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What an awakening

I made a solemn oath. Never again.

Never again would I read anything spoilery about a movie, especially one taking place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

It was 1999. The Phantom Menace was a week or so away from blasting its way onto movie screens. Cough it up to luck or the will of the Force, I was an intern at The Gainesville Sun during this time, so they let me write a story or three about the movie. I did my best not to see too much about the plot, but, in all places, a Dave Barry column tripped me up.

At first I thought it was a joke, but in parentheses, he had said that Qui-Gon Jinn was going to die. I couldn’t believe it.

Sitting in the theater for that first viewing, I tried not to think about those few words, but sure enough, during the duel between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul, it happened. Even though I kinda knew it was coming, I still felt a pain when Maul killed Qui-Gon.

Still, from that point forward, I wanted to experience any subsequent movies as “clean” as possible.

Enter Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster-691x1024
via StarWars.com

First off, I was beyond flabbergasted when the folks at Disney and Lucasfilm announced they were making more Star Wars movies. I was filled with more glee when they were carrying on past the events of Return of the Jedi.

Speaking of Return of the Jedi, when I was a kid back in 1983, I couldn’t wait for that movie to arrive. I read the storybook. I read the comics. I read a behind-the-scenes magazine. But I never saw the movie in the theaters. (I haven’t been able to get a clear answer from my parents) When the movie eventually hit VHS Land, I probably watched it constantly. Apparently I had no problems with movie spoilers.

Anywho. I told myself I would only watch the trailers for TFA, and try not to peruse Star Wars’ website.

So in Thanksgiving 2014, I sat down in front of the computer and watched this:

Holy smokes. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to this see this movie RIGHT THIS SECOND.

Unfortunately, I had to wait a few more months. In the meantime, I trained myself to avert my eyes to anything related to The Force Awakens. If a Facebook post showed some obscure fan site asking some clickbaity question, I immediately hit “hide everything from this site.” When the toys arrived in stores in September, I could look at the wall of action figures, zeroing in on those that just said “Star Wars.” If it had “The Force Awakens,” I immediately jumped to look at Transformers.

The days grew closer. More trailers arrived. I was thankful the trailers were completely vague about what they were showing, instead of explaining the whole plot in two minutes.

It’s now the week of the movie’s release. At first my wife and I originally planned to see it on Saturday, but she ended up working that day. BUT! Thanks to a convoluted plan Han Solo would love, we were able to get a babysitter so we could see the movie that Friday night.

The lights dimmed. Fifteen minutes of previews went by. Soon the Lucasflim logo emerged and dissipated. Those famous blue words appeared and faded.

Then, the fanfare.

Star Wars was back.

From the appearance of the opening crawl to the closing credits, I was drawn back into the world of Luke Skywalker and company, along with a new batch of characters from Rey to Finn to Poe Dameron to Kylo Ren.

For the most part, I was mainly in “OH MY GOD I’M WATCHING STAR WARS ON THE BIG SCREEN” mode for this showing. Two scenes in particular really got me in the feels, as it were (AND IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET PLEASE STOP READING): the death of Han Solo and Rey using the Force to take the lightsaber into her hands. Part of me hoped that Han would be able to convince his son to come back with him, but then my stomach somersaulted when Kylo killed him. I don’t think I recovered from that.

Yes, I could see some similarities to A New Hope, and I smiled goofily when various callbacks appeared, but I let it slide.

Now that the Blu-ray of The Force Awakens has made its way to my collection, I’m able to catch things I missed that first go-around. Especially in the beginning, when Lor San Tekka was talking to Kylo Ren on Jakku. It’s so cool when writers drop clues at the beginning like that. I tried looking for glimpses of Han when he heads to Starkiller base, perhaps never to come back. And yes, I still bawled when Han fell into that chasm. (sniff)

It’s been fun watching the behind-the-scenes featurettes, seeing how this movie came to life. Oh, to have been on the set when Han and Chewie entered the Millennium Falcon.

To think that in a few months, ANOTHER Star Wars movie is coming out, this time all about how the Rebels acquired the Death Star plans.

And then next year, hopefully we get to find out what happened with Luke and Rey on that island.

What a glorious time to be a Star Wars fan.

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Taking our first step into a larger (new) world

What happens next?

That’s the question a writer hopes to hear from the reader. It means the writer has created a story that has pulled the reader into that world, that he or she wants to know the outcome of what’s transporting on the page.

I heard that question in my mind a lot when reading Chuck Wendig’s Star Wars: Aftermath.

