Sunday, December 28, 2014

Gone Fishin'

Yesterday, a previous DSW guest left me a Facebook message: "Star Wars is a still a total waste of your time." 

I couldn't agree more.


Because Star Wars is just that - something designed to waste our time in a fun way. 


However, time is precious. For the past year or so, I've debated on closing up shop on Digging Star Wars. After all, it's been a good, four-year run and maybe it's time to call it quits.


It doesn't help that LucasFilm & starwars.com launched a similar Star Wars/classic film comparison blog in 2013 based on the same  idea we rolled out in 2010. While "The Cinema Behind Star Wars" offers some unique insights and a few new films, it's pretty much rehashing the exact same catalog of films we explored prior. 


My blog is a small, mom-and-pop shop trying to compete with a big box store. It just can't be done.


And, yes, I truly am excited about The Force Awakens and, yes, this may be the worse time to pull the plug on a Star Wars-themed blog and miss out on the potential web traffic I could get with the ongoing Episode VII buzz...but...it's time.


I've learned never to say "never again" - so, instead of ending Digging Star Wars forever, I'm hanging up the GONE FISHIN' sign.



Digging Star Wars: Jurassic Park 3D episode guest and my son Peter (and one of his many catches).
I'm going to step away, explore some other creative opportunities, and mull over the idea of returning to (or reinventing) Digging Star Wars. 

Until then, I'm leaving the blog up for all to enjoy. If you're so inclined: post a comment. Tell us your favorite episode or your least favorite...and why. I always loved seeing the posts and emails come in from our listeners and followers worldwide.


Most of all, thank you for reading, listening, and supporting this blog that started as a project in a Critical Pedagogy class at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Thanks for posting comments on any and every episode and especially when I made special episodes designed for other classes. I was never shy for asking for comments when a grade was on the line and you never let me down. 


Thanks to my many guests that brought so much to the table - not just their time and insights, but often their own studios, gear, and talents (several guests edited episodes for me or even wrote and recorded original music specifically for our audio entries).

Thanks for joining in on the fun venture that was...and will remain...Digging Star Wars.




Saturday, November 29, 2014

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens Teaser Trailer

Black Friday this year brought more than bargains, as Disney released the first trailer for the new Star Wars movie online and in select theaters! Why pretty much everything thing that could be said about it has been said online, I just needed to point out how happy I am that the connectivity to classic films such as TheDam Busters, Saving Private Ryan, 2001, Fort Apache and, of course, the original Star War trilogy! See for yourself…


Monday, October 20, 2014

FREE Digging Star Wars MP3s

This Halloween, Digging Star Wars is turning 4 years old! 


To celebrate, we're offering ALL previous DSW podcasts as FREE downloadable MP3s! Just click on the Dropbox link below and download any episodes you want!


Special thanks to Clone Wars review guest, Josh Taback for creating the MP3s and the dropbox!



Enjoy, thanks for listening and Happy Halloween!

Monday, September 29, 2014

2001: A Space Odyssey, The Phantom Menace, and Jeff Gordon wins at Dover

Yesterday, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon – who raced the #24 Phantom Menace paint-scheme car back in 1999 – won the first race of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup. I attended this race in Dover International Speedway in Delaware donning my #24 Star Wars Episode I cap.


Little did I know,  I would unravel the final thread on the 2001/Episode I connections in Dover…

Prior to the race, for the past few weeks, I’ve had my share of middle-of-the-night movie watching - thanks to my teething one-year-old. In those sleepless nights, I’ve re-watched Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. As many of you know, there is a delicious Easter Egg in Episode I that visually points to 2001.

An EVA pod from 2001 lies just inside Watto’s junkyard, where Watto and Qui-Gon Jinn have a conversation about paying for the spare parts the Jedi needs to repair Queen Amidala’s spaceship. Here is a still from 2001 showing several pods on the left...

 

And here is the scene from Phantom Menace featuring the 2001 pod. 
Look just to the right of Watto's flapping wings...



While there are additional scenes and nuances shared by both films, I’d like to hone in on this whole “pod” business first.  I want to stress that the 2001 spaceship is known as a POD and this is the beginning scene that will make up an act in Episode I that climaxes with… wait for it… a PODrace, as in Anakin will race his own PODracer to get the spare parts Qui-Gon and company needs (and secure his own freedom from slavery). Now, when we first see the 2001 EVA pod in the background, we haven’t heard the term “pod” or “podrace” in Phantom Menace, but it serves as a visual indicator.

Sci-fi fans who had already seen 2001 prior to their first viewing of Episode I (like me), may have thought, “Oh, that’s cool. That’s the POD from 2001.” When the term “podrace” is first mentioned by Anakin a few minutes later in the film, we’re not thinking about the junkyard visually – or remembering the EVA pod we saw there. And yet, we will return to that location to secure the deal with Watto for the podrace scene to occur. A few minutes later, before the podrace begins, Qui-Gon makes deal with Watto. If Anakin pilots his pod to victory, Watto must release him from slavery. In other words, Anakin will be TRANSFORMED into a new stage of his life…to be free, to become a Jedi and, ultimately, to become Darth Vader.



