Blu-ray Box Set Review: ‘Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga’ (UK Import)

From a young Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side to the rise of the Resistance and their struggle to restore peace in the galaxy, the story that electrified a generation comes to a striking conclusion. The saga will end. The story lives forever. – Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga publicity insert.

On Monday, April 20, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. released its Blu-ray box set, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, for the UK/Western Europe market. Because the 18 Blu-ray discs (BDs) are region-free (meaning they can be played on any BD player regardless of its geographic region), BVHE – The Walt Disney Company’s home media distributor – also authorized U.S. retailers such as Walmart to sell this set as a less expensive alternative to the larger 27-disc set with nine 4K UHD Blu-ray discs and 18 HD BDs, which is a Best Buy exclusive.

Though both box sets share some commonalities – the packaging bears the same silver on black color scheme and a stark representation of a quadrant of the original Death Star on the side panels; and the distribution of HD BDs is identical (nine discs for the features, nine discs for the Bonus Features – there are a few differences as well.

The Packaging

The most obvious difference between the Best Buy-exclusive version of The Skywalker Saga and the import version from Walmart is the size and engineering of the packaging. Because the latter set only contains 18 1080p Blu-rays, BVHE opted to go with a smaller box which eschews the elaborately designed DigiBook with individual DigiPacks for each of the nine numbered Episodes in the “core” Star Wars saga.

Thus, the 18-disc edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga consists of the following:

  • An outer slip box with a flip-top, black with the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga indicia printed in silver-white letters on the top and front panels. To open the slip box, gently lift the hinged top panel; the front panel will drop, ramp—like, to reveal the DigiPacks. The inside of the front panel also features a thank you letter from Mark Hamill
  • Three white foldout-type DigiPacks, one for each of the Star Wars trilogies. Each DigiBook bears the Blu-ray, Lucasfilm, and Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga logos on the spine; each trilogy’s DigiPack bears a Roman numeral (I, II, and III at the bottom of the spine; on the front cover, under the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga title, we see the titles of the three Episodes contained herein – DigiBook I  houses The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, for instance
  • Each DigiPack, which folds out to reveal three compartments, holds six discs, in two-BD pairings (one feature film BD, one bonus features BD)

The Content

As mentioned above, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga rounds up the nine numbered Episodes of the Prequel, Original, and Sequel Trilogies in one 18-disc collection. These films represent the roles played by Anakin Skywalker and his descendants in a series of conflicts between the forces of good and evil “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Released over a 42-year span (1977-2019), the films that make up The Skywalker Saga are:

  • Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). Written and directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002). Written by George Lucas & Jonathan Hales. Directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). Written and directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) Written and directed by George Lucas
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Written by Leigh Brackett & Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas. Directed by Irvin Kershner
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) Written by Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas. Story by George Lucas. Directed by Richard Marquand
  • Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) Written by Lawrence Kasdan & J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt. Directed by J.J. Abrams
  • Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) Written and directed by Rian Johnson
  • Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Written by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Story by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow and J.J. Abrams & Chris Terrio. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Each Episode is paired with a 1080p BD with the Bonus Features; the six “George Lucas Era” films come with a mix of extras made for the 2015 20th Century Fox/Disney digital release and “legacy” content from the 2001-2005 DVD editions and the 2011 Blu-ray bonus discs. The three “Disney Lucasfilm” Sequel Trilogy Episodes’ bonus discs are essentially the same ones from the 2016-2020 home media releases.

In total, the Walmart “import” edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga offers Star Wars fans 18 high definition Blu-rays in one compact slip box.   

My Take

As I wrote in yesterday’s post, this was the first iteration of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga I ordered back in February, which is when I found out that Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm were about to release a follow-on to the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga box sets released a year before Star Wars creator (and Lucasfilm’s CEO) George Lucas announced his retirement and his intention to sell his company to The Walt Disney Company. I ordered this set at because I initially balked at paying over $250 for a 27-disc set – with nine discs that I didn’t know when I’d watch, if at all – and figured I’d be better off with a cheaper set.

Well, I ended up ordering the Best Buy exclusive set. And in a series of weird Internet-related mishaps, I ended up with this set as well. I didn’t plan on it, but due to the complexities of dealing with Walmart Customer Service in the midst of a global pandemic, I decided to take the $141 hit to my wallet and keep the 18-disc set.

Besides my reluctance to call Walmart and start a returns process for my “import” edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, I also have good reasons to add it to my collection of Star Wars Blu-rays and DVDs.

First, after examining the Walmart set and comparing it to its larger, more elaborate, and pricier Best Buy counterpart, I determined that the import version of the BVHE/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is the set to get if you:

  • Don’t own a 4K UHD TV set and compatible 4K Blu-ray player and don’t plan to buy them in the near future
  • Don’t have the financial resources to buy the larger – and pricier – 27-disc version of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
  • Don’t own any of the Star Wars Skywalker Saga films on Blu-ray
  • Are a Star Wars Blu-ray “complete collector” who must own every variant ever released
  • Want a less expensive Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga for everyday use and only watch the 4K discs on special occasions

Second, as nice as the Best Buy version – with its cleverly engineered collectible packaging and beautifully-illustrated DigiBook – of the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga truly is, I find that the more compact, three-DigiBook design of the import version is just more ergonomic and easier to handle. This is especially true in regard to taking the Blu-ray discs out of the packaging to play them and then putting them back after use.

With the Best Buy set, the discs (4K UHD as well as 1080p HD) are stored in niches set inside “pages” in a book-like disc container. You have to carefully tease the disc you want to play out of its compartment without damaging the playing surface with scratches or smudges from your fingertips. It can be done; the original 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Complete Saga from 2011 used a similar storage system, only the “niches” for the discs are located on the “side ”edge” of each page-like sleeve, whilst on the newer set, they are placed on the “top” edge of the sleeve. (And, of course, taking discs out from a brand-new DigiBook is a nerve-racking experience, because the discs are packed in their sleeves tight.)

I prefer the less showy but more practical and “old-school” plastic compartments on the foldout-design DigiPacks in the import version. The three DigiPacks aren’t as impressive in size and looks as the $249.99 (MSRP) Best Buy set’s single “Collector’s Edition” volume, but you can extract the discs more easily and without frying your nervous system worrying about damaging a disc in the process.

I noticed that the Blu-rays for the six films of the Prequel and Original Trilogies aren’t – like the individual disc reissues from late 2019 – merely relabeled versions of the 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment BDs. Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm gave the 2020 discs for the Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga sets a makeover that retains the geek factor from the earlier Blu-ray releases – the commentaries by George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, and other cast and crew members were ported over to the 2020 discs, for instance.

To reflect the changes of ownership of the Star Wars IP and the relationship between 20th Century Fox and Disney, as well as to allay fans’ fears that the 2020 discs are essentially the same as the ones BVHE issued less than six months before, the discs have – as Han Solo might say – “special modifications.”

First, the six films originally released by Fox between 1977 and 2005 come in discs with new menus. Even the cute “disc is loading” R2-D2 graphic is gone, which wasn’t the case with BVHE’s late-2019 reissue of these films. The menus are more in line with the ones in the 2016-2020 Blu-rays of the Sequel Trilogy and the Anthology standalones Rogue One and Solo.

Second, though the familiar 20th Century Fox logo and Alfred Newman’s classic Fanfare still introduce Episodes I-VI, the former corporate owner, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, is no longer mentioned in the Fox logo. So, even though the old studio that produced the original Star Wars film is now a subsidiary company of the larger Disney corporation, fans don’t have to fret about Star Wars history being erased by the House of Mouse.

The one other feature worth mentioning here is in one of the Sequel Trilogy discs. It’s unique to Star Wars Episode VIII’s disc, which is significantly different from the 2018 home media release. From what I understand, it’s the only Sequel Trilogy Blu-ray that underwent a total digital remastering process, and – in at least the import version – Lucasfilm added a “music-only” track that lets you watch The Last Jedi as a silent film accompanied by John Williams’ brilliant score. I looked for this option on the Best Buy set’s The Last Jedi disc, but either (a) the U.S. version doesn’t have a “music-only” audio track, or I didn’t look for it with enough tenacity.

Overall, I don’t regret that I was not able to cancel this “phantom order” of the 18-disc Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga import edition box set. If I didn’t have a 4K UHD TV and a compatible Blu-ray player, this would have been my preferred choice anyway; it just happens that I do have one, so the nine 4K UHD discs in the Best Buy counterpart will get played – eventually. But because I like this set’s more compact packaging and it’s far easier to handle the discs without giving myself a heart attack, I’ll probably use this one as my “everyday” use collection, while I’ll only trot out the 4K discs in the more expensive Skywalker Saga set on special occasions.

Updated to add: As it happens, the Best Buy exclusive set’s Blu-ray with Star Wars: The Last Jedi does, indeed, include the isolated music track option. Apparently, I tested that disc in haste and late at night (way past midnight, as a matter of fact), so I didn’t see the option on the Main Menu.

