Category Archives: Review

Fact Check: Surface Pro Review

via Review: Microsoft Surface Pro | Creative Bloq

Rob Carney presents a mostly positive review of the new Surface Pro making special mention of the devices new kick stand, improved pen and extra battery life. Regardless of his positivity his article put me off from the beginning as he poses the question whether the new Surface can rival the iPad Pro for creatives. This one statement suggests a limited understand of the needs of serious creative professionals as the Surface Pro allows for the use of the full Adobe suite compared to iOS apps, this is a point Carney makes but he does not take it to the logical conclusion that creatives who use an iPad Pro would likely need a second device compared to Surface owners. In addition, the implication that the Surface Pro needs to rival the iPad Pro seems to suggest that the iPad is the leader in this convertible category rather than the imitation. Since it was Apple which copied Microsoft in developing a larger tablet with a fold out keyboard and pen input to revitalize its declining tablet sales. In fact, the two devices in some ways shouldn’t even be considered in the same category as the Surface is a true 2 in 1, laptop replacement compared to the iPad which is still a tablet courtesy of iOS.

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Regardless of this I may have been able to overlook this ridiculous statement if it had not been later followed by another serious of simplified and flawed comparison. His assertion when you look at it on face value has merit hat for the price of a Surface $2699 USD + another $159 USD for the keyboard and $99 USD for the pen you could buy both the $1899 USD touch bar 13-inch Macbook pro and the 12-inch iPad Pro at $799 + another $99 pencil and $169 for the keyboard stand. However, once you look deeper it is quickly clear that you are getting more for the price with a Surface Pro as it firstly comes with a four core i7 processor with significant advantages in clock speed and cache memory before even considering hyper threading when compare to the MacBook’s duel core i5. In addition, the Surface comes with 16Gb of RAM, 1TB SSD hard drive and a screen with 267 pixels per inch compared to the Macbook’s 8GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD hard drive and a Retina display with a pixel density of 227 per inch but this isn’t even the whole story as Apple does allow uses to customise the top end 13-inch Mac to bring it in line with the Surface specs of course this option increase the cost to $2709 USD which means your no longer getting that iPad. Considering that the fact that the Surface still has the clear advantage over the Mac through form factor it represents better value for money even with the $250 for accessories. On the other side if we wanted to bring the Surface Specs down to match the Mac for an i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and sacrificing a little on the hard drive at 256 GB it only costs $1299, a good $600 less than the Mac. My point in giving all these numbers is to emphasis that price is relative and isn’t the clean comparison that Carney suggests simply you get what you pay for.

My final criticism of Carney’s review is he states that the Surface Pro  doesn’t have enough flexibility in its ports (there’s only one USB, a MicroSD slot and a Mini DisplayPort” in comparison to top of the range Macbook Pro which is a bit ridiculous considering the Macbook doesn’t have any flexibility. The newest Macbook Pro famously only comes with 3 Thunder bolt USB C ports which granted are the newest technology but it means that users need dongles for everything, even connecting you iPhone to your Laptop. In addition, it is unwise for people to play down the importance of a SD card slots since as it is the primary method of data storage for photographers and I believe it has been a gross oversite of Macs for some time to fail to include one. Still using my own Surface Pro 1 at home I have found the use of MicroSD’s has replaced my use of USB storage devices as I can easily transfer data from my desktop PC which has memory card slot to my Surface and then using an adapter which normally comes with the SD card insert it back into my Nikon D3200 but I guess I can always spend another $49 dollars on an adapter I only need if I brought a Mac which is more expensive than a USB hub for $30 that I could easily add to my surface if I needed more than one port. Granted the newest surface should have included a USB C connection since it is the future but it is hardly the deal breaker that Carney suggests it is since as at least for now nearly all accessories still require a normal USB port, even devices that have adapted USB C like my Galaxy 8 still use the old connection on the other end of the cord. This isn’t even considering an iPad which does not give consumers any form of USB connections to remain thin regardless of the fact that it has hampered its ability to become a Laptop replacement or an SD card slot since it would provide an option for people to expand the memory without paying more on the purchase price. Either Apple device Carney wants to compare the Surface to it is clearly a bad joke to suggest that they offer more port flexibility for the price.

Perhaps what is off putting is that from the opening it seems like another Apple fan is trying to seem un biased by writing a mostly positive review of a competitor’s product but ultimately it falls flat through his laughable attempts to dodge simple facts.

 

CES wrap up

The consumer electronics show in Las Vegas is done for another year and the tech world is already turning its eyes towards MWC in a couple of weeks. However, I thought we should take a look at the major trends appearing this year and what it means practically for consumers in the real world.

