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May The Fourth: Get over yourself Star Wars

I’m tempted to start this by saying “I like Star Wars as much as the next guy”, but clearly that cliché isn’t true, as it is the reason I’m writing this today. Today is May 4th. Somewhere along the way it was decided that since “May the fourth” sounds like “May the force”, that this makes this day “Star Wars Day”.

Look, I really like Star Wars. One of my happiest memories was the night my big brother took me from theater to theater to watch the Star Wars re-releases on the big screen. Like most other kids I wanted my own lightsaber, loved X-Wings and the Millennium Falcon, and had a huge crush on Princess Leia.

I was even the kid that went and saw The Phantom Menace five times in theaters when it was first released. In my defense I was in fifth grade, so Jar Jar Binks was a lot funnier at that point. And like most people my age, I don’t remember the last time I watched any of the prequels all the way through, and generally I think the two best things about the prequels were Ewan McGregor and John Williams’ music.

Now we’re in a weird meta “Golden Age” of Star Wars. Since Disney bought LucasFilm and the rights to make Star Wars movies, we’ve been promised a new Star Wars movie every year, until the end of time. I am less than enthused about this.

I know, I know, complaining about Star Wars on the internet makes me about as unique as people who say “hot outside, huh?” in the middle of summer. To be clear, I enjoyed The Force Awakens, I thought it was very well done. It wasn’t the most original movie and Star Wars (and Disney in general) continues to get away with things no other franchise could (Han: Where did you get that lightsaber? Maz Kanata: ‘That’s a story for another time’ Audience: ‘oh she just has a lightsaber that was last seen falling into oblivion? alright, I’m on boardYAY STAR WARS!!’)

All that said, Star Wars mania has gone too far for my taste. There now exists a yearly “Star Wars Celebration”, where Star Wars and Disney officials gather to bask in their glory. Pure excitement for all things Star Wars have reached a level where there is next to no critical analysis of new Star Wars material.

**UPDATE: An old friend of mine informs me that the Star Wars Celebration has been going on since the late 90s and is not a product of Disney’s new ownership of Star Wars**

New poster? OMG STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND LOOK AT THIS POSTER!! Title for the next movie? OMG WHAT DOES IT MEAN THIS IS AMAZING!

And the trailers. The trailers the trailers the trailers. The trailers are indicative to me of what these new Star Wars movies under Disney are doing. Showing you Star Warsy things with Star Warsy sounds and music. They are very clearly staying away from trying anything new and instead are relying wholly on nostalgia for the original trilogy.

Rogue One was the most beautiful looking Star Wars fan film ever made. It had things that looked very Star Wars. It also had no characters and no interesting plot. Yet we were all treated to everyone and their cousin telling you how this was the best Star Wars movie since Empire Strikes Back. Give me a break.

To me, Star Wars is the archetype for a common problem in popular culture, and that is especially prevalent in science fiction franchises. The original Star Wars was not living up to anything or cashing in on nostalgia. That Star Wars was something new, doing its own thing. The characters and images that became iconic did so because they were naturally occurring and people gravitated towards them.

Think of it this way, George Lucas was (rightfully) praised for his groundbreaking work with special effects. However, Lucas himself famously (or infamously) stated that “..special effects are just a tool, a means to tell a story. A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing”. But what happened after Star Wars was incredible profits from toys, and near universal praise for his special effect work.

What did we get after that? More things to make into toys, and more special effects, culminating in the Star Wars prequel trilogy. In those movies we had special effects with no story.

In comes Disney, armed with the hindsight of bad public reaction to the CGI heavy prequels, Disney chose to take us “back to the originals”. My hope is that going forward the movies move away from re-hashing the original trilogy, and allow the new young leads to grow into fully formed characters with their own stories. I think all of us are expecting a “re-imagining” of The Empire Strikes Back.

And my point is basically this, that even if The Last Jedi is just a copy/paste of Empire, it will make a billion dollars, and it will be hailed as the greatest thing ever. Because that’s where we are with Star Wars. I think subconsciously everyone wants to be part of history in the way we now look back on footage of the release of the original Star Wars. Everyone wants to be able to claim that they were part of that first magical wave.

That’s fine I suppose, I don’t begrudge anyone wanting to be near history. It just amazes me that in an age where thousands have made names for themselves by dissecting popular movies, we give Star Wars (and really anything with Disney attached to it…looking at you Marvel Cinematic Universe…) a total free pass.

