Big E in Person at the North Pole 1977

Oh sure, you know Rudolph and Frosty and Charlie Brown Christmas; The Grinch, Christmas Story, and Mister Magoo.

But do you recall the more obscure classics of Yule?

I’m talking stuff like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964), The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974), Fred Claus (2007), and Prep & Landing (2009).

These productions feature takes on Santa Claus that vary widely from the stuff his publicist concocted for The Night Before Christmas and all of those Coca-Cola ads.

Big E and the Santa Man: A Rock & Roll Christmas Fantasy perhaps could take a rightful place among this latter set of behind-the-scenes glimpses at the real goings-on at the North Pole, should it ever become a TV special.

What’s the matter? Could it be that some of you are not acquainted with the tale of Big E and the Santa Man?

Well, fortunately for you, Phil Arnold’s new book covers that very story. Fellow Elvis Presley fans among you might already know Phil as the ElvisBlog master, an Elvis International Magazine contributing editor and writer, and the foreword author of Elvis: The Early Years.

BIG E AND THE SANTA MAN (Phil Arnold)

BIG E AND THE SANTA MAN (Phil Arnold)

The story begins in the fall of 1977 as Big E, a mysterious rock ‘n’ roll singer who has left his former life, makes his way North through the Arctic to meet the most imitated legend in history, Santa Claus.

[Incidentally, the 1978 movie Superman borrows from this part of Big E’s tale a bit when young Clark Kent is drawn inexplicably North through the Arctic where he witnesses the creation of the Fortress of Solitude – probably not far from Santa’s place.]

Mr. and Mrs. Claus take in Big E, providing him food, shelter, and best of all, no questions. In return, Big E begins to coach a group of elves who have formed a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Meanwhile, forces are conspiring to ensure no children receive their presents that year.

Christmas 1977 is actually the first Christmas I can remember (I was 2-years-old). Little did I know the extraordinary efforts that Santa and Big E in their hot rod sleigh had to go through to bring me my gifts.

Until now.

You, too, can finally read the previously unreleased story of Big E and the Santa Man. Check it out over at ElvisBlog.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from author Phil Arnold.

“You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear R2-D2 beep like this. . . .”

Return of the Jedi book and record set, page 4, Luke in Jabba's palace

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) confronts Jabba the Hutt in this publicity still from 1983’s RETURN OF THE JEDI

I often refer to myself as the “eternal 8-year-old” because I consider 1983, for many reasons, to be the best year of my childhood. Seeing Return of the Jedi that year was a huge part of that.

At one point, though, I was not sure I would ever see the conclusion of the Star Wars trilogy. The movie’s opening weekend came and went, but there was no trip to the theater for me. My family surely knew I wanted to see the film. I had even taped up newspaper ads touting Return of the Jedi to my bedroom wall.

The second weekend of release, I was in a department store with Mom. I rushed over to the record section in search of the Return of the Jedi soundtrack. What I found was not the soundtrack but a book that included a 7-inch, 33 1/3 RPM read-along record. After just a little begging, I convinced Mom to buy it for me.

Return of the Jedi book and record cover

Cover of Buena Vista’s RETURN OF THE JEDI book and record set

Videotapes were really not in wide circulation at this time, so other than catching a random television airing, a book and record set was one of the best ways available for a kid to relive a movie once it left theaters.

In this case, though, I would not be reliving Return of the Jedi, I would be experiencing it for the first time.

Return of the Jedi book and record set back cover

Back cover of Buena Vista’s RETURN OF THE JEDI book and record set

For a split second, I considered saving the set until after I had actually seen the movie. Impatient and unsure if I was ever going to make it to the theater, though, I had to know what happened after The Empire Strikes Back.

As to why I begged my mom for the Return of the Jedi read-along and not for a trip to the movie theater, I have no idea.

By the time we were home from the agonizingly long car ride (it was at least five minutes), I already had the shrink-wrap off the set.

I placed the record on the player with care as my brother entered the room. I showed off the book to him. He was in high school and had already seen the movie. There were distinct advantages to being able to drive and having your own money.

“Don’t you want to wait until you see the movie?” he asked.

“No,” I told him. “I want to know what happens now.”

“You’re going to spoil it,” he said and left the room.

