Archive for Opinion

Queen’s Shadow: The Celebration of Women That Star Wars Deserves

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While there are no major spoilers below, I do discuss the contents of Queen’s Shadow in detail—consider yourself warned.

On May 19, 1999, The Phantom Menace opened in theaters. It was the first new theatrical Star Wars movie in sixteen years and kicked off a new trilogy exploring the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker before he became Darth Vader, a character that had already earned a spot in the pantheon of classic villains. However, rather than opening the movie on Tatooine, where we learn that young Anakin is living as a slave, we instead start on an unknown planet in danger of invasion, ruled by a teenage girl who will do anything to save her people.

And yet, despite a whole movie and a handful of tie-in novels that centered around Queen Amidala, she became increasingly sidelined as the trilogy went on and her character became inextricable from her doomed relationship with Anakin. Her cadre of handmaidens made a brief appearance in Attack of the Clones, but by Revenge of the Sith she was alone and left to watch her world crumble around her without any apparent support. She ends the trilogy by giving birth to the next generation’s heroes and then, at the age of twenty-seven, loses her will to live and dies of a broken heart.

Three years ago I wrote an article advocating for a Padmé novel. For far too long she had only really existed as an extension of Anakin and wasn’t given a chance to shine on her own. As arguably the main character of The Phantom Menace and (inarguably) a key figure in the story of the final days of the Republic, she deserved a better legacy than only being remembered as the object of Anakin’s fears and an indirect reason for his turn to the dark side. More importantly, for a character who started with so strong a story and so interesting a backstory, it was a shame that her movie potential was wasted with bad writing. So to finally have her given a voice after getting the short end of the stick for so long is incredibly meaningful in a way that’s difficult to put into words.

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Twenty Years in the Making, Padmé Gets Her Due

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The intro, first section, and conclusion are spoiler-free. The second section will discuss spoilers and will have a separate spoiler warning. 

We have been waiting a very, very long time to get a Padmé book. She’s been in plenty of books, comics, and TV shows — including a plethora of Phantom Menace-era books that a whole generation of fangirls has seemingly grown up on. But she’s never gotten the central billing in a book before. In situations like this, we usually end up with a typical “too little, too late” entry. Well, it’s definitely late — but the twentieth anniversary of The Phantom Menace‘s theatrical release isn’t a half-bad time to celebrate Padmé, given that the people who grew up with her never forgot about her. As for too little? Oh no — Queen’s Shadow is far from too little. In fact, it might be the perfect book for Padmé to finally get her due. 

There are a lot of parts of this book that read like a love letter to Padmé fandom, handmaiden fandom, and the women who grew up as part of both. I’m not the best person to speak to that aspect of the book, although I can definitely see parts of it. There’s probably more there that I haven’t even noticed: things like how Padmé interacts with her friends and handmaidens (for they are both), things about female comradeship and navigating situations that I just couldn’t know anything about. You’ll hear plenty about that from people who are better equipped to discuss it than I am — in fact, check back here tomorrow for a piece on the handmaidens and what they mean to their fans. But what I can tell you is that anyone who is a fan of Padmé as a character, a fan of her faith in political idealism and willingness to get her hands dirty despite of it, and heck, even just a fan of Naboo, will love what E.K. Johnston did for Padmé in this book. 

A lot of times it felt like the films after The Phantom Menace weren’t quite sure what to do with Padmé. She had a lot of potential that was sidelined in the other two films. But despite that, she was still a key part of the prequel trilogy and she had great development in Clone Wars-era books, comics, and TV despite rarely getting to headline stories. Queen’s Shadow recognizes both these things: the unrealized potential and the potency of the character, and does them justice. It’s set like a bridge novel between Episodes I and II, giving her the post-TPM development that Anakin and Obi-Wan received almost twenty years ago. But Queen’s Shadow isn’t just “Padmé’s turn” — it’s a genuinely incisive look at her character. Despite taking place between I and II, the novel also engages with ideas the audience knows will come up in The Clone Wars and in Episode III. E.K. Johnston just gave us a well-rounded portrayal that does everything it should have, and exceeded my already high expectations. 

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Re: Resistance – How Slow is Too Slow?

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Star Wars Resistance is starting to wind down its first season and is promising all sorts of terrible and incredible things to come, most of which were given glimpses in the show’s midseason trailer. General Hux’s speech! Starkiller Base! Kaz talking with Leia! Tam captured by the First Order! The trailer seemed to be casting out a siren’s song, as most trailers are wont to do. “Come see, come watch, lots of things are going to be happening in the second half of the season, you’ll see!” But the difference with Resistance’s trailer is the emphasis on events. A lot of things are going to happen, things that will set up a lot of character changes and growth, things that we have context for from other places in the universe as a whole. Up until now, the show hasn’t been about those events, it’s been about the characters.

