Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars nothing but Star Wars’

It’s not easy being green

Sunday, August 26th, 2012


When Dark Horse started publishing Star Wars comics in the early 90s, it seemed to be editorial policy to bash the earlier Marvel run as an embarrassment. Their comics, they assured us, would be more in the spirit of the movies. That didn’t quite pan out, as anyone who ever read The Hunger of Princess Nampi would attest.

The attitude towards the Marvel run was one I never quite understood as I had really enjoyed them, and took them pretty seriously, when I was growing up. I recently reread the entire run and they’re as I remember: (mostly) good, (occasionally) bad and (in one or two cases), brilliant. In addition I’ve been listening to the commentary for the series on the excellent Two True Freaks podcast, so it’s fair to say I’m a little bit obsessed with them at the moment.

It seems that the only reason the Marvel comics were ever considered to be to be “goofy” and “camp” was the fact that a couple of the early issues featured a six foot tall green rabbit mercenary called Jaxxon.

OK maybe a gun toting, sarcastic bunny wouldn’t have worked in the movies, but comics are resolutely a different medium. Those early issues were a little crazy, but that was their charm. To an entire generation of Star Wars fans Jaxxon is not only the saga’s weirdest denizen, but also the symbol of a more innocent time. Hats off to you Jaxxon, and May The Holy Hutch Be With You.

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Fifty Shades Of Crimson

Monday, August 27th, 2012

And now, something for the ladies.

Perhaps because of an edict from Lucasfilm, or possibly just an uncertainty as to where to go with the continuing adventures, the early Marvel Star Wars comics didn’t feature Darth Vader, or even the Empire. The first villain to appear was Crimson Jack, an old adversary of Han Solo’s and the Captain of a hijacked Imperial Star Destroyer.

Creators Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin must have really latched on to the description of Solo as a “space pirate”, as most of Jack’s crew look like they would be at home at Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean. If he never used the phrase “planet lubbers”, they missed a trick. One wonders if he spoke in the traditional pirate manner. Come to think of it, why do we think all pirates talked like that? They can’t all have come from Bristol.

As tetchy and avaricious as Jack is, there’s something avuncular about him. Maybe he looked on Han as a kindred spirit or the son he never had or something. If so Han gets the opportunity to play out the trope of (spoiler alert for thirty four year old comics) killing his own father figure.

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Just because my name is Jolli…

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Crimson Jack’s second in command is Jolli, an angry, young man-hating space babe. For someone who hates dudes so much, she’s made a peculiar choice of career – hanging out with a bunch of horny space pirates, wearing bright red knickers. To be fair, Jack himself can’t be bothered to put any trousers on, so I dunno, maybe the air conditioning is knackered on that ship. She also wears a green beret, presumably because she just doesn’t give a fuck. When Han Solo arrives on board, Jolli starts to have some confusing feelings. Well, she’s only human, and he’s monumentally good looking, roguishly charming, and manages to make a waistcoat look cool. At this point, at the age of six, I should have realised that I needed to start modelling myself on him. Instead, I think I still wanted to be C-3PO, so there was no hope for me.

Young Jolli never got to have sexy times with our dashing Corellian scoundrel. Instead she was betrayed by the pirates (surprise), and ploughed a Y Wing Fighter into the side of Jack’s Space Cruiser. We learn that as a child she was also abandoned by her father which led her to a life of piracy and barely dressed misandry. This may have been my first experience of pathos.

If the UK editions of Marvel Star Wars series had been printed in colour, I can only presume I would now have a fetish for girls with pink hair.

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Don’t Count On It

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

The Clone Wars Season 5 began yesterday – I live in constant hope that they can engineer a situation where these two characters can meet. And if Captain Tarkin attacks Dooku with a sharpened piece of wood, I am pretty sure my head will explode.

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Jedi Kidz

Friday, December 7th, 2012

So when I heard that The Clone Wars was going to feature a group of Jedi younglings, well, I can’t say my heart sank, exactly, but I certainly didn’t think it would be essential viewing. At its introduction, the series was always supposed to be for a younger audience, but gradually it has developed into a much more interesting and (to employ a cliched and overused word) “dark” show, to the point we now have people getting tortured to death, clones murdering their commanding officer, and General Grievous dismembering zombies. At its finest, Clone Wars evokes the spirit of the movies (see The Citadel, Wookiee Hunt, A Friend In Need and so on) and even when it veers away into other genres (The Mortis Trilogy, The Box, Brain Invaders et al) it’s still enjoyable stuff, and occasionally recalls some of Marvel Comics’ more idiosyncratic spin off tales. Incidentally, the only EU I care about is The Clone Wars, the Marvel comics, and this.

