Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Best Commencement Address

I don't necessarily love John Green's books. I love his writing and lyrical language, but John Green books aren't written for me: a middle-aged high school English teacher. But I do love John Green as a person, and I love this speech.

Check it out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


In another interesting turn of events, I link to another John Green video. This one is a good one.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Storium and Challenge Update

I just finished writing a poem today. So far, I haven't missed a single day, and on a few days, I have written several poems. They are all very rough, but I have seen some potential in a few of them. I think the most important part of this exercise is simply the fact that I am writing again. I am forcing pen to paper and getting words out. This has had a huge effect on my desire to write. Before, I just wanted to sit and watch TV, or play games, or just waste time on YouTube, but now I am making the choice to put those things to the side and work on writing instead. That is the best part of this whole challenge.

Secondly, I discovered Storium. I read about it in one of Wil Wheaton's blog posts and had to check it out for myself. Storium is a collaborative story-telling game. Kinda like a Role Playing Game, except more focused on on the story rather than moving miniatures on a map and beating up bad guys. When I heard about it, I just had to try it and now I am in two stories and planning on narrating my own story. I've fallen in deep guys. As a game, it isn't fully fleshed out. There are very few rules. You use cards to develop your character--a mixture of natures, strengths, and weaknesses. Then you use those cards to beat challenges set up by the narrator. There is a system that if you play a strength card on a challenge you will win control of the story, but I haven't seen that this locks people out of the story. Maybe that rule is more for a rotating narrator rather than a single narrator. The fun, for me, has been fleshing out characters and deciding what they would do and say in certain situations. It really is a fun way to get back into writing. I joined a game that is very much patterned like a Dresden novel, complete with modern wizards, monster hunters, and vampires. I joined just so I could try the game out, as this genre of book isn't usually my cup of tea, but I've been having a ton of fun. 

Storium is also the reason why I have been neglecting my blogs as of late. I look at the time I have available and decide that I would much rather write on Storium than compose a blog post. I am going to try to get back into it though.

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Challenge

I am turning 35 this year. March is my birth month, and after 35 years of spinning I need to do something. Each birthday has become less significant than the last; to the point where I don't even remember how old I am anymore. I don't know if this improves, but I decided that I needed to mark this occasion by doing something special. By posting my challenge here on my blog, it makes it public, and hopefully holds me accountable. So, here goes...

During the month of March, starting tomorrow, I will compose a short original poem every single day. I may compose more than one poem a day, but my requirement is one poem a day. I will be carrying a small notebook with me everywhere I go because you never know where or when the desire will strike you and I don't want the fact that I don't have something to write on to be an excuse. I may post some of my poems here on this blog, but in the end I will have at least 31 poems and I may end up doing something with them. Or I might not. I am quite rusty at this creative writing thing.

Originally I thought that I would write poems that praise the good and beautiful in my life, but I don't know if I will stick to that restriction. I just want to force myself to create something like I used to. And hopefully thoroughly enjoy myself doing it. 

I will keep you updated.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

X-Files Review

In the past I've seen only a handful of X-Files episodes. When I taught the Science Fiction class at Arapahoe High School, I used the episode The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5) when I taught the robot unit. That episode got me addicted to Cher's version of Walking in Memphis.

So, when season ten came on this January for a 6-episode event, I decided to give it a try. So, my review is from someone who is not an X-Files fan; someone who doesn't know much of the mythology of the X-Files.

 Overall, I enjoyed it. I do not think that there is enough good Sci Fi on network TV, which is unfortunate. Not every episode was awesome, but I did enjoy this season. My favorite episodes were 1, 2, 4, and 6. I enjoyed the greater conspiracy that seemed to be going on rather than the monster-of-the-week episodes. Episode 3 was my least favorite because it was less serious than the other ones.


I even liked that the final episode ended on a cliff-hanger. To me that means that this show will be back next year and maybe they will make more episodes--I'm thinking 10 would be great. I like the shorter British style of TV seasons.

The big question is...since I was not an X-Files fan before, will this spurn me to go back and watch the other nine seasons? I don't think so. You never know though, I do sometimes get bored during breaks from school and I might check out some episodes, but this show didn't hold my attention like a season of Downton Abbey or Vikings or Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad would. It was just okay.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rey's Power Level

I thought I was done discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I guess I'm not.

Today, during Panther Time (kinda like a home room class where you can go meet with teachers so you can get help) two young men were discussing the character of Rey. I am going to paraphrase their conversation. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

John: "I mean, I like the movie and everything. I'm going to go see it again tonight for the fifth time. But, I don't get why Rey was able to beat Kylo Ren at the end, when she had never even picked up a lightsaber before."

Bill: "Oh, I know. That was weird."

John: "Cause Kylo Ren has trained a bunch as a Jedi and then trained as a Sith. So, he should be better than Rey."

Bill: "Oh, yeah. And Kylo Ren is like super powerful, so does that mean that Rey is more powerful than Luke Skywalker too? Cause Luke was like the most powerful Jedi in the universe and he had a train a whole bunch before we was powerful."

At this point, I interrupted these two students and asked them this question:

Me: "If Rey was able to beat Kylo Ren in that final battle, what does that tell you about the character of Rey and the character of Kylo Ren?" 

I really was trying to make this a teaching moment, using something that they love: Star Wars. Side note: I have seen a huge resurgence of kids who are in to Star Wars in the last few months. I believe it is because now it is cool to be in to Star Wars.

John: "It is messed up, Mr. Allen, cause Luke--"

Me: "No, hold on. Answer my question. What does this tell you about the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren?"

John: "I guess that Rey is more powerful than Kylo."

Me: "And..."

John: "Kylo isn't that strong. But that is messed up, Mr. Allen. Rey can't be stronger than Kylo Ren."

