Saturday, September 30, 2017

Star Wars Saturday: Collectibles

There are so many more things to Star Wars than just the movies. George Lucas knew this when he was making the first film - he made sure to get a slice of the merchandising profits. People didn't realize at the time that this would be such a major investment!

Since 1978, the amount of merchandising has exploded, and most Star Wars news that is released is some sort of merchandise. And as the children who grew up with Star Wars mature, their toys also mature to collectibles and film prop replicas.

It's easy to love Star Wars movies - there are (currently) eight of them, with others down the pipeline. But when it comes to merch, I have tried to avoid getting sucked in. Why?

Two important factors have played a part: money and space. For the first few years of my adult life (post-college) I was living in small apartments where space was a luxury, and earning paychecks that gave me a good living but didn't provide any excess with which to spend frivolously. Because of these things, I trained myself to ask two questions.

"Is this really something I need?"

"Where would I put that thing?"

I have upgraded in both salary and housing, but my stinginess with Star Wars collectibles remains. When people are freaking out over getting the next cool thing like Sphero BB-8 or all of the Forces of Destiny figures, I am enjoying the pictures online and pocketing my money.

All that being said, there is one collectible that I own and adore dearly.

Back in 2008, I was living with my mom's cousin and his wife as I did some training in the Twin Cities. I didn't have much time to enjoy Minneapolis and St. Paul, but I did find out that the Science Museum of Minnesota had a special Star Wars exhibit called "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." They agreed to come with me, and I remember enjoying an IMAX show and seeing some neat stuff. (This was before the height of my Star Wars love, so I don't remember as much as I want to - it was nine years ago!)

I do remember the gift shop. There were cheap items all over the place, but the thing that attracted me the most was set up on a pillar in the center of the store: a Luke Skywalker statue that was amazing. It was from the Unleashed line by Hasbro, but I didn't know that at the time.



I took a picture of it because it was so cool. At the time, I still thought I was the only one in the world who preferred Luke Skywalker over Han Solo. The determination in his face combined with the incredible flame-like lightsaber movement sold me.

(There is a sculptor who often does sculptures for famous Detroit athletes, and he does a very similar style to show movement, so I might have developed a love for that style at a young age.)



Well, I posted a picture to my family about the collectible, and that Christmas I got it! It was five months later, and truth be told I didn't remember it. But I was thrilled to have it!

It has always held a place of importance amongst all of my other items. In Colorado it fit perfectly on my DVD bookshelf and guarded my Star Wars DVDs with great care.

I don't feel an urge to get the rest of the Unleashed collection - just Luke was enough. Any other collectibles that comes out for Star Wars makes me look at it, look at my Luke, and say, "Nah. I'm good."


My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Star Wars Saturday: Great Star Wars Podcasts Part II



Over the years I have become a very large listener of podcasts. I listen to them when driving, walking, cleaning the house, and even correcting papers in the classroom. Just like television shows, certain podcasts that I followed religiously a few years ago are now in my "if I have no other podcasts with which to listen" pile or deleted completely.

Twitter has helped me expand my Star Wars podcast listening through all the people I follow. Each person seems to either run their own or have a friend who runs their own podcast about Star Wars, and I generally give each one a shot on a trial basis.

To my delight, many of the podcasts that I've grown to love are run primarily by Star Wars fangirls like me. None of them are alike and offer a unique perspective on that galaxy, and I enjoy each one for what they offer, even if their opinions don't always mesh with my own.

I already blogged two years ago about my favorites back then. Here is a list of some of my new favorites:

Lattes with Leia

This podcast is hosted by Amy Ratcliffe and Dr. Andrea Letamendi, it's part of the Coffee with Kenobi podcast network and launched in January of 2016. I started listening from Day 1, and really enjoyed what I heard.

The duo doesn't do interviews, but just talks to each other about their topic of choice. They do a fine job covering the topic and doesn't overdo it, either.

My favorite part of their podcast, however, is the first 20 minutes or so, when they take turns talking about what their current favorite thing about Star Wars is. Sometimes it's a new piece of merchandise or clothing, other times it's a well-written article, and other times it's a television episode or movie trailer. They are soft-spoken and it almost feels like you're eavesdropping on a conversation they're having with each other, which is almost exactly the definition of a podcast.

