Tag Archives: Star Wars

Star Wars More Than a Movie for Lifelong Collector

EDITOR’S NOTE: Few things have had more influence on the life of collector Shaun Griffith than Star Wars. Below, he discusses his enthrallment with the franchise and shares prized items from his collection. Some of these may take you back. FYI, he’s selling off some of his collection gradually on eBay. 

By SHAUN GRIFFITH

I don’t remember the first time I saw Star Wars. I’ve only heard the story from my mom. I was 2 1/2 and sat enthralled with “The Empire Strikes Back.”

I don’t remember my first Star Wars action figure. I only remember them always being there. At the age of 5, my room changed from Mickey/Disney themed to Star Wars. My mom had made over my room without me knowing. It was an awesome surprise. Posters on the wall (still have them), shelves of Star Wars paraphernalia, a comforter and pillow set (long gone now). The decor hung around for nearly a decade before items began to go into the archive.

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Shaun Griffith with Darth Vader at his sixth birthday party.

An only child, I took great care of all of my collections, Star Wars chief among them. Every action figure handled with great care … except for Boba, who found himself buried in the sandlot at some point.

A family friend was kind enough to put all three films on an EP VHS (it’s around here somewhere). Full framed, VHS played to the nth degree. Every time I was sick, home from school, which happened a lot, being a sickly kid, was filled with Star Wars. I was a devoted canon only kid. The novel spinoffs never appealed. Extended universe … blah.  If Lucas didn’t write it, I didn’t care.

Before “Phantom Menace” was released, I had a Santa Barbara News Press interview and was even quoted. Star Wars was more than a movie for me. I grew up fatherless, always wondering. At a church men’s conference, I discussed “confronting” my father one day.

Someone asked why I saw it as a negative, as a confrontation. Star Wars fans will understand the context. I laughed and acknowledged that I used that specific word because of Star Wars.
Ashamedly, I was Luke, minus a couple of droids and Ben Kenobi to launch me on my quest.

“Phantom Menace” fell flat with most fans but I was never a hater. “Phantom Menace” was the first time that I was able to join in with a large group of friends, camp out all night at the Riviera in anticipation of greatness.

After it was over, a college friend and I got in the car. He was let down. I wasn’t. I’d never known sci-fi community before that. It was greatness. People dressed up. We cheered. Time stopped for me.

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When Lucas sold to Disney I was glad. Episodes 7-9 would finally be made. He had said he’d never make them and I trusted Disney to do it right. I have no qualms about the forthcoming. It will be everything that everyone wanted “Phantom Menace” to be.

“The Force Awakens” parallels the reawakening of many a fan. It will inspire both new and old nearly 40 years after the original … . A New Hope unto itself.

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Bo Marr Monk. One of my favorite characters. Only featured in the background at Jabba’s palace. I was always fascinated. Had to mail away for this figure in the mid ’90s.

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Love these CDs, particularly Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

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Part of my sticker collection. RotJ stickers up top. Not so much a fan of the cartoonish
Ewok ones … reminds me of the Ewok cartoon. Love the mugshot-like figure stickers at the bottom; the fact that they pronounce the names, priceless.

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This was played many, many times. The New Hope soundtrack. Yes, I had
a VHS bootleg with all three films on one tape, however, I still played the soundtrack and
pictured it all in my head. Plus this album looks badass.

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Never played, still in the package card games. 

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When you’re traveling intergalactically, you must bring along your passport.

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Long before those recent lipsticks were produced, here you have Yoda Bubble Bath and Darth Vader soap. I had a C3PO soap too, but it disintegrated. Tossed it a few years ago.

IMG_0732Buttons! I have a button collection, however, these were never mingled with them.

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IMG_0735ESB & RotJ … note the improvements in coloring skills.

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RotJ comics, 1-4.

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This defined Star Wars action figures. Everyone had one of two cases, this one and/or the C3PO one. This case got a ton of use.

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Not vintage. Had to mail away. But I still get a kick out of it. George Lucas as a Stormtrooper, who could resist?

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Cork board. Lightly used. Still looks good.

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I subscribed to Star Wars Insider in the ’90s. I had several copies, however, this cover is particularly funny.

