Appreciating The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Poster

I’m hard-pressed to explain just how incredible this new poster from designer Matt Ferguson for the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back actually is, but let me try.

Symmetry in Design

You will always get my attention with graphic design that balances on the page or in the space. Always. So Ferguson’s use of symmetry here, with the balanced elements of AT-ATs, Star Destroyers and more is exactly the style I’m most attracted toward. It all revolves around Vader standing in the center with his meditation chamber open around him, providing an anchor to everything happening around him.

The Empire Resurgent

If you’re going to sell a movie with this title, you should make sure that the visual elements reinforce the same message it’s sending. So the fact that all but one single element in the design come from the Empire is perfectly on-brand. This is the powerful, merciless force that is clearly a threat to the struggling Rebellion, so it works in every possible way. And by making Luke, locked in lightsaber combat with Vader, so small it communicates how minuscule the chances of the Rebels succeeding are within the story.

That Classic Title

Not only does the title itself appear in its classic form, but the whole credits block has a retro vibe, bringing audiences back immediately (at least those who are old enough to remember it) to 1980.

All White

Perhaps it’s because the battle on Hoth was – and still is – my favorite part of the whole movie, I always associate Empire with white, so this speaks to me immediately. The bright white of the Hoth now is mirrored here in the white-gray of the AT-ATs trodding along its surface and that continues up the interior of the meditation chamber to the Star Destroyers and TIE Fighters at the top. With exception of the laser blasts, the only other pop of color here is, again, found in the lightsaber duel happening at the bottom, especially the red lights of the Cloud City staircase. Those lights draw your eye down to the title treatment, part of the natural flow of the design.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Movie Review

J.J. Abrams returns to direct a mixed finale to the Sequel Trilogy and the Skywalker Saga.

My love for The Last Jedi is, at this point, well documented. While The Force Awakens was a massively fun thrill ride of a Star Wars movie, TLJ moved me in ways I didn’t think were possible. Not only was it a great Star Wars film, it was a great *any kind of* movie. It accomplished this by constantly defying expectations, resisting any inclination to formula and offering a wholly unique perspective and story.

Where The Force Awakens was intentionally familiar in many aspects of its storytelling, The Last Jedi revealed something new with every scene. While it certainly continued on the story of Luke Skywalker and his relatives and friends, it also took the saga in a new directly by focusing on the kinds of people who have had to make a galaxy at war their home. And it suggested you didn’t need to be part of that lineage or group to make a difference in the world. Instead, you could be no one from nowhere – a junk salvager on a desert planet, a stable boy in a resort frequented by war-profiteering oligarchs – and still be important, still have a destiny.

That message is all but erased in The Rise of Skywalker. Once more, lineage is the only important factor determining how much success and influence you can enjoy in the universe. If you’re not to the manner born you are simply one of the “other” who only play minor roles in supporting the mission of those who are truly important.

While that might be more in keeping with the original idea of the Star Wars saga, it’s not necessarily one that’s reflective of the times we’re living in. Nor is it the only problem with the story Abrams and his writers wound up telling.

Abrams is well known for his “mystery box” way of structuring stories. He loves putting big twists into his shows and movies that reveal themselves either suddenly or over the course of several episodes, with the outcome drastically changing the audience’s understanding of what they’ve seen.

The Rise of Skywalker has several such moments, including what’s meant to be an earth-shattering revelation toward the end. But these payoffs to mysteries that have been speculated on and debated in the four years since TFA came out don’t feel in any way earned and therefore don’t carry the meaning and emotional heft they are intended to.

It comes down to the difference between “stakes” and “mysteries.” The latter can be explained or revealed and it’s supposed to be shocking. The former is supposed to make you feel something and care about the characters and the situation they find themselves in.

There are stakes in TLJ – Poe’s journey from hotshot pilot to reasoned leader, Luke’s grappling with insecurity and shame as he reflects on how his actions have impacted the universe, Finn’s perspective opening up to see more of the world around him – that go beyond simple story points. They are the messages the story is there to reinforce. So much subtext can be found in TLJ that watching it offers up something new every time. Such depth isn’t better or worse than the fast-paced kineticism of TFA, just different.

The story and its attendant twists are so prevalent in TROS, though, that nary a moment can be found where things slow down enough for any of the action and events to mean anything. No stakes are felt because none of the big moments are earned through intricate setup. In TLJ, even the joke moment with the porg crashing into the Falcon’s window during the final battle has been earned through all the development they were given leading up to that.

The Rise of Skywalker is in many ways a satisfying ending to the Star Wars saga that I and countless others have been following over the last 42 years. Most of the story choices made by the filmmakers were compelling and interesting and logical. Few, though, rise to the level of high emotion that Johnson’s did in The Last Jedi.

