Thursday, June 30, 2011


This is kind of a rant, so- you’re forewarned. And yeah, I’m again probably going back over some things I’ve touched on before. So sue me. Anyway:

Why is it that a lot of people seem to equate ‘maturity’ of subject matter with ‘darkness’? In this case, I define ‘darkness’ as: violence, grim/gritty situations, pessimism, hopeless efforts, etc.

It is a trend I have seen in various mediums- usually an ‘updating’ of a subject/setting from years ago (the childhood era of my generation) to a modern day setting. Comic books are probably the best example of this, though movies and even video games play into this as well.

A lot of the notions prevalent in the entertainment of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were quite simplistic and even ‘kiddified’. I began to notice the trend towards ‘maturity’ during the late 80’s and early 90’s with comics. New ‘dark’ heroes emerged and older, established heroes all seemed to take on a ‘darker’ tone. The Watchmen were a prime example of this- a ‘what if Super Heroes existed in the real world’ thing. But then, I wouldn’t call Alan Moore’s deranged concept of the world ‘real’. Same goes for Frank Miller. In any case, the general idea was that things were horrible and heroes had to be horrible in order to deal with them. Notions of right and wrong (a la Superman) were just foolish and ‘childish’. The idea was that by recognizing how bad the world sucked, heroes were ‘growing up’.

Now, in some ways, I understand the appeal of the growing ‘maturity’ of entertainment subject matter. People who grew up with heroes (or settings) liked to see those heroes (or settings) growing up with them. They wanted stories that had more complexity and nuance. I understand this desire- and have it, myself. There is also the appeal of the ‘shock’ value of re-imagining something ‘kiddiefied’ as suddenly dark and dangerous. Take the death of Robin in the Batman comics for instance. Not only is this shocking to people who grew up with certain ‘rules’ in their comics, there is the whole appeal of being a ‘rebel’- of bucking established trends. That is also part of growing up. I understand that, too.

What I do not understand (or agree with) is the trend in many creators and consumers of entertainment media that equates mature with dark. For instance, I purchased a Thundercats Graphic novel- based partly on the fact I used to like the cartoon and partly on the fact that the artwork was really well done. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that during the time between the TV cartoon and the novel the villain had conquered the world and enslaved or murdered the Thundercats. I am not opposed to this plot-twist in and of itself, but the details of it just kept getting darker and darker. I mean, seriously- they implied (and even partially showed) that one of the Thundercats, Cheetara had been raped by the mutants. And one of the younger female Thundercats is insinuated as having been a sex-slave to the main villain- the undead Mum-raa. Seriously? I mean seriously? Did you HAVE to go this far? It’s like the authors were beating you over the head and screaming: “THIS ISN’T A KIDS CARTOON ANYMORE! IT IS MATURE AND SERIOUS! SEE!? HORRIBLE THINGS HAPPEN! THAT’S SERIOUS! SO WE ARE TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY AS CREATORS!”

Well you know what? It didn’t make me take them seriously, it disgusted me. The authors took a cherished childhood memory and crapped all over it in an attempt to shock people and show how ‘mature’ their subject was now. They completely lost all sense of what the source material ‘felt like’. They didn’t have to do that. Overall, the plot-line was complex enough to be interesting. I didn’t mind that it was a little darker: i.e. the bad guys were in control. That just meant the heroes had to face a lot more challenges. But when you throw sexual assault into the mix (aimed solely at the female characters, it seems) then you’ve gone too far- at least for the subject matter you’ve chosen. Thundercats WAS a kids cartoon- why does it have to be the exact opposite of that to be ‘mature’ in content. Why not just deepen the characterizations of the various leads. Why not rely on more complex storylines and even some morally ‘grey’ areas. You could keep the excitement and adventure of the original source material and just add to it. Instead, the authors in this case went for the ‘cheap’ method of shocking their readers.

The above wasn’t the first example of mature = dark. There were plenty of others (Watchmen, Dark Knight, etc.). Some (the Watchmen) were done quite a bit better than the Thundercats example above. But even so, I never really bought into the whole notion. Yes. The real world sucks at times. Yes, Heroes in the vein of comic book/movie types don’t exist in real life. But the IDEA of them has a lot of appeal and stories about those kind of people aren’t ‘immature’ just because they aren’t ‘realistic’. Most entertainment media is escapism and you know, sometimes I just like my stories to be entertaining- not dreary descents into how terrible things ‘really’ are.

And how does any of this relate to Star Wars? Well the thing that got me thinking about the subject actually was the whole Star Wars: Legacy setting. It is dark and gritty and (therefore) much more 'mature' than its Source Material. Right? Yeah. Right. It doesn't even feel like Star Wars to me. Like so much of the Expanded Universe. Star Wars doesn't need to 'grow up'. It was plenty 'mature' despite its seemingly black and white outlook. Well. That's my opinion anyway.

Rant over.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Star Wars without War?

I love the Star Wars setting. Obviously. But one of my biggest pet peeves with the ‘Expanded Universe’ is the fact that even after the ‘good guys win’ in Episode VI the galaxy continues to spiral into more and more wars which eventually (according to the EU) result in the ultimate destruction of the Republic (as we know it) and a seemingly endless string of even more wars. If this were the case, and the galaxy were really constantly at war for what seems like centuries then I would think there wouldn’t be much civilization left- economies would be in ruins, etc. etc. It paints a rather bleak picture of the Galaxy, and one I don’t subscribe to. It also gets boring (for me at least)- as each new writer tries to one-up the one before by presenting an even MORE terrible threat to the Galaxy. It is ultimately self defeating. And yeah. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating.

