Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

‘When War Comes Home’ at the Heartland Film Festival

When War Comes Home

Veteran Crisis Line

I recently had the opportunity to preview When War Comes Home, an entry in this year’s Heartland Film Festival. It was eye-opening. And heartbreaking. But it also has a hopeful message. Although we probably haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the implications of war-related PTS (post-traumatic stress) and TBIs (traumatic brain injuries) we’re making strides. In the meantime, documentaries like this are important. They show how far we’ve come. And how far we’ve yet to go. But we have to be there for the men and women who have stood in the middle of hell and somehow tried to return to a normal life.

Here’s an excerpt from the press release about the film:

In Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Michael King’s powerful new documentary WHEN WAR COMES HOME, three soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress (PTS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) share their stories of coping with these devastating invisible wounds of war. Now back home from Iraq and Afghanistan, they face the toughest battle of their lives – trying to find a way to readjust to life with their families and build a healthy and hopeful future out of a present that is wracked by pain, stress and loss. From Indiana, to Florida, to Colorado, the film follows the men and their families as they wage their personal fight for freedom from these ever present debilitating illnesses that affect an estimated 20% of the 2.6 million military service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many assume that  veterans who participated in active combat are the only ones who suffer from PTS. When War Comes Home shatters that myth. If you have a chance to see it, I hope you do. It helps shed the light on the horror that some of our bravest men and women encounter every single day.

When War Comes Home is still showing at the Heartland Film Festival. You can purchase tickets here. It will also be showing in other locations around the nation. You can find their updated film schedule here.

It’s worth your time to watch this documentary.

We survived Back to the Future Day. Now what?

**This post contains affiliate links. I hope you don’t think that makes me a slacker. Or a chicken. Now make like a tree, and read the rest of this post.**

Back to the Future Dashboard October 21 2015

Want to commemorate Back to the Future Day? Shop the 88MPH Collection at TeeFury!

Well, we survived Back to the Future Day. You didn’t realize your life was in peril, did you? Well, it was.

You see, yesterday was supposed to be the day that Cubs fans were waiting for. According to Back to the Future II, October 21,2015 was supposed to be the day where the Chicago Cubs defeated Miami to win the World Series. Miami’s franchise has already won a Series. They did it back in ’03. They even beat the Cubs to get there. Nevermind the fact that Miami and the Cubs are in the same league and will never meet in the World Series (unless one of them does what the Astros did and switches to the American League). Some sports prognosticators preached that this scene meant that the Cubs were a team of density….I mean…destiny.

But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be. But in some wicked twist of fate, the date that is depicted in Back to the Future II – the day when the Cubs were predicted to win the World Series – happened to be the day that they were actually eliminated from postseason play. They didn’t sweep Miami. They got swept by the Mets.

I know what you’re thinking:

That’s heavy.

So here’s the danger that we risked because of this. The Cubs being eliminated on the very night they were supposed to win the World Series had the possibility of creating a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space-time continuum. See? And you didn’t even know you were in danger.

Like I said:


It appears we dodged a bullet here, folks. Nevermind the fact that we don’t have flying cars. Or hoverboards. Or Jaws 19. Or Mr. Fusion machines. The Cubs losing the series could very well have pushed us over the edge.


So it appears that we survived the shredding of time. We made it through Back to the Future Day 2015 unscathed. We’re really not “outatime” at all. The future is here. The future is now. The future is full of possibility. That’s really the message of several popular films from the 80s and 90s. Here are just a few:

Always in motion is the future - Master Yoda No fate The future is whatever you make it - Doc Brown

I think these characters have a point. We can sit around and wait for things to unfold, or we can start living now. Grab life by the horns. Breathe in deep. Soak in your surroundings. Live with no regrets. Laugh often. Work hard. Love wholeheartedly. What you do today helps determine what you do tomorrow. And that, my friends, is the future. We impact our futures by impacting what we can control today. So now that we’ve survived to the future, we’re walking into the realm of the unknown. So live life to the fullest. Because it behooves us to live.

After all, “If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan taught us that.

