It will be no secret to anyone who has glanced at the partisancantina.com Twitter feed that one of our favorite websites and podcasts in the galaxy is Force Material. For those who like to dwell in the background to our beloved saga, to look at the cinematic influences on the Star Wars universe then Force Material is well worth checking out. Recently the two guys at the heart of the operation, Rohan and Baz, called by the Cantina for a couple of Correlian ales and to shoot the breeze on all things cinematic.
1. I love the fact that you focus on older films that influenced Star Wars and its creators: which of the movie genres that Lucas gleaned inspiration from are your favorites?
Baz: I grew up in a house where Westerns and war films were on high rotation, from a very early age. My Dad loves both. I was five years old when I first saw A New Hope, and I think very soon after that I was unconsciously seeing patterns, tropes and influences in those films. Lucas famously cut together dogfight footage from war films while he was making A New Hope and I saw Han Solo in every borderline amoral cowboy gunslinger. So I guess those are the main two genres that influenced Lucas that I love, even now. Of course A New Hope cemented me as a sci-fi fan. It was a bit later, as a 13-year-old illegally renting 15 and 18-rated tapes from the local video shop with a mate every Friday night, that I discovered the fantasy genre through schlocky films like Conan the Barbarian and began to see the influences Lucas had cherry-picked from that genre – knights and wizards and princesses in distress.
Rohan: I love so many of the movies that make up Star Wars’ DNA, but for me, hands down, it’s the samurai films. (Or, in other words, the jidaigeki films – see what George did there?) I’ll always be grateful to George Lucas for leading me to films like Yojimbo and The Hidden Fortress that I might never have found on my own – and, by extension, to Kurosawa’s other works, including his ‘contemporary’ films that aren’t necessarily big influences on Star Wars, but are definitely must-sees.
We actually haven’t featured that many Kurosawa films on the podcast so far – we were trying to avoid the obvious ‘greatest hits’ to start off with – but we’ll get there soon.
More recently, Rian Johnson’s Last Jedi ‘film camp’ shone a spotlight on Hideo Gosha’s Three Outlaw Samurai, which is a hugely under-appreciated gem!
2. What’s your favorite – Seven Samauri or The Magnificent Seven?
Baz: I’m going with John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven. But that’s only because I’m not allowed to say Battle Beyond the Stars. My Dad has a massive painting of Yul Brynner’s seven hanging in the stairwell at the family homestead in Portballintrae, and it always makes me smile when I walk past it.
Rohan: Given my previous answer, it probably won’t shock you that my pick is Seven Samurai. Having said that, it’s far from my favourite Kurosawa film – heresy, I know!
3. How do you find the Star Wars sequels so far?
Baz: Absolutely love them and I think they couldn’t have worked out better – well, with the possible exception of Rogue One, because as much as I did like it, I would have been very interested to see how Gareth Edwards’s version shook out differently. Poe and Finn have charisma to burn, Kylo Ren is a fittingly complex and unpredictable villain, and Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the best thing to happen to Star Wars since Carrie Fisher. Luke and Han both got great send-offs. My quibbles are minor, and I don’t let them detract from my enjoyment of the films as a whole. It’s a very exciting time to be a Star Wars fan – we have been starved of new stories onscreen for years.
Back in the ‘dark times’, I made my own stories with a great group of friends and the West End Games Star Wars D6 roleplaying system, and it was thrilling to create those tales across a variety of time periods in the Star Wars universe, from the Old Republic to the Clone Wars, the Rebellion and the New Republic, with diverse and quirky bands of characters. So to hear of Disney’s plans for more and more stories coming our way on the big and small screens – yes, I’m pumped, both for the Star Wars Cinematic Universe and for the legions of new toys it will spawn, as I’m an avid collector, mostly of 3.75 inch figures. I was nervous about Solo, but after that trailer – I am just so excited to see it.
Rohan: I’ve unreservedly loved each of the Sequel Trilogy films so far, and I had a good time with Rogue One, although it isn’t one of my favorites.
The period leading up to the release of The Force Awakens was honestly one of the happiest times of my life, and the film actually lived up to the hype. I figured it would echo the beats of the original trilogy pretty closely (both to win back older fans and to hook new fans), so that didn’t bother me, but I don’t think JJ and Lawrence Kasdan get anywhere near enough credit for the great job they did in making us fall in love with the new characters. They made Star Wars relevant for a new generation with Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren, while still giving Han Solo a worthy send-off, which was no mean feat.
Oh, and Kylo Ren is the most fascinating and relevant villain in pop culture today, which is neat.
