Archives for category: Star Wars

So ‘The Pok’ (my son) and I went to go see the new Star Wars flick – The Force Awakens this morning at 6am at the IMAX in Sydney. And in one word it is – AWESOME! There are no spoilers in this post.

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Our film adventure had been building for a couple of months now where we have watched the multiple trailers on YouTube about a million times. He received a new generation X-Wing and TIE Fighter to fit in action figures for his birthday. So when we the tickets were released, I went straight for the jugular and ordered them for the biggest screen in Sydney on the opening day. There was no way that I was going without my boy, who even managed to go to bed early so I could wake him up at 5am to trundle off down to the theatre.

He dressed up as a Stormtrooper (his shirt and jacket combo – and the his white sneakers are “stormtrooper” shoes), and I donned my Boba Fett t-shirt. We loaded up on portable breakfast, a couple muesli bars and some drinks. There would be no popcorn for this viewing.

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I am no movie critic, so my review is going to be punchy and concise. JJ Abrams nails it, in terms of cinematography, pace, and sense of fun. It looks like Star Wars, feels like Star Wars, and it looks real – not like a polished video game. There are some shocks to the plot, and a lot more to be revealed in episodes VIII and IX. The star of the film has to be Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and he is bad@ss. I felt giddy like a kid again watching X-Wings blowing up TIE Fighters, and now want more. Some of the sections of the film were too scary for a 5 year old child, so he ended up sitting on my lap for the last two thirds of the film. My only criticism is that a lot has happened between Return of the Jedi and the Force Awakens, but it wasn’t fully explained. I guess I will have to read the books and comics to find out.

How do the Films Rank (my humble opinion)

  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. Return of the Jedi
  5. Revenge of the Sith
  6. Attack of the Clones
  7. … um E.T.
  8. The Phantom Menace

All in all, this closet geek was happy and can’t wait to watch it again and again.

In my last post about my son’s birthday party preparations I wrote about the construction of lightsabers. That was a surefire opportunity rev up the 4/5 years into bashing each other for hours with what they thought were laser swords. But I could not rest on my laurels – R2-D2 had to attend this party. I asked myself what would be the best way to do that in a fun and interactive way with the kids without taking a year to construct a droid, but also not have it look like crap. The answer:

R2-D2 Keg Mode

Or more correctly, an R2-D2 that functions as a drink dispenser for the kids to keep hydrated with. Here is the end result, and I got quite a reaction from the kids and parents. While it took considerably longer than the construction of the lightsabers, this was definitely more fun.

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I gave myself three weeks to build this, and most of the work was done at night after work in the garage. I looked on the internet to see if anyone else had done something similar, but alas my plans are original. While it was not quite to the same standard as the little guy below, I tried to get my Artoo as accurate as possible in its construct.

R2-D2_Model

Raw Materials

I put some thought about what was needed, and in the end the construct would come down to three main components:

  • I would make his legs out of construction grade pine. Strong enough to support 10L+ of drinking water plus the weight of my “keg” droid.
  • His body would be formed from what he is commonly criticised as looking like – a “bullet” waste bin (domed lid with cylindrical body).
  • A water bladder to store the drinks.

He would need to be painted and decorated to add the features. This would all be through paper, card, and a bit of art material – as well as a whole heap of concentration and improvisation. But he had to look as real as possible.

The Legs and Body

So I constructed his legs out of a couple of 4 by 2 pieces of wood. The mitre and saw came into good use again. From the two pieces of wood came his legs and feet. I went on feel this time in terms of proportions instead of direct measurements. And of course the dimensions would have to line up with the size of the body.

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The off-cut would end up forming the feet. No rollers on this droid though (or rockets embedded in the legs).

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The bullet bin itself was sourced from my local hardware store. I knew exactly what I was after, but surprisingly it was not easy to find (there are a lot of square bins out there). The domed lid would form Artoo’s head, but obviously the colours were wrong – he needed a paint job. But to prepare the paint job I needed to rough up the smooth surface of the lid to grip the paint. The rest of the body needed a good clean with soapy water.

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I quickly sized up the proportions of the legs and did a bit more trimming of the legs with the saw. You will also notice the cross-bar piece of wood, this would form the support of Artoo’s body as the attachment of the body to the legs was going to be a couple of screws through the plastic into the wood – maybe not strong enough to support 10+kg worth of load. My son, “The Pok”, wanted to help me do the building but he had no idea what I was doing until I sized him up. I asked him “What do you think we are building?”

