My favourite photos of the month – June

A mostly sunny June was full of outdoor fun, with some indoor adventures too.

Batgirl had fun in the park 🙂 #ootd

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Having friends over for an impromptu Al fresco dinner

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Me and my shadow

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Kiki at the cafe 🙂

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Today she dusted off her awesome #TrunkLTD Bat-dress #ootd

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Enjoying the classics – Marvel's 1983 adaptation of Return of the Jedi.

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Enjoying a sunny lunch in the garden under our Spidey sunshade…

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Our little Kiki finally has her own Jiji! Thanks Joel, Wendy, and Chip 🙂

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Woo hoo! We made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs! #StarWarsatMT

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This kid. So awesome. 😀

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She's fond of leaping off things at the moment. I like her dress & wellies combo today 🙂 #ootd

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Playtest: LEGO Star Wars – Death Star Final Duel set

My daughter loves LEGO and loves Star Wars, so naturally she enjoys playing with LEGO Star Wars. This week we were lucky to be sent a trio of sets to build, play, and review. When they arrived my daughter was rather overcome with excitement.

Honestly, her choice of a LEGO Star Wars t-shirt that morning really was a coincidence.

I assumed she’d have trouble deciding which one to make first, but she opted straight away for the set with Darth Vader. She loves Darth Vader. I like to think it’s because he’s Leia and Luke’s daddy.

This new Star Wars LEGO set recreates the iconic setting of the final showdown between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi in the Emperor’s Death Star throne room.

My daughter and I spent an afternoon making this together, while listening to the Return of the Jedi soundtrack (her idea). Given this set is recommended for 8+ and my daughter is a 3-year-old, I was the Master Builder with my daughter assisting. Playing LEGO is a great joint activity for us, and while she can’t make a set like this herself, it helps her develop her fine motor skills, ability to follow instructions, general concentration, as well as her imagination, when we build LEGO together like this.

She did have sole responsibility for the minifigs though, of which there are five – Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and two of his Royal Guards.

Death Star™ Final Duel (#75093) - minifigs

The detailed 100+ page instruction booklet was easy to follow, and by afternoon’s end we had an awesome LEGO Star Wars playset. It recreates the key spaces of the movie setting, such as the Emperors throne:

Emperor on throne
“My young apprentice…”

The Stairs leading up to it where Luke and Vader duel:

Death Star™ Final Duel (75093) - Luke vs Vader
“Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side.”

The shaft where Vader sends the Emperor to meet his maker:

Emperor thrown away
“Nooooooooooooo…..”

And the Darth Vader figure is particularly nicely detailed, with a two piece helmet so you can recreate the big reveal.

Vader removes helmet
“Just for once… let me… look on you with my own eyes.”

As well as the adapted setting, this also has interactive elements such as a collapsing walkway and stairs, sliding doors, plus a minifig ‘force jump’ lever, and even mechanism to fire a lightsaber in the air. There are also hinges and siding parts so it can be opened up or closed between play sessions.

“Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed.”

I actually have an early precursor to this set. That one wasn’t very impressive.

To call this new set an improvement is clearly an understatement.

The fundamentally great thing about this is that it’s a playset. It provides my daughter with a detailed LEGO Star Wars environment for her to recreate scenarios with her minifigs. We have a bunch of LEGO Star Wars vehicles, which are great, but this is our first playset (the one above clearly doesn’t count) and the way she interacts with it is a joy to behold.

My daughter loves to improve upon the existing stories, usually by adding more female characters (for instance, she made her own Princess Leia minifig and a brand new scenario to go with it). As this scene is all male, she addressed the lack of women by bringing in a couple of female characters from the other sets we received.

Eventually, we came up with our own alternative finale.

And that was rounded off with an epilogue that my daughter created all by herself.

