Archive for Pen and Paper

Welcome the Sweet Embrace of Disappointment: Reading and Writing in a Shared Universe

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Being one of those eternal constants of life alongside death and taxes, disappointment has been an inseparable part of Star Wars (like countless other franchises) since the very beginning: many of those who enjoyed A New Hope were turned off by the darker turn taken by The Empire Strikes Back and welcomed the comparatively joyful Return of the Jedi, while more modern critics and audiences are often inclined to have quite the opposite reaction. The prequels are even more divisive, ranging from those who wish they’d never even been made to those who consider them vastly superior to the Original Trilogy. Reception for entries in the Expanded Universe span a veritable roller coaster of reactions.

Significant events, whether they be on screen or transmitted through the written word, are even more likely to arouse controversy and outrage, especially when the matter of major character death arises. Chewbacca and Mara Jade Skywalker come to mind, to say nothing of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that will undoubtedly happen when the Big Three finally bite the proverbial dust. But, of course, a universe in which nothing ever changes and nobody of importance ever dies is hardly reasonable or suspenseful, either. So why is it that we’re so frequently disappointed by the products we buy, and what can be done about it?

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Walking Carpet Weaving: Doing Aliens Right

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Aliens. Xenos. Extraterrestrials. UFOs. Little green men from Mars. Things not of this Earth have long fascinated the human race, whether it be debating if they exist in reality (and searching for evidence that they do) and what they might look like, or simply enjoying having them in our fiction in all their manifold forms. When it comes to the latter, there has been much discussion of their portrayal and characterization over the years, and not just in this franchise, with many prominent alien characters having gone on to become classic fictional icons: just look at Chewbacca, or Spock, or E.T.

And while the likes of Wicket and Jar Jar Binks may not necessarily be the most popular characters in the saga, they’re still guaranteed to be instantly recognizable by millions. But we’re not here today just to talk about specific alien individuals, that subject having been flogged to death and beyond already. What we’re going to discuss is the more general matter of aliens as species: their conception, design, and implementation.

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Lords of the Sith: False Advertising at its Best

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—–WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD–—

Of all the novels that have been announced since the rebooting of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, Lords of the Sith seemed to me to be the most interesting. True, there was Tarkin, but this was ostensibly a Darth Vader/Emperor Palpatine buddy cop novel: what more could any loyal Imperial ask for? Furthermore, it was set to blaze several notable new trails. It was Paul S. Kemp’s first foray into the Galactic Civil War (he was previously best known for The Old Republic tie-in Deceived and the Jaden Korr Crosscurrent/Riptide duology), and his first time handling any of the major characters from the saga. New blood is always a welcome sight.

Chronologically, it was also one of the earliest entries in the new timeline thus far, being set a few years after James Luceno’s biography of the titular Grand Moff, Tarkin. While it wasn’t the first villain-centric novel to be announced, it was to be the first featuring Darth Vader as a primary character. More significantly than any of these other things, however, it was announced that it would introduce readers to the Star Wars universe’s first LGBTQ character in the form of Moff Mors, advertised as “an incredibly capable leader” who “also happens to be a lesbian.” All things considered, Lords of the Sith was, at the very least, set to be an interesting read.

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Hyperlane to the Danger Zone: Essential Elements for a Rogue Squadron Movie

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We don’t really know very much about Rogue One right now. We have a title that may or may not mean something to us, the release date, and the names of one member of the cast (in an unspecified role), the director, the producers, the score composer, the source of the core concept, the person who named it, and the writer. Unless more should be revealed in the time between when I write this article and when it’s published, that’s just about it.

Anything apart from that is nothing more than pure speculation. So, in order for this article to actually contain meaningful content, we’re going to have to treat a certain assumptions as if they were fact: specifically, that the name Rogue One does refer in some way to Rogue Squadron, and that it is a movie focused on the exploits of that particular unit of starfighter pilots.

Now, it’s entirely possible that these assumptions will be proven false in the coming months, especially if one takes the initial report regarding the concept art for the film into account. It may turn out to be something more along the lines of Wraith Squadron, dealing with hybrid commando-pilots.

It may not be a movie about starfighter pilots at all. Even if that ends up being the case, I will have no cause to complain, but I will continue to maintain the viability of a feature film centered around starfighter pilots and their spacecraft. Today, we’re going to talk about what steps might be taken to ensure that Rogue One is the best space ace movie it can possibly be.

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Pen & Paper: The Role of Role-playing Games in Star Wars

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Tabletop role-playing games have something of a reputation among those who do not play them. The concept of a group of people sitting around a table and rolling dice together while pretending to be bizarrely named (sometimes not even human) fictional characters is intolerably alien to many: since the release of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s original Dungeons & Dragons in 1974, role-playing games and their creators been accused of everything from promoting satanism to inciting their players to commit murder, and at one point had a sourcebook infamously seized by the United States Secret Service.

Even as recently as 2005, the Israeli Defense Forces maintained a policy of restricting soldiers who played Dungeons & Dragons to low security clearances. Yet despite their many controversies, role-playing games have successfully managed to carve out a niche for themselves in the broader gaming market, and remain a popular form of tie-in product for many major franchises, Star Wars included.

But given Star Wars’ longstanding “everything is canon” approach to its spawn, we can’t simply look at our role-playing games as mere offshoots of a prosperous fictional saga. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Star Wars’ sourcebooks can and do directly influence the content of its books, video games, and comics: the information they contain being equal in weight and value to any mainstream work short of the films themselves.

Perhaps this should not come as a surprise, given that a number of the franchise’s most prominent authors (Aaron Allston, Michael A. Stackpole, and Troy Denning, among others) had backgrounds in writing and developing role-playing games before they came to write novels for Star Wars. But despite this unprecedented level of acknowledgement for what would normally be considered purely supplementary material, it is their past that is of far greater interest to us than their present.

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