Audience Terrorists Issue Demands

It shouldn’t be surprising. It’s the natural next step in the thought process of audiences that for the last two years have been demanding Warner Bros. #ReleaseTheSnyderCut and have been growing up online with tales of The Phantom Edit and YouTube trailer remixes for the last decade or more.

Now there’s a push for Disney to #ReleaseTheJJCut of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a movement born of the notion that the studio somehow interfered with the director’s vision of the movie’s story. Notable is that the anger shifted from one position – that Disney wanted Abrams to incorporate more elements from the direction Rian Johnson had taken the series in with The Last Jedi – to one that holds Abrams was told to ignore as much of TLJ as possible. Whatever the case, these individuals are convinced that any issues with RoS’s sometimes muddled story stem from Disney not letting Abrams fully realize the *real* story he set out to tell, assured that if he had the final product would have been much more satisfying.

[Side note: It’s worth pointing out that the only Star Wars movie that hasn’t been plagued by stories of producer/studio interference is The Last Jedi, one that “fans” found unsatisfying, disrespectful to the franchise and otherwise problematic. So the problem isn’t actually with the studio or the filmmakers, but the cranky individuals who feel their years of buying action figures and comic books has earned them the right to dictate creative decisions.]

A sense of entitlement goes hand-in-hand with widespread feelings that are capable of doing it better, one resulting from nearly two decades of consumer-generated media. That environment is one that’s ripe for discontent, especially when social media platforms where those opinions are shared continue to be well-suited to turn small instances of outrage into big headlines because of their focus on engagement.

But one more thing is in play here. It’s not just that fans are upset that giant companies are creating products designed to be as safe and approachable by the largest possible swath of the public. It’s not just that editing and creation tools are easier than ever to use and so put more power in people’s hands to remix and remake as they like.

It’s that we live in the age of #PizzaGate and other widespread conspiracy theories.

Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence justified the unsanctioned killing of a high-ranking Iranian official by saying that individual was tied to the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 despite a complete lack of evidence. And today President Donald Trump advanced the idea that Iran was planning to blow up the U.S. embassy in Iraq, something for which there does not seem to be any intelligence or proof. As he’s dealt with concerns over the killing of that official and the looming impeachment, Trump has spent an inordinate amount of time spreading conspiracy theories about his political rivals and others.

People believe in conspiracy theories for a handful of primary reasons, including the need to retain some control over their lives, maintain a positive self-image and to achieve some level of certainty, even if its illusory.

Those reasons should be familiar to anyone who’s been online, especially those sections devoted to movies and entertainment.

As Holden said in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back: “This is a site populated by militant movie buffs: sad, pathetic little bastards living in their parents’ basement downloading scripts and what they think is inside information about movies and actors they claim to despise yet can’t stop discussing.”

There’s never any proof to any of these, but that doesn’t matter. The lack of proof become evidence of the power of those at the center of the conspiracy, who have once more killed a story that’s about to come out or silenced a key witness that could have blown the lid off the whole thing.

How long, one wonders, before Warner Bros. or Disney become the target of the anger of a true believe that has decided to take matters into his own hands?

We’ve seen it happen in other recent instances. At least one “PizzaGate” adherent was arrested after shooting up a Washington, D.C. pizza place, one alleged to have been part of the child sex trafficking ring at the heart of the conspiracy. Trump’s continued comments about media institutions being the “enemies of the people” have lead to repeated instances of threats and violence against newsrooms across the country. A woman who believed YouTube was actively restricting her channel’s growth shot three people at the company’s headquarters.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, of course. For decades people have thought NASA faked the moon landing or that a massive cabal of international players had John F. Kennedy killed. There are countless more examples. Director Oliver Stone has made a career of such ideas.

In this day and age, the conspiracy theories that circulate around blockbuster movies are driven by the same sort of “we have an inside source” thinking that was once the purview of AICN and other niche sites. The protests and petitions that crop up in the wake of such beliefs amount to demands issued by an insurgent militia, though, especially as they’re given increased attention and therefore credence by the entertainment press. “Give us what we want and we won’t hurt your next release” is the implicit message sent.

What we see in the political field is that catering to those individuals only emboldens them, making them into a group that must be taken seriously at the expense of all others. There’s no other reasonable explanation for why the small percentage of Americans who believe all Trump’s statements are still held up as a “base” that must be strengthened and appealed to by the opposition. And there’s no other reasonable explanation for why the disgruntled whiners who complain about super heroes becoming social justice warriors (a role they’ve played in print and other media for 80+ years) are viewed as a “core” audience whose tastes must be taken seriously.

Push them out. Ignore them. Let them stew in their anger and let history treat them as the non-factors they truly are. They see everyone as needing to serve them and will never be happy regardless of what changes are made.

