The Phantom Menace – 20th Anniversary Panel

By Bryan A Westfall

To whoever was my boss 20 years ago today: Sorry, not sorry.

If reserved seating at movie theaters was a thing back then, I wouldn’t have had to call in “sick” to be sure I had a decent seat. I’d direct you to aim any judgment to the theater I went to, but apparently it’s now just some random parking lot full of trucks.

Since there isn’t anywhere to re-direct your judgement, let me explain. It had been 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” had been released. Star Wars fans had put the idea of any new films behind us, only to have George Lucas drop a Darth Vader origin story in our laps out of the blue.

I can’t say I had to see it opening day to avoid spoilers, since social media wasn’t a thing then. I just had to. I’m glad I did. Sitting in that theater (with an aisle seat only half way back 🙌) with die-hard Star Wars fans who ROARED when that “Lucasfilm” logo came up will be a memory I cherish forever .

giphy (5)

If you’re still feeling sour, I’ll stop by sometime and clear out some fitting rooms for you. In the meantime, I’ll share with you (and only you 😉) some fun moments from “The Phantom Menace” 20th Anniversary panel at this years Star Wars Celebration. Hope this helps smooth things over a bit.

Hosted by Warwick Davis, the panel featured actors from both the light & dark side of the Star Wars universe. Starting with the DARK SIDE, Ray Park talks about the moment those doors opened revealing Darth Maul ready to throw down:

After Warwick gives some grief to Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) for his sock fashion (their multi-panel ‘rivalry’ was the stuff of legends), Ahmed Best gives some background on the casting/discovery process for Jar Jar:

Earlier in the convention, Ian McDiarmid‘s maniacal laugh was heard on the “Rise Of Skywalker” trailer just before he sauntered out on stage. Speculation was obviously rampant about how The Emperor could be alive. Here, Ian goes into how emphatic George Lucas was that he was truly dead while filming “Return of The Jedi“, and how he was introduced again in the prequels:

Thankfully, J.J. Abrams has decided otherwise, and we’ll be getting more if Ian…in some shape or form.

Getting this off my chest after all this time has certainly made me feel loads better 😉. If there is still any sort of sting from my workplace betrayal from “A long time ago”, I’ll leave you with this happy, peppy little ditty from Weird Al about some “small fry” named Anakin:

 

Your Mission…Please Choose To Accept It.

By Bryan A Westfall

If you’re reading this and are 17-99 years old, please go get a younger sibling or niece or nephew or kid or grandkid who is 16 and under to read this with as this is for them. I’ll wait:

KIDS! I have a top secret mission for you.

But first…name your favorite superhero or character from “Star Wars“/”Harry Potter“/”Transformers“/”Avengers“, or whatever fun thing you watch.

Yell it toward your parents or siblings or dog/cat/hamster so someone can hear you (if they’re sitting right next to you, feel free to just say it at a normal volume).

Don’t tell them WHY just yet…that comes later.

Now, tell the grown-up reading this with (or to) you that they can hang out…but you’ll need to initiate them with a “Shake of Secrecy“.

If you don’t already have one, you can invent one with them now. This will require they keep your mission a total secret…or else they have to buy you pizza every night for a month. Go ahead and do that now. I’ll wait:

panthershake

Cool! I asked some parents, aunts, & uncles who their fav kids favorite characters were (I’ll include those at the end), and just hearing the responses I have to say you guys definitely have WAY more fun than we older people do.

Sometimes us grown-ups take things a little tooooo seriously, and we need you to remind us to JUST HAVE FUN with these stories. Sometimes we’re thinking too much about the small details that really don’t matter.

You’ll hear us call it “trivia” or whether or not something is “canon” (don’t worry about what “canon” means, it’s not at all important). You might hear us complain about small errors in these films & shows that are just supposed to be FUN. Please stop us.

68747470733a2f2f36382e6d656469612e74756d626c722e636f6d2f34663237643037323838653738623633336134353062376132633063393230392f74756d626c725f696e6c696e655f6e366c777a3669516661317376753663722e676966

THIS. IS. YOUR. MISSION.