I lowered the arm of my player onto the record and soon arrived in the Star Wars universe.

“This is the story of Return of the Jedi. You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear Artoo-Detoo beep like this,” explained the dramatic narrator.

The book moved along at a brisk pace, packing in many of the movie’s major elements. By the end, I knew the overall story. Who needed a movie theater?

Later that afternoon, it turned out my brother had been planning a surprise for me. He was going to Ridge Cinema to see Return of the Jedi again with his friends, but this time he was taking me along.

That stupid record! If only I had waited a few more hours.

Return of the Jedi record, side 1

Side 1 of Buena Vista’s RETURN OF THE JEDI record

I recently listened to the Return of the Jedi read-along record for the first time in over two decades.

The character voices surprised me most. As a kid, I thought they were the same actors as in the movies, but with dialogue taken from alternate scenes or recorded specifically for the record.

Playing the record today, it is quite obvious that different people are playing the roles. I have now seen and heard the Star Wars films many, many more times than the 8-year-old version of me, after all.

There are also a number of plot points that are different between the record and the movie.

  • Threepio and Artoo plead for Han with Jabba, who takes them prisoner [versus, in the film, they are “gifts” from Luke, who wants to bargain for Han]
  • The bounty hunter who frees Han is given a name, Boushh [versus never being named]
  • Both Leia and Han are placed in prison when the rescue goes wrong [versus Jabba keeping Leia at his side]
  • Luke kills Jabba by destroying the sail barge [versus Leia killing Jabba directly]
  • Yoda does not die
  • Obi-Wan does not appear, nor is the information he confirms about Leia revealed
  • It is Luke’s idea to chase the biker scouts on speeders, even exclaiming, “Come on, Leia!” [versus Leia following them impulsively, against Luke’s warning, and Luke hopping on behind her out of fear for her life]
  • The Ewoks surround the Rebels without having to rely on a food trap
  • Threepio is aware that Luke is using the Force to levitate him to scare the Ewoks
  • Lando shouts, “It’s a trap!” [versus Admiral Ackbar]
  • Some of the Rebel ships crash into the Death Star shield [for years, I thought this actually was in the movie; when I saw Independence Day on opening day, I even thought it ripped off a similar scene from Return of the Jedi; apparently not]
  • Luke never unmasks Vader
  • Luke leaves Vader’s body behind on the Death Star
  • The Jedi spirits do not appear at the end

Another surprise was that Return of the Jedi was on Disney’s Buena Vista Records. The Star Wars book and record sets, then, marked some of the first collaborations between Lucasfilm and Disney.

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, can The Force Awakens live up to the legacy of the original Star Wars trilogy? In only three months, the answer will be revealed.

Meanwhile, this eternal 8-year-old will keep playing his records.


This is a modified version of a Pastimescapes 1.0 post that first appeared on May 13, 2013.

Download the End of Lonely Street: Top 5 Elvis Starter Albums on iTunes

While I buy much of my music online these days, the overwhelming majority of my Elvis Presley purchases continue to be in the form of CDs.

The times I tend to download Elvis are when I only need a few tracks from a new album or set. For instance, I purchased a December 15, 1956, concert and various non-music tracks as online downloads from the Young Man with the Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters set a few years back, as I already owned all of the other content.

However, iTunes and other online music stores certainly present great oppotunities to find jumping-on places for many artists, including Elvis. With that in mind, I thought I would take a look at the current iTunes offerings and suggest various starting points for exploring the music of Elvis Presley.

There are many possible paths when first listening to Elvis. The below starter albums represent only a few of those possibilities, focusing on different aspects of his career, avoiding duplication, and keeping a maximum $10 US budget in mind.

Cover of ELVIS-TV SPECIAL (1968 album)

1968’s ELVIS-TV SPECIAL is a strong starter album for those new to Elvis Presley.

#1 ELVIS-TV Special

This is the soundtrack of the 1968 television special that marked a turning point for Elvis. As he finally began to break away from repetitive movies that dominated so much of his 1960s career, he adopted a new, mature sound on songs like “If I Can Dream” and reinterpreted many of his older hits, such as a pounding version of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The ELVIS-TV Special album thus serves both as an overview of his career to that point as well as a navigation beacon for the direction of his future, reinvigorated work.

