The Eternia Restoration 2016

It should be stated that I have three older siblings.  Much older siblings in fact.  When I was born my two sisters had already moved out and the next youngest, my brother, was turning 18 and was on his way to leaving the house as well.  Growing up I was essentially an only child, as such I quickly developed a love of toys.  There was something great about being able to create your own entertainment through imaginative play which really clicked with me.  Wherever I went I’d bring along a few cars or action figures for the trip in case things got boring or I found that the mood required a high speed chase or epic battle scene.

One of my earliest collections of toys were the Masters of the Universe figures and playsets.  In fact it was probably one of the earliest fandoms to which I belonged.  As a kid I loved the He-Man cartoon and would spend hours recreating the battles and adventures of that crazy post-apocalyptic fantasy world of Eternia.  In the basement of my childhood home I had a large corner that was dedicated as a play area where I kept most of my toys and playsets.  There were representatives from several classic toy lines lingering around in that basement.  Star Wars (of course), Transformers, GoBots, Voltron, and even Rainbow Brite (I’m not ashamed!) but dominating the playscape was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe!

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The art of the Masters of the Universe franchise is outstanding and this poster sums up my era of collecting the figures.

From around the ages of 4 to 6 Castle Grayskull stood at the center of my toy multiverse like a dull green beacon of adventure!  I had what seemed like a legion of heroes and villains to choose from along with several of the zany and seemingly inefficiently engineered vehicles.  Swords of power and magic staves were strewn across the carpet just waiting to be taken up in combat by the most worthy of heroes or misshapen of monsters.  Skeletor, Hordak, He-Man, Buzz-Off.  These were names of legend.  The epic storylines I would construct would incorporate many of my other toys until seemingly every toy I owned had vowed their loyalty to one side or the other in the continuous struggle of good versus evil.

The laws of physics and rules of logic did not apply to my corner of the basement which made those epic struggles all the more fun.

However there was one rule to that play area, the rule of Mom!  Specifically Mom asked that I keep my toys picked up and tidy when I was done.  No doubt this was some attempt by my parents to teach me about responsibility and the importance of taking proper care of my possessions.  Having children of my own now I completely understand but at the time it was really putting a cramp in my style, more importantly it was hindering He-Man’s quests which would often span several days, picking up where they’d left off during the previous afternoon.

How was I expected to pick up my things when Skeletor had just invaded the castle and was holding Ram Man hostage?  Man-At-Arms just called in Optimus Prime for assistance and if I put it all away now I’ll never remember who had already been killed off and who was only slightly wounded?

However time and time again I was asked to keep my toys picked up and the basement tidy and time and time again I would forget, half-ass it, or outright refuse until finally my other had enough.

“Keep your toys cleaned up or I’m getting rid of your He-Man toys.”

Cue the Ennio Morricone music.  A challenge had been thrown out.  Our eyes locked in a silent but intense stare.

I feel that I must point out here that I would not describe myself as having been a defiant kid or someone who by any means challenged authority but I was, and to this day still am, extremely stubborn.  When I feel like I’m being wronged I’ll double down and hold my ground.  Unfortunately for me my mother is the same way.

Now I was young, I don’t recall the exact details of what happened next, but as you might expect I did not keep my toys picked up or at least didn’t keep them picked up to the standards of my mother.  Believing Mom to be bluffing I was utterly taken aback when like a galactic crushing cyclone my mother came swooping down into the basement and began disassembled Castle Grayskull, the Fright Zone, and Hordak’s Slime Pit.  She meticulously plucked up every multicolored weapon; melee, energy, or otherwise.  He-Man, his friends, and enemies were unceremoniously bagged up together with seemingly no appreciation for their deeply ingrained and often conflicting friendships and rivalries.

In an instant Eternia was completely wiped out, it was like millions of plastic voices had cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.  It was Alderaan all over again, if Alderaan were a series of techo-medieval kingdoms populated by barbarians and beast men.  (Who knows, maybe it was, we’ve never had a real good look at Alderaan at this point.)

I was told my He-Man toys had been thrown away and that was the end of that.

In the intervening years other toys would come and go.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would eventually rise to prominence and surpass He-Man and his friends in number and overall interest.  But there was always a soft spot in my heart for the denizens of Eternia and the few small pieces of He-Man accessories and memorabilia which managed to slip through the cracks would go on to become artifacts of great import in my future play.

