An Authentic Han Solo Costume: The miracle of Amazon.com amid changing industries–and people

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Everyone knows I’m a huge Star Wars fan—which I view differently from the geeky other types of entertainment exhibitions of public support.  When I see the name Star Wars and participate in its products in whatever form, it evokes in me an optimism that is very specific to it that I am very fond of.  That’s why my favorite character within Star Wars is Han Solo, because he is the most optimistic character perhaps ever created for film.  Nothing is impossible for Han Solo—he’ll try anything under any circumstances because his personality is such that he figures his confidence and sheer will can get him through anything.  He is the Donald Trump of science fiction and I’ve felt that way about that character for more than forty years now.  On more than a few occasions I’ve dressed up as Han Solo for Halloween events, or other science fiction endeavors, conventions, watch parties, literary events at book stores—just various festive gatherings that celebrate costuming and character reverence—but I’ve never had any kind of official Han Solo clothing. I would just piece together whatever I could find that sort of looked like the popular smuggler from the Star Wars series and go from there. But my five-year old grandson is about to have a big birthday party marking that invisible line of being a toddler to a genuine little boy fully aware of the world around him with the memories that now matter—and my daughters are fashioning it to Star Wars.  As I’ve reported before also, these parties my kids do for their kids are not just little events—they go all out in creating a very mythic experience that is almost a theme park occurrence and due to their passion for Star Wars they are going all out.  That meant that of course I had to dress up as Han Solo—but this time I wanted to do it for real—as real as possible because of the effort my kids were putting into this party and the eventual impact it would have on the youth in my family attending this thing.  So I turned to Amazon.com to see what was out there and was stunned by a world I discovered.

My mom made me a little vest like Han Solo’s when I was in the fifth grade and I sort of kept it all these years even though it was way too small for me.  But even a few years ago if you wanted something that looked like a Star Wars character and bought a costume from a place like Party City it always came out looking far from authentic.  If you wanted something that looked like the clothing in the movie you had to make it.  Back when my kids were little we went to a Star Wars Celebration in Indianapolis and my wife made Jedi robes for my girls and their friends so they could dress up at that convention which occurred right before the movie Revenge of the SIth.  The internet at that time had some support—you could get directions from people who built their own costumes but there weren’t suppliers carrying things like that on the shelf.  Even though Star Wars was popular there just wasn’t any money in it for costumers to make costumes of all those characters in the movies  for a public of all shapes and sizes.  The scope of that work was unrealistic. For Han Solo specifically his outfit looks pretty simple yet is really quite complex.  For instance, his vest from A New Hope has a series of very complicated pockets positioned just right—and there is nothing like that off the rack at Wal-Mart or Kholes.  Han Solo’s pants don’t have pockets and have a very specific pin stripe down the side of them which disappears into knee-high boots that are meant to put the swash in the buckle for the very dashing character. The shirt under the vest isn’t just a white button-up but has a very unique collar and v-nick style that has to fit just right through the shoulders to give the correct effect.  Then there is the gun belt which is a thing all its own.  So I went looking for these things and I started with the Star Wars Costume exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center—which has been running all summer and will end around the beginning of October before moving on to the next city.  It’s a good exhibit, most of which I’ve seen before at the Smithsonian, but for my quest it served its purpose.  I was able to get right up to the Han Solo costume and look at things up close so that I could duplicate it authentically.  If I couldn’t find the items online, my wife was willing to build them from scratch so we went and took lots of pictures.

To my shook as I started looking now, in 2017 for these very specific Han Solo costume pieces for this epic party my kids were having I discovered that I was able to buy everything at Amazon.com relatively inexpensively.  For instance the great Han Solo vest that I figured was the most important part of the costume was just under forty dollars from an outfit in China.  I skeptically ordered it expecting it to arrive in a very flawed condition.  I expected something that looked like a typical Party City costume that smelled like plastic and rubber.  But what came to my front door was an exact replica of the Han Solo vest from A New Hope made out of material that was like that of tactical gear for a SWAT team.   It was a very good garment that was legitimate and it fit well the moment I put it on.  I was stunned by the quality of it.  I then proceeded to order the official shirt, the pants, the boots and the gun belt which as of this writing hasn’t yet arrived, but everything else has and again I was stunned by the authenticity of each item.