 

 

Small things I’m responsible for (4/30)

On Friday I started reading an interesting book with just the kind of title designed to grab the attention of people with my sense of humor. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson. A book slightly off from your classic self-help/psychology/be happier book, Mark’s book is a rather honest look at how we look at ourselves. I’m not much of a reader outside of what is required of me in school, but this book I have enjoyed immensely.

Of the many interesting anecdotes and examples given in this book, one that has stuck out to me is a section entitled “The Responsibility/Fault Fallacy”. I’ll spare you the details (you should buy the book for those), but the premise is essentially that there is a freeing and empowering aspect to owning responsibility for absolutely everything that happens in your daily life.

This is separate from owning blame for everything that happens. The idea is that while any number of things can happen to you, how you respond to those events is entirely your responsibility. How you choose to react is your responsibility. If someone cuts you off in traffic and you get pissed off and go home angry and yell at your spouse over something stupid, well that’s your responsibility. It may be that idiot in traffic who cut you off who you blame for your anger, but you chose to react the way you did.

So with that in mind, I’m going to try and periodically look back at a few things I own responsibility for from day to day. It probably won’t be the most exciting list ever, but it’s worth a shot.

  • I go to a small neighborhood gym less than a quarter mile from my house. It’s cheap and convenient and I really like going there. Except for the fact that about 85% of the time I show up there, the place is a mess. People seem to have an aversion to putting weights away, wiping down equipment after they use it, you know the common gym etiquette things. Today however I walked in and needed to use the bathroom, so I walked into the bathroom and found the toilet filled to the brim with a fresh steaming pile of…well you can guess. Was the toilet broken? Nope, just the handle. A quick removal of the toilet cover, a press of the (surprisingly advanced) button to trigger a flush, and boom, clean toilet bowl.
    • What was my responsibility? Well clearly I wasn’t the one who decided to leave a steaming turd in a public restroom, but I was the one unlucky enough to find it. Stuff like this really pisses me off, and it only added to my frustration with my fellow gym members, so what were my choices? I could storm out, enraged, and still needing to go to the bathroom, and probably have had a terrible workout. Or I could just fix the issue and be a decent person, then get on with my workout, which I did. That’s right, admire my courage, I refuse to let bathroom terrorists ruin my workout.
  • That ‘cut you off in traffic’ example wasn’t terribly original, and I have to admit it came from somewhere. I went to Chipotle today to pick up lunch, and sure enough I got cut off in the parking lot. Once the offending vehicle went and parked, I found a spot for myself, and hurried my way in through a side door into Chipotle. Once I got in, there, trying unsuccessfully to open the front door, was the woman who had cut me off…and her small child.
    • Sweet revenge! I beat you inside and now you can’t even get in! Victory for me! Right? Wait, does that make me a bigger jerk than her for cutting me off?
    • Yes, yes it would have. Yeah she cut me off, but I survived. besides, I got inside first and now this woman can’t even get the door open. Of course I went over and opened the door for her, she even smiled widely and thanked me.

 

I’m sure by this point your admiration for me is just through the roof. Wow A-Rod, you flushed a toilet and opened a door, what time does the parade start?? That’s not the point, the point is these were two small examples where I chose to own what happened going forward. People had done stupid things that could have easily put me in a bad mood. I chose not to let that happen, and I chose to do the right thing, and I’ll admit it, I feel better for it.

Life is full of opportunities every day to piss you off, to beat you down. Bear in mind that in both of those examples I’m not saying I didn’t get mad or annoyed (I did), the point is that the decision was mine to not let that feeling take hold of me and form the rest of my day. I got my workout, I got my lunch, I went home happy and had a good day with my wife.

What better way to end a weekend?

It’s not where you are, it’s who is there with you (Laughlin edition)

For four years as a cadet in the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (Det 842, best in blue!), I continuously joked with my girlfriend — now wife — that if she wasn’t careful I’d take her to some remote place like Del Rio, Texas, home of Laughlin Air Force Base. In July of 2011 I was assigned to the 47th Operations Support Squadron at, you guessed it, Laughlin Air Force Base.

For those who have never been there, Laughlin AFB is located approximately six miles from the U.S./Mexico border in lower Southwest Texas. Del Rio is a border town in every sense of the word, and is not generally the place that most 22 year old newly weds think of when they are starting their lives together. Despite Del Rio’s isolation and unavoidable small town tendencies and general mistrust of outsiders (like us), we spent two great years there and I look back at my time there with great fondness. This is due 100% to the people that I worked with there and the opportunities I was able to take advantage of.