Whether or not that experience has left any indelible emotional scarring, who’s to say?  I’ll ask my psychologist when I see him next week.

It wasn’t until years later, around age 9 or 10, when I was sent into our crawl spaces in search of holiday decorations, and I discovered the truth!  My Masters of the Universe toys hadn’t been tossed out like so much fantastic garbage but had simply been stashed away, hidden from me and simply awaiting to be rediscovered.  Occasionally afterwards I’d covertly work my way back through the racks of clothes and stacks of boxed junk in the crawl space in order to get back to my old friends.  I’d pick through the toys remembering how awesome they were and matching them up with their distinctive armor and weaponry.  Even at that time I didn’t dare take them out beyond the crawl space for fear that my mother might have simply forgotten they were up there and upon discovering them would finish the job once and for all!

Well now after all those years I’ve finally freed the citizens of Eternia from the bondage of those attic boxes and have decided to make use of them in a new series of blog posts I’m calling The Eternia Restoration 2016.  If you’re familiar with my Terrordrome Renovation 2011 then you’ll know what to expect!  The short answer is I’ll be going through these old toys, cleaning them up, putting them back together, and just generally restoring them to as much of their former glory as is now possible.

So let’s get right down to it!

For starters here are a few shots of the toys I’ll be cleaning up.  These Masters of the Universe figures, vehicles and playsets have seen a lot of action and are far from complete.  Overall however they were really in much better shape than I expected!

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The heroes and villains directly from their cardboard imprisonment. For the record at this time they all smelled like a lovely melange of Moss Man and Stinkor odors.

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The remaining accessories. Already we can tell there are a lot missing.

 

Next we have the vehicles and war machines of the Masters of the Universe!

 

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The majestic Dragon Walker. The zaniest design for a vehicle ever produced and the best part is that it’s motorized! Here’s hoping we can get it to work!

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Stridor. The mechanical mount of Eternia’s heroes.

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Skeletor’s Land Shark. Watch out all you celebrity billionaire business folk, this is an actual Shark Tank!

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The Wind Raider. This is the oldest of the vehicles I have. It’s missing several parts and is sadly in the worst shape.

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Attack Track. Another highly illogical mode of transportation and it too is motorized!

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Battle Bones. This has always been my favorite. Essentially the bus of Eternia but also a handy carrying case when visiting friends and family.

 

Finally here we have the big guns, the playsets.  I was lucky enough to have not only Castle Grayskull, but the Fright Zone, and Hordak’s Slime pit as well!  Still in pieces I really want to clean these suckers up before reassembling them.

 

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Castle Grayskull. Surprisingly almost all of the castles parts and decals seems to have survived the years in exile.

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The Fright Zone and Slime Pit also seem to be in good shape though I haven’t had time yet to pull them out and sort through to find out.

 

FINALLY we’ll end this with another bit of good news: I’m happy to announce the reunion of He-Man with his sister She-Ra!  Huzzah!  As fate would have it our house was already in the possession of a She-Ra collection which my wife saved from her childhood house a few years earlier!

 

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She-Ra the Princess of Power and her pals.  Although my wife Lauren kept these heroines hair on fleek she seems to have lost all of their accessories.    

 

 

The Colonel’s Pants

So before you read any further I must warn you that I am about to discuss some very obscure Star Wars material, and will be arguing a point that may very well only be important to me.  When I say obscure I don’t mean a Wedge Antilles or Bossk level obscurity, think more obscure!  I’m talking about a specific character so minor that they only appear on screen for a few seconds and have absolutely no dialogue.  On top of that I’ll be nitpicking the details of that characters costume and posit some ideas which may go against the standard conventions for said character.  So if you’re not ready for some Star Wars deep cuts then get the fuck out!

Colonel Wullf Yularen.

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That is a name which in recent years has become only slightly more recognizable with Star Wars fans.  Before that Colonel Yularen was a character with very few background details and even fewer fans who seemed to give a shit about him.

In the original Star Wars (A New Hope) from 1977 Colonel Wullf Yularen appears in a single scene (though further on I will put forth the theory that Yularen actually appears a second time in that film.)  The colonel’s only film appearance (though possibly first of two) is during the infamous Death Star Conference Room scene where Grand Moff Tarkin informs his heads of staff that the Emperor has dissolved the senate and later Darth Vader chokes a guy.  Sitting directly next to Admiral Motti (the haughty Imperial who gets Force choked by Vader) you will see Colonel Wullf Yularen in his distinctive white uniform jacket.

