Rogue One: A Star Wars Fan Story

Warning: Some minor spoilers
There is so much to talk about regarding Rogue One. Ive already read a lot just in the past few hours this morning and looking forward to reading even more. So not to double up on any of the main discussions going around I wanted to instead share something from the overall feeling I took away from this film.
I really, really enjoyed Rogue One. Like REALLY enjoyed it. When it ended I found myself with tears in my eyes, both my hands shaking, my heart rate sky spiking, and barely being able to speak in complete sentences. This wasn’t 100% from the amazingly action packed final 20 mins of the movie, it did most certainly help, but from something else that I couldn’t put my finger on at the moment. Ive had 12 hours to ponder on this feeling and I think I’ve figured out what it was.
This was a less a feeling of enjoying a new Star Wars film and more like visiting some where that feels so familiar but you’ve never been to before. Like going back to where you grew up many years later and even though a lot has changed you can still see the framework of the town that was. A feeling similar to deja vu but when you are aware that this is something different and not exactly what was before. A strong emotional link between something from the past and something in the present. Let’s call it “newstalgia”.
I’ve watched ‘A New Hope’ more times than I can count. I was 3 months old when it first hit theaters in 1977 so I’ve had decades to ware away multiple VHS tapes, DVDs, and even Blu-rays of this film with so many revisits. Almost every time I clean our house I still throw in one of the films from the original trilogy. So to say New Hope is engrained in to my life is an understatement.
When Rogue One’s credits first started to roll and I turned into a big ball of goo I thought I was being overwhelmed by a new Star Wars film that made New Hope an even better film (which I do think it did and is worth it’s own blog post) and all the call backs to Episode IV where just triggering so fast that I couldn’t process everything that just happened fast enough. I also thought that I might have been a bit punch drunk going into seeing the film since in the past 2 weeks I had been on 5 flights across two times zones and not had much sleep during this time as well. After some more reflection, sleep, and whiskey I landed on these not being the main causes for clutching my girlfriend’s hand all through the credits like I was afraid I going to float away. It was newstalgia.
When finding out why the first Death Star had such a big design flaw. Newstalgia.
When seeing new scenes of Grand Moff Tarkin, Darth Vader, & Mon Mothma. Newstalgia.
When watching Rebels die trying to pass along the plans on an invaded ship. Newstalgia.
When finally putting all the pieces together that link the new with the old and you feel them merge together in that place inside you where you keep all those wonderful memories for the old and it feels like being plugged into the Matrix and suddenly getting new DLC for Ms. Pac-Man. Newstalgia.

These Orc Attacks are Bring Down our Property Value

There are many worlds from many stories. Some full of dangerous creatures, others covered in frozen sheets of ice, even a few with little teddy bears with sharp sticks.
But do any of them have a skate park?
If you had to live in one of the worlds from all of those stories that we have all read, seen, and enjoyed which one would it be? If you had to live somewhere what would be the things that were most important? and I really mean live there. Not start on some random moisture farm to be whisked away to join a random old man on some damned fool adventure. If you had to spend the next 50+ years some where, where would that place be?
Let’s look at some options based on 4 key criteria most people would say are important to living some place.
  1. 1. Economic standards: Are there good jobs, is the economy growing, a total lack of goons coming around asking for protection money
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: Is there an insurrection by the people every Tuesday or some galactic empire that comes a knock’n for new recruits regularly
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: What kind of schools do they have, places to play that aren’t filled with turrets that fire lasers
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: What are their arts districts like, how is the local quidditch team these days, can you get froyo delivered by a unicorn
Cloud City
  1. 1. Economic standards: The gas mining business is pretty much the only game in town. But if that’s your thing, this is your kind of place.
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: Well, there was this one time…
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: Not unless you want them to grow up singing “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with a bit of a space cowboy twang to it.
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: Friday night is toss the droid parts with the Ugnaughts and there is that one guy with the ice cream maker. He’s really popular there.
Mushroom Kingdom
  1. 1. Economic standards: They live on the gold coin standard. There is always a need for new workers to help build towers, bridges, and pipes. So many pipes.
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: I recommend moving into Toad’s house until the whole Koopa issue is dealt with
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: The schools are lacking but the playgrounds are killer
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: Do you like shell games and sounds of whistles?
The city from Logan’s Run
  1. 1. Economic standards: Now work, no worries. It’s all play all the time.
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: Just don’t run and you’ll be fine
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: Not really an issue
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: Every kind of entertainment you can imagine, the 18 – 24 demo is king, and you really should check out Carrousel. It’s like a sci-fi Cirque Du Soleil.
Evangelion – Tokyo-3
  1. 1. Economic standards: Lex Corp is always hiring and the newspaper industry still exists
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: Bad stuff happen but as long as big blue is there things should be fine. Well, as long as Zac Snyder isn’t involved.
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: One hell of a great role model that’s for sure
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: Having a dull afternoon? Just look to the sky and wait.
  1. 1. Economic standards: Sunny California suburb with all the things you would expect. Your local main street stores, assortment of parks, and a subterranean mystical portal that attracts evil forces.
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: 50/50 is not the worst odds
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: A great training ground for some bad ass teens
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: Lot’s of choice spots to make new friends. Like dark alleyways, abandoned factories, and a variety of gothic cemeteries.
The Walled City
  1. 1. Economic standards: Trades a bit tight as of late. Might be a bad time to buy a house.
  2. 2. Least likely to be attacked by bad guys: It depends. Which wall are you most behind?
  3. 3. Good place to raise kids: They have this new ‘scared straight’ program that’s all the rage
  4. 4. Entertainment options and culture: Do you like running away from things?

