Obi-Wan movie in the making.

I just spotted a little piece about an Obi-Wan movie being in the works. While this would have a considerable potential to finally get us a good new movie, Ewan McGregor said that he has not been approached for anything, so we all have to assume that they don’t want him to be part of it. Which makes me thin that it’s probably going to be another origin story.

Another god damn origin story! “I don’t like origin stories.” We all know the character already and we pretty much had his origin story in Episode 1 already. Why would we want to see Obi-Wan as a kid learning the ways of the Jedi when we could have Obi-Wan in exile on Tatooine? Ewan McGregor was the best thing in the preqels with no contenders as he has the acting skill to pull a movie all by himself. I’d watch a movie with him playing Ob-Wan without any hesitation.

A Jedi origin story? Not so much…

Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game 30th Anniversary Edition

Now that’s a game I have not heard from in a long time. A long time…

This comes completely out of nowhere. Fantasy Flight Games, the current license holder for Star Wars pen and paper Roleplaying Games, is releasing a 30th Anniversary Edition of the one and only original Star Wars Roleplaying Game.

It looks to even be the first edition, which is widely regarded as the best edition of the West End Games game because of its simplicity, and even as the best Star Wars ever made. It’s described as a limited edition but priced at a reasonable $60. Which leaves the question how limited it will really be.

It’s a fantastic game, but I think in the current RPG market there is probably little risk of this becoming any kind of threat to FFG’s own Star Wars game. Small and tidy games don’t seem to be making it big these days and customers love their piles of splatbooks with lots of pictures and endless character customization. Which this game certainly doesn’t have.

If I could get my hands on one for $60, I’d definitely buy it.

My thoughts on Star Wars 7

This was originally posted on Spriggan’s Den on 26th December 2015.

As part of our now regular christmas tradition of seeing a movie with the family the day after christmas, we’ve been to watching the new Star Wars movie today. There’s a big and pretty nice theater just a few hundred meters down the road from my parent’s house and this time of the year there’s always something we all want to watch. I had decided pretty early on that I am not going to see the movie on my own, but if my family wants to see it I’d been happy to go along with it. I’ll keept this review down to specific details that have already been revealed by the trailers and so on, so it’s not entirely spoiler free, but I won’t be talking about anything that gets revealed only in the movie itself.

I’ve seen the movie in 3D and didn’t enjoy that. I think the projector was slightly misaligned but aside from a faint “shadow” to both sides of objects with a high contrast to the background I don’t think that was much of a problem. Nobody else complained about that. I think this was the third or fourth movie I’ve seen in 3D and it just seems to not be working for me. I see the depth effect and colors look crisp, but I take a while to get focused on the image and for large parts of the movie the cuts are just so fast that it’s already by the next image once I’ve found my orientation. And any time there’s some shit flying in the foreground it completely messes up my vision as well. The combined effect was that everything appeared extremely jittery and out of focus the whole time so that after 20 minutes or so I just watched it without glasses. That meant the whole movie was blurry, but that’s something I could live with in exchange for not straining my eyes for over two hours. Not sure if it’s all me, or the projector, or if they used 3D poorly in the movie. But I never enjoyed it in some of the Hobbit movies either. Please get over this fad soon and show movies normally again.

I also saw it in German. The voice acting was fine, but since English is mostly a highly simplified version of old North German it is almost always possible to translate dialogue in a way that achieves almost perfect lip synching. Unfortunately the result is a highly simplified version of modern Standard German, that sounds completely unnatural and incredibly stilted. And when you’re passably fluent in English, you probably could reconstruct the exact original English script from just hearing the German lines. It’s word by word translation and that always sounds shit.

Now to the movie itself. My overall impression is that this is “a new Star Wars”. It is very much really Star Wars and not something else with the name tagged on (yes, I hate Nu Trek), but it’s not more of the “old Star Wars”. It’s Star Wars, but a different Star Wars. Though the last 15 had already been a different Star Wars than my Star Wars. And now we have another one. I am not thrilled about that, but I think that’s okay and it would have been unreasonable to expect something else.

