Have a Very Merry Nerdmas!
The fun of the holiday season is coming to an end, but I wanted to take a few minutes to share one of my favorite traditions that started many years ago and continues to grow every year.
The video above was a brief tour of my very own nerdy Christmas tree, filled only with ornaments that have generally no relation to the holidays, but rather represent all of my various nerdy interests. The story of this tree actually goes back to the Christmas before my wife and I were married in December of 2004. Melissa found a fake Christmas tree at Target marked down to $5. She obviously snagged that deal, and it became our tree after we were married the next May.
The story actually starts even further in the past, however, to the year 1996. That year Hallmark released their first ever Star Wars ornament, a Millennium Falcon that plugs into a light socket so the engines and cockpit light up. I was thrilled that Star Wars ornaments were now a thing and had to have the Millennium Falcon. So began a 24-years and counting journey.
The very next year, Hallmark started expanding their Star Wars line and offered their first in a still ongoing series of Star Wars character ornaments. The first character was none other than Luke Skywalker, specifically in his Bespin fatigues outfit. Since 1997, I have either been gifted or bought every single character in the series, except for the 2018 Boba Fett because I already had a Boba Fett not in the official series line. I would be lying if I said that I do not regret that choice. I am a completionist when it comes to collecting, and that one little decision will continue to mildly irk me.
Back to the story of the tree. By the time Melissa and I were starting our own Christmas traditions and decorating our own place, I had eight years worth of Star Wars ornaments that I brought into the relationship. Let's just say that Star Wars ornaments do not make for the most festive tree decorations, but Melissa was incredibly generous in allowing them to grace the branches of our humble little tree.
Many Christmases came and went, and along with them came post-Christmas trips to Hallmark for 50% off Star Wars ornaments. Needless to say, I was building a pretty extensive collection that kind of dominated our tree. When we moved to the St. Louis area in 2011, we finally had enough money to buy a new tree, and I got the long wished for (by both of us, if we are honest) full control of the old Christmas tree. There was enough Christmas cheer in that pivotal moment to fill all of my holiday dreams in 2011, so I went all out. I bought some silver garland to match the intergalactic theme, and the next year I received some Yoda string lights as a Christmas gift to further enhance the overall look. Last year I added another set of themed string lights to the tree with a purchase of some lightsaber lights at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. A Santa Yoda tree topper was the crowning piece.
Of course, I am not only into Star Wars (shocker, I know). I have other ornaments from several different sci-fi and fantasy franchises. Perhaps those can be featured next year in a separate post. I do, however, have a couple to highlight here that change up the sea of Star Wars decor. I have several different Indiana Jones ornaments throughout the tree, but the picture below includes a couple of my favorites. In a deep cut, I even have a few Tintin ornaments from a Black Friday promo at World Market several years ago. Kudos to you if you even know who Tintin is!
Finally, some of my favorite additions to the tree from this year include the Mandalorian and the Child in his pram, as well as the limited edition, convention-exclusive Ahsoka and matching Clone trooper helmet. The most popular Star Wars ornaments are more and more likely to sell out these days as ornament collecting has grown as a hobby, so I am not always able to pick up the ones I most want at a decent price. I still, however, make the yearly post-Christmas trip to Hallmark to see what I can snag at 50% off and continue to grow one of my favorite holiday traditions.
For those who have followed this page for a while, I posted several months ago about rewatching Star Wars Rebels and inviting my 6 and 4-year old kids to watch it for the first time. You can go back and check out that post here. In that post I promised to come back after we had finished watching the show and post some wrap up thoughts from both myself and my kids.
So here we are, on Thanksgiving night, two months removed from actually finishing the show, and ready to fire off some thoughts about all four seasons of Star Wars Rebels.
Disclaimers: 1) There will be spoilers for events at the end of the show in this post. Stop now and go watch the show before you continue further. 2) If you are one of those Star Wars fans who rides their high and mighty horse of only wanting Star Wars that is dark, gritty, cynical, and adult, step down off that high horse and go watch this show, or any kid-friendly show for that matter. It will do your heart some good. On to Star Wars Rebels.
