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.

Sources:

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: http://www.mycomicshop.com. (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: beckett.com. (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 cardboardconnection.com. (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:

PROLOGUE

Outer space.

Enter CHORUS.

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.

[Exit.

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:

LUKE

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.

WAMPA

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

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.

Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope’

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2013 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Force.

The Force doth give a Jedi all his pow’r,

And ‘tis a field of energy that doth

Surround and bind all things

Together, here within our galaxy.  – Obi-Wan Kenobi, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Verily A New Hope, Act II, Scene 2

On July 2, 2013, Philadelphia-based Quirk Books published Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, Verily A New Hope, the first volume in a nine-book series that reimagines the Skywalker Saga created by George Lucas as Elizabethan era stage productions written by William Shakespeare. In this non-canonical but well-crafted and witty satire, Doescher takes the 1970s-era Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope’s  familiar characters and situations from the movie screen and plunks them down on the stages of London’s Globe Theater or similar venues, using late 16th Century dramatic devices, such as a five-act structure, the use of a chorus to set the scene or comment on the action, and, of course, writing the dialogue and soliloquies in iambic pentameter.

To many readers, the notion of mashing up a space fantasy film set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” made with dazzling special effects and written in late 20th Century idioms with the works of the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon boggles the mind.  Many Star Wars fans might ask questions such as, “How does one depict space battles and exotic locales such as Tatooine or the fourth moon of Yavin on a stage?” and “What is the connection between Shakespeare and Lucas?”  And some Shakespeare purists might have issues with blending the works of perhaps the greatest poet and dramatist in the English canon with those of a pop culture mythmaker from Modesto, California.

As Doescher, who was born a few weeks after the original film – then known simply as Star Wars – premiered in 1977 and became a fan of the franchise at age six when he saw Return of the Jedi in 1983, explains in his afterword:

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.   

 At first glance, the title seems absurd.

But there’s a surprising and very real connection between George Lucas’s cinematic masterpiece and the thirty-seven (give or take) plays of William Shakespeare. That connection is a man named Joseph Campbell, author of the landmark book The Hero of a Thousand Faces.

Campbell was famous for his pioneering work as a mythologist. He studied legends and myths throughout world history to identify the recurring elements – or archetypes – that power all great storytelling. Through his research, Campbell discovered that certain archetypes appeared again and again in narratives separated by hundreds of years, from ancient Greek mythologies to classic Hollywood westerns. Naturally, the plays of William Shakespeare were an important source for Campbell’s scholarship, with brooding Prince Hamlet among his cadre of archetypal heroes.

George Lucas was among the first filmmakers to consciously apply Campbell’s scholarship to motion pictures. “In reading The Hero of a Thousand Faces,” he told Campbell’s biographers, “I began to realize that my first draft of Star Wars was following classic motifs. . .so I modified my next draft according to what I’d been learning about classical motifs and made it a little bit more consistent.”

To put it more simply, Campbell studied Shakespeare to produce The Hero of a Thousand Faces, and Lucas studied Campbell to produce Star Wars.  So it’s not at all surprising that the Star Wars saga features archetypal characters and relationships similar to those foun0d in Shakespearean drama. The complicated parent/child relationship of Darth Vader/Luke Skywalker (and the mentor/student relationship of Obi-Wan Kenobi/Luke Skywalker) recalls plays like Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, The Tempest, and Hamlet. Like Sith Lords, many of Shakespeare’s villains are easily identifiable and almost entirely evil, with notable baddies including Iago (Othello), Edmund (King Lear), and Don John (Much Ado About Nothing). Still others, like Darth Vader, are more conflicted and complex in their malevolence: Hamlet’s Claudius and the band of conspirators in Julius Caesar. Destiny and fate are key themes of Star Wars, as they are in Romeo and Juliet,  A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and Macbeth.

‘Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew him not…”
Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2013 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Between the Covers

Vader: I find thy lack of faith disturbing. – Act II, Scene 2, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

The Shakespeare version of Star Wars retells the events of the film – from the Imperials’ capture of Princess Leia’s Rebel Blockade Runner (aka the Tantive IV) above the desert planet of Tatooine to the climactic Battle of Yavin. Like Lucas’s movie, it is the coming of age story of a young Tatooine moisture farmer, Luke Skywalker, who is torn between staying home to help his foster parents, Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru Lars, on the farm and heeding the call of adventure as the galaxy is riven in two in a civil war between the evil Galactic Empire and a band of freedom fighters known as the Rebel Alliance.

