Carrie Fisher (21 October 1956 – 27 December 2016)
Carrie Fisher was the daughter of Hollywood “royalty”: Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, so it was perhaps fitting that she will be best remembered as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars (1977) and three of its sequels. But there was more to Fisher than just a role in a space opera, even one cherished by millions, and away from that galaxy far, far away she was also a writer and well-liked celebrity. She wrote the novel Postcards from the Edge, and scripted the movie version too (it was released in 1990), and had a successful “career” as a script doctor, polishing dialogue and scenes for movies as diverse as Hook (1991), Outbreak (1995), Coyote Ugly (2000), and all three Star Wars prequels. She also wrote her cameo scene in Scream 3 (2000). Though she had several battles in her private life – with alcohol and prescription drugs – and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Fisher remained a fighter throughout.
Away from the Star Wars movies, Fisher’s acting career wasn’t always as compelling as she may have liked, but when she was asked if playing Princess Leia was the dark side of the Force in her professional career, she had this to say: “Oh, no. It was fun! I was young. People want it to be a problem for me. No. Those are great movies. Why shouldn’t I be proud of being in that? The dark side? You ever see Hollywood Vice Squad (1986) or The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)? How about Under the Rainbow (1981)? Was Star Wars the dark side? There’s so much competition for that one.” While it’s true that playing the Princess with the bagel-bun hairdo has proved to be her career high, let’s not forget that she made significant contributions to a lot more movies besides. And here are just ten of them.
1 – Shampoo (1975)
2 – The Man With One Red Shoe (1985)
3 – Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
4 – Appointment With Death (1988)
5 – The ‘Burbs (1989)
6 – When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
7 – Sibling Rivalry (1990)
8 – This Is My Life (1992)
9 – Wonderland (2003)
10 – Stateside (2004)
aka Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
D: Gareth Edwards / 133m
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, James Earl Jones
Rogue One is like the bride at a wedding: it’s got something old – an implied storyline from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope; something new – characters we haven’t seen before; something borrowed – the plot of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi; and something blue – Donnie Yen’s contact lenses. It also has a hard time deciding what kind of Star Wars movie it wants to be, whether it’s closer in spirit to Episode IV, or thanks to the technology employed, nearer to the look and feel of Episode I. With no clear decision made, the movie ends up being neither; instead it equates itself as an awkward mix of the two, where the perceived low tech of Episode IV clashes with the confused storytelling of Episode I. Make no mistake, this is a Star Wars movie, but it’s an amalgam of moods and irregular narrative necessities that stop it from becoming as impressive as it wants to be.
We’re in trouble right from the start, with a prologue that introduces us to Death Star designer and loving father Galen Erso (Mikkelsen). Having helped the Empire to begin building their big, bad planet killer, Erso has somehow managed to get away with his wife, Lyra, and young daughter Jyn, and avoid detection on a remote, largely uninhabitable planet. But big, bad Empire honcho Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) has found him, and plans to take Galen back with him to help finish building the Death Star. Soon, Lyra is dead, Jyn is hiding in a hole in the ground, and Galen is whisked off to continue in his task of facilitating the Empire’s desire to commit repeated intergalactic genocide. Later, Jyn is discovered by half-human, half-tin man Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), and taken under his resistance fighter wing.
There are several things wrong with this sequence, and they’re indicative of the problems the rest of the movie has to try and cope with (and largely unsuccessfully). First there’s the matter of the Death Star itself, which is still being built at this point, and which needs Galen’s presence in order to be completed. This begs the question, is the Death Star being built bit by bit as Galen comes up with the design bit by bit, or has he designed it all but there’s no one else who can understand what his design entails? And then Lyra, who has initially fled with Jyn, leaves her daughter, faces down Krennic with a blaster, and is killed for her trouble by his guards, making her death entirely pointless. Jyn sees all this and runs and hides in the aforementioned hole in the ground that is camouflaged by a large, fake rock. And while Krennic’s guards look for her, and are right next to where she’s hiding, we witness Jyn peering out through a gap in the “rock” – a gap that allows us to see her eyes and nose, and which even blind Jedi disciple, Chirrut Îmwe (Yen), could have spotted. But she remains there until Gerrera arrives to save her – even though there’s no reason for him to know she’s there in the first place.