At different points in my life I had looked for these things and nobody carried them—as I said, everything had to be made by hand.  What’s unique about now from then—and by then I mean like six months ago—is that due to all the COSPLAY that goes on at these Comic Con conventions and now that Disney World is building these amusement parks with Star Wars lands within them there is this big COSPLAY movement that has emerged—where people dress up as characters from their favorite movies to delve into the mythology of these various sci-fi events—and out of nowhere there are all these suppliers who are making these costumes to meet the growing demand.  It’s a whole industry of itself that has virtually arrived out of nowhere.  I am aware of some of it because I find Comic Cons interesting as well as Gen Cons and other conventions.  I also noticed that the plans for the new Star Wars resort coming to Disney World is seeking to tap into this emerging market with a Fantasy Island style of Star Wars experience where they encourage people to show up dressed for the part.   Obviously Disney knew all about this culture and were building their business plans around it.  I only discovered it because of my grandson’s birthday party—but this was big business!

As I had ordered everything from my home computer and each item arrived one by one to my doorstep without having to go anywhere to search for it I became more and more impressed.  Even more shocking was that everything fit nicely, I didn’t have to send anything back.  Just by reading some of the reviews I was able to size myself accordingly with no trouble at all.  I figured that the risk was low because if the stuff showed up and was junky I figured my five-year old grandson would forgive me.  He’d appreciate the effort and wouldn’t get hung up on the details—even though he is a very smart little kid.  He surprises me what he notices.  He’s already playing the video game Battlefront very well which is about two years before I thought he would.  He plays online against other people who are very good—and he’s effective.  He knows all the different types of weapons that can be used, how to outfit each character and how to manage the Star Cards which give unique abilities to tactical engagements.  So if something wasn’t right, he’d notice. But after getting the parts of my Han Solo costume together it was obvious that I had nothing to worry about.  As far as this party was concerned, except for my hairline, the outfit looks just like it would if it was on the actual movie set.  That’s pretty stunning for something that was so easily ordered on Amazon.com.

This is all just another example of how imagination is fueling an entirely new industry and due to the excessive and efficient reach of Amazon.com they were able to connect me to suppliers around the world where I could get a very specific items from a forty-year old movie to my doorstep within two weeks.  And the quality wasn’t junky but meant to impress even under the scrutiny of the most ardent film geek.   In some cases my outfit is better than the movie original on display at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  Those costumes were meant for just a few months of filming, these for purchase were meant to last much longer and under the judgment of live audiences.  Needless to say, which I have before, we are seeing something new and hopeful from these modern movie enthusiasts which starts with a mythology in the movie theater and extends into real life—what Disney is doing down at their theme parks is tapping into the public need to play out their fantasies and is an expansion of imagination that is very specific to our species as human beings.  The need to personify a fantasy experience has deep psychological roots that go far beyond primal necessity.   I think the end result is a very positive one that is headed toward an unknown climax.  I know I love to see the imaginations of so many people at work to make something like all this possible—but it surprised even me at the extent of it all. And the entity most responsible for the success of this new industry was Amazon.com.  They were the middle ground players that connected need with supply and allowed both to get what they wanted at the best price and quality.  If they can do that with a simple costume from Star Wars, just think what they can do with real necessities.  We are living in a whole new world.

Rich Hoffman

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Arkham Horror: How to play the game and why!

