Sunday, April 2, 2017

Pre-Celebration VIII

I did not realize just how excited for Star Wars Celebration VIII I was until the one-month-out mark came around. That’s when the fanboy giddiness kicked in and my preparations began. As I am wired for project planning and live by lists and spreadsheets, waiting until a month out to dive in was odd for me. Chalk it up to one of life’s little anomalies I guess. Regardless, once I got in the right frame of mind, it was game time. It’s been five years since my last Celebration, so as the old Star Wars saying goes, “This is where the fun begins”!

Celebration I in 1999 and Celebration II in 2002 never even came across my radar. My life at the time was a non-strop whirlwind of college, work, music, performing and touring, sports, women, and partying. I was at the tail end of all that in 2005 when Celebration III took place. However, my travel schedule that year was rather full, so the best I could do was just to cop some of the convention exclusives online. Then Celebration IV in 2007 came. It was in Los Angeles, where my closet childhood friend from Virginia/DC lived, and I hadn’t been out to see him in a few years. So it was perfect, I could attend my first Star Wars Celebration and hang out with my boy for the weekend. In hindsight, from a convention standpoint, it wasn’t the greatest or well organized show (remember, CIV was pre-Reed Pop), but for me it was spectacular! None of my family, crew, or friends are into Star Wars, so CIV was the first time in my life I was surrounded by, and interacting with, other Star Wars fans. And I drank it all in with the thirst of a man who had just crossed the Dune Sea on foot. I saw, shopped, and experienced as much as I could cram into each day. Then at night my boy would pick me up from my hotel, we’d hit Koreatown for dinner (when I’m in L.A. all I want to eat is Korean BBQ and In-N-Out Burger), before his friend, who was on a TV show, would take us to these exclusive Hollywood nightclubs and parties. I don’t think I slept more than two hours a night, if that. But I was part of the panel crowd who were the first people on Earth to see the first-ever The Clone Wars trailer, so it was all well worth it. In addition to all that, CIV was the catalyst to me joining the 501st Legion. I was previously aware of the 501st and loved the charity aspect of the organization. However, despite wanting to be a Stormtrooper since I was three years old, I wasn’t sold on the notion of adults running around in costumes. That all changed after meeting men and women from the Legion and seeing them in action at CIV. When I returned home, I immediately set out looking to get my hands on some TK armor. Funny story, on the first morning of CIV, I got a photo of a 501st Stormtrooper arresting me. I obviously didn’t know it at the time, but he was from Minnesota. He was the Central Garrison CO, and a year later I’m at his house so he could help me with the final modifications to my armor. Seeming there isn’t too many 6’7” Stormtroopers (he also does Vader), I showed him the picture and he confirmed it was him. Small universe!

Next up was Celebration V in Orlando in 2010. While I can’t predict the future, I’m certain CV will go down as my absolute favorite Celebration of all time. By 2010 I was married and had been in the 501st Legion for two years. My wife came with me and we were going to spend the week after Celebration at my cousin’s house with him and his wife. I was a little nervous my wife, who is by no means a Star Wars fan, would be bored out of her mind. She like the movies, especially Episode II, but other than being supportive of me, wasn’t really into it. As The Force would have it though, she loved it! We were at the convention center open to close all four days and had a blast. Reed Pop did an amazing job. Looking back, it wasn’t one big, defining moment that made CV so great, but a culmination of hundreds of little things. From the photo ops, exhibits, panels, people we met, collection shopping, to the 501st parties and after parties, my interview for a documentary, the Ahsoka statue (which I’m still trying to convince Steve Sansweet to sell to me…haha), and the conversations with strangers on smoke breaks. I could easily do an entire piece on stories from CV, but for the sake of this article, I’ll just leave it at that. Two years later, in 2012, my wife and I were back in Orlando for Celebration VI. And while CVI was quite as fantastic as CV, it was still awesome! Some major highlights from CVI were being less than ten feet away from George Lucas at a panel, taking mad photos with Victoria “Scruffy Rebel” Schmidt when she was in her Ahsoka (still the best Ahsoka I’ve seen to date), and sitting right behind Seth Green to watch Kyle Newman’s “Smuggler’s Bounty” radio drama. A little over two months later however, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney, and the Star Wars portion of my world came crashing down. I truly did make an effort to keep an open mind and stay optimistic, despite what my gut was telling me at the time. But sadly, by mid-2014 my worst fears were realized, and Disney had officially destroyed all George Lucas and Lucasfilm had worked so hard to build, not to mention the future of Star Wars for me. Despite that, I still wanted to attend Celebration VII in Anaheim in 2015. Although Reed Pop was still running the show, I was apprehensive about what a Disney-Star Wars Celebration would be like, and how drastic the differences would be (I was already not happy with “them” changing Celebration VII to Celebration Anaheim, as it signified yet another blow to Lucasfilm tradition). I never got to find out. Less than a month out from CVII, something personal arose which forced my wife and I to cancel our trip. It was hard for me to sell our badges (emotionally, literally it was mad easy), as I never envisioned missing another US Celebration. However, I sold them to two fellow 501st members here in Minneapolis, so there was some comfort in knowing they were able to go (four-day badges had long since been sold out). The most disappointing part of not going to CVII wasn’t missing the convention itself. In 2013 I became the admin and content manager for the 501st Legion Twitter account and a member of the 501st Legion social media team. During the two year span between that and CVII I met and formed relationships with 501st members around the country (and world), who I was looking forward to meeting in person. Not to mention all the fellow Ahsoka fans I interacted with via running @AhsokaTanosLife. Additionally, I was looking forward to the first-ever live 501st Tweeting from a Celebration. But hey, Sith happens.