He paused and then realised with a massive grin on his face, “Daddy, are we building Artoo?” – you bet.

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After the main bit of cutting was completed, I wanted to kick over to the fun but toxic bit – paint time. I set up a little paint box in the corner of the garage and had purchased a couple of cans of acrylic spray paint. I ended up putting on three coats of white paint for the body and 3 coats of grey paint for the domed head. This was three nights of drying as well – hence why it took me a few weeks to pull together – a lot of elapsed time.

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On the nights that I was not applying the paint, I continued with the construction of the legs. The next step was to trim the feet, which were generally trapezoid in shape. Again the mitre proved its value with the pre-defined angles coming into use. The initial angle from the base of the leg into the foot would then be overlaid with a second steeper angle where the real cut would be made.

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Once the feet were trimmed I was able to then start with the join. There were a couple of ways I could of done this, but I chose a simple gang nail plate that I bashed into the wood via a mallet.

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The next step was to get the legs together against the supporting cross-bar. With the aid of four “L” brackets and their screws, I joined the legs and cross-bars together.

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Now we are talking! Artoo, we are beginning to see you.

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Now that the leg construct was coming together, the first reassembly of the painted body was needed. My son and I began to get excited on first viewing – Artoo was shaping up quite well.

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A quick test for fit by inserting the body was required to take in any further adjustments on the legs or cross-bar. I ended up having to shave of 25mm off the cross-bar to have the legs more closely aligned to the body.

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I removed the body after this so that I could spray the legs with multiple coats of white paint. The wood didn’t take to the spray paint as well as the plastic body of the bin.

Detailing the Droid

Here is where the fun, and most of the time came in. Artoo is a droid with much detail on both his head and body. To be accurate, I needed to detail the construction of Artoo with more decoration. Rather than settling for paint markings directly onto the droid, I detailed paper and card with blue, white, and silver pens to represent his arms and hatches. But first I started with the eye which has seen the full history of Star Wars and never had its memory erased.

I took a multi-layered approach with some 12mm foam card where I carved the back end of it to be more circular in line with the dome. The black card was then detailed further to represent a faux reflection of the glass eye itself. The shinyness of the glass eye was done via a transparency sheet over the top of the black foam card. To top it all off I placed the final bit of blue card to represent the top plate.

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A bit tricky, but I think it achieved the effect. You can see the first set of markings on his dome placed on as well. I am not entirely happy with this detail as it was quite hard putting flat paper on a spherical surface. My patience with geometry was well out of the window at this stage.

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The remain detail on his body was probably more time consuming just trying to get right the proportions of all the hatches and his arms. In the end, I landed on it, with a bit of eye judgement and the eye and dome as a reference point. I also used copious images from the internet to see as much detail as possible. This is definitely beginning to look like the droid that I was looking for.

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The Bladder

Now here is where I had a major decision to make. Do I put the water valve in the centre of Artoo for symmetry, or put it off to the side? Given that it was a kids birthday party and I didn’t want to create a “urinating” Artoo, I decided to offset the water bladder and valve. But first I needed to cut a hole out for the valve. To protect the paint and the detailing on the body, I put a plastic contact sheet over the patch for the valve before I made the cut.

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I thought that the cut hole for the valve was going to be difficult, but in the end the scalpel blade cut through the plastic body like butter (or should I say as easy as a lightsaber). Inserting the bladder through the hole, the valve fit perfectly.

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Looking inside Artoo’s body, you can see the 10L water bladder. You can also see the screws from the inside attaching the body to the legs. I sourced the bladder from a camping shop and had to be careful to get one that was safe for drinking use.

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With the final bit of detailing done, Artoo was ready to roll and meet the 5 year olds. I was quite chuffed with the result, but being the perfectionist I would like to finish him off with the rounded detail on the top of his legs. That may come at a later date.

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Our Artoo is now available for weddings, funerals, baptisms, and BBQs. And we now have a droid sitting at home looking at us as we go about our business.

Only 6 more sleeps to go before we see him in action again on the big screen. Next year, it will have to be a BB-8 lolly tub.

