Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Energy in Star Wars

One of the reasons I like Star Wars so much is the fact it does NOT go into detail about a lot of the 'tech' in its universe. How do ships fly? How do shields work? How? They just do. That's how. From a gaming perspective, this is even more refreshing, since you don't really need to keep track of a lot of 'techy' aspects- as a player or a game master. Even so, I like to have a few general guidelines in place so I know how things 'seem to function' in a game, even if I don't know (or care about) the science behind them.

For instance, I know that blasters seem to require an energy source (a power pack) and a small amount of 'blaster gas' to function. The gas is assumed to last a long time between refillings and can easily be worked into the 'routine maintenance' that is assumed by me in my games. The power-packs are used up more more quickly (depending on the output of the blaster in question) and are generally looked at as the 'ammo' for the weapon- i.e. they are what determines the number of 'rounds' a blaster can fire. Do I need to know exactly how any of this works? No. But its nice to have the superficial details like characters swapping out energy-packs in the midst of battle.

I feel the same way about power sources in the SW universe. I don't really care about the science behind them, I just want the 'gist' of how they work. And yet, there is very little canon information on this subject. More to the point, there seem to be conflicting stories. In some of the 'technical companions' many vehicles run on 'fuel slugs', while in others, reactors are 'solar ionization'. Still others are 'hyperparticle' reactors. Likewise, in some books they show some vehicles (such as AT-STs) as being 'too small' to have onboard reactors, and thus have a power-cell/battery instead.

This seems quite odd to me, considering there are some vague representations of generators in the movies themselves that seem to show that 'generators' can actually be quite small. For example, there is the power-generator that the Snowtroopers carry to power their E-Web blaster in Empire Strikes back. In the same movie, there is that tiny little generator that Luke plugs Artoo-Deeto into after he's crashed on Dagobah. And then there are power-droids, seen throughout the original trilogy- who were described to be 'walking power generators'.

As usual, I tend to err in favor of what we see in the movies over what is presented in the EU or in the (often conflicting) technical readouts of various vehicles. So it is that in my OWN Star Wars galaxy, Power Generators are relatively small in size compared to their power output. This means that in my universe most vehicles are equipped with power generators- even vehicles as small as speeder bikes. This means that with the proper fuel, these vehicles generate their own power- they do not run off a 'battery' (though they would have the ability to store some of the power they generate as a backup).

Though I do not want to get too deeply into the science behind them, I consider Star Wars technology to be based upon fusion technology- a much safer form of nuclear energy than the fission we're used to. The fuel for these reactors would likely be a liquid deuterium (or whatever other star wars equivalents might be invented). I say liquid because it strikes a nice balance of storage space (taking up less space than gaseous fuel) and usability (able to be 'pumped' into fuel tanks instead of having to be 'inserted' as solid fuel slugs or anything of the sort). The use of a fuel like deuterium is also supported in some of the RPG sources as well- specifically those listing 'fuel scoops' and converters. This would allow ships so equipped to dip into naturally occurring supplies of deuterium (in gas giants or even ocean water) to use as low-grade fuel in emergency situations. Since deuterium is a relatively common element, this would mean that power is pretty abundant in the SW universe- and considering the amount of tech we see in the movies, this seems to be the case. Also, in the movies, we never hear about 'fuel shortages' or the like. From a purely 'cinematic' viewpoint, I also like the idea of 'fuel' being a combustible material (deuterium is) and being transported in 'tankers'. To me, that just feels 'right'.

So that's how I handle energy in my own Star Wars universe, vague on the scientific details, but cinematically functional.

p.s. At first glance, it might seem that this system would actually eliminate the necessity for power droids. But having read into just what they were (supposedly) used for, it actually doesn't. In makeshift bases and settlements without a centralized power-grid, power-droids are used to recharge various bits of isolated tech to keep them functioning. In locations where there WAS centralized power, these droids could have a supply of deuterium onboard and could thus 'top off' the fuel tanks of various reactors they service.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3 - Part 4

And finally- the last few issues included in this collection. All in all, I enjoyed the heck out of this book and the various stories within, even if some of them (as you'll see below) have their problems...

Serphidian Eyes

This is a single-issue story arc- and one that seems oddly out of place since it does not follow the continuity of the previous issue. In fact, it actually 'gets in the way' of the conclusion of the "Shira Brie" arc (which actually happens in the next issue). This story seems as though it could have taken place at any point in the Star Wars timeline, being a rather 'generic' and self contained adventure.

The basic premise of Serphidian Eyes is that the Rebellion needs a listening post established on the remote world of Serphidi. Unfortunately, the ruler of the native population of that world (the Serps) is a tyrant and likely opposed to Rebel contact. Thus Luke and two other pilots (Berl and Cinda) are sent to "change a few minds".

Upon arriving over Serphidi, the rebels find themselves under attack by Imperial TIE fighters. They fend off the attack, but Cinda's craft is damaged and the trio are forced to land. On the ground they are attacked by armored Serps riding lizard-mounts and wielding lances that fire energy. Berl is killed and Cinda captured. Luke just barely manages to escape. While trying to figure out a way to rescue his friend, Luke comes across an older Serp and gains his trust (by rescuing him from a native monster).

The elder Serp (Elglih), tells Luke of the plight of his world, which had banned technology long ago to keep the peace. Unfortunately, the Tyrant S'shah revived some of this technology in the form of the power lance and established himself as tyrant of the otherwise medieval world. The only way to unseat him from the throne is to defeat him at the royal tournament. And so Elglih volunteers to train Luke to fight in this tournament.

Meanwhile, Luke's wingman Cinda finds herself a captive of the tyrant S'shah. He finds her an amusing distraction- nice to look at in her 'slave garb'. But he also enjoys terrifying her by stating that he intends to eat her following his victory in the upcoming tournament.

Luke continues his training as Cinda endures her captivity and even attempts to escape (though to no avail). And then comes the day of the tournament. The battle is hard fought, but Luke manages to win. Thus S'shah is defeated and Elglih takes the throne at Luke's request- vowing friendship and aid to the Rebel Alliance.

As I said before, this whole adventure seems a bit out of place in the timeline of the comics up to this point. Even so, it is a generally solid adventure, if a bit hokily written and presented. The medieval trappings of the Serphidian society don't look alien at all, rather, they look like stereotypical 'knight in shining armor' stuff, except for the fact that everyone (and their horses) are big lizards (it's always big lizards). But that doesn't spoil my overall enjoyment, even if I do have to wonder: what exactly was Leia's intention when she sent three pilots to this world. Did she honestly expect three pilots to be able to overthrow a tyrant? Maybe she just hoped for some kind of diplomatic solution, but... well, it's all a bit obscure.

Golrath Never Forgets

This is a single issue story-arc, but one that brings in and ties together plot threads from previous issues- namely the whole "Shira Brie" saga. The adventure begins with Luke returning from his adventures of two issues ago. He stands trial for both the killing of Shira Brie and his 'desertion' after the fact. He is cleared of all charges, however, due to the evidence he was able to gather on Shira and her status as an Imperial agent.

But before anyone can celebrate another problem rears its head. A Rebel tech had taken a stone from the Alliance's previous (if temporary) base on the planet Golrath as a keepsake. This stone begins to exhibit odd properties: namely, it seems to have somehow 'stored' and can project visual images of what was around it. Rebel scientists determine that this particular mineral acts as a kind of natural video-recorder. Unfortunately for the rebels, this means that the stone walls of their previous base actually recorded all their activities on Golrath. Leia quickly scrambles an attack force to return to their previous base and destroy it before the Empire discovers their previous base and its 'recordings'.

Unbeknownst to the Rebels, the Empire has already found the base. The investigation of it has been turned over to Lieutenant Giel (the same officer who had been demoted by Vader in previous issues). Giel feels that the assignment is a punitive one, but is determined to do his best job anyway. He is thrilled when some of his men discover the odd properties of the stone. Giel sees this as a way to begin his climb back to his position as admiral.

The rebel strike force hits the system and is immediately embroiled in a battle with Giel's forces in space. As the starfighters duke it out in orbit, Leia is dropped (via a Jetpack) onto the base itself to set its reactor to self destruct. Giel notices this and sets a trap- personally cornering Leia in the Generator room. There he cuts her off and then HE sets the reactor to blow. Giel offers Leia and ultimatum, surrender or he kills both of them. He reasons that his loss to the Empire will not be crippling, but her loss to the Rebellion could hurt it greatly. Leia, realizing that Giel is NOT bluffing, surrenders- or rather, appears to. Just when things seem lost, however, Leia remotely triggers her jetpack (strapped to a supply cart). This distracts the Imperial- and in fact runs him right over- allowing Leia to escape the reactor room.