A Shelf is Worth a Thousand Words

Do you have a shelf? I’m betting you do. I don’t mean just a regular shelf for regular things. I mean a glorious shelf of the amazing things. The shelf that when people come to visit look up and down to see what you’re into, what you love, and how you like show that all off.
We have a shelf, or, shelves like that in our house. We call it The Shelves of Great Nerdery. A place to keep all the little things we’ve collected over the years as a showcase of what we want people to associate with us. Totems of our lifestyle.
Donkey Kong
I’ve seen all kinds of shelves dedicated to all sorts of things.  Action figures lined up by release dates with each shelf a different toy line. Shelves made of old hard back books bought in bulk at an auction house. Anime DVDs bookended by anime VHS tapes.  All shapes and all sizes.  So what is it that makes us naturally want to build a shelf? We put things upon it like a trophy case where the ‘best in show’ ribbon came in a blister pack.  Be it one shelf or a dedicated room this seems to be in our DNA for all who collect stuff of some kind.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a nicely designed shelf can say a lot about what you want others to perceive of you. Row’s of Xbox games towering next to a large TV: “I’m a gamer”. A dedicated shelf overflowing with con badges and event pictures: “I like to go to conventions”. Some shelf obsessions go even further and more specific if that is important to that person. A shelf of one brand of tea containers, new and old, that sits over a breakfast nook that has bay window with space between each container for a book: “I like to have my favorite tea while I sit and read with the sun coming through the window.”
What is on a shelf, how everything is arranged, and why it was added are all parts of the story.  Let’s dissect one of my shelves as an example.
Shelf by number
  1. 1. A custom card with the text ‘you blew it’ in fancy lettering a comic friend of mine hands out at bars from time to time
  2. 2. 12” Boba Fett figure. One of the few remaining items from my Star Wars addiction days.
  3. 3. Issues 1-3 of Ranma 1/2. The only time the manga was ever in full color. My first convention purchase ever (1997).
  4. 4. A Buddha statue from the first time I visited the Ft. Worth Japanese Gardens
  5. 5. Voltron mini figures. One of the few items I didn’t sell off of my near complete Voltron collection
  6. 6. Stack of Yotsuba manga. Because if you ever need a smile just pick one up and read it.
  7. 7. A tea cup my girlfriend bought from the now closed Japanese Sakura Taisen Cafe
  8. 8. Panda-Z imported figure that was gifted to me by an old friend who had “too much shit that needed to find a new home”
  9. 9. Prinny fans from Anime Expo the year I was told about Disgaea. A game my girlfriend obsesses over.
  10. 10. Disney’s The Black Hole puzzle I’ve had since I was 5
  11. 11. The two way pager that I got from my first college internship designing websites at Motorola (Thank you HTML for Dummies!). This bad boy saved my ass multiple times in college. I don’t think the plan was suppose to go for an extra year but I sure was happy it did.
  12. 12. 5-Barrel rum bottle from the first vacation to Belize my girlfriend and I took together. My first vacation that didn’t involve me going to a Disney park, taking my daughter to a Disney park, or some random college spring break adventure.
  13. 13. What remains of my original Magic The Gathering collection from high school. Including cards I made up that for some reason my friends actually let me play in real games.
All these stories condensed into a 4 foot space. A level of efficiency Twitter should be envious of.
Your shelf can also acts as a timeline of your fandom.  The shelf you started in high school (an old wine glass rack I filled with anime VHS tapes in my case) can say just as much about you as your yearbook photo. As your fandom evolves so does your shelf.  You may have even changed out your shelf entirely. Big in to baseball as a kid, Gundam model kits in college, and now it’s Criterion Collection Blu-rays and rare 35mm prints of classic films. Like moving from a 6-pack of Bud Light to bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, your tastes have grown with you.
Do you have a shelf? I would love to hear all about it and see any pictures if you got them. If the comments section below doesn’t allow pictures feel free to share them on my Facebook page or Tweet them at me.
Sailor Moon

