Sunday, December 27, 2015

Star Wars 7 Addendum

I hope everyone is having a happy holiday season. As one might surmise from my lack of posting, mine has been pretty merry (which is to say both eventful and fun). The only way I'm getting to write this is that I'm up before everyone else...around 9am, Orizaba time. Having a body clock accustomed to five hours of sleep has its least when I limit my alcohol consumption to four or five beers.

Ah...Mexico. It's been very merry indeed.

Anyway, got to see The Force Awakens (Star Wars 7) for the second time, yesterday, though this time dubbed in Spanish. Normally, we wouldn't have done this, as the adults prefer the subtitled version, and my boy (who got to go) can understand English perfectly. However, his 9 year old cousin cannot read subtitles fast enough to keep up, so this was a concession to both her and him (he wanted to see the film with his prima), so Spanish it was. The dub was good, but the jokes don't work nearly as good in translation, and both my wife and I found Kylo's voice to be scarier/more menacing in English, but otherwise everyone enjoyed themselves...the children especially (and we only had to cover Diego's eyes and ears a couple-three times).

And after watching the film, I have a few additional thoughts I wanted to write down that didn't make it into my last post on the subject. And, yes, some of this is gaming related. However, be warned: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

First off, I would like to see the film again sometime, in English...there was specific snatches of dialogue pertaining to the story that I wanted to hear again, because my wife and I had different interpretations of what was said the first time around. 

[actually, truth be told, I was feeling like I'd like to pop a DVD into the old machine and replay the film when I got unconscious reaction on my part of something I often do with my OTHER Star Wars films, and just goes to show how quickly my mind has integrated the film into my psyche as part of the SW canon. No, I don't actually own a copy of the film (though they were selling pirate copies on the streets of Paraguay outside the theater)...I'll wait for it on Blue-ray, thanks]

However, watching a film in a language you don't fully comprehend, gives you a chance to observe other nuances you might miss. For example, I read one review that felt John Williams score had been less impactful/noticeable...certainly un-memorable...and I couldn't remember it myself, either. Paying closer attention the second viewing, I can confidently say it IS present, and quite good (as usual). However, the sweepings sounds of new sections to the "classic" SW score are often found as backdrop during the most exciting and visually stimulating scenes (like the battle at Takodana). Then, too, there are many scenes where the score is absent...those "quiet moments" I spoke about in my earlier post are sometimes bereft of music as well as dialogue (where in previous films even these quiet moments were highlighted with the music of the score...see Luke's discovery of his burned home on Tatooine. 

This is (what I'd call) part of Abrams's style of filmmaking: "real life" doesn't have a soundtrack, and these moments where the audience voyeuristically watches a person go about their daily struggles helps immerse them in the film's universe, rather than remind them we're watching a morality play in the space opera genre. 

There's a similar clash of Abrams/SW "style" going on in a later scene where the Resistance is discussing how they can stop the First Order's super-weapon. The dialogue plays like a bunch of genre-saavy role-players sitting around the table: 'yeah, okay, it's big...doesn't it have some kind of fatal flaw we can exploit?' Abrams is pointing out the ridiculousness of the space opera trope (in a light-hearted, fun way), because there's something more at stake in the film than just blowing up the giant planet-killer. additional thoughts:

1) The film really felt a lot better paced on a second viewing...where before I complained it was a little too fast, part of that might have been my ear attempting to keep up with exposition while my eye was watching the spectacular visuals. Knowing the story/plot, I was able to simply enjoy the film without having to "figure it out" and it felt quite good.

2) Sith lords (or whatever they call darksiders in this series) are the epitome of bullies. I'm sure when FFG, or whoever holds the license in the future, comes out with SW7 supplement, Kylo Ren will be statted up as a tremendous badass when it comes to his fighting ability. But there's nothing in the film that really suggests he's any good with a saber. He's slaying unarmed captives, old men, helpless (or unaware/surprised) opponents, or immobile machinery. Yes, he has a nifty weapon that he knows how to twirl with panache...that doesn't make him a good swordsman. It's all about intimidation and letting your goons do the dirty work, and Darth Vader was a lot of this, too, come to think about it. Against a rank novice, he's able to use his weapon's unique design and his opponent's lack of melee skill to ensure a win, but he still gets wounded (by the rank novice) in the process. And when he (wounded) actually goes up against someone with demonstrated hand-to-hand ability, he gets his ass handed to him. He's just a bully in a suit with a few magic tricks.

By the way: that doesn't mean he's not a cool villain. He's very cool. But get out of the mindset of "uber-dangerous bad guy" must equal "badass combatant." Can Lex Luthor go toe-to-toe with Superman? No. Is he still Superman's archenemy and greatest foe? Yes. 

