Standing Under the Bar Lights

First off, let me apologize for the longer than usual gap between posts. I had spent a couple of weeks working on another, much more complicated translation, but that project ran headlong into a proverbial concrete wall, forcing me to abandon it completely. Instead I’ve moved on to something whose translation was no challenge at all.

If you’ve spent time on the hollow asteroid Mek Sha, you’ve seen this holographic sign and many others like it. To say that there are a lot of bars on Mek Sha is a massive understatement. There are bars everywhere on Mek Sha. I imagine these establishments are tiny affairs, much like the countless bars and sushi joints packed into the narrow alleys of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Each of the miniature cantinas on Mek Sha likely has space for just a few seats, but serves unique and exotic specialties tailored to Mek Sha’s diverse alien inhabitants.

The sign itself repeats the word “bar” three times and flashes on and off. It includes hex patterns that are common elements on other advertisements seen on Nar Shaddaa and the Republic Fleet. This is a nice aspect, which visually connects it to other holographic displays familiar to players already.

Alderaan Property Values

I should also touch on SWTOR’s latest game update, Pinnacles of Power. The update’s major feature is the Alderaan stronghold. Although I have purchased and fully unlocked it, I haven’t yet done any decorating at all there, so I can only offer some brief first impressions.

Once again, Bioware has provided players with a beautiful and vast space to make their own. The stronghold is packed with secret areas, achievements and a wide variety of spaces to decorate from  the waterfall and stream in the open field out front and the impressively creepy Killik cave to the stained glass glow of the great hall and the snow capped calm of the mountain retreat, my favorite area of the stronghold.

I have the same complaints I have with all strongholds about wanting more hooks in one place, different kind of hooks in another and wishing for more interactive elements, but that doesn’t diminish how cool Alderaan is. Like the Rishi and Yavin strongholds, I’m certain I will be decorating Alderaan for many, many months to come. Hopefully, I’ll be finished before the Death Star comes to pay a visit.

The Task at Hand

The game update also came with some story content. On the one hand, it is a brief interlude that doesn’t really advance Onlsaught’s larger narratives, but it is nice to touch base with characters old and new and see that things are happening even if they aren’t galaxy-shattering events. And if you’re a fan of Star Wars lore, there are some nice extra bits to sink your teeth into. For Republic players, characters from the Old Republic novel Deceived are introduced to SWTOR for the first time. In addition, Sith characters meet Darth Rivix, who is implied to be a Zeltron, an alien species first introduced way back in the Marvel Star Wars comics of the 1980’s. Those comics are my jam, so I am completely on board for this magenta hued Dark Lord.

A bug introduced to the game during Knights of the Fallen Empire does add a sour note to the update. The bug has to do with companions wearing armor that has different appearances depending on what faction the character wearing it is a part of. For example, if Elara Dorne is wearing Trooper armor, it will appear as Bounty Hunter armor in cut scenes. This is something many players may not even notice if they’ve dressed their companions in gear from the Cartel Market or recent expansions. As someone who’s been playing since launch, however, I have a collection of old school armors that are often good fits for my companion.

I understand that Space Barbie problems are far from game breaking, but it really does take me out of the moment when I walk into a cut scene and Kira is dressed like a Sith Inquisitor.

Aside from that, I think the story update does what it needs to do to keep the chains moving. Once again, things play out differently for Republic and Sith characters, and between some different dialogue options and companion interactions, playing through on alts has felt satisfying. I did not anticipate Malgus’ next objective, but I imagine we’ll be catching up with him in the ruins of Dantooine’s Jedi Enclave in the not too distant future. That can only spell trouble.

 

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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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A Mug’s Game: Five Predictions for 2020

Happy New Year! My annual attempt at failed prognostication has become something of a tradition, and, if we grade last year’s predictions on a generous curve, I scored a 1.5 out of 5, which is much better than I would’ve expected. As usual, I shall swing for the fences and not put any pressure on myself to anticipate the next year of SWTOR and actually hope to be right. There is a reason I call these top five lists “dumb”, after all.

Spoils of War

I don’t think we will see major changes to Spoils of War. For the most part, I have the impression that players are satisfied with gearing in Onslaught, especially as it compares to Galactic Command at any point in Knights of the Eternal Throne. I imagine there might be some tweaking in the months ahead. Renown Crates might as well reward nothing but Tech Fragments considering how rarely they contain useful or interesting loot, and hopefully there will be new additions for classes or specs that still lack a cool set or tactical. I also hope crafting gets another look; making basic stuff like medpacks, stims or augments still feels a bit tedious. Having to constantly churn out six types of components every time I want to make something is already getting old. All that said, it’s been a welcome change to have more stability in gearing this time around.