It was at Laughlin that I met three incredible people who have had lasting impacts on my life. My commander, Major Rafael “TX” Garza, the first  Chief Master Sergeant Allen “AT” Teesdale, and my dear friend and fellow officer, Sierra “SS” Spencer. There were countless others who had an impact on me as a leader and as a person, but it was these three who taught me the most.

From the moment I met him, I knew Major Garza was going to be one of the long lasting influences on my professional career. A prior enlisted officer with more than twenty years of service to his name, Major Garza was my first real mentor. From the moment he assumed command, he entrusted and empowered Sierra and I with greater responsibilities than we had ever had before. TX knew that in order for us to learn and grow, we had to be given opportunities both to succeed and to fail. Most importantly, he was there to teach and guide us through those successes and more importantly, through our failures. Rather than give us an assignment with exacting details on how to accomplish our task, he would give us a task and let us handle things on our own. He knew from experience that our job was volatile, and that at any moment, either Sierra or I could be in command and be expected to lead competently. Sure enough, the occasion came for both Sierra and I to assume command in his absence, and thanks to his leadership and mentorship, we were both setup for success.

Every cadet at some point during his/her training is told “find a good Senior NCO, and learn from them”. Chief Teesdale, or as I refer to him to this day, “Chief”, was that person for me. Chief had a passion for what he did, and a passion for taking care of the men and women under his charge. He knew the ins and outs of everything, always had plans and ideas for how to do things better. Most importantly and most impressively to me, was his willingness and patience to work with a young officer like me, especially when the burden of command fell to me. Chief had been in the Air Force as long as I had been alive, and to use a sports cliché, has forgotten more about the Air Force than I will ever know. Yet, as any good senior NCO will do, he took the time to explain things to me, and always supported me when it came time to make decisions. His passion for the job and for ensuring that our people were set up for success has inspired me to take care of those around me in a similar way.

Finally my dear friend Sierra. Before my wife and I were able to move into our house on base, we were shuffling between hotels. The day I met Sierra, who was the only other officer my age doing my job at Laughlin, there was going to be about a four hour period during which time my wife and our puppy had to be out of our previous hotel and couldn’t yet check in to our next. Without having even met her, Sierra offered to let my wife and puppy go spend that time at her house, and handed over her key without hesitating. It was a gesture that meant the world to me, and from there our friendship only grew. Professionally, Sierra was my role model. Even though we were at the same stage in our career, I knew then that Sierra had a talent and a drive that would take her far. Her enthusiasm and tenacity for the job was otherworldly and quickly drew the attention of our career-field. As soon as she was able, she volunteered to deploy and quickly found herself in Afghanistan, where she did amazing work. All of this was balanced with being one of the funniest people I knew. She and I just got along well, and she and my wife similarly got along. Sierra was simply that person who I knew I could count on for anything, and for whom I would do anything for.

You will never see Del Rio on a list of desirable destinations to spend any significant length of time. Yet, as with anything else, it depends on the people who are there with you that can make or break anyplace. I was fortunate there and have always looked back on my time there with fondness and nostalgia.

The die is cast

As Julius Caesar stood at the bank of the Rubicon river he faced two choices. Obey Roman law and surrender command of his army and proceed to Rome alone, or cross with his army and effectively begin a civil war. The story attributes Caesar with the phrase “The die is now cast” as he crossed with his army, effectively declaring that he had crossed the point of no return.

I have long been a fan of ancient Roman history, and this phrase has always been a personal favorite of mine. It is the reason for the picture on the main page of this site. While I do not seek to start an insurrection as Caesar did, I think it is an apt reminder when faced with a daunting prospect.

Life is full of daunting and intimidating choices. We are often faced with the option of doing the easy and safe thing, or taking a risk. Far too many of us, myself included on several occasions, would rather not cause any waves, not take that extra chance. Taking those chances may lead to failure, may lead to pain. However it is through the taking of those risks that we stand to gain the most. The choices I have been most thankful for in my life have been those when I took a chance, when I let the die be cast. As with any game of chance sometimes you will lose, but to me that isn’t really living.

I remember in exacting detail the major choices in my life. Do I sign up for Air Force ROTC or do I not? Should I ask this girl out? Am I ready to buy this engagement ring? What job should I apply for in the Air Force? Am I really ready to leave active duty? Is this going to be the first house we buy?

Life is full of challenging and nerve-racking choices. Don’t back down from them. Weigh your options, but know that sometimes you just have to cross that river.