Category Archives: General Star Wars

Dominique and Lumiya

As the end of the year looms ever larger, I’m still playing catch up with everything I’ve been wanting to discuss here. For now, I’d like to share my first impressions of SWTOR’s newest operation, but do it from a perspective a little different than normal. But let’s start with the basics!

The R-4 Anomaly

This past summer saw the release of a brand new, somewhat delayed new operation: The R-4 Anomaly.

As with all my operations experience in recent years, my progress through R-4 through has been very casual and my focus has been getting to experience it with friends and guildmates. This means I haven’t set foot in Veteran Mode, but that’s fine me. Storymode is still plenty challenging; it feels in many way like the Hard Modes of old. The dps and healing checks are there, but not wholly beyond reach. The mechanics are the real challenge, and do require a coordinated group and communication in voice chat.

In other words, Story Mode R-4 is unlike every other Storymode in the game. Personally, I’m having a great time learning the fights and teaching them to others. However, this does mean that the majority of actual Story Mode players are left out in the cold. A Story Mode nerf seems inevitable, but I wonder where it will leave my more casual “beer league” operations team. From what I’ve seen, Veteran Mode R-4 seems more akin to the “Hard Mares” of Shadow of Revan, something of which I am on the record being no fan.

With the legacy Story Modes now tuned to be the easiest they’ve ever been, R4’s introductory difficulty stands out as an “anomaly” that is harder than most Veteran Mode operations. Personally, I would’ve notched up the labels of each version of the raid from Story Mode to Veteran and Veteran Mode to Master, and released a universal Storymode for folks without gear or experience to freely explore. As someone without any actual MMO design knowledge, I’m certain this would’ve been fine for Story Mode players and casual raiders like myself, but I’m not sure how the Nightmare community would feel about it. I don’t envy Bioware’s job trying to strike a balance in group content for all the varied levels of players in the game, but the inconsistency in difficulty renders the labels they put on the modes confusing at best.

As for the operation’s setting, R-4 is the spookiest and most atmospheric one we’ve had since the Dread Fortress and Dread Palace. The hallways between bosses are dark, dangerous and cramped, and it’s not until the operation’s climatic encounter that the space opens up at all. The boss fights are distinct and unique. So far I like Watchdog best of all: each player has their own responsibilities and each group can deal with the mechanics in different ways, making it a little different to play every time. When my team executes the strategy perfectly, it is incredibly satisfying and has a real effect on the entire flow of the fight.

ARIA’s story from the Dxun operation continues into R4. Despite her narration throughout, I’m not completely clear how she became involved in some rogue Sith’s plan to rebuild the Mass Shadow Generator. I suppose the move from Czerka to the cult of the Unmasked isn’t that big of a leap. The operation’s overall story is not terribly complex. Basically a Sith cult started playing with powers they didn’t fully understand and things went sideways. For an operation that is essentially a haunted house in space, I’m not sure we need much more than that.

I do want to compliment the voice acting included in the op. ARIA continues to be amusing, and Helen Sadler’s performance as the operation’s climatic foe, Lady Dominque is strong as well. And all due credit should go to SWTOR stalwart, Darin De Paul, who definitely gave his all to Lord Kanoth, quite possibly SWTOR’s most unsettling and creepy operations foe.

The rewards from our Story Mode runs have been a bit of a mixed bag. My team had already collected at least a few pieces of 330 gear from Nefra before R4 even launched, and we very quickly unlocked the 330 modifications from Hyde and Zeek, so the actual token drops haven’t been useful for gearing. I’ve completed two cosmetic armor sets and still have dozens of tokens with nothing to spend them on. However, random mobs do drop some neat decorations, but given that the operation is relatively light on trash, I do wish the drop rate were a bit more generous. I should also say that the Wings of Nihrot that can be looted in Veteran Mode are wicked cool, and I definitely have at least one unhinged Sith who’d look good wearing them.

The only glaring oversight I can see from the operations rewards are the lack of a Watchpuppy mini-pet or even a Watchdoggo companion.

Dark Ladies of the Sith

The encounter with Lady Dominique is a fitting capstone to the raid. She’s a unique foe in an epic setting, both with deep ties to Star Wars lore. There is a lot going on, a lot for each player to figure out and get used to, and I’m enjoying the journey of learning this fight. At least when it has been working anyway.