Giel gives chase, but its too late. Outside, Leia is extracted via a daring low-level Y-Wing flyby (piloted by Lando and covered by Luke in his X-Wing). Giel takes a pot shot at Luke as he flies by, but seems to do only minimal damage. The former admiral then calmly evacuates with his men, though to an uncertain fate, as he has to now report another failure to Vader. Behind him, the previous rebel base explodes

In space, the Rebels engage their hyperdrives and escape the still-pursuing Imperials. They all escape. Well. Almost all. It seems that the shot that hit Luke's fighter actually DID do some damage. He's stuck facing an armada of TIE fighters. To be continued (in the next issue, of course).

This story frustrates me. On the one hand, I love the whole 'mission' aspect of it. From the waves of Rebel fighters to the covert drop of Leia to sabotage the base. I love Giel as a villain, for once again he shows both intelligence and true dedication to his cause. His intimidation of Leia is an AWESOME example of that. Yes, I love this adventure...except for the fact that the premise beneath it is entirely stupid. Really? Rocks that record what's going on around them...and play it back? The Rebels were at that base for some time- weeks (if not months) and you mean to tell me that nobody noticed this about the rocks THEN? Again, it seems to be a Macguffin devised solely to set up a situation. This is all the more frustrating because some other, more believable Macguffin could have been used. Hell, it could have been something as simple as: The Empire is setting up a new base on , we have a chance to destroy it before it is fully operational. There. You have a solid reason for a quick strike without any magical movie rocks. I would also have added more saboteurs than just Leia to the 'ground team'. Seriously, I mean they send in just ONE person? And one of their top commanders, to boot? That seems just a little reckless. Why not have a squad of guys accompanying Leia. It wouldn't have changed much at all. Bleh. Yes, so- this could have been one of the most awesome Star Wars adventures yet, but...no. Instead it is just 'what could have been'.

Water Bandits

This story picks up after the previous issue. The hyperdrive on Luke Skywalker's X-Wing had been damaged. He manages to hide out on a backwater desert planet to evade the pursuing imperial TIE Fighters. When his provisions are spoiled by local insects, he is forced to visit a local settlement. There he discovers that not all is well on this planet. A friendly female water farmer by the name of Darial explains that mysterious bandits have been stealing all their water harvests and stores, using some mysterious weapon that knocks out any defenders. Luke agrees to help and that night stands guard at Darial's farm. Unfortunately, he succumbs to a strange drowsiness, just like everyone else- but not before sensing something odd- voices saying that they "do what they must" and "mean you no harm".

When Luke wakes, the other dazed farm hands tell him that Darial has gone missing, along with all the water- they fear she's been taken by the bandits. Luke determinedly sets out into the mountains after her. He finds the bandits' base, but is captured and taken before their leader, Gideon Longspar. The villain, of course, lays out his plan now- gesturing to a globe that holds some strange cloud of tiny organisms. Seems these organisms are an empathic colony (referring to itself telepathically as Tirrith). Gideon captured part of the colony and holds it hostage- threatening to harm or kill it if the rest does not do his bidding. Tirrith complies because any harm to PART of the colony will bring great pain to the rest. The water thefts are made possible by the organism creating an odorless chemical that renders humanoids unconscious. After this, the bandits move in and take what they want.

Luke and Darial are then thrown into a cell. They manage to escape, however, with a distraction caused by Tirrith as well as some use of force powers by Luke (who uses telekinesis to open the bolt on their cell). Once freed, Luke manages to free the 'hostage' organisms, but the bandits respond and are about to overrun Luke and Darial. Tirrith urges Darial to destroy the water storage tanks in the Bandit's base- to use the flood to defeat them. Darial is hesitant, because her people NEED that water to survive...but in the end, she does so. The bandits are washed away, but at what cost?

Luke and Darial return to her farm, but the woman is uncertain about her future. At this point, Tirrith returns and through manipulation of the planet's atmosphere causes it to rain.

Overall, I really liked this story. For the most part, it seemed pretty plausible (in a space fantasy kind of way). Tirrith was a unique kind of alien entity and didn't seem TOO outside the realm of believability. About the only thing I didn't like about the story was the fact that the water farmers never thought to use breath masks when there were a LOT of clues that the Bandits could have been using some kind of chemical knockout gas to commit their crimes.


This story is told within the Star Wars “King Size Annual!”. While on the run from the Empire on the planet Ventooine, Luke and Lando stumble across a statue of Han Solo. A local priest informs them that Han is revered on this world as their savior. A rather convenient audio-recording in the statue then begins to narrate the tale, in Han Solo’s own words.

Years ago, Han and Chewbacca had visited Ventooine in search of some rare spice. This being Han Solo, things rapidly got complicated. Finding himself on the run from some hostile locals, Han inadvertently saves the life of a beautiful woman named Chrysalla. The latter turns out to be the consort of the local Tyrant (known as the “Satab”) and insists that Han accompany her back to the palace to be rewarded properly. Meanwhile, we see that a local priest that Han had helped out earlier is actually part of a plot to overthrow the Satab.

At the Satab’s palace, Han is treated to a banquet- but also gets to see first hand the corruption of the tyrant. The Satab ‘entertains’ his dinner guests by executing a revolutionary with a strange power that seems to just drain him of life. During the dinner, Han is also forced to give up his blaster. This leaves him an unarmed and slightly unwilling ‘houseguest’. Once night falls, however, Han determines to continue with his original mission- to get his hands on the rare spice he came here for (and which he had seen the Satab using earlier). While sneaking through the darkened halls of the palace, however, he is discovered. Thankfully, it is by a friendly Chrysalla, who invites Han to join her in her room. Ahem.

Unfortunately for both of them, the Satab seems to be aware of this tryst, able to perceive the two of them through some strange clairvoyant ability. The next day, the tyrant invites Solo out for a tour of the realm, taking him to see a mine. Here, the Satab’s lackeys release a monster to attack Solo. With some quick thinking, Han manages to kill the beast. At this, the Satab comments quietly to his underlings that he may have must found the perfect candidate to be the NEXT Satab. This development, overheard by a spy, is reported to the local priests conspiring against the tyrant.

That evening, Han is invited to the throne room of the Satab, who has a ‘gift’ for the smuggler- the “Shadeshine”- a strange gemstone amulet that seems to be the source of his power. Han (being Han) is ready to accept this, seeing it as a bit of good luck. Before he can, however, the proceedings are interrupted by the capture of the rebellious priests, who had come to the palace in disguise. Even so, Han is about to accept the “Shadeshine” when Chrysalla suddenly acts- using Han’s blaster to create a distraction, she pulls the smuggler away from the Satab and the two flee. Han is confused by all of this, but as he puts it: “Sure wish I knew what was goin’ on. But until I do, I’m sidin’ with the pretty one.”

Whilst fleeing through the bowels of the palace, Chrysalla explains the TRUE nature of the Shadeshine. It does indeed grant many powers, but it comes with a price. Within a year of coming in contact with the stone, a victim’s senses are enhance to the point where the slightest sensation is overwhelming. All of the previous Satabs have fallen to this and placed themselves in suspended animation in a vault beneath the palace. The current Satab had intended to retreat here as well. The plan, you see, is to Select a suitably ‘ruthless’ and capable person to be the next Satab in the hopes that THIS person will be able to find a ‘cure’ for the Shadeshine, if only out of self-interest (but in the hopes that he will then cure those who came before). Han is shown proof of this when Chrysalla opens the vault containing all the Satabs that came before.

It is at this point that the current Satab finds the two of them and a battle erupts. Using the mystical powers of the Shadeshine, the Satab rapidly begins to gain the upper hand over Solo. Chrysalla then steps in, managing to wrest the stone away from the tyrant. Suddenly able to use those same powers, she manages to resist the Satab’s attack. This clash of powers is evidently the last straw, as the Tyrant literally burns up from the power of the stone. Unfortunately, this means that Chrysalla will eventually share the Satab’s fate. Even so, the Tyrant has been overthrown. Han gets his spice, but the ‘victory’ is dulled by the fact that Chrysalla must retire to the hibernation vault. Thus, the story ends.

Back in the ‘present’, Luke and Lando are aided by the priest when Stormtroopers come looking. The holy man directs the troopers into a mysterious vault where they fall victim to the suspended animation machinery within. Looking on from the Doorway, Luke and Lando see Chrysalla there, thus confirming this amazing story.