Wait… that’s it!?! (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

This is the end... right?
When Mad Men ended a few weeks back the final episode was something that had many people talking, myself included. Some loved it, some hated it, some didn’t quite know what to make of it. I’ll admit I had to run it through my head for a few days to solidify my final thoughts on the episode and the series as a whole. No matter what you thought about the ending it does bring a thought to mind about how much endings matter to a series. TV series, book trilogy, album discography, etc. How much does ‘sticking the landing’ effect everything else that happened before?
I’ve been an anime fan for a long time and not getting the ending you want, or one at all for that matter, comes with the territory. I’m actually surprised half the time when I get closer on something here.  Deadman Wonderland leads you to read the manga to complete the story, the third season of Rurouni Kenshin was basically bad fan fiction, and then we have a great ending with Space Dandy which was unexpected for how sporadic the series was overall.  I share this to say that my overall perspective on how important ending are is a bit skewed. If it’s 98% done well they can still count me in for liking the series. Similar thinking to when working on Jaws Steven Spielberg told Peter Benchley, the author of the original book, who was saying that you couldn’t blow up a shark by shooting an air tank in it’s mouth and making it explode, “I’ve had them for 118 minutes, I can have them for 2 more.”
I think this question stirs a wonderful debate because there really isn’t a right answer. It all depends on your expectations, how well the series lead up to the finale, or how much story ‘Kool-Aid’ you’ve drank before its over. I would like to say I’ve found some semblance of a trend over the years but it seems less a venn diagram and more spin art.  I’ve picked a few titles to talk about that’s endings are normally as much a part of discussions of the series as the series itself is.
So so Lost
I’m betting you thought I was going to lead with the end of The Sopranos right? I didn’t finish watching the series so going with something that seems to have just as much popular dislike for the ending.
I liked the first few seasons of Lost, then it became a delicious train wreak up until the end. I do know people who loved the series all the way through for not-WTF factors as well so there is plenty of room to debate the series on the whole of course. From my perspective the series finale jumped shark (which was hard to do since jumping the shark had been a staple for a few years now so I came to expect it by now) on the last episode. The people I talked to about the final episode who loved the series still were a bit miffed by it’s ending. This didn’t seem to sway them from enjoying the series as a whole though.
Stephen King’s The Dark Tower
The Dark Tower series took Stephen King over 20 years to write. 7 books that seemed to get thicker as the series went on. I started reading these in high school and can highly recommend the first three books in the series if you are looking for a fun action packed post-apocalyptic story to read. The series mellows out as it progresses. By the time I got to the final book I was mostly reading to see how the story would end. For anyone who has read this series just bring up the ending can make the hairs on their neck stand on end.
I’ll keep this to the minimum of spoilers here in case you haven’t read the series. When you get to the end of the book there is a conclusion to the story, but not everything you want answered is answered. Very similar to the ending of Mad Men. King has a brief chapter after the book ends that he wrote for people who have to have a full ending of a story. King leads in to this chapter with a page basically stating “you really don’t want to read this so I recommend you stop here.” This alternate ending gives you more closer but also makes you want to throw the book at the wall afterwards. I of course read this ending but don’t consider it the main ending of the series since King is clearly trolling people who can’t live with not having all the answers to a story. I ended up being satisfied with the original ending overall. Would have liked to have been given more but can live without it none the less.
LCL smells like OJ
Neon Genesis Evangelion
I can already hear a lot of you saying, “which ending are you referring to?” so let’s talk about both the TV series ending and End of Evangelion. Neon Genesis Evangelion was a ground breaking anime series from the mid to late 90’s that is still talked about today. The final two episode of the TV series went from epic giant robot battles and the internal struggle of teenagers at the end of the world to something that looked like it was produced by a 32-box of crayons and a script written on the back of napkins. After making it through all this the ending felt so different from the rest of the series it was hard to adapt to such a juxtaposition. The studio that produced the series seemed to feel the same way, basically pretended these didn’t exist, and made a movie to end the series.
The end of End of Evangelion had all the wonderful feelings of global annihilation and school kids singing. To say it was a trip is like saying the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey was ‘colorful’.  I personally love this movie. It’s one of my favorite anime films of all time. I do see though how the film, and ending of the film, have lead many people to discuss the series as a whole. Overall I don’t see many people not liking the series because of either ending but it sure is something brought up from a WTF perspective from many angles.
I do enjoy the debate that comes from endings like this. How much of the internet is devoted just for these sort of debates? If anything this puts out a conflict discussion that’s just silly enough to get heated over but has little to no real consequences.
Chuck Jones is a god

“I may regret the way we ended, but I will never regret what we had.”
― Drake (not the rapper)

Which series finales stand out most to you as departing from what lead up to it? How did these endings effect your perceptions and enjoyment of the full series?  I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @neumaverick.