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From the years of 1977 to 1995 the character was left unnamed and without a title or any background information whatsoever.  However in 1995 Colonel Wullf Yularen was first named and given a brief biography within the Star Wars Customizable Card Game put out by Decipher.  At the time the names and lore text of the cards were considered canon and it was there stated that the colonel was a leader of the Imperial Security Bureau contingent aboard the first Death Star.  After that the character found his way into subsequent Star Wars encyclopedias and information tomes that would be published later but little was done to further his biography.

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The Colonel Wullf Yularen card was printed in the original release of the Star Wars CCG

It was from this glance of the character of Yularen in the CCG and his concise but interesting biography which really made me a fan.  I would often try to include the colonel in my Star Wars decks despite the fact that he was not that powerful and his abilities not all that impressive.  This guy was briefing Tarkin on stuff and apparently in such good standing with the Emperor that he’s the one Palpatine sends to ensure everyone is towing the Imperial line.

Eventually in 2006 an action figure of Colonel Wullf Yularen was created in a special boxed set of the Death Star Briefing Room.  It was a joyous day for Yularen fans in particular or Imperial officer completeists in general.  However despite my personal excitement I was confused by the look of the figure whose uniform was entirely white, which is unlike any other standard Imperial uniform seen in the movies or the books.  In the expanded universe books Grand Admirals did wear all white uniforms but were also adorned with golden epaulets and the corresponding double rowed rank insignia.

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“Oops looks like my pants got mixed up in Thrawn’s laundry again and his with mine!”

A mystery and controversy had begun.

The controversy lies with the fact that Yularen was clearly defined in the lore as being part of the ISB, the Imperial Security Bureau.  The uniform of the ISB would eventually become associated with the black cap, white coat, and black pants which is seen on various officers in various background shots of the first Death Star.

The black/white/black uniform of the ISB was always sort of a mystery because it only ever appears in the first Star Wars movie and is only ever seen on the Death Star.  Until it was established as the accepted ISB uniform those Imperials were simply known as “Death Star Officers” or “Imperial Fleet Officers.”  Now as stated before Yularen only appears in A New Hope and is only on the Death Star and is later established as a high ranking officer in the ISB.  Do you follow me so far?

So with all of that in mind shouldn’t the pants of the action figure for Wullf Yularen have been black, and not white?  To me the answer was obvious, and clearly Hasbro had made a mistake.  That being said however he is such a minor character and the pants in question are never actually visible while the character is seated at the Death Star conference table.  Oh well what can you do?

The issue of the all-white uniform became further compounded when in 2008 a younger version of Wullf Yularen was included in the prequel cartoon series The Clone Wars.  In the series Yularen is given the rank of Admiral in the Republic fleet and works closely with Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker as they battle the forces of the Separatists.

Another banner moment for Yularen fans!  Who would have thought that we’d ever get more Wullf Yularen!  But alas this inclusion in the Clone Wars brings with it further Yularen scandal.

The wonderful Dave Filoni, director of the Clone Wars and it’s followup Star Wars Rebels, has stated that they decided to include the character of Wullf Yularen as a nod to the original trilogy and gave him the rank of Admiral in order to show his rise through the ranks to the position of Grand Admiral, a rank which the show’s creators mistakenly thought the character had attained at the time of A New Hope as signified by his white uniform jacket.

Once the mistake was realized a good old fashioned retcon was deployed which stated that Yularen retired from the Navy at some point after the Clone Wars with the rank of Admiral but was later personally asked by the Emperor himself to reenlist with the ISB in a new position as colonel aboard the Death Star.

However the damage was already done.  Despite the relatively unadorned rank insignia of Wullf Yularen (three red squares and three blue squares) along with a preestablished history, the idea that Wullf Yularen was a Grand Admiral at the time of A New Hope had found a foothold within the fandom.

Until now!  It is at this time that I would like to present my evidence of precisely how Colonel Wullf Yularen should be depicted and to firmly establish his position as colonel within ISB operations.

