Book Review: How Star Wars Conquered The Universe By Chris Taylor

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The Story of Us

Star Wars is more than just a series of movies. Star Wars is more than just a multimedia phenomenon that has lasted for almost four decades. For millions around the world coming from all walks of life, class, religion, or political affiliation, Star Wars is personal. Those people all have a Star Wars story. We all have some way that Star Wars has touched our lives in a profound, lasting way.

For me, Star Wars was a part of my life from the beginning. My parents married young and I was born just weeks after my father was legally old enough to buy beer. He was a sci-fi nerd growing up- even going as far as to record episodes of Star Trek on cassette tapes so he could listen to them later as make-shift radio dramas.  My parent’s first date was seeing Star Wars at a local theater. My dad has all the Star Wars bubble gum cards, the artwork by Ralph McQuarrie, the novelizations of the movies, and the spin off, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, written by Alan Dean Foster. My father is also a hard working man. Growing up he worked the night shift for Kroger Bakery as a supervisor, so during the day he would sleep and I’d maybe see him for an hour before it was time for him to go to work and for me to go to bed. Quality time spent with my father was a special thing. One of those things we would do together was his sharing the movies and books that he loved as a child with me. The foremost of those was Star Wars. Return of the Jedi was the first movie that I ever saw in a theater. I wore out copies of the movies when they were released on VHS. My father even bought them on laserdisc- a format that would hold up better under my repeat viewings. For years I had one of the movies playing in the background when I got home from school. I would listen to the soundtracks, the audio books, and the radio dramas at night to lull me to sleep. (I still do, which my saint of a wife allows with a knowing smile.)

But Star Wars was more than just something special that I shared with my father. For me, it was and is a foundational touchstone in my life. I have a medical condition that prevents my body from producing testosterone, among other things. It’s a condition that went undetected until I was thirty. The side-effects of this condition meant that growing up I was always heavy. I weighed well over one hundred pounds by the time I was in my pre-teens. I was picked on mercilessly in school. I was a depressed, often suicidal, outcast that hated myself and never felt like I belonged. Star Wars was one of the few things that gave me an escape- a creative, positive outlet. Whenever I felt the deep blackness of depression threatening to drown me I could lose myself in that galaxy far, far away, be it through the movies, novels, or comics, and when I came back I didn’t feel so bad anymore. As a child I could imagine myself living in that universe, wielding a lightsaber and fighting the forces of evil; and as an adult I could imagine myself getting the chance to one day become a writer that might be able to contribute to something that I love so dearly in a way that would last forever. Star Wars gave me hope and joy during times in my life when those things were a very rare commodity.

What does all of this have to do with How Star Wars Conquered The Universe? Everything, because author Chris Taylor not only provides us with an impressively comprehensive look at the making of the Star Wars movies and the impact that they’ve had on the entertainment industry, pop culture, and society as a whole, but it also tells the story of us- the fans. The millions of people that Star Wars has impacted in a very personal way.

Non-Fiction For the Fiction Reader

I am not a non-fiction reader. In fact, How Star Wars Conquered The Universe is the first non-fiction novel I’ve read since my early college days more than a decade ago. I am a voracious reader, but I tend to read the kinds of things I like to write- sci-fi, fantasy, superhero comics. I first heard about How Star Wars Conquered the Universe during the Schmoes Know Movie Show when they had author Chris Taylor as a guest. The Schmoes are all huge Star Wars fans and they had nothing but praise for the book, and I was enamored by the stories that Mr. Taylor told during the course of the show. Being a huge Star Wars nerd myself, I’ve watched all the behind the scenes documentaries and read all the various interviews and such about the movies, so I figured I knew pretty much everything that Mr. Taylor might have to say- but I was wrong. Big time. Through the course of the show Mr. Taylor told several great stories from the book that I’d never heard before. I had such a great time watching the show and listening to Mr. Taylor that I had both the book and the audiobook downloaded to my phone that day. Again, I’m not a non-fiction reader, so I was preparing myself for a long slog. While I really enjoyed Mr. Taylor’s anecdotes on the show, I was worried that the book itself would be dry facts that I’d have to constantly break up by switching to other books. Again, I was very wrong.