#2 Promised Land (Expanded)

The first ten tracks of this release represent the original Promised Land album proper. Recorded in 1973 at Stax Studios in Memphis, Promised Land features a perfect blend of rock ‘n’ roll (the title track), country (“It’s Midnight”), and inspirational (“Help Me”).

This 2000 expanded edition includes several tracks from the inferior Good Times album, recorded at the same sessions. While this has the benefit of adding choice cuts “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” “Lovin’ Arms,” and “My Boy,” it also detracts by including clunkers “She Wears My Ring,” “If That Isn’t Love,” and “I Got A Feelin’ In My Body.”

#3 Elvis At Sun

Whoever decided to lead off this collection of Elvis’s earliest professional recordings with the lightweight “Harbor Lights” and nearly unlistenable “I Love You Because” allowed recording order to dictate over common sense and entertainment value. Producer and SUN founder Sam Phillips wisely rejected both of these cuts. Had they become Elvis’s first record, there might not have been a second.

Elvis then “stumbled upon” what became his first single, “That’s All Right” b/w “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which should have started this collection of 1954-1955 recordings. Despite the sequencing issues, Elvis At Sun is a stellar release, with career highlights including “Mystery Train,” “Baby, Let’s Play House,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “That’s All Right,” “Blue Moon,” and “Tryin’ To Get To You.”

There is a certain appeal to starting an Elvis musical journey at the literal beginning, and this 2004 release does a fine job without delving too far into outtakes and alternates best left for more seasoned fans.

#4 Elvis’ Golden Records

Essentially picking up where Elvis At Sun left off, Elvis’ Golden Records captures the singer in his early years at RCA Records. These 1956-1957 recordings include many of his best known hits.

Along with his SUN records, these cuts represent some of his most influential work. Every song here is a classic, but “Jailhouse Rock” and “Love Me” manage to shine even among the top-notch competition.

#5 From Elvis In Memphis

After the success of the ELVIS television special in 1968, Elvis recorded for the first time in Memphis since his SUN days. His 1969 recordings at American studios eventually produced two albums and several singles.

From Elvis In Memphis was easily the strongest of the two albums and certainly one of the best of his career. Stand-outs include “Power Of My Love,” “Wearin’ That Loved-On Look,” “After Loving You,” “Any Day Now,” and “Long Black Limousine.”

That Time My Brother Froze Me in Carbonite: Growing up with Star Wars

The same summer that Elvis died, a pop culture phenomenon first gripped my generation. When Star Wars hit theaters on May 25, 1977, I was 2-years-old. Though I was actually too young to go see the movie, Star Wars was everywhere.

My first chance to experience Star Wars beyond television commercials was when my family watched The Making of Star Wars on TV that fall. The special, hosted by C-3PO and R2-D2, featured many segments from the movie as well as behind-the-scenes footage. My love of both movie-making documentaries and Star Wars might thus be traced back to one little TV special.

I am pretty sure the first time I saw the 1977 Star Wars movie in full was at a friend’s house on a TV screen around 1982. His family had this electronic device that amazed me. Hooked up to your television set, it allowed you to play movies at home whenever you wanted.

C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and others celebrate destruction of the Death Star in STAR WARS (1977)

C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and others celebrate the destruction of the Death Star in STAR WARS (1977)

I have some vague memories suggesting I might have seen Star Wars in a theater prior to this in a re-release, around 1980. As I can vividly remember watching other movies around that time, I am doubtful.

In the summer of 1980, though, I definitely saw the new sequel in a movie theater, The Empire Strikes Back.

Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, snowspeeders, AT-AT walkers, the Millennium Falcon, an X-Wing fighter, Dagobah, Yoda, Cloud City, Darth Vader, carbonite, and lightsabers – all on the big screen. This was movie magic, and The Empire Strikes Back officially blew my mind.

Somehow, though, I missed one of the key lines of the film – Vader’s revelation to Luke. My guess is that I was still focused on Luke having just lost his hand in the battle or, for some reason, that piece of dialogue did not jump out as being significant to a 5-year-old.

In any event, I know I missed it because I remember disbelieving older kids on the school playground over the next couple of years when they tried to say that Vader was Luke’s father. What kind of nonsense was this? What movie had they seen?

