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!"

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!

Why The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite

Empire Strikes Back

I believe The Empire Strikes Back is the first movie I remember going to see in a movie theatre. I remember waiting in line with Uncle Don and Aunt Patsy. I’m sure other people were there with us, but I definitely remember them because Uncle Don told me that they use glowing swords that make a humming noise and go “bzzzzp” when they hit each other. I came to find out much later that they were concerned that the lightsaber scenes were going to scare me.

Scare me?

They were awesome.

I appreciate the sentiment. But I already knew all about the sound lightsabers make. I was already a huge Star Wars fan. I had the storybooks. I’d heard The Story of Star Wars. Like most kids my age, I was hooked. And the toys from The Empire Strikes Back – especially the Hoth playsets – certainly helped fuel my Star Wars addiction.

I owned that playset. It’s still in my parents’ basement. It’s one of my favorites. Always has been. Always will be.

Of course, the toys aren’t the only reason The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite…

Everybody’s Doing It

It seems that it has become quite cool to say that The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite of the Original Trilogy (and if it’s your favorite from the OT, then it’s probably your favorite of the entire series of Star Wars flicks because it’s entirely unlikely that one would think that any of the prequels is better than Empire – just sayin’). Roger Ebert said it was his favorite in the Star Wars saga. It is the highest-rated episode in the entire Star Wars filmography, according to rottentomatoes.com. Wired magazine says that “the other five movies are comic books. Empire is a fairy tale.” I’m pretty sure they mean that as a compliment.

In high school, I started telling everyone that Empire was my favorite of the three films. I got some pretty crazy looks from people for two reasons:

  1. Star Wars wasn’t “cool” anymore. I was part of the minority. I still loved the stories even when very few of my classmates would admit to being a Star Wars fan. I guess you could say I’m a Star Wars hipster. I liked the films before they were cool again. Those were dark times, though.
  2. For many of those who thought Star Wars was still worth discussing, Empire was just a bridge between A New Hope and Jedi. They didn’t see the way Empire was essential in fleshing out Luke’s development as a character. They didn’t understand how the hero had to lose before he could win.* They didn’t appreciate the complexities of the lover’s triangle that was brewing between Han, Leia, and Luke. They just wanted explosions and action and stuff. Empire was just a means unto an end.

Chewbacca

Sad Chewie by David Bigler via http://davidbigler.com/art/illustration/the-empire-strikes-back-30th-anniversary-drawing-a-day-may-5-sad-chewie/attachment/empire-strikes-back-30th-sad-chewbacca-hoth-db/
image via David Bigler

Most of the time, Chewbacca’s  character is about as static as when you rub a balloon against my head. Not so in Empire. He isn’t just a walking carpet with anger management issues in this edition. He cares. Deeply. He’s distraught over the shield doors closing at night, trapping his closest friend in the frozen horror that is Hoth at night. He goes berserk in his attempt to protect Han from the carbon chamber. He comforts Leia as she watches Han descend into the unknown. It’s subtle. But there’s a lot of depth to Chewie in Empire.

“No. There is another…”

Do me a favor. Ignore the prequels for a minute. I know. You’d rather ignore them forever. I get that.

Think back to the time when you had no idea that Luke and Leia were siblings.* When Yoda tells Obiwan that Luke is not their last hope, it sends a shiver down your spine. The mystery of who the other hope for the galaxy? Now that’s a cliffhanger.

Ch-ch-changes. Or not.

I have disagreed with a lot of the changes that George Lucas made when he released the Special Edition. I thought most of them were unnecessary. It should say something, then, that The Empire Strikes Back was the one film that George Lucas didn’t change very much. Yeah, there are a few expanded scenes and the visuals are enhanced, but it’s nothing like the changes in the other two. I firmly believe it’s because Empire was so well done that there wasn’t much Lucas could tinker around with (except Boba Fett’s voice. I’m still upset about that). That’s a sign of a well-told story. And I like that.

