally left you speechless

Antichrist

Hang on, was that Willem Dafoe’s….? Did Charlotte Gainsbourg just grab a pair of scissors and cut off her…? Did Willem Dafoe just…? Why’s that fox talking? I’ve seen horror movies and I’ve seen porn movies, but nothing quite prepares you for Lars von Trier’s bizarre mix of both, with added talking mammals. Don’t watch this with your mum.

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4. Movie you always recommend

Fight Club

I recommend some movies simply because they are great movies, but I recommend Fight Club because it’s a movie that has something very important to say and says it with David Fincher’s singularly brazen style. For anyone who lives and endures the myriad banalities of Western culture, watch Fight Club.

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5. Actor/actress you always watch, no matter how crappy the movie

George Clooney

Not only do I respect him as an actor who has managed to rise above the limitations of his good looks, and as a director and producer of great movies in his own right, but also because Clooney very rarely picks a bad project. He just seems to have the knack for picking interesting, challenging roles for himself.

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6. Actor/actress you don’t get the appeal for

Jason Statham

Give me a break. How did this wooden, boring, zero-charisma, no-talent pudding with a phoney accent that is neither English nor American manage to get to where he is? I just don’t get it. He’s like a throwback to the action heroes of the 80s, before filmmakers realised that they were better when they could actually act.

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7. Actor/actress, living or dead, you’d love to meet

Christopher Walken

How could that ever be a boring meeting? It would be impossible. Walken is incapable of being boring. The guy is like a force of nature. We could talk about his amazing career, about all the movies I watched just because he was in it for five minutes (Gigli, for one) and when the conversation ran out, he could teach me some wicked dance steps.

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8. Sexiest actor/actress you’ve seen. (Picture required!)

Tina Fey

Sure, there are plenty of good-looking actresses out there but sexy is a lot more than just that. Sexy is brains, beauty, talent and a great sense of humour and Tina Fey ticks all the right boxes. It also doesn’t hurt that she seems to be completely oblivious to her sexiness. And that’s also very sexy. It’s a sexy win/win!

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9) Dream cast

Star Wars Episode VII

Okay, so it’s a bit cheesy, it’s exceptionally geeky and it’s wholly unrealistic given that they all have a collective age of about 900 (the ones that are still alive, anyway), but how cool would it be to have the original Star Wars cast together again for a new episode? Huh? Can I get an Amen? No? You got a problem with old people or something?

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10) Favourite actor pairing

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Okay, there are actors and then there are British RSC actors. It’s not really my style to blow the trumpet for Blighty but the truth is we really do produce some of the greatest thespians know to stage and screen and when X-Men director Bryan Singer decided to cast two of my favourites in a superhero movie (of all things), he was having a very inspired day. Hurrah and huzzah!

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11) Favourite movie setting

New York

It’s magical but commonplace, grubby but pristine, antique but brand new. It can be an equally comfortable home to the most whimsical fairytales and the bleakest horrors. Six million movie sets rolled into one. Few places on Earth are as versatile as The Big Apple. And I’ve still never been there.

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12) Favourite decade for movies

The 80s

It’s probably got very little to do with the level of quality, although this decade delivered some of the best movies ever made. But this was the decade I grew up in, and the decade where my love of cinema truly blossomed. Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Back to the Future, Terminator and the peerless The Breakfast Club. This was the decade when cinema got its imagination back.

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13) Chick flick or action movie?

You’re a troublemaker

I’m not falling into your nefarious trap, my friend. You can try to sow the seeds of despair and drive a wedge between the sexes with your loaded questions but you will not succeed! Evenings can be comfortably arranged to accommodate one of each, right? Yes, I am the bringer of harmony. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called big, fat couch potatoes.

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14) Hero, villain or anti-hero?

Villain (and enjoying it)

It’s a tough one, this one, but ultimately there’s something irresistible to me about the irredeemable bad guy who takes genuine pleasure in his work. Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, Richard III, or any villain played by Gene Hackman. They make being evil seem far more appealing than the sober, brooding heroes make being good.

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15) Black and white or colour?

Dumbass Question

Do me a favour. I am neither pompous enough to say I prefer black & white movies nor pedestrian enough to say I prefer colour movies. What kind of person dismisses a movie because of the colour it is? That’s like celluloid racism. Are you encouraging celluloid racism? Shame on you with your silly question.

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Violence is a funny thing. Few of us actually enjoy participating in it, but most of us will at some point thoroughly enjoy watching it in a movie. Ah, the magical catharsis of cinema!

The movies are replete with scenes of battle. Fight scenes are the meat and potatoes of the action genre, and most thrillers will either end on one or throw a couple in somewhere. Picking only ten was always going to leave this list with a whole heap of contenders unfairly cast aside, but there’s no way I’m going to sit here and write fifty of these bastards.