Chewie! Jabba punked us again! We can't fit this thing in the Falcon!
Chewie! Jabba punked us again! We can’t fit this thing in the Falcon!

The book arrived on my doorstep last Tuesday. I finished it today. In between those days, I found myself looking at the clock and thinking, Okay, I can read a little bit more. I won’t be tired in the morning.

Short version: This book was amazing.

Slightly longer version (with some spoilers, so be forewarned): As you may have seen from previous blog posts, I’m a fan of Star Wars. So when I heard about Aftermath, I jumped for joy. First, we were getting a novel set after Return of the Jedi that was officially official! Second, it was being written by Wendig, a writer whose blog posts over at Terribleminds have been profanely funny and infotainmential in the writing world. I had read the excerpt on Entertainment Weekly’s website and was sucked into the story almost immediately. I couldn’t wait to read the rest.

Then came the book’s release. Then came the slimos.

Now, I know this book has received some, um, attention from “fans” (although I’m not sure that is a correct term; I’m thinking of a more colorful metaphor), especially when it comes to the book’s rating on Amazon. I couldn’t believe it. Surely this book couldn’t be THAT bad?

Ah, but this is the Internet. I soon learned the reasons for these low ratings, and I wanted to bash my head into the bulkhead.

STUPID REASON NO. 1: Wendig used third person present tense to narrate the tale.

Well, in my eyes, it gave the story a sense of urgency. I’m sure if it were told in third person past tense, it might have retained that chugging feeling, but I think telling it in the present worked just fine.

STUPID REASON NO. 2: The main characters from Episodes IV-VI are pretty much off-camera.

Okay, I guess it’d be cool to see what Luke was up to at this point in the timeline, but I was perfectly fine following the exploits of Norra Wexley and Rae Sloane.

STUPID REASON NO. 2.5: The main characters are WOMEN! THAT CAN’T BE! WHERE ARE DA MENZ?!?

To which I say, grow up.

STUPID REASON NO. 3: There were several gay characters in the novel. GASP! HORRORS! OH NOES!!!1!!1! 

See above.

STUPID REASON NO. 4: IT DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT THE FORCE AWAKENS BUT YOU SAID IT WOULD!

It did say “Journey” on the cover. Can’t give everything away before the movie is shown, right?

Well, now I had to read this novel and see what all the fuss was about.

From the prelude showing the short-lived celebration on Coruscant at the end of Jedi all the way to the epilogue, Wendig captured all the things that make Star Wars such a wondrous universe. Although the celebration at the end of the movie made for a great closure to the trilogy, Wendig shows that the Empire didn’t quite scamper into the corner.

Throughout the book, Wendig gives us interludes from across the Galaxy Far, Far Away to show how people are dealing with what’s left of the Empire and what the New Republic is doing, including a certain scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Perhaps it was the will of the Force, but I had gotten Ultimate Star Wars for my birthday, which features short bios on all sorts of things from the Star Wars universe. I found myself reading entries one day, only to recognize them later while reading Aftermath, like a connection to the bounty hunter Jas Emari. It was also cool to spot references to the Rebels TV show, including Fulcrum.

And then there’s Mr. Bones, that lovable battle droid put together by Norra’s son, Temmin. That droid needs his own series. He should team up with Artoo and Threepio posthaste.

I don’t know if I’m in the majority, but I like the idea of having the new canon. It makes perfect sense, especially with the upcoming movies. Gives everyone a clean slate to work with. And fans can still enjoy the now-labeled Legends novels.

Legends. The third rail of Star Wars.

This has been bugging me for ages. I have always known that the Expanded Universe wasn’t part of the official timeline. I wish I could remember the article where I saw it, but it specifically said that the EU is a “might-have-happened,” and whatever George Lucas came up with was official. So you can imagine my confusion when it seems like there’s somebody going, “If you don’t make the novels canon again, I’ll never read a new novel again.” THEY. WEREN’T. CANON. TO. START. WITH.

Ahem.

If there’s anything to be learned from this brouhaha, it’s “don’t read the comments.”

Leaving all that aside, Wendig has crafted a worthy addition to the Star Wars mythos, and I’m looking forward to reading what happens next.

Star Tours Flight 1138 to Star Wars Land boarding soon

Earlier today, while reloading my Twitter feed regarding the D23 Expo, I learned the best news of all: Disney is making a Star Wars Land at Disneyland and (more important to me geographically) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.

Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com
Concept drawing of the Star Wars Land, from StarWars.com

I did all I could to not make the sound of a Krayt dragon. The first version.