They aren’t just terrorists, they are a splinter group of a terrorist organization whose power is solely derived from the attention paid to their manifestos. They should be treated as such.

Art Isn’t Really Part of It

The Last Jedi is as close to an art film as we’re likely to see from the franchise-centric studio era. It’s nuanced, almost completely free of anything that could be described as “fan service” and confounds expectations at every turn.

Some of that explains why it was so divisive among the audience. They couldn’t bear that Luke Skywalker was so reluctant to fly into battle and save the day, or that they might be expected to consider the plight of ordinary people caught in the crossfire of endless war, or that family heritage might not be the only determination of success.

It’s everything The Force Awakens, which was eminently enjoyable, wasn’t.

The Rise of Skywalker was sold as a big, emotional ending to the Star Wars series, one that was designed to appeal to all generations of fandom. While director J.J. Abrams repeatedly said he wasn’t throwing out some of the plot points from The Last Jedi that caused some of the most vocal haters but that the movie would hopefully meet everyone’s expectations.

Jedi director Rian Johnson’s recent comments that pandering to fans is a mistake, one that runs in the exact opposite direction of what constitutes “art” or what creators should attempt to do, reflect the unconventional approach he seems to have taken when he had his turn at the franchise plate. They certainly offer a clear insight into the mind that made such unexpected choices instead of engaging in two hours of fan service.

That was further on display when Johnson responded to a critic on Twitter, pointing out that it’s much more interesting to show the character of Luke Skywalker as a flawed, complicated character than as a super powered perfect hero who never feels regret or conflict.

Meeting everyone’s expectations is what products are meant to do, which gets to the point made by Martin Scorsese in his latest declaration that such films are crowding out smaller movies that have more artistic goals. That truth is evident anytime you look at your local multiplex, where the latest franchise blockbuster is playing on 10 screens while a more dramatic character drama will be on just one, and likely only at limited times.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Terry Gilliam, who is rightfully concerned that big studios with lots of money are playing it stupidly safe with the choices they make, creating stories with no real stakes and no grounding in reality.

What Johnson created in The Last Jedi was as close to an art film as I’ve ever seen in a franchise entry, with real stakes and a powerful sense of danger for everyone involved. Sure, it takes place in a universe where space wizards fly massive starships to exotic worlds, but everything else about the story was designed to make you unsure of what would happen next and care about the implications of how things transpired.

Luke feeling guilt over his actions and the effects they may have had was real.

Rey feeling unsure of her place in the universe because she didn’t know her family history felt real.

Poe not knowing how to transition from warrior to leader and making mistakes along the way felt real.

Rose feeling anger about how the poor of the universe are taken advantage of for the benefit of the wealthy felt real.

Yoda toying with his student for the lulz and teaching one final lesson as a result felt real.

If the point of art is to challenge audiences, most of the franchise films released in the last dozen years or so don’t meet the definition. Exceptions include Captain America: The Winter Soldier and a handful of others, with The Last Jedi at the top of that list. It takes risks few movies like it have even attempted and does so with panache and humor.

One thing it’s not: A bland, faceless product. It has a point of view and a message, not just a story, and that is so unique in this day and age to make it remarkable.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Marketing Recap

You can read my full recap of the marketing campaign for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker at The Hollywood Reporter.

Online and Social

As the other movies do, this one gets its own page on StarWars.com, complete with a collection of the posters, teasers, featurettes, photos and more. Blog posts that contain movie material or which highlight related announcements can be found on the page as well.

Media and Press

While we were still in the hype cycle for Episode XIII it was announced that Trevorrow, who’d long been attached to the project, had left. That was two Star Wars movies in row, including the Han Solo one, that had high-profile director shifts. Three if you count how Josh Trank was involved in a movie right up to the point he wasn’t. That firing was apparently a long-time coming and resulted from the director’s own personality issues, which caused tension with producer Kathleen Kennedy, and the fact that unlike on Jurassic World he didn’t have Steven Spielberg around to protect him.

Shockwaves then emanated when it was announced The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams would return for this movie, which was also pushed back from May to December. Later on, as part of the publicity for The Last Jedi, Abrams talked about taking the opportunity to return and close out the trilogy he started.

Isaac and others from the cast talked about the movie while promoting other projects.

A wide-ranging profile of Abrams included his recounting of the unusual sequence of events leading to his rejoining the franchise and his feelings of concern, panic, stress, excitement and more around doing so.

There as a significant press push in the wake of Star Wars Celebration and the debut of the first teaser. That included Abrams revealing Lucas was involved in crafting at least part of the story and Boyega making it clear he didn’t know what the title referred to either.

Abrams and members of the cast appeared on “Good Morning America” shortly after Celebration to talk about the movie and explain (or not) some of what was going on.

