Monday, October 18, 2010

Football and Epic Duels

All apologies, folks…it was a distracting weekend.

I mean, when the Seahawks can go into Chicago and cream a fairly good Bears team in their home stadium (blowing ‘em apart on the ground), it bodes well for the team’s overall progress…it’s been a looong time since we’ve seen that complete a performance from the ‘Hawks on the road.

Of course, the Huskies had a good game this weekend, too, but the UW ain’t my alma mater so it’s not as big a deal to me. It IS nice that the rest of Sea-Town seems to be in such a good mood over it. But it would have been small solace to me had Da’ Bears spanked the Seahawks as (nearly everyone) predicted they would.

Then, of course, there’s Star Wars.

Picked up a copy of the Star Wars board game Epic Duels this weekend. Yes, I purchased it down at Gary’s for a pretty penny; however, I did make use of their 20th anniversary, 20% discount deal to ease the pain. I spent a lot of Saturday and Sunday playing it with AB or Steve-O…when we weren’t watching football.

Frankly, I don’t know what’s wrong with me; why do I find games like this so damn appealing? But I do…for me, the coolest visual images from the prequel movies are the damn lightsaber fights, and I love them enough that I own all of ‘em on DVD, despite finding them (cinematically and SW-fan-wise) less than stellar films. But they ARE great, spectacular even, and everything about the films seems to be in service of this particular hand-to-hand laser-sword fight-fests.

I mean, sure…they also help tell “the backstory” of the original film trilogy (as if such was needed…leaving things like the “Old Republic” and the “Clone Wars” to the imagination is so much cooler, as has been discussed often enough around the blogs). But really, that’s not the point…at least not to me. I can stomach an awful lot of JarJar Binks and “Force amoebae” discussion if it means I get to watch Qui Gon and Darth Maul duke it out in a climactic, badass fight scene. And Count Dooku, despite his offensively silly name, is hands down my favorite character in ANY of the prequel films, as I watch the Ol’ Geezer take on two Jedi (or one Yoda) over-and-over again. The guy is arrogant as hell to play around with that much sabre-danger, but he survives a lot longer than he has any right to…specifically because he IS a badass.

There is a lot of great lightsaber scenes in the Star Wars franchise (the Battle of Geonosis, Obi-Wan’s fight with Jango Fett on Camino, Luke Skywalker on Jabba’s hover-barge, etc.), but there are only twelve “lightsaber on lightsaber” fights in the film franchise (thirteen if you count the holographs of the Jedi temple purging…I don’t). Of those twelve fights, two end in stand-offs with no clear victor: Qui-Gon’s first encounter with Maul on Tattooine and Yoda’s duel with Dooku on Geonosis. In all the others, someone gets their ass handed to ‘em…and it is great fun for the audience (me, anyway) to watch.

Here’s how I rank the duels (a Top Ten list for Monday!):

#10 Grievous versus Obi-Wan: Let’s face it…Grievous is never really in this fight. Despite being trained in lightsaber combat by Count Dooku, Grievous is no Jedi. Still, a four-armed saber-wielding cyborg is fun to watch.

#9 Mace versus Palpatine: Despite some bad/weird dialogue, this scene starts (visually) strong before kind of petering out. I understand that this is all in aid of setting up Anakin to betray Master Windu and go over to the dark side, but the editing makes the whole scene feel a bit (unnecessarily) drawn out. If Mace is going to kill Palpatine, why doesn’t he? If he’s going to fight scrappy (giving the Emperor the boot), why doesn’t he do so from the beginning? If Palpatine is strong enough to off Yoda, why doesn’t he cut down Samuel L. Jackson? And it’s lame that a third party (Anakin) steps in and “finishes” a finished fight.

#8 Obi-Wan versus Darth Vader (Death Star): Compared to later films, this fight is fairly anticlimactic. Sorry to all those folks who love and cherish the first Star Wars as “one-and-only,” I want a little more than what Lucas was able to give us with his early foray into lightsabers. Describing the scene (in retrospect) as an “old warrior versus a clunky cyborg” is a lame ret-con attempt at explanation…especially considering Vader’s later strong performances.