Overall, I liked the story. It was a solid adventure tale that felt very ‘pulp hero’ to me, complete with decadent tyrants and scantily clad female consorts. The writing was a bit ‘expositive’, but not bad- and Han Solo did have a few good lines. In fact, I thought they did a reasonably good job of keeping him ‘in character’- or at least in character for his younger self- obsessed with wealth and luxury and perhaps not as wise as his older self. But again there are some problems I have with the ‘root’ of the story- the “Shadeshine” itself. I don’t have a problem really with the ‘powers’ the stone granted. In fact, they felt a lot to me like ‘dark side’ Force abilities. No, the problem I had was with the reasoning behind the Satab’s actions. If each Satab was ruthless and ‘morally flexible’, what makes any of the guys who went on before think that if one of their successors DOES find a ‘cure’ for the gem that they would ever use it to revive all the previous rulers. I mean, if you’re a Tyrant do you really want to suddenly wake up hundreds of OTHER Tyrants who will probably want the throne back? Uhhh. No. To me, it would have made more sense if the Satab was simply looking for a ‘host’- a body and a mind compatible with his own in order to prolong his own life by transferring his consciousness- or even by ‘draining’ the host. But maybe that’s just me…

The Darker

As with the previous few issues, this is another relatively self-contained, single-issue story. It is different from most of the rest in this collection because it focuses almost entirely upon all the ‘sidekick’ characters of the Saga, namely C-3PO, Chewbacca and R2-D2. In fact, of all of them, I’d say that Threepio was probably the main hero of the story.

While working on the Rebel base on Arbra, Artoo hears a call for help coming from one of the unexplored cave passages. Following this, the droid Disappears- causing one of the locals (a bunny-like ‘hoojib’) to go seeking help. 3PO and Chewbacca (along with a small group of Hoojibs) respond to the call and soon find a cave sealed off by a strange Force Field. Within, they find a creepy, ruined city- and also a partially dismantled Artoo. Before they can rescue him, however, they discover the true resident of the area- a strange, floating entity calling itself “The Darker”.

“The Darker” explains its origins- claiming that the race that USED to live on this planet were ultra advanced, technologically. They had even found a way to eliminate their ‘baser emotions’. They weren’t able to destroy this evil half of themselves, though, but rather built a prison for it- this very cave. The Darker, then, is the remains of this evil energy, trapped here long after the original race that created it had departed. Furthermore, the Darker intends to escape by using the Droids to weaken its force field prison. It then intends to inflict its will upon others.

Needless to say, the heroes don’t take this well. Chewbacca attacks- only to find his hatred amplified by the Darker- and redirected towards Threepio. The droid flees, managing to elude the enthralled Wookiee. The droid searches through the records of the lost city to try and find some way of defeating The Darker. He manages to do just that- all the while evading Chewbacca. Threepio even manages to get Artoo running again- just in time to be Cornered by Chewbacca. Before the Wookiee can demolish the droid, however, Threepio appeals to Chewie’s love for Han. This snaps Chewbacca out of his rage-trance.

Threepio then explains that the Darker had lied earlier. He said that the race that created him could NOT destroy him. The truth of the matter is, they CHOSE not to destroy him, because he was a part of them, even if he was their worst part. The force field that holds the Darker does so because it CAN destroy him. The Darker then returns. Chewbacca tries to face him, but is overcome by waves of fear directed at him. Only the timely intervention of the Hoojibs (who had been cowering the the shadows all this time) distract the Darker long enough for Chewbacca to recover- and throw the entity into the Force field, destroying it for good.

As the weary heroes leave the cave and return to the Rebel base, they are teased by Luke and Lando for their absence- with Luke insinuating that they’d been on ‘vacation’.

This is certainly one of the more strange Star Wars stories, dealing as it does with disembodied entities and ancient all-powerful races. But even so, it’s not bad, and not entirely outside the realm of believability (within the Star Wars universe). It was also nice to see Threepio get a chance to be the hero, however reluctant he was to do so.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3 - Part 3

This is yet another continuation of my review of the Star Wars Marvel Comics Omnibus, Volume 3. In this installment I'll be looking at a four-comic story-arc that centers around the newly introduced character Shira Brie.

Shira's Story

In this story, we see the Rebel Alliance (Luke Skywalker's Squadron specifically) using its illegally acquired TIE fighters to launch a series of raids on remote Imperial installations unprepared for attacks from "friendly" craft. We also see the burgeoning relationship between Luke and Shira via their banter during and after combat. After one mission, Shira asks to be allowed to run a personal errand. Leia nixes the request, fearful of compromising base security- see, only high-ranking officers actually know the coordinates of the secret base on Arbra. Thus, if Shira left, she wouldn't be able to find her way back. Luke, knowing the coordinates, volunteers to escort Shira on her errand. Leia agrees, though reluctantly (once again implying some sort of unease between the Princess and Shira).

Shira, Luke and a couple other pilots from the squadron head to the remote world of Shalyvane- Shira's birthplace. On the surface they find only ruins. Shira insists on visiting a local temple alone and performs a strange ceremony in which she cuts herself and lets the blood drip onto an altar of sorts. This is rudely interrupted when a large group of humanoids suddenly attacks. Luke and his group are quickly pinned down, even as Shira explains what happened: Evidently her people used to live in these ruins and were at war with the 'nomads' now attacking them. That war ended when the nomads told the Empire that Shira's people were rebel sympathizers- prompting the complete destruction of the city- and all of Shira's family by bombardment and stormtrooper assault. That is the reason for Shira joining the Rebellion and her reason for returning here is to renew her 'blood vow' of vengeance for her people.

After this story is told Artoo discovers an underground tunnel and the rebels prepare to use it to escape. Unfortunately, the tunnel collapses after Shira enters it, apparently killing her. Luke and his men hold out until they run out of ammo, then prepare to make a final stand against the nomads when, suddenly, an X-Wing soars in and drives them back. Evidently Shira made it out of the tunnel and back to her ship, saving them all. Luke seems especially relieved that Shira survived- again hinting at the growing relationship.

This is definitely one of the better story arcs in the marvel comics series. From the dialogue to the 'realistic' feel of the missions presented it was quite grounded in the 'reality' of the Star Wars universe (i.e. it felt like the movies to me). About the only thing I don't really like is the suggested jealousy Leia holds for Shira. Though looking at this with 'modern' eyes, you could easily read something more into it- a protectiveness Leia feels towards her brother and perhaps some unease about Shira herself- whom she doesn't trust for some reason...

Screams in the Void

This issue begins with an awards ceremony for Shira Brie for her actions in saving her squadron-mates in their last mission. The award is presented by Leia herself and Shira is shown to be accepted and admired by the other Rebels. The rift between Leia and Shira seems to deepen, however, as Luke spends all his time with the latter at the expense of the former. This leads to a whole scene in which in introspective Leia examines just what she's feeling and why she's feeling it- going so far as to remind herself that she IS in love with Han Solo, and shouldn't begrudge Luke forming his own relationship...should she?

We then cut to the armada of Admiral Giel, who had briefly been introduced in the former issue. Here, we see him in command of an escort mission for a strange electromagnetic entity called a 'screamer'. This rare (perhaps unique) creature could, if 'installed' on Coruscant, greatly increase the speed of intergalactic communications for the Empire, thus giving them another edge over the Rebellion. Giel is shown to be a firm but fair commander- and in fact comes off as competent- a seeming rarity among Imperial officers.

We then rejoin the rebels as they prepare for their next mission. Here we finally see the REAL reason that they acquired the TIE Fighters in the previous missions. They intend to infiltrate Admiral Giel's armada and destroy the Screamer before the Empire realizes what's going on. It is during preparation for this mission that Shira takes Luke aside and they share a kiss- after haltingly commenting on how dangerous the coming mission is going to be.

Phase one of the rebel plan involves ambushing a long-range patrol from the Admiral's fleet. From a captured TIE pilot, the rebels gain the recognition codes they will need to pose as that same returning patrol. Phase two of the plan is the infiltration itself, with some tense moments as the recognition code is given and finally accepted. Phase three finds all hell breaking loose as Luke and his squadron attack- prompting the Empire to open fire on its own TIEs in an attempt to isolate the attackers. Admiral Giel cleverly orders his techs to utilize the "Screamer" to jam all communications channels save his own. Thus, Luke and his squadron find themselves unable to identify each other in the melee. As Luke lines up for his shot on Giel's ship, he finds his path blocked by another TIE. Reaching out with the force to determine if it's a friend or foe, he senses foe and fires- destroying the tie before firing the shots that destroy the Shrieker and cripple Giel's ship (which had been carrying it).

Luke only narrowly escapes Imperial pursuit and makes it back to base. There, he finds an oddly cold reception. Evidently one of Luke's team-mates made it back just before Luke. On his flight-recorder, Rebel techs have made a shocking discovery. The fighter Luke shot down, thinking it was an enemy, was actually Shira Brie's.