In 2001, main character and space traveler Dave Bowman is also transformed into his (and humanity’s) next life stage when he travels in his pod into the monolith. After steering his pod into the monolith, Dave travels across a luminous, alien landscape that ends with his aging and transformation into a “star child.”


So, what does my trip to the NASCAR race at Dover have to do with any of this? Well, now having attended a NASCAR race, I must say that Lucas and crew did an excellent job creating the racing experience in the podrace. Lucas made it very clear that he wanted the podrace in Episode I to feel “very NASCAR.” The cast of interesting characters in the stands, the intense sounds and visuals of the race and so many other aspects of Dover really hit me and reminded me of the podrace scene (arguably the BEST part of Episode I). 

But, after our one-time Phantom Menace driver Jeff Gordon won yesterday, I learned an interesting fact. It’s been YEARS since Gordon won at Dover. How long? 

The last time Jeff Gordon won at Dover was the calendar year 2001.


On that note, here are some other interesting similarities/coincidences shared between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace:

  •  Early on in each film, characters take a space flight to attend a business meeting on a space station. In 2001, Dr. Heywood R. Floyd (William Sylvester) travels via Pan Am space plane to a circular space station. 
    In Episode I, cruiser Radiant VII carries Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) to a circular Trade Federation space station.


  •  A robot in plain sight eavesdrops on two mortal characters having a life-or-death conversation. In 2001, Dr. David Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Dr. Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) talk in a docked EVA pod while the HAL-9000 lip reads their conversation.
    In Episode I, two Neimoidian aliens fearfully debate who will
     talk to the two Jedi. Protocol droid TC-1, who is idly standing by,  is ordered to go into the conference room.

  • Characters “struggle” to get through circular portals. In 2001, a Pan Am stewardess uses Velcro-slippers to navigate the weightlessness of outer space to enter a circular portal “upside down.”
    In
    Episode I, Qui-Gon uses his lightsaber to cut through circular blast doors.


  • Stuart Freeborn, the man responsible for designs of Wookies, Yoda and Jabba the Hutt – also worked on the ape-suits in the DAWN OF MAN sequence in 2001.

Friday, August 22, 2014

DIGGING STAR WARS 6-NIGHT FILM CLASS at DARC

Digging Star Wars is very excited to announce the first ever DIGGING STAR WARS 6-NIGHT FILM CLASS through the Downingtown Area Recreation Consortium! Here's the write-up in the DARC catalog (and please forgive the typo - we all know Ep7 is coming out in 2015):


Star Wars and Movie fans,  I promise more great, classic movies and geeky conversations overflowing with delicious tidbits of  trivia. So, if you will be in Chester County, PA this Fall - why not sign up? Here's an application for your convenience....


For more information on Downingtown Area Recreation Consortium, go to: www.darcinfo.com

Sunday, August 17, 2014

In Loving Memory of Buck Nonnemaker

Many people that belong to our Digging Star Wars group knew Buck Nonnemaker. For those of you who don't: he was a great guy that fought cancer for years and just passed away this week. A loving father, good friend, caring co-worker, expert videographer, classic film fan - the list goes on and on of what Buck was to so many people. Simply put: Buck was one of us, only ten times nicer. Please consider donating whatever you can to The Buck Foundation - which hopes to carry on the fight against cancer. To borrow from Yoda, when it comes to your donation "size matters not." Just do what you can - if you can. Thanks....



Buck and I also belonged to a film group with our frequent guest and friend, Phil Congleton. Phil has saved some of Buck's movie reviews of classic films. Here's a sampling of Buck's writings on classic films from 1961...


