Tag Archives: Mark Hamill

Star Wars VII: A Fan’s Hope

This week’s release of the teaser trailer of J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens brought back a feeling of excitement I haven’t felt as a Star Wars fan since the early 80’s.  There’s something about the years between 1977 and 1983 that gave the fans of the franchise a sense of anticipation that didn’t include the skepticism and disappointment we received with George Lucas’s prequels.  In the years leading up to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, there was always the sense of optimism for an upcoming sequel, as if we knew all along that the next film would be even better than the last.  At no point did we ever walk into the theater thinking we would walk out disappointed, like man fans did between the years of 1999 and 2005.

I was skeptical when J.J. Abrams was named director of Star Wars VII.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very talented director and I thoroughly enjoyed his reboot of Star Trek.  But as much as I was relieved that George Lucas wouldn’t be adding another layer of disappointment to the franchise, I was concerned at how a director that grew up a fan of the Star Wars franchise might either go fanboy and rehash what he loved about the original films (much like Bryan Singer’s homage to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie with 2006’s Superman Returns) or try to make it his own by deviating too much from the original canon.  The jury is still out on The Force Awakens until December 2015, but after seeing the first teaser trailer this week I’m feeling that sense of optimism that’s been missing for 30 years.

And it started with the opening shot.

John Boyega as a stormtrooper on what looks like Tatooine gives me hope that the stormtroopers in The Force Awakens are no longer clones.  Growing up watching the original trilogy and reading Marvel’s Star Wars comics throughout the 80’s, I always saw the stormtroopers as recruits from throughout the galaxy.  Abrams including a storyline in The Force Awakens from the perspective of a stormtrooper is a fantastic plot device that will add a dimension that was never seen in a previous Star Wars film: a level of humanity to the footsoldiers of the Empire rather than showing them as the soulless clones that were really no more than blaster fodder.

Lawrence Kasdan’s involvement in the script gave me hope that the story (and especially the dialogue) will be an improvement over the prequels.  I’ve always felt that his screenplay with Leigh Brackett made The Empire Strikes Back the best of all the Star Wars films.  His a familiar voice is what is needed the most now that Luke, Han and Leia are (finally!) back.

I’ve always been more of a fan of the old school special effects techniques that were used in the original Star Wars films (models, matte paintings that were actually painted, etc.), and the over use of CGI over the last 15 years has tended to detach me from a story since the effects and digital matte paintings look more like video games than realistic settings.  In my opinion, the old models of the Death Star, AT-ATs, etc. that were photographed (on film) for the original trilogy still look better.  But seeing the X-Wing Fighters and the Millenium Falcon (finally!) streaking across the screen again made me forget my usual rant against the overuse of CGI, and I intend to go into my screening of The Force Awakens with an open mind to enjoy it for what it is.

But there was something else about the sequences shown in the teaser trailer that gave me a sense of comfort and even nostalgia: the sound effects.  Anthony Daniels’ C3-PO and Kenny Baker’s R2-D2 were the characters that bridged all six of the previous films together.  John Williams’ musical scores were the foundation of each film that (especially the during the prequels) brought back the emotions we felt the first time we watched Episode IV.  But watching the teaser trailer made me realize how much the sound effects have also bound the films together over the last 34 years.  We instantly recognize the sound of a lightsaber firing up, and the beautiful simplicity of the the sound of a blaster shot.  X-Wings and TIE Fighters have that familiar scream as they streak across the screen.  It’s not just the characters, effects and the universe created by George Lucas that brings us back to the theaters with each sequel, it’s also the sense of familiarity and nostalgia that brings us back.  It doesn’t matter how disappointed many fans were with the prequels (myself included), we keep coming back because we want more Star Wars.  And Abrams’s trailer for The Force Awakens brought back the same feeling and excitement I had as 11 year old kid in 1983 waiting on line for Return of the Jedi.

I’m in.

