Tag Archives: The Empire Strikes Back

The ghost of Christmas Radio Times past

Walking through the doors of Tesco ,there it was, the Christmas double edition of the Radio Times.

My heart momentarily skipped a beat, it’s like my annual willy wonka golden ticket. I approached it like Indiana Jones does with the golden idol at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark…although there was no boulder (which reminds me if that old Chocolate Orange advert) or Paul Freeman waiting outside the store to swipe it from my grasp.

Santa has made a welcome return to the cover this year, pleasingly along with the Snowdog. And we all love the Snowdog.

Once the cover is opened it the usual regime of a quick flick through and annoyance at the hefty holiday section smack bang in the middle of the films section (this year it sits right in the middle of Christmas Day).

Then after that initial reconasence it’s out with the highlighters and pens ticking off everything that looks interesting…worrying about clashes later (back in the day it was of course timing issues with setting up the video recorder – one year I even remember biking it up to my Nana’s to set the tape going for something.

Film wise, there’s usually the film noir season or the Hitchcock season at ungodly hours, this year it seems to be the turn of some Hammer horror films.

Of course it all used to be so different, we’d probably not seen the big Christmas Day film and a movie premiere back then really meant something, after all we’d not already bought it or seen it on Sky etc.

If memory serves ITV premiered The Empire Strikes Back one year with the BBC headlining Back To The Future, we taped one and watched the other on the ‘portable’ (it weighed a ton) upstairs.

Of course the other thing that is different now is that you used to have to buy both the festive edition of the Radio Times and the TV Times, which would mean me being splayed out on the floor comparing and contrasting the two publications taking careful note of the dreaded programmes overlapping one another…crucial if you were setting it going a few minutes before.

This is what makes looking back at old VHS recordings such a thrill, it’s like a time warp and means that the interesting thing isn’t necerarly the original programme you tape but the end of the weather with Michael Fish et al you’ve just caught or the really dated sales/holiday adverts ITV.

Having said that you don’t miss the dash to open the plastic of a new video tape…only to find another layer to open, as I race against the spinning globe of BBC 1 and the continuity announcer as he introduces the TV programme or film I was looking at taping.

Still, this year much of the fun is in the reminiscent marking of the Radio Times as we probably won’t get time to catch up on half of what we have marked up for recording. No matter, the fun is still there in creating that initial televisual wish list.

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The Dad Busters: Celebrating fathers on film

With today being Father’s Day I guess this could have been alternatively called A Good Day to Dad Hard.

This list is in no particular order but for me stand out as some of the key father moments on film. Of course there will be those that don’t get mentioned or that I hadn’t thought of , but that’s the point these are the ones that sprang to mind for me, these are the ones that – on some level – resonate with me as a dad.

Martin Brody in Jaws (1975)

He’s the Chief of Police on Amity Island (in Amity we say yard!) and there is a rogue killer shark on the loose…not bad for a man who hates water. You know what he faces his greatest fear (quite literally) after his eldest son nearly gets taken out by the Great White. His job may be to serve and protect the community but he also wants to do the same for his family.

Jaws is my favourite film of all time, it was made the year I was born and it’s always been a big part of my life, and Roy Scheider as Brody is fantastic as the former New York cop who has moved to the seaside for a quieter life and a better life for his family. In many ways he will see that he has put his family in danger, it is his fault that they have moved in danger’s way. Director Steven Spielberg often makes films with an absent father or films without fathers (take Jurassic Park, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for example) due to the break up of his own parents marriage when he was young but the dad plays a major part in this film.

Father wise it’s a small moment for why Jaws is chosen and its one of the film’s brief interludes where his youngest child, Sean Brody, is sat with his dad at the dinner table and his young son copies his each and every move. It’s poignant and full of sheer warmth and is expertly delivered by Spielberg who manages to eek such moments out of young actors. For me is shows how important those little moments are, how attune young kids are and how…no matter what else is going on in the world…they bring you back down to earth and show you what is really important and really matters.

