• The world of Star Wars vintage apparel collecting

    Star Wars fans express their love for the franchise in numerous ways, including by dressing in themed apparel and accessories. From T-shirts to leggings, there are a lot of options out there for fans to wear to show their passion. Since A New Hope was released in 1977 fans have been expressing their fandom in this way, though the items offered back then were a bit different from the variety available today. These early pieces of Star Wars clothing have not been forgotten however, but instead live on in the collections of Star Wars collectors who seek out these vintage items. (more…)

  • Remembering The Empire Strikes Back 35 years later

    On May 21, 1980 the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back arrived in theaters. It featured familiar faces, a new adventure, and a plot twist no one saw coming. Thirty-five years later, there have been four more films released set in that distant galaxy, but Empire continues to hold a unique place in the film industry and in the hearts of Star Wars fans around the world.

    This may in part be due to the fact that Empire had the difficult job of directly following the blockbuster achievement of Star Wars. While there had been successful sequels to movies in the past, film historian Jeanine Basinger told Boing Boing for Empire to also be as huge a hit as the original was a surprise.

    Paul Machnick and daughter

    "When you have set a level that you set with Star Wars in terms of financial success, critical success, audience success, quality of production, greatness of storytelling, you don't really think even if the second one is going to be good that it can hit that same level twice because Star Wars was a real landmark film," said Basinger, Corwin-Fuller professor of film studies at Wesleyan University. "It was a real big impact film and so you don't expect the next one in that sequence to also be a landmark. It just doesn't seem possible the way storytelling works but Empire was a movie that did not let down the standards set by Star Wars and that was great. Everybody was thrilled."

    Paul Machnick and daughter mighty con

    According to Basinger the possibility of sequential storytelling on a giant scale became suddenly an option in the business and for audiences in a new way. Andrew Gordon, professor at the University of Florida, said Empire increased the interest in epic sagas in film and opened up the possibilities for science fiction sequels.

    "It made possible things like the Matrix series and the X-Men series and all the other science fiction series that have followed," he told Boing Boing.

    More than the other films in the franchise Empire is often held up as the best of the Star Wars saga, used as a benchmark for other sequels, and just considered generally to be a great movie. To Basinger, Empire may stand out for people from the rest of the Star Wars films because of how it richly developed the story and characters, and how it involved viewers in the story in a deeper way. That story was much darker than the original, which Basinger said follows the traditional structure of serial movies with the bad guys getting the upper hand. However even though it may be a familiar structure the tragic elements seen in Empire are still highlighted as a major memory that remains with fans that, if they were young enough, were seeing the good guys basically lose for the first time.

    Troopers Rachel Ezzy on left

    Despite 35 years passing, the impact of watching Empire still remains with fans. Rachel Ezzy watched Empire when it opened in August 1980 in Australia and remembers the movie being quite frightening for an 8 year old.

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    Rachel Ezzy trooper

    "My most vivid memory is I remember watching the Battle of Hoth and being absolutely terrified, but being exhilarated at the same time…" she said. "When we watched the Battle of Hoth with the snowtroopers and the [AT-AT] walkers and the Rebels getting shot at I was horrified. The music was so intense and I was holding on to my dad's arm and then the rest of the movie was amazing."

    Ezzy is now a member of the Redback Garrison of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars costuming organization, and a member of the Tatooine Rebel Base of the Rebel Legion, another costuming group. She has multiple Star Wars costumes, including one of her favorite character which first appeared in Empire: the snowtrooper.

    "I always loved the snowtrooper ever since I saw them get blown to bits running through the Rebel base in Hoth," she said.

    Phil Fraboni1

    Phil Fraboni, a member of the 501st's Canadian Garrison, recalls waiting in line all day with his brothers for the opening of Empire. He remembers being overwhelmed by all the effects in the film from the probe droid being sent out to the lightsaber battles. Empire is Fraboni's favorite in the series and looking back at this anniversary, he said it's been an amazing journey. He feels he's come full circle from growing up with the films to now being a member of the 501st where he costumes as a stormtrooper and clonetrooper.

    "It's amazing to sort of be a part of it now and to give back to the community through the charity work that we do," he said.

