Category: Assorted Geekery

Now and then I have thoughts to share, a review, or some other feature relating to pop culture and geekdom. It might be because it’s an article that couldn’t find a home elsewhere online, or it could just be something that interests me on a more personal level.

Assorted Geekery is where to find these kinds of things.

How to Solve the Skywalker Problem

Daisy Ridley as Rey

A few years back, Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy famously said that the episodic Star Wars “saga” films are and always will be the story of the Skywalker family. From Episode I on, we’ve followed Shmi, Anakin/Vader, Luke, Leia, and now Ben/Kylo Ren.

In The Last Jedi, it’s revealed that the new trilogy’s heroine, Rey, has no connection to the Skywalker lineage. She’s not a Skywalker, a Solo, a Kenobi, a Windu, or even a Palpatine. She’s “no one” from “nowhere,” a development that worked narratively and emotionally for the character; it was the worst news Rey could have possibly received, yet she managed to rise above it and persevere. That’s what being a hero is all about.

But fans were kinda disappointed. Because logically speaking, how could the newest Jedi of the Star Wars saga not be a Skywalker? Not only did it break with the narrative pillars of the rest of the saga, it also meant that the evil Kylo Ren is the last of the Skywalker line — a development that doesn’t bode well for the line’s future.

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Why the Next Star Wars Animated Series Will Be About Ahsoka Tano

Ahsoka Tano

Star Wars Rebels fans: your beloved series is hurtling toward its end at a breakneck pace, a finish line it will be crossing in just over a month — on March 5th.

I’ve been thinking about something a lot, and I’m about to get in to some spoilers up to the most recent episodes of the show. Because I’m convinced that the next animated series to come from Lucasfilm is going to center around everyone’s favorite Togruta non-Jedi.

Last warning…

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How Batman: The Telltale Game – Episode 1 Changes the Game

The Dark Knight rises in the exceptional Batman: The Telltale Series, a serialized game that highlights how much its developer has matured.

Telltale Games began life by creating G or PG-like adventure games such as Sam & Max and Tales from Monkey Island. The company’s business model is unique: instead of releasing complete games all at once, Telltale creates and publishes its games episodically (usually 5 episodes per title), over several months’ time.

I’ve always found this intriguing, because until Telltale came along, the video game industry never touched episodic content; Telltale pioneered the format. Others, like Square Enix’s Hitman, are following in its footsteps. In its early years, no one quite knew what to do with Telltale. It was viewed as an eccentric indie — a small studio building quirky games that were never interested in conforming to the standards of game creation and publication.

WHO’S WHO IN BATMAN: THE TELLTALE SERIES

Bruce WayneBatmanSelina KyleCatwomanAlfred PennyworthHarvey DentOzJim GordonVicki ValeCarmine FalconeJack Ryder
Bruce Wayne
Orphan, billionaire playboy, and possessor of one honking big secret. The Wayne family is deeply connected to Gotham’s history.
Batman
Bruce’s costumed counterpart. A self-made vigilante who seeks to bring peace to Gotham and criminals to justice.
Selina Kyle
A mysterious, beautiful woman who seems to have a lot of accidents that leave her bruised.
Catwoman
Selina Kyle’s alter ego. A cat burglar for hire. A consummate professional.
Alfred Pennyworth
Bruce’s faithful butler and surrogate father, who raised him after Bruce’s parents were murdered.
Harvey Dent
Gotham’s handsome, powerful district attorney. Currently running for mayor, and leaning on Bruce Wayne’s help and influence. There’s no indication yet if he’ll be transforming into Two-Face during this story.
Oz
Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot is an old childhood friend of Bruce’s, whose life has taken him in a very different direction. Still values his friendship with Bruce, though.
Jim Gordon
Lieutenant at GCPD, and the only member of the force who tries to work with Batman instead of arrest him.
Vicki Vale
Ambitious investigative reporter who takes a special interest in (and liking to) Bruce.
Carmine Falcone
Gotham’s reigning crime boss. Make no mistake: Gotham is Falcone’s world, and everyone else merely lives in it.
Jack Ryder
TV reporter who supplies wrap-up information over the closing credits.