Odds & Ends: My ‘Star Wars’ Blu-ray collection has a new addition

Promotional photo of Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd.’s Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga 18-disc Blu-ray set. This is the UK/Western Europe region-free edition, and is available in the U.S. through Walmart. © 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Star Wars Blu-ray collection just got a little larger yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, FedEx dropped off the latest addition to my already-substantial treasure trove of Star Wars Blu-rays: the 18-disc 1080p Blu-ray-only edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

Like the larger Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, this is a box set that collects the nine films that comprise the story of the Skywalker family, set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away amid a backdrop of galactic strife that begins with the rise of Sheev Palpatine to power and ends with the ultimate confrontation between the forces of good and evil in the Unknown Regions of the galaxy.

From a young Anakin Skywalker’s descent into the dark side to the rise of the Resistance and their struggle to restore peace in the galaxy, the story that electrified a generation comes to a striking conclusion. The saga will end. The story lives forever. – Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga publicity insert.

Released simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic on Tuesday, April 20, this 18-disc set is a smaller and less expensive (with an MSRP of $129.99) version of BVHE and Lucasfilm’s larger and pricier Best Buy-exclusive Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga set, which has similar Death Star-themed packaging but includes a collectible DigiBook disc-holder, the 4K UHD Blu-rays of Episodes I-IX, an insert with the Movies Anywhere codes to download or stream the digital copies, and a letter, suitable for framing, by actor Mark Hamill.

Publicity photo of the Best Buy-exclusive 27-disc edition of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. © 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Back in February, this was the set I intended to buy; I have a 4K UHD and various peripherals for it, including a soundbar and a 4K Blu-ray player, but because they have not been set up yet, I didn’t think I needed to get the Best Buy version, which has a retail price of $249.99 plus state and local sales taxes.

So, in a convoluted sequence of events, as soon as I learned through (my go-to source for news about upcoming releases and price cuts on existing titles) about the Walmart option, I went to (without logging on to my account) and ordered the 18-disc set.

Then, when I received my order confirmation in my main email account, I tried clicking on my order link. It led me nowhere…the site showed me a “Sorry, We Can’t Find the Page You’re Looking For” prompt. Thinking the order was lost in the ether, I then logged on to my account and ordered another set.

A few weeks passed. My girlfriend then informed me that in case she had to work from home due to Florida’s COVID-19-related orders to observe strict social distancing rule, she was also going to reorganize and redecorate the master bedroom, a project that includes setting up the new 50″ 4K UHD TV set and its peripherals.

This, of course, encouraged me to change my mind about the 27-disc Best Buy version of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. I figured that if the new TV was finally going to be set up and put to use, I might as well cancel the Walmart order and order the box set which included the 4K UHD discs instead.

So that’s what I did in the last week of March. I canceled the second order I’d made while logged on to my Walmart account, then went to Best Buy’s website and ordered the 27-disc Best Buy exclusive set, which I received on my doorstep on April 1.

Back in early December of 2019, I also bought six of the eight Blu-ray titles on this promotional image from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.© 2019 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Thing is, though, that even though I had canceled the order I’d made while logged on to my Walmart account, the original “lost in the ether” one was still, as far as Walmart was concerned, active. So on Monday I was notified that my order of Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was shipping soon.

There wasn’t any way, short of calling Walmart on the phone, to cancel, so I decided to do nothing and just add the 18-disc set to my already well-stocked Star Wars Blu-ray collection. It arrived yesterday, and even though I’ll have to shell out $141 to MasterCard, it turned out to be a welcome addition to my Blu-ray collection.

I’ll be reviewing the box set tomorrow, so stay tuned!

Book Review: ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ Adaptation (Marvel Comics)

Cover art for Issue #1 of Marvel Comics’ seven-part adaptation of Solo: A Star Wars Story. Art by Phil Noto. (C) 2018, 2019 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On June 18, 2019, Marvel Comics published the trade paperback edition of Solo; A Star Wars Story, which collected issues 1-7 of writer Robbie Thompson and artist Will Sliney’s adaptation of director Ron Howard’s 2018 film about the early adventures of Han Solo, Chewbacca the Wookiee, and their first caper as smugglers in the early days of the Galactic Empire.

The paperback edition followed the release by Marvel of the ebook version by 13 days, and the publication of the last single issue (April 3, 2019) by eight weeks. Featuring the work of colorists Federico Blee and Andres Mossa and cover art by Phil Noto, Solo: A Star Wars Story reads like an expanded edition of the film, featuring slightly reimagined takes on the story written by Lawrence and Jon Kasdan and based on characters created by George Lucas.

The trade paperback features the same cover art by Phil Noto, with only a few modifications that reflect that this edition is a collection of issues. (C) 2019 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Learn the full story of the galaxy’s most lovable scoundrel in this adaptation of the blockbuster Star Wars prequel! After leaving the Imperial Navy, a young Han Solo seeks adventure by joining a gang of galactic mercenaries – and soon meets notorious gambler Lando Calrissian and a 196-year-old Wookiee named Chewbacca! Witness Han’s first flight in the Millennium Falcon – and join him on the legendary Kessel Run! But can even the fastest ship in the galaxy help Han accomplish an impossible heist for ruthless gangster Dryden Vos? There’s more to this story than you saw in any theater!

COLLECTING:STAR WARS: SOLO ADAPTATION 1-7 – Publisher’s back cover blurb, Solo: A Star Wars Story (Marvel Comics)

Thompson, who also wrote Solo: Imperial Cadet, a prequel to this story, as well as Marvel’s miniseries Star Wars: Target Vader, sticks closely to the Lawrence (The Empire Strikes Back) Kasdan and his son Jon’s script in this fast-paced adaptation of the star-cross’d second Anthology film. The comic book follows a Corellian “scrumrat” named Han in a fateful series of events that takes him from his Imperial-occupied home world into the service of the Empire, where the young hotshot hopes to become a pilot so he can return and save his girlfriend Qi’ra from the clutches of the vile gangster, Lady Proxima.

Like most comic book adaptations, Thompson’s script deviates a bit from the film. In one early scene, the writer adds an Easter egg that alludes to Raiders of the Lost Ark, a more Earthbound adventure written by Lawrence Kasdan for Lucasfilm nearly 40 years ago. There are also extra scenes set right before the start of the film in the opening panels, as well.

Unlike Mur Lafferty’s “Expanded Edition” novelization, Thompson doesn’t delve into the beginning of the Rebellion – although that’s alluded to in the Enfys Nest subplot – or Qi’ra’s past with Crimson Dawn. But it does recreate most of the best moments of Howard’s movie, including my favorite bit:

Lando: I hate you.

Han: I know.

Here is the cover for Issue 4 of the single copy edition of the Solo comics adaptation. Cover Art: Phil Noto. (C) 2018 Marvel Comics and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

Interestingly, Robbie Thompson’s script for this seven-part adaptation does have material based on Mur Lafferty’s novelization, especially in the “deleted scenes” stuff depicting Han’s dismissal from the Imperial Academy and reassignment to the infantry on Mimban. Thompson’s take is slightly different, but the basic plot point from the novel is still there.

Like all of Marvel’s new Star Wars film adaptations, the writer and artists incorporate the blue-on-black “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” card, as well as the same cards that take the place of the Skywalker Saga main title crawls:

CRIME SYNDICATES compete for resources —
food, medicine and HYPERFUEL.

On the shipbuilding planet of Corellia, the foul
LADY PROXIMA forces runaways into a life of
crime in exchange for shelter and protection.

On these mean streets, a young man fights for
survival, but years to fly among the stars….

The only continuity discrepancy in the Thompson script is that he gives Chewie’s age as 196. In the film, as well as in other canon sources, we are told that everyone’s favorite Wookiee copilot is 190 years old in Solo, and 200 during the events chronicled in Star Wars: A New Hope.

The art by Irish comic book artist Will Sliney is good; his style is more impressionistic than photo-realistic, so his renderings of a young Han, Lando, Tobias Beckett, Qi’ra, Val, Rio, L3-37, and Dryden Vos don’t always exactly match the characters as seen in the film.

I can live with that. After all, the artists who drew the six-issues-long adaptation of the original Star Wars film did not attempt to be photo-realistically accurate in their portrayals of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, R2-D2, C-3PO, or Chewbacca. (The latter character’s comic book persona, oddly enough, was more of a brute than the sometimes comical interpretation by the late Peter Mayhew in the film.)

My only complaint – and it’s really a minor one – is that the last two collections of comics based on Star Wars films (Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story were published as trade paperbacks rather than hardcovers. Visually, the trade paperbacks have the same style as far as cover designs and indicia are concerned, but they are smaller and, of course, less durable.

Music Album Review: ‘Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition’

The cover art of the 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition is based on the 1978 teaser poster for Superman: The Movie. 
 © 2019 Warmer Bros. Records, La-La Land Records, and DC Entertainment

In December of 1978, Warner Bros. Records released Superman: The Movie – Music from the Original Soundtrack, an album produced by the man who composed and conducted the score, John Williams.

Warner released the album in three formats, each one slightly different from the other. The vinyl LP version consisted of two 33 rpm records and contained nearly 78 minutes of themes and action “cues” from Maestro Williams’ score, which represents less than half of the film’s score. The eight-track edition had the same tracks and running time as the LP, but the cassette version omitted two tracks – Growing Up and Lex Luthor’s Lair – due to the limitations of the format.

