Tag Archives: star wars

The Awakening

You didn’t beat me. Do you hear that, Internet?! I’ve won. I have seen “The Force Awakens” without you spoiling anything about it that wasn’t in the very first teaser trailer.

Yes, I’m gloating. I’m entitled, don’t you think? You are an immense global machine with far more funding and manpower than I. You marshaled hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of your little minions to seek out information about the movie and put it out there, releasing it into the atmosphere and the water supply so that it was simply impossible for anybody to not already know that Bobo Barabas dies at the hands of Jif Orino and that the Gonologues were a faction of the Grey Flight all along.

All of which are things I totally made up just now, because I truly have no idea what happens in this movie. I don’t know the names of any of the new characters, or even which side they’re on!

Yes, you once tricked me into seeing photos of Kim Kardashian’s bare ass, the ones that were just a ripoff of a much more famous photo series, despite my active desire to know as little about this person as possible. But that was a costly victory, my friend, because I learned from the experience. I learned that long before “Star Wars” spoilers would be in play, I needed to go into Tweetdeck’s settings and disable all images.

Are Han and Leia still a couple? I don’t know. Are the Stormtroopers good or bad? Are they still clones? Couldn’t tell you. Are Artoo and Threepio in it? I can’t even remember if they were in the teaser, because that thing was released so long ago and I haven’t watched it since.

I’m not saying it didn’t require discipline and effort. I’ve been building thicker and thicker walls around myself over the past several months. As the media machine slowly creaked to life, I created a new bookmarks folder just for “Star Wars”-related interviews, articles, and videos that I would only read after I’d seen “The Force Awakens.” A couple of weeks ago, I added a dozen new hotwords to my Twitter client’s “mute” list. Every day or two, another new one would occur to me. Ultimately, that list grew to twenty.

I stopped visiting pop culture fansites of all kinds. Then, I stopped visiting Reddit and Fark and other news aggregators. When I raised the threat level to Defcon 1, I even stopped looking at news sites of any kind.

And why?

Because it’s Star Wars. I argue that the Holy Trilogy episodes are, objectively, all great movies and beyond that, I acknowledge that they have a power to enchant and delight me to which that no other movies can even come close. Anything that you adored as a kid — a book, movie, TV show, comic book, even a computer and OS — whose gravity well affected your trajectory through childhood and, indeed, through life, will always have a special place in your heart.

I want to reproduce the conditions under which I saw it when I was in grammar school. I want to be a blank slate. I want to let the whole thing wash over me like cleansing waters. I don’t want to be anticipating anything that happens. Not even anything I saw in an official trailer or commercial.

I’m not saying you won’t have other victories, Internet. But, dammit, I won this battle. You’ve been beaten.

Why am I laughing, you ask?

Oh, nothing. Keep  on doing what you’re doing right now.

Now I’m just being cruel. Don’t waste your energy, Internet. I hear you, bringing new reactors and generators online in a last-ditch effort to spoil something, anything for me before I see the movie. Like, induce some no-goodnik to send me an email that reveals the whole ending, under an innocuous subject line that I’m sure to click on. Perhaps you’re even arranging for a New York Times poilitical op-ed piece about the Democratic debates to begins “Hilary Clinton proved that she’s clearly willing to win the White House for the Democratic Party even if she inspires as little excitement as Grig Hortu did when she ordered Jor Horizo to accompany Leia to the Du system to negotiate the great compromise in ‘The Force Awakens’…”

Just stop.

Do you seriously think I’d explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty five minutes ago.

I wrote all of this last night, and set it to auto-post after I was inside the theater, with my phone turned off. I even listened to loud music through my over-the-ear headphones while waiting in line to get in, to guarantee that I wouldn’t overhear anything.

Forget it, Internet. It’s Star Wars.

Building a Homebrew BB-8

James Broton’s YouTube channel is one of the many reasons why I imagine I could get along just fine without cable TV. He’s a robot builder whose chief fascination (among many) is making replicas of movie bots and armor.

One of his current projects is a working BB-8 from the upcoming “Star Wars” movie. He has no idea how the working prop works or how its designers manage to steer a spinning ball while keeping a dome balanced on top of it, so he’s trying a couple of ideas.

His first design was a hollow ball and a robot on top with an Arduino and motorized wheels inside it that both kept itself balanced and drove the ball in any direction. Its movement was too wobbly, so he’s moved on to a much more complicated idea in which the ball itself is driven from the inside by a robot that acts like a hamster in a hamster wheel.