So here are my favourite ten. For the sake of making the choice easier, I’ve left out battle scenes between entire armies. Perhaps another time. Please feel free to add your own top ten, if you have one, or simply chastise me for omitting your single favourite. Maybe we can settle it outside.

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10. John Smith v Jane Smith

Mr & Mrs Smith (2005)

After five (or six) years of a slowly stagnating marriage, John and Jane Smith discover that not only are they both secret super-assassins, apparently using the marriage as cover, but they are also each others’ next target. Possibly the most contrived set-up in this top ten, but who cares? The resulting gun-play, fist-fight and kitchen utensil carnage as the Smiths (the couple, not the popular 80s band) do bloody battle in their big, suburban house is great fun.

Probably Jennifer Aniston’s favourite movie scene ever, as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie convincingly beat the crap out of each other. I wonder if they’re like this in front of the kids.

And the winner is: There’s make-up sex. Everyone’s a winner with make-up sex!

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9. Channel 4 News Team v Evening News Team v Channel 2 News Team v Public News Team v Spanish Language News Team

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy ( 2004)

Legendary news anchor Ron Burgundy and his team are out on the town, on their way to cheer themselves up by shopping for suits, when they find themselves confronted by several rival teams, all looking to take each other down. In the world of syndicated news broadcasting it’s best to be armed. Clubs, chains, machetes, hand grenades and even tridents can be the divide between life and death. Just don’t touch the hair or the face.

Featuring more cameo appearances than an entire season of Saturday Night Live, the news team street fight proves that even clueless, musky-smelling morons can be heroes.

And the winner is: Burgundy and his Channel 4 News Team are gonna straight up murder your ass.

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8. King Arthur v The Black Knight

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

During his noble quest for the Holy Grail King Arthur encounters the dread Black Knight, guarding a bridge (or a small plank of wood over a pathetic stream). Refusing to allow the King past, a mighty battle ensues. Well, mighty-ish. Actually, it’s just silly.

Arthur severs the Knight’s arms, only to be told that it’s just a scratch as the undeterred Knight then resorts to kicking the King’s ankles. Even having both his legs lobbed off doesn’t dampen this warrior’s ire and Arthur eventually gives up and leaves the wriggling torso of his foe behind, crossing the plank to cries of, ‘Come back here you yellow bastard! I’ll bite your legs off!’

And the winner is: Arthur, of course, although the Black Knight is having none of it. ‘Let’s call it a draw’. Loony.

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7. Ripley v Alien Queen

Alien (1987)

A classic bitch-fight and one of those David and Goliath moments when you know you should put your money on the smallest. Having escaped and nuked the planet LV421, with all its nasty little xenomorphs, Ripley returns to her ship to find a very pissed Queen has hitched a ride and is looking for a rumble. Never one to shy away from an invitation, Ripley grabs a mechanical power loader and gets busy.

Limited by the effects of the time, much of the action is seen only at head height, but it’s still one if the coolest, and most original, brawls in cinema.

And the winner is: I’ll give you three guesses, and since there’s only two participants, if it takes you three guesses you’re a moron.

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6. Léon v Half the NYPD

Léon (1994)

Having seriously pissed off both the Mafia and a corrupt New York cop in his quest to avenge the murder of 12-year-old Mathilda’s entire family, hitman Léon and the girl find themselves besieged in a hotel room with half the city’s police force trying to find a way in. Luc Besson’s perfectly choreographed scene sees the wily Italian allow a group of officers into the room, only to shut the door behind them and take them all out, unseen.

When the door reopens, the next group of hapless cops find themselves face-to-face with the slippery assassin, as he hangs upside down in the doorway. Inspired!

And the winner is: In this particular round, Léon. But give the guy a break, there’s a lot of people out there.

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5. Neo and Trinity v A Small Army

The Matrix (1999)

Keanu Reeves may not be the greatest actor in the world, but at least he looks good running in slow motion with a machine gun. And Neo and Trinity may have stupid names, and rarely crack a smile, but when it comes to tearing up a building lobby full of security guards and a SWAT team, they don’t even have to take off their cumbersome long coats or remove their sunglasses indoors. Oh, to be so cool.

With lots of slow-motion gunfire, running up walls and picking up M16 rifles while performing cartwheels, this was one of the most refreshingly executed fight scenes for years.

And the winner is: Never underestimate people who dress only in black. Neo and Trinity don’t even get a scratch on their sunglasses.

