Wednesday, January 18, 2012

It's the Fan's Fault, Says Lucas

I came across this article the other day.

This is related to a source article here.

In these articles, there are some quotes from George Lucas talking about the Star Wars franchise. The most striking of these is:

"Star Wars” fans can only blame themselves for ending the franchise."

Another interesting tidbit:

“Why would I make any more,” Lucas says, “when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?"

So yeah, at first, I was a little ticked off at reading this. A knee jerk reaction because I love the setting so much. But you know what? He really does have a point. I've brought this up before in my blog, but it bears repeating.

The original Star Wars trilogy became a part of popular culture. The fact that the movies stood alone for so long before the prequels came out gave fans (like me) a sense of 'ownership' of the material. Every fan had their own ideas about the Star Wars universe, built on the scant information presented in the original three movies. We all had time to build our own 'mythology' of the setting (some of us on a deeper level than others). We all had our expectations of what the setting could become.

So when Lucas came to make the prequels he was already facing an impossible task. The original movies were satisfying his creative vision. The prequels had a whole lot of baggage pre-attached to them. There was no WAY he could make everyone happy. So he did what creative people do: He made something that satisfied his own vision. And unfortunately, that didn't mesh with the vision of a lot of other people.

Now, my profession is a creative one. My designs are based upon my own sense of aesthetics. And when someone else comes in- the client I was making the piece for- and doesn't like that vision...well, that sucks. Since I am in the commercial business, I am bound to change my vision to suit what the client wants. Lucas, in control of his own product, sees himself as the 'end client' of his work. And so, as an artist, he seeks to satisfy himself. It isn't selfish, its just part of art and the creative process.

I just wish that George Lucas could see that he isn't the only 'client' he should be seeking to satisfy. He made something that became part of our culture. It isn't just 'his' anymore. And you know... maybe he's made the right decision here. Just stop.

And then there's the argument that he should just 'listen to his fans'. Well... that won't work either. Since fans have VERY different ideas about the setting and where it should go. Even if you took a 'consensus' view on it- had fans 'vote' on what they wanted to see. I know for a fact that anything 'designed by a committee' tends to water down the idea.

So what's the answer? Hell if I know. I'd love to say that all he needs to do is hire ME to 'manage the brand' and all would be well, but...ahem. Yeah. Same problem.

As frustrated as I get with George Lucas sometimes, I still love the man for all he's done- and for being a very talented and innovative person. I can feel his pain when it comes to this.

I've often wondered what would have happened if the prequels had come shortly after the original trilogy, instead of waiting sixteen years. If Star Wars hadn't had time to 'imprint' as deeply into the minds of its fans, would the prequels have been received better? Would they have been different without Lucas waiting 16 years to write them? I honestly don't know, but its interesting to ponder.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Diseases in Star Wars

This is going to be a short post- but I just wanted to put down a thought I had after watching the movie 'Andromeda Strain' a couple nights ago. That movie stressed how dangerous that contact with 'extra terrestrial' germs could be. And when you look at history- like the Spanish exploration/conquest of the "new world", it is easy to see what a huge effect introducing new germs into a previously isolated ecosystem would have.

In the Galaxy spanning setting of Star Wars, I can only imagine what a nightmare disease would be- when you have people living among all manner of different species- to say nothing of the exploration of previously undiscovered worlds. While the 'civilized' galaxy might have sorted out its disease problems over the centuries, one would think that contact with new worlds would constantly introduce new threats.

However, we do not see disease running rampant in any Star Wars stories that I know about—save for a few relatively isolated instances (like where Vader destroys a Faleen city to stop the spread of a particular plague). Now I know that this was probably done for the sake of cinema. Nobody wants to watch an adventure story about people visiting a new world, contracting horrible diseases, and dieing. Even so, I like to have some kind of 'in-character' explanation for these things- without getting TOO 'scientific' about it.

