Throwback Thursday: The Last Starfighter

“Greetings, Starfighter! You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada…”

So begins another of the hero cycle stories that JT and I discussed in our last podcast: 1984’s The Last Starfighter. Like its predecessor of a few years earlier, Star Wars: A New Hope, Starfighter is the tale of a young man on the cusp of adulthood dreaming of a future much different from his present circumstances.

Alex Rogan spends his free time playing a video game called The Last Starfighter. One night, to the excitement of his small community (which just reinforces everyone’s boredom), Alex defeats the video game. Before long, a strange man shows up to catapult Alex into a situation he could never have imagined. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Alex Rogan is a more reluctant hero. He just wants to make a life for himself away from the trailer park where he’s been living with his mother and little brother. He could never have imagined where fate would take him.

Whereas the Star Wars movies are meant to emulate the serials of yesteryear, The Last Starfighter is based more upon Arthurian legend with the video game standing in for Excalibur. They still share a lot of hero cycle similarities: the older mentor, a call to adventure, challenges and temptations, and a transformation of the main character. Both Luke and Alex end up a little wiser and more mature by the end of the story.

The Last Starfighter never achieved the popularity of Star Wars, making just over $6 million in its first weekend. Starfighter has decent special effects, but is much more low budget. The movie has a quaint early 80s vibe that will feel very familiar to anyone who lived through that time. Star Wars, on the other hand, will always feel somewhat more exotic with all the locations standing in for other planets in the ‘galaxy far, far away’ mentioned in the opening crawl.

What really stands the test of time with The Last Starfighter is, at least for me, the heart of the story. Alex could be any one of us; stuck in a place we want to escape where each day is nothing but a disappointing replay of the one before. A big difference between the two main characters is that Alex just wants to make a life for himself, whereas Luke dreams of epic adventures. Relating to Alex is easier for me since my dreams were probably not quite as grand as Luke’s. And, at the time The Last Starfighter was released, I’d already taken my first steps into my unknown future to face what might have been my destiny all along.

If you haven’t seen The Last Starfighter and are a fan of sci-fi, I recommend checking it out. Especially since rumors are circulating that a sequel may be in the works.

Podcast: A Writer’s Journey

The one where we talk about “A Hero’s journey” as outlined by Joseph Campbell, but has been used in literature for hundreds of years.

A lot of serious spoilers in this podcast: Star Wars, Treasure Island, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Spaceballs, King Arthur, Hunger Games, The 300, Harry Potter, Flash Gordon. And the one I couldn’t remember: Divergent.

Here’s the podcast!

As always, we’d love to hear from you. Scroll down to sign up whenever we post here, too. TIA! LYL!

Throwback Thursday: Star Wars

Luke Skywalker is bored. He lives with his aunt and uncle on a desert planet and works on their moisture farm. A high point for him is visiting Tosche Station to pick up power converters. Luke longs for adventure and wants to be a pilot for the Rebel Alliance in the fight against the Empire. What he doesn’t yet know is that his life is about to change in a big way, leading him to places he never imagined to learn things about himself that he had never suspected. So starts the journey of the hero of the 1977 movie Star Wars. A movie that began an entertainment empire and made George Lucas a household name.

I didn’t want to see Star Wars at first. In my rebellious teen years, I decided anything my parents enjoyed was not for me. So I fought to stay home instead of going to the movie, but my parents won out. And, as much as I wanted to hate it, I couldn’t. During the first release in that summer of 1977, I saw the movie in the theater so many times I lost count. When I wasn’t at a matinee, I would listen to the soundtrack (a vinyl LP that I played on my parents console stereo system) while the scenes replayed in my mind.

George Lucas imagined Star Wars as a space opera that harkened back to Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. He wanted to create something geared toward teens, unlike the darker and grittier sci-fi so popular at the time. So Lucas started working on the idea that would eventually become the story we now know. Lucas didn’t want the movie to be a futuristic one, but to seem more like mythical lore, as explained in the title crawl: “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”

Studio executives weren’t sure about the idea and didn’t believe Lucas could pull off such an ambitious project. He continued to hone the idea over several years, the story and characters evolving, with the updates continuing even after filming had begun. I didn’t know any of this at the time the movie came out as I wasn’t yet as interested in writing as a potential career. Learning a little more of the background about Lucas’ struggles reinforces the idea that tenacity, not talent, leads to success. Something I try to remember when I feel especially discouraged.

Lucas accomplished what he’d set out to do. He caught and held the imagination of teens, and adults, with his epic space opera. The movie was so popular it remained in theaters for a full six months during the initial run. Luke’s story resonated with audiences. His humble beginnings on the barren desert planet felt like the backstory of many of our lives. Who didn’t want to leave the place where they’d grown up to seek adventure?

More than forty years later, I still take great pleasure in watching the original Star Wars trilogy. Revisiting the first movie is like reminiscing with a life-long friend. I tend to view the story through the golden haze brought about by the passage of time.