When we first finished the show, I had three questions for both of my kids: What did you think? Who were your favorite characters? What story arc did you like best? I worded that last one slightly differently for them, but that was the gist.
6-year-old son's response: It was good. I liked it. Ezra, Chopper, and Zeb. The one where Ezra goes on a mission.
4-year-old daughter's response: It was good. I liked it (she likes to parrot her brother). The girls. When the one girl flies her ship.
Honestly, I was hoping for a little more to go on than the answers they gave, and I would probably say I was a little disappointed by their answers. I was hoping for something really cool or blogworthy to come out of their mouths, but the above answers were all I got. Disappointed, I moved on to whatever they wanted to do next, but the back of my mind kept chewing on their answers. Later that evening, it hit me. Their answers perfectly reflected the success and power of the show. My 6-year-old son, who is very 6-year-old boy right now, latched onto the characters who were aimed at young boys. Fart jokes, slapstick humor, and cheap laughs. My daughter latched onto the female characters, who were clearly aimed toward the female audience of the show and were written to be strong, independent and well-rounded women. I would be proud for my daughter to claim Sabine or Hera as a role model. Thank you to the creators of Rebels for two excellent female characters!
The simple answers that my kids nonchalantly tossed out helped me realize the simple premise of the show and why it works. The Ghost crew contains characters who represent all ages, genders, and phases of life and connects with them at their level. My kids are not going to grasp the bigger themes of the show, but they know the characters are entertaining and fun to watch and maybe even a little like them sometimes.
Which leads me to my own final thoughts. Perhaps my initial disappointment with my kids' answers came from my hope that they would have a deep connection to the themes and the mythology of the show, just as I do. This rewatch experience solidified what the show really means to me. Rebels is about family. Perhaps no character better illustrates that for me than the Jedi Kanan Jarrus. When I first watched the show as it aired, I had lost three of my grandparents in the span of three years and Kanan's death near the end of Season 4 hit me hard. I remember sitting in the basement of my house and bawling over the death of an animated character, yet knowing it was somehow connected to the grief of losing my grandparents. This time around, the same scene hit me no less hard but in a different way. As I watched Kanan sacrifice himself again, my thoughts turned to my own role as a more experienced father who would do anything for my children and the tears started to flow again. Same scene, two different times, two different family-based reactions. I don't know how this show could connect with me any more directly.
It took me a few words to get there, but I think I'm ready to answer my own questions about Star Wars Rebels:
I loved it and will always love it. Kanan. The one where Kanan dies, even though it hurts me every time.
Micromanaging and Micro Machines
Remember Micro Machines? Of course you do, if you were a kid in the late 80s and early 90s. I had a pretty massive collection and some pretty amazing playsets that I often set up with my HO train set (we can just ignore the obvious scale issues there). How about Star Wars Micro Machines? Remember those? For a while, I was relentlessly visiting Walmart and Toys R Us to find the latest vehicle set, or even better, saving some money for one of the convertible helmets or character heads that would turn into a scene from one of the movies. Kind of like this old commercial.
I also still remember how I would set up the different locations based on which movie they were in, and I would display the little figurines in mid scene on my nicely manicured bedroom shelves. Then, I went to college and got married, and all of my Micro Machine sets were relegated to a box in my parents basement until they finally handed them over and essentially said "we're done, these are your problem now."
They were never really a problem, though. I mean, a storage problem maybe, but I kept them because I loved those Star Wars Micro Machines perhaps more than any other toys I owned. Countless hours of my childhood can be attributed to those tiny starships and the even tinier figures that went with them. I did not keep those toys just because I loved them, however. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking about the future and how one day I would have children of my own who would maybe, probably, really love playing with these toys too.
Enter my own children. Within the past year or so, I have busted all of the Star Wars Micro Machines out of their dusty storage bin and lugged them up to my son's room. He was thrilled. Actually, thrilled might be an understatement. The kid was doing dances around our storage room and shouting "yippee" like a young Anakin Skywalker. And he has loved those Micro Machines (as has our dog, unfortunately...). In fact, my son, and now my daughter too, have loved these toys so much that they get pulled in and out of their storage drawer multiple times a week, with the result that the collection now sits haphazardly throughout their rooms or in a drawer. Kind of like the picture below.
