Our fandom is rarely without some kind of controversy. It’s been like this since the times of message board wars and it feels like social media has only exacerbated this tendency towards grabbing pitchforks and torches that we often show. Sometimes these controversies become full-blown online wars (just look “Reylo” up on Google), sometimes they just fizzle down after a couple of annoyed grunts, and sometimes they actually become polite discussions. A couple of weeks ago one of the latter happened when Florian from Jedi-Bibliothek revealed that then-upcoming book Leia: Princess of Alderaan (since then positively reviewed by Jay and Sarah in this website) had a very disconcerting scene: at one point, Leia happily speaks of an old Alderaanian proverb, strength through joy. For those not in the know, Strength Through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) was the name of a Nazi leisure organization; our friends at Jedi-Bib, a German fan site, were understandably puzzled, so were I and many others, especially European fans (I wonder why!). The fan reactions were multiple if muted, from the fans that suspected that it was intended to be a sarcastic commentary on the reach of the Empire to the fans that thought that it was not that big of a deal because to American readers it was an obscure reference, to even a few that said “STJ was just a tour operator, not a big deal, get over it.” I personally thought that the obscurity of the reference was what made the reference complicated, as it meant that in practice it worked like a dog whistle. Anyway, the strife lasted just one day: author Claudia Gray was horrified when she found out about the phrase’s origins, explaining it was just a coincidence, and everyone seemed to accept it and move on (although word is still out on what’s going to happen with future reprints and especially with the upcoming German translation). It was obvious from the start that it was most likely just an unintended reference: if George Harrison can accidentally copy one full song, the chances that Claudia Gray had referenced Strength Through Joy without knowing of its very dark origins were not small.
Yet the reaction of some fans who were just unwilling to contemplate the possibility that a Star Wars book could somehow have an intentional Nazi reference—while understandable because the author is well-liked and the book is really good—highlighted the sometimes complicated relationship that fandom has with both the representation of fascism in the Star Wars saga and the influence that fascism itself has had on it. I’ve mentioned before that I personally find the commodification of Imperial chic to be slightly disturbing, but this time I’d like to dig a bit deeper and to talk about the very tortuous relationship that Star Wars has always had with the concept of fascism itself. Is Star Wars a fascist dream? Is Star Wars actually anti-fascist? » Read more..
It’s time for the people back there to take over!
Welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice, our section about the wonderful world of running tabletop roleplaying games set in the Galaxy Far Far Away. No, this piece is not about gaming in what is known as “the prequel trilogy era”. What we are going to be talking about is how to set up a prequel campaign to your existing campaign. So dust off your Jar Jar sipping cup, find your old Y2K survival kit, play your least-hated Limp Bizkit CD… and let’s game like it’s 1999!
First of all: I’m perfectly aware that, out of the many words that are likely to elicit strong reactions from the fans, the two most powerful ones are probably “canon” and “prequels”, but this article is not going to get into whether the idea of Star Wars prequels was pure genius or a regrettable mistake. I have my own personal thoughts on the matter, of course, but it’s completely undeniable that the existence of prequels has become one of the most important or at least one of the most popular facets of Star Wars storytelling. So, if one of our objectives as GMs is presenting a faithful “Star Wars experience” in our RPG, why not bringing this to the table? So let’s work together and see how we can make our own prequel game.
Before taking a look at how to run a prequel, I’m going to make a few assumptions here. First of all, I’m assuming that you’ve had a “source campaign” running for a while and that you’ve created enough lore and characters to draw from: to be able to create a prequel, you need some kind of original work first! Second, I’m also assuming that we are talking about a “prequel” purely in the manner of the Star Wars prequel trilogy: we are not talking about a series focused on the childhood of the current characters or about a distant prequel set in the Old Republic or even before that, but a prequel set one or two generations before the current series. Third: in an effort to make this article as useful as possible, I’m assuming that the prequel campaign is going to be either a one-shot game or a short campaign, but there’s nothing stopping it from turning into a long campaign or even completely supplanting your original game: it happened to me, and it actually was the best Star Wars campaign I’ve ever directed. But I’m being realistic: it’s hard enough to get a campaign running, so I’m assuming you will be more likely to run a one-shot between adventures. Most experienced GMs are not really going to need any of this advice, but I still hope that they will find a few useful ideas in here! » Read more..