First of all as most of us know by now the Expanded Universe was completely wiped out just prior to the release of the newest Star Wars installment, The Force Awakens.  That meant that pretty much anything was once again up for grabs in the Star Wars universe and unless something explicitly happened in the first six movies or the Clone Wars cartoon it was no longer considered Star Wars canon.

However the first expanded universe book of this new canon was titled “Tarkin” and documented the rise to power of the titular character.  In that book Wullf Yularen made a few very minor appearances and thankfully was firmly reestablished once again as a colonel in the ISB.

So that bit of business is taken care of.

Now for his uniform.  A couple of years ago I put together an ISB uniform of my own to wear to conventions, Death Star briefings, or fancy dinners.  I figured an Imperial officer costume would be a nice alternative to my much more cumbersome stormtrooper armor.  Wanting to do something a bit more unique then the typical grey fleet officer I decided to go with the Imperial Security Bureau look.  Black cap, white officer jacket, black pants.  As a fan of Yularen I gave myself the rank of colonel and adorned my costume accordingly but I wanted to examine the movie with a fine toothed comb and seek out as many of the ISB uniforms as possible in order to make sure the details of mine were precise.  Through my observations I found that there are actually two variations of the ISB uniform in A New Hope.  One with the typical imperial cropped riding pants and tall boots and one with a straight leg and dress shoes.  Not a huge difference and from all observations my costume was spot on.  Below are most of the uniforms appearances in the film.

 

Then as I was going frame by frame looking for ISB officers aboard the Death Star I came across the scene where Han and Luke, disguised as stormtroopers escorting Chewbacca, are awaiting a turbolift to the detention area.  In that scene our heroes are passed by a pair of ISB agents.  These two agents are actually the clearest examples of the uniform in the movie and as I was examining them I realized something.  The officer on the right is Wullf Yularen!

Could that be?  Is that Colonel Yularen out and about walking the Death Star corridors?  It certainly appears that way to me, despite the addition of the black cap everything is exactly the same down to the rank insignia.  Unless there were two actors with the same face and same pristinely trimmed mustache on the set of Star Wars then I had to be looking at what was essentially an unacknowledged second appearance of Wullf Yularen!

Here take a look at the side by side comparisons.

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A second appearance by the colonel is completely in keeping with the rest of the film seeing as several of the Imperials from the conference room scene appear later in the movie.  Admiral Motti and General Tagge discuss the fate of Princess Leia with Tarkin and Vader after the conference room scene.  Chief Bast is seen in several scenes before and after, most notably as the officer who warns Grand Moff Tarkin that the Rebel’s attack against the Death Star might be more dangerous than previously expected.

What this whole long drawn out rant is trying to explain is that Colonel Wullf Yularen wears black pants and it’s irrefutably proven in one quick scene.

With the discovery of that full body shot of the colonel those black pants should now be considered official canon, despite the implications of the white panted action figure.  From everything that I’ve researched no one seems to have realized that one quick corridor scene is in fact a display of Wullf Yularen’s full uniform in motion.

So in the future whenever you’re discussing Star Wars or Star Wars Costuming with your friends, family, and colleagues and find yourself in an argument over the uniform of Wullf Yularen or of the ISB in general (as I’m sure happens on at least a weekly basis) feel free to point them in the direction of Mindless Philosophy and I’ll be glad to set them straight!

 

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A piece of fan art in the Clone Wars style which incorrectly depicts Wullf Yularen wearing white pants.

 

That is all!

UPDATE: The New Hit Meme

So you may remember a few weeks ago I had a post showing off the new Star Wars/droid related meme I had created featuring the phrase I Think I Just Voided The Warranty.  If you don’t recall that entry of Mindless Philosophy you can check it out here!

In that blog I encouraged you the reader(s) to take this meme and put it to good use beyond my initial Star Wars referencing.  It has some solid meme potential  and if we can just get a few outlets for it the Voided Warranty meme just might spread across the entirety of the interwebs as any good meme does.

As it turned out one dedicated reader (a student of this particular brand of Mindless Philosophy who is now earning top marks) by the name of Tim McFarland submitted the first few additions to the Voided Warranty library of memes!

Below are Tim’s creations, and if you’d like to hear more from this Tim McFarland character you can expect to learn more about him in an upcoming addition of our ongoing People I Know segment!

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A late entry from the meme manufacturer himself.