Here begins, however, a disconnect that my pre-children, young adult brain never even conceived. My son and daughter don't play with my Micro Machines like I played with them. How dare they, right? How dare my son pile all of these playsets and vehicles and figures in a random disrespectful heap? Are you telling me that Endor Leia on a Speeder Bike is flying around the Dune Sea near Jabba's Palace? Never! Please don't tell me that some of the sets have broken or lost pieces or are completely irreparable? Sorry friend, it's true and it hurts.
I tried for a while. I tried to keep things in their proper spot or keep sets thematically together, or any number of ridiculous and futile attempts to micromanage my kids with my own preferences. Eventually, I had to give up. What is the purpose of sharing something I love with my children if I am just going to tell them how to love it? I so badly wanted to manage their play and to relive the way I liked to have everything neatly and thematically displayed that I ignored their joy for far too long.
And what happened the moment I let go? Joy for me too. Joy at watching both of the kids use their imagination to create new scenes and new stories. Just the other day, I was playing with them on the Stormtrooper set that transforms into the trash compactor scene on the Death Star. Who showed up to save Luke, Leia, and Han from certain doom? Young Lando Calrissian of course! Not only do I get the joy of watching my kids create their own stories, but I also now experience the joy of claiming something I loved as their own, without my stuffy rules or micromanaged scenarios. In the end, we all play happier, and I have a healthier attitude about parenting and micromanaging beyond the micro machines.
I admit that I do still cringe every time I open that drawer though...
Star Wars Rebels and Kids
Any self-respecting parent knows what a wasteland the world of children's television programming is. If you do not have some sort of Disney Jr. theme song running through your head at any given moment, you are probably not a parent. I can only take a few seconds of Cocomelon on Youtube or Morphle on Netflix before I run out of the room with rumblings of pure disgust threatening to overtake my good health.
Enter Star Wars Rebels. Rebels is not a new show so I am not breaking any new ground. It ran four seasons back in the mid-2010s and is easily accessible on Disney+ now. I watched the show as it aired and enjoyed it a lot. So, why bother talking about it now?
There are a couple reasons I decided to pull up Rebels for a rewatch. First, the Star Wars Podcast I listen to (Jabba the Pod from Syfy Wire) is doing a rewatch and discussing the episodes every week. It does not take a lot of pressure to encourage me to watch anything Star Wars, so this was the only real reason I needed. Second, however, my kids are 6 and 4 years old, and now felt like the right time to watch a whole show together. I tried Clone Wars before, but there are too many episodes and it turns violent pretty quickly, whereas Rebels is a short four seasons and stays pretty kid-friendly throughout.
We have now watched the first season and a couple episodes into the second season, and I am seriously enjoying the (re)ride. My son has seen all of the original movies, plus Episodes 1 and 2, but this show has brought out more excitement in him than most of the movies. He already knows the full names of the main cast of characters and is actively making predictions and asking questions during the show that reflect full engagement in the content. His engagement got me thinking about why this show works regardless of age (him-6, me-37), and here are a few reasons I think it works so well:
Whether you are 6 or 56, Star Wars Rebels is a compelling show with great characters and great storytelling. After we finish the whole show, I will come back with a new post and some of both of my kids' thoughts about the whole story. For right now, I am just enjoying the shared experience of something I love and something new and exciting for them.
Halfway Through 2020 Reading List
I love to read. When businesses started opening up again (for the context of this comment, look up the year 2020 in your history book someday), I was most concerned about when I could get to the library. I have the Goodreads app on my phone and regularly keep track of all the books I read throughout the year, set reading goals, and put together lists of books that I need to read. Occasionally I will even write a review for a book on Goodreads, but more often than not, I give it a star rating and move on to the next.
