Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Love Triangle

All this talk about ‘alternate histories’ for Star Wars has gotten me thinking about all the stuff I would have changed or omitted if I had been the one writing the Star Wars movies. This isn’t to say at all that I think I’m some great writer or scripting genius- or that MY version is more compelling. Rather, these musings are just how I would have liked to have seen things go. So I preface this post with this: this is all subjective and stuff I would probably NEVER do in a Star Wars gaming universe. Truth be told, I stick pretty darn close to everything we see in the movies. So this is just an exploration of ‘what if’.

In particular, I am going to talk about the relationship between the three main heroes of the Saga: Luke, Leia and Han. Having grown up with the original movies, I distinctly remember going through ‘stages’ with each movie’s release. In the first movie, for instance, I was seven years old. I recognized Luke as the Hero and Leia (as the Princess) would be his love interest. I mean. That’s how fairytales go, right? I never really thought past that.

The novel “Splinter of the Minds Eye” (which came out shortly after Episode IV), reinforced this perception, hinting at a growing romance between Luke and Leia. The marvel comics of the period likewise hinted at this- though there was a fair bit of spark going on between Leia and Han as well. In fact, it was the comics that first really established the ‘Love Triangle’ dynamic between the three heroes.

I was ten when the second movie came out and going into it, I was still very much in the same mindset. The fact that Han Solo and Leia ‘connected’ in that movie threw me for a loop. Heck, the whole movie threw me for a loop. Luke, the Hero, was failing at his training and now was losing his girl!? What kind of a fairytale was this? I have to admit, it bothered me a little at the time. But at the same time, I found the unlikely romance between Leia and Han to be interesting and even ‘meaningful’.

By the time Return of the Jedi came out, I was thirteen and much more sophisticated (heh, right). I had ‘made peace’ with the fact that Han and Leia were destined to be together. In fact, it felt ‘right’ to me. But then another curve ball was thrown into the situation. Suddenly we find that Leia is Luke’s sister. That revelation…just never really sat well with me. Though George Lucas CLAIMS that he had ‘planned this all along’, I think that the earlier movies proved that no, he didn’t. Or that if he did, then…creepy. I mean, Luke and Leia kiss several times. Blech.

And then there was the fact that Ben said NOTHING about this relationship, even though he knew Luke and Leia were going to meet. Hell, it didn’t take a mind-reader to see that Luke was infatuated with the princess and that MIGHT grow into something more if it was not ‘checked’. And Ben Kenobi WAS a mind-reader. He could have taken SOME steps to prevent any ‘mis-steps’ on Luke’s part, even if he didn’t do the full reveal of Luke’s parentage. Hell, even some kind of ‘subliminal’ message to ‘not go there’. But no, he said nothing, even though he had the opportunity before and after he died. And in retrospect, that’s just messed up.

The truth of the matter seems to be that Lucas needed a motivation for Vader to use to goad Luke into attacking him. For some reason, Lucas came to the conclusion that the only way this could be done was by having Leia be Luke’s sister. I think that is what bothered me most- the fact that there had to be a familial tie between Luke and Leia for him to have ‘motivation’ to defend her. It was unnecessary.

After all the heroes had been through together, I think it was clear that Luke DID love Leia. Sister or not, he cared about her. And whether he was ‘in a relationship’ with her or not, that didn’t change. So what I’m saying is that the whole ‘sibling’ angle was not needed to give Luke motivation. Likewise, I don’t think it was needed to ‘smooth over’ the relationship between Han and Leia by eliminating Luke as a potential rival. The love triangle made for a much more interesting character dynamic in my opinion and I felt that Return of the Jedi just hamfistedly ‘solved’ that situation by the whole sibling thing.

So what would have changed if Luke and Leia were NOT siblings? Well, not much, really. Sure, there would have had to have been an explanation as to why Leia seemed to have latent Force powers, but is it really that difficult to believe that someone NOT related to Anakin could just have them? No. The Jedi didn’t ‘breed’ force Sensitive children, they found them in families across the Galaxy. Leia could have just been one of the ‘new generation’ of Force Sensitive people. In my opinion, this revelation wouldn’t have been any more ‘jarring’ than the whole “Luke and Leia are siblings thing.

Would Leia have still wound up with Han? Yep. To me at least, even before the sibling thing was revealed, it became clear that these two characters ‘clicked’. Would it have been a little sad for Luke that Leia had chosen Han over him? Yes, it would have. But I think it would have also pointed out how strong the bonds of friendship are. Luke, Leia and Han ‘loved’ each other as friends and I don’t think that a relationship between Han and Leia would have changed that.

In short (too late), I liked the love triangle that existed in Episodes IV and V and I didn’t like the way it was ‘resolved’ in Episode VI. I still believe it was clumsy and unnecessary.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Spice Mines of Kessel

...That is where I am toiling this week. Sorry for the lack of posts. Hopefully I won't get eaten by an energy spider before I can escape. Hope to return to normal soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kenobi's Plan

So, in posing my question yesterday about why nobody changed Luke’s last name when he went into ‘hiding’ as a baby, I got to thinking about the implications of that and just what Kenobi might have been thinking. Just what WAS his plan in regards to Luke?

All of the following is just assumption and guesswork on my part, as I don’t recall there being an ‘official’ story describing what ‘the plan’ was (or if there was, I missed it). That having been said, it seems to me that Kenobi did have some kind of plan in mind when he first took Luke away to live on Tatooine. Part of the plan was to make sure Luke was isolated and difficult to find for any Imperial or Sith agents who might be sniffing about. In such a backwater as Tatooine, I can kind of see this. But since the planet evidently WAS part of the Empire, I still question the fact they didn’t change Luke’s last name.