Ever since the Star Wars films have blasted their way onto the big screen, I’ve always wanted to experience that world firsthand. I finally got that chance in the early 1990s when our family went on vacation to Disney World. I’m sure upon entering the Disney-MGM Studios, I made a beeline to Star Tours (or clamored my parents to let us go there first). I had seen behind-the-scenes footage on the Disney Channel, but now I was here in the flesh, watching Artoo and Threepio in the first waiting area. I was especially gobsmacked upon taking that wild ride in the Starspeeder. Then, as I walked down the long hallway and entered the merchandising area (Endor Vendors at first, now Tatooine Traders) I gawked at all the cool stuff, wondering if I should get the T-shirt or the keychain.

With Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, which I only first experienced last year, the Star Wars experience was now in 3-D, and you didn’t know where in the galaxy far, far away you were going next. Tatooine? Hoth? Would I ever see Han Solo in the opening portion?

And now comes today’s news. A whole area in the park devoted to Star Wars. A chance to fly the Millennium Falcon? Sign me up! Going into a Cantina? I’ll keep my lightsaber handy, in case any scum and villainy cause trouble. The folks at Disney Imagineering are pretty good at that whole immersive experience thing at the parks, so I’m sure they’ll create something amazing with Star Wars Land.

This would definitely give Disney’s Hollywood Studios the shot in the arm it needs. I’ve always enjoyed going to this park, but despite all the things you can do there, it still felt like there wasn’t a lot to do. Sounded weird in my head, too. And with all the various attractions closing the past few months, I wondered what the heck they had in store.

Perhaps I found my answer.

I’ve never been to the Harry Potter worlds at Universal Orlando, but from what I’ve seen and heard from commercials and such, I have a feeling the Star Wars land will replicate that: the idea of being in the world. Sure, your imagination can conjure all kinds of things after watching the movies or reading the books or playing the video games. But there’s something special about being in a location, soaking all the senses and processing them in your brain.

Whenever this land opens, I will be able to bring a childhood dream to life: to experience more of the Star Wars universe in the real world.

Did that Rodian look at me funny?

Mark Hamill goes to Star Wars Weekends; I go as well

Seven years.

That’s how long it’s been since I last attended Star Wars Weekends at Walt Disney World.

Thanks to our tax refund check, we bought three-day passes for the Happiest Place on Earth. First came Epcot, then the Magic Kingdom. So for the last day, we would go to Hollywood Studios for one of the Star Wars Weekends.

But which one?

When the folks at Disney announced the guests, I had narrowed down the dates (the tickets expired June 6, so the last weekend was out). Then a special guest was added.

Mark Hamill. Luke Skywalker. June 6-8.

Problem solved.

Like many people  who grew up in the late 1970s, early 1980s, Star Wars was a tremendous part of my childhood days. I can remember watching that movie on TV while hoisting my toy X-Wing fighter and re-creating the Death Star trench run. Luke was probably one of my favorite characters, especially when we get to Return of the Jedi and we see Luke go from wide-eyed farm boy to kick-butt Jedi. The scene of Luke looking at the twin sunset on Tatooine gets me every time.

Jump ahead to the early 1990s when Batman: The Animated Series was on TV. Mr. Hamill voiced one of my favorite villains: the Joker. And boy howdy, was he great at it. (He also did a version of this maniacal character as the Trickster in The Flash)

So here was Mark Hamill, making his first appearance at Star Wars Weekends. To miss this would have been like not going after Artoo when he ran off to find Obi-Wan Kenobi. OK, maybe not quite like that, because I don’t think I would have been killed for not going, but still.

Joining me on this journey was my wife and my 4-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. To make things a little more interesting, the 4-year-old was a bit under the weather.  We hoped she would feel better, but she had her moments. Thankfully, she met Sofia the First as well as Jedi Mickey and Princess Minnie without any problems.

We waited in the baking Florida sun for the 11:30 parade to start. I fanned the 6-year-old with a map guide and hid the sun with my Indiana Jones hat. She saw the parade from ground-level, while I snapped pictures of the 501st in their Imperial best.

Then the stars of Star Wars for the weekend came down the road, waving and smiling at the adoring crowd. Appearing were Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in The Clone Wars, Ray Park, who played Darth Maul, Taylor Gray, the voice of Ezra from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels, James Arnold Taylor, the voice of Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars,  Billy Dee Williams, who played Lando Calrissian. And Mark Hamill.

I was in Star Wars heaven.