There are more illogical steps throughout, and as it progresses the movie becomes more and more confusing, and narratively complex, as the plans for the Death Star require the Rebel Alliance – in the form of Cassian Andor (Luna), his robot sidekick, K-2SO (Tudyk), Îmwe and his friend, Baze Malbus (Jiang), and later, Empire pilot turned rebel Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), and not to mention a now adult Jyn – to trek here, there and seemingly everywhere in their efforts to track down a copy of its plans, and so enable the rebels to have something to do in Episode IV (when they’re not playing second fiddle to a farm boy, a scoundrel, an old man and a Wookiee, not to mention the wheezy guy in the black helmet who pops up here a couple of times).
In the process of this search, mistrust between characters is overcome, an old villain (not Vader) makes a semi-welcome return (you might be excited until you get a closer look at him), battles are fought, lives are lost and/or sacrificed, stormtroopers are dispatched by the bucket load, good triumphs over evil, and the whole unconvincing mishmash of ideas dovetails nicely into the beginning of Episode IV. There are a couple of standout moments: Vader taking his red lightsabre to a corridor full of unlucky rebels, Îmwe’s martial arts takedown of a dozen or so stormtroopers (it’s always good to see Yen in action), and though they’re sometimes blatant (though also necessary) in their placement, there are plenty of riffs and pre-echoes of events in Episode IV to keep the fans happy.
Ultimately it’ll be the fans who will take this installment of the re-ongoing Star Wars franchise to their hearts, but for newcomers to the saga, or even those who are keen to see what all the more recent fuss is about, this will be a bit of a struggle. Part of the problem is that no matter what obstacles are put in the way of Jyn and the rebels, we all know the outcome. With a pre-ordained conclusion ahead of us, it’s also difficult to care about any of the characters, despite the best efforts of a cast who aren’t exactly lightweights. But Luna is too earnest; Jones runs him a close second; Tudyk contributes yet another robot-with-attitude performance (why do robots have to have an attitude?); Yen and Jiang make for a great, if underused, team; Mendelsohn vacillates between scowling menace and angry outbursts in a fruitless search for something to make Krennic more interesting as a villain; Whitaker and Mikkelsen both lack for screen time and never overcome their minor character status; Ahmed does wide-eyed and shell-shocked for too long; and the great James Earl Jones is brought in for a scene where, unfortunately, Vader’s dialogue only serves to muddy the waters of what’s happening even more than they’re muddied already.
With the script – by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy – moving safely from one join-the-dots scene to the next, and providing little in the way of depth, Rogue One has to fall back on its visuals, and in that respect, the movie holds a little potency. There’s still no one shot that will invoke awe or a sense of wonder (like the Star Destroyer taking up more and more room at the top of the screen at the beginning of Episode IV), and while there’s plenty of beautiful moments to take in, even the Death Star at one point emerging from hyperspace, there aren’t quite enough to make this installment stand out from the rest.
As a so-called stand alone movie, Rogue One doesn’t fit the bill, as it’s too busy reminding everyone of its connection to the series’ opener, and as an additional entry to the franchise timeline, it’s further entrenched in the overall story arc. In charge of it all, Gareth Edwards does a great job of arranging all the elements (even if he can’t overcome the clumsiness that comes with them), and he ensures that the movie hits the required number of beats on time and to its best advantage, but this is still Star Wars-by-numbers, a functional if unnecessary addition to the series, and if it doesn’t tarnish the legacy of the overall franchise, it still doesn’t quite add anything to it either.
Rating: 7/10 – superficially entertaining with its blockbuster mentality and slick, professional appearance, Rogue One lacks the heart and charm of the original trilogy, and plays out its tale efficiently and with any emotion firmly kept in check; a movie then that mimics the series’ best values without appreciating or embracing them fully, and which should leave the impartial viewer feeling more than a little let down by it all.
