What STAR WARS Means To Me

Given all the chatter that’s sprung up about Star Wars since THE FORCE AWAKENS was released, I thought I’d post a little piece regarding it and my history with the franchise.

Ahem ahem…

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What Star Wars Means To Me

If you’ve heard this story from me before, please bear with me. I repeat it here now so that it’s fully and officially on the record.

STAR WARS, what we would later come to alternatively call EPISODE IV and A NEW HOPE (depending on your level of geekery), was released upon the world in May of 1977. I was four and a half years old. I clearly remember my parents taking me and my little brother Scott (he wouldn’t have even been two at the time) to the local drive-in movie theater to see it. The weather was clear, the playground up near the screen was filled with kids swinging and clambering over monkey bars, and the smell of buttered popcorn drifted through the air like the promise of a great summer to come.

Being so young, I really had no idea what the movie was we were there to see. Movies hadn’t penetrated my fledgling mind yet, nor had any books my parents read to me or shows on the television. I was a tabula rasa, just waiting for the right thing to come and spark my juvenile imagination. My joy at being at the drive-in came mostly from the play area. What little boy doesn’t love sand boxes and seesaws? But, when the sun went down, it was back to the family car to watch whatever film we’d come to see. So long as I had a small bag of popcorn and a coke, I didn’t really care what it was. But, when the projector burst to life like some sort of Asgardian artifact and that famous Twentieth-Century Fox fanfare poured forth from Angelic horns, my life was forever, irrevocably changed.

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I couldn’t read the words that floated down the whitewashed movie screen ahead of us, but sitting on the roof of my parents’ car it didn’t matter. I knew they were important by the music and the way they marched with steady purpose through a field of stars that looked so much like the stars twinkling over my head at that very moment. And then when the camera panned down to reveal a spaceship racing away as lights flashed against it, only then to watch as the vessel that followed it thundered above me like a metallic monster that grew larger and larger and larger with every moment, a leviathan hounding after a goldfish. It was amazing, and the lights reflected like stars in my little eyes.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the introduction of Darth Vader, a figure that haunts me to this day, mostly in various plastic forms around my office. After all the whiteness of the small ship’s corridors and the Stormtroopers that quickly poured into it, Vader’s immense blackness sent chills through me. Sitting on the roof of that car, I felt true fear for the first time. Later, when Luke and Han were doing their fumbling best to save the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my young life, I felt joy, and love, and excitement. When the end credits finally rolled, there really aren’t words to describe how I felt. To be honest, I don’t know if even I – after all these years – truly understand just how I felt. But I do know this – I was changed. The boy that crawled back into his parents’ car and went home to dream of heroes in white and villainous evil in black, was not the same boy who played in the sand just hours before.

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Before I move on, I need to say one final thing about the memory I just shared with you in the interest of full disclosure: I don’t know if it’s actually true. That, right there, is me being honest. I think it’s true. It certainly feels true. When I cast my mind back nearly four decades, those are the things I honestly remember happening. My mother could come along and say, “Oh, son, that didn’t happen. We saw it…” and she would probably be right. But, that doesn’t matter. Not to me. I know my truth. Real or not, those memories are what I recall when I think about Star Wars. We all have mythologies about ourselves that we create using as much truth as we can and then filling in the rest with “that’s how it should have happened” bits. For me, those shared memories are my Star Wars origin story. That is where my heroic journey began. Now on with the show…

Over the years since May of ’77 the level of my fanaticism waxed and waned. I played with all the toys when I was kid, turned my bedroom into Hoth and Endor, held X-Wings and ran through the yard with them held high as they soared after Tie-Fighters. But with each year that passed after RETURN OF THE JEDI’s end credits faded, so did my passion. I read the Marvel comic every once and awhile, and if I stumbled across some toy or item I’d never seen before I’d do my best to get it, but aside from the occasional book there just wasn’t much to keep the Star Wars fire burning. Such is the way of things.

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That doesn’t mean my love of science fiction and fantasy diminished, however. No no, my brother, not even a little. Because of Star Wars I launched into the fandom of all things nerdy with a greedy abandon. Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, Dune, the Dragonlance novels, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek, and on and on it went. When everyone else wanted to play sports, I wanted to keep my face in a book, or play a game, or rewatch CLASH OF THE TITANS. While my friends wanted to play Rambo out in the woods, I wanted to play as a Jedi or an X-Wing pilot. It was just the way I rolled.

As I’m sure you can imagine, all this led to me to being a pretty geeky kid. And yeah, sure, there were rough moments from time to time holding that freak flag aloft. If I had a dime for every book slapped out of my hands or every “you’re such a nerd” spat in my face I could have bought LucasFilm instead of Disney. It never got me down though, because it wasn’t as if I could be any other way. Geekdom is woven into my very DNA.