Mr. Taylor has a very engaging voice throughout the entire book. What could have very easily become a dry fact dump was in reality a very entertaining and interesting tale of not only the making of the movies and the behind the scenes drama that was a result, but also the history of “The Creator” George Lucas himself, the background of the various influences on the movies, the impact the movies had on everything, the expanded universe (now “Legends”) that came after, and the fandom surrounding it all. Mr. Taylor breaks up the historical story of the saga with fun, and often touching personal stories about about fan groups like the famous costuming/charity group the 501st Legion and the R2 Builders Club- the fan club who have been tasked with providing the Artoo units being used in the forthcoming Star Wars Ep. VII: The Force Awakens.  I cannot express enough how much fun I had both reading the book and listening the the audio (which is wonderfully performed by Nick Podehl).  I learned a lot and have gained a whole new level of respect not only for George Lucas and those that worked on the movies, but also for the movies themselves and the massive impact that they’ve had.

Conclusion

Chris Taylor lovingly tells the story of Star Wars in this well written, well researched look at the history of the franchise and it’s fans. This is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of Star Wars, or even just fans of films and the film making process.

Buy, Rent, Or Pass:  Buy

Who Will Like It? Star Wars Fans, Film Fans

Where Can I Get it? Purchase the book here. Purchase the audiobook here.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.

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Book Review- Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi By Kevin Hearne

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Anyone who knows me or who has visited this site very often knows that I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Return of the Jedi was the first movie that I ever saw in a theater; and I still have a modest collection of the original Star Wars action figures, including Boba Fett and the Emperor that you had to send off for through the mail. My torrid love affair with the expanded Star Wars universe began like it did for most fans my age- with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire. Books that continued the Star Wars story?! No way! I had to have it. I was in the seventh grade at the time and I still remember the thrill of reading that novel, and the agony of having to wait for the next one. From that point on if it was Star Wars, I bought and read it. That era of books was decidedly hit or miss, quality wise. You had some truly great books, like those written by Zahn, or the X-Wing series by Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston; some pretty “meh” ones, like the Jedi Academy Trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson; and then some god awful ones like the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy by Michael P. Kube-McDowell and The Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre. But of all the Bantam Era novels, my favorite by far was I, Jedi by Michael Stackpole. Not only did it star my favorite EU character, Corran Horn, but it was written in first person! For the first time we got to see what it felt like to be trained as a jedi and use the force from a character’s point of view!

Ever since that novel I’ve longed for someone else to write a book in first person; so when this new slate of canonical books was announced and I saw that not only were we going to get a book written in first person from Luke’s point of view, but that it was being written by one of my favorite authors, Kevin Hearne, I was beyond excited. My wife and I are both HUGE Iron Druid fans, so for me this was like a match made in heaven. I’ve had both the e-book and the audiobook preordered for over a month and I had both downloaded to my phone as soon as they became available. I devoured the entire thing over the course of a day.

I’m not going to go into details about the story because I always hate it when reviews do that. If you’re reading this to see if the book is worth buying before you read it you don’t want some yahoo ruining the experience with an outline of the whole story; and if you’ve already read the book and you’re just here to see what I thought then you’re not going to want a rehash of a story you already know. So here’s all you need to know about the book for the purposes of the review: the book is set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back and it’s told from Luke’s point of view. Admiral Ackbar and Leia send Luke off on a mission along side a new potential love interest. Hijinks ensue.

So, did the novel live up to my expectations?

Yes, it did.