The Hustler (1961)
This one was packed full of talent. Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott all gave terrific performances. Gleason as Minnesota Fats didn’t have to say much. Just the way he looked at people and moved around a pool table spoke volumes. Scott’s sleaze ball character was brilliant as I found myself despising him for his obvious love of cash and apathy of everything else. And, of course, young “blue eyes” (may he rest peacefully) was a perfect fast Eddie, hot headed, showing his youth by acting invincible. The opening scene of the 25-hour pool game moved seamlessly replete with anticipation. After that this movie slowed down tremendously. Sara and Eddie’s intentionally awkward “un” relationship took forever to not develop and drained some of the life out of the film. I did find Piper Laurie’s performance of the emotionless, on-again-off-again alcoholic strangely captivating. She gave a bit of perspective to Eddie that seemed to mature him upon her death. It’s just a shame he never got to tell her he loved her. Instead he had to tell “sleaze ball”. And yet again, love is more powerful than the fame and the fortune! – Grade: B+
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
I never knew that while I was making doo doo in my dipey a stunning and quirky Audrey Hepburn was bringing radiance to the silver screen. Holly Golightly (what a great name), seems to walk on air with a wonderful grace, even after 7 or 8 bourbons. And speaking of drinking … was there any character in this film that wasn’t a complete alcoholic. What a group of friends! What a party! George Peppard did a great job of trying to figure this crazy woman out while falling in love with her. I could have watched an entire movie of this couple wandering in and out of Tiffany’s, the library, the 5 & dime, anywhere that some spoofy conversation would perplex the poor salesperson behind the counter. And, boy, were the stereotypes flying around back in ’61. I mean, Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yushiani with big buckteeth and thick lens glasses hollering “I call da Porees!”, would not fly today. When Buddy Ebsen referred to Holly as “Lula Mae” I thought I was suddenly watching a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies again. Was he Jed Clampett in everything he did? The final scene in the pouring rain really tugged at my heartstrings. I was so happy that she found the cat! – Grade: A
The Ladies Man (1961)
Let me guess... No one was nominated for an Academy Award in this one. Maybe it’s just me but Jerry Lewis desperately needs a Dean Martin. In the Lewis and Martin films I’ve seen Dean was always a wonderful set-up guy, smooth and straight, while Jerry could be a complete goofball to deliver the slapstick punch line. In this film, it appeared that Lewis was almost trying to be both the clumsy retard and the compassionate gentleman. Unfortunately, Herbert Herbert alone made for a very long 90 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed out loud when he attempted to straighten out the thug’s favorite hat or was spoon-fed in an oversized highchair (plenty of ad libbing in those scenes). But the laughs were few and far between. I did enjoy the theatrical feel the movie had with open sets and simple choreography. And the opening chain reaction sequence on the “street” was brilliant. I wished it could have lasted a bit longer. It seemed that every new character introduced in this film was crazier than the previous, making Herbert appear to be the normal one. – Grade: C+
The Night aka La Notte (1961)
Giovanni and Lydia have the fame and the fortune, the great Italian car, plenty of alcohol, fine cigars, lovely clothing, etc., etc. Yet they lack affection for one another. This film accurately portrays the ever-so-common tale of a couple that has grown bored with one another. Both attractive people that have taken for granted a partner that can provide compassion, intimacy, and affection to the other. Giovanni is so desperate for affection he finds himself in a wild-eyed crazy lady’s room whom kisses with teeth clenched, removes her clothes immediately inviting her visitor to enter her with carelessness… And the damn fool would have done it if it weren’t for two zealous nurses who break it up and proceed to beat the woman about the head. I suppose Giovanni had done nothing wrong. From that point on this film got slow and strange, or stranger. The party, which took up most of the second half, was full of oddball characters with money that all seemed to be yearning for something they didn’t have. But Lydia, who deserves all my respect, could not fool around on her husband. She attempted to keep her composure, even soaking wet, while her frustrated husband made every attempt to get under the skirt of the daughter of a man who just offered him an insanely lucrative job. Boys will be boys! - Grade: B-
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Yet another reason Brando is a household name. His smooth, almost sedated delivery and casual approach to killing make him a likeable liar in this one. And the girls just go gaga over that smile! Nuff about Marlon, how bout that Karl Malden? Just a few years before his overacting success on the hit drama “Streets of San Francisco”, we find him once again overacting but this time while flying over prairies by horse and demonstrating his skills of dance while intoxicated. Nothin’ more fun than a drunken politician! Actually, Malden does a pretty bang up job as bad guy turned sheriff. This film is replete with wide, static shots of rolling hills and gorgeous scenery. In fact throughout the movie the camera has very little movement creating a mellow, serene mood to depict the laidback attitude of the Wild West. I found this to slow the movie a bit and a few of the scenes dragged on. But back to Brando… is he cool or what? The scene where he is explaining just why it is necessary for him to kill the sheriff is brilliant. Gonna go watch me some more old Brando flicks! - Grade: B-
Through the Glass Darkly (1961)
The first half hour of this movie I felt was filled with generally boring dialogue contained in long deliberate scenes. Although some of the camera movement was interesting, Karin’s “incurable illness” was initially peculiar and unclear. The sound of a lone cello created eerie interludes and left me wondering if I would make it through this one. However, as the film moved on I realized that this young German actress did a fine job of portraying a woman struggling with dementia and schizophrenia. And crazy she was. God is a spider trying to penetrate her? Yea. That’s certified nuts! If I’m not mistaken brother Minus was the one who did the penetrating although that was never made clear. Papa’s retelling of his attempt at suicide was powerful and Martin’s unconditional love of Karin remarkable. Considering the story was two hours long based around four characters in one location, it kept me watching and wondering. As the story developed the dialogue became poetic and engaging presenting the struggle we all have with faith and where God is in all of this. - Grade: B+
Viridiana (1961)
Just another story about a pretty girl trying to become a nun and decides to visit her uncle one last time, he dresses her up in his widow’s wedding gown, drugs her coffee and then attempts to rape her. Pretty normal so far, right? Yeah, this one was quirky to say the least and got stranger as it went. Poor Viridiana was always trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, that thing tended to blow up in her face. And vagrants will be vagrants. Taking in the homeless is commendable. Leaving them alone at the estate for several hours is just plain stupid. The beggars’ parody of the Last Supper got an audible chuckle out of me. But overall this film lacked plenty, moved slowly, and had me thinking if I were surrounded by all these lunatics, I would also want to hide away in a convent the rest of my mortal life. – Grade: C
The Pier aka La Jetee (1961)
I wasn’t sure if this one was going to count since it had a date of 1963 in the opening credits. ??? I loved the idea of using stills throughout this piece except for one brief moving video where the woman blinks. Some of the stills were so close in framing that it presented tension, paralleling the anguish of the human-turned-guinea pig. This circular story had my head spinning a bit but I couldn’t look away. The whispering voices were eerie and I wanted them to stop. The relationship with the woman, which appeared to be completely in his mind, left me wondering if the witnessing of his own death, unclear how he died, was also a fabrication of the psyche. - Grade: B+
Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
This film had a unique approach, an unusual, eeriness that drew me in. From the very start it had stunning camera movement winding down corridors and exploiting the architecture of this immense structure. In contrast, the people contained within the frame remained statuesque, motionless for the most part. The dialogue was poetic yet intentionally repetitious. A haunting organ provided the mood while the main characters were unnamed and had no depth to them whatsoever. A man attempting to convince an aloof woman that they had met a year prior at a similar affair was relentless. I had no way of knowing past from present, present from future, reality from fantasy as the scenes would change abruptly midway through a conversation. By the end, I was sure that this man had narrated his own ending, drawing the woman away from her husband, eyes glazed, elegantly departing with a man she had never met before. This was one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a long time. But, strange as I am, I loved it! – Grade: B+
Lola (1961)
Boy is bored and wants some excitement in his life. Boy quits job and finds a new one full of travel, intrigue, and suspense. Boy meets dancer girl and falls in love. Now boy doesn’t want to leave girl to travel with new job full of intrigue, etc. No matter. Girl doesn’t love him anyway but is in love with some guy who impregnated her with a boy and took off six years ago. He just wanted to make sure he got good and rich before he came back for them… I found this story silly and a fairly boring French chick flick. The acting was so-so and the scenes felt very deliberate in their approach. I also had a hard time figuring out what time of day it was in several of the scenes. Time to get Yvon off to school followed by meeting up for dinner at the new friends’ place. Yet the lighting and feel of the scenes felt identical as if no time had passed at all. The strangest part of the movie was the slo-mo sequence in which Frankie the sailor and young Cecile hop off of a ride, hand in hand, looking oddly like age lopsided sweethearts. Those French sure are peculiar. – Grade: C
Splender in the Grass (1961)
I know that teen love can be frustrating and confusing but these two teens went a little too quickly into crazy nut mode. C’mon get over yourselves and each other, please. I mean, two years in the rubber house! Is it possible there was something deeper to this than her boyfriend deciding he may want to be left alone a little? Now that that’s off my chest… Natalie Wood was downright adorable in 1961 and did a pretty good job as Deanie. She actually gave herself a decent new hairstyle considering she used a pair of hedge shears for the job. Beatty’s performance was fairly solid when he could slip a couple of lines in edgewise while his Dad hollered, scolded, spit, and sweat all over himself. Actually, I think Pat Hingle’s acting was the best in the bunch. It was a solid performance. Overall, the film moved a little slowly and carried a bit of redundancy to it. I enjoyed watching this one but soon realized that it only takes 30 seconds or so to conclude that being in love at 16 can be very difficult. – Grade: B-
West Side Story (1961)
I have to admit I was not looking forward to watching this one. I’m not big on musicals. But I found myself whistling “I want to live in America” the day after I watched it. This film has all kinds of music that has become standards over the years. In fact, “There’s a place for us” was sung at my own wedding. Go figure. I’ve probably mentioned this before but Natalie Wood was damn cute back in the ‘60s. She actually pulled off a pretty good Latino accent too. This street version of Romeo and Juliet was dripping with racial drama and choreography that came straight from the theatre stage. This couple was so instantly in love, you just knew somebody had to die. And how many times do you get to see street gangs clad in pastel shirts, tight pants, spinning circles in the ‘hood like ballerinas. Drained the testosterone right out of me! – Grade: C+

