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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Just a quick update

There are times when I wonder if updating this blog serves any purpose. I rarely get comments or emails, and by rarely I mean once in a blue moon, so does anyone even read it? Perhaps if I put up notices on Twitter and Facebook letting people know I made an update, that might draw more people in. I’ll have to give that a try.

Anyway…

First, an update on my writing and the upcoming books. It looks like A MINOR MAGIC will be the first to hit the market. We’re hoping for a November/December release. And then, somewhere around March of 2012, you should see HAYWIRE come out. I’d like a bit more space between then, but I won’t know if that’s possible until dates firm up a touch more. I’ll keep you in the loop. And as for STILL WATER, I took a break the past two weeks to work on my podcast’s anthology plus to rest for a few days, but next week I’ll get back into it hardcore. If I’m not done with it by the end of October I’ll be upset with myself.

Speaking of podcasts, I’m still doing two of them right now. The Dead Robots’ Society is nearing it’s 200th episode, which doesn’t include all the convention panels, special episodes, and audio dramas we’ve produced, so in reality we have over two-hundred files available for download right now. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished with it. But I’m also still co-hosting with the guys over at The Hollywood Outsider. If you haven’t listened to it yet, I really encourage you to, especially if you like movies and TV shows. I have a lot of fun doing it, and the guys I host with are a lot of fun. I wish they lived closer so that I could hang out with them in person. Please, do yourself and us a favor, and give it a spin. We just put out our ninth episode.

If you’re interested at all in video games, I just finished replaying Gears Of War 1 and 2 in preparation for playing the third game, and I also just finished playing a new RPG (that’s Role Playing Game for you non-gamers) called X-MEN: DESTINY. As you can tell from the title, it is a comic book game, but with an RPG feel. It’s not the best RPG I’ve ever played (Hey, Bioware, what’s up? Get Mass Effect 3 out NOW!), but it was still a lot of fun. I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10.

I think that’s it for now. This brings you up to date on where I am with some of my projects, and as they develop I’ll post ’em here and keep you in the loop. Thanks for coming, and please let me know what you think regarding anything I’ve talked about.

Oh, before I go, please notice the new icons I’ve put at the bottom of this post. I got the idea for this from Robin Sullivan, and I’m hoping they’ll help in keeping people connected with me and what I’ve working on. If you see any problems with them, or have other ideas, please let me know.

Take care.

Another soldier falls…

When my Xbox 360 died, I wasn’t surprised. Only someone with their head buried in the sand or up their tuckus was unaware of the pending doom that is the RLoD (Red Lights of Death). An early model 360 wasn’t so much a machine of gaming wonderment and joy so much as it was a ticking repair job time bomb. I knew the risks, the dangers, and went in anyway. When I was hit I took it on the chin like a man and dealt with it. Now I have a newer model, one with the latest chipsets, and am well pleased.

But yesterday… yesterday my PlayStation 3 fell. Everything seemed fine, and then BAM! Nothing. I reset the power, and all I got was a two second green light before it flashed yellow and then blinked at me with its mournful red light. No amount of resets changed things. It was over. An internet search informed me that it had fallen prey to the (previously unknown by me) YLoD, which I think you can work out the meaning of. What made the moment truly sad was that it was an original 60GB fatty model. What makes that special, you ask? Well, those models are 100% backwards compatible with PS1 and PS2 games. Newer models are either partially backwards compatible or not at all. The whole reason I bought the 60GB model PS3, in spite of the lack of compelling software at the time, was because I knew Sony was going to be ending their production of said 60GB models, and I didn’t want to run the risk of not being able to play older games, or worse… having to repurchase a PS2 and figure out how to plug it into my mess of an AV system. I liked my PS3, and I wanted to keep it.

Thankfully I found a place online that specializes in PS3 repairs, has a good reputation, and seems to work fast. Hopefully they can resurrect my baby and get it back to me soon. Here’s hoping. If they do, I’ll shout their praises to the heavens. If not, you’ll hear about that too. Cross your fingers for me.

Comic-Con – Day Two

Yeah, I’m about done. That didn’t take long, did it? I guess as I get older I have less and less patience for what I consider to be bullshit. All the endless crowds and lines and asshole people have conspired to drain just about all the fun out of this experience. Such a shame.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have had me some fun. Yesterday I got to see Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillian in person, and that was a blast (my wife especially enjoyed the Fillian part – she loves her some Captain Hammer/Malcome Reynolds), and seeing the cast and writers from Family Guy and American Dad was great, but it’s everything surrounding those things that wore me out. By the time we were out of there, I had nothing left in me. And this morning, when I got up, I knew I couldn’t face another round offighting people and standing in lines, so I’m going to miss the Hereos and Lost panels. Not that I could have gotten into those anyway since people started lining up last night at midnight to get into those. I am bummed.

Plus, my wife is even more tired of it. She had planned on trying to get Dean Koontz’s autograph and sit in on his panel, but now she doesn’t even want to go back into the con at all. I hate that, because I knew she was really looking forward to that, and knowing that her fun has been taken away tarnishes the experience a bit for me.

Anyway, today I’ll I’m going to do is go the Starkville/Tenth Wonder panel, and then possibly see if I can find the Geekscape podcast, and then I’m going to leave.

I don’t think I’ll be coming back to the con for at least a couple of years. It’s just too much, and my patience is too little. Here’s hoping Dragon*Con proves to be a more enjoyable experience.