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Movies for Memorial Day 2013

The Big Red One Copyright 1980 Warner Bros.

The Big Red One
Copyright 1980 Warner Bros.

With Memorial Day coming up on Monday 5/27, I would like to thank all veterans and active members of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.

Every Memorial Day Weekend my ritual is to check the TV listings for the war movies I grew up watching, classic war films I haven’t seen before, and a Band of Brothers marathon.  Judging by this weekend’s TV schedule, most of the films I’ll be watching this weekend will be on Turner Classic Movies and streaming video.

Here’s a list of notable movies this weekend (all times listed are EST):

On Turner Classic Movies:

Saturday, May 25:
Sergeant York (1941) 10:30 PM

Sunday, May 26:
Back to Bataan (1945) 11:00 AM
They Were Expendable (1945) 1:00 PM
The Green Berets (1968) 3:30 PM
Battleground (1949) 8:00 PM

Monday, May 27:
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) 6:15 AM
The Best Years of Our
Lives (1946) 5:00 PM

On Netflix:
The Battle of Britain (1969)
Von Ryan’s Express (1965)

On Amazon Instant Video:
The Big Red One (1980)
Gallipoli (1981)
Sahara (1943)
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
We Were Soldiers (2002)
Band of Brothers (2001)
Fixed Bayonets (1950)

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Movies for Memorial Day

With Memorial Day coming up on Monday 5/28, I would like to thank the all active members and veterans of the armed forces for their service and sacrifice.

One of my favorite movie genres has always been the combat film.  Not so much for the action sequences, but for the characters.  Growing up in the 70’s, there was always a WWII or Korean War film playing on Saturday afternoons.  Some of my favorites:

Sahara, Battlefront, Von Ryan’s Express, The Great Escape, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Steel Helmet, The Green Berets, and Sergeant York

Some notable films to watch on TV this Memorial Day weekend:

Turner Classic Movies:

The Steel Helmet (Sunday 5/27 at 4:45 PM)
Sergeant York  (Sunday 5/27 at 8:00 PM)
Tora! Tora! Tora! (Sunday 5/27 at 10:30 PM)

The Green Berets (Monday 5/28 at 9:15 PM)
The Great Escape (Monday 5/28 at 11:00 PM)

Spike TV will run a marathon of all ten episodes of Band of Brothers on Monday 5/28 from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM.

Of all of the war films I’ve seen, Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One (1980) is my favorite of the bunch.

Written and directed by the legendary Sam Fuller, this film was a based on his personal experiences as a GI in World War II.  The main character Private Zab (played in the film by Robert Carradine) is based on Fuller.  The film follows The Sergeant (played by Lee Marvin) and four members of his squad called The Four Horsemen (played by Carradine, Kelly Ward, Bobby DiCicco, and Mark Hamill) through Africa and Europe from 1943-1945.  But this film only scratches the surface of Sam Fuller’s experiences during the war.  I highly recommend Fuller’s autobiography A Third Face for more about this part of his life.

I had the opportunity to interview Mark Hamill at the 2011 New York Comic Con.  He was there to promote a comic book project he was involved with, but I couldn’t help asking him about his experience working with both Sam Fuller and Lee Marvin on The Big Red One:

Hamill:  Oh my God, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I learned more about World War II from them than I ever learned in history books.  Because they were both veterans.  With all due respect to Steven Spielberg, it’s second hand from him.  With Sam you’d go “This is crazy, why would I do this?”  And he would say “Well I’ll tell ya it wasn’t you, it was a guy by the name of Colowitz, and he was handsome like you…”  And he would tell you what really happened!  It was just probably the most profound experience of my career.  I can’t think of a director I like better than Sam.  And Lee Marvin was not only a brilliant actor but an amazing storyteller and a hilarious person.  Boy was he funny.  And I could make him laugh, which he loved.  He loved to laugh.  He was not an attention hog, he loved to hear stories from you.  Yeah, he was fantastic.

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