Dear reader, it should be by now well documented that the things I write about here seldom have anything less than monumental significance to the stage play of life.  For my regular readers you will find the expected observed truths about the rest of the world laced within this article so it should not be expected that this is purely for entertainment or instruction on how to play a difficult, rules heavy role-playing game called Arkham Horror.  The things that excite me are often categorized this way.  Even the things I consider leisure fall into this summation.  When I get a sense that something has some sort of metaphorical significance I become obsessed with plunging into its depths—and this holds true if the target is the literary works of James Joyce or some phantom relic from the past lost to time and space.  CLICK HERE to review.  In that regard I have made my affection for Fantasy Flight Games well known—it is a gaming company that was brought to my life through family members bridging my love of mythology with a need for adventure—and I have found with them a wealth of creativity and new ways of modern storytelling.  One game in particular is of the type that I have to thank the owner of Nostalgic Ink and my grandson for putting before me.  It was just the kind of thing I was searching for and has brought to my life a joy in discovery that nurtures my imagination and for that I am extremely grateful.  Also of note I am placing throughout this article the instructional videos of Ricky Royal from the YouTube channel Box of Delights who poured an extreme amount of love into the creation of the following “how to” videos.  By watching these videos he explains many of the rules and way to play Arkham Horror.image  I used these videos to get started and to make the decision to purchase the game.  They are long, but very complete and well worth watching.  The result is that my wife and I bought Arkham Horror on a Friday afternoon and did not stop playing it until midnight on the following Sunday.   We were one turn away from closing the final gate when one of the characters I was playing was plunged into Time and Space letting the monster Azathoth loose to destroy the world.  I was so frustrated that I wanted to put my fist through our kitchen table because we had worked very hard to position the game for a victory.  But circumstances being what they were—time ran out—as it often does even when the best of hopes are the fuel behind endeavor.

We had played several games over the weekend and most of them ended with losses—the game is far from easy.  In fact, it could be said to reflect life all too accurately even though the subject matter is about monsters and attacks upon mankind from other dimensions.  I find the subject matter to be more accurate than a daily read of USA Today and ultimately more rewarding for the soul even in disappointing losses where all the best layed plans fall apart in the end. For a game it reminds me of Jumanji the old game from the Robin Williams movie—Arkham Horror not only takes place in the streets of the classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, it carries players into other dimensional planes of reality such as the City of the Great Race, the Great Hall of Celeano, R’lyeh, the Plateau of Leng and Yuggoth.  It is often there that terrible things happen if players forget to adjust their lore or luck rating to deal with the type of things that typically happen during the “Other World Encounters” phase.  Sometimes even if players do adjust their settings terrible things will happen anyway—just as they often do in real life so it is the task of the players to adjust and recover attempting to suppress obstacles with tenacity even when the situation feels hopeless.

The terror of the game comes not so much from the monsters which flood the game constantly throughout from each round as the Doom Track edges ever closer to the end where the Mythos Monsters present themselves from centuries of slumber to destroy the world and everyone in it, it comes from the lack of certainty that one has about what happens next—the constant feeling that the floor could drop out from under everyone at any moment.  imageIn this way Arkham Horror is like walking through a commercial haunted house that is dark and smoke-filled not knowing what might happen around the next corner.  Visitors know that the monsters cannot harm them—but the terror comes from not knowing what’s coming next.  In Arkham Horror the game designers obviously took great pleasure in making every stack of cards and every move a potential failure with very little rewards given to players.

The rules of the game are vast.  On its surface all things about Arkham Horror look simple, the game board looks not so much different from a Monopoly board, but this is very misleading.  The game is layered with meaning and small printed text that takes the level of game play very detailed destinations.  There is no way to just pick up the rule book and begin playing even for experienced Dungeon and Dragon players.  The mechanics are very similar, but the depth must be understood before proper game play is even possible.  For instance, particularly helpful items that will help win the game are Elder Signs which can be purchased from the Curiositie Shoppe as a “unique item.”  Those cards are the most powerful in the game because they not only seal gates without having to spend clue tokens, but they take their seal off the Doom Track for the Ancient One holding off its arrival as a destroyer of the world.  Other very helpful tips are alleys which can be recruited down at the boarding house, blessings which can be found at the church and Magick spells which can be purchased at Ye Olde Magick Shoppe that can hold off terrible Mythos cards revealing rituals.  Combat weapons are purchased at the General Store as common items.  It helps to have a couple of pistols to increase combat points up over +6 to +7 with buffed applications above and beyond the amount of fight on the character sheets.  The reason is that each time a player encounters a monster—which is unavoidable—a horror check must be performed with “will” and will is connected directly to “fight.”  So in order to have a high will typically it will cost fight and to beat a monster, both are needed. So the fight needs to come from weapons, not the skill bar as much as possible.