The Clone Wars and Rebels both had large events that prompted character dynamics early on, and fed directly into the characters’ arcs through the early going of the shows. Rebels showed us Ezra’s Jedi training over the course of the first season, illustrating both his personality and his flaws as well as his path for growth. Ahsoka likewise was introduced as a young trainee with much to learn, and as TCW went along we saw the tough lessons she had to learn in the path of being a child thrown into war. Those were relatively small shakeups compared to the monumental ones that would occur later on in their respective shows, but that’s part of what necessitated that initial speed. The big difference between those shows and Resistance is that Resistance introduced us to Kaz, shook him up by switching his allegiance from the New Republic to the Resistance, but that is where the big events stopped for now. We have not seen a lot of growth in Kaz stemming from that event, nor how it has majorly affected his path forward as a character.

Resistance’s first season has been much slower in terms of plot developments or big events than the shows that have come before. The emphasis has been much more on seeing the lives and daily happenings around Kaz, Tam, Neeku and the others on the Colossus. We’ve gotten to know them and see what their status quo is, what their thoughts and feelings are on the state of the galaxy. But the focus has been very local, specific to the characters and their specific foibles and struggles. Kaz’s effort to get to know the other pilots. Yeager and his reluctance to open up to others. Tam’s frustrations with being shut out. Synara’s doubts about her place and her path. These arcs have not been high stakes, and only occasionally has anyone’s life even been at risk. » Read more..

That 70 BBY Show: Your Star Wars RPG Campaign as a TV Series

When Emmy met ENnie

When Emmy met ENnie

Hello and welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice! Yes, yes: you probably forgot that this website had a series devoted to the Star Wars roleplaying game, but we are still here. It’s been a long time, but you know what they say: better late than fired!

Our previous campaign-building article on how to create your first campaign was rather popular, so I decided to start working on a few follow-ups. In this second article I’m going to be talking about how to structure your campaign using a template we all know quite well: that of a TV series.

Giving shape to your campaign is a daunting task, to put it mildly. Odds are that you will more or less know where you want to go with your game, but you won’t have the slightest idea of how you’ll go about it. I was the same until famed RPG designer Robin D. Laws wrote a piece called T.V. Structure in the pages of Dragon Magazine #293, a really good article where he talked for several pages about some of the typical tricks that television showrunners use in their craft and about how to implement them in your RPG campaign. Mr. Laws has written some extraordinary books about the art of game design that I regard as part of my personal GMing canon, but this one short article was probably one of the most influential RPG pieces I’ve ever read: even though campaign-building was just a small part of the piece, it completely changed the way I designed campaigns. Sure, as I’ve become my own GM with my own distinctive style, I’ve ended up dropping many of that article’s suggestions and reworking many others, but “TV series-style” is certainly still one of the main pillars of my campaign design philosophy.

There are many reasons to structure your campaign as a TV series. It’s very easy to add, remove or move around episodes, making your life considerably easier. The human brain loves patterns, after all, and TV has taught it many patterns that it knows well. And, after all, RPG campaigns are by their own nature already very similar to serialized fiction: a longer storyline arranged in discrete adventures or, at the very least, sessions.

So let’s start working on Star Wars RPG: The Series!

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Humansplaining: Star Wars From the Aliens’ Perspective

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Human diversity in the Galaxy Far, Far Away has been a major focus of this site, and myself personally, over the years, but there’s been a parallel conversation running alongside that all along in the representation of droids and aliens: how many, which kinds, what are they doing? While real people seeing themselves directly and fulsomely represented in these stories—in the films especially—is certainly a higher priority, Star Wars is arguably not very well equipped to address things like racism and sexism in a direct fashion, and instead normally chooses to do so through subtext and metaphor.

The Mos Eisley cantina is notable for being not just the first major showcase of the galaxy’s alien demographics, but for the first instance of “metaphorical prejudice” in the form of Wuher banning the droids from his establishment. That moment coupled with an Imperial officer describing Chewbacca as a “thing” not long after makes George Lucas’s view of prejudice quite clear—even if the overall whiteness and maleness of the film’s protagonists does him no favors.

Droids and aliens, then, have never been there just for texture, but for metaphor as well—a way for the story to comment on real human biases without overtly importing them into its universe. While Solo‘s recent efforts to engage with droid prejudice were, well, inconsistent at best, the fact is that the films have never even attempted to put nonhuman prejudice on the front burner.

Lack of foregrounding, however, doesn’t equate to silence: if you choose to take the demographics seriously and not just as texture you’ll find that the films have been saying quite a bit. The goal of this piece, then, is to do just that—assume every human role and every nonhuman role is one hundred percent deliberate, and extrapolate accordingly. To be clear, this is very much a thought experiment, and not a suggestion of intentional messaging on the part of the creators.1 ILM and Lucasfilm’s creature shop (whew, just calling it that in this context is awkward) have done a lot of amazing work over the years, but how that work is distributed throughout the story tells a story of its own. What messages do we come away with when we treat that subtext as text? » Read more..

  1. Though it does seem to be in some cases, as I’ll discuss later. []
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