What I Liked
It was exactly what I expected Kevin Hearne to deliver- a fun, entertaining, quick read. This is not a thick, 400+ page novel with an intricate plot and a massive cast; and that’s not a bad thing. The story Hearne weaves here is a more contained, personal story for Luke. He’s not saving the galaxy. There’s no huge threat. It’s Luke completing a series of connected missions for the Alliance while he tries to figure out more about the Force and how he’s supposed to learn to be a Jedi without a teacher. Hearne’s light, often humorous, style fits Luke perfectly at this stage of his life, and is a great lead in to Jason Arron and John Cassaday’s Star Wars ongoing comic from Marvel (which if you’re not reading, you should be).  It’s a smaller, more intimate story, but it isn’t just a fun throw-away tale. Through the course of the novel it helps to answer the question that most fans had when they watched Luke call his lightsaber to his hand while he was hanging upside down in the wampa cave during The Empire Strikes Back – when did he learn to do that? Hearne helps to fill in some of those gaps between the movies with important development for Luke’s character. It was also a really great idea to tell this story from a first person perspective, as it helps the reader to really connect with Luke as a person as opposed to him just being some overly powerful hero archetype as he’s been so often portrayed in the past.The new character that Hearne introduces, Nakari Kelen, could have easily been a one dimensional stereotype but over the course of the novel Hearne fleshes out a fun, kick-ass female character that has great chemistry with Luke.

What I Didn’t Like
The pacing was a little too quick in some places. Events early in the novel are often easily completed and then glossed over to get to the next set-piece. I’m glad that Hearne didn’t drag out unnecessary transitions, but I wouldn’t have minded if he took a little more time fleshing things out. Also, there was one instance where a “reward” for Luke’s help is a little too convenient for the plot, as it becomes needed just a few pages later. That said, these are very minor gripes to an otherwise well written story.

Conclusion

Heir to the Jedi was an enjoyable, satisfying read and I’m hoping that Kevin Hearne will come back to that galaxy far, far away again some time.

Buy, Rent, Or Pass: Buy

Who Will Like It: Anyone Who’s Seen the Star Wars Movies/ Star Wars Fans/ Any Fan of The Iron Druid Chronicles

Where Can I Get It: Click Here

 

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.

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Spider-Man Joins the MCU: Why He Won’t Be Miles Morales & Why That’s a Good Thing

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Spider-Man and His Avenging Friends

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week you’ve probably heard by now that Sony Pictures and Marvel have stuck a deal that allows Spider-Man to come into the Marvel cinematic universe. According to the press release, Spidey will make a cameo appearance in a future MCU film, will get a solo film made and distributed by Sony but with the “help” of Marvel, and then he’ll appear in other Marvel films afterwards, almost assuredly the two part Avengers: Infinity War. Under this new deal, Sony will be able to also be able to use MCU characters like Cap and Iron Man in their solo Spidey films. So basically, Sony’s Spidey universe is going to be an extension of the MCU proper. This deal has been rumored ever since the Sony e-mail leaks, and it’s been no secret that Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man films didn’t do as amazing at the box office or with fan and critic reception as everyone hoped. Sony’s movie studio has been on the ropes financially for a while now, and this new deal with Marvel is very obviously an attempt to save themselves. While the announcement maintains that Sony will have creative control, the safe assumption is it’ll be Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige that’ll be the real brains behind the new Spidey and the rest was just Sony saving face.

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Who Will Be Behind The Mask?

Now the question is: who will play Spidey since it’s been confirmed that Andrew Garfield will not return? To answer that question we have to know which Spider-Man Marvel is going to bring to the party. Ever since the announcement social media has exploded into a virtual war over who should be Spider-Man. More specifically, over whether it’ll be Peter Parker again, or if Marvel will go a fresh route and bring in Mile Morales, the half African American/half Latino Ultimate Spider-Man. Because it’s the internet it’ll come as no surprise that these debates have often been…heated. Some of these- ahem– “discussions” have been between fans that really want to see Peter Parker and his rogues gallery given the Marvel Cinematic Treatment because Sony’s previous two attempts, while they each had their pros and cons, never quite fully brought to the screen an adaptation that really captured the full essence of the comics; while others are tired of seeing Peter’s story and want to see something fresh and more diverse by doing Miles’ story instead. The Twitter wars that have erupted around this debate is, ultimately, pointless. Why? Because the initial press release already put the speculation to rest. The Spider-Man that will be swinging into the MCU, at least initially, will be Peter Parker:

“Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios share a love for the characters in the Spider-Man universe and have a long, successful history of working together. This new level of collaboration is the perfect way to take Peter Parker’s story into the future.”
-Doug Belgrad, president, Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group

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Why Not Miles?