Star Wars is the 90’s Bulls of Pop Culture

I watched the final score on the Bulls/Cavs Game 6 playoff game last Thursday night come across my phone and sighed. It was official, the Bulls were knocked out of the playoffs again. As I saw this I noticed three guys dressed as storm troopers walk through the lobby of the hotel. I was at an anime con at the time of the game. I’m not sure how the thought first came into my head. Maybe it was the fact that I didn’t want to think about how LeBron James had again knocked Chicago out of a run for the title or the fact that the three storm troopers were trying to pose for a jumping high five ala an 80’s TV show credit role and weren’t quit sticking the landing. But it was in there and it spent most of the weekend in the back of my mind being milled over.
Star Wars is the 90’s Bulls of pop culture.
For those who are not familiar with the Chicago Bulls of the 1990’s they were one of the most dominant teams the history of the NBA. Six championships in 10 years. Lead by Micheal Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and the zen master Phil Jackson as their coach.
In the early 70’s the studio system in Hollywood was getting stagnant and profits were down. The studio execs were desperate and started to hire untested young directors for all types of  new kinds of films. George Lucas and Star Wars were one of these.  When Star Wars hit the theaters in 1977 it broke the mold of what a movie could do. A strong set of characters, a larger than life world never seen before, and it left audiences with a new expectation of what they wanted to see when going to the theater. The Bulls started something similar staring in 1991.
The late 80’s were a great time for basketball but there lacked a finesse that made it hard for new fans to want to jump in and watch. The Celtic and Lakers dynasties were starting to age and the Detroit ‘Bad Boys’ Pistons were not the family friendly type of team you took your kids to see. Then in ’91 the Bulls beat the Lakers in the NBA Championships and everything started to change. They won two more championships in 1992 and 1993. Their first of two three-petes and an new generation of basketball fans were born.
Star Wars changes movies forever and the Bulls lead the NBA into a new era.
When The Empire Strikes Back came out the whole world was excited with anticipation. How could any film follow A New Hope though? How do you meet those expectations? Most sequels don’t. They are usually shells of the original film that are made just to squeeze some extra cash out of a franchise.  Luckily for all of us Empire delivered in a big way. Considered by many to be the best of all the films.  It not only met expectations, but destroyed them.
In 1993 Micheal Jordan shocked the sports world and announced his retirement from basketball. The Bulls struggled without him being there. Another championship looked out of the question. Then just as surprising as Jordan leaving he came back in the middle of the ’95 season. This lead them to the greatest regular season record in NBA history (72 wins, 10 loses) and another championship in 1996.
Return of the Jedi was a great closer to the original trilogy though most people will lean towards the first two being the better of the films. Great battles on the ground, in space, and with their greatest enemies leading to a climactic end of giant explosions and dancing around bonfires. New characters were met and some old ones said their farewells.
The Bulls clinched their second three-pete by winning two more championships in 1997 and 1998. The team added more all-star players like Europe’s top player Toni Kukoc and the always controversial rebounding machine Dennis Rodman. The team was firing on all cylinders but this was the beginning of the end. After the 98 season Phil Jackson left Chicago, Jordan retired for a second and final time, and many of the other players were about to become free-agents and sign with other teams.
The end of end era, cut to credits with a John Williams score or The Outfield playing “Winning it All”.

Player vs Character Comparison

Micheal Jordan is considered one of, if not the, greatest player to ever play basketball. I feel he encompasses the group of Luke, Leia, and Han. The key trio that lead the rebels to over come the empire were MJ finally getting past the rough & tumble play of the Pistons and passing the then king of the NBA Magic Johnson to win his first title.
Scottie Pippen was one of the best wing men to have for Jordan. He’s Chewbaca and Lando all wrapped up in one guy who knew when to pass the rock and always ready to pull the ears of a Gundark at any given moment. A life debt and a bond to never be broken.
Phil Jackson will always be my Yoda. The zen master invented the triangle offense and taught his players through focus and determination.
“In basketball — as in life — true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.”
– Phil Jackson
“You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.”
– Yoda
Toni Kukoc came off the bench as the best ’sixth man’ on the team and was the R2-D2 of the Bulls. When you needed someone to step up and score when Jordan or Pippen were being double teamed he was your man. When you needed someone to shut down all the trash compactors on the detention level R2 was your droid.
Dennis Rodman made just as many headlines off the court as he did on it. Boba Fett was his spirt guide. Fett showed up, said two lines, and walked off cooler than the other side of the pillow. Rodman didn’t need to step up and be bigger than Micheal Jordan, he just needed to make rebounds …and wear feathered boas while riding a motorcycle …with green hair …in a wedding dress.