Again, this was a pretty darn good story. And again this was mostly due to the dialogue (and monologue) of the various characters. The action leading up to the final showdown was great, as was the Introduction of Admiral Giel as a unique character. What I really did NOT like was the whole concept of the "Screamer". It just came off as being far fetched- and in retrospect it really only seemed to exist as a Mcguffin to set up the REST of the story. It provided a reason for the Rebels to attack. It provided a reason why the Empire could jam Luke's communications- thus setting the stage for the tragic accidental death of Shira Brie at Luke's hands. You could have just as easily had something more believable be the target of the attack (a prototype shield or weapon or vehicle, etc.) and the whole Jamming thing could have just as easily been standard Imperial jamming- or a special jammer on Giel's flagship. You didn't need to make up some 'cosmic entity'. Bleh.


This story picks immediately after the events of the last, as Luke tries to come to grips with the fact that he has just evidently killed Shira Brie, his wingman- and a woman he was beginning to have feelings for. He faces cool hostility from many in the Rebel base- and some outright anger as one soldier accuses him of being a 'sorceror' who may be in league with Darth Vader. Luke reflects moodily on his sudden status as outcast- and feels all the worse because he IS guilty of shooting down Shira. Ultimately, he decides to dig further into the matter, unable to accept the fact that the Force simply led him astray in identifying her as an enemy. Lando and Chewbacca aid Luke in taking the Millennium Falcon, despite standing orders that Skywalker was to be confined to base. Chewbacca goes so far as to accompany the boy in a show of solidarity with his friend.

Not sure where to begin, Luke travels to Shira's desolate homeworld of Shalyvane, hoping to learn more about her and the strange blood ritual she performed there (several issues previous). What he finds are more hostile natives- the same nomads who attacked him the last time he visited. From their Shaman, however, he learns a very different story than the one Shira told. This was not a human city at all, but rather home to the Nomads, wiped out without warning by the Empire. Luke is skeptical, but his misgivings about Shira's story only grow when he discovers a transmitter hidden inside the 'altar' Shira had visited. Mimicking Shira's own action, Luke lets drops of his own blood fall on the altar. At first nothing happens, and then suddenly- Darth Vader Appears!

I thought this was a very solid story, if a bit melodramatic. But then, a lot of comics of this era are. I especially liked the idea of not ALL of the alliance folks liking the fact that Luke has the Force. With this being set post-Empire Strikes Back it has the added gut-punch of making Luke question himself and his training. Is Darth Vader really his father? CAN his powers be trusted if this is so? What else DIDN'T Yoda and Ben tell him… I also really enjoyed the various reactions of the other heroes. Lando and Chewbacca in particular really stand by Luke in his moment of need. What I didn't understand, though, is the 'faked' scene early in the story where Leia pretends to have chewed out Luke and he pretends to be angry with that. It was evidently done so that Leia wouldn't seem 'preferential' in her treatment of a soldier who had just committed 'fratricide', but to me, it didn't seem to work- it just made Luke look all the more guilty- and like a jerk, to boot.

The Mind Spider

This issue picks up right away with the Cliffhanger from the last- which is quickly defused as Darth Vader turns out to be just a pre-recorded Hologram who (very thoughtfully) 'monologues' his entire plan to Luke. Seems Shira was an agent of the Dark Lord, placed to bring about the downfall of Luke by destroying his credibility within the Rebellion- turning him into an outcast with nobody to turn to- except Vader. The hologram- and the transmitter- then self-destruct, leaving Luke with the knowledge that Shira was a traitor- but no proof.

Meanwhile, on Vader's Flagship, Admiral Giel (from two issues ago) must report his failure to the Dark Lord. His professionalism and courage impress Vader enough that he doesn't kill the man- he merely demotes him to Lieutenant. At this point, Vader receives word that the transmitter on Shalyvane has terminated- and Vader sets course immediately for a world called “Krake's Planet”.

As it turns out, this is where Luke had traveled as well- looking to break into an Imperial “data vault”. The vault is revealed to be of rather unique construction: an organic “crystal cocoon” shaped by native slug-like creatures under Imperial control. It is held aloft in the middle of a ravine by spindly, leg-like supports, giving it a resemblance to a giant spider (the titular “mind spider”). Luke and Chewbacca manage to sneak inside through a difficult to reach (and less well guarded) kitchen entrance. Here, they ambush an Imperial officer and (by pretending to poison him) convince him to access the computer files via the Kitchen's recipe terminal. Here then, Luke finally gets the proof he needs- Shira Brie's complete file. It reveals her to be an Imperial agent in Darth Vader's employ. Unfortunately, stormtroopers attack and destroy the data-disk Luke had just used to capture that information.

A running battle ensues as Luke and Chewbacca try to escape the vault. The two are separated, forcing Luke to find his own way out (and hope Chewbacca can do the same). He manages to get back to the Falcon and take off. He then swings back around to see if he can find Chewie. Utilizing the Force, Luke reaches out and 'convinces' the commander of the Vault to lower its shields momentarily. This allows Luke to fly in and pick up the Wookiee. By this time, however, the shields are back up. Nothing to do now but destroy the whole complex. And that's what they do- escaping as the Data Vault explodes. Vader's fleet has evidently just arrived in orbit as this happens, but is unable to prevent the Falcon from escaping yet again. Luke is at first distraught at being unable to get the proof he needs. Thankfully, Chewbacca had gone back to make another copy of the data (hence the reason for his getting separated from Luke). The two then head back to base to clear Luke's name.

Meanwhile, on Vader's ship we follow the Dark Lord as he visits the medical bay. There, floating in a bacta tank, is none other than Shira Brie herself- injured but apparently still alive.

I was REALLY enjoying this story arc until the very end. I mean the exchange between Giel and Vader was neat- as was the fact that Vader's plan to discredit Luke was actually not that bad (though I do wonder just how Shira intended to do that if she HADN'T been blown up). The infiltration of the data vault is fun as well, as it the con-job Luke pulls in convincing an Imperial officer he had been poisoned (using soap flakes). There is also an awesome fight between Luke and some Stormtroopers that shows just how badass Luke was getting by this point. I also really loved the cliffhanger- with Shira revealed to be still alive. She will, of course, come back to haunt Luke in the future.

The whole Data Vault thing was a bit odd, however. Why would the Empire make use of crystal-exuding slugs to create a base? Maybe it was just cost effective. If that's the case (and I'm assuming it is), then I have no problem with it.

The 'deal-breaker' for me, however is in the final few moments of the adventure. It is another example of the Force used as a deus ex machina. Without even seeing her, or being anywhere close to her, Luke manages to somehow mentally control the base commander and force her to lower the shields momentarily. It just felt so out of the blue and way beyond anything Luke had shown before. I also disliked the fact that Luke and Chewbacca apparently destroyed the Imperial base by turning the Falcon's shields on and flying straight THROUGH it. That seems implausible, otherwise, why wouldn't ships with shields just be flying through everything? Bleh. In any case, it was a lame “Wah wah wah” ending to an otherwise great story arc.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3 - Part 2

This is a continuation of my review/thoughts on Volume 3 of the Marvel Comics Star Wars Omnibus series: A long Time Ago... There will likely be several more updates as I delve into each storyline in a bit more depth.


This is a stand-alone story arc, but one that forms the basis for quite a few stories to follow. It begins by showing a rebel scouting party (led by Princess Leia and Chewbacca), scouting the forest world of Arbra as a possible site to set up a new base (since they lost their last base on Hoth). The team very quickly discovers that the planet is already inhabited—in this case by tiny rabbit-like aliens (Hoojibs) who feed on energy and also happen to communicate via telepathy. Unfortunately for the rebels, the “introduction” comes when the Hoojibs raid their camp, draining nearly every weapon and piece of equipment of power. It seems these otherwise gentle folk have been starving since they were forced out of their cavern home by a gigantic, flying monstrosity (dubbed “The Slivilith”). When both rebels and Hoojibs come under attack by said beast, they join forces to do battle. Through use of teamwork and clever tactics, the monster is slain. It is shown that the caverns in which the Hoojibs live are home to an odd-but-powerful crystal power source. This serves as the Hoojibs ‘food’- but could also be put to use to help power a rebel base. Some of the desperate rebels seem about to turn on the Hoojibs and TAKE their home. But Leia quickly nixes this. Thankfully, the Hoojibs, impressed by Leia’s integrity, invite the Rebels to share their home with them. The Alliance seems to have found a new base.

This was actually a very solid story. My only real criticism is the hoojibs themselves, who are…well, just too darn cute. They’re like the Nibblonians from Futurama. But even that didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the story. And again it is nice to see Leia as the main protagonist in the story- flexing her skills both as a soldier and a diplomat. I especially liked the way the rebels had to figure out a way to fight the big bad monster WITHOUT most of their high-tech gadgets. Great stuff.

