#ForceFriday – The Journey Towards The New Star Wars Movie Has Begun

It’s still a few months until ‘The Force Awakens‘ a.k.a. ‘Star Wars Episode VII‘ gets its worldwide release but for a while now September 4th has been billed as #ForceFriday; the journey towards the long awaited sequel to ‘Return Of The Jedi‘ (1983).

Much of the Star Wars fan community has been getting very excited about today and the release of new merchandise in stores and fan events around the world to mark the occasion. Principle markets like the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain have had midnight openings to allow fans to get their hands on all kinds of new figures, toys, stationery, Lego, clothing, masks, lightsabers and other such accessories.

As much as I tried to find out, I got no answers from Tokyo stores regarding them doing anything for #ForceFriday. Eventually I just decided that I’d check out the huge Toys ‘R’ Us store within Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. Fortunately, my friend Ben mailed me earlier this morning asking if I was going there and so we agreed to meet up to visit the shop just after it opened at 11am.

It took us a while to locate the Force Awakens goodies but just as we were pessimistically thinking there would be one or two Star Wars toys in the whole place we then saw a sizeable section devoted to all the new Star Wars things.

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First point of call was the section displaying the 3.75 inch figures (below) which dominate my collection. The most prominent ones on display were of Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, Finn, Rey, Captain Phasma as well as various stormtroopers and sandtroopers. I had no intention of actually buying any of these new figures today and I didn’t! Instead, I got a bit caught up in the euphoria of such an event (which of course was not really an event!) and bought a Kylo Ren bobble head!

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It was all a little overwhelming at first but way more exciting than I thought it would be when I set out in the morning. Whilst this area of the store was far from busy and bustling, there was a constant flow of people (mostly men!) passing through; some with baskets being stocked full of figures and I very much doubt they were for their kids!

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It wasn’t just about the new heroes and villains though as there were also some new figures of classic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and so on. I imagine the new crossguard lightsaber will be a very popular toy with the kids and with Halloween coming up next month, it will be interesting to see if anyone purchases the new masks and dresses up as a character from a film which still won’t have been released by then!

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One thing that it was lacking though was figures or merchandise relating to the soccer ball droid known as BB8. Maybe that kind of thing is being held back until a bit later in the year. As we left the store one hour later (yes, we spent 60 minutes working our way through almost every single item!) we noticed some Star Wars Lego cardboard display exhibits (below) on the way out although ‘Minions‘ were doing their best to hog the limelight!

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Reconvening later in the afternoon, Ben and I met up again to extend the buzz of #ForceFriday. We went to StarCase; the Star Wars shop in Koenji but there wasn’t much new stock there but for a few new figures. It seems the 7 Eleven convenience stores started selling tickets in anticipation of the December 18th release but you still need to exchange that ticket for the actual cinema seat ticket so we didn’t purchase any. Village Vanguard and AmeComi Senmonten Comic Collectors, which featured in the Tokyo Foxtop 5……otaku shops in Tokyo, were also checked out but had nothing new to offer.

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Later on, I checked out Loft in Shibuya (below) where a huge space has been given over to Star Wars merchandise with even more stuff available than was on sale at Toys ‘R’ Us. An awesome spectacle and had I been tipped off earlier I may well have made this my first port of call.

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Today was just the start of the journey taking us up to December 18th and no doubt the marketing and promotion will step up over the coming months with all kinds of Star Wars tie-ins with all kinds of food and beverage companies. With season one of ‘Star Wars Rebels‘ out on DVD soon, season two starting next month, Star Wars Celebration in London next July, the spin off movie ‘Rogue One‘ in December 2016 and ‘The Force Awakens‘ this Christmas time there really is no better time to be a fan of the franchise.

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Star Wars ‘Visions’ Exhibition In Roppongi

The much anticipated Star Wars movie hits the big screen at the end of the year and despite my earlier reservations a couple of years ago I am now not so surprisingly on board with the story continuing. The second teaser trailer was premiered at the recent Celebration event in Anaheim as did the trailer for season two of ‘Rebels‘ which really whetted my appetite for this Visions exhibition in Roppongi. Of course I rarely need anything to get me excited about this franchise!!