    Phil Fraboni

    Another fan, Paul Machnick, went to see Empire with his entire family on opening night. While he also remembers going to see A New Hope with his father in 1977 and loving it, after all these years Empire remains his favorite.

    "I was again just blown away not only because Darth Vader was back, the Rebels were back, but in comes this green bad guy named Boba Fett that just blew me away. The character I was watching was so smart he could capture Han Solo, and he became my favorite character," he said. Machnick now costumes as Fett for the Midwest Garrison of the 501st Legion.

    Paul Machnick and daughter legoland

    Earlier this year Machnick lost his father, the one who started his love of Star Wars, but Machnick is keeping the love alive by passing it on to his 12-year-old daughter who troops with him as Fett's daughter. Machnick said his whole family will be one of the first in line in December for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a movie that just may owe its existence to Empire. To Basinger, if Empire had not been a great film we might not still be creating new versions of Star Wars.

    "Empire sealed the future forever for us being interested in any kind of variation of the Star Wars story. We'll sign up anytime and it was Empire that sealed the deal," Basinger said. "Star Wars opened it up and we signed on, but Empire sealed the deal with us forever because it was so great."

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  • A look through Star Trek's Mirror Universe

    In 1967, one of Star Trek's most iconic episodes "Mirror, Mirror" aired during season two of the original series. A transporter malfunction brought Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Lieutenant Uhura, and Chief Engineer Scotty to a different universe where viewers saw what looked like the familiar starship Enterprise and her crew until some key differences were revealed. Beloved characters had harsh, often evil counterparts distinguished not just by their opposite personalities but changes in appearance that included Spock's alternate famously sporting a goatee.

    The episode was the first time fans were introduced to this Mirror Universe where the Federation was nonexistent and in its place was an Empire. The original series would not return there once the characters safely made their way back to their Enterprise, but it would be far from the last time it would be explored in the franchise.

    The Mirror Universe reappeared on TV in 1994 in the Deep Space Nine (DS9) season two episode "Crossover." In "Crossover," Major Kira and Dr. Bashir arrive there after encountering a problem traveling through the wormhole. Deep Space Nine writer and producer Robert Hewitt Wolfe recalls the episode coming about during a conversation between himself, co-creator Michael Piller, writer Peter Allan Fields, and executive producer Ira Steven Behr. They were discussing fun ways to incorporate elements from the original series in the show when someone mentioned the idea.

    "Then we quickly just went into what we would do, how'd it work, what it would really be about, and talked about the whole idea of what would be the effect of Kirk's visit on that universe," Wolfe says. "One of the things we talked about very early on in Deep Space Nine is that the previous Star Treks had come to places, done stuff, and then left. We were interested much more in thinking about long-term consequences. When you fly away from the planet and don't go back, it's a simplistic illusion that it just works out. We thought it might not."

    This meant the team had to figure out what the Mirror Universe might be like after Kirk tries to convince Spock to turn against the ways of the Empire at the end of "Mirror, Mirror." They decided that Spock's actions would in fact lead to the Empire's downfall. Kira's mirror counterpart, the Intendant, explains that Spock's reforms left the Empire unable to defend itself against the Klingon Cardassian Alliance. Humans who were once dominant were now oppressed.

    Wolfe said once they understood what the universe had become it was easy to figure out where the characters' counterparts were and what their roles would be. The basic idea was that everyone would be somewhat the opposite of who they were or sometimes a more extreme version of who they were, showing a buried part that might have come out.

    "Crossover" was the first of five DS9 episodes (including "Through the Looking Glass," "Shattered Mirror," "Resurrection," and "The Emperor's New Cloak") to either take place in the Mirror Universe or include characters from there. In these episodes viewers would continue to see the world evolve with a growing rebellion challenging the Alliance. The series examined the universe more than any other.

    Wolfe said since they had to do about 26 episodes a year, they thought it was "important to mix it up with different episodes and different flavors."

    "The Mirror Universe gave us a way to do pirate, swashbuckling tales that we couldn't do in our own universe. That was the attraction of going back once a season or once every couple of seasons. That kind of fun where the consequences for the characters in that universe could be pretty heavy but in ours would be lighter," he said.