When we arrived home from The Empire Strikes Back, my 16-year-old brother agreed to play Star Wars with me.

We ran through the house blasting each other. At one point, when he was apparently tired of playing, he had me get on the floor and pretend I was frozen in carbonite.

After a few seconds of lying on my back with my cupped hands near my shoulders, I asked, “How long do I have to stay here?”

“Until the next movie comes out,” he said, leaving the room. My brother, such a kidder.

Han Solo, shortly after being frozen in carbonite by Darth Vader in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980).

Han Solo, shortly after being frozen in carbonite by Darth Vader in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). My brother tried the same trick on me.

I did try to stay frozen, though, just to spite him. I did not quite make it until Return of the Jedi three years later, but I did last another minute or two.

That Christmas, I received my first Star Wars men (known as “action figures” today). My first figures were: Luke Skywalker (X-Wing Pilot), R5-D4 (who I subbed for R2), C-3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader. Over the next five or six years, I would collect dozens more of the Kenner toys.

My obsession for a galaxy far, far away had begun.

When the Washington Redskins Benched and Traded #10

The recent benching of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, player #10, takes me back to 1988. That year, Washington benched another quarterback #10, Jay Schroeder, ultimately trading him to the Los Angeles Raiders (now Oakland). For that season, I was so mad about the trade that I turned my back on Washington and pulled for LA.

My brother is a true football fanatic and loves Washington, so it was only natural that I grew up a fan of the team. I remember watching their 1983 Super Bowl XVII victory over the Miami Dolphins and their devastating Super Bowl XVIII loss to LA in 1984.

Schroeder Begins

I did not really start watching football and Washington on a consistent basis until the 1985 season, though. I was 10-years-old, so staying up on a Monday night during the school year could be questionable. My parents were rather lenient, so an exception was made in the case of Washington’s game against division rival New York Giants that November. Washington came into the game with a 5-5 record.

Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, #7, suffered a career-ending broken leg during the game, which ABC saw fit to replay two or three times that night. Meanwhile, backup quarterback Jay Schroeder stepped in and led Washington to a victory over New York. The gruesome broken leg as well as the new quarterback was all the talk the next day at school in my 5th grade class. Schroeder lost only one game the rest of the season, and Washington finished 10-6.

The next summer, Schroeder made an autograph appearance at CP Dean sporting goods. Mom took my little sister and me there, and we were among the first five in line. Schroeder made quite the impression on me, as he took the time to talk to us even though there was a line of people snaking through the store and out the door when his session began.

He also wrote out a fully personalized autograph on a 5×7 black & white photo: “Troy, best wishes. Jay Schroeder #10.” As this was the first autograph I had ever personally obtained from anyone, it became a cherished memento. (Though, like so many of childhood’s treasures, it seems to be languishing at the moment in the vault known as Mom’s Attic.)

As we walked away, I heard an assistant tell Schroeder that he would need to hurry things along and stop personalizing the autographs so that he could get through the line of people.

That autumn, as the NFL season began, I found a new friend in the neighborhood, and we began to play 2-on-2 backyard football against other area kids. Back then, backyard football was actually played outside on the grass, rather than inside on a video game.

I played quarterback/tackle and my friend played center/halfback/cornerback. We even drew up a playbook of sorts, though neither of us knew very much about football beyond watching it on TV (still true). Our plays had fun names like “The Hitchcock.” I ask you, what other backyard football team of the 1980s named its plays after a legendary film director?

For home games, we tied kite string between two trees in my backyard. This served as a goal post for kicking field goals and extra points. All of our kicks were technically punts, as effective placekicking would have required a longer field.

One day, I was out practicing my field goals when I decided to make it fun by kicking 16 in a row to predict Washington’s regular season record for 1986. The results were 12 wins (successful kicks) and 4 losses (missed kicks).

I figured that was a good enough record to make the playoffs, so I continued. To my horror, I missed the kick that represented the NFC Championship – the last step before the Super Bowl. I quickly re-kicked that one and decided that Washington would make the Super Bowl after all.

That season, Jay Schroeder led Washington to a 12-4 regular season record and a playoff berth. Washington went on to lose against New York in the NFC Championship game. If only I had made that kick on the first attempt!