Another part of Kenobi’s plan may very well have been to give Luke some modicum of a ‘normal’ life by giving him to his Aunt and Uncle to raise- to give him some amount of ‘joy’. And from all accounts (boredom aside), Luke seemed to have an okay life with his Aunt and Uncle. It seemed to be a ‘stable’ home, and despite the gruffness of Owen, Luke was clearly cared for. Of course, having been raised within the Jedi, I wonder why Kenobi would give Luke a ‘normal’ upbringing like this and not raise him, himself- training him from childhood. Perhaps Kenobi thought that he might be hunted down by Imperial agents and didn’t want to risk the boy being captured, too. That’s possible- indeed plausible. I’m not entirely sure that Kenobi would see the value in a ‘normal’ upbringing, however. Indeed, the Jedi of the era seemed to see familial attachments as a problem and a source of potential Dark Side corruption. So in the end, I’m thinking Kenobi’s reasoning for giving Luke to his Aunt and Uncle was a pragmatic one.

But in the end, Kenobi knew that Luke would grow to maturity- and that he would likely be powerful in the Force. The question remains, then, what he intended to do once Luke reached adulthood. I am of the opinion that Kenobi (at least originally) intended to train Luke, to shape him into a weapon to use against Vader and the Emperor. But judging from the fact that Kenobi made no attempt to start Luke’s training at an early age (i.e. as a “youngling”), I’m thinking that somewhere along the line, Kenobi lost heart. Perhaps he grew tired and resigned to his fate. As he saw Luke growing up, he just didn’t have the heart to intrude on his simple life- didn’t have the heart to expose the young man to his true destiny and the dangers around it. Of course, another part of this could be that Kenobi might not have trusted Luke to ‘do the right thing’. Afterall, he was Anakin’s son. And indeed, when you look at the movies you can see many of the same traits between father and son- most notably their impetuous nature. Having been ‘burned’ by Anakin, perhaps Kenobi was afraid to try again with Luke. Then, of course, there was the Influence of Luke’s Uncle- who probably fought against Kenobi trying to train his nephew at all. So maybe Kenobi had just resigned himself that Luke would become a simple farmer.

The initial encounter between Luke and Kenobi in the original movie (Episode IV), was rather ambiguous. Kenobi talks about the ‘old days’ and about Luke’s father, but clearly misleads Luke by painting Vader as a completely different person. To me, this is rather telling. It seemed to suggest that Kenobi did not plan to tell Luke the truth about his father- at least not at first. It makes me wonder WHEN he did intend to tell Luke? After his training? Or after he killed Vader. This holding back of information says to me that Kenobi did NOT trust Luke entirely. And once again, it paints the Jedi in an odd, not so noble, light. But at this point they could (perhaps) be forgiven. Considering what happened to them, and HOW it happened, they had justification to be wary of a Skywalker.

In any case, once Kenobi heard of the plea of Leia to come to her aid, I believe something was rekindled in him. That is why he asked Luke to come along. Well, that and the fact he knew he would need help. So at this point, Kenobi’s plan of training Luke suddenly comes back to life- a little late, perhaps, but better late than never.

Onboard the Death Star, in Kenobi’s duel with Darth Vader, we see something happen that could be taken as a very devious thing. Kenobi allows himself to be struck down by Vader- and does so when he is certain that Luke is watching. That whole speech about “I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine” could have been in reference to something other than Kenobi’s continued existence as a ‘Force Spirit’. Rather, by ‘setting up’ this scene, Kenobi helps to ensure that Luke HATES Vader and sees him as a monster who killed his mentor. This is a powerful impression, and one that drives Luke for the following years as he fights against the Empire.

Being “dead” now, Kenobi has to alter his plan. He won’t be able to train Luke, so he (eventually) sends him off to find Yoda. If anything, however, Yoda seems even MORE resigned and wary than Kenobi. He tries to refuse Luke as a student, despite pleas from Luke and Kenobi’s spirit. And when he finally agrees to take Luke on, Yoda remains wary and highly critical. Again, I think we see mistrust here on the part of Yoda. He knows all about Luke’s father and sees a lot of the same traits- many of which are only intensified by the training. And again, there is a conspiracy here to keep Luke in the dark about the true identity of Vader. And it is even more ‘insidious’ in that Yoda and Ben both really DO seem to be manipulating Luke into killing his father without his knowing the truth.

Eventually, the whole ‘plan’ is revealed to Luke- by Vader no less. Not only must Luke deal with the trauma of finding out the monster he hates is his father, he must come to grips with the fact that Kenobi LIED to him and Yoda just ‘forgot to mention’ the truth. At this point, were I Luke, I’d be feeling more than a little betrayed. Kenobi and Yoda both seem to try and explain away what they were doing, but neither explanation really rang true to me. When you boil it down, they WERE trying to manipulate Luke. They didn’t really trust him to do what was right. From a story perspective, its actually quite empowering to Luke’s character. Here you have the Jedi on one side, trying to force him into killing his fater. You have Vader on the other side, trying to force him into joining “The Dark Side”. And in the middle, you have Luke, who comes up with a third solution- the redemption of his father through an act of faith in the bonds of love. Not only did Luke prove his ability ‘to do what is right’, he actually exceeded what his masters AND enemy thought he was capable of. Go Luke!

So anyway, that’s my take on the matter. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why did they...

Here is an issue that I've always wondered about- or rather, that I've wondered about ever since I was old enough (and geeky enough) to really THINK about the Star Wars movies and not just experience them. What question? Why, this one:

If Kenobi and Bail Organa were trying to hide Luke Skywalker's existence from his father (Vader), why did they allow him to keep the surname "Skywalker". And for that matter, why did they take him back to Tatooine to live with his Aunt and Uncle- who were known to exist by Vader. I understand how remote Tatooine was, but wasn't this taking an unnecessary risk? I mean, unless the name "Skywalker" was like "Smith" or "Jones" in the Star Wars universe, couldn't that name have set off flags if were ever discovered? Even if nobody knew that Vader WAS Anakin Skywalker, couldn't the name itself have aroused suspicion. Wasn't the Emperor's 'Inquisition' searching for hiding Jedi or even Jedi bloodlines? Certainly the name Skywalker might have stood out. Even if the chances of Luke's name being discovered were REMOTE (perhaps he and the Lars weren't registered Imperial citizens?), NOT changing the name still seems like a mistake.