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Luckily for the Star Wars fan inside me, the fires returned when it was announced that new Star Wars books would soon be hitting bookstore shelves, starting with a new trilogy to cap off the movies! OMG! Just as I’m entering college, Star Wars is returning to my life, and in a way I adore – books. From there suddenly there were new games, new toys, even new music (Shadows of the Empire rocked!). And then came the Special Editions! And more books! And then…holy frijole…EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. Say what you want now, but back then the idea of new movies shook the world. I have plenty of issues with the prequels, believe me, but I never make myself come down and hate them. As bad as some of it is, there’s good too, like Vader himself proved possible. Star Wars was once again a cultural phenomenon. I couldn’t have been happier.

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Star Wars has been a gift to me, and somehow it never ceases to give. Of all the things it’s led me to, however, none is more important to me than my writing. The books I’ve written that sit on someone’s bookcase wouldn’t exist were it not for Star Wars. My mind was blown open at a very impressionable age, and in the decades since I’ve absorbed as much science fiction and fantasy as possible across as broad a range of stories and characters as you can imagine. And all of that, once filtered through my mind, comes out in the novels and short stories I’ve written and will go on to write. I cannot thank George Lucas enough for what he created, and when I say that I mean both Star Wars and myself. He was practically a third parent, tending to my brain while mom and dad took care of the rest.

Does that sound odd, or perhaps excessive? Maybe. But, I do think Star Wars has led to me being a good person. Because of my travels across space and time I’ve met so many different types of people, both real and imagined, and through that I became a very accepting person. I don’t judge people because of what they look like, or who they love, or who they worship. We’re all children of the same long ago stars. I try to be empathetic, forgoing fear for love, like a Jedi should. Some of this I gained directly from Star Wars, and some came through the universes Star Wars led me to. When I say I am who I am because of Star Wars, I honestly mean it. And I think it’s a good thing.

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And perhaps that’s really it. I love who I am. I love that my mind is filled with alien worlds and ancient kingdoms. I love that my shelves are crowded with Stephen King books, Marvel movie box sets, and action figures that cover the gamut of science fiction and fantasy. When someone says, “Where do we go?” in my mind I follow it up with a mentally sung, “From here…” (That’s a Buffy reference, y’all). If a person asks me who my doctor is, I immediately want to answer with, “David Tennant.” And of course when anyone says, “I’ll try,” you know I want to tell them, “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” My nerd runs deep, and it runs rough.

Some might say that all this makes it impossible for me to be unbiased when it comes to the Star Wars universe, and more specifically the movies. To them I answer, you’re right. I can’t. But that’s not because I lack the objectiveness needed to see the flaws and failings of the movies; rather, it’s because they aren’t just movies to me. They’re friends. Hell, they’re more than that – the Star Wars movies are my family. They’ve been with me practically my whole life, through good times and bad, giving me advice when I needed it, hope when I felt hopeless. I know the films aren’t perfect, but that doesn’t make me love them any less. I acknowledge all the problems with Star Wars, can understand why some might not like them, but I can do  all that without lessening my affection one iota. I don’t let the rough patches make me stumble, or get lost in plot imperfections. I accept the movies as they are and love them unconditionally just as a father loves his children, or as a brother loves his siblings. Is Jar Jar an idiot? Yeah, but he’s my idiot. Are Ewoks cool? Nope, but who cares, they’re still cute and still kill Stormtroopers. Could I have possibly written better dialogue than, “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. Not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth,”? Probably. But a cheesy line has never made me love my younger brother any less, so why would it with Star Wars? For me it’s all the same.

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So there you have it. That is what Star Wars means to me. To most people it means a lot less, and that’s cool. I don’t expect them to love it as much as I do. Wish, yes, but not expect. And I understand that most people haven’t grown up with it in their lives the way I did. We can’t change how we grew up. For me Star Wars goes beyond fandom to family. I know it has its problems, but I’ll always love it, and it will continue to be unconditional.

Until next time…

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“Home” by Joe Satriani

I know I said I’d try and post up a music entry at least once a week, and it seems I failed to keep that up right from the start. Such is me and my wondering brain…

This week I present a song from one of my favorite musicians of all time – Joe Satriani. Joe (or Satch) is a guitarist without peer in my opinion, at least so far as rock music is concerned. There are a lot of instrumental guitarists out there, and some of them are probably more technically proficient than he is, but for my money none of them has his combination of heart, technique, and soul. He isn’t about an endless procession of scales or hammer-ons. He doesn’t play songs that are one long solo. He’s about songs with power and skill, but also with melody. I love his work, and I celebrate his entire catalog.

This song, “Home,” is from his self-titled CD. I love it. The first time I heard it was as I was driving, and I had to pull over because it was so damn powerful. I makes me sad and happy all at one. I wish this video was of him performing it, but this was all I could find. I hope you enjoy it.