The business reason:
Neither Marvel nor Sony is going to pass over the opportunity to cash in on 20+ Spider-Man appearances. It’s very likely that whoever they sign to play Peter Parker will be signed to a 9-10 picture contract much like everyone else in the MCU has. History has also shown us how expensive it can be to extend that contract once it’s up. So why shoot themselves in the foot when they can do 9-10 pictures with Peter Parker’s Spider-Man, and then have a fresh Spider-Man story and a fresh 10 picture contract waiting for whoever they get to play Miles Morales, all without having to reboot?
The storytelling reason:
After fighting as long and as hard as they have to be able to use Spider-Man, Marvel isn’t going to throw away the rich well of storytelling potential that Peter Parker brings to the table that has yet to be tapped. While both iterations of Pater Parker/Spider-Man were good in their own right, neither ever fully captured the comic character that fans have known and loved for decades. More importantly, it could be argued that none of the movies have done justice to the villains. Yes, the first Green Goblin and Doc Ock were both pretty good, but they weren’t as good as they could have been, and they certainly weren’t quite like their comics counterparts. For example: Norman Osborn has the potential to be a Marvel Phase-Level threat if done right, even without ever having to actually be the Green Goblin (especially if they loosely follow the post-Civil War comics story lines).  Likewise, while Doctor Octopus was done beautifully in Spider-Man 2, that version of the character was nothing like his comics counterpart, who is an egocentric megalomaniac. Let’s not even discuss the butchering of fan favorite Venom. Marvel has the opportunity to develop a MCU version of their flagship character while at the same time enriching the MCU with a much-needed injection of great villains. This isn’t only a great opportunity for Peter Parker fans, it’s ultimately great for Miles Morales fans (like me).
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Passing the Torch

A large part of Miles’ story centers around living up to the legacy of Peter Parker. It is central to the character and his journey in accepting the mantle, and the responsibility, of being Spider-Man. While Marvel/Sony could certainly skip Peter and go straight to Miles, and even do it well, it would be ultimately short changing the character and themselves. Right now they have the opportunity to bring to life the amazing (see what I did there?) and rich tapestry of Peter’s legacy as a hero in a way that they haven’t been able to in the past. This is their chance to really make the MCU a living incarnation of the comics we have loved for decades and then to pass that torch to the next generation of characters. Miles Morales is a great character. I enjoy reading about him just as much as I did Peter, but a large part of that enjoyment has been rooted in seeing this new kid with amazing powers struggling to adapt to his new life while at the same time honoring the legacy that Peter left behind.
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Civil War?

Right now the odds are good that Spidey’s first major appearance in the MCU will be in Captain America 3: Civil War, since Spider-Man played such a key role in the comics. I think that is probably a safe bet, but I’m pretty sure things won’t be done in the way that everyone is expecting. The biggest moment that everyone pictures when they think about Civil War is this:
_1413247202Spider-Man unmasks on live T.V. and tells the world he’s Peter Parker in support of Tony Stark and the Registration Act. While that may still happen in the movie versions, I don’t think it’s likely for two key reasons. One, it wouldn’t have near the impact that it did in the comics because right now no one in the MCU knows anything about Spider-Man. He hasn’t been swinging around New York for decades like he had been in the comics by that point, so who cares if he unmasks? Two, because this version of Civil War isn’t going to be about protecting identity as much as the comics. Kevin Feige already said as much. In the current MCU secret identities are largely not a big deal. Everyone already knows who the Avengers are. With the exception of Daredevil by that point, no one has one. Registration will be about control and freedom, so having Spider-Man unmask just won’t be as big a deal as having him register and show support for government oversight. My guess will be that Black Panther and Spidey will be the two new kids on the block being courted by Tony and Cap and they each pick a side. I guess we’ll find out soon.What do you think about all of this? Are you happy that Spidey has “come home”? Do you agree that they should start with Peter and work towards Miles, or are you tired of Peter’s story? Let me know in the comments.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novels The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.

