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Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Journeys from the fax

Simple Minds – Between Two Worlds – live at the Roundhouse.

If there was one resounding image from tonight’s gig, it was Jim Kerr, alone on stage after the band had exited following a silky Don’t you forget about me, dancing alone to Roxy Music on the PA, like the teenager so in love with music he still can’t stop.

Guitarist Charlie Burchill is the same. No one’s told him not to smile like he is the band’s biggest fan been allowed on stage. He’s one of music’s underrated players, utterly intrinsic to the Glasgow band’s sound, even if it’s music now appealing to men who’d get thrown out of their golf club for the leather jacket they’re wearing,

Simple Minds have played 3000 gigs since their first at Glasgow’s discotheque Satellite City 40 years and sometimes you want a band that once sound-tracked your bedroom posturing to play new songs. The songs you imagined they might write all those years ago; new songs in which to sink your still-bruised soul and discover understanding. Well tonight they did. Simple Minds are so pleased with their new album Walk Between Worlds they are playing it live. The entire thing. To a crowd who are probably wishing they’d bought it.  For those hoping to skip and instead bounce in new ways to old songs were destined for disappointment, although the band did start with the haunting European trance of I Travel, and hopes were raised by swamp funk morphing into the proto trance of a pulsating Love Song.

With a new line-up joining Kerr and Burchill, inc. drummer Cherisse Osei, the band look like the upper deck of a night bus, however their prize still glitters. Kerr is in awe of Osei, although where one goes after describing previous drummer (long-standing Mel Gaynor) as ‘the greatest drummer in the world’ is beyond even Kerr’s hyperbole.

There’s a steel-tight riff of Magic, which is so new even Charlie isn’t mouthing along to every lyric, and although not everything sticks it’s fascinating to hear the band as you might a new group. Most songs feel like growers, although Summer sounds like an ill-advised Chris Rea remix.

They break after side 1 of the new record for a brief chat, ‘so we can have a sit down’ Kerr jokes. He enjoys the stage like a seal enjoys water. Of the new songs side 2 is better: Barrowland Star hits like a classic and they know it. Kerr points at his old school friend with another ‘Charlie!’ who unleashes swelling waves of guitar chops. Kerr’s final words will either be ‘Let me see your hands’ or ‘Charlie…’ Sense of Discovery succeeds in not only referencing Alive and Kicking (which they later play to rapturous reception) but does so with a beautifully segued new riff. They revisit synth new wave with the title track, before a pause to announce the godly Waterfront, announcing the victory lap of a joyous Someone, Somewhere, in Summertime and The American. However, there remains the inexplicable absence of All the things she said.

A subtly spruced up New Gold Dream is perfection as-ever and still illustrates how they found their ambition before U2 had recovered from New Year’s Day. The crowd leave; grinning as Kerr still dad dances alone on the stage, miming the lyrics of Roxy Music, reluctant to allow the night to end.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  featuring Simple Minds and Bruce Springsteen is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do we still do Valentine’s day?

For anyone with admirers and insatiable appetite for chocolates and flowers it’s your time of year again. Anyone without an admirer in their life on Valentine’s Day should either buy one, if that’s still allowed, or read this post.

What is it about the 14th February that redefines how we express our love for one another? Overnight, a vague ‘I love you’ as you dash onto the school run is deemed inadequate if not accompanied by chocolate in ribbons and overpriced flowers. Suddenly, if you can’t say it with a Cadillac-sized Hello Kitty doll then it’s not worth saying at all.

It’s hard to know what’s most annoying about Valentine’s Day. Of course my distaste for it is NOTHING to do with not getting any valentines cards at an early age where your social standing is based entirely upon a) quantity of valentine cards received, b) your parents having a swimming pool and c) your ability to fart on younger children’s heads, lack of success in all three contributed significantly towards my low-ranking social status.

February has apparently been long celebrated as a month of romance. That’s easy to believe, after all, due to not having seen the sun since November, your seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has left you mumbling at unattainable tropical destinations in the travel supplements of weekend newspapers. It’s so dark outside that romance must be the only answer, although there’s the sense of an audience so broken that they’ll clap at anything.  Valentine’s Day sure did one thing right, and that was its timing.