4. You did a great podcast series on Rian Johnson’s film camp – what was the most enjoyable part of that process?
Baz: The whole thing was a blast. I got to watch seven films I’d never actually seen before, seven films ‘prescribed’ by a brilliant filmmaker and cited as influences, and then I got to sit down and dissect them and wildly speculate about the possible influences on The Last Jedi, with a mate and a beer. I loved Twelve O’clock High the most. [Same here! – Andrew] Can’t wait to watch it again. And selfishly, I’d love it if all the Star Wars filmmakers dropped a little ‘playlist’ of influences so that we could do the film camp thing again on Force Material. I imagine Ron Howard’s list of influences for Solo would be American Graffiti, plus a whole heap of Westerns, and that would be a wonderful homework assignment for the podcast.
Rohan: I’ve always thought that Star Wars is a great lens to study the history of filmmaking and storytelling through, so I saw Rian Johnson’s film camp as a required reading list curated by a brilliant professor.
It was fascinating to watch these seven seemingly unrelated films in close proximity to each other and look for the beats and ideas that echoed through each of them. It was still impossible to predict exactly what would unfold in The Last Jedi after watching the films, but they did give us some idea what to expect, and they helped to illuminate some of the themes that Johnson was playing with in his movie.
5. The Force Material site has been running for a long time now and I’ve been a fan since it first came on the scene. What made you decide to branch out into podcasting?
Baz: I’ll let Rohan take this one. Force Material is all his idea, and I was a fan and supporter of the site since it started. I was very honored and maybe even a bit daunted when he pitched me the idea of teaming up to do a podcast – although we weren’t always thinking of doing a Force Material podcast.
Rohan: First off, Andrew’s not kidding about being an early adopter – I don’t recall how you found the site, but one of the first messages of encouragement I got when I started it was from you, so thanks for that.
Having said that, I had stepped away from the Force Material site before we started the podcast, and Baz and I were actually working on a completely different project together. We’ve both been in Brisbane media for over a decade and we’ve always wanted to team up on something. But I was pretty sure that the last thing the world needed was more Star Wars content, and it especially didn’t need another Star Wars podcast. The collective noun for a group of Star Wars fans is a podcast.
Our planning meetings for this other project tended to be dominated by Star Wars chat, though, and we’ve always bonded over our love of this franchise – one of the greatest days in both of our professional lives was when Disney flew us down to Sydney to cover a Force Awakens fan event with Harrison Ford for our respective publications back in 2015. We’re both giant nerds, to say the least.
Long story short, I started thinking about how Force Material could be different from other Star Wars podcasts, since it’s not really about Star Wars, but the arts and culture that spawned Star Wars. I had to admit that the idea of diving into this stuff with a mate and a beer every week really appealed to me.
It was useless to resist – I pitched the Force Material podcast to Baz, and the first episode was up pretty shortly after that.
We might come back to that other project one day, though…
6. Finally a question for Baz. My dad says the Cantina scene in Mos Eisley reminds him of walking into bars in Belfast in the 1970s. What do you make of the new Irish connection with the TLJ scenes on Ahch-To? Being from the North coast of Ireland do you, like me, worry that Rey must have been freezing sleeping outside on that stone bench at night??
Baz: From what I hear, your dad’s right. I walked into a few of those kinds of bars, too, when I moved from the North Coast of Ireland to live in Glasgow in the 1990s! But I’m absolutely stoked that Ireland is so well represented on film. I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones, too, and it’s wonderful to watch that show and see a lot of the places I grew up around shown on screen as part of this sweeping saga – Ballintoy Harbour, the Dark Hedges, Larrybane Quarry at Carrick-a-Rede. Places where we went on Sunday drives, or went fishing. It’s a testament to how far Northern Ireland has managed to shed its reputation as a troubled and dangerous place. (Quick shout-out to my mate Iain, my comrade from the video shop trips all those years ago, who’s a regular Night’s Watch extra on GoT.)
Ireland is a beautiful island and Skellig Michael is just otherworldly. I see why it was chosen as a location, and just looking at this castle of rock in the ocean, I can see why the ancient inhabitants of our country believed in mythic heroes and faeries and gods. And yes – I did worry about Rey! It totally crossed my mind that she didn’t have anywhere near enough blankets to be sleeping on a stone bench on Cliffside, and I remember thinking two things during the rain scene: ‘Aww, she’s never seen rain before’ and ‘But that’s Irish rain, she’ll catch her death!’.
Editor’s Note:Force Material podcast is a weekly high point for me and it is great to see the site back up and running again too. I highly recommend that you check out Rohan and Baz’s Cinema school – especially now that we do, in fact, have a Solo film list circulating within the Star Wars news last week! Please note that the interview pre-dated the publication of the list of films that inspired Jon Kasdan’s work on the Solo film.
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