Rest in Peace, Buck. We miss you.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Robotech Academy ~ Kickstarted, Then Kicked to the Curb

Tonight, I sat down at the computer with my wallet in hand ready to donate to the Robotech Academy Kickstarter campaign ...only to find out that Harmony Gold cancelled the campaign a few days before the final deadline. Why? Because the funding stalled around $170K then trickled up to only $194K - several $100,000 short of it $500K goal. Here's the one of many RA Kickstarter videos:


I won't write a blog entry on why this campaign "failed" because someone already did that. And, as some of you know, I LOVE Robotech and have even written a paper on Robotech's treatment of Aliens vs. Hybrids which I presented at PASSHE in April 2012.

This blog entry was going to be a last minute plea for sci-fi fans to support the rebirth of a sprawling space opera that paved a path for Rebels and The Clone Wars (listen to our CW review #1 and #2 which mentions the Robotech/Clone Wars connections). Now, it's simply a memorial to another failed Robotech project. Nonetheless, I hope Harmony Gold figures out how to make Academy into a reality.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

BOWFINGER TOUR

For those of you that remember my Blade Runner Tour of LA, you know that I love going to various film locations. Any trip to LA provides a plethora of movie locations, so last week  I decided to do a BOWFINGER tour of the City of Angels. The tour has nothing whatsoever to do with Star Wars, but I thought it was worth sharing all the same…especially since Bowfinger (1999) is in my Top 10 favorite movies of all time.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bowfinger, here’s the trailer (although this trailer really doesn’t do the film justice):



The following contains minor spoilers. You’ve been warned…

The tour begins - but where else? – at the home of Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) in Hollywood.


For exact addresses of this and other locations, check out the link at the bottom of this post. In the movie, they added columns and an archway reading “Bowfinger International Pictures.” See...