I think for me the most compelling, and terrifying aspect of the game is the “sanity” cost of certain tasks whether it be losing a horror check, casting spells—which often cost sanity—or random things that happen to characters that scare them into losing their mind.  I am used to health points, and Arkham Horror has a standard health measure which is called “stamina” but balancing that out with the general mental health of the players is something unique.  When the mind gets too beat up during the game sanity can be restored at the asylum—two dollars will completely restore mental capacity or a swig of a whiskey bottle will give a +1 boost.  But the game takes place during prohibition so there are times that the police come and arrest anybody caught with whiskey in their possession—so it is dangerous to have such things.

Hearing all this it might be wondered why anybody would want to play the game at all.  That is where things get interesting in a very satisfying way.  In spite of the horror nature of the game, it is actually an adventure game nicely mixing genres in a way that Poltergeist the movie did.  As I was going through the characters I was very pleased to find a card named Monterey Jack who happens to be an archaeologist and has the fixed possessions of a bull whip and a .38 revolver—identical to Indiana Jones the film character.  The game makers at Fantasy Flight know what makes a good adventure story and no matter how great Indiana Jones was, he still ended up tied to a pole during the opening of the Lost Ark, he was cursed by poisoned blood, burnt, tortured, and had spells of voodoo cast against him.  He was captured many times and jailed and designated for execution by the Nazis and all this happened in just three classic movies. image Arkham Horror is the kind of terror that was found in an Indiana Jones film and the best way to play the game is to roll with the punches and just keep getting back up and trying to win.  Some of the best moments in Arkham Horror come from the characters running into clues from ancient secrets or stealing treasure away from terrible creatures deep in a slumber from some dimensional rift.  Needless to say, my favorite character is Monterey Jack, the bull whip gives a plus one to a combat check but if you miss, you can use the whip to role again.   So of course I have to play that character!  It seems Monterey Jack was made by Fantasy Flight Games just for me.

The Indiana Jones films were inspired by old Saturday morning serials from the 30s, and 40s and those serials were inspired by the kind of publications that H.P. Lovecraft wrote for—the pulp magazines so popular in the 1920s and 30s.  Indiana Jones was not original in the sense that he sprang from the mind of George Lucas but was rather a tribute to the kind of movies and stories he enjoyed as a kid. So it is only fitting that the makers of Arkham Horror paid tribute to Indiana Jones who was a product of the original H.P. Lovecraft stories.  The game we see today started in the 80s as a different version of role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons designed by Richard Launius called Call of Cthulhu.  By 2005 Fantasy Flight Games purchased the rights and brought the game up to a level seen presently.  There is a lot of love poured into the presentation that would have taken many hundreds of hours of game development and input by people who simply love all these genres, Indiana Jones, the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft and movies like PoltergeistArkham Horror is a very story driven game that looks like players lose more than they win.  What is most intriguing is that you do not play against other players so much as you play against the Ancient One’s reemergence with the world from an awakened slumber.  Players work together to fight the Ancient One and all its minions—and up to eight players can participate.  The best way to perform this task is to trade items that other players might need like spells, or weapons in the streets of Arkham.  To do this, items can be passed to other players as long as both players are in a street location and they are not in a combat phase with a monster.

About the Ancient One, there isn’t just one, but many.  Of course the primary is Cthulhu but others include the Nyarlathotep, the Yig, Hastur and the Yog-Sothoth.  To make matters even worse each mythos monster has its own worshippers among the land of the living.  For instance, the Yog-Sothoth worshippers have powerful magical abilities giving cultists a combat rating of -1.  Or the Sub-Niggurath worshippers have babies that roam the game board and all are given the “Endless” ability when fighting in combat.  This means that players who kill these creatures cannot collect their hides to sell for money or items as a trophy—but are returned to the monster pool only to be drawn again when a gate opens.  Reading through some of the text reminded me of the many real life attempts by Alistair Crowley and the Masonic rituals particularly on display at the Denver International Airport to appease unseen spirits to invoke supernatural benefit to their attempts at success in life.  Many people are willing to trade their souls for successful help by spiritual aid and in Arkham Horror this is reflected in the sanity meter.  There are many in the real world that clearly do trade away their sanity for a chance at victory even if it calls for the invocation of unseen forces.   Arkham Horror deals with these types of things making it all too reflective or a reality we all know too much about—making this game even scarier because it dares to name an avoided truth.