The Superman: The Movie soundtrack, was edited by Williams to fit the aesthetics of the time and presented much of the music – including the iconic Main Title (March from “Superman”) and Love Theme from “Superman” – in concert hall arrangements that differ from the versions heard in the Richard Donner film.

In a similar vein, the 1978 record’s tracks did not quite follow the chronology of the film; for instance, the sixth track on the original recording is the romantic Love Theme from “Superman”; in the actual movie, the theme is heard during the second half of the end title sequence.

Maestro Williams was nominated for an Academy Award and a Grammy for the record, which (as was the case with the Star Wars score in 1977) he had made with the London Symphony Orchestra. And even though it did not knock the 2-LP Star Wars soundtrack from its spot as the best-selling soundtrack of the time, Superman still sold a lot of copies over the next decade.

Superman made its compact disc debut in 1989. Once again, Warner Bros. Records dealt with the new format’s storage limits of 74 minutes’ worth of music – an issue that has since been addressed by advances in digital recording – by excluding two tracks. The complete 78-minutes-long soundtrack from 1978 was released by Warner Music Japan in 1990 – CDs made there met the country’s 80-minutes-per-disc storage standards, but this reissue was not widely available in the U.S. market.

In 2000, Superman and John Williams fans finally got the version of the soundtrack for which they had waited 22 years; Rhino Records and Warner Archives released for the first time a complete presentation of Maestro Williams’ complete score in a double CD album. Produced by Michael Matessino and the late Nick Redman, this version “combined the album master with various edited ‘pre-dub’ elements to reconstruct the score.”

The 2000 two-CD album might have been the definitive recording of Maestro Williams’ music for Superman if an employee in the London-area studio where the film was made had not made an unexpected discovery.

According to Matessino’s liner notes, shortly after [the Rhino soundtrack] release, 35mm magnetic film reels containing an earlier-generation 6-track mixdown were discovered at Pinewood Studios. This source was used for an audio remix for the film’s DVD release on DVD in 2001, with the score presented (in edited, truncated form to match the film) as an isolated track.

This find formed the basis for Film Score Monthly’s 2008 Superman: The Music (1978-1988) 8-disc box set. This might have been the score’s Ultimate Edition were it not for another accidental discovery: the original 2-inch 24 track masters used during the recording sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra at Anvil Studios. Warner Bros. had found the tapes, barcoded them, then locked them in a vault.

As a result, Mike Matessino, along with La-La Land Records’ MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys, associate producer Neil S. Bulk, and creative consultant Jim Bowers were able to put together a third (and possibly last) restored assembly of John Williams’ magnificent score for Superman.

A recent discovery of the score’s original 2-inch, 24-track music masters has led the way to a stellar, high-resolution transfer by Warner Sound. This first-generation element has been restored, remixed, assembled and remastered by album producer Mike Matessino, resulting in a stunning presentation of this legendary score that is unparalleled in its sonic quality.

The 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition

Released in mid-February of 2019 as a limited-edition commemorative set, this version of Superman: The Movie’s score contains three compact discs:

Discs One and Two present maestro Williams’ film score in its glorious, full form, while Disc Two also contains a bounty of alternate/additional cues (including an astonishing early version of “The Fortress of Solitude” that remained vaulted and unplayed for four decades), and Disc Three showcases the original 1978 soundtrack presentation, rebuilt and remastered from these newly restored recording elements. – La-La Land Records product description

Only 5000 units of this 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition of the Superman soundtrack were made by La La Land Records and Warner Bros. Entertainment. (C) 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment and La La Land Records.

Disc One

Score Presentation

  1.  Prelude and Main Title  5:06
  2.  The Planet Krypton and The Dome Opens  6:39
  3.  Destruction of Krypton (Extended Version)  7:57
  4.  The Kryptonquake  2:27
  5.  The Trip to Earth  2:33
  6.  The Crash Site  :39
  7.  Growing Up  2:01
  8.  Jonathan’s Death  3:27
  9.  Leaving Home  4:52
  10.  The Fortress of Solitude (Extended Version)  9:22
  11.  The Mugger  2:11
  12.  Lex Luthor’s Lair (Extended Version)  4:54
  13.  The Helicopter Sequence  5:59
  14.  The Burglar Sequence  and Chasing Crooks  3:21
  15.  Cat Rescue and Air Force One  2:17
  16.  The Penthouse  1:35
  17.  The Flying Sequence (Instrumental Version)  8:12
  18. Clark Loses His Nerve  :51

Disc One Total Time: 74:34

Disc Two

Score Presentation Continued

1.  The March of the Villains  3:37

2.  The Truck Convoy Sequence  3:27

3.  To the Lair  2:21

4.  Trajectory Malfunction  1:21

5.  Luthor’s Lethal Weapon  2:13

6. Superman Rescued and Chasing Rockets  5:01

7. Golden Gate Bridge and The Rescue of Jimmy  4:57

8.  Pushing Boulders and Flying to Lois  5:26

9.  Turning Back the World  2:06

10.  The Prison Yard and End Title  6:41

11.  Love Theme From Superman  5:03

Total Score Time:  1:56:36

 Additional Music

12.  Prelude and Main Title (Alternate)  3:49

13.  The Planet Krypton (Alternate Segment)  3:18

14.   The Dome Opens (Alternate)  2:31

15.  The Fortress of Solitude (Alternate Segment)  4:12

16.  The Mugger (Alternate)  1:29

17.   Prelude and Main Title (Film Version)  5:23

18.   I Can Fly (Flying Sequence Alternate Segment)  2:15

19.   Can You Read My Mind (Film Version)  3:04

20.   Trajectory Malfunction (Alternate)  1:04

21.   Turning Back the World (Extended Version)  2:20

22.   The Prison Yard and End Title (Film Version)  5:48

Total Time:  35:13

Disc Two Total Time: 78:00

 Disc Three 

Remastered 1978 Original Soundtrack

  1. Theme from Superman (Main Title)  4:29
  2. The Planet Krypton  4:49
  3. Destruction of Krypton  6:03
  4. The Trip to Earth  2:28
  5. Growing Up  1:56
  6. Love Theme From Superman  5:02
  7. Leaving Home  4:52
  8. The Fortress of Solitude  8:32
  9. The Flying Sequence / Can You Read My Mind  8:14
  10. Super Rescues  3:27
  11. Lex Luthor’s Lair  2:37
  12. Superfeats  5:04
  13. The March of the Villains  3:37
  14. Chasing Rockets  7:37
  15. Turning Back the World  2:06
  16.  End Title  6:36

Disc Three Total Time: 77:55

Three-Disc Total Time:  3:50:29

My Take

I have owned most of the Superman soundtracks that have been available in the U.S. since December of 1978 in almost every format except the eight-track version. The only major releases I have not purchased or listened to are the 1990 Warner Music Japan CD reissue of the 1978 soundtrack and the 2008  Superman: The Music (1978-1988) Film Score Monthly box set. And until I bought Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition to celebrate my 56th  birthday last year, I only owned the 2000 Rhino/Warner Archives 2-CD restoration, which Mike Matessino and Nick Redman had lovingly reconstructed two decades ago.

Naturally, much of the musical material in this limited edition is similar to that of the 2000 Superman: The Movie soundtrack album. There are differences, of course; some tracks have been expanded or re-edited, and as such have new titles. Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition presents the film’s music as it was heard in the film, which means that tracks such as Luthor’s Luau (which is a bonus track in the ’00 album) are incorporated into the score rather than as ancillary material heard after the main score.

The score for Superman is brilliant and suitably epic, with heroic marches and fanfares that represent Christopher Reeve’s eponymous hero and his dual personalities of Kal-El and Clark Kent; a romantic love theme for Superman and the reporter he falls for, Lois Lane (the late Margot Kidder, to whom this release is dedicated); a darkly mischievous March of the Villains that seems to foreshadow Parade of the Ewoks from John Williams’ yet-to-be-written score for Return of the Jedi; and scene-specific cues that utilize variations of these themes in a way that marries the music to the images shot by cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth (who died in October of 1978; he had completed work on Superman and was shooting Roman Polanski’s Tess in France when he had a fatal heart attack) seamlessly.

As I said in my A Certain Point of View review of the 2000 Rhino Records/Warner Archives album:

The result, of course, was one of the most memorable film scores in modern movie history. Maestro Williams’ Main Title March (especially in its abridged concert hall arrangement) is one of the composer’s best-loved works, on par with his Main Title from Star Wars, Flying Theme from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the “Raiders” March from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the menacing motif from Jaws and its concert arrangement.

Another iconic theme from the Superman score is, of course, Love Theme from Superman. There are several versions of this work in this album, including the end credits arrangement that doubles as a concert arrangement, as well as the vocal-and-orchestra version heard during the somewhat syrupy “flying sequence” with Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.

