Reflections on The Force Awakens [spoiler free]

justin Books, Comic Books, Disney, Fiction, Movies, Popular Culture, Ravings, Star Wars Leave a Comment

star-wars-orangesI just want to start this by reiterating the title: this blog post is spoiler free.

For those readers who don’t know me, or don’t know me that well, I’d like to introduce myself. Hi, I’m Justin and I have a serious Star Wars problem. I’ve had an emotional investment in this franchise since 1977 like a lot of other folks around my age. I collected the toys, I read the comics and I even read the couple of semi-crappy spin off novels that came out before everything exploded into awesomeness with the release of Heir to the Empire in 1991. That’s really where the Expanded Universe got it’s teeth. Around the same time, Dark Horse acquired the licensing to make Star Wars comics (and other products) and a mini Renaissance started to build. I promise this all has a point in regard to the new film: I just need to take a slightly circuitous route to get there.

For my fandom, the Expanded Universe really blew the doors off. I read every novel I could get my hands on and even organized a database of chronology so I could keep them all straight. What really set Star Wars aside from other popular properties that had literary tie-ins was that there was a single chronology to the entire thing. Characters created in a novel, comic book or even a video game would pop up in other novels, comic books and video games. The entire Universe was tied together into one giant story. To be honest, there are a handful of characters that never saw any screen time in the films that I have much more of an attachment to than those that did.

That brings us to October 2012 when the Mouse bought the Galaxy Far Far Away. The new movie was quickly announced and all of us Star Wars geeks giggled and shook with anticipation.

On April 25, 2014, everything, at least for me, changed. Lucasfilm announced that the Expanded Universe was no longer canon. All previous materials now fell under the banner of “Star Wars Legends” and a new canon would be built surrounding the new sequel trilogy. I was totally naive to think that wouldn’t happen. From my perspective, I knew exactly what happened after Return of the Jedi and almost 50 years after that. I still think that the events of the New Jedi Order novels would make an incredible series of movies, but I totally get that an entire reboot had to be put in place as this property gained new legs in front of the non-fanatical public.

That brings us to where we are today. The Force Awakens has been released and is probably exceeding all projected goals. I saw it in the historic Texas Theatre at 7PM on December 17th, 2015. I’m a Star Wars geek, so I was “pee myself” excited every step of the way, but there was a tiny part of me that really wanted a story line from the “Legends” bucket.

Unlike the reviled prequels, this movie had great character development and incredibly solid acting. J.J. Abrams continues to create magic and the massive marketing machine at Disney really did a fantastic job at keeping everything under wraps. I thought I might know a general direction the film was going to go based on the teasers and trailers, but I was completely wrong. The visual effects are damn impressive (as expected) and it is really going to suck that I’ve got to wait a couple of years for Episode VIII. When the credits rolled, I wanted it to start right back up again, and I know I was not the only person who felt that way in the theater. Kudos, Disney, you’ve done a good job.

Now we get to move on. I still have a billion little bits of conjecture swirling around in my head, but I can’t wait to see where we are taken next. If you want to lose a couple hours of your life in the geekery of minutiae, hit me up. I’ve got lots of opinions and even a bunch of knowledge of a universe that has now, for all intents and purposes, marginalized. I’ll be happy as hell to share with you the direction I think things might be going and lots of backstory as to why I think it. C’mon, it’ll be fun.

Jólakötturinn Cometh!

justin cats, Ravings Leave a Comment

fashion-catIceland is a marvelous and magical place. Aside from being on my bucket list of places I want to spend some quality time, the tiny Nordic island nation has also provided us with the Sugarcubes, Sigur Rós, the most confusing parts of Die Another Day (probably one of the worst James Bond flicks, IMHO), and, in 2010, the terrifying erruption of Eyjafjallajökull which basically shut down air travel in Europe for several weeks.

Over half of the population believes in elves, trolls and the Huldufolk, and the Christmas Season is the time of year most bounteous with mystique. You have your garden variety “Yule Lads” (jolasveniar) with names like Window-Peeper, Sausage-Swiper, Doorway-Sniffer and Stubby. These thirteen gents terrorize Icelandic children during the last thirteen nights before Christmas Eve and are the children of the mountain trolls Grýla and Leppalúði. If this wasn’t terrifying enough, Grýla also has a cat: Jólakötturinn.

I stumbled upon Jólakötturinn, or the Yule Cat, in my search for a name for the lovely little monster of a black kitten that joined my household a few months ago. As I have often provided my pets with unusual and culturally recherché monikers, I wanted something suitable for the mischievous little monster. Jólakötturinn did not make the cut, and I finally settled on Killakee, but that did not prevent me from doing some digging into just what the Yule Cat was all about.