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4. George Nada v Frank Armitage

They Live (1988)

John Carpenter’s last great movie contains a strong contender for the longest fist-fight (outside of a boxing ring) in any movie. Ever.

After discovering that the American elite are all aliens in disguise, controlling a docile population with consumerism and subliminal messages, Nada is understandably keen to share his revelation with someone. Unfortunately, the aliens can only be seen with special sunglasses and George’s co-worker Frank isn’t feeling particularly co-operative. Cue a hilarious, brutal, six-minute brawl in a back alley as George and Frank bludgeon each other to bloody pulps.

And the winner is: Let’s just say Frank ends up wearing the damn glasses.

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3. Indiana Jones v Big Nazi Guy

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

He’s already been through the mill and has a gruelling truck chase to come, but first our intrepid archaeologist has to deal with the imposing Nazi mechanic who stands between him and the Ark-carrying plane. Tired, dusty and visibly fed-up with throwing punches, Jones proceeds to get the shit kicked out of him.

Clearly not a student of Eastern combat philosophy, Jones is a brawler and has no qualms about using wrenches and a little arm-biting in an attempt to overcome the German behemoth. All to no avail. Not even a sudden flurry of professorial jaw-socking is going to slow down this Teutonic brute.

And the winner is: Indiana Jones, with no small help from a whirring propeller blade. Look out, behind yo…never mind.

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2. Yu Shu Lien v Jen Yu

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Ang Lee’s sumptuous epic features a whole bunch of fantastic fight scenes, but the greatest is the lengthy dust-up between Michelle Yeoh’s noble Yu Shu Lien and Zhang Ziyi’s angry young Jen Yu. Jen is armed with the indestructible sword, Green Destiny, and Shu Lien breaks an insane array of different weapons against the sword in an attempt to defeat the petulant child.

The breathtaking scene is so beautifully choreographed it’s more akin to a dance than a battle. And, let’s face it, there’s nothing sexier than watching two graceful women locked in passionate combat. Or is that just me? Whoops.

And the winner is: Jen does a runner eventually, so we’ll give it to Shu Lien by default. Yay!

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1. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn v Darth Maul

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)

This is what we turned up for. The single greatest lightsaber fight in the entire franchise. Having sat through two hours of trade disputes, Natalie Portman’s clown make-up, petulant little Anakin’s feeble attempts to endear himself to us, and Jar Jar Bloody Binks, die hard Star Wars fans were treated to this triple-header between Jedi and Sith.

Horny badass Darth Maul takes on two Jedi with the aid of his indescribably cool double-ended sabre. The glowy blades whirl around like the original trilogy’s fight scenes on fast forward. This was the moment when cool got a little bit cooler. Magic!

And the winner is: Having dispatched Jedi Master Qui-Gon, Darth Maul gets his ass handed to him by a mere apprentice. Fail!

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Note: I wanted to post something to celebrate International Star Wars Day, but I’ve been way too busy. So I’m cheating a bit. This is something I wrote a year ago, which some of you may have missed. Enjoy.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

And so it began, a generation lost in space. Our eyes were wide in wonder, our mouths were fixed in grins of joy, and our parents’ wallets did open up and spew forth dollars and pounds unto the profit margin of Saint George of Lucas. The age of Star Wars was upon us. Love it or loathe it, in 1977 Star Wars changed cinema forever, heralding the return of wonder and spectacle after a decade of dark, introverted American movies.

Here are some of the things that I love about Star Wars. And one thing that I really don’t.

Lightsabers

The weapon of choice for all Jedi knights, and without the doubt the single coolest weapon ever devised. Ever. Forget swords, forget pulse rifles, forget Uzi 9mm’s and forget Adamantium claws. This is cinema’s greatest contribution to iconic arsenal. They’re powerful, graceful, mobile, and they come in a range of colours. Who cares if they’re impossible? Who cares that you’d be more likely to cut your own legs off with it, than uphold galactic justice? They are just so damn cool. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, swung their clasped hands around and made ‘shwum mmmm shwum’ noises? Huh? Come on, admit it. Every little boy from 1977 onwards wanted one (myself included), and most men too (myself included). Christmas ‘77 probably holds the record for the highest number of household breakages, as millions of kids swung their plastic lightsabers around with gleeful abandon.

The lightsaber battles were pretty much the highlight of the three prequels. Having had to settle for the rather clunking battles of the original trilogy, which in contrast sort of resembled the fights you had with your mates when you stumbled upon a couple of long twigs, the prequels offered us fast, frenetic duels which fully utilised the fact that lightsabers were not made of wrought iron and could be swung around quickly. And Darth Maul had a double-ended lightsaber! Double the geekgasm!

