How a RPG Changed the Star Wars' Universe
  • How a RPG Changed the Star Wars Universe


    The unstoppable franchise that is Star Wars is back in the headlines thanks to the blockbuster success of Rogue One, a film that delves into the sci-fi epic's detailed backstory. It's easy to forget that when Disney acquired the Star Wars license and redefined what was canon, the company declared that the tabletop role-playing game was an integral part of defining the universe.


    The Legacy of the Star Wars RPG

    When Disney took over the Star Wars license from George Lucas, fans were curious as to what would be considered canon. Right out of the gate, Disney made it clear that the role-playing game was part of the official universe:

    In order to give maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers and also preserve an element of surprise and discovery for the audience, Star Wars Episodes VII-IX will not tell the same story told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded Universe. While the universe that readers knew is changing, it is not being discarded. Creators of new Star Wars entertainment have full access to the rich content of the Expanded Universe. For example, elements of the EU are included in Star Wars Rebels. The Inquisitor, the Imperial Security Bureau, and Sienar Fleet Systems are story elements in the new animated series, and all these ideas find their origins in roleplaying game material published in the 1980s.

    How did a tabletop role-playing game come to define one of the most beloved franchises in sci-fi history? To understand that, we have to understand the state of Star Wars in the 1980s.

    "Star Wars Was Dead"

    Rob Wieland explains the state of the franchise in the late 80s on Geek & Sundry:

    Star Wars was dead in 1987. It’s hard to imagine a time without a constant release of books, comics, and other media set in that far, far away galaxy. But the last movie was a few years old and kids were getting tired of playing with the same toys. The Marvel Comics series wrapped up. A few tie-in books had been released but the stories set in that universe had been told. So it seemed like a fairly small risk to license Star Wars to a small RPG company based out of Honesdale, PA. West End Games had a hit on their hands with their Ghostbusters RPG and used the same system for the basis of their new Star Wars game. Despite the lull in the fandom, the game was a massive hit, and the company started producing supplements that expanded the universe beyond what was seen in the movies.

    Shannon Appelcline picks up the thread in Designers & Dragons - the 80s:

    West End’s experience with the licensed Ghostbusters has been listed as one reason for their successful bid. However, West End Games had another advantage not enjoyed by most RPG companies: it, Bucci Imports, and a variety of other companies were wholly owned by the Palter family who freely transferred money among them. Bucci had helped West End when times were lean — getting a tax write-off in the process — and now they offered to advance $100,000 to Lucasfilm, which may well have been the highest advance for a roleplaying property to that date.

    Chris Baker explains on Glixel how West End Games picked up the license:

    Greg Costikyan, a co-creator of Paranoia, was one of the people tasked with securing the Star Wars license. “We flew out to California to meet with Lucasfilm,” he says. “We made a bid of $100k. We later learned that TSR had tried to get the license too, but they only bid $70k.” Costikyan says that the people at Lucasfilm didn’t seem to think that the franchise was dead at that point – Lucas’ original vision had called for nine films, after all. But they were fully aware that Star Wars was essentially in hibernation, as if frozen in carbonite. “They felt it was clearly going to be a long time before there was another Star Wars movie,” says Costikyan. “Lucasfilm thought that an RPG could help keep Star Wars active in the minds of geeks, which was why the licensing deal had some value to them.”

    Costikyan left West End Games in 1987 before the game was ready for release, which is when Bill Slavicsek entered the picture. Slavicsek created the Star Wars Sourcebook, which would flesh out everything from how Star Wars' technology worked to the various creatures and aliens populating the galaxy. It didn't hurt that Slavicsek was a huge fan, having watched the movies nearly 40 times:

    “It so enthralled me that I wanted to go again and again and watch the reaction of my friends and family members to it,” he says. “It was unlike anything I’d seen before. It wasn’t a clean, sterile sci-fi universe – it was lived-in and visceral.” Slavicsek says that, to his mind, there are fundamental similarities between the universe that George Lucas created and the ones that RPG designers create. “Star Wars and D&D aren’t just telling stories – they’re opening up the imagination,” he says...But there were huge holes in the canon that Slavicsek and his co-writer Curtis Smith would have to fill in themselves. Movies simply don’t require the level of exhaustive detail that a game would. The West End designers had to create all that, getting signoff from Lucasfilm on major additions. “We didn’t want to add anything that didn’t fit the milieu, like any tech that seemed too Star Trek,” says Slavicsek.

    Fortunately, Lucasfilm didn't have strong opinions about the universe at the time -- a level of freedom unthinkable today with a popular franchise:

    “Lucasfilm was fairly hands off,” says Costikyan. “They would have the occasional directive, like, 'you can’t show a stormtrooper with their helmets off,’ I guess because they thought that a property based on the Clone Wars was going to come out eventually. They didn’t want us to kill off the main characters, but we didn’t want to kill them off anyway. We thought players would want to create their own characters in this world.” Slavicsek was like Adam in the Garden of Eden, giving names to all of the creatures in God’s creation.

    It was the role-playing game that came up with names for ithorians (originally known as "Hammerheads") and twi'leks. Slavicsek didn't know it then, but he was creating a setting bible for all of Star Wars.