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The Thick Man on Food: The Best Bean Dip (or Bean Burrito) You’ll Ever Make

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This recipe has been in our family for decades. I’m not sure where, exactly, it started, but what I do know is this is the dish that all of our friends would ask our dad to make whenever we had a party or sleepover. Since starting my own family I’ve tweaked the recipe just a bit and turned it into the best burrito you’ll ever make. My family loves it and it’s become a staple meal in our house at least twice a month. It’s also one of the few dishes my wife and I make that our super picky 4 year old will eat without complaint.

Trust me, that’s a ringing endorsement.
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

The set up is the same whether you want to make the dip or the burritos.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 large mixing bowl
  • 1 hand mixer
  • 1 casserole dish (for dip)
  • 1 cookie sheet/baking sheet/whatever you want lined in tin foil (for burritos)
  • 31 oz of refried beans
  • 4 cups of shredded Monterrey jack/Mexican blend cheese
  • 16 oz of sour cream
  • 1 stick of philly cream cheese
  • 1 packet of enchilada mix
  • 20-30 drops of hot sauce (I prefer Louisiana)
  • 1 bag of tortilla chips (if you’re making the dip)
  • Large flour tortillas (if you’re making burritos)

What You Do:

Preparation for either dish is super simple. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

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Add the refried beans, cream cheese, sour cream, hot sauce (starting with 20 drops) and enchilada mix into the mixing bowl.

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Blend using the hand mixer until the cream cheese is thoroughly blended. Here is where you’ll want to do a small taste test to determine if you want to add more hot sauce. This is entirely dependent on personal preference.  My family likes spice so we usually do 30-35 drops.

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Next add 3 of the 4 cups of cheese and blend with the rest.

For Bean Dip:
Spoon the mixture into the casserole dish and top with the remaining cup of cheese. Place into the preheated oven and cook for 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and then serve with chips. Party!

For Burritos:

IMG_3305Spoon the dip in a straight line horizontally across the lower third of the tortilla, giving yourself enough room on either side and on the bottom for folding.
(Be careful not to add too much filling, otherwise it’ll squirt out as you roll!)

IMG_3306IMG_3308IMG_3309IMG_3310Fold the left and right sides in towards the middle, and then roll up from the bottom.

IMG_3316Place each burrito on the cookie sheet/baking sheet/whatever that you lined with tin foil so that they’re touching each other and then sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top of each.

IMG_3317Place into the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Party!

Bonus: If you have a fryer you can make chimichangas by deep frying the burritos instead of baking them.

Enjoy!

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions are all available for $0.99.

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Rant Alert: Star Wars, Marvel Comics, & Reboots

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Okay, so the last six months or so have been pretty traumatic for fan-nerds. First, to pave the way for the upcoming new Star Wars movies, comics, shows, etc. it was decided by Disney’s Star Wars story group that all previous Star Wars Expanded Universe content would be labeled “legends” while everything produced by Disney from now on would be officially canon. Many understood the reasoning and were okay with it. A very vocal group of the fan community, on the other hand, started their own version of a digital rebel alliance and declared war on Disney’s Empire. Then, last week Marvel announced that their upcoming Secret Wars event would lead into Battleworld, where various incarnations of the Marvel characters would duke it out for survival resulting in a “new” main Marvel comics universe.  Speculation has since run rampant and the word “reboot” has been bandied about enthusiastically ever since. The problem is both announcements have lead to a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about what, exactly, is happening. Some of this confusion is due to the original announcements not being very clear or detailed about what is going to happen. A lot more is due to people completely losing their shit over what amounts to a reading comprehension failure. The following will attempt to clear some things up:

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Let’s start with Star Wars. Disney bought Lucasfilm and with it came the rights to Star Wars. Disney has since announced that both a new trilogy and a series of stand alone movies have gone into production. They have also released, or are currently developing, several TV shows, a new comics line from Marvel, video games, and novels. The problem is there’s a good 30 years worth of Expanded Universe content already floating out there in the form of novels and comics that have already exhaustively covered the events after Return of the Jedi all the way through a century after the battle of Yavin from A New Hope. That’s one hundred years worth of EU continuity. Some of those novels, and particularly the comics, were extremely well done, well loved by fans, and helped to keep Star Wars alive before, and even more so after the lackluster-downright hatred of, the prequels. The rest was mediocre to downright horrible. In fact, if most fans (and I am a HUGE Star Wars fan. I own pretty much all of the EU content available) are honest with themselves, for every great novel there have been a good five not so great ones. This is especially true in the last decade when Star Wars moved away from one shots and trilogies and tried to do long form stories that lasted for years.