He documents and explains as he goes, designing and 3D-printing damn-near everything from scratch. It’s amazing stuff and inspires me to make things. It’s also just plain entertaining, in the same way that watching Norm Abram build furniture on “The New Yankee Workstop” was entertaining.

(And if you don’t think that watching someone wire up servos or cut dovetails is entertaining…we can still be friends but I’ll praise myself for being so willing to accept your weird alternative lifestyle.)

Happy Star Wars Day!

Happy Star Wars Day!

This is fast becoming my favorite minor holiday. Imagine: “May the Fourth be with you” started out as a clever little joke that seemed on track to follow “talk like a pirate day” into tedious annoyance. Instead, it’s graciously blossomed into a day that encourages a certain kind of person to celebrate a creative universe that they love. Star Wars Day is set to go beyond “Star Wars” and become an occasion to revel in all kinds of science fiction and fantasy entertainment.

(We can only hope.)

And this is the holy of holy convergences, when Free Comic Book Day and Star Wars Day falls on the same weekend. Honestly, you can be forgiven for changing right into your Jedi robes in your workplace bathroom at 5 PM on Friday, and changing back into mundane togs in the same bathroom at 8:59 AM on Monday. I made the trip out to my favorite comic book shop yesterday and spent a couple of hours hanging around. I was very pleased to see the store packed with people who’d come in to enjoy comics.

Most of the faces I saw were young ones, too. That’s a tremendously positive sign that this medium is continuing to be relevant, and that it’ll thrive for at least another ten years. Unlike the community of Morse code aficionados. Some groups thin out due to waning interest. Some see their membership curves plummet because their members are literally dying. That’s an expected problem in the Pro Naked Rocket-Powered Stunt Motocross community. In others, it means that this hobby or area of interest was only ever of its time. A time that recedes into the past at a rate of 16 months to every calendar year.

This is why I love the scene at Free Comic Book Day. And I love the scene at comix and sci-fi conventions. These events are getting bigger and bigger every year and arriving in more and more cities. Why? Because the dark, humid Holiday Inn conference centers that once hosted groups of addicts seeking a more profound high than what they were getting from “the usual stuff” have morphed into broader events at big, bright city convention centers where parents bring their kids. And their cameras. An organizer’s goal is to create an environment that encourages anyone and everyone to come in and have a great time. The biggest Win? Create an event that will attract people who’ve never attended a con of any kind. They’re not hoping to attract intense fans who want to tell a veteran author right to his damn face that if this hack thinks he’s worthy of working in the same medium as Philip K. Dick then he doesn’t know what the holy **** he’s talking about. They want to bring in people (and parents of people) who loved the latest Pixar/Disney/Marvel movie. In doing so, they’re creating better cons for the rest of us, too.

On this Star Wars day, I want to send a message that’s much in line with that of Master Yoda:

Lose your anger.

The increased, bolder anger of some people in the Star Wars fan community is the only bad trend of the past ten years of fandom. Many of these folks have been vocal on Twitter today.

I feel as though the most honest way for these people to reflect this trend is to celebrate Star Wars Day by buying a half-dozen assorted donuts.

Then:

Enjoy the chocolate glazed one and the lemon-filled ones. Say that the lemon one is better, but those two are the best donuts ever made.

Then eat two more, and say that you didn’t like them as much as you liked the first two but they were OK.

Finally, eat the Boston cream-filled one and the glazed one rolled in toasted coconut. Tell everyone how much you hated both of those donuts. Say that they were so terrible that it’s now impossible for you to say that you liked the chocolate or the lemon one because of how bad those last two were.

Curse Mister Donut.

Claim that Mister Donut has ruined a snack item you’ve enjoyed ever since you were a child and a part of your life that you once cherished but which now only brings you pain and hurt and can love no longer.

Compare this experience to Mister Donut sticking a finger down his throat and vomiting straight into your mouth. It wouldn’t even be going to far to claim that Mister Donut ruining the whole concept of “pastry” for you, now and forever. Nothing else Mister Donut has ever done in any part of his life in the past or in the future will ever make up for the Boston cream donut and the coconut one.

Imply that Mister Donut doesn’t the deserve the love of Mrs. Donut, or any of their little Donettes.

And that’s how many people choose to react to George Lucas and the post-Holy Trilogy movies.