    The Word of God

    Creating a role-playing game requires enough tools so that the game master can adapt on the fly, which means systemizing the universe in a way similar to setting bibles for television and movies. The Game Narrative Toolbox explains the importance of these bibles:

    The Game Bible (also referred to as a Universe Bible or Story Bible) is one of the most important documents a development team uses. As a narrative designer, you'll be responsible for overseeing a game bible's production, or you may write it yourself. The bible serves as a reference for the entire team, including level designers, systems designers, artists, sound designers, and game writers. It documents all of a game's worldbuilding and lore, and may include information covering character development, storylines, and missions/quests.

    Of particular import is the possibility of transmedia spinoffs, which was not as common in the 80s as it is today. The importance of a game bible would be a turning point for Star Wars when Timothy Zahn wrote Heir to the Empire, which picked up where Return of the Jedi left off:

    Zahn was actually given the RPG sourcebook material to use as reference when he wrote his novel. “The way I heard it, Zahn was insulted by this at first,” says Slavicsek. “But then he figured that it was better to use our material as a resource rather than have to create a bunch off stuff from scratch.”

    Zahn later said in an interview, as quoted in Designers & Dragons - the 80s:

    “The Star Wars movies themselves are always my basic source of ‘real’ knowledge. Supplementing that is a tremendous body of background material put together by West End Games over the years for their Star Wars role playing game. The WEG source books saved me from having to reinvent the wheel many times in writing Heir [to the Empire].”

    Things progressed from there:

    Lucasfilm was emboldened by Zahn’s success. The computer game wing, LucasArts, was gaining a reputation for making quality games in the early 90’s and finally turned its attention to Star Wars with the classics X-Wing and TIE Fighter. Several of the ships in this game series, like the Assault Shuttle, first appeared in the pages of the Star Wars RPG. A close scan of the credits for TIE Fighter even shows a thank you to West End for supplying materials. West End took a page from LucasArts and offered an opportunity to play Imperial characters in its Heroes and Rogues supplement.

    The impact of West End Games' work reverberates even in other role-playing games:

    The influence of the RPG was felt even after the game moved from West End to Wizards of the Coast. One of the most popular Star Wars comics during this time was Knights of the Old Republic. Wizards of the Coast got the author of the comic, John Jackson Miller, to work on the sourcebook for the Star Wars Saga Edition RPG. Saga Edition detailed many of the different eras of the Star Wars Expanded Universe since the first series of Zahn novels, even offering a starship sourcebook that authors used to describe the interiors of favorite ships like the Imperial shuttle.

    Going Rogue

    Which brings us back to the fateful decision when Disney decided what was canon in the new universe. It turns out the Story Group that oversees Star Wars canon includes Pablo Hidalgo, who wrote several sourcebooks for West End Games before joining Lucasfilm. The influence of the tabletop role-playing game continues even today, and it echoes in the plot of Rogue One. As Matt Burnett, writer for Cartoon Network's Steven Universe, put it on Twitter:

    Rogue One looks like a West End Games Star Wars RPG session brought to life. I am reborn.

    Gamers everywhere can take comfort in knowing that the Star Wars we know today is a descendant of the efforts of tabletop game designers.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
    SaveSave
    Comments 92 Comments
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gradine View Post
      Bubbles, man. We've all crafted our own little bubbles.
      Perhaps. Talking with people we disagree with about why we believe things is how we get out of bubbles. But I suspect that a 'bubble' is only part of the problem here. The bigger problem is that people who have a subjective experience ("I enjoyed it") want to make that an objective truth ("It was a well made movie.") Incidentally, I enjoyed much of TFA - especially the first half of the movie - but still think that it was very poorly made (with caveats mentioned earlier in the thread) and that on the whole it's a piece of crap with a second half which though flashy and fun at times is more brain dead than a Michael Bey Transformers movie and which does not bear thinking about at all and gets worse the more you think about it.

      I remember my friends having much the same experience you describe when "Braveheart" came out. My friends loved the movie. I was astounded. I thought it was one of the worst directed movies I'd ever seen, filled with pointless flashbacks, scenes that went nowhere, bad writing, and one of the most pointlessly protracted death scenes of all time. I adored Mel as an actor, but how could they love that piece of crap? We agreed to disagree. A couple of years passed. Later, one evening while we meeting to game, some of them had Braveheart on video and they were gushing over it. I noticed however that the way that they were watching Braveheart was fast forwarding to a battle scene, watching it, and then fast forwarding to the next one. So I said, "Have any of you actually watched the whole movie again since it came out?" The answer was, "No." So I said, "Ok, I can understand that you love the battle scenes. They are far from historically accurate, but we seldom get a big screen spectacle of a battle and the battle scenes are great cinematic set pieces. I understand why you are mentally editing out most of the movie, but watch the movie as a whole again and think about the following..." The next week they were like, "You know... I can see what you see now."

      I suspect TFA is much the same way. One the excitement wears off and you get a chance to pore over it, you may still love the movie (and that's fine, I'm a huge fan of 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes', 'Creator', 'Blood of Heroes' and tons of movies I'd never defend as great movies), but I think it's flaws will be more evident. At least you agree with the obvious fact, that there is nothing close to an original story structure. And I agree that it is a sort of homage, but I think that R1 works much better as homage while being far more original. I also think that R1 makes the original trilogy better, that R1 makes TFA more laughable, and that TFA makes the original trilogy worse.