Fair enough that the series is being taken, if only temporarily, back to its original conception, but it turns out that these episodes were great – funny, exciting, and including some great stuff from mercurial weequay pirate Hondo (a real breakout character on the show). Most of all, the kids weren’t annoying. Wonders will never cease right? I was expecting Cindel Towani, but the younglings are pretty good characters, and two of them are downright adorable. Gungi the smiley wookiee seems to be the popular choice. Everyone loves wookiees, I guess. Not even The Holiday Special can change that. But it’s Byph the Hammerhead (oh, all right then, “Ithorian“) that gets my vote. Lanky, awkward, chittering away in his alien language, I find it impossible not to love this guy. The “Young Jedi” arc is clearly a tryout for a future kid based spin off show, but all it needs is Gungi and Byph in an Odd Couple style setup, and I am totally sold.

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One Life, Furnished In Early Gygax

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

In an effort to be absolutely as predictable as possible, I’ve decided to get back into role playing games.

As a teenager, I roleplayed a fair amount, with a number of different game systems. We would generally go for games based around licensed properties, so we went for Star Wars, Star Trek, Stormbringer ( based on Michael Moorcock’s Elric books), Judge Dredd, and on one memorable occasion, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I guess the main one was Middle Earth Role Playing – I was well and truly on Team Tolkien, and wanted to recreate that world, but I think those rulebooks and supplements (and subsequently, my adventures) were a little dry. Presumably, the designers thought the huge tapestry of world building that J to the R to the R to the T created shouldn’t be besmirched by things like humour, fun, or a teenage boy’s preoccupation with half naked elfmaidens.

There was, however, no such reticence from the creators of the uber RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (or Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, if you were doing it right). Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson claimed that Tolkien wasn’t an influence, favouring Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance and Michael Moorcock, although they filched orcs, hobbits and just about everything else from the book.

Although intended to give generic fantasy based rules for the players to pick and choose elements to create their own world (for example, you didn’t necessarily have to include Hippogriffs, Gelatinous Cubes and Type VI Demons in the same adventure), D&D came to be represented by a rather specific setting.

This was due in some part to the art created around the game, by illustrators such as Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. If Peter Jackson’s Rings movies were a little too clean and styled for you, check out some of the early D&D art – everything looks like a particularly inauthentic Renaissance Fayre, or the cover of Heart’s Little Queen album. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – every fantasy world needs its own feel and I guess they made a conscious decision to be fairly light, rather than dark and gritty. It’s very 80s and very American, unsurprisingly.

Talking of Heart, Dungeons & Dragons, whether it’s Greyhawk, Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, reminds me of when the Americans try to do Progressive Rock – it’s not quite as twiddly or whimsical (or serious) as the likes of Yes and Genesis. It tends to be a bit more straightforward, rockin’ and… well, fun. Maybe that’s where I was going wrong with my Middle Earth campaign. All those lengthy tables of statistics on herbs in the Greater Rhovanion region, and the fact that you couldn’t play a wizard because it might upset the balance of Tolkien’s set in stone history (even though all the game supplements were set two thousand years before LOTR)… it doesn’t amount to much if you can’t kick a goblin in the bollocks and swing out of a Tavern window, whilst cheekily exposing yourself to a sexy cleric.

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May The d4s Be With You

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

My journey back through the mystical labyrinths of Role Playing Games led me to the most predictable point possible – The Star Wars RPG. We played quite a lot of this as teenagers  and my memory is that the books published by West End Games were always really well produced and entertaining. This game actually created a lot of what was later to become known as The Expanded Universe. Prior to this, we only had those jokey nicknames like Hammerhead, Squidhead and Motorhead (One of these may be falsified). I still love the fact that there was a character whose given name (or the name of his race) was Snaggletooth. Actually maybe it was both: Snaggletooth The Snaggletooth. Who has a snaggle tooth.