What steps are you taking today to change your future?

Our family is ready for The Avengers! How about yours?

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #AvengersUnite #CollectiveBias

My family of Super Heroes #AvengersUnite

Have you heard? Of course you’ve heard! The Internet has practically exploded with each movie trailer release over the past few months. A huge impact has already been made on the international box office.

MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron is almost here!

Super Heroes Assemble Screenshot #AvengersAssemble
Check out the Super Heroes Assemble app for exclusive MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron content!

I’ve done my best to turn my family into a gaggle of geeks, and I think it’s starting to pay off. We are super excited about this super hero movie. To help us get ready for the coming blockbuster, I downloaded the Super Heroes Assemble app (available via Google Play and iTunes) and discovered tons of great stuff about MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

With this app, you can unlock all kinds of cool features like character bios, featurettes, special behind-the-scenes features, a tour of the Hulkbuster facility, and other great content by heading over to Walmart or and scanning specially marked displays.

Walmart Collage #AvengersUnite

You can also unlock content on the app by scanning specially marked packages. And starting today, you can unlock a special digital comic book thanks to Dr. Pepper. All you have to do is scan a Dr. Pepper sign at Walmart. Or you could scan any Dr. Pepper 12-pack that has The Avengers on its package. It’s a pretty cool feature and it’s the perfect tool to help you and your family to get ready for MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Product Shot #AvengersUnite

There’s even an opportunity to use the app to “suit up.” Our family, however, decided to take that whole suiting up thing one step further. It’s really only the next logical step – especially for a gaggle of geeks like mine. Right?

My family the Avengers
So watch out, world! I grabbed these masks and other accessories from The Avengers at our local Walmart. So now our family has suited up and is ready to take on any foe that may come our way. You might find us walking the halls of an upcoming convention. Or you might even find us roaming downtown dressed as these heroes. Just for the fun of it.

We didn’t choose these heroes in a willy-nilly fashion. Each of these characters from MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron has a connection with each of our family members. That’s right, friends. There was a method to our madness. Here’s how characters from The Avengers universe connect with my family:

Christy as Captain America #AvengersUnite

Christy as Captain America

Captain America has a strong moral compass. He stands up for what is right with little concern for any personal gain or profit.

That’s my wife. She has an inner strength and compassion that compels her to act on the behalf of others, giving a voice to the voiceless and remembering the forgotten. She is always helping others and trying to make the world around her a better place.

Aly as Thor #AvengersUnite

 Aly as Thor

Thor, a visitor from another realm, has a strong connection with the natural world. Thor can control the weather and has the ability to call down lightning from the heavens. He alone is worthy to carry his hammer, which focuses his power.

Aly can’t call down lightning from the sky, but she has a deep connection with the world around us. When she was little, she said the animals would talk to her. I don’t know how, but there were times where it sure felt that way. She is in tune with the nature around us. It’s almost superhuman.

Aiden as Hulk #AvengersUnite

 Aiden as the Hulk

Bruce Banner is smart. He’s super-smart. His alter-ego, the Hulk, is a giant mass of muscle and is misunderstood by most people. The Hulk possesses superhuman strength and can smash just about anything.

Aiden is smart. And as a teenager, he’s often misunderstood. And much like the Hulk, Aiden is a man of few words. He has been working out with the high school football team for the past six months. He’s become a lean, mean, muscular machine. Because of his strength, he has been called upon several times to help move furniture.

Aiden SMASH #AvengersUnite

Mihret as Iron Man #AvengersUnite

Mihret as Iron Man

With the help of sophisticated technology, Tony Stark can suit up in a powerful set of armor to become Iron Man. Much like Dr. Banner, Mr. Stark is very smart. And his creativity knows no bounds. He’s a determined person whose Iron Man suit helps him accomplish his dream of protecting the world.

Mihret’s nickname at school is “Miss Determination.” Much like Mr. Stark, she won’t take “no” for an answer. Although she requires the use of mobility aids in order to walk and get around, she is always using her creativity to find new ways to achieve what doctors have suggested she wouldn’t be able to do. She always has on her “armor,” ankle and foot orthotics that help her walk. She is able to use the assistive technology available to her to help her achieve her goals and accomplish her dreams.

