“Failure is Not An Option”: Celebrating 20 Years of the movie Apollo 13

Back in the summer of 1995, there was one movie trailer whose title confused me. No, it wasn’t like how Tim Burton thought the title to Batman Forever sounded confusing. The movie in question was Apollo 13. My first thought when I saw the commercial was to wonder about Apollo 1-12, and if I was missing part of a series. Perhaps I should be excused for such an error in my thought process. I was 10 year old at the time, and between a summer of sequels like Batman Forever and Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls, and my beloved Star Wars films starting with a film labeled “Episode IV”, it would certainly look like it was part of a film series.

Apollo 13 poster

Apollo 13 poster

However when I saw the movie what I got was so much more than just another installment in a franchise. As it would happen, while I missed it in theaters, my dad had a VHS copy under the Christmas tree for me a few months later. I popped the tape in the VCR, and from the moment the stirring, patriotic main theme played over the Universal Studios logo to the nail biting conclusion of the splashdown it became an instant favorite.

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Blog-Series IV: Star Wars #9: Lando Calrissian

It has been well established by critics and pop-cultural scholars is that at its core the Star Wars films are a modern day mythology meant for children. However, it’s not to say that the films are without their nuances. The Emperor may be a cackling evil mad man, but he is a wonderfully Machiavellian master manipulator. Jar-Jar Binks may be the most reviled character in the Star Wars saga by longtime fans yet he fills the roll of the Shakespearian fool. Yet few characters are as nuanced and intriguing as Lando Calrissian an old friend and former partner in crime of Han Solo.

Lando Calrissian

Lando Calrissian

Lando was a game changing character for the Star Wars saga. For one thing, Lando Calrissian was one of the first characters in Star Wars to be played by a person of color, a rarity for science fiction. Save Lt. Nyota Uhuru on Star Trek, there tended to be very limited rolls for African Americans in Science Fiction. For example, the only character of color in the original Planet of the Apes movie lasted ten minutes before he was caught by the apes and lobotomized.

Some are quick to point out that Lando doesn’t seem “black” in the way he acts and even accuse him of being a token. However, actor Billy Dee Williams said in an interview with People Magazine at the time Empire Strikes Back was released,

 “The reason I was attracted to the roll was because it wasn’t written for a black person. I pretty much took what they had and decided to create this character who was devoid of the whole racial, ethnic kind of a thing. I really wanted to create a guy that was far beyond that kind of thinking. I wanted to make a really kind of epic hero out of him. That’s generally what I do with most characters I play. And of course, when I got the cape that really did it for me. That was like the key.” Continue reading

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The Longest Ride

There comes a moment in every person’s life where the everything seems to crash down. Moments like these are more frequent then we’d like to admit. One minute your life is all good and normal and you feel like “Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie is your theme song. Then all of a sudden. It. Just. Stops.

I’m talking about that level of Earth shattering news that leaves you so shaken that nothing else seems to matter and you feel like you are walking in a fog. No, this isn’t about those huge national events that shock the entire world. Everyone is affected by those, or at least they should be. No, I’m talking about the kinds of things that affect only your microcosm of this globe, as the world around seems to just continue spinning on.

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Blog-Series IV: Star Wars #8 Yoda

His name is said to be derived not only from the Sanskrit word for “warrior” but from the Hebrew word meaning “one who knows”. As such, it is no small wonder that Yoda is more than capable of challenging expectations others may have of him. When Obi-Wan tells Luke to go to the remote world of Dagobah, the young man expects to find a wise and powerful Jedi from which to learn the ways of the Force. Already, Luke has certain expectations in place as to just who or what this wise warrior could be, all of which are radically altered. He found the teacher, just not in the package he expected, and certainly not in the place.