Jor-El in Superman (1978)

You often hear of stories about people going back into burning buildings to save their children or people giving up their lives so that their children can have a chance of survival. It’s weird but until you become a mum or dad you kind of get it but you don’t really understand it, you will do anything to ensure that they are safe and secure, that they will survive.

This brings me to self sacrifice. Kal-El (AKA Superman) survived because of his dad, because he was looking out for him, because he and his wife sacrificed themselves so that they could survive.

Marlon Brando was paid an astounding (nay super) salary of $3.7 million and a percentage of the profits  for  12 days shooting but he was certainly worth every penny with the gravitas he has in his scenes, a gravitas he carries through to Earth when a young Clark Kent is listening to his words of wisdom, the words that he will live by, the words that turn him into a superman.

Our dads all impart words of wisdom to us, why might not always think it is at the time but over time we’ll revisit it and find us using some of those very same words ourselves. Also see Mufasa in The Lion King, another sacrifice and a dad with wise words imparted to his son that are echoed again later.

George Kirk in Star Trek (2009)

Before he was Thor but after he was Kim in Home and Away, Chris Hemsworth played Kirk Snr in the opening of the JJ Abrams reboot of Star Trek. Again like with Superman before it this is about sacrifices and although the father and son bond is fleeting – he gets to hear the cry of his new born son moments before his death, a death that saved countless others, including his wife and son.

George Kirk evacuating the crew of the USS Kelvin, including his wife and unborn son, as he sends it into the enemy craft is an amazing piece of cinema as his death is juxtaposed with the birth of his son. It’s a great opening to the film as initially we are only introduced to him as Kirk – so some of the new to Trek audience will think it is James T –  and it is also the birth of a legend, talk about an apt introduction.

It’s the strongest moment of the new Trek universe that has yet to be equalled, nevermind bettered in its execution.

Bryan Mills in Taken (2008)

When I was growing up Brian Mills was a catalogue, now he’s a kick-ass former special ops dad in a leather jacket played by Liam Neeson who acts as a sometime bodyguard for Holly Valance. Neeson himself thought the film to be no more than a straight to video thriller but the central crux of the story, his daughters kidnap into a people trafficking ring in France, and particularly the trailer that features the now famous “I have a certain set of skills….I will find you and I will kill you” dialogue over the phone as he speaks to his daughter’s kidnappers sent it into the stratosphere. It’s the pre-kidnap scene where he is telling his daughter to remain calm, to remember details, to hide under the bed…and to prepare to be taken that is the stand out moment for me.

It really touched a primeval nerve that we would do anything and go anywhere to save our sons or daughters or to avenge what has been done to them. He’s the Jack Bauer and the Paul Kersey in all of us, doing whatever and taking out whoever it takes to get the job done. The same could be also said of Russell Crowe in Gladiator after the murder of his wife and son, although he dies at the end his mission is accomplished and he gets want he wants, to be with his wife and son in the afterlife.

This revenge/avenging role is also used to great effect by Mel Gibson in practically everything where he is a wronged dad – see The Patriot, Ransom and Edge of Darkness for details.

Michael Newman in Click (2006)

Like most of Adam Sandler’s films this has plenty of infantile moments, such as repeatedly farting in David Hasselhoff’s face but this It’s A Wonderful Life-esque comedy also has its fair share of well-handled drama. Christopher Walken hands Sandler’s character a TV remote control that can control life itself, pausing or fast forwarding through life…the pefect tool for the over-worked architect fighting for promotion.

It’s a genuine surprise to find such a funny and touching film that has a real emotional core and an important message about spending time with your family taking precedent over your job. Life is short and it can’t be repeated and moments can’t be recaptured, essential to this are great performances by Henry Winkler as Sandler’s dad and with Sandler himself as he grows older, which culminates in his own moving death scene in the pouring rain trying to conect with his own grown up son outside the hospital. It’s this moment that’s my highlight.

The idea isn’t a new one, you’ve only got to look as far as A Christmas Carol and The Family Man for that, but its mix of humour and heart coupled with its contemporary setting and theme of work/life balance shows us it is perhaps more relevant than it ever was.

