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Watching Skies: Star Wars, Spielberg and Us Paperback – 30 May 2018
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Mark O’Connell brings alive those wonderfully heady days when American cinema was young again – exploding with the fun, colour and imagination that illuminated our own frozen shores and fired the imaginations of children – and grown up children – everywhere. So take your mashed potato Devils Tower to the lost city of Tanis – via Krypton and, of course, a galaxy far, far away – and indulge in this fantastic personal account of one of the greatest chapters in movie history. An unmitigated delight. (MARK GATISS (SHERLOCK, DOCTOR WHO))
“Love the era of Jaws, Star Wars and Ghostbusters? This book is for you. Remember Look-In, CHiPS and the Why Don’t You gang sitting awkwardly on hay bales? This book is so for you.”
★★★★ (TOTAL FILM)
We rather liked Mark O’Connell’s Bond-fan memoir Catching Bullets. Watching Skies does much the same for the likes of Star Wars, Close Encounters and E.T. reminiscing about toys, videos, sticker album swaps and so on. (SFX)
I thought I was the only person obsessed with every single thing written in this book, but fortunately for the rest of us Mark O’Connell is too. This is the ideal Christmas gift, even if you’re browsing at Easter. (MARK MILLAR (X MEN, KINGSMAN, MILLARWORLD))
“Wrapped around a beautifully evocative cover, reminiscent of many Close Encounters of the Third Kind promotional images, O’Connell is deft with his words, bringing back old memories in technicolour that remind us (those of us old enough to remember anyway) just what it was that got us so invested, especially British kids raised on a diet of Doctor Who and ‘60s re-runs… There’s never been a more perfect storm in pop culture, and O’Connell encapsulates this beautifully in a book that is a love letter to the era, and a reminder of just how lucky we were to have lived through it. ”
“It’s a wonderful rallying point for the Star Wars generation, a book dripping with nostalgia for a genuine golden age of movies. And Superman IV.” (SFX)
“Watching Skies is a book full of joy, admiration and respect. It manages to both be an insightful, fascinating analysis of one of the most interesting points in American cinema and culture of the 20th century while at the same time feeling at times almost like a personalised diary, a stroll through the life and memories of a burgeoning cinephile and geek. For anyone who grew up in this era, with all its unique quirks (particularly as a Brit) and trends, Watching Skies will feel like you’ve been transported back to the era of Spandau Ballet, the Test Card Girl shutting you down at night, and E.T phoning home. Embrace it.”
★★★★ (SET THE TAPE)
“O’Connell brings readers to a prequel… a prelude of enviable and commendable prose typifying the importance the films of Lucas and Spielberg held on a generation… 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.” (WE ARE CULT)
“Mark O’Connell – whose first book, Catching Bullets, described his life as a James Bond superfan – revisits the other films and stories that so obsessed him during his childhood… tracing their impact not just on himself but on a whole generation of space-lovers and cinema-goers” (RADIO TIMES)
“This book is a finely researched and highly informative examination of Spielberg, Lucas and their associated projects. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Poltergeist, and despite film legend to the contrary, O’ Connell puts forward a very convincing argument that the film is as much Tobe Hooper’s as it is Spielberg’s… Balancing the biography and film criticism with ease, Watching Skies is a warm, witty and insightful love letter to all the lonely imaginative kids out there who brought the Forest Moon of Endor to life in their back gardens; built a lightsaber out of tape and toilet rolls, and looked up at the moon hoping to catch a glimpse of Elliot and E.T riding a flying BMX into the night.”
5/5 (GEEK SYNDICATE)
About the Author
Mark O’Connell is a writer and the author of Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan (Splendid Books, 2012). The book was shortlisted for the 2013 Polari First Book Prize, and has led to him becoming a pop culture pundit for many media outlets across the globe. As a comedy writer, he has written for a range of actors and performers, Fringe productions and sketch shows. He has also won the Jerwood Film Prize, one-tenth of a BAFTA, the Lloyds Bank Film Challenge, praise from the Coen Brothers, and a Five Star album from a local radio phone-in he has still yet to receive.
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Watching Skies is an enjoyable heart-warming nostalgia ride, in which Mark reminds us of the times of petrol garage VHS rentals (and the dreaded 1 single copy of a classic movie to wait for days or weeks to rent), small plastic action figures that took all manner of battering (and occasional swallowing from dogs, vacuum cleaners and school kids alike) and the heady days of (generally) standalone, enjoyable, fun Hollywood blockbusters.
Whilst not quite as structured or tightly edited as Catching Bullets, which had a very clear through line following all the Bond films in Mark’s order of viewing, this piece starts out following a bunch of 70s and 80s classics, but slightly jumps around.
It has a chapter on a bunch of classic Hollywood films of the 70s and 80s (Superman, Star Wars, Close Encounters, Ghostbusters etc), and some fun stories of how Mark watched them or became aware of them (or the toys/games that surrounded them) as a child (and occasionally interrupted by adult Mark’s American road trip). Sometimes these chapters felt a little too baggy, especially when the conversation often became about ‘strong women’ in the films/film industry which is such a hot topic at the moment, it felt a bit shoe-horned in and out of place, which took away from sense of fun and lightness.
Towards the end of the book we get less of the witty observational breakdown of classic 70s and 80s Hollywood fan favourite movies, and it becomes more about Mark’s honeymoon trip to Martha’s Vineyard, a breakdown of (some of) the new Star Wars films and photo ops at Lucasfilm offices. Enjoyable, but not very relatable and seemed a bit bolted on. I found myself enjoying and relating to the earlier parts of the book, the joy of childhood Star Wars toys (and the trauma when they would be lost or damaged), settling into cinema seats covered in cigarette ash and chocolate stains, or desperately trying to convince a parent that renting a 18 certificate violent action shoot-em-up on VHS would be absolutely fine for the psyche of a 9 year old…
Featuring less of the caustic wit of the Bond fan in Catching Bullets, this is a warmer, concoction but with a slight sense of the familiar trod path. The book is a hot chocolate after a cold day playing in the snow. But the warm comfortable cardigan is a bit looser this time around, a bit more stretched and the occasional hint of wear and tear in the elbows if one looks too closely.
Watching Skies is well worth your time and I read it very quickly. It’s an enjoyable and easy read for any 70s and 80s film fan, and a good companion to Catching Bullets. I wonder if a third Mark adventure will be bigger and more extravagant? His Spy who Loved me or Goldfinger? Or will he reboot the childhood nostalgia themes for a Casino Royale style back to basics shake up? Time will tell, and I for one will be interested in which direction it goes.
Offten funny, warm, interesting and enjoyable.
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