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The Empire Strikes Back – 1980

My personal favourite it is hard to put a finger on a specific element that makes “The Empire Strikes Back” any better than the original as for the most part it relies on similar strengths. The model for educating the audience about the Star Wars universe, the cast of familiar characters and an extension of the techniques that brought “A New Hope” to life. However, to suggest that Episode V simply relies on its predecessor would be a disservice to a movie that alongside “The Godfather: Part 2” and “Judgement Day” I count as one of the best sequels in cinema history. One thing these films all have in common is a willingness to expand upon the existing context and add complexity to the storyline through plot twists.

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A sequel is often grander than the original as one method of expanding on an existing idea is to scale it up. In some ways the “The Empire Strikes Back” does follow this principle as the epic Battle of Hoth dominates a good portion of the film and the story develops over a wider expanse of space as Darth Vader chases the Millennium Falcon to Cloud City. Despite this I would argue that the film does the opposite as the plot is in fact more personal than the central storyline behind “A New Hope”. Since the main plot is focused on Luke’s developing connection to the force and Darth Vader’s plan to trap him using his friends in order to turn him to the Dark Side. The personal nature of the film is embodied in the climatic lightsabre duel leading to the most quoted lines in pop culture “Luke I am your father” it is a stark contrast to blowing up the Death Star. In this way the film takes what we expect from “A New Hope” by starting with Hoth before turning it on its head.

The emphasis on character development is not limited to the major plot and Luke’s training as a Jedi as there is an obvious focus on developing the relationship between Han and Leia. This interplay begins on Hoth with both characters’ exchanging jibes but develops while they are on the run from the Empire. The sarcastic banter between the two is a long established technique for developing romantic tension dating back to Shakespeare. However, it needs the on screen chemistry between Ford and Fisher to make it believable and it is ultimately Fisher’s ability to portray Leia’s resistance and final acceptance of her feelings that makes this work. Ford’s stoic response cements this scene as one of the emotional climaxes of the film and turning point in their relationship throughout the saga.

On the other side, the film develops our knowledge of Darth Vader who is seen largely as a blunt instrument in “A New Hope” searching for the stolen plans and doesn’t really come into his own until his conflict with Obi Wan. This is dramatically different in “The Empire Strikes Back” as it is Vader making the decisions and punishing the failures of his subordinates. These instances reveal his ability to visualise opportunities and use different resources to get the job done including bounty hunters and manipulation rather than the one size fits all approach employed by Grand Moff Tarkin. In addition, we get a clear understanding of his servitude to the Emperor and his schemes to draw Luke to the Dark Side in order to overthrow his master. He is also shown at his most vulnerable when his helmet is refitted on board the Super Star Destroyer this cleverly alludes to the fact that there is a man behind the mask which is important for the development of the climax and ground work for “Return of the Jedi”.

While the plot may have narrowed onto a personal scale the film still expands on the Star Wars universe through the introduction of Yoda, Buba Fett and Lando Calrissian. All of which play a significant role in the plot and add to the development of the existing characters. The most iconic of these is undoubtedly Yoda voiced by Frank Oz with his unique speech patterns and limited physical stature. Like with Obi Wan in “A New Hope” he is reasonable for Luke’s training and continues to unveiled the power of the Force to audiences. It’s hard to imagine anyone else other than Frank Oz delivering that backwards dialogue and his ability to shift from the comical nuisance to a series tone really sales the deception to the audience. Conversely, Billy Dee William’s portrayal of Lando Calrissian raises the right amount of suspicion when Leia and Han arrive at Cloud City. Beyond their own characterisation Lando and Buba Fett also act partially as a demonstration of Vader’s will and also explore Han’s back story therefore adding to the overall depth of the film.

It would be impossible to review “The Empire Strikes Back” without a closer look at the Battle of Hoth. At its core the Battle is a complete reversal of the climax of “A New Hope” with the Empire now trying to attack a small Rebel target the difference is that they never appear as underdogs due to the military might of the ATATs. Unlike the destruction of the Death Star it is also not a complete victory as the majority of the Rebel Alliance escape, a clear juxtaposition to Grand Moff Tarkin’s refusal to evacuate. Hoth demonstrates a real challenge for the visual effects team as the white background manipulating objects difficult as imperfections are more obvious especially in the shots through the speeder cockpits. The result in 1980 was always good enough for audiences but remained a frustration for the effects team and was an element addressed in the special edition demonstrating the dedication of the whole filmmaking team to the project.