Recently inspired by a couple of my cousins who shared their reading lists on social media, I thought this blog might be a good platform to start a tradition of checking in twice a year with the books I read and how each book impacted me. I do not intend for this to be a review of the book or whether it was good or bad. Rather, I intend to use this space to share how the book impacted me on a personal level. If you want to see my rankings of books, let's be friends on Goodreads! Maybe this can even be a space where everyone can share some other great recommendations of how books make their life better.
In chronological order and no more than two sentences (mostly), here are the books I read for the first half of 2020.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary by Pablo Hidalgo
If you made it this far, have you read any of these books? What did you think? What have you read this year? Anything that impacted you in some way? Let's share in the comments!
With everyone staying at home more these days, and my last post also on the topic of board games, it seemed a fair time to share some of my favorite games to play. Whether you are looking for something new for your family to play or need something for your next game night once gatherings are OK again, I hope you can find something that appeals to you and your family.
7 Wonders - This game has been around for a long time and, rightfully, is a classic. The base structure of 7 Wonders is a deck building game where you attempt to gain the most points through a variety of different strategies. The game works best with 4-7 players, and the gameplay is fast but full of depth. Typically, it takes about 1-2 games to get the hang of it, but after that, games go quickly and offer great repeated gameplay. Bonus: 7 Wonders Duel, a two player version of the game with slightly different rules.
Pandemic - Although this game might be a little controversial during our current world situation, it still is a fantastic example of a challenging and incredibly fun cooperative game. All players work together to eradicate diseases from the world, while playing as different themed roles (e.g. medic, researcher). The game is tense, challenging, and fun. All the qualities you want in a good game. Bonus: Any other version of Pandemic, my personal favorite is the Rome Barbarian Invasion version where you try to hold off the invading hordes and save Rome.
Parks - There are two national parks games out right now, and this is the more recent one and is just called Parks. I have heard good things about the other one (Trekking the National Parks) also, but I have not played it. Parks is great for a variety of reasons. The artwork for each of the national parks on the cards is fantastic, the gameplay is easily teachable and offers good replayability and different experiences, and there is a great balance of strategy and chance. There is also a solo player mode for those who do not have many gamers in their household (like me). Bonus: Any version of Ticket to Ride, while not the same style of game as Parks, these games will scratch your geography/travel itch in a similar way.
Disney Villainous - This game is different from any other game on this list because it is asymmetrical. In the gaming world this just means that every player has different winning conditions based on their chosen character. Players take on the role of a classic Disney animated villain and compete against other villains to achieve their personal objective. For example, Captain Hook has to defeat Peter Pan on the Jolly Roger to win versus Jafar, who has to control the genie at the Sultan's Palace. The learning curve is a little higher on this game, but it is worth the effort Bonus: All of the Villainous expansions, just get them all, each one adds three new villains with unique play styles.
The Quest for El Dorado - El Dorado is a very easy to learn deck builder with an exploration theme. The premise of the game is exploring jungles to find the legendary lost city of El Dorado by gathering a deck of cards that allows you to traverse areas of the jungle faster than your opponents. Simple gameplay and endless possibilities for setting up the path make this one of my recent favorites to play and teach. Bonus: The Adventurers, this game might be hard to find and it weighs a little too heavily on the luck side, but it is a fun push-your-luck style starter game with decent miniatures as well.
I could easily add another five games, but these all hit the perfect sweet spot of not being too inaccessible and fun for the whole family to play. What has your family been playing? I am always interested in new game recommendations. Leave some suggestions in the comments!
As the world is experiencing a weird new normal for the foreseeable future, I am figuring out how to manage teaching online, taking care of my young kids, and taking care of myself. I had been thinking for a while about writing a post about board games and young children, and the current conditions have brought it to the forefront. I am still learning how to best introduce board games to my kids in a way that will not turn them off from the hobby, but I want to share some of my recent experiences and open the floor for suggestions or experiences others have had.
Finally, I started teaching my son X-Wing miniatures last year. This could take an entire post, but there are plenty of others on the internet if you search a little. So far, we have only practiced with movement, actions, and combat. He is definitely not ready to learn upgrades, critical hits, and squad building yet, but we will get there.
My four year old daughter has also expressed a little interest in games, so I have her started on some basic memory games, dominoes, and Pretty, Pretty Princess.