Meanwhile, Hamill explained why he has so much fun poking at obsessive Star Wars fans.

As has been the case with every Star Wars movie since 1999’s The Phantom Menace, the publicity cycle included a Vanity Fair cover story featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes photos by Annie Leibovitz. That series of stories offered not only new looks at the cast and sets but also additional details about what the story entails and what fans can expect from the film.

Ridley was interviewed about the emotional moment that was the final day of filming.

Another interview with Abrams in the wake of D23 had the director clarifying that nothing about The Last Jedi was being discarded, nor had that movie upset any plans for the series’ story. So, despite the outcry of disgruntled or disappointed viewers, that movie is still canon. He later shared his thinking on why it was important for Palpatine to return for this movie and more.

EW debuted a first official look at Zorri Bliss, the mysterious character played by Keri Russell. At around the same time Abrams was interviewed about his assurance that the movie would provide a satisfying conclusion to the nine-film epic story and more details were revealed about the watery planet seen in the trailers. Ackie was profiled in an interview about her reaction to joining the Star Wars universe.

In late November EW offered a big cover feature that included a number of other interviews, photos and other inside looks at the movie, with comments from most of the cast and crew. At the same time Rolling Stone ran its own package that included an interview with Kennedy about this movie and the future of the Star Wars franchise as well as another interview with Abrams about the story of the movie.

Late night appearances by the cast and Abrams started in late November as well, with Driver and Russell showing up on “The Late Show” as did Abrams. Ridley and Boyega showed up on “The Tonight Show” while Isaac chatted on “Late Night.” Russell chatted on “The Tonight Show” as well while Tran appeared on “The Daily Show.”

An extended profile of Williams had him talking about the legacy of Lando he still holds tightly to as well as his overall career and coming out of semi-retirement to revisit the character one last time.

An interview with Ridley allowed her to talk about what her plans for self-care are following her involvement in a massive multi-year commitment. Tran finally joined the press effort with an interview making it clear Rose has evolved in the time since the last story. A profile of Daniels included him promising this wasn’t the last you’ve heard of him as C-3PO while a similar interview with McDiarmid allowed him to talk about his expectation that he was done with the character of Palpatine until he got the call.

Abrams talked about the behind the scenes drama that lead to him coming back to the franchise and lots more in this extended profile that included him throwing a little shade at Johnson’s middle installment for being too “meta.” One of the movie’s cowriters spoke about trying to craft a worthy final chapter for the story.

The same night as the movie’s premiere, the whole cast along with Abrams appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to engage in games and more. Lupita Nyong’o, who is always forgotten about when discussing the cast, talked about the movie on “The Daily Show.”

Tran was interviewed about her experiences with Star Wars and more here.

Overall

Picking Up the Spare

That mysterious message from the presumed-dead Palpatine that kicks off the events of the movie was revealed in Fortnite, likely because of the promotional tie-in with that game. The movie’s editor explained why that message was cut from the film as well.

Abrams has praised Johnson while trying to downplay any potential bad blood because of the different directions the two directors took.

An interview with Terrio allowed him to dig an even deeper hole regarding the way the story makes Rose Tico into a non-factor.

A new featurette from IMAX has the cast and crew talking about their experiences making the movie. Another video from IMAX has them all sharing their favorite moments from throughout the Star Wars movies while a third has Issac answering fan-submitted questions.

One more TV spot touting the movie’s box-office success.

Second unit director Victoria Mahoney has finally been getting some attention, in part because she’s the first woman to have any directorial duties on a Star Wars feature.

The Nine Most Compelling Movie Campaigns of 2019’s Second Half

From Once Upon a Time In Hollywood to The Rise of Skywalker and everything in between.

The second half of 2019 ahs seen a number of notable movie releases from some of the biggest names in filmmaking. Downton Abbey was revived for the big screen and new entries in the Zombieland, Rambo and Terminator series hit theaters to varying degrees of success.

Major releases like The Lion King, Frozen 2 and others dominated the mainstream cultural conversation as well as the box office in the last six months thanks to their massive marketing efforts, there are a number of films where the campaigns were even more interesting and noteworthy. Sometimes those campaigns featured a particularly creative execution, sometimes they represented something new being done to reach an interested audience.

So, to follow up on my list of the most compelling movie campaigns from the first half of 2019, here’s the nine that seemed most interesting or innovative to me in the year’s second half.

Hustlers

There have been a number of movies in the last couple years about women determined to exact some pound of flesh from the world that has wronged them. Hustlers is among the most successful of that genre, thanks in part to the lead performance by Jennifer Lopez. What the movie’s marketing campaign did was out Oceans the Oceans movie, especially the recent Ocean’s 8. From the first moment of the campaign, the audience was presented with a neon bright brand that combined women owning their sexuality as exotic dancers with a social message of making the 1% pay for exploiting the poor.