Schroeder the Raider

Schroeder suffered a shoulder injury in the opening game of Washington’s 1987 season, and things never seemed quite the same after that. He and Doug Williams, #17, traded the starting quarterback spot back and forth, and Williams went on to have the game of his career when he led Washington to a 42-10 victory over the Denver Broncos in 1988’s Super Bowl XXII. While I was thrilled Washington had won its second Super Bowl in five years, it was bittersweet for me as I was such a Schroeder fan.

As noted, Schroeder was traded to LA later that year, and I became a traitor to the team by giving up on Washington and rooting for LA. As mentioned, LA had beaten Washington in a Super Bowl, so the only worse team I could have switched to in terms of fan loyalty was the Dallas Cowboys.

No matter how annoying Washington can be, even I would never stoop so low.

I found trying to follow a West Coast team while living on the East Coast to be quite a challenge. Most of the games were not televised here, and there was scant newspaper coverage. In short, it was hard to be a fan of LA and continue following Schroeder simply because they had so little exposure here.

A New Era

For the 1989 season, I returned to rooting for Washington. By this time, a new quarterback had replaced Williams, who never replicated his astounding Super Bowl XXII performance. I have to hand it to Williams, though, he peaked in the right game.

Mark Rypien, #11, eventually led Washington to a 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in 1992’s Super Bowl XXVI. I was a Rypien fan as well. In fact, I still have his jersey hanging in my closet. Not that I could wear it now because . . . uh . . . that jersey sure has shrunk considerably in the course of the last 23 years. Must be something about that closet.

Anyway, as fellow Washington fans know, it has been a long drought since Super Bowl XXVI. While there have been one or two ups, things never quite seem to work out for the team.

With Kirk Cousins, #8, taking over for Griffin, Washington enters yet another quarterback transition this season. Will Cousins prove to be the next Jay Schroeder or Mark Rypien? Can 2015 finally be the year that things really turn around for Washington?

The Washington Redskins (2014)

The Washington Redskins are currently undefeated in the 2015 regular season. However, they have to play their first game on Sunday.

2015 Regular Season Predictions

Even coming off a 4-12 season (one of those 4 victories was against Dallas, though, the equivalent of a Super Bowl win in recent times), Washington fans are always hopelessly optimistic.

A small bit of preseason success and we assume a Super Bowl victory is imminent. After all, right now is the best part of the regular season – for our team is still undefeated at 0-0. Potential is limitless.

Without a kite string goal post in my backyard, I cannot hope to predict the upcoming season with the same level of accuracy as I did in 1986. Instead, I will just have to try my best by making predictions the old-fashioned way.

September 13: vs. Miami Dolphins (winner: Washington)
September 20: vs. St. Louis Rams (winner: Washington)
September 24: at New York Giants (winner: New York)
October 4: vs. Philadelphia Eagles (winner: Washington)
October 11: at Atlanta Falcons (winner: Washington)
October 18: at New York Jets (winner: New York)
October 25: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (winner: Washington)
November 8: at New England Patriots (winner: New England)
November 15: vs. New Orleans Saints (winner: New Orleans)
November 22: at Carolina Panthers (winner: Washington)
November 29: vs. New York Giants (winner: Washington)
December 7: vs. Dallas Cowboys (winner: Dallas)
December 13: at Chicago Bears (winner: Washington)
December 20: vs. Buffalo Bills (winner: Washington)
December 26: at Philadelphia (winner: Philadelphia)
January 3: at Dallas (winner: Washington)

2015 Regular Season Record Prediction: 10-6

Keep in mind, I am a Washington Redskins fan. Reality is not a consideration in any of this.

For Love of the Trek

Becoming a Trekkie

Though I grew up watching and enjoying Star Trek in reruns, I did not become an obsessive fan until I was 11-years-old. Until that point, my loyalties rested primarily with Star Wars.

By 1986, however, the Star Wars film franchise had already started a self-induced coma from which it would not emerge for over a decade. In December of that year, my brother took me to Ridge Cinema to see Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – or “the one with the whales” as it has come to be called by the general public.