I think she knows daddy often likes a glass of wine or two at the end of the day. :s

This is a perfect LEGO Star Wars set to enable any little girl (or boy) to create new adventures with. While it was satisfying to construct, it’s far more fun to play with. My daughter usually tries to pull apart any sets we build, but she hasn’t even attempted to with this. She far too busy coming up with more stories in the galaxy far, far away. The force is strong with this one.

Playing Death Star Duel

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The LEGO Star Wars – Death Star Final Duel set (75093) has an RRP of £69.99, and is available to buy here.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive this LEGO set free of charge. All opinions stated remain our own.

‘My Daddy is Super Because… He Watches Star Wars With Me’

As Father’s Day messages go, you may not think much of it. But to me, this message from my 3-year-old daughter in a card she made at nursery, is gold.

While obviously dictated (her writing isn’t that good), one of the reasons I love it is I know that it’s genuine. Our shared love of Star Wars has become a defining aspect of our relationship.

My Daddy is Super CROP

Those of you who follow my blog will know I’m rather into all things Star Wars, and most people – especially those who know me – assume that I’m merely indoctrinating my young padawan daughter into the ways of the force. The truth is rather more complicated than that. I have a bit of a confession to make. Until a couple of years ago, I was actually a pretty lapsed Star Wars fanboy.

“I am a Star Wars fan, like my father before me.”

I had always intended to show my daughter Star Wars, and if interested to give her my old toys when she was older. I figured probably when she was 7 or so, the age I saw Star Wars. But before she was even 2-years-old, she saw one of Jeffrey Brown’s Vader books and loved it. Not long after, I brought my old Star Wars toys home from my parents – intending to store them in the attic for next few years – but they never made it past the living room. She spotted them and they’ve been a permanent fixture there ever since. If I remember correctly, it was my wife who encouraged me to show our daughter Star Wars.

She also plays with my old Star Wars LEGO, and lacking a Princess Leia minifig, made some up herself. She frequently chooses to wear her Star Wars clothes (especially a certain skirt!), and dress up as Darth Vader. She also enjoys trying to chop my arms off with her lightsaber. While I clearly delight in all this, it is instigated by her.

So the thing is – rather than me trying to mould her into a Star Wars fan, her enthusiasm for the galaxy far, far away has actually reawakened my own Star Wars fandom, inspiring me to reconnect with these beloved characters and scenarios I thought I had relegated to simple nostalgia. Her enthusiasm for the saga frequently surpasses my own.

Star Wars: The Fangirl Awakens

Because she was embracing this so eagerly, the world of Star Wars merchandise became a bit of a gendered marketing battleground for me. But through this I have also connected with the amazing Star Wars fangirl community, who engage with Star Wars in ways that us fanboys never really considered. Many of them are also from a younger generation, so came to the saga via a different path. I had never heard of Ahsoka Tano a year ago, and now my daughter and I are enjoying discovering her unfolding story in The Clone Wars cartoon that I had previously ignored. The fangirl community is amazing, and should my daughter continue to enjoy these geeky interests, I am so glad that there is such a warm, loving, and inspiring community out there for her to join.

“You have taken your first step into a larger world.”

I love her Father’s Day message because it places value on the fact that I watch Star Wars with her. I always sit with her when she watches anything while home with me. I have never used the TV as a babysitter (this is probably why I get a lot less done around the house than I should!).

To me the television is not a passive pursuit, a device you turn on to tune out of life for a while. It is something to engage with. To discover new stories, strange new worlds, incredible ideas, and inspiring people. To stimulate your mind, and create questions you will seek to answer. So when my daughter and I watch TV together, watch Star Wars together, I answer any of her questions and discuss them further if needs be.

For example, what happened to Obi-Wan when he had the lightsaber fight with Darth Vader? A talk about death and how people live on in the memories of those who love them took place. When Princess Leia was shown in her skimpy ‘slave’ outfit in Return of the Jedi, my daughter asked “Why has Princess Leia got no clothes on?”. An early discussion about slavery, objectification, and sexual objectification ensued.