Let’s face it, from a Freudian standpoint the lightsaber could be considered the ultimate in phallic symbolism, with the added bonus that this particular throbbing length between your hands lights up, comes in different colours, and makes ‘shwum’ noises. And they’re all the same length, which saves a lot of discomfort. All except Yoda’s, of course, which is smaller. But give the guy a break, he’s three feet tall.

Come on, admit it. They turn you on.

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Star Wars Figures

There was movie merchandising before Star Wars came along, but it was this franchise that really turned it into the multi-million dollar industry it has become. George Lucas was canny enough to have the merchandising rights and profits written into his contract for the first movie, thus generating the huge piles of cash that he probably sleeps on every night, smiling the smile of the smug.

Still, in helping Lucas accumulate his bedding, we were able to spend our childhoods recreating all our favourite scenes, with 3” replicas of the characters, major and minor, from the movies. Well, at least some of the scenes. Obviously this excluded scenes that involved sitting down, since they had no knee joints. I mean, they could sit with their legs straight out, lying down wasn’t a problem, and they could goose-step, but it has to be said that the original figures weren’t exactly ‘fully poseable’. But did we care? Nah. I remember how excited I was to get my very first figure, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. Old Ben came with a lightsaber which slid out of his arm, and a stiff plastic robe which made sitting him down, with legs straight out, even more difficult to accomplish. I spent hours making a cardboard version of the Cantina on Tatooine, only for most of the characters to repeatedly fall off their chairs. Trust me to recreate the one scene in the movie that involved sitting down and little else. Didn’t really think that one through.

Oh, but the thrill of separating that little plastic container from the card backing, and handling the 3” Han Solo (who looked even less like Harrison Ford than I did) for the first time. Oh, but the agony of realising that, a mere week after getting him, you’d already lost his little gun. Oh, but the sniggering amusement of putting Han Solo and Princess Leia into all manner of amorous positions. Damn those unbending knees!

Pure magic!

My legs are killing me.

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Stormtroopers

In Episode IV, having discovered a group of slaughtered Jawas, Ben Kenobi sagely advises Luke that ‘only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise’. Luke then rushes home to find his elderly, adoptive parents have also been slaughtered. Truly, we imagine, these soldiers of the Empire are fearsome warriors. Truly, the universe must tremble before them. Except that, for the next six hours of the saga, they can’t seem to hit a damn thing, including a seven foot wookie standing about 10 yards away. Apparently, Imperial Stormtroopers are great if you want kids in hoods or a couple of geriatrics murdered, but once they have to kill moving targets and major characters, the soldiers of the Empire may as well have their helmets on backwards. Witness an entire platoon of these bozos getting their asses kicked by a bunch of teddy bears with rocks. Fail!

But we love them. We love them because, despite being utterly rubbish, they look so cool. From a design point of view, the Stormtroopers are classic. Like much of the design elements in Star Wars, they’ve endured so well without looking dated. They have kind of angry eyes, with a bit of a frown, and a sad little mouth that makes them look a bit lost. You just want to give them a hug, and tell them that it will all be okay, one day they’ll be able to hit a barn door with their eyes open. And there are variations on the theme, too. You have the black Tie Fighter pilots who can’t hit other ships, or the Biker Scouts who like to crash into trees, or the Snow Troopers who let the good guys get away. Again. Bless.

You lookin' at me? I can't tell.

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Yoda

Somewhere there is a parallel universe where logic prevails, and a three-foot, olive-green, big-eared creature with a speech impediment, who is older than your Nan, isn’t the coolest character ever. In this universe, however, Yoda is King. Having seen this cool little Muppet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, fans waited twenty-two years for the chance to actually see Yoda opening a can of whup-ass on someone. When he did, we weren’t sure whether to gasp in awe or laugh, as he leapt around like the Tasmanian Devil on acid. Still, he was the only Jedi who could unclip his lightsaber just by holding his hand out. Awesome!

Simply put, Yoda is the best of both worlds; he’s as wise as the ages and he could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. The interesting thing about him, though, is that, unlike Han Solo or Mace Windu, no-one really wants to be Yoda, they just want to know Yoda. People want Yoda to be there when things go wrong. Bad day at work? Talk to Yoda. He’ll say something extremely wise, backwards, and you’ll feel better. That gang of kids on the block giving you trouble? No problem. Introduce them to Yoda. He’ll say something wise, backwards, and then kick all their asses. Twice. The perfect friend, he is.

Okay, so he failed spectacularly to see the Emperor’s machinations until it was too late, then royally screwed up when charged with kicking the one ass that would have made all the difference, before sodding off to a big swamp and hiding for twenty years. Details, mere details. If that was your Nan, you’d forgive her.

Lookin' at me, are you? The only one here, I am.