At this point the bell rang and these two students scurried off to the library, probably to play video games on the computers.

But that question hung in the air for me for a while. Why can't Rey be stronger than Kylo Ren, despite not having his training and experience? The answer is, of course, that she can. And she is.

The real problem that this student was having, and wanted to keep quiet, was the simple fact that Rey is a girl. What he really wanted to say was Rey can't be that powerful because she is a woman. 


Why can't we have a girl that is incredibly strong in the Force. No where in the lore of the Star Wars universe does it say that men are more powerful Force wielders. I would never want that to be the case. We need this strong female character. It sickens me to think that my daughters role models in popular movies will remain relegated to Elsa from Frozen, or Rapunzel in Tangled.  Those movie's plots aren't even that good, the character development and dialogue are flat. Why must we have two separate categories of movies--movies for boys and movies for girls? Why can't they cross the lines? Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does. I am not saying that there aren't great characters that the boys can latch on to, but we need a Star Wars character for the girls now. Up to this point all we had was Princess Leia, and I'm sorry, but she was a damsel in distress. I know, I love her too, but when you boil it down that is what her character is. And Queen Amadala? Give me a break. I don't want my daughter looking at her as a role model. So, I applaud Disney and Lucasfilm and J. J. Abrams and anyone else who was a part of this decision. We need a strong female Jedi!

Now that that is out of the way, I think we can have a more level-headed conversation about Rey and Kylo Ren. We need to spend some additional time looking at their characters.

Kylo Ren: Ben Solo is conflicted. That is one of his major character points. I've said in another blog post that this makes Kylo Ren an interesting character. He is being pulled by the two sides of the Force. We also know that Kylo Ren has yet to complete his training. He has had a little bit, but Snoke states that he needs to finish Ben's training towards the end of the film. Because of these two points, it is perfectly understandable that Rey would be stronger than Kylo Ren. He lets the conflict within him get in the way. When he is fighting Rey in the forest, he just killed his own father. I am sure that would effect him. He is constantly feeling the tug of the light side, the doubts within his own mind. Then, he does has a little training, but a little training does not a Jedi Master make, nor a Sith Lord for that matter. The fact is that Kylo needs more training.

Rey: Rey is focused, organized, independent. She understands who she is and where she fits into the universe. Rey has a mission that keeps her eye trained on the prize. She does experience tragedy, but even despite that, her focus is incredible. And she is untrained, but I feel like her character traits make up for that. When Kylo Ren hurts Finn you can see the determination enter her face. Now, I would not go so far as to say that Rey fights like a Jedi Master in this battle against Kylo Ren, but because of her state of mind, she is able to beat Kylo Ren. She takes to it like a fish to water because of her focus and power level. Rey may just be the most powerful Force user in the history of the universe and that is more than okay. I have also seen some fan theories that Rey might have been trained too in her past, but just doesn't remember because someone wiped her memories. That is an interesting theory, but even without it I think we can explain to a satisfactory level why Rey could beat Kylo Ren.

Finally, let's talk about Luke Skywalker, since this was a major sticking point for these two boys. They made the argument that Luke lost to Darth Vader twice in the original trilogy. I assume that they are referring to the duel on Cloud City, which was a loss for Luke, and the duel in the Emperor's chamber, which I would actually say Luke won in the end, but anyway... They kept saying that Luke is supposedly this super powerful Jedi and he lost to Darth Vader, so that would mean that Rey is way more powerful than Luke. Now, first, Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He is supposed to make our brains think Vader, but he is not Darth Vader. Vader was a battle seasoned, war veteran, prodigy Force user who often would single-handedly turn the tide of battle. Vader had decades more experience than Luke. Of course Luke was going to lose to Vader. It was inevitable. His only chance was to turn his father back to the light side. He could never hope to stop Vader in combat. At the end of The Force Awakens, I am sure that Luke is an extremely powerful Force user because he has had thirty years more training than he did at the end of Return of the Jedi. But if you compare Rey at the end of Force Awakens and Luke at the end of Return, I would probably estimate that they are pretty much the same, maybe Luke would have the upper-hand because he trained a little. But a couple training sessions with Yoda are not all you need. Rey would have lost to Vader too. But, once again, I must emphasize that Kylo Ren is no way as powerful as Vader was at the end of Return.

Despite all of this, this topic was incredibly interesting for me to think about. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Recent Acquisitions: Feb 2016

I've been saving my money recently. I want to buy a lot of different things, but chief among them is a new desk and a PS4. I don't know if I am going to be able to hold out because I do enjoy ordering new games each month. Getting games that I pre-ordered in the mail helps though. I had almost forgotten that I had pre-ordered these beauties too. Always a welcome surprise when there is an unexpected package on the doorstep for me.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection--
This is the newest game in the COIN series, which stands for counter insurgency. This includes Lake of Fire (a game about Vietnam) which I also have a keen interest in. But this game looks at the American revolution and all of the different factions that were involved in that conflict. I really wanted this game because of its high solitaire rating. Especially for these deeper, longer war games, I need games that have the ability to be played solo. More and more, I am enjoying solo board gaming. I don't always play games alone, but when no one else is around it is one of the best options.

Talon is a science fiction space ship battles game and you know that I love Sci Fi games. This one pits the Terrans against the Talons and includes hex ship counters that you use a dry erase marker on to show damage to shields and hull. It comes with a ton in the box and looks like a really fun capital ship battle game. Again, this game has a high solitaire rating.