The explanation I came up with is this:

Medical science in the Star Wars galaxy- specifically the science of disease control- has reached a VERY advanced level. The majority of the galaxy's population has been 'immunized' with advanced (species specific) serums, thus giving them protection versus almost all known diseases and most 'new' ones as well. However scientifically implausible this may be, it is a nice, simple explanation as to why there aren't constant epidemics with every visit to a new world.

Of course, this still leaves room for health problems- what if a 'super disease' could overcome standard immunization techniques. And there is still the problem of newly discovered and/or isolated species contracting diseases FROM the 'civilized' galaxy. In this way, you can still include diseases as a threat in your campaign without making them the main focus.

Works for me anyway.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Star (no)Wars

I've spoken about this in quite a few other blog entries-namely the question of what do you DO in a Star Wars setting where there is no 'War' going on. I mean, the title of the franchise doesn't leave much room for interpretation on that point. The whole setting boils down to heroic actions taken during war.

So what happens when, for instance, you run a campaign that lasts through the entire 'Rebellion' and the various wars that follow (Thrawn's Campaign, the 'Rebirth' of the Emperor, etc.)?

Well, in the 'official' expanded universe, the answer to this is: have more wars! Every series of books therefore has a new set of wars going on, usually galactic in scale: The Vong Invasion, the Swarm War, the Second Galactic Civil War, the...whatever the hell War it is going on in the Legacy Era, etc., etc..

As I have mentioned before, I think that having the Galaxy constantly in a state of open war and crisis strains the credulity of the setting. Yes, I know I'm talking about a setting that has mystical energy fields and giant space worms, but still. To me there was always a feeling of realism, or at least an allegory of realism, in the Star Wars saga. There was an 'Era of Peace' during the Old Republic. Then there was the Rebellion. In my mind, it only seems logical that another era of peace would follow.

The alternative is a downward spiral into the breakdown of the fabric of galactic society. In my mind, at least, you simply can't continue to have Galaxy-Shaking wars every few years and NOT have everything fall apart. Unfortunately, that seems to be where the 'official' universe has gone. I won't go into that further here, as I have long railed against the trend to bring 'gritty realism' or a 'darker edge' to the Star Wars galaxy. Yes, there is war and death and sacrifice, but overall, I've found the tone of the franchise to be one of hope for the future- at least in the original trilogy.

But this post isn't about any of that. No, really. It's about what there is to do DURING an Era of Peace in the Galaxy, such as the one that has finally come to my own, very long-running, campaign. Below are just some of my thoughts on angles to take for adventure in a time like this.

Political Corruption
Hopefully, the downfall of the Old Republic due to its own corruption was a huge lesson for the people of the Galaxy. In a New Republic, there would have to be a concerted effort to avoid and root out corruption within the government. As far as adventures go, this would involve Player Characters who are agents of the New Republic (or its allies), or perhaps even politicians themselves. Missions would involve investigating rumors of corruption. Checking up on those Senators with shady dealings and exposing them to the light of day. Likewise, the huge corporations of the Galaxy would need someone to check their more avaricious behavior. Stealth, tact, true idealism and diplomacy would be at the heart of these kind of adventures-otherwise you run the risk of becoming a 'McCarthy Era' inquisition. But the latter even provides another adventure opportunity. What if an agency, committee or group of senators starts taking things too far? Your heroes would have to deal with these threats as well.

Criminal Organizations
With the Galaxy just recovering from a series of devastating wars, Criminal organizations are sure to abound- profiting off the chaos and misery while the 'large powers' have their attention diverted elsewhere. Agents of the New Republic would be needed to battle these criminals, be they isolated smugglers and pirates or full-blown criminal syndicates. Missions here would involve investigation (possibly undercover work) and raiding missions versus criminal bases and the like- as well as the protection of normal citizens. With some of the larger organizations (the Hutt Cartels for example) this might almost necessitate military intervention.

Cold War
Though the war between the Republic and the fragmented Empire may be officially over, there is no love lost between the two factions. Imperial Warlords may not make overt war against the might of the New Republic, but they could still carry on covert campaigns to undermine its presence and attempt to expand their own power. You have to look no further than any James Bond movie for inspiration for a lot of different adventures. The trick here is conducting operations in a manner that WON'T start a full-blown war.