So here I sit now, a week and a half before CVIII, and five years removed from CVI. And I’m as excited as a Jawa in a Coruscant junkyard! I have essentially zero interest in anything Disney-Star Wars, so that nullifies my interest in most of the panels, exhibits, etc. Thus, my agenda this time around is much different.

Live 501st Legion Tweeting
I don’t bring armor with me to Celebration. I never have and never will, unless I get my Ahsoka Loyalist Clone armor done, then I’d rock that just because it would be unique enough to justify missing other things while in armor. So I’m looking forward to having a second chance to do the first-ever live Tweeting from the 501st Legion Twitter account at a Celebration. And being in street clothes, running around the floor all weekend, I’m bound to capture some amazing things.

Over the years I’ve been able to do some insanely cool things with my @AhsokaTanosLife Twitter account and ahsokatanoslife Instagram account. I’ve built a sizeable following of fellow Ahsoka fans. I’ve made #TanoTuesday and #AhsokasDailyHoloImage social media staples. And I’ve created two annual holidays, Ahsoka Tano Day and Ahsoka Fans Day, which are both celebrated by fans all across the globe. @AhsokaTanosLife was in its infancy during CVI so I want to go all out for CVIII. First and foremost, I printed four @AhsokaTanosLife t-shirts, one for each day of the convention, so that I’m representing at all times. Second, I created a CVIII exclusive, limited edition @AhsokaTanosLife postcard. I had two hundred and fifty printed, each is numbered, and I will be giving them out for free at Celebration.

The Lost Holocron
I’m hoping my first of its kind, all-original Star Wars Hip Hop album, The Lost Holocron, will be well represented at Celebration. I haven’t received official confirmation from the various parties involved yet, but chances are people will be hearing songs from The Lost Holocron throughout the weekend. Be it at panels, on the exhibition floor, at the 501st Bash, the 501st Banquet, or during various events/activities, DJs and sound engineers might be playing tracks off the album. So that’s dope! I’m also going to be handing out The Lost Holocron business cards throughout Celebration so that folks have the info and links, and can go check out the music on their own.

There is a long list of individuals I’m looking forward to meeting in person for the first time. There are 501st Legion members, Ahsoka fans, and Star Wars acquaintances I’ve formed online relationships with over the past five years since CVI, not to mention folks I haven’t seen since CVI, and it will be great to link up.

Ahsoka Lives Day
Johnamarie Macias and Amy Ratcliffe started the Ahsoka Lives Day at Celebration tradition at CVII in Anaheim. The second one was held at Celebration Europe III in 2016. This will be my first, and I’m excited to take part in the festivities.

Collection Shopping
As a Star Wars collector, there is truly no better place to shop than at Celebration. One can find items from all forty years of Star Wars, without the ludicrous mark-ups online dealers and sites try to pass along. So no matter the Celebration, shopping is always one of the best parts!

I’ve always found the dopest thing about Celebration is that people can go for drastically different reasons, have drastically experiences, yet everyone can thoroughly enjoy themselves. Thus, saying “Celebration has something for every Star Wars fan”, is actually a spot-on statement.