      That the new Trio are all fun characters with excellent actors behind doesn't hurt.
      Can you point to one particular scene where you thought the acting from the new actors was really good? Because there are some guys out there doing frame by frame analysis of facial expressions (with accompanying laugh track) that are just side splitting. What emotion is the actor trying to convey in this scene? What is the characters motivation for that emotion? The first meeting between Rey and the Tie fighter guy is really bad. Basic analysis like. There are also some really bad examples of the green screen work not matching up with the CGI, like when the X-Wing pilot guy gets captured and he does this huge impressed take at Star Destroyer hanger bay which is just a Star Destroyer hanger bay - not something that a pilot would be impressed by and not exactly a space station the size of a planet. Seriously, TFA's acting was so bad that it makes a good episode of MST2K.

      On the other hand, our opinions on Rogue One were decidedly mixed; I thought the writing and acting were generally very poor...
      I can't think of a scene that you are thinking of. Krennic maybe? He came off a little too hammy... but then he's the villain, and he did have a few good scenes. He's not nearly as bad as whatever the name of that first order General guy was - now that was bad acting. I will say that the movie suffered from a lack of a clear three act structure compared to say 'A New Hope' or 'Empire'. The first third bounces around far too many sets and is very disjointed. It's not that the writing in that area is necessarily bad, and I understand the purpose of each shot, but it did strike me as something that could have used a clearer narrative arc. But compared to TFA, just about the time TFA was starting to fall apart and I was feeling vaguely bored, R1 was just gearing up. It's much better to have consistent rising action and tension, and R1 has that and gets tightly scripted in about the middle of the second act. TFA on the other hand is all down hill from the introduction of Han Solo, and only has nostalgia to haltingly carry it along from then on. Oh and the fridge logic is painful.

      but the final act was basically everything I've ever wanted to see on screen in a Star Wars movie, so it was ultimately a wash for me. Can't deny I didn't walk out of the theater with a huge grin on my face though.
      For me, I was hovering around a 6/10 until the speech by Cassian Andor that sets the stage for the third act. That speech tied together his character and his story arc up to that point, really tied the movie together philosophically, and opened the third act on a great note. And while there were parts of the battle that felt a bit false and hollow to me and I really would love to see (even) more of a GM's/gamers mentality to scripting a battle, on the whole I thought it was far and away the best Star Wars since the original trilogy, and indeed as good as the original trilogy. 7.5/10, and I might give it an 8 on a rewatch. TFA I came out feeling 4/10, but the more I thought about the worse it got, and I now would put at a 2/10 - just above Dragonheart, Braveheart, The Scooby Doo movie and that sort of thing. If you enjoy it, and you want to keep enjoying it, all I can say is don't start analyzing it. If you start picking nits, you will find there isn't anything left.

      And for the record, with very little experience in WEG Star Wars under my belt, that part of the movie was basically a combination of Battlefront 2 and the old X-Wing/TIE Fighter games in the best possible way for me.
      That I can totally dig.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      Perhaps. Talking with people we disagree with about why we believe things is how we get out of bubbles. But I suspect that a 'bubble' is only part of the problem here. The bigger problem is that people who have a subjective experience ("I enjoyed it") want to make that an objective truth ("It was a well made movie.") Incidentally, I enjoyed much of TFA - especially the first half of the movie - but still think that it was very poorly made (with caveats mentioned earlier in the thread) and that on the whole it's a piece of crap with a second half which though flashy and fun at times is more brain dead than a Michael Bey Transformers movie and which does not bear thinking about at all and gets worse the more you think about it.
      The problem is the very existence of "objective truth" is a snipe hunt. People with a presumably better grasp on film-making than you or I have proclaimed Braveheart to be an objectively great movie, no matter how much you or I may find it to be total dreck (and even there, it seems our reasons are different). I think the idea that there are "well" or "poorly" made movies is a complete and utter myth. It's fiction; a total unicorn that people waste too much effort and energy trying to find. I mean, we can laugh about any given Michael Bay movie and the people who go to see them in the theatre but... there's a lot of those people, right? Those movies sell a crapton of tickets. They must be doing something right, no?

      The thing is, even the things we think of as objective qualities ("good" shot composition, lighting & color theory, action scenes where you can actually follow the freaking action what a concept I mean is that so much to ask, etc.) are only that way because the people in the position to be considered "authorities" have those particular preferences. But again, the Transformers have none of that, and again, millions of people watch and love them. There really is no accounting for taste. Oftentimes it's cultural (see: Warcraft, China) and usually deeply personal and changes over time (hence, why some things we remember loving don't "hold up").

      That's not to say that there's not value in discussing differences in taste and opinion, and it's also not to say that there's not value in "objective" film critique either (though I think most people either overstate or understate that value). It's just that filmmaking, even "bad" filmmaking, is art. It's the act of creation. And that will always be dependent on taste.