The bad guys are winning*

There is very little hope at the end of the second installment of the Original Trilogy. Very little hope, indeed. The Rebels are on the run. Luke’s received horrifying news. Han has been taken off to who-knows-where. The entire galaxy is spinning further into darkness. The Dark Side has won the day. You can’t have the joyful ending in Return of the Jedi without the dark, almost depressing ending found in The Empire Strikes Back

And because of this, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite.

*Like I said earlier, it’s 30+ years. If this is a spoiler for you, I’m sorry. You need to get with the program. I even have a few copies of the films you can borrow.

Why Return of the Jedi is my favorite

Return of the Jedi

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Return of the Jedi. I remember the weeks (and maybe even the months) of hype leading up to this film. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat (honestly? it was a couch. you get the idea though) in the Living Room in our old house on Iroquois, watching Entertainment Tonight’s feature about the filming of the speeder bike scene. I could.not.wait. I was caught up in Jedi fever, like the rest of the country (be sure to note the price of the scalped tickets in that link. I’d be pretty happy with those prices today!).

While I didn’t camp out in the ticket line or attend any midnight showings, I was the first of my friends to go see it. I was pretty proud of that fact.

I still remember seeing that vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt, on the big screen for the first time. I still remember holding my breath during the final duel. I still remember the magic of the final chapter of the Original Trilogy. And because of this experience alone, Return of the Jedi will always be a favorite movie of mine. But that’s not the only reason.

Ewoks

Ewoks. Love them.
image via Enemy of Peanuts

I know. Many people think the Ewoks are the Original Trilogy’s equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. It’s become the cool thing to say.You can say that if you want. It’s OK for you to be wrong.

I argue that Ewoks are a crucial part of the story. The Rebellion is a ragtag group up against the arrogant, evil, well-oiled Imperial machine. The involvement of prehistoric Ewoks in the war against a new technological terror is merely an extension of the theme that has been evident since the beginning of the Star Wars saga – don’t count out the little guy. Love and friendship conquer all.

Darth Vader

Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker's final battle in Return of the Jedi
image via Yodapedia

Once you realize the entire Star Wars saga is the story of Anakin Skywalker turned Darth Vader turned Anakin Skywalker*, you view Jedi through an entirely different lens. Watching the redemption of Darth Vader at the end of the film brings a tear to my eye. It gives me chills. In fact, I have goosebumps right now just because I’m writing about it.

The Good Guys Win!

Celebrate the Love in Return of the Jedi
image via Odds & Thens

The entire saga ties together in one dramatic climax. The Emperor is gone. The Empire is defeated. The friends are wiser, stronger, and closer to each other than they had ever been before. There’s dancing and singing and everyone is celebrating the love (not “lord,” as a teacher once insisted in high school) – but only in the original version. That’s one of the reasons I strongly dislike the Special Edition, by the way. Order has been restored. Evil has been destroyed. Good has won. All is right with the galaxy. Just like it should be.

Does Jedi work as a stand-alone movie? Probably not. But as a conclusion to an epic Trilogy? Absolutely! Sure, there are some faults. Each episode has them. But Jedi has a special place in my heart. And for that reason, it’s my favorite.

Which installment of Star Wars is your favorite? Why?

*I’m sorry if this is a spoiler, but…come on….it’s been 30 years. If this is a spoiler for you, then what are you waiting for? Pretend you didn’t read this, go borrow someone’s copy of Return of the Jedi and watch it tonight!

Disney + Star Wars = ???

Jedi Mickey

Come on. This really isn’t that big of a surprise. Disney and Lucas have been in bed together for ages. StarTours. Star Wars Weekends. Jedi Mickey (seen above). This isn’t that big of a jump.

Did Lucas sell out? Probably. But…come on…he’s been selling out for years. And at 4+ billion? You’d do the same thing.

If Disney had purchased Lucasfilm 10 or 15 years ago, I’d be worried about the future of the saga. Things have changed since then. Disney seems to have done a pretty good job with Marvel movies. And George released Episode II. And kept changing the Original Trilogy, trying to pretend it was the way he had always envisioned it with little regard to the path of destruction left in his wake.

As the husband of a coworker of mine said today, “Lucas can’t hurt Star Wars anymore.”

