Friday, January 1, 2016

The Blog Awakens

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?
I sure have.

May The Spoilers Be With You


Greetings one, and all! Welcome back to Barking Alien, and a very Happy New Year 2016 to everyone!

I took a break from posting at the end of last year in preparation for, and immediately following, my viewing of the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.

Having seen the movie twice now, I want to share my thoughts about it, but almost more importantly to me, what the movie means to my future outlook on gaming.

Star Wars is a franchise that, with one exception*, all my friends mutually enjoy, and find to be an exciting, and fun setting in which to run a role playing game. Be it a one shot, or a campaign, it's usually not difficult to get people to play Star Wars.

The prequel films, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith, put a damper on enthusiasm for the IP, but many true believers never lost faith. They were rewarded for their dedication with an excellent cartoon series in the form of Clone Wars, to be followed by an equally amazing CGI animated Clone Wars program. Going further forward, the follow up CGI series, Star Wars Rebels, had a weak start, but in this viewer's opinion quickly came into its own to become a wonderful new addition to the Star Wars universe.

In addition, the franchise was well supported in the role playing game market by Wizards of the Coast, followed not long after by Fantasy Flight Games. While neither company made the game I wanted to run, and play, they certainly contributed to keeping Star Wars alive**.

As I've mentioned before, I came to this new movie with great trepidation. I did not like the prequels one bit. Furthermore, I find J.J. Abrams to be a poor director, and storyteller. Early on, back when The Force Awakens was first announced, I was pretty certain (and pretty sad) that it would be awful.

I am happy to say I was wrong, and pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

Barkley Dameron
I assume.

I enjoyed this new movie because it did the one thing that the prequels, and much of the expanded universe novels, comics, and RPG materials often failed to do, and that is...Feel like Star Wars.

The Force Awakens gets what Star Wars is.

*** SPOILERS ***

Gone are midichlorians, intricate politics, unclear enemies, and kids who can't act. Instead, we have both young, and old adult characters, a clear-cut, fascist regime led by a power mad General, a Magical Black Knight, and an evil Wizard-Priest, and a weapon powered by a Sun!


Feh. Spaceships zoom as easily in an atmosphere as they do through the stars. Aliens come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. Guns shoot bolts of light and go pew, pew!


Feh. There is a good government, and a bad one.

Complex villainy?

Feh. The bad guys? Faceless armored goons, led by a spooky, mystical fellow with a fiery sword who answers to an even spookier mystical fellow. Done.

For me, the keys to Star Wars are:

  • The Engine is Fantasy, the Chassis is Pulp, the paint job is Science Fiction.
  • The overall plot is sweeping, and heroic. The details are in the characters.
  • Don't over complicate it.

This film, unlike the prequels, nails all that down.

Now, for some it hits the nail a bit too squarely on the head. A number of people, including a couple buddies of mine, were disappointed by The Force Awakens, feeling it was far too similar to the first film, A New Hope.

I can't really argue against that assessment. The new movie is very much a homage to the original, and many of the plot elements, themes, and story beats are virtually identical. However, it is an excellent homage. In addition (although my friends may disagree) I think it brings in a few new ideas we haven't seen before. In fact, it brings with it a sense of nuance that doesn't defy what I said above, but rather enhances it.

We see a Faceless Minion of Evil become neither evil, a minion, nor faceless.
We get a sense that the Magical Black Knight is a natural with magic (The Force in this case), but his 'knight' skills could use some work.
The Magical Black Knight is tempted by goodness. That's certainly a bit different.

The oft mentioned 'Space Pirates', a staple of Space Opera adventure stories, are rarely if ever actually seen. In this film we see Space Pirates. Two groups.

And there's more...did I mention the diversity? No? 'Cause one of the major new characters is a woman, and another is Black man, and both are freakin' awesome.!

It's not just the main characters either. Look around this new Star Wars universe, and you will see men and women of varying ethnicities. It's about time too! 

Bay on Jakku.
It is too.

What does this all lead up to you're wondering. A good question, and one I've asked myself repeatedly over the holiday 'break'***.

Then it came to me.

With a single individual* aside, my mainstay group of players are up for some Star Wars gaming. However, I've long since known that they like a little more crunch, and mechanics in their games then I do. I'm not sure Star Wars D6, a game I know and love dearly, will feel right to them. In addition, I know of a Science Fiction game they already like so much they are willing to start a new campaign of it right after ending a three year long one with the same system.

This got me Star Wars approach and attitude...but just like The Force Awakens, a sense of the familiar. A reach back to the nostalgia of my old games, a leap forward to embracing a new era with my current group.

Barking Alien proudly presents, my latest harebrained scheme...

Stay tuned. The saga continues...

May The Force Be With you,

Barking Alien

* I have one close friend, a member of my Barking Alien Gaming Group who at the age of 30something, has only seen the original Star Wars film once. He has seen none other the others, nor any other Star Wars related animated series, comic, or game. I'm serious. He is a geek through-and-through, yet he does not know Star Wars.

I can't even.

** And yet...Elements of the original West End Games Star Wars D6 RPG have found their way into the prequels, many of the books, and the animated series. The second season episode of Star Wars Rebels entitled 'Wings of the Master' is literally the WEG Star Wars adventure module 'Strike Force Shantipole'.

How come none of the other incarnations of Star Wars tabletop gaming have added material to the mythos of the franchise in the same fashion? I have a number of theories of course, but in the end it boils down to what I discussed above. West End Games 'got it' more than any of the others. They just understood Star Wars better.