#7 Yoda versus the Emperor: While visually spectacular, no one gets cut which is a bit of a “lightsaber let-down.” Also, Yoda…the best Jedi sabre-ist ever…gets bested by the guy who was punked by Mace Windu? Kind of lame. What about the light side being stronger? And why is Yoda so quick to admit defeat? Obviously he is deciding discretion is the better part of valor and all that, but I expected him to at least “put a hurtin’ on” Palpatine before dropped on his ass.

#6 Dooku versus Obi-Wan and Anakin (fight on Geonosis): Nice to see the Sith actually showing what power is all about. Dooku is brilliant and sadistic in his wounding of Obi-Wan, and takes Anakin to task as well. Along with the visually stunning Camino platform fight and the pitched Jedi/droid battle, this set piece is the main reason I can stomach an otherwise forgettable movie.

#5 Darth Maul versus Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: Wow, that Maul guy is spry! A fantastically choreographed set piece, and pretty much the only reason to watch the film more than once. Qui Gon gets the best death of any Jedi in the entire film franchise (and while the Jedi are not warriors by nature, the Viking in me can’t help but wish they could all get such a heroic death against such a worthy opponent). On the other hand, Obi-Wan’s slaying of Maul nearly defies belief…how did such a cool and collected opponent suddenly turn into such a chump? The expression on Qui-Gon’s face when he knows he can’t win but is resigned to try is classic.

#4 Dooku versus Obi-Wan and Anakin (re-match): Dooku is brilliant (again), but Anakin shows what devastating power can do to finesse, and is equally brilliant in execution (figuratively and literally). Of the top four fights (all very good), this one is ranked a little down because there is less passion/emotion inherent in the scene…something that actually makes “yet another duel” fun/important to watch. But Dooku’s footwork and near effortless handling of the two-on-one scenario is fantastic. Poor, stupid Dooku…

#3 Anakin/Vader versus Obi-Wan: Definitely the most spectacular lightsaber fight a film chock-full of lightsaber fights (see #10, #9, #7, and #4 above), it is also the final lightsaber duel of the entire film franchise and Lucas pulls out all the stops. Fun, and powerful to watch, the fantastic resolution (in which Obi-Wan puts a serious hurtin’ on Anakin) is marred only by the stupid dialogue and the way Anakin morphs from a prodigy into a chump at the last second. The last bit is difficult to explain…I find it immensely satisfying (cinematically , story-wise, and personally) to see Obi-Wan turn Vader into a quadriplegic and drop him in the fire…after all his whining and stupidity, this is a fitting spanking for the brat. I just don’t like the dialogue that sets it up. “I have the high ground.” What are you talking about? Morally? Are you talking about some tactics lesson that was taught in basic Jedi training? If it’s a taunt to fell Vader with his own arrogance, than make it a taunt…otherwise, just run the sequence in silence. I don’t know…I’m no film director and am not sure how I would have staged the scene, but cool as it is, it’s a tad clunky.

#2 Luke versus Vader (Bespin): This fight gets high marks for a number of reasons. Visually stunning, fought across a several locations (the freezing chamber, the bowels of Bespin, out onto a tiny bridge over a huge drop), it showcases what a badass Vader is…and makes Luke all the more heroic for trying to tackle him with his minimal training. Vader is a beast, battering Luke with heavy blows and Force-thrown objects, knocking him down and just intimidating the hell out of him. It’s like watching the Seahawks tee-off on Jake Cutler all day long. The maiming of Luke is a great climax to the fight, and the admission of paternity is more than just dramatic gravy…it’s the freakin’ exclamation point/cherry-on-top that kicks the whole resolution up to a whole ‘nother lever. Love it.