Basically put, the Yule Cat is one part flesh-eating monster (or, as I like to call it: cat), one part grinch and one giant part Tim Gunn.

Jólakötturinn’s job is to terrorize Icelandic towns and make sure that you have received new clothing for Christmas. If you have not received new clothing, Jólakötturinn may eat you. In some of the nicer, TV Christmas Special and all-around fluffy versions, Jólakötturinn simply steals your presents. I know cats, though and there is no way in hell the Yule Beast is stealing your presents when the option to munch is on the table. I’d like to also think that Jólakötturinn judges people based on what they put out to show off. Put out those JNCO jeans and you are most decidedly going to wake up in the jaws of a giant and ferocious Judgey McJugdgerson.

Aside from Björk’s wonderfully outrageous costumes, I don’t have a lot of exposure to fashionable Icelandic attire. I can imagine a lot of black and dark colors, but that might just me trying to push Ingmar Bergman further west. It would be quite helpful if Jólakötturinn had a fashion blog so the citizenry might prepare themselves for what is to come. I can just imagine it: “Plaids and stripes and houndstooth? Tsk-tsk, this human is definitely going to leave a bad taste in my mouth. I might just have to chew on an Alexander McQueen scarf to make it to the next village.”

Fashion police in cat form is horribly terrifying. My cats may judge me for the tacky things I wear, but at least they aren’t mandated with chewing my legs off if they are unhappy with my lack of couture. There is also the entire socioeconomic issue that Jólakötturinn presents. Too poor to buy something new for Christmas? Oh well, you’re cat food.

If Jólakötturinn decides he wants to venture to the States this Christmas season, then I guess I’m basically hosed. If he doesn’t dig on tacky Star Wars sweaters, then I’ve got nothing.

The Lackluster Return

justin monkey, Ravings, Stupidity Leave a Comment

mehBoy howdy I love me some gaps. It’s been almost three years since I have managed to pull together enough gumption to put my thoughts together enough to vomit them all over your screen.

Sure, there have been several half-baked and half-thought ideas since early 2013, but never any real motivation to gather them concretely and click the “publish” button. The sad thing is that I’ve really lost my voice. I read back over the stuff that used to spill out of me and I’m a tad jealous that I used to be so prolific. Hell, it looks like 2009 and 2010 were a bumper year for my brain-grinding.

It is totally understandable, though. 2010 marked the beginning of a completely new phase in my life that, in a fashion, pushed me to not devote a whole lot of time to exercising that portion of my brain. My workaholic tendencies kicked in and I did little more than devote myself to working. In that way, I disappointed myself in the way I let that muscle atrophy. Popping out pithy tripe used to be a walk in the park and now I have to actually focus on it and that sucks a lot. It’s almost as if the technical side of my brain went ahead and decided that all the unicorn fluff, monkeys flinging poo and unbirthed lolcat memes had to be boxed up and shoved out of the way to make room for server configurations, project schedules, development plans and, shudder, responsive design.

Ultimately, though, who gives a rat’s ass. This post is the proverbial “shaking the dust off” entry to get the little grey cells to look at the world in a slightly different slant. I’m in serious danger of becoming yet another boring 40-something and there is no way in hell that I’m alright with that. Hell, we are a week away from a new Star Wars movie and I’ve nary posted a peep about it. Trust you me, I’ll be submitting myself to a couple hours of quality Jar Jar torture to atone for that crime against humanity. In fact, my lovely girlfriend has yet to see any of the prequels, so we are going to try and motor through those before Episode VII. Yes, I know that large portions of those three movies can get me brought up on Geneva Convention violations, but it’s a necessary evil. At the very least, she’ll get to fully understand where Luke’s whinyness comes from.

OK, time to close the book on this pity party and get ready for everything that is coming up. I didn’t spend that almost three years totally sitting on my thumbs. There’s been books galore, a smattering of video game play that even sparked off a sort of college reunion, music of my “youth” making a triumphant comeback, and the marvelous return of Dungeons and Dragons to my weekly-ish routine. So much potential for such mirth.

Congratulations! You are now the Mayor of the Ministry of Truth

justin Deep Thinking, Internet, Popular Culture, Ravings Leave a Comment

hashtag-big-broBack in 1948, little Georgie Orwell wrote a book that imagined a world where people where the government rules supreme over all aspects of the life of the citizenry. “Dystopian” and “Oligarchic” are a couple of words that are often bandied about when Nineteen Eighty-Four and many a shitty high-school book report has discussed the growth of a strong Federal government and the associated concerns that come with it as imagined by Orwell.