Shaun Griffith is a California native and a Hayward farmer (non-moisture) who went south to become a Santa Barbara Gaucho with a degree in film. He is married to an LBC princess with a sci-fi allergy. He works as an eCommerce Ops manager for a company with conference rooms named Ewok and Chewbacca and presently resides in the Bay of the Half Moon.

Photos courtesy of Shaun Griffith.
“The Phantom Menace” photo: YouTube.com.

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Inside Disneyland’s Star Wars: Season of the Force, Part 2

Photos by FAWN KEMBLE
Text by LAVENDER VROMAN

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part post exploring Star Wars: Season of the Force at the Disneyland theme park. Read the first post here

SPOILER ALERT: If you’re planning to visit Disneyland and want to be surprised when you experience Season of the Force, you may want to skip this post for now. 

I was skeptical about the idea of Star Wars: Season of the Force, just as I am skeptical about every new element Disney introduces to its Southern California theme park.

What can I say? I’m a traditionalist. I’m nostalgic. I’m slow to accept change.

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As almost always happens, however, I was impressed with this new addition to Disneyland, an appetizer designed to tide us over until the future Star Wars land materializes.

Season of the Force essentially transforms the generically sci-fi themed Tomorrowland into a temporary Star Wars land, complete with ambiance, attractions, “character experiences,” food and enough merchandise to make your head explode.

This event boasts Disney’s signature attention to detail. It’s fun to explore and discover new things.

The Ambiance

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Immediately upon entering Tomorrowland you’ll notice the Star Wars makeover. John Williams’ signature score plays throughout the area and you’ll find interesting touches everywhere.

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Visiting Tomorrowland at night is a must if you want to really appreciate the ambiance. The area is divided into the Dark Side and the Light Side with creative lighting effects and banners featuring characters from the franchise’s many incarnations.

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The Rebel Alliance insignia is projected onto the side of Star Tours. Apparently, the attraction already features a new destination from “The Force Awakens.”

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The Galactic Empire’s logo is projected across one of Tomorrowland’s murals.

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Beams evocative of lightsabers shoot into the night sky.

Hyperspace Mountain

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Disney has transformed its classic Space Mountain roller coaster into Hyperspace Mountain. The wait for the ride was two and a half to three hours long, but FastPasses were available at the beginning of the day.

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The queue for Hyperspace Mountain features added Star Wars graphics. Admiral Ackbar addresses those waiting, informing them they are about to participate in a battle as part of the Rebel Alliance’s Blue Squadron. I won’t spoil what happens inside the ride. Suffice it to say, it features great use of John William’s famous opening trumpet burst.

Path of the Jedi

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I opted not to check out Path of the Jedi, a new show in the Tomorrowland Theater that features “favorite scenes” in a “celebration of the entire Star Wars saga,” according to Disney.

The Food

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Season of the Force’s hottest food item is the BB-8 Sipper, the cutest sippy cup you’ll ever slurp soda from. It retails for $13.99 and is available at the PizzaPort restaurant. Some enterprising people are already selling it on eBay for upwards of $20.

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See, you can’t resist him.

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The Galactic Grill features an all-Star Wars menu, which includes the Han Burger, The Pastry Menace, Darth By Chocolate, the Cheese-3PO Burger and Wicket’s Wicked Veggie Sandwich. The grill continues to host the former Jedi Training Academy, now dubbed Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. If your kid wants to participate, you now must “preregister” him or her at a kiosk at the Star Wars Launch Bay.

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The Merch

It wouldn’t be Disneyland without a gift shop around every corner and copious amounts of merchandise tempting you to open your rapidly thinning wallet, now would it? The sheer scope of the Star Wars items available in Tomorrowland and throughout the park, as well as Downtown Disney, is almost impossible to comprehend.

So much Star Wars stuff! So much!

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One of the best new items can be found in a little shop across from the Star Wars Launch Bay. There you can pick out a unique faux leather bracelet and have it personalized with your name or text of your choice in Aurebesh, the Star Wars basic language.

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The Star Trader used to feature general Disney merchandise, along with items from Star Wars and Star Tours. It is now exclusively dedicated to a dizzying array of Star Wars stuff.