Used Future and Design Classics

One thing that stood out about Star Wars was the ‘used future’ aesthetic which Lucas wanted to bring to the movies. Up until then, science fiction movies and visions of the future were pretty shiny and spanking. Spaceships were usually pristine, well kept and whiter than white. People wore clean, pressed jumpsuits or walked around half naked, with clean, pressed bodies. Then Star Wars came along and dragged the future (or technically the past) through the dirt. Hi-tech suddenly looked beat up. Here we had a vision of technologically advanced societies that were ‘lived in’. The clothes were crumpled, the droids were a little rusted, and the Millennium Falcon looked like a flying student’s bed-sit. It suddenly made the far-fetched seem everyday.

There were even little references in the script of Star Wars which hinted at technological advances as matters of everyday conversation. Disappointed at the amount of cash he gets for his Landspeeder, Luke turns to Ben and says, ‘Since the XP-38 came out, they’re just not in demand’. Ben clearly couldn’t care less. Probably still uses Windows ’95. Your powers are weak, old man.

The Star Wars movies, or at least the original three, are littered with enduring, influential designs. The Millennium Falcon was singular in that it was the first spaceship (that I’d ever seen) which was not completely symmetrical. It had its cockpit, not in the centre, but sticking out of one side. Unique! You may not find this particularly interesting, but I have distinct memories of studying the design and being totally blown away by that element alone. Yes, I was a strange child.

The taps leak, the TV doesn't work too well, and there's a bit of damp, but we're allowed to have parties!

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But then there was…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Oh dear Lord, where to even begin with this one. How about a little background? In 1978, the year following the release of Star Wars, CBS aired the two hour long Star Wars Holiday Special. George Lucas had no involvement in its production, but it did feature all the lead characters from the movie. It revolved around Chewbacca’s attempts to return to his home world, Kashyyyk, to celebrate Life Day with his family. Along the way, various guest stars made appearances, there was an animated adventure, and kids were glued to their TVs. Mostly, as it turned out, in abject horror.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is bad. No, it really is bad. It is not even bad in a way that is enjoyable. It’s the worst kind of bad. It is awful. It has never been aired again, never been officially released, and George Lucas won’t even talk about it. It’s that bad. Not funny bad, not bad in any way that could be considered endearing, just really fucking bad.

We open on a clip, from the original movie, of the Millennium Falcon being pursued by two Imperial Cruisers. Cut inside the Falcon to find Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who spends his time in this looking like he’d rather be anywhere but here) and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit. Or rather, a rubbish TV studio mock-up of the cockpit. In fact, I think Han Solo is sitting on an office chair!

Then we get to meet Chewbacca’s family. Yep, Chewie likes to work abroad, and within five minutes it’s pretty clear why. There’s his wife Mallatobuck (Malla), happily pottering around in the kitchen, his father Attichitcuk (Itchy), sitting in an armchair grouching, and his son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy), running around annoying everyone. After about 10 minutes of watching these characters grunt and growl at each other, with no subtitles and no clue what they are saying, you start to wonder if there isn’t something better you could be doing with your time. Like, say, picking bits of fluff from the carpet and eating them.

Don't worry, Harrison. There really are better things to come.

And it gets worse. So much worse. Wait until you see the rest of the returning cast. Having just recovered from a car accident, and reconstructive surgery to his face, Mark Hamill was forced to wear extensive make-up, and what looks suspiciously like a wig. So, when the shaggy family contact Luke Skywalker on a screen, they find Hamill doing a passable impersonation of Mia Farrow. It’s shocking, to say the least. And Carrie Fisher’s appearances as Princess Leia are even more jaw dropping. Clearly high as a kite at the time, she can barely walk and wears a fixed, hazy smile that must have frightened most of the viewing kids.

Mark auditions for Rosemary's Baby 2 and Carrie is still singing five hours after everyone has gone home.

Slotted into all this fun and games are a series of ‘entertaining’ variety acts. We have Art Carney as a trader, helping out the Chewie clan. Bea Arthur sings a shit song in the cantina which seemingly last for hours. Harvey Korman presents a cookery show, in drag. And, in one of the most unintentionally disturbing scenes, Diahann Carroll turns up as some holographic singer, and apparently gets Grandpa Itchy off.

Then, when you think it can’t get any worse, Carrie Fisher, still floating on the ceiling, sings the Star Wars theme. Yep, someone wrote lyrics; terrible, awful lyrics, and Carrie Fisher sings them. It’s at this point that you have to remind yourself that you’re nearly at the end, and there’s no need to open up your veins and end your suffering.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is like nothing else you’ll ever see. And you have to see it to believe it. That the franchise survived this train wreck is surely a testament to its enduring magic.