Once I’d finally located the place I exchanged my pre-paid ticket (bought at a discount store for ¥1580 instead of ¥1800) for the entrance to this exhibition which is on the 52nd floor of the Mori Arts Center. First impressions were not even  of stuff relating to the sci-fi saga but of the amazing views of the concrete jungle that is Tokyo.

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The introduction area offers a few treats with the main feature being Darth Vader’s meditation chamber which you can have your official photo taken in front of although the same photographer will also take pretty much the same picture on your camera phone. I was happy enough with that rather than shelling out ¥1300  for the special souvenir photo in a special display card design.

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This exhibition comes in six sections; the original visions, vision of force, vision of battle, vision of saga, vision of galaxy and vision of droid. Sadly no photography is allowed in these areas which feature many props including lightsabers, blasters, helmets (including the Vader reveal parts from ‘Return Of The Jedi‘), busts, costumes and original art created by artists hand-picked by George Lucas himself.

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Film clips are played on monitors throughout to provide the symmetry between the planets, battles, miniature spaceships or whatever and how it was seen in each movie. It’s perhaps the saga segment that is the biggest and most fascinating with the centre of the room filled with a collection of costumes and props used on set for the likes of Luke, Leia, Han Solo, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and a Stormtrooper.

As someone who has travelled to the likes of Tunisia, Italy, Spain, Guatemala and erm, England in the name of tracking down the locations used throughout the saga I was very interested to see stuff from the many planets used. I was quite fascinated by a map showing all the planets and their location in relation to each other. There are hundreds of them and proof that every part of the galaxy far, far away is considered very thoughtfully. This galaxy section also possesses a statue of Jabba the Hutt and screen-used ewok, jawa and tusken raider costumes.

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C-3PO and R2-D2 appeared in all six Star Wars films and the final section is devoted to these symbolic characters with the main attraction being the glass cabinet display of the full-sized droids.

Needless to say there was a Star Wars Exhibition Special shop to round things off with all manner of goods that the merchandise-loving Japanese were snapping up in droves. Naturally, I also bought a few additions albeit nothing more exciting than some stationery.

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You can even go up to the Sky View Deck (¥500) to have your photo taken with Darth Vader amidst the Tokyo city view. That costs a further ¥2000 but having had my fair share of Vader pictures over the years I actually decided to not plough any more money into the Star Wars coffers.

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That wasn’t the end though as on the way down to ground level I came across the life-size lego replicas of Darth Vader and Boba Fett (near the Lego shop) followed by the Stormtrooper helmet art. This was similar to the life-size Darth Vader creations seen at the Celebration Japan event in 2008 but on a smaller scale this time.

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The nearest station is Roppongi (exit 3) and adult tickets cost ¥1800. It is open from 10am – 10pm and ends on June 28th.

Top 5……Otaku Shops In Tokyo

Since moving in together and getting married, my otaku collection has basically grind to a halt which is actually no bad thing as I was a somewhat inadvertent collector anyway who only built up a collection out of boredom and from seeing figures on sale so cheaply in a recycle shop near my old place. However, married life hasn’t stopped me from doing a bit of window shopping from time to time at some of my favourite shops throughout the city with the occasional cheeky purchase too! Continue reading

Star Wars Traveller – Naboo Revisited (a.k.a. Watford, UK)

Four years ago I visited Whippendell Wood in Watford which was used in ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace‘ to portray the forest of Naboo. Back then I was fairly satisfied with my visit but heavy snow in the area meant that it looked more like the remote ice planet of Hoth! As a result, I was keen to return one day and see it in its more normal setting. However, there was still a light frost on the ground but with a bit of Winter sunshine there was actually some greenery to be seen. Continue reading

Top 10……Movies Filmed In Central America

Before I went travelling around Central America during the Christmas and New Years holiday of 2012/2013 I spent the months before preparing as only I do! Forget internet research and thumbing through guidebooks, for my work beforehand is often all about watching movies (and TV shows) filmed in that part of the world. Thankfully there were just about ten of them which makes it perfect for a top 10 listings feature; the perfect aid for anyone going or thinking of going to Central America.

This area, sandwiched between North and South America, possesses seven countries (eight if you include the southern part of Mexico as is often the case) of which five feature here. Sorry but I don’t know of any western productions being shot in Honduras or El Salvador!