Blurrg Mounts

It’s fair to say that The Mandalorian has been very well received indeed by both Star Wars fans and SWTOR players. I’ve seen a rush of new Bounty Hunters overrunning Imperial Fleet since the show’s debut. I have no doubt that armor and weapons inspired by the show are certain to make their way to the Cartel Market as quickly as the artists at Bioware can crank them out. I predict that among those will certainly be Blurrg mounts. A colorful assortment of adorably ugly Blurrg pets have long been available to players, and I’d be amazed if they weren’t being fattened up for us to ride at this very moment. I’ll be shocked if I don’t score a point for this prediction next year, and perhaps one day our characters will even be the ancestors who rode the great Mythosaur!

The Dead Speak!

Kira Carsen and Lord Scourge have returned to SWTOR‘s main story with warnings of a Dark Side plague apparently unleashed by Valkorion’s defeat. I will go out on a limb and predict that this new threat might somehow also function as a way to allow for Vaylin’s return. Vaylin is arguably the character with the most tragic story in all of the Fallen Empire saga, and that her fate is set in stone regardless of our choices has been criticized by some who just like the character and by others who are uncomfortable with the idea that someone who was so horribly abused by her father had no path to redemption or escape. I don’t think it’s impossible that we could see her return in the not-too distant future. Nevertheless it might be odd to see her join our stable of companions. That the former Eternal Empress and one of the most powerful Force users in the galaxy might wind up helping us complete dailies on CZ-198 or chain run Slicing missions doesn’t feel like a fitting conclusion to her story either.

New Planet: Honoghr

This prediction is complete and utter speculation on my part. I hope we will visit a new world or two this year, but which ones? The Noghri were recently re-introduced into the official canon during the fourth season of Star Wars: Rebels, and I think they could be cool additions to SWTOR. Their homeworld, Honoghr is a jungle planet with links to both the ancient Rakata and Sith cultists, and it very well could be a planet someone like Darth Malgus might us as a base of operations or source of minions to use in his revenge against his hated foes in the Sith Empire and Galactic Republic. The depictions of the Noghri have varied greatly in Star Wars lore over the years, so I think SWTOR might have some latitude in putting their own stamp on them, and that would be neat to see. That said, if I’m being honest, I think we are far more likely to visit the Wookiee homeworld Kashyyyk or Black Spire Outpost on Batuu than Honoghr this year. I would be fine with either of those destinations.

My Kingdom for a Porg!

Yes, for the third year in a row, Porgs are on this list, and, no, I will not give up on my fine feathered and tasty friends! Truthfully, I accept that Porgs are now fated to do nothing more than hold Baby Yoda’s beer, but I still cling to the foolish hope they will follow along and squawk at my characters’ adventures at some point in the year to come. Once again, I will also offer some unsolicited advice on additional Porg themed items that should make their way to a Cartel Market near you. First, and most obviously, there should be a Porg Flair that replaces our portrait with a dancing Porg. Second, a Porg Weapon Tuning should perch a Porg perilously close to the end of our blaster barrels and lightsaber emitters and also replace the weapon’s sound effects with Porg mating calls. Finally, I can imagine a countless array of Porg themed decorations for our Strongholds: Porgs nests, Porg perches, Porg Disguise Terminals, and interactive Porg BBQ pits. It’s not too late for 2020 to be the year of the Porg, Bioware!

Feel free to let me know how catastrophically wrong these predictions are in the comments below or to share a few of your own. In the meantime, I hope everyone’s new year is off to a great start and that SWTOR roars into the ’20’s with another year of fun for all!

 

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A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part Five

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

Part Five: Star Wars: The Old Republic

I’m sure you are shocked –shocked- to discover that someone who writes about The Old Republic, also likes Star Wars video games. That said, despite the fact that I’ve been keeping this blog for three years, I’ve never really talked about why I love SWTOR.

I’ve been playing Star Wars video games since my misspent youth in the shopping mall video game arcade. Later, during Lucasart’s heyday, I leapt into the virtual cockpit of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter simulators and later rampaged around the galaxy as Kyle Katarn in the epic Dark Forces games. That said, I discovered Knights of the Old Republic very late in its initial life. To be honest, I had more fun watching my nephew run through the game than playing it myself.