In addition, British lyricist Leslie Bricusse (who has also worked with Williams on songs for Hook and Goodbye. Mr. Chips) wrote the words to Can You Read My Mind, which was originally intended to be sung by Margot Kidder to the melody of the Love Theme. Director Richard Donner vetoed this idea, so the song morphed into a voiceover. Later, Maureen McGovern recorded Can You Read My Mind and had a modest pop hit with it in 1979, but the song has not aged well.

Maestro Williams’ LSO recording of the Love Theme, however, survived and thrived, and many orchestras, including the Cincinnati Pops and the Boston Pops Orchestra, have covered it in concert halls  and in recordings.

This three-CD edition contains all the music of the 2000 edition, albeit with new reconstructions and previously unreleased versions of The Fortress of Solitude. It also includes the complete 1978 album, plus alternate takes of classic tracks such as March from Superman and The Flying Sequence.

There is also A Score Takes Flight, a 43-page book of liner notes and the long history behind the movie score and the various recordings, It was co-written by Mike Matessino, Lukas Kendall, and Jeff Eldridge.

In my review of the 2000 Matessino/Redman reconstructed soundtrack album for my A Certain Point of View Blog I wrote:

I’ve owned several versions of the Superman soundtrack, including the LP, cassette, and CD editions of the ’78 album, over the past 40 years. Clearly, I have loved them all, but in my opinion, the 2000 Warner Archives extended edition is the best.

Although the 2000 Warner Archives/Rhino Records is still a great album (and the one I have in my Amazon Music digital collection), the 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition is, pardon the expression, really super, man.


Michael Matessino, liner notes for Superman: The Movie – 40th Anniversary Remastered Edition

La-La Land Records website

Book Review: ‘Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series – Volume One’

Cover Design by Pamela Notarantonio. (C) 2015 Abrams ComicArts, The Topps Company, and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

If you are old enough to remember when Star Wars hit the pop culture scene in May of 1977, you probably recall that in those last years before videocassette recorders became affordable enough for the average American consumer, there really weren’t many means for fans to “take the movie home” until 20th Century Fox saw fit to re-release it in theaters or allowed it to run on pay-per-view or premium cable channels such as HBO.

The options available to us fans 43 years ago were:

Star Wars novelization, in its original hardcover edition. Cover art by John Berkey. Note that the logo is slightly different (the “W” in “Wars” is from an earlier design, which was refined for the film by Joe Johnston.) (C) 1977 Del Rey Books and 20th Century Fox Film Corp.
  • Buy the Ballantine/Del Rey Books novelization
  • Buy the official Marvel Comics six-issue adaptation (in its various formats)
  • Buy the Original Soundtrack from the Motion Picture 2-LP album (or its eight-track or audio cassette editions)
  • Buy the Super 8 or 35mm clips of film that 20th Century Fox released for promotional use (if you had a home movie projector, anyway)
  • Buy the Topps Star Wars Trading Cards
This Kenner Toys collector’s case could hold 24 Star Wars “mini-action figures in two compartmentalized bins, which doubled as display stands. I still have mine from 1978. Photo Credit: (C) 1978 Kenner Toys (now Hasbro) and 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

After Kenner Toys’ production line finally caught up with the demand for its “mini-action figures” and related Star Wars vehicles and playsets in early 1978, fans (mostly kids, but also quite a few teens and even adults) could get Star Wars toys to recreate their favorite scenes or just show off in static displays.

Until I moved with my family to our then-new townhouse in Fontainebleau Park’s East Wind Lake Village condominium in February of 1978, I only had a paperback edition of the novelization and a plastic container full of Topps Star Wars trading cards to relive George Lucas’s space-fantasy film set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

As I recall, I first started collecting Star Wars trading cards a few months before we moved to our brand-new house. Sometime around November 1977 I began crossing a busy thoroughfare in Sweetwater, Florida known as Andrews Boulevard (aka SW 109th Avenue) to buy Star Wars trading cards at a nearby Safeway store.

The Topps Chewing Gum Company (now The Topps Company), like most of the licensees authorized by “the Star Wars Corporation” (and later, Lucasfilm) to create merchandise based on Star Wars, was caught off-guard by the film’s success, so by the time I began collecting its cards, stores still had Series One in stock. Lucky break for me, because I can honestly say, 43 years after the fact, that I got started at the beginning and didn’t miss getting the “blue series” cards.

In 1977, each pack cost 15 cents. The wrapper was waxy cellophane and bore the Star Wars logo and a “pop-artsy” drawing of a character or ship from the movie. Each pack contained six random cards and a sticker; for the first series, the major heroes and villains, and one “space dogfight” scene (taken from a publicity shot) were featured. 

A Series One pack of Topps’ Star Wars trading cards from 1977. Photo Credit: (C) 1977 Topps Chewing Gum Company and 20th Century Fox Film Corp.

I eventually bought enough packs to own all of the Series One cards and stickers, and most, but not all, of the subsequent card-and-sticker sets that Topps released from 1977 to 1979. And because I wasn’t educated about the proper way to collect cards, action figures, and other collectibles, I don’t think I have many of the Topps cards left. 

The Book

(C) 2015 Abrams Comic Art, The Topps Company, and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Star Wars—the original trading card series from Topps first published in 1977 and 1978—is reprinted here in its entirety for the first time, featuring all five sets of collectible cards and stickers. This deluxe compilation includes the fronts and backs of all 330 cards and 55 stickers (originally sold one per pack), including movie facts, story summaries, actor profiles, and puzzle cards featuring all your favorite characters and scenes from the very first Star Wars movie. Also features four bonus trading cards, as well as an introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani, the original editor of the Star Wars Topps series. A special afterword by Robert V. Conte spotlights the rare Star Wars Wonder Bread trading cards, also reprinted for the first time.– Publisher’s dust jacket blurb

On November 15, 2015 – during the prerelease runup to Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Abrams ComicArts, an imprint of New York-based Harry N. Abrams Books, joined forces with Topps and Lucasfilm to publish Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One.

This 548-page hardcover is the first of three volumes devoted to the Topps Company’s various trading card series based on the classic Star Wars trilogy. (Volume Two covers the cards and stickers from The Empire Strikes Back, while Volume Three delves into those from Return of the Jedi.)

The book follows the same format as Abrams ComicArts’ 2008 and 2010 hardcovers devoted to Topps’ Wacky Packages trading stickers. The hardcover volume is compact-sized (6 x 1.8 x 7.5 inches) and smaller than coffee table-sized books in the Arts genre.

Card #10 of Star Wars Series One. Photo Credit: Wikipedia via (C) 1977 Topps Chewing Gum Company and 20th Century Film Corp.

And following in the footsteps of Neil Egan, Abrams’ designer of the two Wacky Packages volumes, series editor Nicole Scamla and designer Patricia Notarantonio give Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One the “Topps treatment” by evoking the look and feel of those 1977-1978 card packs. The dust jacket recreates the artwork of a Series One pack wrapper, and it is printed in the same wax paper Topps used to pack the cards, stickers, and stick of gum in. And speaking of Topps gum, the book’s front cover (under the dust jacket) features a facsimile of a stick of gum, which many customers usually discarded. Even the text of the blurbs in the inside cover flaps is printed in the same font used in the wrappers back in the 1970s.

My Take

I bought this book on Amazon in early 2018, around the time that I purchased the two Abrams ComicArts Wacky Packages books. I was feeling nostalgic for my former home in Miami and, by extension, my more carefree days as a 15-year-old just beginning to collect Star Wars memorabilia. I also ordered two other volumes of the series devoted to trading cards from The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Of the many different collectibles I originally bought between seventh grade at Riviera Junior High in 1977 and the start of my freshman year at Miami-Dade Community College in 1985, my trading card collection fared the worst. I kept most of the Series One set in a plastic Tupperware container that my older half-sister Vicky gave to store them in, but I kept most of the other sets in a duffel bag, loose and not properly organized or protected.

As a result, not many of my Topps Star Wars trading cards have survived. Most got thrown away over the years because they were in poor shape. The few that I have left are the ones in the plastic container that Vicky gave me so long ago. And that item is in a bin in my study’s closet.

Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One, which was edited by Gary Gerani (who wrote the introduction and the commentary in the various chapters devoted to the card series) is a way to have my cake and eat it, too. The book is compact enough to sit in any bookshelf or on top of a desk or coffee table, yet contains every Star Wars card and sticker Topps published between 1977 and 1978.

This book is not perfect; some readers might find that there’s too much white space and not enough text (Gerani’s commentary is succinct and printed in small fonts), and the Star Wars trading cards are presented smaller than actual size.

Still, if you want to own all of Topps’ Star Wars trading cards without worrying about losing a card or how to store five different series of cards and stickers, this book is the least expensive and most efficient route to take. The entire collection can be found – and enjoyed – in one convenient hardcover volume.

Truly, the Force is strong with Star Wars: The Original Trading Cards – Volume One.

Book Review: ‘Wacky Packages New New New’

(C) 2010 Abrams ComicArt and The Topps Company

Wacky Packages.