Here then, in no particular order, are the top 10 movies filmed in Central America…

1. Nicaragua – ‘Carla’s Song‘ (1996): Robert Carlyle leaves Glasgow behind to go to war-torn Nicaragua to help Carla search for her past. Estelí; the third largest city in Nicaragua is where a lot of those scenes were filmed. It is 150km north of capital city Managua.

2. Belize -‘The Mosquito Coast‘ (1986): Based on the novel of the same name, this tells the story of a family leaving the USA in the hope of finding a happier, simpler life in the jungle but things don’t quite go to plan. Hotel Mona Lisa on the south side of Haulover Creek in Belize City was one of the filming locations.

3. Belize – ‘The Dogs Of War‘ (1980): This one is also based on a novel and is about a small, international unit of mercenary soldiers privately hired to depose of the President of a fictional West African country so that a British tycoon can gain access to vast mines of platinum. The movie was shot in Belize City and the Chateau Caribbean hotel was where Christopher Walken’s character stayed upon his arrival.

4. Guatemala – ‘Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope‘ (1977): The rebel base where Luke Skywalker and co launch their attack to destroy the Death Star and save their people from Darth Vader’s grasp was shot in Tikal. It gets only 13 seconds of screen time and features the Millennium Falcon flying over Yavin 4 which is overseen by a rebel standing on top of Temple IV in the western part of the national park. More details here.

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5. Guatemala – ‘Moonraker‘ (1979): Tikal features again on screen but this time only for three seconds! 007 travels through the Amazon in search of villain Hugo Drax’s lair, encountering Jaws and other henchmen along the way, before he discovers it supposedly at Temple I of Gran Plaza. More details here.

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6. Panama – ‘Quantum Of Solace‘ (2008): Due to its diversity Panama doubled up for both Bolivia and Haiti. Colon at the Caribbean end of the Canal represents Port Au Prince in the latter and Casco Viejo in Panama City fills in for Bolivia. The ruins of the Old Union Club were revamped for villain Dominic Greene’s party. More details here.

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7. Panama – ‘The Tailor Of Panama‘ (2001): Another 007 connection for Panama with Pierce Brosnan playing a far seedier agent than Bond. Filming took place in the picturesque old town of Casco Viejo, the lobby and bar of The Marriott Hotel and Gatun Lake. More details here.

8. Panama – ‘Contraband‘ (2012): To protect his brother-in-law from a drug lord, a former smuggler heads to Panama to score millions of dollars in counterfeit bills in this action crime thriller. The Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal and the  local neighbourhood known as El Chorillo featured in the filming. The latter is an impoverished area within Panama City where some of the more salacious scenes take place.

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9. Costa Rica – ‘Spy Kids 2: Island Of Lost Dreams‘ (2002): The artificial Arenal Lake which is situated in the northern highlands was one of the locations used in this sequel production along with Manuel Antonio National Park. Known for its beautiful beaches and hiking trails this impressive landscape has white sand beaches, lush foliage, great mountains and tropical forests which made it a prime area to film this sci-fi family adventure film.

10. Costa Rica – ‘1492: Conquest Of Paradise‘ (1992): Directed by Ridley Scott, this overly long flop of a film details the discovery (albeit a fictionalised one!) of the New World by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and the effect it had on the indigenous population of the Americas. Filming took place at Playa Herradura (Herradura beach) in Puntarenas; a coastal town on the Pacific Ocean located about four km north of Jaco.

Top 10……Movie Locations Where You Can Stay

Hot on the tail of the top (double oh) 7 hotels featured in James Bond films here are the top 10 recommendations for other places where you can spend a night amidst movie history. Just to get things clear you have to pay to stay in all of the listed accommodation rather than just rocking up and pitching a tent outside the filming location!! This list, which is in no particular order, will take you around the globe and offers the full spectrum of price range.

1. Sidi Driss, (from $9 per night) Matmatat-Al-Qadimal, Matmata (Tunisia): Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) – No surprise that this one is featured. Coach loads of tourists stop off here every day yet very few of them actually stay the night! That’s probably because it’s very dirty with poor service! I was the only guest when I stayed there…..but it was a privilege to spend the night at Luke Skywalker’s home! Cheap too!More details here.

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2. On On Hotel (from $3 per night), 19 Phang-Nga Road, Talad Yai, Muang, Phuket  (Thailand): The Beach (2000) – Another ridiculously cheap place to stay. Leonard DiCaprio checks in to this rundown “Kao San Road” backpacker place but its nowhere near the legendary Bangkok spot where western travellers congregate. It is in fact way, way down south in Phuket town. More details here.