The Hunt

No, the movie has not actually come out. Universal’s curtailed marketing campaign isn’t worth calling out, mostly because it was that campaign that lead to the studio pulling the movie from its release schedule. The planned August release was initially delayed in reaction to the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso following concerns the ads were insensitive to the news at the time. But at about the same time the campaign came to the attention of right wing media, which felt the story of wealthy elites kidnapping poor people for sport was terribly offensive. That conclusion was reached by ignoring the class warfare story and focusing on how the hunted were demographically more likely to be conservative voters than the rich people doing the hunting. To date there have been no updates on the movie’s status.

Ready Or Not

Released at the same time The Hunt was being nixed, Ready Or Not wound up being one of the year’s surprise box office hits. The movie is about a young bride who, on the night she marries into a family that made its fortune making and selling games, finds out that family is going to hunt her. Only if she survives the night will she be deemed worthy of becoming one of them. The marketing sold it as a ridiculously fun horror outing, filled with slapstick humor and more, all while maintaining a brand identity rooted in dark hardwood tones and gothic symbolism.

Joker

Warner Bros. seems to have finally found some kind of groove with its DC-related films following the release of Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman and, most recently, Joker. The movie, one of the most successful of the year so far, was the subject of some of the most intense pre-release debates and conversations in recent memory. That’s largely because of the campaign, with trailers that seemed to present Joker’s backstory as startlingly similar to that of so many of the mass shooters that have plagued society. Before taking on the Joker persona, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is shown as a marginalized struggling comedian angry at the ways the people in his life have failed him. If the movie weren’t set in the 80s he’s the kind of guy who would frequent men’s rights forums. Post-release, it’s made the Bronx staircase Joker dances down a hot spot for Instagrammers, which itself is a statement about the power of the campaign.

Between Two Ferns

between two ferns posterNetflix has released a number of noteworthy films this year (more on that later), but the revival of Zach Galifinakis’ Funny Or Die celebrity interviews as a feature deserves mention not for the undeniable quality of the movie (though it is very funny) but because of the teaser poster. Designed by marketing agency Works Advertising, there’s so much going on with the one sheet it’s hard to keep track.

  1. All the lines of copy, even those right next to each other, are all at slightly different angles.
  2. The “www” in the URL for Netflix is a style that hasn’t been widely used in 15 years or more.
  3. The typeface for the release date and web address are laughably simple, a default style in Microsoft PowerPoint, and not one meant to convey any sort of impact.
  4. The two ferns are obviously the same fern copied and pasted on each side of Galifinakis’ head.
  5. The photo of Galifinakis still bears the Netflix watermark, like it was pulled from a press site and slapped onto the poster.

Overall it conveys a sense of “sure, fine, whatever,” which is completely on-brand for the Between Two Ferns series. It’s so sloppy and one of the best of the year.

The Lighthouse

How do you sell a black and white movie about two men left alone together on a remote New England lighthouse, isolated from the rest of the world and stuck with their own secrets and baggage? By going completely bonkers. The trailer has singing, dancing, axes, mermaids, terror, and Willem Dafoe repeating “Why don’t you spill your beans?” over and over again. With Dafoe and Robert Pattinson as the leads, it says something when a pelican is the only character that gets its own poster. In a move usually reserved for franchises and sequels, A24 also released an iMessage emoji pack so people could add images of angry lighthouse keepers and various sea creatures to their messages.

Knives Out

I truly believe no one had more fun selling their movie this year than director Rian Johnson. After making The Last Jedi, objectively the best Star Wars movie ever, Johnson assembled an all-star cast including Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Daniel Craig and others for Knives Out, an old-fashioned murder mystery. The story is set on a wealthy family’s estate as investigators try to solve the murder of the patriarch, and the campaign not only played up the cast but also the breezy nature of the film. In interviews for the film, Johnson frequently evoked his love of classic movies based on Agatha Christie and other stories. That love was evident in the “A Rian Johnson whodunit” branding featured throughout the campaign and especially in one of the final videos, where the director personally invites audiences to see the movie, a move reminiscent of similar appeals by Hitchcock and other classic filmmakers.