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After reflecting on it perhaps the reason I prefer “Empire Strikes Back” is the added complexity and character development which all culminate in the plot twist. It could be simply as they put it in “Clerks” that it just ends on such a downer which is more realistic than the big against the odds victory of “A New Hope”. Whatever the case there is very little to separate the first two Star Wars movies and they are a must watch for any film buff.

10/10

Jono

Microsoft brings the Thunder part 2

It’s been nearly 3 years since Microsoft first released the Surface Pro to champion it’s new look OS Windows 8 and it was meet by ridicule, scepticism and projected failure, who can forget Apple’s fridge and toaster analogy. The tech media was a bit more reserved with most pleased at the overall performance but critical of the poor battery life, weight and extra cost for the type/touch cover. Then came the $900 million write down for the Surface RT and many were ready to forget about the potential of its more powerful younger brother. Not one to follow trends I was never really a fan of early tablets due to their inability to run any of the software I used on a daily basis so I jumped on board once Microsoft changed their strategy in Australian and released it through retail stores. Ever since then I have never regretted a second as for the last few years it has been my major computing device alongside my desktop, I even convinced my Dad, Girlfriend and some random at Harvey Norman to buy one. Sure the battery life still sucks but the pen input was a revelation for teaching whether taking notes or modelling annotation skills while it also allowed me to keep my excel student planner close at hand. This is all ancient history but it’s worth remembering the humble beginnings of the Surface Line as the idea has always remains the same, a tablet that could replace your laptop, we just needed technology to catch up before it became a reality with the Surface Pro 3. The new design increased the screen size but made the tablet lighter and more streamed line with improved battery life yet still a significant power boost. Finally, people started taking notice from students to enterprise Surface Pro become the ultimate hybrid device and turns into a neat $1b profit making machine. That’s enough for the industry to take notice and even Apple was quick to try and copy this new formula in the iPad Pro but without the silver bullet, a desktop experience. So this brings us to today and the 4th generation.

Surface Pro 4

As it was expected the latest version of Microsoft’s innovative hybrid was all about refinement. The slate boasts a slightly larger 12.3″ screen with an impressive 267 ppi and Microsoft’s new PixelSense technology to take advantage of o.4mm thick cover screen to bring improved contrast. For the most part the SP4 keeps the same dimensions as the SP3 to maintain backwards compatibility with existing accessorises. Even so the tablet is a little bit thinner and lighter while still maintaining all the necessary ports. The main improvement is under the hood with Intel’s 6th generation Skylake processors giving a significant power boost that really put the spring in Panos Panay’s step as he could brag about a 30% increase and a 50% advantage over the MacBook Air. It was hard to remove the smile from his face as he joked about the fridge and toaster analogy or alluded to competitors making tablets with larger screens.

To read an in depth comparison between the SP3 and 4 click here.

It wasn’t just the tablet itself that got an upgrade as the new Type Cover offers an improved typing experience with an island style layout and increased depth similar to what is found on most laptops. A new glass trackpad offers five touch points and should provide a smooth experience while an optional finger print scanner will give SP3 users with access to Windows Hello. Likewise, the Pen has been given the once over as well increasing to 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity to further push the boundaries between computer experience and writing on paper. In addition, the top of the pen acts as an eraser something normally, associated with a pencil, which adapts to applications while still providing a quick launch button for OneNote and Cortana. If that wasn’t enough Microsoft have also introduced a range of colours and interchangeable tips so uses can adapt their experience. Finally, Microsoft has gone back to the original design of the Surface Pen by providing a magnet dock on the side of the tablet, at least this time it doesn’t cover the charging port.

Overall the SP4 is a noticeable improvement and gives fans what they wanted faster performance and a more elegant user experience. It has definitely been worth holding off upgrading if only for the boost from the 6th generation Skylake processor. In terms of the competition the iPad Pro can’t measure up as it still lacks the proper experience to replace your Laptop and for the price is an expensive secondary device. Meanwhile the MacBook Air which Panay admits is a great product has an outdated processor and lacks the same convertible experience. However, Apple is not the only copycat trying to capitalise on the Surface design with other PC makers implementing kickstands, removable keyboards and pen input in an effort to keep up but the SP4 which just raised the bar again. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks with Microsoft’s major OEM’S also hosting device announcements if they can follow the standard that’s just been set.