As I wrote previously, I turned my son ‘The Pok’ into a first rate Star Wars nerd. So when his 5th birthday came up, you can guess what he asked for – a Star Wars party. We were a little stumped as to what we should do for his party. Games, costumes, decorations, themed food, and well… all of the above. The first thing that came to mind that ticked off two items on the list was toy lightsabers for the kids. I have to admit that this idea was not original, but I thought that I would bring it to life in the most perfect way.

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First I had to source the blades, and foam pool noodles were the trick. I went to Kmart to grab six of them. In doing so I whacked some poor young woman three times while navigating the aisles (after the third time she thought that either I was annoying or trying a very bad pickup routine – the former was the truth). I grabbed two of each of the major colours seen in the films; blue, green, and red. Grab the hollow ones if you can, the solid ones hurt a bit if you get properly whacked.

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The tools required were:

  • Measuring tape
  • Scissors
  • Coping saw (not essential and can be swapped for a Stanley knife)
  • Permanent marker
  • Electrical tape to represent the lightsaber hilt (different widths and colours – but make sure that you have a grey colour on hand)
  • Some sticker dots (again not essential but adds to the detail)
  • Mitre guide on horse (not essential if not using the coping saw)

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The six noodles would end up making 12 lightsabers. First we had to measure the halfway point so we could do some cutting. The Pok was obviously getting frustrated with my perfectionism. The noodles I bought where exactly 1500mm so a cut at 750mm would do the trick.

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Then the noodle was cut in half using the guide and saw. The ends that were cut would end up being the hilt part of the lightsaber (so that the hilt could cover up any rough sawing and pen marks).

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Now I had to measure the hilt, so from the edge that I cut I measured in 200mm. I came to this measurement as a good length for little 5 year old hands to be able to double grip the lightsaber. This length also offered enough room for detailing the laser sword’s hilt.

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I wrapped the first band of electrical tape was around the noodle at the 200mm marker – which represents the emitting part of the hilt.

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Then I wrapped the end in tape to top and tail the hilt of laser sword.

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Filling in the gap with additional cuts of electrical tape allowed me to detail the hilt. I decided to be creative here and use varying cuts and colours of electrical tape to make a unique design for each lightsaber. A finishing touch was for the placement of one or more sticker dots representing the buttons to activate the blade (yes I am a perfectionist).

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The end result was a collection of unique toy lightsabers for each child attending the party to could grab and play with, and at the end of the party take home along with their goody bag.

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The Pok loved them, and as the birthday boy he received an extra special one with additional custom detail and some unique colours.

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Kiki simply thought that her Daddy had just made up the largest ice lolly she has ever seen (then proceeded to try and whack her brother).

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This was relatively cheap, a few dollars per noodle along with the cost of the electrical tape and a Saturday afternoon. The key was to make them unique. But watch out for; the kids fighting over the colours, little people ganging up on the parents, and a couple of bruised child egos from being left wanting in their fencing skills. As I was making them, my wife asked me “should we organise any games?” No need with these things, give them to the kids and let them whack each other for a few hours.

Last point – as a father yours must be red and of a b@d@ss design.

Given the fact that I am an adult born in the 70s and with a technical inclination, it would come as no surprise that I am a Star Wars geek. It has always very much been a private obsession since my childhood, but how could I not fall in love with X-Wings, lightsabers and Star Destroyers. In large part, the imagination of George Lucas pushed me onto my professional path – and I bet there are many other engineers of my vintage who would probably say the same. My childhood play was always trying to recreate the fantastical world of “a galaxy far, far, away.”

So when ‘The Pok’ (AKA my son) started to describe the Clone Wars in his adventures and play at daycare, I knew the time was right to indoctrinate him in the ways of the force. Particularly given that he was playing out these adventures without having seen any of the films or TV shows.

It got me thinking, “how should I do this?”

So on one of our Dad-Son Friday movie nights, I unleashed the ultimate weapon in the arsenal…

Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back!

Or at least the first third of it.

Let’s pause for a moment and contemplate the psychological assault that I was about to unleash as a parent on the mind of my four year old son. Here is the context of reality of his world.