My first exposure in a theater to Star Trek had been Star Trek III: The Search For Spock in June 1984. While I liked The Search For Spock and spent the rest of the summer doodling pictures of the refit version of the USS Enterprise, The Voyage Home took things to an entire other level for me.

Leonard Nimoy (Spock) helmed both The Search for Spock and The Voyage Home, but I consider The Voyage Home and 1987’s non-Trek Three Men and a Baby to be his directorial masterpieces. It turned out that the man best known for playing a stoic Vulcan had a flair for directing comedy.

Leonard Nimoy directs a climactic scene in STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)

Leonard Nimoy directs a climactic scene in STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986)

By the end of The Voyage Home, I was hooked and wanted to know everything I could about Star Trek. I checked out all kinds of books from the library, such as The Making of Star Trek by Stephen E. Whitfield and The World of Star Trek by David Gerrold. The first gave a behind-the-scenes look at the first two seasons of the TV series, while the second examined the TV series and the first three movies.

I also began a Star Trek library of my own, initially consisting of various paperback entries from the Pocket Books novel series. One of the earliest I read was Dreadnought! by Diane Carey. Carey went on to write one of my all-time favorite Star Trek novels, Best Destiny.

While Star Wars provided a fantastic universe that I enjoyed exploring via action figures (“Star Wars men” back then), the universe of Star Trek seemed like it could be real – given enough time and effort.

I was growing up, and with Star Wars starting to fade into the background, Star Trek seemed like the next logical step for me – pardon the pun. While there is sometimes a rivalry among these two franchises, I love them both.

I hopped aboard Star Trek as an ardent fan right before everything changed. To this point, Star Trek consisted of the 79 episodes of the 1966-1969 TV series, 22 episodes of a 1973-1974 animated series, and 4 1979-1986 movies. All of these essentially focused on the same central characters and cast.

In the fall of 1987, a new television series hit the syndicated airwaves, Star Trek: The Next Generation, featuring a new crew aboard a new Enterprise approximately 80 years after Captain James T. Kirk’s adventures. I initially hated the new show, but that is a story for another day.

Including The Next Generation, an eventual 4 spinoff series of new captains and crews meant that “Star Trek” in some form aired new installments on TV continuously between 1987 and 2005 – adding an astounding 622 more episodes. Meanwhile, the original cast concluded its run with films in 1989 and 1991, and The Next Generation cast added four more movies between 1994 and 2002.

I go down this convoluted path only to point out that I came at the very end of the generation that knew Star Trek in simpler times, when it was only the adventures of Kirk, Spock, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and others aboard the USS Enterprise.

For me, Star Trek was always about that basic premise, and the various spinoffs, though sometimes interesting, distracted from what should have remained the focus.

In recent years, Star Trek finally regained its focal point by returning to the original characters through an “alternate universe” presented in Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), movies that reinvigorated the weary franchise.

In retrospect, it only makes sense. Who else could save Star Trek but Kirk, Spock, and the gang? Next year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of the original TV series, they return again in Star Trek Beyond, currently scheduled to hit theaters on July 8.

All of these years later, no matter if enjoying the “prime” or the alternate universes, why do I still love Star Trek?

Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Kirk (William Shatner), and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) in STAR TREK: Spectre of the Gun (1968)

Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Kirk (William Shatner), and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) in STAR TREK: Spectre of the Gun (1968)

The Characters

When Star Trek is at its most inspiring and entertaining, the characters are the foundation. The dramatic triangle of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy gives Star Trek its spirit. Kirk, the decision-maker, seeks counsel from Spock, representing reason, and McCoy, representing passion. In a sense, his two closest friends symbolize Kirk’s own dual nature – indeed, the same dual nature that battles within all of us.

As captain, Kirk is the core of Star Trek, and his “risk is our business” philosophy underscores the entire series. So often he demonstrates the loneliness of command, yet never allows it to consume him.

When the Enterprise is forced into battle, his tactical combat strategies are thrilling. After outmaneuvering an enemy, however, he shows compassion and attempts to refuse the final kill. After besting him in a hand-to-hand fight, for instance, he even tries to save the Klingon who ordered the murder of his son.

The Enterprise

Almost a character herself, the Enterprise provides verisimilitude to Star Trek. The exterior and interior designs of the starship all seem quite plausible, given the right levels of technology. She is Kirk’s one true love.