The Romans took the day as an opportunity to congregate at some sacred cave where the founders of Rome were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf. You can probably see where this is going. The priests would then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. Rather typically cats avoid this. The goat’s hide would then be cut into strips, before being dipped into sacrificial blood and taken into the streets. Both women, and nearby crop fields, would be gently slapped with the hide. This is the first time I’ve encountered women and crop fields with equal billing, and being gently slapped by bloodied hide isn’t exactly the most predictable of romantic gestures, so full marks for the unexpected. However, for anyone attempting this today I’d recommend that you establish the are not a vegan beforehand. While I don’t profess to fully understand the female psyche, if this is the sort of surprise they enjoy in lieu of a candlelit meal for two, then I’ve been misled.

The truth behind the Valentine legend is murky, which is rather fortunate for the saint, as I’m sure a few people would like a word in his ear, or at least reimbursement for the enormous Hello Kitty heart doll that cost a week’s wages for delivering to her place of work, which she then has to carry home. Because nothing screams romance like apologising for a soft toy large enough to require a ticket to a carriage of commuters already struggling for space. Valentine’s Day is a day when trying too hard, while not doing quite enough, have never danced so closely. But, let’s face it, really nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a dying bouquet of flowers.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is obviously the perfect Valentine’s day gift, and is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

Is taking a legal Smart Drug stupid?

Want to be cleverer…?

One of the problems with human beings, apart from their inherent ability to overpopulate the planet, insistence on watching team sports and blocking the middle lane, is their tendency to invent things without fully understanding the ramifications. If Thomas Edison, inventor of the mechanical phonograph cylinder, had known in 1877 that this would lead to ten Westlife albums, including a Frank Sinatra covers album (Allow us to be Frank – No, put the vintage 50s mic down) because presumably the legendary crooner failed to truly nail those standards like five Irish chancers on stools could, would he have burnt his phonograph blueprints? The list of regrettable inventions is endless, from Segway scooters, to Iphone covers with fucking massive mouse ears, to shoe umbrellas and those metallic reflectors for tanning your neck.

But, perhaps there’s none more ill-thought out than smart drugs. Modafinil claims to help keep up with workloads and is popular among students – with as many as 25 % taking them to increase smartness, and yet they STILL need Safe Spaces. Of course smart drugs to make you feel more intelligent have been around for millennia, often in the shape of beer, which can make you so bright that you encase your head in concrete inside a microwave for a bet.

The main reason that smart drugs are an ill-thought out invention is that another problem with humans is individual unflappable belief in their own intelligence, particularly when confronted with other humans, who are invariable stupid; and this is before they’ve taken any Modafinil. Imagine walking around actually being more intelligent than people and the idiocy you’d have to endure. Although paying for car park tickets via your phone might finally be possible, you’d have to do a lot of parking to make it worthwhile.

However, smart drugs do appear to increase cognition. Fighter pilots even take them to improve reaction times, which aren’t entirely necessary for writers sitting in coffee shops, but are appealing nonetheless.

And it certainly is appealing. Writer David Adam in the Sunday Times described how he took one as an experiment, and went to his usual cafe to write. As its effects kicked in he could barely type sentences quick enough. The words felt sharper and better than ever before. It sounds like being strapped to MS Word rather than an F-16 breaking the sound barrier, but was a thin line nonetheless. I wonder if it’s like writing a book on speed, only to discover in the morning that you’ve transcribed the English dictionary. Apparently it even increased the size of Adam’s screen. He didn’t declare if this applied to other things, but what a cheap way to upgrade your laptop. However, someone else reported that the drug helped him focus, but it was on the wrong things – such as playing video games on his Smartphone. Because if there’s one thing mankind needs these days is increased use of their smart phones; which have been smarter than their owners since the iPhone 4s, and don’t require Modafinil, only recharging twice a day.

There have been other inadvertent consequences of taking Modafinil. Psychiatrists, in their usual habit of throwing medications at pathologies to see which one sticks, treated a 45 year old Turkish woman for sleeplessness with Modafinil, only to find it increased her sex drive, much to the alarm of her 75-year-old husband. Another reported side effect is severe headaches, which was clearly something this woman didn’t suffer from, but her husband wished she did.

Yes. I think it’s best to be thick, life is hard enough without knowing with certainty that you are invariably right, about everything. It might even lead to thinking you can record a Frank Sinatra covers album. Just say no people, don’t put the tool into stool.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

When to submit your novel to Literary Agents.

We all have goals in life, it might be reaching new levels on Candy Crush, or for the less remedial, intending to read more novels, or perhaps even write one. The first revelation is that novels aren’t as easy to write as they are to read, unless it’s Wolf Hall.

