A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a month called January in a year called 2020.
Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker
Late to the party as ever, I finally got round to watching SW:TROS ( great acronym! ) last weekend.
I dragged my old friend Kev along as well - like me, he had also grown up watching the original Star Wars movies back in the good / bad ol' days of the '70s and '80s.
I'd recently re-watched Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, just so I could remind myself where the space saga had got to in the previous installment. I'd certainly enjoyed that movie when it was released but now, on my third or fourth viewing, I realised that I really liked it. In fact, I'd say it's the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back. Heresy? Maybe. For me, TLJ is a superior Star Wars segment ( alliteration alert! ) because it dares to move the story along, to provide some actual character development and decent dialogue, plus there are some gorgeous visuals along the way. With that in mind, what did I think of JJ Abrams' saga-closing Chapter IX?
Well, it was pretty good. I enjoyed it. Talk about damning with faint praise?
Because it was the final Star Wars ever ever ever ( until Disney decide to reboot it all with James Bay or Zack Snyder in charge ) there were a lot of nostalgic, fan-pleasing elements to the movie - old characters returning ( some warranted, some not ), many call-backs to previous chapters and a general feeling that this was, again, Star Wars' Greatest Hits - The Remix. And mostly that was all fine. There were some spectacular space battles ( hey, it's Star Wars! ), a proper resolution to the Rey / Kylo Ren storyline and a warmly nostalgic ( there's that word again ) epilogue with Rey visiting the old Skywalker homestead on Tattooine where the whole epic had begun.
However, I was disappointed that most of the narrative themes and ideas introduced in TLJ were abandoned by JJ. I thought that the "Rise" of the title would have referred to a rebirth of the Force in the universe as hinted at by that Sorcerer's Apprentice moment at the end of the last movie, but that was seemingly forgotten. The question of Rey's parentage which looked to have been resolved in the last installment was clumsily reintroduced with the previous message that "anyone can be a hero" now negated by retrospectively inserting her story into yet another hidden lineage. And the sidelining of Kelly Marie Tran's character Rose looked very much like a cowardly caving-in to the reactionary #notmyskywalker bigots, and was very disappointing.
Maybe there should have been a more over-arching plan for these movies? It did come across like each part of this latest trilogy was a reaction to previous stories ( whether for good or bad ) and not a concerted whole. All in all, SW:TROS was a fun movie, sufficiently pleasing to old fans like me and certainly not the car-crash that the prequels were. I just wish it could have been something more.
Back down to Earth now, and on the 18th of January I went to my first gig of the year, a benefit for Cheltenham's food bank at the Frog & Fiddle. This went by the moniker of Punks Against Poverty and boasted some top local ( or relatively local ) bands.
Sophie had been home over Christmas so we persuaded her to come along for some ear-blasting Punk rock 'n' roll - and a few drinks. Here are Sarah, Sophie and myself with good friend and Borrowed Time superstar Glenn.
We missed the first band who had the un-promising name of Pretty Vacant but saw second on the bill Ska-Punksters King's Alias who played an energetic set, strangely featuring some distorted acoustic guitar noise. After them, all the way from the People's Republic of Stroud, it was time for my most-watched band of all time, the mighty Chinese Burn...
The Burners were on fine form, their catchy Pop/Punk/Disco/ Rock 'n'Roll enlivening the crowd and seemingly making some new converts. Frontman Ben Rigsby was as ever a whirling Dervish, busting out his best Iggy / Rotten / Jagger-esque moves whilst being a danger to the life and limb of his band mates, all the while spitting out his literate, intelligent and acerbic lyrics. I'm always grateful that they're still up there, still blasting out such faves as Shut Your Mouth, John Belushi's Dead and Defending Stalingrad, especially as lead guitarist Dave had been quite ill recently and this was his first gig back with the band. Well done Dave! What a trouper.
Next up were the constantly-gigging Borrowed Time, playing on home turf for the first time in a while and assaulting our ears with their Punk-Metal anthems. BT classics like Under The Radar, Chains and the eco-warning of The Day We Broke The World sounded as impactful as ever and they even unveiled a new song ( the title escapes me now ) which added to their arsenal of sharp, angry songs. They may be living on borrowed time but they're making the most of every minute.
Then there came a surprise as legendary Gloucester Punks Demob played a couple of impromptu numbers. They had all been at the venue, either playing in other bands or as punters, so decided to hit us with some old skool Street Punk for a good cause. Loud, righteous and subtle as a flying brick, Demob may not be to everybody's taste but they always mean business.
The headliners were Swindon's Slagerij ( Dutch for "butcher's" apparently ) who were yet more purveyors of Ska-Punk. I'm not really a fan of this style - it can be very generic and I always feel slightly uncomfortable about the cultural appropriation involved - but Slagerij certainly put on a great show. Very enthusiastic, very tight and extremely proficient with a pleasingly goofy approach after some far more serious bands. All summed up by their song and probable motto "Turn It Up... Rip The Knobs Off!"
So, a fun night supporting a worthy cause. Here's another pic of us happy punters... with added Caz!
After all that, er, glamour ( cough! ) I'm going to end with some lovely views of freezing cold Snowdonia. I mean, why not? A couple of weeks back we moved Sophie up to North Wales where she'll be training for her next season as a dancer at Haven holiday parks. We spent a very brief and bloody cold time taking photos of the landscape on the journey back. An absolutely stunning area - we'll definitely have to go back some time and explore it properly.