The Non-Believer and the Church

St Mary’s Church, Thirsk

I am currently on a mini-break with my wife to East Yorkshire, having visited Beverley today and staying in the quaint little village of South Dalton tonight. It has been a lazy, relaxing day, mostly involving moving from coffee shop to pub, with a trip to the bookshop in between. In short, a perfect way to while away an misty winter’s day.

One of the attractions of Beverley, for those who have not visited, includes two churches; the imposing Beverley Minster, and the smaller but no less impressive St Mary’s Church. Unfortunately, the Minster was closed, apparently for filming of some secret TV or movie project, so we could not go inside, but we were able to wander around the outside, while St Mary’s was still open for visitors. Further, on the drive into South Dalton we spotted the impressive spire of the local church and have planned to visit tomorrow after breakfast.

Visiting (at least in part) three churches in two days has got me thinking a little about why I find churches so interesting. I know my wife finds it unusual, as I am not a believer in any religion, and yet when we are travelling and the place we are visiting includes a church, I will often make a point to visit. My wife, being the wonderful person that she is, trudges along after me to view the stained glass and altars and pipe organs, but more often than not she asks me why I like to visit them. Today was no exception.

As I have thought about this more, I realise the church building, more so than the church as an organisation, plays a part in my view of the world. In my debut novel Free City, a church building and a priest play important roles in the story development, and I have to admit until today I have given little thought as to why I chose to do this in the story. It just seemed right at the time. Churches and those who frequent them are a part of my life, even though I do not share the beliefs which drive them, and I thought it might be interesting to explore a little more of why that remains so.

Part of my childhood

Stained glass window in St Mary’s Church, Beverley

It is fair to say I was raised a Catholic. I was baptised as a baby, took communion, served as an altar boy for several years, and attended three Catholic schools and colleges from the ages of 4-18. With my mum and brother, I would attend mass every Sunday morning, as well as holy days such as Good Friday and Christmas Eve, at St Mary’s Church in Rothwell, Leeds (I know, there are a lot of St Mary’s in this post). This is the church my mum still attends, and served as the inspiration for Mary Magdalen Church in my book Free City. In fact, I would hope anyone who has read the book and visits the church would find them strikingly similar.

I know I believed in the idea of god and christianity as a child. I can remember listening to the readings and parables and believing them to be true, and I was sure when someone died they would find themselves in heaven (I never found the idea of hell convincing, I think because I always wanted to see the good in people). The church, as institution and as building, was a part of my childhood, and I am fortunate to say my childhood was a happy one.

I lost my faith as a teenager. It began I am sure as typical teenage rebellion, no longer wanting to spend my Sunday morning in church, but where some people will eventually regain their belief, for me it weakened more and more, until at some point in my late teens it was lost altogether. You might be expecting this to be a source of sadness for me, especially as I have described a happy childhood with the church an integral part of it. But this could not be further from the truth. Losing my faith is not something I am either sad or bitter about. I can look back fondly on my childhood, even the time I was forced to perform in the church pantomime with a real and very smelly mink stole around my neck, while at the same time being a well adjusted adult with no faith at all.

I suspect then, that part of my love of church buildings is nostalgia, remembering the happy childhood I had, and finding happy memories even in church buildings I have only visited as an adult.

Part of our heritage

The family chapel at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire

There can be no denying the influence the church as an institution has had on European culture. From the language we use, to the calendar we follow, the church through the centuries has had a significant impact upon European life. Even just a hundred years ago, the church would form the focal point of a person’s life, and while this is not necessarily so for many people today, the influence, for good and for ill, still reverberates.

Personally, I do not think you can begin to understand the world we have today without considering the church. Take a simple example such as shops opening on a Sunday. In the UK, supermarkets of a certain size can only open a maximum of six hours on a Sunday, a through back to a more religious time when most places would shut entirely. If I am honest, I quite like the idea of Sunday trading times. I can see the creep of people working more and more hours, and I am a firm believer we should do all we can to preserve at least one day a week when most of the population can have a day of to spend with family and friends.

