Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

I’ve now seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens twice and I so want to talk about it!

I’ll start out spoiler-free, but then we’ll dive heavy into the spoilers. I’ll warn you when it’s coming in case you want to jump ship.

I don’t even know where to start. Being a writer, I want to craft the perfect essay about this experience. But I also need to process and just get my thoughts down. So this is probably going to be a mess. It’s a blog, not a polished essay.

Spoiler-Free Stuff

Wow. What a great movie.

I’ve seen it twice and I want to go back for more. It was just a super fun thrill ride.

Now I’ve been caught up in Star Wars nostalgia before. I said this in my expectations—it’s Star Wars, and I’ll love the adventure. And I totally did. I’m so wrapped up in the excitement of the moment that I have absolutely no objective judgment.

That’s how I walked out of The Phantom Menace excited. But when the childhood wonder and excitement wore off, objectivity came back and I realized how ridiculous that movie was.

That could maybe happen here, but I doubt it. I need to give it some time for the wonder of the moment to pass. But at this point I’m pretty confident it’s going to be one of my favorite Star Wars movies.

So a few fun (non-spoiler) thoughts about the experience of watching the movie:

  • The first thing I did after seeing the movie ? Stop at Target at 9:50 p.m. to buy Star Wars toys. The merchandising is strong with this one. And I love it!
  • After my dad saw it we spent an hour and a half on the phone talking nothing but Star Wars (OK, we maybe gave five minutes on the Captain America trailer).
  • My screening plan of seeing it before I took my kids worked out really well. The movie is intense and I had to prepare my kids. My almost 10-year-old still hid her face, and my 7-year-old buried his face in my chest a couple times and outright sobbed at one point. We didn’t have to leave the theater, but it was pretty distracting. I was glad I knew what to expect when and didn’t miss anything because I’d already seen it.
  • Unfortunately, I think preparing my kid with a half spoiler made him think that half spoiler wasn’t a real spoiler. So while getting supper at Panera after the movie he’s jumping around with his light saber and tells some stranger that half spoiler. The guy slapped his hands to his ears and says, “No spoilers! No spoilers!” Sorry man. We had another talk about spoilers. 10 minutes later another guy asked us if we’d just seen the movie (OK, we’ve got a light saber in the restaurant and we’re all wearing Star Wars shirts… nerd central), asked if it was another Phantom Menace (“Absolutely not!”) and then quickly said, “OK, don’t tell me anything else” and covered his ears.
  • While preparing the children for the movie, I showed them a picture of the bad guy, Kylo Ren. They had seen the trailers, but these masked men in black can be frightening in a big, loud, dark theater, so I wanted them to see what Kylo Ren looked like before he was big and scary. They took one look at his mask and dubbed him “Kylo Duckface.”
  • At the beginning of the movie I leaned over to my son and read the opening crawl to him. I’ve done that for both kids as we’ve watched all the earlier movies. But doing it in the theater? That was pretty cool. I didn’t expect that to be a moment.
  • One of the first things my daughter asked me this morning was, “Can we go see the Star Wars movie again?” That’s my girl.

Such a great movie-going experience.

Now let’s talk about the actual movie. Which means spoilers.

Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Post-Movie Thoughts

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Han Solo, Chewie, Rey, BB8 & Finn.The hype has been building up forever, and tonight I’m going to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes!

I’m also going tomorrow.

But I’m not a crazy nerd or anything, I’m doing it for my kids. Yeah, that’s it. I’m screening it tonight to make sure there’s nothing too intense for my 7-year-old. Also if the kids do need to step out or ask ten thousand questions, I’ll have seen it once already and (hopefully) won’t be as annoyed by the distractions.

It’s a happy accident that I’ll get to see it twice in 24 hours.

Plus, unlike my dad and brother, I think the best part of seeing a movie like this is seeing it early with the die-hard fans who clap and cheer. Part of the fun of going to the movies is the atmosphere, and you couldn’t ask for better energy than a theater crammed full of excited fans.