You know, come to think of it, maybe that was another reason why Owen Lars stopped Luke from sending off his application to the academy. Maybe he knew the name WAS a liability. I'd like to think that the Lars were (before their deaths) on the verge of "spilling the beans" to Luke about his name and heritage- including the dark parts of it. Afterall, if a "Luke Skywalker from Tatooine" suddenly applied for the Imperial military, some warning flags might have been tripped.

But then "Luke Lars" isn't a particularly heroic sounding name. So...

Anyway, it was just a question I've always wondered about.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My Clone Wars: Clarified

NOTE: This was my concept of the clone wars PRIOR to any information on the prequel trilogies. Indeed, it was prior to much of the Expanded Universe stuff-thus, little or nothing was known about just what the the 'Sith' were-or even what the Emperor's name was (though I so use it in this post, retroactively). This is pieced together from various ideas I had while running my initial campaign- and some of which I admit don't work out nearly as well as some of the things shown in the movies. But here we have a more 'modern' version of what I thought some twenty years ago...

The Clone Wars were a series of conflicts fought against a seemingly "faceless" enemy known as the Clonemasters. This mysterious oligarchy operated in the shadows for years, building up the technology and numbers necessary to face the Republic directly and bring about its downfall. The initial surprise onslaught of the clone armies nearly succeeded in toppling the corruption-ridden Republic. Only through the selfless efforts of the Jedi were the attacking forces finally stopped. The Jedi Order itself was greatly weakened during over a year of bitter fighting, but managed in the end to force the Clonemasters into a ceasefire.

During a years-long lull in the fighting, both sides of the conflict tried to rebuild, even as a 'cold-war' settled over the Galaxy. The Jedi were hampered in their efforts by the continued political machinations of the Republic senate- many members of whom were secretly on the payroll of the Clonemasters. Even so, some great statesmen and soldiers rose to do what was necessary, whipping the shattered and defeated Republic military into shape. Among these 'heroes' were people like Bail Organa, Jan Dodonna, Mon Mothma and a young senator named Palpatine. It was also during this time that two young Jedi began to rise to prominence-Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.

It was the Clonemasters who broke the ceasefire, once again unleashing their hordes against the Republic. Though still outnumbered, the Forces of the Republic were ready for them this time. The fighting was bitter and lasted for years. Billions of beings perished across the Galaxy. Entire planets were laid waste. It was at this point that Senator Palpatine won the position of Chancellor- voted in as a 'reformer', someone who would root out corruption in the Senate and bring hope to those in despair. Through his bold actions during the war, the Senator had earned the respect of many of his colleagues as well as the love of many Republic citizens. Among the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker in particular was a strong supporter of Palpatine-seeing him a a force for order in an increasingly chaotic time.

In the end, however, the Republic won the Clone Wars (as they came to be called). But at what cost? The battle against the clonemasters was a costly one-in terms of lives and money. The ranks of the Jedi were decimated. The military was in a shambles. The Republic itself was driven to the brink of economic ruin. It appeared as though victory could very well lead to a new Dark Age and a collapse of the Republic itself.

But there was a ray of hope. Chancellor Palpatine seemed to be a man of his word regarding his election promises. The vital, young politician DID root out corruption in the Senate. He focused attention on rebuilding what had been lost-forging ties to many powerful corporations to assist in the effort. In particular, he set about modernizing and then expanding the Republic military. This was deemed necessary as the Jedi were too few in number to handle the job of defending the Republic at this time. Indeed, Jedi continued to die in some numbers as they struggled against terrorists, pirates and civil unrest. The military buildup was seen as a good thing-both for the security of the Republic and in terms of employment and economic stimulus. Military corporations in particular suddenly boomed, bringing many other industries along with them. Likewise, many idealistic youngsters joined the military-now portrayed alongside the Jedi as the guardian's of peace and order.

Despite all of these seemingly positive changes, and the rapid turn-around in the state of the Galaxy, some began to grow uneasy with what was happening. Bail Organa and some of the Senators became increasingly alarmed at the number of 'emergency powers' voted to the Chancellor and kept now even after the end of the War. In his efforts to 'root out corruption', Palpatine had created a great deal of power for himself in the legislative branch. Many Senators, even if they were not corrupt, began to tow his political line-afraid they might be subject to 'investigations' should they go against him. The continued and seemingly exponential build-up of the Military was likewise a cause for alarm. With the Clonemasters defeated, why did the galaxy need so many defenders?

Among the slowly rebuilding Jedi, a schism was gradually appearing. Some, like Anakin Skywalker, threw their support behind the Emperor. Idealistically, Anakin in particular approved of the way Palpatine 'did what had to be done'. The old-guard Jedi, such as Yoda and Ben Kenobi, were on the other side of the issue, urging that the Jedi not get tangled in the politics of the Republic- that they remain true to their calling. Yoda in particular was wary of the Chancellor. Though the old master's senses could discern nothing 'telling' about Palpatine, he grew suspicious of the man's ability to sway beings to his cause.

Meanwhile, in his personal life, Anakin Skywalker had taken a wife (we’ll call her Padme, though at the time, I had no idea of a name) and eventually became a father of brother-and-sister twins. His concern for his wife (and later family) became a driving factor in his judgment. He saw the order Palpatine offered and remembered the horror that was the Clone Wars. He resolved to never again allow that kind of danger to harm his family-or indeed the Galaxy. Working closely with Palpatine, Anakin came more and more to his way of thinking. The Jedi who followed Anakin formed the foundation of a secret Inquisitorial 'corps', rooting out threats to the Republic and dealing with them however they saw fit. This shadowy organization became known as the 'Sith' and while carrying out operations, Anakin disguised his identity and went by the name Vader.

