Culture on My Mind – Gingertail’s Mandalorian

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
Gingertail’s Mandalorian

May 28, 2021

This week, I have music from The Mandalorian on my mind.

Specifically, this cover by YouTuber Alina Gingertail.

These musical versions of Culture on My Mind are short and sweet. Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you again very soon.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

The 2020 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

The 2020 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

Promotional image via The LEGO Group

One of the holiday season traditions in my household is the LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar. These annual boxes contain twenty-four unique small builds, many of which are abstract, along with exclusive mini-figures and whimsical winter-themed spins on Star Wars staples. We’ve seen a winter Chewbacca, a rebel pilot snowman, a Santa Porg, a “gonk” power droid decorated like a present, and the AT-AT and R2-D2 pair with reindeer antlers.

It’s whimsical and it’s fun. It makes us laugh.

This year’s box was tied to the LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special, which was so much fun to watch (but was definitely not canon). This year’s box also included The Rise of Skywalker in the mix of Star Wars favorites. A couple of my favorite builds this year were Vader’s Castle (for the ingenuity) and D-O (for the cute factor).

As you can see, the day-to-day images are posted on my Instagram account. Feel free to follow me there for whimsical observations, tons of pictures of my dogs, and this annual tradition. I compiled last year’s photos into a single blog post.

I hope this holiday season finds you and yours well. Stay warm, stay safe, and I’ll see you next year.

Culture on My Mind – Disney Investor’s Call 2020: Addendum

Culture on My Mind
December 21, 2020

Since it was just announced, I have one addendum to my post about the Disney Investor’s Call: The Book of Boba Fett.

The news was dropped at the end of The Mandalorian‘s season finale, and it was formally announced on December 21st.

Now, among things that shouldn’t need saying with the actual words being right there in the tweet and Facebook post, this is a new series, not the third season of The Mandalorian. A new series that Disney couldn’t talk about at the investor’s call because it would spoil the back half of a currently airing production.

Nevertheless, certain geek websites and YouTube talking heads insist that Temuera Morrison and Boba Fett are replacing Pedro Pascal and Din Djarin because of behind the scenes “drama” or some bantha poodoo.

Don’t give them the oxygen or the credit. They’re lying to you.

Star Wars: The Book of Boba Fett is coming in December 2021. The Mandalorian is slated to return for a third season soon after that.


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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Disney Investor’s Call 2020

Culture on My Mind
December 18, 2020

This week, I’m thinking Disney.

It’s been a weekend since the Disney Investor’s Call, but it’s taken a few days to parse all of the news from the four-hour long presentation on all things Disney, including Star Wars and Marvel Studios.

It was almost like a mini-D23 Expo to close out a troubling year. But it did come with news that the Mouse House was planning on expanding their streaming offerings within the next few years, including around 10 Marvel series, 10 Star Wars series, 15 additional series under the Disney banner (Disney animation, Pixar, and live action), and 15 completely new movies under those same banners.

There will be a price hike on Disney+ to cover it. The service is going to $7.99 a month in the United States, coming from the 86 million subscribers they picked up in the first thirteen months as well as anyone else who wants in on what the House of Mouse has in store.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon

Long ago, in the fantasy world of Kumandra in ancient Asia, humans and dragons lived together in harmony. But when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. Now, 500 years later, those same monsters have returned and it’s up to a lone warrior, Raya, to track down the last dragon in order to finally stop the Druun for good. However, along her journey, she’ll learn that it’ll take more than dragon magic to save the world—it’s going to take trust as well.

This computer-animated adventure film stars Kelly Marie Tran as the titular Raya and Awkwafina as Sisu, the last dragon. It is directed by Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada, co-directed by Paul Briggs and John Ripa, produced by Osnat Shurer and Peter Del Vecho, written by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, and scored by James Newton Howard.

This film was originally set for a November 2020 theatrical release, but due to COVID-19 it was pushed back to late March 2021. The investor call revealed that it will be released to Disney+ on March 5th alongside a theatrical release. The streaming release will be on the Premium Access side of Disney+, meaning that it will require an additional fee to access. If it follows the Mulan model, it will likely become widely available around three months afterward.

Star Wars

Ahsoka LogoThe Star Wars news started with what might have been a no-brainer after this season of The Mandalorian.

There are a lot of dark clouds surrounding Rosario Dawson at the intersection of Star Wars fandom and the LBGTQ+ community, and she has a lot of work to do to regain trust given the allegations against her. I don’t discredit anything that the LBGTQ+ community has to say about it. Disney has made many strides forward in representation and diversity, but the casting of both Rosario Dawson and Gina Carano has told many people that there is still a long, long road to travel.

That said, given her status, I would have been very surprised if Disney had let Dawson go after a one-shot appearance as one of the most famous modern characters in the franchise.

There are not a lot of details surrounding the Ahsoka Tano limited live-action series, but Dave Filoni is slated as showrunner. Which, of course he is, because she is his creation.