      Can you point to one particular scene where you thought the acting from the new actors was really good? Because there are some guys out there doing frame by frame analysis of facial expressions (with accompanying laugh track) that are just side splitting. What emotion is the actor trying to convey in this scene? What is the characters motivation for that emotion? The first meeting between Rey and the Tie fighter guy is really bad. Basic analysis like. There are also some really bad examples of the green screen work not matching up with the CGI, like when the X-Wing pilot guy gets captured and he does this huge impressed take at Star Destroyer hanger bay which is just a Star Destroyer hanger bay - not something that a pilot would be impressed by and not exactly a space station the size of a planet. Seriously, TFA's acting was so bad that it makes a good episode of MST2K.
      Nope, sorry. Acting is done in real time. Anyone claiming they can analyze acting by looking frame-by-frame is a snake-oil salesman with an agenda. You can look at some of the most well-respected scenes in film history and find some goofy looking stills from them.

      Again, this goes back to taste, but I found Rey to be one of my favorite film protagonists... period. She's a three-dimensional character and she sells the hell out of it. Quite frankly, Daisy Ridley is a revelation, and I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot those "freeze frame" jokes are at her expense because her facial structure is so different from most young actresses and she's generally just so expressive... but it worked for me. Oscar Isaacs we all know can act well and his only crime in TFA is that's he's underutilized. John Boyega is admittedly the weak link of the three (which is saying a lot, considering how great he is in Attack the Block, but Finn is the farthest thing from that character) but he's having fun and mugging it up and it's hard to not have fun with him. To be fair he is given some of the worst lines ("That is one hell of a pilot!") and most drastic character flips (though still not nearly as much a stretch as the 180's pulled by R1's leads) but I'm still just as excited to see where his character goes next as I am for the rest.

      And Kylo Ren is the most interesting film Star Wars villain. Not the best, nor the most frightening; neither by a wide margin. But he's conflicted and emotionally-charged in a way prequel-Annie could never hope to pull off. Again, I'm excited to see where they go with his character next.

      I can't think of a scene that you are thinking of. Krennic maybe? He came off a little too hammy... but then he's the villain, and he did have a few good scenes. He's not nearly as bad as whatever the name of that first order General guy was - now that was bad acting. I will say that the movie suffered from a lack of a clear three act structure compared to say 'A New Hope' or 'Empire'. The first third bounces around far too many sets and is very disjointed. It's not that the writing in that area is necessarily bad, and I understand the purpose of each shot, but it did strike me as something that could have used a clearer narrative arc. But compared to TFA, just about the time TFA was starting to fall apart and I was feeling vaguely bored, R1 was just gearing up. It's much better to have consistent rising action and tension, and R1 has that and gets tightly scripted in about the middle of the second act. TFA on the other hand is all down hill from the introduction of Han Solo, and only has nostalgia to haltingly carry it along from then on. Oh and the fridge logic is painful.
      I actually didn't mind Krennic nearly as much as my friends did; I thought he was kind of perfect as the ineffectual ambitious Imperial bureaucrat, and his character only suffered at the very end when they tried to make him a credible threat to basically anyone. No, my issue was with the forced conflict between the two mains, and the complete and unearned character reversals they pull to make them all heroic in the third act. Diego Luna was fine, really, but the material they gave him to work with was... not great. Really, he was the best part of the beginning of the movie but they simply forced Cassian's character growth. Felicity Jones, on the other hand... I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a fairly common human emotion known as "sadness" and an accompanying action known as "crying" that I don't think she has a very strong grasp on. And her character is just all over the map in general. And the way two of them blather on and one about hope... look I know what Episode IV is titled, but maybe a thesaurus would have helped? They just lay it on so thick... And that's to say nothing of the scene-chewing and whatever the hell else Forrest Whittaker thought he was doing, or the underutilized supporting cast, or the criminally underutilized Mads Mikkelsen...

      I think part of what makes the third act so strong is that by that point nobody really has much left to say except for barking generic action lines, which are hard to mess up, and the droid making quips, and everybody loves the droid so .

      Also, why you gotta throw Dragonheart under the bus? I love the hell out of that dumb, dumb movie. Sean Connery is a dragon! What more do you need? I often refer to it as the best Dennis Quaid movie and the worst Pete Postlethwaite movie ever.

      That I can totally dig.
      I remember reading an old PC Gamer review that said "if we were stranded on a desert island and could only choose one PC game to have with us, we would choose TIE Fighter". This is still one of the truest things I have ever read.
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Gradine View Post
      I mean, we can laugh about any given Michael Bay movie and the people who go to see them in the theatre but... there's a lot of those people, right? Those movies sell a crapton of tickets. They must be doing something right, no?
      I'm not laughing at them. They are entitled to want to see entertainment that demands nothing from them and requires them only to absorb and enjoy a series of visceral experiences. Besides, only about half the people that watch those movies claim to even like them, much less love them. The consensus seems to be "stupid but fun". Certainly they may have a point when they ask me, "Why do you have to overanalyze everything?" or "Why can't you just let something be what it is?" I mean, even my favorite author complained about his fans wanting to turn his stories into some sort of elaborate game (never mind that his stories seemed to have started as some sort of self-therapeutic word game, that he more or less invented modern world-building, or that he took the time when writing to create ability time lines and map moves and travel times so that all the pieces would believably synch up.) So I'm not laughing at people for having brains that work differently than mine. God knows that I've been teased enough for not having a brain that works like what everyone considers normal.