Other stuff from that original RPG that was ace:

  • Anyone can fly any ship – this is quite an important distinction from things like the Star Trek game in which you could only do something if you’d spent a couple of years at the Academy taking exams – here, like in the movies you can just just leap into some bucket of bolts, start flipping switches and be doing The Kessel Run in an unspecified amount of time and/or distance
  • One of the starting “character templates” was called “Quixotic Jedi
  • It taught me the meaning of the phrase “In Media Res” – According to the rulebook, all Star Wars movies start in the middle of the action. Except they don’t – only Star Wars (and, later Revenge Of The Sith)  actually do.
  • It was more about heroically doing faintly ridiculous things, rather than collecting gold pieces and +2 Vorpal Swords
I guess if I’m going to run any RPGs, that’s the one, right? I mean I’ve spent the last 36 years filling my head with made up space nonsense, I may as well put it to some use. So, after a quick trip to eBay I bought up a bunch of the more recent (but now over a decade old) Wizards Of The Coast published RPG books. I think the edition I have is officially called “The One with Episode 2 Shit In It”. Since then my internet research has told me that the later “Saga Edition” (aka “The One With Episode 3 Shit In It”) is better, but even that’s been replaced by Edge Of The Empire published by Fantasy Flight. Even though this brings out a primal urge in me to get back on eBay and spend a ton more money, I suspect it doesn’t matter what system you use. With the old West End Games version, after a while you used to have to throw a bucketfull of d6 dice to do anything at all and I don’t recall anyone complaining.
For a scenario I bashed together a bunch of bits of the movies, along with references to some of my favourite stuff from the Expanded Universe (Purely for my own amusement, there is a casino on Nar Shaddaa called The Kopa Khan). I had a out-of-time Jedi that had been frozen in carbonite since The Clone Wars, a starship chase through the aforementioned cityplanet, Trandoshan Bounty Hunters and a sneaky doublecrossing Duro. Everything came to a head on the Moon of Sulon, purely because I liked the old Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games. No “Grave Tuskens” though – that’s the beauty of this shit – you can ignore anything you don’t like. Now, roll for your Midichlorian count…
Seeing as the game was relatively well received (ie. no one fell asleep, set fire to their character sheet or punched me in the face) now I’m continuing a campaign for these characters – luckily, there are a ton of published adventures out there on the web. Next up is Dawn Of Defiance, a ten part adventure, that I’m not sure we’ll get all the way through, but I’m going to have fun redrawing all the characters from it. And also my own. I guess doodling the most obscure characters I could find from the Star Wars Universe wasn’t quite niche enough – I eventually had to start making them up.
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Speed, Noise and Cool Looking Shit

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

I had a bit of a surprise when I saw this article on Topless Robot. The slightly hipsterish sounding “Star Wars Holiday Special Life Day Celebration” included a shrine to the end of the Expanded Universe (because why not?), and there was, seemingly, my Jaxxon picture adorning a candle. In order to tell my wife about this I had to explain what the Holiday Special was, explain what The Expanded Universe was, (and how that particular universe had come to an end, even though it never actually existed), and explain that Han Solo once hung around with a six foot green humanoid gunslinging rabbit. When you talk about this sort of stuff to non nerds, it sounds really fucking goofy.

Even as a massive Star Wars obsessive I was never that bothered about the Expanded Universe. Well apart from The Marvel Comics. And The Clone Wars, obviously. And the Dark Forces/Jedi Knight games were pretty dope. And the NPR radio drama. And Knights of The Old Republic. And X-Wing. And TIE Fighter. And West End Games’ Star Wars Role Playing Game. Actually, as an EU refusenik, I’m like one of those “vegetarians” who eat fish.

We pick the stuff we like and and happily disregard the rest. Well, some of us do. Some fans will wallow in everything. each individual fiction as “real” as the next, while others will be militant “movies only” fans (and often, “Original Trilogy only”, but let’s not go there).

The repository of all this gloriously sprawling hot mess of story/history/made up space nonsense is Wookieepedia, which chronicles everything from The Darker to Luke Skywalker’s Dog. No detail is too obscure or too stupid although not every fiction was deemed to have the same reality, however, and entries were segregated into levels of canon, a scale of importance from the movies at the top (G-Level, for George, obv) to forgotten ephemera like Yoda Stories at the bottom.

Ackbar - for no reason whatsoever

That’s changed now, of course. Since Disney bought Lucasfilm and announced that they would be making more movies, they’ve had to take the necessary step of getting rid of the existing Expanded Universe. It makes sense, if you’re making films that you want to be huge, big budget mainstream successes, the last thing you want to be telling people before they walk into the cinema is that they need to read four million spin off novels in order to get caught up.