George Lucas, having viewed the Holiday Special once too often.

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So, you enjoy movies, watch them regularly and feel ready to take the next step. That’s right, you don’t just want to be a movie buff, you want to be a movie snob. You’ve seen those shiny boys and girls, hanging outside the local multiplex, spouting on about Kurosawa or Mise-en-scène and you’ve thought to yourself, ‘I have no idea what they’re talking about but it sounds impressive. I want to be in that gang!’

My good friend, you have come to the right place. In two parts, Celluloid Zombie is going to impart great wisdom upon you and teach you how to blag, bluff and manipulate your way to Movie Snob Supremacy.

Lesson 1 – Know Your Directors

Take any movie, and an accomplished Movie Snob will usually be able to reel off the credits like last week’s shopping list. For the Snob, it’s not enough to be able to remember the title of a film (something that is often beyond the casual viewer), they have to be able to tell you who was in it, who wrote it, who scored it and, of course, who directed it. All with an air of insufferable smugness (see more advanced lessons).

This skill can take many years of total immersion in the field, and an equal amount of years of total exclusion from the real world, so the trainee Movie Snob should simply look to acquire a good working knowledge of directors as a solid grounding. And this means all directors. It’s simply not enough to know that Spielberg directed E.T. or Hitchcock directed Psycho. That’s like calling yourself a music expert because you know who sang Heartbreak Hotel.

Acquaint yourself with names like François Truffaut, John Ford, Frank Capra and Akira Kurosawa. Wikipedia will probably give you enough nuggets to bluff your way if you can’t be bothered to actually watch the movies. And remember, don’t forget those titles!

Lesson 2 – Use Some French Words

No Movie Snob’s arsenal is complete without a barrage of pretentious and mostly unnecessary French. Learn these words and phrases and then sprinkle them liberally in your conversations about cinema to demonstrate just how worldly and cosmopolitan you really are:

Oeuvre
The stuff that a director/actor/whatever has done.
Example: ‘Are you familiar with Capra’s oeuvre at all?’

Rite de Passage
The journey someone goes through to go from being one thing to another thing. Usually applied to teen stories.
Example: ‘16 Candles is an engaging rite de passage story’ (even if it’s not).

Mise-en-scène
What a scene has in it. The visual landscape of a scene or its components.
Example: ‘Hitchcock uses his mise-en-scène to denote the fragmented nature of Norman Bates’.

Dénouement
What happens at the end.
Example: ‘Sinking ships turn me on so I only watched Titanic for its dénouement’.

Lesson 3 – Stay for the Closing Credits

A true Movie Snob never, I repeat NEVER, gets up to leave the cinema during the movie’s credits. They remain seated until the lights turn on and the usher ambles in to sweep up the discarded popcorn kernels and half-eaten nachos. The truly dedicated may even still be there when the next lot come in.

To the Movie Snob, leaving as the credits roll is a heinous act of gross disrespect to all the Grips, Best Boys and Assistant Third-Unit Director’s Assistants who have worked tirelessly to bring you your latest celluloid fix and ask only that you remain seated for a few more minutes so you can see their name roll slowly up the screen in sans serif, white text. What’s wrong with you? Can’t you hold your bladder a little longer? It’s all me, me, me with you, isn’t it?

In addition, it is also important to adopt a series of disapproving noises and looks to aim at those inferior individuals who do choose to vacate the premises prematurely. Tut-tutting, heavy sighs, and exasperated shakes of the head are all excellent methods for communicating your disgust. Until the target of your disdain turns around and looks at you, of course. Then it’s time to start actually looking at the credits. Avoid eye-contact. The last thing you want to do is explain your disapproval to some 280 pound guy who’s desperate for the toilet and just forked out a small fortune to watch a shit movie.

Lesson 4 – Cultivate the Correct Shit-List

It is vital as a Movie Snob that you navigate the treacherous minefield of acceptable taste while in public. Sure, you can enjoy Bad Boys II in private, but some pleasures must be kept under wraps if you are to be taken seriously as one of the elite. So, from this moment on, you no longer publicly endorse the following:

The Wayan Brothers
Ben Affleck (the actor)
Paul W.S. Anderson
Michael Bay
Star Wars Episodes I-III

However, you are actively encouraged to publicly endorse the following:

The Coen Brothers
Ben Affleck (the director)
Paul Thomas Anderson
Michael Mann
Star Wars Episodes IV-VI

Lesson 5 – Learn to Read Subtitles

Repeat the mantra after me; ‘subtitles are my friend, subtitles are my friend’. It is no longer acceptable to say things like, ‘I can’t read and watch at the same time’ or ‘they go too quickly’. Never again can you wait for the US remake, just so you’ll have the luxury of being able to take your eyes off the screen for more than five seconds without missing vital plot points. Fix your gaze screenwards and do not deviate until the final credits are rolling. And watch those too, remember.