I am excited about this for many reasons. I’ve loved Ahsoka since her premiere in 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, even if my fellow fans were not. Trust me, despite what franchise detractors claim now, they were certainly not fans of her twelve years ago. But in that time, she has expanded the philosophy of the Force beyond the Skywalker films, and has been an avatar for Dave Filoni to take the reins of the Star Wars universe after literally studying at the feet of George Lucas for the animated series that followed the 2008 film.

I just wish someone else was in the lead acting role, y’know?

Rangers of the New Republic Logo

The Ahsoka series is apparently going hand-in-hand with Star Wars: Rangers of the New Republic, a live-action series from executive producers Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni that will intersect with future stories and culminate into a climactic story event.

Whatever that means, anyway. I’m guessing that either we’ll get some clues as The Mandalorian wraps its second season, or maybe we already have with that golden badge that Cara Dune received from the New Republic.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Logo

Last August, Lucasfilm and Disney announced that Ewan McGregor was returning to his prequel trilogy role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in a series set on the Tatooine dunes. We found out from the call that the series will take place approximately ten years before A New Hope, or effectively halfway into his self-imposed exile after Revenge of the Sith. The series will be helmed by Deborah Chow, who directed in season one of The Mandalorian.

The big news here is that Hayden Christensen is returning to the role of Darth Vader for the series. It’s only been relatively recently that Christensen has warmed up to Star Wars fans after the fire and venom they flung at him after the prequels. Seriously, if you want to see how bad some supposed fans can be, read up on the troubles that Jake Lloyd, Ahmed Best, and Hayden Christensen have had in light of the nastiness of fan letters.

It’s not clear if Christensen will be in flashbacks or in the Vader suit, but I’m eager to see how the story goes because I loved Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of Kenobi.

After that, they talked about the next feature film.

Patty Jenkins, director of Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984 will be directing a Rogue Squadron film.

Coming to theaters in December 2023, this film will follow the next generation of starfighter pilots in the Star Wars universe. It also fulfills a dream since Patty Jenkins, the daughter of a fighter pilot, has always wanted to make a fighter pilot movie. She’s also a Star Wars fan. It’s a match made in heaven.

We’re also getting a film directed by Mandalorian and Marvel alum Taika Waititi, but no details are available.

Star Wars logo bundleFinally, we have a last bundle of television series.

Lando Calrissian’s getting a show, but we have no idea if it’s Billy Dee Williams, Donald Glover, or another actor in the svelte capes.

The Cassian Andor (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) series is finally being talked about. The Tony Gilroy spy thriller will star Diego Luna as Cassian Andor with Stellan Skarsgard, Adria Arjona, Fiona Shaw, Denise Gough, Kyle Soller, and Genevieve O’Reilly as Mon Mothma.

Leslye Headland, Emmy Award-nominated creator of Russian Doll, is in charge of a Dark Side mystery-thriller called The Acolyte, which is set in the final days of the High Republic era. That’s well before The Phantom Menace.

Star Wars: Visions will present ten short films in an anthology from the world’s best anime creators.

A Droid Story will take us on an epic journey with a new hero guided by R2-D2 and C-3PO.

And, last but not least, The Bad Batch will continue the Clone Wars story with the elite and experimental clones introduced in The Clone Wars: Season Seven as they navigate the turbulent times just after the fall of the Republic. This one might be the hardest for me to watch since I’m not a fan of the clones who executed Order 66. It all depends on what happened to the Bad Batch as Palpatine gave the order and what happens to them afterward.

I have seen people complain already that it’s too much, too soon. First, this is a plan for years, not months. Second, everything but Rogue Squadron and Taika Waititi’s film will be behind a paywall so you need to pay to play. Third, this is nothing compared to Marvel Studios.

Marvel Studios

The investor call brought the final trailer for WandaVision, a series dealing with Wanda Maximoff, Vision, the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, and the dawn of Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It premieres in January.

The series will also include Teyonah Parris as a grown-up Monica Rambeau (Captain Marvel), Kat Denning as Darcy Lewis (Thor and Thor: The Dark World), and Randall Park as FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Ant-Man and the Wasp).

We also got a first look at The Falcon and the Winter Solider, a post-Avengers: Endgame and post-Spider-Man: Far From Home series with the new Captain America (played by Anthony Mackie) and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier as they take on Baron Zemo (Daniel Bruhl, Captain America: Civil War).

They briefly addressed Chadwick Boseman and the Black Panther legacy: Black Panther 2 is definitely happening with Ryan Coogler back at the helm, but they will not recast the role of T’Challa. I’m still pulling for Letitia Wright’s Shuri to become the new Queen of Wakanda.

Disney also announced a few new surprise titles for Phase Four.

Marvel logo bundle

Secret Invasion will star Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury as he battles a (ahem) secret invasion of Skrulls with shapeshifting Skrull ally Talos (Captain MarvelSpider-Man: Far From Home). This is probably going to be loosely based on the comics event of the same name.

Ironheart stars Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, a young black girl from inner city Chicago who reverse engineers Tony Stark’s armor to become the protector of her neighborhood. I am definitely onboard for this.