The Mass Shadow Generator is likely familiar to fans of Knights of the Old Republic, but I want to spend some time exploring Lady Dominique’s design instead. The thing that struck me when I first saw her, was her similarity to the character who is actually the second dark sider in Star Wars lore to be identified as a Lord of the Sith: the Dark Lady Lumiya.

Lumiya has a long history, which extends even into the late Expanded Universe and I won’t go into too much detail except to say that she began as a supporting character and antagonist in Marvel Comic’s original Star Wars comics during the 1980’s. She was an agent of the Empire sent to infiltrate the Rebel Alliance following the events of The Empire Strikes Back. She befriended and possibly seduced Luke Skywalker until he thought he’d accidentally killed her in battle. But she survived and was rebuilt thanks to Darth Vader’s intervention, and reemerged after Return of the Jedi as Vader’s heir intent on defeating Luke and the Rebel Alliance. The aspect of Lumiya’s story that always resonated with me is that if Luke is Anakin Skywalker’s son, then Lumiya is in many ways, Darth Vader’s daughter, making their conflict more personal and tragic.

Lumiya shares with Lady Dominique some design elements including most notably a distinctive V-shaped helmet. While I can’t say for certain if Domininque was meant to be an echo of Lumiya, I do believe both character share inspiration in a style of women’s medieval headdress called the “Escoffion.” The inverted triangular shape of the escoffion evokes horns coming from the wearer’s head and certainly makes for an imposing appearance.

It is an established part of the Star Wars design philosophy to take archaic designs and give them a futuristic spin, from Darth Vader’s Samurai inspired helmet to Din Djarin’s knight in shining armor/Mandalorian regalia. In the case of Dominique and Lumiya, this odd design syncs perfectly with the cybernetics and circuitry inspired patterns that define the rest of their costumes.

But there may be more going on with Lady Dominque than just a similarity to an old comic book character. The design of her helmet suggests other comparisons. Clearly, her helmet is a technified iteration on Darth Nihulus’ split skull mask, but there seems to me more going on here. I can’t help but think that the slits in her helmet’s faceplate are not just random. The design evokes symbols from our world, and I wonder if it is just coincidence. One symbol is the Cross of Lorraine, which was used to inspire French patriotism and reunification during World World II. The other comes from electrical engineering and is the symbol for a common fixed capacitor.

In both cases, however, Lady Dominique’s version of the symbol is broken, suggesting dis-unification in once case or a broken connection in another. I fully admit that I may be looking for connections that aren’t there, but it does strike me as interesting that either interpretation can relate to Dominique’s disastrous attempt to merge her body and consciousness with the Mass Shadow Generator.

Regardless, she’s a really bad-ass looking Sith Lord, and whether I’m seeing things that aren’t there, nothing can change that!

UPDATE! The Vampire In the Room

I do want to mention an additional Lady D that I suspect also had some influence on Lady Dominique, that is, of course, Lady Dimitrescu, the mutant-vampire antagonistic of Capcom’s 2021 survival horror game, Resident Evil Village. Lady Dimitrescu achieved near instant meme status with her debut, and I think it’s fair to say that elements of Dominique echo Dimitrescu’s infamously tall statue and ridiculously wide brimmed hat.

I did not mention this at first because I think maybe it went without saying, but upon reflection, it might’ve been a touch of academic snobbery that led me to overlook a recent pop cultural influence in favor of ones with ties to Star Wars lore and real world symbology. Having had an extra day to rethink my position, I hope this small addendum corrects the record.

 

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Filed under General Star Wars, Legacy of the Sith, My Artwork

Andor and SWTOR

This week’s post is a quick one, and only indirectly related to SWTOR. The Disney+ series Andor launched today, and it has its own logo. Although the logo has been constantly changing over the course of the build up to its debut to the point that the version used in the title sequence is different from the one appearing in the show’s latest marketing materials, each logo has shared traits that I thought were interesting. In tribute, I decided I’d reinterpret it in Aurebesh with a bit of a SWTOR twist.

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I quite pulled it off, but I did have fun in the attempt at least. The most distinctive trait of the Andor logo is the letter O formed in negative space between the D and R. Trying to pull of the same trick with an Aurebesh Wesk or W is pushing the readability of that illusion to its limit. To make it work, I had to trim off half of the lower arm of the letter Trill or T, but since the Andor logo removed the bar in the center of its A, I feel like this cheat is consistent with the original design.