But I was there the day SWTOR launched and have been on board ever since. Sure, the initial pitch of “World of Warcraft, but with Lightsabers” absolutely appealed to me, but the game itself also hits the same buttons as other items on this list: new stories outside the movies, stories that I have some part in telling through my characters, and adventures I can share with friends.

Very early on, after staying up extra late to finish the Taris storyline on my Consular, the game did a perfect job in putting me in the same headspace as the character I was playing. By the time I finished, we were both just done with that mutant-zombie infested, nuclear wasteland of a planet and had no patience for anyone who would second guess our choices. When the Consular expressed that in a way that was far cooler than I ever could, I knew from that moment that this character was my main; and she has been my favorite ever since.

Over the years, SWTOR has continued to put my characters at the center of new Star Wars stories set on new worlds that I always look forward to exploring. There are plenty of times when SWTOR made me smile or laugh or catch my breath: the time my Smuggler finished off Skavak with a Dirty Kick; the time I agonized over Jaxo’s fate; the first time my Inquisitor walked into the Dark Council chamber like she owned the joint, or my first night on Oricon when I looked up and saw the Dread Palace looming overhead.

Like the old tabletop RPGs, SWTOR is also something I get to share with friends. I have been extraordinarily fortunate to play with the fantastic people in the guild New Outriders as well as many other good folks around the game. Overcoming challenges with other people is one of the best parts of the MMO experience. I’ll never forget beating the original version of Hard Mode Lost Island with three other patient and good-natured souls who’d never grouped together before. I’ll never forget when NOR’s first progression team clicked into high gear with our victory over Hard Mode Operator IX during the early days of Rise of the Hutt Cartel. More recently, I’ll never forget cheering like a fool when Scrubland Shad unleashed some true last pull magic and was the sole survivor of the Bad Feelings Porg Team’s first clear of Hard Mode Explosive Conflict.

Beyond that, and perhaps even more importantly, SWTOR is a game which I get to play with people whose company I enjoy. Ops nights and flashpoint runs are filled with running jokes about snowballs, Marauder tanks, pickles, the inevitable triumph of gravity and my regular attempts to “try something stupid” instead of playing it safe.

I won’t lie and say that I haven’t ever been frustrated by SWTOR many times over the years or that it’s the best video game ever or that I haven’t encountered toxic behavior from people who take a game about wizards, laser swords and space cowboys far too seriously, but as SWTOR celebrates it 8th birthday, it remains something I can hop into and know that I’ll usually be able to have a good time playing. And that is a credit both to the good people I get to play with and the talented people who make this game.

Happy Holidays

This is likely my last post of the year. I’ll get back to the Aurebesh very soon and will endeavor to keep future ramblings to a minimum as well. In the meantime, I want to wish all my visitors a joyous holiday season, safe travels and good gaming in the year to come.

 

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A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part Four

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

Part Four: Original Art

Before the internet united us all and ruined everything, there was one place nerds like me could gather and share our love for super heroes, starships and space wizards: the comic book convention. As I soon as I had money to burn and means to travel on my own, I started regularly attending local comic shows downtown and soon journeyed to some of the big east coast conventions in New York City, Baltimore and Atlanta. At these conventions, I got to meet and thank many of the creators of my favorite comic books and eventually started purchasing artwork they had for sale.

And then Ebay happened. Collecting original comic art had been a niche within the already niche hobby of comic collecting, and when Ebay enabled dealers and collectors to conveniently sell directly to each other regardless of location, a flood of artwork that was initially perceived to have little value hit the market. While Star Wars art, particularly covers, splash pages or pages from the movie adaptations, was always in higher demand than other comic art, there was still plenty out there for a collector on a budget, a collector like me, to acquire. Eventually I was priced out of the market; this may not come as a surprise to learn, but there are Star Wars fans out there with seriously deep pockets. Yet I remain grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to assemble a modest collection of original comic art and illustrations from several eras of Star Wars comics and books.

Typically, artwork for comics was drawn and inked on large 11″ x 17″ or larger boards, then scaled down for publication. For me, the appeal of collecting originals is being able to appreciate in person the care and details that were lost in the reproduction onto cheap newsprint, to see the traces of rough pencils and corrections, to read notes from the penciller to the inker, comments from the editor, but mainly to thrill at owning an actual piece of a story I very much enjoyed reading in comic book form.