Don Cheadle will return as War Machine/James Rhodes in Armor Wars as Marvel explores what happens when Iron Man tech falls into the wrong hands. We got a taste of that in Iron Man 2.

We’ll also get a “live action holiday special” with the Guardians of the Galaxy cast (written and directed by James Gunn) and a series of shorts featuring new characters in the Marvel universe via I am Groot.

F4Ready for another surprise? Just over a year after regaining the rights to Marvel’s First Family, director Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far from Home, and the third Spider-Man MCU film) will be in charge of Fantastic Four.

The Fantastic Four have been notoriously difficult to capture on film, but with Watts in charge, I’m expecting about the same level of levity and charm as he’s shown through the two Spider-Man films so far.

We got a first look at What If…?, which explores stories of alternate Marvel Cinematic Universes where one little thing changed the whole world. What if Peggy Carter was the super soldier instead of Steve Rogers? What if T’Challa was taken by Yondu, thus becoming Star Lord? What if…?

There’s also a first look at Loki, a series that looks like a ton of multiverse-bending madness. It also features Atlanta’s famous Marriott Marquis hotel. I’d know those elevators anywhere.

Oh, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania! Peyton Reed is returning to direct, Kathryn Newton is taking over the role of Cassie Lang, and Jonathan Majors is Kang the Conqueror.

Is that enough? Of course not. Marvel still has Black Widow on May 7th, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on July 9th, The Eternals on November 5th, and the third MCU Spider-Man film on December 17th.

Thor: Love and Thunder (enter Christian Bale as Gorr the God Butcher), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (which just announced newcomer Xochitl Gomez to portray America Chavez!), the Black Panther sequel, the Captain Marvel sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and a Blade movie are still in the wings for 2022 and beyond.

We also have Hawkeye (Hailee Steinfeld is Kate Bishop), Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani is Kamala Khan), She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany in the title role with Tim Roth and Mark Ruffalo returning as Abomination and Hulk), and Moon Knight being developed for Disney+.

And… breathe.

Disney Live-Action

Love ’em or hate ’em, Disney’s still revamping their back catalog in live-action/computer animated form. However, given the tumult presented by COVID-19 on the motion picture industry, the upcoming remakes of Peter Pan and Pinocchio will join Lady and the Tramp and Mulan on Disney+ instead of theaters.

Peter Pan and Wendy will star newcomer Ever Anderson (the daughter of Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson, who also plays a young Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow) and Alexander Moloney. Yara Shahidi will play Tinker Bell and Jude Law will play Captain Hook.

Yes, a black Tinker Bell. Prepare yourself for a whole new crop of close-minded bovine excrement from that particular sector of the internet.

Pinocchio will star Tom Hanks as Geppetto and Alan Cumming as Honest John, with Robert Zemeckis at the helm. Tom Hanks is a universal treasure, so I’m excited to see what he does with this.

Jungle Cruise and The Little Mermaid will still be released in theaters, and we’re also getting sequels to Enchanted and Hocus Pocus. I get the former, but I’m hesitant about the latter.

Disney Animation

On the success of the DuckTales reboot, Disney is breathing new life into Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, this time in the hybrid live-action/computer generated format. John Mulaney and Andy Samberg are the chipmunk brothers in a world where cartoons live side-by-side with humans. So, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? style?

Lin-Manuel Miranda is coming back to Disney animation with Encanto, a new animated film set in Colombia dealing with “the dangerously wonderful chaos of family” combined with elements of magic. Encanto will be the studio’s 60th animated feature film.

Princess Tiana (The Princess and the Frog) and Moana will be returning in their own respective musical animated series, and Baymax (Big Hero 6) and the characters of Zootopia will also be getting their own shows. Disney also announced that they’re teaming up with the Pan-African entertainment company Kugali to develop a science fiction animated series called Iwájú, which showcases a gorgeous, Afro-futuristic world.

We’re also getting another crack at A Diary of a Wimpy Kid, this time as a 3D computer animated series. Not my cup of tea exactly, but it will probably work for the fans. Blue Sky Studios is working on an animated sequel to Night at the Museum, which was a fun and chaotic trilogy.

Pixar also has some dishes for the table: We also get a Buzz Lightyear origin story and a Cars series. I’m skeptical about both of those, but they’re still working on feature films too, including Luca and Turning Red.

Lucasfilm

Willow LogoLucasfilm also chimed in with news of a fifth Indiana Jones film with Harrison Ford back in the fedora, James Mangold in the driver’s seat, and a target date of July 2022.

They added a Willow television series to the mix, including Warwick Davis returning as the great sorcerer Willow Ufgood in a story set decades after the 1988 Ron Howard film.

Finally, Lucasfilm will be adapting Tomi Adeyemi’s New York Times bestselling novel Children of Blood & Bone, which features a young African girl in a coming-of-age adventure to restore magic to her forsaken people, the Maji.

Untitled Alien Series

FX Alien LogoTo wrap this all up, the call also contained news of a television series coming to Hulu via FX based on the Alien film series.