    The prequel series Enterprise would return to the Mirror Universe in a new way. The two-part season four episode "In a Mirror, Darkly" was based completely there with no characters crossing over from one side to the other. Enterprise writer and producer Michael Sussman said the episode resulted from a few different notions coming together since they were looking to revisit classic elements from the original series. Two previous attempts at Mirror Universe episodes, including one that would have seen the return of actor William Shatner as Kirk, fell through. However Sussman had had the idea for a show that would refer to an original series episode ("The Tholian Web") where a Federation starship goes missing and pitched a version combining it with the Mirror Universe.

    "One of the reasons we did this show within a show and didn't do the usual crossover was we wanted to stay true to the 'Mirror, Mirror' episode which was truly the first crossover anybody knew about [in the universe] and didn't want to do something to undercut that storyline which is such a great episode," he explained.

    "In a Mirror, Darkly" saw the alternate Enterprise crew serving the Empire, crushing rebels, and discovering the U.S.S. Defiant from the prime Star Trek universe which they soon used to their advantage. Sussman said creating the characters' alternates wasn't easy. They wanted to avoid anything too over the top and make it realistic instead of just making good characters suddenly evil. They wanted to make them grounded with understandable, relatable flaws.

    This was the last time the universe was portrayed on TV, but it has continued to reappear elsewhere. In Star Trek video games there are multiple references to the universe, including those in the first-person shooter Voyager Elite Force and the massively multiplayer online game Star Trek Online. The battle simulator Shattered Universe is even set in the Mirror Universe. References can also be found in Decipher's tabletop roleplaying game and the miniatures game Attack Wing.

    Multiple books have further fleshed out the universe, from a Kirk-centric trilogy written by Shatner with Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens to Susan Wright's Dark Passions duology that focused more on the women of the universe to the thriller Section 31: Disavowed by David Mack. Comics like DC Comics' omnibus The Mirror Universe Saga and a one shot sequel to "Mirror, Mirror" by Marvel Comics also explored it. A new version of the universe even appeared in IDW Publishing's ongoing series written by Mike Johnson set in the J.J. Abrams reboot universe.

    "We wanted the comics to have nods to the original episode, like the iconic goatee, but at the same time we didn't want to just re-hash the events of the original with new faces. Instead, we wanted to embrace aspects of the new timeline, like Kirk's revenge against Nero and the relationship between Spock and Uhura, but see them through the dark lens of the Mirror Universe," Johnson said in an email interview.

    Through the decades the desire to return to the Mirror Universe has remained, enabling the franchise to explore areas it otherwise couldn't and adding possibilities beyond its usual framework.

    "Like the best Star Trek stories, I think it embraces and explores a key part of what it means to be human: our id. For all of Trek's wonderful and vital optimism, humanity will always possess less noble instincts, and 'Mirror, Mirror' is an example of the show's willingness to confront that," Johnson said. "It's such fertile ground for storytelling, which is why new incarnations of the franchise continue to re-visit the idea."

    Sussman sees the Mirror Universe and alternate realities as Star Trek's future, pointing to Abrams' reboot as proof of this. The optimistic, hopeful future depicted by Star Trek may be wonderful and fun but Sussman said there's also something about exploring the darker side, the 'what if it wasn't like that?' that people are interested in seeing and are ready for. With so many episodes already set in the prime universe, Sussman also said it has become an era burdened with a lot of backstory and established elements that can be hard to keep track of unless you go far into the future.

    "How do you keep inventing in that universe without stepping on any toes? One way is to make an alternate reality," he says. "Why not go dark if you're going to do that [create an alternate reality] anyway? It's not the only future, but one that should be explored maybe ultimately in a TV series."

  • Meet The Inhumans

    The Inhumans were created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, and were first introduced in 1965 in Fantastic Four #45.

    "This was just at a time when I think Stan and Jack really began to move into what would be considered the very best period of Fantastic Four stories," Roy Thomas, former editor-in-chief of Marvel and co-author of 75 Years of Marvel Comics: From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen, says. "Starting with The Inhumans and then climaxing some months later with things like The Galactus Trilogy with the introduction of the Silver Surfer, and then right after that the introduction of the Black Panther and the villain Klaw, and a couple of other key stories over a period of a year or two. The Inhumans were sort of a bookend in a way on one side to the best period, probably, in terms of creativity and inventiveness that the Fantastic Four ever knew."