I don’t get that. I need to respect how other people feel about things, but I can’t relate to that kind of reaction at all. I imagine getting to meet George Lucas…

(Aside: I also imagine myself making a complete ass of myself in front of George Lucas, which is why Meeting George Lucas would make me very, very nervous. I met Steve Jobs. I’ve met Woz many times. Both of those dudes were as big an influence on my childhood and adult interests as Lucas. During those occasions, I had no difficulties getting Ten Year Old Boy Andy to sit in a chair and be quiet. But I deeply fear what the lad would do if I let him anywhere near George.)

How many hours or days would I need to tell him how much I’ve enjoyed his work as a filmmaker and a producer? How many months would I have to spend working in the office next door to his, and eating lunch with him at Skywalker Ranch every day, before it would even occur to me to bring up Jar Jar Binks?

And yet to hear some tell it, the very first thing a fan should do when meeting George Lucas is to tell him right to his face that he’s a bad man who’s done bad things. The second thing: present him with an invoice for all the time and money they’ve spent on Lucasfilm-related entertainment since the middle act of “Return Of The Jedi.”

George Lucas and everyone who worked on the Holy Trilogy gave me some of the finest experiences of my childhood. “A New Hope,” “Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return Of The Jedi” didn’t shape my worldview, but they sure gave me a lot to think about. These movies urged its audiences to embrace optimism and the endless potential and beauty of the human spirit.

And to recognize that this Human Spirit extends to droids and Wookiees. The Star Wars Universe is very white and very dude-heavy. But it did provide at least a cue that perhaps one should judge a latex puppet on his, her, or its character and actions, not by shape or color.

Imagine how excited I was about the Prequels. I didn’t just get to the theater at 6 AM to be the first in line to see “Phantom Menace.” I was at the theater at 6 AM to be the first in line to pre-purchase my tickets to see Episode 1. It wasn’t a great movie, but to be honest, hearing the Fox fanfare inside a packed theater and seeing a yellow crawl over a starfield was worth the price of admission. Episode 2 was better. I only saw Episode 3 once, and that’s about all I need to say about it.

But nothing can take away my love for the first three movies or my appreciation for George Lucas and Lucasfilm. I have the original theatrical releases on DVD, and because I’ve ripped them to unlocked MP4 files (sweet, easy-to-back-up MP4 files), I’ll always have them.

Even if the theatrical releases had been lost forever, I’d still have those memories of walking back to the car with my mom and one of my sisters after “A New Hope.” I’d still be able to remember the look of resigned defeat on my teachers’ faces as they wisely chose to treat the release dates of “Empire” and “Jedi” as though they were school holidays. I’d still have these permanent marks that the experience of grinning like a tiny idiot during dozens of screenings as a kid left on the corners of my mouth and eyes.

The Prequels were a good gamble, from my personal perspective. At worst, they were going to be bad, in which case and I’d still have the first three movies. And at best, they were going to be great. I don’t see where I had put anything at risk.

I feel the same way about the upcoming JJ Abrams movie. I might love it…and if I don’t? Well, it won’t make me retro-hate the things that I’ve loved since I was a kid. If I did, then I would have to blame my brain, not Abrams’ movie.

And: “Empire Strikes Back” will still be one of the greatest sequels of all time in any genre.

When I think about it, though, I’m not necessarily hoping that Abrams will make a “Star Wars” movie that I love. I’d be much happier if JJ Abrams made a movie that I kind of didn’t like (along the lines of Episode II) but which utterly re-energizes the series for people born after 1990. That’s what he achieved with “Star Trek.” I was never a big fan of the series. I thought the later movies and series were hopelessly mired in fan expectations and “Gene’s vision.” The new movies have been terrific. I’m looking forward to each one.

Any older fan who’s grateful to a movie (TV, book, comic) series should want to nerd it forward. I want a new “Star Wars” movie that’s so good, a little kid in 2016 will convince his or her parents to give them a note to cut school on the opening day of the sequel. Because that’s how much I liked “A New Hope” when I was that age.

When I’m in my Sixties, I don’t want to be part of an aging fan community that assembles in ever-dwindling numbers to exchange mutual pride that our favorite film series “stayed true to its original vision” (whatever the hell that means). I want to be at a packed convention hall, taking great pleasure in the fact that most of the people in attendance are less than a third my age and some of them don’t even recognize that I’m dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

(White hair and beard, walks around in a scruffy bathrobe, speaks mostly in oracular phrases whose meaning isn’t immediately relevant…in twenty or thirty years I might wind up cosplaying as him whether I mean to or not.)