So when I visit a church, yes I am looking at the building and the furnishings, but I am also seeing a part of our cultural history which continues to have a significant impact on the world today. Visit a castle or stately home and you are learning about a particular time in history. If you think about it a little more, you might consider how those buildings and the people who lived in them shape the world today, and I believe a church building can be treated much the same.

Art and architecture

A ceiling fresco of the former chapel at Cusworth Hall, Doncaster

Church buildings are often beautiful. Whether they are gothic, neoclassical or even modernist offerings, church designs and decoration can be some of the most magnificent buildings you can visit.

As you will probably see from the pictures I have included in this post, I am drawn towards older churches, with arches, stained glass and pillars making what is for me the typical church design.

Clearly, access to money has been a deciding factor in how elaborate or not a church is. In years gone by people would give significant percentages of their income to the church, and it was used in part to build and decorate the buildings we see today. Money can be less forthcoming today, and this can be reflected in the church decor. The church my mum attends was built in the 1960s, and while it has maintained the classic church layout of nave and chancel, it is rather simply furnished, with white walls, the twelve stations of the cross, and a wooden altar piece. It has a certain simplistic beauty to it, but I must admit it is the bombastic and gaudy church which more readily draws my eye. St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin is a particularly good example of this, with elaborate artworks, memorials and statues galore.

There is something to be said for the more simplistic design however, with Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik, Iceland being a particularly surprising interior. From the outside, the church is architecturally striking, yet inside it is rather plainly decorated, almost to the point it is not decorated at all.

And I think this might be another part of what I love about exploring churches. While I love seeing buildings which are richly decorated, you are sometimes surprised by the simplicity of a interior, and that is OK too.

Places of calm and relaxation

Ruins of Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds

I am a fan of quiet and calm places. Give me a choice between a library and a concert, and I will choose the library every time. That is not to say I cannot visit places which are loud and bustling, but I much prefer the calm and serene if given a choice.

Most churches, at least those following Catholic and Anglican traditions, are places which are calm and quiet. People instinctively whisper in a church, I find myself altering my walk to make as little noise as possible, and if you were to make a loud noise, whether accidentally or not, you will quickly find yourself on the wrong end of a telling off.

Even when I visit as a tourist, I find the quiet calming. I appreciate some people find the atmosphere overbearing, even intimidating, but for me it is quite the opposite, and wandering amongst the pews is a form of meditation for me which I can find in few other venues.

A church-filled future

Churches are never going to be a space which everyone feels comfortable within, and even the most open and welcoming parish can be a place of dread for some. For me, despite not believing in anything written in the texts or spoken at the lectern, I still find them an interesting and calming place to visit, and providing I can remain in my wife’s good books, they shall be places I will continue to visit long into the future.

What’s in a name? Meat-free meat and the need for an alternative.

I should begin by saying I am not a vegetarian or vegan. I am not attempting Veganuary this year. I continue to eat meat.

I have done my best to cut down on meat where I can. Eating red meat is a rarity, and even some dishes I used to eat with chicken are now meatless. I have done this, partly as I am trying to lose weight and choose healthier options, partly because I am concerned about the impact animal rearing is having on the environment. You might say I am a reductarian, someone trying to cut down on meat, but personally I think the label is a little silly so you will never hear my call myself it outside this blog post.

Despite not being vegetarian or vegan myself, I have been thinking recently about meat substitute products. For some people, cutting meat out of their diet means simply removing it and replacing meat with vegetarian alternatives such as beans and tofu. I am fairly sure if I ever became vegetarian I would not be able to do this entirely. I do like the taste and texture and smell of meat (and dairy for that matter) so for me to become a vegetarian, I would need to include meat and dairy substitutes in my diet.

I am sure you will have seen some of the current options available, with Quorn and Linda McCartney dominating the options in my local supermarket meat substitute aisle, while soy, hazelnut and oak milk are the options of choice for replacing cow’s milk.

But already, we have come across the problem I have been thinking about more and more. We define these animal-free products on their similarity or otherwise to animal products, rather than products in their own right. This is further complicated by EU rules that require only products made with animal milk to be labelled as such. Soy and hazelnut and oat (milk) are often labelled as simply drinks (or as the article linked to suggests, mylk). In everyday parlance, and when my wife orders a coffee with soy drink (!!) we continue to say ‘soy milk’, but I have been wondering if it is not time to develop new names entirely. Yes these products are often used to replace animal products, but they can be seen as unique products in their own right.