Sadly the Bulls haven’t won a championship since 1998. The early 2000’s saw some really bad teams. Sounds familiar right? The Star Wars prequel trilogy left many of us in tears and were quite happen when Disney came and took the franchise from Uncle George’s green-screen-Jar-Jar-special-editon-dance-game-angry-birds hands.
I have hope for what JJ Abrams is doing with The Force Awakens. The trailers look great and from what we’re seeing this next chapter of the Star Wars universe could be quite enjoyable.  Just like the present day Bulls lead by the amazing, yet a bit more injured than I would like, Derrick Rose. This season there were high hopes for a championship, and next season looks good too I will say.
I hope a new dynasty starts soon, for Star Wars and the Chicago Bulls. I believe this because I want to stop looking back at both of these franchise’s golden age as being a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

What if the Phantom Menace was an enjoyable movie or: How I learned to love the bomb

The movie line up of the damned
I went to the movies this one time to see …some movie. I honestly don’t even remember what it was. It wasn’t really that good. It wasn’t walk-out-of-the-theater-and-tweet-angrily-from-the-Chillies-bar-next-door bad but it was bad.  What I do remember is the woman sitting next to me during the film.  She would audibly react to every thing happening on screen. Some bad guy would enter a room and she would grasp her purse and go ‘oh no!’  The hero would save the girl at the last minute from certain doom and she would pump her fist and cheer him on.  When there was a twist to the plot she would put her hands to her face and gasp with surprise.  Did I forget to mention this was around 60 years old?
When she started doing this I was kind of a jerk in my mind. My inner film critic was already ripping apart the movie and being in this state of mind I was rolling my eyes as hard as I could over this woman.
“How can she not see how terrible this film is?”
“Is she watching the same movie I am?”
“Does she seriously need to be this overly dramatic at EVERY moment of EVERY minute of this movie!?”
As the movie went on my inner jerk started to lighten up for some unknown reason. It wasn’t the film getting better I assure you. But I started to look at this woman in a different light. She was legitimately enjoying this film from start to finish. And she wasn’t being rude with her reactions either. They were mostly quiet, almost reserved. Only myself and maybe the person in front of her could really hear her.  Her reactions were starting to make staying for the remainder of the film more tolerable even. After every scene change or action sequence I would shoot my eyes to the side and see what she would do next. I was starting to like her commentary track for the film and would have loved to see a ‘grandma reacts to bad movies’ DVD extra as an extra feature for the home video release.
At some point it hit me that this woman must enjoy most movies she sees if she was this into the garbage we were currently watching. This got me thinking. It must be quite wonderful to be able to walk into a film with genuine excitement and normally be right about it. That’s like watching The Matrix for the first time over and over again.  I’m thinking this could be more than ‘ignorance is bliss’ too. I’ve seen people who weren’t the sharpest knife in the draw go to movies. Those people react when the film says, ‘laugh here, jump here, cry here’.  This woman was going past this. She would react to other moments without having to be told by the movie execs behind the scenes telling her to.
Granmama is the best
An experiment for you all. Think of a bad movie you have seen. Not a “so bad it’s good” film but a truly bad film.  Transformers 2, Yogi Bear, Son of Mask, Battlefield Earth, Gigli, etc. There are plenty to choose from. Now imagine enjoying all the moments you hated about that film. Imagine enjoying all the moments between those moments that were just kind of okay. Imagine following the crazy plot or characters all the way through the film cheering them on. These would be quite different films right? For many people I’m betting this is quite difficult.  I know I can’t turn the awesome meter on Blade 2 to 100% without some struggle.
This does make me wonder though. If she likes every movie does the truly amazing films go even higher or do the all just sit at the same level?  If she can turn The Smurfs into an 8 and Lawrence of Arabia into 18 I want some of what she is having. If this groups them together instead I would silently cry myself to sleep most nights.  There needs to be some balance between the good and the bad here. If you live your life at 11 then every thing is really a 5.
these go to eleven
How would your life be different if you enjoyed most films you saw? Do you already enjoy most films or know someone who does? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @neumaverick.