The Irishman

After snagging new films from directors like Joel and Ethan Coen, Steven Soderbergh, Tamara Jenkins and other big names, producing a three hour epic from Martin Scorsese represents Netflix’s biggest conquest to date. To celebrate that milestone the studio/streamer ran a campaign that broke new ground for its original releases, including over a dozen featurettes on every aspect of the film, from the cast to hair and makeup to set design and everything in between. Not only were there teasers but there were trailers timed for the movie’s limited theatrical release and then again for just before it became available for streaming. This is very much the moment Netflix adopted tactics similar to how traditional studios sell movies while still supporting its non-traditional business model.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

It would be negligent to omit Disney’s massive, 8-month long campaign for what has been sold at every turn as the final installment in the Skywalker saga that began 42 years ago. The movie has been positioned as the conclusion to the story that began the first moment Qui-Gon Jinn laid eyes on a young Anakin Skywalker. Along the way the studio has had to thread various needles, appealing to older audiences that remember seeing the Tantive IV being chased by a Star Destroyer on the big screen in 1977 and those whose first experience might have been Poe landing on Jakku as the Resistance searched for a missing Luke Skywalker. With seven key promotional partners all producing their own commercials and campaigns along with other companies doing their own thing, there’s been no avoiding the idea that this is the ultimate event film, one audiences would be negligent in missing.

Honorable Mention: Every Ryan Reynolds Movie

He went method for the Pokemon: Detective Pikachu campaign earlier this year and then managed to put an ad for Aviation Gin inside an ad for his new movie 6 Underground that was inside an ad for Samsung. He’s already selling upcoming projects with the same knowing humor, showing he’s one of the strongest marketing brands around.

Revisiting The Holonet’s Role in the Marketing of Attack of the Clones

From the moment Obi-Wan Kenobi mentioned The Clone Wars, fans such as myself wondered what exactly that entailed. What caused it? Who was doing the fighting? What role did Anakin Skywalker really play in them? Why the use of the plural and not the singular? The original Expanded Universe offered a few brief glimpses and clues, usually just enough to generate more questions than answers.

With the Prequel Trilogy launching in 1999, we were finally promised some real insights into what happened. The Phantom Menace didn’t go there, but as details emerged about Episode II it became clear that yes, we were finally going to see The Clone Wars in some respect and learn more about events that had to that point been more conjecture than reality.

Attack of the Clones, of course, starts off with a shocking event: The attempted assassination of Senator Padme Amidala of Naboo on a Coruscant landing platform. It wouldn’t be long in the movie before we learned Separatist forces were the likely culprit, but why were they immediately suspected? Also – and this is important – Who or what were the Separatists?

Those following along with updates to Starwars.com in the weeks leading up to Attack of the Clones’ release may have had a little better picture of what was going on and might have even anticipated the attempt on Amidala’s life. That’s because the site had been publishing updates from Holonet News.

The Holonet is something that has been mentioned on many occasions in Expanded Universe books and comics but is never referenced directly within any of the 10 Star Wars feature films, so you would be forgiven if you weren’t hip to what amounts to the official news distribution platform in a galaxy far, far away. It can best be understood as being akin to our own internet; not a media outlet of its own but a media technology used to send media across.

Holonet News, in the months prior to Attack of the Clones, sought to set the stage for what would happen in the movie, providing a bit of backstory to explain to the audience where the galaxy stood in the 10 years that had passed since the events of The Phantom Menace.

holonet news

New installments were published more or less weekly between late-February and mid-May of 2002, right up to the release of the second Prequel installment. It featured updates on negotiations with the Separatists, technology news, information about Jedi movements across the galaxy and much more. There was even celebrity gossip and other “light” news.

The news on the site was written by well-known Star Wars author, curator and overall fan Pablo Hidalgo and TheForce.net co-founder Paul Ens, with illustrations by Lucasfilm illustrator and comics artist Joe Corroney. Most, but not all, the headlines appearing on the front page were clickable, offering full or partial stories.

What Holonet News did was add a few bits of important background information to the Star Wars Universe, which is something that’s always been lacking in the movies themselves. Most moves offer exposition and backstory through news clips seen in the background, radio broadcasts or newspaper clippings. “News,” though, is something that has never really been part of the Star Wars films. No one turns on the Holonet while they’re traveling between planets or preparing to make a smuggling run.

That’s partly because the characters we’re following – Luke, Rey, Obi-Wan, Han, Leia and everyone else – are usually too deep in the middle of what’s happening to really need an update on the news elsewhere.

The Holonet News effort came at a time before most movies were receiving significant online marketing efforts. It was only a few years after StarWars.com revolutionized movie marketing, first with clips from the 1997 Special Edition theatrical releases and then in the lead up to Episode I, when the site debuted first looks at the Naboo Starfighter and other new elements from the upcoming film. It would be five to six more years before movies like Cloverfield and The Dark Knight would receive immersive, cross-media ARG campaigns that upped the game on that front.

That’s not to say there weren’t innovative film campaign efforts in that time or that there haven’t been great ones since. Unfortunately even movies based on historical events or other true stories too often don’t provide more information on their subject matter that goes beyond a simple synopsis. Only occasionally are there websites that provide news clippings, full bios on the people whose stories are being told, or timelines that provide context for the movie.