So, I have decided to have a good at creating alternative names for meat and dairy substitutes (concentrating on milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt). I am aware I am not the first person to try and name meat and dairy substitutes, and I am under no illusions that my ideas will be readily taken up as the accepted naming. Rather, this is a chance for me to think a little about how we use language to describe the world around us, and what to do when we have a concept which does not come with a ready formed name.

Naming Criteria

Before we consider the name options I have come up with, we need to think about what we need from the name to increase the likelihood it is actually used by people.

Firstly it needs to be pronounceable by people who speak English (of course throughout this post I am considering only English as it is the only language I can speak). There is no point creating a complex word with click consonants and the like, as English speakers will struggle to even say the word. Similarly, it needs to read well. It can be tempting when creating a new word to use unusual letters and letter combinations, Xs and Zs for example, but the words created are clearly artificial and not what I am trying to achieve in creating a new name for animal-free foods.

Secondly, the word needs to be appetising, by which I mean it needs to be a word people would be able to associate with food. If I say meat you know exactly what I mean, and crucially for people who eat meat it will seem appetising. Consider if I used the word flesh or muscle tissue. Both flesh and muscle tissue are correct in that they describe what meat is, but they do not have the same mouthwatering property you get with a word like meat.

Finally, the word needs to be to a degree unique. English has a wonderful, and at times frustrating, habit of reusing words, either spelt or pronounced the same, for ideas of different meaning. The best example is the word set which can have a myriad of meanings, and the reader or listener needs to determine meaning from the context it appears in. However, as we are trying to create new words with a new meaning, it seems to me best that the words do not already have a meaning associated with them. Mylk is a clever way around marketing restrictions, but it is only clearly a different product when written down, not so much when it is spoken (although for some reason I cannot help but pronounce mylk with a generic Norse accent. Clearly Ikea has a lot to answer for).

So, with those criteria in mind, let us begin exploring some of the ideas I have contemplated.

Branding

One option for choosing a name for meat-free alternatives could be to use a popular brand associated with the products already available. Biro and Hoover are almost synonymous with ball point pen and vacuum cleaner, so it could be tempting to do this for meat substitutes as well. To a degree this has already occurred, the aforementioned Quorn commonly used to denote meat substitutes, and I wonder whether this trend will continue regardless of what I or others say. The problem with using a brand for any meat substitute lies in the variation which can occur between products, with Quorn focussing on mycoprotein, and bearing little resemblance to say a product made using tofu. I think this is a sufficient problem alone to discount it.

Content-based

Instead of using brands which already exist, another option would be to name the meat-free products according to what they contain. Milk substitutes are usually named for the nut of grain they are produced from, and this could be extended to meat substitutes as well.

Most meat substitutes are made from mycoprotein, as I mentioned above for Quorn. This is protein produced by fungi which is then formed into the final product. If we drop protein from the name, then our meat substitute could be named myco.

The issue I have with this is it still sounds clinical and artificial. It might be as I am a doctor, but whenever I hear myco, I automatically think of mycology and fungal infections, definitely not what you want to associate with food. Choosing a name based on the products contents might work for some options, but it is clearly not the best option available.

Anagrams

The next option I considered was the use of an anagram of the words we use for animal products. There are several options of anagram we can create from meat and milk and cheese and butter and yoghurt, and this has the advantage of retaining a link with the animal alternative.

Anagrams which seem to fit well with the criteria I have outlined above include;

Meat: etam, atem or tema (words such as team and tame of course having a meaning already)

Milk: kilm, limk or mlik

Cheese: seech or hees (there is not reason all the letters need to be used)

Butter: rube, tubet or terub

Yoghurt: hurg, turg or hoyur

I’ll admit, some of those anagrams are better than others. I do like the idea of kilm, while etam is not bad either. I am not sure about hurg or tubet though, it does not seem appetising to me.

Novel naming

The final option I have consider is to create a name from scratch*. This is obviously more challenging, especially to be compliant with my three criteria, but I have had a go anyway at coming up words (*not entirely created de novo I admit) which seem to fit for me.