If you are to become one of the anointed, you must embrace movies that don’t come with American accents, product placement and uplifting dénouements. It’s time to venture into foreign lands.

Come back later for part two of my pointless post! Or not.

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Who says Top Ten lists have run out of ideas? Check out Top Ten: Movie Characters With Fur on Celluloid Zombie!

I got tagged by Peter at Magic Lantern Film Blog for this Meme. The mission? Come up with 15 filmmakers that helped shape the way I look at motion pictures. These are the filmakers whose movies not only inspired (or fanned the flames of) my passion for cinema, but taught me the rich language of the genre. The education never ends, of course, which is why I love it so much.

I’m running late, due to a two week holiday, but here I am and here it is. Enjoy, discuss, mock or admire.

1. Steven Spielberg

If you were to perform some crazy chemistry experiment and dilute cinema down to its purest form you would probably end up with a Steven Spielberg movie in a test tube. You can write him off as a bubblegum filmmaker if you like, but few directors can boast such a distinctive style and absolute grasp of the visual medium as this guy can. Able to inject his work with simple human warmth or terrifying human cruelty with equal ease, Spielberg understands his audience and how to entertain them. His influence is everywhere, in a generation of talent, and his adoration for the moving image is tightly woven into every frame he shoots. Absolutely peerless.

Signature movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark

2. David Fincher

One of the most striking and unique filmmakers to emerge in the last twenty years, Fincher’s lens peers into the darkness and brings it to life. He survived the studio and star nightmare of Alien 3, picked himself up and moved from strength to strength. Unlike many of his imitators, Fincher combines style and content, making intelligent and brooding films. Innovative title sequences, dizzying camera work and stark imagery that burns itself into the mind are the hallmarks of a Fincher movie. That, and his often surprising project choices. Frankly, he’s the only director who could make me interested in seeing a movie about Facebook.

Signature movie: Fight Club

3. John Carpenter

Carpenter has waned considerably over the last twenty years, and yet I still look forward to his upcoming The Ward simply because this could be the movie where he gets his mojo back. And Carpenter with his mojo is a force to be reckoned with. With Halloween, Carpenter demonstrated a mastery of suspense that few have matched. Of all the carbon copies that followed, not one ever measured up. And they’re still trying 32 years later.

Signature movie: Halloween

4. Alfred Hitchcock

Obvious choice, of course, but how can you avoid this one? Hitchcock may or may not have been the greatest filmmaker of all time , but he was certainly one of the most inventive. Without Hitchcock there might never have been the Dolly Zoom, director cameos, the slasher movie or Brian DePalma. Hitchcock constantly came to blows with the censors and pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable, plausible and possible in filmmaking, paving the way for modern cinema.

Signature movie: Vertigo

5. Francis Ford Coppola

If you need a lesson in the pitfalls and insanity of filmmaking, look no further than the CV of Francis Ford Coppola. From the daily battles with studio execs which haunted the production of The Godfather (where Coppola was often shadowed by a replacement director in case he was fired) through the Hurculean task of getting Apocalypse Now made (a production so troubled it got its own documentary), to the single-minded madness of One From the Heart (the cost of which eventually bankrupted him), Coppola is the guy who gets what he wants on film, at any cost.

Signature movie: Apocalypse Now

6. Martin Scorsese

The little guy with the big talent, Scorsese is the director you would want as a mentor. A walking encyclopaedia of cinema, he talks with the same frenetic pace that his movies use to tell their stories. With incredibly long tracking shots, slow motion zooms, fast zooms and quick cuts, Scorsese’s camera is an extension of the man’s boundless energy and is rarely still. He is also one of the industry’s best arrangers of soundtrack music, always choosing the perfect song to complement his scene.

Signature Movie: Goodfellas

7. Ridley Scott

His style has mellowed a little of late, his movies becoming grander in scale, but early on in his career Scott was one of the most visually unique directors around, producing two of cinema’s most influential Science Fiction films. Taking a B-movie script called Star Beast, Scott added his inherent eye for design, a desire to elevate the movie beyond the B, and gave us the outstanding Alien. He followed this with Blade Runner, which set the standard for visions of the future for years to come. Design has always played an important part in Scott’s work, and it is an area in which he excels.

