Naturally, there are spoilers for the first episode here.
The Mandalorian is the first live-action television series to spring from the world of Star Wars. Created by Jon Favreau, this first episode is directed by Dave Filoni, the powerhouse mind behind Lucasfilm’s popular (and important) animated shows. It stars Pedro Pascal as a nameless Mandalorian bounty hunter who gets an offer for a job he can’t refuse from another nameless mystery man with Imperial connections played by Werner Herzog. Along the way, he joins forces with an ugnaught voiced by Nick Nolte and a suicidal bounty hunting droid named IG-11 voiced by Taika Waititi.
Ultimately, it’s a classic spaghetti western set-up, taking all the best tropes of Japanese samurai cinema and reformatting them into a western. The show merely takes that one step further by dropping it seamlessly into a galaxy far, far away.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The documentary film stylings of cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, including Dr. Strangelove, A Hard Day’s Night, and The Omen.)
George Lucas is a big fan of documentary filmmaking. It’s really how he’s approached film from the beginning and it’s no surprise. From some of his earliest film credits, Lucas proved adept at documentary work. He filmed and directed the behind-the-scenes short Filmmaker on the set of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People. After that, he was a camera operator on the seminal documentary film by the Maysles Brothers, Gimme Shelter. Lucas was there, rolling film at the Altamont Speedway where a deadly altercation broke out in front of the Rolling Stones as they performed. Lucas brought this documentary style to his next two feature films, THX-1138 and American Graffiti and sought to do the same for Star Wars.
In order to accomplish this, Lucas tried to hire a cinematographer that would be able to capture both the documentary feeling he was hoping for and the scope of visual effects he was planning. His first choice was Geoffrey Unsworth, who had previously filmed Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unsworth dropped out, though, opting instead to lens A Bridge Too Far (and then follow that up immediately with Richard Donner’s Superman.) This left Lucas to find a last minute replacement in Gilbert Taylor.
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Posted on Thursday, September 19th, 2019 by Bryan Young
July 16, 1999.
That was the last day of my eighteenth year and the first day Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut was released into the world. As an eighteen-year-old kid obsessed with film still devastated by the loss of Kubrick just a few months prior, I was dying to see this film. I’d hardly seen anything in the theatre but The Phantom Menace since its release in May, so this was going to be a refreshing change of pace.
Naturally, Eyes Wide Shut deals with themes that an eighteen-year-old kid ought to have very little frame of reference for. Jealousy was an abstract that I understood, but the intimate moments in a relationship recreated in the film were as much film fantasy as Star Wars was to me. I’d never been in a serious relationship to that point and the art of Eyes Wide Shut would help inform my understanding more than I would be able to decode anything from it.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The classic adventure film The Adventures of Robin Hood.)
In The Making of Star Wars, Martin Scorsese talked about George Lucas and his work on Star Wars. “I remember George was writing Star Wars at the time. He had all these books with him, like Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, and he was envisioning this fantasy epic. He did explain that he wanted to tap into the collective unconscious of fairy tales. And he screened certain movies, like…Michael Curtiz’s Robin Hood .”
Revisiting the classic film and thinking about it in the context of Star Wars, it’s no wonder George Lucas would have been screening it during the lead-up to the making of his original groundbreaking film. The film is, perhaps, the first, best distillation of the Robin Hood myths and the set the tone for all future iterations of the character. This codified the myth into the popular culture and was one of the highest grossing films of 1938. Interestingly enough, James Cagney was originally cast to play the titular character before walking off the set. He was replaced by relative newcomer Errol Flynn. It was Flynn’s casting that really defined the movie for generations and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, let alone Cagney.
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In 1992, when Francis Ford Coppola released Bram Stoker’s Dracula, his tragically romantic take on the gothic horror story was well-liked enough. Audiences responded to what Roger Ebert called the “feverish excess” of the film. It’s a film that takes the classic vampire tropes that we expect and examines them through two lenses: one of gothic romance and another that hews closer to the original source material than we’d ever really seen before.