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One exciting development is that Disneyland now carries awesome clothing and accessories from Her Universe …

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… including the coveted lightsaber skirt …

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… and the most hideous shoes ever invented.

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Make sure to spend as much as you can. The Evil Galactic Empire is watching you!

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Outside the Park

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If you can’t find what you’re looking for inside Disneyland, you’ll certainly find it in the Downtown Disney shopping area.

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The World of Disney store has a whole section dedicated to Star Wars and it features a surprising amount of items dedicated to Rey.

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The Sanuk shop features these knee socks, which will go beautifully with your Her Universe lightsaber skirt.

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Build-A-Bear Workshop features customizable Star Wars teddies.

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WonderGround Gallery has a Star Wars collection.

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Of course, the Lego store is in on the Star Wars action, as well. (Check out that tiny Han Solo in Carbonite.)

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Just in case you forgot something, this Christmas kiosk is fully stocked with everything Star Wars, too.

Happy shopping.

 

 

Inside Disneyland’s Star Wars: Season of the Force, Part 1

Photos by FAWN KEMBLE
Text by LAVENDER VROMAN

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post explores the new Star Wars Launch Bay at the Disneyland theme park. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at more of the Season of the Force at Disneyland. 

SPOILER ALERT: If you’re planning to visit Disneyland and want to be surprised when you experience Star Wars: Season of the Force, you may want to skip this post for now. 

When did Darth Vader become so cuddly?

The towering, black-cloaked, mask-wearing, James Earl Jones-voiced, half-man, half-machine was once an object of terror. When I first saw “Episode IV — A New Hope,” I was genuinely awestruck and horrified by Star Wars’ ultimate villain.

There he was striding down the corridors of the Death Star, Force choking underlings who looked at him the wrong way, torturing Princess Leia with pointy, needly things, ordering the annihilation of entire planets, wielding that eerie red lightsaber, chopping off Luke’s hand! He was a fearsome sight to behold. And the now infamous sound of his breathing left us quaking in our boots.

And then something changed. Darth Vader became a comical figure — a clown, a joke, an object of laughter not fear.

goodnight_darth_vader_coverNow, he’s the star of children’s books, like “Darth Vader and Son” and “Goodnight Darth Vader.” He’s the subject of memes and comic strips. He’s a bobblehead. He’s a plush doll. He’s a Lego minifigure.

He eats ice cream. He rides roller coasters. He’s the harried parent of toddlers. He rolls his eyes at his Death Star minions like the grumpy CEO of an average corporation.

As a villain, Darth Vader has been rendered utterly benign, which is why I was surprised at my reaction when I met the Dark Lord himself last weekend at one of Disneyland’s Star Wars: Season of the Force events.

My sister and I went to check out the Imperial Meet ‘N’ Greet, which is open from 4 to 8 p.m. daily for Disney Visa card holders.

Greeted by a long line, we took a tip from a Disneyland cast member and returned later. And there was NO ONE THERE. Literally NO ONE. Just us, Lord Vader and a bored-looking photographer.

This particular Vader was tall and surprisingly intimidating. He breathed his nefarious breaths, wagged his finger at us and scolded us for holding to the philosophies of the Rebel Alliance.

I’m not proud of my response. I cowered before the Dark Lord of the Sith. I laughed nervously. I froze. Then I squeaked, “Thank you, Lord Vader,” and made a beeline for it.

Was this the resurfacing of some latent childhood fear? Or am I just a total dork?

Perhaps I’ll never know.

Anyway, here we are, cowering before Darth Vader.

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The Imperial Meet ‘N’ Greet takes place inside Disneyland’s new Star Wars Launch Bay, the center of the action at the theme park’s Season of the Force.

(If you are a Disney Visa card holder, the meet ‘n’ greet is worth checking out. You get a voucher for one free 5 by 7 photo)

Season of the Force is a lineup of attractions, “character experiences,” themed food and merchandise galore meant to tide us over until Disney finishes construction of its much ballyhooed new Star Wars Land.

The Star Wars Launch Bay is on the first floor of the former Innoventions (which was once America Sings, and, before that, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress). The second floor is still home to Disney’s Marvel superheroes.