Our family is united

When you watch the trailers for MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s apparent that, once again, the world needs these heroes to unite together in order to defeat a powerful foe. Working together as a team isn’t always easy. It requires sacrifice, humility, honesty, and teamwork. It can be messy. But when they work together, they can accomplish much.

That’s not unlike our family. Sure there are personality clashes at times. And we a little rough around the edges. Life together can be messy – both physically and emotionally. But we’re united. And when we work together, we can accomplish much. Who knows? We just might end up changing the world.

I know what you’re asking. What about me? Which members of The Avengers am I? Well, he’s really not an Avenger, but I think I might relate the most closely with Nick Fury, who gets things done in the background and does his best to help the rest of his team succeed.

How about your family?

Why not check out the MARVEL’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron section at and find the perfect snacks and equipment for the super heroes in your life? I’d love to hear which members of The Avengers are most like your family members.

Feel free to share those connections in the comments!

H is for Heroes!

H is for Heroes - A to Z Challenge

Oh man.

The Age of Ultron is almost here.

I’m a sucker for hero movies. So I can’t wait for the second installment of Avengers! It promises to be a great way to kick off Summer!

How about you? What movies are you looking forward to this Summer?

**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. You can see my other entries to this year’s challenge here. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**

Powerful stories, the magic of film, and the Heartland Film Festival

Heartland Film Festival

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by the power of story. I’ve been especially interested in the way a story can be told through the magic of film. I’m sure that my interest in powerful stories and magical films was enhanced by my love of one movie in particular: Star Wars.

Me with my ceramic Darth Vader nightlight
Yes, this is me a long time ago in a galaxy not-so far away. Star Wars helped me appreciate the power of good storytelling and the magic of the silver screen.

While I don’t believe Star Wars is the cause of my love of story and film, it certainly magnified it. My eyes were opened to a whole new magical world because of the artful storytelling of George Lucas and his editors.

In middle school and high school, I wanted to become known as “The Next Steven Spielberg.” I was the first Scout in our Troop to earn the Cinematography merit badge. I took as many creative writing and film-related classes in high school as I could. I entered Milligan with a plan. I was going to graduate with a degree in Communication and then move to LA where I was going to attend film school. My ultimate dream was to take the story of Elijah and present it on the silver screen. And then, after making that blockbuster, I was going to spend the rest of my filmmaking career telling moving, inspiring stories through the medium of film.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

But I still love a good story. I love how film can transport you to another time and place. Sometimes even another dimension. I love how a well-told story can make you laugh with delight or move you to tears. It can challenge your beliefs. It can poke around at the tender parts of your soul, prodding you to make a difference in the world around you. It can inspire you to act. Sometimes, it can even change your own life. And yes, it can also provide a place to escape the trials and troubles of the day.

Stories that challenge. Stories that inspire. Stories that move you. Stories that make you want to create. That’s what I think film does best.

Heartland Film Festival Logo 2014

And that’s why I love that Indianapolis is host to the Heartland Film Festival, Indiana’s largest and longest-running independent film festival. Over a course of 10 days in October, this festival shines the spotlight on more than 130 independent films and gives audiences access to more than 100 independent filmmakers from around the world. And it’s all right here in the Crossroads of America. The Heartland Film Festival is one of the many reasons to love this great city.

In addition to shining the spotlight on some amazing storytellers, The Heartland Film Festival is also a qualifying festival for the Annual Academy Awards® within the Short Films Category. This means that the winner of the Grand Prize for Best Narrative Short Film will qualify for consideration in the Short Films category of the Annual Academy Awards® without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with the Academy rules. That’s a pretty big deal.

This year’s festival has almost completed its run, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. You still have today, tomorrow, and Saturday to catch a screening or two. For some strange reason, the powers that be have decided to grant me a media pass to this year’s festival. So maybe we’ll run into each other while we’re catching some powerful stories on the big screen. You can check out the lineup and screening schedule here.