My wife and I saw the Hunger Games on opening night, not because we loved the series but because we happened to have a babysitter. The theater was full of teen girls with Catniss braids who were super excited. Made the whole experience more fun. Also saw one of the Potter movies that way, with a crowd full of teens who had grown up on Potter. Way fun.

So anyway, I’ll be there tonight with my nerds. Continue reading Star Wars The Force Awakens: Pre-Movie Thoughts

Suicide on the High Bridge

You know what sucks? Having to explain to your kids why there are ribbons decorating the High Bridge in St. Paul. It’s not exactly a festive occasion—it’s because of the high rate of suicides.

Lots of people are jumping off the bridge to kill themselves, and the ribbons are an attempt at suicide prevention.

Another person jumped today.

In 2008 the City Pages called the bridge a “suicide hot spot,” and offers the chilling detail that some of the people who jump from the bridge actually survive.

In terms of statistics, the most common method of suicide is firearms. But the public nature of jumping seems to capture the public conscience.

If you are thinking about committing suicide, please talk to someone. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 to get help.

Help Mark Horvath Help Homeless Veterans

Update: Thank you. By the time Mark crossed the finish line, we raised $2,170 for homeless veterans. And that money will be tripled. Thank you!

My friend Mark Horvath is doing a 5K walk to help end veteran homelessness and he needs our help. He’s got a $5,000 match—so every dollar you donate gets doubled, up to $5,000 [plus another foundation match triples your donation]—yet he’s only raised $100 $645 so far. And the 5K is on Saturday.

So help me help Mark help veterans who are homeless. Donate now.

InvisiblePeople.tv's Mark Horvath on CNN.com
InvisiblePeople.tv’s Mark Horvath on CNN.com

Who Is Mark?

Mark Horvath is the founder of InvisiblePeople.tv, an nonprofit that gives people who are homeless a voice by telling their stories. Mark has worked tirelessly to end homelessness because he was once homeless himself.

I’ve supported Mark every chance I get, including a book project, a half-marathon fundraiser, interviews, articles and more. I love the guy, I love what he’s doing. Mark is the real deal.

Please donate to support Mark.

Mark Horvath Ready for Action

What’s the Charity?

Mark is participating in the United Way Home Walk, supporting the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. I think that’s a name we can trust.

Plus, Mark lived in Los Angeles. He knows what’s what and I trust that Mark would only raise money for organizations that are truly doing good.

Please donate to support the United Way.

Homeless Veterans?

Yeah. Like Dawn. She served in the Navy for seven years, came home to a difficult situation and found herself homeless. She lived out of her car for two years.

Our veterans deserve better. And thanks to the United Way, she now has a place to call home. Watch Dawn’s story.

Please donate to support Dawn and other veterans just like her.

Refugees vs. Veterans?

I don’t want to get too political on you, but lately all the garbage going back and forth on Facebook is making me twitchy. Seriously, I want to stab myself with a spork.

The one that makes me feel the most stabby is the meme pitting Syrian refugees against homeless veterans. It argues that we’re not taking care of our U.S. veterans, so how can we take care of Syrian refugees.

Let’s forget that the meme assumes we can’t do both. Let’s forget all the politics that so deeply divides us. I think we’re supposed to help people in need. It’s that simple.

Well, here’s an opportunity to help homeless veterans. So let’s help them.

Please donate to support a less stabby Internet.

Did You Say Matching?

Yes. Every dollar donated is matched. You donate $10, it becomes $20. You donate $50, it becomes $100. It’s magic!

Up to $5,000 will be matched. So if we can raise $5,000, that’ll be $10,000 to help homeless veterans. That’s a win.

Please donate to support magic doubling money for a good cause.

UPDATE: So Mark has a donor personally matching the $5,000 he raises, as I mentioned above. But also, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation is offering the Hilton Challenge. For every team that raises $5,000, they’ll match it. So your contribution will not just be doubled, it will be tripled. Like money, money, money. It’s like exponential giving!