Return to Bespin

This story arc spans two issues of the comic and details Lando Calrissian’s return to Cloud city to to check up on what happened to it since the Empire’s takeover (during the Empire Strikes Back). He finds the metropolis seemingly deserted- save for Lobot, who seems to have malfunctioned/gone berserk. While fleeing from the cyborg, Lando discovers a team of Imperials. After several shootouts, Lando finally comes face to face with the Imperial leader (Governor Treece) and finds out what’s really going on. Evidently, Cloud City’s Ugnaught workers (in protest against harsh Imperial rule) set explosives designed to topple the city- which was subsequently evacuated. The Ugnaughts were also responsible for disabling Lobot, the only person capable of thwarting their plans. Forced into an alliance of convenience with Teece, Lando manages to capture and repair Lobot. The Cyborg manages to defuse the bombs, just in time for Teece to betray Lando and kick him (literally) off cloud city.

The next book picks up with Lando plummeting to his death. Lobot, now fully restored, manages to save his former boss with a Jet Pack- just barely slowing his crash landing into the swampy surface of Bespin. There, the two fall in with a clan of Ugnaughts. After escaping Imperial pursuit, Lando meets with the Ugnaught King and discovers that the Imperials had increased tibanna gas production to a point where it was damaging the ecosystem (mostly so Governor Treece could skim profit off the top without anyone noticing).

Meanwhile, back on Cloud City, Luke and his new wingman (a woman named Shira Brie) have come to Bespin to check up on Lando (since he had missed his scheduled check-in). The two quickly get into trouble with the Governor’s stormtroopers who are now “clearing” the city in preparation for a return to operation. It is during this firefight that Lando arrives, flying up to the city on an Ugnaught airship (lifted by huge gas-balloons). Accompanying him are Lobot and (of all things) an ugnaught news crew. The latter quickly set about ‘covering the story’ going on- remarking on the plight of the outnumbered rebels. Lando attempts to bully Treece into surrender by threatening to have Lobot re-arm the explosive charges. The Governor responds by shooting Lobot. It is at this point that Luke rejoins the fray. Using the Force, he apparently re-activates the charges. The Imperials flee as the explosives detonate and the city begins to drop. All seems lost when the city slowly halts its fall and Luke explains that he didn’t re arm the MAIN explosives, only the arming charges. Thus, it was lots of flash and bang, but without any real damage to the city.

The story ends with the city being repopulated, both by the ugnaughts and the returning evacuees. Lando and the Rebels are hailed as heroes and it is explained that Bespin will, once again, become a ‘free port’, since the Empire thinks it was destroyed.

Right. Yeah. So, I have quite a few problems with the above story, which is really a shame, because as far as characterization goes, it was actually pretty well done. The characters had great interactions and we get to really see Lando in action. He is definitely presented as a brains over brawn guy who plays the odds. Which nicely sets him apart from the more haphazard Han Solo.

The Ugnaught news crew was actually rather amusing- and a nice little touch to both the story and the race as a whole- giving them more character. There was even an amusing little scene with the Imperial Bomb squad discovering a ‘talking bomb’ (droid brain built into a bomb) that convinces them that it wants to help them disarm it. Yeah, turns out it really didn’t. Suckers.

Unfortunately, so much of the rest of the story just…ugh. First of all, there was the huge mistake of making Bespin a planet with a surface instead of a gas giant. I mean, it’s an honest enough mistake, since Bespin’s exact composition wasn’t ever explicitly stated in the movie itself. I could even forgive this and ‘gloss it over’ if it weren’t for the horrible ending to the story. Seriously. Luke suddenly develops the ability to sense and re-wire a dozen bombs which are likely several kilometers away from him. Yeah. Right. Not buying that. And then the whole Idea that Luke knew that the re-wired bombs would only cause the city to drop for a few minutes. Not buying that, either. And then the idea that the Empire would just assume the city had fallen and would never send anyone to check on it ever again. Riiiight. Sigh. This kind of ending just ticks me off, especially since it was an otherwise good story.

As a final note, this story-arc marks the first introduction of Shira Brie- a red-headed rebel pilot destined to become something of a love interest for Luke Skywalker. Though she plays only a small part here, she is involved in a few key moments- her introduction quickly sets her at odds with Leia (who is seemingly a bit jealous of Shira’s budding relationship with Luke). Shira also has some fun banter with Luke during the firefight and its aftermath. She will become an increasingly important character in future story arcs.


This single-issue story details the Rebel Alliance’s attempt to find a hiding place for it’s fleet even as they set up their new headquarters on the planet Arbra. The plan is to utilize a gigantic ‘energy pyramid’ to surround their fleet and then fly the whole thing into the chromosphere of the system’s star. They’re going to hide in the fires of the sun itself- the last place ANYone would look. Yeah. You can say that again. Of course, all of this seems to be worth it when an Imperial TIE patrol passes through the system, looking for Rebels- and find none.

Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly), things go wrong. One of the ‘points’ of the pyramid (responsible for generating and maintaining the energy field) experiences some ‘technical difficulties’- and it seems as though the whole thing is going to collapse and fall into the sun’s corona- destroying the fleet entirely. Only through the timely intervention of Artoo and Threepio is disaster averted and the fleet saved.

So. Yeah. I dislike this entire story and call BS on both the concept of the ‘energy pyramid’ and the necessity of hiding a fleet inside a sun. I mean, seriously- how big is space? Why not just hide in deep space, outside of any solar system. The odds of being found there would be very, very (very) low. Why risk having an entire FLEET destroyed by hiding in a sun. There is no reason. It’s just stupid. It reminds me of that scene from Family Guy’s version of the Empire Strikes back:

Leia’s Plan: “We’re going to hide our ships inside the sun! What could possibly go wrong!”

Rebel soldier: “Ummm yeah. Could we talk to someone else? Maybe in the military? Preferably a man?”


This is mostly a single-issue story-arc, though some of the set up actually occurred in the previous issue. Here we have Lando and Luke traveling to the gigantic spaceship/spacestation known as “Bazarre”- a less-than-reputable trading post run by a less-than-reputable criminal named Orion Ferret. Yes, that’s really his name. Subtle, huh? I guess “Weasley McBackstabber” was taken. In any case, the two heroes are here to purchase four TIE fighters for an as-yet-unknown reason. Ferret, of course, intends to betray them, but is (for the moment) thwarted in this by Chewbacca, whom Lando leaves behind with the crime boss to ensure nothing bad happens.

Luke and Lando, meanwhile, travel in Ferret’s shuttle to the junk world of “Patch 4” to pick up their TIE fighters. There they find (not surprisingly) a trap in the form of a gigantic worm-like watchbeast that tries to kill them. The two escape to link up with some friendly local folk who reside amongst the junk. The junk-folk tell Luke and Lando that Ferret keeps a ‘sonic pacifier’ in his shuttle and the two concoct a plan to get it an escape. They wind up battling the worm beast, with Lando moving to distract it as Luke races for the pacifier. In the end, they manage to down the critter just in the nick of time- and turn the pacifier over to the junk-folk.

Meanwhile, back on Bazarre, the scheming Ferret manages to utilize a hidden ‘freeze ray’ to immobilize Chewbacca. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work and Chewie escapes. Needless to say, the Wookiee is a bit irate, but before he can twist Ferret’s head off, Luke and Lando return— with their promised cargo of TIE Fighters— and all is well.