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  • Art project honors 30 years of Usagi Yojimbo—and aids creator Stan Sakai in a time of need

    Usagi Yojimbo is a character that many people might only recognize from his appearances alongside the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However for decades this samurai rabbit has been the main character of his own successful comic book series created by Stan Sakai. First appearing in 1984, the character originated from Sakai's desire to write a series inspired by samurai Miyamoto Musashi. One day Sakai drew a rabbit with his ears tied up in the style of the samurai topknot, and Usagi was born.

    Thirty years later Usagi is continuing to make an impact with comic book readers. Sakai told Boing Boing he doesn't know exactly why his character resonates so much with fans. He just writes about adventure, integrity, and honor, and hopes to teach people about Japanese history and culture through his stories.

    "I create my stories for a readership of one. These are the types of stories I would like to read and I'm just grateful there are so many people who feel the same way," he said.

    This year comic book fans and professionals have come together to do much more than just celebrate Usagi's anniversary — they're raising money to help Sakai and his wife Sharon, who suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. Artists have contributed tributes to Usagi for a book called "The Sakai Project" and all the proceeds go to the Sakais to help with medical expenses.

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    Illustration: Adam Hughes

    The journey to this book began when Tone Rodriguez, vice president of the Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS), noticed how the situation was wearing on Sakai. Rodriguez said they'd usually see Sakai about every month and his ability to light up a room and be energetic just wasn't the same. Rodriguez has some experience seeing the toll being a caretaker for someone who can't care for themselves can take. His father had the difficult job of caring for his mother after she suffered a stroke. While he may not have noticed how this affected his father at the time since he was around him everyday, his realization of how hard it impacted him years later gave Rodriguez perspective when it came to Sakai.

    "I thought back to my pop, and decided maybe we could help. Also he [Sakai] was posting on Facebook his wife's medical updates, and it was after reading one of these updates he made mention of what his insurance was and wasn't covering, and what he had to cover out of pocket was considerable. We decided to collect art on his behalf, to help him with paying Sharon's mounting medical bills," Rodriguez said.

    The art would be auctioned off with all the proceeds going to the Sakais. The auction was a huge success, with Rodriguez receiving donations from around the world. Sakai said he expected they might receive 25 or so drawings, but instead they received more than 400. A PayPal donation page was also created as another way to help.

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    Illustration: Frank Cho

    Artist and co-editor of "The Sakai Project" Bill Morrison contacted Rodriguez to ask how he could help when he first heard about the auction. While Morrison had known about Sharon's condition, this was the first time he'd heard about their need for help. Morrison met with Rodriguez and some other CAPS members to discuss auction plans and heard them talking about also printing a sketchbook to feature some of the art coming in, many of which were tributes to Usagi.

    "I was impressed by the quality of a lot of what I was seeing and I suggested that maybe we should be thinking bigger than just a cheaply printed sketchbook. Much of the art was really top notch and there were some very well known artists in the mix as well. I offered to talk to Mike Richardson at Dark Horse (Stan's publisher) to see if he would be interested in publishing a nice hardcover book of Usagi Yojimbo art," Morrison said.

    Richardson gave an immediate yes, offering to pay for printing, advertising, and more while giving the proceeds to the Sakais. Artists contributed to the book on a volunteer basis and the overwhelming response caused the book to grow from 60 pages to 100 to eventually 160. The team started in late January and in two months completed the book, getting it out in time for San Diego Comic-Con. Some of the contributing artists include The Simpsons' Matt Groening, Hellboy's Mike Mignola, and Morrison himself who offered his take on Space Usagi.

    sakaiprojectp3

    Illustration: Jack Davis

    Morrison said seeing such support for the Sakais "was probably the best thing about the whole experience" and the outpouring of selflessness was sometimes unbelievable. The support made Rodriguez feel great too.

    "It was great to see the love people have for Stan and Sharon, they have always been the greatest, happy and sweet, and the response we got on this project reflects that," Rodriguez said. "It's been a year since I started this, and I think it's been my best year in the business. It's been a pleasure to have been involved."

