Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Update to Ad Astra

I've been wondering what exactly to do with my AD ASTRA campaign seed... although I was sure that I wanted to do something with it.  For AD ASTRA I had a high concept, for my "1,000 years after Jedi" Star Wars setting, on the other hand, I had some details.  But the Star Wars game was so far removed from the actual events of Star Wars, as understood in the movies, etc. that it was effectively a completely different setting that just used the same "mechanics."

Let me take a step back for a moment before I reach my conclusion here.  I have two younger sons who are respectively, a young teenager and a tween (in the modern sense, not the one coined by Tolkien.)  Both are Star Wars fans, but both approach the franchise differently.  Alexander; the older of the two, enjoys the original trilogy and the Clone Wars.  He's the one who's much more likely to be the trivia buff, who knows all about all kinds of minor characters, locations, droids, etc.  However, he despises the Prequel trilogy, only very reluctantly admitting that any aspect of them at all was redeeming.  He thinks the Rebels show is wrong-footed compared to Clone Wars, and he's generally fairly negative about The Force Awakens as well.  The younger of the two, Logan, loves The Force Awakens.  He was really excited leading up to it, and he easily calls it his favorite movie of 2015, and one of his favorite movies ever.  Despite that, he doesn't go very deep into the franchise.  He doesn't know a lot of the details of the other movies, and probably doesn't even remember them all that well.  Although he likes the new movie better than his brother, he's much less invested in the franchise overall.  A more laid-back easy-to-please approach, vs. a die-hard fan of the franchise who can't be pleased with much of anything that it's done since Empire Strikes Back.  It's innate to them, though—even if I didn't know what they thought about Star Wars in particular, I'd have thought that that would be the way that they break just based on their personalities.

Anyway, because of that, we talk Star Wars a fair bit at home.  We've even been listening to the soundtracks straight through in chunks for some time.  And, of course, how can you talk about Star Wars without frequently waxing both lyrical and nostalgic about where it's gone wrong?  Our conclusions are, more or less, as follows:

  • The prequels went wrong technically.  The stories themselves are salvageable, and the visual design is sure nice.  Mostly it's the pacing and the dialogue that sink these movies.  They're just technically poorly made movies.  But another screenwriter to clean it up and another director to get it to snap and get some chemistry out of the actors, and the movies wouldn't have been half-bad.  The Clone Wars cartoon shows to some degree what they could have been.  It also really rehabilitated the franchise to a great degree, setting it up for the honest to goodness sequels that started late last year.
  • The Force Awakens had different issues.  All of the problems with the prequels were, luckily, fixed.  Good dialogue, good pacing; the first time I watched it, I felt like I was watching Star Wars again.  The problems it faces are structural and somewhat meta—and are likely to get worse with time as the series progresses.  It's actually quite offensive that every white male (excepting Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford, who they could hardly recast) they're only allowed to be the villain (Oscar Isaac is actually Óscar Isaac Hernández Estrada and he's a Cuban-Guatemalan).  And the character of Rey shows the feminist imperative in a cold light—for no good reason at all she's a better pilot and mechanic for the Millennium Falcon than Han Solo is, a better hand-to-hand combatant than Finn is, and with literally no training whatsoever she's a better Jedi and lightsaber combatant that... anyone in any movie ever, including Kylo Ren who's been training for years.  She's such an egregious Mary Sue that she literally made every other character in the movie superfluous.  This wasn't sufficient to completely ruin this movie, but it is sufficient to set the series off with a rocky start that's unlikely to improve (have you seen the cast photo for Rogue One?)  And it didn't help that the plot was basically recycled; this is now the third time that the Rebel Alliance has had to sneak on board a "death star" while a space battle rages outside to pinpoint the weakness in the super-weapon and blow it up.  Get a new plot already.  It was so similar to the plot specifically for the original Star Wars that it probably qualifies more as a remake than a sequel.  Except now with more Diversity, Inc.
As one reviewer contemptuously said of it, "The Farce Awakens gives girls what they want, superiority to men in all things without having to put in the effort men put in to be the best they can be."