All in all, this was a great little story- especially when compared to the shortcomings of the previous tales. Again, we get to see a lot of insight into Lando’s character. There is also quite a bit of genuinely amusing banter- something that is, to me, a MUST in any Star Wars story. Other things I enjoyed were the fact that they FINALLY allowed Lando to get out of the costume he’d been wearing since bespin- you know, the blue shirt with red-cape combo? Yeesh. I also enjoyed (despite his less-than-subtle name) the character of Ferret and his amusing little octopus-parrot thing that sat on his shoulder. He was a unique and memorable character who I could easily see being used in any game campaign. But most of all, I liked the rather solid plot, with no deus ex machina ending. At one point, Luke uses his force powers to topple a pile of junk onto the worm beast- only to have it simply burrow its way out. So yeah, the Force isn’t infallible, no does it always produce a miraculous rescue. Yay!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Funny

I've posted about Mr. Welch's List before— and have the link to this guy's list in my side panel. If you are a gamer and haven't gone there, you need to. Funny, funny stuff. Here is a smattering of his most recent listings of things he is no longer allowed to do in gaming:

1776. They don't make weapon grade schnauzers.

1789. Doesn't matter what the map says, can't drive a sports car through the villain's lair.

1792. Let's keep the collateral damage to under a billion dollars.

1794. Can't use party members for ante.

1798. Can't start every game breaking out of jail.

1800. I will not point out any loophole that arouses the powergamer.

1808. Even if I buy enough for everybody, snuggies alone will not raise crew morale.

1814. My battlecruiser does not inclue a discotheque, bowling alley, IMAX, or strip joint.

1815. Can't have a gun capable of using other PC's as ammo.

1820. Let's not see how far I can lower crew morale before the game begins.

1829. Darth Vader does not need his air filter changed.

1830. Deer Season is restricted to rifle or bow. Not greco-roman.

1833. If we're short on cash no starting a telethon.

1834. Star Destroyers don't have help desks.

1837. I won't ask how a 9' combat monster with no concept of subtlety starts with a +1D in stealth.

1856. I will refer to the radar contact as a Blitzer-72 MBT, and not as a TPK in a can.

1857. No unloading all my remaining ammo in the last bad guy so I don't have to carry it back with me.

1867. Can't have a gun that reduces people to Rorschach tests.

1868. Playing the Who doesn't give me a bonus to forensic checks.

1873. Stormtroopers will only fall for the broken comlink trick so many times.

1881. No shooting the Quarren at the start of the adventure, even if it would have immediately solved the last four adventures instantly.

1885. Considering we don't have a TARDIS or a bag of holding, we can stop speculating on how they would interact.

1894. No mounting my rival's anti-gravity plating on his ceiling.

1898. No hiring Anakin Skywalker some Twilek hookers, thus removing his reason to become Vader.

1899. The target's current zip code has no bearing on my called shot.

1901. Even if my Jedi has a Scottish accent, can't have a plaid lightsaber.

1902. Playing a Gamorrean doesn't violate anybody's religion.

1906. I will ask permission before performing an autopsy in another character's hideout.

1907. No putting the villain's fake bio on Match.com and letting the stalkers do my work for me.

1909. Combat boots don't give bonuses to CPR checks.

1915. The following are not acceptable specialties for a weapon master: Mustard Gas, Cheese Grater, Sardonicism.

1922. Can't air hump the king from behind while he's performing demagoguery.

1924. Despite what the rules say, shooting other PC's in the head does not improve morale.

1927. Can't filibuster other characters.

1928. Nobody is going to buy the disguised wookie as a jawa with a pituitary problems.

1934. Breaking the fourth wall doesn't require a strength check.

1940. Blasting the distress signal from orbit is forbidden, even if it would have avoided the last six ambushes.

1946. No improvising, winging or fabricating funeral rites.

1949. Can't free the hostage with a surprise game of Red Rover.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 10 Star Wars Super-Weapons

The ‘super-weapon’ is a core aspect of the Star Wars saga. The Death Star is one of the most memorable visual icons of the series. But the Death Star wasn’t the only super weapon to exist in the Star Wars universe. Below are some of my personal ‘favorites’.

10. Shawken Device

Introduced in the Marvel Star Wars comics, this superweapon appears on this list because of the sheer scope of its intended purpose. Built by a nihilistic scientist on the remote world of Shawken, the device was intended to destroy not just a planet or even a solar system- but rather, the entire Universe. It would theoretically accomplish this by detonating a planet in a way that sent fragments of it racing through hyperspace which would in turn strike and detonate other planets in a similar manner. The chain reaction would (again theoretically) destroy all matter in the universe.

Okay, so it’s a little far-fetched, even for ‘super science’, but you have to admire the creators for turning the dial up to 11. That alone earns it a place on this list.

9. Stone Mites

Another introduction of the Star Wars Marvel comics. Stone Mites are small (bug-sized) artificially created organisms that can devour just about anything—stone, metal, organic matter, you name it. According to the comics, they were created as a biological weapon during the clone wars. It was never made clear just who created them, though. Evidently some managed to escape ‘to the wild’, however.

I always found the idea of an unstoppable swarm of bugs that can eat EVERYthing, to be very creepy. Yeah, they may not have the ‘flash’ of other super-weapons, but their horror potential is off the charts.

8. World Devastator

Introduced in the Dark Empire comics series, the World Devastator may lack the cataclysmic ‘flash’ of other superweapons, but it is terrifying in its own right. A World Devastator is actually a huge and heavily automated starship capable of interstellar flight and atmospheric operations. Vessels of this type are deployed on enemy worlds where they utilize a gigantic plasma furnace to vaporize huge swathes of a planet’s surface (including cities, mountains, etc.). It takes the raw materials generated by this and funnels them into interior, automated factories. These factories in turn churn out war materiel and in fact add onto the world-devastator itself- making it larger, more well armed, etc. That is the true horror of these weapons. Even as they destroy their enemy, they become stronger.

A lot of folks may have a problem with the Dark Empire comic series (I know I have a few gripes), but the idea of the Devastators is pretty solid in my opinion- and quite a bit different than the typical “it blow up planets” gimmick used in so many other super weapons.

7. Gravatic Polarization Beam

Introduced in the excellent Rogue Squadron comic book series, the Gravatic Polarization beam was developed by a university professor as a way to ‘relocate’ land on a planet (essentially, it would re-structure/destroy matter on an atomic level). The Empire, of course, wanted the device to use as a weapon. Unfortunately for them, the ship assigned to ‘acquire’ the beam was vaporized when the beam was ‘detonated’ and created a hyperspace wormhole. Ouch.

The GPB ranks relatively low on this list because its true potential was never really explored. Could it have wrought havoc on a planetary scale? It certainly seems so- to say nothing of the fact that it could evidently be just as devastating when used in space.

6. Orbital Nightcloak

The concept of this device was first introduced in the Star Wars role playing game- specifically in the Imperial Sourcebook. Here we have a particularly devious kind of weapon. Again, it doesn’t destroy a world outright, rather, the Nightcloak’s series of orbital stations project an energy field that can completely block solar radiation from reaching a planet- blot out the sun itself. This would, of course, completely disrupt a planet’s biosphere and could, in time destroy most life on it.

There is also a ‘reverse’ version of the nightcloak that intensifies the sunlight reaching a planet- with the result you would expect (raising the temperature, destroying the ecosystem, etc.)

I like the Nightcloak again because it isn’t based on outright destruction. I can see it used as a siege weapon, slowly impressing upon a planetary population that resistance is futile- even if they HAVE a planetary shield, the whole ‘no sun’ (or too much sun) thing is going to be a problem for most worlds.

5. Two-Wave Gravshock Device

This is another weapon introduced in the Star Wars RPG Imperial Sourcebook. Here it is presented as an energy projector housed in the shell of a massive ‘Torpedo Sphere’ warship. It could manipulate planetary gravity to cause earthquakes and the like- from merely toppling a city to cracking an entire continent.

The gravshock device is another truly terrifying weapon, but it was never completely spelled out whether or not it could be used on a planet that was defended by a planetary shield. If not, then it seems somewhat superfluous. I mean, if you had to knock out the shield first, then it would seem that you could use conventional orbital bombardment just as easily as you could a device that causes earthquakes. That aside, the effectiveness of the device as a weapon of terror- hanging (literally) over the head of a subjugated world- would be immense.

4. Galaxy Gun

Though it was introduced in the crappy Dark Empire II comic book series, the Galaxy Gun has some merit in and of itself. The gun itself is a massive space platform centered around an accelerator ‘barrel’ that fires huge (cruiser-sized) particle disintegrator warheads through hyperspace to hit star systems (theoretically) anywhere in the Galaxy. The warheads themselves were difficult to detect until nearing their target and were even capable of defending themselves while on final approach. A target struck would ignite in a nuclear chain reaction- which was perpetuated into previously inert materials, causing complete destruction. The yield of the weapon could be set to destroy an entire planet, or merely a continent thereupon.

I have a love-hate relationship with this weapon. I like the general concept of it, but the execution just leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, why even BUILD a ‘gun’ to fire these particle disintegrator warheads if they only travel at ‘normal’ (albeit fast) hyperspace speeds. Why not just convert existing cruisers into flying bombs. For that matter, why not just DROP them from an even bigger ship. The ‘gun’ itself seems to make no sense in this regard. What would make more sense (and this is the reasoning I used in my own campaign) is that the gun fired its ‘shells’ at speeds exceeding typical hyperdrives- and that it was this speed COMBINED with a specialized warhead that caused the destruction- not just the warhead itself: i.e. the shell would still be going at trans-hyperdrive speed when it hit a planet, thus causing the aforementioned ‘chain reaction’ of destruction.