Stacking up against the competition: MacBook Air or iPad Pro

Surface Book

Microsoft’s big surprise came with only the slightest gossip in the lead up to the event with rumours of a Laptop or a larger Surface but no specs, renders or patients. The Laptop is elegantly designed with a unique look due to the visible gap between the keyboard and screen. The way this comes together reminds me of an empty folder and fits well with the name. The soon to be iconic hinge is where the Surface Book’s design really captures everyone’s attention. It runs out like a carpet to extend the base and give the device balance while the contrast between the magnesium and aluminium gives it a distinct shine that catches the eye. You might think that it’s a bit sad that the tech world has gone into overload over a fulcrum hinge but it truly is a master stroke of engineering. It solves the ever present weight distribution problem with this type of device and allows the two parts to meet perfectly to give the unique shape.

Check out Mashable’s inside with Panay and design chief Ralf Groene about the development of Microsoft’s first Laptop.

Beyond the design the Surface Book boost a 3000 x 2000 13.5″ PixelSense display which means it shares the same 267ppi as the SP4, more than the retina display found on the MacBook Pro. At the entry level the laptop packs a 6th generation i5 processor and 8GB of RAM but at the top end it is a beast which is why Microsoft has labelled it the ultimate laptop. The addition of a dedicated NVidia GPU makes it easily beat out the competition available in comparable form factors and will allow professionals and gamers to render complex 3D imaging more familiar to desktop PC’s and larger laptops. In addition, the ability to upgrade to an i7 and 16GB of RAM makes the top end configuration an expensive yet enticing proposition. Like the Surface Pro’s new type cover the keyboard has been carefully engineered to provide the best typing experience possible. Running Windows 10 the Surface Book performs as you would expect any high powered PC being able to easily run demanding applications like the Adobe suite with no troubles.

It wasn’t all specs however as Microsoft engaged in its own brand of theatre with Panay directing his audience to re-watch the opening promo in order to give us one more thing …

The screen detaches and it becomes a full Surface tablet, surprise. Just at that moment Panay must have been on cloud nine as the crowed whooped and gave a standing ovation. After all he says this is Surface, this is innovation. Now some people might be thinking what’s the big deal there have been 2 in 1 devices that have a detachable keyboard since Windows 8. If you watch the demo its clear Surface Book is different as it is first and for most a laptop and the muscle wire mechanism is nearly as well conceived as the hinge. Relying on a metal that contracts when placed under current it secures the two sections so that Panay is confident waving the laptop around by the screen. Personally the other similar form factors I have played with in stores seem flimsy and didn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence so this is a big change.

Practically the Surface Book provides three possible uses the laptop, tablet or “clipboard” and the canvas. All provide uses with different possibilities to be productive. The “clipboard” is not marketed as a standalone tablet but a portable extension that could be removed when you need to show something to a few colleagues to pass around or take a work through the factory. In addition thanks to the hinge (Simpsons moment of the rod) the screen is able to reverse and lay down over the keyboard to provide a tilted experience for writing and drawing which has access to the GPU and 8 hours of battery life stored in the base. This flexibility alone regardless of any power advantage provides a clear source of difference from the competition which shouldn’t be ignored.

By the end of Microsoft’s event it was clear that they have stopped following with HoloLens, Surface Pro and Surface Book their ready to return to the lead. The company not only has built serious momentum this year through a series of announcements including backwards compatibility for the Xbox One but they now have a confident swagger brought about by a clear vision thanks to Satya Nadella. Unfortunately, this has left me with an annoying problem, which do I purchase they Pro 4 or the Surface Book. Price might have a lot to do with it as here in Australia it seems that the major tech companies feel like we should pay more meaning the top end Surface Book comes in at $4100 while the i7 SP4 is a bit more affordable at $2700. If only money grew on trees and I could get both.

Check out the full Surface announcement here.

cheers,
Jono

 

Iron Maiden’s Book Of Souls tops Official Albums Chart

Iron Maiden’s Book Of Souls tops Official Albums Chart
http://www.officialcharts.com/chart-news/iron-maiden-s-book-of-souls-tops-official-albums-chart__10702/

Number 1 in the UK, Belgium, Italy, Finland, Germany and a handful of others. Unfortunately my fellow Auzzie’s need to jump on board as the book of souls is only at number 2 and that goes double for my friends in the US at number 4. Lets all show that mainstream crap what real music is.