When 1984 actually rolled around (the year I first read the book, by the way), people sat in anticipation for the Ministry of Peace and the Ministry of Love to be put into place and our daily lives to be dictated to us. Hell, those were the Reagan years. I think even at the tender age of 10 I was probably waiting for the same damn thing.

When 9/11 happened, many thought it was a foregone conclusion that we would be giving up privacy rights in the name of “National Safety.” Given what the Department of Homeland Security has done in the past ten years, I’m still not sure where we stand, but that “oligarchic,” “distopian” future we have all been afraid of for so long isn’t exactly here.

Now that I’ve gone and shown that I know me some modern history and the functions of government, let’s look into what has crawled up on us: social networking.

That’s right. Now with the procurement of a couple of free apps, you, too can see the comings and goings of all of your friends as well as what they are thinking almost minute to minute (depending on your fervor). The kicker is that we do this all voluntarily.

I’ll use myself as an example.

On a typical morning when I’m feeling productive, I’ll check into FourSquare at all of my stops, tweet a few status updates that then get reposted on Facebook and, normally, put a few things up on Tumblr. If followed, any forensic-minded fellow can make a nice timeline of my day.

The hilarious thing is that we don’t even think about it anymore. We want the badges from FourSquare, we are all tapped into Twitter and there just aren’t that many people in the Western World that don’t rely on Facebook as the end all, be all source for day-to-day information.

Big Brother, we iz it.

Given the right motivation, I could follow the public feeds of any given social network and figure out the daily patterns of a good chunk of social media junkies within a good ten mile radius of where I live. If I had a less savory sense of right, I could rob my friends and neighbors when they are away from home, sympathize with their pain and figure out where they’ll be at 9PM next Thursday.

This is all information we volunteer every day. I’m just sayin’.

Reliance on social media has also rooted its way deep into our “normal” conversation. I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear “did you see my status update?” This sort of “meta” conversation really cuts deep into the Orwellian concept of the future. Screw wanting a flying car, now you can have an in-depth conversation with your friends passively with supporting documentation.

Sure, we have bitched for almost forty years about how we don’t want the government to use their “secret” technology to track our every moves (the fodder for many a [insert strong male lead] movie) and ruin our lives. Now, thanks to the smart phone, we do it ourselves without even thinking.

Welcome to the 21st Century: Groupthink isn’t that far behind.

The gravity of gravity

justin monkey, Ravings Leave a Comment

A little over a month ago I had the distinct pleasure of experiencing the plain truths of Newtonian Physics. I had a whole bucket of Second Law followed by a quick realization of the Third Law. The ensuing aftermath involved me rolling on the wet ground in traffic in the middle of the intersection of Skillman and Eastridge, my scooter desperately to visit the abandoned convenience store located on that corner by itself, and, through the magic of even more physics that was applied a couple of hours later, a broken left clavicle.

That’s a whole can of suck realized in just seconds on a semi-rainy Friday evening. Now I have a busted wing, a scooter that will probably get the nickname “two-face,” and I’m pretty much grounded to traveling by four or more wheels during prime scooting weather.

I am, however, pretty damn grateful to be alive.

The human brain is a funny thing. For about the first week after my experiment with a frictionless environment, I was just pissed off at myself for “letting the accident happen.” The universe took a big ol’ dump on me right before me and the mrs. were headed off for a week of fun and frivolity with Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter and I was stuck in a sling; hopped up on pain pills.

A little more than a week in it dawned on me that I could have fucking died in that crash.

My friends and I (us of the various Scooter “organizations” here in Dallas: a.k.a. the Sunday Dubliner drinkers) are pretty damn militant about helmet wear, so I always ride with a bucket, but I tend to get lax about most other recommended safety gear. Fortunately, when I needed it most, I had on a good thick jacket, jeans and gloves. It’s for this reason that all I ended up with was a broken clavicle, a sore tailbone and an iPhone shaped bruise on my right thigh rather than a chance for instant tattoo removal.

Since i received my motorcycle license, I’ve been pretty realistic about the risks. I realize that, by making the decision to ride a motorized two-wheeled vehicle, it is just a matter of when I’ll lay the bike down, not if. That’s a pretty stressful realization, but realistic.

Many people have asked me if I’m ready to sell off my scoots and give it all up. Hell no. Every morning I walk by my Lambretta (thankfully the bike I didn’t crash) and I can’t wait to get it back out on the streets. I’m sure the first couple of rides will be hella stressful, but this, too, shall pass. I don’t even think I’m going to have the cosmetic work done on the Vespa I crashed: it’ll give me a great opportunity to remind people to wear their helmets when they ask me what happened to it.

Healing, unfortunately, is slow going (38 year old bones definitely heal slower than 20 year old bones), but I will emerge from this a more experienced person and, hopefully, an even safer rider.