3. Mass Shadow Generator

This superweapon was introduced in the video game Knights of the Old Republic II. Here it is presented as the weapon that ended the Mandalorian wars when it was detonated on the planet Malachor, completely devastating the world and the fleets in orbit of it. The MSG functions by intensifying the gravatic pull of its target- in this case causing Malachor to ‘implode’ and draw the ships nearby into a ‘gravity vortex’ that crushed them and/or tore them to pieces.

This weapon seems very similar in function to the aforementioned Two-Wave Gravshock device. Since the MSG pre-dates the gravshock then I guess it would be more like the gravshock was an attempt to re-create the MSG. For me, the MSG wins out due to the fact that it’s destructive effects continue out into the orbit of the planet it is used upon- plus, it has all that ‘mythic’ background of bringing a cataclysmic war to an end.

2. “Suncrusher” Resonance Torpedo

The Jedi Academy series of novels is where this weapon system originated. The “Suncrusher” name is actually a reference to a nigh-invulnerable starship designed to deliver resonance torpedoes- weapons capable of causing a sun to go nova and destroy an entire solar system.

I HATED the concept of the Suncrusher starship. It was completely ridiculous. I don’t care HOW resilient you make a starship hull, the idea that anything INSIDE of it could survive the physical forces of an exploding sun is stupid. To say nothing of the fact that the ship MUST have had weak points it in- like.. oh, the engine thruster ports? The window? Not ALL of these could be completely invulnerable like the rest of the ship. Unless they were made of solid MacGuffium. Must be. In ANY case, the Resonance torpedos are the really terrifying part of the weapon, and in my OWN RPG universe THEY are the ‘suncrusher’ not the ship. How terrifying is the whole idea of being able to destroy an entire solar system. Pretty scary if you ask me, hence the presence of the “Suncrusher” here near the top of the list.

1. Death Star

It may not be able to destroy an entire star system (at least not all at once), but you have to admire the sheer magnitude of this weapon system. Heck, the Death Star could level a planet with its CONVENTIONAL weapon systems or the armada of TIE fighters it carries, let alone using its superlaser. At full power, it is easily a match for entire fleets of enemy ships in addition to being able to menace a planet. In short, it doesn’t just dish out damage, it can take it, too. Of course, there is that pesky problem of the thermal exhaust port. But that’s only two-meters wide. What are the odds of someone hitting that? Ahem.

Honorable Mention:

While the above are my favorite super weapons, there are a few others that I like that didn’t quite make the cut (for various reasons) these are:

The Ion Ring

This was actually introduced in a Star Wars comic strip (The Second Kessel Run). Originally designed as an aid in terraforming, the Ion Ring was an orbital platform that could affect planetary weather systems. Of course this original purpose was perverted by the Empire, turning the device into a weapon capable of wreaking destruction via violent weather systems.

The Ion Ring is a novel approach to planetary-level destruction. It isn’t just blowing things up, and hey, it’s actually rather ‘eco-friendly’. I mean, you could use it to destroy entire civilizations and still have a world that is at least somewhat habitable afterwards.

Omega Frost

I include this here because the name is both menacing and giggle-worthy. Introduced in the Marvel comics series, Omega Frost consists of two energy pylons that generate a field of intense cold between them- cold enough to destroy just about anything that passes between.

This didn’t make the list primarily because I don’t know exactly how this would work in the already freezing and arid void of outer space. Somehow, I don’t think it would encase ships in blocks of ice (complete with icicles dangling from them) like it showed in the comics. Yeah. And also, it is somewhat difficult to deploy. You can’t FIRE it at someone, you have to somehow trick your enemy into flying between the pylons. Not really practical in a lot of situations.

Star Forge

This was introduced in the Knights of the Old Republic video game. Though officially classified as a super weapon, I would argue against this. The Star Forge isn’t a weapon so much as a huge factory. I mean, it doesn’t move anywhere, it can’t fire giant beams or destroy anything directly (except with its defensive cannons). So, yeah. Not a ‘super weapon’ in my book. Plus, it was never really explained how the heck it created all those ships (and other weapons). Okay, I’ll buy that it was powered by dark force energy (or some such). Sure. But…you can’t make ships out of thin air. I mean, it has to have the materials necessary to do so— not just the energy. So, were the Sith ‘feeding’ it raw materials? Seems like they’d have to, but… well, you can see why I didn’t include it. Too many questions and not enough ‘bang’.

Magnetic Bombard

Another invention of West End games, the Magnetic Bombard is a torpedo-like device that, upon detonation, release a powerful electromagnetic pulse capable of shorting out all manner of unshielded electrical devices.

The reason this didn’t make the list-proper is because I can see a lot of ways to resist the effects of a weapon like this. First of all, as a torpedo, it can be intercepted before detonation. Secondly, they have only a limited area of effect, so many would need to be used in order to ‘reduce’ a target planet. And finally, I would imagine that many systems (especially important military/defensive weapons/installations) would have shielding to protect against just such an attack.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Marvel Comics Star War: A long time ago... Volume 3

I am really loving the whole "Omnibus" series of Star Wars comics. But the 'A Long Time Ago' volumes are a particular treat. I was very sporadic in my comic book buying during the 80's, and so I missed huge chunks of the series. So for me, this is like a walk down memory lane and a chance to finally 'catch up' on what I had missed. What I'm going to do here is briefly discuss each storyline presented in the Omnibus, outlining the plot and my thoughts on it. So without further ado...

The Crimson Forever

This story is told in the "Giant Sized 50th Collectors Edition" and (I feel) is suitably 'epic' in scope. It begins with Lando and Chewbacca being called back from their search for Han Solo to help Leia deal with a developing situation. We find that Luke Skywalker (and several other rebels in his patrol) have been stricken with a mysterious disease (the eponymous "Crimson Forever") that colors the eyes and skin of its victims red before killing them. It seems that Luke had found a derelict Imperial craft with a dead crew- and a mysterious gemstone onboard that seemed to be the source of the trouble. Through Chewbacca, we learn (and are shown through flashback) that Han had encountered a stone like that on a previous misadventure- having been shanghaied into trying to steal it from a remote temple. It was here he learned that there were TWO gems, and if one was removed from the other, the "Crimson Forever" would result. Following this tale, we are shocked to hear that Luke has apparently succumbed to the disease.

Nevertheless, Leia, Lando and Chewie press on to find a way to stop the disease at its source. Traveling to the same remote temple that was the source of the gemstones, the heroes discover another derelict ship- this time, a House Tagge mining explorer. Boarding it, they find that this crew has also been stricken with the Crimson Forever- save for a small group- Lady Domina Tagge and her bounty-hunter bodyguards (who include Bossk, IG-88 and Dengar, apparently), who are trapped in a sealed (and shielded) area. Domina (of course) does some 'monologueing' here and reveals her plan. It was SHE who took the stones and tricked the Empire into stealing one of them (thus triggering the disease). Her intention was to bring doom upon both the Empire and the Rebellion. Unfortunately, things didn't quite happen the way Domina intended, thus her being stranded. And it is 'stranded' that Leia intends to leave Domina- until the wily Tagge says that she can 'undo' the death of Luke Skywalker- provided Leia rescues her.

Leia agrees and when the two stones (the one Domina had and the one the Rebellion had) are brought back together Luke does revive. The same can't be said for the other victims, however. Only Luke's ability with the Force allowed him to endure the effects of the Crimson Forever enough to recover. The adventure ends with Domina being released and the Rebellion sending the two stones off into the depths of inter galactic space where they (presumably) won't cause any more trouble. In an amusing footnote, Lando apparently informed Domina's bounty hunter bodyguards that the Empire would probably pay them a pretty penny if they turned their 'former' boss in.

Overall, this was a pretty good story- provided you can get past the somewhat implausible nature of the disease. It seemed to be some kind of 'radiation' that the stones projected and (to me at least) that makes the most sense, as sealed bulkheads, containers and full space suits seemed to prevent the disease from spreading. What I liked most about the adventure was the manner in which the characters acted. Leia and Lando in particular seemed to hew very close to what we saw in the movies. Leia was a strong, yet caring leader. Lando was subtle, smart and tricky- making use of a con to help Leia and himself escape Tagge's hunters.

As it turns out, I had been wrong in a previous post about the Tagge family disappearing as villains in the comic series. I was quite surprised to see Domina appear here and now I wonder if she shows up again at some point. Even so, I'm not sure Domina Tagge's plan made a lot of sense. I mean, it's a bit much to believe that a 'disease' of this sort would seriously impact the Galaxy as a whole. It didn't seem to be communicable past direct exposure to the radiation of the stones themselves. But then, Domina always struck me as a bit 'impractical' in her schemes and this one certainly was.