The play, which we are supposed to interpret 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 styles of late 16th Century England.

Thus, in lieu of the 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:

It is a period of civil war.

The spaceships of the rebels striking swift

From base unseen have gained a victory o’er

The cruel Galactic Empire now adrift.

Amidst the battle, rebel spies prevailed

And stole the plans to a space station vast

Whose powerful beams will later be unveiled

And crush a planet, ‘tis the Death Star blast.

Pursued by agents sinister and cold,

Now princess Leia to her home doth flee,

Delivering plans and a new hope they hold:

Of bringing freedom to the galaxy.

In times so long ago, begins our play,

In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.

Just as Shakespeare focused on telling stories through his characters’ dialogues and soliloquies – which often “break the fourth wall” in asides that are aimed to 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 Star Wars, Verily A New Hope depicts visual scenes from the source movie like so:

SCENE I

Aboard the rebel ship.

Enter C-3PO and R2-D2.

C-3PO:   Now is the summer of our happiness

Made winter by this sudden, fierce attack!

Our ship is under siege, I know not how.

O hast thou heard? The main reactor fails!

We shall most surely be destroy’d by this.

I’ll warrant madness lies herein!

R2-D2: – Beep beep,

Beep, beep, meep, squeak, beep, beep, beep, whee!

C-3PO:  – We’re doomed.

The princess shall have no escape this time!

I fear this battle doth portend the end

Of the Rebellion. O! What misery!

                                (Exeunt C-3PO and R2-D2.]

Chorus: Now watch, amaz’d, as swiftly through the door

The army of the Empire flyeth in.

And as the troopers through the passage pour,

They murder sev’ral dozen rebel men.

Doescher utilizes the Chorus to verbally describe to his “Shakespearean era” audience the various locales – including the desert wastes of Tatooine, Mos Eisley spaceport, the infamous cantina where Luke and Obi-Wan meet Han Solo and Chewbacca, the Death Star, and the Rebel base on Yavin 4 – and iconic scenes such as the Millennium Falcon’s breaking of the blockade over Tatooine and Princess Leia’s rescue from Cell 2187 by describing them briefly in narration. (In later books, the author leans less on the Chorus, after getting feedback that told him he was overusing the device a bit much.)

May the verse be with you! Inspired by one of the greatest creative minds in the English language—and William Shakespeare—here is an officially licensed retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify learners and masters alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for. – Publisher’s dust jacket blurb, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope

Like Quirk Books’ best-selling Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this is satire at its best. Doescher, who fell in love with the works of the real Shakespeare in middle school, uses his knowledge of Elizabethan dramatics and his affinity for the Star Wars films (he is on record as saying that Return of the Jedi is his favorite because it’s the first installment of the Skywalker Saga he saw, at age six, in its original theatrical run) to good use. Because he knows the works of Shakespeare and Lucas so well, he is able to give readers a new, non-canonical interpretation of Star Wars that’s full of puns, asides (R2-D2, for instance, sometimes will break the fourth wall and address the audience in English, mainly to comment on another character’s – usually C-3PO or Luke’s – predicaments), inside jokes, and allusions to either other Star Wars films or Shakespeare’s plays.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is illustrated by Nicolas Delort; his depiction of the iconic Star Wars characters as he imagines they would have looked if their costumes had been designed in Shakespeare’s time is spot-on. Darth Vader’s looks like a mix of his 1977-era design and Othello’s imposing battle uniform, complete with an ermine-lined cape and a modified version of his iconic breath mask and helmet.

Delort’s artistic sensibility matches the book’s tongue-in-cheek approach to the Shakespeare-Lucas mashup. Not only does he give John Mollo’s 1976 costume designs a suitable late 1500s look (Han Solo’s Corellian space pirate outfit, enhanced with Elizabethan era fashion details, is hilarious.), but he also shows readers how, with the use of wooden spaceship models suspended at the end of poles, Shakespeare’s stage production of Star Wars might have depicted the special effects sequences in George Lucas’s 20th Century movie.