The small Star Wars logo was inspired by/shamelessly ripped off from AurekFonts who has worked to archive and catalogue Star Wars’ long and varied history of alien typefaces across all its lore.

The red letters at the bottom are my own bespoke Aurebesh with serifs, which I’ve used here and there over the years. At best, I’d call it a “work in progress,” but at this point I’ve nearly completed the alphabet, so if I’ve got it, I’m gonna use it!

As for Andor itself, don’t worry, there are no spoilers here! If I choose to write about it, it won’t be until well after the season ends. For now, I’m hoping to enjoy it as it comes out this fall.

 

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What About Kenobi, Though?

Disney+’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series recently concluded, and I’ve come away from it with a few thoughts I’d like to share. Given the focus of this blog, I do want to touch on its connections and shared themes with SWTOR, but let’s start with a review of the series as a whole. I can’t promise to avoid spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the show and want to go in fresh, feel free to skip this post.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the show, and rate it the best of Disney+’s live action Star Wars endeavors. Ewan McGregor is one of Star Wars’ most charismatic actors and seeing him slip back into the role of Ben Kenobi again (or maybe for the first time) was an absolute pleasure.  And while it takes a while before we see it, I think it’s fair to call Hayden Christiansen a familiar face as well, and it is cool at long last to see him get his due as Darth Vader. The showdowns between their two characters do a good job splitting the difference between the “Super Saiyan” Darth Vader of Rogue One and the “Old Men Waving Sticks at Each Other” from A New Hope. To me, the show’s version of Vader elides very well indeed with his depictions in the movies.

I also want to compliment Moses Ingram’s performance as Reva, the Third Sister. Star Wars villains tend to fall into two catagories: moody adolescents and somewhat campy old men. Reva is rather different. She is consumed by pure, barely-controlled rage that she inflicts on everyone in her path, innocent victim and supposed ally alike. Reva clearly got dealt a raw deal. She hates the universe and wants to pay it back in kind. Ingram put all of that right there on the surface, but doesn’t go over the top with it, so that when the time comes, and Reva sees where all this hate has left her, it is an affecting moment. I don’t think that’s an easy thing to pull off.

I’ve often thought that there was potential for Obi-Wan stories that could be told of his exile on Tatooine. I mainly thought these would be tales about Old Ben and Young Luke having a Lone Wolf and Cub style adventure. Instead Obi-Wan Kenobi gave me something I didn’t know I wanted: an Old Ben and Young Leia adventure, and the interactions between the two characters are, by far, the best part of the show. Leia being exactly the sassy, troublemaker I’d have expected her to be at that age was a delight, and she serves as the perfect antidote to Ben’s regret-laden cynicism that I’m not sure even Luke could match.

On the negative side, I wonder if this story started out as a movie and not a series. I think there is a thrilling and tight two hour movie in here, but as a six episode series, if feels padded out. You can see the show straining against its limitations compared to a movie. The hanger rescue at the end of episode four is a good example, since it compares poorly to similar sequences from The Force Awakens and Rise of Skywalker. With more time, resources, stuntwork and planning, it might’ve been a spectacular set piece, but instead it was staged about as blandly as you might expect of a “TV show” cutting corners and filling out its season before the big finale.

I’d also argue that parts of the plot are driven along by happenstance a bit more than necessary. The show’s very last story beat was made possible because Reva happened upon the holo-transmitter that happened to have been dropped by Haja and that happened to reveal the location of Luke Skywalker that Bail Organa happened to recklessly reveal to Obi-Wan who already knew that information. Rather than have Reva organically discover Luke herself, his location is just handed to her out of the blue. It strikes me as sloppy storytelling.

There are also issues of continuity, but if I’m being honest. I don’t care. Continuity is a tool, not a straightjacket, and retcons are part and parcel of telling stories in shared spaces. I think it is fair to strategically ignore minor plot points from one story so that they can be explored fully in another. Much hay has been made from calling Star Wars “modern mythology”, but all folklore, from the heroes of ancient Greece to the Knights of the Round Table to the cowboys and Indians of the American West, are stories told by different people in different places and different times. Telling old stories in new ways from new perspectives is the very definition of folklore, so I’m not going to be bothered by inconsistencies in movies and TV shows separated by decades.

Yet if the show drags in places, it does, unlike the Book of Boba Fett, make up for it in ways that a tighter, streamlined version of this story would likely have had to gloss over. For example, I’m very glad that the show got to spend time showing Bail and Breha and Owen and Beru being loving parents to Leia and Luke. Those relationships are footnotes in the original movies, but they are just as, if not more important, as the twins’ blood ties to Vader.

