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?

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.

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