A big hit at the BFI London Film Festival last year, Elstree 1976 is a lovingly crafted ode to ten people who worked on a little movie called Star Wars, but who won’t necessarily be known to the wider public (well, Dave Prowse might argue about that). That none of them went on to find worldwide fame and fortune isn’t the point of Jon Spira’s documentary; rather it’s the communal joy that came out of working on a project that none of them could have known would have been so successful, and which has enriched their lives in ways they couldn’t have imagined (even if it didn’t feel like it at the time).
The latest movie from the mercurial mind of Shane Black, The Nice Guys is the kind of uproarious mismatched buddy movie that only Black can put together. The teaming of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling looks inspired, and the Seventies setting looks so vivid it’s hard to believe it wasn’t filmed in 1978 and has been sitting on the shelf ever since. The plot concerns the apparent suicide of a fading porn star, but don’t be surprised if there are larger shenanigans afoot, along with lashings of stylised violence, visual gags galore, and whip-smart banter between the leads.
The latest chiller from producer James Wan, Lights Out takes writer/director David F. Sandberg’s short movie – just three minutes long – and expands it to feature length. Its tale of a supernatural entity stalking three generations of the same family may suffer from being extended from its original set up, but hopefully Sandberg has crafted a back story that will explain everything satisfactorily. Either way, expect plenty of scares, lots of spooky rooms for the scares to take place in, and an array of characters who keep turning the lights off when they know they really shouldn’t.
Once a movie is released, and especially if it’s successful, it becomes difficult to imagine another actor or actress in the lead role, and even harder if they win a clutch of awards into the bargain. Some movie stars can become so indelibly linked to a part, that if someone else takes it on in a remake or a sequel you can’t help but see the original actor in their place (you might even resent them for being there). And there are times when the very idea is wrong. Spare a thought for example, for David Soul, tasked with following in the footsteps of Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in the short-lived Casablanca TV series back in 1983. No matter how world-weary he affected to be, Soul just couldn’t match Bogart for deep-seated ennui. As a result, Soul’s interpretation of the role couldn’t help but feel like a pale imitation.
But if following in the footsteps of an iconic actor in an iconic role isn’t bad enough, then spare a thought for those actors and actresses who passed on a role that became iconic. How bad must that be? How must it feel to know that you could have taken on a role and made it your own, and yet because of some reason or other, you decided not to, and one of your more circumspect colleagues jumped at the chance and made it their own? (Probably bad enough that if worst comes to worst and the colleague is nominated for an Oscar, then that colleague won’t receive a vote from the person who lost out… at the very least.)
Here then are five movie stars and the roles they turned down. You can judge for yourselves just how successful they would have been if they’d gone ahead and played these roles, but one thing can be said for certain: each movie would have had a different dynamic as a consequence, and maybe they wouldn’t have been as successful, or as memorable.
1 – Sylvester Stallone – Role: Axel Foley – Movie: Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Despite a long period of pre-production and several scripts written during the process, Beverly Hills Cop was always meant to star Stallone. But with a matter of weeks to go before filming began, Stallone upped and quit the project (Steven Berkoff, who plays the movie’s villain, once said in an interview that the Rocky star quit over disagreements about which kind of orange juice was to be put in his trailer). Enter Eddie Murphy, who seized the hastily rewritten character and improvised his way into the public’s affections as the motormouth cop with a bitingly funny sense of humour. It’s hard to think of Stallone being as free or confident in the way that Murphy is, and he’s not known for comedy – Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992), anyone? – so the chances of it having been as successful as well are less conclusive, but this is one of the best examples of an actor coming in and stealing the show (thankfully).
2 – Meg Ryan – Role: Clarice Starling – Movie: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Without meaning to undermine or decry Ryan’s talent as an actress, it’s perhaps very fortunate indeed that she turned down the role of Clarice Starling, paving the way for Jodie Foster to give such a stunning performance. Like some of her contemporaries, Ryan passed on the role because she felt the movie would be too violent, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s perhaps a good thing she didn’t take on the part. As with Stallone and Beverly Hill Cop‘s humour, The Silence of the Lambs and its dark, oppressive material isn’t really Ryan’s forté, and the idea of a rookie FBI agent in bouncy curls chasing down a serial killer suddenly becomes too risible to be entertained seriously.