If you were a kid growing up in the early to mid-1970s, you probably remember Topps’s Wacky Packages stickers, which were parodies of American consumer products and their packaging (hence the name “Wacky Packages”). More than likely, if you were around 10 years old in 1973 when Topps – known for its Bazooka Chewing Gum and various trading card lines, including baseball, pro football, and pop culture-themed collectible cards – you probably collected such twisted, even ghoulish stickers as “Crust Toothpaste,” “Kentucky Fried Fingers,” “Mountain Goo,” “Fearasil Complexion Cream,” and “Shrunken Donuts.” (And if by chance you didn’t collect “Wackys,” you probably knew someone in school or the street where you lived who did.)

(C) 1974 The Topps Company (aka Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

Although Topps had introduced Wacky Packages in 1967, that first run ended in 1969. But when they were re-introduced in 1973, the first seven series of stickers (1973-1974) became “must have” items for many Wackys-obsessed kids. (Like their 1980s descendants, the Garbage Pail Kids, they were not only sought after by kids, but were often confiscated by teachers who were tired of the constant disruptive effect that they had in their classrooms; many avid collectors loved to trade Wackys with their fellow students at school, sometimes at the most inopportune times.)

In 2008, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of The Topps Company’s successful “reboot” of those subversive, satirical, and popular consumer product parodies that amused and even obsessed many kids – including Yours Truly – from 1973 to 1975, Abrams ComicArts (an imprint of New York publisher Henry N. Abrams) published Wacky Packages, a compact-sized 240-page hardcover with reproductions of the 223 stickers in the first (1973 to 1974) seven series of Wacky Packages.

In addition to those reproductions of Wackys – which featured art and gags conceived and executed by Art Spiegelman (who wrote the book’s intro), Kim Deitch, Bill Griffith, Jay Lynch, and Norm Saunders – the book has a wax paper dustjacket (colored in red), which mimics the design, text, and layout of a Wacky Packages pack. Each copy of the book also comes with a sealed pack of limited edition “lost” stickers, and if you remove the dust jacket, you’ll see that book designer Neil Egan waggishly added an illustration on the front cover featuring…a reproduction of a stick of Topps gum.

The Book

On April 1, 2010, Abrams ComicArts published a follow-up volume, Wacky Packages New New New, which presents reproductions of the 206 Wackys in Topps’ Series Eight to Fourteen, which originally ran from 1974 to 1975. Designed – once again – by Neil Egan, Wacky Packages New New New  also includes a wax paper dustjacket, an attacked packet with a bonus pack of rare and unreleased Wacky Packs, and an introduction by the late humor writer Jay Lynch.

(C) 1974 Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

In Wacky Packages New New New, you’ll find such Wackys as Knots Gelatine (“Leaves You All Choked Up”), Daffy Baking Powder, Dr. Popper (“12 Mind Blowing Oz”), Pupsi Cola (“The Soft Drink For Dogs”), and Sunsweat Prune Juice (“For Wrinkled Old Prunes”), presented one per page in slightly larger size than the original 1974-1975 stickers. Based on gags created by Art Spiegelman (who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his Maus graphic novels), Jay Lynch, Len Brown, and Bill Griffith, the Series Eight to Fourteen Wackys were a mixed batch of all-original stickers based on products not parodied in the previous series of stickers, new takes on products that had been parodied already, and spoofs of magazine covers.

(C) 1974 Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

As Lynch, who died in March of 2017, wrote in his introduction to Wacky Packages New New New:

“This can’t go on forever,” Art confided to Len Brown, second in command to Woody Gelman in the Topps creative department. “We’ve done every product imaginable!” bemoaned Artie. “How can we keep this up?” Len voiced his agreement. But a successful gum-card series was a successful gum-card series, and Topps wasn’t about to call it quits on Wackys just because every product had already been parodied. So Art and Len and Woody, assisted by freelance gag writers Bill Griffiths and yours truly, continued to come up with more and more product parodies, even if we had to make up new ones for products we had already spoofed in the previous series. There was always a tinge of consternation among us that we wouldn’t be able to keep this thing going, but somehow we did.

My Take

I was 10 years old when the first series of Topps’ reboot of Wacky Packages hit stores in 1973. I don’t remember clearly how I learned about Wackys; sometimes I think one of the kids on my block in the Miami (Florida) suburb of Westchester introduced me to the subversive stickers. Then again, they were all the rage at Tropical Elementary among my peers – and the bane of many teachers, who secretly might have found Wackys funny but hated the disruption they caused in class. I’m 80% sure that it was the former and not the latter, though 47 years after the fact, I can’t really be certain.

Topps wasn’t immune from having its products spoofed. Here’s a Wacky based on the company’s Planet of the Apes trading cards. (C) 1974 Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

What I do remember is that Wackys were one of the few 1970s fads that I enthusiastically embraced. Others, like Pet Rocks, disco music, roller skating, and mood rings did not catch my fancy, and although I had nothing against Afro hair styles, I didn’t get one of those, either. (I was too young for leisure suits, which were also “in” back then.)

Wackys caught my attention because the gags – conceived by young humorists like Art Spiegelman and Jay Lynch and executed brilliantly by Norm Saunders and other Topps illustrators – gave me a new, twisted, and, dare I say, wacky perspective on food and cleaning products found in the average American house – including my own. 10-year-old me chuckled at such stickers as Cram, a spoof of Spam, that famous – or, if you were a World War II vet, infamous canned meat from Hormel, or Lipoff Cup-a-Slop, the Wackys’ second go-around at lampooning Lipton instant soups. (1973 Series One had already given us Liptorn Molten Lava Soup.) 

The Wackys’ jokes and graphics – according to both books’ intros – were never considered by their creators to be anything but disposable little gags good only as, well, stickers. No one at Topps, including Spiegelman and Lynch, saw Wacky Packages as anything else than a job to help pay the bills or a temporary amusement for the eight-to-11-year-old kids who bought them. They enjoyed creating Wackys, to be sure, but they weren’t high art, nor were they meant to be.

Anyway, yeah. I was a dedicated Wackys collector back in the day. In those last years before I became obsessed with Star Wars and women (and not necessarily in that order), Wackys were one of the few things I liked to spend my allowance money on. In 1973, a pack of Wacky Packages (which contained two stickers, a checklist card, and a stick of Topps chewing gum) cost a nickel; I’d usually purchase five packs at a time, although I remember one occasion where I saved up $5.00 and walked to the neighborhood 7-Eleven store and bought an entire unopened box of Wackys.

I even got my mom, who didn’t get the appeal of Wackys but tolerated my obsession because it was harmless – not like I was buying Playboy magazines or anything scandalous, after all – to carefully remove my Wackys from their sheets and place them onto individual pages in a notepad she’d bought for that purpose. I don’t think I gave it a formal name back then, but now I remember it as my Wacky Pad, and from 1973 to 1977, it went where I went whenever I left town – either to Camp Challenge in Central Florida twice, or to Colombia in the summer of 1974 during the first of only two trips I’ve made to see my family there since Mom, my older half-sister, and I returned to the States in 1972 after living in Bogota for several years. (The last time I traveled to Bogota – this time with my mom – was for the Christmas holidays in 1993.)

Where is my Wacky Pad now? Last time I saw it was in the summer of 1977, shortly before Mom sold our house in Westchester so we could move to a townhouse – then under construction – in a new subdivision of Fountainbleau Park called East Wind Lake Village. I was 14 then, and even though I was still fond of it, I gave it as a present to my cousin Silvia, who was visiting us in Miami with my maternal grandmother. Whether Silvia still has it or not is a mystery; I could ask her via Facebook, but who knows when – or if – she’ll answer. She and her older sisters are rarely online, so…

Anyway…about Wacky Packages New, New, New: I bought it a little over two years ago on Amazon, along with Abrams ComicArts’ Wacky Packages. I was feeling nostalgic about my Miami childhood and missing my late mother, who had died in July 2015, and my house, which I had inherited from Mom per her last wishes but sold because I couldn’t afford to repair and renovate it, much less maintain it on my own. My childhood was neither idyllic nor traumatic, just average, really. Wackys were a part of that childhood, a joyful and slightly subversive one at that, and the two Abrams ComicArts books help me relive bits of my past life.

I love the attention to detail that the folks at Topps who worked with Abrams to put the Wacky Packages volumes together lavished on the pages of this book.  The Wackys are reproduced in all of their…wacky…glory, a bit larger than their actual size, with every gleefully twisted detail in lively color.

Little did I know (at age 12) that this Wacky was lampooning….
….this. (C) 1980 Playboy Enterprises

As I said earlier, because the gag writers had already lampooned so many consumer products in earlier series, many of the Wackys in the 1975 batch are spoofs of magazine covers. National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, Newsweek, Mad (the humor magazine whose style infuses that of the Wackys), Seventeen, The Saturday Evening Post, and TV Guide all get the Wacky Package treatment. Even adult magazines are lampooned; there’s a Playbug Magazine Wacky, and IOU (“For the Man in Debt”) skewers a men’s magazine that was published by Playboy Enterprises in the late 1970s.

Topps knew that Wackys were successful, so its execs tolerated spoofs of its own products. (C) 1974 Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.

