Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why do I still like Star Wars?

I greatly enjoy the 'Zero Punctuation' game reviews on The Escapist Web site. They're incredibly clever and amusing. But today, the review was also a bit thought provoking. In his review of "The Force Unleashed II", Yahtzee (the reviewer) panned the game. I'm not surprised. But he also brought up the fact that the "Bad" of the franchise (movies, games, books, etc.) now greatly outweighs the "Good". He lamented (before amusingly insulting us) that Star Wars fans must be having a pretty difficult time of it recently. And you know what? He's right.

I find myself really having to work hard to pull out any 'goodness' from the slew of crap that has been glutting the Star Wars 'marketplace'. If you'll look back through my posts about the expanded universe you'll see a lot of backpedaling on my part: "Such and such wasn't very good, but if you take this or that aspect of it, you'll see that there is something to 'salvage'". And that's kind of sad.

In his review, Yahtzee pointed out the "good" of the franchise being: Star Wars (Episode IV), The Empire Strikes Back, and Knights of the Old Republic. And you know? He's right. Those are probably the only well-known Star Wars 'products' that I can whole-heartedly endorse as being pure awesome. I personally would include the Han Solo Novels in this list- but those seem to be largely forgotten by everybody. Other than that? Well there is always an 'but...' or an 'if' or an 'except for...'.

I guess that the reason I became a Star Wars fan- and the reason I remain one- is that when /I/ was growing up- those formative years between the ages of 7 and 13- Star Wars was synonymous with high-quality entertainment. The special effects were ground-breaking, the stories were entertaining and (at the time at least) original. The action was mixed with snappy dialogue and the acting (even when cheesy), was at the very least charmingly passable (i.e. the actors looked like they gave a damn). So, like I've said before in many posts- all of these things just became 'part' of who I am. Star Wars came to mean very specific things in my mind- and those things stuck with me (and continue to stick with me) even as the franchise as a whole gets seemingly run into the ground.

The first real 'downturn' came with the ending to Return of the Jedi. While I do not hate the Ewoks, I remember even at the time thinking they were kind of a sell-out (moichendizing! where da real money from da movie is made!). In fact, I'd have to say that the Ewoks were my first 'allowance' in the Star Wars universe: I 'allowed' myself to enjoy the movie despite the fact that they were mildly annoying.

Following Return of the Jedi, there was a relatively long stretch of nothing at all going on with Star Wars. Then the Roleplaying Game came out in 1987– and for the most part, this game only reinforced my love of the movies. West End Games, in my opinion, did a great job maintaining- and even raising- the standards I had come to expect from the movies I grew up with. To me, the writers of this game seemed to have something very important- a respect for the source material. With very few exceptions, they introduced nothing that contradicted or otherwise made 'lame' the things we saw in the movies. They simply started filling in the blanks with plausible explanations of all the things we DIDN'T see. And even then, they couldn't begin to completely 'flesh out' the entire universe. As a Game Master I ALWAYS felt as though the Galaxy was mine to shape as I saw fit. What the game did was provide me with examples of how other people had done so. I took the ball and ran with it.

So once more, I found myself a very happy fan. And that persisted pretty much right up until Episode I came out. And then I honestly found myself in the position of walking out of the movie disappointed. I 'allowed' myself to like this and that aspect of it, but for the most part it just didn't deliver. And still, as a fan, I endured. Hoping for better. It did get better- a little better- in Episode's II and III, but nothing in the movies- or the slew of novels that accompanied them- seemed to measure up.

Just as Yahtzee had pointed out, the only 'bright spot' for me as a Fan was with the Knights of the Old Republic game. Once again, it captured that Star Wars that I remembered. It rekindled by affection for the universe as a whole- though it has been difficult going ever since then.

So, I guess that's why I still like Star Wars. Because I'm Luke. I can sense the good in it. Every once in a while, there will be a break in the clouds and something good will shine through. I will say, however, that without my own Star Wars game- without my ability to express and share my own interpretation of that Galaxy Far Far Away, I probably would have stopped being a Star Wars fan a long time ago.

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