      And yes, they clearly do some things right, albeit that they work only for a small subset of the potential audience in a way that more universally beloved movies don't but instead find a way to reach almost all the different sorts of critics that a movie might have. I think there is some accounting for taste.

      In, for example, the goodreads community, you'll notice trends in how people review books. Some reviewers are 'X^2' reviewers, where almost every book that they read gets 5 stars. The rare exceptions to this seem personal and emotional, leaving a thin smattering of reviews that don't get 5 stars. Other reviewers are binary. They either love something or they hate, with almost every review getting 1 star or 5 stars. But even they tend to give more 5 star review than 1 star reviews. Most reviewers average review is over 4 stars, meaning that they absolutely love everything they choose to turn their hand to. Then you have the true critics that want to measure books against each other, and they tend to produce normal curves or at least distributions of some sort. "How much did I enjoy this compared to something else?" "How well written is this compared to something else?" And you have skeptics that tend to believe that 95% of everything is crap, always look for flaws, and produce more low star reviews than high star reviews even after winnowing down skeptically what they want to bother to review. And those are just broad categories and one way to think about how people decide what they like.

      The thing is, even the things we think of as objective qualities ("good" shot composition, lighting & color theory, action scenes where you can actually follow the freaking action what a concept I mean is that so much to ask, etc.) are only that way because the people in the position to be considered "authorities" have those particular preferences.
      I don't entirely agree. Even despite being a decidedly anti-intellectual sort, I think there can be merit and objective value in techniques discussed by experts. Sometimes you'll see fashions and fads, but underneath it all there are basic biological and emotional instincts common to most humanity that techniques appeal to. Music and rhythm do have underlying biological components and you can somewhat predict how much appeal something is going to have. Story structure is likewise deeply embedded in the human mind. Sometimes you see people intellectualizes value in running counter to these intuitive methods, and I suppose their is some value in that experimentation, but I'm not at all surprised if it never seems to have broad and lasting appeal outside of highly trained experts who've studied consciously these structures and are dissecting them consciously. For my part, I consider making new stories by old formulas to be harder than consciously breaking the formulas, so I tend to admire things like perfectly timed firing of your Chekov Guns, well concealed but perfectly predictable in hindsight twists, or amplifying innocuous small themes into highly resonate ones, or perfectly timed musical swells to drive emotions, because doing those things well is so hard. Everyone is trying and mostly failing, but if you do it right, it will be timeless. People listening to Homer 3000 years back and modern preteens will get it perfectly.

      It's just that filmmaking, even "bad" filmmaking, is art. It's the act of creation. And that will always be dependent on taste.
      Sure. I suppose that is true. But it's also I think odd that if it is always dependent on taste how lasting can be a consensus regarding on say, "Pride and Prejudice", "Les Miserables", "The Lord of the Rings". It might just be taste whether you like them, but there also seems to be some objective craftsmanship.

      Nope, sorry. Acting is done in real time. Anyone claiming they can analyze acting by looking frame-by-frame is a snake-oil salesman with an agenda. You can look at some of the most well-respected scenes in film history and find some goofy looking stills from them.
      I disagree. Any animator would disagree as well I'd warrant. Yes, the sum is more than the parts, but to claim that the sum isn't made of the parts seems ridiculous. I've seen plenty of scenes broken down into individual gestures and facial expressions and what good actors are doing is just amazing. You might not catch it all in real time, but when you break it down it's communication and whether thoughtful or intuitive the little gestures and expressions can be perfect. Heck, learning the language of body language probably literally saved my life. I can even reference the book that first opened that vista up to my nearly autistic little brain and the wonders that opened up when I could start reading it. What does this gesture mean? What does it express? What is the character thinking? These are all perfectly valid questions to ask, and they help you understand why you think (or don't think) someone is a good actor.

      Again, this goes back to taste, but I found Rey to be one of my favorite film protagonists... period. She's a three-dimensional character and she sells the hell out of it. Quite frankly, Daisy Ridley is a revelation, and I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot those "freeze frame" jokes are at her expense because her facial structure is so different from most young actresses and she's generally just so expressive...
      Oh, she's very expressive. She's probably even a good actor. The fault her is as much or more with the director. Again, going back to the prequels, virtually everyone working in those movies was an excellent actor. The cast has stellar credentials and did excellent jobs in other movies. The problem is that everyone seems so wooden because of the clunky leaden predictable script, poor direction in the scene, poor shot selection, and half the characters in the movie belonging to an organization that prizes suppression of emotion (and being directed to that point).

      John Boyega is admittedly the weak link of the three...
      You keep talking about 'three' and 'trios', but I don't think we have a trio in this movie.

      and most drastic character flips (though still not nearly as much a stretch as the 180's pulled by R1's leads) but I'm still just as excited to see where his character goes next as I am for the rest.
      I don't see the stretch on any character in R1 except perhaps Bodi, whose arc we don't see start and whose insanity/mental trauma is inexplicably dropped. Everyone's else's motivation and certainly main character's motivation is clear, with the showing and telling syncing up. And most importantly, no one changes motivation without the sort of scene that you'd associate with motivational change. Unlike TFA, we never have a scene where a character changes there stated motivation 5 minutes after declaring it with absolutely no establishing scenes for why, or acts in a way that is inexplicable to their stated motivation. For example, "I must find the map, so I will blow everything up and kill anyone who might provide me clues." Compare with Vadar's statement, "Tear this ship a part, and bring me prisoners - I want them alive." Clear motivation inspires clearly logical motivation for the action. No one in the TFA EVER states a clear motivation and follows it up with logical action based on that motivation. I have a hard time thinking of one scene where the action follows from the stated declaration, rather than is directed by Out of Character knowledge of the plot hoops. It's a hopeless mess as much as 5 minutes in and never gets better.