Automotive
To nobody’s great surprise major car companies used CES to showcase everything to hydrogen powered cars to the latest in driverless car technical. New concepts from BMW and a new player in Faraday Future may have captured people’s attention but it was other announcements that are more likely to make a difference in the consumer market. Mainstream manufacturers Kia with is Drive Wise range of semi to fully autonomous vehicles, Toyota FCV hydrogen powered concept and Ford’s Smart mobility program which includes current road testing of experimental driverless cars all put forward an exciting vision of the future. In addition, Volkswagen unveiled the BUDD-e an electric powered van and Chevrolet showed off their own take on the electric car in the Bolt. It’s no wonder that CES is become the Car Electronics Show. As wonderful as all this sounds however it’s important to remember that a lot of these plans won’t start becoming a reality until 2020 not least of which because of the need for uninterrupted internet connectivity.

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BMW i8 Spyder3

 

Drones and Robotics
The CES floor was no doubt buzzing with new drones but the biggest announcement was the Yuneec’s Typhoon H. Using Intel’s Real Sense technology and Sonar senses the Typhoon H is able to avoid large obstacles in conjunction with the standard high end features it isn’t surprisingly that it captured a fair amount of attention. Most of the other announcements like the DJI Inspire Pro 1 and Phantom 4K offered upgrades to existing models. On the robotics side it was undoubtedly the Ninebot the collaboration between Segway, Intel and Xiaomi. No word yet on price but I suspect when it hits the market late this year that it will be out of reach for most consumers.

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Internet of Things
Just in case you have been living under a rock the new age of computing connects all kinds of device to the internet in order to make our lives easier. The IoT is yet to really take off with consumers but with big announcements from Intel with the Curie and Samsung’s partnership with Microsoft might mean that this is the year that IoT starts building for the future. Intel’s plan with New Balance to print custom shoe inserts caught my interest as it might offer everyone with flat feet like myself an easier solution.

Virtual and Augmented reality
The biggest news in VR broke before the convention got started with Oculus Rift announcing their pricing for their long awaited headset. A $600 US price tag seemed to get a few people upset but considering the price of other products and the inclusion of an Xbox One controller this appears reasonable. Now if any US techies really want to get worked up they can think about the $920 plus postage for Australian preorders, now that’s ridiculous. In addition, the other major developers including HTC and Sony used CES to demo new virtual reality content and their latest builds. One thing is for certain 2016 is definitely going to be the year of VR.

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Oculus pre-order package

Mobile
MWC in February is when most phone and tablet makers except Apple announce their major product news but that doesn’t mean they didn’t bring anything to Vegas. Acer showed off their first Windows 10 handset the Liquid Jade Primo while the Huawei Honor 5X seemed like a premium Android handset. At the more affordable end LG’s K series and Alcatel’s Windows and Android phones got plenty of attention. PC makers seem to be following Microsoft’s lead making more hybrid Surface like devices that focus a little more on sleek design. Out of all these tablet convertibles my favourite was definitely the Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S, a high-end Windows 10 tablet with a full keyboard cover. Notably this marks the first time that the Galaxy brand has not been associated with Android suggesting that Samsung has recognised the benefits of Windows in the tablet market, we will just have to wait and see if this trend continues.

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Samsung Galaxy TabPRO S

XB1 Games with Gold Review: Thief

http://www.appy-geek.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=3&articleid=55312510&source=wordpress

Recently I have started downloading a few more of Xbox One’s games with gold freebies as it’s a good way to play some titles that you may have considered buying at one stage. It’s also given me a chance to play a couple of different types of games that I wouldn’t normally go for. “Thief” is a perfect example as the game relies heaverly on stealth rather than the fast paced action or RPG that I normally play. As a result it can feel a bit slow but the stealth mechanics work well and provide a strategic element to gameplay as you need to make decisions about how you achieve each goal.

Read Brett’s review over at crowded brain for a more detailed look at ‘Thief’ as his thoughts echo my own. Personally I found the controls the biggest drawback as even after playing for several hours they don’t feel natural. His point about the enviorment and the ability to climb some objects but not others is also frustrating. Overall I think ‘Thief’ is a good place to start if you want more out of your membership as it  has a unique style of gameplay that is worth checking out.

Jono

The Elite Experience

It took 2 months on pre-order after the offical release date before I finally got my hands on an Xbox One Elite Controller. Microsoft has admitted the obvious that they underestimated demand after the announcement at E3. As a result most stores didn’t get enough stock to cover the initial pre-orders and gamers like myself have been waiting for months. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to get better anytime soon with Microsoft confirming that shortages will continue into March. So considering this headache is the Elite worth the wait?