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When you walk through the doors — designed to look like the Star Wars blast doors, naturally — you are greeted by a special opening carpet crawl. To the right, a short film features the filmmakers behind “The Force Awakens,” discussing the impact of George Lucas’ original trilogy.

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The Star Wars Launch Bay features several themed galleries, displaying props, costumes, ships, models and other items from all the films in the franchise, like this Stormtrooper with flame thrower from “The Force Awakens.”

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A highlight of the Launch Bay is a large replica of the Mos Eisley Cantina, complete with bar for photo opps. Assorted aliens not included.

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Mom, bellying up to the Mos Eisley Cantina bar.

Han shot first

Lavender Vroman and Fawn Kemble settle the matter of whether Han shot first.

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In the Star Wars Game Center, you can try out the latest tech from the franchise galaxy, including Disney Infinity 3.0.

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The Launch Bay also includes “character experiences.” Chewbacca was holding court in the area above. There was quite a line of fans waiting to meet the furry Wookie.

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Above, another line forms to visit with Darth Vader.

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Of course, you can’t exit the Launch Bay without passing through a gift shop, this one filled with high-end merchandise, like this $3,000 model of Yoda.

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Han Solo’s duds can be yours for a mere $725.

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The shop features a station where you can design your own Star Wars-themed cellphone case.

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There’s an entire wall covered with autographed photos for sale.

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There’s also a lot of cool art on display, all available to purchase.

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Wouldn’t this make a great conversation piece for your living room?

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One final photo opp after you emerge from Star Wars heaven, back into the real the world.

She Still Believes in the Force

By EarthToShawna

Do you believe in the Force?

I was 2 years old when “Star Wars” was released in 1977. I was 5 when I saw “The Empire Strikes Back.” I remember the intense revelation that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, Yoda levitating Luke’s X-Wing, and that I wanted a pet tauntaun.

Seeing “Return of the Jedi” in the theater was a bit more memorable, as I was 8. The first thing I remember about “Return of the Jedi” was that everyone was calling it “Revenge of the Jedi,” but then they changed the title.

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“I used to live here, you know.” “You’re going to die here, you know.”

“Return of the Jedi” was nothing short of thrilling. The rescue of Han Solo from Jabba’s palace was like nothing else I had seen before. And I know everyone likes to hate on the Ewoks, but 8-year-old me was excited when my mom bought Wicket and Logray figures along with the Jabba the Hutt action figure, complete with dungeon and Salacious Crumb. Such cool toys. I think we got them at Sears.

My mom bought a bunch of the figures that year, which was unusual. My mom loved the movie, and even though she let us play with the toys, they were hers.

I wanted to be Princess Leia. My thin blond hair didn’t lend itself to Leia’s fabulous intergalactic hairstyles, but that didn’t stop me from insisting that my mom put my hair in Princess Leia buns anyway.

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Celebrating my seventh birthday in a Leia-inspired ‘do.

I know I’m not the only one who can say the Star Wars movies were the first sci-fi films I saw, and the first I loved. They kicked off a lifetime love of fantasy, science fiction, and adventure.

The early ’80s had so many movies I loved — “The Neverending Story,” “E.T.,” “The Dark Crystal,” “Splash.” I wanted to be a mermaid, to make friends with a botanist from outer space, to ride a luck dragon.

Like so many of us who grew up on the original trilogy, I groaned when Jar Jar Binks appeared on screen. But Jar Jar, like those nasty little teddy bears, was there for the kids. And while the franchise may not be FOR kids, the films spark the imaginations of kids, and bring out the kid in all of us.

My son is a Star Wars fan, but I don’t think the movies are as epic for him as they were for those of us who watched them in the theater, because they came at a time before the world was saturated with 24/7 entertainment in the form of computers, cable TV, DVDs, etc. We didn’t go see “The Empire Strikes Back” and then get back to our Minecraft game. We absorbed Star Wars, we thought about it, we dressed up like the characters and acted out scenes from the movie. Star Wars got under our skin and into our consciousness.

I didn’t love the prequels as much as I loved the original trilogy. They aren’t as good; that’s part of it. But also, the original stories are the ones I saw when I was little, when I believed in the Force, and in magic.