Signature movie: Blade Runner

8. John Hughes

As a kid developing a passion for movies in the 80s, it would have been impossible for me not to include the late John Hughes in this list. Hughes was a capable talent behind the camera, but his true strengths lay in his screenwriting, his ability to coax career-best performances from his teenage casts and the warmth he instilled into his movies. Few filmmakers before or since have possessed Hughes’ skill for representing teenage angst without falling into the more patronising traps of lesser efforts. Hughes was a man of his time, who struggled when that time was over, but he was the best at what he did.

Signature movie: The Breakfast Club

9. The Coen Brothers

From the release of Blood Simple onwards, the Coens have continually marked themselves out as true originals with a remarkable record of hits. Save for only one or two exceptions, every Coen movie has been both singular and excellent. The next Coen project is always worth looking forward to. As accomplished as screenwriters as they are as directors, you are guaranteed cracking dialogue, inspired visuals and characters that are just a little larger than life. You will also most likely get screaming fat people, repetition of a single line for comic effect and at least one speedy tracking zoom. There’s no movie quite like a Coen movie.

Signature movie: The Big Lebowski

10. Sam Raimi

Joel Coen began his career helping out on the editing of a friend’s debut movie. That movie was The Evil Dead, and the director was Sam Raimi. Made on a shoestring budget, The Evil Dead showcased the arrival of an inspired, and rather crazed, talent. Raimi delivered the kind of camerawork usually reserved for those with far more expensive equipment at their disposal, and a few of his techniques can be seen in subsequent Coen movies. However, Raimi’s anarchic style seemed a little lost in mainstream cinema until the arrival of Spider-man.

Signature movie: Evil Dead II

11. Terry Gilliam

The least seen member of the Monty Python team, Gilliam makes movies brimming with the singular and surreal imagination which was present in his Python animations. Usually working with the most meagre of budgets, allowing him to retain creative control over all his work, Gilliam has sometimes struggled to get his projects completed. However, when they are completed they have a magical style and a sensibility all their own. They usually feature characters whose imagination is too large for the world they live in, crushed by the mechanics of a clockwork society. The irony is clearly not lost on Gilliam.

Signature movie: Brazil

12. Sergio Leone

The man who made Clint Eastwood famous with his trilogy of ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, Italian director Leone took the western genre and made it look ugly. Rejecting the good guy/bad guy set-up of classic American westerns, Leone’s contributions were simply filled with varying shades of bad guy. Even Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name’ is merely the best of a corrupt bunch. The characters are unwashed, morally vacant and greedy, the landscapes unforgiving and barren. Leone’s frontier is a harsh place to be. Often utilising both extreme close-ups and haunting long-shots, Leone has long been held by Eastwood as a major influence on his own directorial style.

Signature movie: Once Upon a Time in the West

13.  John Landis

During the 80s, Landis was responsible for some of the best comedies of the decade, including The Blues Brothers and Trading Places, but it was when he introduced horror into the mix with An American Werewolf in London that he really reached his peak. Landis made comedies that looked as good as any of the more high-brow movies, each littered with his unmistakeable trademarks (static shots of watching statues or paintings, and references to ‘see you next Wednesday’). His career tailed off toward the end of the decade, but perhaps the forthcoming Burke & Hare will be a return to form.

Signature movie: An American Werewolf in London

14. George Lucas

As a director, George Lucas is included in this list on the basis of one film, and one alone. But what a film. Star Wars changed everything. It’s impossible to gauge exactly what impact that movie had on the 7-year-old kid I was, but I know it was profound, as it was with almost every kid around my age. Star Wars was like saying hello to the wonder of cinema for the first time. We’d never seen anything like it. There were a few flashes of that directorial skill in the three prequels, but for the most part those films were engineered rather than directed and Lucas would not have made this list based on those. But for changing the way we viewed cinema, his one contribution cannot be underestimated.

Signature movie: Star Wars

15. John Lasseter and Pixar

Before Toy Story, the feature length animated movie industry was sputtering along at an uninspired pace. Disney’s output had suffered a gradual slump in both quality and popularity, boosted only by the success of The Lion King. Pixar, a computer company which was originally part of Lucasfilm, had been experimenting with computer animation for years and entered into a deal with Disney to produce three computer animated movies. Toy Story was the first, directed by John Lasseter, and the rest is history. Not only did Pixar revolutionise how movies were animated, but they also completely modernised the storytelling. Suddenly, animated movies were not just for kids, but were written with a sophistication which could appeal to all ages. Pixar kick-started animation, with other studios quick to follow suit, and they are yet to produce a bad film.

Signature movie: Toy Story

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Okay, my turn to tag. Apologies in advance if you’ve already done it and I missed it.

Cantankerous Panda at Back in the Day

Rory Dean at Above the Line

John at John of the Dead

Dan at Top 10 Films