To every master, there is an apprentice. To every generation, there is a Star Wars saga. I had the Holy Trilogy; those who came after me had the books and the comics; another generation had the Prequels; another had the (epic!) Clone Wars series. Somehow, we’re all part of the same fan community. It’s the strength of this fan community that allows the next saga to get conceived and made.

Take the effort that you might have spent hating what you hate and use it to love the things you love even more.

And may the Force be with you. Always.

Podcasting Live from Echo Base (though not expected to live much longer)

Big 90 inch by 40 inch backdrop of the Battle of Hoth, in the far wall of my podcasting studio.

I love the random things that often happen in my job.

I recently talked about wanting to get a backdrop for my podcast studio. Now that we’re in winter, the Lovely Garden View outside my window turns into into inky blackness at around 3 PM. Before the afternoon was out, I got an email from someone I know at ILM. “I might have a backdrop that’ll work for you,” he said. “What’s your address?”

This is the sort of email that you answer straight away.

I was expecting some posters (and would have been happy to get them). So it was no surprise when a heavy plastic tube was delivered a few days later.

I think you’ll agree that its contents was a little better than a batch of movie posters.

The letter that it came with it tells me that ILM had this backdrop made up for an interview with Dennis Muren. You know: nine-time Oscar-winning visual effects artist and the SFX director of “Empire Strikes Back.” I started unrolling it and it just kept right on going and going and going. And the dopey grin on my face got bigger and bigger and bigger.

Why, I felt like I could take on the Empire all by myself.

(Wait, forget it. When people say that, things never end well for them.)

Photo of me pretending to run from an Imperial Walker.

One nagging problem: how the hell was I going to hang this? Just measuring it out was tricky. I used a half a dozen soda cans to flatten it out and came up with a measurement that was a little off. Finally, I cleared some furniture from my living room so I could come at it from all angles with my tape measure, and I got it exactly: 90″ by 40″.

I snapped a photo and sent it to a friend. He was much, much more impressed by it when he did a double-take and realized that he’d gotten the scale wrong: those were soda cans and not D-cell batteries.

Clearly I couldn’t just swing by the craft store for an off-the-shelf frame. I wound up putting together a simple half-tenon support frame for it, envisioning that a box of jumbo bulldog clips (with some padding in their jaws) would hold it up nicely while I figure out a more permanent solution.

(I’m thinking of adding some removable strips of painted moulding that can receive a sandwich of foamcore, an acid barrier, the backdrop, and then a sheet of plastic. I don’t even want to think about what a 90″x40″ sheet of glass would cost, or how many of them I’d break while trying to get everything put together and up on the wall.)

For now, it’s clipped to the frame and supported by a couple of plastic grocery baskets. It isn’t exactly a Lucasfilm Archives-quality display. But then again, the original item was certainly never meant to be revered. It’s printed on heavy poster paper and has a few holes in the corner where it was pinned to its original wall behind Mr. Muren. It was made to suit a purpose and I’m just very lucky and grateful that it happened to be cluttering up someone’s office and that this person was kind enough to send it over.

But regardless of its original purpose, this is a fairly awesome thing to have up on a wall. I can already tell that all future living spaces will have to pass a new criteria: “Is there a space for my Battle of Hoth backdrop?”

Free (good) movie! “Jedi Junkies”

Jedi Junkies for Web.jpg

Watch it while you can: DailyMotion has a 72-minute documentary about Star Wars fandom available for streaming until the 27th. I think that means if you’re watching it at 11:59:59 PM on Wednesday and the segment about the woman who belly dances in a Slave Leia costume is just starting…you’re really going to wish you’d started the movie about five or ten minutes earlier in the evening.

I’ve seen it all the way through. It’s a spiffy flick. It’s very much in the same vein as “Trekkies” — another terrific doc about fandom. “Trekkies” is a better movie; it’s not quite so loving about its subject, and it’s not as “inside.” But if I’d paid to rent “Jedi Junkies” on iTunes, I’d feel as though I’d gotten my $5 worth. Which is awesome, because it’s available for rent for just $2.99.

Those of you who aren’t in that kind of tax bracket are urged to watch the movie on DailyMotion while it’s still up there. The viewing link is on the movie’s official site.