And as Vox Day said about it: "It occurs to me that there is probably a market for books, and even films, that 'continue' the story of SJW-infested properties in a traditionalist manner. What should the Star Wars prequels have looked like? How should the post-Jedi story actually [have] proceeded?

I shall have to think on this further... about Star Lords battling for power in a galaxy far, far away."

I think the complaint is over-wrought.  As I tell my son Alexander, no—The Force Awakens isn't a terrible movie.  Actually, it's a rather fun one.  It's hardly perfect, and it's not nearly as memorable as the original trilogy, though.  It's merely a place-holder in the franchise, not an entry that really does anything really significant.  And that's OK.  But the idea of doing Star Wars the way it "should" or at least "could" have been?  That's intriguing.  Dennis McKiernan wrote the Iron Tower trilogy as a deliberate rip-off of Lord of the Rings not because he was particularly interesting in ripping off Lord of the Rings, but because he wanted to establish a similar baseline so he could write sequels to it without getting tangled up in IP violations and stuff like that.  File the serial numbers off, basically, but then go your own way with the stories.  That's what Vox Day is suggesting, kinda, for Star Wars.

A few years ago, I read The Secret History of Star Wars, which is actually a fascinating and extremely entertaining work (moreso than the prequel movies, certainly.)  It's quite interesting that a little bit of research into already published quotes, remarks, articles, etc. from the 70s and 80s can easily debunk the myth that George Lucas allowed to grow about his "master plan" for the series; it's quite clear that he had no master plan, or at least not one that resembled how the movies actually turned out.  Reading about some of the admittedly half-baked ideas that Lucas had after the success of the first movie, but before serious work was started on Empire really made me sit up and think to myself; "man, I would really have loved to have seen those movies!"  We get just a tiny glimpse of what they could have been like with the original Star Wars spin-off story, Splinter of the Minds' Eye by Alan Dean Foster.

That's what I'd like to explore more; an alternate version of what Star Wars—or at least a similar analog to Star Wars—might have been like had it diverged after the first movie into something more similar to Lucas' original swashbuckling serial-inspired plan, rather than becoming more tedious, more on message, more dark... in other words, if it had remained more of a Flash Gordon meets the Lensman and Dune.

And then, of course, I thought to myself, "Hey, I have this whole AD ASTRA campaign thingy that I'm not doing anything with, and I don't know for sure what to do with anyway."  And it clicked.  I could combine my concept for AD ASTRA, and my "1,000 years later" Star Wars setting, and even modify my Star Wars m20 rules instead of trying to adapt some kind of superhero version of m20 as the rules-base, and I'd be off and running.  Yeah, that means that I don't actually do anything new much—but it puts me in a place where I can actually use AD ASTRA immediately.  

I'm not actually looking to run anything anytime soon... but I'm thinking about trying my hand at writing again.  I'm always thinking of that and I've said as much many times here over the last few years, but I've actually got a plan and something that I can do with this now—it looks more promising than the vague ideas that I've had in the past.
Potential AD ASTRA characters?
So... next up, I'll give some brief backstory as to how my Jedi analogs came to be, what they are all about, and how the galaxy ended up looking like it does.  Because I like borrowing a good idea as much as the next guy, and let's face it; Star Wars was basically just a salad of pre-existing space opera elements all thrown together anyway along with some samurai movies, some Westerns, and a few other elements that were hardly original, I'll probably borrow from some other "generic"sources to some degree to add to that.

Stay tuned.  After several weeks without having anything really meaningful to talk about that motivated me to write a blog post, I've actually got a series that I think I can run with.

And, of course, it just wouldn't be "me" if I didn't add a potentially Lovecraftian element at least in the background.  Oh, snap.  I don't know what I'll do with that yet, but it'll not wander in grimdark Warhammer 40k territory, just have a bit of a taste.

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