In a trade I was able to get Chainmail, Perry Rhodan, and the Agincourt scenario for the Men of Iron series. Chainmail looks like a pretty simple medieval war game. Perry Rhodan was the game that really enticed me to do the trade because Perry Rhodan is out of print and sometimes fetches relatively high prices on BGG. Perry Rhodan is a pick up and deliver game for two players and I love me some pick up and deliver games. I've already played one game of Perry Rhodan with Amy and I really liked it. It was simple enough to learn quickly and played in about 30 minutes. Not a ton of decisions or strategy, and there is a bit of luck in the cards you are able to draw. But if you can load up on containers to hold goods then you can pick up a bunch of goods on one planet and then spend the next few turns delivering. This is a fairly good strategy and won me the game.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh yeah, this should play out just fine: An Analysis of Rick and Morty Season 1, Episode 2

Episode two, Lawnmower Dog, is, in my opinion, the weakest episode in season one. Because of this, I am going to keep my analysis short.

The episode starts with the family dog peeing on the carpet and Jerry asks Rick to whip up some science solution to the problem. Rick creates a helmet to make the dog smarter and then whisks Morty away to intercept Morty's math teacher's dreams. The purpose of entering Mr. Goldenfold's dreams is to make him give Morty A's in math.

Now, I could stop here and discuss the importance of school, but I think I went a little too heavy on that front in my analysis of episode one. I'm a school teacher and I don't like it when school teachers are portrayed in this way--stupid and susceptible to cheating.

When they get into Goldenfold's dreams they find several strange levels of dreams, eventually landing in a level where the help a Freddy Krueger knock off, named Scary Terry. While Rick and Morty are adventuring in dream-land, the family dog figures out how to make himself smarter and starts an intelligent dog revolution.

The problem with this episode is that this is pure sci fi rigamarole. There is no deep scientific principle to glean out of this one. No high concept that really makes you think. Heck, this episode isn't really even that entertaining. It certainly is not as funny as other episodes. A filler through and through.

The episode ends with the intelligent dogs jumping through a portal to begin their own world. Morty finished with, "You know, that's a really comforting idea, Rick." And then Rick insults Morty by saying, "Ahhh, what do you know, Morty? What do you know?" It is so derogatory and insulting. We are going to discuss the differences in intelligence between these two characters in the analysis of a future episode, but again, this is his stinking grandpa; he is supposed to love his grandson and instead spends his time insulting his intelligence. 


I still like the show though as you will see in future analysis articles.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ye Scurvy Dog: A Review of Dead Men Tell No Tales

Dead Men Tell No Tales, published by Minion Games, is a cooperative board game for 2-5 players. In the game, you are pirates raiding a cursed ship that is infested with undead pirates while it is burning down into a watery grave. 

At this point I have played Dead Men Tell No Tales twice and I really enjoy it. 

The game is a fairly standard cooperative board game. Players do three things on their turn. First they flip and place a ship tile to build the ship. If you cannot place a tile in a way where the doors match up with previously placed tiles then you will lose. The tiles also bring in the various skeletons, guards, treasures, powder kegs, and grog. After the tile placement, the player spends action points to complete actions. Actions include things like putting out fire, moving, and attacking the ships undead denizens. A major consideration while you are moving about is the fire level though, whenever you move into a room where the fire is hotter than the room you came from you must take fatigue. If you get too much fatigue you won't be able to move around the ship until one of your friends comes to your aid to lower the fire. Finally, players turn over a card that instructs the players to raise fire levels across the ship and/or bring out/move the bad guys. Like all cooperative games, there are many more ways to lose than there are to win. You can lose if there are too many explosions on the ship because you allowed the fire to get out of hand, or if you cannot access treasures that you need because rooms have become closed off to you, or if a player dies and there are no more pirate characters for the player to become. To win you must collect a certain number of treasures off of the ship and transport them to your waiting row boats.

The first time I played this game I played with my wife and son. We were doing very well, but then lost in the last couple of turns because we had a bunch of explosions and those explosions cut us off from the treasures we needed to win.

The second time I played this game with Charlie and we won handily. If we play it again we think we will increase the difficulty.

On a strategy note, I think on of the most important parts of this game is building your paths across the ship. In my first play I just placed rooms haphazardly and didn't really worry about the paths we were creating. This was our downfall because some rooms exploded and we weren't able to get to the parts of the ship anymore that we needed to. Charlie and I really thought about each and every tile placement to make sure that didn't happen to us.

I enjoy this game. The artwork is terrific--wonderful painted images. And the gameplay is fairly solid. Right now, I do feel like the fire in the game isn't that big of a deal. I guess you could get just the right combination of cards a couple of turns in a row and it could really ruin everything, but in my two plays, the fire was never that huge of a deal. We usually were able to deal with the fire and keep it low--we just assigned one player to always be working on the fire. The element that really got out of hand was the skeleton deck hands because they really limit your movement around the board, so you have to waste turns killing them so you can get to a treasure or get a treasure off the ship. Fatigue was never a big deal in both of our games either. I like that you can search through a deck of useful items and exchange the item you were recently using for something else. And I have always enjoyed variable player powers. You can make some really powerful combinations with these two things. The pirate theme really comes through which is nice.

I rated this game a 7 out of 10. It will retain a spot in my collection.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Opening Scene of The Force Awakens

In 1977, Star Wars: A New Hope opened with the above scene, and what a terrific scene. This opening has been analyzed a lot over the years as a great example of filmmaking. This scene shows the viewer everything they need to know about the Empire and the Rebels without using any words. You understand that the Rebels are being hard pressed. They are underfunded and on the run. Then you see the star destroyer slowly move into frame and you understand that the Empire is extremely powerful and rich. That they have this long arm that reaches across the galaxy to stop their enemies. This brilliant bit of filmmaking is such a perfect opening to this series. It lend gravity to the film and helps the audience to understand the serious nature of these movies.