With a title like "Lattes with Leia," it's also obvious that they drink while they record. Funnily enough, the two of them have only had lattes once, I believe.

Lattes with Leia airs once a month. 

Skytalkers: This Galactic Life

This is a new addition to my collection, hosted by Charlotte Errity and Caitlin Plesher. I only began listening about a month ago, but already I get excited when I see a new episode post. They focus on one topic each episode, breaking it down into parts in order not to miss anything.

They are in the middle of dissecting each Star Wars movie, which pretty much every Star Wars podcast will do once in a while. They have decided to break them down in their version of the Machete Order: I, IV, V, II, III, VI, and VII (and so on). I started listening as they recorded their review of A New Hope and I liked how they organized their thoughts.

In between the parts of their podcast, they like to insert audio clips from the movies. During their Machete reviews they put in trailers and commercials for the movie they are reviewing. It was fun hearing the difference between Empire Strikes Back's thrilling trailers and Attack of the Clones' goofy commercials.

I'm curious to see what they think of my favorite episode, Return of the Jedi, since that movie is pretty much divided right down the middle between the lovers and the haters.

Skytalkers: This Galactic Life airs every other Saturday.

Fangirls Going Rogue

I have been on and off about this podcast, which was part of Rebel Force Radio's podcast family (but apparently isn't affiliated anymore). Their excitement is palpable (sometimes hysterically palpable) but they seemed to have toned it down a little bit.

The three hosts, Tricia Barr, Teresa Delgado, and Sarah Woloski genuinely enjoy each other's company and shoot the breeze freely. They commonly talk about Disney as well, because Sarah is also part of a podcast called Skywalking Through Neverland and frequents the parks.

I love their new introduction - between that, the nice website, and their fancy logo, this podcast has turned pretty professional. They cover a bunch of topics in an episode, which helps move it along and to let the topic not get stale.

Fangirls Going Rogue airs once or twice a month.

Collider Jedi Council

Do I include this one? The reason I hesitate is because this isn't actually a podcast - it's a video offshoot of Collider.com, which covers movie and television news. They have daily videos during the week that cover a lot of the news of the day, but every Thursday they have a special video called Collider Jedi Council, where an ever-changing group of Star Wars fans in the Collider family get together to talk what's been going on. They also happen to upload to an iTunes feed, so I listen to the show instead of watch it.

The crew is a nice mix, and if we're promoting fangirls in podcasts, I can mention the frequent female contributors who know their stuff. I often hear Peri Nemiroff, Tiffany Smith, and Ash Crossan and they all are deep into Star Wars lore.

The Council covers three topics: movie news, canon-related stuff like books, comics, and television, and Twitter questions. I personally enjoy the movie talk segment the most (but that might be because I'm so excited for The Last Jedi), but the canon segment talks about the most important details of the non-movie and they pick out very good Twitter questions that sometimes inspires so much debate I wish it would last longer!

Collider Jedi Council airs every Thursday on YouTube and iTunes.


When I would get in a car that was airing talk radio I used to roll my eyes. Now, I am always listening to talking heads - it's quite a change for me. But the difference is that the podcasts I listen to revolve around one of my favorite things of all time. Thank goodness for all the great content that is out there for listeners and Star Wars fans to enjoy!


My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!



Saturday, September 16, 2017

Star Wars Saturday: Rogue One Movie Review


A year ago in December, Lucasfilm released its first standalone film in the Star Wars universe: Rogue One. I never got a chance to talk about it, and honestly I think I needed the past nine months to come up with a well-rounded review of the movie.

Rogue One tells about a group of Rebels who infiltrated Imperial base, stole the plans to the (original) Death Star, and as a result started the first major battle between the two factions that resulted in the first major Rebel victory. It also finishes basically right before the start of A New Hope.

I went into the movie with very low expectations. I was never wowed by the teasers and trailers that had been released and was a bit frustrated with the uninspiring dialogue coming out of the characters' mouths. (That "I rebel" uttered by Felicity Jones was a rallying cry for some, but it was an eyeroll for me.) Midsummer panic when the movie went into reshoots was also a bit daunting.