      And Kylo Ren is the most interesting film Star Wars villain. Not the best, nor the most frightening; neither by a wide margin. But he's conflicted and emotionally-charged in a way prequel-Annie could never hope to pull off. Again, I'm excited to see where they go with his character next.
      Perhaps he could mentally and emotionally mature to the point that he's at least as mature as 10 year old Annie. I suppose "It's a spoiled toddler with a light saber and godlike force powers!" could be scary if there was the slightest consistency in his presentation. ("Is he more powerful than Luke, as implied by the backstory, or can an untrained Storm Trooper nearly defeat him in a light saber duel?", "Can he literally freeze blaster bolts in midair and force paralyze heroes, or does he have trouble defeating a mook without any training who may or may not even be force sensitive?")

      And I note you still haven't tried to answer my challenge of one scene that is acted well.

      No, my issue was with the forced conflict between the two mains...
      Forced in what way?

      ...and the complete and unearned character reversals they pull to make them all heroic in the third act.
      How unearned? How are they reversed?

      Really, he was the best part of the beginning of the movie but they simply forced Cassian's character growth.
      Cassian takes no sudden and unexpected actions at any point in the movie, and never changes motivation without an establishing scene. He's got a straight forward three act arc, with establishing shots for each, and a clear epiphany which makes sense in the context of the films theme of the redemptive power of hope and the heroes being people with unclean hands because they need hope more than anyone else. What more do you want?

      Felicity Jones, on the other hand... I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a fairly common human emotion known as "sadness" and an accompanying action known as "crying" that I don't think she has a very strong grasp on.
      It would be utterly unbelievable to me that a character with her background has any tears left in their body at this point. No one goes through that sort of emotional trauma and still cries while under stress. I suppose we might could have seen a shot of her locked in a closet allowing herself to cry, and that might have been a good shot, but we aren't dealing with a naive farm girl at this point. She and Cassian are both hardened soldiers and she's given only as much loss of self-control as I would find believable.

      And her character is just all over the map in general.
      Again, three arc structure. Clear shifts of motivation only occur in response to major establishing scenes ("hears Father's message to her", "witnesses death of Father"). Clear epiphany scene when she confronts that her father has not died, has never forgotten her, and has never given up his beliefs. I don't know what you are talking about.

      And the way two of them blather on and one about hope...
      Now that is a matter of taste. I thought Cassian Andor and his crew of sinners giving a speech about hope was a shining moment of awesome that drew together his character and gave him substance.

      or the criminally underutilized Mads Mikkelsen...
      It wasn't his story. The ensemble cast complicated the pacing enough as it is, having to shift between it being his story and his daughter's story, then having to bring together all the pieces.

      I think part of what makes the third act so strong is that by that point nobody really has much left to say except for barking generic action lines, which are hard to mess up, and the droid making quips, and everybody loves the droid so .
      Watch it again. Well timed firing of the Chekov's Guns, plus a clear sense of playing against the audience expectations despite having told the audience up front what to expect, until it finally dawns on the audience what the price is.

      Beyond that, the fact that they seek to not only make a movie without major plot holes, but which actually starts plugging up famous plot holes in A New Hope that people have gently laughed at for decades now, and manages to do so in ways that are powerful and made believable. That's just thoughtful intelligent writing. Is it perfect? No, I could set here and write pages on its defects as well, but it outshines its problems.
    1. Gradine's Avatar
      Gradine -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      I disagree. Any animator would disagree as well I'd warrant. Yes, the sum is more than the parts, but to claim that the sum isn't made of the parts seems ridiculous. I've seen plenty of scenes broken down into individual gestures and facial expressions and what good actors are doing is just amazing. You might not catch it all in real time, but when you break it down it's communication and whether thoughtful or intuitive the little gestures and expressions can be perfect. Heck, learning the language of body language probably literally saved my life. I can even reference the book that first opened that vista up to my nearly autistic little brain and the wonders that opened up when I could start reading it. What does this gesture mean? What does it express? What is the character thinking? These are all perfectly valid questions to ask, and they help you understand why you think (or don't think) someone is a good actor.
      Animation is not acting and acting is not animation. That's not a knock on either; it's just that they are different things. Acting is very much more than simply a sum of its parts. That's not to say that you can't break down specific expressions, subtle movements, but that's very different from the frame-by-frame stills-with-laugh-tracks you described.