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Anyone considering spending $200 ($150 USD) on a controller is going to be a bit more than a casual gamer. The Elite Controller fits the bill as it offers an enhanced console experience with superior build quality to other comparable 3rd party options. It is noticeably heavier than a standard controller thanks to the additional metal triggers but it is not enough to make it uncomfortable. The interchangeable sticks, D-pad and paddles are easy to swap mid-game and the hair-triggers help improve reaction time with the ability to set them individually just another way to personalise your experience. Using the paddles takes a little practice before you start to see the benefit as you have to train yourself to stop using the normal buttons but once you do the change noticeably improves speed and eliminates the need to take your fingers off the sticks.

All of these features would be useless without that Xbox Accessories app that allows players to map buttons and change sensitivity. The app works with standard controllers but is a must for anyone with an Elite so they can map different buttons to the paddles. An added bonus here is the additional slot to save multiple configurations. Even without this the app is easy enough to use that I find myself pausing and making a few twicks to get a layout I’m happy with for each game.

Overall I can say that the Elite Controller is definitely worth it and really enhances your gaming experience. I previously have never thought about changing button mapping or stick sensitivity but find myself thinking critically about how I can use my new hardware to improve my game. If your a serious player with a bit of cash it’s a wise investment otherwise it might be a good idea for a present.

Enjoy
Jono

10 best journeys to a galaxy far, far away

Considering The Force Awakens is still dominating the box office I thought I might do a countdown of my top 10 games that took us into a galaxy far, far away. Just a quick disclaimer as a console gamer there is only one PC game on the list and I haven’t played anything that predates the N64, so if one of your favourites doesn’t appear don’t hold it against me but would love your opinion in the comments.

10.Shadow of the Empire – N64 (1997)

I’m not going to argue that Shadow is a perfectly produced game but it had a really good bases as it allowed players to take on a unique character that shared traits with one of the favourite hero form the films without having a predetermined outcome. In addition, it was possibly the first Star Wars game which combined different modes of game play whether it’s plying on foot as Dash Render or piloting the Outrider. The opening stage is definitely a highlight and while most players find it drops away the longer you play it definitely opened up possibilities for the future.

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9.Republic Commandos – PC/Xbox (2005)

A unique chapter in Star Wars gaming as players take command of an elite band of clones rather than the usual role of a hero. This first person shooter developed using the Unreal engine has obvious similarities with other squad based games like Gears of War released a year later, as players can be revived by squad mates and issue commands. Therefor it’s no surprise the fast paced action left players wanting more and the only real drawback was the short length of the campaign and multiplayer.

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8.The Force Unleashed – PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii (2008)

Excellent graphics, a good storyline and a well voiced protagonist helped this game establish itself as one of the best sellers for 2008. However, The Force Unleashed was well hyped before its release and the repetitive method of game play combined with the absence of multiplayer disappointed some fans. Never being much of an online gamer this was never that much of a drawback and I just try to change up my own tactics to keep it interesting, after all where else can you electrify your lightsaber before thronging it.force_unleashed_1a-1920x1200

7.Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga – Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC (2007)

Combining one of the most successful toys and Star Wars started something as the Lego series has since expanded to including Indiana Jones, Batman, Harry Potter and The Avengers. These games allow players to jump into well-known story lines and regularly change amongst their favourite characters while experience a fun easy to learn method f game play. Star Wars was able to capitalise on this combination due to its wide fan base and the desire to play through the events of the films for less serious gamers. Lego Star Wars might not be anything special on game play but all the sequel means that it has definitely had an impact.

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6.The Old Republic – PC (2011)

The only exclusive PC game on my list grab my attention due to its console origins is an MMORPG based 3500 years before the films. On release it became the fastest growing MMORPG but after the initial surge it had trouble keeping subscribers and has since introduced a free-to-play option.

The game play draws heavily from its predecessors and distinguishes itself from other MMORPG’s through the introduction of companion system. These companions are linked to your chosen class which also offer a range of different builds to explore. The scale of the Star Wars universe has never been bigger and this is definitely a must for serious fans

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5.Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy  – PC, Mac, Xbox (2003)

Jedi Academy like its predecessor Jedi Outcast combines first person and third person shooters with elements of RPG’s by allowing gamers to customise their characters’ force powers. Academy’s main advantage is the story allows players to jump straight into combat with a lightsaber this allows players to develop their fighting technique and customise their lightsaber later on. In addiction the game brought an enhanced multiplayer which allowed players to take on each other using Xbox live. The drawback for me was the replay value of the campaign as the limited customisation did nothing to change the story or levels. Even so Jedi Academy ranks as one of my favourite due to partly to it’s application of force powers, being able to push storm troopers off a ledge never gets old. Jedi Academy is now available along with all its predecessors in the Jedi Knight series on steam so if you haven’t had the pleasure I suggest you check it out.