Considering the timeline of my current, long-running campaign- long past even the Thrawn timeline- a question has constantly come to my mind. Can you have a game that feels like Star Wars without… well… war? I mean it’s right there in the title. But is it really necessary? Though my opinion has varied from time to time, I have finally settled into viewpoint that no, Star Wars does not HAVE to have a galaxy-spanning war in progress in order to feel ‘right’. Of course this doesn’t mean there will be a lack of conflict- or combat. Combat is a huge part of the movies and the setting. It is also a staple of almost ALL roleplaying games. But an actual war doesn’t HAVE to be going on.

If you look at it from a story standpoint you can see that all sorts of exciting adventures can be found even in a time of peace: from the intrigues of James Bond to the explorations of Star Trek, there are plenty of examples of what can be done in a setting where War isn’t the focal point.

If you look at from a gaming standpoint, most of the ‘missions’ characters are sent on in a ‘typical’ Star Wars campaign are of a small scale, tactical nature. Only rarely do players get involved in a huge battle. Most game systems are geared towards this small scale, and in a setting without war, very little would change in terms of mission types.

I will say that it is a bit more challenging as a game master to come up with ideas for a setting that is (on the surface at least) at peace. I mean, you can’t just say: “Oh, the Imperials are invading again”. But I feel that I ‘owe’ it to the Star Wars setting to not just continue the ‘same old same old’ and maintain an unrealistic (I know, an odd term to use when talking about Star Wars) status quo of Galactic combat for centuries on end. I personally enjoy the challenge of this new era, and have confidence that it won’t stop feeling like Star Wars just because the ‘Wars’ are much, much smaller now.

Of course, I say all this knowing that I’m going to be launching a new campaign (set some time in the future) which takes place in a different Galaxy. As far as I’m concerned with that, all bets are off. There can be lots of large scale combat and even major wars, but I’m giving “The Galaxy Far, Far Away” some time to revel in its well earned era of Peace.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Star Wars Weekend

Between work, vacation and illness (all of which are overlapping terribly), I haven't had much time for the blog. Sorry about that- moreso for myself, since I have fun writing for it. But in any case, I'm here to report that a couple weekends ago I finally made it to a 'Star Wars Weekend' down at Disney Hollywood Studios theme park. Yes, that's right, all these years in Florida and I've never actually been to a Star Wars weekend. Sad, I know. I blame my overall sloth and general dislike of large crowds. But in any case- I went, and it was great- despite the fact I was still recovering from a fever the day before. The experience (of the park, not the fever) was made all the better by having a couple other Star Wars fans with me (my friends Sharon and Philip- and their little 'fan in training', Alex).

The whole 'Star Wars' theme began even as we entered the park, with a pair of stormtroopers positioned on the roof of the check-in kiosk, trash talking the crowds. Heh, nice. There were plenty more Star Wars characters to be found throughout the park, to say nothing of all the fans sporting their various T-Shirts, caps and other paraphernalia. It's sometimes easy to forget that Star Wars has so MANY fans- I mean, you don't run into them that often in 'every day life' (at least I don't). But here they were- and in force (no pun intended).

Of course the Star Tours ride was the main draw for this crowd, and the crowds around it were impressive. Most impressive. So while Sharon ran off to get our group 'fast passes' to the ride, I got my first in-person look at the Jedi training academy they have for kids. This is (as with all things Disney) really well done. The trainers are fun people able to ad-lib amusingly and keep things moving quickly for dozens and dozens of kids each day. All I can say about this is that if I were a kid, I would love it- a chance to duel Darth Vader (or Darth Maul for the 'overflow' class).

As it turns out, the 'Fast-Pass' for Star Tours was a bit of an oxymoron- at least on a Star Wars weekend. We still had a pretty good wait to get on the ride. But that was fine. Disney does an awesome job of making even the waiting line be interesting. There were all sorts of little scenes and gee-gaws along the way- from droids talking to you, to a little scene with Artoo and Threepio to something else I found quite amusing- a collection of crates with droids in them- labeled 'defective, return to factory'. Inside one of these was the pilot droid from the OLD Star Tours. Heh. Nice touch.

The ride itself was fun- a marked improvement over the Star Tours- with 3D and (I thought) a much better sensation of acceleration and movement. There were also some nice touches in the form of some 'audience interaction'. Seemed to me that one passenger on each 'flight' is randomly chosen to be a 'rebel spy' and is featured in the 'story' of the adventure. Also, the exact course of the flight changes with each ride. So in one flight, you can wind up on Geonosis, in the other, you might land on Naboo. In one you may be attacked by a probe droid, in another it may be Darth Vader. All in all, a fun ride.

But as fun as Star Tours was, the high-point of that particular day came in a very odd and unexpected manner. While waiting for a parade to start, my friend Sharon and I just happened to look up as someone passed by. This someone was accompanied by a couple Disney security guys and was wearing a bright, metallic golden vest. Sharon and I looked at eachother and said (almost in unison): "That was Anthony Daniels". And you know what? It was. C-3PO, walking right past me, just a couple feet away. For someone who doesn't normally have brushes with 'celebrities', it was a fun moment for me.

It wasn't long after C-3PO walked past me (wow!) that the parade of the 501st Legion began. This was pretty darn cool. Okay, so... a few of the Stormtroopers were a little on the heavy side, but the costumes were awesome. And funnily enough, the Sand People in the parade traveled in single file, to hide their numbers. Awesome.

So, yeah. I enjoyed the heck out of Star Wars weekend, and look forward to going again sometime. In fact, the next time Star Wars Celebrations is hosted in Florida I may just do that.