After Dracula, Coppola was interested in directing what became Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but settled on producing it, bringing in Kenneth Branagh to direct the material in a way that only he could. Audiences and critics at the time rebelled against this vision of the classic tale of the modern Prometheus, but taken together as a double feature, I think these movies elevate each other into something that was impossible to see upon their release almost 30 years ago.
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Naturally, there are spoilers ahead.
Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is the ninth (or tenth?) film from Quentin Tarantino. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a has-been Western actor named Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as his stunt-double and driver, Cliff Booth. Together, they traverse the world of Hollywood in 1969 and its changing landscape. Many look to 1969 as a turning point in the old Hollywood system for a lot of reasons. It straddled the line between the old way and the new way, often drastically. 1969 saw the release of both Hello, Dolly! made by the establishment and Easy Rider, a film made by the next generation trying to find their way in a world gone mad. Then, of course, was the murder of Sharon Tate and co., a gruesome punctuation mark at the end of the era.
But Tarantino doesn’t follow this text to the letter. In fact, he makes some big changes to the narrative. He pulls a Walt Disney.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’ iconic universe. In this edition: The classic Kurosawa film The Hidden Fortress.)
When people talk about the cinematic influences of Star Wars, the first movie that will come out of most mouths will be Flash Gordon. The second, though, is almost always Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 classic The Hidden Fortress. This film tells the tale of Japanese peasants trying to escape a war between provinces and find themselves aiding a general and a princess on the run. Although there are lines and shots lifted straight out of The Hidden Fortress that made their way into A New Hope, legend grew about how influential it really was to the first Star Wars films. I find the more interesting parallels come out in the prequels. The film is undoubtedly one of Kurosawa’s masterpieces, a breathless adventure film fused with heart and humor. It was also his first to be shot in an anamorphic format, ushering in an all new look for his films moving forward. And, although George Lucas undersells the influence on Star Wars, there’s no denying that its impact was indelible.
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(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The classic war film 12 O’Clock High.)
1949’s 12 O’Clock High is a seminal war film. Made in the late ’40s while the wounds of World War II were still fresh, it tells the story of a beleaguered American bomber wing suffering from morale and leadership issues. Gregory Peck plays General Frank Savage, a man sent in to reform the bomber wing and make them a force feared by the Germans who they seek to bomb into oblivion. The film was notable for the empathy at which it approached the subject matter of pilots dealing with trauma. For a film made in the ‘40s, that alone made it a radical concept.
It’s a remarkable film that gets into the head of the bombers and the leadership skills needed to motivate a group of people to fly, day after day, out to their deaths.
In the lead-up to The Last Jedi, this was a chief influence commonly cited by Rian Johnson. This was one of the films he screened for his cast and crew during pre-production and production, and it’s easy to see how it would have influenced the eighth episode of the Skywalker saga. It would be easy to point to it as an influence for A New Hope as well.
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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker speculation, and therefore possible spoilers, lie ahead.
In the newly released trailer for The Rise of Skywalker, we hear a familiar laugh. Sheev Palpatine. And was that the second Death Star? How could something like this happen? How is this even possible?
Well, we’ve compiled all the scenarios, from least likely to most likely, just so you have the analysis you need.
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In the ‘60s, the author Kurt Vonnegut spoke about what he called the canary in the coal mine theory of the arts. In a speech to American Physical Society, he said, “This theory says that artists are useful to society because they are so sensitive. They are super-sensitive. They keel over like canaries in poison coal mines long before more robust types realize that there is any danger whatsoever.”
It’s a useful prism to think about art that tries to tell us something and something I thought of often as I watched Jordan Peele’s Us. Us is a movie with a lot to say. I wouldn’t dare to presume that I knew what it was trying to say, or what underlying lesson Peele wanted me to learn for certain, but I can tell you what it told me. If you’re reading this, I can presume you’ve seen Us. You know that it’s about a world of shadowy “tethers” who are linked to us down below. You know that these reflections of us have nothing and are down below for reasons we can’t begin to fathom. You know that the only thing these reflections want, at least one of them in particular, is a better life for themselves. When you throw in a healthy dose of horror and film’s final twist, you have something that’s equal parts Twilight Zone and Mark Twain.
Spoilers for Us lie ahead.
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