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4.Knights of the Old Republic: Sith Lords – PC, Mac, Xbox (2004)

Obsidian’s follow up to Bioware’s original lived up to fans expectations as it maintained the same game play while making an effort to expand and introduce new characters. In every way it feels like a sequel as some of our favourite characters like HK-47 return and the storyline links back to Revan and the Mandalorian Wars yet it does this in a way that is approachable for new comers. The game maintains the party, combat and levelling systems from its predecessor but does add some welcome tweaks such as the character’s ability to influence your companions. This evolves into your ability to change their alignment and their physical appearance and will also open up the opportunity to train several of your companions to use the force. Combined with the additional prestige classes this gives a sense that the player is able to take the next step beyond the original.

Like the original the storyline offers great replay value with a plethora of side quests each with multiple outcomes and several core decisions that can affect the progression of the main story. As expected with a sequel it expands our knowledge of the Star Wars universe by taking us to some new places while revisiting some familiar planets that have been left scared by the events of the original. My only real criticism of the Sith Lords is that perhaps more could have been invested into the graphics as they are not a massive leap forward but this has never stopped me playing on my Xbox 360.

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3.Star Wars Rogue Squadron – N64, PC (1998)

Back on my N64 Rogue Squadron was up there with Goldeneye as one of my favourite games. The arcade style action game allows players to pilot different rebel craft through 16 levels to fulfil different objectives and is set alongside the original trilogy. Using passwords or attaining medals on all the levels also gives players access to bonus levels from the movies including the Death Star run and special crafts like the Millennium Falcon. These elements combined to make Rogue Squadron an enjoyable and accessible simulation of aerial combated without focusing on it. Recently playing Battlefront on my Xbox One has remained me a little of Rogue Squadron but it lacks the mission objectives to keep me interested for long periods.

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2.Battlefront 2 – PC, Xbox, PS2 (2005)

A sequel that surpassed the original and has inspired the latest large scale console game in the franchise. Gameplay is based around third person combat with a collection of different playable classes available and a range of power ups based on in-game performance. Into this framework the game adds vehicles including full scale space battles and playable heroes awarded for meeting unspecified objectives. If this wasn’t enough Battlefront 2 includes the four major armies from the prequel and original trilogies which introduces players to a larger range of classes and different vehicles.

This last point contributes to what separates and raises Battlefront 2 above the more recent incarnation as it offers 2 different solo/co-op styles of play beyond multiplayer. Initially campaign offers players the ability to fight through the entire saga and develop their skills. It was the Galaxy mode which really impressed players and has probably been the biggest disappointment with the new version as players could choose an army and take over the galaxy one plant at a time. All this combined for a great experience with excellent replay value that appealed to hard-core Star Wars fans and was accessible to all levels of gamers.

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1. Knights of the Old Republic – Xbox, PC, Mac (2003)

This should not come as any surprise as the 2004 Game of the Year not only took Star Wars games to a new level but redefined RPG’S. Since the success of Knights of the Old Republic BioWare have continued to use the same companion, decision and dialogue system with a few developments in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. It was these elements along with a high level of customisation which has given all these titles their replay value.

However, none of these titles would have been successful without a great storyline, characters and an expanded universe to explore and this is where KOTOR delivers with spades. The overriding storyline of Darth Revan, Malak and the star forge is compelling with Empire style twists. The side quests allow players to explore some of the more well-known planets and aspects of the Star Wars universe while introduce new lore or building characters. The final piece of the puzzle is characters and while Carth can become a little tedious or Juhani & Jolee appear stereotypical the game delivers entertainment in the form of HK-47 and Canderous while Bastila Shan providing an unusual level of development for a companion. If you haven’t played KOTOR before it is a must for any hard-core RPG gamer or Star Wars fan and regardless of the dating graphics, it’s still one hell of a game.

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Would love to hear some of your views and hits of gaming nostalgia so don’t be afraid to comment.

Jono

 

 

Revenge of the Sith

The final instalment in the prequel trilogy continued where “Attack of the Clones” left off and thankfully was not a backwards step. Unfortunately, this also means that “Revenge of the Sith” also contains similar drawbacks including a heavy reliance on CG and some poor acting. Possibly the most frustrating element of Episode 3 is that the film shows glimpses of potential but ultimately disappoints.

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The opening space battle is a perfect example of this as the scale and effects were an effective hook for audiences. It then teased the possibility of an intense character building scene in the confrontation with Count Dooku which fizzled into mediocrity. The duel was over too quickly and Palpatine’s manipulation of Anakin if you could call it that made no attempt at subtlety. All this is then capped off by the clumsy ray shields trap and some poor dialogue. Another example would be the introduction of Darth Plagueis the Wise which gave an opportunity to explore the nature of the force but was left undeveloped.

