In Kathleen Kennedy I Trust

20 October 2015

I said a little while ago: in Kathleen Kennedy I trust. I don’t mean that JJ Abrams isn’t a hugely capable director, and I don’t mean that he doesn’t love all things geek. I don’t mean that I don’t rate Michael Arndt, who wrote the first draft and who knows a thing or two about story, or that I wasn’t thrilled to see that Lawrence Kasdan was in play working on the new episodes of the Star Wars franchise.

What I mean is that, even with all those advantages, movies can go wrong. Moviemaking is not so much an ocean filled with icebergs as a narrow stretch of water between vast, grinding walls of blue-green. Directors are rightly referred to as being at the helm of the ship, which is a tacit acknowledgement that there’s one person whose job is differently vital – who puts the crew together and resolves disputes, and in whom is vested ultimate sanction: the captain. Kathleen Kennedy is a very, very good captain.

And so here we are, with the first trailer worthy of the name, and the first inkling of what this new post-Lucas Star Wars will be. I’m sitting on the floor of my living room watching it on a loop, not because I want to write this piece, but because I want to see it over and over again. This piece is a consequence, because I have to say something to make real what I’m seeing.

Here’s what I get, assuming the full product is represented by the trailer:

1. This film will not be a retreat to the style of the original ones. It will be a continuation of them, and it seems on this showing to have grasped them in way that the prequels never did, but it will also be an evolution. Consider: were you ever, in IV-VI, invited to think of the universe as beautiful? Were you offered a static space through which characters move? Not really. The universe was OH WOW and OOOH, WEIRD. Dagobah, Tatooine and Endor were backdrops, spaces for action – they were alien environments with aliens stories in them. In the first seconds of the trailer, we see an empty, silent space full of light and quiet. This is a movie that embraces worlds, crowds, vistas, expanse. It’s not a boutique piece: it’s vast.

2. The creative team is deep in the mythos, and they’ve been smart about it. The first thing I notice – and love – is that the Jedi are still essentially forgotten. The Force is still a bedtime story. That makes it special again, but it also means that the movies will follow the audience, with the magic dawning and awakening in the story as it does in us. “Just let it in,” the trailer urges, and of course that’s what we’ve always wanted to do. It’s an elegant decision, and a very clever one I didn’t see coming. It makes the story more a fable, and concommitantly more fabulous.

3. It’s a movie of its time, in a classic mode. That’s to say that it is a movie about the rediscovery of faith after a burning disappointment. Once, we had Luke growing up and eager to leave home. Here we have two characters against the sand background who are older and seem to have lost something – probably faith. That’s a classic of American cinema and American self-invention, rooted in the Capra tradition. It’s an inevitable need for generational redefinition in a nation that speaks itself into existence, felt particularly sharply now when the US is more divided than it’s been for a long, long time, when the promise of Liberal Democratic Capitalism is feeling empty to a lot of people. In a Capra film, you’d see the central characters going to the wilderness heartland of the US to find the soul of America, and to the founding documents to find its conscious self. In this trailer we already know we’re in the desert, and we already hear the voices of the founders speaking. Someone, sooner or later, will give the Alec Guinness speech about the Force – effectively the Constiution of the Star Wars nation. Why is all that babble remotely important? Because if it isn’t there, this kind of movie is a succession of things going SPLODE. That’s fine for Mission Impossible. It’s not enough for The Force Awakens.

4. @MeritoCoffee nailed it on Twitter just now:

It also takes the daring step of not sucking.

Exactly. Saint Kathleen of the Re-envisioning, look well upon us now, and in the editing room, amen.

Big ocean, tiny boat, children needing help

08 October 2015


(John and Rob Eustace, photo by @KatBlackAuthor)

That’s my uncle on the left as you look at the picture, and my cousin Rob on the right. Next month, they are going to row – yes, row, with oars – the 3000 nautical miles from the Canaries to Barbados. In a boat. With oars. Did I mention the oars? Rob’s done this sort of thing before; that rugged, adventury look he has is not something cooked up in the make-up room of a studio. John, on the other hand, is 79 years old and hasn’t, which is why he told Rob to push him overboard if he doesn’t make it. The whole business is just a little bit epic. I will reiterate that they are going to row this distance, with oars, not take the three o’clock Monarch flight from Tenerife.

You will note, incidentally, that heroic eyebrows are not only a feature of my father’s genetics: we’ve all got them. The Force is strong in my family, and in the event that they run out of food, my plucky relatives will be able to trawl for sustenance using a net made of eyebrow twine.

This is their blog. They haven’t left yet, so it’s a bit bare, although you’ll notice a picture of the boat in which they are ROWING ACROSS THE ATLANTIC, WITH OARS. To my mind, it mostly resembles a giant and incredibly sophisticated pedalo. There are quite literally fish bigger than their boat. It would fit comfortably into the open mouth of a blue whale. And in this thing they will row 3000 nautical miles.

Here’s the bit where I ask you to donate money to something.


I am not generally a huge fan of charity runs and so on. I’m perfectly happy to give money to charity and I’m perfectly happy that people should run twenty six miles if that’s how they want to spend time. I’m more a glass of wine and a slice of cake sort of person, but it takes all sorts. I’ve just never really seen why someone running twenty six miles should encourage me to give money to the Salisbury Donkey Trust. HOWEVER. People, seriously. This is helluva different. This is three thousand nautical miles in the modern version of a birchbark canoe. It is awe-inpsiring that they’re going to do this, and actually the Alexander Devine folks need and deserve all the support they can get anyway. It is the confluence of two things that are amazing and that should make you proud to be a human being.

BBC Radio 5 Live talked to John and Rob here. Listen, and support them, and give money to a children’s hospice.

Because: big ocean, tiny boat, children needing help.

