Happy 40th Birthday to Star Wars

May 25, 2017 – Forty years ago today, Star Wars hit theaters with a “Bang” and dramatically realigned the movie industry and our lives in numerous ways.
sw40-logo Star Wars woke up sleepy-eyed cinephiles and movie producers to some exciting truths:

That sci-fi flicks didn’t have to be clean, sterile and have a rational scientific basis – pure fantasy, mystery and dashes of humor could be supremely entertaining;

That the classic theme of the Hero’s Journey still made for compelling storytelling;

That visual and aural effects could make a good story great and, if Hollywood’s old studios or Pinewood Studios didn’t have the means or technology, you could push technical boundaries and create your own special effects (thank you, ILM and Ben Burtt);

That a grand orchestral score was not to be treated as an afterthought to a film, but as an integral part of the story, setting the mood, the tone, and adding emotional resonance throughout (thank you, John Williams);

That poor editing could ruin a potentially great film (looking at you, first rough cut of Star Wars) while skillful editing can keep the audience on the edge of its seat (thank you Paul Hirsch, Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew);

That while George Lucas is the acknowledged visionary who conceived his grand space opera, it has required many hundreds of talented people – artists, technicians, actors, producers, designers – to make Star Wars a polished reality.

That box office receipts aren’t the only way to realize a return on investment – merchandising and sequel rights can pave the way for staggering yields (smart move, George Lucas).

And so to celebrate Star Wars‘ remarkable accomplishments, why not treat yourself to a very well done retrospective by U.K. reviewer Oliver Harper. And, as always, May the Force Be With You.

Vanity Fair Offers a Sneak Peek at “The Last Jedi” Cast

May 24, 2017 – Since 1980, renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz has been capturing the world of Star Wars and its changing crew and cast with her keen eye and a sharp lens.

She first photographed the cast of The Empire Strikes Back for Rolling Stone magazine in 1980. She gravitated to Vanity Fair in 1999 for The Phantom Menace and has photographed the cast of every Star Wars film ever since.

The tradition continues with Leibovitz’s photos of the cast of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, available in the next issue of Vanity Fair on May 31st in New York and Los Angeles and on June 6th nationwide. Four different covers will be offered celebrating the cast and crew of The Last Jedi with behind-the-scenes photos and coverage inside.

You can see more of Vanity Fair‘s portfolio here, including some fascinating photos and an in-depth article.

VF has also posted the following video on its YouTube channel:

“The Last Jedi”: Carrie Fisher’s Final Star Wars Film

May 9, 2017 – Despite a previous statement from Todd Fisher, Carrie Fisher’s brother, that the late actress would appear in Star Wars Episode IX, Disney has clarified that Episode VIII, The Last Jedi, will be her last film.

Writer-Director Rian Johnson and Carrie Fisher (Photo Credit: Lucasfilm)

In an interview with ABC News on April 14th, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy said that Carrie Fisher will not be in Episode IX. Asked about Todd Fisher’s remarks stating otherwise, Kennedy said:

“He was probably confused because we finished everything in [Episode] VIII, and Carrie is absolutely phenomenal in the movie. And we’re so happy that we were able to complete shooting in the summer. Unfortunately, Carrie passed away, so by the time we were well underway with Episode IX – in our thoughts, we had not written the script yet – but we’ve regrouped. We started over again in January. So sadly Carrie will not be in IX. We’ll see a lot of her in VIII, which is great.”

It’s probable that Disney/Lucasfilm had approached Todd Fisher and Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd, about the possibility of using completed footage of Carrie Fisher in the final episode. The Fisher family had agreed and had given legal permission. Since then, however, Disney/Lucasfilm have made a final decision to write Carrie out of Episode IX.

How the creative minds at Lucasfilm will explain the absence of General Leia in Episode IX is unknown at this time. Possibilities include killing off her character toward the end of VIII or explaining her demise during the opening crawl of IX. Another option is for Leia’s character to live on, but to leave her (visually, at least) out of any footage in IX.

The writers and producers will have to tread extremely carefully when it comes to one of the most beloved actresses in the Star Wars universe. At a minimum, fans will expect a credible and poignant send-off, and not simply an abrupt write-off of her character.

Director Colin Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly had originally planned to include Leia in the final movie. But they were forced to rethink the storyline and Leia’s role in it after Carrie Fisher’s unexpected passing last December.

Kathleen Kennedy told Entertainment Weekly: “Obviously, with Carrie having passed away, it shook everybody. We pretty much started over.”

For now, all eyes are on the next installment, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Rumors have been swirling, even before Carrie Fisher’s passing, that we would finally see Leia use her Force abilities in the defense of others.

Oscar Isaac and Carrie Fisher (Photo Credit: Lucasfilm)

Oscar Isaac, who plays Resistance pilot Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens and the upcoming The Last Jedi, dropped a tantalyzing clue last month in an interview with Business Insider.

He said he had filmed a heated and intense moment with Carrie Fisher: “It was basically my first day [on set] and we did about 25 takes total. Half of them were on me and half of them were on her. I can’t give anything away, but there was a scene where there was some physicality there and it was shot just over and over and over. She relished the physicality of it, let me just say. It was pretty intense. It will be funny to see what they cut together based on that.”