If space embodies our dreams, then the Enterprise represents our ingenuities necessary for accomplishing those dreams.

The Music

The orchestral music of Star Trek serves as the perfect companion when exploring the universe and the human condition. The scores of Alexander Courage, Fred Steiner, and Gerald Fried on the TV series are unparalleled, while James Horner’s soundtracks for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock remain the pinnacle of Star Trek’s film music.

* * *

“It was fun,” was how Kirk ultimately summed up his life, and that simple statement sums up Star Trek for me as well as any other.


2015 has unfortunately marked the loss of many contributors to the Star Trek legacy, and I would be remiss to complete this post without mentioning some of them here. My condolences to their family and friends. Their art endures.

  • Harve Bennett (August 17, 1930—February 25, 2015) Producer & Writer—Star Trek II, III, IV, & V
  • Leonard Nimoy (March 26, 1931—February 27, 2015) “Spock” | Director—Star Trek III & IV | Writer—Star Trek IV & VI | Producer, Star Trek VI
  • Grace Lee Whitney (April 1, 1930—May 1, 2015) “Janice Rand”
  • James Horner (August 14, 1953—June 22, 2015) Composer—Star Trek II & III

The Power and Frustration of Netflix

When it comes to technology, I am change-resistant. Staying “current” is a costly, never-ending battle. I tend to find something I like and stick with it until it falls apart.

There are alleged exceptions to this methodology, however. My upgrades to our home entertainment system often seem to occur right around the time of the latest home media release of a certain movie saga.

These are only coincidences and cannot be proven otherwise.

In fact, it is normally my wife who drags me kicking and screaming into a new technology realm. Back in 2008, she was adamant about getting me an iPod music player. “Why would I need that? I have CDs,” I said.

Apple’s iPod and associated iTunes software quickly became an obsession that unlocked my music collection. Now, all of these great songs stuck on otherwise mediocre albums were suddenly getting personal airplay due to the power of (carefully controlled) randomness. While I still collect CDs for key artists, I have fully embraced digital music. As with my record collection, I still keep my CDs, though.

A few years later, she tried again with a Kindle Fire, Amazon’s combination touch screen tablet and eBook reader. “Why would I need that? I have a laptop for mobile computing, and I have real books,” I reminded her. On this, she was only half victorious.

The Fire demonstrated for me the potential of a touch screen tablet, but the clunky interface left much to be desired. I soon found Apple’s iPad 2 much more to my liking – but it all started with that Kindle.

As for eBooks, they have yet to catch on with me. I understand the appeal, particularly since storage space can be such a premium. I still prefer either to buy physical books and donate unwanted titles later or to borrow them from our public library.

Another piece of evidence that I will offer that my wife is actually the instigator on our technology upgrades is that she also pulled me into the smart phone era. “Why would I need that? I have a perfectly good flip phone. Plus, I have an iPad and an iPod,” I said.

Ah, well, you guessed it, I was wrong again.

Despite the valuable information my iPhone provides access to in a moment’s notice, however, I do miss that flip phone sometimes. It felt a lot more like a Star Trek communicator than my iPhone does (which was recently upgraded from a 4 to a 6 due to you-know-who).

Anyway, my dear wife’s latest attempt to pull me out of the 1980s and into the 21st century involves that powerhouse of streaming media known as Netflix.

Netflix

Netflix

Back in June, over my futile objections (“We already have more Blu-rays and DVDs than we could ever watch”), she signed us up for a free trial of Netflix. Ostensibly, this was so we could finally catch up on Scandal and actually stay current with the upcoming season for a change, rather than always being one year behind on DVD.

I quickly found Netflix to be a treasure trove of old shows (and, to a lesser extent, movies). I had enjoyed some streaming with Amazon Prime in the past, but it seemed every show I started to watch for “free” on Prime would get yanked back over to the pay side.

On Netflix, I started watching old favorites like Magnum, P.I. or The Wonder Years.

I also rediscovered shows like Cheers – which I had only sporadically watched in the past (I am nearing the end of Season 3 now).