Numerous individuals, blogs, websites, etc., have written “Celebration Survival Guides” or “Celebration Planning Guides” types of articles. So if you’re looking for a full version of something like that, they are definitely out there. However, I’ll leave you with a few of mine:

1.Planning Your Day
First and foremost, understand it’s physically not possible to do everything you want to do each day. There are multiple things are going on at any given time, so you will be forced to prioritize. Remember to factor in the time you will spend waiting in line for things, especially the bigger, more popular panels. So sometimes skipping one thing you really want to attend may allow you to attend three things during that same time period. There’s often a balance, but only you know what’s most important to you.

2.Bring a Poster Tube
Unless you have absolutely zero interest in art work and/or posters, free or purchased, I highly recommend bringing a plastic poster tube with you to Celebration. While vendors do sell poster tubes at Celebration, they are much cheaper bought elsewhere. Poster tubes come with a shoulder strap so they are easy to have on your persona at all times, and they fit easily into the overhead compartments on airplanes. In my experience, a poster tube doesn’t even count as a second carry-on. There is amazing artwork to be purchased, and more free posters given away than you’ll know what to do with, thus, a poster tube keeps them safe during the trip.

3.Take Smoke Breaks
Even if you don’t smoke cigarettes or e-cigs, take a break every few hours and head outside the convention center. I’m a former cigarette smoker and current e-cig smoker, and the best conversations I’ve had, coolest folks I’ve met, and closest relationships I’ve formed, all happened while outside on smoke breaks. At all three Celebrations I’ve attended. Inside, everyone is super laser focused on what they are doing/experiencing at the convention. Outside however, people are just hanging out enjoying a smoke. So you easily get to chatting with people, getting to know folks better, and building contacts and relationships.

See everyone at Celebration!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Lost Holocron

The Lost Holocron; a first of its kind, all-original Star Wars Hip Hop album.

That is the tagline I’ve been using to briefly summarize my album, The Lost Holocron. Two of my biggest passions in life are Hip Hop and Star Wars. Thus, it only seemed natural that I embarked on developing a project like this. The album blends rhymes and beats with Star Wars stories, topics, characters, and the music of legendary composer, John Williams, to create a truly unique journey through the Star Wars universe. Throughout the years, various artists have released; re-makes of popular songs using Star Wars-based lyrics or themes, Star Wars parody songs, Star Wars-themed “gangsta rap” songs/parodies, original compositions with loose Star Wars themes, and countless songs with Star Wars lines or references. And there are even cover bands with Star Wars-themed names and image. By no means am I downplaying any of those artists, songs or projects (I am a fan of a lot of it), when I say that The Lost Holocron is none of those things. There are no gimmicks or parodying with The Lost Holocron. It is one hundred percent Star Wars, non-canon of course, delivered in pure Hip Hop form. And just like the Star Wars movies, TV shows and novels, the songs on The Lost Holocron consist of action, drama, love, excitement, and that little splash of comedy. Coupled with my writing style, and my knowledge and passion for the franchise (pre-Disney of course), The Lost Holocron carves its own hyperspace lane through our favorite galaxy far, far away.

The idea for this album came to me, with the force of a Wookiee’s punch, in the summer of 2008. While I was dumbfounded the notion hadn’t struck me sooner, I was instantly inspired. Within days I had the concept outlined, the album title, a plan for the format, a long list of song ideas and titles, and had even started writing. The album title, The Lost Holocron, holds a ton of significance. My full-time performing and touring days were essentially over, thus not regularly performing in front of new crowds, or famous in any regard, was going to severely limit the audience of the album. And generally speaking, many die-hard Star Wars fans tend not to be hard core Hip Hop fans (oddly, many Hip Hoppers are Star Wars fans, just not necessarily in the “die-hard” realm). So right from the beginning I felt of the album as this sort of undiscovered “lost” gem and resource. Something that people didn’t know existed, but once they learned of its existence, would yearn to unlock the secrets inside. Also, this album was going to be my personal contribution to the Star Wars universe. Yes, I have my years of work in, with and for the 501st Legion, and that means a lot to me. But there I am playing my part on a large team for a greater purpose. And while I do take great pride in that, it does not fulfill me need for an individual legacy within Star Wars. I’ll never be in a movie, probably won’t ever voice a character, I may still make a post-Disney attempt at getting a book published, and given my stance on what Disney did to Star Wars, will almost certainly never work for Lucasfilm (sadly). Thus, this album, The Lost Holocron, is my time capsule for Star Wars fans present and future, my addition to the ongoing saga.