By some accounts, General Leia will have a much larger screen presence in TLJ than she did in TFA. Recall that she is dealing with the knowledge that her own son has murdered Han Solo and she is now grappling with the same issue that Luke had faced in confronting their father over three decades earlier: Is redemption possible?

We will likely find out on December 15, 2017, when The Last Jedi premieres.

Supreme Leader Snoke and Other Figures Coming “Soon”?

May 6, 2017 – A reader on a JTA forum recently posted a snapshot of the following GameStop internal memo:

A peek at possible 6-inch action figures coming “soon”?

We put coming “soon” in quotes because The Force Awakens was released Dec. 18, 2015 – nearly 1 1/2 years ago – and still, Hasbro has not released a TFA Luke or a Supreme Leader Snoke.

If the above GameStop pre-order list is true, we may at last see an incarnation – at least in plastic – of a Snoke posed sitting on his throne as well as a possible stand-alone Snoke.

The list of Star Wars Black Series 6-inch figures (with some editorial comments in red) reads as follows:

AF SW BLK 6in E1 Qui Gon Jinn (Price) 22.99
AF SW BLK 6in E4 Darth Vador SD9/1 22.99
(Note misspelling of “Vader”. This may be a 40th Anniversary Legacy repack of Vader.)

AF SW BLK 6in E4 Stormtrooper SD9/1 22.99 (a possible repack)
AF SW BLK 6in E5 Lando Calrissian 22.99
AF SW BLK 6in E6 Imperial Royal Guar(d) 22.99

AF SW BLK 6in E8 Cool Beta SD 9/1 22.99
(“Cool Beta” = Hasbro code name for ____? from E8/Episode VIII)

AF SW BLK 6in E8 Foxtrot SD 9/1 22.99 (“Foxtrot” = Hasbro code name for ____?)
AF SW BLK 6in R Blue Leader SD 9/1 22.99
(“Blue Leader” = Hasbro code name for ____? Best guess: Rogue One General Anton Merrick killed in the Battle of Scarif. “R” might = Rogue One)
AF SW BLK 6in VICTOR 2 w THRONE EXCL(USIVE) 39.99 (Note the higher price of $39.00. “Victor” may be a codename for Snoke from Star Wars Episode VIII, and this GameStop exclusive includes his throne.)
AF SW BLK 6in E8 Victor SD 9/1 22.99 (This is likely a stand-alone 6-inch Supreme Leader Snoke from Ep. VIII.)
AF SW BLK 6in E8 BL GUARDS OF EVIL 4PK EXCL 89.99 (Another GameStop exclusive. Get ready for a Black Series 4-pack to include an unknown combination of Royal Guards, either from past episodes or an introduction of old-style and new Royal Guards that accompany Snoke.)

We express no opinion on the “Poopy Butthole 5in” action figure referenced at the top of the GameStop list (see photo) – mostly because it has nothing to do with Star Wars.

We will know how much of the GameStop list is accurate or comes to fruition by Sept. 1, 2017, when Force Friday II launches globally to celebrate the launch of Star Wars: The Last Jedi products. The Last Jedi premieres Dec. 15, 2017.

How To Respond If Someone Wishes You “Happy Star Wars Day”

May 4, 2017 – There are several possible responses if someone runs up to you and says “Happy May the Fourth Be with You” or, dreadfully, “Happy Star Wars Day”:

1. You could smile wanly and say “Thank You” or “May the Fourth be with you as well”;

2. Roll your eyes and take another swig from your beer bottle/wine glass;

3. But our favorite response just might be:

Perhaps Batman got it right.

Choose wisely. And May the Fourth be….

REVIEW: Disney’s Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio

May 4, 2017 – This month marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, and what better way to celebrate it than to revisit two old friends: R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Disney’s Droid Factory line has released a combo two-pack of our favorite droids who we first met on the Tantive IV in the original Star Wars movie 40 years ago.

From the special packaging, which pays homage to the very beginnings of our droids’ journey, to the super-articulation and the dusty Tatooine sand-colored paint wash on the two figures, there is much to love about Disney’s latest release.

What We Like

Collectors will absolutely love the packaging, with its classic black-and-white Star Wars logo and double-lines, the image of R2-D2 and C-3PO lost in the sands of Tatooine, and the two bubble-enclosed droids on the cardback.

Disney paid special attention to the packaging and got the details right by using the original long-form spelling of “Artoo Detoo” and “See-Threepio”, an echo from the original movie and Kenner toy line four decades ago. A shiny foil sticker with the 40th anniversary logo, placed on the top right of the cardback, is a nice reminder of how far we have come.

TIP: To preserve the cardback, use an X-ACTO knife. Slice open only the left, right and bottom of the bubble to release the figures.

The only thing missing is the vintage “Kenner” label, which is now replaced with a “Droid Factory” label at the top left of the card. And we couldn’t be happier. Where Hasbro has failed fans over the last five years, Disney’s Droid Factory line is now filling the void with its super-articulated 3.75-inch figures, new astromech and protocol droids, and careful paint applications.