Below is a shot I took on my phone. This is roughly one of the same angles used in the film (but in the film, there was no iron gate between the house and the road).Note the Capitol Records building in the back.




From there my buddy Josh and I went to the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood which doubles as MindHead HQ in the movie. Here it is in the movie:


And here it is with Josh...


This is a really cool building all the way around with cubist architecture and gigantic sculptures – like this Mega-Chair…



From there, we went over to Westwood Village for the theatre which hosted the premiere of Bowfinger’s sci-fi film “Chubby Rain.” 



Unfortunately, they were not showing Chubby Rain. Instead, they were screening Michael Bay’s latest Transformers movie. Bummer.


From there, we went to the original location of La Dome, the real life restaurant that served up many a power lunch. It is here that Bowfinger scores a deal with Jerry Renfro (Robert Downey, Jr.).


La Dome closed shop for good in 2005 and, as far as I can tell, a few businesses have set up shop and failed in the same locale. This is my impersonation of Bowfinger’s proclamation of a “go picture!” at the one-time address of La Dome.


Next stop: the home of Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy).  In the movie, they visit this location several times: Bowfinger enters through these gates to give Kit the Chubby Rain script, they film a scene with Daisy (Heather Graham) chasing Kit’s car, etc. One scene ends with Bowfinger jumping out of the bushes and yelling “Cut!” like I’m doing here…


Perhaps the most practical location is Rae’s Restaurant in Santa Monica which is an operating diner that’s appeared in several films including Bowfinger


Here’s my good friend Scott and his daughter Emerson in the same area where Bowfinger’s crew realize that Jiff (also played by Eddie Murphy) is actually Kit’s brother. 


And that plant in the background is the same plant in the movie! Here's a still from the movie...



There’s plenty of additional locations I didn’t hit this tour – including the iconic Griffith Observatory (which I’ve been to numerous times - if you haven't been there, you should go). For most of the addresses and additional information regarding a BOWFINGER tour of LA, check out this link: http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/b/bowfinger.html#.U7m8U_ldX5w

My tour took only 2 days – thanks to my friends Josh and Scott chauffeuring me around. But, in theory, you could hit all the above locations in one day – with careful planning and minimal traffic. Either way, it only costs a tank of gas and a meal at Rae’s – well worth it, in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Son of Digging Star Wars


An aspiring, young sports writer (that just so happens to live under the same roof as me) has started his own blog on the 2014 World Cup. Please check it out and post a comment if you're so inclined. Here's the link:


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Neighbours (1952)

Despite several articles (like this one) and interviews that acknowledge the multiple influences art films like Neighbours had on George Lucas, it surprises me how little interest or patience many Star Wars fans have for art films.

In 2004, I was lucky enough for LucasFilm and AtomFilms to select my Star Wars fan film as one of 10 finalists in The Official Star Wars Fan Film Festival at San Diego Comic-Con. This was very exciting as Mr. Lucas personally screened each of the 10 finalist films himself – in order to award one the “George Lucas Selects” award. My film entitled MADE TO SUFFER was based on his earlier “arty” student films (like Herbie) and presented an experimental representation of the dual nature of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader and his golden creation: one-time “binary load-lifter” programmer, C-3PO. Upon meeting some of the other Star Wars fan filmmaker finalists who made clever SW parodies or EU narratives, I was met with icy cold receptions and comments like, “Oh. You made that film.” Needless to say, I didn’t make any new friends that day.  But that didn’t matter. George Lucas saw my movie and it was played repeatedly at the LucasFilm pavilion at the convention. That was almost good enough for me. Here is my less-than-one-minute film…


Most certainly, MADE TO SUFFER is a different type of fan film. However, there truly is plenty of room for all types of inspirations and genres within Star Wars. And so, a seed was planted and would blossom six years later when I launched the Digging Star Wars blog…

Many of the Star Wars faithful heard the stories of George Lucas watching Saturday serials, reading comic books and the like as a kid. Few fans acknowledge his art film legacy. Lucas’ college film buddies, mentors, and collaborators were a crafty bunch – creating cutting edge cinema in ragtag facilities, often geared more for art houses and film festivals than the mainstream movie theater. This avant-garde bent is most prevalent in Lucas’ early short films and his first feature, THX-1138.



Lucas also ingested art films with as much enthusiasm as the beloved serials. One such film – that inspired a number of Star Wars elements and film techniques – is Neighbours (1952).

Not to be confused with the Seth Rogen/Zac Efron comedy released last month, “Neighbours” is crafted by Scottish-Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren and is the tale of two neighbors that fight over a single flower that pops up between their properties. While the story grows darker and darker during the course of the film, the storytelling method – using variable-speed photography and stop-frame animation – is incredibly playful. Here is the short film in its entirety…



Neighbours won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). While the film is clearly an artful narrative, the anti-war theme is the main message.



Wikipedia lists that the film has had an interesting number of American re-edits throughout history as our country’s attitude towards war changed from the 1950s to 1970s and so on.