Brushfire Wars
Though I see the New Republic as the most powerful single entity in the Galaxy during this period of peace, it is by no means in control of the entire Galaxy. There are hundreds of smaller powers that must be dealt with- and many of them have their own agendas. Whether it is expanding their power or settling old scores, these smaller powers may go to war with each other. Unfortunately, such things tend to destabilize everything around them— including the Republic. Thus, agents would be needed to go in and help stop these wars with quick, decisive action. This fits in well with the cold war gimmick as well- what if Imperial agitators are stirring up trouble? The trick then is to eliminate the Empire's influence without widening the scope of the conflict (Korea? Vietnam?).

Can't see why they wouldn't exist in the Star Wars galaxy. They could range from political idealists working for some specific agenda to pure anarchists who only wish to see the universe burn. Defending the galaxy from these kinds of threats is certainly a heroic task- and missions could range all over the place, from investigation to infiltration to raids and surgical strikes to rushing to stop some attack on a political figure or landmark.

They're always there. They had it pretty good for 20 years or so, running the entire Galaxy. With the downfall of the Emperor they have lost that power, but there are now (in my setting at least) dozens, if not hundreds of Sith vying to become the next emperor, through whatever means they can. This again can overlap with the other angles. Perhaps a Sith takes up politics and attempts to work his way into power within the Senate. Perhaps another is a terrorist seeking nothing but vengeance for the fallen Emperor. Another might seek to forge a criminal empire. Etc..

Supernatural Threats
Since I loved Dark Conspiracy (another horror RP games), I can't help but include this idea. The galaxy is a big place, and there are a lot of unexplained things out there. Force Spirits have been used in some stories. Monsters in others. Much like the criminal angle, the Empire and New Republic would have been distracted from such concerns during the war. And indeed, all the death and destruction caused could have opened the door (as it were) for all kinds of nastiness to emerge from the shadows. I could see the New Republic forming a 'taskforce' to deal with this kind of threat- tracking down strange and unexplained things at the fringes of the galaxy- or in those dark corners at its very heart.

Here you have the Star Trek angle, and to me it makes sense. The Old Republic had a policy of exploration, but all of that got derailed by the rise of the Empire. Now, with things finally 'settling down', effort would be put back into this arena. New worlds will be needed for their resources and scientific value. More pragmatically, the New Republic may wish to avoid any more surprise attacks from alien races from the 'unknown regions'. Who knows what is out there- especially in my own campaign, where the Republic has unlocked the secret to intergalactic travel via hyperspace gates.

This may not be particularly 'Star Wars', but missions to meet with foreign powers and solidify relationships would be a large part of a galaxy at peace. It would also offer interesting constraints to the activities of heroes, who would definitely have to think twice about going in, guns blazing.

So, there you have it, just a few of the ideas I have off the top of my head. I personally think there is a lot there to keep any heroes busy. In fact, the average 'mission' undertaken by heroes during this era wouldn't be much different from the scope of adventures that took place during the war(s). Only rarely did my PCs ever participate in large scale battles anyway.

The only thing I see 'lacking' is that sense of desperation that a huge war can bring about. Where every decision could mean the lives of thousands. Then again, maintaining peace seems to be as much a challenge as achieving it.

For some, the idea of a Galaxy at peace might also throw out another Star Wars staple: The idea of the PCs being the underdogs. It is kind of hard to see them that way when they have the resources of the entire Republic at their disposal. But to that I have only to say that the Republic, while huge, is limited in its resources. Especially in the period directly following the war(s). Yes, it may have entire fleets of starships at its disposal, but it can't commit them whilly nilly to counter every threat and 'back up' every team in the field.

