‘Watching Skies – Star Wars, Spielberg and Us’ reviewed

❉ O’Connell writes with wit on the influence of “George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, a shark, two motherships, some gremlins, ghostbusters and a man of steel”.

“This is a portal (or spacecraft) to a time when Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Superman reigned king.”

Mark O’Connell unveiled his James Bond work Catching Bullets in 2012, making his compelling cases for his favourite Bond actor (Roger Moore) and favourite Bond film (A View To A Kill) and paying close attention to the queer perspectives 007 inhabited. Now, O Connell brings readers to a prequel, one far removed from the questionable and risible prose of the adventures understanding young Anakin Skywalker and Han Solo, but a prelude of enviable and commendable prose typifying the importance the films of Lucas and Spielberg held on a generation.

It’s a memory that typifies the signatories of Mark’s Gatiss and Millar (triple Marks for that one) and echoes the foreboding thoughts that pop culture influences and directs a person’s life. O’Connell writes that “cinema has the power to do that”, finding the change in his domestic childhood life as changing from the Brody family (Jaws) to the Kramers. A youth spent on “George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, a shark, two motherships, some gremlins, ghostbusters and a man of steel” influenced O’Connell’s writings and perspectives of the world, just as cinema has inspired much of our readership.

“Watching Skies is a broader read than O’Connell’s James Bond work Catching Bullets and cannot articulate the level of dedication that a book regarding the fifty year development of one property can attain. Raiders, E.T. and Jaws are all Spielberg’s properties, but not one of these films fit into the same genre or category.”

This is a portal (or spacecraft) to a time when Star Wars, Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Superman reigned king. George Lucas’s cache has fallen in the last two decades, but Watching Skies is a timely reminder when his films could inspire awe among children, welding lightsabers or collecting the varieties of collectibles Star Wars attracted. Steven Spielberg, meanwhile, has regained a cachet from moving away from the blockbuster to shoot the more adult Munich, Lincoln and Bridge of Spies, but O’Connell stands firm that few could film with the same level of awe Spielberg brought to his extra-terrestrial stories. One of the book’s funnier anecdotes involve O’Connell wishing the Santa Claus of 1982 had clearly been influenced by E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial!

Watching Skies is a broader read than Catching Bullets and cannot articulate the level of dedication that a book regarding the fifty year development of one property can attain. Raiders, E.T. and Jaws are all Spielberg’s properties, but not one of these films fit into the same genre or category. Minor nitpicks; Watching Skies is another love letter to the cinema of the seventies/eighties, written with O’Connell’s excellent command of the English language. He writes with wit and repartee, even managing to connect Bond to Superman through the means of another writer, Tom Mankiewicz, who O’Connell highlights is “the master of cutting to the chase, affording tight exposition to otherwise sprawling capers and the barbed retort”.

The book is littered with nostalgia, some personal to the author (a nifty drawing from the seven year old as artist), some global (references to Mann’s Chinese Theatre, the theatre that turned Star Wars into one of the seminal 20th century blockbusters) and others historical (parts of the book detail the Iran hostage crisis, later the basis for Ben Affleck’s Oscar winning Argo). All the while, it’s written with love to a time not so long ago in a galaxy that bit more eighties to this one.


❉ ‘Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us’ by Neil O’Connell was published  30 May 2018 by The History Press.

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