Despite my initial inspiration and excitement, nothing other than some writing happened for two years. In August of 2010 I was down in Orlando for Star Wars Celebration V. I had been asked to do an interview for a Star Wars documentary. While talking to the director and crew, it came up that I rapped, so they asked if I would do a little something for the film. So I spit a verse I had written for The Lost Holocron and then threw in a little freestyle about Celebration. I never did hear what became of the film…? Coincidentally, that same month my group, Manifesters, had a little resurgence and began putting out new music again. The combination of those two events then began the process of getting The Lost Holocron off the ground.

The format of The Lost Holocron is extremely unique compared to my other Versifier and Manifesters’ projects. All songs are written and performed by me, and are produced, recorded, mixed and mastered by my long-time producer, friend and collaborator, Big Jess. The production of each song is done using one song off the Star Wars soundtrack from the original trilogy, prequel trilogy, and The Clone Wars movie (so technically not all John Williams due to The Clone Wars). So the ratio is always one to one. I take a track from one of the seven soundtracks and highlight certain parts for Jess. Jess then takes the soundtrack track and my notes, works his brilliant magic, and produces a Star Wars re-imagined Hip Hop beat. All songs are then written once the beat is complete, however for many of them, the concept and title are already in place first. Audio clips and sound effects from the movies are then added to heighten the experience. Instead of releasing The Lost Holocron as a one-time complete album, it is released in waves of three songs per wave, similar to how Hasbro Toys releases Star Wars action figures in waves. This allows for the album to be an on-going and continuously growing body of work, just as the saga and stories of Star Wars has continued to grow and expand over the past forty years.

The initial plan was to have each wave of The Lost Holocron include three songs and one music video, and to release three waves per year. This proved to be a very non-realistic schedule. First and foremost, both Big Jess and I have multiple facets to our lives, respectively, both in and outside of music. So time was definitely a factor. Secondly, unlike all the other music I create, I cannot sell, or make any money in any form from, the music on The Lost Holocron. The Lost Holocron is essentially non-licensed Star Wars fan fiction. The soundtrack samples, movie clips, sound effects, and images are all trademarks and copy written material of Lucasfilm. Thus, to avoid breaking the law and a Lucasfilm lawsuit, and out of respect, all songs and videos from The Lost Holocron are entirely free to stream, download and watch. I sell nothing and collect nothing. On the flip side however, I do have to personally fund the project. Beats, studio time, mixing and mastering, directors, and music videos all have a price tag. So funding for this project always has to be in balance with funding for other projects I am working on. On a side note; I did inform Lucasfilm of The Lost Holocron, and they were supportive of the project and the parameters. Unfortunately, because it is un-licensed, they cannot endorse, promote or use the album in any capacity.

The Lost Holocron has the potential to appeal to Star Wars fans, Hip Hop fans, and music lovers across the globe. Like the Star Wars movies, I keep everything in the PG to PG-13 range. While none of the songs have curse words or anything blatantly offensive, a few songs do contain some adult content. The album is definitely geared towards adults, but is generally family friendly. The music is free and easily accessible. My hope, above all else, is simply that people enjoy it and share it with others who may enjoy it as well. I have had, and will continue to have, fun making the songs. So if nothing comes of it, I won’t be disappointed. Obviously though, if opportunities arise because of it, I will welcome them. I may have started “Star Wars Hip Hop”, but the torch will always be there, burning brightly, if/when another emcee decides to pick it up and run with it.

The Lost Holocron – Wave 1
Released: April 22, 2014
1.1 Move Along: Move Along is an up-beat track that puts a fun, spirited feel and twist on the events in Mos Eisely on Tatooine in Star Wars Episode IV. The song features guest vocals by Denver-based singer/song writer Fatima Lily. Thus far, this track has clearly been the fan favorite. I was even asked to perform this song live at the second annual Central Garrison (of the 501st Legion) Banquet in Des Moines, IA in August of 2014. The music video for Move Along was scheduled to shoot this past October. However, due to military obligations of the director, we were forced to cancel last minute. The hope is to re-schedule once this Minnesota winter ends. This video has a cast of almost thirty, so coordination is tricky…

1.2 Alone: Alone explores the emotional and social isolation of the Jedi and the Sith from the rest of the galaxy. Their respective use of The Force, their power, and their influence on galactic events sets them apart and above the ordinary being. However, it’s also what denies them the common joys and acceptance of life. Alone features a guest appearance from Twin Cities Hip Hop emcee, Ernie Rhodes. In the song, Ernie Rhodes plays the role of the Jedi, and I play the role of the Sith.

1.3 Ahsoka: Ahsoka is my ode to Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars. The music video for Ahsoka is a compilation of Ahsoka images, which follows her existence from her debut in The Clone Wars movie to her leaving the Jedi Order at the end of Season 5 of The Clone Wars.