In that way Holonet News offered something that was incredibly innovative at the time and still remains unique and exceptional. It gave Star Wars fans who were anxious to see what came next in the adventures of Padme, Anakin and Obi-Wan an on-ramp so that when we saw Padme’s ship explode, we had a better idea of the events that lead the characters to that moment.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Celebrate the Minifig’s 40th Anniversary With These LEGO Movie Posters

Given how pervasive LEGO construction sets based on movies have become, it might be hard to believe the first ones appeared less than 20 years, one of the tie-ins promoting Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Over the subsequent two decades there have been plenty of other partnerships for franchises including Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Jurassic World and more.

Since 2012 The LEGO Group has kicked up their film marketing activities significantly, producing officially-sanctioned posters for a handful of movies – usually the same ones they’ve created toy sets for – that have gotten lots of attention and helped both sides of the partnership.

In general, these alternate versions are recreations of a movie’s theatrical or teaser poster, taking the same layout and arrangement and simply replacing the human actors with minifigs and the ships or buildings with their LEGO equivalents. The results are often charming and playful where the originals may seem more serious and dour.

In the six-plus years LEGO has been producing these posters it’s focused primarily on a handful of key franchises with broad audience awareness and passionate fanbases that are likely to be interested in these kinds of variants, sometimes available exclusively as promotional swag at San Diego Comic-Con or other events.

To celebrate last week’s 40th anniversary of the LEGO minifig, let’s look at the times when minifig versions of movie characters have graced posters for some of Hollywood’s highest-profile releases.

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Beginning with 2012’s The Avengers, LEGO has produced poster variants for many Marvel Studios releases. Those include Iron Man 3, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther and Ant-Man.

Star Wars

force awakens lego posterNo movie series is perhaps more closely associated with LEGO than Star Wars. It was, as mentioned above, the first licensed franchise the company got involved with and kicked off a 20 year relationship.

It wasn’t until 2015, though, that LEGO Group started producing themed posters for the franchise. That started with bricked versions of the one-sheets for the Original and Prequel Trilogy films. Specifically, the theatrical posters for the Prequels were recreated while it was the Special Edition versions of the OT movies that were updated. Of course that was all part of the build up for The Force Awakens, which got its own LEGO poster later in the year.

Since then each new Star Wars movie has received LEGO promotional posters. That includes Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars: The Last Jedi – for which there both theatrical and character posters – and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

DC Comics

Putting aside the fact that much of the marketing for 2014’s The LEGO Movie and 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie was focused around selling LEGO-ized versions of the Dark Knight, the toy company has provided support for the more…serious…cinematic takes on DC’s stable of heroes.

There were LEGO versions of the character posters for 2015’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice came out as well as for 2017’s Justice League and that same year’s Wonder Woman.

batman v superman lego

Apple even got in on the fun, putting out LEGO recreations of the posters for the first four Batman movies – the ones released between 1989 and 1997 – to help promote the home video debut of The LEGO Batman Movie.

LEGO’s promotional activities for these and other movies doesn’t end at the occasional poster, of course. This year saw a life-size LEGO recreation of the Millennium Falcon cockpit from Solo at San Diego Comic-Con. The annual convention also frequently features full-size sculptures of heroes and villains from that year’s big super hero movie, including Thanos, Wonder Woman, Captain America and others. SDCC attendees can also usually buy exclusive movie-tie in sets at the company’s booth.

There was also an official LEGO version of the Solo trailer released earlier this year as part of the hype cycle for that movie and a minifig recreation of the first promotional photo for Rogue One. On social media LEGO also has some fun with its preferred franchise partners, sharing a GIF from Spider-Man: Homecoming, reacting to the trailer for the new Fantastic Beasts movie and more.

So here’s to 40 years of the ubiquitous minifig. You’ve been stepped on in the middle of the night by many a barefooted parent, but you’ve also provided some fun movie marketing moments.

Who’s Not at SDCC

Some Big Upcoming Movies Aren’t At San Diego Comic-Con This Year

Those attending San Diego Comic-Con this year will not lack for promotional and publicity stunts for some major movies hitting theaters in the near future. Bumblebee, Fantastic Beasts 2, Glass and plenty of others will have some combination of Hall H panels, events outside the convention center and other activities to try and make an impression on the hundreds of thousands of people in attendance, all of whom try to cross the light rail tracks at the same time throughout the day.

While the lineup will still be substantial there are going to be some heavy-hitters notable for their absence. There’s always the possibility a studio or two will pull a surprise appearance out of their bag of tricks, but at this point a last-minute announcement might raise more questions than it answers. Here are some of the big-name franchises and movies that aren’t going to be braving what’s expected to be blazing hot temperatures in San Diego this year.