The Book

The hardcover edition of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is compact; it is only 176 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword (where Doescher not only explains how Joseph Campbell’s study of Shakespeare’s works directly influenced Lucas during the making of Star Wars, but he also discusses how the book came about, explains some of the techniques used to mash up Star Wars with the Bard of Avon, and what iambic pentameter is), and the Acknowledgments page.  It measures 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches, so it doesn’t take up a lot of shelf space.

The book is protected by a dust jacket, which features a nifty graphic featuring an Othello-like Darth Vader In the center, with smaller images of vehicles (a TIE fighter, the Death Star, and an X-wing fighter) shown above the Dark Lord, and, standing on opposite corners of a proscenium, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker round out the images on the front cover.

Beneath the jacket, the slim volume looks like a weathered vintage edition of a Shakespeare play, like those found 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.  Seriously, the attention to detail paid to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Quirk Books’ designer Doogie Horner is remarkable.

How does one depict the destruction of the Death Star in Elizabethan England?
Illustration for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2013 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

My Take

Obi-Wan: True it is,

That these are not the droids for which thou search’st.

Trooper 3: Aye, these are not the droids for which we search. –  Act III, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

I bought William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope and its two sequels (The Empire Striketh Back: Star Wars, Part the Fifth 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 remember 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 the worst of circumstances. I might have stumbled upon it while looking for something new to read as a freelance book reviewer for the now closed Examiner website.

 I’m not, by temperament or inclination, a devotee of William Shakespeare’s works. Like many high school students in the English-speaking world, I had to read (and study) two of the Bard’s plays (Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew) for my senior year regular English class. I can’t say I disliked those works; on the contrary, Ms. DeWitt, our instructor, was a cool lady and knew how to present the material well, so I enjoyed the time we spent in class learning about those two plays.

On the other hand, the only time I’ve bought a direct adaptation of a real Shakespeare play (West Side Story, which is based on Romeo and Juliet, doesn’t quite count.) was when I purchased Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) on Blu-ray a few years ago. Aside from that, I have a few Star Trek episodes that feature references to or even scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, as well as the Blu-ray of John Madden’s 1998 Shakespeare in Love.

Still, the notion of Star Wars reimagined as a 16th Century stage play intrigued me, and I definitely needed something to lighten my mood (the books are catalogued in the Humor genre, after all), so I bought the box set. I had a feeling that I would enjoy Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, so I might as well get the entire trilogy while I was at it.  

I don’t remember reading William Shakespeare’s Star Wars from cover to cover when I first got it. I do recall showing the box set to my mom – who was by then in the grip of memory-robbing, emotionally-debilitating dementia – at a time when she seemed to semi-understand the concept of a William Shakespeare pastiche based on Star Wars. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, a hint in my mother’s eyes that she liked the cover art by Nicolas Delort, and that It had something to do with a franchise that we both enjoyed. I’m not sure, though, that she grasped the Shakespeare angle of Ian Doescher’s books, and by the time I started receiving the Prequel era pastiches in early 2015, she was no longer able to glance at me with that appreciative look that said, Oh, look! A Star Wars book!

Suffice it to say that it wasn’t until 2017 that I finally read William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope cover to cover. Back in 2015, when Examiner granted me the Miami Books Examiner gig, I read just enough of Doescher’s book to review it with some authority. Many of the observations I made then – the book’s design, my thoughts on how well the author had executed the Star Wars/Shakespeare mashup, and my overall impression of the work – were honest (and positive), but they did not reflect a “deep read,” which was difficult, if not impossible, for me to do in late 2014 and early 2015.

As I mentioned before, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars is a book that booksellers, including Amazon, consign to the humor section. It’s considered as a satire, although in this case it’s not a “let’s make fun of Star Wars, like Mad  or Crack’d magazines” style of humor.

Instead, Doescher goes for laughs in a subtle but still wink-and-a-nod style by using puns, clever wordplay, and references to other works in both the Star Wars canon and Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.