 

That is all!

It Came From My Notebook!

Bonjour mon prouts!

So over the past year or so I realized that I simply wasn’t happy with the amount of writing I was doing at home, it simply wasn’t enough.  So I decided to put some effort into writing during my work hours as well.  So during my lunch breaks I’ve gotten into the habit of doing a few writing exercises to increase my output and experiment with different styles.  Whether it’s some badly written poetry, a few paragraphs about random thoughts, or a short stream of consciousness story; I’ve tried to spend at least a few minutes of my break everyday writing something.  If nothing else it at least helps stimulate my mind between the long bouts of cerebral drudgery that is my desk job.  Now my pocket notebook is filled with pages of crazy nonsense, fragments of greatness, interesting concepts, and profound thoughts in need of expounding.

As I was looking through my notebook searching for ideas or topics for this very blog I came across one of these exercises I wrote which I had completely forgotten about.  The concept for the writing was simple enough, I would sit down and begin writing the first thing that popped into my head and just go with it until my lunch break was over.  So with nothing much else to share this week I present to you the results of that writing exercise:

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There was a man who ordered a cheeseburger.

“No pickles.”  He asked.

With a nod the cashier complied, punched in his order, rang him up, and the man paid with cash.  

As the man stepped down to await his food another server pointed to the end of the counter and asked him to step down further and wait just around the corner.

With a shrug the man complied.  His shoes squeaked as he walked.

Around the corner was a short narrow hallway.  There the man waited for a moment, another moment, and longer.  Soon he began to worry he would be forgotten. (But don’t we all worry about that?)

As his worry really started to mount a heavy looking utility door at the end of the hall slowly opened outward.  From the doorway another server peaked out and looked at the man, waving him over.

“No pickles?”  She asked in a whisper.

The man nodded reflexively.

“Follow me.”  She told him.

Looking around the man slipped in behind the heavy looking utility door and followed the server in.  He just really wanted a cheeseburger.

The room beyond was dark and soon completely so.  The man lost sight of the woman he was following and began simply following the sounds of her steps through the murky space.  The path through which she guided him was long and twisted and the man bumped into several walls and corners in the dark.  (This must be a very large burger joint.)

Eventually the footsteps halted and in the silence the man stopped too.

As he stood there a single wood torch was lit in front of him and the small flame burned brightly in the recent total darkness.

“That is odd.”  The man thought.  With the scent of the burning flame harsh in his nostrils he stepped forward into the glow of the torch.  There on the other side of the flame sat an enormous cheeseburger the size of a small garage.

That is probably more odd.”  The man concluded.

Which is when the cheeseburger opened its eyes.  Three large human looking eyes inset atop the upper bun of the cheeseburger.  Looking down at the man, the bun-eyes narrowed.

“No pickle?”  The burger asked.  It spoke with an invisible hinge, like a mouth with three lips.  A lip of bun.  A lip of burger meat.  Followed by another lip of bun.  

The man nodded.  “Yes, that is correct.  I ordered no pickle.”

And then the burger spoke again.  The cheeseburger regaled the man with countless hidden secrets of reality.  Occult knowledge which shapes out perceptions and which can alter the very fundamentals of existence.

The man listened wide-eyed and intently.  His mind was like a balloon full of mayonnaise and about to burst.  How long the cheeseburger spoke can not be accurately determined but when it finally finished speaking the chamber was filled with a deep silence the likes of which have not been experienced since the seconds before the Big Bang.

Slowly the man raised his hand and commented, “I just really want a cheeseburger.”

To which the giant cheeseburger closed its eyes and replied.

“You are the cheeseburger.” 

The man looked down and it was true, he was a cheeseburger and as he realized this he saw the enormous tri-eyed cheeseburger slump forward, open it’s bun and burger mouth, and eat the man up in a single gulp.  At that moment the man became the giant cheeseburger and the giant cheeseburger was him.

“Well this has been weird.”  He thought to himself before he decided to leave the chamber.

With a heave and a thrust the gigantic cheeseburger exploded into the sky, through the planet’s atmosphere, and into the majesty of the stars beyond.  For what else is there to do for a giant cheeseburger with an insight into everything but to take to the sky and wander the cosmos for the rest of eternity?

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That is all!