Noah Hawley, the writer and producer known from his work on Fargo and Legion, has been tapped to run this series. Rumors abound that Ridley Scott, director of 1979’s Alien and sequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, is being courted as executive producer.

All we have so far is that this series will take place on Earth, a first in the franchise if you ignore the two Alien vs. Predator films. And, honestly, most people do.


That’s a lot to cover, but it’s also a bright future for Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney/Fox properties. Keep an eye out because the next few years are going to be packed.

I know I’m excited. If my social media feeds are any indication, I’m not the only one.

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Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Clone Stories After the Republic?

Culture on My Mind
August 7, 2020

 

This “can’t let it go” deals with Star Wars storytelling potential.

On July 13th, a new animated series was announced on the official Star Wars website. Following a group of clone troopers that debuted in the final season of The Clone Wars, the new series – Star Wars: The Bad Batch – will follow “the elite and experimental clones of the Bad Batch as they find their way in a rapidly changing galaxy in the immediate aftermath of the Clone War.” The squad is comprised of a unique squad of clones who vary genetically from their brothers in the regular clone army, but these unique skills make them formidable in combat. The series will highlight daring mercenary missions as they try to survive in the smoldering remains of the Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire.

It sounds exciting, and the team of Lucasfilm animation veterans Dave Filoni, Athena Portillo, Brad Rau, Jennifer Corbett, Carrie Beck, and Josh Rimes tells me that the series has both a great pedigree and chance of success. I’ll be watching when it premieres.

But the announcement also made me think about the possibilities for storytelling surrounding the clone army and the rise of the Empire. For seven seasons and twelve years, we’ve been companions to these soldiers as they waged war across the galaxy. We’ve grown to love members of a clone army, each of which was given individual personalities and character through the artistry of Dee Bradley Baker and the show’s writing staff.

We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve loved, and we’ve lost. The clones were built with a singular purpose – to be cannon fodder that won a war by sheer numbers – but they became individuals along the way, and they’re in a unique position as the Republic that they dedicated their short lives to falls around them.

The clones were built to be disposable. They just murdered the Jedi under pre-programmed orders from Emperor Palpatine. How does that make them feel? Where do they go from there?

From Star Wars: Rebels, we know that Rex, Wolffe, and Gregor felt remorse about their actions in service of the nascent Empire and joined the growing rebellion as a result. But those three had their control chips removed and had full knowledge of how the Emperor manipulated their actions.

We got a better look at the emotional aftermath with Grey, a clone who was troubled by his thoughtless execution of Order 66. As told in the Kanan: The Last Padawan comic series, Grey tried to atone for his actions in the Jedi Purge by sacrificing himself to save Caleb Dume, padawan to Depa Billaba, the Jedi Master that Grey murdered under the influence of Order 66. Caleb Dume would later become Kanan Jarrus in Star Wars: Rebels.

Millions of clones were birthed in the Kaminoan pods for the war, and we only have one story of remorse from a trooper that didn’t have his chip removed. Meanwhile, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, anywhere between 10 to 30 percent of veterans have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the Vietnam War.

The clone troopers were also programmed with an accelerated lifespan, entering the war at what seems to be the equivalent of 18-20 years old but aging to their 50s or 60s in the span of a couple of decades. The clones would often talk about retirement after the war, but such speculation was cut short by commanders as “idle chatter”.

The potential here is amazing, and it would serve as a touching coda to the Clone War. It would also serve as a vital touchstone to our own global reality, which great science fiction often does as a metaphor for the human condition.

For example:

  • What happened to the clones who stayed on as stormtroopers?
  • What happened when they were forced to retire from Imperial service?
  • What happened when they were replaced by non-clone soldiers? Was there a conflict?
  • Did any clones feel anger about their pre-programmed lives or role as disposable assets?
  • Did any clones feel anger about the years that were stolen by nature of their genetics?
  • Did other clones feel remorse from Order 66?
  • Did any clones try to make amends for the slaughter of the Jedi? Maybe even running a galactic underground railroad for any survivors?
  • Did any clones try to secret away Jedi artifacts, lightsabers, or kyber crystals to preserve that history?
  • Did any clones try to make amends for the oppression spreading throughout the galaxy, such as freeing slaves?
  • Did any clones experience PTSD? How was that managed in the Empire?
  • Did any clones actually retire directly after the war? Were there benefits, or were they abandoned?
  • Did any clones try to leverage their skills as mercenaries, bounty hunters, or bodyguards?
  • Did any clones try to make the most of their remaining years, such as running for political office, opening a shipping company, or even becoming an entertainer?
  • Did any clones try to tell their stories for posterity?
  • Did any clones try to start families, biological or otherwise?
  • Did any clones return to Kamino to try to rescue, save, or adopt any remaining clone children before the facilities were shut down (as mentioned in Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith)?
  • Were any clones (or their offspring) Force-sensitive? How did they manage that? On the run? As part of the Imperial Security Bureau to hunt down Force-sensitive children? As a Guardian of the Whills?
  • Did any clones, aside from Rex’s crew, join the rebellion or fight against the Empire?

That list is just scratching the surface.