It has been a long time since my wife and I played a board game all weekend long, but with Arkham Horror the depth was such that it was not hard.  Before we knew it, 14 hours flew by on a Saturday and the sun had set.  We resumed on a Sunday only to see the day fly by as well and midnight was indicated by the hands on a clock.  Arkham Horror is like reading a great novel that you share with other people.  Afterwards win or lose there is a feeling of an adventure that had just been embarked upon.  Other players have complained that Arkham Horror feels too much like a hopeless enterprise because it is difficult to win and like the H.P. Lovecraft stories, bad things happen to the characters and no matter how smart or good you are at playing the game—there is a sense of fate that must fall in your favor to even have a chance at victory.  But that too is reflective of life—all you can really do is position yourself for success and if bad things happen, you have to get up and try again even if you are cursed or find yourself driven insane or even lost between planes of reality.  The adventure of life must trudge on or the world will be consumed by the evil, vile, intentions of an Ancient One striving to claim its hold on all of existence and everyone in it.

Arkham Horror is a fabulous game that is not just mere entertainment meant to pass time away, it is an experience that gives back much just by playing.   It is well designed and certainly does what it set out to do—which is provoke thought.  The random mechanics are not so overpowering that victory is impossible, it is just treacherously difficult like climbing a tall mountain, or running in a marathon.  Playing Arkham Horror will never be the same game twice, but it will always be something that requires attention and care to detail.  It is something that I’d call remarkable for what it does just like the game itself—working on many different levels.image  I am very pleased that my buddy at Nostalgic Ink pointed me to the game.  I have spoken on more than one occasion about these gaming stores and how they are palaces of mythology with only one purpose in mind—feeding the mind of the curious.  Stupid people do not wonder into stores like Nostalgic Ink to buy games like Arkham Horror.  Lazy people would avoid the place like a plague. But in that store are treasures of really previously unimagined consequences, and they are popular enough to have a store of their own now instead of being an underground fad like Call of Cthulhu was for so many years previously.  I have often looked at wonder at the games on the shelf in places like Nostalgic Ink and Yottaquest in Mt. Healthy, Ohio and wondered how or why those games are so popular with this newer generation.  Granted, Arkham Horror even among hard-core gamers is a difficult game—but after playing it, I clearly see the appeal and am a fan.

Rich Hoffman www.OVERMANWARRIOR.com

 

War Gaming Tactical Entertainment: Birthday joy at Nostalgic Ink

It’s not quite my birthday, but usually my family makes a big deal about it always leaving me something to look forward to.  This year, because of my interest in the game Star Wars X-Wings Miniatures we all gathered at Nostalgic Ink in Mason to play a series of games.  My daughters brought their husbands and a tray of Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets and we had a blast.  The highlight of the evening was when the owner of the popular comic book store came back to watch our game overhearing a South Park reference that we had been talking about and performed a perfect reenactment of it.  It sounded just like this!

That is typical in these gaming environments, there is such a love of creativity and boundless imagination which I find refreshing.  Comic book stores are great places to recharge after all the dread of reality has done its best to erode away logic.  Some of the best people I have known over the years find solace in those kinds of places, so it was nice to celebrate my birthday there with my kids.image

I can’t say enough about the X-Wing Miniatures game.  As often as I reference it, it continues to impress me.  Nostagic Ink had on hand an impressive array of Y-Wings, and X-Wings.  The Y-Wings have been mostly sold out on Amazon because players buy them up for their durability during combat and Ion Turret ability.  My son-in-laws’ had their Imperial Aces on the table for the first time which was a sight to behold.  Those new Imperial ships have a curving barrel roll effect that is really valuable and is yet another wrinkle in an otherwise highly imaginative and innovative game that is ever-changing forcing constant adoption.image

Way back when I was 13 to 14 I was involved in military war simulations which were tabletop games that I found very stimulating, intellectually.  Back then, West End Games was producing some great stuff and eventually the realistic simulations of actual World War II battles, and Civil War engagements gave way to a game called Assault on Hoth, which was a Star Wars strategy game done in the spirit of those battle simulations.  It contained a map with the traditional game hex-and-counter mechanic and played well.  Imperial Walkers attacked the Rebel base on Hoth and Rebel Snowspeeders had to meet them to prevent the shield generator from being destroyed.  During the early days of our marriage my wife and I played it three to four times a week and it set a pace for our relationship that would last for decades.image

