Thursday, December 13, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 13

Day 13 is a blocky fairly uninteresting model of a fairly uninteresting Star Wars ship, an Imperial Troop Carrier.

I'd thought that I knew what it was because it was in the prequels (or maybe Rogue One) somewhere, but according to the wikia page, it hasn't shown up in movies. But it's quite similar to troops carriers in the movies, so I managed to intuit what it is.

As a model, it works very well - it's just that the original lacks in inspiration, like so many of the transport ships in the prequels.

That said, though, I'm happy with the build: it's a good looking microfigure, and so far as I can remember hasn't shown up before, so it's a good addition to the collection.

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 12

Day 12 brings another iconic and good looking ship model from the prequels: Anakin's starfighter. A pretty good approximation of it, too. Like the Naboo Starfighter and General Grievous' ship Soulless One, the starfighter that Anakin flew in Episode III (in that amazing opening scene - imagine ol' George doing that scene with the physical models and matting and other tricks he had to use before CGI!) is a really good looking ship design, some of the few in the prequels that I found exciting and interesting.

Clever use of the single white stud to represent our hero R2D2, too!

Really, really sweet build.

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 11

Day 11 brought a very wonderful minifigure! I had no idea who it is, so I had to look it up. My first thought was the kid at the end of The Last Jedi, but that kid didn't have a lightsaber.

This is a kid named Rowan Freemaker. Check out his wiki page. Not to be confused with Rowan Atkinson, whom we're all watching this holiday season wrap that present for Snape in "Love Actually". I mean, you are watching it, right? One of the greatest Christmas movies ever? It even has a Jedi! And a hobbit, and Game of Thrones, and a Hogwart's professor, and a museum curator from Dr. Who, a Kingsman... it's got every cool franchise represented!

Okay, okay. Calm down, David. Rowan Freemaker is from the non-Canon Disney XD animated TV series LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures. I've never watched it. Maybe I should. Not even sure how. But maybe I will.

Here he is. Great minifigure! I'm very pleased about today, especially after the battle droid and the laser canon.

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 10

Day 10 brings us a cool looking laser turret that, so far as I know, has no actual tie-in to a movie. Maybe it shows up in a video game or one of the animated series. Who knows. It does actually shoot the red stud, so at least it does something, but this is as headscratchingly "WTF LEGO?" as the toolbox from last year. Whoopty do. But it is, as I said, cool looking, so I don't mind as much unless I remember the hundreds of other really cool things that would have been nice to have today.

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 9

So today was my birthday build - really hoping for something special on my special day!

Let's see what I got (Ignore the stack of translucent pieces: I made a tower of them to put the ship on so I could make a better photo because the model doesn't sit flat due to the triangle pieces sticking out on the bottom; also, the translucent piece under the cockpit IS part of the model, put there to help make the model *almost* sit flat):

General Grievous' fighter! It's a cool ship that showed up in Episode III. The character of General Grievous I thought was silly and rather cliche (like so much of the prequels), but the ship is a stunner, and this little build does a bloody good job capturing a complex and very rounded design.

Not my first choice for what I would like to have seen on my birthday, but it's a darn fine one and I'm totally happy with it!

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 8

A sad day: another boring old battle droid. We've had it in at least one other Advent Calendar, and these are in a bunch of kits.

Is it a nice model? Sure. But come on, LEGO. We're spending $40 on these calendars - you don't have to maximize your profits by filling up with the cheapest models.

Oh, well. Add it to the growing pile of battle droids I have. Roger Roger. :D

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 7

I got a bit behind in posting. Sorry about that! Been busy with concerts and church and other stuff.

So, here we are: Day 7. We move to the prequels for this very cool Naboo Starfighter from Episode I. Much of the ship designs in the prequels are not as interesting (to me) as the ones from the original trio, but the Naboo Starfighter really captured my imagination: sleek, beautiful, elegant. It seemed to be very much the kind of design that the peaceful and artistic people of Naboo would come up with.

It's the kind of design that a people would come up who don't do really "do war" so the few devices of war they have speak to what they truly value: beauty. Not conquest or killing.

Imagine what the U.S. could build if we didn't spend half our federal budget on engines of death.

The build for this one is quite good - as always for these microfigures, very few parts are used. The LEGO masters managed to make this about as close a model of the real thing as possible.

Look at that!

But I will admit to some disappointment that we had the same ship a few years ago in another Advent Calendar. We don't need to duplicate, LEGO. On the other hand, for those who haven't been doing these calendars for the past number of years, this is a really cool ship that others should be allowed to collect, so maybe duplicating it this year isn't too bad of a thing.