The Lost Holocron – Wave 2
Released: March 13, 2017
2.1 Duel of the Fates: Duel of the Fates is an aggressive track about the heat of battle, the balance of power, and the inevitable outcome of victory or defeat. As the title suggests, it uses the Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon vs. Darth Maul scene at the end of Episode I as a major theme component. It has a battle rap feel to it and is very pro-Sith.

2.2 Lack of Faith: Lack of Faith is a light-spirited look at the galaxy divided up by Force-users and those who don’t believe. Lack of Faith features a guest appearance from Twin Cities Hip Hop emcee and pioneer, Dispute One.  

2.3 Whip Your Lekku: Fictionally speaking, I refer to Whip Your Lekku as a “Coruscant club banger and Nal Hutta favorite”. It’s a sexually charged track about Twi’lek and Togruta dancers and escorts using their lekku for a little extra entertainment while dancing or in the bedroom. There may be a music video for this song somewhere down the line.

The Dark Side
The Dark Side single and music video are kind of like the precursor to The Lost Holocron. The song is over a non-Star Wars-themed beat produced by my brother, Online, and the content is more real life with a Star Wars theme. Thus, it didn’t fit the formula for The Lost Holocron. But I still dug the track and decided to go all out for the music video. The video is directed by Dan Delano, the director of my Whiskey Tears music video, and is the first music video in which I solely wrote the screenplay. The video features an all-star cast consisting of actress, model and TV host Meisha Johnson, newcomers Priscilla Lovas and Jenny Andrews, members of the 501st Legion Central Garrison, and members of the Rebel Legion Central Base. Cameos in the video include New York Times best-selling Star Wars authors Troy Denning and Daniel Wallace, Lucasfilm artist Grant Gould, Star Wars artist Kevin Doyle, and Twin Cities Hip Hop artists Big Jess, NiiBox and Online of Manifesters, and Hypnose and Master Wong of Cypha Squad.

Stream and download The Lost Holocron:

Watch The Dark Side music video:

Wave 3 of The Lost Holocron is already underway. Stay tuned…!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Anakin's 7th Birthday

Today is Anakin’s seventh birthday! It will be my wife and I’s fourth birthday with him, as we adopted Anakin in March of 2013, about three weeks after his third birthday. While Anakin is undoubtedly amongst the most spoiled dogs on the planet on a daily basis, we tend to take that up a notch on his birthday. Over the past three years we’ve formed a tradition of getting Anakin this gigantic, homemade birthday bone treat (from the store attached to a local kennel north of the Twin Cities). It even has a built-in spot for a candle… Then we always do a photoshoot, either at home or out at various locations. For Anakin’s fifth birthday we drove around the Twin Cities taking photos of Anakin next to any signs, businesses, etc. with a “Five”, “5”, or “V” on them. And of course, we make sure to get in all of his favorite activities; a walk, playing catch, wrestling, belly rubs and massages, a car ride, and treats.

This past Saturday we drove up to the kennel to get his bone, only to find they did not have any made this year. So unfortunately, after an exhaustive Google search which yielded zero results, we had to settle for some new treats. Obviously Anakin could care less as they all taste delicious to him, but it was a little disappointing to my wife and I. Meh, what do you do? For the photoshoot, my wife had the idea to buy a kids’ Star Wars t-shirt for him, as we can never find dog-wear we like. Quick sidebar; for the record, other than photoshoots (or functional for extreme weather), we’re not fans of dressing up Anakin. The ironic thing is that Anakin doesn’t like wearing stuff, so he rarely looks happy in the photos. We found a shirt at Target with Darth Vader walking three AT-ATs on leashes. Absolutely perfect! It won’t happen today, but eventually I want to get a photo of me, in my Stormtrooper armor, with Anakin on a leash, wearing the shirt of Vader with AT-ATs on a leash. That’ll be dope!

My wife and I are not having children, so spoiling our dog-child is simply the natural order of life. To say Anakin is a major part of our lives would be a huge understatement. The “man’s best friend” cliché is spot on in my case. The joy we bring to each other’s existence forms a perfect symbiont circle.

To see more Anakin photos than you’d know what to do with, visit his Twitter and Instagram pages. Yes, I started and run a Twitter account and Instagram account for Anakin.
Twitter – @AnakinFessler
Instagram – anakintheblacklab
And for more Anakin photos, plus countless selfies of he and I, check out my Twitter and Instagram pages:
Twitter – @VerseManifest
Instagram – mickelpics

Happy Birthday buddy!