Much of the architecture of the Galaxy Far Far Away has persisted, of course. Names of planets, alien races and corporations that never appeared in the films, many created for West End Games’ RPG, have been happily used as a resource by writers on The Clone Wars, Rebels and the first novels and comics under the new regime. Even though Trioculus isn’t there any more, don’t look for him, Twi’leks are still called Twi’leks, even though nobody can decide on the correct pronunciation.

The Second Best Character From The Clone Wars

Many fans predictably lost their minds about the announcement*, and it’s easy to see why. In reading a novel you become much more invested in the characters, especially if those characters have been created specifically for those books. I checked out of the post Jedi books round about the time when Han and Leia’s kids were babies and were getting stolen as often as The Death Star plans**, but I understand those characters grew up and were given greater leeway and room for development than their seniors, who would be required to remain as close as possible to the way they appeared onscreen all those years ago.

The novels never did it for me, though. They didn’t capture the feel of the movies, which were always about speed, noise and cool looking shit (naturally I gravitated to video games and The Clone Wars). So, not being invested in those particular stories, I didn’t care too much that they were no longer canon (at any level).  The idea that some stories are more “real” than others, whilst they all remain fictional, is ridiculous, of course, but it’s brilliantly ridiculous.

As a child of the 70s, having grown up with the Marvel Comics series, I was used to the idea of stories being disregarded. When I saw The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, I may have genuinely wondered why Darth Vader and Luke never referenced the fact that they had already run into each other on the planet Monastery. I was dismayed that Kenner never produced action figures of Baron Tagge,  Dani or Valance. But it soon became apparent that these stories weren’t quite happening in the same universe. One of the greatest moments in that series is the two parter Resurrection of Evil/To Take The Tarkin. Luke and Leia are searching for a location for the new rebel base, while Lando and Chewie are looking for Boba Fett and the frozen Han Solo, and they are all recalled back to the fleet to deal with a new threat from the Empire – a newly constructed, sort of but not quite Death Star. The doomy mood of the story completely fits into the atmosphere of the end of Empire and the beginning of Jedi, and it features a brilliant solution to the problem of Luke and Vader encountering each other without actually being able to come face to face.

However, this story can’t happen within continuity. Not because it contradicts anything in the films, but because, by taking away the novelty (such as it was) of resurrecting The Death Star, it muddies the clear, direct storyline we see in the trilogy. That also goes for Luke and Vader’s “showdown” prior to Empire, and the ridiculous back and forth of Han’s debt to Jabba The Hut(t). Ultimately the spin offs never affected the films*** and I can’t see that situation changing, although with the creation of the “Story Group” there may be fewer contradictions from now on.

Lucasfilm’s announcement also suggested they wanted to discourage the use of the term Expanded Universe. Everything going forward is either “Legends” (the  mountains of old stories in books, comics and games) or Canon, (the original films, and everything to be produced from now on, whether it be the new films, TV series and forthcoming spin offs).

Real

Even though there were a few things that were rumoured to have had George Lucas glance in their direction (Shadows Of The Empire, The Force UnleashedCaravan of Courage etc), the Expanded Universe literally meant everything Star Wars that wasn’t the movies. So, essentially, everything that Lucas hadn’t had a direct hand in creating. That trend was bucked when The Clone Wars TV Series was created, and between 2008 and 2014, Lucas would drive story development and produce the whole thing. Clone Wars, while being a spin off, was generally considered to be canon rather than EU.

So, stop me if you can see where I’m going with this, going forward into an era where the creator of the Star Wars Saga is no longer involved in any stories, surely everything we’ll see from now on can be considered Expanded Universe. That includes Rebels, the new books and comics and, yes, The Force Awakens. I’m fine with that, really, as even when Lucas was talking about the notional episodes 7, 8 and 9, he was extremely vague and non committal. For the past decade or so, he’s been denying they were ever even on the cards so it’s clear his heart was never in it. He completed the story he set out to tell and now he’s left his universe to be expanded ad infinitum.

7w

 

* Ziro The Hutt is canon but Grand Admiral Thrawn isn’t? Travesty! Actually Ziro is way better than Thrawn. He’s a giant purple slug with a ridiculous voice and mother issues, who pretended to be in love with a… well, whatever Sy Snootles is.
**This is an EU joke
*** Beyond a handful of names (Coruscant), background characters (Aayla Secura) and this awesome illustration
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