3 – Robert De Niro – Role: Han Solo – Movie: Star Wars (1977)
When casting the role of Han Solo, George Lucas wanted to go with someone he hadn’t worked with before, and several up and coming actors – Christopher Walken, Kurt Russell, and Chevy Chase(!) to name but three – were considered. But De Niro was one of a handful of actors who actually turned down the role. With his appearances in Mean Streets (1973), The Godfather Part II (1974), and Taxi Driver (1976) already establishing him as one of the best actors of his generation, it was probably a wise move on De Niro’s part, but what he would have made of lines such as, “It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” is still a tantalising proposition.
4 – John Travolta – Role: Forrest Gump – Movie: Forrest Gump (1994)
Throughout his career, Travolta has turned down a number of roles that, in other actors’ hands, have led to critical acclaim and their movies’ success at the box office. And this isn’t the only time that Tom Hanks has benefitted from Travolta’s reluctance to take on a role: he also turned down the role of Paul Edgecombe in The Green Mile (1999). But this decision is one that Travolta still regrets today, and though it’s hard to imagine him reciting the line, “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates” with the same naïve innocence as Hanks does, it would have been interesting to see him adapt his naturally effusive style of acting to the role.
5 – Bette Midler – Role: Annie Wilkes – Movie: Misery (1990)
It’s often interesting to hear about proposed casting choices and the odd matches of actor or actress to a role, but the idea of Midler playing dowdy, homicidal Annie Wilkes is one that takes some adjusting to (especially given Kathy Bates’ Oscar-winning performance). Nothing in Midler’s career up til then (or since) gives any indication that she would have been effective in the role, so maybe she knew she was making the right decision – but to have been offered the role in the first place? Bizarre, just very bizarre.
Adam Driver, Anthony Daniels, BB8, C-3PO, Carrie Fisher, Chewbacca, Daisy Ridley, Darth Vader, Drama, Episode VII, Finn, Harrison Ford, J.J. Abrams, Jakku, John Boyega, Kylo Ren, Lightsabre, Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill, Oscar Isaac, Peter Mayhew, Poe Dameron, R2-D2, Review, Rey, Sci-fi, Star Wars, The First Order, The Force
D: J.J. Abrams / 135m
Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Carrie Fisher, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Greg Grunberg, Warwick Davis, Simon Pegg, Harriet Walter, Iko Uwais
The Lucasfilm logo appears. The screen fades to black. Then the opening crescendo of the Star Wars theme in perfect sync with the Star Wars logo sends a welcome shiver down the spine. And then the subtitle: Episode VII The Force Awakens appears, followed by a summary of recent events that tells us Luke Skywalker is missing and Princess (now General) Leia has sent her best man to find him. With everyone up to speed we see a familiar sprinkling of stars against the inky blackess of space. The camera begins its equally familiar pan down until a planet comes into view. Then an ominous sound can be heard, and a dark shadow falls across the planet, only this is no shadow, it’s a huge starship; this can’t be good.
And it isn’t. But we all know it isn’t. This is Star Wars, and huge starships are always bad news, because it’s a sure sign the bad guys are up to no good. But wait – haven’t the bad guys been defeated? Wasn’t the evil Emperor, Palatine, killed by Darth Vader at the end of Episode VI? And didn’t the Rebel Alliance take charge of the galaxy, and restore order where previously there had been tyranny and unfair trade embargoes? Isn’t this a brave new future we’re looking at?
Well, actually, no, it isn’t. Thirty years have passed since the Emperor’s death, thirty years in which a lot has obviously happened, but for some reason the Rebels are still fighting, this time against a pernicious new regime, the First Order, and they don’t seem to have been in charge of anything, or made any difference to the galaxy they fought so hard to free from oppression. Just what have they been doing all this time? (We learn what Luke has been doing, and Han Solo, but Leia? That’s a little less clear.) So with no one having ensured peace and prosperity are the “first order” of the day, we’re back to a frighteningly familiar situation: the bad guys are running things and a small group of rebels are the only thing standing between them and – wait, that’s a little less clear as well. Just what are the First Order planning to do, other than show off their fancy new weapon (or the Mark III as it might be known)?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I really liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s a fantastic thrill ride, for fans new and old, but instead of The Force Awakens it should be titled Another New Hope, because this is what writers J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt have given us, a retread of Episode IV with some fancy new trimmings. The similarities between the two movies are unavoidable, and are sometimes as unavoidable as the crashed star destroyers we see in the deserts of Jakku. Where we might have hoped that this new trilogy would strike out in a bold, new direction, instead it retreats back into the previous trilogy and gives us a kind of Star Wars Greatest Hits movie, with storylines lifted clean out of Episode IV, dusted down and given a shiny retooling, and references galore to the earlier episodes (“Is there a trash compactor?”).