You will read endless articles portraying a generation of kids having too much ‘screentime’, but less on what they’re actually watching, and very little about how we as parents empower our children to understand, analyse, and question what they’re being presented with. They are growing up in the digital age, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they’re media savvy as early as possible.

So watching Star Wars with her, creating an environment where she can engage and analyse it, has been an important part of her own development and our parent & child relationship.

But she loves Star Wars as a story too, and has been happy to watch each film in a single sitting ever since she was 2-years-old. Of the characters, my daughter is a big Princess Leia fan but her other favourite one is Darth Vader. The reason? Because he’s Princess Leia’s daddy.

I don’t know how long her love of Star Wars will last, but for now this is our thing as a father & daughter. So I’ll take my daughter thinking I’m super because I watch Star Wars with her. I also think she’s pretty awesome for watching it with me too.

Woo hoo! We made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs! #StarWarsatMT

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REVIEW: Star Wars at Madame Tussauds

If you’re a Star Wars fan who’s always wanted to know what it would feel like to sit next to Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon, or opposite Han Solo in a Mos Eisley Cantina, then the new Star Wars at Madame Tussauds attraction sounds perfect for you.

My wife and I took our little Star Wars fangirl along to it this week. With 16 different characters placed in a variety of iconic scenes from the movies, this latest addition to the famed London attraction offers Star Wars geeks plenty of opportunities to post selfies from the galaxy far, far away.

First up we sat down next to Chewie in the cockpit of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

Woo hoo! We made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs! #StarWarsatMT

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As with the whole attraction, the attention to detail was great, and Chewie looked terrific.

But the best bit was…

…this big red button next to you. Hit it and you launch into lightspeed!

Chewie’s Corellian co-pilot was stuck in Mos Eisley, so my wife and daughter sat down next to keep him company – then an uninvited guest joined them.

"Shoot him first Han!" #StarWarsatMT

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Our droids? They had to wait outside.

"Look, sir, Droids!" #StarWarsatMT

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These are definitely the droids we’re looking for. I was also really happy to see these guys.

I will never, ever, not get a kick out of seeing these original Stormtroopers. They were perfect 🙂

Generally, the models were great and the environments they were set in have been nicely realised. I personally felt that the non-human characters worked best as they look just like you imagine the ‘real’ ones would, and this is the most immersive aspect of the attraction. The others that are based on actors, while they’ve been finely realised, are more similar to the traditional Madame Tussauds figures. Still great for taking photos with though.

The choices of characters and scenarios is mostly satisfying for any Star Wars fan. However….

I was disappointed that there was no place for Padmé Amidala, and especially sad that the chosen setting for their Princess Leia figure was with Jabba wearing her ‘Slave’ outfit. Princess Leia is a badass, but this is the character’s lowest, most powerless period in the whole trilogy and it’s a shame it’s become the default Leia image to many.

Overall though, I feel that Star Wars at Madame Tussauds London offers us fans another fun way to interact and engage with the galaxy far, far away.

It’s worth noting that you can’t just visit the Star Wars exhibit on its own, but as part of entry to the whole of Madame Tussauds. This is a very linear experience, with all visitors starting at the same place and following the same route through various themed zones and rooms, the ‘Spirit of London’ ride, and the Marvel Superheroes 4D Experience, with the Star Wars attraction right at the very end. This journey through Madame Tussauds can be quite an overwhelming audio visual experience, and if your Star Wars loving child is prone to overstimulation, then a visit here may not be right for them.

But if this wretched hive of scum and villainy sounds like the place for you, head along and share your pics! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #StarWarsatMT, and tag/mention Madame Tussauds on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

While it may not offer the bells and whistles of a theme park ride, Star Wars at Madame Tussauds is a more elegant attraction for a more civilized age.

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Disclosure: While I was not paid to write this piece, we did receive free entry to the attraction.

Daddy Swans Can Raise Their Kids Too

“There’s the mummy swan with all her babies!” exclaimed my three-year-old daughter about the swan on the canal with their cygnets. We had probably seen daddy swan earlier, picking fights with the local geese.