The artwork from my collection that I’ve displayed here is from “Duel with a Dark Lady”, issue 96 of the original Marvel series published in 1985. The issue was written by Mary Jo Duffy, penciled by Cynthia Martin and inked by Bob Wiacek, and is one of my favorite Star Wars stories in any media. These four pages depict Luke Skywalker’s first encounter with and thorough ass-kicking at the hands of Lumiya, who assumed the mantle of Dark Lord of the Sith after Darth Vader’s death. Martin’s clean, anime inspired style was unusual to see in mainstream comics in the mid-80s, and Duffy and Martin did a terrific job staging the battle like something from a samurai movie or manga. As the conflict escalates, the tendrils of her crackling whip fill the panels and overwhelm Luke, withdrawing only after his defeat. Also take note of the small detail of Lumiya’s jagged cloak which flies off her at the start of the fight, then is called back to her at the end. I loved it then, I love it now.

And, look, even in this era of lightsabers on pikes, with double-blades, cross-guards and handy bottle-openers, Lumiya’s light-whip is still just freaking cool.

This Thursday: From Quarters to Cartel Coins.

 

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A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part Three

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

Part Three: Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game

In 1987, you would’ve been forgiven if you thought Star Wars was over. It’d been four years since Return of the Jedi came out, and Marvel Comics’ series ended the year before. George Lucas was clearly more interested in continuing the adventures of Indiana Jones than anything in a galaxy far, far away. And, yet, the second great age of Star Wars was about to begin. That year, a small game company called West End Games released a core rulebook and sourcebook for a tabletop roleplaying game set in the Star Wars universe.

Over the next decade, West End put out dozens of sourcebooks, adventures and guides that became not only the connective tissue of what became known as the Expanded Universe, but also Star Wars’ official canon. The background of so much lore that we take for granted came not from George Lucas, but the writers at West End Games who named those tube-headed aliens “Twi’liks”, described the Millennium Falcon as a YT-1300 manufactured by the Corellian Engineering Corporation and introduced the Jedi Code as a core part of the background of the Jedi Knights. Even Aurebesh as we know it now, the official fake space language of this very blog, was a creation of Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A few years later, writers Timothy Zahn and Tom Veitch would use WEG’s source material as background for their own Star Wars stories, and with the release of Heir to the Empire and Dark Empire, Star Wars roared back to life for a whole new generation of fans to discover.

And as a game, Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game is terrific fun. The rules are simple to learn, and the game is quick to play. All you need is a sheet of paper, a pencil, and a handful of regular six-sided dice. The better your character is at something the more dice they roll; the higher they roll, the better the result. And that’s the core rule of the game. Armed with that knowledge, new players can hit the ground running, and experienced players can pull off spectacular feats worthy of heroes from the movies.

This top five list started when a friend asked what my favorite Star Wars stories outside the movies are. As I thought about it, I realized that many of the adventures told around a table by me and my friends would be on that list: the time Thrusty, bloody, beaten and a hair’s breadth from death, absolutely would not give up the fight; the time Ket whacked Tomar upside the head with a baseball bat; the time Darth Vader cut off Aruul’s arm; and countless other dumb, wildly unauthorized, wholly non-canonical and fun stories that are as big a part of our Star Wars experience as anything in any official movie, book or comic. I still love WEG’s Star Wars RPG for being a game that allows some of my favorite people to gather ’round and tell those stories to each other.

After West End Games went out of business, first Wizards of the Coast and now Fantasy Flight Games published more Roleplaying Games based on the Star Wars license. I’ve dabbled in both, but my heart remains with the old West End Games RPG. Over the years, I’ve gotten to interact and occasionally meet some of the people who designed the game, and I’ll always be thankful for their work. Growing up I loved reading comics and throwing action figures at each other, but the Star Wars RPG is something I could play and share with friends. And that simply cannot be beat.

Next week: “Then just say it: You’re a tracer!”

 

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A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part Two

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

Part Two: Action Figures

Growing up, pretty much every single boy (and some of the girls) I knew played with Star Wars toys, and I was no exception, eventually assembling a small army of dozens of miniature heroes, villains, robots and aliens from the original trilogy. Reinforced with assorted Adventure People, Micronauts and G.I.Joes, I staged many epic battles far beyond anything George Lucas would ever conceive or much less approve of.

My favorite Kenner Star Wars figure was Bespin Luke, but Darth Vader was my first and the character I have the most versions of today. All that remains of that original Vader is his head; it is likely that his body was lost to over-eager play or forgotten by me and consumed by my mother’s vacuum cleaner. A tragic outcome in either event.