For instance, the author knows – as he acknowledges in his afterword – that only the newest and youngest of fans are not aware of the father-son relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Thus, he plays on the fact that most of his readers, including older fans like me, know something  about the story’s main characters that Luke, Leia, and Vader (at this point in the narrative) clearly do not.

This is how Doescher deals with the whole “A young Jedi named Darth Vader: he was a pupil of mine until he turned to evil. Helped hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. Now the Jedi are all but extinct. He betrayed and murdered your father,” narrative that Obi-Wan tells Luke early on in Star Wars:

Luke: How hath my father died?

Obi-Wan: [aside] – O question apt!

The story whole I’ll not reveal to him,

Yet may he one day understand my drift:

That from a certain point of view it may

Be said my answer is the honest truth.

[To Luke} A Jedi nam’d Darth Vader – aye, a lad

Whom I had taught till he evil turn’d –

Did help the Empire hunt and then destroy

The Jedi. [Aside] Now, the hardest words of all

I’ll utter here unto this innocent,

With hope that one day he shall comprehend.

[To Luke] He hath thy Father murder’d and betray’d,

And now are Jedi nearly all extinct.

Young Vader was seduc’d and taken by

The dark side of the Force.

As you can see, Doescher writes this speech for Obi-Wan in a seemingly straightforward way, but it’s slyly funny because he not only knows that most of his audience already know Vader’s backstory, but he also gives the old Knight part of a line that is from  the scene in Return of the Jedi when Luke brings this conversation up with Kenobi’s Force ghost on Dagobah after a dying Yoda finally confirms the truth about Anakin Skywalker .

As Timothy Zahn, a Hugo Award-winning novelist who is best known as the creator of Grand Admiral Thrawn in both the Star Wars canon and Legends (the old Expanded Universe), 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 Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.

Of course, Doescher doesn’t just reference the Star Wars saga and puts a Shakespearean spin to it. There are scenes in this play that are linked to Shakespeare’s plays, as well. One of the most famous speeches written by the Bard, the St. Crispin’s Day oratory from Henry V, is referenced during the Battle  of Yavin sequence:

Luke: Once more unto the trench, dear friends, once more!

The death of our dear friends we see today,

And by my troth their souls shall be aveng’d!

….So Biggs, stand with me now, and be my aide,

And Wedge, fly at my side to lead the charge –

We three, we happy three, we band of brothers,

Shall fly unto the trench with throttles full!

This is a book that, by its very nature, begs to be read aloud or even performed on stage by theater students or an amateur Shakespearean company. It helps, of course, to watch both a screening of Star Wars and a Shakespeare play in order to recite the iambic pentameter without sounding  stilted or reading from a religious book.

Of course, this might not be possible, but Random House Audio did record a professionally performed audiobook in a 15-CD box set with all three Episodes of the Star Wars Trilogy. I listened to the audio version of Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope while reading the book; and boy, if that is not a mind-blowing experience, I don’t know what is.

Blu-ray Set Review: ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook’

The Best Buy exclusive Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook

On March 31, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. released the Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook three-disc set of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker exclusively through Best Buy. This bundle presents director J.J. Abrams’ 2019 film – the conclusion of both the Sequel Trilogy and the nine-film Skywalker Saga – in two Blu-ray formats (ultra-high definition 4K and 1080p high definition) and stores it in a collectible metal container with art by Lucasfilm artists Andrée Wallin and Stephen Tappin.

Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams join forces once again to take viewers on an epic journey to a galaxy far, far away with Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the riveting conclusion to the seminal Skywalker saga, where new legends will be born and the final battle for freedom is yet to come. – Promotional blurb on the packaging materials, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook

Like BVHE’s previous steelbook releases (Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi), this edition of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a three-disc set. The 2019 film is presented in two different formats (UHD 4K and HD 1080p), while the Bonus Features disc is in the 1080p format. This is the same multiformat mix found in the 2018 Star Wars: The Last Jedi Steelbook; the earlier (2016) Star Wars: The Force Awakens Steelbook Edition is the only one with a standard definition (SD) DVD rather than a UHD 4K Blu-ray in its mix of discs.