George Lucas moved away from these types of openings in his prequel series, and now we come to Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

After the opening crawl, which sent shivers up my back when I first saw it, by the way, we slowly pan down and focus on the planet of Jakku. Then slowly, one of the First Order's star destroyers passes in front of the bright planet and very soon overshadows the entire planet, blocking out all light. Symbolically this shows the power of the First Order and how they are just terribly evil. So evil that they block out all light.

When I saw this scene it immediately put my mind at ease. I silently applauded J. J. Abrams because he did the right thing. He knew that this nod to the first scene in A New Hope would catch the attentions of Star Wars fans. I immediately saw what he was doing and then sat back to enjoy a movie that I knew would be good. I really wish that I could find a clip of this scene so I could share it on my blog, but once again you can't find clips from this movie because it is still so new.

At this point I feel like I have analyzed The Force Awakens enough. My blog has been Star Wars posts for about a month and I am ready to get back to discussing other things. But, then again, who knows. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was such a great movie. I have actually been hankering to go see it again in theaters recently.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I don't normally enjoy rap, but...

Been listening to this the past few days and it is amazing! You can't go wrong with rap mixed with video game music.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Symbolic Lighting: Star Wars Movies Need Symbols

This post contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens--You have been warned

The movies included in the Star Wars franchise find their strength from not only their well-developed characters and their deeply engaging story lines, but also from the symbols included within most of the movies. I would like to discuss the symbolism used within the characters faces in both Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Notably, the characters of Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren.

At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker faces off against his father, Darth Vader, at the behest of the Emperor. They duel, but eventually Skywalker chooses the Jedi path, the path of non-violence and hides from Vader. Darth Vader reaches out into Luke's mind and we get this amazing closeup of Luke's face.
Luke's face is half covered by shadows and half illuminated by the light. I am pretty sure that this was not one of George Lucas' ideas, but rather the terrific work of a intelligent director. From a symbolic standpoint, Luke is being torn into two directions. He is feeling the pull of both the light side of the force and the dark side. At this point he needs to make a choice, and you can see it because of how his face is lit. You might not have noticed this while initially watching this movie, but your brain does. Our brains are very adept at picking up these little details, this is why directors include them.

Now, I cannot find a picture of Kylo Ren's symbolic face lighting in The Force Awakens--I assume because the movie is still in theaters--but I will try to describe it as best I can. This lighting is so very similar to the lighting in Return of the Jedi. Towards the end of The Force Awakens, Han Solo faces off against his son, Kylo Ren (or Ben Solo). He pleads with his boy to return with him, to be good again, to come back to the light side. Han asks Kylo Ren to remove his helmet and initially his face is shadowed very similarly to Luke Skywalker's--half in dark shadows and half in red shadows. Then as he decides to kill his father, Kylo Ren steps forward and his face fully becomes bathed in red light, symbolizing that he has fully embraced the dark side.

These two scenes are what Star Wars is about. This is what makes Star Wars good--little things like this. Unfortunately, George Lucas lost sight of these little things when he was working on the prequel movies. It really is a shame too because if he had focused on elements like these those movies would probably have found better long term acceptance.

Friday, January 15, 2016

You Spin Me Right Round: A Whirlwind Journey Around The Hero Cycle in Star Wars: A New Hope & Star Wars: The Force Awakens

by Scott Allen


I mentioned in a previous post that many people are complaining about how Star Wars: The Force Awakens was essentially the same movie as A New Hope. Chris Stuckman has a great argument that all Star Wars movies follow a formula, but I would like to discuss this idea in further detail.

The reason that The Force Awakens and A New Hope (and essentially all Star Wars movies) have a similar plot is because of the Hero Cycle. Author's have been telling the same stories for generations. Star Wars is The Lion King is Indiana Jones is The Matrix is Beowulf. They all follow the same plot. So, I would like to analyze both A New Hope and The Force Awakens from this lens.

Ordinary World

  • A New Hope: Luke Skywalker lives on the desert planet of Tatooine where he works for his Uncle on their family moisture farm. Luke dreams of leaving, joining the Rebellion, and generally making a difference in the galaxy.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey lives on the desert planet of Jakku where she works as a junk scavenger, trying her hardest to simply survive. Rey dreams of the day when her family will return to retrieve her.

Call to Adventure

  • A New Hope: Luke receives his call from a hologram of Princess Leia transmitted by R2D2--"Obi Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope." He feels compelled to help.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey also receives her call to adventure from a droid--BB-8. BB-8 has secret information and Rey is invited to help him find his master.

Refusal of the Call

  • A New Hope: Luke says that he can't go on the adventure several times--to C3P0 and to Obi Wan Kenobi. "I can't get involved."
  • The Force Awakens: Rey points BB-8 into the direction of civilization initially and then tells him he can stay with her until tomorrow when he needs to be on his way. Rey has a moment where she is tempted to sell BB-8 to get food. Also, several times during her adventure she mentions that she needs to return to Jakku because she is worried that she might miss her family coming back to pick her up.

Meeting the Mentor

  • A New Hope: Obi Wan Kenobi is the wise old man who mentors Luke in the ways of the Force.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey is mentored by Han Solo, who really excels in this role. Harrison Ford just looks like he has seen so much and perfectly acts as the wise old man. Rey is taught that all of the stories of the Jedi are true and that she just needs to have faith in all of these incredible things she has never seen before. Just look at Han's eyes in the poster. He has seen things. He has experienced love and loss, war and peace, magic and reality. He is hardened by his experiences. I cannot think of a better mentor character, other than maybe Obi Wan Kenobi, but I think I might be partial to Han over Obi Wan.