I’m one of the growing number of stay-at-home dads, and I’ve been home with my daughter since she was six months old. Yet despite having an at-home dad for most of her life, she still defaults to the assumption that the parent looking after their children must be the mother.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. We had just left the baby & toddler group I help to run, where there were dozens of parents and carers – but I was the only man there. On the walk home, we bumped into a few more parents we knew, all of them mothers at home with their children. That morning, I had read numerous books to my daughter, including classics such as Where The Wild Things Are, Dogger, and some Mog books – all of which, like many in our collection, feature the mother as primary carer.

This ‘norm’ carries over into other aspects of how parenting in portrayed or perceived – including nature, where there are far fewer everyday examples of nurturing fathers to cite. We tend to humanise, or give character too, the animals around us. When it comes to their parenting, the gender roles can be perceived very rigidly, whether it’s a cartoon with talking animals or us observing their behaviour in real life.

But one of the things that makes us human is our ability to transcend nature. Unlike animals we can choose to suppress our urges, not act on instincts we know are not relevant to the world we find ourselves in, and change the way we parent to suit our circumstances.

Being the dad used to be seen as being the breadwinner, or the sports guy, or the one who cooks with on the barbecue. Some of those dad cliches apply to me. But I’m also the dad who’s at home with our daughter, loves cuddling her, will happily play dolls with her, and ties a damn good ponytail.

Reflecting this changing view of fatherhood, stock photography provider Getty Images has launched a special collection to coincide with Father’s Day. The images show fathers as nurturing, caring, and attentive parents, offering a more modern idea of masculinity and fatherhood.

These stock photos will become part of the everyday noise of the online parenting world, turning up in peoples social timelines and hopefully evolving perceptions about dads among those that don’t see fathers this way yet.

It’s easy to relax into accepted norms. Sometimes we need to curate the way the world around us is presented, to reflect not only the way it is, but the way we want it to be.

So when my daughter pointed out the ‘mummy’ swan, I felt the need to introduce an element of doubt and analysis into the conversation. “How do you know it’s the mummy swan?”, I asked, “It might be the daddy?”. She pondered for a moment, then decided that this time it was indeed the daddy, while it was the mother that was off having ‘me’ time battling the geese.

This may (almost certainly) have been factually incorrect, but learning isn’t just about facts. I am a great believer that one of the key ways we learn how to be human is through stories, and this includes the narratives we witness in everyday life. We take what we learn in these tales, to build up a vision of how society works. The fluidity of gender roles in parenthood is part of that.

And perhaps I’m being unfair on the poor old male Swan? They CAN change the way they parent to suit their circumstances. Cobs (as they’re called) are known to rear their cygnets by themselves if they lose their mate, so they clearly have within them the same desire to love and nurture their children as the female. So as far as we were concerned, daddy swan was with the kids that day, and we agreed they were having a wonderful time of it too.

We Didn’t Have Any Princess Leia LEGO. So My Daughter Came Up With This Instead.

Do you remember that awesome scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Princess Leia was disguised as a Stormtrooper and had a lightsaber?

Of course not because it doesn’t exist – except in the imagination of my three-year-old daughter. It’s just one of the scenarios and characters she has created for the Star Wars universe with her assorted LEGO.

We have a bunch of Star Wars LEGO, but sadly none that involved a Princess Leia minifig. I’ll gladly trade one of my three Luke Skywalkers or Qui-Gon’s if anyone’s interested in a swap? (Not slave Leia). But this hasn’t deterred my daughter from creating her own. She has decided a generic black ‘girl’ hair is in fact Princess Leia’s, and she first created an approximation of her Hoth look in The Empire Strikes Back.

As we don't have one, my daughter put together her own LEGO Princess Leia (Hoth outfit). 🙂

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The latest incarnation of her LEGO Leia took things in a different direction. She often talks about the section of Star Wars when Han and Luke are dressed up as Stormtroopers. She’s also very into the fact that Luke and Leia are siblings, and that Darth Vader is their father. The men have lightsabers, why not her too?