Though it was released simultaneously with BVHE’s other Blu-ray editions (including the two-disc Multi-Screen Edition and the Best Buy exclusive 27-disc Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga), the Steelbook Edition differs from the other bundles in several ways.

The Multi-Screen Edition 2-disc Blu-ray set. (C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The most obvious is the packaging: a metal Blu-ray case that holds the three discs of this particular bundle of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It’s a standard-sized case, almost identical in size – if not quite the same look – as 20th Century Fox’s 2015 Limited Edition Steelbook releases of the first six Star Wars Episodes.

The cover art by Andrée Wallin and Stephen Tappin is derived from the production painting titled “The Final Confrontation. By necessity, it’s a “wraparound” design that encompasses the entire package, meaning that Kylo Ren (the dark side persona assumed by Ben Solo) is featured on the front cover, while Rey, the last Jedi, is shown on the back cover of the metal container.

When you open the steelbook, you’ll find that the HD Blu-ray (the old school one, shall we say) is stored in the left-hand compartment formed by the inside of the container’s cover. Its label art features a grim Rey on the arid world of Pasaana, as well as the film’s title, running time, and various logos, including Lucasfilm’s.

In the right-hand compartment, you’ll find two Blu-rays. The one on the top is the 4K UHD Blu-ray with the feature film. Its label is bisected; the top half features a conflicted and soaked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) on the remains of the second Death Star which have come to rest on the seas of Kef Bir. The logos, film title, and the running time (“Approx.142 mins.”) are printed here, while a small section of the label is all in black and bears such indicia as Ultra-HD 4K, the MPAA rating (PG-13), and the Dolby Labs logo, just to name a few.

Behind the 4K UHD disc, there’s the Bonus Features disc, which is a 1080p HD Blu-ray and sports a label with a black-and-white shot of director J.J. Abrams looking up at Joonas Suotamo, the Finnish-born basketball player-turned-actor who played Chewbacca in The Last Jedi, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. As with the feature film Blu-rays, the label also sports the iconic Star Wars logo, trademark and copyright “small print,” and the Lucasfilm logo.

The Steelbook package also includes an insert with a Movies Anywhere code for the digital copy. Redeeming this code not only allows you to download or stream Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on a digital device (PC, tablet, or smartphone), but it also unlocks an exclusive bonus feature available only with this release.

That bonus feature is The Maestro’s Finale, which is described thusly:

Composer John Williams reflects on his body of work for the Star Wars saga and shares insights on scoring Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

My Take

When I purchased Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’s Multi-Screen Edition two-disc set at Best Buy’s online site via pre-order, I also bought the Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook. Not so much because I needed the 4K UHD disc (more on this in a bit), but because I needed to complete my collection of steelbooks with the Star Wars saga that I started almost five years ago.

Promo for the 2015 Limited Edition Steelbooks for the first six Star Wars movies. (C) 2015 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Back in the fall of 2015, while I was still scrambling to cope with my mother’s death and the aftermath, I bought 20th Century Fox’s “Limited Edition Steelbook” reissues of the first six Star Wars films on Blu-ray. It was, I suppose, a purchase decision based more on emotion than logic; I already owned two different versions of what Fox and Lucasfilm then called the Star Wars: The Complete Saga, so I already had the same Blu-rays that came with the steelbooks.

But I’m not just a Star Wars fan, I’m also a collector. And because adding new items to my collection gives me an emotional rush, I overruled my usual instincts to avoid spending money unnecessarily. After all, I was looking at an uncertain future – and possibly a lonely, harsh one at that – and missing my mother. As long as I paid my other bills (which at the time included utilities, food, and homeowners’ association fees, not to mention food), I was entitled to splurge on nice things every so often.

I ordered my first set of Star Wars steelbooks – despite a last moment’s hesitation – from Amazon late in September of 2015. I received them in one shipment in mid-November, and I’ve had them ever since. They are one-disc editions with the George Lucas era and represent 20th Century Fox Home Entertainments last effort to market those iconic films before the distribution rights to five of them – Fox owned the original Star Wars film in perpetuity at the time – passed over to The Walt Disney Company and its home media arm, Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

When I made the life-changing decision to move out of my old house in 2016, I dithered about getting the steelbooks for the Sequel Trilogy, at least for a while. Then, in 2017, the year that Star Wars celebrated its 40th anniversary, I broke down and bought The Force Awakens’ steelbook. Late in 2019, as the premiere date for The Rise of Skywalker approached, I bought the one for The Last Jedi, which marked my first purchase of a UHD 4K Blu-ray.