This is an amazing event. It’s one that truly puts Indianapolis on the map and introduces some great filmmakers to the public eye. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity before the festival ends Saturday night. I know I will.

Tickets are $9 if purchased in advance, $11 at the door.

My friend, Leah, ended a six month blogging hiatus in order to share her experience at this year’s Heartland Film Festival. You should check out what she has to say.

I’ll see you at the movies!

Be a better princess with the Sleeping Beauty DVD

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #CollectiveBias #DisneyBeauties #shop

Sleeping Beauty DVD at Walmart #DisneyBeauties
With the release of the Sleeping Beauty DVD and Blu-Ray, Disney has re-introduced one of the classic Disney Princesses to a new generation. As I mentioned before Mihret is a big fan of all of the Disney Princesses. So in honor of the release of Sleeping Beauty from the Disney Vault, we dressed up in our royal best and visited our local Walmart to celebrate.

In Store #DisneyBeauties

As we were shopping for the DVD and other princess goodies, Mihret and I talked about what qualities we liked in the Disney Princesses. Sure, they’re pretty. And most of them can sing with beautiful voices. But there’s more to being a Princess than these external characteristics. To be noble requires a goodness that comes from deep within your innermost being. The beauty of the #DisneyBeauties is truly more than just skin-deep.

#DisneyBeauties shopping spree


We bought a few Princess related items while we walked and talked in the store. I hope these items will help reinforce the strong inner virtues that the Disney Princesses possess. They can be some pretty important role models for Mihret.

Princesses are kind-hearted.

Princess Aurora is a kind-hearted soul. She fills her parents’ lives with sunshine. That’s a pretty remarkable reputation to have, isn’t it? She lit up the room with her joy. Even in the midst of difficult circumstances (what’s more difficult than having the self-proclaimed Mistress of all Evil wanting you dead?), we can choose to live our lives in such a way hat we’re always filling other people’s lives with sunshine.

Can’t we?

Sunshine #DisneyBeauties


Being a Princess means you’re kind-hearted and bring cheer to others. That is certainly a Princess quality I hope my daughters display throughout their lives.

Princesses are determined problem solvers.

Do you remember when Mulan climbed that pole with those weights tied around her wrists? She was determined to solve that puzzle. She didn’t give up. She had the courage and determination to get the job done with whateveer it took.

Puzzle #DisneyBeauties


Mihret shows similar problem solving skills when she’s putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Much like Mulan, she is a very determined girl who refuses to listen when someone says, “You can’t do that.”

Princesses are creative.



Ariel’s creativity shines when she explains what all her gadgets, gizmos a-plenty, whosits, whatsits galore, and thingamabobs. Her creativity and her inquisitive nature work hand in hand, don’t they? an adventurous, curious, creative spirit is something that should be encouraged in our daughters.

I know.

Reading that might make you a little bit nervous. Free spirits like this can get into trouble pretty easily. And that makes parents like me a bit uneasy. Daughters like that can keep you on your toes. They might even make your hair turn white.

Kind of like King Triton’s hair.

Creative Coloring #DisneyBeauties


You know something? I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love having daughters who aren’t afraid to color outside the lines a little bit. it seems like their creativity knows no bounds. And I want to do whatever I can as their Dad to keep encouraging them to be the creative and curious free spirits I know they are. It’s just a small (but important) part of what makes my daughters such beautiful Princesses. And I want to keep encouraging that spirit to grow within them throughout their lives.

It might cause some bumps along the way. But the ride is worth it. Princesses make the journey one for the storybooks. I know mine have.

Oh, and Mihret also wanted me to tell you that Ariel is pretty neat because she can swim around and around and around. So she has that going for her, too!

What’s YOUR Princess like? How do Disney Princesses inspire her?

Star Trek fans: this dad needs your help!

Kids in Space

I have a big confession to make. Some of you aren’t going to like it. But that’s OK. I’ve come to grips with this horrible parental neglect that I’ve been practicing for the last decade or so. The whole situation is what it is and it’s time that I man up and own what I have done.