What I found interesting is that the merry pranksters at Topps even spoofed their company’s products; there’s a Kong Fu trading cards Wacky, a Planet of the Grapes trading cards Wacky, and a Wormy Packages Wacky. The jokes aimed at Topps are, of course, spins on the company’s name and product lines; Topps NFL Football cards are spoofed as Topsoil Sootball cards, and its NHL hockey trading cards are depicted as being Truant Hookey excuse notes, with “Extra! Absence Note Inside!” as a bonus!

If you were a 1970s era kid who loved the Wacky Packages of the period – every so often, Topps revives the line, but I have not bought any of the “modern ones” – then Wacky Packages New New New and its precursor from Abrams ComicArts are the perfect books for you. The gags – especially in the New New New volume – are hit-and-miss, and it’s painfully obvious that the writers were running out of ideas close to the end of the 1974-1975 run.

Nevertheless, the art – most of it by chief Wacky artist Norm Saunders – is well-done and full of clever twists and little details that will amuse you and keep you looking at the reproduced stickers from those bygone days of Pet Rocks, leisure suits, and disco. Some of the illustrations are over-the-top, of course, but it’s all done in good humor, even if some companies weren’t thrilled to have their products or logos lampooned.

Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth’

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I would as eagerly kiss a Wookiee’s lips. – Leia Organa, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth, Act I, Scene 1

On March 18, 2014, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books (home of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) published William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back, Star Wars Part the Fifth. Written by Ian Doescher (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope), the 176-page book reimagines Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back as a five-act Elizabethan era stage play written by the greatest dramatist in English literature, William Shakespeare.

Doescher – who became a Star Wars fan when he watched Star Wars: Return of the Jedi at age six and discovered the joys of Shakespeare in eighth grade – takes the 1980 film written by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett from a story by George Lucas and rewrites it in the style of the Bard of Avon, complete with a five-act structure, minimal stage directions, a chorus to move the story along or comment on the action, and, of course, dialogue presented in Shakespearean-style iambic pentameter, rhyming couplets for star-crossed lovers Han Solo and Princess Leia, prose for Boba Fett, and haikus for the impish-yet-wise Jedi Master Yoda.

Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Many a fortnight have passed since the destruction of the Death Star. Young Luke Skywalker and his friends have taken refuge on the ice planet of Hoth, where the evil Darth Vader has hatched a cold-blooded plan to capture them. Only with the help of a little green Jedi Master—and a swaggering rascal named Lando Calrissian—can our heroes escape the Empire’s wrath. And only then will Lord Vader learn how sharper than a tauntaun’s tooth it is to have a Jedi child.

Authentic meter, stage directions, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout will entertain and impress fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike. Every scene and character from the film appears in the play, along with twenty woodcut-style illustrations that depict an Elizabethan version of the Star Wars galaxy. What light through Yoda’s window breaks? Methinks you’ll find out in the pages of The Empire Striketh Back! – Publisher’s blurb, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth

Between the Covers

If flurries be the food of quests, snow on. – Luke Skywalker. Act I, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth

Doescher’s pastiche revisits the events of director Irvin Kershner’ s 1980 film and presents them as a five-act stage play written in the late 16th Century by none other that William Shakespeare himself. Starting with Luke Skywalker’s sighting of an Imperial probe droid’s arrival on the ice world of Hoth and culminating with a fateful lightsaber between Luke and the evil lord Darth Vader on Bespin’s Cloud City, the play follows the heroes of the Rebel Alliance, including the feisty Princess Leia Organa, the dashing smuggler-turned-Rebel Han Solo, his Wookiee copilot Chewbacca, and the robotic Laurel-and-Hardy team of C-3PO and R2-D2 as they flee from the forces of the Galactic Empire led by a wrathful and obsessive Lord Darth Vader.

Forced to split up after their secret base on Hoth is assaulted by the Empire, Luke and his friends set forth across the galaxy in opposite directions. Heeding instructions from the ghostly apparition of his late mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke (accompanied by his faithful astromech R2-D2) flies his X-wing fighter to the bog planet Dagobah, where he is to be trained by Yoda, a 900-year-old Jedi Master.

Meanwhile, aboard the Millennium Falcon, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and C-3PO are chased across the vast reaches of space by Vader’s Imperial fleet. In their desperate bid to find refuge, the Falcon’s imperiled crew must deal with a damaged hyperdrive, Imperial TIE fighters and Star Destroyers that dog their every move, and a huge exogorth (space slug).  

And when they eventually make their way to the mining colony of Cloud City, Han, Chewie, Leia, and Threepio discover that their trust in Han’s old friend Lando Calrissian may be misplaced. For the former smuggler, gambler, and smooth-talking Baron Administrator not only has a long history with Han and Chewbacca, but he also has a secret agenda, one that might put the fleeing Rebels in dire straits.

The Empire Striketh Back, which is presented as a play written in Shakespeare’s time, is crafted as a work for a theater with a wooden stage and the costumes, props, and dramatic tropes of Elizabethan England.

Accordingly, instead of the familiar 20th Century Fox Fanfare, the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” card, and the title crawl underscored by John Williams’ Main Title from Star Wars, a chorus recites a prologue in the vein of Henry V:


Outer space.


CHORUS: O, ‘tis for the Rebellion a dark time.

For though they have the Death Star all destroy’d,

Imperi’l troops did from the ashes climb

And push the rebels closer to the void.

Across the galaxy pursu’d with speed,

The rebels flee th’ Imperi’l Starfleet vast.

A group with Luke Skywalker in the lead

Hath to the ice world known as Hoth flown fast.

Meanwhile, the cruel Darth Vader is obsess’d

With finding young Skywalker. Thus he hath

Through ev’ry point of space begun his quest

By sending robot probes to aid his wrath.

In time so long ago begins our play,

In war-torn galaxy far, far away.


And in the same fashion as Shakespeare told his stories through his characters’ dialogues and soliloquies – which often “break the fourth wall” in asides  aimed at the audience but not heard by the other characters in the play – rather than with detailed action, Doescher doesn’t write long scene descriptions with “action” elements.  Instead, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back depicts visual scenes from the source movie like so:


What warren, friends, is this? I am within

Some icy shelter. Now I do recall –

The creature large hath ta’en me by surprise,

Then quickly did my body overpow’r

By knocking me aside with painful blow.

It kill’d my tauntaun with its vicious claws,

Unmoved by the creature’s awful scream.

It must have dragg’d us to this frozen lair.

E’en now I hear it gnaw my tauntaun’s flesh,

The stench of musty death is in my nose.

Now I’m awake, hung up by my own feet,

And sounds of tearing skin and crunching bone

Do echo through this monster’s cave.

The tauntaun, though, is only the first dish,

And I am bound to be the second course.

Indeed, I have a problem grave, and how

Shall I make a rescue for myself? But wait –

What’s there – a’lying on the snow?

It is my lightsaber, how fortunate!

‘Tis too far to grasp with my own reach:

Thus call I on the Force to save my life.

O concentrate, and call upon the things

Thou learn’st from Obi-Wan when still liv’d.

Forsooth, I feel the Force begin to flow –

Within, nearby, inside, surrounding me.

O Force most strong – the lightsaber’s at hand!

Now, am I free to flee the fierce beast’s clutch,

But, lo, the creature comes to me anon!

It will attack me in its fiery rage

Unless I am the first to strike. Lay on!

Enter WAMPA. Luke cuts off the wampa’s arm and exits quickly.


Alas, how I am by this man abus’d –

Could I, for seeking food, not be excus’d?

It seems that this wampa shall have strife.

Thus, gentles all: have pity on my life.

[Exit wampa.

Although Doescher uses the Chorus to move the story forward or to indicate a change of location within the play, he doesn’t do so as much in The Empire Striketh Back as he did in Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. Readers and fans said he overused the Chorus in the first book of the series, so he reduced its role in this and other books of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series.

Official trailer for The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth.

In his Afterword, Doescher explains that he learned a lot from his first attempt to blend the works of George Lucas and William Shakespeare. In addition to reducing the use of the Chorus, the author also decided to have Yoda deliver his lines in haikus (although Doescher admits that he doesn’t always stick to the rules of haiku writing).

The reason? As Doescher explains:

Yoda is famous for his inverted phrase order, but many people who read William Shakespeare’s Star Wars commented that every character in it sounds a little like Yoda. So what to do? Originally, I had four different ideas:

  • Do a complete reversal and have Yoda talk like a  modern person: “Stop it. Don’t try, just either do it or don’t do it. Seriously.”
  • Have Yoda talk in something like Old English, approximating Chaucer: “Nee, do ye nae trie, aber due it oder due it not.” (My Chaucer admittedly isn’t great.)
  • Don’t do anything special, and have Yoda talk like the other characters.
  • Repeat Yoda’s lines verbatim from the movie, nodding to the fact that Yoda already sounds a little Shakespearean.

Doescher eventually settled on a fifth option – haiku – even though Shakespeare did not write in that Japanese-originated form of poetry. But both George Lucas and Irvin Kershner imbued Yoda with the characteristics of a sensei, and Kershner, a practicing Buddhist, saw the diminutive Jedi Master as a teacher with many eastern, Zen-oriented sensibilities. Thus to Doescher it made perfect sense to have Yoda deliver his lines in haiku.