Hello and welcome again to The Force Does Not Throw Dice, the very irregular ETE feature devoted to tabletop roleplaying games in the galaxy far, far away. It’s been a long time since my last piece but, after seeing the warm reception that my Star Wars RPG tweets usually get, I’m going to try to change things around and turn this into a more regular feature. So expect more RPG rants in the near future!
Last month we asked Twitter for suggestions for future features, and the topic of this month’s piece was inspired by Mario Escamilla’s question on the use of VIPs in the game. So first let’s define a VIP as any canonical non-player character, from a main character like Luke Skywalker to a secondary character like Officer Thanoth. Using canonical characters in your game is, to many gaming groups, intrinsic to roleplaying in the Star Wars galaxy. If we used the jargon from the old GSN Theory classification method, we could classify Star Wars RPG as a “setting simulation” system: although there can be a variety of approaches and many divergent campaigns can be played, one of the most common objectives is to make the game feel like it’s set in the Star Wars universe. Some Game Masters find that, alongside using known worlds and technology, one of the easiest ways to make sure that the game is unequivocally set in the galaxy far, far away is to have an established character guest star in it.
Yet using VIPs in your Star Wars game is not as simple as it sounds, and can bring some unexpected headaches if not thought through. Although all published settings come with their own canonical characters, be it the wizard Elminster from Forgotten Realms or the various corporate chairmen from Shadowrun, few can claim to have any characters as ingrained in popular culture as Han Solo or Darth Vader. So let’s take a look at some common challenges and mistakes when it comes to using VIPs. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions.
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HEAVY SPOILERS: ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE
Light and darkness
When Disney bought Lucasfilm and brought Star Wars back from the obscurity of tie-in media and into the 21st century of cinema through The Force Awakens, one of the most commonly heard complaints was that the movie was too safe. Unlike the prequels, that for all their failings had tried to explore new narrative territory, the first movie in the sequel trilogy seemed happy to give us three fantastic new characters and then drop them in the middle of common places, well-worn storylines, and a neverending series of cameos and winks to the past.
While it can certainly be argued that this nostalgic exercise was exactly what Star Wars needed to be a commercial powerhouse once again, Rogue One takes the opposite approach: it takes place in a very safe point in the timeline, one where X-Wings and stormtroopers and even Darth Vader are common place; it takes one of the most often told stories in Star Wars lore, that of the damned theft of the damned Death Star plans; and what it gives us is the most audacious Star Wars movie so far, one more than willing to alienate its typical family-friendly audience for the sake of telling the story it wants to tell.
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The Star Wars universe, despite originally depicting a very Manichean struggle between good and evil, has become in the decades since the original movie a very morally nuanced place. I’ve mentioned before that if I look at the current status of the franchise, I’m tempted to consider Star Wars to be more of an anti-war story than a war one, but that’s a debate that we’ve had on this website very recently. Personally, I feel that although the original trilogy no doubt romanticized armed insurgency, George Lucas’s point of view on war and violence had evolved and become considerably more pacifist by the time the prequels and The Clone Wars rolled in.
Behind the curtain of space fantasy, George Lucas told the audience about things like false flag operations, the military-industrial complex, and factionalism in insurgencies. The heroes of the story, the Jedi, lose because they get involved in war. War itself is bad. If we look at the totality of the material that Lucas himself produced under the banner of Star Wars, behind all of the heroics and the swashbuckling, it sure appears to tell us that war sucks. But is there a way to add a bit more nuance to this message without negating it? » Read more..