After seeing Neighbours, several Jedi references – both technically and thematically – lept out at me. From the “fencing” to the stop-motion “flight” of the men, I saw nods to lightsaber duels and speeder bikes. Jedi, as mentioned in our Saving Private Ryan episode, is perhaps the most political film of the original trilogy when it comes to depicting warfare. In Neighbours, the continuous fighting warps the faces of the men battling each other over the flower. The tribal-like distortion of facial features is very similar to how Anakin Skywalker looks like once Luke takes Vader’s mask off. This is no coincidence. Vader is the ultimate symbol of the galactic civil war, of innocence lost, and how a man can become “more machine now than man” thanks to the evil and ruthless pursuit of power and domination.



Likewise, the pale, wrinkled face of the Emperor illustrates a man that is so bent on controlling the galaxy, it has warped and mutilated his own face…

Movie lovers often complain of film snobs that won’t see mainstream movies. In my humble opinion, movie-watching is a two-way street. If you love a “popcorn-movie” like Star Wars, you should give the films that inspired the saga – including little, bitty art films like Neighbours, a chance. And, fellow fan filmmakers, leave a little room in your heart for weird tiny experiments like Made to Suffer. Because you never know who may watch a film like “that”…maybe even George Lucas himself. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Labyrinth (1986) and Star Wars: Episode VII

When it comes to Episode VII, you never know what rumors or insight to believe or not...unless it comes from J.J. Abrams himself, that is. Check out this message from the director of the latest SW movie...




Great! Puppets, right? Well, the first thing that popped into my head was the George Lucas/Jim Henson collaboration, Labyrinth starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, and "The Junk Lady" - who seems a lot like the backpacking alien above.


Check this out this clip (and, no, I don't endorse or know what the website at the top of the clip is all about)...




Pretty cool, in my humble opinion. If Abrams is as big of a fan as he says in the first clip, expect to see more wonderful nods to great classic films within the next chapter of SW. After all, it's embedded in Star Wars to reference the past.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Message fom the 501st

My good friend C.J. Witherspoon went across enemy lines, conspired with The Empire, and brought back this incredibly awesome video from the Dark Lord of the Sith and his minions! Truly honored Garrison Carida of the 501st took the time to do this. Thanks, CJ, Chad and the whole 501st!



Thursday, May 1, 2014

The War of the Worlds (1897, 1898, 1938, 1953...)



“…vast and cool and unsympathetic…”

While these words may sound like a description of Hoth, they are actually describing Martian invaders...


Much has been written about and inspired by H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds. It was one of the first stories to lay out an alien invasion of Earth – a concept keeps popping up in science fiction from Radar Men from the Moon  to Close Encounters of the ThirdKind to Robotech.

The War of the Worlds first appeared in serialized form in both UK and US magazines in 1897. A year later, the entire tale was released as a book for the first time.

In 1938, it was retold in Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre radio program. The broadcast was mistaken for an actual news report of a Martian invasion by many Americans – including my own grandmother who feared Martians abducted her twin sister when she failed to come home before curfew that late October night.

1953 brought the George Pal film production of the Martian invasion with a sinister-looking alien, sleek Martian machines (with killer sound effects for the Heat Ray) and the captivating Sylvia Van Buren - portrayed by the beautiful Ann Robinson. Robinson would later make cameos in the 1988-1989 War of the Worlds TV series and the 2005 Steven Speilberg/Tom Cruise remake.

Ever since 1980, I heard The War of the Worlds referred to as an inspiration for The Empire Strikes Back. While I appreciated the intergalactic battle aspect of both films, I once struggled with the comparison. And that really bothered me, since I have been just as big a fan of War of the Worlds as I have been of Star Wars. The seemingly obvious connection was the Martian invasion of Earth to the Imperial assault on Hoth.

The part that tripped me up was that the Martian “fighting machines” – also referred to in the classic book as “tripods” – didn’t look anything like the Imperial Walkers (a.k.a. AT-ATs) in Empire. This was especially the case in the aforementioned 1953 movie where the Martian machines didn’t even have visible legs (but an awesome design nonetheless)…


The War of the Worlds was also retold numerous times in comic book form, too. A few years ago, I received this 1955 “Classics Illustrated” comic as a gift. Then it became a little clearer why Empire is tied to The War of the Worlds:


Isn’t this 1955 rendering of the Humans vs. Martians remind you of rebel troopers struggling in the Hoth trenches as the massive Imperial walkers conduct their attack on Echo Base

Besides the visual comparison, think of this thematically. In Wells’ original story, the Martians land in the UK’s sand pits of Horsell Common. They attack the nearby large town of Woking and move their invasion onto various parts of the civilized world.  At the time of the first publication of The War of the Worlds, the British Empire was spread out through the real world. By placing the UK under the attack of superior war machines/Martian oppressors, Wells was turning the tables on the British. The real-life, worldwide oppressors were now forced to see life as the oppressed under the might of an off-world Empire.

In The Empire Strikes Back, the Imperials land in the ice fields outside the Rebels’ Echo Base (presumably the only civilization on the ice planet) and attack the rebels head on. It is quite clear that the Imperials have superior technology with Luke Skywalker’s comment “That armor’s too strong for blasters…” and whatnot. The rebel underdogs are fighting for the oppressed across the galaxy, but they are no match for such well-equipped Imperial foes.



I find it also quite delicious that the AT-ATs are commanded by the British-sounding Imperial officers (once again, the tables are turned – the oppressed British in Wells’ tale are the oppressors in Lucas’ movie).