An Iron Soul part 2: Maiden’s “The book of souls” continued

In stark contrast to the atmospheric “If eternity should fail”, disc 2 begins with the intense and galloping “Death or Glory” which follows in the footsteps of “Aces High” as it tells the story of WWI tri-planes. The guitar really complements this concept as the riff seems to climb before falling back down to earth and rushes Dickinson’s well composed lyrics to give the impression of dog fighting. Through all this is Harris’ customary bass line which really gives the song a truly Maiden feel.

Reprising the opening from 1986’s “Wasted Years” is “Shadow of the Valley” a reasonably safe song which struggles to stick in my mind Beyond the first 30 seconds. In many ways it reminds me of 2010’s “Isle of Avalon” but fails to reach any of the same heights and doesn’t really distinguish itself from the rest of the album.

Dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams, “Tears of a Clown” is a powerful and well written reminder about the dangers of depression. To start the guitar seems to halt mind riff as the energy wants to build it stops and is concluded by Nicko’s drums which remain noticeable throughout the song. It is however Dickinson’s vocals carried by the rhythmic bass that makes the track. Not only are they clear and easy to follow but from personal experience they made me reject on aspects of my own minor struggles with depression. It is a fitting tribute to actor who gave everyone years of laughter and whose personal struggles went unnoticed through the public façade, perhaps giving us a final lesson to look beyond the surface.

“The Man of Sorrows” has a bit more of a stripped back and raw sound reminiscent of the bands earlier work but at a noticeably slower pace. Dickinson’s operatic vocal style is in full effect with different length notes dominating the song before the guitar solo adds a little more intensity. Like, ” Shadows of the Valley” this track fails to really distinguish itself however it is reasonable entertaining if not memorable and provides a moment to take a breath before the grand finally.

The album’s triumph and possibly the bands magnum opus “Empire of the clouds” doesn’t sound anything like an Iron Maiden song. Opening with Dickinson on Piano and building a layered orchestral melody the song foreshadows the tragic events of the history it is about to tell while also symbolising the beauty of the havens. As the song develops the music begins to tell the story alongside the lyrics as Nicko’s military drums softly allude to the idea of Empire and the Airships own roots while the melody of the piano is gradually taken over by the mimicking guitar as it builds towards its final flight. The well composed lyrics with their multiple meanings like the obvious reference to the our father, in the  ‘kingdom yet to come’ while alluding to the notion of an Empire united by Air travel symbolised by the title, to the imagery of the ‘silver ghost’ make this one of Maiden’s most finely crafted tracks. This well constructed build up changes with the approaching storm as guitar’s quicken their pace begin to drive the Airship towards France this instrumental movement forms the basis for the songs outstanding solos before giving way to the turbulent description of the tragedy. This raising torrent resolves itself with the crash and the piano returns with its sombre tones and bury the ‘Empire of the Clouds’ along with the 48 victims of the tragedy.

Maiden’s longest ever track at 18 minutes carries ever second better than other songs of similar length like In – The – Gadda – Da- Vida and is their purest example of storytelling. After multiple listens I can recognise why Steve Harris labelled the song a masterpiece as it has distinct movements, multiple layers and elements of a classical overture as the music itself inspires listeners to imagine scenes and moods. Personally, I can’t help but put “Empire of the Clouds” up their with “Rime of the Ancient Marnier” as the best epics produced by the band over their 40 year history.

Maiden have their own ‘Empire of the Clouds’ as they take the new Ed Force One across the continents in 2016

The album as a whole is simply brilliant with variations in pace and melody Maiden is able to combine their established sound with new elements. At 92 minutes it might be an exercise in endurance for some but as someone who has easily spent hours in the last few weeks listening to their back catalogue non-stop this isn’t a problem. Even so the divide between discs makes “The book of souls” work as two separate albums of more manageable length. While not every song reaches the same heights the album delivers  two clear standouts  that sit amongst the bands best work, “The Red and the Black” and “Empire of the Clouds” makes it arguebly their most complete effort since “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” in 1988 but for me it is a toss up with “The Final Frontier”.

4.5/5 Eddies

Up the Irons!!

Check out the first half of my review here.

Jono