We have millions of individual voices (thanks again, Dee Bradley Baker!) with the same face in a galactic pool of trillions upon trillions of citizens swamped in the uncertainty of political upheaval.

Lucasfilm, let’s tell their stories. Let’s do it in an anthology of some sort, be it prose or comics or even television. Let’s do in it a series of anthologies. Let’s do it with shares of the profits going to veteran support groups around the world.

Let us not forget this generation of our favorite animated heroes.

 

Star Wars: The Bad Batch will premiere on Disney+ in 2021.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

The Thing About Today – May 25

May 25, 2020
Day 146 of 366

 

May 25th is the 146th day of the year. It is Memorial Day in the United States, a day for honoring and mourning the military personnel who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. The day is typically observed on the last Monday in May.

In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Missing Children’s Day, National Tap Dance Day, National Brown-Bag It Day, and National Wine Day.

 

Historical items of note:

  • In 240 BC, the first perihelion passage of Halley’s Comet was recorded.
  • In 1787, after a delay of 11 days, the United States Constitutional Convention formally convened in Philadelphia after a quorum of seven states was secured.
  • In 1803, poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was born.
  • In 1878, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore opened at the Opera Comique in London.
  • In 1889, Russian-American aircraft designer, and founder of Sikorsky Aircraft, Igor Sikorsky was born.
  • In 1895, playwright, poet, novelist, and aesthete Oscar Wilde was convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.
  • In 1925, John T. Scopes was indicted for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution in Tennessee. This led to the famous Scopes Trial.
  • In 1927, soldier and author Robert Ludlum was born. One of his best-known characters is Jason Bourne.
  • In 1931, director and producer Irwin Winkler was born.
  • In 1939, actor Ian McKellen was born.
  • Also in 1939, actress Dixie Carter was born.
  • In 1944, puppeteer, filmmaker, and actor Frank Oz was born.
  • In 1951. director, producer, and screenwriter Bob Gale was born.
  • In 1953, the United States conducted its first and only nuclear artillery test. The test was conducted at the Nevada Test Site.
  • In 1961, United States President John F. Kennedy announced, before a special joint session of Congress, his goal to initiate a project to put a “man on the Moon” before the end of the decade. The Apollo project would succeed at his vision eight years later.
  • In 1969, actress Anne Heche was born.
  • In 1972, actress and author Octavia Spencer was born.
  • In 1976, actor Cillian Murphy was born.
  • In 1977, Star Wars was released to theaters, changing the science fiction landscape forever. It would later be renamed as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope as the franchise grew and thrived.
  • In 1979, Alien was released.
  • In 1983, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi was released.
  • In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft landed in the Green Valley region of Mars to search for environments suitable for water and microbial life.
  • In 2011, Oprah Winfrey aired her last show, ending her twenty-five-year run of The Oprah Winfrey Show.
  • In 2012, the SpaceX Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with the International Space Station.
  • In 2017, Wonder Woman premiered, becoming the first superhero film directed by a woman.

 

May 25th is Geek Pride Day and Towel Day.

Towel Day is a tribute to author Douglas Adams, created by his fans. To celebrate, fans openly carry a towel with them, as described in Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to demonstrate their appreciation for the books and the author.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you — daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

The commemoration was first held on May 25, 2001, two weeks after Adams’ death on May 11th.

 

Geek Pride Day is designed to promote geek culture. Similar events have been celebrated since 1998, but the first official celebration was in 2008, and was heralded by numerous bloggers and the launch of the official website.

 

The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

Culture on My Mind – May the Conference Be With You

Culture on My Mind
May 4, 2020

 

I’m a little early this week, but for this purely made-up internet holiday for one of my favorite franchises, I thought I’d tie my “can’t let it go” to the pandemic.

If you’re still sheltered for the pandemic like I am, the folks at Lucasfilm have a solution to add a little flair to your teleconferences. They have offered up a gallery of images to use as your background on Zoom (or other compatible video conferences) to give your meeting a little GFFA style. Simply click on one of the pictures at the blog post to expand it to full resolution, save it to your computer or device, and follow the instructions in your video conferencing software to set your new office far far away.

Source: Join Meetings from a Galaxy Far, Far Away with These Star Wars Backgrounds via StarWars.com (April 16, 2020)

I’m partial to the classic background paintings like Bespin and Tatooine, but the dusty solitude of Jakku and the busy cityscape of Coruscant also tickle my fancy. You can go to a Rebel or Resistance base, call in from the bridge of a Star Destroyer, or even give a project status update from the winter wonderland of Hoth.

Despite being physically separated during the pandemic (depending on your locale), I hope that this adds a little bit of Star Wars joy to your fan festivities.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

Culture on My Mind – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Culture on My Mind
January 31, 2020

 

This week, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is on my mind.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars fills in the gap between the last two installments of the prequel trilogy. I had a few issues with both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, but this series helped to smooth things a bit. It doesn’t make those two films perfect by any means, but it helps. It also gave me Ahsoka Tano, one of my favorite complex characters in the Star Wars mythos.