Most importantly, I think Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s finale stuck the landing. The climatic confrontation was strong both as a duel of Force users, but also an emotional conflict between brothers turned enemies. At first I thought maybe they’d cribbed a bit too much from Ahsoka’s battle with Vader in Star Wars: Rebels, but the way Anakin’s voice intermingled with Vader’s as he told Ben “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did.” was a punch to the gut, and this scene alone makes this story a worthy addition to Star Wars lore.

The show ends with a couple of moments that I might consider to be fan-service if they weren’t so well earned. Liam Nesson is the best part of The Phantom Menace, and his brief appearance is a welcome resolution to Ben’s arc from the very first episode. And meme or not, I must tip my hat to the show for its perfect deployment of the line “Hello there.”

From Kenobi to Beniko

Finally, I think it might be fun to look at the show from the perspective of a SWTOR player. Certainly this adventure leaves little doubt that Obi-Wan is a Sage, and as someone who has mained a Sage since launch, I sure would like to pull off some of his moves in the game. No more pebbles, Bioware, only boulders!

There are striking visual and conceptual parellels between Vader’s battle with Obi-Wan in episode three and Vaylin’s confrontation with Senya in SWTOR’s Betrayed cinematic. Both Anakin and Vaylin were robbed of their childhoods and came into their own broken and betrayed by those who should have nurtured them. Like Obi-Wan, Senya is consumed by her regrets and failure to protect her children. It takes more than being one with the Force to raise a kid in this screwed up galaxy, it seems.

Unlike, Vader, Vaylin’s story may not be over just yet, so I’m curious to see how much like the Dark Lord of the Sith she truly becomes.

Obi-Wan Kenobi, like so much Star Wars lore, explores stories of characters struggling to become who they are in a world where it’s not always clear if the Force is with you or it serves you. Are Reva and Lana Sith? Are Ahsoka and Sa’har Jedi? And should those labels matter?

These questions can be the foundations of interesting stories. And that is kind of why I love Star Wars.

 

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Walking on Black Sunshine

This week I’ve maxed out the second Galactic Season track, and I thought it would be a good excuse to take a look at some alien writing that ties into this season’s underworld theme.

If you’ve ever visited the Black Hole sector on Coruscant, even if only to do the “Face Merchants” heroic, then you’ve seen that the neighborhood is covered in graffiti which makes it clear that the sector is under the control of the Black Sun criminal syndicate.

Black Sun’s first appearance in Star Wars lore was in 1996 as part of the Shadows of the Empire multimedia event designed to give to fans all the books, toys, comics, video games, soundtracks and merchandise that they’d expect from the release of a brand new Star Wars movie, only without an actual movie itself. Several of the concepts, characters and vehicles introduced in Shadows found there way into other Star Wars stories, but Black Sun with its distinctive logo and ominous name has remained a regular presence in stories set on the seedier side of the Star Wars universe.

SWTOR players will discover that Black Sun was born out of the chaos caused by Darth Malgus’ surprise attack on Coruscant, a seminal event in the Old Republic’s history. Even after the siege of Coruscant was broken, the Republic capital’s security forces were in disarray, and entire sectors of the world were left to fend for themselves. This void was eagerly filled by crimelords and gangsters who united to seize control of as much territory in Coruscant’s lower levels as they good. Helpless citizens under their thumbs ultimately had no choice but to hope that better a black sun than none. Black Sun’s advancement was nearly unchecked for years, and in that time they became a syndicate whose influence reached both across the galaxy and the ages into the era of the Clone Wars and the Rebellion against the Empire.

The Black Sun graffiti in SWTOR is written using two languages. The first is, of course, Aurebesh, but it is written in a free hand style appropriate for its context as spray painted vandalism tagged on a wall. Handwriting seems to be something of a lost art in Star Wars, with examples in lore being few and far between until the appearance of the “sacred Jedi texts” in The Last Jedi. In SWTOR, as in Star Wars in general, freehand writing most often appears as graffiti. In the example above, the larger text declares Black Sun’s presence with bold authority, and the smaller slogan threatens that they are as inevitable as the dawn.