[you know, Emperor Palpatine, too, was a total pansy prior to his scenes in Revenge of the Sith. Viewed only through the lens of Return of the Jedi, we see only a scheming manipulator, able only to manipulate or magically torture an unarmed opponent. The character displayed in Revenge would have had no problem slaying the only moderately trained Luke with a lightsaber. *sigh* There are a lot of times I wish I could simply ignore the prequel trilogy, much as I enjoy aspects of them]

3) These films work best when they're not about Jedi, but about the working man in space. I said previously that the return of the  Millennium Falcon really went a long way towards making this installment feel like a "real" Star Wars film, something sorely lacking from Episodes 1-3. But it's more than that. There are very few people that can really relate to the struggles of a Jedi in a literal sense...those of us called to a spiritual vocation similar to the Jedi (if such a parallel calling actually exists) probably have more important things to do then watch space movies in the theater. But we can relate to the other, mundane heroes...the ones scared of blasters and armies of stormtroopers, the ones with vehicles that break down and bills to pay and creditors to avoid. When we encounter the supernatural or magical in our real lives (as some of us sometimes do) our reaction might be fear or skepticism or is displayed by these "mundane" heroes (Han, Luke (before he became a Jedi), Rey, Fin). Yes, if you believe in goofy, woo-woo New Age stuff (as this blog author does) you know everyone has the potential for "psychic abilities" but few of us take the time (or have the inclination) to develop them, instead experiencing only occasional flashes of our hidden abilities (premonitions, "eureka" moments, inner strength/endurance, etc.). 

When the Force is mysterious and strange and magical...something to be discovered by the characters, rather than mastered (as was the case with the protagonists of Episodes 1-3), we (the audience) relate better to characters in the story. We can put ourselves in the shoes of a person trying to make ends meet (like Luke the farmer, or Han the truck driver). We can even take it a step further (mentally) and envision ourselves in a situation where we must fight a guerrilla war against an oppressive regime like the Empire or the First Order, even though such is outside the experience (fortunately) for most viewers...we can imagine what we might do in a Red Dawn-like scenario. Some of us might rise to positions of leadership (like Leia), while most would probably end up in a Porkins-like fireball. Such things happen in war. What does NOT happen is you becoming a fairy tale hero with magical powers and a sword that deflects bullets.

But that's what makes Star Wars "space fantasy." We like to fantasize some Obi-Wan/Carlos Castaneda figure shows up in our life and teaches us the ways of the wizard (though the reality is precious few of us actually have the fortitude for what such training involves), but we recognize that, even in the fantasy, we are more likely to be in the seat of the more "mundane" heroes, doing mundane things...and having mundane heroes still managing to be heroic makes the films relatable (i.e. able to elicit stronger engagement) than films about super powered warrior-monks.

In my opinion.

4) Much as I enjoy Star Wars AND role-playing games, I am not sure they really make for the best wedded couple. Oh, I'm sure there's more than a few people who will strongly disagree with that sentiment...people who have been running D6 Star Wars campaigns (or even D20 Star Wars) for years, not to mention the folks who've been playing (and enjoying) FFG's most recent version. Hell, I'm sure there are people who've adapted Traveller to Star Wars and have been waging war against the Galactic Empire using that system since before Return of the Jedi was in the theaters (Traveller being first published in 1977).

The first Star Wars RPG.
But aside from the way that Star Wars is sooooo cinematic, in a way that just can't be translated to the role-playing medium with any degree of accuracy...ignoring that (and any disagreement to the contrary) the Star Wars storyline is one of parallel plots, that simply work better in a story than in a game. Luke's quest to become a Jedi takes him on a path altogether different from those of his companions, one that overshadows the contributions of his companions, not just plot-wise but in shared scenes as well (note the battle on Jabba's sail barge; note the encounter with the speeder bike scouts on Endor). When a Han Solo...meets a Darth or Kylo...the results are one-sided to say the least. This is forgivable in a film because, while Han is a major character, he is not the focal point of the film; he is still a character in support of Luke and (now) Rey/Fin. 

"Forgivable" in film, not in a role-playing game where there is supposed to be equality amongst all the players at the table. I've experienced campaigns where one player's character became the focal point, and it wasn't pretty. It developed organically through play, but it still bred resentment, even when the DM presented parallel adventures for the other players (including splitting the group into separate game sessions). It just functions poorly when the spotlight favors one (or two) players at the expense of others. Even when you (the GM) are giving those others "something to do" commensurate with their skills, which is the solution that usually gets thrown around when SW campaigns contain both Force-users and non-Force-users.

But this is a long-standing gripe of mine that I've blogged about before. Perhaps you could tone down the power level (or perceived power level) of Force-users...see the above about Kylo Ren being a bit wimpy (I mean, he gets shot for goodness sakes! When have you ever seen a Sith Lord get shot?). However, regardless of parity when it comes to in-game effectiveness, there's little parity when it comes to plot/story importance. Star Wars is about Jedi and the Force and the struggle between Light and Darkness on a mystical level; you take that away and it ceases to be Star Wars. And yet, when this is in play, mundanes become second-fiddles in terms of plot importance, unless you really want to stray away from the themes of the films and give it more of an irreverent tone...the Big Trouble in Little China-version where the everyman truck-driving hero faces down the Powers of Darkness on their turf and wins. That's taking the "opera" out of space opera in my opinion, but I can grok how some people want to roll that's just another attempt to fix the basic issue: a story like Star Wars doesn't adapt well to a cooperative, multi-player RPG. struck me again when I was watching the film yesterday. And it made me a little sad. Because without a way to emulate Star Wars in gaming, my main option for having another cool SW experience requires waiting for the next film installment of the franchise, hoping it's at least as good as this one. And I'm not really big on waiting.