The author also strove hard to expand Lando Calrissian’s role in The Empire Striketh Back; in the 1980 film Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Doescher argues, his character is not well-developed, even though Billy Dee Williams did his best to make him smooth, charming, yet duplicitous. “We never knew what he was thinking when he was forced to betray his friend, or what made him decide to help Leia and Chewbacca in the end,” Doescher writes. “Filling in some of Lando’s story with asides and soliloquies that show how conflicted he feels hopefully gives him some depth and makes him even more compelling than in the movie.”

William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth features 20 woodcut-style illustrations by Nicolas Delort, who also did the illustration of Yoda wearing a 16th Century style outfit complete with an elaborate (and elegant) ruff around the Jedi Master’s neck for the cover.

The central illustration of Yoda is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) the Millennium Falcon, an Imperial All-Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT or walker), the bounty hunter Boba Fett, and the double-dealing Lando. Like all of the characters in this series, Fett and Calrissian wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from Empire, looking like personages from the late 1500s rather than movie characters from a 1980 film.

In the same vein, Delort’s depictions of scenes from the film, including Luke’s escape from the wampa, the battle between the Rebels and Imperial AT-ATs and snowtroopers on Hoth, the Falcon’s escape from the exogorth, and the Luke-Vader duel in Cloud City are depicted in a way that suggests how the stage designers and theater employees might have staged a space opera with the techniques available in Shakespeare’s time.

Yoda tussles with R2-D2 over Luke’s lamp (here depicted as a candle) in Nicolas Delort’s funny take on a scene from The Empire Strikes Back. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Book

The hardcover edition of William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back is not a large tome; the book is only 176 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword (in which Doescher discusses how Yoda came to speak in haikus, explains some of the techniques used to mash up The Empire Strikes Back with the plays of William Shakespeare, and what iambic pentameter is), and the Acknowledgments page.  It measures 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches and weighs less than 1 lb., so it doesn’t take up a lot of shelf space.

Underneath the dust jacket with its Elizabethan-era Yoda illustration, the slim volume looks like a weathered vintage  hardcover edition of a Shakespeare play, such as the ones you might see in a public library or a serious aficionado’s book collection. The cover looks “aged” and the typography on the front is designed to look like a book from the 1930s or ‘40s.  Zounds, the attention to detail paid to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Quirk Books’ designer Doogie Horner is remarkable.

My Take

Enter Chorus


O mighty duel, O action ne’er surpassed:

The lightsabers do clash and glow like fire

Darth Vader in the villain’s role is cast,

While Luke’s young temper turneth soon to ire.

They flash and fly like dancers in a set,

Yet never dance did know such deadly mood.

Luke tires, and soon his brow begins to sweat,

Whilst Vader doth attack with strength renewed. – Act V, Scene 3, The Empire Striketh Back

I bought William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth along with William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope and The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars, Part the Sixth in Quirk Books’ William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Set in 2014. I don’t recall how I came across it on Amazon; at the time I was dealing with my mother’s final illness (she died in July 2015, a month before I received William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars, Part the Third) and running a household under difficult conditions. For all I know, I probably spied it in the Books department in Amazon while I was looking for something new to read as a freelance book reviewer for the now closed Examiner website.

Even though I’m not a big fan of Shakespeare’s works, I was intrigued by yet another interpretation of George Lucas’s Star Wars films. I’ve owned novelizations, comic book adaptations, and even the Radio Dramas, so I was curious to see how Lucas’s late 20th Century space fantasy would fare as a pastiche done in the style of William Shakespeare. Accordingly , I ordered the book set with the Star Wars trilogy books.

Here I am, six years later, re-reading not just the Original Trilogy’s Shakespeare adaptations, but the other five books that Ian Doescher has added in the years since The Royal Imperial Set was released late in 2014. For not only has the author covered the 1977-1983 trilogy that kicked off the Star Wars franchise; he has also adapted the Prequel and Sequel Trilogies. (The ninth and possibly last William Shakespeare Star Wars title, The Merry Rise of Skywalker, is due out in July.)

As a writer and long-time reader, I have come to realize that Shakespeare was a genius on many levels, and that his skills were legion. He not only was a great poet and dramatist, but he understood the human condition all too well. So many of his phrases (“the milk of human kindness,” “elbow room,” “faint-hearted,” and “star-crossed”) are part of our modern language, and many of the themes he explored in his histories, comedies, and tragedies have been used time again by many storytellers, including, of course, George Lucas and his creative heirs in the Lucasfilm Story Group.  That’s why his 37 or so plays still stand the test of time, and that’s why The Empire Striketh Back is more than a fun-but-smart parody of a space-fantasy film.

In many ways, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back is a good way to get “into” Shakespeare. Doescher is such a Bard fanboy that he can draw upon the works of a man who died in 1616 and skillfully blend famous lines from various plays with the 20th and 21st Century works of George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Jonathan Hales, and, later, J.J. Abrams, Chris Terrio, and Rian Johnson. The resulting alchemy: a series of plays that pulls off the illusion that hey, William Shakespeare wrote the Skywalker Saga!

As Star Wars: The Thrawn Trilogy author Timothy Zahn, a Hugo Award-winning novelist, wrote at the time:

“The Bard at his finest, with all the depth of character, insightful soliloquies, and clever wordplay that we’ve come to expect from the master.” – Back cover blurb, William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back

The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth is a joy to read. It’s best enjoyed if you read it aloud, preferably in the company of friends who also love the Star Wars series or the works of the real Shakespeare. There are clever puns, lots of cool references to the movies being spoofed, and many nods to the plays that Doescher is attempting to imitate. And, as the series progresses, the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars plays get better and better, and funnier, too.

As a Generation 1977 Star Wars fan, a longtime reader, a writer, and a lover of great stories, I enthusiastically recommend William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars Part the Fifth.

This is the book you’re looking for!

The Force is with…my ‘Star Wars’ Blu-ray box sets

Promotional photo of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s 2015 “Darth Vader” reissue edition of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga nine-disc box set. Note: the labels on the Blu-rays varied; my set does not have the character-themed artwork seen here. (C) 2015 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

A long time ago (well, almost nine years ago) in a country not too far away, 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) released the six existing films of the Star Wars saga in the high-definition (HD) Blu-ray disc (BD) format for the first time in several iterations of box sets.

The centerpiece of the first wave of Star Wars BDs was the nine-disc Star Wars: The Complete Saga box set, which hit store shelves or was shipped to customers who preordered it via Amazon and other online stores on September 16, 2011. This box set was pricey (its original manufacturer suggested retail price, or MSRP, was $139.99, but I paid less than that on Amazon; I believe my set lightened my wallet by $89.99), but it featured the then-complete Star Wars saga (Episodes I-VI) and a Star Destroyer’s hold worth of extras in nine discs.

The original Anakin and Luke Skywalker-themed DigiBook set from September 2011.

Fox and Lucasfilm also released separate box sets for the Prequel and Original Trilogies, but even though I tend to be a completist when it comes to Star Wars home media releases, I passed on those. At the time, I was up to my forehead with stressful situations and lots of homeowner’s expenses as a result of my mother’s final illness, so I never even gave any thought to buying them anyway.

I love the design of the original 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga DigiBook, especially the juxtaposition of the two Skywalker protagonists of the first two Star Wars trilogies on the cover art by Drew Struzan. I also like the engineering and artwork for the “pages” that hold the discs and protect them from dust, dirt, hair and other contaminants that will cause pixelation during playback.

The 2015 re-issue of the Star Wars: The Complete Saga box set. This time around, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm did away with the DigiBook packaging and used a more conventional (if somewhat large) plastic Blu-ray case to house the nine discs of the set. (C) 2015 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I’m not sure why I decided to spend $79.99 in 2015 to buy the “Darth Vader” reissue of what was then still called Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Perhaps I wanted a backup to my original 2011 set in case one or more discs were lost, damaged, or even destroyed, I’ve had the unpleasant experience of replacing several BDs due to accidental damage, most notably in 2013, when I had to get a new copy of Superman: The Movie because it somehow got scratched and could not be played.

When I ordered the 2015 reissue of Star Wars: The Complete Saga, I reviewed it on the now defunct website Examiner, where I had this to say as the Miami Blu-ray & DVD Examiner:

Fox’s success with this reissue may baffle those fans who demanded – without much luck –  that George Lucas would include the pre-Special Edition versions of the original trilogy along with the enhanced “official editions.”  To be sure, some of the changes Lucasfilm added to the films – including previously unseen rocks in front of the cave where R2-D2 hides during the Sandpeople attack in A New Hope – are baffling and unnecessary, and many viewers have noted that there are flaws in the color palette. 