My low expectations (and the reshoots) actually did help me enjoy the movie. I saw it in a 1/4-full theater - a far cry from the full theater of exhausted and overexcited Star Wars marathoners that helped me usher in The Force Awakens. No cheering, no hollering, just a bunch of people watching a movie together.

This was going to be a different experience, and a different type of movie. Although the movie ends with hope, it has to slog through a lot of pain and suffering to get there. All of our main characters - Jyn, Cassian, Bodhi, Baze, Chirrut, and Saw - have been through some terrible stuff. Through it all, aside from Jyn, they remain steadfast in their goal of restoring freedom to the galaxy, in the desire to see someone else obtain the hope they worked so hard in their lives to locate.

Did this feel like a Star Wars film? It had all the familiar things like blasters, Death Stars, and aliens, so yes, it did feel like the galaxy we know and love. But at the same time, this wasn't the story we'd been following for the past 40 years, either. Sure, Darth Vader was there for a little bit, and Leia, C-3PO, and R2-D2 even showed up for a few seconds, but it almost seemed more like one of those novels that come out based on the universe we know and love. Like those one-shot comics where we have been looking at the battle from the eyes of our heroes, but then we turn the lens to the people who have to deal with the damage. It's Star Wars, but it's disconnected.

Nothing made me more disconnected to it than the music. While a few praise Michael Giacchino's score, I thought it was awful. As soon as it started playing in the opening scene, I did not feel that familiar glow. And when the opening titles showed up with a theme that sounded more like a Star Wars knock-off than actual Star Wars, I wanted to vomit. He only came on the project with a few months to go, and I feel like if he'd been given more time, he would have come up with something a whole lot better. It didn't have to be a mirror image of John Williams' music, but just something better!

When the movie turned a bit from the homages and direct links to the original episodic format, I found myself liking it more. Cassian's passionate speech to Jyn about his fight was very moving - we as the audience could definitely tell that his lengthy battle with the Empire ("since I was six years old!") had affected him and made him become the man he was. Baze's eye-rolling-but-stubborn devotion to Chirrut and his belief in the Force was touching - especially when Baze starts repeating Chirrut's phrase, "I am one with the Force; the Force is with me" after Chirrut is cut down. Those were the parts I liked.

Some people were divided about the CGI characters, and while I could definitely tell that they were partially animated on a computer, I was not creeped out by it. Instead I marveled that there is technology out there that can create some amazing effects. People who didn't know any better didn't realize that Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia were created mostly with CGI!

The final battle was epic, and something that we all hoped to see in one way or another. They chose not to be too sneaky about stealing those Death Star plans, and instead connected it with that first battle mentioned in the opening crawl of A New Hope. It makes sense; the Empire would not have sat around too long after finding out their major weapon's secrets had been taken by their enemy. The battle in space was especially beautiful to watch - it seemed very real instead of just watching ships lunge at each other with a black background.

The movie was fun to watch, and I liked it. I and others have noticed, though, that Rogue One has not really stood the test of time like The Force Awakens did. Even eight months after its release, we don't spend too much time deliberating plot points of Rogue One or hypothesizing on its characters. That may be because all those characters end up dying in the movie and have pretty obvious backstories, or it might be that we have already invested ourselves fully in Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, and Poe.

Shelling out these "Star Wars stories" is a risk by Lucasfilm. We have a risk of becoming oversaturated with information and having great content be ignored just because we can't handle all of it at once. Rogue One might be one of those things. It is a great piece of work, but because of all the other amazing things happening within this five-year Star Wars bubble, it ends up being rather forgettable. And that's really too bad.


My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Star Wars Saturday: Why Multiple Death Stars are an Acceptable Plot Device



Star Wars is beloved by many for its character development, snappy dialogue, and crazy action scenes. But it's not perfect.

One of the complaints from Star Wars fans and haters alike is the Death Star plot device. It was well executed in A New Hope, then brought back for some reason in Return of the Jedi, and then frustratingly transformed into Starkiller Base for The Force Awakens. In the Original Trilogy it was almost permissible, but to bring it back in this new era of Star Wars almost seemed unforgivable.