One of the few strengths of the entire prequel trilogy is the casting of Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan and the character’s development over the three movies. This reaches a climax in “Revenge of the Sith” as Ewan McGregor ‘s version of Obi-Wan needs to transition towards Alec Guinness. It involves gradually distancing the character from the fatherly role he occupies in “Attack of The Clones” and developing the burden of failure that marks the character in “A New Hope”. The costume design team also made this work as they make sure that Ewan McGregor looks more like a younger Alec Guinness then he did in the previous films.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for George Lucas’ script as too many times the actors were forced to try and make simplistic dialogue seem believable. Whether it is Obi-Wan’s disappointment, Padmè’s concern or Palpatine’s manipulation these dramatic moments are often let down by the complete lack of complexity and reliance on clichés like “you were the chosen one”. Another weakness in the script is that Lucas often fails to capitalise on stronger cast members like Natalie Portman since Padmè’s role in the film is extremely limited. It’s easy to pick out the faults in the script but what it does well is create an overall storyline that effectively links the rest of the prequels together with the original trilogy. It is only a shame that the other short comings detract from a storyline that offered such emotional climaxes.

Effects have always been a highlight of the Star Wars franchise and “Revenge of the Sith” is no different from the opening sequence it grabs our attention with the stunning space battle. The introduction of General Grievous gives the filmmakers another opportunity to dazzle audiences but they focus too much on the effects and failed to build any sense of the character. This is perhaps the key difference to the originals in that the effects become the centre of attention rather than a vehicle to transport the audience to the universe of the characters. In addition, the use of CGI rather than practical effects in all the prequel movies meant the films did not feel like Star Wars regardless of how awesome the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan looked onscreen.

I couldn’t talk about the prequel trilogy without discussing Hayden Christensen’s portrayal of Anakin Skywalker. It’s a topic that always makes me think about a quote from Clerks 2, “shity acting is ruining saga”, but perhaps this is a bit unfair on Christensen as others need to shoulder some of the blame. Casual observes might ask what was wrong with his performance and I could pick out a plethora of things from different scenes but most importantly is his whole characterisation as it fails to invoke the audiences’ sympathy. Instead of an image of Anakin as a tragic figure Christensen performance comes off as an overconfident teenager who wingers about those around him and is easily manipulated by others willing to play on his desires. This is ultimately problematic since the entire trilogy was built around creating sympathy for Darth Vader ahead of “A New Hope” especially considering at times I find myself satisfied knowing that the character gets what he deserves. Admittedly it was a hard task for Christensen and others let him down as obviously the direction was taking him down the wrong path.

In no stretch of the imagination is “Revenge of the Sith” a terrible movie as it has a solid storyline some excellent special effects and a couple of good performances to carry the rest of the cast. Unfortunately, it lacks the feel and focus on character development that we expect of a Star Wars as the originals were never reliant on the storyline to keep the audience entertained.

6.5/10

Jono

Attack of the Clones

A large improvement on Episode 1 the second instalment in the prequel series clearly learnt from its predecessor failures. Despite the progress it is nowhere near the level of the original trilogy still has a few really obvious flaws.

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The most noticeable difference between “Attack of the clones” and “The Phantom Menace” is the overall tone. Gone is the simplistic humour and attempt to target a young audience as the film has a more grown-up feel. It shows character development and dispenses with the endless procession of coincidences and stereotypes. A perfect example of this is Count Dooku played by Christopher Lee who in contrast to Darth Maul has some backstory as Yoda’s former padawan. Yet, even despite this progress Dooku lacks the screen presence of Darth Vader and has a limited role in the film.
“Attack of the Clones” makes a clear attempt to model itself on the original trilogy. An opening rush of adrenaline with the pursuit through Coruscant before a period of development and investigation leading to a final climatic battle. In addition, the film follows the format of “The Empire Strikes Back” by developing alternating plots in the love story between Padmé and Anakin while Obi-Wan is busy investigating the cloners on Kamino.
Beyond the format the film also makes an effort to engage long term fans by making references to the originals. The most obvious of which is the introduction of Jango Fett as the template for the clone armour. However, as a dedicated fan I prefer the subtler homages like Obi-Wan’s use of an asteroid or his confrontation with the assassin in a bar. These are the types of things that make diehards feel satisfied when a new film is added to a pre-existing franchise.
The major weakness of “Attack of the Clones” is the development of the love story. This side of the plot is noticeably more superficial than Obi-Wan’s investigation of the assassination attempt. In part this is due to Hayden Christensen and his petulant teenager approach to the role which detracts from his ability to command our attention like Ewan McGregor. This is not assisted by the reliance on clichéd scenes that just don’t fit in a Star Wars movie. While feeling out of place these scenes also impact pacing as the film does drag a little at times, something that was never a problem with the original trilogy.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the film is the protracted final battle and the beginning of the clone wars. At first this sees Obi – Wan, Anakin and Padmé fighting for survival against a collection of exotic predators before the arrival of the Jedi offers a false sense of hope before they are overwhelmed by the droid armies. The arrival of the clones is not unexpected and saves the remaining Jedi but as Yoda points out has played into the hands of the Sith. The real surprise comes in the form of the more personal battle between Yoda and Dooku as it challenges our preconceptions and limitations of the character much like he did in his first encounter with Luke on Dagobah in “Empire Strikes Back.”
Overall “Attack of the Clones” was definitely a move in the right direction after the disappointment of Episode 1 and did definitely increase our expectation for the final instalment.