The beginning of these two “invasion” tales are the same: a mistaken meteorite hits “the ground near here” (as Luke puts it) and winds up being the first step in a full-fledged invasion. However, the final outcomes of each invasion are completely different. And that’s what makes these classic film comparisons so much fun. It’s so cool to see what Lucas borrowed from certain established stories…and left behind, too.

The 1953 The War of the Worlds remains one of my favorite science fiction films of all-time. I listen to the 1938 Orson Welles broadcast every Halloween. My sons are War of the Worlds fans, too – the above comic now resides in their room for their perusal-at-will. The War of the Worlds – like Star Wars – will last forever. If you haven’t read, listened, or watched any of the available versions of The War of the Worlds, please do so. It’s simply a must-experience for Star Wars fans… and any other sci-fi fan as well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Disney's The Love Bug (1968)


Now that Disney owns Star Wars, it seems only fitting to finally address one of my wildest but fully-endorsed (by me) classic film connections to the Star Wars saga.

Just as Maria in Fritz Lang's film Metropolis inspired C-3PO, the little Volkswagen bug in Disney's The Love Bug - also known as "Herbie" - was clearly an inspiration for R2-D2.

Crazy, am I? Well, then: Let’s go crazy.

Any Lucas follower knows Lucas was really into cars in his teen years and, as the legend goes, if he never had that dreaded car accident as a youngin’, he may never have gone on to college, made American Graffiti, and so on and so forth.


That said, once he started making films in college, cars were prominent in his films – like in his film “1 42 08 A Man and His Car.” Or, better yet, see the George Lucas student film named “Herbie.” Oh, have I got your attention, now?




Granted, “Herbie” in Lucas’ film is a nod to jazz musician Herbie Hancock – but the love of “the car” is present, too. And, if you haven’t seen American Graffiti yet, and call yourself a Star Wars fan, well…you should see it. All I’ll spoil is that cars are very, very important to the film.

In The Love Bug (1968), a whiny, downtrodden racer inherits a small Volkswagen bug soon-to-be-named “Herbie” and quickly learns Herbie has a mind of its own and often disobeys commands with the best interests in mind for everyone. With a chrome and white chassis, Herbie features red, blue and black markings and communicates to others through a series of beeps and whistles. The nemesis of Herbie’s owner sends men to repossess Herbie. They fail repeatedly, but do manage to hurt Herbie on occasion. In the last stretch of the big finale, Herbie – after having been sabotaged by the villain multiple times – falls apart before the final victory, seemingly destroyed forever. However, Herbie’s team goes on to win the final race. Thankfully, in the film’s final scene, Herbie is already put back together – good as new and ready for another adventure.



 In Star Wars (1977), a whiny, depressed space farm boy acquires a small Astromech droid named R2-D2 and quickly learns that “Artoo” has a mind of its own and often disobeys commands with the best interests in mind for everyone (In Artoo’s case, it’s the best interest of the Rebellion against the Empire). With a chrome and white chassis, Artoo features red, blue and black lights and markings and communicates to others through a series of beeps and whistles. Darth Vader, the nemesis of Luke Skywalker/Ben Kenobi, sends stormtroopers to Tatooine to repossess Artoo.  They fail repeatedly, but Vader does manage to blow up Artoo in the last stretch of the big finale – the trench run. Artoo is seemingly destroyed forever, right before the final victory – the destruction of the first Death Star. However, Artoo’s fellow rebels go on to win the final battle. Thankfully, in the film’s final scene, Artoo is already put back together – good as new and ready for another adventure.

Go ahead, call me crazy. Or agree with me. Either way, write a comment below and let me know your thoughts.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

MUSIC TO WRITE BY - THE PLAYLIST

Here's a "THANK YOU!" gift  to all who took my Music & Writing survey. A playlist based on your responses. Enjoy!


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Writers Survey about Music




Hello there!

As many of you already know,  several of my blog entries pertain to my academic work at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Currently, I'm conducting a survey about WRITERS and THE MUSIC THEY LISTEN TO. If you fancy yourself a writer - professional, academic, or otherwise - please take the survey via the link below. It would help me out a great deal. Also, I failed to put in the survey a question regarding age of participant. If you do fill out the survey, please give some indication of your age in the final comments section.

Thanks in advance! Click here to take survey

Monday, March 10, 2014

Radar Men from the Moon (1952)


Just when I thought I had a cut-and-dry classic film reference for Digging Star Wars, I've uncovered a rat's nest. Here's the deal: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith introduced a character named "Commander Cody." He was Obi-Wan's clone commander ally and soon-to-be, would-be executioner. Cody is the first clone to kickoff the infamous Order 66 scene.


Commander Cody would later appear in multiple episodes of the animated TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I often heard his name was a reference to one old serial film character of the same name. Wrong!

Sith's Commander Cody name is based on Republic Pictures' COMMANDO Cody character, who was in the 12-chapter movie serical named Radar Men from the Moon in 1952. Fourteen years after its movie theater run, the same serial aired on television as Retick the Moon Menace. Here is the trailer for Radar Men from the Moon...