It’s hard to know how many times I sent my completed novel out to agents and publishers, even more times than I completed it for the final time – seventeen times. Any literary agency fool enough to publicise their email and submission details will have seen it at some point. Some twice, and some probably seventeen times.

But, if literary doomsayers are believed (i.e. me), it’s hard to know why anyone would be bothered. People are too busy looking at their phones like insecure new mothers to be reading books. Writing a novel feels like inventing the steam engine at the advent of the internal combustion engine. Yet people persist.

However, as the human race evolves from hunters and gatherers, to audiences demanding constant entertainment, buckets of food and wi-fi connections on trains at 220 feet underground, novels maintain an admirable hold over us, or at least the film adaptations do.

As the new year approaches, literary agents must already be bracing themselves for the flurry of novel (or less novel) submissions completed through seasonal hangovers, winter illness, and inebriated family encouragement. Spam filters already sending automatically generated rejection letters to novels with cats as protaganists, will be updated to strip out novels involving girls on trains and teenage wizards.

The best advice to any debut novelist on completing a manuscript is to lock it in a drawer for 6 months,and post the key overseas instead of sending it to the nearest agency before the ink’s dried, which is what everyone does. It’s only once receipt is acknowledged that you realise it was an experimental old draft, which you’d written from the POV of a sock, and described literary agents as illiterate swamp donkeys.

Then there’s the posted submissions, which some agencies insist upon, presuming, probably correctly, that despite having spent 5 years working on a novel, for most writers, printing off its first 3 chapters and writing a covering letter, is too much effort.  Once thanking the exhausted Canon Gs-57 printer in your workplace in the acknowledgements, and using all its paper, you walk to the postbox swinging imaginary holes-in-one, despite never having played golf in your life. The showbiz hi-hat cymbal, as the manuscript joins the others already in the letterbox is spoilt only by the immediate realisation that your protagonist’s mother needs to be a monk, not a seamstress.

However, before even facing up to the horror of a rewrite, you need to retrieve your manuscript. As an alternative to breaking into the agency at night, or waiting to intercept the postman, you nod companionably at passers-by, while dislocating your arm in four different places attempting to extricate it from the depths of the letterbox.

Then come the rejection slips. Some arrive so rapidly that agencies somehow send them before confirmation of having even received the manuscript. There are also some more ideas on how to quicken up the rejection procedure:

  • Send a precise outline of your availability for book signings and appearances for the next 5 years.
  • Include a series of photos showcasing various outfits you intend to wear to prize ceremonies, with invitation for their feedback on most suitable combinations.
  • Make a short list of actors you wish to appear in the film.
  • Make a long list of actors you wish to appear in the film.
  • Suggest they contact Sophie Marceau as escort for the duration of promotional tours.
  • Outline your rider, which includes ballpoint pens that someone has already scribbled with to ensure they work immediately when needed.

It’s difficult submitting something you believe is good because Aunt Joan enjoyed it after one too many ports. Everyone is writing a novel, possibly more than those reading them. Agencies are so inundated by manuscripts they abandon offices every 6 months, while losing sleep over the fact that some might be good. It’s why you have to ignore the pain of a rejection slip, like boxing, after the 50th punch they stop hurting. But who knows, perhaps yours might be one sliding off the ‘slush’ pile into the hands of the agent with a free weekend ahead to spend reading. If not, there’s always next year, or Angry Birds.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

Writing in the local Cafe – How Much Work REALLY Gets Done?

Where do writers get their stories?

There are many questions writers ask themselves and the important one, after ‘Why did I bloody start this?’ is ‘Shall I work from home, or the local cafe?’ Cafes have long been presumed to be full of poets, artists and novelists so it’s a non-brainer; until you get there and its rammed with harassed looking mothers, their screaming pre-school offspring and architects working from ‘home’.

So, how much work actually gets done at home? I’m not even sure that much homework gets done at home anymore. I’ve talked before about how working from home mainly involves high-level pottering achieving little more than moving stuff that may or may not need to be moved from one room to another, and often then back again. And lots of pacing. I once walked five miles without opening the front door. Homes are best suited for lounging in waiting for vinyl to be delivered, and to escape the weather outside, not for working in.

I was always struck by JK Rowling reporting how writing in a cafe was some kind of hallmark of a breadline writer, when it’s actually far easier to write in a cafe than it is at home. There’s less distraction, and if you wander aimlessly around the cafe like a pottering field mouse looking for its memory you’ll be asked to leave. However, writing regularly in the same public space also has pitfalls.