So one day when we were playing LEGO and I wasn’t playing attention to what she was doing (I don’t just play LEGO to humour her – I play too, building my own stuff), she suddenly exclaimed “Look! It’s Princess Leia from The Empire Strikes Back, when she was dressed as a Stormtrooper and had a green lightsaber!” And indeed it was.

So, as we know, that scene didn’t happen, but it’s an intriguing scenario. Why has she disguised herself as a Stormtrooper? Is it an improvised solution as in Star Wars, or something more planned? How come she has a lightsaber? The force is strong in her family after all. The idea of Leia dressed as a trooper then brandishing and (hopefully) kicking off with a lightsaber is irresistibly cool.

The next minifig she came up with was a bit of a mashup – the little known Sith warrior, Lady Venom.

My daughter has no idea who Venom is, other than it was the ‘villain’ minifig with a Spider-Man LEGO set she had for her third birthday. Perhaps aware of the poor level of female representation in much merchandise, she instantly appropriated Venom as a female character. Having seen 5 Star Wars films, Rebels, and some of The Clone Wars, she also has a handle on the Sith, especially their penchant for wearing black. So, the black Venom, with added black hood & cloak (from a Darth Maul minifig) and voila – you have Sith warrior Lady Venom, possibly inspired by Asajj Ventress.

According to my daughter, Lady Venom knows Leia and Darth Vader, but Leia is working to make her normal again. I have imagined that Lady Venom was once a great Jedi, who was possessed by the alien Venom symbiote and her mental turmoil was exploited by the Sith to turn her to the dark side of the force. Her red lightsaber is meant to be like Kylo Ren’s from The Force Awakens.

We’ve also  been trying to figure out when in The Empire Strikes Back Leia could be disguised as a trooper and end up with a green lightsaber. Our best idea would be somewhere on Cloud City – probably after Boba Fett has flown off with Han and they’re battling to get back to the Millennium Falcon. The green lightsaber? Perhaps R2 had been carrying the one he fired at Luke in Return of the Jedi for a lot longer than we all thought?

Some of the most fertile ground for Star Wars creativity at the moment is between the films. The Clone Wars cartoon(s) were full of wonderful characters and scenarios, as is Star Wars Rebels. Marvel’s new Star Wars comics are doing a great job in filling in the gap between Star Wars and Empire with some really interesting ideas and developments – all of it canon.

My daughter is engaging in the same kind of creative storytelling that the writers and artists of the new series of Star Wars comics and cartoons are. Only they’re overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group. My daughter’s only limits are her ever expanding imagination.

She was pretty stoked to find a postcard that matches her top #StarWars

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I appreciate Lady Venom is the kind of cross property mash up that Star Wars hasn’t indulged in as of yet – but if we can get Mickey Mouse Jedi knights, why not a Venom Sith?

And c’mon – how awesome would a storyline involving Leia going undercover as a Stormtrooper that ends up with her brandishing a lightsaber be?

Especially if she takes on Lady Venom of the Sith at the end.

I propose that my three-year-old daughter join the Lucasfilm Story Group. I guarantee there will be lots of cool and kickass female characters as a result. Or perhaps she’ll make her own comic. She’s already on her way to becoming a Star Wars artist.

That's no moon, that's my 3yo daughter's first piece of Star Wars art.

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“How Come We Have More Cosplayers Than You Have Black Widow Merch?” #WeWantWidow

Yesterday, writer K. Reilly organised a massive global multi-city flash mob, where cosplayers dressed as Black Widow sent the message that she is a character we want to see more of. We want to see her star in her own movie, we want to see her on apparel, and she totally deserves her own action figures. Here are just some of the awesome images that were shared on social media.  

#wewantwidow

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So Marvel, Disney, Hasbro, and everyone involved in creating Marvel merch, please – #WeWantWidow!