Star Wars Figures: Addiction and Confession

Dead man walking
I still vividly remember waiting outside a KB Toys in Massachusetts in 1995 one weekday morning. I didn’t need to be at school until around 11am so I had time to purchase the first new Star Wars toys since 1983. Like most people my age I had some of the toys when I was a kid so why not, it would be fun to have some updated ones. The store only allowed each person to purchase two action figures that morning so to let more people buy some. Which was a new concept back then. I talked some other friends of mine to get in line and pick me up some extras. If this wasn’t foreshadowing I don’t know what is. This harmless small purchase would be the beginning of something that would spiral down into much darker territory. So I give you here my tale of the fun hobby that started that I started in the mid 90’s which before the end of the decade would leave me a broken man.
Going back to that day in 1995. I didn’t have enough extra cash in high school to get the full first series of the Power of the Force set. I was 17, had no job, a small allowance, and made most of my cash trading Magic: the Gathering cards 2-3 times a week. To get the full ‘red card’ set would have to wait until years later. No rare variants like the half circle Boba Fett for me either at this time. Those were a far of pip dream that I wasn’t even aware of yet. The POTF action figure line was a strange one in the history of Star Wars toys. Everyone had ripped biceps you could see by the under armor typed clothing they were wearing, and Leia looked like Luke in a dress. But again, first new Star Wars toys in over a decade so we forgave these transgressions quite quickly. I kept collecting a little here and a little there through the end of high school and into my freshman year of college. Didn’t really think much of it more than just something fun to do. Picked up some vintage stuff to but I knew that would be almost impossible, and very expensive, to get a complete set so I focused more on the new stuff.
Fast forward to my college sophomore year. I got a job at the largest comic shop chain in Dallas/Fort Worth. I was hired for my anime and action figure knowledge as well as being able to talk nerd to most people without scaring them off. Now I was getting paid to talk about my collecting, get others excited about buying figures, and connect with people who were even more into it than I was. Only in hindsight do I see now that this was the match that lit the fuze for what was about to proceed.
the first set
Within 6 months I’m going out on ‘runs’ with collector friends looking for action figures. This could be between classes, on days off, or late at night when we knew Wal-Mart restocked their figures. You would think that walking around the toy aisle around 3am on a Tuesday would be a red flag but hey, we weren’t the only ones there most of the time. We knew all the collectors in the area and they did the same things. It felt quite normal between our weird little community. Though we did have standards.  No Furbies, Beanie Babies, or Hot Wheels. Figures were 100% of what we went after always.  We never paid off the guy stocking the shelves to grab rare figures early or to give us a heads up when they were about to do an unscheduled restock  Hell, I had the power to give people discounted comics and I never misused it. We were above that, it was about ‘the hunt’ and taking shortcuts was cheating.  We would make trips to out of the way stores in nearby small towns that we knew were not as popular with DFW collectors scene.  I would say we plotted all these on a map and studied them like a scene from a WWII film but we didn’t. We didn’t have too, we had them all memorized!
I think about the time the POTF2 Collection 2 came out (green cards with hologram) was when I decided that the best way to get every figure for my collection was to get in on each new set when they first hit shelves.  Now to do this would take more money than I had regularly. So what was a crazed collector with no reason for slowing down to do? It wasn’t like a bank was going to loan me the money. Then the best/worst idea came to me. Get a credit card just for toys! There was always some company on my college campus giving away free credit cards with a $5,000+ credit line. Sometimes you even got a free t-shirt with you 30% interest rate. “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain” right?  So I got one and sat down to plan my next big purchases. I mean, I would just buy them all at once at department store prices and then pay off the credit card with the money I would normally spend on action figures over the next few weeks right? Cleary this would work out perfectly. Not so clearly was the math I was using to make this assumption. But hey, I needed that second Momaw Dandon figure. One to open, one to save naturally.
This continued for a while. Like, ‘two fully maxed credit cards’ while. I had a room just for action figures in my apartment that was 90% Star Wars. But maxed credit cards didn’t stop me from picking up figures still. Like any good junkie a lack of funds wasn’t going to stop you from getting your fix. I just had to get more creative. Still keeping it all legal too, no cheating remember. One time a friend of mine and I found some newly released Princess Leia Collection 2-Packs at Wal-Mart. We didn’t know these were out yet even. We were totally broke so when no one was looking we grabbed a few of them, walked over to the home and gardens department, moved some vases, lifted the bottom shelving grates, and tossed them in. We came back later that weekend and purchased some of them. We weren’t able to pick them all up before the store closed down sadly. I’ve always imagined when the store owners were moving things out they came across these and were very confused why they were under the shelving unit 5 departments over . We have now reached the point of madness you say? That point when any sane man would step back and look at what his life has become and realize he needed help. Nope, not yet. But don’t worry, I’m about to get to that.
1999, the year Episode I: The Phantom Menace was releasing in theaters. The first new Star Wars movie since Return of the Jedi. The excitement for this film was so high that it being such a terrible film made the crushing fall of emotions after it’s release that much more cruel. The same went for the action figure release. Since 1995 all the Star Wars figures had a very predictable release strategy pattern for every updated production line:
  • They would overprint the most popular characters and not enough of the stranger ones