Crossing the First Threshold

  • A New Hope: Luke crosses the threshold into the world of adventure (world of fantasy) when he, Obi Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, in the Millennium Falcon, get caught in the Death Star's tractor beam and get pulled into the space station. There is a literal moment of crossing that threshold because the ship gets pulled in through a door. And now our heroes find themselves in a strange world that is different than anything they are used to.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey's crossing into the world of adventure is a little simpler than Luke's. Because Rey has spent her life on Jakku being a scavenger, her crossing is when she leaves Jakku in the Falcon. She then is thrust into this new world that is different than what she is used to. 
Interesting that both crossings involve using the Millennium Falcon. Like the Falcon is a vehicle for taking heroes into the world of fantasy. I might need to do another blog post about the Falcon as the vehicle into adventure. Hmmmmm.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

  • A New Hope:
    • Tests: Luke trains with the combat remote. He has a test in the Mos Eisley Cantina. And all of these tests come to a head when he enters the Death Star and he is faced with the choice of staying and waiting for Obi Wan, or going out himself to find and save Princess Leia.
    • Allies: Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3PO--some of the best allies in the galaxy.
    • Enemies: Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Imperial Officers
  • The Force Awakens:
    • Tests: Rey tests her budding Force powers on an unsuspecting Stormtrooper. She experiences a fairly serious test when Kylo Ren was trying to pull information out of her mind. You could also say that running from explosions on Jakku with Finn was a pretty significant test.
    • Allies: Han Solo, Chewbacca, Finn, BB-8
    • Enemies: Kylo Ren, Stormtroopers, Imperial Officers


  • A New Hope: Luke winds his way through the Death Star looking for Princess Leia. Specifically, Luke approaches the cave when he walks down the corridor what Princess Leia's cell is located in.
  • The Force Awakens: I believe that this would be when Rey enters the snow filled forest on Star Killer base.

Ordeal, Death, & Rebirth (The Cave)

  • A New Hope: Luke and friends dive down into a garbage chute and then Luke gets pulled under the water by some sort of garbage monster. For a while it looks like Luke is gone, that he has died. But then he returns.
  • The Force Awakens: In the forest on Star Killer Base, Rey and Finn face off against Kylo Ren. At the very beginning of the battle, Kylo uses the Force to throw Rey into a tree. She gets knocked unconscious and Finn goes to her. In the way Finn holds her head and looks at her, it almost looks like she is dead. And if she weren't the main character, and if this story didn't follow the Hero Cycle, we might actually believe that she was dead. Later in the battle though Rey reawakens and seems to be reborn, more powerful in the Force than she was before.

Reward, Seizing the Sword/Elixir

  • A New Hope: The reward is the Force. Luke begins to use the Force to stop the evil at the end of the movie where he clears his mind and takes the kill shot against the Death Star.
  • The Force Awakens: Once again, the reward is the Force. Rey begins to use the Force a little earlier than Luke, but after she has her rebirth she is very powerful and uses this power to stop Kylo Ren.

Magic Flight

  • A New Hope: Luke uses his X-Wing, accompanied by the Falcon, to flee the destruction of the Death Star.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey uses the Falcon to flee the destruction of Star Killer Base.

Crossing the Second Threshold (Returning Home)

  • A New Hope: Luke returns to the Rebel base, which has now become his home.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey returns to the Resistance's base. It doesn't really seem to be her home. Rey's new home would be with Luke Skywalker to engage in training.

Return with Sword/Elixir

  • A New Hope: Luke returns with a little bit of power with the Force.
  • The Force Awakens: Rey returns a fairly accomplished Force user and seeks training with the last remaining Jedi in the galaxy.
The end of the cycle is where these two movies begin to break the pattern. It has a lot to do with the fact that Star Wars movies have sequels and the cycle is just going to pick up again in the next movie.


In writing this, I saw even more similarities between The Force Awakens and A New Hope than I did before. But that does not make The Force Awakens a bad movie, or even a lesser Star Wars movie. This proves that The Force Awakens is a great movie. The Hero Cycle keeps cropping up in our books and movies because it is a good story. Ultimately, it is every man's story. Our cycle might not be as epic as Luke Skywalker's or Rey's, but it is still our Hero Cycle. We will follow the same path. There is some semblance of peace in that. We like this pattern because it reminds us of our own story.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chris Stuckmann's Critical Review of The Force Awakens

Very soon I will be posting a critical look at how we can see the Hero Cycle in The Force Awakens. I have been working very hard on it, I think it is pretty good. But many of my ideas have come from this video by Chris Stuckmann on Youtube. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

John Green Discusses Star Wars

I think I like John Green more than his brother. I feel like I could be really good friends with John Green.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Spoiler Filled Critical Review

I went and re-watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens last Thursday with a buddy of mine who hadn't seen the film yet. So, after two viewings, I believe that I am ready to discuss this movie. I have a lot to say about this too, so I think I will be doing several posts discussing aspects of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This one, in particular, will be more general in scale. But, be warned that this post will be filled with SPOILERS. If you have not seen the movie yet, and have not already had the movie spoiled for you, then go watch it and come back later.


Plot: Many people on the internet right now are complaining that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not an original movie. That it is essentially a retread of A New Hope. First, they are absolutely right. The Force Awakens does have a plot that is very similar to A New Hope, but that isn't a bad thing. In an interview, while he was developing the Prequels, George Lucas said the following:

So, George Lucas says that they "rhyme." I would have preferred the word echo, but rhyme is fine too. These movies are supposed to be like each other. They were patterned after the radio serials of old that George Lucas loved growing up--Flash Gordon and the like. Those programs weren't original week to week, they followed a formula and the Star Wars movies do as well. And I would like to explore this idea more in another post, but Star Wars movies don't follow a formula just because George Lucas says so, they follow a formula because all good stories do.