It is amazing how much of writing in public spaces is actually spent talking to anyone who mistakenly makes eye contact. Not that partners, agents or publishers are informed of this. Even if they were one could claim it as research. One of the chaps I made friends with in the local cafe was Bob – who yes, used to be builder. He was born in South London a few miles away in 1929, left school at 14 and followed his father into the building trade. He passed away recently aged 86 shortly before Christmas in Lewisham hospital and it was a pleasure to have known him.

At his funeral so many stories were told of his so many narrow escapes with death that one was almost tempted to knock on the coffin to ensure he had indeed passed. I was told of one occasion when the health and safety wisdom of working a roof by tying your waist to the nearest chimney stack was challenged by the chimney collapsing, and taking Bob with it. He arrived soot-laden in a fireplace.

He recalled being evacuated to Wales, and the Blitz, during which a mobile Anti Aircraft gun was parked outside his house in west Dulwich. During the next air raid it opened up and blew out all the windows in the street; causing more damage than the Germans achieved. He was also narrowly missed when a fighter bomber strafed Goose Green, killing several school children; one beside him. My Dad, the same age as Bob, also recalls German aircraft machine gunning a children’s playground in Catford as they returned home.

Working in public you will meet writers. They’re the ones looking harassed at the harassed looking mothers. Generally you can’t swing a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook in St David’s Coffee House without hitting a few scribblers. And words offering to read their book sound like your own because they are, and eventually more time is spent reading their manuscripts than your own.

There’s incredibly smugness in people who work from home, as though eating flapjacks for lunch in your pyjamas is a mark of success, and perhaps it is, but you don’t get to chat, and you don’t get the stories. Although you don’t leave with more manuscripts than you came in with.

R.I.P. Robert Hobbs.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available for all homeworkers here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Historical Novel

…there’s plenty of history and everyone has some.

The first thing to do when writing a historical novel is to very seriously ask yourself if you want to. Actually, scrub that, the first thing you do is write a blog about your intention to write a historical novel. After all, staring down the barrel of imminent venture demands idling around the subject rather than cracking on, which basically defines blogging. It also defines writing a historical novel. I know a writer who planned to finish his novel on the Crimean war by the end of the year, 1998. He’s still researching it. He got bedded in at the Pattern 1796 Light Calvary Sabre, a sword used primarily by British Light Dragoons, and hasn’t been seen since he determined to find relatives of the swordsmiths who manufactured it.

There’s a healthy market for historical novels, although that’s poor justification for writing one. I guess there’s plenty of history and everyone has some. Before even writing a word sci-fi is looking appealing; you can ditch research and simply make it up, but it’s too late; my story already has shape. The novel starts in 1930s Poland (that’s Poland, not Poundland), which means clever popular culture/contemporary metaphors ‘as cutting edge as Steve Wright in the afternoon’ will be replaced by era-pertinent analogies such as ‘cutting edge as an electric razor, (which was invented in 1931 before purists squeal). You can spend weeks deliberating nothing more than whether book-keepers in the 1950s used an HB pencil or a 6B.

The sequel to the Life Assistance Agency is completed, bar a few sweeps behind its sofas and plumping the cushions, so what an ideal time to kick back and enjoy some sense of achievement. But of course that isn’t how writers approach the world. If there isn’t a novel to wrestle with we fight other things, like people or shop loyalty card help lines. We pace about and look for problems that aren’t there. It’s better these remain on pages. I already have seven internet windows open with various searches of interest that I’m loath to minimise in case one holds the rosetta stone to my story.

Writing a novel is hard enough without depriving yourself of a familiar world in which to set it. It also means I need to visit Poland, hire a car, and investigate clues to the old border with Germany in September 1939, which doesn’t really define family holiday – it’s not exactly  what children have in mind when then get excited about holidays. Mildewed concrete gun emplacements are poor substitute for Centre Parks even during peak season.

It is significant departure from the light-hearted PG Wodehouse influenced Life Assistance novels, which is unsettling. It’s rather typical that a humorous writer wishes to write a serious novel, and is even already (mentally) accepting prizes for the first post-Brexit novel. I’m confident my fans will cope, particularly as I’ve rung then to warn them. Once I got my Mum off the phone and promised to visit more frequently, I spent the rest of the break deciding upon my protagonist’s name. You have to like the name of someone you intend to spend the next two years with, particularly when you are able to choose it.

So, it’s Aleksander, and not just because it was the first name I reached in the A-Z of Polish names, but because it can be abbreviated from the Polish to the anglicised Alex. OK, it was the first name I found in the A-Z.