People I Know: David Tavolier

 

One of my favorite regular segments of this blog has always been the interviews I conduct with various people I know which I like to call People I Know!  Several nights ago I sat down with a good friend of mine, David Tavolier, in order to bring this glorious segment back to the resurrected Mindless Philosophy!

I have known David Tavolier for over 10 years now and in that time we’ve worked on several things together not least of which have been the internationally acclaimed Reginald Sterling series of videos.  Mr. Tavolier has also been a regular source of inspiration and criticism for several of my long form writing projects.

For reasons that will become apparent during the course of the interview we decided to record this interview and post it here for you to enjoy!  So for the first time ever you can hear the sultry tones of my voice as I conduct one of these interviews now broadcast across the interwebs for all to hear!  Allow me to apologize in advance for being so loud and repetitively saying “yeah” throughout the interview.  Trust me I’m aware of my faults, that’s never been a problem for me!

Below are some teaser images from several of the topics we cover during our talk.  I may transcribe this interview in the days to follow but it’s really time consuming and I currently have a sick two year old in the house so it can wait for now.

     In the meantime click HERE to enjoy the interview of David Tavolier!

 

Minute by Minute

 

One of the benefits of being a lifelong, outspoken Star Wars fan is that sooner or later you don’t really have to go out of your way to find cool or interesting Star Wars stuff.  Eventually everyone I know realized that a large portion of my conscious thought is focused on Star Wars and unless they’re talking about Star Wars the chances are pretty high that I’m not listening.  Therefore my friends and family are constantly bringing new and exciting Star Wars tidbits to my attention and it’s great!  Whether it’s production news, toy releases, or simply attempting to test my knowledge base I seem to constantly be engaged in one Star Wars conversation or another.

Recently a friend brought something to my attention which has become a new tangent for my Star Wars obsession.  This particular tangent is a podcast entitled Star Wars Minute.  Without the slightest bit of hyperbole Star Wars Minute is a pure work of genius.  It’s one of those simple, yet brilliant concepts that is begrudgingly infuriating only because you didn’t come up with the idea yourself.

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The main premise of the podcast is that the two hosts, Alex Robinson and Pete “The Retailer” Bonavita, watch the Star Wars movies one minute at a time, every day, Monday through Friday, and break those minutes apart, analyze them, celebrate them, and most importantly delve into hilarious prolonged discussions about each glorious minute.  Starting back in 2013 the hosts worked their way through every minute of Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi, and are now currently well into The Phantom Menace.

At this point those of you reading are probably thinking one of three things:

A:  “Oh wow!  This sounds great!”

B:  “I mean, I like Star Wars but this seems like too much . . . . “

C:  “How the hell can you talk, at length, about one minute of a movie?”

Allow me to address these questions before I continue.

A:  You are absolutely correct.

B:  It really isn’t overwhelming at all.  Sure there are a lot of episodes but you can really jump in anywhere, or just pace yourself and start from the beginning.  The episodes are generally 20 – 40 minutes long and if you like Star Wars I guarantee you’ll find yourself soaring through them in no time.

C:  That’s the beauty of the Star Wars movies, there is a lot to talk about.  If you really think about it, in any given minute of any of the Star Wars movies there are any number of elements coming together at the same time on screen.  You’ve got the actors, the characters, the aliens and ships of the Star Wars universe, the production style and cinematic choices of George Lucas, John Williams’ music, the various special effects, behind the scenes trivia, various drafts of the screenplay, and the list goes on.  So in short there is a great deal to talk about, both good and bad, in every minute of these films!

Now I don’t know the exact origins of Star Wars Minute or the duo that hosts it but here is what I’ve uncovered from their on-air conversations and a bit of interwebs research.

Alex Robinson is a comic book writer and artist based out of New York City.  Pete the Retailer was a manager at the New York location of the cult entertainment megastore Forbidden Planet.  Based on pure conjecture and their roster of podcast guests I’m guessing that these two friends pooled their network of contacts within the writing, cartooning, and comedy scenes and brought together this brilliant daily podcast with an expertly understated flare.

Pete and Alex have a great chemistry on-air and their conversations and dissections of the Star Wars movies are both informative and entertaining.  It’s like sitting around with your friends watching the movies, pointing out the interesting aliens that are stumbling around in the background, examining the confident ineptitude of Han Solo, and really analyzing the whininess of Jedi-to-be Luke Skywalker.  However I don’t want it to seem like the hosts exclusively make fun of the Star Wars movies, this isn’t a podcast version of MST3K.  Pete and Alex have an honest love for the fantasy/sci-fi adventures from that galaxy far, far away.

