The Future Lies in the Past: Returning to the KOTOR Era

The Knights of the Old Republic games — successful, beloved, generally awesome

The current state of the Expanded Universe is unsettled, at best. A cursory look at the upcoming publishing schedules for just about any type of media reveals little on the horizon, as the franchise seems to hold its breath for the sequel trilogy’s arrival. It’s not clear that the Expanded Universe we have come to know will survive. The recent revelation that the films will be set about thirty years after the original trilogy suggest that at least some of the post-Return of the Jedi EU will be lost.

It’s general consensus that the material set before Return of the Jedi is likeliest to survive, because there’s less probability of the sequels contradicting it. Perhaps the least likely sources to be contradicted are those set well before any of the films and essentially unconnected to them. This suggests that the Expanded Universe should be concentrating its efforts there if it doesn’t want them wasted.

Currently, The Old Republic, EA’s massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, is set in the Republic’s distant past, thousands of years before the films. It looks likely to continue on as an important segment of the franchise for the next several years, and it likely can get by due to its setting.

The obvious tack for this article, then, would be to suggest concentrating EU resources on the era of The Old Republic. But that argument pretty much writes itself without my spending any further time on it, and I’d rather make a little bolder suggestion: revive the era of Knights of the Old Republic.

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Top Shelf: The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook

The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook collects the material from the Heir to the Empire Sourcebook, Dark Force Rising Sourcebook, and The Last Command Sourcebook

Top Shelf has already celebrated the Dark Empire Sourcebook as one of West End Games’ best sourcebooks and an excellent entry point for the fan interested in gaining familiarity with the roleplaying game sourcebooks. The sourcebooks WEG released for Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy, however, may be an even better introduction to the sourcebooks for the beginner. Rich in Expanded Universe lore, they flesh out Zahn’s trilogy with backstory and background information vetted by Zahn himself, providing an excellent avenue for those familiar with the Thrawn trilogy — and who isn’t? — to dip their toes in the sourcebook pool, while offering much to the experienced fan as well.

The West End Games sourcebooks are worth exploring for anyone interested in the Expanded Universe — ultimately, they’re the foundation of it. Though the books, comics, and Ewok paraphernalia produced around the movies are the earliest Expanded Universe material, they were largely ignored during the Expanded Universe boom of the nineties. It was WEG’s Star Wars roleplaying game, produced after the films concluded in the eighties, that began the task of building a systematic Expanded Universe, a dense web of background information, in the pages of its RPG sourcebooks. When Timothy Zahn kicked off the EU renaissance, he used the sourcebooks as reference material, building on an existing base. West End Games returned the favor by releasing sourcebooks expanding on each novel of the trilogy; the three were later collected in The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook, with relatively minimal cuts to the collected material.

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Goodbye to More Than Just Dark Horse

Dark Horse was about the talent. From left, Randy Stradley, John Ostrander, Sean Cooke, and Jan Duursema.

As my colleague Becca pointed out yesterday, the loss of Dark Horse as Star Wars’ comics licensee strikes deep. Dark Horse treated the Star Wars license with deep love, intense attention, and consummate professionalism.

As I look at what Dark Horse’s departure means for Star Wars going forward, I am struck by the ways this move potentially signals the new way of doing business under Disney, and by the way the larger move to Disney may resound going forward. In particular, I fear the move from an artistically-driven model headed by filmmaking auteur George Lucas to a profit-maximization-driven model headed by a boardroom of corporate suits.

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Star Wars and Genre: The Prison Story

The Great Escape, maybe the greatest prison escape movie, so it's pretty well named
The Great Escape — maybe the greatest escape movie, so it’s pretty well named

With Maul: Lockdown soon to appear on bookshelves, the time seems right to take a look at the prison story genre. Stories about prison and prisoners go back a long time (though probably not as far back as you might think, given the relatively recent introduction of imprisonment as punishment). Though Lockdown is the first pure prison story of note for Star Wars, the genre has its place in the Star Wars franchise as well.

Prison stories, though united by their depiction of the experience of incarceration, tend to break down into two main groups. There are escape stories, which concentrate on portraying jailbreak attempts — they are often spiritual cousins of the heist story, focused on elaborate schemes to get out rather than in. Then there are prison life stories, which are concerned with depicting the travails of life behind bars rather than telling a jailbreak yarn. It’s not always a binary distinction; The Shawshank Redemption manages the twist of seeming to be solely a prison life story until the end reveals that it’s been an escape story all along, too. Cool Hand Luke‘s titular hero’s escapes are an important part of his character, but the film’s focus is not on their execution, but on the toll prison life is taking on Luke. But overall, the distinction is useful.

Since the Star Wars franchise is better suited to adventurous capers than melancholy meditations on the hardships of the incarcerated, and since both the regular casts of characters and the needs of a franchise geared toward ongoing story tend against protagonists rotting away in jail, the Expanded Universe is always going to lend itself more naturally to escape stories than to ones about prison life. I will focus, therefore, on that area of storytelling, a type of adventure that is a natural fit for the setting.

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The Case Against Photoshop

Honor Among Thieves: bad Photoshop in action

Recently, Mike made his defense of “ugly” art. By and large, I agree with his point that unusual or highly stylized art should be valued rather than simply dismissed. But I do take issue with his defense of Photoshop. Not because Photoshop is inherently bad — I enjoy many of the Fate of the Jedi covers he cites, and there has been other good artwork produced using photo reference and photomanipulation — but because I don’t agree that “people are much too quick to dismiss Photoshop as ‘lazy’ just because it’s not necessarily time-consuming.” Generally, people are right to dismiss Photoshop as lazy.

In the realm of art, both interior illustration and cover art, Photoshop has become increasingly prominent. The use of photomanipulation to create art pieces is common — and almost uniformly lazy. Even when it isn’t flagrantly work-on-the-cheap, photomanipulation’s effect is harmful because of its insidious tendency to substitute for classic artistic talent. And from a purely subjective point of view, I must say that it just never seems to look quite as good as good old-fashioned art.

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