7/10

Jono

The Phantom Menace 1999

The first of the prequels and the start of our flashback, “The Phantom Menace” is personally not a required watch when going through the saga. That Episode 1 was a colossal disappointment would be an understatement and as such I’m not going to take the time to review it in depth so this is going to be a quick fire set of impressions.

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The Good

Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor: The two main characters were ultimately well cast as Liam Neeson has a well-established track record in mentor rules bringing the necessary gravitas and intensity. While McGregor is an excellent character although he doesn’t really come into his own until Episode 2 where Obi Wan’s character is more prominent but it’s a starting point.

Double sided lightsabres: A minor inclusion in the film there is a reason why they make an appearance in nearly every Star Wars game since. Simple fact two blades look better than one.

Pod Race scene: The highpoint of special effects in the film and surprisingly well scripted with clear ebbs and flows to build tension. Film editing is also important here as the cuts between different pilots, the track and the crowed give it that sense of excitement.

Final duel: Undoubtedly the only part of the climax that works as it says away from any attempt at humour. The three-way battle is possibly the best technical lightsabre duel on film as the combats exchange blows as the move amongst the different levels of the palace before the drama of the force fields makes the necessary change needed to lead to a result.

The Bad

Target audience: The largest misstep in the production of the film is trying to capture a young audience. Ultimately this attempt motivated the introduction of simplistic comic relief and a lack of depth. Perhaps the most disappointing element is that this was totally unnecessary as the original trilogy has always proven to engage young people, I’m living proof.

Young Anakin: This isn’t really Jake Lloyds fault as the dialogue didn’t really do him any favours and his character was often positioned to deliver a contrived source humour. He does succeed in creating a sense of sympathy but this could easily have been enhanced by taking the slavery angle more seriously and developing some emotional baggage.

The storyline: Even after the completion of the prequel trilogy “The Phantom Menace” stands aloof from the rest of the saga. Since the storyline doesn’t develop in either of the next movies and they are necessarily separated by several years. In addition, too much of the events in episode 1 are the result of coincidence as the band have to make an emergency landing on Tatooine, where the happen to meet Anakin at Watto’s shop who just happens to have the rare parts they need. Star Wars have a get out clause in this situation as characters are guided by the Force however the original trilogy does not rely on this to cover bad script writing.

Darth Maul: In many ways the most visible villain of the film is a great example of what’s wrong with Episode 1, absolutely no development. Nearly no lines and only a handful of scenes there is no real hint at backstory, motivation or much agency. If it wasn’t for the double bladed lightsabre he would be completely forgettable.

The Ugly

Jar Jar Binks: do I need to say any more? The horror, the horror!!

Overall if it wasn’t a Star Wars movie perhaps I wouldn’t be so harsh but it had a lot to live up to and failed completely. Hopefully it has been a lesson to J.J  Adrams and Disney ahead of “The Force Awakens” so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

5/10

Jono

The Empire Strikes Back – 1980

My personal favourite it is hard to put a finger on a specific element that makes “The Empire Strikes Back” any better than the original as for the most part it relies on similar strengths. The model for educating the audience about the Star Wars universe, the cast of familiar characters and an extension of the techniques that brought “A New Hope” to life. However, to suggest that Episode V simply relies on its predecessor would be a disservice to a movie that alongside “The Godfather: Part 2” and “Judgement Day” I count as one of the best sequels in cinema history. One thing these films all have in common is a willingness to expand upon the existing context and add complexity to the storyline through plot twists.

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A sequel is often grander than the original as one method of expanding on an existing idea is to scale it up. In some ways the “The Empire Strikes Back” does follow this principle as the epic Battle of Hoth dominates a good portion of the film and the story develops over a wider expanse of space as Darth Vader chases the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City. Despite this I would argue that the film does the opposite as the plot is in fact more personal than the central storyline behind “A New Hope”. Since the main plot is focused on Luke’s developing connection to the force and Darth Vader’s plan to trap him using his friends in order to turn him to the Dark Side. The personal nature of the film is embodied in the climatic lightsabre duel leading to the most quoted lines in pop culture “Luke I am your father” it is a stark contrast to blowing up the Death Star. In this way the film takes what we expect from “A New Hope” by starting with Hoth before turning it on its head.