What kind of games do you play with your young children? Any suggestions of good games to start advancing their game experience? Share your suggestions in the comments!
Clone Wars is Back!!!
Last Friday, Disney+ brought back a show that some might argue saved Star Wars when it was becoming irrelevant and dropping out of the pop culture zeitgeist. As a fan of the show from the beginning, the chance to see a seventh season of The Clone Wars was a dream I never thought would happen.
If you ignored the Clone Wars the first time around because it was too cartoon-y or designed for kids, you need to stop reading this right now and go watch all previous six seasons. Then, you should probably watch Star Wars Rebels too, but that is a post for another day.
While the first couple of seasons had a few weird moments and the animation was still developing into the art it would become, the middle of the third season begins to hit the stride that the show would ride out to the finish line (or what we thought was the finish line....twice...). I am currently in the middle of rewatching the show and am at the turning point in Season 3 where stories start to get very interesting, and I am constantly reminded of how great this show was and how much it fed and grew my Star Wars fandom in the late 2000s and early 2010s. I never saw the Clone Wars movie in theaters, but I watched the first episode, Ambush, the day it premiered and never looked back. This was also the time when I started getting into Star Wars podcasts, and my desire to get back into model building as a hobby blossomed.
I have a lot of clear memories wrapped around episodes of The Clone Wars. I hosted two watch parties for season premieres, Season 1 and Season 3, complete with a cookie cake decorated with a Clone Trooper helmet (thanks to my talented wife!). I also have a clear memory of watching one of the Mauldalorian episodes from season 5 with a bunch of my best friends who had traveled from all over to celebrate my 30th birthday. Everything I associate with the show has positive memories attached.
Now that Clone Wars has returned for a seventh season I can both wax nostalgic about my memories of the show and once again be the ambassador for others to watch it. I think I was that annoying person we all know who cannot shut up about their favorite show before that was a thing. So, here I am again. Watch the Clone Wars! What are you waiting for???
Ranking Star Wars
Now that I have spent time sharing my thoughts on all of the Star Wars movies, I thought it might be fun to share my definitive (as of 2020) ranking of all the Star Wars films.
A couple of caveats:
a) Often times this list can change depending on stage of life, mood, etc. I am trying to stick with my most common rankings.
b) This list is based on my own feelings, which include nostalgia and emotional connection. If I had to rank the movies based on the quality of the film, the list would probably look significantly different.
Here we go, starting with my least favorite and working up the ladder.
11. Attack of the Clones - While the action sequences in this movie are great and Ewan MacGregor is a highlight, the romance is forced and the excessive CG make it feel more like a video game.
10. The Phantom Menace - This movie does an excellent job of visualizing a different period in the history of the galaxy and a lot of the CG and miniature work holds up well, but the pacing and clunky acting often hold this movie back. Also, I still love the pod race scene.
9. Revenge of the Sith - I considered moving this one a little higher, but the clunky dialog and still undeveloped characters kept it toward the bottom. The lightsaber fight, however, is one of the best in the series and the second half of the movie is the right amount of dark, tense, and tragic.
8. The Rise of Skywalker - It may be too soon to definitively rank this movie since I have only seen it twice, but the plot makes too many weird choices and does not give its characters enough room to breathe. On the flip side, I do love the new characters and felt their storylines concluded in a satisfactory way.
7. Solo - This movie gets an unnecessary bad rap, but it was a ton of fun and introduced a lot of new great characters. If you can get past a new actor playing Han Solo, everyone clearly enjoyed making this movie, and it is pure fun to watch.
6. Rogue One - Many people say this is the best of the Disney Star Wars movies, and I love this movie, but the beginning feels a little hectic. Once it gets going, about 30 minutes into the movie, it really clicks. I am afraid, however, that the CG Tarkin will not age well.
5. The Last Jedi - Like many, I came out of the theater a little dumbstruck after this movie. Nothing progressed as I expected, but I knew right away that I liked it. The more I watch and think about this movie, the more I like it. The way it handles deconstruction and reconstruction, as well as greater spiritual issues is emotional and powerful.
4. The Force Awakens - This movie was the best way to resurrect a franchise. The new characters were fresh and incredibly likable, the story was tight and engaging, and a whole new generation of girls were drawn into the franchise. The plot was definitely familiar, but I was able to forgive it thanks to the great new characters.
3. A New Hope - The first time anyone ever saw X-Wings, lightsabers, Jedi, Darth Vader, and the Millennium Falcon is hard to keep off the top of the list, but at this point I have to appeal primarily to emotional connection. While this movie is incredible and occasionally spends time in the number one slot, the next two have more emotional connections to barely beat it out.
2. The Empire Strikes Back - Twenty years ago, I would have been shocked to see this one so high on my list. Until the prequels, it was my least favorite Star Wars movie. As I have matured, I have become more familiar with the trials the characters experience and view the darkness of the plot with much more understanding.
1. Return of the Jedi - While not the best film of the originals, I have the most positive memories wrapped up in this movie. Luke's green lightsaber moment, speeder bikes through the forest of Endor, and the biggest space battle I had ever seen sum up what Star Wars means for me. I think any future movie will have a hard time dethroning this one!
The Rise of Skywalker!
The countdown has ended and the final movie in the Skywalker saga has arrived. I sat on this post for a couple weeks for a few reasons (since I obviously saw it on opening night): 1) I wanted to avoid easy access to spoilers and 2) I wanted a chance to see it a second time to have more concrete thoughts.
All bets are off now, however, so here are my totally SPOILER-filled thoughts about The Rise of Skywalker. No images this time because they are not yet posted on www.starwarsscreencaps.com.
-I left the theater feeling a pretty high sense of satisfaction and enjoyment. The movie was fun and entertaining. Most of the people in the group I went with also had pretty positive reactions.
-C-3PO had a great role in this movie that made me laugh out loud several times. His humor was missed during the last two movies.
-There were a bunch of great characters with whom I really want to spend more time. Keri Russell's Zorii Bliss and Babu Frik being two big ones that come to mind right away. Plus, Keri Russell is just awesome in anything she does.
-Anyone who read my countdown series knows I love spaceships, and there were LOTS of spaceships. I need a visual guide to see all the different ships that showed up for the final battle at Exegol. Sad note on that battle: RIP Black Squadron pilot Snap Wexley, aka JJ Abrams' best friend Greg Grunberg.
-There were many emotional moments with Princess Leia and Kylo/Ben that had me in tears. When Leia dies to bring back Ben from the depths of Kylo, I had to hold in the sobs. Just ask my neighbor in the theater...
-The visuals at the end of the movie with the burial of the Skywalker lightsabers and the twin sunset on Tatooine were perfect.
-This movie had far too many plot devices and twists. There was a lot of exposition because the plot moved so frenetically. It was possible to follow it all, but I also immerse myself in a lot of the additional media that the average viewer probably does not.
-I visibly cringed at the moment of the Rey Palpatine reveal. Something about it did not feel earned, deserved, or even wanted. If it was supposed to be the big twist reveal that blows everyone's mind, it did not work positively for me. I may have been able to get more on board with the reveal if seeds had been planted earlier.
-The kiss between Ben and Rey at the end was not a great choice. On my first viewing I was actually repeating "don't do it" several times in the hopes that they were not going to kiss. I was hoping for a forehead touch at the most.
-Finn still did not have a lot to do other than play the sidekick. Out of all the new characters, he feels most deserving of his own spinoff movie.
-The biggest feeling of disappointment I had after thinking about this movie a while was the clear lack of vision for the sequel trilogy as a whole. Perhaps some of the plan was derailed by the untimely and unfortunate passing of Carrie Fisher, but the movies still feel a little patched together. The last movie brought in too many new plot points while attempting to wrap up a lot of previous plot points.
My hope for the future of Star Wars is that Lucasfilm will be willing to take risks and try new things as they attempt to define the essentials of Star Wars in new and interesting forms of media.
To finish off this countdown I will be compiling my definitive (for now) ranking of all the Star Wars movies. Check back soon!
I love my family and this is the place to find all of the adventures we experience.