As Palpatine grew more and more powerful, concerned Senators like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma strove to work within the system, but found themselves stymied by the Chancellor's immense political and popular clout. And as he gained more power, Palpatine took more liberties with it. Rumors began to circulate of 'enemies of the state' simply disappearing. Any opposition to the Chancellor's rules were quashed-sometimes with propaganda, but increasingly with force. The purpose of the enlarged military soon became clear as planets who spoke out found themselves under martial law-for their own protection.

The old-guard Jedi did not remain idle all this time. Though spread thin in their daily duties (now increasingly supplanted by the military), the order began to see Palpatine for what he was-and began to suspect that some of their own might be working with them. In secret meetings, some Jedi even began to push for removing Palpatine from power before things got worse. Though Yoda and Kenobi counseled against it, the threat revealed to Anakin was too much for him to ignore. And so it was that he, as Vader, began to hunt and eliminate these Jedi conspirators. Part of him hoped that by eliminating the ‘troublemakers’, he could protect his old comrades. Unfortunately, this was not to be.

Investigations undertaken by Kenobi and Yoda finally turned up the truth about Palpatine. He was no mere senator. Rather, he had developed his own innate Force powers outside the bounds of any known Force-using sect like the Jedi. As his power grew, so too did the darkness inside him. Palpatine used his powers to manipulate people and (increasingly) to enhance their fear of him- to keep them in line. And there were signs that the Chancellor was delving into even darker studies. And so it was that the Jedi finally decided to act. Thinking Anakin would turn to the Jedi cause once they revealed the truth to him, Kenobi sought to recruit him in their effort to bring down the Emperor. But by this time, Anakin was too far gone. His own skewed convictions about the ‘security’ of the Republic- urged on perhaps by Palpatine’s subtle use of the Force, caused him to act. As the Jedi went to arrest the Chancellor, Anakin and his Sith opposed them. Backed by soldiers loyal to Palpatine- and the dark powers of the Chancellor himself- the Sith prevailed. Yoda, Ben and a few other Jedi escaped- but not before discovering that the mysterious “Vader” that had been killing their comrades was none-other than Anakin.

Across the Galaxy, Palpatine acted quickly, ordering the capture or death of all the “rogue” Jedi who had tried to seize power. His propaganda machine soon had the entire galaxy believing in a conspiracy of the Jedi to become absolute rulers of the Republic. The Jedi, few in number and scattered with their duties, were hunted down one by one in a great “purge”. Anakin, as Vader, personally led his Sith in this endeavor. The Jedi resisted, of course, but were hopelessly outnumbered and those not killed or captured were being forced into hiding.

Meanwhile, Anakin’s wife, Padme grew increasingly alarmed in the changes she saw in her husband. He was, through his increasingly blind and brutal devotion to the Chancellor, becoming a monster. It was the announcement that the Republic was being dissolved that finally spurred Anakin’s wife to take action. Even as the grand “New Order” of the Galactic Empire was announced, Padme confronted her husband. In the argument that ensued, Anakin lashed out- demanding her obedience and her trust that what he was doing was right. Shaken, but not cowed, Padme sadly resolved to do what she had to do. Her children were her first thought. The twins, Luke and Leia, were not yet two years old when she went into hiding with her good friend, Bail Organa.

Anakin, now operating ‘full time’ as Vader, flew into a rage at this betrayal by his wife. He became even more brutal in pursuit of the enemies of the Empire. And as reports of his atrocities reached her, Padme sunk deeper into sorrow. Her health began to fail.

Eventually, Vader’s pursuit of the Jedi lead him to face his old friend, Ben Kenobi. The two squared off on some unnamed volcanic world. The clash was titanic, but Kenobi’s skill won out versus Vader’s rage. Vader fell, seemingly to his death, within the volcanic wastes. Kenobi fled, taking the brief respite afforded to visit Padme and tell her the news. By this time, however, Padme was in a bad way, stricken by illness and crushed by the loss of the man she loved. Before her death, however, she planned with Organa and Kenobi- the twins would be split up to help prevent their discovery by the Empire. Leia would remain with Bail, to be raised as his daughter. Luke would be sent with Kenobi- to grow up with distant relatives of Anakin’s.

But even as Padme breathed her final breath, Vader- his broken body recovered by agents of the Emperor, was rebuilt into his ultimate, twisted form.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Descent into Nostalgia

As a kid growing up in the late 70’s/early 80’s, I was part of an era that (alas) proved to be short-lived: The era of the Saturday Morning Cartoon. I still remember going to bed on Friday with the excitement and anticipation of the morning to come- with its HOURS of entertainment. These days, the Saturday Morning cartoon has largely disappeared- I mean, when you have literally entire networks devoted to cartoons, why limit yourself to just one morning. Plus, with on-demand programming and DVRs, kids can watch cartoons pretty much any time they want. As a person who loves having all this entertainment at his fingertips, I can’t complain- but I can still look back with nostalgic eyes on an experience that is unique to my generation.

So what (if anything) does this have to do with Star Wars? Well, the influence Saturday Morning cartoons had on my imagination was powerful and started long before I’d even heard of a ‘role-playing game’ or (in some cases) before Star Wars even existed. Looking back on these shows, I find the sources of a lot of my inspiration and imagination- despite the fact that these cartoons are (mostly) so incredibly hokey when viewed with adult eyes.