Even Vader’s replacement has long since lost his lightsaber and stylish vinyl cape/vest. Both as a child and an adult, I had no interest in preserving my figures for future sale or display. I’m what collectors call an “opener.” I’ve never had a figure that I didn’t eagerly free from their clear plastic and cardboard prison. I always have one or two on my desk at any given time. My current figures see the bulk of their action during loading screens or on patch days.

These days I suspect more Star Wars toys are bought by adults than children, and I still indulge in Star Wars figures from time to time. Currently, the figures I buy are mainly from Hasbro’s Black Series line of six inch figures. Selling for at least $20 each, however, these guys are not cheap, so I try to be judicious in my purchases. However, this can be a tough line to hold whenever a new movie is about to come out.

Aside from the cost, the figures can sometimes be a challenge to even buy. Long gone are the days when I could walk into any toy store and find any Star Wars figure I wanted. Today’s figures are produced in limited numbers, and distribution to even large retailers can be spotty. You’re unlikely to find a popular character like the recently released Mandalorian at your local Target or Walmart, so you’ll need to be prepared to hunt various online sources if you want to pay a reasonable price. On the other hand, other figures derided as “pegwarmers” can easily found even a year or so after their release. To be honest, I’m not always sure which figures will be hard to find and which I’ll see marked down for clearance later.

The latest generation of action figures have far greater articulation and attention to detail than anything I would have dreamed possible back in the day. Within the last year or so, Hasbro has begun using “face printing” in which paint details are applied to a figure digitally. The result is that these toys can often have uncanny likenesses to their real life counterparts. If you’ve ever wanted a miniature Mark Hamill for your desk or shelf, it’s a great time to be alive!

Am I too old to be playing with toys? Yeah, probably. But putting Darth Vader into a menacing pose and setting him up against Han Solo as he draws his blaster has never stopped being a satisfying waste of time.

Next week: Dice not included.

 

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A Long Time Ago: My Top Five Star Wars Things Aren’t Movies – Part One

To mark the imminent release of The Rise of Skywalker I thought I’d do something a little different. Even though Episode IX will conclude the classic film saga, Star Wars was, from the very beginning, much more than just the movies. A myriad of stories told in every conceivable medium continued the adventures of heroes old and new in that galaxy far, far away. I adore the movies to be sure, but I’ve also found great joy in many aspects of the Star Wars universe beyond the films. So I’d like to celebrate some of those with a Dumb Top Five list of my favorite things about Star Wars that aren’t movies.

As I assembled this list, I quickly realized that there was no way I could keep it to a single post and give everything the space it deserved, so I’ll be presenting a new item from this list each week until the debut of the movie on December 20.

Part One: Comic Books

Back in 1977, my first exposure to Star Wars came not from the movie, but from Marvel Comics’ 6 issue adaptation of the film that concluded before I even got to see it in a theatre. This in no way spoiled the experience for me; from the opening minutes, I was still blown away by what I saw on the screen.

However, in many ways, the comics informed my overall conception of Star Wars. In the movie, the lightsaber battle between Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi is not terribly exciting, but if there is one thing comics know how to stage, it’s a fight scene. The comics’ version of the confrontation does a superior job conveying the epic duel between the old master and corrupted apprentice. Indeed, the moment of Ben’s death as portrayed in the comic is particularly macabre.

Marvel produced well over a hundred issues of Star Wars comics starting three months before A New Hope was released and continuing three years after Return of the Jedi. They are very much of their time, steeped in the styles and tropes of 1970s and 1980’s comics, but the two or three quarters I spent each month to follow the continuing adventures of the “Star Warriors” absolutely made the wait between movies easier to take. Forgotten heroes like Dani and Kiro and Plif the Hoojib and villains like Valance, Lumiya and the Nagai loom nearly as large in my memories of the early days of a galaxy far, far away as Luke, Leia, Han and Vader.

In the 1990’s, starting with the terrific Dark Empire series, Dark Horse Comics continued the licensed comic line and expanded the universe with a whole host of new stories. Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics were the first to visit the Old Republic setting and touched every era of the saga’s past and future. Currently Marvel, which like Lucasfilm is owned by Disney is again producing diverse line of comics which feature our favorite heroes from the movies but have added popular new characters like Dr. Aphra and also revisited some old and infamous favorites from the early days of Marvel’s original Star Wars series.