More than notable mentions also go out to the “I am your father!” scene in The Empire Strikes Back, the baseball game scene where Kevin Costner ‘meets’ his dad in his former cornfield come baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, the interplay of Henry Jones Jr and Sr in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the moving penultimate scene in the original version of The Omen where Robert Thorn hesitates in killing his adoptive son who just so happens to be the son of the Devil, and the Chariots of Fire-inspired scene onwards of Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon’s Vacation. Perhaps I’ll return to these dads in more detail next year.

Darth Becomes Him

It was announced over the weekend that George Lucas has effectively ‘banned’ Darth Vader actor, David Prowse, from attending official Star Wars events due to his alleged ‘burning of bridges’ with Lucas Film, whatever that means. I, however, was lucky enough to use my Jedi mind tricks on the sprightly, then, 74 year old last year as I interviewed him about his life and career that started a long time ago…  

Darth Becomes Him

Even 30 years after it catapulted the former body-builder turned actor, David Prowse AKA Darth Vader, to international fame, he is still feeling ‘the force’ of the Star Wars effect, which takes him all over the world.

Last year saw him go from the Disney Star Wars Weekend in Orlando to Knoxville, Mexico, France, Glasgow and even on a Norwegian cruise ship! Prowse, said of his fans, no matter where his travels take him, that they are absolute Star Wars nuts!

Dave said: “It’s Incredible that a role I played 30 years ago has left such a lasting impression on people. In Japan the reaction was amazing, it’s almost as if they thought we were Gods. The first time I went there the committee sent to meet me were all on the floor bowing on their hands and knees.”

So why does he think that Star Wars continues to grip the imagination and captivate both generations old and new alike? He says: “They have very likable characters, really good villains and all done in a fantastic space setting that we’d never seen done quite so well or like this before. First and foremost though is was a good story that was helped by some really good actors like Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness and of course the then up-and-coming Harrison Ford. I guess you could say it was like capturing lightning in a bottle as everything just seemed to gel in that first movie.”

That first movie was of course Star Wars back in 1977, but for many the stand-out of the original trilogy has always been the darker second-act of The Empire Strikes Back, a film which is a favourite of David’s as well.

“We of course did the follow-up and I think that the Director, Irvin Kershner, did a wonderful job and was a much better director than George Lucas. I’ve always said it’s been the adult version, theme-wise, of Star Wars and is much better for it.”

Of course Prowse is so much more than just Darth Vader, his CV reads like a list of some of the best and most influential British TV from the 70s including:
Morecambe and Wise, Benny Hill, Dr Who, Callan, Space 1999, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, all of which is featured in his talk and show. And although we all know the man can shake a mean lightsaber he also got to have a go at Shakespeare with ‘As You Like It’. David said: “I’ve had a fantastically varied career with everything from A Clockwork Orange for Stanley Kubrick and Jabberwocky with Terry Gilliam and even three horror films for Hammer.”

David may have batted for the Dark Side from the late 70s onwards but he was also just as well known as another iconic-figure that people of a certain age still have a fondness for, The Green Cross Code Man.

David said: “I loved every minute of the 14 years of that job, meeting young people and just making a real difference. It’s one thing to entertain people but quite another to help save their lives.”

Dave did 15 television commercials and visited over 2,000 schools, speaking to half a million children. The Green Cross Code Man campaign was so successful that it is estimated that it saved thousands of lives and reduced the accident rate by half. It’s still a message passed down to children of those who originally saw it which David thinks is great but is sorry that there has never really been anything to take its place.

So, for arguments sake if Dave Prowse had both a Green Cross code Man outfit and Darth Vader costume and there was a fire, which one would he save first? Dave laughed and said: “From a money point of view it would have to be the Vader one as it would be worth thousands.”

The man from Krypton factor

But David nearly completed the 70s icon hat trick as he was close to securing the cape of none-other than Superman himself. David explained how he nearly landed the then most sought-after film role in the world that the cream of Hollywood was after, from Robert Redford to Warren Beatty. David said: “I went for the role of Superman and they said everything was just right, the build, the height, the only thing that went against me was that they said they couldn’t have someone not American playing the Man of Steel, so ultimately I lost out to Chris Reeve.”