Then there was Emergency!, a show I spent the first few years of my life watching. I called it “Johnny & Roy” back then and would re-create their adventures using my fleet of Tonka fire trucks. While I no longer play with toy trucks, it turns out I still love the show.

Though not really required for most of these old-school shows, I enjoy watching them in sequence from the beginning – filling in so many gaps that were missed by my irregular viewing habits over the years.

Some shows, such as Knight Rider, I found were better left in my fond memories. KITT was still awesome, but it turns out the car really was the best actor on the show. Who knew?

I was finally able to find an old movie I had only caught pieces of on TV about 15 years ago. It reminded me of a Twilight Zone tale, except in movie length. I was never quite able to remember the name of the movie to find it again.

Turns out it was 1961’s The Flight That Disappeared. To be honest, I do not even remember how I managed to find it on Netflix. I was glad finally to see it in its entirety, but the movie unfortunately fizzles out near the end after an intriguing set-up.

I also found Pee-wee’s Playhouse – one of the most creative Saturday morning shows ever. Imagine Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe on steroids. While revisiting the series one episode a week during breakfast each Saturday, I have been surprised at how many specific episodes I remember watching as a kid.

As I started researching the show (remember, I like knowing details), I discovered that it was none other than Cyndi Lauper that performed the wacky opening theme song. To me, the song is a classic, but it manages to annoy both my wife and our dog. There is no accounting for taste.

While searching for a specific title on Netflix is easy, I found it difficult to browse around and find random things. There are third-party websites out there that sort of help, but that should not be required.

After lots of random searching and surfing, though, I had added over 150 titles to “My List” on Netflix.

I realize all of this makes me sound like a real couch potato, but just know that I did search to see if Netflix offered any exercise videos to stream. Unfortunately, it does not.

I would have enjoyed watching a roomful of people exercise on TV as I ate my morning pop-tarts.

Despite the variety of non-fitness content available, the Netflix experience has not been perfect.

At first, we had issues maintaining connectivity. Since there were many potential points of failure (our Internet provider, our new router, our Blu-ray-player-turned-streaming device, various cables between all of these things, and Netflix itself), I knew troubleshooting would be a hassle. I swapped out some cables first, but the underlying issue remained.

Despite the fact that we had only had it for two years, I next started to suspect the Samsung Blu-ray player. I usually do not have much luck with Samsung products, but had selected this one simply because it seemed a lesser evil than Sony, whose electronic products also traditionally fail me. I researched Blu-ray players with streaming capability to replace it, but found little that was neither Samsung nor Sony.

As I was suffering from analysis paralysis around replacing the player, my wife resolved the issue by buying an Apple TV – a small and surprisingly inexpensive streaming device that hooked up to our television and surround sound system. Netflix has been fine ever since.

The Apple TV opened the door to other digital possibilities – like easily displaying the screens and playing the audio from our various Apple devices on our main television. Admittedly, I have not had any real reason to do so other than, “Because it’s cool!”

The Apple TV is also able to access my Mac’s iTunes library over the home wi-fi network, meaning I can play music from there on our surround sound system. This I have actually been doing quite often, despite the fact that it was nearly just as easy to dock my iPod into the same system. I like that all of the local cover art properly displays using the Apple TV method.

A second issue I have encountered with Netflix is not so easily resolved. It is an issue that is apparently common in most streaming services. I start watching a television series, only to have it leave Netflix before I finish.

For instance, I did not even make it through the first season of Magnum before it was gone. I might have to buy the DVDs of that one, as the show was just starting to hit its stride. Now I understand why so many people “binge-watch” marathons of various TV series on Netflix. They are afraid the shows will leave.

In addition, some shows have seasons missing, but even more problematic is that some seasons have episodes missing. I ran into this with Quantum Leap, which is missing the pilot episode that sets up the entire series. The second or third episode leads off the first season on Netflix and is even wrongly labeled as the first episode. Instead, with no warning, Sam Beckett’s adventures are joined in progress.

While I enjoy and use Netflix more than I expected, the non-permanence of streaming content makes it unlikely to replace Blu-ray or future physical media options for me. On the other hand, it is a fun way to watch TV without commercials as well as try out shows I might not otherwise attempt.

Now, if you will excuse me, it is time for another episode of “Johnny & Roy.” Where are my toy fire trucks?