But as the Advent calendars seem to deliver more disappointments each year than they did the previous year, this duplication just seems another sign of laziness at LEGO.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 6

Hmmmm.... a mini model of an entire city is what we get for today.

Pretty clever, LEGO! All of Cloud City in 7 pieces, and another 4 pieces to make the Twin-pod Cloud Car.

It's a great build, and exciting to have! And also exciting to get another from Episode V (my favorite of the SW movies) - so that's two builds from Empire Strikes Back so far, and we're only 6 days in! (Cloud City and IG-88).

As I mentioned on Day 1, the "playmat" area has a lot of ice, so I'm hoping this will be heavily weighted to Episode V. And very much hope that we get an AT-AT. I'd love to get a mini one of those, as they are my favorite "spaceships" of the Star Wars universe, next to the Death Stars.

So just for fun, here's my list of favorite vehicles of Star Wars, which really has much more to do with the design of the things than the actual functionality, because let's be honest - an AT-AT and AT-ST are terrible, unstable, inefficient, ridiculous designs for war machines. But as psychological terrors, they're fantastic. Imagine being faced with something that big and scary looking and realizing "My enemy has so many resources that they can afford to waste it building these inefficient designs simply to let us know that they have so many resources that they can build these inefficient and scary looking things and let them get blown up at a ridiculous rate. Crap! We're screwed."

1. Death Star
2. AT-AT
3. Imperial Shuttles
4. Snowspeeders
5. X-Wings
6. Slave I
7. Super Star Destroyers
8. Luke's landspeeder from Episode IV
9. Millenium Falcon
10. Imperial Tie Fighters (including Vader's and the Tie Interceptors)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 5

Another weird day in the Advent Calendar. Another build that I had to look up to see what it is. As much of a Star Wars geek that I am, I really only know the movies I through VII, plus Rogue One and the Han Solo movie. I don't know the animated ones, and totally don't know the video games, or that other weird one from Day 3, the animated series the name of which I cannot remember and don't feel like looking up.

So far, Day 3 and Day 5 (today) have required looking them up online, and Day 4 (yesterday) would have required a lookup except that I remembered the design from the large build set that LEGO made last year.

Day 5: Imperial Dry Cleaning Droid

No, not really, but it could be. Let's try that again:

Day 5: IG-88

Yep - that's right - IG-88, the droid bounty hunter from Episode V that everyone knows, and that I should have recognized, but didn't.

So yes, my above rant is somewhat justified, but not really. IG-88 is obscure to the layperson, but should not have been to me. Today was not a weird day at all - it was an appropriate day. A good day. Argh! I apologize if I lost some street cred with you on this. But in my defense, this is a much thinner and minimal version. LEGO has a difficult time with a lot of the droids because it has such a small set of possible pieces to use to make one, so they all end up looking the same except for color.

But in the case of IG-88, the head - definitely the same head as the real one. Crap. Dead giveaway, and I missed it.

So, excuses aside, this is me, failing. To think that was another weird build and part of LEGO's bizarre careening through the Star Wars universe was totally errant. Embarrassing. But I'm a pastor, so I'm willing to be embarrassed in public to show that we don't have to be perfect and that we can be honest and vulnerable about our limited abilities. Especially during Advent, as we await the One who came to remind us, as God had been trying to remind us for millennia, that it's okay to be imperfect. Even a self-identified Star Wars nut.

The gift for today is very cool. All bounty hunters in Star Wars are cool. I want a whole set of them now.

There is the Star Wars Bounty Hunter Speeder Bike set that has the four non-Boba bounty hunters (including an IG-88 with a different blaster), which might be worth buying just to have the four minifigures in it. I haven't gotten it because the speeder bike is ugly and I have no interest in it. But now that I have one version of an IG-88, and a few Boba Fetts, I feel kinda stupid for not having the others. I'll keep you posted if I decide to get it.

Speaking of getting things: I did go out today and get the Republic Fighter Tank, LEGO 75182, because I liked the Advent Calendar version so much. Got it for $20 at WalMart, which is $4.99 less than the LEGO store - and even with VIP points, buying anything for less than 95% of the store price is a win, or during double VIP points, anything less than 90%. Yeah, I know, WalMart, but I had a meeting with Prevent Suicide Chippewa Valley at the Goodwill next door, so popped in to check out what they might have had on sale. And getting it for 80% of list price? It's a win, even though my internal social justice warrior is disappointed in myself for supporting WalMart.

Pretty sweet!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 4

Okay, the Advent Calendar is swerving madly all over the Star Wars world by giving us another build, like yesterday, that isn't from any movies.

Day 4 sees a Republic Fighter Tank as I was pretty sure was seen in Episode III, but according to the Star Wars wiki page, it's only showed up in games, books, and animated shows.