The second language used for the smaller tag is now called “Outer Rim Basic” but at the time these graphics were created for SWTOR it was generally known as Huttese, and I’ll stick with that identification here. This writing style first appeared during the pod-racing sequences in The Phantom Menace, and iterations of it can be found in many other stories that touch on Star Wars’ criminal underworld. Fans of The Book of Boba Fett on Disney+ might recognize the graffiti tag used by the Kintan Strider’s swoop gang as being the letter “K” in a version of Huttese/Outer Rim Basic.

Given the overlap and rivalry between Star Wars’ various criminal syndicates,  it does not strike me as out of place to see Huttese used in this circumstance. For example, Skadge, the infamous and not-quite beloved companion from the Bounty Hunter story, at various times worked for both Black Sun and the Hutt Cartel, although his time with the Hutts (like most of Skadge’s relationships, I’d wager) ended in betrayal and violence. Regardless, an association with the Hutts, whether real or implied, could only help Black Sun’s burgeoning reputation in its early days, both with others gangs and local citizens who doubtless already knew of the danger of crossing the Hutts.

Nevertheless, for those interior decorators who would like to add a dash of scum and villainy to their stronghold’s ambiance, the Black Sun-Graffitied Underworld Couch is a reward for subscribers and free-to-play players alike at the fifth level of the current Galactic Season. As you kick back and plop your backside on top of it, take note, perhaps ironically, that it has been tagged with the same graffiti seen in my recreation above.

 

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Star Wars: Visions Review

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed any Star Wars tales outside of SWTOR. Although I generally liked The Mandalorian and Bad Batch, I didn’t come away from them feeling like I had much to offer to the conversations around those shows. But having finished Star Wars: Visions this week, I did want to put some thoughts down while they’re fresh. I will, for the most part, avoid spoilers since I feel like we are still within the window of letting folks watch at their own pace. I don’t follow anime as much as I used to, but I did grow up with some of the series that made it over to North America in my youth. A French translation of Captain Harlock was my first exposure to anime, and, as a kid, I was enthralled by Starblazers and then Robotech, which in spite of how the original shows were truncated and transformed for western audiences, were clearly unlike any other cartoons on my TV. I had no interest in He-man or Transformers, but to this day I can still sing every lyric to the Starblazers theme song. When anime exploded in popularity in the US in the 90’s, it was cool to be able to easily see (often even in the theater!) films like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke. But aside from the odd movie or series here and there, I haven’t watched as much I used to. However, from the get-go, Visions seemed neat, and I certainly was gonna check it out.

To start, I’ll just lay my cards out on the table and get my one spoiler out of the way. Watching someone surfing on the nose of an X-Wing as they cut a Star Destroyer in half with a lightsaber is the Star Wars content I’m here for. I’ve always preferred it when Star Wars bends towards the mystical and weird, so I connected with many of the stories told by Visions. More space rabbits, laser umbrellas, outrageous duels and metalhead Hutts, please.

Clocking in at around 15 minutes each, the episodes don’t have a ton of space to breathe, so the breakneck pace didn’t do some of the stories any favors; maybe too much was left implied and unresolved. I ended up watching the whole series in one or two episode batches over a weekend. Not surprisingly, the installments share many of the same themes, symbols and even story beats, and had I binged the whole thing at once, it might’ve felt repetitive. At the very least, hearing “I have a bad feeling about this” every 15 minutes would’ve gotten old. But taken on their own and with some separation between them, I think I was able to get into each episode a bit more and appreciate the stylistic approach each team brought to the table. I have never been a purist when it comes to the sub vs. dub debate in anime, but in this case I do think that the episodes tend to sound better in the original Japanese with subtitles. Often the the English dub falls into the clichés of anime dubs in which English dialogue is awkwardly verbose and delivered very, very fast.

Given the focus of my blog, I would, of course, be remiss if I did not call attention to the appearance in the episode The Village Bride of an XS Freighter which every Smuggler in SWTOR will know and love as their class ship. The XS is a neat mashup of the Millennium Falcon and the Ebon Hawk, and it’s cool to see it pop up in an unexpected setting. If I’m being honest, the class ships have been neglected in SWTOR lately, so I’m glad at least one can get in on the action again. And additional points to the animators at Kinema Citrus for making an Old Republic reference to something other than Revan, who might be as close to overexposed as anything from that era can get.