As far as the art goes, I was quite glad to see the team of Al Williamson, Tom Palmer and Walt Simonson take over in this issue. I never did care for Carmine Infantino. I mean, in these comics the characters AND their equipment all looked a lot like they did in the movies. While I'm all for 'artistic expression', I never thought that Infantino's art really captured the 'feel' of Star Wars.

Resurrection of Evil

Told over two issues of the comic, this storyline deals with the Empire's attempt to build a 'pocket' Death Star in the form of a battlestation known as "The Tarkin". After word reaches the Rebels, the heroes launch a desperate plan to infiltrate and destroy this new weapon. Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and the droids pose as workers to get onboard. Once there, they must face not only Darth Vader (who senses Luke's presence) but also a cabal of Imperial Officers determined to kill both the rebels AND Vader. After numerous close calls, misadventures and fights the heroes find their attempts at sabotage seemingly foiled. Likewise, Vader narrowly escapes an attempt on his own life by the Imperial officer's conspiracy. The Rebels are forced to run for their lives and escape only with the timely intervention of Lando and the Falcon. With Vader in pursuit, the Imperial officers attempt to kill two birds with one stone by firing the superlaser and "accidently" destroying Vader AND the rebels. Unfortunately for the Imperials, however, Leia had managed to sabotage the firing circuits and the station blew itself up.

This story arc is one of the strongest in the comic series so far, in terms of characterization, art and capturing the 'feel' of the movies. In particular, I was happy to see all sorts of little character moments interspersed through the story- things that showed both the personalities of the heroes and how far they had come by this point in becoming true badasses. Leia, for instance, is able to take on several Stormtroopers in close combat. And Luke is shown using fledgling Force powers to help 'bluff' his way onboard the Tarkin. As far as characterization goes, it was nice to see that some attention was paid to Lando still being something of an outsider among the heroes due to his betrayal of Han. He is excluded from the mission due to distrust, but stows away and winds up saving the day- thus helping to take some of the edge off his relationship with Leia in particular. Even Vader got some cool moments- like when he 'suggests' that an Imperial officer 'take a walk'. The mind-warped officer does so- right out the airlock. Yes, a truly devious use of the Affect Mind power- and original, too.

I especially loved the added plot layer of Imperial Officers banding together to try and kill Vader. To me, this made perfect sense, considering how Vader treated those officers who "failed him".

Of course there were some 'weaker' moments to the story. I still don't quite buy that Lando could bribe stormtroopers- especially with fake spice, but...meh. It didn't ruin the overall plotline. And for once, the main superweapon was something that really seemed to make sense. It was basically JUST the superlaser from the deathstar, without all the other trappings or size of the previous battlestation.

A Princess of Mars

Okay, so that isn't really the title of this two-issue story arc, but might as well have been. The actual titles were "The Last Gift from Alderaan" and "Starfire Rising", but the whole thing was clearly a homage to Edgar Rice Burroughs "John Carter of Mars" series. This particular story begins with Princess Leia on a mission to investigate why the Empire is suddenly interested in the remote world of Shiva. Unfortunately, she quickly finds herself stranded on this world and under attack by hostile natives. She is just as quickly rescued by a local Warlord known as Aron Peacebringer (aka John Carter). In the days that follow, a plot by one of Aron's lieutenant's (Delios) is discovered. He has agreed to work with the Empire to conquer the planet and rule it in their name. The Empire's representative on the planet is a very odd looking being named General Sk'ar. Odd because he is a monstrous, non-human Imperial and because he seems to be wearing the native garb instead of any kind of Imperial uniform. It is never exactly explained if Sk'ar is from offworld (though this is suggested in dialogue) or if he is a native of the world, but of some odd, rare, monstrous species. In any case, Aron and Leia work together to thwart Sk'ar's scheme of anti-matter bombing the capital city of Shiva and taking control in the chaos. In the end, the heroes are victorious only with the timely intervention of Luke, Lando and the rest, who arrive in the nick of time. But the victory celebration is short lived when an Imperial Star Destroyer shows up. This too is overcome as Luke manages to lead the ship to its doom in the arms of a nearby black hole- managing to escape himself only by 'feeling his way' out with the Force.

Overall, this story-arc is a pretty straightforward adventure tale. It does have some odd and/or interesting twists, though- namely that much of the adventure is actually told through the somewhat stilted first-person view of Aron Peacebringer (again, a homage to the first-person viewpoint used in the Warlord of Mars series). There is also the sub-plot of Aron falling in love with Princess Leia- despite the fact he is quite happily married to his own Princess (the stand-in for Dejah Thoris). Aron never acts upon his feelings, however, which is good both for his marriage and the fact that if Leia had succumbed to the Warlord's charm it would have felt very out of character for her.

This story-arc really had an impact on me as a Star Wars game master, opening my eyes to the possibilities of incorporating other settings into the larger Star Wars universe. At the same time, it also highlighted some of the pitfalls of doing so. Namely that if you DO bring in an archetype from another fantasy/sci-fi setting, you should find some way to keep the focus on YOUR characters. It is for this reason that these two comics were rather jarring to me. I felt (and still feel) that these comics would have been much better if they had been told from the point of view of Leia rather than Aron Peacebringer- even moreso because Aron's involvement in the whole story is rather anti-climactic. I mean, in the final battle it isn't even Aron who saves Leia's life, it's the late arriving Luke. In all, I enjoyed this story, but it could have been a lot more interesting as a way to explore Leia's character. In fact, the story arc BEGAN and ENDED by examining Leia's thoughts about the loss of Alderaan and her place in the universe. I found that a lot more interesting than listening to Aron's internal monologue.

There are plenty of other Stories in this omnibus, but my time for right now is running short, so I'll continue in another post.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wisdom from the strangest of places...

Being a geek who is fond of humor (geeky or otherwise), the Internet is awesome. Youtube in particular is a source for a lot of laughs. One thing I have enjoyed over the years is the series of "I'm a Marvel, I'm a DC" parodies (obviously of the "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials). These typically involve the action-figure incarnations of various heroes exchanging barbed comments regarding their latest movies. The folks who make these parodies (ItsJustSomeRandomGuy and Gal), have also branched out into creating some of their own very silly 'plots', involving DC and Marvel heroes and villains. While these are comedy GOLD for a comic book fan, I am surprised to find that they are remarkably insightful as well.

Take for example the plot line where the Joker is using some kind of 'mind control' technology to turn all the heroes in the world (Marvel and DC alike) as "Dark" as Batman. It is up to Batman and Spider-Man to team up and set things right. Much wacky fun ensues, but beneath it all is an obvious reference to the tendencies of "hollywood" to latch onto the most superficial of concepts and try to employ them in an attempt to create a formula that will consistently bring them good box office numbers. In this case, the success of the recent Batman movies has sparked the idea that all heroes should have some dark 'edge' to them.

This is, of course, a ridiculous idea. In ANY medium. With ANY heroes (like, say... oh, I don't know.. Star Wars, and its whole 'Dark Future' Legacy setting). It mirrors what I've always believed myself, there are different types of heroes- each appealing in their own way. But in this 'comedy spoof', we have this idea voiced in a very profound (and hilarous) way. Take for example this rant by the Green Goblin, talking to the Joker about his master plan:

"Making every hero on earth as dark as Batman? That was your master plan? Great. So after the audience gets bored to tears by every hero being just like every other hero, they'll be so depressed over how freakin' bleak they are, they'll KILL themselves. Don't you get it? Light heroes DEFINE the dark ones and vice versa! And if everyone is just like you, what makes YOU so special?"

This truth is further driven home in a couple speeches given by Batman. The first is to Spider-Man himself, who is lamenting the fact that he isn't as "dark" and "cool" as Batman:

"Spider-Man, at the risk of over-inflating your ego, let me tell you something-
Being optimistic when you know the odds are against you is not a bad thing. Stupid. But not bad. Neither is refusing to let go of that optimism when life takes things away from you. That takes strength. That takes courage. And it's who you are. Not all heroes have to be dark to be successful. If anything, my friend, you are the living embodiment of that."

And finally, there is Batman's speech to Superman, regarding the strength of Spider-Man:

"We both give everything we've got to fight for Justice. But at the end of the day, you're still the most powerful being on Earth and I'm still one of the richest men in the world. Spider-Man has neither luxury. He has had to sacrifice everything, time and again-more than either of us ever will. That's what he does. That's who he is. Maybe one day he'll have the chance to get things straightened out, but until then he'll deal with it. Because he can take it. Because he's a hero. And because not all heroes have to be dark. Because he's one hero who's spirit can't be broken. Because no matter what, he'll always be your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man."

So, yeah. Those are actually some really profound and insightful statements...and found in a very unexpected place. Neat.