So if you’re Disney, what do you do with all of that if you want to move forward with new material?  You start fresh.

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All of the pre-existing Star Wars EU has been re-branded “Legends” and is no longer considered to be canon (even though George Lucas was always very clear that as far as he was concerned, it was never canon). It’s now just considered fun “what if” stories or, as the name implies, tales from the Star Wars universe that may have nuggets of truth to them. The term they chose, “Legends”, is significant, and we’ll discuss why in a moment. So what is officially canon now?

star wars moviesThe Original Movie Saga

epsevenThe New Movies

clonewarsThe Clone Wars TV Series

starwarsrebelsStar Wars Rebels TV Series

61nnfCs+IFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Marvel’s Star Wars Comics

starwarsnewnovelsAll Star Wars Novels Moving Forward (Starting with A New Dawn)

So why was it significant that they branded the old EU “Legends”? As John Jackson Miller, author of A New Dawn, pointed out “Legends” doesn’t mean it never happened or that elements of those tales might not be true.  Both he and Dave Filoni (Clone Wars, Rebels) have openly stated that the previous EU material is not off limits to any of the creators of future Star Wars content. They’re free to use or adapt any of it into this new continuity. The movies, themselves, have already borrowed elements from the EU. The capital world of Coruscant was first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire novel. The double bladed lightsaber Maul used in The Phantom Menace was first seen in Star Wars comics done by Dark Horse.  Both Clone Wars and Rebels have brought in elements from the EU as well: Holocrons, Darth Bane, Republic Commandos. In James Lucado’s new novel, Tarkin, he references events from his previous two Star Wars novels that were published under the old banner, Dark Lord and Darth Plagueis, thus bringing them both into canon.

So the old EU is not dead, and there’s still a possibility that elements, characters, or even story-lines that fans loved could still be brought into official canon through future content.

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Marvel’s upcoming Secret Wars is supposed to bring the Marvel Universe as we know it to a close. The main Marvel universe (616) collides with the Ultimate universe, and the result of the “Secret Wars” between the two universes will be Battleworld, where incarnations of the characters from major stories throughout Marvel history (Age of Apocalypse, Planet Hulk, Civil War, Pre-OMD Spidey, Ultimate Spidey,. etc.) will exist in different parts of the planet, with everyone duking it out for survival.

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…Yeah, it’s kind of confusing.

What it isn’t is a reboot.

Everywhere I look online people keep calling it a reboot.

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It’s not. A reboot, in comic terms, implies that they’re starting over fresh with a new continuity. That’s just not what is going to happen. The past, for any of the universes that collide, will still have happened. The characters that survive and end up in whatever the new Marvel universe looks like will still remember what happened, will still be the same characters they were before. Their history happened and affected them. It all still matters. This isn’t a New 52. They aren’t wiping anything out, they’re just blowing everything up. What we’ll be left with, from everything they’ve released, is a new Marvel universe made up of versions of characters from the 616, Ultimate, Age of Apocalypse, and whatever all thrown together. For example, the Wolverine of the 616 may be dead, but when this is over we could have the Wolverine from AoA or Old Man Logan alive and kicking. Miles Morales from Ultimate comics Spider-Man may be swinging around with a still-married Peter Parker. We don’t know for sure, but we’ll see.

But it’s not a reboot so please stop saying it.

I hope this clears some things up for those of you who have been wondering just what the hell has been going on.