What also quite surprised me is that I liked the new heroes. Ray and Fin are good characters. I always wanted to see more of them. At no moment did I think “Could we please and this scene with Anakin and Padme and get back to the good part with Obi-Wan some more?” If anything, I’d actually have enjoyed having a bit more of them instead of Han and Leia. The same can not be said for the villains. There is a new Vader type guy, a new Tarkin type guy, and a new Emperor type guy and they are all really weak, bland, and too cliched. Yes, Star Wars always made extreme use of archetypes, but the classic movies used them very effectively. Here they are just cliches. There’s also a stormtrooper commander who is clearly set up to be a major villain but who ends up completely underused. Couldn’t we have had her as the big bad for the movie? That would have been nice.

And speaking of New Vader, New Tarkin, and New Emperor. I think you could recreate the entire movie using only shots from the classic movies and maybe just 20% new footage. And it’s not subtle nods, it’s one to one copied images and things. There’s a planet that looks 100% like Tatooine, but is actually called something else. New Tatooine. Later they come to the New Cantina which has the New Band and they meet a New Yoda character. And of course there’s always the New R2-D2 and the protagonist is obviously New Luke. George Lucas was given a lot of shit for putting way too many classic movie references into the clone wars movies, but at least he tried to be subtle. This movie constantly seems like it want to pause and ask “Do you get it?! This image/scene/character is a copy of something from the old movie.” And that’s a major annoyance.

But that’s an annoyance you might be able to overlook. But the worst offense of the movie is that the script is just total shit. I think someone had a pretty good idea for the story, but when someone tried to create a series of scenes that could show the story they just completely fucked it up. The introduction of the background is done pretty badly. There’s no longer the Rebellion against the Empire, but instead there is the First Order that wants to destroy the Republic and is fighting the Resistance. Maybe the translation fucked up, but I don’t know whether the Republic and the Resistance are the same group or not. And the First Order looks completely like the Empire so that I am not sure if it’s perhaps just the same Empire with a new name on the doorbell. And who is this New Emperor anyway. He’s just there with no indication at all how he came to succeed the old one. If it’s the same Empire. Maybe it’s a new group that just uses matching uniforms and ships. I don’t know, the movie didn’t say. The New Vader completely sucks because we’re never given any reason to believe that he is a threat. New Tarkin never does anything. Character’s are acting like they really need to do something, but I never get any reason why that would be important. There is one quite surprising moment later in the movie, but that lasted only for about 2 seconds until I remembered that this all was meant to mirror another moment from another movie that was much better.

I actually wasn’t sure if the big battle at the end was the big showdown until it was already over. It felt much more like filler that is meant to get the characters somewhere to do something there. But no. The big explosion looks so elaborate, this was probably meant to have been the big showdown. While I said the movie feels like Star Wars, that’s mostly about the visuals. But where it really fails is in recreating the amazement and wonder of the classic movies. Or even the clone war movies. It’s mostly a bit bland and doesn’t really feel like the galaxy far, far away.

That you could remake almost the entire movie with clips from the classic movies is bad, but could be overlooked if you really want to. But the script is so godawful that the entire pacing and tension of the movie is just plain shit. The music was adequate. But for something like Star Wars, adequate constitutes a failure. However, I did like the new protagonists. While I don’t feel like seeing this movie a second time, I do really want to see the next one. Just to see more of those two and if their stories go anywhere.

But even considering that, when it comes to my Yay or Nay rating, I have to give this movie a Nay. It’s not an ordeal to sit through (if you can get it in normal and not in 3D) and it does show some promise for future films, but it’s nothing you have to see. The script is so bad you should have no problem at all starting with the next one. There isn’t anything here that you’d need to know for the future. So maybe it’s more like a Meh than a Nay. 2 stars out of 5. C-. 65%. It’s better than Episode 1 and 2, but worse than 4. I don’t know if it’s slightly better than 3 or slightly worse, but everything considered they are probably quite even.