For me, the plot was everything I hoped for. It had all of the elements that I enjoy in a good Star Wars movie. There was a lot of action. People running away from evil. Lots of spaceships. It was a hyper space opera, which is what Star Wars is supposed to be.

I am not going to spend all this time rehashing beat by beat what happened in the movie, but it was a top notch Star Wars plot.

One part in particular I would like to discuss though. I thought that Han Solo's death scene was handled perfectly. As soon as he walked out on that path hanging over the chasm, I knew what was going to happen. Symbolically it hearkens back to Empire Strikes Back when Luke faces Vader and learns that Vader is his father. It had that same emotional resonance too. But I loved how it was handled. Han Solo went out wonderfully, trying to save his son. I love that.

Characters: The movie really shined in this aspect. Han Solo and Chewbaca were great, but I would like to focus on the new characters because they were what I was the most worried about. 

 Rey was everything you are looking for in a hero. She is the every woman that you need to be able to follow a movie set in a strange Sci Fi universe. When you meet her you understand her plight, she is waiting for her family to return, but she isn't weak or incapable of taking care of herself. She has heard stories about what happened during the Rebellion and destruction of the Empire, but she doesn't know if those stories aren't just myths. As she is thrust into the action of the story, she helps to guide us and help us understand what is happening. This is what the originals had in Luke Skywalker, but the Prequels failed in. I loved how powerful she is; a great female character for my daughter. And who cares who she is related to. I have my theories, but everyone might be totally wrong. Rey might not be related to anyone. And if that is the case, then I would still be perfectly happy.

Finn...hmmm. I liked Finn, but I liked Rey more. Finn is set to take up Han Solo's role in the original movies as the lovable scoundrel. And I think he will do a bang up job. I loved how the movie humanized a stormtrooper. Before they were clones, or soldiers, or who knows. But now, they are humans. They have feelings. They can make mistakes. I loved how right at the beginning, Finn watched his friend get shot and die and his friend wipes blood on Finn's helmet, marking him. Even with the helmet on you could tell that the character was affected by what he was witnessing. It made the character of Finn interesting, it gave him depth. He is conflicted an that continues throughout the whole movie. He wants to help, but he is also scared and not confident in his abilities to be successful. That makes for a good character.

Now, if conflict and depth are what you want, then we get it in spades with Kylo Ren, a.k.a. Ben Solo. I loved Rey, but I absolutely died for Kylo Ren. He is such a great villain and I have always been such a sucker for the bad guy. Darth Vader will always be one of the greatest characters in all of history, but I feel like Kylo Ren has so much depth already after just one movie. He is so conflicted. He feels the pull from both the light and dark sides of the force. He is really into his grandfather, Darth Vader and wants to be like him, but gets angry when he messes up. He isn't fully trained like Vader was, yet he is very powerful. You can see the conflict within him, even when he has the mask on. Ever since I saw Kylo in a photograph I loved his look and the suit and everything, but I was really hoping that he wouldn't just be a throw away character like Darth Maul. Kylo Ren is most definitely not a throw away character. I applaud his creation and Kylo Ren's story is probably what I am most looking forward to in the subsequent two movies.

In a recent review of his own, Chris Stuckman, discussed how Kylo Ren's lightsaber is perfect as well. Ren's saber looks unfinished, it looks unstable--very much like his character. It is volatile and may blow up at any moment. I thought this was a perfect symbolic choice for this character.

Acting: Unlike the Prequels, the acting in this movie is also superb. The Prequels were haunted by cheesy dialogue and long monologues about inter-galactic politics. More often than not, I was very bored in the Prequels. The Prequels were also plagued by telling rather than showing. The Force Awakens corrects these problems. No more scenes of people walking on a green-screen discussing what just happened, or what they are about to go do. One of my favorite shots is one of Rey watching a space ship blast off the planet (Jakku) where she lives. You look into her eyes and see how the features of her face soften, and you can instantly tell what she is feeling. She wants to leave. She dreams of the day when she will be rescued from this "prison." She longs for the rush of boosters beneath her as the blasts off Jakku with her family. That moment is what I am talking about. Show us what a character is feeling rather than tell us. And that is what this movie does. 

Filmmaking: J. J. Abrams knows his stuff. This may just be his best movie. He knows how to shoot a Star Wars film. Big wide shots that show us all the action that is happening. Practical effects in most cases. A focus on the characters rather than panning away to show how cool the explosion was. Abrams does so much with light and color that you might have missed, but your brain didn't. This was a huge strength for the movie and a return to form for this franchise, because Star Wars movies used to be very symbolic. I will return to this subject in a few more blog posts later.

Didn't you dislike anything?: Well, yes I did. The movie is not perfect, there were problems. 

  • In both cases, I didn't like the CGI characters. Both of them took me out of the movie. I could tell that they were fake. With all of the practical effects in the movie, they just seemed out of place. Maybe you don't need your bar owner with a heart of gold character to be a little alien. Why couldn't she be a normal sized alien?
  • I felt like the characters were never given time to breath. They were running from beginning to end. I mean at the very very end they were resting, but the rest of the movie was an octane filled race to the end. It made the movie very exciting, but sometimes it is nice to get a breather at an audience member and feel like the characters are safe for just a moment. But some people complain if there is too much down time and say that the movie was boring. That balance is difficult to achieve.
  • I was disappointed with John Williams' score. I am listening to it right now as I compose this blog post and there are really only two new themes that I really like--Kylo Ren's theme and Rey's theme. I mean I enjoyed with the old themes would resurface in the movie, but I would have loved some really catchy new Star Wars tunes, like Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace (arguably the best part of that whole movie was that one song).
Overall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a tremendous movie. Well worth the price of admission in both cases. I am really looking forward to adding this DVD to my collection and enjoying it with my family for years to come. In the end, I would give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5 out of 5.