In this post, I will discuss the cartoon series that had the most impact for me and maybe even talk about how the ideas in these shows could be incorporated into a Star Wars setting- or heck, into role playing ideas in general. So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are my favorite Saturday Morning Cartoons:

Johnny Quest (1964- I saw it in re-runs in the 70’s)

Giant. Robotic. Spider. Eyeball. Seriously, I remember seeing this episode when I was REAL little. The concept behind JQ was awesome, especially for a young boy who could project himself into Johnny’s situation. Who WOULDN’T want to have their own supersonic jet? Even if they DID have to fight the occasional lizard-man. Oh, sure, there are the amusing modern notions about Dr. Quest and his relationship to his ‘bodyguard’ Race Bannon (to say nothing of the term “Master Race” being used), but for its time, and even in retrospect, the concept of a Super Scientist and his team taking on odd threats around the world is great. Hell, I could easily see such a character existing in the Star Wars universe- but.. well, with the recent “Venture Brothers” parody, even I would probably have to laugh at the stereotypical implications.

Space Ghost (1966- Again, saw it in re-runs)

When I see him now, I can’t help but relate him to the goofy late-night talk-show host he has become in modern times. But in his day, Space Ghost was pretty darn cool. He was a superhero- only in space. No, literally in space, without a space suit! With his power-belt and armbands he could shoot freeze rays and blast rays and all kinds of other rays (okay, so maybe things got out of hand at times…) Unfortunately, he also had the obligatory teen sidekick. Or in this case, Sidekicks- and their pet monkey. Even as a kid, I never related to these characters as anything other than a nuisance. I watched the show to see Space Ghost- these characters never allowed me to ‘project’ myself onto them, at least not in the way Johnny Quest did. Why? Because they were annoying and useless. JQ knew judo! As far as incorporating SG into Star Wars? Uh… well, certainly not as written. But a lone avenger cruising around in his stealth “Phantom Cruiser”, fighting against the minions of the Evil Empire? Yeah. I could see that. Heck, you could even make him a pirate of sorts, known for his ability to seemingly ‘disappear’ as he strikes out against tyranny.

The Herculoids (1967- 70’s re-runs)

Another oldie but a goodie. The Herculoids was pretty far out and I loved every minute of it. Here you had a family (Mom, Dad, Son) living on a weird barbaric world with a group of ‘pet’ monsters that included a laser-shooting dragon, a giant stone gorilla, an armored, multi-legged rhinoceros that shot exploding rocks out of its horn and a pair of amorphous blob things. Each week, they’d battle some menace- sometimes a ‘native’ of their world, but more often a villain seeking to conquer or use it for some nefarious purpose. So, its more than a little ‘gonzo’ for a Star Wars setting, but with the right group of characters it could be interesting. Imagine some rebels fleeing the Empire, they are chased to a remote and barbaric planet and cornered, only to be helped out at the last minute by THIS odd assortment of locals. Yes, the Herculoids would certainly make an interesting rebel ‘cell’.

The Superfriends (1973)

You know, looking back on it now, I fail to see how I could ever have liked this show. I mean, seriously- you had all these Superheroes (and villains), but for the most part (due to the constraints of children’s programming) they could rarely use their superpowers! They certainly couldn’t use them to (gasp!) fight! So, what do you get? A lot of people wearing capes and doing…not a whole lot. Even so, as a kid, I imagine the concentration of so many ‘famous’ heroes all in one place was enough to draw me in- even if they DID have the obligatory ‘teen sidekicks’- and (at least in one incarnation of the show) a monkey! I’ve already spoken about possible incorporations of DC heroes into a Star Wars setting, so I won’t again- and I doubt if ANY of the plotlines of this series could be used- they were usually just…idiotic. I mean, in one episode they had people get ‘lost’ in alternate universes. What did they do? Well, they decided to send teams to ‘search’ the alternate universes. Like.. the ENTIRE universe. It wasn’t like they were on the same planet or even the same solar system in alternate universes, they were scattered all over the place. And how were they ‘searching’ you ask? Well…by flying around and looking, of course. Right. So…good plan.

Scooby Doo/Speed Buggy/Josie and the Pussycats (1969- 70’s reruns)

I lump these all together not only because they all followed similar formats, but because they had a lot of crossovers as well. Of the three, however, Scooby Doo was by far my favorite. For a young kid, it had just the right mix of scares and fun to make it different from just about anything else, cartoon-wise. Plus, who could forget all those awesome 70’s songs they played during the inevitable chase scenes. Looking at the series with adult eyes I still find a lot of redeeming features. The monsters and the settings were very imaginative and actually quite well represented even in the sparse ‘economical’ background art Hanna Barbera was known for. Amusingly enough, a LOT of the plotlines of the Scooby Gang could actually make for some cool adventures in a horror RPG setting. I mean, what if all those monsters WERE real and not just guys in suits or video projections? Heh, a friend of mine has run (and played in) a couple of adventures in a game called “Scooby Doo Cthulu”, where ‘the gang’ runs into a mystery that is all too real. I myself have taken the concept of one of the more recent Scooby Doo movies (Zombie Island) and used it in a horror campaign. It actually works quite well. As far as how it could fit into Star Wars? Well, I’d always considered a ‘post Empire’ campaign revolving around a team of folks (Jedi + Others) investigating supernatural threats to the New Republic, a kind of X-Files meets Star Wars mash-up. A lot of the plots from Scooby Doo could work in this. Oh, I would also be remiss in not pointing out that Daphne was a fox. And so were Josie and her pussycats. I mean…as far as cartoon people go.

Battle of the Planets (1978)

AKA “G-Force” or “Gatchaman”, BotP was my first real introduction into the world of Japanese anime. Coming hot on the heels of the release of Star Wars, this cartoon had all kinds of cool stuff- a giant spaceship that could turn into a giant flaming bird; a team with cool bird-motif outfits- and each with their signature ‘weapon’ and ‘vehicle’. And they fought all manner of giant robots and monsters and what have you. I’d be hard pressed now to tell you the exact plots of ANY of the episodes (I haven’t seen them for decades), but the visual style stuck with me. Again, I could easily see G-Force in a Star Wars setting- perhaps minus the whole “Phoenix transformation” of the ship. Here you’d have a group of young people designated as defenders of their homeworld and equipped with its latest technology. Unfortunately, with the coming of the Empire, they are defeated and forced into operating as a resistance cell- though still equipped with their ship, vehicles and weapons. They could be used as NPC allies of the players or even just as ‘background’ color, describing yet another of the odd ‘cells’ the Rebellion recruits in its campaign against the Empire.