The show started with a theatrical release of the first few episodes in August 2008. On its own, that movie isn’t particularly good, but the series was phenomenal. It ran from 2008 to 2013 on Cartoon Network, then had a limited revival in 2014 on Netflix. Series supervising director Dave Filoni worked with George Lucas to understand the heart and soul of Star Wars, making this series one of the purest expressions of the franchise in the period between the prequel and sequel trilogies.

If you haven’t had the chance yet, I wholeheartedly recommend the series. If anything, start with the first season, then watch the theatrical movie before proceeding into the rest.

The show finally wraps up with the seventh season, which premieres on Disney+ on February 21, 2020.

 

Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.

 

 

The 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

The 2019 LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar

 

One of the holiday season traditions in my household is the LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar. These boxes contain twenty-four unique small builds, many of which are abstract, along with exclusive mini-figures and whimsical winter-themed spins on Star Wars staples. Among my favorites over the years are the winter Chewbacca, the rebel pilot snowman, and the AT-AT and R2-D2 pair with reindeer antlers.

This year’s box spanned the Skywalker Saga through The Last Jedi. A couple of my favorites were the X-Wing build and the mynock, the latter being a unique approach to the advent calendar.

As you can see, the day-to-day images are posted on my Instagram account. Feel free to follow me there for whimsical observations, tons of pictures of my dogs, and this annual tradition.

I hope this holiday season finds you and yours well. Stay warm, stay safe, and see you next year.

 

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Day 19: Mynock #LEGO #StarWars #AdventCalendar

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All That Glitters: The Skywalker Saga Commemorative Figures

All That Glitters: The Skywalker Saga Commemorative Figures

 

With the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker this December, the nine-episode Skywalker Saga is coming to a close. To celebrate that milestone, Hasbro announced a set of gold-painted 3.75″-scale action figures, released in two-packs (and one three-pack) to commemorate each film, and exclusive to Walmart stores at $14.99 for each pack.

The original trilogy is represented by Darth Vader and a stormtrooper, Han Solo and Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker and Chewbacca. The prequels are represented by Yoda and Darth Maul, Mace Windu and Jango Fett, and Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The sequel trilogy gets the expected players of Finn and Poe Dameron, Rey and Kylo Ren, and the trio of C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8.

It’s an admirable attempt by Hasbro, but it misses the mark because the figures aren’t particularly special. They’re just repaints of previous releases, many of which had been seen several times before and/or were exclusive to a single outlet.

 

 

 

Starting with the Prequel Era figures in the line—

The Skywalker Saga Darth Maul figure comes from the Target-exclusive Era of the Force 8-pack. That same Darth Maul was released three times prior: The Saga Legends Collection in 2014, The Epic Battles prequel pack from 2015’s The Force Awakens Collection, and another Target 8-pack from the Rogue One Collection in 2016.

The Skywalker Saga Jango Fett came from that same Rogue One Collection 8-pack, originating from the Epic Battles prequel pack from 2015 and the Saga Legends series in 2013. Meanwhile, The gold Mace Windu figure bridges the two as it comes from the Era of the Force 8-pack and the Epic Battles prequel pack, after first being produced for the 2013 Saga Legends series.

The gold Obi-Wan Kenobi was last seen in the Era of the Force 8-pack. That same figure was released several times, including in the Rogue One Collection 8-pack, the Epic Battles prequel pack, a Revenge of the Sith-themed two-pack in 2015’s The Force Awakens Collection, the 2014 Saga Legends series, and the 2013 Saga Legends series. The gold Anakin Skywalker shared the Epic Battles prequel pack with his former master, but only appeared in the 2013 Saga Legends series before that.

The Skywalker Saga Yoda figure is the outlier. It was originally the Jedi Master Yoda from 2017’s The Last Jedi Collection. That sculpt was reworked slightly for later release in the 2019 Galaxy of Adventures line.

All told, these Prequel Era figures have appeared multiple times before:

  • Era of the Force Target 8-pack (2017) – 3
  • The Last Jedi Collection (2017) – 1
  • Rogue One Target 8-pack (2016) – 3
  • The Force Awakens Epic Battles (2015) – 5
  • The Force Awakens Collection (2015) – 1
  • Saga Legends Collection (2014) – 2
  • Saga Legends Collection (2013) – 4

 

For the Original Trilogy Era figures—

The Skywalker Saga Stormtrooper is a repaint of the 2016 Rogue One series Stormtrooper, which was an all-new sculpt. Collecting site Jedi Business (whose extensive database was immensely helpful in the development of this work) speculated that it was a repaint of the Mimban Stormtrooper (minus the cape) from the 2018 Solo: A Star Wars Story line, but the Mimban helmet sculpt was different. It is possible that the gold Stormtrooper combines the two figures into one for this release.

Along those same lines, both the gold Darth Vader figure and the gold Princess Leia figure are repaints Solo: A Star Wars Story line. Both Darth Vader and Hoth Leia were original sculpts for 2018.