That changed with the arrival of The Walking Dead. Thanks to the serialized nature of the comic books the TWD game was based on, suddenly Telltale’s format made perfect sense. Here was a franchise tailor-made for episodic storytelling, and Telltale wisely made the decision to create its own cast of characters and storylines for the game; they existed in the same world as the comics (and by extension, the TV show), but weren’t required to follow any established arcs.

The Walking Dead drew tremendous critical acclaim, won numerous Game of the Year awards, and catapulted Telltale into an A-list studio. It made the studio a home for not only great games filled with dramatic (sometimes agonizing) choices, but smart, powerful storytelling as well. Telltale capitalized on its newfound success by publishing games based on other licensed properties, such as The Wolf Among Us (based on the comic Fables), Tales from the Borderlands, and Game of Thrones. The Walking Dead got sequels, as well.

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With this new creative freedom and higher profile, Telltale has stepped away from those early, family-friendly games, and turned to grownup storytelling that’s the gaming equivalent of PG-13 and R-rated material.

Had the studio gained the rights to as popular a character as Batman back in the day, I wonder if it might have told a softer, gentler Batman story. Because this ain’t that.

Batman stories have come in all varieties over the years, from the squeaky-clean G stuff of the 1960s TV show, to Frank Miller’s nearly-R, hard-edged noir tales; from Christopher Nolan’s PG-13 blockbusters to Scott Snyder’s celebrated PG-ish run in Batman comics. Where does Batman: The Telltale Series fall on that spectrum?

First, it’s important to know that DC Comics gave Telltale the freedom to create its own take on the Dark Knight. Meaning: this Batman is not beholden to any continuity from comics, movies, TV, or anything else. Telltale chose to create a Batman in the early years of his career, before he’s met any of his biggest, baddest foes, and long before he takes on a bird-branded sidekick.

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Telltale could have taken Batman in any direction it wanted. The one it chose falls decidedly into R-rated territory, or as it’s known in video games, “M for Mature.” This is definitely a post-Walking Dead game.

From the opening visual — a man is shot in the head, the bullet sending comic-book-y blood splattering everywhere —  not to mention the liberal use of expletives, it’s immediately clear that this is not your parents’ Batman. There are other scenes peppered throughout that are almost surprisingly gory at times, with blood and guts spilling out of bodies or streaked across the ground.

I’m not a watchdog reporter, so I’m not pointing all of this out to warn you to keep the kiddies away. What interests me is the connotation of what’s right there in the game’s title: Batman: The Telltale Series. Telltale has completely rebranded itself, a ground-up transformation, to the point that the company’s name is now an indicator that you’re likely going to be playing an M-rated title. Sure, they still put out something here or there that’s more family friendly, like Minecraft: Story Mode, but Telltale now wants to be known as edgy, on the front-end of modern entertainment. Think HBO for video games.

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1

Does this branding serve them well? Probably. It’s certainly an accurate descriptor for this game’s content. Fortunately, Telltale hasn’t forgotten what it does best, and that’s compelling, emotional drama. The blood is there, but it’s in service to the narrative. The majority of the action, however, is comprised of social politics at Wayne Manor or thrilling chases across Gotham’s rooftops. The action is fun — and I’ll get back to that in a minute — but it’s in the quieter, character-focused story beats that the game transcends its trappings.

[stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”20px” new_window=”no”] SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT [stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”20px” new_window=”no”]

Case in point: One of the most electrifying moments in the game is a scene a little more than halfway through Chapter 1, that’s merely two characters sitting at a table, talking. After meeting in action for the very first time as Batman and Catwoman, Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have a chance encounter at an outdoor restaurant, where both quickly deduce the other’s secret identity. (What a refreshing rarity: intelligent characters!) The conversation that ensues is never playful or flirty — these two characters take their work very seriously — yet because of the stakes, it’s the most delicious moment in the game. The ballad of Bruce and Selina has been told many times in many ways over the years, but it feels like Telltale has boiled the essence of their relationship down to its basics and started over fresh.