Overall, I enjoyed Visions. If nothing else, I found it to be at least interesting. And if not every episode was great, each story’s individual approach to the material and setting gave me something to think about. I can see how the show might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but projects like this keep Star Wars fresh for new and old audiences alike. The answer to the question of which Star Wars movie or show someone should watch first does not have a simple answer these days, but Visions covers a lot of ground, and I think any kid or kid-at-heart can find at least one or two episodes to kick back and enjoy whether they’re coming at it as an anime fan or a Star Wars fan. Ultimately, I think Star Wars: Visions successfully accomplished an anthology’s job of leaving me wanting more, but not needing more.

But I can hear you asking the important question: what about the Aurebesh? And, yep, its all over Visions too. Its most prominent use comes in the episode T0-B1, and fortunately its translation is not a spoiler. Somewhat to my surprise, the Aurebesh does not translate into Japanese or English, but into Spanish. And while I’m not 100 percent certain, I am confident that the holographic text displayed in the episode is snippets of lyrics from the Latin flamenco pop song “MALAMENTE (Cap.1: Augurio)” by Rosalía. I have never been of the opinion that Aurebesh should be used strictly literally. It functions mainly to establish the flavor of Star Wars‘ space fantasy setting whether the translation makes sense in context or not. This blog is filled with numerous references to my favorite songs, so I heartily approve of the animators slipping in a tribute to music they like as well.

That’s all for now, but I’ll be back in a couple of days to celebrate this blog’s fifth anniversary!

 

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That Which Does Not Kill Us

With SWTOR‘s next game update “Dark Descent” arriving in just a few days, I figure it was high time to finally translate the third of three Mandalorian themed banners introduced late last year in the Spirits of Vengeance flashpoint.

While it was the last one I recreated, this will be the first one players encounter on their journey through the flashpoint on board the Clan Varad crewed starship, Champion’s Glory.

The sign is gold with purple and black accents and features a fitting slogan for the Clan. Described as “restless” by a Dark Lord of the Sith and bloodthirsty by most everyone else, Clan Varad served as the antagonists of the flashpoint Mandalorian Raiders and are likely already familiar to many players of the game.

The slogan is vague enough to appeal to the single-minded goals of Clan Varad, but it does beg the question: “Strongest at what?” I doubt Mandalorians who align with Varad have much interest in self-reflection so the question seems likely answered by whichever beskar-pot dictator shows up with the biggest blasters that day. Millennia later, these would go on to be the last words of the Deathwatch’s Pre Vizsla, so the slogan remains fittingly ironic.

When Is A Skull Not A Skull?

All three of the posters featured in the Spirit of Vengeance flashpoint feature unique and truly very cool takes on the famous skull icon made famous by Boba Fett. Of the three new symbols, the skull on the Clan Varad banner is most similar to the classic Mythosaur skull, but this version has a hand-printed texture rather than a stamped one, suggesting that if nothing else, Varad is far more hands-on than most Mandalorian clans.

Next up, the Darmanda logo from the Fortune’s Folly is quite similar in shape to the skull, but more closely evokes the contours of the equally if not more famous T-shaped visor of the Mandalorian helmet, but with a sleek, futuristic flair.

I alluded to this in the post in which I translated the banner from Heta Kol’s ship, the Seeker’s Vigil, but I might as well put my tin-foil hat theory on the record sooner rather than later. I suspect that symbol is not a skull at all, but the hilt of a weapon. But what weapon? Now, the Darksaber as seen on the shows The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian was created well after the events of Star Wars: The Old Republic, but what if Heta Kol is looking to create or acquire a proto-Darksaber? While other weapons inspired by modern Star Wars lore have found their way into SWTOR, this distinct take on the lightsaber feels conspicuous by its absence. This addition could also firmly connect Shae Vizla to Clan Vizsla, which has also played a significant role in Star Wars stories recently.

Or maybe I’m overthinking it, and it’s just a fancy skull. Hopefully we’ll find out before too long!

 

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Aurebesh is Weird

As February ends, gentle reader, I am once again turning in my work at the last possible second. All I can say is that this month definitely did not work out the way I’d planned.

This time, I’ve chosen to take a fresh look at one of the very first translations I made for this blog, and make a more faithful recreation this time around. Given its translation, you will likely not be shocked to learn that this sign can be found most commonly on the planet Corellia. Amusingly, the blue text contains a spelling error. It’s not the only one in the game, but it’s also a common error, one I’ve made myself, so I’m happy to let it slide. The orange text is another example of seemingly random single or paired letters that are seen frequently in holographic neon around the galaxy, and the use of the letters “G” and “Z” are a common popular choice for numerous signs and displays in the game. For the blue text, I followed the original’s use of capital and lower case letters, but for the line of orange, single glyphs I opted to reflect the capital “G’s” rather than alternate it with a lower case “g’s” in order the better match the poster’s original design.