  1. He lives in Australia, and has never seen snow. Deep morning frost, yes, snow and ice, never.
  2. The only things that he knows that fly are planes and helicopters (and his Mickey Mouse when he throws the rodent down the stairs – not really flying).
  3. What is an energy shield or power generator?
  4. As for armoured vehicles, they are pretty low to the ground and run on caterpillar tracks.
  5. The only things he know that cut are knives and blades, from the kitchen or my toolbox.
  6. Kangaroos bound around in the outback on two hind legs and have a tail.
  7. Robots in our world are a bit crap, and don’t levitate.
  8. The International Space Station is big, kinda… well not really. And it looks flimsy too.
  9. The only way you get better is by resting at home, visiting the doctor, or if really sick going to the hospital.
  10. If you make a mistake, you don’t get one more chance before you die.

So with these 10 items as my base of reference here is what left him speechless and stunned, forever changing his mind like a jedi mind trick.

The Opening Scene

Immediately proceeding the scroll, which as I read it out made no sense to him whatsoever, he sees a big spaceship (an Imperial Star Destroyer) shooting out rocket powered vehicles (which we soon find out to be Imperial Probe Droids) in different trajectories. The vehicle we follow is shoots off to a planet covered in ice – completely covered in ice (the ice planet of Hoth)!

So there goes reality number 1, number 2, and number 8 (with the last two properly getting sorted out later on).

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The vehicle properly crashes in the ice planet and what emerges from the wreckage is an insect like robot (our starring Imperial Probe Droid), which… levitates! And it looks like it means business, nasty business with its sinister humming sounds.

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There goes reality number 7.

Enter our Heroes

Immediately proceeding the sinister opening that pretty much sets the tone for where the film will go, we see a zooming aerial shot of the ice planet honing in on an animal with rider (none other than Luke Skywalker, farmboy, death star assassin, last Jedi knight, sister kisser, etc.). The animal is a horse size kangaroo with horns like a ram (a Taun taun, the trusty frozen planet steed of the Rebel Alliance). Time to throw away reality number 6. Not only that but these furry horned kangaroos are rideable, which contrary to popular belief we Australians do not have the pleasure of doing with ours.

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Of course the big ice monster (Wampa – possibly one of my brothers in costume) emerges to whack Luke and his steed, and then try to go all carnivorous on them. And don’t forget that the other hero, Han Solo, rides the furry kangaroos too. Upon Han Solo’s return to the rebel military installation there is much talk discussion about the fact that Luke is missing. So Han goes out on his furry horned kangaroo to rescue him. Meanwhile Luke uses his blue glowing light sword (lightsaber) to cut himself from the hanging upside down from the ceiling, cut off a wampa arm, and then when Han finally does rescue him the sword is used to cut open his furry horned kangaroo belly. Scratch reality number 5 and begin eternal fascination with the most elegant weapon ever invented. Also cue the question that has been plaguing me since my childhood, “did Han shove in Luke headfirst? And if so, how did he breathe surround by all those guts?”

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Rescue and Recovery

Our heroes are found again the next morning, by a team of pilots commandeering a bunch of flying, hovering, air speeder things (Rebel Alliance Snowspeeders). After all these years I still think that this is one of the best vehicle designs invented, though how aerodynamic they are leaves me wondering. The way the snowspeeders fly by hugging the terrain is just beautiful. Further reinforcement of new reality number 2.

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When Luke is brought back to the medical bay, his recovery and recuperation is nothing short of otherworldly. He is hooked up to a breathing apparatus completely submerged in a tank of blue fluid (bacta tank) with robots monitoring and tending to him (2-1B medical droid and FX-7 medical droid), all while wearing the a pair of whities that would make Bridget Jones proud. How is it possible that one is fixed like this when sick or injured. Knock reality number 9 on the head. From now on, the Pok will cite the need to be tended by a medical droid when he needs fixing.

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Discovery by the Galactic Empire

The master plot in the first third of the film is the pursuit of the Rebel Alliance by the Galactic Empire, and true to script they are discovered by that nasty levitating robot. This is where the sense of awestruck truly begins for my little guy, the introduction of the biggest spaceship he has ever seen. One so big that it casts shadows as it passes over the other smaller ones (which are themselves five times the length of a USN aircraft carrier).

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Enter the Super Star Destroyer – the Executor. Flagship of the fleet, darker grey than the rest and no white space engines for this bad boy – all flaming orange. Soooo bad and truly beautiful!

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Somebody recently tried to communicate the scale of this fictional space vehicle by overlaying it on the island of Manhattan. Now that is what I would call big! The bar has now been properly set for the new reality number 8.