Meat: Mami (basically a shortened version of umami, one of the five tastes commonly associated with cooked meat)

Milk: Cerea (a short form of cereal, the food I most commonly have milk with)

Cheese: Ched (probably does not need explaining, a short form of cheddar, my favourite cheese)

Butter: Pred (from spread, the most common way of using butter with bread)

Yoghurt: Illa (vanilla is probably the most common flavour of yoghurt eaten and a close association for me)

Despite having created these names, I am not sure any of them are perfect, although I am sure I could grow to accept cerea with my breakfast and illa for dessert. These names seem a little alien now, but then so do most words when we first learn them, and it is only with repeated use that they become natural and familiar.

Conclusion

As I said at the beginning, I am under no illusion that I am going to change the way people speak just from this blog post. Hopefully it will have given you a chance to think a little about our use of language, and if you have any ideas which you think better fit a particular product then I would love to hear about it in the comments. Until then, I am going to enjoy an etam burger with ched and preded bun, a glass of oat kilm on the side, and follow it up with a pot of illa for dessert.

The poorly dog bounces back

The festive period can bring a lot of things, food, parties, the occasional family argument. One thing which seems to happen more often than most, someone gets ill. This year it was the dog.

At nearly two years old, Darwin has had his fair share of trips to the vet; stomach upsets, an adventure with a chocolate bar, a limp which he was putting on. This Christmas was probably the most poorly we have seen him, and now it he is on the mend I thought it would be nice to share the good news.

It started on Christmas Eve. Darwin is a shared dog, and he was at my in-laws for Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. During his daily walk, he was roaming his usual haunts in the woods near my in-laws home. As usual there were other dogs around, as usual he was chasing them around having a great time. What exactly happened next is not clear, but it appears Darwin got into a little rough and tumble with another dog, before he disappeared into the bushes, probably following his nose to some hidden delight. When he returned to my father-in-law, his muzzle was cut and bloodied, and we later found more cuts above his eyelids and ears.

At first we thought he had been bitten, either by the other dog or something in the bushes, but as the days passed I am less and less certain of this. What I do know is his face was a mess, he had blood all over him (and the house), he was clearly irritated by his wounds. And the sores did not appear to clear up, it anything they began to spread. From a lively, bouncy, if anything overexcitable dog, Darwin was just a shadow of his former self, spending most of his time lying under the TV cabinet moping, his toy box neglected.

It was clear he needed to see the vet. It was less clear after seeing them what exactly was going on. Was it a bite? Probably not. A bacterial infection? Maybe, have some antibiotics. Could it be fungal? Not sure, come back after the weekend and we will take a blood test.

As it happened, it was probably a bacteria infection. Only a few days into the antibiotics, he was beginning to bounce again, he had more energy, he was happier. And then, as I was sat watching TV, I caught this:

It might seem like a small thing, chewing on his antler, but for Darwin it is his favourite pastime. His muzzle is still healing, and the fur will take time to grow back, but already we have our dog back, and it is a joy to see.

I do not make New Year’s resolutions…

I do not make New Year’s Resolutions. That is not to say I am against the idea behind resolutions. Self improvement is a laudable goal, whether it is losing weight, getting in shape or learning a new skill. My issue with resolutions is not the action itself, rather it is the need to set an arbitrary deadline to get started.

Of course New Year has a cultural significance for us, and it can psychologically seem like a good time to make changes. But if you are wanting to improve yourself in whatever way you choose, then the best time to start was yesterday, the second best time is today. Add this to January, a particularly depressing month already, and setting yourself goals which you might not quite achieve risks setting yourself up to fail.

No, I do not make New Year’s Resolutions.

That being said…

Towards the end of 2017, I began to have the idea which became Free City, and by the time it got to Christmas I had a chapter by chapter plot for the first book, along with a general idea of where the story would be going over the subsequent books.

While not making a resolution that year, I did decide I was going to set myself a challenge. Starting on the 1st January 2018, I was going to write something of my book everyday. It did not matter whether it was a couple of lines, or a whole chapter, all I had to do was put pen to paper each day.