Teach us old folks how to just have FUN with these awesome characters, shows, and movies again. How to be giant dorks like Chris Pratt (STAR LORD) here:

avengers-blooper-quill-groove-tumblr_inline_p719fywq8q1qgt0uw_540

Now, go tell some grown-ups WHY you love the character you shouted earlier. Tell them your favorite scene, if you can remember it. Better yet, ACT IT OUT WITH THEM. You’re the director, so you get to say “ACTION!” and “CUT!”. I’ll wait:

giphy (3)

NICE WORK! Every time one of these big new movies comes out, be on the lookout for the older folks in your life getting too stressed about the small stuff that doesn’t matter. If you see us looking too much like grumpy Dumbledore here:

FirstGloomyCoqui-size_restricted

…make us act out another scene with you! You should also ask us who our favorite characters are, and make us tell you WHY. If it doesn’t put a smile on our face to tell you, we’re doing it wrong and we need you more than ever!

Thanks to all of the kids who contributed their favorite characters and ENTHUSIASM. You all are an inspiration! Here are the favorite characters our young correspondents submitted, and what they love about them!

(Grown-ups take note: We should be talking like this way more often 👇)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Never Once Refraining

By Bryan A Westfall

As one chapter closes, another one begins. It’s time to talk about my favorite character in all of the MCU. Nebula. Not only because any mainstream representation of curmudgeon-hood makes my grumpy ass feel ever-so-slightly less grumpy, but that is certainly a tiny part of it.

I once audited a class with a dialect coach who works with film actors. Just the initial screening to start to find my ‘base’ dialect was a conversation that took an hour (turns out I have a very general American dialect…the only giveaway of hailing from where I do being my liberal use of “dude”).

MV5BMTkyNTIxNjEwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODgxOTMyMjE@._V1_

Karen Gillen has etched out a character so specific in dialect, movement & emotional tone, that I’d defy you to find another to compare Nebula to. Strip away that blue & purple-faced, black-eyed facade, and you still have a performance (spanning four films so far) that is one of a kind and unforgettable.

The work that has gone into each aspect would be exhausting in itself, but the sum total…I’m not sure how she’s not in a coma.

MV5BMjI2NzM2MjExNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTY4MjkzNTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_

Do we dare look at the emotional thread? Who in that universe has been more tortured? Literally. Her own (adopted) father. Stripped down and rebuilt to be a better warrior, but what you get from her performance is still very raw, damaged, vulnerable humanity (Luphomoidity?).

It’s true that talented scene partners will elevate your own performance (I’ve dabbled, & you will certainly ride the wind of the genius around you). So, I would imagine doing scene work with the likes of Josh Brolin, Lee Pace, Zoe Saldana et al would inspire some pretty epic moments. I’d also likely soil myself if I had to go toe to toe with them.

Thanos would pit Nebula and Gamora in battles against each other, with Gamora winning “again and again, and again, never once refraining“. Thankfully in the case of these scene partners, neither side refrained and we’re all reaping the benefit.

MV5BMTQzNjYxMzQxMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTAwMDMyMTE@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,898_AL_

We’re still fresh in Endgame territory, so we can only assume we’ll be seeing Nebula in the next Guardians of the Galaxy installment (safe bet). Who knows where in the MCU timeline or Nebula’s own emotional journey we’ll be lucky to witness when that finally hits screens.

Ms. Gillan has also recently suggested she’d be interested in directing a Marvel film. If her debut feature “The Party’s Just Beginning” is any indication (she wrote, directed and starred), she’s well versed in unearthing stirring performances from others as well as herself.

A solo Nebula film? I’m down. Whatever it ends up being I’m fairly certain what I’ll be saying dryly yet very sincerely as I leave the theater: “I had fun”.

Tony & Steve

By Bryan A Westfall

This is going to hurt.

It’s probably unwise to try and write this in public, but the people around me will just have to assume I’m writing an obituary and deal with it.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will continue. New directions, characters, “big baddies” etc. However, it felt necessary to look back as this particular chapter came to a close. We all know that some of the actors involved have announced they’re done playing their characters, so there aren’t any spoiler threats here.

cddf488b4f51fe92eaabf3eac2cf8b93

Storytelling is at the core of the human experience. It has been since the dawn of time. Stories (real or imaginary) can help us learn how others deal with setbacks. They can help us remember. They can help inspire us. They can help us connect with others around us simply by sharing them…our own, or the one’s we take in from gifted storytellers.