People who don’t care about Star Wars or sci fi probably think we are all crazy, those of us who are as giddy as little kids, waiting for the new movie to come out. But there is just something so … visceral? universal? What is it about these movies that speaks to us? Is it the triumph of good over evil? The combination of adventure, suspense, romance, and a dash of humor? Is it the story? The special effects?

I think one of the things I love most about Star Wars is that the universe George Lucas created seems so REAL. It’s so believable, and it’s so COOL.

I’m no longer the little girl who believed in fairies and unicorns and 900-year-old Jedi masters, but I still watch the old movies because those familiar characters are like old friends, and for a few hours, I believe in magic again.

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My grandparents saved this picture I made of Princess Leia, when I was 6.

Read more of Shawna’s sci-fi musings at earthtoshawna.com.

Photos courtesy of EarthtoShawna. 

Here’s All the Swag You’ll Need to Survive Star Wars Midnight Screening Madness

If you’ve ever pulled one of the delirious movie theater all-nighters preceding the opening of a wildly anticipated film, then you know that one does not simply walk into a midnight screening.

One has to be prepared. With snacks, with copious amounts of caffeine, with books and laptops and board games, with tents and blankets and umbrellas. If you’re really serious, you’ll need a costume. At the very least, you must wear the right T-shirt. For the love of Obi-Wan, please leave the guitar at home.

The way “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” is shaping up, it just may be the craziest midnight movie experience ever. Whether you’re planning to spend a week, a few days, or a couple hours waiting in line to nab the perfect seat and bask in carnival-like camaraderie with fellow fans, you’ll need to have your s*** together.

That’s why we’ve assembled this guide to the swag you’ll need to survive “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Midnight Screening.”

Be careful out there and, as always, may the Force be with you.

 

Star Wars Funtainer Thermal Bottle 12 oz.

Stay hydrated or caffeinated with the Thermos Star Wars R2D2 12oz FUNtainer Straw Bottle. $14.99.

Pass the time gleaning backstory from Chuck Wendig’s “Star Wars: Aftermath,” set between “Return of the Jedi” and “Episode VII.” $16.96.

 

Carry all the stuff you’ll need to survive until midnight in one of Loungefly’s stylish backpacks. Prices start at $45.

BB-8 Infinity Scarf - Exclusive

Baby — or should we say, BB-8 — it’s cold outside. Bundle up and profess your love for everyone’s favorite new droid with the BB-8 Infinity Scarf. $24.99.

Star Wars Tauntaun Sleeping Bag

If you’re one of the hardcore fans who plans to camp out at the theater for days on end, this Star Wars Tauntaun Sleeping Bag is a must to get you through the long, chilly nights. $149.99.

 

Star Wars Rebels Rubber Bracelets, 4 Count, Party Supplies

Wear your Star Wars pride like a badge of honor with these Star Wars Rebels Rubber Bracelets. $3.57.

Star Wars Holiday Sweaters - Exclusive

It’s a happy coincidence that “The Force Awakens” will arrive just in time for Christmas. Star Wars Holiday Sweaters blend these auspicious events into one warm and snuggly garment of awesomeness. $49.99.

Cheez-It Star Wars Baked Snack Crackers, 12.4 oz

We now live in a world where there is Star Wars everything, including gloriously weird items to nosh on while waiting to gain entrance to “The Force Awakens.” Just troll the aisles of your favorite grocery store. You’ll find ’em. Prices vary.

Images of Star Wars Cuddle & Watch Star Wars T-Shirt

What kind of fan would you be if you didn’t show up to see “The Force Awakens” wearing the appropriate T-shirt? Again, you can find these almost everywhere. Prices vary.

Chewie Costume Hoodie

This majestically furry hoodie needs no explanation. You know you want it. $69.99.

Let your body be your Star Wars canvas with these temporary tattoos. Bonus points if you hand them out in line. $6.95.

Die-hard fans will be standing in line and showing off their best Star Wars costumes, but many theaters are banning the carrying of faux weapons for security reasons. They’re not likely to confiscate the Mini Lightsaber Tech Lab, and you can entertain yourself by building it while you wait. $22.99.