I cannot say I achieved my goal everyday, life inevitably got in the way, but while I might not have written something everyday, I did achieve my ultimate aim of writing my first book. The first draft on paper was completed within a couple of months, the second draft was typed up a month or so later, and by the summer of 2018 I was read to start submitting my manuscript to publishers.

Finding Tree District Books was a bit of luck, but they accepted the book for publication, and in May this year Free City was out.

Since completing Free City, I have to admit my writing rate has slowed down. Partly this was promotional work, which takes time, partly this was life once more, but as I reflect now it is also a lack of direction in my writing. Since publication of Free City, I have drafted plots for three different books in detail, including the second book in the Arctic Crimson series, as well as the initial outlines for numerous other ideas. The reason I managed to get Free City completed was largely due to my focussed effort, and I think it is time to once again set myself to complete one idea.

So I have decided, while I still do not make New Year’s Resolutions, in 2020 I will once more set myself write something everyday on one of my works in progress, and who knows, by summer next year I might well have a second book in the bag. All I need to do now is choose which one to write first.

The completed Star Wars: a review

I have been getting more and more excited about today for the last couple of months. From the moment the first trailer for the Rise of Skywalker was released, I have been itching to see the conclusion of the concluding trilogy. And tonight, after months of waiting, I have finally seen it!

***SPOILER WARNING: while I have tried my best not to give away anything from the plot of Rise of Skywalker, if you have not seen the film yet it will probably be best to give this review a miss…***

I have loved Star Wars for as long as I can remember. The original trilogy had concluded four years before I was born, and if I am honest I am not actually sure when I first watched them. I do know I had seen them by 1999 when the first film of the prequel trilogy, A Phantom Menace, was released.

Not quite a teenager, I found the prequel films just as exciting as the original films, in someways even more so as I was growing up with them as they were released for the first time. I know this is not a popular opinion amongst a faction of Star Wars fans, but I am not ashamed to admit I really enjoyed the prequels, even with their flaws. I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the six George Lucas films, and I have loved them every time I rewatch them.

So, when I heard Disney had acquired Lucasfilm and was preparing to release not only a sequel trilogy but also a raft of spinoffs and tie-ins, it is no exaggeration to say I was ecstatic. Four years and five films later, I still feel that buzz.

Now I appreciate the Disney films have been just as controversial, if not more so, than the prequel movies. Like marmite they seemed to be either loved or hated with little space in between. I am not such a blind fanatic that I cannot admit some of the newer films have not quite hit the mark, but on the whole I have loved them.

And so, on the 20th December, I have seen (for the first but definitely not the last time) the final film of the Skywalker saga. Given the trilogy of trilogies has finally come to an end, I felt it would be a good time for me to reflect on the films and offer my own review of what has been in important part of my cultural life.

As with all of my reviews, it is important to know first what I am looking for in a good Star Wars film. This is a little challenging, as I am rating films based on criteria which come out of the films themselves, but I think I have distilled out some of what I am looking for when I watch Star Wars

  1. A fast paced plot, with just the occasional twist and turn
  2. Action, I suspect this might be obvious, both in space but also between people fighting hand to hand
  3. A believable hero, preferably with more than two dimensions
  4. An enthralling villain, both to draw out the hero’s strength but who can also standalone as an exciting character
  5. And finally a little bit of humour sprinkled in for good measure.

When I was deciding which order to review the films in, I was met with a dilemma many people have when it comes to watching them; do I review them in the order they were released, or the chronological order in the story? In the end, I settled on the order I prefer to watch the films, chronologically. There is something for me about order within a story which overcomes the problem of plot reveals when watching or reading prequels.

So, without further ado; A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The first movie to be released after the original trilogy was always going to have difficult shoes to fill. While it does not quite fill them entirely, I do think it makes a good go at it. The film does spend a fair amount of time filling in backstory, but when you are starting a tale with a well known end point, it can take a little bit to get going. Where The Phantom Menace does shine for me is in the hero and villain, Padme Amidala played by Natalie Portman and Senator Palpatine played by Ian McDiarmid. They might not be the obvious choices for the main hero and villain, but I see them as the focus of the movie, even if Portman’s character has no idea she is the hero, and less idea McDiarmid’s is the villain.