Friday, January 8, 2016

TV Binge Review: Vikings

At the beginning of December, my wife convinced me to watch Vikings seasons 1-3 with her. She had seen some episodes before and enjoyed it and she said that I would absolutely love the series. I was skeptical at first, but I ended up watching the entirety of the first three seasons with her in the span of just a few weeks. I would call that a TV binge.

The premise of the show doesn't sound promising. A story about vikings and it is on the History Channel? It sounded like it would be slow and boring. Now, there certainly are some episodes are a better than others. Season finales are always the best. But this is an intriguing, violent, dramatic, and addicting show. Vikings has all the drama of A Game of Thrones, but it is also based on history.

Now, I said based on history because there are have to be things that the writers made up or embellished. There are some really good historians, but I mean...come on. The history is good though. I like that I can go and learn more about these characters, all of whom were real people in history. While watching I often did just that. I would stop after an episode and look things up about Ragnar Lothbrook. I was especially interested about the Siege of Paris. So much so that I research whether there were any war games that covered that siege. Unfortunately, there are not.

There have been several shows that draw from historical events for their plots. The Tudors and Rome both come to mind. But the problem with those shows is the amount of unnecessary sex and nudity they include to keep the males in their audiences "interested." There certainly was some scenes that my wife and I fast forwarded through, but I never felt like they were gratuitous like scenes in A Game of Thrones often are. Each scene had a purpose.

I really enjoyed binging on this show. It certainly is a good one for a binge. I am excited to watch season 4, but I may have to wait a while before it becomes available as I do not have cable TV. We watched seasons 1-3 on Hulu by the way.

I would give each season the following ratings:
  • Season 1 = 3 stars
  • Season 2 = 4 stars
  • Season 3 = 5 stars

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

PBS Idea Channel: The Ruins of Las Vegas

I just watched this episode of PBS Idea Channel, which really got me thinking. I liked what they were saying about Las Vegas, but more than that it got me thinking about my time living and working in Vegas. I have posted the comment I made on the video below. Please take a moment to watch this video. It is very thoughtful.

My Comment: I lived in Las Vegas for two years right after I graduated from college. I was teaching at a local High School and absolutely hated it. I really disliked the city and everything associated with it. I hated that I had to walk through a casino to do anything: go to dinner at a nice restaurant, go to a movie, even go to ice cream in some cases. I also saw how Vegas ruined people's lives. I was living in Vegas when the flood of foreclosures began to happen. I saw good people forced from their homes. Many of these people had to return home to live in their parents' basements. I saw businesses close. And probably even worse, I saw many of my students who just didn't care about anything. Their plans included inheriting their parent's job parking cars at the casino. That same job which their parents had inherited from their parents. And these students knew, deep down, that they didn't need any of the things I was teaching. There was no reason for them to try and excel in my class. They didn't need to know Romeo and Juliet. Who cares when you are going to survive while parking cars or dealing cards. Many of these students seemed to exist within this sad life where they had no dreams or aspirations. This, to me, is the real ruins of Las Vegas--these students who will "survive," but won't necessarily thrive.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Wrestle Not with Monsters Lest Ye Become One: An Analysis of Rick and Morty Season 1, Episode 1

The pilot of Rick and Morty reminded me of a Friedrich Nietzsche quote that I used to have posted up above the doorway out of my classroom:
"Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

Or maybe that is a bad translation, but it was something like that. And in this episode Morty is confronted by a bunch of monsters. Let's start with the most obvious...

After the opening credits, Rick takes Morty into another dimension so they can harvest some mega seeds--Dimension 35C to be exact. Rick states that the seeds are incredibly powerful and that he needs these mega seeds for his research. While in Dimension 35C Rick and Morty are confronted by all types of monsters. Morty says that this new dimension is causing him to work up some real anxiety, and why shouldn't it. Two minutes into arriving in this new dimension Rick and Morty are being chased by a monster with several rows of fangs, a dozen eyes, and long spindly legs. An ugly, frightening monster. They continue to see several other creatures as they travel in this dimension. Monsters with lots of eyes, crazy legs, blobs of goo. Rick even states that one of the monsters defies all logic. And I believe that a casual viewer could stop right there. There are the monsters! Case closed. But we aren't casual viewers. We need to go deeper.

Mr. Goldenfold is Morty's math teacher. At the top of the episode Rick discusses his theories on public education by stating, "But I'll tell you how I feel about school, it's a waste of time. Bunch of people running around bumping into each other, got guy up front that say 2 + 2 and the people in the back say 4, then the bell rings and they give you a carton of milk and a piece of paper that says you can go take a dump or something," (Pilot). Rick obviously doesn't like school. But then Morty goes to school and we are faced with this exact situation. The teacher, Mr. Goldenfold is monstrous. He yells at his students, his teaching is rote memorization, and there is a lack of discipline in his classroom. Mr. Goldenfold uses fear to keep his students in line and that is why he has discipline problems in his classroom. He treats his students like idiots and lectures incessantly. He even says that some of his students are getting dumber when he passes out a quiz. There is no passion in Mr. Goldenfold and that is probably the most monstrous thing about him. A teacher without passion is a crime. But enough preaching from the high school English teacher. At the end of the classroom scene, Morty is dreaming about a girl in the class (Mr. Golden fold has problems with students falling asleep in his class, but who can blame Morty, his grandfather kept him up all night) and touching Mr. Goldenfold, but Goldenfold does nothing to stop it. He says he is going to do something, but never does. So, Mr. Goldenfold is one of these monsters that have invaded Morty's life.