How Soon?

Now! The United Way HomeWalk is Saturday, Nov. 21. That’s like 36 hours from now. Time’s a wastin’! We need to raise that money today. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.

Please donate right now.

Thank you.

Returning to Star Wars

I’ve been re-watching Star Wars with the kids in anticipation of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We finished tonight with Return of the Jedi.

Ah, so good. I loved that movie as a kid. I don’t think I’ve loved it recently, but today I really enjoyed it again. I think the kids enjoyed it too, though they had more fun playing with the box of my 30-year-old Star Wars toys.

What Order?

So the big question was what order to watch the movies in. Prequels first? (Pshhh, nope.) Originals first?

I went with Machete Order—4, 5, 2, 3 and 6 (and you completely skip 1). Good choice. You skip all the useless stuff in number one (Jar Jar, midichlorians, boy Anakin and major characters that never show up again—Qui-Gon and Darth Maul). The only downside is that watching Episode I makes Episode II seem good by comparison. Continue reading Returning to Star Wars

Music I’m Listening to Lately

Spotify has been a constant work companion lately, a good way to sample music and it seems to work so much better than iTunes (which is really counter what you expect from Apple).

Though I still like to own music and every few months I hop over to iTunes to buy a bunch of my favorite tracks from Spotify to make CDs for the car and to have music on my phone.

Here are some recent tunes I’m enjoying:

  • Addie Zierman turned me on to Noah Gunderson today (I also stole this post format from her, albeit in an abbreviated style), and I’ve been listening to the whole catalog on repeat. He’s got a folk style with a bit of a country twang (but not too much—I don’t like country), and the lyrics are darkly spiritual. I’m still exploring, but “Poor Man’s Son” is a great track with snippets of “Down to the River to Pray.”
  • I discovered Liz Vice a while ago and she recently re-released her album. It sounds like old school Motown music (says the person with no musical education whatsoever). “Abide” is a pretty good representative track.
  • The Oh Hellos are a fun folk-rockish-praise band. “Lay Me Down” and “Trees” are good.
  • Elle King is kind of stomp rock with a little country twist. “Ex’s & Oh’s” is her big hit, but I think “America’s Sweetheart” is better.
  • “Is God Real?” by Kasey Chambers is one of those (not-so) rare songs about God that pops up on the radio and gets stuck in your head. Kind of reminds me of “What If God Was One of Us.”
  • Gary Clark Jr. is probably one of those musicians I would have discovered a long time ago if I had any musical knowledge. He has that ancient blues sound. “Church” from his new album is good and I really like the 7-minute live version of “When My Train Pulls In.”
  • “Stay” by Fallbrigade is an incredible track. Not sure who they are, but I really like this one.
  • And on my teenage girl kick, I’m enjoying “Ugly Heart” by G.R.L. and “Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon.
  • If I have the story straight, Amanda Opelt is the sister of Rachel Held Evans and wrote a 7-song album about the sacraments that pairs with Rachel’s book, Searching for Sunday, which is organized around the sacraments. Amanda’s music is simple and pretty. It’s hard to pick a best track, but I think it’s “Harvest (Marriage).”

How to Find New Music

Finding music is always hard. My go-to sources are things people mention online (how I found Noah Gunderson, Liz Vice & Amanda Opelt), The Current (Elle King, Kasey Chambers, Gary Clark Jr.) and Spotify’s recommendations/browsing (The Oh Hellos, Fallbrigade, G.R.L. and Walk the Moon).

My most recent favorite feature of Spotify is their Discover Weekly playlist. Every week they make a new custom playlist of songs just for you. It’s about 30 songs and I assume they use some fancy algorithm based on what I listen to. It’s not full of songs I love, but I usually find a few songs I like and that gives me new artists to check out.

Turning on the Heat 2015

I caved and turned on the heat today. It’s cold and drizzly outside, 43 degrees right now and dropping, with no hope of sun. It’s been a really nice fall and we’ve had lots of sunny days that have kept it warm enough, but the dark and drizzly really does you in.