However, I am here to play the other side. Argue all you want, but here is why having multiple planet-destroying ships is a perfectly acceptable plot device in Star Wars:

The first two Death Stars were probably constructed at the same time

We first saw the plans for the Death Star in Attack of the Clones, and by the end of Revenge of the Sith a skeleton had been put in place out in the far reaches of the galaxy. But the overall planning and construction took twenty years to become fully operational and lethal. 

Catalyst was a book that served as a prequel for Rogue One and covers a bit of that twenty years. In it, scientists are spending time perfecting the super laser that would eventually destroy Alderaan. While they were busy failing and suceeding, the rest of the structure had to be built, insulated, engineered, and (lightly) furnished! 

This whole process would have definitely taken more than four years to do. I say "four years" because that is the time between the end of A New Hope and the beginning of Return of the Jedi, when Death Star II is inhabited and according to Emperor Palpatine, "fully armed and operational." Yes, there was still sections missing, but people could basically live on the thing and be all right...until Wedge, Lando, and Nien Nunb show up and blast it to oblivion. 

My theory (and this hasn't been confirmed, as far as I know) is that Palpatine, in his overall conceitedness and lust for power, commissioned multiple Death Stars after it looked like the first one was going to strike fear into the hearts of non-Imperial patrons of the galaxy. Not only would they be able to cover multiple areas with their fear-inducing monstrosities, they would also make them bigger and more deadly! 

This means that while Grand Moff Tarkin was galavanting about with the original and taking it to Yavin, the rest of the building crew was leaving and going on to finish their roles in the other Death Stars. 

Could there have been three or four? Maybe. But we do know that a second one eventually was spotted orbiting one of Endor's forest moons, and it was scary enough that the Rebellion didn't wait around too long to destroy it. 

The Death Star plans ("Stardust") lasted long after the end of Palpatine.

The Emperor was a selfish man, creating ships and devising contingency plans to maintain control of his power. When the Death Stars showed promise, it is likely that he wasn't satisfied with just blowing up one planet. 

Another novel, Aftermath, talks of a section of Imperials who take specialized weaponry and leave the fledgling Empire after its defeat on Endor. While they leave, it is implied that they return as The First Order many years later with modernized ships, sleek weaponry, and a larger-than-life base of operations that not only destroys planets, it destroys planetary systems

Clearly, Palpatine's greed and lust for power rubbed off on his cronies. They took the great ideas fostered in the Empire and combined it with new technology and ideas. 

Even better than that, they also likely felt superior to Palpatine, who they believed relied to wholeheartedly on "The Force." Because of that, they improved on everything to spite the memory of the only Emperor the Empire ever had by making all his ideas look pathetic and small. 

Is anyone breathing Palpatine's name in the events of The Force Awakens? Nope. All the talk is of The First Order, and that's because they grabbed those Death Star plans and performed a major upgrade.

What's better than one thing? Two things!

Fans might protest that it's sloppy writing to have so many, but even our current world suffers from copycat syndrome. When something amazing like the iPhone comes out, every other company tries to mimic the idea. Even Apple itself won't stay complacent, making tweaks here and there that causes riots amongst their fans. 

The idea that a galaxy would produce multiple death machines is likely more plausible than we suspect. While we might maintain that the Empire wouldn't have been that foolish, they were also the ones that decided to ignore the tiny carnivores on Endor's moon, generally recruit and promote human lifeforms and enslave or eliminate other alien species, and drain the resources of every planet in order to subvert them and glorify "the greater good" which only really helped about 2% of the galaxy's population. 

They were dumb, yes. They were so enamored with themselves that they just tweaked and promoted the Death Star instead of coming up with something else. While the ideas were there, they just weren't interested in going against something so successful. 

Rebuttal?

We could turn this on Lucasfilm and ask them why they thought three planet-destroying ships were a good idea. We could blame it on laziness. We could counter with three hundred better plot ideas than what we were given. 

It is fair to say that it's a bummer that the large-destructo machine plot was needlessly repeated in a movie series. But when people treat these movies like real life and dissect each and every second, they eventually can realize that history tends to repeat itself. 


My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!