Telltale’s narrative ideas for how its characters are depicted is equally stimulating. While numerous well-known figures from Batman lore show up — Two-Face, Penguin, Vicki Vale, Jack Ryder, etc. — you may not recognize them at first. Penguin in particular has gotten a complete overhaul; he’s now a thin, British, punk anarchist (sort of a cross between the spite-filled cockney from the Arkham games and the hungry young crime lord on Fox’s Gotham), and most intriguing of all, he’s an old childhood friend of Bruce Wayne who calls him “Oz.” Their meeting in a city park is another captivating moment, shifting from warmhearted reunion to just-under-the-surface menace in an instant.

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1

As for Batman, the police and the public have yet to decide what they think of him. Alfred is on his side, of course — and this is an Alfred that leans more toward the “old military man” who’s as much a physical trainer as a father figure. Jim Gordon, who’s not yet achieved the title of Commissioner, wants to trust Batman and for the most part does. But you can see that he’s still got a few reservations.

[stag_icon icon=”quote-left” url=”” size=”18px” new_window=”no”] To tell an involving Batman narrative, you can’t ignore Bruce Wayne. [stag_icon icon=”quote-right” url=”” size=”18px” new_window=”no”]

Batman: The Telltale Series is differentiated from other Batman games by the fact that you’re playing as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. The developer wisely took into account a core tenet of vigilante storytelling, which the movies have always known but comics and video games tend to ignore far too often: to tell an involving Batman narrative, you can’t ignore Bruce Wayne. The comics tend to focus almost exclusively on Batman’s crime-fighting, mostly leaving Bruce’s private life unaddressed. And Bruce rarely shows his face in other video games. But the movies have proven that when done well, Bruce’s tragic drama can be just as fascinating as his alter ego’s thrilling adventures. The duality between them and how the character reconciles these two halves of his personality can be a fertile source of tension.

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1

Due to this, the time spent in the costume versus time spent out of it seemed to me around 40/60. And as I mentioned before, one of the things that fascinates me most about this game is that the scenes starring Bruce Wayne are (at least so far) much more enthralling than the Batman stuff. These are the moments where we see the main character show genuine emotion. And since this is a younger Batman who’s not yet the unflappable pro, his emotions are more raw and visceral.

Combat is handled with button presses prompted on-screen that test the speed of your reflexes but don’t require you to memorize countless combos and finishing moves. (Remember, it’s an adventure game, not an action title.) Another gameplay mechanic is sort of a cross between standard point-and-click adventuring and the Arkham games’ “Detective Vision.” Here, Batman slides into CSI mode, piecing together clues and making smart deductions using his high-tech gear. None of it is really challenging, as the system is designed to ensure that if by nothing more than process of elimination, you’ll arrive at the conclusions the game requires.

That’s not to say that you have no control over the story, though. As in other Telltale games, you periodically make pivotal choices, sending the story or its characters down one path or another. How you treat a mob boss early in the game, for example, will have ramifications in how he responds to you later on. The thing is, there are no right or wrong choices, like those you might find in an RPG where you’re trying to get the “best” ending. There’s simply the choice you make and the consequences of it; neither of those will affect the end of the journey, just the route it takes to get there.

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1

Some argue that the fact that your choices don’t change the ending of the game undermines the emotion and drama of those player decisions. I have to reluctantly agree; gamers need to feel like our actions matter. Otherwise why offer choices at all? But I also understand the developers’ desire to tell a cohesive story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. There’s a strain between those two notions that I’m not sure can ever be balanced.

One of the features Telltale promised for this game was the ability to choose between playing as Batman or playing as Bruce Wayne in how you resolve a conflict. That does not materialize in Episode 1, so I assume it’s yet to come in future installments.

A nifty little addition comes during the end credits: an overview of every major choice you make in the game, and its percentages among players. Did you choose to let a bad guy die, or did you save his life? The game will tell you if your choice matched the majority of players, or if you were a rebel. You can share these stats on social networks, too. Nothing like adding a little player ego to up their emotional involvement.

Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1

Bat-fans may be disappointed that Batman isn’t voiced by Kevin Conroy, from the Batman cartoons and the Arkham games. But the great Troy Baker does a solid job, bringing more emotional shades to the character than Conroy’s monotone delivery may be capable of. Laura Bailey co-stars as a tough, no-nonsense Catwoman.

[stag_icon icon=”link” url=”” size=”16px” new_window=”no”] Important Links

Visuals are highly stylized, adding a slick, metallic sheen to the 3D engine Telltale has used for years, It works well for Batman’s dark, broody world, though there were a few times when I was looking for stronger emoting from Bruce’s 3D character model, to match the intensity of Baker’s voice work. Telltale employs motion capture for its characters’ physical movements, which goes a very long way in immersing players in the on-screen world. Hopefully the company will be able advance far enough that it can capture facial expressions as well, sometime in the future.

Batman games will always have the specter of Rocksteady’s Arkham series hanging over their heads, since those titles set such an incredibly high bar of quality. Batman: The Telltale Series never tries to match or best Arkham, knowing that it’s not the same kind of experience. People pick up Telltale games to enjoy a well-told, interactive story.

Based on the first chapter, I think this is going to be a good one. I won’t spoil the big reveal, but Telltale has managed to land on a plot twist that has never been done in 75+ years of Batman history. When you watch it unfold, you’ll realize just how remarkable that is.

The story is smart and original, and it tells a grownup story that never panders to players, treating its audience with the same level of intelligence it holds itself to. I can’t wait for more.

[amazonjs asin=”B01IFHEH62″ locale=”US” title=”Batman: The Telltale Series – PlayStation 4″]
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The Year of Ahsoka: Star Wars Rebels Season 2 on Blu-ray

Despite a drought of extra features, Star Wars Rebels: Season 2 on Blu-ray is worth owning thanks to its high caliber storytelling.

I loved Star Wars: The Clone Wars. It had a shaky start, but after working out the kinks, it became truly compelling television. It introduced Ahsoka Tano and a slew of other fun characters, it resurrected Darth Maul, it showed us the realities of war, and it even managed to give Anakin Skywalker the complex layers the prequels couldn’t be bothered with.

But there was always something nagging me about it, and after two seasons of Star Wars Rebels, I finally know what it is. Despite how great and entertaining it was, hanging over Clone Wars was always this sense that it was… filler. That these were “in-between” stories that could never address the biggest of stakes, could never kill off or drastically change most of its heroes and villains, and could never truly resolve the storylines of major characters. The show was able to add subtle shades to those characters and flesh them out a bit, but that’s all. Since it’s set prior to Revenge of the Sith, every character whose fates were spoken for in that film had to, by definition, remain fundamentally untouched in Clone Wars.

Star Wars Rebels: Season 2 poster

Don’t get me wrong, there was genuinely high-stakes drama in there at times — and these were the times when Clone Wars was at its best. Darth Maul’s killer reunion/showdown with Palpatine. Ahsoka’s heartbreaking exit from the Jedi Order. Asajj Ventress’ surprising, slow turn toward redemption. The Jedi Order unwittingly becoming the very military power it once vowed it would never be.

[stag_icon icon=”television” url=”” size=”16px” new_window=”no”] Blu-ray Extras

Bottom Line: The extra features are entertaining but there are too few of them to satisfy Star Wars Rebels fans.

Rebels Recon
All 20 behind-the-scenes looks at Star Wars Rebels episodes are included. It’s nice to have them collected, even though you could already watch them on YouTube.

Connecting the Galaxy
This all-too-short feature shows how the Lucasfilm Story Group connects the dots between the movies, TV shows, comics, novels, etc. Hardcore fans won’t learn much that they hadn’t already noticed, but casual viewers will come away with a stronger sense of how much thought goes into everything the show cooks up.

From Apprentice to Adversary
A special look at Ahsoka’s journey from the beginning of Clone Wars to where she finds herself in Rebels.

[stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”12px” new_window=”no”] SPOILERS [stag_icon icon=”exclamation-triangle” url=”” size=”12px” new_window=”no”] If you’re looking for hints regarding Ahsoka’s fate, Filoni says: “I will explain what happens when the Temple shuts. You will know, once and for all: Did Ahsoka live? Or did she become part of the Force? But you have to be patient.” So the answer’s coming, just not anytime soon.

These moments, focusing on characters unique to Clone Wars, increased as the show aged and matured. But there weren’t enough of them. There were too many stories without a distinct beginning that would probably never get a satisfying end. (For the sake of argument, there is some evidence to the contrary on that last point.)

Star Wars Rebels, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. No longer confined to the stuffy, societal strictures of the Republic, Rebels is very intentionally designed to mimic the loose, lawless, always-in-danger format of the original film trilogy. At the same time, its main cast is entirely comprised of brand new characters. Sure, it’s set during the Imperial reign between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, so beloved characters from those movies have to remain unaffected. But that’s not really a problem, since most of them never appear on Rebels — and the ones who do, like Princess Leia or Yoda, are used with restraint.

Instead, Rebels introduces us to pilot Hera Syndulla, lapsed Jedi Kanan Jarrus, Mandalorian warrior Sabine Wren, last-of-his-race muscleman Zeb, cranky Astromech droid Chopper, and brash, orphaned Jedi potential Ezra Bridger. These characters being wholly owned part-and-parcel by the show means that there’s no filler here. The show gave us their beginnings, and will one day give us their endings. Every moment matters, and anytime the crew of the Ghost crosses paths with established characters like Tarkin or Vader, there’s no guarantee they’ll all walk away from it.

If there’s anything hanging over the head of Rebels, it’s that very fact that its crew never appear in any of the movies, which suggests that some or all of our heroes may not survive their TV adventures. And that fear has never been more palpable than it was in Season 2.

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The new Star Wars Rebels: Season 2 on Blu-ray — featuring a crystal clear, high-def transfer — contains all 20 episodes, which rank among the finest that the Clone Wars/Rebels crew have ever made. Every character gets at least one moment in the spotlight, with long-awaited details about their backstories finally revealed. But it’s Kanan and Ezra who still get the bulk of the screen time.

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That said, history will forever record Season 2 as the time when Ahsoka Tano returned, leading to her climactic showdown with her former master Anakin Skywalker — now known as Darth Vader. (James Earl Jones lends his voice to the show, giving Vader’s every appearance immeasurable gravitas.) Their reunion in the season finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice,” is undoubtedly the dramatic highlight of the collection. But there’s plenty of exciting, gripping developments to hold your attention before you get that far.

Aside from Ahsoka, other Clone Wars characters make welcome returns, and in most cases are more enjoyable now than before. Clone leader Captain Rex comes to mind, who always struck me as uptight in Clone Wars but here his attitude has been tempered by age and experience. Princess Leia even shows up for an episode, and yeah it’s total fan service, but it offers an interesting look at what the young princess was like as a 16-year-old.

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Some mysteries were finally revealed, and others deepened. Are Ezra’s parents alive? Is Zeb really the last surviving Lasat? Where do the Inquisitors come from? Why doesn’t Hera ever talk about her famous father? Why is Agent Callus such a jerk? Does Chopper really care about the crew? And what’s up with Sabine’s mysterious past? All of these questions are either answered or touched on in Season 2, with some genuinely surprising results.

But as I mentioned before, it’s clear from the spectacular, hour-long season opener, “The Siege of Lothal,” that a reunion is in the offing. (Why else would Ahsoka and Vader both debut in the same episode?) Ahsoka actually appears in very few episodes — I believe she features in four, with a few smaller appearances here and there — a strategy done intentionally to not minimize the importance of the main cast.

[stag_video src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJTF77uy0iQ”]

But man, is that finale worth waiting for. Not only does it feature the heart-stopping showdown fans have been waiting years for, it sees the return of another old foe, and forever life-altering events for our two main Jedi. In case it wasn’t obvious, the gloves are off — and in a way that The Clone Wars was rarely capable of.