It's perhaps as good a model as one can expect given the 23 or so pieces in it.

LEGO released a large build of this last year, and I always thought it looked pretty good, but not something I wanted, so I don't have one.

So, here it is:

Pretty cool!

And it came with a spare turret, which are good to have around as extras to spice up other models that could use an antenna, or a laser cannon, or a bzzzzt thing.

Monday, December 3, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 3

Today, we go away from the movies entirely and into the realm of animation with The Freemaker Adventures. I have no idea what they are, because I've not watched them.

I did, however, know that this build is called The Arrowhead, because LEGO released a large scale build of this last year and it seemed pretty similar. I did not get the large-scale Arrowhead because it's an ugly ship, IMO.

To me, that's a very unpleasing ship design.I'm curious what the ship looks like in the cartoons. So bear with me a moment - I'm going to look for one.
Here it is, to the best of my knowledge - not having seen the show, I don't know if this is a picture of the actual one or a fan-person's rendering. But close enough.

It's a bit better than the LEGO realization, but it's still not a ship I would want to be flying in the Star Wars universe. I'd feel cheated. Might even join the Empire just to get a cooler ship.

Anyway, the point here is to show what comes in the calendar, so here is today's build of the Arrowhead.

Somehow the low-piece-count version turns out kind of charming and cute in a way that the original doesn't manage. It's a close approximation, I'll give it that, but not very close. But for a build that is, I think, 16 pieces of what is a kind of complex design, this is pretty impressive.

It's a strange choice, though, to go to a somewhat fringe version of Star Wars. I mean, I've known about the animated Clone Wars for a long time, even though I've never watched any of them, either. But Freemakers? Brand new to me today.

When I saw the Arrowhead big build at the store when I came out, I just assumed it was one of the number of lackluster forgettable ships we've seen in Episodes VII and VIII.

So,well, there you go! I'm actually pleased with the little thing. Like I said, it's kind of charming and fun.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 2

The second day of the Advent Calendar takes us away from the original trilogy, and away from the second trilogy, and into the third with a minifigure of Rose Tico. I was surprised to get a minifigure so soon, and to move from Episode IV to Episode VIII in one day.

But I'm not complaining! The minifigures are often the most exciting ones to open in the Advent Calendar. The ships and tech thingies are fun, but because they have such a limited piece count, they just will never be as nice as the full-size models. For example, the landspeeder from yesterday is a really good version of the landspeeder using just 18 or so pieces, and I quite like how they made it look, and anything from Episode IV is always going to be a big hit with me; but it'll never match the coolness of the versions made with hundreds of pieces.

Minifigures, however, are just like they are in the larger sets. They are not reduced versions of what one gets in the larger sets, they're the same thing

I wouldn't mind if the Advent calendars focused much more on the people. Because let's be honest, the Advent Calendars usually have a good 8-10 days' worth of prizes that aren't particularly well done or models of some of the less interesting Star Wars ships, devices, or other tech.

So here is Rose Tico, as seen in the Last Jedi. A good, strong character who confronts Finn for wanting to bail on the heroes (even though that wasn't what he was doing), then they o searching for Maz the coder and have a great adventure in the casino city (and ride those crazy animals and meet those children, one of whom at least has Force powers) and then go to Crait to battle the First Order where she keeps Finn from making a suicide run, which leads to her getting seriously injured. She's a great character. She's a super mission-focused hero, and should be an inspiration to all Star Wars fans. Unfortunately, after Episode VIII came out, the world was witness to the fact that Star Wars has terrible racists and terrible misogynists in its demographic, and the character - and even more unfortunately, the actor, Kelly Marie Tran, was the recipient of much racist and sexist abuse, along with a lot of the other female characters and actors. Knock it off, Star Wars fans. The only racists in the Star Wars universe were the Imperials, who felt that humans were the only valid sentient life forms. Don't be like them. Jerks. Episode VIII was awesome partly because it was filled with humans of many races, and many strong and capable women. Grow up.

I mean, how small and cowardly does one have to be that one is threatened by a **fictional character** in a space fantasy such that one must go all Internet-warrior and post racist/sexist things and send threatening notes and make sure that ol' ALL CAPS key is always on? Pathetic. It's not the year 1 any more, you throwbacks to a thankfully-lost time.

Here she is:

And in case you've not done one of these Advent Calendars, here are some photos of what the "playmat" area looks like. It's really quite silly of LEGO to do this, because there is no way to have this box open and display the daily builds on the playmat while still also being able to open the doors. The doors are far too difficult to open without tearing them that one has to hold the box in order to do it, which means any figures on display have to be taken off every day. Kind of defeats the whole purpose. So I display my daily builds on a table, and then once Christmas arrives and there are no more doors to open, the box goes to the recycle bin because I don't like having things lying around taking up space if I don't need them. Then the whole batch of Advent builds go into a plastic display box, nice and tidy. :D

Saturday, December 1, 2018

LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar Day 1

Hello, all -

Another time of Advent, and another LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar! I've gotten the calendars for a few years, and always enjoy the daily surprise. Sometimes they're kind of disappointing, most of the time they're pretty cool, and sometimes they're really exciting!