Other Star Wars Saturday Articles:

Why I'm Excited for The Last Jedi

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Star Wars Saturday: Why I'm Excited for The Last Jedi


And we're back! Every Saturday from now until the release of Star Wars The Last Jedi I will be writing articles about my favorite fandom of all time: Star Wars! Subscribe to Blurb Musings for those weekly updates, plus more!

Two years ago I was incredibly excited to welcome Star Wars back to the movie universe. I hadn't been supremely disappointed in the prequels like others, but I knew they left a lot on the table that could have been explored.

The Force Awakens was a chance to see Star Wars spinning off from the Original Trilogy, featuring characters from that time. From the first teaser that they showed back in November of 2014, everyone knew they were bringing out everything that the fans loved. New characters, old favorites, lightsabers, etc. They were all there.

I was excited then, but I am even more excited now as we count down the days until The Last Jedi hits theaters. (102 days, to be exact.) Why am I more excited? Read on:

We have an established galaxy.

Thanks to the Extended Universe of Star Wars stories, fans had pieced together a timeline that contained all the stories after the events of Return of the Jedi. When those stories were eliminated from canon and new movies were announced, fans wondered what in the world was happening in this new epilogue for the OT. 

The Force Awakens helped to establish that new timeline. It was 30 years into the future, and the New Republic was floundering. It was helping fund a Resistance movement which was fighting against a rising First Order under the leadership of Supreme Leader Snoke. 

In that overarching view we also knew that Han and Leia's son, Ben, had turned to the dark side thanks to Snoke and become Kylo Ren. He had been training with Luke, but had turned away. Resisting a call back to the light, he killed Han.

The Force awakened in a girl named Rey, marooned on the planet of Jakku when she was younger. She crossed paths with Finn, a deserting stormtrooper who was trying to locate BB-8, who contained a map to Luke. The three of them get into trouble, Finn is wounded, and Rey beats the crap out of Kylo Ren with Luke's old blue lightsaber. 

Oh, and the First Order blew up the New Republic HQ while the Resistance blew up the main First Order HQ. 

There. I was pretty picky, but that's the storyline now. For all those people who complained about its similarities to A New Hope (Hi, Mom!) there is some validity. 

But now we get to the fun stuff!

We get to meet Luke, like it or not.

I think I would have been more excited for The Force Awakens if Luke had been featured more. But I guess Lucasfilm just wanted me to marinate on my excitement for two more years as I got ready for The Last Jedi, because here he is!

It turns out everyone in the galaxy was wondering about Luke, not just me. And as they wondered, I got more excited. 

And then we got the trailer in April, with Luke's first words since Return of the Jedi

"Breathe." 

And I plastered the goofiest grin on my face because it was what I was waiting for so long to hear!

This Luke, however, isn't going to be the nice guy we know and love. There's going to be scars, and we're going to have to be okay with uncovering them and seeing the pain and sorrow. It will also round out the character, and that's always a plus.

Sharing it with kids is even more fun.

When The Force Awakens was released, I bought junior novelizations of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi and read them to my students for read-aloud. If they didn't know who those Original Trilogy characters were before, they were certainly aware of them when I was done. (I must have done a number on that group; about 90% of my Christmas presents that year were Star Wars-related!)

This year, I don't feel like I have to do that. When I printed out cartoons of the characters, I showed them to a few kids, and they immediately knew who they were. They love how cool Kylo Ren looks - probably even more than Darth Vader, to be honest! When I bring up characters I don't get a confused look - I get a nod of understanding. 

Excitement gets me through the tough times.

When I am frustrated at something or someone, I check Star Wars social media. If I need a pick-me-up in the mornings before work, I listen to a Star Wars podcast. As with anyone who struggles with something, finding an escape is the perfect way to unwind. Star Wars has been my thing for a good four years now, and most of the time I can relax and unwind. 

Some people might wonder how I deal with trolls and other negative personalities in the Star Wars universe. Most of the time I don't hear about those people - the people I follow bring a positive light to the community and encourage inclusiveness. It's helped me to be more welcoming to other Star Wars fans and not be a gatekeeper. 

If they can influence me in a positive way, I should too, right? 



The plot thickens in the second part of the trilogy! I can hardly wait!

My name is Claire Nat! You can follow me on Twitter @CeePipes, or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/blurbmusings. Check out my blog for other articles!