It should also be pointed out that Pete and Alex are Star Wars fans dating back to these films earliest days and the two of them are very knowledgeable about the fictional facts of the Star Wars universe, but not too knowledgeable; which in this case is an asset to a show such as this.  Although these guys are Star Wars super fans with a long running successful Star Wars podcast I do find myself occasionally shaking my head in dismay at some of the Star Wars knowledge they slip up on.  That however leaves the hosts and their guests open for a great amount of comedic speculation meaning the show doesn’t dwell too heavily on the practiced regurgitation of Star Wars lore.

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Sure we all know Wuher was the bartender but Chalman owned the Mos Eisley Cantina.  Duh!

Speaking of the guests, almost every episode of Star Wars Minute has guest hosts who are Star Wars fans and experts of varying degrees.  Most of the guests seem to be friends and colleagues of the hosts who each add interesting and humorous points of view that help keep the daily podcast fresh week to week.  A few of my favorite guests that I’ve heard so far are Tim Kreider, Chris Radtke, Jackie Kashian, and the best of all Tony Consiglio.  When perusing the various episodes keep an eye (and ear) out for those guest stars and make it a point to listen to weeks when they appear.

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If you can appreciate this image, then you’d probably appreciate Star Wars Minute.

Overall I’m just going to say this: if you’re a Star Wars fan and are looking for a new Star Wars related podcast to listen to I highly recommend Star Wars Minute.  You can jump right into the daily show which is now covering the Prequel Trilogy or you can go back to the beginning and make your way through the hundreds of episodes which minute-by-minute examine the classic Original Trilogy films.

And Pete and Alex if you’re ever in need of an extremely knowledgeable Star Wars fan for an open guest spot just go ahead and send me a message.  I’ll just be over hear studying my many tomes of Star Wars lore!

That is all!

The Killer in the Trees

This has been an odd winter in Northeast Ohio.  The season has been mostly snowless and warmer than usual.  Precisely the type of winter I despise.  If it’s going to be winter I’d prefer to have a thick sustained layer of snow across the landscape and a crisp windless day for which to enjoy strolling through said winter wonderland.  I know a lot of people say winter is depressing and ominous but there is something infinitely more unsettling to me about a winter that is snowless and lukewarm.  I personally have no desire to see denuded brown trees looming over dull muddied grass all set before a gloomy grey panorama of sky.

While pondering this failed attempt at a season I was reminded of a story from a recent season that was less of a disappointment.

This past summer I stumbled upon a wonder of nature previously unknown to me.  Some might describe it as a terror best left to obscurity.  Others would classify it as a specialty of niche predation which exemplifies the intricacy of evolution.  Though I suppose I might be getting ahead of myself. To the beginning!

I work at a desk, and not some fancy post-modern work space designed for maximum ergonomic comfort, but just a traditional computer, chair, desk type of desk.  Therefore I try to get up from my seat and get myself into motion whenever possible.

During my lunch breaks I’ve taken up walking around the manicured lawns and parking lots of the office park.  Rain, or shine.  Sleet or hail.  Every day at 1:30 I stretch my legs enjoying what limited range of nature is allowed to remain among the concrete and asphalt.

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Corporate Woods is a pleasant melange of corporate and wooded elements

As the summer escalated and the “park” aspects of the office park were at their greenest and most active I began to regularly encounter wasps.  Not just any wasps mind you, huge bright orange wasps with perpetually vibrating wings and a pretty intimidating complexion.  These wasps were always at the same spot during my circuit around the parking lot, along a stone retaining wall.  The wall is at the edge of the office park where the complex abuts against an actual park (a small municipal park which is little more than a glorified walking trail).

Anywho these wasps were particularly active and seemingly abundant.  If I found myself walking too close to the wall I’d inevitably encounter several of the orange behemoths zooming out from their roosts to encircle my head menacingly.  I at least assumed it was threatening though I never found myself chased by wasps or even encircled by them for more than a moment.  I did my best not to antagonize the inch long creatures but also didn’t hang around too long to find out how frightening they could be.

