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Solo: A Star Wars Story Has Lots to Show, Nothing to Say

Last year, George R.R. Martin – the author of A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels that have been adapted at HBO – said that of the several Game of Thrones spin-off ideas in development, not even one touched upon the period immediately prior to the current saga. “There would be no surprises or revelations left in such a show, just the acting out of conflicts whose resolutions you already know,” he added. Instead, Martin wants them to show parts of his universe that haven’t already been talked about.

On the other hand, the powers that-be at Lucasfilm – under Disney’s ownership – are more than happy to take the safer route and expand on events and characters we already know about, as it guarantees a financial windfall by drawing most if not all existing fans of the franchise. Partly thanks to Harrison Ford, Han Solo is one of the most famous characters in pop culture, let alone Star Wars. Telling his origin story, as the new standalone Star Wars film – Solo, out May 25 worldwide – does, is the definition of low-hanging fruit.

What makes that problem worse is that even before it starts, the big pieces of the puzzle are already in place. Owing to the original trilogy – now retroactively titled Episode IV, V and VI – that ran from 1977-1983, we know Han will meet Chewbacca, the two will then encounter Lando Calrissian, from whom Han will win the Millennium Falcon in a bet, with which he’ll make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. That’s not a lot of room to create a meaningful story – written by Star Wars veteran Lawrence Kasdan and his son Jonathan – in addition to the fact there’s no stakes for our heroes.

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On top of that, Solo: A Star Wars Story is also dealing with a limited arc for a young Han, since he has to end up as the cocky and overpromising guy Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi meet in the Mos Eisley cantina. And that means the film can’t attribute qualities to him that you wouldn’t normally associate with him, even though he’s about a decade younger in this than in the original trilogy.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t try; Solo has moments where it pokes fun at his ill-advised bravado, but it’s still filling in the portrait of a guy who thinks he can do everything himself. Solo: A Star Wars Story begins by introducing the pair of Han (Alden Ehrenreich, from Hail, Caesar!) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, from Game of Thrones) on their homeworld of Corellia, who are in love and languishing in slum-like conditions. Years later, Han enlists in the Imperial forces, meets a criminal of dubious morals named Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson, from War for the Planet of the Apes), and then takes on a job for crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, from Avengers: Infinity War).

That sets Solo in motion and brings other characters into the picture. What unfolds from there is a part heist and part Western film, as Han and Co. go about achieving their mission – it involves stealing something ultra-valuable and getting it somewhere else as quickly as possible – while making new friends and new enemies along the way. The former involves Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), the captain and original owner of the Millennium Falcon, and his first mate, a hilarious and outspoken droid called L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, from Fleabag).

There are bit part roles for Westworld’s Thandie Newton and director Jon Favreau (Iron Man) as well.

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley/Lucasfilm Like the previous standalone chapter Rogue One, there’s nothing about the Jedi and lightsabers here, and even less about the Empire or the Force.

Similarly, all the new characters Solo: A Star Wars Story introduces are ultimately dispensable too, since none of them can show up in later entries. But unlike Rogue One, the film, seemingly with an eye on potential sequels – Ehrenreich has a three-picture deal in his contract – creates subplots that aren’t tied up properly by the end. It’s here that Solo even connects to the prequel trilogy from 1999-2005.

Unfortunately, there’s little justification for a second visit, when the first is rather unimaginative. Save for a few scattered moments, the film doesn’t grab you until an hour in. And though it’s got the makings of some unique action set-pieces, they aren’t handled in a way that would make them memorable.

Even when the Millennium Falcon is being attacked by TIE fighters late-game, there’s no sense of the excitement that was apparent in J.J. Abrams’ 2015 soft reboot The Force Awakens, and Rian Johnson’s 2017 follow-up The Last Jedi. Part of this stems from the botched handling of the production.

The original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie), were fired over four months into filming, after clashing with Lucasfilm execs including Kasdan over their directorial approach. They thought they were hired to bring their comedic flavour to Star Wars, but their heavy improvisational technique – the duo sometimes shot a dozen takes that weren’t always in line with what the script said – didn’t sit well with Kasdan, and they were replaced by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), who’s seen as a safe choice. It’s a testament to Howard’s experience that he not only managed to keep the film on track for its scheduled release, but that Solo: A Star Wars Story feels cohesive despite being the product of two entirely different visions: according to a behind-the-scenes report, 70 percent of the finished film is Howard’s, with the rest being the work of Lord and Miller.