#1 Luke versus Vader (Death Star): Again, high marks but there’s a slight edge over #2 based on the extra emotion that’s put into the whole sequence. Luke is torn by so many emotions, he’s a cauldron boiling over. Hatred and loathing for the Emperor. Fear at having already been beaten once by the powerful Vader. The whole mind-f**k of knowing (now, unlike the prior fight) that Vader is really, truly his father. And then, of course, the whole “fear/revenge for his sister/friends” thang…the last of which helps him release an onslaught of Vader-esque power that utterly dominates the Sith lord. The musical score is powerful, as is the final action of Luke…throwing away his weapon after thoroughly beating/humiliating his father into submission. It’s an act of pathos…and one that highlights what the whole Jedi-thang is all about. It’s a great, emotional sequence, and a fun duel to watch despite Luke sometime’s looking like a guy trying to swat flies with a baseball bat.

So anyway…I dig on sword fights; even laser sword fights. But I may dig too much as picking up a game like SW Epic Duels led me to hours of distraction (on top of an already distracting weekend). And then, of course, it gets me thinking again about Star Wars RPGs and how one might best model this kind of thing in a game, and gets me thinking of ways I could model it in a game myself, etc., etc. And before you know it, it’s Monday morning and the entire weekend flew by without any new blog posts.


So sorry, folks. I will try to make it up over the next couple days (AND I’ll try to get some pictures from Spain uploaded AND I’ll give an update on the 2nd printing of the B/X Companion). Hopefully, anyway.
; )


  1. Well the collective gasp here in Chicago is "WTF".

    But take solace. My regular DM, and uber-Bears fan, was more than likely reading my copy of B/X Companion while the game was going on. ;)

  2. I don't know why you think that Yoda is supposed to be the ultimate lightsabre warrior.
    I think he's seen as amazing because he defies expectations (based on his original trilogy decrepitude and stature) and is an excellent lightsabre duelist despite his size. He's better than average certainly but not the best.
    My impression from the movies and what secondary material I saw (mostly the Genndy cartoon) was that Mace Windu was supposed to be the most badass Jedi warrior in the council.

  3. Jedi is my favourite of the films, and that duel at the end is one of the main reasons why.

  4. I generally don't get into SW discussions. It's a subject that the people involved usually hold really close, so A. there's not much chance of explaining something to someone and having them believe it if they didn't already, and B. it's easy to end up unwittingly hurting feelings.

    Ah, what the hell.

    Windu vs. Palpatine - Windu stops at the end because the accepted proper thing for a jedi to do would be try to take Palpatine into custody and make him stand trial. However, he's also sure this won't work. He's struggling between the two decisions. Why did it last so long, and why did Palpatine lose even though he bested Yoda? Because it was vital to Palpatine's plans for Anakin to have it end exactly like it did. Don't think for a moment that Palpatine wasn't in total control, orchestrating the entire fight.

    Obi-Wan's high ground. It's just physical tactics. Anakin is at a combat disadvantage if he tries to jump, but he's so arrogant that he does it anyway. Why does Kenobi 'warn' him about it? Obviously, even at this point, Obi-Wan doesn't want to have to kill his best friend.

    One huge thing about every lightsaber duel in the films is that emotion and motive make just as much difference as skill and tactics.

  5. If you haven't looked at PDQ Sharp from Chad Underkoffler, you might want to.
    A lot of the mechanics are meant to simulate the give and take of swordplay and could be used for Star Wars.

  6. @ Tim: I'm glad a Seattleite could bring a little joy to his Sunday this last weekend.
    ; )

    @ Graham: I'm basing the Yoda = badass thing on the script of the film, as well as text in the novels.

    @ Kelvin: I certainly find it the film's highlight...but then, as I said, I dig sword fights, even laser sword fights.

    @ Miguelito: Your last paragraph is a fantastic thing to consider for any RPG. However, I definitely don't want anything as complex as The Riddle of Steel.
    ; )

    @ Steve: Thanks for the link! I've read up on PDQ in the past, though I'm not a huge fan. However, PDQ Sharp looks exceptionally intriguing.
    : )