Lightsaber Skirt

Fangirls, you don’t have to wear your boyfriend’s ugly Star Wars T-shirt to the midnight screening of “The Force Awakens.” Thanks to Her Universe, you can express your sci-fi self with style in jackets, leggings, T-shirts, costume dresses and other apparel, like this Lightsaber Skirt. Prices vary.

Princess Leia Beanie

Warm ears, warm heart. Keep your head toasty with the Princess Leia Beanie and other headgear. $14.99.

Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens Risk Game by Hasbro

You can only watch “The Force Awakens” trailer so many times on your phone. When that gets old — okay, so it never gets old — entertain yourself and your posse with the Risk: Star Wars Edition Game. $29.

True Confessions: I Defended ‘Phantom Menace’ in Print

This is kind of embarrassing.

But I’m going to let you read it anyway.

One of the first things I wrote after I started my job as a copy editor at the Antelope Valley Press was a passionate defense of “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace,” which was receiving almost universally scathing reviews.

Ironically, this opinion piece helped land me a position as an entertainment reporter for the Showcase section, so I look back at it with a certain fondness, no matter how misguided it may be.

Keep in mind that it was penned almost immediately after the release of “Phantom Menace” and many of us were still basking in the glow of a Star Wars revival and the fact that we had just seen Jedi spinning and leaping in the air, twirling their lightsabers, like we’d always dreamed it could be.

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Lavender Vroman with her Princess Leia buns and tickets to “The Phantom Menace.”

And we had yet to see the other two chapters of the new trilogy. I think many of us were willing to give “Episode I” the benefit of the doubt until the abysmal “Attack of the Clones” came out.

While I do not agree with almost everything I wrote back in 1999, I’d argue that some of the points about the original trilogy and its greatness, despite its lack of conventional “greatness,” still ring true.

I think my youthful journalistic folly can also serve as an object lesson as we anticipate the arrival of the first part of yet another Star Wars trilogy.

Only time will tell if the intense hype and euphoria surrounding “The Force Awakens” is warranted, and if there’s any greatness to be found in it.

Let’s not leap to judgement or praise. Let’s give J.J. Abrams’ incredibly risky new venture a chance to become what it’s destined to be. Hopefully, it won’t be something we later wince at and try to forget.

Below, the full text of my defense of “The Phantom Menace,” originally published in the Opinion section of the Antelope Valley Press. (Please don’t hate me.)

Critical Defense of Much-Hyped Star Wars Film

To cranky film critics everywhere — lighten up! As Darth Vader would say, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

You promptly pronounced the long-awaited, much-hyped “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” a disappointment. You cut the film down with strokes as swift as a lightsaber’s. You blasted the plot and dialogue with the heartlessness of a battle droid. Your annoyance with the comic character Jar Jar Binks had you bellowing like Wookies. You scoffed at the actors’ performances with scorn to rival the evil Emperor’s. Sinister villain Darth Maul’s lack of screen minutes made you rave like Tuscan Raiders awakened prematurely from an afternoon nap. You argued that computer animation and special effects smothered any attempt at spiritual, artistic or moral substance.

One of you went so far as to compare George Lucas to Darth Vader, in an amusingly ridiculous extended metaphor. You said the writer-director-producer of the great Star War series had finally gone too far, taking himself, and his new film, too seriously. And you didn’t even realize that you were guilty of the very thing of which you accused Lucas.

In “Episode IV,” Yoda says that “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” And everyone knows that these things inevitably lead to the Dark Side of the Force. And so, I suggest, do self-seriousness and the loss of a basic sense of wonder. Somewhere in that 15 year dry spell between “Return of the Jedi” and “Episode I,” you must have forgotten what made the original series so delightful  and successful.

Were “Star Wars,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return of the Jedi” so remarkable because of fabulously constructed , original and flawless plots? Because of eloquent and layered dialogue to rival Shakespeare’s? Because of superb acting and deep philosophical content? Of course not.

Plot and dialogue have never been George Lucas’ strengths. He’s a storyteller on the most basic level. The original Star Wars trilogy was built on the most simplistic of plot lines, borrowing heavily from well-worn myth and fairy tales. It’s the story of an everyday hero who goes on an impossible quest and finds himself and something greater along the way. The stuff all good tales are made of. It’s cliche, it’s hokey, and people everywhere still love it.