Alex spends a lot of time in the countryside, which helpfully avoids need for exhaustive knowledge of technical or social aspects of 1930s Europe. The countryside doesn’t change much. It’s something of its appeal. The trees Alex sleeps beneath are the same as those which the crusaders tethered their horses to.

The new novel feels like a considerable challenge, but one of the best things about historical fiction is that you can sit around reading. It might appear lazy, but is actually research, just so long as I avoid the 1796 Light Calvary Sabre. Someone has that covered.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

A new year – Happy 2018

Just a super quick blog, note to self might be more accurate, to wish all idle followers of my blog a very fantastic, lucrative, and well-moisturised 2018. Or anodyne, cash -strapped and dry,  depending upon you proclivity.

I hope you have a good night tonight. I would be watching Ski-Sunday, but it finished years ago, so instead will be viewing last year’s Jools Holland Hootenanny, starting from  8pm, which means it should be finished by 9:30 and I can go to bed having already celebrated midnight.

I’m also anticipating knowing what actually day it is from tomorrow, you know, with a number as opposed to a name.  Any new year resolutions are achievable – basically keep my job, get the sequel to the Life Assistance Agency edited and published and start a new  book. And maybe get a dog. And stop liking stuff on Twitter which is bound to bite me on the arse in years to come. Mmm, I thought I’d said achievable…

If you are stuck for activities tonight then feel free to leave a review of the novel on Amazon (!). And thanks to all those that took the time to in 2017 – they are very much appreciated, as are the visits and comments on here.

All the best, see you next year.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available to alleviate Sunday feelings here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

How to Survive Christmas

Nothing says visiting relatives at Christmas quite like wheel-spinning out of a cul-de-sac at the crack of dawn heading for home. Most writers hate Christmas, as their alluringly private work finds itself exposed and appears to look more like sitting around doing nothing at a time when you should be acting busy, or at least wrapping presents. It’s hard to slope off to the local cafe when it’s shut.

It’s also hard to know the worst thing about going away at Christmas, at least it is until someone books an 9am ice skating slot. I mean who wants to go ice skating at 9am. What’s an ice rink even doing open at 9am? Admittedly it defines first world problem and the staff are having an even worse time, but still, this is volunteered fun. And everyone knows how hard fun is to spell before lunchtime, particularly when it involves clutching to advertising hoardings to stay upright. This is the sort of entertainment I left behind at university, although that involved far thinner ice.

Now, did anyone get Amazon’s Alexa for a present? Even if you didn’t, you’ll know who she is. She’s a personal assistant, who promises the world, without moving, like a fortune teller. In dulcet tones she claims to not understand perfectly reasonably requests, while arranging unrequested Amazon deliveries with liberal use of your bank details. Humorous interactions throughout Christmas are gong to look less funny when Elton John’s entire back catalogue and sixteen spare chairs arrive in January. She’s basically a parent that when is asked to turn your music down, actually does.

It’s all gadgets these days, making one feel like having been thrown forward in time without paying attention to what year was entered into the machine. One young relative spent the day with a virtual reality plastic box over his head. At least it means he couldn’t see enough plastic toys and wrapping destined for landfill to speed up planet Earth’s demise by a decade.

Christmas obliterates the week and the hardest thing is not knowing what day it is. You can ask Alexa, but she’s too busy negotiating musical requests that barely give a song longer than its opening 4 bars, before someone yells for Chris Rea again. When asked ‘Who’s round is it?’ she claims to not understand, so in some ways she’s more human than is comfortable. It might be funny to ask her bra size, but she’s likely to delay answering this until someone rejoins you in the room.

Not only is finding the time to write a struggle, but you’re surrounded by so many cliches that it’s hard not to think in them. Of course Christmas is all about the children, even the one who got a new recorder without any previous knowledge in how to play it. Strangled notes of Three Blind Mice played with the musical prowess of a whistle stuck in a vacuum cleaner prevented any adult from recovering the 5:00am Christmas dawn start, although probably saved the elderly relative from dying on the sofa.

Staying with people means you need to be sociable (not a leading characteristic of writing, which mainly involves swearing at yourself for poor plot turns). And you don’t know where anything is. Even the port. All you want to do is take your bloated cusk to the gym, although your gym is a 100 miles away, which is probably for the best, as they would be invariable refuse entry to anyone smelling that strongly of stilton and surplus crackers., while calling everyone within earshot Alexa in the hope they’ll do what demanded.