I posted the calendar to Facebook last year, and this year I thought I'd post it to my blog.

Today is the first day of Advent, so I opened the Day 1 window and got the pieces to build this:

Day 1 is a landspeeder. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell exactly what a build is supposed to be, but I'm quite certain this is supposed to be Luke's landspeeder from Episode IV.

It's really quite an efficient design and well - for only having 17 or 18 pieces, it does the trick!

And as much as I love all the Star Wars related stuff, my heart will always be for Episodes IV-VI, so getting something on Day from the very first episode is a super treat. The "playmat" that comes with the Advent Calendar box has a lot of ice and snow on it, making me think of Hoth, so hopefully we'll be seeing some Episode V goodies, too. I'd love an imperial probe droid, medical droid, an AT-AT, and/or a snowspeeder. I could look at the front of the box to get an idea of the stuff that's coming, but I don't like to do that. I prefer to be surprised. What would be really cool from Hoth would be Luke in an eviscerated Tauntaun.

Which reminds of a joke my Amazon Echo told me - 
Q. What is the internal temperature of a tauntaun? [highlight the line below to see the answer]
A. Lukewarm!

Come back tomorrow to see what Day 2 offers!

Friday, March 30, 2018

#NeverAgain, #MeToo, Good Friday, Easter, and Dickens Duality

I wrote this essay for the Faith Walk insert for the Leader-Telegram for their Spring 2018 Edition, which was printed on Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018. The essay is not available on-line at the LT website, so I post it here:

Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities famously begins, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.”

Dickens’ words are in my head because we are coming to Holy Week, a week that has Good Friday crucifixion and Easter resurrection, truly the worst of times and the best of times. We live post-Easter so ostensibly we live in the best of times. We humans are imperfect, though, and fall to the lull of false idols and are quite clever in convincing ourselves of only noble intentions, refusing to see just how much we allow ourselves to live in a Good Friday time. A time when the innocent are crucified just as Jesus was crucified by the Roman Empire, an empire that lived by the ways of death, weapons of war, and state-sponsored murder while falsely calling it the Peace of Rome.

We live in a Good Friday time, watching over the decades as our school children are killed as sacrificial lambs, as well as church-goers, country music attendees, soldiers on military bases, shoppers in malls. We’re now five months past the church shooting in Texas, five years after Sandy Hook, eighteen years after Columbine, thirty-four years after the McDonald’s massacre in San Ysidro (1984 - the first mass killing I remember, which was my senior year of high school). Plus far, far more, and yet nothing has been done. We haven’t even been allowed to have a conversation about it. “Now is not the time,” we are told, as though we should shun the truth until it’s convenient for us. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that the time for truth is always right now.

Yet the week I am writing this, a dog died in an overhead bin on an airplane and already a senator has introduced legislation to keep it from happening again. Immediate action for a dog, but we are forced to helplessly watch our children, neighbors, teachers, fellow church-goers or concert-attendees murdered while Pilate washes his hands and offers prayers. Surely, the worst of times, an age of foolishness, a season of Darkness, a winter of despair. This is against the gospel of Jesus Christ and the good news of Easter.

But like the times of Dickens, we are also in an age of wisdom, an epoch of belief, a season of Light, and a spring of hope. Truth-speakers are calling us back to the way of Easter and away from the ways of Good Friday. The student Walk Out happened this week, students rising up to say #NeverAgain and demand that we adults fix a problem we have been complicit in allowing for far too many decades. Women (and men) have been rising up to say #metoo, exposing their abusers and calling for an end to normalizing sexual harassment. The Black Lives Matter movement is raising awareness of the many ways racism plagues us. Millions have marched and continue to march supporting science, women, the environment, and the many who are left behind. Local governments are passing laws that state and national ones won’t, supporting the Paris Accords, sustainable energy, living wages, school safety, better health care, less imprisonment, religious diversity, protections for minorities.

An Easter movement is happening here and abroad, an Easter movement elevating hope, life, and love, and it gives me great hope. We have a young generation demanding a better future, we have formerly silent voices demanding to be heard, and some who hold power admitting their abuse of that power who are starting to listen and invite in these new voices. As a pastor of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God who came to liberate and bring hope, life, and love, I find that this is, in so many ways, an Easter time, which is surely the best of times.