While it struggles at points with excessive explanation of trivial points, on the whole I think The Phantom Menace is a success.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3/5

Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Let’s begin with the positives first. Attack of the Clones has plenty of action, albeit it with more CGI than you could want in a lifetime. If you are looking for a film with sword fights and space battles, then Attack of the Clones is definitely one for you. Where the film struggles in particular is in the hero/villain, Anakin Skywalker played by Hayden Christensen. I am well aware of the extensive criticism he has received for his portrayal of Anakin, and I must admit he is probably my least favourite character across all eleven films. The change from innocent child to moody teen to homicidal maniac seems to happen far too quickly. Yes his mother is murdered, a horror for anyone to experience, but even so the transformation appears too jerky and disjointed.

To be fair to Christensen, he had what was probably an impossible task. In just two movies, he had to transform an innocent boy into a figure of pure evil. Unfortunately for me he failed, and it is a major negative against what otherwise is an OK film.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 2.5/5

Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It’s an unusual situation to be watching a film where the ending is known, at least in the broadest terms. I am sure it is a challenge for the film makers to get the story to where it needs to end, while at the same time keeping it interesting for the audience and throwing in a few surprises along the way. Revenge of the Sith just about manages to walk that tightrope. The surprises are small (hello Chewie) but enough to keep the film interesting. It also nicely links with the start of Episode IV.

For me, the biggest problem with Revenge of the Sith is the sudden reveal of the bad guy to the Jedi. It felt forced, as if they were struggling for time, and the Jedi seem to accept far too readily that the person they have thought to be somewhat of an ally is actually the evil mastermind behind everything wrong in the galaxy.

That being said, I am sure I am not alone in thinking Revenge of the Sith is the best of the prequel films.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3.5/5

Special Mention – Solo: A Star Wars Story

So know we come to the first of the spin off films (chronologically) charting the early career of Han Solo. There was a lot of hype for this movie, although personally Han Solo was not high on my list of characters I wanted to see appear in a standalone movie.

In the end, I was neither impressed nor disappointed. Some of the characters were interesting, the casting was good, and who doesn’t love a droid fighting for their kind’s liberation. But where Solo fell short for me was in the villains, specifically who the villain was at any given moment. I don’t mind a twist where the good guy is revealed actually to be bad, but in Solo it seems characters change allegiance more than they change their outfits, and it just did not seem believable.

Solo is an enjoyable space romp, but a little forgettable at the same time

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 2/5

Special Mention 2 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Building an entire film around a minor part of an already existing story might seem a challenge, but Rogue One does just this in spectacular style. The first Star Wars film began with the Princess Leia snuggling stolen Death Star plans, and Rogue One tells the story of how they were stolen in the first place. Maybe it is the simple story, steal plans, or great casting, or both, but Rogue One comes close to being my favourite Star Wars film. There is action in buckets, a hero and villain who seem to genuinely despise each other, and enough humour to break up some of the more tense moments.

If I have any criticism, it is the appearance of Darth Vader in the film. It seems to be done purely because they could, and the whole film could have worked just as well with their own cast of characters.

This minor criticism aside, the film is brilliant and if you only have time to watch one film on this list, you can do worse than Rogue One.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4.5/5

Episode IV: Star Wars, A New Hope

I would imagine this was the first film in the series I watched, and it is of course the quintessential Star Wars film. Introducing possible the best villain in cinema history in Darth Vader, the film manages to introduce what was an unknown story to an audience while keeping it fast paced and interesting. It also does something daring, giving you a likeable, albeit mysterious hero in Obi Wan Kenobi who is then unceremoniously killed off early in the film.

One area I think Episode IV is lacking is in humour, relying almost entirely on Han Solo to provide the comedy moments. This is rectified in the latter films, to the point it grates a little in Episode IV.

If you are wanting to get into Star Wars for the first time and have at least some idea of what is going on, A New Hope is going to be a good choice.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3.5/5

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Take a poll of Star Wars fans’ favourite film, and The Empire Strikes Back is likely to come out on top, and it is easy to see why. It has action, it has humour, it has a great plot twist, and the heroes and villains are shown with both power and flaws in equal measure. And to finish a film with the heroes in such dire straights is a brave move, leaving the viewer desperate for more.