The Skywalker Saga Han Solo figure originally comes from the 2015 Saga Legends series, and was an original sculpt for that line. The gold Luke Skywalker was also an original sculpt for 2017’s The Last Jedi collection. Luke was included in a Target-exclusive three-pack with Emperor Palpatine and an Imperial guard.

The gold Chewbacca is one of the most recent re-releases, coming from the Galaxy of Adventures line in 2018. That figure was minor reworking of the Chewbacca from The Last Jedi, which was original to that line.

Counting up previous appearances, it’s a far smaller list for the Original Trilogy Era figures:

  • Galaxy of Adventures Collection (2018) – 1
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story Collection (2018) – 2
  • The Last Jedi Collection (2017) – 1
  • Rogue One Collection (2016) – 1
  • Saga Legends Collection (2015) – 1

It’s interesting that the majority of this set comes from late-2017 and 2018 releases given that Hasbro posted significant losses for that year.

 

For the Sequel Trilogy Era figures—

The Skywalker Saga Finn figure comes from 2017’s The Last Jedi collection. The C-3PO figure comes from the same line.

The gold BB-8 figure is a little more difficult to track down, but after looking at the antennas, it lines up best with 2015’s The Force Awakens Unkar’s Thug 3-pack (later re-released in the Target-exclusive 8-pack, the 2015 Kohl’s-exclusive 5-pack, and 2016’s Takodana Encounter 4-pack. I initially thought it was the BB-8 from The Last Jedi – found in the Rose/BB-8/BB-9e 3-pack, later re-released in the Solo: A Star Wars Story line – but that one has a more squarish tip on one of the antennas.

The gold Poe Dameron figure is a bit of a foggier story: It could come from either 2015’s The Force Awakens collection or The Last Jedi collection, both of which are virtually identical excepting paint jobs. The gold Rey also follows a murky trajectory: It could come from either The Last Jedi collection or and of the various reworks of that figure. Those include the Crait Defense 4-pack, 2017’s Praetorian Guard 2-pack, the Kohl’s-exclusive 4-pack, 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story series, and the 2019 Galaxy of Adventures line. It seems that every time the Last Jedi Rey gets released, it gets tweaked in some manner.

The Skywalker Saga Kylo Ren figure comes from either The Last Jedi or Solo: A Star Wars Movie. Similarly, the Skywalker Saga R2-D2 figure comes from either The Last Jedi or Galaxy of Adventures.  In both cases, the latter figure is a rework of the former, but they are virtually identical. The gold R2-D2 does not appear to come with the booster rockets from either of these prior releases.

Since the Sequel Trilogy Era figures primarily stem from either The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, there’s no need to tabulate them like the previous eras.

 

It’s evident that there is nothing new nor remarkable about this action figure line. It is a figurative warming up of the leftovers with a new presentation.

I’m trying to avoid the cynical opinion that it would be better to pick up each figure on the secondary market along with a can of gold spray paint. It might be easier given Walmart’s track record with toy exclusives. But, I digress.

While priced lower than current 3.75″ Star Wars figures – a new figure runs nearly $13 today – it’s apparent that the target audience is adults. These are meant for mint-on-card display or for unboxing and standing on a shelf. I can’t imagine a kid choosing a gold version of their favorite character over a more true-to-screen painted option.

Since these are geared more for adult collectors, Hasbro missed a – ahem – golden opportunity to engage the Black Series line and produce a truly remarkable tribute to the movie saga’s milestone. Think about it in terms of who is missing in this set and what holes currently exist in the Black Series line.

 

How would I have constructed this tribute to make it more meaningful while saving some production costs for Hasbro?

To start, where’s Padmé? For either The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones, I would have included her. As the mother of the Skywalker twins, it is a crime to not include her in this tribute to the Skywalker Saga. Additionally, she was at her best as an independent leader and fighter in the first two prequel films. Padmé has only been in the Black Series once and that was in her white bodysuit from the Geonosis scenes in Attack of the Clones. I would have considered including Padmé from the Battle of Naboo in The Phantom Menace.

To accompany Padmé, I would re-release the Black Series Qui-Gon Jinn from 2017, but I would include a soft-goods Jedi robe and poncho combination. Those elements would have been great additions to the original bare-bones release.

Moving to Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku is already rumored for a 2020 release, so just move that figure up in the pipeline. Yes, Darth Maul was far more flashy, but Count Dooku was more manipulative and engineered the Clone Wars. Plus, he was portrayed by the legendary Christopher Lee. To complete the pair, add in Yoda with a cleaner robe and reworked face from his first appearance in the Black Series line, lining him up with the climactic duel from the second prequel episode.

Revenge of the Sith is easy. Palpatine/Sidious has appeared twice in the Black Series line, both from Return of the Jedi. It would be great to see a figure from the moment when Palpatine reveals himself as a Sith Lord just before executing Order 66. To offset the new figure, add in Obi-Wan Kenobi from the same film. That particular character has been released twice in the Black Series, but it was the same figure each time. Not only did Hasbro neglect a soft-goods robe, but the face sculpt was terrible. Using the lessons learned with the recently released Clone Commander Kenobi and the upcoming Attack of the Clones Kenobi, Hasbro could easily correct the sculpt and offer a much better figure.