Nevertheless, Star Wars: The Complete Saga is still a worthy addition to any home video library. True, most fans who already have the 2011 box set don’t need the 2015 re-issue unless they want a backup set.  However, new fans who are learning about that galaxy far, far away via J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens will probably love this set. It contains the complete heroes’ journey taken by both Anakin and Luke Skywalker in Episodes I-VI, and the bonus features showcase the creative effort that went into the making of the original Star Wars saga. (From a 2016 review for Examiner, which I subsequently posted on my original A Certain Point of View blog)

Promo shot of the Best Buy/Buena Vista Home Entertainment/Lucasfilm Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga 27-disc box set. (C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Then, of course, we come to the latest addition to my Star Wars Blu-ray box set collection. This is Buena Vista Home Entertainment (the home media distributor of The Walt Disney Company) and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, a 27-disc collector’s edition box set that presents the nine Episodes that comprise the Prequel, Original, and Sequel Trilogies in two Blu-ray formats:

  • Star Wars Episodes I-IX in 4K ultra-high definition (UHD)
  • Star Wars Episodes I-IX in 1080p high definition (HD)
  • Bonus discs for each film, nine in all, in 1080p high definition

I have already reviewed Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga here in A Certain Point of View, Too, so I won’t repeat my thoughts on this massive box set. If you missed reading my write-up about the pricey (with a MSRP of $249.99 plus sales taxes), you can check it out here: Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (Best Buy Exclusive review.

As you can see, Dear Reader, I have a decent collection of Star Wars Blu-ray box sets. It’s not complete; I deliberately skipped the separate Trilogy sets, as well as the 2012 Blu-ray/DVD combo box sets that Fox and Lucasfilm offered between the two Complete Saga editions. However, I am happy with what I have, and I am looking forward to trying out my 4K UHD discs on the happy day that my new TV and Blu-ray player combo are finally set up.

That, in the immortal words of Lord Darth Vader, will be a day long remembered.

My Adventures in Screenwriting: ‘A Simple Ad’

Photo Illustration: Pixabay

On May 2, 2019, New York City-based actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez uploaded a short film titled A Simple Ad to the online video-sharing platform YouTube. Produced by his wife, actress-producer-editor Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez for their indie film company Popcorn Sky Productions, A Simple Ad is a brief but poignant story about loss, grief, and the resiliency of love.

A screenshot from Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 showing the first page of A Simple Ad‘s first-draft script

A Simple Ad is also my first-ever produced script; although I’d co-written a script with Juan – who I met 38 years ago when we were both students at South Miami Senior High – before, it never made it past the pre-production phase because we couldn’t get the financing for it.

I wrote A Simple Ad early last year after Juan asked me for a script for a short film, ideally with a running time of two minutes. It could be a comedy, a drama, a horror story, or a comedy-drama. Genre didn’t matter; but it could not be a long script.

Now, for those of you who are not film buffs or screenwriters, the basic formula for estimating a film’s running time is based on how many pages your script has. The rule is one page of properly-formatted screenplay = one minute of screentime. Thus, a two-hour feature film is based on a 120-page script.

The only other prerequisite was that the story – regardless of genre – had to be written for two actors. No more, no less.

I, of course, accepted Juan’s challenge. But as I did, I wondered how on Earth I could tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an end…with only two minutes’ worth of screen time – two pages in screenplay format -to play with?

The first day of writing the screenplay was marked by frustration, a desperate search for story ideas, and quite a few discarded first drafts on my copy of Write Brothers’ Movie Magic Screenwriter 6.0, the screenplay formatting and editing software I’ve used for the past 10 years. I’d open a new file, type a few elements (action,dialogue, and shot descriptions) on my computer screen, and then discard what I’d just written because I wasn’t happy with what I was reading.

I don’t remember how many ideas I considered, tried out, and figuratively wadded up into balls to toss into a virtual wastepaper basket that first day. Suffice it to say that by that evening, I was sure that I was the wrong man for the job.

Still, I had been dreaming of one day seeing the credit “Written by Alex Diaz-Granados” on a flickering movie screen since I was 14 years old. I refused to give in to the constant choruses of “This is too freakin’ hard. I can’t do this” that echoed in my head whenever I hit the “Delete Draft” button on Movie Magic Screenwriter.

It wasn’t until late in the afternoon of Day Two of working on the script that inspiration struck. As I kept on wondering how in the world I was going to tell a believable, relatable story featuring two realistic characters in two minutes, I remembered an apocryphal story about Ernest Hemingway and how he allegedly wrote a short story that’s only six words long.

According to the legend – and it is a legend – Hemingway was in a Paris bar, hanging out with some of his fellow “Lost Generation” American ex-pats and drinking a lot of wine. The ever-confident “Papa” Hemingway then made a bet with other writers that he could write what we would call today a bit of flash fiction in only six words.

“Oh, Ernie,” one writer is supposed to have said. “No one can write a complete story in six words!”

Papa Hemingway simply smiled and asked for a sheet of paper and something to write with. When someone proffered those two items, he wrote something in longhand in less than a minute’s time, then showed it to his fellow authors.

On the page, the legend goes, Hemingway had written: For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

For some reason, the notion of writing a story very loosely based on this myth, which surfaced some time after Hemingway committed suicide at his Ketchum, Idaho home in 1961, struck me as a good starting point for my screen story and script.

Now, I couldn’t simply adapt the actual myth and make the story about a young Hemingway in Paris, even if I made it a two-character mini-drama. If I did, it would have to be a period piece, and that required costumes, sets, and the right 1920s-era props and other things necessary to put the Hemingway myth to life on screen.

However, the pathos of the six-word classified ad (“For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn”) lent itself to, shall we say, possibilities.

So, via email and texts, I pitched the idea to Juan even before I wrote the first “FADE IN” on Movie Magic Screenwriter. Happily, he liked the concept and gave me, as we say in the biz, the green light to proceed.

Well, it took me two days to come up with a reasonably good first-draft screenplay, so I emailed it as an attachment to Juan, who was waiting for it in his New York apartment. He, too, has Movie Magic, so a couple of days later, he sent me my draft back with some notes and suggestions for minor changes.

We went back and forth over the script for several days, tweaking a line here, changing a prop there. Then, in the last weeks of March 2019, Juan and Adria went from pre-production to principal photography, and, after that, to editing, doing the sound mix, and all the other processes involved in post-production.

Normally, most screenwriters don’t get to choose the music for a film unless, of course, they are also directing or producing, but I suggested that we use the traditional Welsh lullaby “Suo Gan.” Steven Spielberg, who is one of my favorite filmmakers, used it as the main title theme song in Empire of the Sun (1987). I’ve always liked that song, especially the melody, and I thought it matched A Simple Ad‘s story and tone perfectly.

The film is 99% faithful to what I wrote on the page; Juan and Adria didn’t cut anything out of the script; however, during the filming of A Simple Ad they shot several different takes of a specific scene in the movie and, in order to lighten up the mood of the piece, turned a line which was originally intended to be bitter and angry into a lighter, if still dark, bit of humor.

If you want to watch A Simple Ad, I’ve included the YouTube video on this post. Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

Internet Movie Database page for A Simple Ad.

I miss my mom, but….

In the early hours of Sunday, July 19, 2015, my 86-year-old mother, Beatriz Diaz-Granados, died of complications from dementia, heart failure, and the effects of a five-year-long confinement to a hospital-type bed in what used to be our guest bedroom in our small Miami-area townhouse.

Since then, my life has undergone a series of unforeseen (and in some cases, unwanted) changes. These include, in no particular order, a battle royale in probate court over my mother’s estate, a sad – but not exactly surprising – estrangement from my older half-sister Vicky, the sale of the townhouse I shared with Mom from 1978 to 2015, and a move to another city that might as well be a galaxy away from my old life and familiar surroundings.

Although I don’t, as a rule, write a lot about my mother or my other family members on this blog, and I usually don’t reminisce about her with the people I now live with, she’s never really absent from my thoughts.

My mom in early 2009 while on a food shopping run at a Miami-area Publix. (Photo by the author)

It’s sad and eerie, but sometimes my mind wanders and I think that my mom is still around and waiting for me to go talk to her about what she had done lately, inform her about my daily activities. You know, just to chat about stuff. Or simply to watch movies we both liked.

Then I look around and realize that (a) she’s been gone for nearly five years and (b) that my circumstances have changed radically from what she had planned/hoped for me.

As I, like billions of my fellow humans, try to adjust to life in the time of COVID-19, I try hard to draw strength from my experiences as my mom’s primary caregiver. And oddly enough, comparing my present life to the stressful five-year-long via crucis of my mother’s final illness is comforting.

For instance, even though I’m affected adversely by social distancing like most of us who are complying dutifully with stay-at-home orders and avoiding unnecessary (and potentially fatal) exposure to the model coronavirus, at least I don’t have to worry about:

  • The effects of negative news on my mother’s emotional health
  • The corrosive effects of squabbling with a toxic family member while trying to run a household and be a sick parent’s caregiver
  • The ability to be a caregiver at all under the social-distancing conditions imposed on us by the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Coping with the challenges of caring for a parent with dementia

I miss my mother terribly. I really do.

But considering the emotional and physical toll that taking care of her from the spring of 2010 to the summer of 2015 exacted on me, I am fortunate that my mom was spared from the double whammy of a Trump presidency (she was a dedicated progressive who voted for Democratic candidates from the day she became a U.S. citizen in 1996 until 2012) and the coronavirus pandemic. She would have been in panic mode constantly, either about the fate of the U.S. and the world at large under a most inept and undiplomatic President, or, as a parent, the well-being of her two adult children.

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