I have, of course, reviewed the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Multi-Screen Edition Blu-ray and its extras elsewhere. I’ve also reviewed the film itself separately. And since my UHD 4K television set and all of its peripherals are still in their original packaging till the room for which they are intended is refurbished, I can’t review the 4K disc just yet. So, yeah. Basically this review is more about the packaging rather than the content.

For what it’s worth, the 2020 Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is nice. Its design is different from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s 2015 steelbooks; those had portraits of single characters (five villains, one Jedi) on the front cover panel, details from poster art on the back. None of the BVHE/Lucasfilm steelbooks carried this style over, although the one for The Force Awakens came close.

As I mentioned above, the art on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker steelbook is not the same as the one on the other, less expensive and more widely released Multi-Screen Edition. In addition to the movie’s logo (a large rendition of the Star Wars sign, with the film’s subtitle The Rise of Skywalker placed, in smaller letters, betwixt the STAR and the WARS, as is the standard practice in Sequel Trilogy marketing), the front cover shows Kylo Ren’s menacing masked form facing off against the back cover’s unmasked Rey.

As I mentioned in my description of the product, the wraparound art is a detail from a production painting by Lucasfilm Art Department artists Andrée Wallin and Stephen Tappin titled The Final Confrontation. It’s dramatic, exciting, and clearly captures the film’s main focus on the Force dyad formed by Rey and Kylo Ren.

Overall, as both a collector and Star Wars fan, I like BVHE and Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook. I don’t have too many other multi-discs sets in metal containers, but of the ones I do own, I am partial toward the Star Wars ones.

I do wish that BVHE had made their design for the art a bit more consistent with the 2015 Fox steelbooks, but the two companies were still separate entities when those were originally released. Even though Disney-owned Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox shared Star Wars at the time, Fox and Disney weren’t even talking about a merger yet, so they were still corporate rivals. So when BVHE released the Sequel Trilogy steelbooks, it was under no obligation to follow Fox’s lead.

Still, the steelbooks sort of all go together, even though just by looking at the spines you can tell that the last three BVHE collectible sets are different from their Fox “cousins.”

I give this release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker as a Limited Edition Collectible Steelbook a hearty “must get” for anyone who likes Star Wars or well-designed collectibles. Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm have done well with their Star Wars home media releases so far, and this steelbook is no exception.

Until next time, Dear Reader, I’ll close for now. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And may the Force be with you…always.

Blu-ray Box Set Review: ‘Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga’ (Best Buy Exclusive)

Promotional photo of the Star Wars; The Skywalker Saga 27-disc box set. (C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On March 31, Buena Vista Home Entertainment (BVHE) and Lucasfilm Ltd. released Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, a 27-disc “Collector’s Edition” box set of the nine Star Wars Episodes centered on the triumphs and tragedies of the Skywalker family “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” presented on 4K ultra-high definition (UHD) and 1080p high-definition (HD) Blu-rays. Offered exclusively through Best Buy, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga presents the complete nine-part story of the beloved franchise created in the 1970s by George Lucas in one set for the first time.

ONE COMPLETE SET FOR THE FIRST TIME

From young Anakin Skywalker’s descent to the dark side, to the rise of the Resistance and the struggle to restore peace to the galaxy, the story of a generation comes to a riveting conclusion. The saga will end. The story lives forever.from the promotional insert, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga box set

Released on the same “drop” date for the physical disc of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (the digital edition was released two weeks earlier), Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga is a descendant of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s nine-Blu-ray disc (BD) box set, Star Wars: The Complete Saga. That 2011 offering (which Fox later reissued in 2015 with different packaging) presented what Star Wars’ creator Lucas then considered to be the complete six-film Tragedy of Darth Vader on six individual BDs and three bonus features discs in a beautifully designed DigiBook package with a matching slipcover.