When I learned war gaming as a young man I quickly learned that much of what was being studied were battle tactics no different from what military generals had been taught at West Point for generations—only without all the politics of the position.  By role-playing battle field formations set against values players had to make the same kind of decisions that military generals had to make in wars from the past.  In this modern age of gaming—for the first time in the history of the world, war gaming wasn’t regulated to the military elite—but to hobbyists and history enthusiasts.  Of course the emotion of the battlefield is not present, and the threat of death not a factor, but the same types of decision-making that George Washington had to make during Revolutionary War battles, or General Lee had to make during the Civil War were available to anybody curious enough to play a game.  Most modern war games are very sophisticated and take into account the many factors which are required for such strategic thinking.image

Nostalgic Ink has in the middle of their store an entire section of these military war simulations that are much better than the ones I played as a kid.  They are fascinating and players routinely set up in the back of that store to play them.  But for me, Fantasy Flight Games has changed the entire field of miniature war gaming with Star Wars X-Wing.  It has all the battlefield tactics of many of those traditional war games, but it has the added element of flight.  I find myself thinking about that game all the time these days.image

This is a good thing because real life often requires the same kinds of hard decisions that X-Wing forces players to realize.  American society has the Second Amendment to protect themselves from an overzealous government.  But it also has freedom of thought, and this has given rise to a culture emerging in these comic book stores where tactical decisions are available to regular people outside of any orthodox political class.  For instance, this year’s FFG world champion is Paul Heaver a software engineer from Northern Virginia who is married with two kids.  He plays online CCGs and computer games, but X-Wing Miniatures is the first game of its type that he’s gotten really serious about.  Before going to the World’s competition—where literally people from many countries all over the world came to battle it out in Minnesota during February of 2014, Heaver paid close attention to the battle reports on the game forums and saw that Tie Swarms were dominating tournaments so he calculated a strategy of using two low pilot value X-Wing fighters and two moderate pilot rating B-Wings to slowly whittle away at the low pilot rating Tie Swarm strategy.  The effectiveness of this approach can be seen below in the video of his championship game.   If you watch the video it has the visual quality of a golf game.  People cheer when ships are destroyed the same way an expert golfer sinks a long birdie.  The same skills that Heaver used to win the Worlds championship at FFG are the same skills it takes to manage large companies, run military maneuvers, and run countries.  I would put Paul Heaver against Vladimir Putin any day and I’d put my bets on Paul.  But in this emerging X-Wing popularity there is Paul Heaver types popping up everywhere and this is a very good thing.  There are a lot of very smart people coming up in these gaming circles.

The tactic that Paul used to win his championship will be destroyed with all the new ships and rules coming out quickly, like the new rules involving the Imperial Aces ships.   They can now barrel roll out of a firing arc and right into the side of a targeted ship taking away their shot, while performing theirs with deadly effectiveness.  So what works today may not work tomorrow, which is why I love X-Wing.  It is why I spent my early birthday with my kids at Nostalgic Ink eating chicken nuggets and playing tactical table top warfare.  Back when I was introduced to these miniature war simulations I learned from a Green Beret who was so obsessed with military tactics that these war games were the only way he could experience battlefield excitement, that the only real difference is that you don’t hear the bullets whizzing by your ears and possess the obvious knowledge that every breath might be your last.  Otherwise, this is what it is like.   Fantasy Flight has done with X-Wing Miniatures something that is new—it has turned up the heat considerably and no longer is reliant on the Star Wars brand to sell the game.  It’s great by itself as its own thing.  Tactically it is complex, and is a wonderful way to pass the time for those obsessed with strategy.  And that would be me.  It is my ideal of a fun time and how I prefer to spend my leisure because all too often real life calls on those skills—and because usually what we do in our recreational time directly contributes to how we conduct ourselves professionally.  And because of Star Wars: X-Wing, the future looks very bright to me.image

Rich Hoffman   www.OVERMANWARRIOR.com