      Oh, she's very expressive. She's probably even a good actor. The fault her is as much or more with the director. Again, going back to the prequels, virtually everyone working in those movies was an excellent actor. The cast has stellar credentials and did excellent jobs in other movies. The problem is that everyone seems so wooden because of the clunky leaden predictable script, poor direction in the scene, poor shot selection, and half the characters in the movie belonging to an organization that prizes suppression of emotion (and being directed to that point).
      I won't disagree with that point; simply that I think it cues into differences between your taste and my taste. I didn't get the sense that anybody was wooden in TFA and I can't really fathom how anyone would make that argument; if anything they may be almost too hyper-kinetic or over-expressive, which is a usual issue on Abrams films (that scream from Star Trek Into Darkness, anyone?), but I also overall thought TFA had some excellent shot composition (basically any scene from the trailers, even if the "blank landscape then a character enters frame" ends up a little overused) and I could almost always follow the action, something I thought both TFA and R1 generally did quite well but which a lot of movies tend to be horrible at.

      You keep talking about 'three' and 'trios', but I don't think we have a trio in this movie.
      I think that Poe Dameron is generally regarded as the third member of the trio, though I'll grant he's not as utilized in this film as a "trio" member typically is.

      And most importantly, no one changes motivation without the sort of scene that you'd associate with motivational change. Unlike TFA, we never have a scene where a character changes there stated motivation 5 minutes after declaring it with absolutely no establishing scenes for why, or acts in a way that is inexplicable to their stated motivation. For example, "I must find the map, so I will blow everything up and kill anyone who might provide me clues." Compare with Vadar's statement, "Tear this ship a part, and bring me prisoners - I want them alive." Clear motivation inspires clearly logical motivation for the action. No one in the TFA EVER states a clear motivation and follows it up with logical action based on that motivation. I have a hard time thinking of one scene where the action follows from the stated declaration, rather than is directed by Out of Character knowledge of the plot hoops. It's a hopeless mess as much as 5 minutes in and never gets better.
      I'm going to have to challenge you to give an example, because with the exception of Finn's "I'm leaving, oh wait no I'm not" I can't think of a time anyone acts illogically (or at least out of character) or acts contrary to their stated motivations.

      Perhaps he could mentally and emotionally mature to the point that he's at least as mature as 10 year old Annie. I suppose "It's a spoiled toddler with a light saber and godlike force powers!" could be scary if there was the slightest consistency in his presentation. ("Is he more powerful than Luke, as implied by the backstory, or can an untrained Storm Trooper nearly defeat him in a light saber duel?", "Can he literally freeze blaster bolts in midair and force paralyze heroes, or does he have trouble defeating a mook without any training who may or may not even be force sensitive?")
      One thing I've noticed is that what you're looking for in a movie is not a thing that I'm looking for at all. You've mentioned (both with re: these movies as well as Braveheart) your bugaboos with inconsistencies or inaccuracies regarding battles, which is not something that ever really bothers me. And it's not even anywhere near as bad as they make it out to be. I don't need to know the exact power level of characters at any given point in a movie, although they do a pretty good job of showing Rey learning as she goes (she does learn at a rather alarming pace, but then Luke's training was fairly rapid itself given the established lore of Jedi training, all things considered). Finn... I don't recall Finn standing up against Kylo Ren very well, and I could be mis-remembering but I'm pretty sure Kylo does try to paralyze Rey again... she resists. And again when she overpowers his Force Pull later. Which is something they had already established she was capable of doing. Hell, he's injured in the final fight and clearly in a great deal of emotional turmoil as well.

      He's also never shown as having had to actually fight Luke, and if even if he did he clearly had help. There's also loads of references to him not having "completed his training" so I'm not even sure exactly how powerful you expect him to be at this juncture.

      And I note you still haven't tried to answer my challenge of one scene that is acted well.
      The scene that springs to mind is the scene you poo-poo'd earlier; when Finn and Rey first meet. Finn changes from "hey, she needs to help" to "Oh, she can handle herself" to "oh crap, now she's after me" with nothing but his facial expressions and body language, in the span of seconds. The whole business with grabbing hands and who's guarding who; hell, that whole sequence, up to getting out into space in the Falcon and excitedly babble over each other about what they just did, is an amazing sequence of character building. That's the scene that made me fall in love with those two characters.

      Forced in what way?

      How unearned? How are they reversed?
      The whole sequence where they're yelling at each other after the lab. I don't want to go into detail because I don't want to spoil a movie that is still in theaters, but they somehow go from being super pissed off and not trusting each other to "together we must bring hope to the rebellion so now we must trust each other" is really never earned or explained in any sense other than "we gotta do this thing because no one else will, I guess?". The biggest shift is in Jyn herself, who goes from having her own agenda to being leader of Team Hope without even so much of a "now I'll be the person somebody else wanted me to be". It's lazy characterization and they didn't even pull that off.

      It would be utterly unbelievable to me that a character with her background has any tears left in their body at this point. No one goes through that sort of emotional trauma and still cries while under stress. I suppose we might could have seen a shot of her locked in a closet allowing herself to cry, and that might have been a good shot, but we aren't dealing with a naive farm girl at this point. She and Cassian are both hardened soldiers and she's given only as much loss of self-control as I would find believable.
      Again, no spoilers, but it's the scene with the hologram. Jyn is definitely supposed to be openly weeping. Her actress is having a hell of time squeezing those tears out.