Or maybe that glow is from the twin suns setting beneath the horizon of Tatooine.

A Writer’s Podcast

CC and JT near Mendocino, CA in August 2021

Cassidy Carson and I have been writing for a few years now, and while success has eluded us, we’ve learned the basics about the writing gig. We created the “CC and JT Amateur Half Hour” to share our wisdom, for what it’s worth. These thirty-minute episodes are CC and me to sitting down to talk about writing, and engage in a little couples counseling on the side.

Here’s a few gems for you from the jewelry box:

Introductions and such. We’re adorable.

What do people get wrong about writers?

Reality in the Writer’s Universe: The Matrix and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

How writers can use words to illustrate scenes and characters to their full richness.

The Flawed Protagonist (think “Batman”)

“Four S’s” tools to fill and enhance a book: Sounds, Sights, Smell, and Sex.

Reaching success through formula writing.

Our three part series on S-E-X in writing:
Rated G:
Rated PG, PG-13, R:
Rated NC-17:

The entire list is here. Help yourself and tell us what you think. TIA and LYL!

Podcast: A Writer’s Trauma

Brooklyn Bridge and the Towers of Lights at Night

The one where we remember.

We all carry trauma in some way, whether it’s 9-11, the sudden death of a loved one, or growing up in a difficult home. We talk what writers should consider when using traumatic event in their books, or even if writers should use those events.

Pearl Harbor

Please be thoughtful before listening. Thank you and LYL.

Throwback Thursday: Xanadu

Seeing a movie in a theater has always been a special treat. Watching oversized images on a huge screen with the sound cranked way up, eating M&Ms mixed in with popcorn and drinking soda through a Red Vine…well, what could be better for a kid looking to escape homework and chores. Some classic movies came out during my teen years, too: Jaws, Star Wars, Grease, American Graffiti.

Of course, not every movie is a classic and I’ve seen my share of duds. Not every bad movie is truly bad though. Sometimes they can be quite entertaining. Logan’s Run comes to mind, a sci-fi film that I don’t seek out on a regular basis, but one that I’ll watch if it happens to be on TV. The special effects, set design, and costuming are very evocative of the time period in which the movie was made and they don’t stand up well to the passage of time. Plus, the idea of being well past the age when I would have been sent to ‘carousel’ is very disturbing to me these days, whereas I thought a thirty-year-old was ancient when the movie first came out.

This post isn’t about Logan’s Run, but another good bad movie came out several years later. A musical starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, and Michael Beck. Another movie that really evokes the time in which it was made. One that combines the classic elegance of Gene Kelly (on roller skates) with the rock music of Fee Waybill and The Tubes.


The story is about Greek muse Kira, played by Olivia Newton-John and the man she is sent to inspire: frustrated artist Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), who has given up on his dreams to work a day job painting oversized album covers at a music studio. Kira brings about a meeting between Malone and Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), who she’d once tried to inspire only to have him give up on his dreams after falling for her. She then creates a series of events that convince the two men to open a nightclub together. A club to be called Xanadu – in reference to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Xanadu didn’t do well in the American box office when it first came out. The roller skating fad was fading and a massive backlash had broken out against disco. Since I’m always a little behind the times, I still enjoyed both skating and disco, preferably at the same time. Seeing this warmed my heart in so many ways. Memories of the feelings the movie evoked in me at the time are the reason I’ll continue to rewatch it whenever I can. Plus, I grew up watching classic movies starring the likes of Gene Kelly on TV, so seeing him both dance and roller skate on the big screen was a real treat for me. The hopeless romance between the muse and the mortal really stirred the heart of a teen who hadn’t yet dated. Would the gods allow them to be together in the end?

To tie this back to one of the movies I mentioned earlier in this post, the IMDB trivia page says that the star-shaped stage at the end of Xanadu was the same set piece used for the carousel in Logan’s Run.

I can’t really say whether that’s true or not. Maybe I should watch both movies again!

A Letter to the Past

Dear younger me –

Hello from 2021! No, I’m not joking. This is a letter written forty years after your first serious attempt to dabble in fiction. Still have doubts it’s you/me? Let me regale you with a tale about a young lad and his “love” for his music teacher. Now that I proved I am who I say am, here’s some news to drop on you, and as you equate truth to respect, I’m going to respect your brains out.

You are not a successful writer forty-something years in the future. You’re not even breaking even. Remember how your middle school teacher used a modem to connect to the university computer in first period Math? What you could not possibly know then is remote computing would revolutionize civilization. Everybody in the United States and much of the world can interconnect their computers (at home!), and everyone will be a force for information.