As there may still be some people who haven’t seen the movie yet, I’m not going to spoil things by listing all the ways in which Abrams et al have cribbed from George Lucas’s original vision (not in this post anyway), but it’s relevant to say that he is very much present throughout, almost as if Abrams and his co-writers have continually asked themselves, what would George come up with next? So we have a movie that looks new but feels old at the same time, and it’s a tribute to Abrams – can the mantle of franchise viagra be stripped from Dwayne Johnson and given to Abrams now? – that despite this the movie feels as invigorarting as it does. It fizzes and pops in all the right places, and if it doesn’t quite have anything that really gets the audience saying “Wow!”, then you can put that down to the number of big-budget sci-fi spectaculars we’ve become overly familiar with since 1977 (and that includes the other five Star Wars movies).
What it does have that raises the bar for the franchise as a whole, are three new characters who audiences can relate to, and who have been developed with great care by… yes, Abrams et al. First there’s Rey, waiting for her parents to return to the planet of Jakku where she ekes out a living trading scrap for food. Then there’s Finn, a stormtrooper whose conscience won’t allow him to serve the First Order any more. And lastly, there’s this trilogy’s über-bad guy, Kylo Ren, a follower of the Dark Side who boasts Darth Vader as an inspiration. These three characters’ fates become intertwined, and it will be interesting to see how their storylines play out over the course of Episodes VIII and IX.
Thanks to some very astute casting – Ridley as Rey, Boyega as Finn, and Driver as Ren – these characters should prove to be as popular as Luke, Han and Leia, and its their diversity which is a major plus for the franchise as a whole. Rey is fearless and largely unimpressed by the testosterone she’s surrounded by (including Han Solo), and it’s great to see a female character so unencumbered by stereotypical programming at the forefront of such a huge movie. The same can be said for Finn, his character torn between doing the right thing and getting as far away as possible from the First Order. As for Ren, well, let’s just say he has issues and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s good to see a level of emotional complexity that you don’t normally see in what’s effectively a space opera.
With the new cast members proving so effective – except for Isaac, alas, whose role as Leia’s “best man” Poe Dameron is sidelined for much of the movie – what of the old guard? Without giving too much away, it’s only Ford and Mayhew who grab much screen time, but it’s good to see them back, and there’s a moment in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon that should bring a tear to the eye of every diehard fan of the series. This feels very much like a transition movie, and though one “old” character should be at the forefront of Episode VIII, it’s the new ones who’ve already proved they can connect with fans and it’s their journey that (hopefully) will drive the trilogy to its conclusion (and even if it seems clear already where those journeys will converge and end).
A good job, then, and imbued with the sense of wonder that made Episode IV such a breath of fresh air back in 1977. It has a modern day sheen to it, and is effortlessly funny in places, with Abrams’ trademark sense of humour applied liberally throughout, but it’s unmistakably a Star Wars movie, from John Williams’ magical score to the inclusion of so many different alien races and species, to the exhilarating aerial battles between T.I.E.’s and X-Wing fighters. And of course there’s the Force, so integral to everything that happens, and still the guiding factor for everyone concerned. It’s so good to know that it’s woken up at last.
Rating: 8/10 – not entirely the joyous celebration everyone wanted it to be, but still standing head and shoulders over every other sci-fi series, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a welcome return to form after the po-faced seriousness of the prequel trilogy; with more than enough on display to make fans feel that the remaining two episodes are in good hands, this is easily the best feelgood movie of 2015, and if you don’t come out of the cinema with a big smile on your face, then you shouldn’t have gone in the first place.