Or what I haven’t done.

I like to dabble in the art of geekery. I enjoy a good superhero story or a sci-fi flick. I still wouldn’t qualify myself as a “gamer,” but I have allowed myself to get caught up in the occasional pursuit of video game domination. It’s because of my interest in all things geek, I’m pretty excited (it took all that was within me not to say “pretty geeked” here) about Indy PopCon*. But when push comes to shove, my first true geek love has been and always will be the Star Wars universe. That being said, there’s plenty of room for Star Trek.

And that’s where I’ve failed my kids.

This might even be a bigger failure than the fact that Aiden’s favorite Star Wars episode is Attack of the Clones. I don’t know how I allowed this to happen. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to admit it.

My kids have never watched Star Trek.

There. I said it. I know this is a travesty. But it’s time to fix this situation. And that’s where I need your help.

Since I’m introducing them to the Star Trek universe, I need to provide an introduction. How do I do that? Where should their starting point be as they boldly go where they had not gone before?

Come on. You knew that reference was coming.

Begin at the beginning?

In The Sound of Music, Maria tells us that the very beginning is a very good place to start. That ain’t happening here. Thanks to Netflix, I recently had the chance to re-watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And that’s definitely somewhere I don’t want to start with them. In fact, I’m not even sure if they’d miss anything if they never saw it. Unless they desperately need to understand some cultural reference to V’Ger. Or fall asleep. Then I guess they could watch it.

Now that we’ve established that we aren’t beginning at the beginning, where does that leave us? I remember watching The Wrath of Khan in the movie theatre. I didn’t eat my popcorn during the rest of the movie after watching this scene. I was scared those wormish things were in my bucket of popcorn and would crawl into my ears.

Oh man. It still makes me squirm. That’s some good filmmaking right there.

Since I’ll be watching it with them, I could guide them through the film, filling in the gaps along the way. That would make sense, right? Then I could follow with the two subsequent sequels that complete this story arc.

I have no desire to watch Star Trek V again. So I don’t really want to subject them to watching a bunch of retired guys flying around the universe in search of the Divine. It just didn’t hold my attention and I highly doubt it’ll capture theirs, either.

OK, so we’ve established that I’m not going to initially show them The Motion(less) Picture or The Final Frontier. Might as well throw Insurrection and Nemesis into that category, too. They’re decent movies, but let’s face it: Insurrection feels like it’s just a really long episode of The Next Generation. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a film. And Nemesis? Well, it just feels like a big ol’ mess.

So that leads into the reboot.

Let’s recap, shall we? 

This is the order I’m thinking of showing the Star Trek films to my kids:

  1. The Wrath of Khan (II)
  2. The Search for Spock (III)
  3. The Voyage Home (IV)
  4. The Undiscovered Country (VI)
  5. Generations
  6. First Contact
  7. Star Trek (reboot)
  8. Into Darkness

OK, Star Trek lovers, I need your insight!

Is this the right path to take? Or should I start with the Next Generation films and then somehow fill in the story after those? The problem with doing that is they really won’t care that much about Kirk’s appearance in Generations if they don’t know who he is or why he is so significant.

I would assume that very few of you would suggest that we start with the reboot. Right?

And then once we’re done with Star Trek, I guess I should introduce them to Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters.

Oh man. I’ve failed my kids. I’ve failed them.

Please help!

Oh, and live long and prosper!



*Yeah. That’s an affiliate link. I’m a member of the Indy PopCon Street Team! 😀

Spoiler-free thoughts about ‘The Book Thief’

Christy has wanted to take the Big Kids to see The Book Thief for several weeks. We were hesitant, however, because a PG-13 movie set in Germany in World War II has the potential of being something that isn’t exactly appropriate for our family at this time.

Thanks to the fine folks at Gofobo, I was able to watch a free screening of The Book Thief last night. I laughed. I squirmed. I was tense. Yes, I even cried a bit. And it’s pretty rare for a film to make me cry. But I wasn’t alone. During one scene in particular (not gonna tell you which one because that would be a spoiler and this post is spoiler-free), I don’t think there was a dry eye in the packed house.