The emphasis on character development is not limited to the major plot and Luke’s training as a Jedi as there is an obvious focus on developing the relationship between Han and Leia. This interplay begins on Hoth with both characters’ exchanging jibes but develops while they are on the run from the Empire. The sarcastic banter between the two is a long established technique for developing romantic tension dating back to Shakespeare. However, it needs the on screen chemistry between Ford and Fisher to make it believable and it is ultimately Fisher’s ability to portray Leia’s resistance and final acceptance of her feelings that makes this work. Ford’s stoic response cements this scene as one of the emotional climaxes of the film and turning point in their relationship throughout the saga.

On the other side, the film develops our knowledge of Darth Vader who is seen largely as a blunt instrument in “A New Hope” searching for the stolen plans and doesn’t really come into his own until his conflict with Obi Wan. This is dramatically different in “The Empire Strikes Back” as it is Vader making the decisions and punishing the failures of his subordinates. These instances reveal his ability to visualise opportunities and use different resources to get the job done including bounty hunters and manipulation rather than the one size fits all approach employed by Grand Moff Tarkin. In addition, we get a clear understanding of his servitude to the Emperor and his schemes to draw Luke to the Dark Side in order to overthrow his master. He is also shown at his most vulnerable when his helmet is refitted on board the Super Star Destroyer this cleverly alludes to the fact that there is a man behind the mask which is important for the development of the climax and ground work for “Return of the Jedi”.

While the plot may have narrowed onto a personal scale the film still expands on the Star Wars universe through the introduction of Yoda, Buba Fett and Lando Calrissian. All of which play a significant role in the plot and add to the development of the existing characters. The most iconic of these is undoubtedly Yoda voiced by Frank Oz with his unique speech patterns and limited physical stature. Like with Obi Wan in “A New Hope” he is reasonable for Luke’s training and continues to unveiled the power of the Force to audiences. It’s hard to imagine anyone else other than Frank Oz delivering that backwards dialogue and his ability to shift from the comical nuisance to a series tone really sales the deception to the audience. Conversely, Billy Dee William’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian raises the right amount of suspicion when Leia and Han arrive at Cloud City. Beyond their own characterisation Lando and Buba Fett also act partially as a demonstration of Vader’s will and also explore Han’s back story therefore adding to the overall depth of the film.

It would be impossible to review “The Empire Strikes Back” without a closer look at the Battle of Hoth. At its core the Battle is a complete reversal of the climax of “A New Hope” with the Empire now trying to attack a small Rebel target the difference is that they never appear as underdogs due to the military might of the ATATs. Unlike the destruction of the Death Star it is also not a complete victory as the majority of the Rebel Alliance escape, a clear juxtaposition to Grand Moff Tarkin’s refusal to evacuate. Hoth demonstrates a real challenge for the visual effects team as the white background manipulating objects difficult as imperfections are more obvious especially in the shots through the speeder cockpits. The result in 1980 was always good enough for audiences but remained a frustration for the effects team and was an element addressed in the special edition demonstrating the dedication of the whole filmmaking team to the project.

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After reflecting on it perhaps the reason I prefer “Empire Strikes Back” is the added complexity and character development which all culminate in the plot twist. It could be simply as they put it in “Clerks” that it just ends on such a downer which is more realistic than the big against the odds victory of “A New Hope”. Whatever the case there is very little to separate the first two Star Wars movies and they are a must watch for any film buff.

10/10

Jono

A New Hope

In preparation for the release of Episode 7: The Force Awakens on the 17th I thought it was about time to look back at my favourite movie franchise of all time. Like many other people born in the 80’s I grew up watching the original trilogy and have memorised nearly every second of these timeless classics. I would not have been the only one that got excited with the release of the prequel trilogy only to be momently disappointed by the result but hopefully this time will be different. This has raised a serious question for me regarding viewing order ever since and thanks to a few hints online I have settled on IV – V – (I)II- III – VI with the prequels acting as a flashback after the plot twist of “Empire Strikes Back”. My purpose in giving this little preamble is to offer a suggestion to fallow fans trying to introduce Star Wars to others as Episode IV is a much better hook then the prequels while also being much more satisfying for die hards. Considering this I have chosen to review the saga in this order and hopefully if you have any doubts by the end you might give it a try.

Episode IV: A New Hope – 1977

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I can only imagine how the opening of “A New Hope” first memorised audiences in 1977 from the characteristic scrolling prologue to the opening space battle but it was a masterful piece of film making. The iconic scene with its chasing Star Destroyer filling the screen is often not given enough credit for hooking audiences. The sequence in its entirety is the perfect start to a film introducing a whole new galaxy as it not only gets the blood pumping but it importantly leaves the viewer with a plethora of questions not the least of which is based around the central plot and the plans which are ‘not in the main computer’. In addition, it gives a glimpse of the Star Wars universe from Stormtroopers and Darth Vader to the rebellious Princess Leia. Combined these elements engages an audience and leaves them wanting more over the next 120 minutes which is a lesson for any filmmaker.