As for dialogue … audiences in 1977 seemed to have no objection to such cheesy gems as Han Solo’s line, “Either I’m going to kill her, or I’m beginning to like her.” If nobody minded then, why should they now?

They shouldn’t, and that’s because the power of Lucas’ science-fiction epic has little to do with the spoken word. What makes him a good director is that he communicates effectively at the level that all films inherently operate on — the visual level. It is precisely Lucas’ vision of space, the things we saw when we first saw “Star Wars,” that have so captivated millions of people. It is what we saw of the characters, not only what we heard them say, but the visual impression they made on us, that endeared them to us. Who would actually say that Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher astounded audiences with their great thespian skills?

“The Phantom Menace” isn’t, and never was, intended to stand on its own. It’s a part of a whole, and to do it justice, it must be considered along with its other parts. The important elements, the things that branded the original three films into popular consciousness, are there in “Episode I,” and they make it a joy to watch.

Yes, Jar Jar Binks is annoying. Yes, it probably wouldn’t have hurt to give creepy Darth Maul more screen time. And no, Han Solo wasn’t there to grin his rascally grin and crack up the audience with his, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Get over it.

The first of the prequels isn’t perfect, but it succeeds in the same way the other three did. For, once again, Lucas takes us places we’ve never been, fills our eyes with sights never before seen — the Venice-like, regal planet Naboo, the metropolitan, silvery city of Coruscant and the underwater bubble village of the Gungans. He introduces us to a sad and beautiful queen arrayed in costumes Madonna could only dream of and Jedi in the midst of duels so full of motion and power they make our heads spin. We meet an innocent boy named Anakin with an arrogant streak, foreboding a downfall to come. Even Darth Maul’s short but memorable appearance hints of a greater evil awaiting us in the next episode.

“Episode I” is only the foundation for the remainder of three prequels and as a start it will do just fine.

So, all you film critics — I sense that there is still good in you. See the film again, this time on the lighter side of the Force.

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Jar Jar Binks photo: zap2it.com.

When the Force Awakens Grief Instead of Joy …

By BRENNA HUMANN

I, my husband and my family hold back tears of unbearable grief with each new announcement heralding the long-awaited release of “The Force Awakens.”

We can think only of the one who is not here to watch it with us. The one who we know would love the experience the most. The one who was, in my world, the “other Skywalker.” My brother.

Paul was an epic fanboy of the caliber that is often joked about in nerd culture, but is actually reached by very few. The kind who could just as easily quote Star Wars, Star Trek or Tolkien to students in his classes as an English professor, as he could top-rank in “Magic: The Gathering” tournaments in the gaming Mecca of San Jose. The kind who could just as easily joke with friends about the most obscure story arcs of the most obscure comic book characters, as he could compose and deliver professional academic whitepapers on their literary cultural significance. Everyone he knew loved him.

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Paul Humann

He was 33 when he died last June of an extremely rare form of mucosal melanoma, eight months after his diagnosis and the unimaginable pain and agony that followed. It simply does not seem possible that his battle is over. I still cannot understand it.

When we were young, in a youthful Skywalker-like naiveté, and a very similar alien isolation in the Mojave Desert, I never realized how much my brother, his life, his experiences, his hopes and dreams, were vital to the very predication of my own, until he was gone.

As Gen Y-ers well know, the shared experiences we grew up with –- largely shaped by film, TV, and other pop culture watched in our parents’ family rooms –- has become not only our shared self-referential language, but a means by which we continue to understand and interpret the rest of the world. Art speaks truth, now more than ever.

And a cinematic touchstone like Star Wars is of a defining magnitude in Western life experience. It’s a critical piece of cultural literacy -– one that infinitely informs pop culture, archetypal artistic references, and in-jokes that define relationships. I’ve always thought the story is in fact SO BIG because of the deep tribute it pays to a global awareness of the mythological concepts it imitates.

So when a piece of your life is so formative, your memories of it are colored by who experienced it with you. For me, that was always Paul. I don’t have any memories of a life before he came along.