I must admit that I’d never heard of the book upon which this film is based. I cannot tell you about its faithfulness to the original text. I can, however, tell you about the story that I experienced.

In recent weeks, I have watched Jobs and The Fifth Estate while they were out in the theater. After watching those two movies, I had begun to think that the only way Hollywood thinks you can change the world is by being an arrogant, self-centered, egotistical jerk who treats others like objects instead of people.

The Book Thief stands in stark contrast to these messages. Liesel and her foster family live in Nazi Germany and do what they can to shine light in a dark time led by even darker people. It’s a powerful story about people doing what people should be doing: caring for each other and standing up for one another. Perhaps we need more people doing what people should be doing right here and right now.

No, their accents aren’t exactly perfect. Death does seem to insert himself into the story in a somewhat clunky manner. But when is there ever an easy way for Death to enter the picture? Assuming that part stayed true to the book, then it makes sense to include him. And speaking of death, Dann Gire gets it wrong. This movie deals with death very directly. The audience doesn’t need to be shown the gas chambers or the death camps to know where the Jews are being sent. The audience doesn’t need to see what happens when officials haul citizens away to know that the person won’t be seen again. That’s not being “Disney-esque.” It’s having a little bit of faith in the audience. For a film that’s based on a young adult novel, there’s plenty of suspense, violence, and hatred  without going overboard. I think it strikes just the right balance.

The Book Thief touches on several important themes like racism, hate, freedom of speech, totalitarianism, nationalism, family, adoption/foster care, and a father’s love for his daughter. It also emphasizes the importance of story and how words have the power to bring life (or death). I left the movie challenged to use my words to speak life into the world and to tell more stories so I can shine light in the darkened places.

What was my verdict about whether it was appropriate for my teen and preteen to watch? They absolutely need to watch it. It should be a great conversation starter. I also hope it will encourage them to think about how they treat people – especially people who are picked on and oppressed. I know it’s certainly challenged me.

The Book Thief is a beautiful reminder that life is precious and unpredictable. It is also uncertain. We do not know what tomorrow holds. So don’t put off until tomorrow what you should be doing today. Speak up and speak life.

Why A New Hope is my favorite

Me & VaderI remember when CBS aired Star Wars* on network tv for the first time. It was a big deal. A big-huge deal. Gigantic. Enormous. Gargantuan. You get the idea?

I asked Grandmama and Grandpa to record it on their big-huge VCR because we didn’t have one yet. Every time we visited their house (which was often), I’d pop in the tape and watch it over and over and over again. I wanted to be part of the Stuben family with their giant collection.

All that being said, I still thought it was pretty weird to get married in line while waiting for the movie. I mean….having a Chewbacca-shaped Groom’s Cake is one thing. Spending your wedding night in a movie theatre?

That’s something else.

But I digress…

Every time someone would walk into the room while I was watching the beloved Star Wars videotape, I would shout, “Shhh! Shhh! This is my favorite part!” Of course, every part was my favorite part.

Leia gets captured? My favorite part.

Luke is ambushed by Sandpeople? My favorite part.

The Millennium Falcon has to blast its way out of Mos Eisley? My favorite part.

The Princess is rescued from her cell?** My favorite part.

I think you get the idea. Every single part of this movie was my favorite part of my favorite movie. It was so captivating. It transported me to a different world – one that I would continue to live in when I wasn’t watching the movie at my grandparents’ house. Star Wars has a very special place in my heart because of the memories it evokes. For this reason alone, Star Wars will always be my favorite. There are other reasons, however, why Star Wars is such a masterful piece of storytelling.

The music

John Williams is a genius. George Lucas is a genius for getting him to work on this film. The score is so intertwined with the visuals that it is impossible to imagine Star Wars without the soundtrack. I would suspect it would be a much, much different experience. And it probably wouldn’t have been as memorable of a movie.