The WHSmith Fresh Talent novel, The Life Assistance Agency is available now and can be purchased with book tokens, hard cash and by asking Alexa to order it.

available here –  

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars – The Last Jedi – A Review.

For anyone wondering why Paddington 2 missed the festive season need look no further. Pitching a film against the Star Wars franchise is a gazelle holding back an elephant stampede.  This is something the Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s follow up to the massively successful The French Connection and The Exorcist, will never forget, as it was bounced out of cinemas in 1977 by some low budget unheard-of Episode 4 – A New Hope.

Star Wars is becoming as synonymous with Christmas as James Bond and bouncing credit cards. It’s a relationship that’s certainly improved since the 1978 Christmas TV special Star Wars spin off that George Lucas wishes was destroyed in the Death Star, as opposed to being habitually used as benchmark for profound loss of quality control.

The Last Jedi is the sequel to JJ Abrams The Force Awakens, in which Kylo Ren inadvisably took off his chilling Vader-citing mask and goes from uber-villain to Vidal Sassoon in less par-secs than it takes the Millennium Falcon to reach light speed. So, what does the latest film have in store, beyond the flightless Porgs; cute creatures with one bulbous eye on dividing opinion, the other on mechanise?  I hope, like George Lucas, they’ve opted for a percentage of toy royalties in lieu of appearance payments.

Of course nothing will ever compete with the experience of a ten-year old in the late 1970s encountering the first film’s title crawl, ducking as the gigantic Star Destroyer slides ominously overhead. The 1970s was a decade of trade unions and a country adjusting to globalisation, so the worn-out universe of battered droids and spaceships was instantly recognisable, making it even more seductive.

As the Star Wars universe expands it’s becoming increasingly difficult to accurately place Ewoks: Caravan of Courage in the cannon, while memories of the prequels – exploring the intricacies of tax and trade federations – wake me when Darth Maul arrives  – thankfully fade by the day. The problem with the prequels (and CGI in general) is that it makes films look busier than Jon Bon Jovi’s pants. These days less is definitely now more, as spectacle outstrips script. So, in this competitive blockbuster filmic world Star Wars was pivotal in creating, how does its latest instalment fare?

Review (Spoilers) – 

Initial reviews look promising, and after all, all a Star Wars film needs to do is not feature Jar Jar Binks and people are happy. However, The Last Jedi is hard to place. It’s as though the director Rian Johnson has never seen a Star Wars movie. It’s also impossible to review without spoilers. We certainly meet Luke, who has an extensive library of four Jedi books on his island, which are inexplicably stored in some weird Lord of the Rings-type tree. It’s busy pointless detail. His island was deserted in the Force Awakens, but presumably the Porgs, fish nuns (!) whose purpose in life appears to be doing Luke’s laundry, (and not very well in light of his appearance) and an obese lactating creature which is frankly too much info, were camera shy.

Perhaps that’s the best tag line for this movie: it explains too much. Meanwhile Supreme Leader Snoke, who is an arguably better villain than the Emperor, is killed. I know! What a waste. It’s a shock that the film struggles to recover from, despite the First Order achieving something the Empire failed to do; genuinely threaten and decimate any resistance. The film has more in common with Rogue One, and by the end of the film the entire Resistance has been reduced to a similar rag band of rebels – although who would have bet on Nien Nunb surviving? When your entire army can fit in the Millennium Falcon you know things have gone tits up.

There are a series of stunning set pieces, particularly the space fights, as ponderous bombers struggle to take out the new Dreadnaught class of Star Destroyer, but at times it’s so hard to keep up that I suspect even the script writers were lost. The half-baked casino scene could be lost entirely, as could the stupid horses that are able to run up a cliff simply because CGI can. It’s far less swashbuckling than even the recent films, unless you count BB-8 somehow operating an AT-ST without any explanation as to how he was able to climb 30 feet.

There’s a great twist with Luke (who’s turned into Oliver Reed) at the end, although why this finishes him off it needless. He certainly deserved a good lie down, but dying seems to have needlessly amputated a future story line. Perhaps in its effort to kill characters as indiscriminately as Game of Thrones, this goes too far. And as to the last Jedi, well, it’s clearly plural. Two remain.

It was entertaining, although while the most appealing feature of the Star Wars universe is how worn out it is, you’d prefer this not to extend to its script.

My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available to alleviate that Sunday feeling here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance

and here

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –

 

 

 

 

 

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