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3. Imperial Palace (from $49 per night), 3535 Las Vegas Blvd S, Las Vegas, NV 89109  (USA): Austin Powers International Man Of Mystery (1997) – This Nevada state city has been used in many movies over the years and could probably have it’s very own top 10 list (now there’s an idea!) but just the single hotel for this entry and that’s Alotta Fagina’s penthouse suite where Austin shagged her rotten to use his exact words!! It’s since been re-named as The Quad Resort & Hotel. More details here.

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4. Tiki Motel (from $?? per night), 7301 Santa Fe Avenue, Huntington Park, Los Angeles (USA): The Terminator (1984) – John Connor was conceived at this very run-down in what is perhaps the most pivotal point in the whole Terminator franchise. You could stay in the same room where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese did the deed but in all honesty you probably wouldn’t want to! More details here.

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5. Royal Eagle Hotel (from $627 per night), 26-30 Craven Rd, London W2 3QB (UK): Trainspotting (1996) – The boys take a break from Scotland and head down south to London to do a drug deal. Sick Boy leads the guys out of Smallbrook Mews, across Craven Road in a parody of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album cover. The “small-time wasters” then wander into the Royal Eagle Hotel. More details here.

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6. Grand Hotel Evropa (from $30 per night), Vaclavske namesti 25, Prague (Czech Republic): Mission: Impossible (1996) – This was the headquarters of mysterious arms dealer Max (Vanessa Redgrave) in the first of this action spy film series based on the TV series from the 60’s and 70’s. More details here.

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7. Westin Grand (from $274 per night), Friedrichstrasse 158 – 164, 10117 Berlin  (Germany): The Bourne Supremacy (2004) – The luxury hotel where Landy stays. Bourne cleverly finds out at reception that she is staying in room 235. He then watches her leave from his position on the 4th floor and then takes the stairs down and goes through the hotels revolving doors where he gets in a taxi and follows her to the CIA hub. More details here.

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8. Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel (from $216 per night), Wollestraat 41-47, Bruges (Belgium): In Bruges (2008) – Dark, comedy thriller featuring Colin Farrell (Ray), Brendan Gleeson (Ken) and Ralph Fiennes (Harry) with the former two Irish hit-men lying low in the Belgian city at this canal-side hotel. More details here.

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9. Four Season’s Hotel (from $750 per night), Teyfikhane Sok No 1 SultanahmetIstanbul 34110 (Turkey): Midnight Express (1978) – This used to be the infamous Sultanahmet jail depicted in this biographical crime drama. More details here.

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10. Plaza Hotel (from $550 per night), 768 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019 (USA): Crocodile Dundee (1986) – What could be better than washing your backside in the same bidet that Mick Dundee (presumably) washed his posterior in? Well sadly that can’t be done here as the facilities don’t have bidets! The interior scenes were shot in the studio but you could still pretend and shout it from the window down to pedestrians on the street below!  More details here.

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BTM Top 10……Filming Location Trips For 2013

Having already covered most of the filming locations I ever wanted to do, its getting harder and harder to add to the pile, so this list is not ’13 Filming Location Trips For 2013′ but instead will be known as a BTM Top…… list instead.

Thank god these end-of-year entries is titled ‘Filming Location Trips’ as that means I can include music video locations as well as film ones to bulk out the list a bit!! What chance it being just a BTM Top……5 list next year!!

This years list may lack the oomph of past years but there were still a few notable nuggets covered in the last 12 months. Click on the links below to see more.

1. Skyfall (Click here)

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2. Mission: Impossible III (Click here)

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3. Empire Of The Sun (Click here)

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4. The Toxic Avenger Part II (Click here)

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5. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Click here)

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6. Quantum Of Solace (Click here)

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7. The Wolverine (Click here)

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8. Lost In Translation (Click here)

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9. Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness (Click here)

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10. Muse – Panic Station (Click here)

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Other 2013 locations for the films listed below can be found here

Moonraker; The Green Zone; Love Actually; Basic Instinct 2; The Bourne Ultimatum; The Tailor of Panama and Kaiser Chiefs ‘Man On Mars’.