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I love the guitar. I always have. Especially the acoustic guitar. Of all the musical instruments out there I think it has the most versatility, the most range. It can sound so hopeful and joyous, yet it can plumb great depths of pain and sadness. There are so many ways of altering its tone, from different string sizes and materials, to how the body is shaped and where the sound holes are placed. An Ovation sounds different from a Takamine, which sounds different from a Martin. And don’t even get started with the differences between a 6-string and a 12-string, or we’ll be here all day. No other instrument can match it.

I used to play guitar, once upon a time. Never all that well, mind you, never passed the level of a newbie picker, but I enjoyed it. I even learned to play a few songs, like “Silent Lucidity” and “More Than Words.” Of course, all I could handle were the rhythm parts. The solo or feature work would always be outside my range. Perhaps if I’d played it more, put more of my focus on it, I could have become better at it, but that’s the problem when want to explore multiple forms of art. At some point you have to choose which one you’ll make a career out of, and which will always remain a hobby. For me, writing prose won out. After a time I gave up the guitar entirely, gave away my last acoustic, and moved on. Now the closest I get is playing Rock Band on the Xbox. Surprisingly enough, it’s a satisfying experience, scratching my musical itch just enough. I do miss it though, sometimes awfully bad. The feeling of playing a song you wrote… Eh…

But, even though I don’t play anymore, my appreciation for the guitar burns just as brightly as it ever did. I especially enjoy instrumental songs, be it of the electric or unplugged variety. To express that love I think I’ll start posting videos of performances that I find moving. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way. I might only post them once a week, or I might do it daily. I don’t know. Music is a central part of my life, though, and I want to share it with the people who care and who are interested. If that’s you, then let’s go…

First up – Antoine Dufour. This is him performing his song, “Glimmer of Hope.” I’m not a fan of many of his songs, but this one… this one blows me away. I can’t listen to it and NOT feel inspired. It’s just beautiful, and his technique is impeccable. Enjoy.

The music of writing (part 1)

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Well, while I wait for my chosen readers to get back to me with their thoughts on my novel, I thought I’d take a moment and talk about music. More specifically, I thought I’d talk about the music I like to write to.

I am not a person who enjoys silence. Whether I’m reading, writing, or even trying to go to sleep, silence drives me to distraction. My brain misses the input of sound, and in its place my mind wanders unceasingly, so I always have to have some sort of sound playing. When I go to sleep I (my wife needs this too, so I know I’m not alone in my peculiarity) use a sound machine that generates a rain-like noise that fills the room. When we go on trips, I use my iPod and a set of speakers for the same function. 

When I’m reading or writing, though, I prefer to listen to music. When I’m reading I can listen to almost anything, but when I’m writing I usually stick to instrumental pieces, as the sound of a person singing will occasionally distract me from the intensive task of typing the story I see playing against the inside of my skull. Movie and video game scores work the best, as they usually focus on themes, and for whatever reason those get my mind in the proper gear for when I need to setup a mood. Classical music is also a good source, but the complexity of some pieces can actually work against me. So, most of the time, I play a soundtrack when I settle down to write, and it makes all the difference.

John Williams is, of course, a great source of inspiration. Whether we’re talking about his scores for Star Wars, Jurassic Park, or Indiana Jones, his ability to create a sense of excitement and wonder is almost unmatched. My personal favorites are the scores for Episode III and Episode VI, both of which have a goodly mix of dark and light elements, evoking heroism and villainy in equal measure.

David Arkenstone, while not a film score composure, is another one of my go-to musicians. His CD’s can be found in the New Age section of most music stores, but most of it sounds like soundtracks for movies not yet made. How Hollywood hasn’t discovered him yet, I don’t know. The first work of his I ever heard was “In The Wake Of The Wind.” I bought that CD back in 1990, and I’ve been a fan of his ever since. “Atlantis” and “Celtic Book Of Days” are two other CD’s that see heavy rotation when I write.

Tommy Tallarico composed the score for the video game “Advent Rising.” While I have not finished the game (I’ve only played the first couple of levels), I can tell you that the score is magnificent. It swells with drama, and the choral work is divine. I heartily recommend it.

The last piece I’ll mention with this entry is the score for the film “Wing Commander.” While I still haven’t forgiven Chris Roberts for ruining the translation of his video game franchise onto the big screen, I do think the score for the movie is incredible. Kevin Kiner was the composer, and it is a favorite of mine. How something so wonderful could come from such a terrible movie is a mystery I’ll never unravel.

Well, I think that’s all for the moment. There are other pieces that I should mention, and in the future I will. If you are like me and you prefer to write while listening to music, then I recommend you seek out the CD’s I’ve listed here. You won’t be sorry.