There are several aspects to this seemingly simple sign that make translation a bit more tricky that it might seem at first glance. My initial translation nearly five years ago was completely nonsensical because technically this writing is not Aurebesh. To the best of my knowledge this alphabet has not been formally identified in Star Wars canon, but it is actually the second attempt, after Aurebesh as we know it, to recreate Joe Johnston’s original alien alphabet created for the original trilogy. The particular font used here is likely Erik Schroeder’s Galactic Basic. The giveaway that the font used is not formal Aurebesh is actually the use of glyphs which in Aurebesh are two-letter digraphs. As Aurebesh has evolved over the years, the digraphs have been used less and less over time or repurposed as other symbols. In SWTOR when you see an Aurebesh digraph you can usually assume the font being used is not Aurebesh.

As fake space letters go, I continue to find the evolution of Aurebesh interesting. There are many, many issues with its original, official presentation. The punctuation is incomplete, and there are no numbers or rules for capitalization. Over the years, different fonts, very often created by fans, have filled in the gaps and fleshed it out in ways beyond its original intention. The overall effect of this is that Aurebesh feels rather like a living “language” with weird oddities and quirks that real alphabets develop through generations of use across vast distances. Aurebesh, from the very beginning, was never intended to be THE singular alphabet of the Star Wars universe, just one of many. (including our own English alphabet). In Star Wars: The Old Republic, this diversity of languages and scripts can be found around the game world, and eagle-eyed gamers will spot Huttese/Outer Rim Basic, Naboo Futhork, ancient Jedi and Sith runes and most recently Mandalorian alongside the familiar Aurebesh.

UPDATE! I just noticed a spelling error of my own in my recreation. I’m tempted to claim this is an intentional homage to the error in the original and totally not a basic mistake by yours truly. You be the judge!

 

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Take Me Away to That Special Place

While messing about on SWTOR‘s Public Test Server this evening, I realized that the character I had transferred over last year still hadn’t leveled their crew skills. To remedy that, I flew over to Mek She to farm up some metals. While running through Brzo’s Wells, I came across an inaccessible instanced area that I don’t believe I had encountered before. Even more peculiar was the Aurebesh sign hanging outside of the area, and it is one I definitely hadn’t seen before.

This neon sign is amusing partially because it seems to advertise a restaurant (which specializes in bone broth soup no doubt) but mainly because its mascot seems to be none other than the breakout star of The Mandalorian series! Leaving aside issues involving canon, the time-space continuum and crass commercialism it’s interesting to note that even in SWTOR this little green foundling is still officially referred to as “Child” and not Baby Yoda.

I apologize for the lack of translation and recreation. I will endeavor to get a better screenshot once the next game update goes live in a couple of weeks, but I thought it would be a fun discovery to share today.

Who’s More Foolish?

Just updating this post with a late in the day addition. This is indeed an April Fool’s Day joke. I honestly wasn’t sure if I should go ahead with this prank, but some friends pointed out that now more than ever we all could use a laugh and more Baby Yoda in our lives. Swtorista has compiled a truly epic list of official and unofficial SWTOR related April Fool’s jokes and if you’re looking to raise your spirits definitely check it out!

Finally, here’s a peak behind the curtain at a higher resolution version of the “Sweet Child O Diner” poster before I resized, distorted, blurred and muddied it up into the Mek She street scene. I won’t lie, I’m quite pleased with how this turned out.

 

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Relish is a Lie, There is Only Ketchup

Like countless others last night, I tuned into the Super Bowl which is as much an advertising bonanza as a sporting event. I did not expect that anything I saw would inspire me in any way, but a commercial for Heinz Ketchup surprised me with its display of the official fake space language of this blog, Aurebesh.

The commercial features a split screen of visitors to various eating establishments across time and space that are united by a common use of the tomato condiment. One of the settings is an alien market adorned with banners that clearly use the Aurebesh alphabet. Even though some of the letters have been rotated and altered somewhat, there is no doubt that Aurebesh is used here.

If you’re like me and hoped for an inside joke declaring mustard to be the superior condiment, you’ll be disappointed. The letters do not translate into anything with an obvious meaning. I have no doubt that someone in authority made sure that there were no secret messages to be found. Indeed I think the use of Aurebesh itself was the whole of the easter egg for Star Wars fans.