It’s almost an irony then that some 30 years later we have, the also very American, Batman played by Welsh boyo, Christian Bale. Obviously David and his physique must have made quite an impression as some six weeks away from filming the first Superman in 1978 he was asked to help bulk up Christopher Reeve by 40lbs in that short time. Prowse certainly kept his end of the bargain as website IMDB reports that Reeve worked out so much during the making of the film that the travelling matte shots of him flying, taken at the beginning of the shoot, did not match the later shots so had to be redone.

Star Wars-bler

Following in the Sci-Fi footsteps of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, Prowse has also been turning his hand to singing, but thankfully it sounds as if there are no Shatner-esque Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or highly-illogical Ballad of Bilbo Baggins atrocities here. David elaborated on how he went from Star Wars to star wars-bler.

He said: “I’ve been having singing lessons for a while and it’s always something I’ve been interested in as I was in the school choir years and years ago and then I stopped for years. I found my voice again when I was on a cruise liner and got very pally with the singers and dancers and I said to one of the main singers I’d love to be able to stand up and do what he does.”

David added: “He suggested I found a singing teacher, which is exactly what I did and ended up with an operatic tenor who told me as I was a base-baritone, and if he’d had me ten years ago then I’d be doing opera now.”

Not bad for a man who famously had his voice dubbed by another actor! David is even working with a jazz-pianist in America and are hoping to put an album together, which could end up on the Cantina Bar juke-box.

Jumping back to Star Trek, David has heard great things about the new JJ Abrams’ reboot, so if you can reboot and replace one actor for another who would he feel could fill his boots as Darth Vader if the original Star Wars ever got remade? “Me, of course”, he said.

Part-man, part-machine

In many ways Darth Vader, being part-man, part-machine, could be described as a latter-day Frankenstein’s Monster, rather fitting then that Prowse got to play Mary Shelley’s creation on two occasions, The Horror of Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell, the latter featuring Peter Cushing, who he would of course go on to feature with in Star Wars and Director of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, Terence Fisher, who Prowse describes as “just being a very nice, benign old man who was lovely to work with. He wasn’t very well at the time as he was just getting over a car accident but it was a great experience and you couldn’t wish for anyone nicer, and of course the same went for Peter Cushing, and we became great friends there after.”

Cushing had some boots made for his role as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, but they weren’t very comfortable so he spent much of the time with his grey outfit on and his carpet slippers.

In stark contrast to Cushing, Prowse had a very different foot problem as they couldn’t find any boots big enough for him so he supplied his own motorcycle boots, black of course. David added: “I also supplied my own motorcycle gloves, as I’ve got big hands, and also my own cod-piece, which came from a boxing-gymnasium I took over. I think those three pieces are on the original model as they never gave me them back, so they must be worth an absolute fortune now.”

So a piece of David Prowse will always be a piece of Darth Vader, quite literally and it seems that he made the right decision all those years ago when given a Yoda style choice by George Lucas and choose wisely he must.

David said: “Due to my height, George gave me the choice of playing either Chewbacca or Darth Vader. I said to George I wanted to play the bad guy and George pondered my choice. I told him that for me everyone remembered James Bond but not the actor who played him, but they always remember the villain. The villain makes the movie and a movie is only as good as its villain.”

He continued: “I said, just think of the characters like Odd Job or Goldfinger, you never forget a great villain and people will never forget Darth Vader. George just smiles and said ‘I think you might be right there – you just made a great decision’.”

It’s a crying shame then that Prowse was not able to reprise his role in the final instalment of the second trilogy, The Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin Skywalker first becomes Vader. It’s something that still disappoints, both David and fans alike. He said: “I let it be known that I was free and available for the role and I think it would have been a fitting end for the films for them to come full circle but I guess it just wasn’t to be.”

For many fans when, perhaps arguably the most significant moment in Star Wars history, man became machine and was unveiled Frankenstein like it felt like it was some bloke in a suit pretending to be David Prowse, pretending to be Darth Vader, which didn’t have the same impact, it wasn’t Vader proper, it was just a masquer-Vader.