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The Thick Man on Food: Cafe Telegraph

You’re hungry, you’re feeling lazy, and fast food of any kind sounds disgusting but you don’t want to go the same sit down places you always go to. It happens to us all. So what do you do? Sure, you could check Yelp and rely on the opinions of strangers; but I ask you, dear reader, who knows more about food than a fat guy?  In this ongoing series I’m going to review local Saint Louis restaurants that my wife and I have discovered where you can be sure to find tasty food well worth your time and hard earned cash.

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Where: Cafe Telegraph

Type of Food: Bar and Grill that specializes in pork BBQ.

Price: Middle of the road, but you get a ton of food for the money.

Fat People Friendly?: The booths are attached to the wall and will be a no-go for the extremely thick. Chairs at the tables are padded but get uncomfortable after a while.

Kid Friendly?: They do have a decent selection of food for the kiddos, and a few arcade games at the front of the store. Also, at Christmas time someone dresses as Santa Claus and comes through the restaurant periodically during the dinner rush to hand out candy. It was really sweet.

Review: My wife and I decided to give this little gem a try on a whim one evening when we were out with our son and didn’t feel like cooking. Boy are we glad we did. Cafe Telegraph has become one of our regular spots, and once you give their food a try it’ll become an out to eat staple you’ll want to tell your friends about. The menu offers a variety of typical Bar and Grill staples, like burgers and even Saint Louis style pizza, but the specialty here is the pork. They offer a variety of unique pork burgers that are both tasty and freaking huge. For example, the one pound Mary Mother Triple Bacon Burger made with ground pork and bacon, topped with two panko encrusted bacon strips, more crumbled bacon, onion straws, jalapenos, and gringo cheese dip (freaking delicious!) all on Texas toast. It comes with a side of your choice and costs $11.99. This was the first thing I ever tried and I could only finish half. Over the course of the last year my wife and I have tried quite a few of their various dishes, including their wraps, pasta, and various entree options like meat loaf and steak. Everything we’ve tried we’ve enjoyed. Especially the fried okra. It’s the best fried okra I’ve ever had. Ever!

porksteak

The Thick Man Reccomends: While you can’t go wrong with just about anything on the menu, the reason we go there once a week and have become Cafe Telegraph evangelicals to our friends and family is the Matt’s Big Bruiser Pork Steak. This monster is a 3 lb(!) pork steak with a sweet dry rub and two sides for $16.99. It’s slow cooked to perfection and practically falls off the bone. It is also the best BBQ I’ve ever had in my life. I say this as a man who grew up in Memphis, TN around Memphis BBQ.  Best. Pork. Ever. My wife and I split one of these bad boys whenever we go in and we both leave feeling stuffed. Two grown adults, one of them thick,  stuffed to the gills with delicious food for $17? That right there is a deal. We’ve dragged all of our friends and family out to Cafe Telegraph to give it a try, and they’ve all walked away with the same reaction. They’ve also all become regular customers. If you live in the STL area, or if you happen to come through, do yourself a favor and pay Cafe Telegraph a visit and give this a try. Tell them the Thick Man sent you.

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Down With the Thickness: Writing, Family Life, and Dealing with Depression

DWTT Final Cover

It’s been a long time since I’ve sat down and actually wrote something. My last blog post was in September. Before that I’d only done one other post for the entire year, which makes me incredibly ashamed of myself. I’ve toyed with edits on my new novel off and on, but I haven’t sat down and really tried to write since I got married. I’ve been telling myself it’s because I’ve been adjusting to my new life as a stay-at-home dad. It’s been an experience and my kid can be a handful. That’s true, but it’s not the real reason that I haven’t been writing. It’s taken me months to really nail down exactly what my problem has been, but for the past few days I’ve come to the realization that I haven’t been writing because I’ve been struggling with depression and thus have been actively avoiding writing, or really anything that requires motivation and a sense of self worth outside of the things that I HAVE to do.

That realization surprised me.

Struggling with depression is nothing new for me. I’ve battled it my entire life. For years I couldn’t go more than a month or two without depression rearing it’s ugly head, and a few times a year those funks would dip low enough where suicidal thoughts would come and go as well. The thing is I haven’t had a bout of depression that bad in over a year. I had honestly thought that I may have finally slayed the beast once and for all once I got married. For as long as I can remember the one thing that I’ve wanted more than anything was to get married and have a kid. I always felt like that achievement would be the crown jewel in my life. It’d be the key to my happiness and once it happened all the feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, and all that other junk that depression likes to torment me with would all be rendered moot.