No More Mutants

Fox has a few promotions planned to promote the home video release of Deadpool 2, including a star-studded panel and later screening of the “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut” that’s hitting DVD and Blu-ray in the near future.

deadpool 2 pic 2

Missing, though, are the next two movies in the studio’s X-Men franchise, New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. The former was originally scheduled for release this past April before it was moved to February 2019 and then all the way to August of next year. That shift has reportedly been to allow for reshoots to play up the horror elements of the story, which is the tone struck in the first trailer released back in October 2017.

Dark Phoenix was also pushed back, though not as significantly, from November of this year to February of 2019 to accommodate reshoots. Still, the bump means the movie is seven months out from Comic-Con and not four, so a formal launch of the marketing might be a bit premature. There’s a slight chance director Simon Kinberg could show off a sizzle reel or something else, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Mr. Marvel, I Don’t Feel So Well

Marvel Studios not having a big presence at SDCC is…well…big. They’ve used Comic-Con to create hype for almost all its previous movies at some level or another over the last 10+ years, including debuting the full cast of the first Avengers movie to the Hall H crowd in 2010 and more. There’s sure to be some representation – props and such – at the Marvel Comics booth on the show floor, but that will likely be it.

Infinity War Trailer 2 Header

That’s in large part because Marvel isn’t ready to unveil more details around what happens to the MCU post-Infinity War just yet. They’re sure to face a group of fans who want answers about what happens to their favorite characters after Thanos snapped his fingers and know how next year’s Captain Marvel will play into things. Plus, they haven’t announced the title for Avengers 4 yet, so they don’t really have all the much to show. This is a case where more damage can be done by someone’s offhand remark than by maintaining silence so better to skip the event completely.

It’s Not Wise to Upset A Wookie

Along those same lines – and also related to corporate owner Disney – the Star Wars franchise is largely taking a break from San Diego this year, at least in terms of promoting new material.

solo pic 6

Solo: A Star Wars Story sat out SDCC 2017 because the publicity and marketing cycle for that movie hadn’t started yet. Lucasfilm was still in the midst of promotion The Last Jedi, and the Solo campaign wouldn’t start until February of this year, just three months before it hit theaters so it wouldn’t interfere or overlap with that of TLJ.

This year the studio 1) Doesn’t want to hear it from disgruntled fans who were upset either by Solo or The Last Jedi and 2) Isn’t quite ready to start the promotions for Episode IX, which doesn’t come out until December 2019.

It’s not sitting out the convention completely, though. It’s bringing a life-size replica of the Millennium Falcon cockpit from Solo to its booth on the show floor and hosting panel celebrating the 10th anniversary of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the TV series that quickly went on to become a fan-favorite.

Again, there are sure to be at least a few surprises that happen. That’s always the case with San Diego Comic-Con. But at the moment it looks like some of the entertainment world’s biggest names and franchises will be following along on Twitter just like the rest of us.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Picking Up the Spare – Superfly, Boundaries and More

Superfly

Director X has been out there giving more interviews, including how he sought out Future to curate the movie’s soundtrack in part because he wanted to follow in Curtis Mayfield’s footsteps. He also shared the story of how he got involved when the project was kind of a King Lear adaptation but which eventually came back around to being a remake/update of the first Super Fly.

Boundaries

More from director Shana Feste as well as star Vera Farmiga about the genesis of the story, shooting the movie with so many dogs, the relationships each have with their fathers and thoughts on the current conversation around the demographic representation of the film critic community.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

There’s been a wave of opinion pieces about whether or not the 1993 original Jurassic Park needed any sequels at all. That position is exemplified by Matt Singer’s thinking that a scene from the first movie negates any possibility of additional stories and Clara Wardlow’s take that there simply aren’t that many narrative threads in this universe to pull on.

Star Wars

Borys Kit at THR does some digging and gets to the heart of the matter regarding Lucasfilm’s reaction to Solo’s underperformance, offering that while yes, the people there are taking fresh looks at everything there are still non-Saga projects moving forward.

Uncle Drew

Lil Rey Howery has been the subject of more profiles like this as release has drawn closer, which makes sense given the prominence he appears to have in the story but which marks a change from the NBA-heavy emphasis of the campaign to date. Costar Nick Kroll has also made a couple late night talk show appearances.

Set It Up

The writers and other filmmakers have been making the media rounds in the last week, resulting in stories like this feature and this profile of director Claire Scanlon. As I stated before, this level of earned media activity is unusual for Netflix except for prestige releases, a sign it’s both listening and responding to the buzz around this movie and trying to further own the mid-tier movie market.

Woman Walks Ahead

The movie is one of several recent projects that have brought more women into the Western genre.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.