Even if you don’t get the Star Wars connection, anyone can still look at those banners and recognize that they contain writing of some sort, even if it is not legible. That duality sums up Star Wars’ core aesthetic that seeks to strike the perfect balance between the alien and the familiar. Star Destroyers evoke battleships without looking that much like them. No Authurian knight or Japanese samurai ever wielded a laser sword, but lightsabers instantly connect the Jedi to those traditions. What is clever about Aurebesh’s design is how it is also strange and familiar at the same time. Aurebesh’s letter shapes are often based on their English counterparts, but their component parts have been twisted around or turned inside. If I find myself stumped by some Aurebesh, it actually helps me to translate it by “reverse engineering” the glyphs into familiar English letters.

This is certainly one of the more unusual things I’ve examined for this blog, but it never ceases to surprise me how far Star Wars has seeped into pop culture.

 

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The Rise of Skywalker Review

Beware: there will be some light spoilers ahead. My social media feed is filled with people who didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker, and I don’t really disagree with a lot of the criticisms, but I still enjoyed the movie. I’m enormously fond of these characters and I cannot deny having fun watching them fly around the galaxy having adventures.

I’ll start with what I didn’t like. I’m a Rose stan and was bummed to see her get the Return of the Jedi-Lando treatment. Her heart and earnestness is a big part of why I love The Last Jedi. I wish she had more to do than just be there. Related to that is Finn whose story doesn’t feel complete. Finn is the focus of so much textual and subtextual shipping in the first two movies that it is frankly weird that none of it was addressed much less resolved beyond everyone having seemingly friend-zoned each other. I know Abrams has addressed the question of what Finn wanted to say to Rey during a Q&A, but, in my book, that doesn’t count at all.

To raise a plot point, revisit it later, but never resolve it strikes me as awfully sloppy storytelling. For a movie that spends so much time dwelling on other questions that don’t really need answers, it’s disappointing to see ones that should be answered left hanging.

If there were only one thing I could change, however, it would be Rey’s family revelation. I admit that generational conflict and bloodlines have always been part of Star Wars’ story, but I just don’t think it was necessary here. I think you could remove that plot point and still tell the exact same story.

That said, I don’t think Rey Palpatine invalidates The Last Jedi or its message; indeed Rey taking the name Skywalker regardless is, to me, a satisfying conclusion to her story.

I hate to try to read the minds of any filmmakers, but I do agree with the popular notion that J. J. Abrams stuffed into The Rise of Skywalker the two movies worth ideas of where he thought things would go after The Force Awakens, but he never quite squares things with what Rian Johnson did in The Last Jedi. Not since the Expanded Universe, have we really seen the visions of two authors with different takes on the same setting and characters bump up against each other like this. Do I think the goal was to make a safe, non-controversial movie? Absolutely, but I don’t think Episode IX is even remotely close to being the first Star Wars story to do that.

This movie is a shaggy dog and, in spite of its mess, I still like it. The four leads are strong, and their chemistry is engaging. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in particular are very good. The big set pieces are cool; the rain-soaked lightsaber battle was neat, and the space battle at the end was a blast. The trailer spoiled the reveal of the fleet, and that scene sure does feel like it cribbed from Avengers: Endgame, but I still cheered when Lando and the Falcon came to the rescue. I cheered when Rey handed the lightsaber off to Ben. And I cheered when she crossed the two blades at the end. I am on the record as someone who doesn’t think fan service is inherently bad, so stuff like Harrison Ford’s cameo (which I wasn’t expecting) worked for me, and the voices of the Jedi (which I were expecting) felt right on target. And Luke’s shit-eating grin after lifting the X-Wing out of the water was just great.

Finally, I think Carrie Fisher’s inclusion was handled well. While I wouldn’t call the integration of her old footage seamless, there were really only one or two shots that struck me as obviously CGI’ed, and I’d say they did a good job working in what dialogue they had into the story. I can’t imagine watching the movie not knowing that she is no longer with us, but I think it’s an appropriate tribute to Fisher and her importance to Star Wars.

I realize “Ah, I mostly liked it” is not the hottest of takes, but I’m not embarrassed to like something in spite of its flaws. Is the movie big, dumb and stupid? Probably. But I’m okay with that. Sometimes Star Wars should be those things.

 

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