BVHE and Lucasfilm, which are now (along with 20th Century Fox) wholly owned subsidiaries of The Walt Disney Company, apparently took their cues from the 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga box set when they designed this deluxe collector’s edition set. They took the basic DigiBook/slipcover idea and, as Han Solo might say, added some special modifications to make The Skywalker Saga a must-have addition to a Star Wars movie library.

The Packaging

The 2011 Star Wars: The Complete Saga nine-disc box set was 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm’s first Blu-ray release of the live-action Star Wars movies. (C) 2011 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

When Fox and Lucasfilm released Star Wars: The Complete Saga almost nine years ago, they packed all nine BDs (six feature films, plus three bonus features discs) in a Tatooine-themed DigiBook package that resembles a small hardcover book with a matching slipcover. (The artwork, by poster art legend Drew Struzan, shows the dome of the Lars homestead (where a young Luke Skywalker grew up with his aunt and uncle), the twin suns, and a beautiful double portrait of the first six films’ protagonists. Nine-year-old Anakin is in the foreground, his gaze turned slightly down to the ground, while a more “ghostly” Luke, his back toward us, seems to walk toward the twin setting suns.)   

Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga also consists of a DigiBook case for its discs and an outer case to protect the contents. However, the large number of discs (nine 4K UHD Blu-rays and 18 HD BDs) calls for a larger package with a different look. Let’s take a look at The Skywalker Saga set then.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga’s outer case resembles 2001: A Space Odyssey’s mysterious black monolith laid on its side and given a simple yet elegant Death Star motif. You’ll see a depiction of a hemisphere of the Galactic Empire’s fearsome battle station, half in light, half in shadow, with Joe Johnston’s “final version” of the classic Star Wars logo embossed with silver foil on the  lower “western” half of the outer case, and The Skywalker Saga on the lower eastern half. Very simple, but striking, nonetheless.

The second thing you’ll notice is that at the center of the case, there is a seam that runs from the top to the bottom. To open the box, you must gently slide the two halves of the box apart to reveal a tray that holds the DigiBook and its collection of Blu-rays.

Unlike Star Wars: The Complete Saga, the DigiBook does not repeat the outer case’s Death Star theme. Instead, the heavy book-like package has a metallic-looking cover featuring a large embossed Star Wars logo in the center and the subtitle The Skywalker Saga in smaller letters underneath. If you examine the logo closely, you’ll see a rendition of the famous Millennium Falcon in flight within the iconic logo.

Between the covers, which include a two-page frontispiece split between the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” card and the yellow-against-black Star Wars logo as seen in all nine movies, are 14 lavishly illustrated “pages that hold the 27 discs in this massive collection.

The pages for the feature films feature double-trucks of production paintings from Lucasfilm’s art department and are arranged in chronological order. They are:

  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – Naboo Starfighter (Doug Chiang)
  • Star Wars: Attack of the Clones: –   Clone Army Attacks (Ryan Church)
  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith – Duel of the Jedi (Erik Tiemens)
  • Star Wars: A New Hope – The Millennium Falcon (Ralph McQuarrie)
  • Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – The Cloud City of Bespin (Ralph McQuarrie)
  • Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – The Arrival of Darth Vader (Ralph McQuarrie)
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens – The Falcon Revealed (Andrée Wallin)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Luke Skywalker’s Sunset (Seth Angstrom)
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – The Final Confrontation (Andrée Wallin and Stephen Tappin)

The feature films’ discs are distributed in pairs (one 4K Blu-ray, one 1080p Blu-ray) in pockets on the top edge of the right-hand pages in each of the spreads listed above.

The remaining nine Blu-rays are the Bonus Features discs, one for each Episode. The illustrations on the Bonus Features discs are behind the scenes black-and-white photos shot during the making of each film by Lucasfilm staff photographers. Once again, they are arranged in the saga’s in-universe chronological order. And as in the feature film section, the bonus features discs are stored in pairs except for the ninth (for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which gets one “page” to itself.

Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga also includes:

  • A two-page insert with the Movies Anywhere codes for the digital copies of the 4K editions
  • A collectible letter written by Mark Hamill, exclusive to the Best Buy set

The Movies

Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga focuses exclusively on the nine numbered Episodes released between 1977 and 2019. They do not include the two Anthology standalone films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), even though they, like the various Lucasfilm TV projects starting with Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series and the live-action The Mandalorian, are part of the overall Star Wars universe.