Regardless, I was now curious.

Every day I’d try to observe a little more about the wasps as I’d pass the wall.  I learned that the wasps emerged from small holes burrowed in the narrow strip of dirt between the curb and the wall.  Each of the holes seemed to be guarded by a single wasp.  As I would pass the sentinel wasps would launch themselves into the air and pass uncomfortably close until I hurriedly went on my way.  Strangely I never saw the wasps anywhere else throughout the park.  I mean I’m no wasp expert but these were fairly big bugs and hard to miss.  Yet I only seemed to see them by their nests and not out and about sunning themselves on leaves or carrying off small children.

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“Mind ya business square, find another flower to sniff.”

As the summer went on my interest in the wasps waned and I would simply cast the insects a sidelong glance and a how-do-you-do as I walked past the wall.  During hotter days I would wander into the cooler refuge of the small municipal park.  While on milder days I would sit on the lawn, in the shade of the commercially planted trees which are evenly spaced along the edge of the parking lot and I’d scribble out a few lines of compulsory, sun induced poetry.

It was while sitting in the grass one day, in the shade of a small tree, that my interest in the wasps returned to the forefront.  Out of the blue a loud buzzing sound erupted from somewhere in the tree.  I could hear rustling and leaves being batted around.  By the sound of it I was convinved it had to be a bird but why was it buzzing and falling?  I quickly closed my notebook and waited to see if my questions would be answered.  Then the falling, buzzing, rustling sound grew closer and came crashing out of the tree to land only a few feet away from me.

I instantly recognized the shape of a large cicada.

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Trivia: Cicada’s believe themselves to be the heroes of every story.  They’re always wrong.

That explained the buzzing.  However I quickly realized the cicada wasn’t alone and was in fact wrestling around on the ground with the biggest wasp I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and not just any wasp, it was one of my wasps from the wall only bigger!  Cicada’s are no small things themselves and this wasp was lording over the cicada, easily a full two inches in length.

I quickly realized that this was a fight to the death and the wasp clearly wasn’t about to lose.  The enormous wasp repeatedly jabbed its stinger into the abdomen of the struggling cicada until finally the buzzing died down and the cicada went still.

That’s when the crunching began.

Scooting in as close as I dared I could see the wasp already chewing on it’s prey and I could clearly hear the working jaws crunch the insects exoskeleton.

It was about this time that I realized I was really close to this scene and I really had no idea what it was or how temperamental it could be.  It was also about this time that the wasp took the air in tight circles around her kill and that brought her in close proximity to me!

I decided it was time to make a hastey retreat but I vowed to return to the spot after work to see exactly what was left of the cicada.

Spoiler alert: nothing was left.

Well of course I had to finally know what kind of exotic giant wasps I was dealing with.  As soon as possible I googled “Wasp that kills cicadas” and was immediately rewarded with the most obvious google response I’ve ever encountered.

Did you mean: Cicada Killer Wasp?

Yup that’s what they’re called.  Sphecius speciosus The Cicada Killer Wasp or Cicada Hawk.  They apparently exclusively eat cicadas and are crucial in keeping cicada populations in check.  They are solitary wasps and the females are larger and seem to do most of the actual cicada killing.  That was the lovely example I met beneath the tree.  The males remain back at their underground lairs guarding the nests.

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A giant CKW performing her namesake action!

Perhaps the most surprising thing about these voracious killers (they have killer in the name) is that they are quite docile.  The females have stingers with some degree of toxicity but are reportedly not that painful for humans.  Males just have barbs on their tails which they use for defense or frighten off rival males.  For the most part however the Cicada Killer Wasps are gentle giants and not at all aggressive.  It even states on Wikipedia regarding the males: “Although they appear to attack anything that moves near their territories, male cicada killers are actually investigating anything that might be a female cicada killer ready to mate.”

So even the close encounters when walking past the wall was just the wasp equivalent of cat calling.  Clearly I wasn’t what any of them were looking for.  Always the wasp’s maid, never the wasp.  Le sigh.

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Anywho it was an interesting discovery for me and one that I thought worth sharing with all you dear readers!  Take a look at the Cicada Killer page on Wikipedia, read up on these gentle giants, and keep an eye out for them.  Maybe you could even do them a solid and toss a cicada their way once in a while!

That is all!