If I’m being honest, I don’t wax lyrical as much about Empire as many fans do, I find the scenes at the Bespin Cloud City tedious and infuriating, but the film also includes what is probably my favourite battle scene, the battle of Hoth.

As I write this review I am struggling to give a logical reason why Empire is not my runaway favourite, as it does seem to have everything. I guess when it comes down to it, no matter how robust your grading criteria, whether you love something or not can depend just as much on a gut feeling than anything else, and this is certainly the case for me and Empire.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4/5

Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

I have to admit, I am a sucker for a story with an underdog coming from behind, winning an unlikely victory and ending with a happily ever after. After the perilous ending from Empire, Return of the Jedi perfectly plays on my sentimental side to see the heroes triumph and the erstwhile bad guy being redeemed. The action is dramatic, the humour perfectly timed, and who does not love themselves an Ewok. While this may be controversial, I think I prefer Return of the Jedi to the traditional fan favourite of Empire.

It has it’s flaws of course, the scene with Yoda seemed to have been included for no other reason than they could not think what to do with his character, but these problems are minor and so little to distract from what is otherwise a great film.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4.5/5

Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Like many people, I was ecstatic at the prospect of a new Star Wars film. The trailers looked great, the new characters seemed to fit. I bought my tickets well in advance and when the music struck up I was once more thrown into a fantastical world of my youth.

I know this is not a popular opinion, but I really enjoyed Force Awakens. Yes the plot is very similar to the original trilogy, but there were enough differences to keep my entertained. In Kylo Ren we were given a bad guy who, while not quite meeting the high standards set by Darth Vader, is still believable and intriguing, and I love we are taken along the line of Finn being the undiscovered Jedi, only for it to be revealed at the crucial moment that it is in fact Rey.

And speaking of Rey, I think she is possibly my favourite character in the entire franchise. Despite being seemingly abandoned by her family and living a life little better than a slave, she still manages to maintain a genuine optimism which you cannot help but warm to. I think for me this is sealed when she sees a forest covered planet for the first time and remarks she did not think there was so much green in the universe. Rey is somehow innocent and yet head-sure and resourceful at the same time, and she really makes the three sequel movies for me.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4/5

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Given the cliffhanger The Force Awaken’s ends on, I was excited to see what would happen with the story in the Last Jedi. I personally was not disappointed. I loved watching Rey and Luke Skywalker’s relationship develop, and it was great to see Luke show a little of his humorous side show through. And when it comes to space battles and action scenes, The Last Jedi has some incredible visual moments. Watching a space ship jump to hyperspace through Snoke’s ship was a particular highlight.

The biggest problem for me was the way Snoke was dealt with. Unlike some people, it was not necessarily that he was killed off before he had really been developed as a character, that had happened before to Obi Wan Kenobi after all. Rather, what bugs me about Snoke’s death is how easily he is fooled by Kylo Ren. He is supposed to be a powerful being, and yet a simple trick of the hand is his undoing.

Overall, despite the flaws I enjoyed The Last Jedi, and feel on the whole the positives outweigh the problems.

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 3.5/5

Episode IV: The Rise of Skywalker

***SECOND SPOILER WARNING: I have tried my best to keep things vague, but if you haven’t seen the film yet I would really stop reading now***

I think it is fair to say I was buzzing when I finally sat down in K22 of the IMAX cinema to watch Rise of Skywalker. I had loved the new films, probably more so than most Star Wars fans, and the promise of having my questions answered about some of the biggest secrets and to see how the story ends only served to build my excitement.

Personally, I was not disappointed. I loved Rise of Skywalker. It answered my questions, saw Rey rise to the ultimate challenge and triumph with style, and give more than a few nods and Easter eggs to keep this fans mouth agog throughout (all I will say is Anthony Daniels).

The action was brilliant, the villains terrifying and complex. There are seemingly desperate lows, but also inspiring highs. The cast are brilliant, the humour perfectly timed, and my sentimental side is well and truly satiated in the end.

While I am of course sad to see the end of the Skywalker saga, if you are looking to go out with a bang, for me The Rise of Skywalker does that and more. Time to find myself time to go and see it again I think…

Jamie’s Jedi Rating: 4.5/5