Star Blazers (1979)

AKA “Space Battleship Yamato”, Star Blazers was also released shortly after the original Star Wars movie. Adding to its ‘mystique’, I remember it was broadcast on a channel out of Chicago (I was living in Western Michigan at the time). And that channel would only come in when the planets and magnetic poles were in the correct alignment. Thus, I only ever got to watch it sporadically- which only made me WANT to see it more. At the time, I thought there was nothing cooler (well, except Star Wars, of course). Here you had giant space battleships duking it out. Starfighters, robot tanks, space marines, laser pistols- you name it. Plus there was the fact that characters DID die in the series- something that NEVER happened in contemporary Western cartoons. As with G-Force, the style of this series struck me a lot more than the story itself. The Argo itself was an awesome design, as were many of the starfighters and other vehicles shown. It was just the thing to feed my craving for MORE space-fantasy goodness. Again, looking back, the plotlines were very simplistic and (in the English version at least) the characters shallow and almost childlike in their reactions to things. But even so, there is a lot to admire here- and a lot of ideas to steal- both visually and plot-wise. In Star Wars, what if a rebel crew was assigned to a recently refurbished old battle wagon and given a ‘quest’ to reach some planet on the far-side of the Galaxy- or even OUTSIDE the Galaxy. What if they were hounded every step of the way by an entire Imperial Fleet or even an alien fleet. It could be the basis of an entire campaign or mini-campaign.

Tarzan (1976)

This was one of the earlier “Filmation” series that seemed to dominate Saturday morning cartoons for quite a while. I remember being impressed with this cartoon when it first premiered- the people in it were animated using the ‘rotoscope’ technique and the effect was quite realistic (for the time). Unfortunately, within a few episodes I realized that the same animations were used over and over in each episode. This was fine, but…well, the same animations were used over and over in ever OTHER Filmation series that came out afterwards- which started to get really old, even to a kid. But this quibble aside, the Tarzan stories were entertaining enough- involving lost cities and monsters and the dreaded “Bo Mangani!” ape men. Of course, Tarzan had a monkey sidekick, but I can forgive him, since in his case, a monkey actually makes sense. As far as translation to Star Wars goes, Tarzan could be an interesting NPC for a mission to a remote jungle world- though some care would have to be taken that he doesn’t overshadow the players- I mean, Tarzan is a complete badass afterall.

Flash Gordon (1979)

Speaking of using the same animations over and over again…Yep. Flash Gordon was another Filmation series and shared a lot of the same ‘stock’ animations as its ‘sibling’ series. Despite this, I loved the overall look of this series. The whole ‘rocket ship with fins’ motif was well done- as were the numerous monsters and races of Mongo- from the Lion Men to the Lizard Women to the Hawk Men and Arborians, they all had distinct looks to them. Ming’s robotic ‘Metal Men’ were awesome, skeletal looking things, made all the better because they could actually be destroyed by the ‘ray guns’ that the heroes used (see, it was okay to kill robots, just not people). And of course there was Princess Aura and her Witch-Women- awesome. I have long thought that Flash Gordon would make a GREAT mini-campaign within a Star Wars setting. Imagine a remote star-system ruled by a Sith Lord (Ming), who keeps the denizens of the planet and its surrounding moons constantly fighting each other in order to maintain his power. Into this volatile situation are dropped a team of Rebel operatives hoping to topple Ming and free the planet. The overall storyline of the cartoon series would for the blueprint for this campaign- all it would require is a bit of tweaking.

BlackStar (1981)

Another Filmation series- and more use of the same stock animations. For whatever reason, I never managed to catch this show as often as I would have liked- perhaps it just wasn’t played in re-runs enough. The concept here is very ‘old-school’- in the vein of the various ‘sword and planet’ pulp sci-fi stories (like the Warlord of Mars). Here was have an astronaut (Blackstar) marooned on an alien world, teaming up with a group of oddball natives with varying powers and taking on a scheming evil overlord. While I could have done without the annoying “comic relief” hobbit-like characters, I had to admit that having a Dragon-Horse would be awesome. Boiled down to its essence, the plot of this show was quite similar to Flash Gordon, with an ‘earthman’ striving with natives to overthrow an evil warlord. It could be run in much the same way within a Star Wars setting, though overall I like the ‘Scope’ of Flash Gordon a lot more.

Godzilla (1978)

This Hanna Barbera series was a favorite of mine. I remember when I’d go to the beach or to one of my friend’s pool- I’d go underwater and roil up the surface with splashing and bubbles, then rise out of the water, 40-stories tall- ROAAAR! IT’S GODZILLA!!!!! (*in a light tone* and God-Zoooooo-ky!). Yeah. Godzooky. Godzilla’s ‘Nephew’. Ahem. Right. Well, I loved it at the time! Give me a break. I was a kid. The concept was fun, too- turning Godzilla into a ‘good guy’ for once, called upon by the crew of an exploration ship to solve various mysteries and battle (bad) giant monsters around the world! But, for as much as I loved it then, I really can’t see a way to incorporate this series into a Star Wars setting without making it REALLY hokey (like the show). But Godzilla himself- and the whole idea of giant monsters, well…that could make for an interesting and unique Star Wars adventure! Imagine if one of these beasts got loose on Coruscant! Much carnage would ensue as people try to escape and/or destroy the beast.