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Geeked Out

It’s probably clear by now to many of my readers that I am a huge Star Wars fan and have been so since I was nine years old. So much so, that my dad, who was a small group leader, offered to let me skip Junior High Church Youth Group and go to an opening day showing of The Phantom Menace. I decided to be a good Christian and go to church. Later that week, dad still surprised the family after we piled into the car, and handed me his Commercial Drivers manual. He told me to turn to a specific page and that was where I found tickets to The Phantom Menace waiting for me as he drove us to the now long closed movie theater at Har-Mar mall. I even got to wait in the front of the line.

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Blog-Series IV: Star Wars #7 : Obi-Wan Kenobi

In the great heroic myths, shortly after the hero receives his call to action, he meets his mentor who helps shape his destiny. This is the case for Luke Skywalker as well. As he listens to the recording stashed inside R2-D2, Luke muses to himself if this person is any relation to Old Ben Kenobi, a strange old hermit who lived beyond the Dune Sea. When he brought this subject up to his uncle, Luke was told that Obi-Wan died about the same time as Luke’s father and told him to clear Artoo’s memory and forget the whole thing.

It probably would have been the end of it, had Artoo not run off that night. The following morning, Luke and Threepio went to find him only to wind up in trouble. Indigenous scavengers called Tusken Raiders or “Sand People” attacked him and nearly killed him, had they not been frightened by a strange noise. Over the hill came an old man wearing a cloak. The old man revived Luke and invited Artoo to come out of hiding, telling him, not to worry and that Luke would be fine.

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan Kenobi

As Luke comes to the boy greats the older man, glad to see him, and tells him how he came out there. Upon the mention of Obi-Wan Ben is stunned as if he saw a ghost, to which Luke asks if he knew him. Ben tells him,

“Obi-Wan Kenobi. Obi-Wan… Now, that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. A long time….Oh, he’s not dead… Not yet….But of course I know him. He’s me…I haven’t gone by the name of Obi-Wan since… oh, before you were born.”

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Blog-Series IV: Star Wars #6: Chewbacca

In early 1999 a group of writers gathered together at Skywalker Ranch, the headquarters for LucasFilm and the home of filmmaker George Lucas, to discuss a new series of Star Wars books. Since 1994 Star Wars had spun into a lucrative publishing franchise of expanded universe novels exploring the possible stories of the heroes of Star Wars after the events of Return of the Jedi. However, one of the problems with a massive publishing franchise like this is when you have dozens of writers writing several books, is that it is very easy for them to fall into a formulaic trap. With a few exceptions it seemed as though the Rebel Heroes always went up against some dormant Imperial Faction, or discovered some plans for another planet smashing super-weapon that Emperor Palpatine left hidden in his sock drawer.

With the Special Edition releases of the original trilogy and the Prequels reigniting interest in the franchise, something new was needed to make these books really pop. What was needed was a new threat that could be so powerful as to bring the factions of the Rebellion and the remnants of the Empire together and forge a lasting peace. This series, dubbed The New Jedi Order was going to raise of the stakes of the Star Wars universe and have serious repercussions on the books to follow. It was going to be, as the cliché goes, a real game changer. In order to do this, they would have to do something very difficult to raise those stakes.

As Lucy Wilson, the director of publishing at LucasFilm noted,

 “ In the Star Wars novels published by Bantam, no preexisting Star Wars

Chewbacca

Chewbacca

character ever died. It was our policy that no author could kill anyone who originated first in a script written by George. However, we knew that for anyone to really take a new intergalactic war seriously, and to realize that the New Jedi Order was not just Star Wars fiction as usual, someone who mattered would have to die. This was a unanimous agreement. Who would die was the subject of much debate, however. Our first thought was that the death of Luke Skywalker would have the biggest impact on the readers. However, this was not okay with George Lucas! I think it was Randy Stradley from Dark Horse who said, “Kill the family dog—Chewbacca.” In our own emotional response to this suggestion (it made us unhappy just to come up with the idea), we knew Chewie’s death would generate the biggest reaction from the readers.”

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