Not all people have the same entry point when it comes to storytelling, but there may be a few invested in this one. Starting with Tony Stark in that dang cave, Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau were definitely on to something. Introducing a lesser known (to the masses) superhero to cinema goers was bold, but boy did it pay off.

MV5BMTI3NjA0MTEzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDEzNTIzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1503,1000_AL_

I am very thankful for this boldness. Admittedly, there have been too many of these films (in my opinion). Not all of them have been great. However, a few of these actors have found a thread in each appearance that has felt real, and somehow close to home despite the other-worldly nature of the films. This has made “suffering” through the few stinkers worthwhile.

Enter Chris Evens and Robert Downey Jr. The heart and soul of this universe for me. These two exemplified a commitment to character throughout the last 10 years. The work they’ve put into their characters has risen above any reductive argument about these being “just superhero” movies.

tmp_hfBjgT_8add3e12ae1e4df0_MCDAVEN_EC193

While the colorful, thrilling, flashy, popcorn inducing wrapping on these films may seem “easy” (it’s certainly not), you can find something in the work these two put into their characters that will stand the test of time. Take the heart of this character work from these films, and put it into a period drama, thriller, or what have you…it wouldn’t feel out of place.

The roads Tony and Steve have been down during the last decade are exhausting, when thought of as an actual period of life for any human. Physically, emotionally…I cannot fathom. From their most vulnerable places (Steve’s “I can do this all day” while being bullied pre-super soldier serum & Tony’s determination to build his original suit “with a box of scraps” to escape captivity), these actors proved these were characters worth following from the get-go.

captain-america

The characters are well written, sure, with a wealth of material for the screenwriters to draw from. Somehow, though, these two were able to elevate even from great writing & connect two characters to the hearts of fans around the world in a very real and tangible (and somehow relateable) way.

Two vastly different characters, similar journey’s, same goal…and destination. They’ll be in our hearts and minds (and stories) for life.

Thank you, gentlemen.

iron-man-captain-america-1

A short time ago in a city not so far away….

STAR WARS CELEBRATION

Episode II (for me)

CHICAGO

It is a period of celebration for Star Wars fans. Lucasfilm executives & creatives, working from a not-so-hidden ranch in Northern California, have ushered in a new era of exciting new original content and brought this work to Chicago to display to their biggest fans. 

During this event, fans managed to capture not-so-secret photographs of panels, cosplays, and the overall excitement surrounding this new content…which has enough power to launch an entirely new TV streaming platform. 

Pursued by a convention schedule too packed to capture literally everything, one journalist raced around this windy city, attempting to bring as many images as possible of this exciting event to the rest of the galaxy….

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That EPISODE IX Panel 🙌

By Bryan A Westfall

“Roll it again.” 😯😯😯😯😯

In case you missed it (doubtful), those words were uttered by none other than “The Emperor” himself, Ian McDiarmid, after the first viewing of the trailer for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” at Star Wars Celebration in Chicago last weekend. There was an indistinguishable, maniacal laugh near the end of the trailer which left many wondering: “Could it…?” “Was that…?”

The lights came up red on stage, Ian sauntered out and stood for a few beats…then said those words in a voice that would send shivers up the spine of any Star Wars fan.

It WAS him. 🙌 (and they did…roll it again. Who’s going to argue with The Emperor?)

IMG_20190412_212715_107

That was how they capped the event for this trailer release panel. But before this, panel host Stephen Colbert sat down with J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and a ton of the cast from this amazing new trilogy.

Joining J.J. on the panel were actors Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Joonas Suotamo, Naomi Ackie, and everyone’s favorite protocol droid Anthony Daniels.

img_20190412_190156_196-1.jpg

We’ll start with the LEGEND. Mr. Billy Dee Williams. Stephen asked him how, after all these decades, did he “find” Lando again in order to portray him on screen:

Enough said. Moving on.