  1. Bill Roper has adapted Star Wars to Mongoose Traveller. The actual plays are at Happy Jacks -
    And the documents are on their forum.

    1. @ Lloyd:

      Thanks, man...I will be sure to check it out (as I am a fan of both Traveller and Star Wars, such a mash-up is right up my alley!).

  2. I agree with most of your observations, although I feel that what happened to Kylo in the second half made sense from a storytelling standpoint. He got shot because he was at a vulnerable point (which likely would not have come up if he had more experience), and it was only because he was already wounded that he got beaten pretty badly by said novice in a lightsaber duel. (That said, I think the scene with the melee stormtrooper was meant to show that the stormtroopers receive at least basic hand-to-hand training, so it's possible that Finn was not as inexperienced as it might seem at first.)

    My only issue with the film was that the main Force-sensitive character seemed to advance FAR too quickly in ability. Whereas Luke was barely able to pull his saber towards him from two feet away in Empire, this film's analogous character seems able to use the "mind trick" and telekinesis with little effort, and what's implied to be absolutely no training.

    1. @ Fuzzy:

      Plot needs, my friend. In film, they trump all other concerns (like consistency with prior stories). Luke didn't receive any "visions" when Ben handed him his father's lightsaber either.

    2. Rey's amazing level of ability bugged me too after my first viewing, but after watching it two more times and rewatching Empire it makes more sense.
      Luke struggles with the force because he is impatient and doesn't believe strongly enough.
      Rey seems to have lived a solitary life, defending herself from scavengers and being athletic. Rey has been using the force her whole life- it just appears to be luck. She is incredibly focused and her mind is more open than Luke's was. And remember this teaching from Yoda- moving a small rock and moving a x-wing are only different in your mind.

  3. I find that FATE, with its Aspects, lends itself reasonably well to the cinematic feel of Star Wars. However, as you pointed out, combining casters and non-casters tends to take some of the thunder away from non-casters, just like in most games.

    That being said, my biggest problem with SW as a game is that SW really only has one story in it. It's a bit like LotR in that regard.

    I, personally, watch SW for the space wizards. I don't relate to the mundanes. Weird brain and all.

    1. @ Jack:

      Please don't misunderstand: the space wizards aremy favorite part (and that of a lot of people). But, then, I enjoy fantasy. There is something else that gives SW a more universal appeal.

      Yes, I hear you regarding the SW/LOTR/story connection.

  4. The best Star Wars RPG play reports I've read have been from Prime Time Adventures, which of course is a game much more geared towards plot arcs and pacing than most RPGs.

    Your notes about the prequels and jedi remind me of my own pet theory - ie that both prequels and the expanded universe (and yes even Lucas himself) mis-interpreted what the Jedi actually are. If you look carefully at everything the original trilogy tells us about eh Jedi, a very different picture emerges: Jedi is not a full time vocation, so someone can be eg a pilot and a Jedi, or similar, and they a pilot first. Jedi-hood is more like an oath that anyone can take if they can find an existing member - in fact they seem to operate more like a secret society, dedicated to aiding people and fighting evil.

    Ahem... I have lots more about that, but it would take up a lot of room

    1. @ Dan:

      Certainly Lucas's own concept of the Jedi evolved over time. The plot for Star Wars was taken directly from an old samurai film, and there's a lot of samurai to both the look and feel of the Jedi (Ben's robes, Vader's helmet, the importance of the sword, honor and dueling, etc.). The basics of light saber fighting was derived from Kendo.

      However, there's also quite a flavor of Templar Knight to the original Jedi. It's a religious order (Han refers to it as such), Ben talks about going on crusades, there's training and initiation, and (of course) the potential for corruption and evil (you don't really see stories of "fallen samurai" in bushido fiction).

      The thing to remember, though, is that Lucas as a filmmaker had a constantly evolving vision to fit the needs (and expanding limits) of his medium. We fans might decry the "inconsistencies" of the overall product, but he didn't really have a concrete story when he started making the films...just a ton of neat ideas he wanted to weave together. Heck, if he'd had the technology, he might have made the Jedi resemble the Lensmen even more than they do.

  5. I am beginning to worry about you, my friend. Is all well?

    1. @ Alexis:

      Just being lazy, man...I'll try to get back into the grind tomorrow.

      Appreciate the concern.
      : )

    2. He lives! Was starting to worry, myself XD

    3. *sigh*

      The double-edged sword of being prolific.
      ; )

    4. Glad to hear it, JB; no need to start writing on my account. Was just unusual for you to step off for two weeks. I feared one of the traffic accidents had finally got you.