Later in the day, Taylor interviewed Hamill for a special conversation. We didn’t make it to the theater where it was happening, so we went to the American Idol Experience theater to watch a simulcast. I could almost hear Ryan Seacrest say, “THIS…is a conversation with Mark Hamill!” and Randy Jackson say, “Mark is in it to win it!”

The 500-pound Rancor in the room was brought up right off the bat — Episode VII — but the only thing Hamill talked about was his newly grown beard. He told the audience he liked having surprises walking into a movie instead of knowing everything beforehand. I wholeheartedly agree with you, sir.

Hamill was incredibly funny and gracious during the conversation, which veered from the audition process for the first Star Wars film to doing an impression of Harrison Ford to talking about voiceover acting to giving an impromptu dialogue between the Joker and Luke Skywalker. Classic stuff. (It’s probably up on YouTube somewhere)

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Hollywood Studios without going on Star Tours. I was especially looking forward to this because I hadn’t gone on the new version of the thrill ride. I was sad to see the old one go, but I’m in love with the new version. But the old one hasn’t completely disappeared. When you walk through the queue and get to the second room, you’ll spot Captain Rex from the original ride sitting in an open cargo crate.

The ride itself: Wow. We ended up in the front row; I was dead center. One of the new things about the ride is the myriad of combinations you’ll experience. We started out in a dogfight along side the Millennium Falcon, flew to Tatooine to find ourselves in a podrace, flew to Geonosis’ asteroid field, only to find ourselves BY THE DEATH STAR. AND it was in 3-D. I wanted to go back on the ride almost immediately. My 6-year-old wouldn’t have been amused with that.

(The Official Star Wars Blog has several in-depth posts about Disney and Star Tours. Go here and here to start with.)

In all, it was a day long remembered at the park.

Here’s where the fun begins

If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ve probably heard the news. For the rest of you, Lucasfilm announced today that the Expanded Universe is sorta closing its doors to make way for a new continuity to coincide with the upcoming movies. They also announced some of the new novels arriving in the coming months.

Via the Star Wars Books Facebook page

I can’t say I wasn’t surprised this happened since Disney acquired the house that George built. However, I am not heartbroken at this decision. It makes sense for the people creating the new movies to not be constrained by all of the continuity floating around the Outer Rim. Let them carve their own corner.

I’m also not crying in my blue milk because I haven’t invested too much into the EU. I read Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy back when it first appeared on bookshelves in the early-to-mid-1990s. I read Dark Horse Comics’ Dark Empire, written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy. I soon picked up a few more novels and comics, but I discovered that I couldn’t keep up with everything. My Amazon.com wish list can attest to that. I drifted away.

I’m sure there are some fans who are crying foul about the news, that they’re just dumping their beloved books into the trash compactor where the dianoga monster can have a snack. Well, the EU was never canon to start with. The movies (including their novelizations, the radio dramas, The Clone Wars, and the upcoming Rebels) are canon. The EU novels were just stories, things that might have happened. Besides, these novels aren’t going away. They will continue to be in print, but now they’ll have “Legends” emblazoned on the covers. Heck, the creative folks may still pluck stuff from those tales. Works for me.

As long as people are still interested in the adventures of Luke Skywalker and company, these stories should live as long as Yoda did, if not longer.

Also, is it December 2015 yet? [looks at watch impatiently, taps foot]

So long, and thanks for all the Star Wars comics

I learned the news on Friday that Marvel will be taking over the Star Wars comic book franchise from Dark Horse in 2015. Just about everyone figured this move was coming when Disney (which owns Marvel) bought Lucasfilm. Part of me hoped that it wouldn’t happen, but clouded by the Dark Side of the Force, I must have been.

But I jest.

I was first introduced to Dark Horse’s Star Wars offerings when “Dark Empire” arrived in finer comic shops back in the early ’90s.

Star Wars: Dark Empire No. 1; cover by Dave Dorman
Star Wars: Dark Empire No. 1; cover by Dave Dorman

My memory is a bit foggy as to how I learned of this momentous event (I was in high school at the time), but I scooped up the first four issues and devoured them. Up until that point, the only other new Star Wars fiction out there was Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. Now we had COMICS!

Boy howdy, did this story kick my butt and take names. The art from Cam Kennedy was astounding, and Tom Veitch’s story about how Luke Skywalker turns to the dark side compelled me. Sadly, I didn’t pick up the last two issues to find out how it ended. I had to wait to get the trade paperback.

Soon, Dark Horse was re-presenting some of the newspaper comic strips from Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson in color. At the time, I had no idea there were comic strips in the newspaper detailing more adventures of Luke, Han and Leia. Then, the fine folks at Dark Horse start telling tales from waaaaay before the original Star Wars movie, as well as some adventures of Rogue Squadron. I was happier than a Tusken Raider shooting podracers.