When looking at the Original Trilogy Era, things start getting tricky. Luke and Vader have been released several times, and both Han and Chewie aren’t as dynamic when it comes to wardrobe changes. This is where Hasbro has to get creative.

For A New Hope, I would use the 2017 Black Series Han Solo that included the optional black-gloved pilot hands. This time, I would also add the headset that he wears while piloting and fighting in the Millennium Falcon. I would also re-release the 2014 Chewbacca, but include a dejarik table if possible. This would be a large money-saving release for Hasbro so they could channel funds into new sculpts and remasters for this line.

The Empire Strikes Back contains one of my favorite costumes in the Star Wars films, so I’m a little biased here. The Black Series needs Bespin Leia, burgundy and white gown, in soft goods. No question. Back that up with a slightly different Darth Vader than we’ve seen before by tapping into the Dagobah cave trial. Using previous releases, Hasbro could remaster Vader slightly to align the costume to the film. Then create a damaged helmet with Luke’s face as an alternate head, making the figure serve two purposes as either Vader or Force-vision Vader.

For Return of the Jedi, I would start with the forthcoming Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight figure. It’s a great update to the previous release with the addition of a soft-goods robe, but I certainly have issues with it. Primarily, it needs darker hair and robes, a better face sculpt, and an extra lightsaber hilt to clip to the waist.

To cap the original trilogy era, Hasbro could make a special effort for this commemorative set and include the Sebastian Shaw version of Anakin from the pre-Special Edition versions of Return of the Jedi. It’s a deep cut, but a good one. That character has appeared as an action figure three times – 1985, 1998, and 1999 – all of which were in the 3.75″ scale.

A really bad version of the Hayden Christensen Force ghost debuted in 2007.

The sequel trilogy era is much more difficult in terms of originality.

For The Force Awakens, I’d go with a remaster of Poe Dameron from the Escape from Destiny 2-pack. It captured his look from the opening sequences of the film, but it needs work on the face sculpt. For some reason, Hasbro can’t adequately capture Oscar Isaac’s features in plastic. I’d also add a re-release of Finn, either as FN-2187 or in Poe’s jacket from later in the film.

Still image from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

For The Last Jedi, that has to be a re-release of the Walmart-exclusive throne room Kylo Ren (with removable helmet and soft-goods cape) alongside the Crait Base Rey. Rey’s soft-goods clothing would need to be cleaned up quite a bit for this release, so that’s where I’d spend most of the time in remastering this one. Plus, you know, this duo will certainly make the Reylo shippers happy.

Anyone who follows me on social media already knows of my disdain for that couple.

Still image from Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Finally, since we don’t officially know that much about The Rise of Skywalker, I’d follow Hasbro’s lead here with the three droids: C-3PO, R2-D2, and BB-8. I would avoid the “red arm” variant on Threepio, and I’d also use a clean version of BB-8.

Still image from the 2016 Oscars.

 

In summary:

The Phantom Menace: Padmé (Battle of Naboo) and Qui-Gon Jinn

Attack of the Clones: Count Dooku and Yoda

Revenge of the Sith: Darth Sidious and Obi-Wan Kenobi

A New Hope: Han Solo and Chewbacca

The Empire Strikes Back: Darth Vader (Cave Vision) and Bespin Leia

Return of the Jedi: Spirit of Anakin Skywalker and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker

The Force Awakens: Finn and Poe Dameron

The Last Jedi: Rey and Kylo Ren

The Rise of Skywalker: C-3PO, R2-D2, BB-8

 

This lineup covers the spectrum of the saga from the origins of the Skywalker line to the potential end as the nine-episode arc closes.

Honorable mention ideas include a Yavin Throne Room 4-pack with Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie and something with the twins from the end of Revenge of the Sith. The latter would introduce the Organas and the Lars, each with swaddled infants as accessories, but the new sculpts would drive the cost. The Throne Room set would also be cost-prohibitive.

As far as cost is considered, Black Series figures typically sell for $19.99 each, though Walmart often prices them between $15 and $18 each. With that and the cost savings from reusing existing figures in mind, Walmart and Hasbro could easily move these sets for around $30 per box.

Again, since the gold figures are obviously geared for adult collectors, I built this hypothetical model toward adult collectors.

 

Thought exercise aside, the point here is simple: Hasbro took the easy way out with a milestone commemorative action figure set. After 42 years and nine films – not even counting the piles of books, comics, games, films, and animated series – a major player in pop culture is coming to a close. The fans deserve so much more than leftover and poorly-selling figures with bad paint jobs.

This was Hasbro’s moment to prove that they respect the franchise and the community, but they fell back into the same old routine that promotes maligned distribution practices and overpriced products. They could have offered Star Wars fans something amazing. Instead, all they did was prove Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice right.

All that glitters is not gold.

 

 

(Once again, collecting site Jedi Business and its extensive database was immensely helpful in the development of this work. I am grateful for the Jedi Business team and their hard work in cataloging and reviewing modern Star Wars figures.)