      [quoteNow that is a matter of taste. I thought Cassian Andor and his crew of sinners giving a speech about hope was a shining moment of awesome that drew together his character and gave him substance. [/quote]

      It was a pretty good speech and caps off what his character arc is supposed to be well enough, but there's nothing that gets him from "there" to "here", other than witnessing Jyn's personal tragedies, and he's already gotten in a big fight with her about how we've all suffered loss so I'm not really sure what triggers the sudden change for him.

      This may very well be a matter of taste again; character is all about how well can understand them. It may very well be you can fill in the gaps yourself and thus buy his arc. But I don't see how the gaps are filled, so I don't buy it.

      Watch it again. Well timed firing of the Chekov's Guns, plus a clear sense of playing against the audience expectations despite having told the audience up front what to expect, until it finally dawns on the audience what the price is.
      I was making an oblique reference to the poor dialogue in the rest of the movie. As a theme, hope is a great one, and one that I think is quite timely, all things considered. I just wish they had been a little more... artful... in how they weaved it in. It doesn't help that the movie takes a huge tonal shift in line with Cassian's character arc.

      But again, I loved the third act, and had it been preceded by a better first two acts with a more well-rounded and empathizable cast of characters I'd have put it up with the original trilogy.

      Beyond that, the fact that they seek to not only make a movie without major plot holes, but which actually starts plugging up famous plot holes in A New Hope that people have gently laughed at for decades now, and manages to do so in ways that are powerful and made believable. That's just thoughtful intelligent writing. Is it perfect? No, I could set here and write pages on its defects as well, but it outshines its problems.
      See, and while they spent so much time working on "plot holes" they wasted a perfectly great plot with poor pacing, stilted dialogue, and the holes just migrated from the plot to the character arcs. The third act makes up for a lot, but it can't carry the whole movie.
    1. talien's Avatar
      talien -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      How did this entire thread become 60 posts about how Celebrim hates The Force Awakens?
      I'm just going to shamelessly drop back in here and make this comment:


      Pablo Hidalgo is every gamer geek's dream. He was a designer for the Star Wars RPG and went on to become the primary influencer of all storytelling canon in the Star Wars universe.


      I can't think of anyone else that came from the RPG industry having such powerful influence on a franchise as big as Star Wars.

      Best of all, he's clearly biased towards RPG content (as he should be!) and that reflects in how much the Star Wars RPG has become canon.


      I didn't want to lead with that in the article, but I'm pretty sure Pablo's the primary reason we're even having the RPG/Movie discussion at all.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Yeesh. This thread is making Star Wars worse than any of the Prequels or Post-Lucas films.
    1. DeltaEcho's Avatar
      DeltaEcho -
      I remember chatting to someone who worked on Star Wars at west end, she said Lucas was very strict about content,

      No 'vice' at Mos Eisley (which is understandable considering the tone of the movies)

      So while west end had a lot of freedom, the content was still reigned in by Lucas

      She said it was a pain in the ass because of the slow turn around,
    1. DeltaEcho's Avatar
      DeltaEcho -
      Btw good job on the post Talien,

      Nice
    1. DeltaEcho's Avatar
      DeltaEcho -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      I think the technical term is "echo chambers". People can believe the most astonishing things because it constantly gets reinforced.
      If it were true, Clinton would have won, due to massive media bias, (which still runs today)

      I use that as an example of course,

      Fortunately there are more people who can think for themselves independently of mainstream media 'fake news'

      So while your comment may be true to a degree it only applies to the minority, the stooopid minority
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by DeltaEcho View Post
      If it were true, Clinton would have won, due to massive media bias, (which still runs today)

      I use that as an example of course,

      Fortunately there are more people who can think for themselves independently of mainstream media 'fake news'

      So while your comment may be true to a degree it only applies to the minority, the stooopid minority
      No politics here, please.
    1. DeltaEcho's Avatar
      DeltaEcho -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      No politics here, please.
      Just a blatant example people can witness first hand....
    1. Grainger's Avatar
      Grainger -
      Quote Originally Posted by Celebrim View Post
      I wasn't going to see Rogue One for much the same reason. But my wife got excited and dragged me to it. I was more than pleasantly surprised. It was the most passionate love letter to the Star Wars universe that I'd seen on a movie screen since that discussion in Clerks as to whether destroying the second death star was a morally clean victory. I think you'd like it.
      I've only just seen Rogue One, and it reminded me of this thread, as your post very much persuaded me to see it. For what it's worth, it didn't feel very Star Wars-y to me. I suppose that feeling is very personal, and for me, the magic was missing. I can speculate as to the reasons, and one of them is set out below, but I think it's essentially a fuzzy "look and feel" issue; there were lots of things I recognised from Star Wars on-screen, but none of it felt like Star Wars to me in the way it moved and gelled.

      The film was an OK action movie, though.

      However, the sort of "dark" content that pissed me off about TFA was there in Rogue One. Basically, everything being Grimdark and cynical, because that's how things always have to be these days. I didn't need to see a breakaway "badass" Alliance faction, and I certainly didn't need to see the main alliance leaders being treacherous ****s. That's not the Rebel Alliance I signed up to!

      There are plenty of dark, cynical TV series, movies and books out there for people who want that sort of thing. Star Wars doesn't need to be - and in my view shouldn't be - like that.
    Comments Leave Comment