Hate all you want. I’m excited about the possibilities. George won’t be tinkering around anymore, generating a special effect without a story. Disney understands their audience. Disney understands their brand. They won’t screw this up. They’d better not.

Am I excited about the next set of movies that will be coming out? Oh yeah. I get to take my son to see them. That’s always been my dream. Will we go to a midnight showing? Probably not. Been there. Done that. Swore it off after the last one.

And who knows? Maybe Han will go back to shooting first.

A guy can dream, can’t he?

In the meantime, let’s celebrate!

What I Thought After Watching Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (3D)

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the changes that Mr. Lucas keeps making to the Star Wars saga. I understand that they’re his movies. I also understand that there’s a point where you have to stop tinkering with something because you wind up ruining what originally made it special. It’s a gift to know when to stop.

So, when I found out that George Lucas was planning on re-releasing the Star Wars saga in the theaters – in 3D this time – I was less than thrilled. “Someone needs to have enough guts to go up to the guy and tell him he needs to stop,” I remember thinking (and saying out loud to whomever might possibly listen). “But that won’t happen because he’s surrounded by ‘Yes-Men.’ This is getting out of control.”

Continue reading What I Thought After Watching Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace (3D)

Alyson’s Directorial Debut

movie premiere

Growing up I had aspirations of making movies. In my mind, I was going to become the next George Lucas or maybe the next Steven Spielberg. That’s why I was the first person in our Troop to earn the Cinematography merit badge. I had it all planned out. I even went to Milligan with the secret plan of going on to film school after graduating.

Could Alyson be following in my footsteps? I don’t know. But she’s really into making horse movies right now. And so 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…

(She loves comments, by the way.)

A Frozen, Not-so-Wonderful Wookiee Wednesday

It’s supposed to get up to a balmy 11 degrees in Hoth…er…Middletown, USA today. No, the Speeders still haven’t adjusted to the cold. And I’ve been told my tauntaun will freeze before I reach the first marker.

But, our yard still looks like a war zone. And someone has to clear off the sidewalk. Where’s Chewbacca when we need him?

And then, we can all go outside and play. Chewie, too!

At least we’re not the only ones stuck in a deep freeze. Thanks to the weather in North Texas this year, the prospect of a snowy Super Bowl in Indy in 2012* won’t be that much of a novelty. And I’m thinking Indy is a bit more prepared for that white stuff that falls from the sky.

Then there was the whole temporary seats fiasco. That certainly puts a black eye on the public’s perception of the North Texas Super Bowl experience. And don’t even get me started on the halftime show.

But all was not lost. Along with a pretty good game, there was one commercial that redeemed the evening. One commercial to rule them all. Wait – that’s a different series.

It could be said it was the Chosen One, meant to bring balance – not leave it in darkness.

The Star Wars Geek in me thinks it would be really cool if the kid’s dog was named Indiana.

* Dear NFL owners and Players Association:

This was a great season! The Super Bowl game itself was a great ending to this great season. You’ve got a good thing going here. Don’t ruin it by having a lockout. If you care about the fans at all, you’ll get a deal worked out immediately!

Signed: Your Fans (we might not be for long if you let your greed take over)

Wonderful Wookiee Wednesday

W is for Wookiee (and Wedge, too)

And C is for Cookie (that’s good enough for me – ‘YEAH! :D). And for Chewie.

Gotta keep checking back to this page to see when they’ll be publishing their Star Wars Alphabet Book again. It might be the best baby book idea ever.

I hope they re-release it soon because I’m sure a letter from the Lucasfilm people is on its way very soon. Nevermind the fact that their son, Tycho, will need some serious cash for a college education some 18 years from now. George Lucas needs the money now so he can keep screwing around with the Original Trilogy, further tainting the greatness of the original saga. Maybe this time he’ll figure out a way to add JarJar to the 3D versions of Episodes IV-VI. Or resurrect dead actors (no…seriously! Go read the article).

I love the idea of an alphabet book. That’s probably because I tried to put together a Star Wars alphabet book 25-ish years ago. It wasn’t nearly as amazingly awesome as this one is.