  • They would only print a certain number of each product line and almost never went back to reprint
  • These would release in small batches and trickle out more over a few months
This pattern was perfect for collectors and casual fans a like. Everyone can get a Luke Skywalker in X-Wing gear but if you want an Garindan (Long Snoot) you would have to hustle a bit to get one. So Kenner would do this again for the initial Episode I action figure release right? THEY CERTAINLY WOULD NOT OVERPRINT EVERY FIGURE AND FLOOD THE STORES ON DAY ONE RIGHT?!?! What happened next was easily my darkest moment in collecting. The white whale I didn’t even know I was chasing until it was too late.
I rushed into a Target the second it opened the morning the figures were released. I didn’t have $5 to spend on them but I had a plan. That morning I signed up for a Target credit card (that’s three credit cards just for figures now if you have been keeping score) which I could use immediately. I went to the toy aisle and grabbed 2+ of every figure they had. It felt like that dream when you are a kid at Toys ‘R’ Us and told you can have anything you can grab in the next five minutes.  I maxed out that credit card in one shot. This even made the store clerk nervous enough to call their manager over to see if I was running some sort of scam. I wasn’t, I was just an extremely crazed 20 year old bereft of all reason and sanity that NEEDED a Nute Gunray with a CommTech figure base! By this point even my main cohort through all this was giving me a worried look.
I've made a horrible mistake
I rushed home in friend’s car full of action figures, eyes still glazed over from my fasted set completion every. Once I got home I started to tear into the figures and set them all up on my coffee table. Most of this was a blur that I don’t remember. I do remember very clearly the feeling that came over me once they were all opened and set up. I remember it like it was yesterday. You would think this would be a feeling of absolute domination, the securing of one’s legacy, or the relief that comes of the completion of some grand task. A feeling greater than any word currently in the dictionary.  Sadly, it was the opposite. I felt empty. So, so empty. I looked at the figures and felt nothing. This was a first. This is when reality started to come back into view. With each realization the pit in my stomach got tighter. I just sat there and started at the figures thinking less “Alexander wept for there were no more worlds to conquer” and more “how the hell did this happen?” I’m not sure how long I sat there silently staring at these figures but it felt like all morning.  I eventually gathered the will power to stand up, put all the figures in a box, and take them up stairs to my action figure room. I looked around at everything in there and started to get the dry sweats. For the first time I was looking at this not as trophy room but as a major problem that I had no clue how to stop. Like when the lights come on at closing time of a bar and everyone and everything looks a whole lot more real and not as the piece of wonderland you thought it was 5 minutes ago. I was just unplugged from the Matrix and wanted to throw up.
Unfortunately I didn’t have time to throw up or stand there any longer pondering on this since I was due at work in 30 minutes. As fate may have it I was asked to work in the corporate office that day helping with a new large influx of action figures. Episode I action figures.  The store owner had all the high level collectors in the area (guys who made a living off of trading figures, comics, cards, etc.) buy up as many Phantom Menace figures as possible and bring them to us to purchase. We had eight stores to stock and as I mentioned before, these should dry up in the retail location quite quickly. Making us the main source for these figures in the DFW area. I’m sure you have figured out by now that this line was way, way, WAY overprinted to match the expected demand based on the hype the movie was currently getting. Hasbro printed at least 10 times more than they had ever for any past release and with in a week every single figures in the line were barely worth their sticker price.  I had about thousand of these SOBs to inventory, price, and sort before the day was out.  If there is a special place in hell for figure collectors, this was it.
As a reminder of my actions on this day I framed the Target receipt for all these toys with my Phantom Menace opening night ticket stub and film strip clipping I got from a girl I was seeing at the time who worked at a movie theater. This still sits in my office at work today.
frame of shame
By the time I got home that night I was all but curled into a ball thinking about the crushing debt I had put myself into here.  But, like any addict you don’t get to escape that easily. My hardcore action figure hunting days were over but I would still find myself picking up a figure here and there on a semi-regular basis. Which sometimes let the idea of ‘getting back in the game’ enter my head. Luckily for some reason I never acted on this.  One day I found my version of a nicotine patch for Star Wars collecting. The Star Wars Action Figure Archive. This is a fantastic book, it really is. It showed great photos of all the vintage and new figures from 1978 – 1999. All the card variations, info on each version, release dates, and much more. It was like my collection printed into a book. I had found a way to have my cake and eat it too. And for only $20.  I bought the book that day and a strange calm came over me. The day after that I packed up action figure room and started to sell off or give away most of it.  I discovered that it wasn’t owning the figures that I enjoyed, it was having access to them. This and the hunt to find and complete each set was what made it fun. I lost the drive for the hunt after the Episode I incident and now with this book I had the access to the figures and didn’t need to actually keep the real ones any more.  I still have this book on my shelf today.
the bible
It took me over five years to pay off all those credit cards and almost all of my original collection is now gone. I still pick up figures every now and again but it’s more like 1-2 a year than a week.  Now every figure I buy must pass three key criteria for me to purchase it:
  1. Can I afford it?
  2. Do I have a good place to put it?
  3. Do I REALLY need it?
I hope you all enjoyed this extremely nerdy tail of a man’s journey into the dark world of plastic and cardboard. If you take anything away from this story I hope it is this: Always be the master of your passions, not the other way around.