Thank you.


21 September 2015

I’m going to SPAAAAACE…

Actually, I’m going to the ESA’s TEDx event – as a speaker. SO jazzed about this. Come along!


We Are Many

23 July 2015

On 15th February 2003, I marched with my family in protest against the rising beat of war that was coming from Downing Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, and in the assertion of the right of the people to express a profound anger and antipathy at the course foisted upon us. The government was at odds with a huge part of the populace, and had won the assent of the remainder through a series of claims about Iraq’s capacity to threaten the UK which were false, and which were indeed premised in part on evidence obtained from a man whose sanity had shattered during a months-long sequence of torture interrogations.

We marched, and we delighted in the discovery that we were not alone, that we were a massively disparate gathering of unexpected friends. We celebrated, pleaded, demanded, and we went home. We were ignored. Whatever Tony Blair saw when he looked at a demonstration of one and a half million people in central London, many of whom were Labour supporters and members of his party, and many of whom will never forgive either him or Labour for the decision to go to war, it did not move him in our direction. His public response was disdainful, even contemptuous, and – despite an opinion from the government’s chief legal advisor that UN Resolution 1441 did not by itself give legitimacy to an invasion, he held fast to the promise he already had made to George W. Bush: Britain would follow the US into Iraq.

I felt, seeing my country go to war in the face of such a huge demonstration of public opposition, that I had been part of an epochal failure. A cynical trade of absurdly asymmetric worth had taken place: Blair had balanced the Countryside March in favour of fox-hunting – the perennial parliamentary time-suck – with the one against the war, and somehow nullified them both. It seemed like the demise of the march as a form of resistance, and that in turn implied something uglier about the state of our democracy: mere popular pressure was no longer enough to get results. From the Blair period onward, you would have to have actual personal power, be it wealth, force of arms, or banked influence, to get something done. The only forms of collective action that still had heft, if moral weight were now to be ignored, were direct ones: strikes, acts of civil disobedience causing massive disruption, and boycotts with immediate commercial consequences. The relationship between the people and our executive had deteriorated so far that we could reliably control our government only through forms of societal self-harm.

I’m not sure to what extent I’ve carried that perception ever since. I have demonstrated. I’ve signed countless petitions – I see them as a sort of notice of intent to object more robustly, if necessary – and some of those protests have been heard, some not. I’ve given to campaigning organizations, both financially and in the form of my time and my work. I have voted, of course, written books and opinion pieces, agitated from the podium at festivals and events. But I have never really believed, since, that a determined government could be swayed from a bad course merely by democratic pressure. I’ve watched successive governments fail to tackle climate change, seen every administration since 2001 embrace the slithering cowardice of equivocation on torture and reach for the warm authoritarian embrace of total surveillance on the one hand and impunity on the other.

Two weeks ago I went to a screening of We Are Many, Amir Amirani’s documentary about the 15th February 2003 protest, and for the first time properly understood what it was. I was not just part of a one and a half million demonstration ignored by a Labour Prime Minister drunk on a cocktail of cowboy justice and the military re-engineering of foreign countries – though that, by itself, would have been remarkable. February 2003 can be seen as the first truly global protest, attended by millions of people across nearly eight hundred cities: people marched not just in London but Madrid, New York, in Sydney and in Cape Town. There was a protest at McMurdo Base in Antarctica. The film made me feel for the first time that what happened that day didn’t mean a kind of death for mass protest even if it failed in the short term to achieve its aim – and it wasn’t just a mass protest, it was an attempt at course correction for good and sufficient reasons now borne out.

I opposed the war because I did not believe that Saddam Hussein had anything to do with the 2001 attacks in New York; because I did believe that if we shifted focus from the original target of the Taliban’s avowedly pro-Bin Laden regime we would lose control of that situation; because I believed that invading Iraq would be a mess that would cost a vast number of Iraqi lives and could potentially also cost many of our own; because I thought that the inspections were working and that Saddam Hussein was not successfully hoarding nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and could not deploy such weapons to strike European targets in any timeframe, let alone the quoted forty five minutes; because the spectacle of the UK and US, who had for decades backed Saddam Hussein, lining up to call him a monster as if we had just discovered the fact and were, like Captain Renault in Casablanca, “Shocked! Shocked!” was a hypocrisy that sickened me. I believed as well – on the tenuous basis of my degree specializations which amount to a short course in propaganda, destabilization and international troublemaking – that the entire region was an interlocking snare of grudges, territorial disputes, sectarian and ethnic fracture lines, and that anyone who thought blowing a big fat hole in the middle of it would provoke a sudden wave of enlightened democratic government was an idiot. I was wrong – in exactly one respect: the loss of life in Iraq was massively asymmetrical, although there is still time for the endless chain of consequences to suck us into some destructive madness of decades that will even the score.

It never occurred to me to wonder how that demonstration twelve years ago, and the fact that so many people across the world are empowered by these same historic objections to say to the hawks of their nations “we were right, and you were wrong,” might influence our response to Syria now, to ISIS and the rest. I had not dared to hope that there might yet be life in the idea of peace as a solution to war, rather than more war – a notion that is as stunningly obvious as it is depressingly revolutionary. I had laid to rest some optimistic part of myself, until I watched this unpretentious, uplifting rendering of what happened, and thought that perhaps it wasn’t pointless after all.

It’s a superb film. It’s simple, stark, and it made me cry – but I came out feeling that I’d march again tomorrow, and the next day, and that perhaps I should.

Drop me a line

Drop me a line! Forgive me if the response is not immediate - I tend to get rather behind. If something requires my rapid attention, please tweet me or get in touch through my agent, Patrick.

Cheers, NH





copyright © 2012-2013 Nick Harkaway

website written by: