Nerd Goals: The 501st Legion

Not long ago I had a serious conversation with my wife after telling her that I had a confession to make. She was, understandably, concerned. We’ve been happily married for ten years now. I’m fortunate that she supports, embraces, and frequently indulges in my multifaceted “geekdom.” Remarkable compatibility is a great thing in a marriage!

 

Finally I took a deep breath and dropped the bomb…

 

Me: “Sweetheart, there’s something I’ve always kind of wanted to do that I want to tell you about. After keeping it in my head for a while I think I’m ready to say it out loud….”

Wife: <worried look>

Me: “My ultimate nerdy goal is to join the 501st Legion.”

Wife: <eye roll>

 

That’s right, I want to be a costumed Stormtrooper.

 

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Let’s back up a bit… I’m not a religious person, but my lifelong love of Star Wars can most likely qualify as a religion. That fantastical far, far away galaxy from a long time ago serves as as much of a comfort zone in adulthood for me as it did in my childhood. I can safely declare that my perpetual fascination with George Lucas’s whimsical imagining of good versus evil will never subside.

 

The characters in Star Wars are second to none. Its heroes are worthy of adoration and emulation. However, it’s the villains who have always captured my interest. The bad guys have it all: Power, raw emotion, galactic might, OCD-pleasing visual consistency, and humble room for improvement in their engineering/design departments. I’m Team Empire all the way!

 

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So where can this obsessive love be practically applied to the real (boring) universe? I learned the answer to this question several years ago when I first heard about The 501st Legion. For the unfamiliar, the 501st is an all volunteer organization of costumed Star Wars enthusiasts. Stormtroopers are the primary focus with countless sub groups for other types of troopers, non-armored characters, heroes, villains, bounty hunters, etc. The list is long enough for an opening title crawl because the Star Wars universe is really THAT BIG.

 

Members of the 501st and its plethora of Garrisons are committed to admirable extremes. Ever been to a parade or an event where you saw characters in full Star Wars garb? Did they look like they could have just finished a battle with Rebel scum? That is the 501st Legion!! It’s important to note that Lucas Film *does not* officially endorse the 501st thanks to those pesky copyright laws. Instead, the 501st enjoys a well-earned status of mutual respect and understanding with Lucas Film which keeps everyone in line. They are rightfully the preferred costuming group which is often used by Disney for certain events. The most important result of this unofficial arrangement is that members of the Legion are forbidden from selling their costume creations or doing anything that would result in profit earned.

 

The requirements for Active Membership, a pinnacle of fandom, are incredibly rigid. Costume standards are strictly enforced to ensure members maintain a standard deserving of the Galactic Empire. Next time you see a costumed Stormtrooper at an event, take a second to appreciate the fact that what you’re seeing is the result of hours upon hours of painstaking, handmade effort. Members must make everything themselves to protect the relationship they have with Lucas Film (and vicariously Disney). Techniques are learned, honed, and practiced thanks to other troopers contributing experience to a legacy of honoring a shared obsession. All this effort is to join the ranks of other members marching in parades or visiting sick kids in hospitals. They’ve turned a love of a fictional universe into a powerful force in the real world.

 

Now that you hopefully have some respect for the Legionnaires and what they stand for, let’s get back to that underwhelming confession to my sarcastically unsurprised bride…..

 

One of the newest movements by the Legion struck me as the perfect time to share this longtime nerd goal with my better half. A t-shirt fundraiser was arranged in total support of the Make-A-Wish foundation. Their first goal was 2000 shirts to raise $20,000. The ultimate goal is 5000 shirts for an amazing $50,000+ raised. I jumped at the chance to join the first 2000! This was a great opportunity to spell out my true desire to elevate my fandom to the ultimate level. As far as I can tell, my wife is very supportive of this goal… she’s pretty damn cool so I expected nothing less.

 

The 501st’s cause is really an amazing one so please help them hit the goal of 5000. At the time of writing this post they are sitting at 4265 with twelve days to go. It’s an achievable milestone that will make an enormous difference in the lives of kids who need it most. Help make Vader proud!

 

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Force Friday (September 30th – when the new Rogue One toys became available) arrived shortly after my overly dramatic confession. My minions and I hit up most multiple retailers in the Richmond, VA area looking for the variety of new collectibles. We bumped into a very nice fellow at the local Walmart who vocally approved of my daughter’s toy selection (Sabine Wren from Star Wars Rebels). After chatting with him, I learned that he’s actually Darth Vader and sometimes Darth Maul in the local 501st group. The fact that this encounter happened so close to openly embracing my goal definitely cemented my interests.

 

Our friendly local “Darth” told me all about Garrison Tyranus – Virginia’s chapter of the 501st Legion. Everything he said made it sound like a wonderful group of people! The entire conversation only intensified my desire to wear the armor. My son brings it up at least every other day reminding me how I need to become part of the 501st. Excitement aside, it’s incredibly daunting to even know where to begin. I’ve joined the forums and plan to start getting involved. Aside from that, I’ll hopefully figure out where the hell I’m supposed to begin with constructing my white suit. One thing at a time!

 

As I eventually get closer to accomplishing my goal I’ll be sure to share the experience here. In the meantime, I’m going to proudly wear my Make-A-Wish shirt while taking every opportunity to spread the word about how much good can come from the bad guys.

 

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To support the Make-A-Wish Endowment Fund please go to  https://www.booster.com/501st

 

To learn more about The 501st Legion and what they do check out their website: http://www.501st.com or their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/The501stLegion/

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Suicide Squad – Spoiler-free Film Review (aka – rant about critics)

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This shouldn’t be news to anyone, but film critics are undoubtedly miserable people. That’s not to say that they are terrible human beings… even if many actually are. When I say ‘miserable people’ I mean that they are generally unhappy with life. These were my thoughts as I left the theater the other night after finally watching Suicide Squad.

 

My wife and I waited until the Tuesday after the film came out to see it. As a devout DC-loving geek family, you’d expect us to be there at the first showing per our usual. Since that didn’t happen, thanks to stupid adult responsibilities, we were exposed to the witch hunt of critical reviews that took place (and continues to take place) around the much anticipated release prior to having the liberty of forming our own opinions. In the end the only thing that truly bothered me about the film was how eager critics were to engage in that witch hunt. Critics as a whole have acted like they can only be reputable if they join in on the hatred.

 

The stakes were tremendously high since DC and Warner Bros needed a hit. When Batman v Superman turned into a comic book movie pariah, bets were hedged on the non-traditional mashup as a means to right the course. Their impressively expansive advertising campaign prepared us all for a goofy action film that was sure to entertain. Guess what? That’s exactly what it was!

 

Suicide Squad never attempted to be a perfect movie, but rather, it set out to be a film the fans would enjoy. I’m a textbook fan – I’ve read the source material. I’ve bought the merchandise. I’ve watched the other movies on multiple occasions. Essentially, I’m the kind of person they made the movie for. Regardless of how much (considerable) anticipation I had going into the theater, I never forgot that I bought a ticket with the hope of being entertained. It’s pretty obvious that the critics walked into the theater prepped to utterly despise and disparage what they were going to watch. What’s the point in bitching about a movie that never stood a chance in your biased mind? That scenario completely devalues any opinion that might be expressed as a result.

 

Granted, the movie wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Harley Quinn and Deadshot were really the only characters that received any significant character development. This wasn’t surprising due to a higher notoriety for Will Smith and Margot Robbie. It would have been nice to get more out of the rest of the cast yet doing so likely would’ve bloated the run time. Casting overall was spot on with each actor embodying the spirit of their comic origins in satisfying ways. Harley Quinn was especially on point interjecting an element of fun insanity throughout. Will Smith’s Deadshot completely sold me on the egotistical asshole and simultaneous caring father that recent incarnations of the character have shifted towards. All in all, I don’t recall feeling that any of the actors didn’t belong in the part they played…. that says a lot about a movie!

 

Jared Leto’s Joker was certainly interesting. Initially, I didn’t care for the “gangsta” that they portrayed. When I expressed this thought to my wife, she slapped some sense into me with a reminder that a gangster is exactly who the Joker is supposed to be – they merely adopted a form of it that would be more believable in the world DC/Warners has created. Her point was solid (as they tend to be) and changed my view. Leto’s Joker is very believable in the current DC Cinematic Universe. As much as I adore the psychotically terrifying Heath Ledger version, it wouldn’t fit into the new era. The chrome smile is probably my biggest objection to this Joker. His tattoos were actually quite appropriate – especially the smile on his hand.

 

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Brush your teeth, kids.

 

I’ve heard a huge amount of criticism stemming from ‘under-utilization’ of the Joker. True, he wasn’t in the movie a huge amount, however, ‘under-utilize’ would imply that he deserved a larger role. In the comics the Joker was never an overreaching thread; he primarily served as a motivator behind Harley Quinn’s actions. David Ayer stayed true to this by not allowing him sufficient screen time to steal the show. Jared Leto put enough into portraying the character that he likely would have stolen the show if given the chance. I’d love to see him in a future Batman installment. Perhaps the criticism in this area would be lessened if Joker hadn’t been made such a focal point in the advertising campaign. Anyone who was pumped to see the movie as a result would feel rightfully slighted.

 

Special effects were also commendable. The only weak points might be the ‘big bad’ – his overall look was interesting while a few scenes with his face looked a tad rough. If you were going to compare it to the CGI abortion that was Doomsday in BvS then he looked great. Certain segments with Enchantress came off as distracting. I didn’t care for the parts later in the movie where she looked brighter or more mystical. She definitely shined as the dark and creepy other-dimensional being from her first transformation. Seeing Cara Delevingne transform into this was very well handled.

 

 

In the end I can happily say that I enjoyed the film. It walks a line that’s both cooky and entertaining. It’s certainly re-watchable as a fun action flick with a healthy whetting of the appetite for future DC Cinematic Universe entries.

 

Go watch Suicide Squad and form your own opinion. Don’t let those miserable critics unfairly sway what could be an enjoyable experience for you.

 

My rating of Suicide Squad is 7 out of 10.

 

7 out of 10

Batman: The Killing Joke (film) Review

 

If you ask many longtime fans what was the first (memorable) Batman title they ever read was, the answer will most likely be Alan Moore’s legendary one-shot, The Killing Joke. It’s sort of ironic that an entire generation of Batman fandom associates the beginning of their Dark Knight love with one of the character’s darkest literary titles.

 

The Killing Joke has remained one of the most divisive comics to this day; the kind of book that takes on different meaning during repeated readings set years apart. I read the book as a kid and was captivated while still protected by rightful naiveté. Ten years later, I reread the book to find equal parts captivation and anxiety as its previously unrealized deeper themes came into my realization. Now, as a father, I read the book again and experienced the full horror that had blissfully alluded me in the years past. Anyone who dismisses the literary power of comic books is missing out – Alan Moore has proven that time and time again.

 

Twenty-eight years after its release, we’re finally able to see the property adapted for film. DC Comics has an unparalleled average with its animated films so it was the best possible outlet for Moore’s work to be brought to life. News that the supreme talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would be used to voice Batman and the Joker, respectively, meant that the movie would be done right. Topping everything off, they allowed it to be Rated R so there would be no diluting of the source material. I bought my wife and I tickets for the one night Fathom Events screening mere hours after they became available for presale.

 

So how was it? Here’s your obligatory “spoiler warning” (which should be unnecessary for this specific title)…

 

Batman: The Killing Joke – directed by Sam Liu

 

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The film starts out by showing a short interview with Mark Hamill. He discusses his past and what led him to become the iconic voice of one of the most iconic comic book characters. It was fascinating to hear his direct take on it; how he wanted to be involved with Batman: The Animated Series in any role BUT the Joker. He felt that a character like Luke Skywalker couldn’t have any association with the depravity of the Joker. We’re all so fortunate that he decided to do it anyway! Hamill’s segment was an unexpected way to begin the movie which also turned out to be perfect. It was a unique way to incite excitement then segue into the actual film.