But because Howard was hired last minute to simply bring the script to life, the film lacks an authoritative touch and ends up feeling like a by-the-numbers bland heist film.

Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra in Solo: A Star Wars Story
Photo Credit: Lucasfilm Moreover, less than six months after Star Wars took some of its boldest steps courtesy Johnson – including a welcome dressing down of why trigger-happy hotshots can cause more harm than good – Solo is happy to play it easy.

A few unexpected twists towards the end, and the work of its top-notch cast – Waller-Bridge is excellent and powers some of the film’s best moments, Glover is instantly charismatic and a scene-stealer as the trailers promised, and Clarke lands the note she’s asked to play, that of an intriguing yet enigmatic female lead – simply aren’t enough. Despite how damning the preceding paragraphs may sound, Solo isn’t a bad movie per se. It’s just fine.

The film will help buff up the encyclopaedia pages in a certain period, give Disney another chance to sell more Star Wars merchandise, and lays the groundwork for sequels leading up to Episode IV – A New Hope (“Star Wars” for the purists.) But it never takes off in a fashion that would please its titular hero – John Williams’ iconic soundtrack is also on a leash for the longest time, unfortunately – mainly because it’s too predictable to make any wild manoeuvres. We’ll never know what Lord and Miller would’ve done with Solo: A Star Wars Story, even as the underlying story would’ve been the same. It’s also possible their version would have been horrible, and that Lucasfilm was right in removing them before it was too late.

But if Star Wars is going to keep swinging the pendulum back even as its world expands – reports abound of more standalone chapters with Obi-Wan and others, alongside all-new stories from Johnson, Favreau, and Game of Thrones creators – the least it can do is not be borderline cynical about it.

5 garden trends from Chelsea Flower Show you’re going to want to try at home

The Chelsea Flower Show, with its array of stunning gardens and sculptures, can often seem incompatible in your average back garden.
However gardening expert Ambra Edwards has revealed five key trends from this year’s show that are easy to replicate at home.

1. Shrubs

Making a huge comeback this year, shrubs are a welcome addition to any garden. Why?

They offer strong form and durability, and are a practical choice as they don’t require a lot of expert knowledge.

“Especially intriguing at the Chelsea Flower Show was a miniature form of eucalyptus,” says Ambra. “With super-fine silver leaves – it’s certain to be a winner.”

2. Sculpture There are plenty of interesting sculptures as this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, with garden designers becoming more and more inventive with their choice of ornament.

“Look at how designers use objects in relation to planting, and in terms of material and scale,” recommends Ambra. “You need to establish a diaglogue between the object and its setting, and you can look well beyond the traditional urn or statue!”


3. Rhododendrons

Hooray for Rhododendorn fans, they’re back! In fact, Chris Beardshaw’s winning Morgan Stanley NSPCC garden features two whopping ones.

But why are they so great?

“They’re good for bold colour, and year-round structure,” says Ambra. “But remember, they need acid soil to thrive.”
Credit: RHS Chelsea


Exotic plants Exotic and sub-tropical plants are back too, Ambra says, which are great for sheltered gardens or courtyards, and brightening up small spaces.

“Remember that some of these will need protection during the winter,” she warns. “If in doubt, go for hardy plants like ferns and Fatsia japonica with big, architectural leaves.”

5. Block planting

Lots of this year’s Chelsea gardens feature block plantings of the same plant, instead of more complicated planting patterns which have been popular in the past. 5 garden trends from Chelsea Flower Show you’re going to want to try at home

“Block plantings are easier to maintain, in that all the plants are of equal vigour, and it’s easier to see the weeds,” Ambra says. “Purple is definitely this year’s popular colour too. Purple salvias or catmint make good companions to showier border plants.”


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Food Robots on the Menu of CMU-Sony Collaboration

Robot chef at EPCOT Center; credit: Sam Howzit, via Flickr May 22, 2018
Kayla Matthews Thanks to ongoing technical advancements, automation is becoming part of each link in the value chain, from production and shipping to retail.