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Brenna Humann and her brother, Paul.

And for geeks like us, those companions who’ve always been with you, in the back of your mind, also includes icons like those of Star Wars. Have you ever noticed how deeply neo-Platonic dualism runs in George Lucas’ plot lines? The character dyads abound. Obi-Wan and Vader. Han and Chewie. R2-D2 and C-3PO. Luke and Leia. There are always two.

Lucas’ brand of mythic dualism was never more vividly real for me than when I felt the loss of my own other half –- no one shares more of your life experiences than a sibling does. And Star Wars will forever be defined for me by my brother. By the Mos Eisley Cantina poster in his room. By his extensive Boba Fett collection. By the endless speculative conversations we shared as rumors of the prequels and sequels first began when we were teenagers.

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I remember having so many arguments with my brother and my husband, both devoted fanboys, that the Star Wars prequels were, in fact, dreadfully terrible films. A realization they were of course reticent to make, in their faithful enthusiasm for the revival. But one they nonetheless regretfully conceded, as they floundered in the wake of total narrative disaster left by Jar Jar Binks, Midi-chlorians, and other epic flaws. And I did gloat.

Another point of discussion was one of the sharpest criticisms against Lucas’ writing — his unapologetic outright thievery from world myth and religion in his storytelling, making in some cases very little attempt to recloak whole storylines in a fabric more appropriate to the Star Wars tapestry. I remember the look of shock on my brother’s face when I explained that one of the biggest reasons I couldn’t stand this linguistic laziness in the prequels was the naming of the Skywalker mother as “Padmé.”

Taking college classes at the time on world religions, I had to break it to him that the word “padme” means “lotus” or “yoni” in Sanskrit — read: Vagina.

“Really George Lucas, your name for a classic mother figure is… Vagina?” went the conversation. Talk about female objectification. Natalie Portman did what she could to bring substance to the good Senator from Naboo, but the Mary Sue named “Vagina” dying of a broken heart in childbirth? Honestly. Classic female fridging, with an even frostier layer of gender objectification, in my opinion.

Then there was the time Paul told us that, in his graduate work in creative writing, another (female) student had been assigned to peer review a poem he wrote. She returned it with a graphic picture drawn over his text, as her commentary –- one of those “only in college” moments. He then returned her work with a picture of the Sarlacc Pit monster drawn on top, complete with hovercraft, gangplank and scrambling stormtroopers. A priceless play on vagina dentata myth.

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My brother and I liked to joke that, in our –- often called “useless” -– humanities majors, we were “classically trained” in world myth and iconography. He took his fascination into a creative writing degree, attempting to find as he said, a “major in comic books.”

He succeeded, basing his curriculum as an English professor on selections from “The Watchmen,” “The Sandman” and “The Dark Knight Returns.” I took mine into a philosophy degree, which I have not used since, other than to marvel at the exceptional lack of logical rhetoric in American society.

But he always called me to ask my thoughts on his course content, the logic of certain rhetorical usages, or the history behind classic cultural representations. And I always called him to ask what the hell to do with my life.

He had a remarkable, Jedi-like way of seeing through to the core motivations of a person, and being able to communicate with virtually anyone, that I have never possessed. And one which I fear I will never hear the wisdom of again in this life.

Each jaw-dropping Star Wars trailer image I see, or soul-stirring refrain I hear from that epic score we all know so well, is a stabbing, breath-stealing pang of sorrow.

“Paul would love to see this, but …”

The prospect of what secrets and adventure lay ahead on the screen looms hollow. Like a gaping desert Sarlacc Pit, but with the heart-stopping battle on the gangplank already lost.

I hope, as said by Boba Fett in the ignominious Star Wars Holiday Special, that “We’ll meet again.” I miss him.

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The Star Wars Holiday Special

Brenna Humann was born and raised in the Antelope Valley, an alumna of California public education from preschool to university. She has worked as a journalist, nonprofit manager, and grantwriter, and remains an avid student of world religion and culture. Though her late brother Paul was strong in the force, with a power she did not understand and could never have, he has now become more powerful than anyone could possibly imagine. For her part, she prefers not to believe in no-win scenarios.

Photos courtesy of Brenna Humann.