***Yeah, no. I did not actually take a break, or get a vacation of any kind. I did have a number of really light work days however as my clients were all on vacation, and one moved away. Between Christmas Day and New Years Day, things have been very quiet on the business end, affording me more time to game.

A silver lining if ever there was one.


  1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments on the new film which I also really enjoyed. To your friends who were disappointed by the film due to its lack of originality, I would pose this question, "Was there anything about Star Wars that was ever original in the first place?" Star Wars was the assembling of a number of familiar ingredients into one brand new and amazingly delicious cookie that no one had ever tasted before but there was nothing original about any individual component that made up whole. Every trope had been seen before, hell there were scenes in the film that were lifted in whole cloth from other movies, most notably Hidden Fortress and Dam Busters, but it was the blending together that made it awesome, much like your typical RPG session I might add.

    One can even use this recipe analogy to explain and agree with your observations on what was wrong with the prequels. The prequels had all the same ingredients as the original films but the measurements were all wrong. The original movie called for a cup of action adventure but just a half teaspoon of galactic politics. The prequels kind of swapped those ingredients and if you did the same thing with sugar and baking power, you would get one nasty, bitter cookie. The Force Awakens once again blended all the ingredients in just the right way and it was awesome and delicious.

    If that doesn't convince your friends on why originality was not important for this film. I have come up with an in-universe explanation for why things seemed so familiar. To me, The First Order were such a bunch of Empire wannabes, of course they are going to copy everything they can from their predecessors including building a new Death Star, I mean, what else were they going to do? They were almost kind of sad at how much they really wanted to be the Empire much like how much Kylo Ren desperately wanted to be Darth Vader but just couldn't quite get there. Unable to duplicate their idols successes, they were sadly doomed to repeat their mistakes. The ultimate cosplayers of evil, you really did almost feel sorry for them.

    As for how the new film will affect Star Wars roleplaying. One thing the film gave us is that it showed us exactly what one can do when one builds their skills up to ridiculous levels. Han Solo does things in that movie that no player should attempt for their characters unless they do want to paint the surface of a planet with their spaceship. What's the difficulty of coming out of hyperspace behind a force field right next to a huge gravity well? I don't even want to think about it but clearly Han Solo's piloting skill has become so high he can do it without even a second thought.

    Don't try this at home but do go see the movie again and again.

  2. I'm sad to say I am with your buddies: the movie left me cold because it felt so much like a rip-off of Ep. IV. It seems as if J.J. Abrams didn't know the difference between a sequel and a remake (his Star Trek "remake" became, story-wise, sort of a sequel, while his Star Wars sequel is almost a remake). I know this isn't entirelly fair, as there is a lot of people involved in his films, but the point stands.

    That said, the few original bits are among the high points of the movie, an the protagonists, both old and new, work exceptionally well in every regard. It is the cowardice of the basic plot wich mars Ep. VII in my eyes, not style. Probably it is just overcompensating the defects of the prequels.

    I think the movie is also a bit weak in the villains department, something unheard in a Star Wars film. What I found there is too similar to some tropes of the Expanded Universe, and not the best ones.


    Kylo Ren reminds me of Kueller, a fourth rate villain in a bad EU novel, but he is mostly Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus with the looks of Revan (from Knights of the Old Republic). Not a bad idea, but the execution needed a better villain above him to work. Maybe Palpatine himself (another idea fron the EU) or an imperial commander with more weight, like Tarkin was.

    ***END SPOILER***

    Maybe it is people who are invested in the EU who have a lower opinion of Ep. VII?

  3. I want to thank both of you for being my first blog commenters of the new year! Hurray! I really appreciate you both stopping by, and helping me usher in this new project.

    I also think it's really cool that I have two comments to start out, each with a different opinion on the film.

    @goeticgeek - Your ingredients analogy is spot on. While I don't think that was the only thing wrong with the prequels (as they were very, very wrong), I do think your analysis is highly accurate.

    I will also see your in-universe explanation, and raise you a genre validation.

    As I noted above, the engine that drives Star Wars is Fairy Tale/Fantasy. If a Knight slays a giant on his first quest, and a bigger giant on his second, it is likely that on his third, he would have to slay a dragon.

    Myths are told, and retold a thousand times over. Although the details may change from storyteller to storyteller, the legends of great heroes like Arthur, Hercules, Beowulf, and more are not all that different from each other. Familiar themes, ideas, and even characters reoccur again, and again.

    The Force Awakens is a Star Wars story, and just as 'Once Upon A Time' begins many a fable, so does a Star Wars tale start as this one does.

    @Miguel - I am sad to hear you didn't enjoy it as much Miguel. You and I usually have very similar sensibilities.

    It's interesting to me that you point out the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and perhaps an investment in it as a reason some might have an issue with The Force Awakens.

    Personally, with the exception of the West End Games RPG, and a handful of stories scattered across a great many years, I had no vested interest in the EU whatsoever. I didn't like about 90% of it. I will also say that because I grew tired of it early on, I probably missed a great deal that went on there. For example, I am only rudimentarily familiar with anything post Yuuzhan Vong.

    To me, if it didn't appear in the movies, it's an idea (perhaps cool and useful, perhaps not), but not something that actually happened.

    I can live with what happened in The Force Awakens, especially if it gives me Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren, The Resistance, and The First Order.

  4. I don't have much to add here as I agree 100% with everything you said (though I feel FFG captures the feel as much as WEG does). I'm curious to see how the Star Wars Traveller Saga continues!