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Dear lord, my feet are sore, and I think I nearly drowned in geekness. Yesterday was a Preview Night, with most of the time taken up by just getting our four-day passes (why they don’t mail them is beyond me, especially given the chaos of that process), but once we had our passes we went into the con and checked it out. First off, it is HUGE. I think the building is about five or so city blocks long, but after winding your way through throngs of people it might as well be five miles. My wife and I wandered a bit and bought a few shirts before she bugged out while I stuck around the do an interview with Jonathan London (http://www.geekscape.net). The walk out of there and back to our hotel felt like it took all the strength that I had left in me.

Once I was back in the room, I settled in at the small table, opened the program guide, and began to map out what panels I wanted to see. It was a healthy list. I then eat a burger, took a shower, and went to bed.

This morning my feet felt pretty good, which surprised me. My wife decided to rent a car so that she could tool around San Diego and perhaps go to Tijuana while I geeked out. Traffic nearly kept me from making it to my first scheduled panel, which was a solo discussion given by J. Michael Straczynski about professional writing. Luckily, I made it, and It was fantastic. On a down note, though, the recording I took of it is really quiet. I’m hoping that I can pump up the volume of his voice so that it is easier to listen to without also pumping up louder bits. We shall see. I then went to another panel (not as good), was somewhat forced to sit through another panel (meh), but then got to sit in on a fairly interesting talk. The recording on it was better. But, by the time that one was over, so was I. I managed to make it throuh one more, but that one was strictly for me. It was a spotlight panel on Bill Willingham, the writer of Fables, one of my favorite comics.

Once the panels were done I wanted to roam around the con floor a bit to pick up some new books and such. And, I managed to find a few good ones, but it took me hours to find them in the midst of everything else. Some cool finds just aren’t worth the pain.

Anyway, tomorrow is another day, but this time I’m going to take it easy. I’m going to skip a panel in the late morning and just try to get in early enough to get a seat in the Joss Whedon panel, which will be followed by panels for American Dad and Family Guy. I’m hoping I’ll leave tomorrow in better shape than I’m in now. Otherwise… ooff.

And with that, I bid you all a good night…

I can now call myself a published author

Yep, that’s right. I actually made a sale. One of my short stories was accepted by the online sci-fi magazine Ray Gun Revival (www.raygunrevival.com), and it will be published soon. The pay was small, but the validation and encouragement more than make up for it. I’m really excited. I’ll post more when I know more. So, for now, know that I’m one happy guy.

Also, I’ll be off this weekend to Comic-Con in San Diego (which in German means a whale’s vagina – true story). I’ve been looking forward to this since I failed to go to last year’s Comic-Con. I purchased four day tickets for my wife and myself as soon as they were available. I’m hoping to sit in on a lot of panels, and maybe get an interview or two that I can play on my podcast. Wish me luck! Either way, I know I’m going to have a good time. I’ll also be snapping pictures like crazy, so expect to see some of those.

Anyway, bye for now!!

Rock Band, making marriages stronger

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I love video games. I always have, and I always will. My wife, while not a big player of games, still (thankfully) enjoys watching me play. Not all games, mind you. She doesn’t care for games that are nothing but running and gunning, games that are all violence and no story. When I want to play those, I do so on my own time. But, if the game has a good story, good characters, interesting gameplay, and something for her to help with (helping me keep track of items, level up characters, relaying how many laps there are on the track, etc), then there’s almost nothing she likes better than to snuggle in and watch. Her favorite games have been Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, Psychonauts, Project Gotham Racing, Fable, Grand Theft Auto 3, and surprisingly Bioshock – I didn’t think she’d dig the scary premise).

But, one genre of game she has given me no end of grief about until recently was music games. The first time she saw me try and play Dance Dance Revolution, she nearly hurt herself laughing at me, and when she saw my play Guitar Hero for the first time she raced for a camera to show my humiliation to her friends at work. She pretty much dislikes any game that uses something other than a standard controller to play it, and the more hand movements are involved, the more she dislikes it (one of the reasons I got rid of my Wii). So, when I picked up Rock Band, I didn’t anticipate anything different from her.

Anyway, one day while she was taking a nap, I decided to play a little. About an hour in, she wakes up and comes out to see me playing through the solo on “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” She chuckled, but she sat down and watched me play a bit. Then I played “Cherub Rock,” and it was all over.

You see, my wife is a big Smashing Pumpkins fan. They are her favorite band. Not the Amore stuff, though. Strictly Gish, Siamese Dream, and Mellon Collie. I knew that Rock Band had “Cherub Rock” on it, and I’d hoped that if I could get her to see me play it, that her love for the Pumpkins would be enough to make her want to play.

Boy, did that work! I’d bought the instrumentless version of Rock Band since I already had a guitar controller, so she asked me, “Can you get the drums for this?”

“Yeah, they sell them separately.”

“Then get them.”

I did. At first she was really hesitant to sit down and play it. Once she got over her initial fear, she tried a few of the easiest songs, and really had a hard time with them. She didn’t seem to be having fun, and I thought that she would probably give up.

Cut to today. While I was at work she called me twice to tell me how high her note streaks were while playing “Say It Ain’t So” by Wheezer and “I’m So Sick” by Flyleaf. She was having a blast, and “Cherub Rock” was only a small part of it. I was so pleased, and when I got home we played a bit together.

And sop there you have it. Rock Band, making marriages stronger.