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Enter the Dark Lord Vader too, and he is a tough boss. His chief lieutenant overlooks the clue to finding the Rebel Alliance’s base, and he goes over the top of him to order his fleet to attack the enemy residing on the ice planet. There is a whole bunch of military gobbledygook that is spoken while the tension mounts for what is to be the big battle piece. In my boy’s world, no-one talks like that, and he now has a new set of phrases and terms added to his vocabulary. Then the poor Imperial officer, named Admiral Nozzle (or was it Ozzel – who knows…) makes mistake number two! When will people ever learn to not come out of hyperspace too close to a system? Cue the first addition to the body count in this film, with Darth Vader choking his officer… via Skype! WTF? Lesson to the unwise, don’t be clumsy and stupid and if some guy in a big black helmet / mask combo calls don’t answer. Reality number 10 – gone!

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The Great Ice Battle

The preparations for the big attack in the snow begin. Pilots are briefed, troops rush to their stations. The key piece on the board is declared as the main power generator. Hmmmm… what could that possibly be. Evacuating ships launch off into space by opening shields, supported by a huge bulbous gun firing big energy bolts into thousands of kilometers into enemy ships. Zapping them into submission. He still has not said a word at this stage.

Then, the troops positioned in the trenches spot awestruck moment number two. “Echo Station 3T8, we’ve spotted Imperial Walkers.” Ginormous armoured dogs that walk like elephants and are bristling with laser guns (Imperial All Terrain – Armoured Transports, or AT-AT for short) are coming to get you.

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You betcha, and a can of whip@ss is about to be unleashed. Reality number 4 is smashed out of the park and with the lumbering beasts becoming the true star of the movie for the next 10 minutes of movie magic.

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In the ensuing battle, we bare witness to the second coolest aerial maneuver executed in movie history (some would argue that Maverick and Goose giving their Soviet counterparts the bird is the number one maneuver). Can you repeat after me, “Good shot Jansen.”? More importantly, who would have thought that this bit of flying was executed by a pilot named after a chunk of potato and a with all these laser guns they used a harpoon.

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A bit more carnage and chaos occurs, followed by the lead walker reaching the main power generator and blowing it up with “Maximum Firepower”. You obviously need this amount of ordinance to blow up a main power generator – so that explains the new reality number 3. This makes the little holographic Dark Lord of the Sith happy, and the officer who scored the hit (General Maximillian Veers – the coolest name in the Star Wars universe) makes no mistake and doesn’t get choked to death by Skype.

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And our Dark Lord gets to play in the ice cave base with his white hooded and kilted troops. A couple of them get whacked by the secret gun of the Millennium Falcon, but our heroes retreat to fight another day off into space (albeit with a great deal of misfortune to come in the final two thirds).  That is where I stopped the film, and where he finally came up for air and spoke for the first time by asking a several of incoherent questions simultaneously. My wife took over at that point and took him to his bed to hit the sack, where he proceeded to replay what he just witnessed in a two minute babble. He crashed and my wife asked me what did you just watch.

My Boy is now a Star Wars Geek

Some would call me a bad parent for indoctrinating him into the world of Star Wars, and yes there is some stylized violence in this film. But this is a fight between good and evil, where the good guys are good and the bad guys are so bad that they are cool. As for the psychological manipulation, guilty as charged. I have held back on showing him the more violent parts of the other movies, like the whole of Episode III, because he doesn’t have the emotional maturity to comprehend. That will come in time, when he gets a little bit older. He can figure out the sister kissing bit on his own.

He now plays Star Wars every day with his friends at pre-school and wants to watch the films and TV shows with his Dad. I don’t mind, as it sure beats watching Thomas the Tank Engine. Of course he has also asked that his fifth birthday party be a Star Wars party.

In his new reality he talks about hyperspace, shield generators, wants a lightsaber, and thinks that we should build an R2-D2. Maybe he makes some of these things a reality in our world in the future. But for the moment, he is still a preschooler and there is still a bit of silliness to be found in this Star Wars stuff thanks to Robot Chicken.

Closing note – all the images are the copyright of Disney – Lucasfilm. I could be forgiven for including the film screenshots in my blog post given the amount of money I have contributed to George Lucas through merchandising. If you want to copy the images, buy the films.

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