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I Swear It’s Good Now: Why You Should Return to Battlefront II

Is it possible to overhaul a video game so radically that it becomes almost an entirely new, better product? I think so, and I think Battlefront II proves it. After well over two years in release, Battlefront II has been revitalized with new game modes, playable characters, and skins. The wealth of new content is a shot in the arm that’s resulted in a completely changed game. 

I don’t really play a lot of online shooters. I’ve dabbled in Battlefield and Call of Duty as much as any other gamer, but I’ve never really been able to get into them. Getting good at these games requires a lot of effort and playtime. So, it was to my great relief that I discovered the new modes in Battlefront II don’t require that.

The most striking new addition is a Co-Op mode. Allowing four players to team up against waves of AI troopers, Co-Op was what attracted me to buy the game. Each Co-Op mission contains a little mini narrative, where you and your friends fight to complete a series of objectives. 

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New Hope in the High Republic: How Star Wars’ New Setting Can Speak to a New Generation

“But a frightening new adversary threatens…”

The High Republic, the upcoming series of novels and comics exploring an era two hundred years before the events of The Phantom Menace, may or may not act as the incubator of future Star Wars. But from what we know so far, it could represent a new hope for its storytelling, one that reflects our turbulent times and the fears (and idealism) of today’s young people.

Initial reaction to The High Republic has been broadly positive: it’s time to move on from the Skywalker saga, with new stories to be told. I see three reasons for hope, based on three storytelling principles that helped to make Star Wars great and which could be reflected in The High Republic. (Yes, I’m just speculating – The High Republic could go in many directions, but it’s a way of thinking about the past, present and future of Star Wars.)

Firstly, the setting. The High Republic is set in a “golden age” at the height of the Galactic Republic, protected by the Jedi Knights as guardians of peace and justice. While Star Wars’ used-future aesthetics seem to be endlessly enjoyable, there’s a deeper meaning to “setting” here, meaning context.

Crucially, this setting needs to be in crisis – it’s not Star Peace, after all. In A New Hope we were thrown into the midst of a Galactic Civil War. Even more, what propels the plot of Episode IV is that the principal characters realize they’re witnessing the final consolidation of the Empire’s power, its total domination of the galaxy, through its ultimate weapon coming online. This is what the characters need to respond to, and immediately (we’ll return to those responses later).

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Shame, Perhaps; Consequence, Not So Much – How Star Wars Glosses Over Accountability

One of the most controversial topics when it comes to The Rise of Skywalker is how “Bendemption” turned out; more specifically, the fact that he dies. I was disappointed with Ben’s redemptive arc, but here is the thing: I am more unhappy with how the Star Wars franchise deals with redemption in general than I am with this singular film. I have been noticing more and more that there is a serious lack of accountability and responsibility across the franchise as a whole.

For a franchise about the good and evil within all of us, there is a serious lack of material that grapples fully with the consequences of characters’ dark actions. We see this in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, in the sequels, even in Darth Vader’s original redemption. This is an issue I have with Star Wars that’s been bouncing around in my head for a few months now and I think we need to be discussing it.

So…let’s talk about Vader. In the context of the original trilogy, Vader’s sacrifice works as a redemptive act because the thing that kills him is also the thing that redeems him. In the context of the original trilogy alone, Vader saving Luke is a selfless act—but this is not necessarily true when you add the context of the prequels and even the extended canon.

It is in Revenge of the Sith, in Vader’s corruption, where the context of new information most impacts Vader’s eventual redemption: now, Vader turns to the light and kills Palpatine for the same reason he turned to the dark side in the first place. He joins to save his wife and child, then leaves to save his now-grown children. When you factor this in, it takes away from the idea that Vader renounces the darkness in favor of the light. To be honest, I don’t hate this change in motivation. I like giving Vader’s decision a little more ambiguity. It makes him being a Force ghost feel more like a second chance and less like him getting to do the thing that Obi-Wan and Yoda worked their asses off for because he killed the guy he had spent the past twenty years plotting to kill.

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The Case for Mid-Budget Star Wars

Star Wars is at a crossroads. While The Rise of Skywalker’s worldwide box office will gross over a billion dollars, that’s a far cry from The Force Awakens’ two billion. ROS will end up below every Avengers film, both Jurassic World films, and even its predecessor The Last Jedi. Perhaps most shockingly, the finale to the Skywalker saga could well end up with a lower total gross than DC’s Joker. Uncertain, the future is.

Imagine it’s 2016, and someone says to you an R-rated psychodrama would make more money than Episode IX of Star Wars. How would you react? You’d probably tell them to lay off the death sticks. Yet as I type these words, Joker stands ahead. There is, for sure, a large confluence of factors that led to this upset. Both films are divisive, but controversy boosted Joker while deflating Star Wars. Critical reviews for ROS were tepid at best, while Joker has been nominated for eleven Oscars, including Best Picture. Regardless, it can’t be ignored that Joker has made its production budget of (at most) $70 million back at least fifteen times over. ROS, with a price tag of $275 million, has returned less than four times as much. A billion dollars is nothing to sniff at but as a return-on-investment that’s far from a home run.

2019 was the year the mid-budget film struck back. Joker leads the top of a wide pack, followed by It: Chapter Two, Us, John Wick: Chapter 3, Knives Out, Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood, and many more. Audiences flocked to smaller films and studios saw strong, sometimes enormous, returns on budgetary investments of less than $100 million—while tentpoles like Dumbo, Alita: Battle Angel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil and X-Men: Dark Phoenix floundered.

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Heisenberg’s Principle for Peace and Justice: Why the Jedi Never Seem Very Good at their Job

The first thing we ever learn about the Jedi is that they were the “guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.” Until I read Claudia Gray’s Master & Apprentice, it never occurred to me that this definition contains a contradiction. Peace and justice together are the defining conditions of the ideal polity. It’s an idealistic platitude too familiar to invite closer examination. That’s why it feels so revelatory when Gray shows us that in practice, Jedi often found that peace and justice were tragically at odds.

Master & Apprentice takes place eight years before The Phantom Menace, and reprises much of that film’s premise. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon are sent to negotiate a deal between a planet’s willful teenage queen and a powerful, malicious corporation. Their lives are threatened by mysterious assassins, and they turn to a slave for aid. That overt similarity between the two stories allows Gray to take a second crack at a thematic question raised tangentially by TPM: is it right for the Jedi to ignore injustice in pursuit of the greater good?

In TPM, Qui-Gon doesn’t find this question very difficult to answer. He frees Anakin to gain a powerful Jedi, not to end the injustice of his slavery. He makes a half-hearted effort to win Shmi’s freedom too, but doesn’t press the issue. The question of freeing any other slaves never even comes up. They didn’t come to Tatooine to free slaves. The people of Naboo are counting on them; they can’t afford to get distracted by every injustice that crosses their path.

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