Food robots are a good example because of the need for growers and harvesters, sanitary processing, and fast and efficient delivery. A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and Sony Corp. promises to advance the state of food robots.

Why does this partnership make sense?

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has one of the nation’s leading robotics programs. Sony’s partnership with CMU will use the latter’s School of Computer Science in Pittsburgh as its headquarters.

This will allow for access to and input from students and academics. Dr. Hiroaki Kitano, president and CEO of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, will be the project’s lead.

“Sony has a longstanding relationship with CMU,” said Toshimoto Mitomo, director of intellectual property and business strategy, Business Development Platform, at Sony. “When looking to enter the AI and robotics field, we saw a potential opportunity to work more closely with CMU, which is recognized as one of the world’s top universities in this subject area.”

Sony’s AIBO robot dog at CES 2018. Credit: Rochelle Winters Sony will reportedly use some technology originally developed for its Aibo robot dog.

A hunger for automation

In March, pasta company Artisola commissioned a survey to learn about Americans’ cooking habits. It learned that only 27% of respondents cook daily.

Other studies from 2015 to 2016 found that Americans spent more on eating and drinking outside the home than on groceries. These statistic suggest that people would prefer not to cook and spend a substantial portion of their incomes avoiding it. Robots that whip up cuisine inside the home could help people save money and make healthy choices without dealing with the inconveniences of cooking themselves. Moreover, some people would love to cook but can’t because of disabilities that interfere with things like motor control and balance.

Robots could provide targeted assistance that helps those people have more freedom for meal planning. It could also become easier for people to adhere to eating preferences by not consuming gluten or animal products, for example. Robots could help with that, either by preparing food directly in people’s kitchens or by delivering ready-to-eat meals to them.

The global food robotics market will experience a compound annual growth rate of 12.5% from 2017 to 2022 to reach £2.1 billion, predicts Meticulous Research.

Food robots prep for commercial kitchens

In the commercial realm, food-cooking robots could maintain accuracy while prioritizing maximum productivity, since they don’t have to take breaks. Scalability could become simpler, too, since a robot’s programming facilitates temporarily ramping up production or dialing it back. At least initially, the partnership between CMU and Japan-based Sony will research ways to enhance methods of food preparation and delivery.

The researchers will kick off their efforts by using existing robots and determining ways to improve them for the food sector. During the later stages of the work, there are plans to create food robots specifically for culinary tasks, as well as those that can operate in confined spaces such as small kitchens. Recent examples of at least partially automated eateries include Zume Pizza, 6d bytes, and Spyce, not to mention major fast-food chains, which are actively investigating food robots.

Many challenges to overcome for food handling

There are still numerous obstacles to figure out when it comes to making any robot, note robotics industry experts.

For example, food robots need to be able to safely handle ingredients that are fragile and awkwardly shaped, such as eggs and whole pineapples. Different types of grippers are designed to handle foods without dropping them, all while meeting minimum sanitation standards. Not only must food robots be able to handle a variety of ingredients, but household and restaurant models must be efficient and safe to operate around humans.

The specialists from Sony and CMU will have to delve into human-machine interaction. The aim is for the humans and robots to work toward a common objective without getting in each other’s way. The two organizations involved in this robotics project reportedly chose the food sector because of the ease of eventually applying their findings to other industries.

The ability to perform delicate tasks is also desirable in manufacturing, for instance. Fortunately, ingredient technologies such as manipulators and machine vision have advanced, allowing for more dexterous and smarter food robots.

Food Robots on the Menu of CMU-Sony Collaboration

June 18-19, 2018 — Boston, MA Join other executives and professionals striving to harness innovative technology into modern manufacturing organizations.

Potential projects Beyond food robots, Sony has committed to supporting CMU through its Seed Acceleration Program, the brand’s business-incubation arm. Furthermore, CMU will get funding through the Sony Innovation Fund, which provides venture capital to corporations.

Those contributions could enable the university to move forward with other projects, regardless of whether Sony teams up with it.

Food Robots on the Menu of CMU-Sony Collaboration

About the author:

Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and robotics writer whose work has appeared on Vice, VentureBeat, RoboticsTomorrow, and Robotiq’s blog.

To read more posts from Kayla, visit her blog Productivity Bytes.=

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