In a lot of ways I was right.

I’m happier now than I’ve ever really been in my life. I don’t feel lonely anymore. I don’t feel completely worthless or like I’m unlovable. My wife is the most loving, supportive, and understanding woman I could ever hope to find. My kid is an adorable, smart, hyperactive, spoiled pain in the arse and I love him more than I thought it was possible to love another human being. The fact that he isn’t my “blood” doesn’t factor into it at all for me. He is my son in every way that matters and both he and his mother are the answers to decades worth of prayers, wishes, and hopes. I couldn’t ask for a better family.

Which is why this current bout of depression has caught me by surprise. The depression has evolved. This time it didn’t attack me in the way it used to. Before, depression would come on hard and fast and put me on my ass for days. The world would go dark; I’d be a moody pain in the ass; and after a few days I’d emerge exhausted mentally and emotionally, but generally intact. But all of the old stuff that it used to use against me doesn’t work too well anymore, so it’s found new avenues to attack that are more subtle. In fact, I think it’s been something that I’ve been struggling with for months and I just didn’t fully recognize it for what it was until now.

Getting married hasn’t eradicated my insecurities or made the world a perfect place. My wife and I have had several very stressful things we’ve had to struggle with already. That’s just life. We’ve gotten through them together and we haven’t let those things affect our relationship. In fact, it’s only made our relationship stronger. That’s how marriage is supposed to work. That said, while the old insecurities may have been hammered down by the love of my new family, new ones have taken root and sprouted to take their place.

I have medical issues. They’re issues that are genetic and thus they are issues I’ll have to deal with for my entire life. They’ve caused a lot of physical problems, problems that have gotten progressively worse in the last couple of years.  As a result I’m unable to do much in the way of physical activity, I’m in constant pain, and I’m unable to work.  The dynamic in our house is my wife works full time and I stay home and take care of our little Tasmanian devil. I try to do things around the house: take care of the dishes, keep the house from being a complete disaster area, cook on the days my wife works, etc. I can’t do everything I want to do. I get tired and my body rebels on me after only short bouts of activity, so something that normally would take maybe ten minutes might take me half an hour or better. In a given day if I’m able to empty and load the dish washer, make dinner, and keep our kid from doing something that might hurt himself or others I call it a win. I’m not writing all this to throw myself a pity party or to garner sympathy. I’m just providing a bit of perspective.

I know that times have progressed. Gender roles aren’t what they used to be. I know that it is just as okay for me to be a househusband and stay at home dad as it was for wives to be housewives and stay at home moms. I know that having my wife bringing home the majority of our income doesn’t make me less of a man. I know that my wife understands my physical limitations and that she knows that I do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with, and that I work hard to provide for her in other areas to make up for what I lack in being able to help in the physical ones.

I KNOW all of this. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still bother me. That doesn’t mean that depression can’t use it as ammunition to assault me, and it has, because I was wrong.

The “war” with depression that I thought I won wasn’t the real war at all.  I’ve realized what anyone who has battled depression all their lives can tell you- it’s what Superman would describe as a “neverending battle”. Once you win one skirmish the enemy will find something new and attack again. It’s a war that you only win when you’re on your deathbed surrounded by your family and other people who love you and you realize that despite it you still lived a full and mostly happy life. It’s a war that you win by refusing to let IT win. Now I’m in a new battle with depression, but now that I’m aware of how it’s attacking, with the help of my loved ones, I’ll win this one too. Then it’ll be something else, but that’s okay. I have a family and friends that love me. I have a dream of becoming a published author.

I have things worth fighting for.

Maybe you’re reading this and you’re struggling in the neverending battle yourself. Maybe you’re in the thick of it and it’s hard to see around you. Maybe it’s hard to focus on what you have to fight for. Just know that you aren’t alone and that the only way you lose the battle is if you give up and let it win. Don’t give it the satisfaction.

Carry on.

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