 

Much of the criticism I’ve read about the movie is directed towards its first act which centered around Batgirl. The fact of the matter is, Alan Moore’s novel is only 48 pages long – a third of the length of your average graphic novel. They had to add a significant amount of material in order to not only adapt the story properly, but to also make it long enough to warrant production. Batgirl’s story acts as a framing device that helps tie everything together while setting the emotional stakes appropriately for what was to come. It also contributes to what I feel was the overall theme (something I’ll get to in a moment). It threw me off when Batman and Batgirl bumped vigilante uglies under the voyeuristic eyes of a stone gargoyle, but not to the extent that I thought anything less of the movie. If anything, the scene emphasized the fact that there are still people under the cape and cowl. Plus – Batgirl is a hot, kick ass librarian… can you blame Batman for giving into the moment? Some of the more vocal critics have focused on this scene for the wrong reasons, in my humble opinion. Batgirl isn’t just a jilted lover but rather she’s undergoing a transformation in line with the theme (again, I’ll get to that). Tara Strong’s voice acting definitely sells the emotional uneasiness that reverberated as a result of the rooftop scene. If you focus on the relatable humanity of the scenario then it’s easy to overlook the strength of character she forges as a result of everything that occurs.

 

The rest of the movie follows very closely with the novel. It doesn’t spare the audience from any of the depraved brutality of the source. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s vocal chemistry is just as powerful now as it was back in 1992 during “Joker’s Favor” (the first aired B:TAS episode featuring the two titans). You can hear the age in both actor’s voices which contributed to the grizzled dread that is so palpable in the original work. I absolutely loved additions made to the dialogue like the twistedly funny librarian puns made by the Joker standing over Batgirl’s wounded form. I will never tire of the Hamill/Conroy team up. I’ve heard their voices in my head with every comic appearance for as long as I can remember. One day I’d love to meet the actors because they both seem like the nicest guys around.

 

The Killing Joke’s underlying theme is about a person’s breaking point. When you’ve hit your lowest moment, the ultimate “bad day”, what direction will you take? What will you become after being taken beyond the brink? Batman and Joker are presented as both opposites and equals. They were each taken to that point then returned on completely opposite terms. We all know Batman’s story (thank god they didn’t feel the need to show any of it like every other Batman adaptation seems to) so seeing the Joker’s past was extra captivating. Personally, I prefer the vague approach Christopher Nolan later took with the Joker: his rabid unpredictability and untraceable origin makes him all the more terrifying. With that said, I cannot deny that the scene when Joker emerges from the chemicals and sees his reflection is powerful. I think I got chills hearing the transformation taking place with Mark Hamill’s haunting Joker cackle scoring the shattering of a man. An origin story for Joker was necessary to show the other extreme that could happen when that ultimate bad day occurs.

 

This story isn’t just a Batman/Joker story, it’s also a Batgirl and Commissioner Gordon story. Perhaps that’s what the negative critics are missing. If you look at the movie as only a Batman tale, then Batgirl does indeed become wrongly objectified and weak overall. Barbara Gordon’s story frames the entire film because it starts with her at her best, leads her along the edge of a disturbing abyss, before allowing her to emerge strong and confident regardless of what horrors she experienced. Commissioner Gordon’s side is the least developed yet still important since he’s the one to directly prove the Joker wrong by desiring to go “by the book” rather than embracing the laughable insanity craved by Joker.

 

The ending did slightly vary from the graphic novel… At first I didn’t like the difference but have since pondered the change and think it was the best route they could have taken. In the book, Batman shares a laugh with his equally mad counterpart then seemingly kills him. This works for the book but would have felt somewhat disjointed for the movie. After stressing the theme of returning from that breaking point, it wouldn’t have been right for the film to immediately go the other way by having Batman stoop to the Joker’s level. They openly acknowledge that the end of their story is clear: one of them will end up killing the other. Yet it’s Batman who chooses to take the route of redemption with an open offer for Joker to work with him in search of an end to the madness. He believes that their story doesn’t have to end that way; insanity doesn’t need to be all that remains when all is lost. The final scene with Barbara Gordon becoming Oracle further contributes to this thinking while bringing everything full circle. It was a far more defined ending than that of the book.

 

So don’t let the critics determine your own personal opinion of it. Watch the film and look beyond the surface to the expansive past that a wealth of source material has granted the characters on screen. There is much more present in this tale than just victims and villains. The Killing Joke is a raw, worthy adaptation of a milestone in comic history that features talented art direction and legendary voice acting.

 

My rating of Batman: The Killing Joke is 8 out of 10.

 

8 out of 10

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