Morty's parents are also monstrous. Jerry and Beth Smith are bad parents. Bad people really. Morty's parents do not have a healthy marriage, they are constantly bickering and name-calling in front of their children. They air their dirty laundry for their kids to deal with. Not to mention that they have no idea how their son is doing in school. The principal has to call Beth and Jerry to say that Morty is going to fail all of his classes because he has been present at school a total of seven hours the entire semester. Parents should know how their children are doing at school. They should know what their children are doing when they are young. These two do not parent. In many cases, throughout the season, Morty is more responsible than his parents are. Jerry wants to put Rick into a nursing home and tries to convince his wife to agree to it. Beth only agrees to this plan after she finds out that her son is failing school because Rick excuses him all the time to go on adventures. At the end of the episode, they don't even stick with this decision to send Rick to a nursing home because Morty's grandfather is able to convincingly lie to them. But Mr. Goldenfold and Morty's parents aren't even the worst monster in this episode. That prize is awarded to Morty's companion, his mentor, the shows other namesake: Rick.

Rick Sanchez is Morty's grandfather and what a monstrous man he is. Let's level the case against this crackpot. At the beginning of the episode, Rick tears Morty from his bed, because he has a "surprise" for him. The surprise turns out to be that Rick is drunk, he had built a neutrino bomb that he plans to use to destroy the world and "start fresh," and that they are going to pick up Jessica (the girl Morty has a crush on) so Morty and Jessica can start the world over like a new Adam and Eve. First, Rick is drunk. Not the best example to be setting for your grandson. He is also driving a spaceship. Maybe there are different rules for drinking and driving an intergalactic vessel, but there shouldn't be. I know a lot of people enjoy drinking alcohol and that is their choice, but I do not think that anyone should be this drunk in front of children. It is scary. Morty is frightened. But Rick doesn't care. 

Secondly, Rick thinks himself a god. He is so smart that he can do whatever he wants without consequence. He is tired of the world so he gets to decide to blow the whole thing up? Where does this guy get off. To further prove this point, Rick states that he is going to make Morty and Jessica into an Adam and Eve. And if Morty is to be Adam, and Jessica is to be Even, then that makes Rick god because he would be putting them together. Not to mention how embarrassing it would be for Morty to stop at Jessica's house and watch as his grandfather grabs his crush and throws her into the ship. How embarrassing it would be to be forced into a romantic (not to mention, sexual) situation with a girl that you are afraid to even speak to. What a blow to this impressionable teens ego. 

Later in the episode, Rick goes to Morty's school to take him out on an adventure and freezes the bully that is bothering Morty. Rick doesn't do this to help Morty, mind you, but just to stop the bully long enough so Rick can grab Morty and achieve his goal. That boy, Frank, later falls down and dies. He is crushed into a million pieces and this event scars Ricks granddaughter, Morty's sister, Summer. She cannot deal with the loss of this boy. But Rick doesn't even care later on when Summer comes in to tell everyone that Frank died at school. 

Then we finally get to the part of the episode where Rick and Morty travel to Dimension 35C.  Morty gets anxious and Rick gives his grandson this nice little pep talk about overcoming our challenges in life. It is a great moment, but then a huge, scary, slobbering monster shows up and Rick ignores his own advice and turns tail to run. It is done for a comedic reason, but still. Rick is a hypocrite in this respect. He doesn't follow his own advice. He takes the easy road out of things. Then, Rick is showing Morty how crazy, strange, and amazing this dimension is and Morty makes the comment that spawned the ideas behind this blog post. He says, "Yeah, Rick, I get it. We're surrounded by monsters. That's kinda the reason I want to leave," (Pilot). Morty isn't just talking about the crazy creatures of Dimension 35C, he is talking about his grandfather. This man that is supposed to love him, but just uses him. This man that has no regard for feelings, human life, or his grandson's safety, just his own selfish goals. Rick is the monster. Morty then confirms this after he falls down a mountain and breaks both of his legs. Rick isn't concerned about the fact that his grandson just broke both of his legs due to Rick's negligence, he is worried about whether Morty will still be able to harvest his Mega Seeds. Morty replies with, "Are you kidding me? That's it, Rick! That's the last straw! I can't believe this. I'm sitting here with both of my legs broken and your still asking me about getting those seeds. Ohhhh, owww owww! You're a monster! You're like Hitler, but even Hitler cared about Germany or something," (Pilot). Morty confirms it. Rick is a monster, the monster that is torturing his grandson and ruining his future. Out of all of the monsters included in this episode, heck all of the monster in this season, Rick Sanchez is the worst.

But then we can come back to the Nietzsche quote from the beginning. If Rick is the worst monster of the entire series, then Morty will inevitably become a monster too. He cannot stare for that long into the void and not have some of it rub off on his soul. It is unfortunate and we will see the beginnings of this transformation later in the first season of Rick and Morty.

Work Cited

Roiland, Justin, and Dan Harmon. "Pilot." Rick and Morty. Dir. Justin Roiland. Cartoon 
          Network. Atlanta, Georgia, 2 Dec. 2013. Hulu. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.

Footnote: I just can't stop. One final point. As they are running from the insect like police force at the inter-dimensional customs, Rick tells Morty to grab a laser gun and shoot the insects that are following them. Morty doesn't want to, but Rick insists, telling Morty that they are robots. That it is okay to shoot them because they are robots. Morty shoots one right away and finds out that they are not robots, but living creatures. The insects shout that someone needs to inform the dead insects family. So, as another point that Rick Sanchez is a monster, he is forcing his grandson to kill living creatures. Beings with wives and children. And Rick does this to save his own bacon. He doesn't want to go to jail because they are illegally trying to take those stinking Mega Seeds out of Dimension 35C.