On to Oscar Isaac, with a question that made everyone in the room groan a bit. Stephen asked who was the better pilot, Han Solo or Poe Dameron:

The photos were definitely exciting to see, and John Boyega shared a bit of his excitement about his new wardrobe for Finn after seeing it for this film:

Naturally, any conversation about the new trilogy will eventually turn to the relationships. One panel I’m disappointed I missed at Star Wars Celebration was the “shipping” panel discussion (for those not familiar, “shipping” = a fans desire for two characters to be together…relationSHIP).

Not because I’m in any way invested in “Reylo” (Rey and Kylo Ren) or the topic in general, but because the anticipation for it was big & the discussions online about it were HEATED weeks before the convention.

Thankfully, Colbert goaded Daisy, John, and Oscar into giving us their own version of a shipping panel:

Colbert certainly didn’t pull any punches when it came to digging for spoilers, and even extended his investigation into what force powers we could expect to see on display with Rey:

Only 8 (tedious) months till we see the “other things” Rey gets up to. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” opens December 20th.

Sisters Of The Force

By Bryan A Westfall

If you know me only from twitter, you’d think after unexpectedly meeting Dave Filoni earlier today on the expo floor of Star Wars Celebration in Chicago, that I’d be here talking about that chance encounter. He’s what I’ve talked about most when on the topic of Star Wars since listening to him talk about “The Force” at the same event in Orlando two years ago.

If you know me well, you know I’m here because the “Sisters of The Force” panel a few hours later gave me an excuse to talk about the women. The women in my life, as well as the women in the Star Wars Universe.

Brave, strong female characters in fiction have always reminded me of the amazing women in my life. My mother and grandmother in particular, but also many of the best friends, coworkers, teachers, and other role models throughout my life.

When Princess Leia arrived along with Star Wars when I was a kid, I thought “Gotcha. A lady my Mom would hang out with. Loads in common”. My grandmother was also someone who inspired me, as she was always able to find the positive in anything around her. Both of them lived how they were going to live & were going to achieve what they were going to achieve. Try and stop them. That’s pretty damn Leia…

…and Hera, and Ashoka, and Mon Mothma, and Padme and on the list goes.

What I learned today (to no surprise), was the women behind some of these characters, as well as behind the scenes on the shows and in other areas of the creative side of this Star Wars Universe…are equally as inspiring. What I love about this is that even if there is a shortage of “built in” female inspiration in a young persons life, there are women who can step in and inspire them straight out of popular culture.

This was literally put on display in this panel today.

20190413045710_IMG_1940

Vanessa Marshall (“Hera” from “Star Wars Rebels“) connected with a young Star Wars fan at an event years back. She went by the handle “Darth Makenna” online…dressed in a sparkly, Vader themed cosplay. When Vanessa came across Makenna years later, she was concerned as she wasn’t as high-spirited as she had always known her to be. She connected with her mother over email, who explained she’d been bullied and that had led to depression.

Long story short…”Darth Makenna” was here. In Chicago. Backstage. In cosplay (OMG THE HELMET)…and Vanessa brought her on stage in front of thousands. Thousands who were touched by her story and cheered for her because this actor who cared reached out and did what she could to help.

20190413050034_IMG_1943

The rest of the panel was filled with more stories of inspiration, showing the impact these awesome women are having on the fans (young and old) in the Star Wars fandom.

The panel host, Ashley Eckstein (“Ashoka Tano” from “Clone Wars” and “Rebels”) met a young fan named Miranda at a “Doctor Who” convention. Miranda has since battled (and beat) cancer numerous times. “I’ve met a real life Ashoka Tano”. She orchestrated a rendition of “Happy Birthday” with the crowd to send to Miranda who was watching the live-stream.

20190413042259_IMG_1932

Catherine Taber (“Padme” in “Clone Wars”) met a young boy at an event who’s favorite character in Star Wars was Padme. He wrote a pretty lengthy summary on his reasoning as well (which again reminded me of the women in my life). Over the years he’s battled cancer and is in remission, currently readying for college to study film. She hopes to be hired by him some day.

20190413043204_IMG_1934

Voice actor Suzie McGrath (“Tam” in “Star Wars Resistance“) used the opportunity of her first ever Star Wars Celebration appearance to talk about overcoming a stutter when she was young. She mentioned she didn’t bring it up much, but did so in the spirit of this event.