A long time ago, I knew that Marvel was publishing stories in the Star Wars universe, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get any of the issues, save for the four-issue adaptation of “Return of the Jedi.” Thanks to Dark Horse and their omnibuses, I finally read the first few issues of Marvel’s initial run; not too bad, considering how much was unknown back then.

Covers for Marvel's adaptation of "Return of the Jedi"
Covers for Marvel’s adaptation of “Return of the Jedi”

Around 2000, I walked away from buying comics for a few years, but I read a news post here and there. When I returned to the fold some eight years later, a few Star Wars series made it onto the pull list, including “Legacy,” which takes place more than 100 years after “Return of the Jedi,” but it was right near the time it was ending (I have a strange track record with buying series only to have them cancel, except for Batman), and “Dark Times: Blue Harvest,” which takes place after the events of “Revenge of the Sith.”

Star Wars: Legacy No. 37; cover by Jan Duursema
Star Wars: Legacy No. 37; cover by Jan Duursema

I have no idea what Marvel has in store with the Star Wars universe once it picks it up, but I will reserve judgement until then. I would hope they treat it with the same care Dark Horse did. (insert Luke Skywalker/Spider-Man crossover issue joke here)

I wanted to thank all the countless writers, artists (pencillers and inkers), colorists, letterers, and editors who took me on trips to that galaxy far, far away for these 20-some-odd years. It’s been an amazing ride.

The Force is strong with you all. Maybe I’ll go get that “Dark Empire” trade paperback off the shelf. Then I need to start saving up for all those trade paperbacks I need to get by the end of the year.

Oh, these? I collect them.
Oh, these? I collect them.

This Is Heavy

(Walks up to the microphone, taps it a couple of times, makes a squeeing noise in the speakers, realizes this gag has been done thousands of times, and decides to keep talking.)

Um, hello. This is my third blog post ever. So I figured I’d start with something near and dear to my heart:

I am strong with the Force, adverse to Kryptonite, a frequent visitor to the Uncharted Territories, and my other cars are a DeLorean and KITT.

Yup. I’m a geek.

me and jedi mickey

Me and Jedi Mickey back in 2004

I’m sure I’m not the only one who pledges allegiance to all things science fiction/fantasy on this great big blue marble we call Earth. I’m probably the five millionth child who grew up in the ’80s and soaked up Star Wars, the Transformers, etc., but hey, the Internet’s a big place. What’s the harm in one more tale?

Some my earliest memories are pure geek. I remember reading some giant comic book featuring Superman sliding across a telephone wire. Like many other youths who came of age in the late ’70s/early ’80s, a certain little art film called Star Wars altered my life trajectory forever. I remember watching A New Hope on HBO around 1983 and reenacting the trench battle with my X-Wing fighter sans blasters (and sans Luke Skywalker as X-Wing pilot action figure). I eagerly gobbled up as much as I could find regarding the final chapter of the saga.

Around that same time, I discovered a TV show with the most amazing concept: a talking car that could drive itself. And could jump over other cars. Yes, friends, Knight Rider. In my young eyes, the show didn’t star David Hasselholf, it starred the Knight Industries Two Thousand. Whenever I watched an episode, I’m sure I was impatiently waiting for the part of the show when K.I.T.T. did something awesome. I still have Kenner’s super-sized toy of K.I.T.T. (complete with Michael Knight action figure! AND K.I.T.T. talked when you pressed the license plate!…which doesn’t work anymore)

Jump ahead a year, where the natural progression of sci-fi led me to the coolest concept my 8-year-old brain could comprehend. Instead of a talking car that drove itself, now you had the Transformers. They were talking cars that drove themselves but now they transformed into robots! Will wonders never cease? The Autobots and the Decepticons took over for the Rebellion against the Empire.

As I got older, I latched onto different properties and discarded others, but I never let my thirst for other worlds wither away. And since the ’80s never went away in the eyes of merchants, I’ve been able to relive some of these childhood loves. Some haven’t held up well to the sands of time, but they still give me a smile.

For better or worse, they have shaped the geek I’ve become. So much so that I’ve been writing numerous short stories in this genre the past few years (you can find one of them elsewhere on this website), and I’m in the midst of writing a science fiction/fantasy/whatever novel. But that’s a tale for another day.

(Pokes the microphone one more time, doesn’t make any feedback. Quietly walks away from the microphone.)