 [stag_icon icon=”link” url=”” size=”16px” new_window=”no”] Important Links

From the moment that Ahsoka and Vader first share the screen, the show reaches electrifying new heights that it’s never before approached. In one of the Blu-ray extras, executive producer Dave Filoni explains the two beats from the Ahsoka/Vader fight that he’d had in mind for eight long years. It’s the emotional undercurrent of the duel that elevates the material to places that were never even achieved in some of the movies. This showdown is everything the Obi-Wan/Anakin fight in Revenge of the Sith should have been, and it’s some of the very best Star Wars ever produced — in any medium.

I’ve said it before, but after the fight, there’s a montage of scenes that ends the season, in which the show commits art. A large reason for that is Kevin Kiner’s extraordinary musical score. Just listen:

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Season 2 of Star Wars Rebels is a must-own for Star Wars fans of all ages. Whether you buy it digitally, on DVD, or on Blu-ray as seen here, I can’t recommend it strongly enough. And I have never been more excited for the future of this show.

[amazonjs asin=”B01GDJZJUC” locale=”US” title=”STAR WARS REBELS: THE COMPLETE SEASON 2 Blu-ray”]
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I’m Not Done

For eight awesome months, I ran the Star Wars website at About.com. I’m proud of the work I did there; I think it’s some of the best I’ve ever done. A few months ago, I was told that About would no longer be pursuing Star Wars as a topic site, due to some heavy restructuring of its business model.

That’s entirely their right, and I completely respect it. Jobs come and go for writers; it’s the nature of the business.

I don’t entirely understand their decision; Star Wars has never been a hotter topic than it is right now, and it’s only getting bigger by the day. Rogue One, Episode VIII, Rebels, novels, comics, video games… Disney is doing Star Wars right, and now is the best possible time to cover it.

But things happen and we move on.

The thing is: I’m not finished talking about Star Wars. And funny enough, people are still subscribing to my Star Wars social media feeds even though I haven’t written anything on the subject in months! I had all kinds of ideas cooking, materials to review, features to share, and insights to offer. And there are people out there who still seem to want to hear what I have to say.

So I’m going to keep going.

But as long as this is my own thing, why limit it to Star Wars? I’m passionate about lots of geeky stuff, like superheroes, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Tolkien, Harry Potter, video games, comic books, LEGO, movie soundtracks, board games… Basically, if it promotes great storytelling and creativity, I’m in.

I’ve been in this business for more than 20 years, and I still receive communications and review materials from a variety of sources. Many of those materials are quite brilliant, and I’m dying to share them with you.

But there’s another reason I’m doing this.

People love the Internet because it’s an endless well of content, and it’s content that’s posted insanely fast. Before the Internet, the fastest turnaround time in media was newspapers, which published the next day, i.e., the day after something newsworthy happened. The Internet changed that; we’ve been trained to now expect our content to be fed to us with the utmost immediacy. Major media companies employ staffs of dozens or hundreds to catch the latest minutiae and write about it as fast as humanly possible. Breaking news alerts are fed to our phones via notifications. Twitter gives us a steady stream of instantaneous, knee-jerk reactions and snarky commentary.

I believe that in pursuit of all that speed, we’ve lost something valuable. Anyone can regurgitate a press release or turn around a quick news piece summing up known facts, or say something in less than 140 words. What’s missing is voice. Authority. Intelligence. Quality has taken a backseat to the almighty throne of urgency.

This is something that’s been bugging me for a while, and a recent viral video crystallized my feelings on the matter. Maybe I can do my part to reclaim some of what we’ve lost.

I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just looking for an outlet. And maybe I can add a little thoughtfulness and depth to the conversation. I might even present a few things you won’t see anywhere else. The usual stuff — structured, scored product reviews, for example — has been done to death. Who needs more of that?

This is going to be different. Experimental. Unexpected. Fun.

I’m not setting a publishing schedule. Life is too crazy for that. I’ll post something when I have something to post. Follow along on social media to find out when something new is up. (If you already follow “All About Star Wars” on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere, you’re good to go.)

Welcome to Assorted Geekerywhere quality is baked right in.

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