The film largely follows a linear storyline from this point forward with only a few brief exchanges between Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia on the Death Star interrupting the main plot. Besides these moments the plot maintains a fairly classical formula with a young hero found in the middle of nowhere on the planet of Tatooine adopted by a wise mentor and drawn into a galactic conflict by forces outside their control, the arrival of R2-D2 and C-3PO. The journey to answer the Princess’s distress call leads them to the egotistical Han Solo and his co-pilot before escaping the clutches of the Empire. There escape is short lived as they run into the Death Star and must disguise themselves to save the Princess and escape, before returning for the climatic final battle. In many ways’ the main storyline is actually reminiscent of mythology as the characters are on a quest to deliver the droids but are forced to face several challenges to prove themselves before a heroic victory.

The characters are only a slight deviation from this as Luke is perfectly characterised by Mark Hamill who optimises the naïve young upstart dreaming of adventure. Harrison Ford’s casting as Han Solo was truly inspired as he represents the character’s conflict between his instinct for self-preservation and noble delusions of grandeur. It’s no wonder why he has become an in during fan favourite ever since with his ability to delivery witty insults and appear aloof from those around him while still remaining irresistible charming.  The difference is in Princess Leia who refuses to be the traditional damsel in distress as Carrie Fisher gives her a sharp edge fitting for someone who believes in a higher cause. Not only is her passion obvious when confronted by Darth Vader and the threat to her home planet of Alderaan but later in her dealings with Han and Luke during their rescue attempt. Beyond this key trio R2-D2 and Chewbacca are something of an oddity as it is impossible to think of another movie where the audience cannot understand two of the principal characters by design, this places a lot of importance on the actors’ delivery and their interaction with each other. In the case of R2 his constant companion C-3PO while doing some translations for Luke, normally carries on the second half of a conversation allowing the audience to infer what has been said in the odd collection of beeps. The overall success of this is a combination of good script writing and excellent delivery by Anthony Daniels with the right insinuation in his tone. This talented cast and their on screen chemistry is a large part of the franchises success and is unfortunately something missing from the prequel trilogy.

The importance of relatable characters and a reasonably straightforward plot cannot be overestimated in a movie like “A New Hope” which is intruding audiences to a whole mythology. These elements have allowed people since 1977 to focus on understanding the back story including the nature of the Force and the way of the Jedi. Most of this information is given to the audience through the instructions of Obi Wan Kenobi as he begins Luke’s training. Alec Guinness is perfect for this role as he brings a real gravitas and is also able to communicate a sense of the burden he carries due to the character’s past failures. One thing that Star Wars does well is that although it needs to communicate a lot of information to the audience it does not bore us with any long explanations as the training is interspersed and involves some development of the plot, for example Obi Wan’s decision to leave for Alderaan. Lesser films often try to explain everything rather than using these little tricks like a remote training exercise to show an audience that a lightsabre can defect blaster fire, this is one area where “A New Hope” really distinguishes itself as most of the context be it the Force or the Rebellion evolves gradually out of the plot.

It may have aged since its release in 1977 but the original film smashed onto the screen with revolutionary special effects, precise film editing, well-crafted sound, fantastic set and costume design. Unlike today it was a combination of body suits, prosthetics and miniatures which gave us the look with a combination of wires and blue screen for visual effects. Meanwhile the sound designers gave use the unmistakable sound of a lightsabre while seamlessly blending in all the little background ticks that make a movie. This is capped off by John William’s masterful score which produced the most recognisable movie theme of all time, one that represents the scale of the film and gives that uplifting sense of triumph needed for the final scene. Possibly the greatest example of their efforts is in the Rebels attack on the Death Star as it started out in a parking lot with a collection of model kits on a couple of table tennis tables filmed from a jeep driving past. This raw footage comes to life with the addition of sound effects and the expert editing to quickly cut between shots of Luke’s  X-Wing, Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, the rebels on Yavin and the count down clock to add the perfect amount of tension. Finally, Williams score echo’s the movement of the fighters through the trench and is simply the exclamation point making for one hell of a climax.  It is the hard work of all these teams that were ultimately responsible for creating the Star Wars universe by making George Lucas’ vision a reality and it is not surprising that they were recognised by claiming 6 Oscars in 1978.

Writing this review, I have been trying desperately to think of anything that could have been improved and coming up with only minor adjustments. One that stuck in my mind was the characterisation of Grand Moff Tarkin as despite his position ‘holding Vader’s leash’ he is never really developed in any detail. These little things don’t detract from the movie in the least and are more observational then critical as I can’t imagine how Tarkin’s role could be developed without impacting the screen presence of Darth Vader. As such I still consider “A New Hope” to be one of the most complete films I have ever seen. 

9.5/10

Jono