My Headcanon

When writing about the Star Wars games that I played, I noticed that almost all of them are pretty old by now. So I got to work to create some kind of timeline of what I consider the important books, comics, and games of the Expanded Universe and the result I got is this.

You can get the 90s Kid out of the 90s, but you can’t get the 90s out of the 90s Kid. It really seems like the golden age of Star Wars to me, which is not terribly surprising given how old I was then. If I would have been into anything else, I probably would still vonsider the 90s to be the best period it ever had.

Another thing that surprised me in hindsight that there were six years between the release of Episode 1 and Episode 3. Such restraint! It almost seems like they were making those movies one at at time. Which seems incredibly slow by today’s standards. At least I got to be relieved that the time between 3 and 7 was not nearly as long as the time between 6 and 1, which by this point would no longer have surprised me. Still, in trade school I have classmates who were not even born when Episode 1 was out.

The Force is strong with this one

Impressive. Most impressive.

If you played the game, you recognize that this isn’t just a Star War movie, this is a real Tie Fighter movie. I’ve played this game and X-Wing to no end and this one was clearly done by someone who has not just seen it, but knows how it feels to play. I’ve never seen such a smoothly done attempt at representing game mechanics in a movie. If you haven’t played the game, you probably won’t be able to spot the moments that emulate it.

Very nicely done.

My Game List

In a roughly chronological order, as far as I can remember it.

  • X-Wing: (1993, PC) My first “proper” videogame that I played at my home for serious amounts of time. After having first played it at a friend’s place after school for dozens of hours, it was the very first game I got for myself when we got our first computer. Wonderful game that I still never completed.
  • Tie Fighter: (1994, PC) Much more polished than X-Wing with better graphics, a much wider variety of ships, and a much stronger campaign. And to my knowledge so far the only game that lets you play as a loyal Imperial from start to end. This one I did actually finish.
  • Rebel Assault II: (1995, PC) An okay arcade game that I played quite some time when I didn’t feel like X-Wing or Tie Fighter, but ultimately it was forgetable.
  • Rebel Assault: (1993, PC) I got this one because it was a Star Wars game and I needed more! Of this one I remember almost nothing and I didn’t play it much.
  • Shadows of the Empire: (1996, PC) A game that I think is objectively pretty poor and probably aged terribly by now, but back in the day I thought it was really awesome. A fun third person console shoter that captured the style of Star Wars pretty well but had a really weird 3D-Engine that handled perspective in a rather wonkey way.
  • Rebellion: (1998, PC) This is a strategy game that was very different from the Command & Conquers and Warcrafts that were the mainstream of that time. Pretty much the whole game takes place on a big map of the galaxy on which you place orders to produce ships and train troops and send them to guard or attack various systems. There is a 3D space battle mode that lets you command your ships in a way somewhat resembling Homeworld, but it never worked well and took really long and you always had the option to simply let the computer calculate an outcome for the battle instantaneously. Still, as a strategy game it was pretty cool and I played it a lot.
  • Rogue Squadron: (1998, PC) This game has lots of big fans, but I am not one of them. I just wanted more stuff like X-Wing and this one is more of an arcade style console game. And I thought it also looked rather ugly with its very limited range of sight and pretty small combat areas.
  • X-Wing Alliance: (1999, PC) This game looks much better and sophisticated than Tie Fighter, but in the end it left me somewhat lukewarm. I still played it all the way through two or three times, but the campaign just couldn’t compete with Tie Fighter.
  • Episode I: (1999, PC) This is one of the worst games I ever played, and certainly the worst one that I finished. It’s just awful in every way and I was actually very hesitant to get it, but it was a Star Wars game and I needed it!
  • Racer: (1999, PC) Making a Star Wars racing game that is really just a reskin of Wipeout sounds like a terrible idea, but the end result was actually really great. It’s really fast, as you would expect from Podracing, and the tracks are just gorgeous. When I got Wipeout HD for PS3 a while back I was actually really disappointed how poorly it held up compared to the cool tracks of Racer. I might actually hunt down an old N64 just to play this game on a big TV.
  • Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast: (2002, PC) This game is awesome! Kyle Katarrn is awesome! And you run around slicing stormtroopers to pieces with a lightsaber! The plot and the villain are crap and the levels not very pretty, but fighting against Dark Jedi with lightsabers is just such amazing fun. I actually played this one online for quite some time, which was always a blast with pretty much every match having force jump and force push set to maximum.
  • Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy: (2003, PC) And this one is even better! You don’t get to play Kyle Katarrn and your new generic Jedi apprentice isn’t that interesting, but the level design is much prettier and the various levels have a lot more variety. And more lightsaber action.
  • Knights of the Old Republic: (2003, PC, Xbox) Widely considered to be the best Star Wars game ever made. And for good reasons. It’s a pretty standard BioWare RPG and actually the first of the post-D&D games style that has now become the standard with Mass Effect and Dragon Age. For some reason I completed the game only once when it came out and started a second short-lived attempt years later. Now 14 years later I am finally giving it another go. (And so far it doesn’t disappoint.)
  • The Force Unleashed: (2008, PS3) This game really is just a Star Wars reskin of God of War/Devil May Cry. And I have to give it to the game that it is pretty fun to play. But as a Star Wars story it’s just terrible. The plot and especially the protagonist are just completely bonkers and have no place in Star Wars. Unlike what I hoped for, this game is in no way a substitute for Jedi Knight. (Still got a Platinum trophy on PS3.)
  • Racer Revenge: (2002, PS2) I got this game when I first heard that Racer was also available on PS2. Though only kind of, as it turned out. It’s the same engine, but this game has completely different tracks. Which just nowhere come close to the awesomness of the original game. A straight up port would have been much better.