Anyway, I'm thinking that Star Wars without the Wars still works.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Star Wars Live Action TV Series

Since Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, rumors have been floating around about the possibility of a TV series set in the Star Wars universe. Every now and then something happens to stir up those rumors again-like when the Young Indiana Jones series came out in 1992 or with the release of the prequels in 1999. As of yet, nothing solid has materialized.

One of my bosses recently sent me an 'off-the-cuff' interview with Rick McCallum, George Lucas' right-hand-man (and biggest fan). In this interview, McCallum mentions the TV series again-saying that they have 50 scripts already written. He also went on to say that the 'working title' of the series is "Underworld" and it will focus on criminal gangs and the like during the period between the prequels and original trilogy-in those twenty years when Luke and Leia were growing up. He was quick to point out that it wouldn't be about Luke though. The sticking point of the series, according to McCallum, is the price point per episode. They're trying to get it down to a manageable 5-Million per episode. Until they get closer to that goal, the series will, it seems, remain in limbo. McCallum just hopes that it'll be released 'before he dies'.

You and me both, buddy.

In any case, this little inkling as to what the series might be is, to me, encouraging. I have said before that what I thought the prequels were lacking was a 'Han Solo' type character who WASN'T a Jedi or Sith. A series about the underworld of the Star Wars galaxy has promise. I mean, just imagine a show kind of like Firefly (a ship full of misfits) only in the Star Wars universe. I'm onboard with that.

Smugglers, Pirates, Bounty Hunters, Crimelords. Yeah, that will be a nice change from Jedi Generals and Clone Troopers.

That having been said, I'm sure that with the HUGE focus on lightsaber-wielders since the prequel release that we'll see far too many of them for my liking-even in an era where most of them are supposed to be dead.

Here's hoping this show actually happens within MY lifetime. And here's doubly hoping it doesn't suck.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Star Wars Holiday

Being an Uncle is awesome.

Being an Uncle with Nephews who love Star Wars is even MORE awesome.

This holiday, I went up to my mom's house to spend time with family- which included my oldest Sister's two boys- one five, the other one and a half. Thanks to the miracle of Skype, the oldest of those two had already seen a lot of my collection of Star Wars toys. Needless to say, he wanted to see these toys 'in person'.

So it was that when I loaded up my car, the trunk was filled with the cream of my collection- the 'Hoth Playset' as I now call it. This included an AT-AT walker, a Snowspeeder, a Squad of Snowtroopers, a Squad of Rebel Hoth troopers plus some taun-tauns, a Wampa, and various droids and the like. Also along for the ride were a TIE fighter, an X-Wing, a Y-Wing and Boba Fett's Slave I.

I arrived before the kiddies, so I had a little time to 'set up'. Of course when they arrived, I had to do the Uncle thing and pretend that I had forgotten to bring my toys. My sister unfortunately ruined my teasing by telling her son I was full of beans. Within moments, my oldest Nephew and I were playing Star Wars.

And you know what? It is still fun. We had a blast- and more importantly- HE had a blast. In particular, he loved the Y-Wing. This made me grin as I have to admit that as a kid, that particular toy would have been my favorite as well. We are talking the 'Old Republic' version of the Y-Wing here, from the Clone Wars series. This features seating for a Piot, a Gunner AND an Astromech droid- plus it has spring loaded pop-up missile bays- into which you can fit ANOTHER droid (or so my Nephew discovered). It could also FIRE six spring-launched missiles and drop two bombs. Yep, that would be my favorite, and it certainly was his.

But lets not forget little brother. The one-and-a-half-year-old was just as fascinated by the toys as his older brother. Again I had to grin. Even at that age, he totally 'got it'.. you put the pilots into the cockpit, you take them out, you fire the missiles, you put the missiles back and fire them again.

Sigh. Good times.

In any case, I am glad to see that some things DO seem to bridge the generations. Say what you want about the electronic age and all the distractions and entertainments therein. There is still something amazing about actually holding a toy and playing with it. I'm not sure that will ever go out of style.

In case you were wondering what the exact point of this post was, there isn't one beyond the fact that playing Star Wars remains awesome. That is all. Happy New Year, everyone.