The two-pack was revealed just three weeks ago when Disney Parks announced at Star Wars Celebration Orlando (April 13-16, 2017) that Protocol Droids were now a part of the Droid Factory experience. The combo of Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2) and See-Threepio (C-3PO) is among the first of Disney’s Star Wars 40th anniversary commemoratives.

C-3PO comes with an impressive 21 points of articulation, including a swivel head, swivel shoulders, ball-jointed elbows, swivel wrists, ball-jointed torso, swivel hips, and ball-jointed knees and ankles.

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In addition to C-3PO’s dirt wash, you will notice that his lower right leg is painted silver. Some longtime fans claim that both legs have always been gold. Others believe the lower right leg was originally silver.

Some of the ongoing discussion can be found HERE. But we will accept the word of Anthony Daniels, who has occupied Threepio’s suit since Day One. In an interview with USAToday in December, 2015, he asserted the lower right leg was originally silver. Daniels recalled, “Even the stills photographer, John Jay, came up to me one day and said, ‘Why are you wearing a silver leg today.’ Now, he was the stills photographer, and he hadn’t noticed.”

By contrast, Artoo has never been the subject of much controversy. Depending on the scene, either he is scuffed and dirty, or he is polished up and shiny – ceremonial Artoo, anyone?

But it is the sand-blasted version we prefer, evoking memories of the duo’s adventures on Tatooine.

Artoo has eight points of articulation: a swivel dome, swivel legs, swivel feet, hinge-jointed left and right legs, and a hinge-jointed third or middle leg. In addition, all three legs have tiny wheels at the bottom of the feet, so you can roll Artoo any which way.

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What We Do Not Like

The Disney Team goofed when they wrote on the back of the card: “C-3PO is a Protocol droid that is fluent in more than seven million forms of communication.” As this version of C-3PO is from the Original Trilogy, the correct usage is “more than six million”.

Here is the proof from Return of the Jedi (1983);

But, hey, what’s another million? Unless we’re talking money….

Priced at $24.99, this is not a cheap purchase, and we wish the price were not so Disney-inflated and more budget friendly to kids and collectors alike. Nonetheless, you can still save 20% if you or someone you know has a Disney Annual Pass or Disney Vacation Club (timeshare) membership.

The duo are available either in certain stores at Disney Theme Parks or via the Shop Disney Parks app. The app will pinpoint the store(s) and provide stock availability.

On Ebay, the duo are currently listed anywhere from $35 to $45.

Released in April, 2017, these are the newest Disney Droid Factory droids (L to R): R-3DO, Artoo-Detoo & See-Threepio, and C1-10P “Chopper”

REVIEW: Disney’s R-3DO

May 2, 2017 – Disney’s all-new R-3DO protocol droid was first offered at Star Wars Celebration Orlando (April 13-16, 2017). But you can find the bright red droid with the piercing yellow eyes at certain Disney Theme Park stores and, on occasion, using the Shop Disney Parks app ($12.99).

But first a question: What is the difference between a red Tootsie Roll Pop and the bright red figure from Disney’s Droid Factory?

ANSWER: They are both luminescently red, but the Tootsie Pop is zero-POA while R-3DO is 21POA.

All kidding aside, you might actually enjoy having a Tootsie Pop more.

What We Don’t Like

Collectors’ hunger for super-articulated figures is so great that they might well be happy with the super-poseable R-3DO, which offers an impressive 21 points of articulation.

While we are thrilled with the return of articulated joints, the fundamental problem with R-3DO is the oddly bright-red coloring. Visually the shiny red hue reminds us of candy – a Tootsie Roll Pop or a gummy bear, perhaps. In our view, the action figure’s color does not match the R-3DO character seen standing behind General Leia on the tarmac in The Force Awakens. A more muted, darker tone of red would have been a better match.

Essentially, this is a clone of C-3PO with new paint coloring. Aesthetically, we can’t believe the bright red figure will be anyone’s favorite to collect or display.

But if you are a collector of Disney’s Droid Factory figures, or a big droid fan in general, or seek every last The Force Awakens figure, then all that red plastic will not dissuade you from purchasing him.

What We Do Like

Once you get beyond the splash of red, R-3DO is a fun figure to pose.

He has 21 points of articulation: a swivel head, swivel shoulders, ball-jointed elbows, swivel wrists, a ball-jointed torso, swivel hips, ball-jointed knees, and ball-jointed ankles.

And because R-3DO is symmetrical, slim and lightweight, he doesn’t have an off-center or heavy center of gravity. So posing the droid is relatively easy.

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Priced at $12.99, R-3DO will not please everyone’s budget. However, if you or someone you know has a Disney Annual Pass or Disney Vacation Club (timeshare) membership, you can buy the droid at 20% off, or for $10.39.

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If you decide to pass on this purchase, R-3DO’s absence from your collection likely will not be noticed. There will always be better protocol and astromech droids coming down the pipeline from the Droid Factory collection. And for that, we have to say, “Thank you, Disney!”