But there's a slight controversary with the name. In an issue of Comics Scene magazine (Comic Scene #20, pp. 29-30), critics suggest that Republic named the character Commando Cody to confuse younger viewers that they were watching COMMANDER Corry of Space Patrol - a popular ABC TV show in the first half of the 1950s. Republic Pictures has never confirmed nor denied this allegation. Here's just one episode of Space Patrol - complete with Space Patrol commercials!


To make it even more confusing, Republic's COMMANDO Cody featured the same rocket-man suit from the 1949 Republic serial King of the Rocket Men. The suit not only made a prominent appearance in Radar Men from the Moon, but also Zombies of the Stratosphere (1952) and Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe (1953). And, since we're knee-deep in the confusing mess of borrowing, stealing, and rehashing: Zombies of the Stratosphere - which featured a young actor named Leonard Nimoy - was re-edited into the 1958 feature film called Satan's Satellites.

So, to be fair, we need to consider both Radar Men from the Moon and Space Patrol as the cinematic parents of Obi-Wan's turncoat clone commander Cody. In math terms:

COMMANDER Corry [Space Patrol (1950-1955)] + Commando CODY [Radar Men from the Moon (1952)] = COMMANDER CODY [Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)]

There: clear as mud.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Top Hat (1935)


George Lucas, as quoted in STAR WARS MYTHMAKING: BEHINDTHE SCENES OF ATTACK OF THE CLONES, “…I wanted to tell a love story in a style that was extremely old-fashioned…much more like a movie from the 1930s than any of the others had been, with a slightly over-the-top, poetic style…” 1935 Best Picture Nominee TOP HAT is such a love story…and, quite frankly, delivers flowery dialogue ever-more-so eloquently.
Top Hat was one of the films that rocketed Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to stardom. As far as “old” black-and-white musicals go, it’s fantastic. A toe-tapping Irving Berlin score, superb dance numbers, cool Art Deco sets, and light-hearted love angst create an entertaining ride from London to Brighton to Venice.



To boil TOP HAT down to its basic plot: A very talented performer named Jerry (Fred Astaire) hopes a very elite, beautiful woman named Dale (Ginger Rogers) will be his girl. Jerry tries to woo Dale, but she needs convincing throughout the whole picture that Jerry is worthy of a commitment. Right before the grand finale, Dale realizes Jerry is worthy of a love pledge – but there’s one more adventure to survive.

Sound familiar? Here's the Attack of the Clones version of what I just wrote...

To boil AOTC down to its basic plot: a very powerful Jedi named Anakin (Hayden Christensen) hopes a very elite, beautiful woman named Padme (Natalie Portman) will be his girl. Anakin tries to woo Padme, but she needs convincing throughout the whole picture that Anakin is worthy of a commitment. Right before the grand finale, Padme realizes Anakin is worthy of a love pledge – but there’s one more adventure to survive.

Let’s face it: the “out of your league” love quest is nothing new to cinema…or storytelling for that matter. But Lucas’ disregard for criticism of his dialogue is commendable, especially since everyone including Harrison Ford is a known critic of his screenplays’ dialogue. “I was very happy with the way it turned out in the script and in performances, but I knew people might not buy it, “ Lucas confessed. “…Most guys think that kind of flowery, poetic talk is stupid…More sophisticated, cynical types also don’t buy that stuff. So I didn’t know if people would laugh at it and throw things at the screen, or if they would accept it.”

The first time I saw AOTC, moviegoers either laughed or winced at this dialogue. Padme’s line to Anakin about “dying a little bit each day since you came back into my life” caused a mysterious female moviegoer to bellow from the back of the now defunct United Artists East Whiteland Stadium Theater, “AWWWW, Come on! For Real?!” Here’s that line and more from AOTC’s love pledge scene…

That said, the dialogue is nostalgic and builds the relationship to a significant degree. By the time we get to Mustafar in Revenge of the Sith, fans were dialed into this over-the-top dialogue. When Padme delivers the equally corny line, “Anakin, you're breaking my heart! You're going down a path I cannot follow!” I heard my Father-in-law – just a few seats down from me –ask a female moviegoer, “Are you all right? You’re crying.” The female fan simply said, “I am. It’s so beautiful.”

Still not buying AOTC as a worthy love story? Fine. You don’t have to. BUT…if you want to see it done right, see romance films from the 1930s…starting with TOP HAT.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ben-Hur (1959)

1959's Ben-Hur had the subtitle: “A Tale of The Christ” – or, in other words, a story involving The Messiah or “The Chosen One.”  This all seems fitting as Ben-Hur’s often imitated chariot race is clearly referenced in Phantom Menace’s podrace with Anakin Skywalker (aka “The Chosen One”).


Having assisted on set of the 1926 version of Ben-Hur, William Wyler approached his 1958 production of this Tale of the Christ differently. Wyler focused on the love/hate relationship between Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) and Messala (Stephen Boyd). The famous chariot race – epic in scale with 8,000 extras, teams of horses, and so – is so powerful and often imitated due to its use of dramatic close-ups to emphasize the characters and danger.



This same dramatic use of close-ups to emphasize the danger of an epic race was utilized by Lucas in Episode I’s famous podrace.


Other borrowed elements include the racetrack design elements, parade of racer flags and, of course, a snide, pompous, bloated ruler starting the race. Ben-Hur won 11 Oscars including Best Picture.
Know of other similarities? Continue the chat below.