The big 3

Rolling 20s with your Role Model

Rolling 20s
When I was 8 I wanted to be a truck. Not just any truck but a red Kenworth K100 so bad ass that when it showed up you knew things were going to be alright. Of course I’m speaking of Optimus Prime. After an episode of The Transformers you could find me running out the door with my friends making Transformer noises, jumping over imaginary barriers, shooting the invisible hoards of Decepticons scattered around the backyard.
I will add that back then after watching almost any tv show or movie that I thought was amazing I could almost always find some character to bond with. Causing me to run around with the same vigor and boundless imagination as mentioned above.  Swinging around a broom like a lightsaber making whooshing sounds, running from imaginary giant boulders in the woods on a treasure hunt, or looking for ghosts with a PKE meter made from an old remote and some cardboard.  I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences.  
Going back to Optimus, there are some characters that stand out more than just an imaginary friend or the toy you always took with you on vacation. Some play a bigger role that you might not have realized back when you were a kid. A role that would help set you on a path to being a better person. The role of a role model.
First, I don’t want to discount any real life role models. Family members, friends, public figures, etc. These can of course be an amazing source for finding a role model. Here though we are going to talk about the kind that are not flesh and blood. More like ink and memorable voice acting.
A good role model is ‘a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated’ as the internet tells me.  There are many of these kinds of characters in pop culture. Characters to guide us and teach us how to be better than we currently are. Show us how to stand up taller, be stronger, and to care about others more than ourselves.
Superman being a badass
Role Models Breakdown & Examples
  • Hard working – Peter Parker/Spider-Man
    • Saving NYC from everything under the sun and still able to punch the clock as a photographer for Daily Bugle with only being yelled at by your boss every other day. That takes a work ethic on a level most of us won’t dare attempt on our good days after 5 cups of coffee.
  • Creative problem solver – Sherlock Homes
    • Any version of Sherlock Homes owns at problem solving. From the classic books to Cumberbatch. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” I’m betting he pre-solves Rubix Cubes in his sleep.
  • Open minded – Samus Aran
    • Samus lead the charge when it came to the extermination of the Metroids. You would think she would never side, let alone protect, a Metroid. If you have played Super Metroid you probably well remember the climactic final boss fight that can be summed up as, ‘Get away from her you bitch: rainbow laser beam edition’.
  • Brave – Kamina
    • Three words: Pierce. The. Heavens.  Determined to always keep moving forward and protect his friends no matter what they were up against. Always the first to run into a fight or push forward to make his goals a reality. “Whether impossible or laughable, we continue to walk the path of men!” Dude was hardcore with a capital H.
  • Have a good conscience – Clark Kent/Superman
    • Truth, justice, and the American way. Do I really need to say more about the ultimate boy scout? There has been some darker storylines in the pantheon of Superman but at the very core of the man of steel he full of absolute goodness.
Over all the importance of a role model is generally expected to decrease as one gets older. The lessons and the feelings can still remain but asking yourself ‘What would He-Man do?” during a meeting on quarterly budgets with your boss might not be the best idea. One of those, “When I was a child I thought as a child; but when I grew up I put my childish things on eBay” situations. If you are reading this I’m betting that might not be the case for you. For some reason us in fandom tend to carry our feelings, attachments, and overall love for what others might call ‘kids stuff’ longer than most. The same tends to go for role models.
I'm a TRU kid
I’m not going to dive too far into the idea of how pop culture has changed the growth patterns of Americans over the past few decades leading us to never really growing up because that’s a much longer topic than we have time for today. I do want to briefly discuss why we choose the role models that stay with us through out the years.  What makes us hold true to Yoda’s teachings and not Snake Eyes? Why find strength from Sailor Moon and not Jem? When does the calming voice in your head sound like Yuna and not Zelda?
In my humble opinion it’s because of specific personal moments in your life with a character. These could be as big as your Rainbow Brite blanket was the only thing you could save from a house fire or as small as you ate Nintendo Cereal every morning for a year and preferred the Mario side over the Zelda side.
Dreams with in dreams
These kind of moments puts a seed in your heart that grows into something much larger. A moment that you go back to when needing comfort, guidance, strength, and whatever other emotions you have tied to it.  The role model becomes a totem for this moment and all your feelings associated with it. A stronger bond is solidified, not to be broken easily.  Not even by Micheal Bay or Joel Schumacher.
Oh the humanity!
What are the role models you had when you were young that you still hold dear to and what makes them special to you? I would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @neumaverick.