Upcoming

These are games that I have not played yet but plan to do so, or which have been announced and that I am looking forward to to see how they turn out.

  • Republic Commando: (2005, Xbox) I’ve heard pretty good things about this game many times and always planned to try it myself some day. Until just recently I never realized that it’s actually been out for 12 years now. I finally got the game and play to give it a try after I finished my new KotOR run.
  • Battlefront 4: (PS4) Battlefront 3 is the most impressive looking game I’ve ever seen and I’ve been planning to give another shot at serious online playing for a while, but all the reviews for it just made it sound too simplistic to invest more than a few hours into it. With Battlefront 4 I am hoping that they won’t be repeating the same mistakes and the announcements for the campaign actually sound like something that could potentially be pretty interesting. Not expecting much from it, but it’s something I want to keep an eye on.
  • Visceral Games RPG: (PS4) I know very little about the game except that it’s an RPG that is being made by the developers of Dead Space and has the director and writer of the Legacy of Kain and Uncharted series. And as a huge bonus it is set during the Rebellion era, which means it probably is going to ignore the Clone Wars and New Wars material for the most part. This could potentially be huge.

The inherent racism of the Expanded Universe

This was originally posted on Spriggan’s Den on 23rd September 2015.

I am as big a Star Wars fan as you can get before it gets insane and embarassing. But I am also highly critical of it and more than just willing to recognize its many flaws. And, oh dear, there’s so much of them. But one of the biggest ones is one I’ve almost never see discussed anywhere.

The Expanded Universe, at it’s very essence, is fundamentally racist.

And this has nothing to do with Lando Calrissian or even Jar Jar Binks. People have complained about the Neimodians talking in a Japanese accent and being show as ruthless conquerors driven by greed, and I can understand that to some degree. And really, the makeover of Watto in Episode II is indeed the most racist shit I’ve ever seen outside of Nazi propaganda cartoons.

