Tales from the Journal – On Storytelling and “Canon”

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“Originally, I was trying to have the story be told by somebody else; there was somebody watching this whole story and recording it, somebody probably wiser than the mortal players in the actual events (…) the stories were actually taken from the ‘Journal of the Whills’.”

George Lucas – Star Wars, The Annotated Screenplays

The Journal of the Whills occupies a strange place in Star Wars lore. Initially part of George Lucas’s early drafts and referenced in the novelization of A New Hope, it then disappeared from Lucas’s work almost entirely (though he did return to his “Journal” notes during pre-production on The Phantom Menace, and considered referencing a “Shaman of the Whills” in Revenge of the Sith). The idea has seen a resurgence of a kind recently, though, with its reference in the novelization of The Force Awakens and with Baze and Chirrut, the mysterious “Guardians of the Whills”, in Rogue One.

Though Lucas did not make the Whills an explicit part of the story, instead developing the idea into the Force, the concept of the story being recorded in an ancient Journal, from which he is retelling it, is something he never quite let go of. In 2005’s The Making of Revenge of the Sith, Lucas revealed that the story was told to the Keeper of the Whills by R2-D2, 100 years after Return of the Jedi. The ongoing use of the introduction “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” – a modern “once upon a time” – reminds us that Star Wars is a fairy tale, a myth that is being retold to us, and that this is how we should look at it.

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Rebels Revisited: The Imperial Perspective

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It’s odd to think that, with the wealth of material that has come out recently for Star Wars, how little we’ve had that covers those in the Empire. Parts of Lost Stars, parts of Twilight Company, the Darth Vader comic, and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. Legends gave rise to plenty of these sorts of stories that trickled in over time, but the new canon has been a lot more reluctant to give us a sort of “day in the life” story of the most clearly identified antagonists in the saga.

That is, until this week’s episode of Rebels. While not a typical Imperial-centric story, since it’s long been evident that his-first-name-is-Agent Kallus is a turncoat, a traitor to the Empire he once tried to uphold. But narratively, this is the first episode of this series that follows someone other than one of the members of the Ghost crew. As it opens with the POV shot of Kallus waking up in his bunkroom, alerted by the sounds of sirens, this is a different and daring sort of step for the show to take.

We get to see a very different perspective on a lot of things, and by things I mostly mean people. Kallus has a very professional and courteous relationship with most of the other officers around him, but even interactions on that level are far different from the orders being barked and blasters being fired that we usually see. We see the young and eager Lieutenant Lyste almost bounce in anticipation as he and Kallus are called before Thrawn, so eager to please that he makes some rather foolish decisions that have some rather long-running ramifications. » Read more..

The Force Does Not Throw Dice: Oops We Killed Darth Vader

vips-vaderHello 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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An Imperial Loyalist’s Live Reaction to the Empire’s End (Spoilers!)

16487291_10155039902778713_2212637714534622461_o[This is a chapter-by-chapter reaction to the newly-released novel Empire’s End. This post is FULL of spoilers. Read at your own risk.]

[This post was pre-written and was a live commentary at the time of reading, and it is being posted after the book’s release date to comply with review embargo restrictions. Thanks to Del Rey for providing me with a review copy of this book!]

In a first for Eleven-ThirtyEight, I’m going to be doing what’s essentially a live chapter-by-chapter commentary on Empire’s End. There are many reasons for doing this, all of which are named RAE SLOANE. This is the book that terrifies me – not least because of its title, but for the implications it has for the Galactic Empire, the Concordance, and the Empire’s relationship with the First Order. So – let’s go.

Oh and needless to say, there will be spoilers.
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Mandalorians in Rebels – From Traviss to TCW and Back Again

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Ever since Boba Fett first graced screens, whether you count the Holiday Special or The Empire Strikes Back as his debut, the Mandalorian visage, that “T”-shaped visor, all-encompassing armor and jetpack with weapons strapped across every extremity, has intrigued people. From that initial appearance, with as little time spent on him as there was, a whole subculture of the Star Wars fandom grew, even before anyone really knew or codified exactly what “Mandalorian” meant. It was the mystery that drew people in, the very Star-Wars-fan idea of taking something that looked cool and sounded cool and latching on to it, filling in the gaps in the existing storytelling with our own ideas.

Since then, there have been several waves of Mandalorian backstory fleshed out, both canon and not, but there has been a main, consistent drive through almost all of them: a warrior culture. In the grand tradition of dozens of other fantasy and sci-fi franchises, the Mandalorians became a Proud Warrior Race, with honor, a clan-based social hierarchy, and a thirst for battle as the cornerstones of their society. This led to problems, of course, because what little we know of Boba Fett showed a man very different from that, and the idea of him being an outlier or social outcast was established early on.

Thus, Mandalorian culture left him behind and continued to grow and evolve through its different portrayals, typically in novels and comics. But things did not really start taking off until Jango Fett, Boba’s father, came onto the scene in Attack of the Clones. In establishing Jango’s backstory, the ideas of Mandalorian terrorist groups like the Death Watch, who took the ideals of their culture to their most violent extremes, and of more honorable groups like the Protectors, were first really presented. Also, and just as important in the long run, was the ideal of family.

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