Here’s an example of how the two tie in so perfectly. Try not to get a little misty-eyed as you listen to Binary Sunset (around the 1:50 mark). In your mind’s eye, you can see young Luke gazing off into the horizon, wishing he could leave for a life of adventure that he cannot have while he’s stuck at his uncle’s farm.

OK. Maybe I’m the only one who can see the scene in my mind’s eye. And maybe I’m the only one who gets misty-eyed. But it’s still a powerful scene. And we owe it to the soundtrack.

The jaw-dropping special effects

With Star Wars, George Lucas understood the purpose of special effects. It could be argued that he lost his way when it came to the prequels, but that’s a different discussion. When you look at Star Wars for what it was, it was an amazing technological leap forward in the realm of special effects and film.

And it played second fiddle to something much more important: the story.

Without a good story full of engaging, memorable characters, you don’t have that much of a quality movie. If you throw special effects in there and use them to drive the story, then you have even less of a movie.

Special effects are just a tool, a means of telling a story. People have a tendency to confuse them as an end to themselves. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.

George Lucas
From Star Wars to JediThe Making of a Saga

The story is a timeless fantasy. Farmboy growing up a hundred miles from nowhere becomes a protege of a wise, mysterious, old wizard. They team up with a band of outlaws on a journey to rescue a princess. Along the way, they topple an evil Empire and this seemingly insignificant farmboy from an insignificant place saves the galaxy.

While the special effects were groundbreaking and are still pretty amazing, they’re subservient to the timeless story. And that’s the way it should be. I wish more filmmakers (including George Lucas himself in later years) would learn from that. Special effects are a tool to tell a story. Special effects are not the story. Star Wars nails this point perfectly.

I think that’s why I have been so disappointed with the tinkering they did with the films for the Special Edition – and after the Special Edition. The story becomes a tool to show off your special effects, which is the opposite of how it should be. It messes up the story.

All that being said, there’s one addition in the Special Edition of Star Wars that does help the story. It’s the brief encounter Luke has with Biggs before the final battle. It helps the audience understand why it was such a big deal that Biggs is shot down at the end. It’s not just that Luke is now all alone. He’s also lost his best friend.

Luke and Biggs before the Battle of Yavin
image via Wookieepedia

I feel like I should also mention that the final battle scene in Star Wars is where I strongly disagree with Roger Ebert’s initial review of the film. I have always thought the final battle was just the right length.

The magic

Star Wars is an adventurous joyride full of ups and downs and twists and surprises and it doesn’t stop until the final explosion and you jump up and down with joy as all the tension releases from your body. Steven Spielberg once said that Star Wars “put the butter back into the popcorn.” And he’s right. With Star Wars, movies became fun again. Once again, movies could take you off to a place far, far away, and invite you to stay. Moviemakers have been trying to capture that magic since Star Wars. While some have had varying levels of success, none have been able to come close to matching the magic of Star Wars.

Its endurance

Some movies, like Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan are great because they tell moving, heartbreaking stories. And I never want to watch them again.  Other movies are great because you want to watch them over and over and over again.

As you can see, Star Wars clearly falls into the latter. And I’m pretty sure that’s why it’s my favorite of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Which Star Wars film is your favorite? Do you like any prequels better than the Original Trilogy?

For the duration of this post, please realize that I’ll be using ‘Star Wars’ and ‘A New Hope’ interchangeably. If you have a problem with that…well…that’s really your problem. I suggest you find something else to get upset about because this really isn’t that big of a deal.

** I warned you here. I warned you again here. I have no sympathy for you if this is a spoiler. Just watch the daggum movies already!

My favorite movie director on Flashback Friday (Oscar Edition)

The Oscars are this weekend. Although I really wanted to see some of the Best Picture nominees, it looks like I missed the boat. Again. But that’s OK. I’d much rather watch a movie made by my favorite moviemaker of all time. Here’s her original masterpiece…

movie premiere

…tonight we’re rolling out the red carpet for the star-studded premiere of America’s newest director with two short films. So, grab your popcorn as I present to you the Schleich Horse Series… *watch the series here*