Jana of the Jungle (1978)

This female version of Tarzan was part of the Godzilla ‘power hour’ or some such. I remember the animation wasn’t QUITE on par with the Filmation Tarzan series, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. I especially liked Jana’s white Jaguar companion- Ghost. And okay, I liked her little… marsupial squirrel thing pal as well. Again, I was a kid. Give me a break. Jana could be incorporated into a Star Wars setting in much the same way as Tarzan, though it would probably strain belief a little to have BOTH characters in the same universe. So it comes down to whether you want a dude in a loincloth or a chick in a fur bathing suit. I’d vote the latter, but I’m sure that’s just me.

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981)

There were a couple different comic-book hero series in the heyday of Saturday Morning Cartoons (The Hulk, Batman), but this is the one that stands out in my memory. Spiderman, Firestar and Iceman made a pretty neat team. And while ‘older’ eyes see the dialogue as somewhat hokey, I loved it at the time. I also loved the fact that these characters operated within the wider Marvel universe, thus you got ‘guest stars’ in the form of the X-Men, Captain America, etc. etc. Great fun. I’ve spoken before about incorporating superheroes into Star Wars, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice it to say that I think it can be done, as long as your players are onboard with the idea.

Dungeons & Dragons (1983)

Duh. Of course I liked this cartoon- even if the series DID abide by the usual “no violence” rule. I mean, yes, just once I would have liked to see Hank fire that energy-bow of his for REAL, but… meh. The stories were fun, though- and usually pretty creative. I also enjoyed seeing the various monsters (including quite a few of the really ‘weird’ ones from the Fiend Folio) brought to life in animated form. Being so directly linked to D&D, however, I’d be hard-pressed to ‘tranlate’ the series to a Star Wars setting. But that doesn’t preclude pulling a select story or two from the whole. I mean, Venger would make a pretty good Sith, afterall.

Dragon’s Lair (1984)

I loved the video-game, even though I sucked at it. The cartoon was fun to me because of its ‘gimmick’ of presenting the viewer with a series of choices right before going to commercial break. When the show resumed, it would show you what would have happened if Dirk took choice A, B or C. Apart from that, though, I don’t remember a whole lot about the series. Again, as with Dungeons & Dragons, this is really more of a ‘fantasy’ thing than a Star Wars thing- and truth be told, none of the Dragon’s Lair stories stood out enough for me to remember if they’d be good or bad in a space fantasy setting. In a more GENERAL way, however, imagine you have an Evil Star Dragon (a race from the Star Wars RPG)- perhaps with Force powers. Wouldn’t he be a fun villain to use? And why NOT revive the whole trope of a “Knight” traveling to a remote Dragon’s Lair to rescue a captured princess. It could work. It could work well, I think- and with a combination of magic (the force) and technology, you could probably re-create a lot of the death-traps used in the video game in a (somewhat) plausible manner. Heck, I might just try this one of these days.

Thundarr the Barbarian (1980)

This was, by far, my most favorite Saturday morning cartoon. It combined elements of Fantasy with Science Fiction and even post-apocalyptic themes. I mean, they said it right in the intro: “A world of savagery, super science and sorcery.” And you can’t tell me that this cartoon WASN’T influenced by Star Wars. I mean the hero wielded a ‘Sun Sword’ (lightsaber); one of his sidekicks was a ‘Princess’ and the other was a very wookiee-like ‘Mok’. Even so, the setting was so gonzo and original that I never saw the Star Wars trappings as a ‘cop out’. I still remember the one episode where a tribe of Amazons was operating out of their secret, ocean-side base inside the Mount Rushmore monument. This was especially amusing to me, considering the fact that Mount Rushmore was practically in my backyard in South Dakota (geographically speaking). The world of Thundarr seems to me to represent the kind of bizarre, cross-genre world represented in the Rifts RPG. At some point, I’d love to run an entire campaign in this kind of world (though not using the Rifts setting/rules). As far as translation into Star Wars goes? Welll… not so much. Though you probably could steal the storylines from various episodes- turning the Wizards into various Sith Lords or other Dark-side force users.

Galtar and the Golden Lance (1985)

By the time Galtar came out, I was getting a bit old for Saturday Morning Cartoons- or rather, the cartoons of the era were increasingly childish in my eyes and held less appeal. Galtar was a throwback to the ‘good old days’. It reminded me very much of Thundarr in many ways. Though by no means ‘complex’, I remember the storyline of the series as being quite well thought out, especially for a Saturday morning cartoon of this era. Alas, I don’t remember enough of it to recall how or even if the plotline could be easily translated to Star Wars, but I wouldn’t doubt that there are some good ideas to ‘mine’ in the series.

Droids (1985)

And last but not least, the Droids Cartoon. I was surprised at just how much I liked this show. I expected it to be a completely ‘kiddified’ Star Wars series (like its contemporary “Ewoks” series). It was that, to an extent, but also had quite a bit to like for the older Star Wars fan (like myself). Set in the years between the prequels and the original trilogy, the series followed the exploits of R2 and 3PO as they bounced from master to master and adventure to adventure. In one incarnation, the droids are working for a pair of Speeder racers, in another they’re assisting an explorer in finding a fabled lost treasure. In both cases, the stories are (when you look past the kid-appeal goofiness), rather solidly thought out. The villains and other characters are likewise unique and memorable- Admiral Screed, for one, was an awesome villain. Heck, they even had Boba Fett appear in one episode. I don’t need to bother ‘translating’ these stories into Star Wars, of course, but if a GM wanted, he could use the stories for his OWN characters and have two pretty long ‘mini-campaigns’ pre-written.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Prequel Pet Peeves

Even though I am currently in my “Prequels are alright” phase, there are still a host of (relatively) minor details that bug me. None of these things are ‘deal-breakers’ when it comes to the main storyline of the movie, but they do make a person (or a geek like me at least) wonder. Give some examples, you ask? Well… alright.