“All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”

But no, I am not talking about that here. The problem I want to adress is at the same time less controversial but also much, much farther reaching. Many worlds in science fiction often get accused of being Planets of Hats, where the whole population really has only a single defining trait. Star Wars does that too. And very hard. And all the time. Even ignoring the accents of Neimodians and Gungans and any resemblance they may have to those found in some parts of the world, the entire worldbuilding of Star Wars is based on a way of percieving people and cultures that has a clear and unambigious term: Racism.

Racism, at its very core, is not specifically about discrimination or hatred or limited to any minorities. These are issues that result from racism. Racism itself is the idea that a group of people who share a common ancestry can easily be defined by a few traits that are shared among all of them. So if you have seen one person of that group, you know not only everything about that group, but also everything about every single member of that group. Racism is the idea that shared biological ancestry makes all people of that group the same in several fundamental traits.

And nowhere in fiction have I ever seen this principle applied so consistently and agressively. Though I think it neededs to be added, that this is primarily about the Expanded Universe, all the novels, comics, and videogames that build upon the movies. The movies themselves are relatively free of this since it is rare to ever see more than a single individual of any species other than humans. But in the EU it’s really bad. If you have one character of a species appearing in the movies, even in a really tiny role, that character is almost always turned into the universal archetype for the entire species in all subsequent works.

Take for example the Bith. The Bith really only appear for a few seconds and have no relevance to the plot. They are these guys.

The bar in which Luke and Obi-wan meet Han Solo and Chewbacca happens to have a band of Bith playing during the few minutes they stay at that place. Do we learn anything about these guys at all? No, nothing. Except that these are in a band that plays in a bar. As the EU is concerned, this is everything you need to know about the Bith. Because in the EU, the Bith are a species of performance artists and musicians. All of them. That’s what they are known for throughout the galaxy. When musicians get mentioned, very often they are Bith. It’s like the Bith have a monopoly on playing music for the whole galaxy.

Here we have a group of Jawas. In their natural environment. Shoting at droids to repair and sell them. Jawas have many appearnces throughout Star Wars, but in the movies themselves I believe they really only have one significant appearance. (Other than background dressing.) And they are always surrounded by metal scrap and working on salvaged machines. Most often traveling around in their huge brown, angular trucks. Because in the movies there was one group of Jawas who had such a big brown truck, wore brown robes, and apparently salvaged broken droids to make a living. One group of 10 or 20 individuals. And what they did on that one day instantly became the template for the entire culture and nature of the whole species. You have seen one Jawa, you have seen all Jawas.

And there are virtually no exceptions to this rule. Chewbacca can fix shapeships and droids and in his backstory he used to be an imperial slave. Pretty much all Wookies you’ll ever see are good with machines and the entire species has been enslaved by the Empire. And not just the empire. In the days of the Old Republic, 4,000 years before the Empire, they were being enslaved by the Czerca corporation. Once a slave, always a slave. The whole species.

All Sullustans are good pilots, all Bothans are spies or politicians, all Verpines and Sluisi are great mechanics, all Twi’lek women are strippers, all Trandoshans are bounty hunters, Rodian culture is all about hunting, all Gamoreans are mercenaries, all Hutts are criminal businessmen (…slugs), all Chiss are military geniuses, all Noghri are super stealthy assassins, all Ithorians are pacifistic, all Corellians are roguish pilots with a problem for authority, all humans from Tatooine are farmers. It goes on and on. (And, being Star Wars, on, and on, and on, and on…)

In the Expanded Universe of Star Wars, the basic concept of racism is an actual fact. If just see one member of a species for a few seconds, you know everything there is to know about the entire species and every single individual. I can understand how it happens on a single episode of Star Trek that visits a planet only once, which then is never appearing again. But when it happens over decades and is done by dozens of writers in completely different stories, I find it rather inexcuseable.

Honorable mention goes to my favorite Twi’lek Nawara Ven, who has the distinction of being not some sly gangster but a starfighter pilot/lawyer of unquestionable integrity. But then, being a lawyer does kind of put him into a similar niche as smugglers and spies. It’s just their nature, I guess…