20190413045158_IMG_1938

Writer and host Amy Ratcliffe talked about the work that went into getting where she is in her career. From writing a blog, to Nerdist and more. Brick by brick. She’s currently hosting at this massive event, and late last year she released the book “Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy“. She shared how excited she was when fans showed up to book release events in Star Wars cosplay. 

20190413042615_IMG_1933

Athena Portillo is the Executive Producer on “Star Wars Resistance” and was also a producer on “Clone Wars” & “Rebels”. She chronicled her path from being 45 minutes late to her internship interview with Lucasfilm back in the 90’s, to where she is today…learning about what will be going into all of the stories the actresses on that stage with her would be acting out later on.

20190413040938_IMG_1921

The future of Star Wars is bright because of these women. But more importantly, so are the lives of the people around them (friends, fans, family) who they can inspire in the ways that were on display here in Chicago today.

I should call my mom.

Enduring “Lord of The Rings” – Sean Astin @ Wizard World St Louis

By Bryan Westfall

The ever delightful Sean Astin covered a lot of ground in his panel at Wizard World Comic Con in St. Louis. Not surprising, though, that it didn’t take long for the audience Q’s to turn to that one particular pilgrimage one of his characters took with a group of friends.

img_20190406_200959_959.jpg IMG_20190406_200633_965

While we all remember Samwise as the ray of hope & champion of endurance for Frodo and the rest of the Hobbits (and let’s be honest, the fans), Sean goes into the endurance it took for an actor involved in two years of filming the “Lord of Rings” trilogy.

“A Conversation with David Alpay” – Wizard World St Louis

By Bryan Westfall

David Alpay made quite the impact as “Professor Atticus Shane” (AKA “Professor Creepy”) in the 4th season of “The Vampire Diaries“. Thankfully, any apprehension in being brought as close as we were to him in his “Wizard World” St. Louis panel quickly dissipated.

Armed only with a big bucket of tiny candy canes (to give out to fans asking questions), David hopped down from the stage, ditched the mic, and had a very candid conversation about his career, moving to the US from Canada, and his new favorite pet…rabbits.

IMG_20190406_143857_974

Here, David goes into his transition to acting (from studying the cognitive sciences) while in college…starting with a play called “Clockwork Gorbachev” (which was voted “Worst Play”). Thankfully, he endured.

 

runDisney Virtual Race Updates!

By Bryan Westfall

Ever since runDisney left Anaheim a few years ago, they created some virtual running events to help fill the void. Currently, there are only 4 in person races at Walt Disney World, and another race at Disneyland Paris.

One of the races to help runDisney runners who can’t make it all the way to Florida, is the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon. I can attest for the fact that they aren’t slouching on the finisher medal. The inaugural event last year offered up a sweet Rebel fighter themed medal that is the size of a small plate.

DbvkmChU8AEZNQG

For this year’s race, the theme of the medal is everyone’s favorite rambunctious droid R2D2! I’m sure some might favor Chopper in the rambunctious droid category. I hope you can have a finisher medal of your own, someday 😄.

rundisney-medal-2019-07-e1551053992657.jpg

The other virtual race event from runDisney is their Summer Virtual Series. This will be the third year for this event. There are three separate medals (one per 5k per Summer month). You can sign up for one, two, or all three together (which will get you the bonus medal for doing the entire series). Last year’s was themed after The Incredibles, and the finisher medals were fantastic.

Dj2j-WwXoAA79eC

This summer (which is on sale in early May) will be celebrating 80 years of Marvel! The three medals will be themed after Captain Marvel, Iron Man, and Black Panther. Not exactly a surprise, for a few reasons. One of the most popular race weekends that got the axe at Disneyland was the Superhero Half Marathon weekend. Also, many Disney parks are gearing up to have a Marvel themed land, with Disneyland’s ready to welcome guests in 2020.

D0NRZK6WwAIaqhq

I personally cannot wait to see the medals for these races! I’m hoping they’ll resemble the artwork on the race bibs above, but whatever it is I’m sure it’ll inspire more than a few to exclaim “Excelsior!”.