Elected Monarch
Okay, I can buy the fact that a head of state is elected and that perhaps even folks call this head of state a monarch. But… a 13 year old? Being elected the monarch of an entire (evidently important) world? Uhhhhh. Yeah. I realize that age is treated differently in the Star Wars universe. For instance, Leia was a 19-year old Senator. But come on. A thirteen year old? It just seems so out of left field. Why couldn’t Padme have just been a monarch- and not an elected one? I don’ t know. Maybe the writers (or Lucas) figured a monarch wouldn’t be sympathetic to the democratic process of the Old Republic. Whatever the reason, the whole concept still bugs me.

Shmi’s Slavery
Speaking of monarchs- even if Padme WAS just elected, it seemed to me that she had access to money. She likely would have had some kind of salary. In other words, she had access to money. You would think that after all the help that Anakin gave her planet (he DID blow up the Droid Control ship after all), Padme could have at least TRIED to purchase Shmi’s freedom- hell, she probably could have even asked for donations from her grateful people.

The Planet Core
To reach Theed City, Boss Nass says, you have to “Go through the planet core”. Now, by me, this was not interpreted literally. I took it to mean that the heroes would have to take subterranean aquatic passages to get past the droid army and into the city unnoticed. But the term ‘planet core’ is taken by many to be the literal path taken- as if the entire planet was a maze of rocky, water-filled tunnels. Not only does this seem to be a physical impossibility for a planet as we know it, it would also imply that the Jedi (and the entire Droid army) set down on the OPPOSITE SIDE OF THE PLANET from the capital- thus requiring them to march all the way across the planet to carry out their attack. While I agree that the Neimoidians weren’t exactly tactically savvy- I think they’d realize that landing so far away would be a ‘bad thing’- hell, it wouldn’t be economical to do that (that’s something they’d get). Also, a voyage THROUGH a seemingly earth-sized planet could be 12,000+ km in distance. Even if the Bongo the Jedi used could travel 200kph (questionable)- and there were no twists, turns or detours, the trip would take 60+ hours. By that time, the whole planet would be subjugated. So yeah. The whole ‘Planet core’ statement is misleading in a lot of different ways.

Those are just the first three that spring to mind. I’ll likely expound/rant about more at a later time, but I wanted to get these off of my chest.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Force Unleashed II – Reconsidered

Okay, so I finally broke down and bought The Force Unleashed II- and I am now in the position of having to eat my previous words. After playing it last weekend, I have to take back every bad thing I’ve ever said about it. I’m a big enough person to admit when I am wrong- and I was totally wrong about this.

Where do I even start? With the story, I guess- the strongest part of this whole franchise. The Force Unleashed has to be one of the most powerful and interesting Star Wars stories since… well, ever. For me, it recaptured the feeling of seeing the first movie for the very first time. The depth of the main character, Starkiller, is just incredible. His heroes journey took me from the depths of despair to the heights of elation. Seriously, there were a few times I had to stand up and cheer.

Starkiller is like a breath of fresh air, allowing you to see all your favorite characters in a new light. Vader is SO much more interesting when pitted against a worthy foe like Starkiller. I mean, seriously, Luke was a whiney kid who could barely stand up to Vader- let alone defeat him TWICE and send him off to a Rebel prison camp! It was just so reassuring to know that no matter what the challenge, Starkiller could defeat it. The Emperor himself knew better than to try to take on THIS Jedi again.

And then there was the appearance of Yoda! Wow. I mean just… wow. The way he sat there outside of that cave on Dagobah and told Starkiller that “what he seeks he will find” within the dark cave. And then when Starkiller emerges, Yoda tells him to follow what he’s seen- his love for Juno Eclipse. Of course, Starkiller was already doing that, but its always good to have confirmation that you are (once again) right.

As far as the Romance goes, I didn’t think it was possible for the creators of the game to improve upon the depth of the relationship between Starkiller and Juno Eclipse- but somehow they did it. Even though they don’t actually see each other until the last few minutes of the game, you KNOW how deep the love is between them, because Starkiller keeps saying so throughout the other cut scenes. I’m not ashamed to admit I was crying a little when Starkiller’s droid reports that Juno is dead and he can’t revive her.. but then in a HUGE twist, it turns out that Juno ISN’T dead! Wow.

I also loved the fact that they continued the storyline of Starkiller being the founder of the Rebel Alliance. Other characters even referred to it (when speaking to our hero) as “Your Alliance”. I mean this only further cements Starkiller in the hearts of all true Star Wars fans. Seriously, how cool is it that just ONE guy was responsible for the rebirth of liberty in the Star Wars galaxy.

But I could gush about the story all day, so I’d better mention the other great things about The Force Unleashed II before I go. As before, this game shows just how powerful Starkiller is. It lets you REVEL in that power, tossing foes about like rag dolls. I found the scenes where Starkiller was throwing around gigantic pieces of starships to be the most empowering feeling I’ve ever had in a game- to say nothing of free-falling through the atmosphere from orbit. I mean, literally nothing could stop me- err, Starkiller (see? I internalized the character so much, I couldn’t tell where he began and I ended!). And the variety of foes! From Stormtroopers and gigantic droids to…more stormtroopers and even more gigantic droids! And all those new powers where you can simply just disintegrate people! Just awesome- and so totally fitting with the philosophy of a heroic Jedi like Starkiller, too. The Force is used for knowledge and defense… AND KICKING A**!!

So yeah. I was wrong about this game and I have to admit it. I think that with the Force Unleashed II we are seeing the beginning of a new era of Star Wars- and one it so desperately needed. No more of that ‘fallible hero’ crap. FINALLY we get a Jedi who knows what he’s doing- and what he’s doing is kicking A**!

p.s. Please note the date of the posting of this ‘review’- and take that for what you will.

p.s.s. Oh, and I would be remiss in not mentioning how awesome the part is where Starkiller fights his own clones! You have to admire the foresight of the Empire, for actually having twin lightsabers stored INSIDE the cloning tanks of the Starkiller clones- so that when they're hatched they can IMMEDIATELY start kicking butt. Of course, they can't hope to stand against the REAL Starkiller, but... good thinking, anyway.