    All of the support is making a difference. Sakai said that while they have good insurance it doesn't cover everything they need, like hiring a health care provider for Sharon to visit five days a week.

    sakaiprojectp4

    Illustration: Mike Mignola

    "Without the support from the auction, fans, and the book we could not afford to hire them. It really helped so very much…" Sakai said. "I am always so grateful for the love that they show myself and Sharon."

    Seeing this love for the Sakais and Usagi, it's not hard to imagine 30 more years of the rabbit ronin. Rodriguez sees the appeal of Usagi as partly due to how the stories teach a lesson without bashing the reader over the head with it, while Morrison thinks people love tales of selfless heroism, which is at the core of what Usagi is.

    "We all imagine that in an impossible situation we would have the courage to step up and put ourselves in harms way to save someone in trouble. We see that in Usagi Yojimbo and most of us humans aspire to that ideal," Morrison said.

    No matter what exactly draws fans to Sakai's character, it's clear they are grateful to him for creating an amazing world and are willing to step up to help to show just how much he's impacted their lives.

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  • How Stargate inspired a cult following

    After Stargate hit movie theaters in October 1994, it inspired books, comics, games, and three TV spin-offs: Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe. Transmuting Chariots of the Gods-esque cosmic mystery into a modern blockbuster, its recasting of Egyptian myth as a science-fiction epic evolved into a sprawling space opera built around the titular stargates, which offer the lure of instant travel between two points in space.

    Between the upcoming 20th anniversary and the announcement of a reboot movie trilogy, it's Stargate's year. Why does such its peculiar blend of influences capture our imagination?

    It comes down to how it rewires legend into a world that, for all its futuristic trappings, connects closely to our everyday reality.

    "The show's creators were sticklers for the detail—something that's clear in the fact they hired a science consultant for the series," said Dr. Angela Ndalianis, a professor of screen studies at Melbourne University. " … it rewrites the human understanding of these as myths and legends into a new reality that has scientific credence, albeit one that rationalizes the myths by saying they're influenced by alien cultures."

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  • Batman at 75

    Only a year after Superman entered the world, the comic book readers of 1939 found themselves faced with another new superhero: the Batman. This hero had a compelling personality, a sympathetic backstory, and a thirst for justice that quickly won over fans. These traits resonate 75 years later, giving the caped crusader a longevity–and an influence–as powerful as the boy in blue's.

    DC Entertainment has declared July 23 "Batman Day", but what is it about the hero that makes us want to celebrate him? For DC co-publisher Jim Lee, Batman's story withstood the test of time because it has something everyone can relate to and at the end of the day he's a crusader for justice.

    "He fulfills a deep wish, which is basically 'wouldn't it be great to have a crusader watch over us and make sure nothing bad happens?' It's a character who has dedicated his life to that mission," Lee said. "He's sympathetic because his parents were murdered, but he took that tragedy and basically willed himself to become the best fighter and detective possible. Out of that came this incredible character with no superpowers, but who can still stand toe to toe with the greatest superheroes in DC mythology."

    From the quirky 1960s TV show to Christopher Nolan's film trilogy, Batman's been seen in a number of different incarnations. In comics, creators adapted him to the times, embracing sci-fi in the 1950s and urban decay in the 1970s. According to Dr. William Brooker, author of Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon and Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman, he's a very adaptable icon with strong core aspects that remain the same no matter the version of the character. To Dr. Brooker, the enduring presence of Batman and his qualities in our pop culture says more about the hero than our culture itself.

    "Our culture has changed vastly since 1939. The remarkable thing is that Batman has changed, adapted and remained relevant to it. Batman launched before Pearl Harbor. He's now lasted 14 years past 9/11. The first Batman comics were shared around by young men fighting in World War Two. Now Batman comics are downloaded … it's pretty incredible that Batman has stayed with us on that ride for so long," Dr. Brooker said.

    Dr. Brooker believes Batman's impact can be seen the most in the superhero genre itself, however, as he was one of the first—and has had a huge influence on those that followed. The "vigilante" subgenre (Think The Punisher or The Question) owe "a debt to the Batman, just as every optimistic, idealistic do-gooder superhero is, on one level, a variant of Superman."

    The caped crusader also became the first blockbuster superhero movie franchise, with 1989's dark, epic Batman earning more than $400m at the box office.

    But why do we keep coming back? Why do the core elements of his story resonate with us so much? Why remake him, again and again>

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