Though it might seem redundant, I’ll list the films in The Skywalker Saga set:

  • 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 and 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 and Lawrence Kasdan, from a story by George Lucas. Directed by Irvin Kershner
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) Written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan. 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 and J.J. Abrams, based on a story by  Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow, and Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Directed by J.J. Abrams

Needless to say, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga does not include discs with the original “unaltered” versions of the Original Trilogy as they were shown in theaters in 1977, 1980, and 1983. Even though The Walt Disney Company (as a result of its purchase of both Lucasfilm and Fox’s parent company 21st Century Fox) now owns the intellectual property rights to Star Wars in toto, the Powers that Be are respecting George Lucas’s express wishes regarding the non-release of the pre-1997 editions of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

My Take

For the most part, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has not made any radical changes to the six high-definition Blu-rays that were previously released by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment between 2011 and 2015. I am sure that the reviewers at Blu-ray.com and other home video review sites can tell you more than I ever could if BVHE and Lucasfilm have tinkered with the digital noise reduction or made any other arcane technical refinements to the six Lucas Era Episodes.

The first six films were given new menus that are more in line with the three “Disney-era” Lucasfilm Sequel Trilogy Episodes. The artwork on the menus follows the same “painting” motif as those in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. The two sets of audio commentaries – the 2004 DVD commentary and the “Archival Interviews” from 2011 – are back.

Both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi have some new features. The Force Awakens now includes J.J. Abrams’ commentary, an extra found only in BVHE’s 3D Collector’s Edition from late 2016. The Last Jedi, which was completely remastered and had its bonus features boosted by the inclusion of the exclusive-to-a-retailer featurette Meet the Porgs. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the only Sequel Trilogy film Blu-ray with no audio commentary track, The Last Jedi Blu-ray, which retained its commentary track by Rian Johnson, now includes an isolated musical score track has been added to the feature film’s extras.

BVHE and Lucasfilm also decided to not port over most of the behind-the-scenes (BTS) documentaries and other bonus features that are on either the various DVD or Blu-ray sets released between 2004 and 2015 by Fox. A few selections from Star Wars: The Complete Saga’s Lucasfilm Archives did make it to the Bonus Features discs for each of the six Prequel and Original Trilogy films, but most of the in-depth stuff was left out. To be fair to BVHE, 2011’s Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set did not port over anything on the 2004 Star Wars Trilogy DVD set’s fourth disc.

So, aside from several deleted scenes featurettes and other minor extras from previous home media releases, most of the good BTS stuff re the Lucas Era Star Wars films in the 2004-2015 home releases won’t be found in The Skywalker Saga’s Bonus Discs.

I can’t comment on the 4K UHD versions of the Skywalker Saga just yet. My 4K TV, the Samsung soundbar I bought for it,  and a UHD Blu-ray player are still in their boxes while we remodel the room where they will be set up eventually. All I can say for now is that by luck of the draw rather than by design, my first 4K Blu-rays are the ones in this set. When I watch them, I’ll be sure to review them here in my blog. I’ll even add links to those reviews onto this one.

Overall, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga was a worthwhile purchase, even if it is the most expensive Blu-ray set I’ve ever bought. Including state and local sales taxes, I ended up paying $271.49 for my set, even though I already had all of the individual Multi-Screen Editions released by BVHE, including those of the Lucas Era Prequels and the Original Trilogy. An overindulgence on my part, some people might say, but I did get the 4K UHD discs as well in this set.

I like the packaging, especially that snazzy Death Star-themed outer case, although I have to take the discs out from their DigiBook pages with extra care, That’s so the playing surfaces don’t get scratched or too smudged by my fingerprints. It requires patience and delicate handling, especially the first time you try to extract a disc from its tight storage niche, but it can be done.

So, yeah. The overall design is well thought out and executed, and the package looks impressive as a collector’s item.

As someone who loves both Star Wars and the Blu-ray format, I can say with all honesty that this is a box set worth adding to anyone’s home media collection. Truly, the Force is with Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.

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