On the upside, this is the longest we’ve ever gone before turning on the heat. New record! So that’s something.

Summer Book Club With Lexi

This summer my daughter Lexi and I had a book club. My wife would pick a book for us to read (which avoided fights about what to read), we’d both read it, then go to a coffeeshop to talk about it.

It worked out pretty good, though I’m surprised we only got through four books. That’s probably more my fault, since I was reading so much I’d have to work our book club book into the queue.

Here are the books we read:

  • The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Lexi’s favorite: Wonder

My favorite: Counting by 7s

Lexi wants to keep doing the book club throughout the school year, so it must have been a success.

Diversity in Fantasy Books

I read a lot, obviously, and sci-fi is one of my favorite genres. But I like a very specific kind of sci-fi—generally realistic space adventures—and I’m not a big fan of fantasy.

There are always a few standout hits—Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, A Wrinkle in Time—but in general I don’t like fantasy. I think part of the problem is no clear delineation of the stakes. When you use magic,  suddenly anything is possible. Can that tiny guy beat the big guy? I don’t know. The drama is undermined because the rules of magic are unclear. With realistic space adventures at least they have to pretend to scientifically explain some new technology.

Sidebar: This is one of my frustrations with the Transformers movies (among many). There’s no sense of which robot is stronger. Optimus Prime is always able to pull out some new reserve or strength to fight back, even if he just had his arm chopped off (why didn’t you use that move to keep your arm?). It’s always used as a dramatic climax, but it actually undermines the tension. Continue reading Diversity in Fantasy Books

U2 Live in Chicago: Innocence & Experience Tour, June 28, 2015

U2 Innocence & Experience Show, Sunday, June 28, 2015, ChicagoLast weekend Abby and I traveled to Chicago to see U2’s Innocence and Experience tour at the United Center. We saw the Sunday, June 28 show and it was pretty amazing.

Stage Setup

It was our fourth U2 show, and while nothing can beat watching U2 during a rainstorm, this was pretty good. I’m continually amazed with their stage setup. They had a walkway down the middle of the arena, with a video screen/catwalk that could be raised and lowered.

So at one point The Edge is walking along the walkway while Bono is walking towards him on the catwalk, 10 feet higher in the air, with a video screen around him that makes it look like Bono was walking down the street.

U2 Innocence & Experience Show, Sunday, June 28, 2015, Chicago

You can see lots more pictures here.

Songs

U2 also played a great mix of songs, playing a lot from the new album (7 songs total) but also playing all the old favorites. I had a hard time coming up with a classic song they didn’t play (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is probably the one I missed the most, but they hit so many others and have so many classics, seems like a win to me).

They also included some they haven’t played much, including “Gloria” (not played live in 10 years) and “Lucifer’s Hands” (a b-side for the new album they’ve only played live once before).

I couldn’t help grabbing some video:

(I also got “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Every Breaking Wave,” and “All I Want Is You.”

Gay Pride

The show was on Sunday, June 28 and the Friday before the U.S. Supreme Court had issued its historic ruling on gay marriage. This was the first U2 show since the decision and it was referenced a coupled times.

First, U2 played “Bullet the Blue Sky” and Bono referenced “Don’t Shoot” and “Can’t Breathe” from the Black Lives Matter movement, before doing a snippet of “The Hands That Built America” and then launching into “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

During “Pride” a rainbow flag landed on the stage that Bono twirled around before shouting, “Gay pride in the name of love!” Then he urged the crowd to sing for Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston, referring to the on-going racial violence in the U.S.

While introducing the final song, “One,” Bono again returned to gay marriage: “Why would you be against anyone committing their lives to each other?” He dedicated the song to Chicago’s Pride parade that happened that day and put in a little dig that Ireland passed gay marriage before the U.S. (“We put the gay in Gaelic”).

All in all it was a pretty amazing show. Lots of energy, lots of heart, lots of rock.

A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.