Two industries transformed are writing and publication. Hundreds of thousands of authors will write their Great American Novel and electronically self-publish it for pennies per page. Their final work may or may not be good, but the literary landscape will be overwhelmed with books. You’ll do the same, of course, because you love shortcuts. Your books will appear with some noise, mostly among your very small band of family and friends, then be absorbed into the blob with nary a bubble to show for your weeks of work. You will spend hundreds of dollars in return for enough money to buy five Happy Meals.

Painful, huh? It gets worse. I’ve reread some of your/my earlier attempts at writing. It sucks. Seriously. Okay, don’t believe me. But your writing sucks. I see between the lines that you have a decent story in there…somewhere…but it’s lost in the noise. You’re wandering all over the map because you can’t pick your genre. Military, science fiction, romance, or what? Pick something! And that’s not even your worst offense. Your writing technique is sloppy. You’re using adverbs like they’re your best friends, and you’re ignoring basic sentence structure. Stephen King and Nora Roberts can get away with it. When you’re at their level, we’ll talk.

Until that day comes, keep writing. Write every damn day. Don’t listen to the critics or your so-called friends. Looking back, I can see they were more interested in suppressing your ego than giving you wings. You have a talent: you don’t see things like others. You’re genuinely and fabulously weird, and as my doctor recently told me, normal people don’t change the world.

It’s not all bad news. Some people believe in you as an author, then and now, and they will continue to inspire you. My advice is you jettison your ego and listen to them! You won’t because you’re me, and you think you/I have all the answers. Forty years later and I promise you: the only reason you keep your sanity at my age is understanding you don’t have all the answers, and that there’s no shame in asking for help.

Way past the 500-word mark here, and I bet I’ve lost your attention, so I’m going to start my flying car and pick up my dates for the night (Sophia Loren’s younger clones). Before I do, do me a favor and hold onto those LPs under your bed , especially Led Zeppelin IV. Man, kids today have no real sense of good music, I tell you. Ciao!

Podcast: 14,339 Days of Marriage

The one where we go way off script and talk about the successes and challenges of our 39-year marriage.

Toothpaste Caps
Domestic Abuse

We unpacked a lot in thirty minutes. Have a listen and let us know what you think. Thank you! LYL!

Podcast: Writer’s Magic

The one where we talk about using my “Four S’s” tools to fill and enhance a book: Sounds, Sights, Smell, Sex.

Writers will hears the pros and cons of each.

Mentioned: The Grapes of Wrath, The Old Man and The Sea, Cannery Row, Emperor’s New Groove, Dune, Moonlighting

Here you go! Let us know what you think! Thank you! LYL!

Grumpy Old Nevadan

CC and I are deep into our “It’s 6:30 Somewhere” project where we write for thirty minutes every day. My work in progress (WIP) involves a side trip to Las Vegas. Having lived in the Silver State for most of my life, it was pretty easy to pop out the below during tonight’s session. The below was one hundred percent off the cuff, and it was fun to write.

This excerpt is raw and unedited, so suggestions for improvement are always welcome! And it is protected by various copyright laws and such as it is an expression of my ideas. Thank you!

Interstate 15 crosses the most stark landscape in the Lower 48, wiggling through Utah before you cross into Nevada and Vegas. The barren rocks should serve as an omen in reminding travelers that they risk all the money in their grasp with the possibility of having nothing in return. But the human creature is a stupid one and generally bad at math, and there is no more optimistic person in the world than the problem gambler riding those last few miles into Glitter Gulch.

I’m maybe the most cynical person in any crowd, but I can’t help but smile at the lights, sights, and fountains along Las Vegas Boulevard, also known as The Strip. I ditched Dollar in a safe garage a couple miles off the main drag and joined the tourists oohing and ahhing at the least important thing. Under the Fremont Experience, street performers put on their best show for nickels and dimes. I leave my hand on my wallet as I navigate the crowds, ignoring the flesh of the masses.

There are generally two flavors of Vegas casinos, and their nicknames have changed over the decades, but their missions have not. The high rollers cater to the players with deep pockets, so they put on the brightest façade. They own the police force, along with the city, county, and state officials. The only real thorn in their side are the labor unions, but truth be told, money talks, and when it talks, the unions slow down the bigtime casinos about as often as an armadillo crossing in front of a pickup truck on a Texas highway.

The grinders are the casinos who appeal to the construction workers with their Friday checks, the grandmothers with their social security checks, and the tourists who ride in RVs from Fresno. There’s not a lot of money to be had, but the grinders will get all of it with the help of free and watered-down liquor served by ex-showgirls with long legs and silicon cleavage.

Grinders are oddly more profitable than the high rollers because they don’t have the overhead of fifty-story glitz machines, and they don’t have the union visibility of the big boys on the main drag. The tourists go there fully expecting to lose their life savings, but as long as they’re treated nice and filled up with free booze, the tourists more often than not will leave happy, and they’ll be back next year.

Vegas has been grinding tourists down since the middle of the Twentieth Century, and they have the process down to a science.

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