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The Binary Sunset – Looking Forward, Looking Back

The binary sunset scene in A New Hope is perhaps the iconic image of the film – so iconic that the saga has gone back to it time and again. For me as a child, it was the wonder of seeing something that felt real but also fantastical: a boy dreaming of adventures to come, but also a realistic-looking leap of the imagination, of what the alien spectacle of a binary star system would really look like from one of its planets. That combined with John Williams’s greatest ever theme, what became the Force Theme (though at the time was known as Ben Kenobi’s Theme).

When George Lucas returns to this moment, it is done very deliberately, during moments which encourage the audience to look simultaneously backwards and forwards across the span of the saga. The sequel trilogy films, too, have returned to this image twice, and those moments tell us much about the films themselves, their directors’ priorities and sensibilities, and speak to a wider conversation about the role of nostalgia in Star Wars going forward.

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The Path to Immortality: Life and Death in The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker may not be a film that stands up to much in the way of analysis. A lot of it is fun as you are watching it (even if it’s in an ironic MST3K kind of way), but very quickly falls apart when you step back and think about it for more than a second or two. Still, it does introduce some new ideas relating to the Force that are worth looking at in the context of previous entries in the saga, particularly those related to healing, resurrection and immortality.

In The Path to Immortality parts one and two, I looked at the Sith quest for eternal life as established in Revenge of the Sith, how it arose from selfish instincts and was tied to extending the life of the physical, biological body. Anakin’s desperate attempts to save Padmé at the expense of everything else drew him to this power, and to the dark side. This idea is contrasted in Lucas’s Star Wars with the Jedi path to immortality, which involves letting go of the physical realm and becoming one with the Force, a process that involves compassion, selflessness and sacrifice.

The Force healing abilities introduced in TROS, used by Rey, at first glance seem closer to the Darth Plagueis model of eternal life, but there’s a crucial difference, one that keeps TROS consistent with the themes and messages of Star Wars as established so far.

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How The Empire Strikes Back Ruined Star Wars

“The saga comes to an end”, announced the trailer for Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker. It isn’t the first time we’ve heard that.

In 2005, Revenge of the Sith was marketed with the tagline “The saga is complete,” and the first six movies are still available in a blu-ray box set titled “The Complete Saga”. The sequel trilogy was an unnecessary addition to the story of Anakin Skywalker, and the prequels themselves were unnecessary additions to the story of Luke. What is now a multi-generational saga, with a final episode which will define the legacy of the Skywalker family, was, just a few years ago, the story of the rise, fall and redemption of Darth Vader; and a few years before that, it was the hero’s journey of a farmboy.

Nothing, however, changed what Star Wars is more than The Empire Strikes Back. With Episode V, we gained a blockbuster franchise, a sprawling family saga, a modern myth. But we also lost something – a weird, fascinating high-concept movie, an episode of a Flash Gordon-style serial that the audience would stumble upon without ever knowing what came before, or what came afterwards; and the completion of a thematic trilogy of films by a young filmmaker which dealt with leaving home and going out into the world.

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Master & Apprentice: The Tie-In Book The Phantom Menace Always Needed

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This review contains minor spoilers for Claudia Gray’s novel Master & Apprentice

Since the Star Wars “canon” was reset in April 2014, I’ve had a wish list of stories I wanted to see told, all filling gaps in the prequel era. While the first few years following the “reboot” focused mainly on the original trilogy, I held out hope that we would eventually see a novel about Padmé set between Episodes I and II; an origin story for Dooku’s turn to the dark side; and the great missing piece from The Clone Wars, the Siege of Mandalore. Someone must have been listening.

What I wanted more than anything, though, was a novel about my favorite character, Qui-Gon Jinn. And after her incredible short story “Master and Apprentice” in 2017’s From A Certain Point Of View, I knew I wanted Claudia Gray to write it. From the heartbreaking Lost Stars to her work with Leia in Bloodline and Princess of Alderaan, Gray has been one of the shining stars of the new novels. So maybe I was pre-programmed to like this. I can honestly say, though, that Master & Apprentice is everything I wanted it to be, and more: a look inside the mind and beliefs of Qui-Gon Jinn, an unexplored take on his relationship with Obi-Wan, and something of a love letter to fans of The Phantom Menace.

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The Phantom Menace is Innocent: We’re to Blame for Modern Cinema Culture

Ah, clickbait. “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is To Blame For Modern Cinema Culture” is a wonderfully clickbaity headline, and I was baited to click. Now I’m going to add my voice to the silliness. The article, by Hannah Jenkins, caused a bit of a stir in the digital gazebo known as Star Wars Twitter, arguing as it did that TPM was responsible for many of the trends in current popular cinema, the good and the bad. Most of these arguments were not particularly convincing. The true legacy of TPM, and the lessons we can take from it, can be found when we look not at the industry or at the movie itself, but at ourselves.

Jenkins argues that TPM’s trailer was a defining moment in the marketing of movies, and there’s truth in this. Suddenly the advert was an event in and of itself, and following the “illegal” sharing of it across the internet, studios quickly had to catch up with this new digital way of consuming these things. I remember spending anxious hours downloading each Attack of the Clones trailer via dial-up on QuickTime (an ironic name if ever there was one), and being irritated by Warner Bros.’ attempts to force us into the cinema to watch Scooby Doo by releasing only a thirty-second trailer for the trailer of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets online. Maybe TPM did lead the way to the era of big simultaneous Super Bowl/Twitter trailer reveals. And Jar Jar Binks was certainly a leap forward when it came to motion capture, though this can be overstated: he was hardly the first fully CGI leading character in a movie, with Casper, Dragonheart and Mars Attacks all preceding him.

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