Over the years, countless Star Wars stories have been told, but I think the best of the comics, with their emphasis on impossible visuals and larger than life action in bite sized chunks, come the closest to recapturing the magic of watching the films. When I think of Star Wars, I’ll never forget sitting in a dark theater watching movies I love, but I also recall afternoons sprawled out on the rug of my parent’s living room floor, eagerly turning the pages of the latest four color classic.

Next week: Your plastic pals who are fun to be with!

 

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Filed under Dumb Top Five, General Star Wars

First Impressions: Onslaught

It’s been a month since the launch of SWTOR’s latest expansion Onslaught, and I’m finally at point where I feel caught up enough to share some first impressions. I’m late to the party as usual, but I’ll still try to avoid major spoilers. In the interest of not keeping you too long, gentle reader, I will hit only a few points. It’s to the expansion’s credit that there are so many things I want to write about, but I just don’t have room to cover it all in a single post!

The Story

I was a fan of the Fallen Empire saga, but I understand it was not everyone’s cup of tea. Onslaught is a return to a traditional SWTOR story, but with extra style and tricks Bioware has learned in the intervening years. The biggest issue with even the strongest of Fallen Empire’s chapters is that there was little novelty in replaying the chapters on alts. There were variations, especially between light and dark side characters, but the general arc of the story was the same for all everyone. However, our characters can enter Onslaught from very different starting positions. The main Republic and Sith faction stories are separate despite intersecting plot points and characters. Added into the mix are the saboteur paths available to characters of both factions, and the outcome of Onslaught‘s story can vary quite a bit depending on the choices we make on the way.

The story itself has a lighter touch than Fallen Empire, with a bit more humor and a focus on classic heroes and villains doing their thing against a familiar backdrop of Star Wars’ ancient conflict between the Jedi and the Sith. Onslaught features the long anticipated return of some favorite heroes and villains, but makes room for other familiar faces that I did not expect to encounter again. Of course, there some new characters as well; I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Jedi Padawan Arn Peralun. His interactions with my character and Lana and Tau were all fun and established him as someone who’s arc I’m curious to see play out.

As with Ossus, playing the story through a second time on the opposite faction rewards the player with a different perspective on similar events. While the notion that our characters might exist in the same continuity has long since been abandoned, it’s neat to see where the stories overlap. Major Anri’s cameo in the Republic story was an unexpected pleasure and a nice moment that felt totally in character with what we’ve learned about her from the Sith faction’s story.

The dual story continues nicely into the climatic flashpoint, Objective Meridian, on the planet Corellia. We’ve seen flashpoints that played slightly differently between factions before, particularly the Forged Alliances flashpoints, but the Objective Meridian’s bosses are distinct with different mechanics depending on which faction you’re playing. It’s an attention to detail that makes an already excellent flashpoint feel even cooler.

As always, SWTOR makes sure your character is the center of the story and gives them plenty of opportunity to shine, but my two favorite moments involved Lana Beniko, a character who, if I’m being honest, I sometimes run hot and cold on. Lana is thoroughly entertaining throughout Onslaught. Her dramatic actions after a particular choice at the end of the Imperial Mek-Sha story had me clapping in surprise and delight. Even better was her cordial conversation with Gnost Dural in the Republic story. It was the kind of quiet, insightful Star Wars moment that you’d be hard pressed to find any where else but in SWTOR.

Speaking of the strengths of SWTOR, once again we get to explore two impressive new worlds: Onderon and Mek Sha. Onderon is a world steeped in many eras of Star Wars lore, and it’s neat to visit its dense jungles and bioluminescent caverns. With Mek-Sha it is clear the folks at Bioware relished going wild creating this brand new setting. While it seems to draw on aspects of SWTOR’s own Nar Shaddaa, the Stacks from Ready Player One and Alpha from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the dark alleys and suspended walkways of the hollowed out planetoid are fleshed out with interesting factions and plenty of atmosphere of its own.

I very much enjoyed the Onslaught story, and I think old and new players alike will enjoy jumping into it.

Spoils of War

While Onslaught’s story returns to familiar ground, its gearing system dubbed “Spoils of War” diverges greatly from anything we’ve seen before. Even after numerous changes and iterations on the PTS, many, many players were nervous about how it would turn out. And it turned out pretty good, I think. Previously gearing consisted of acquiring sets of equipment with low item ratings, then spending the rest of the expansion slowly replacing that gear with new versions with slightly higher numbers. Spoils of War up-ends this system with a quick vertical progression to the highest level item rating, then a slower horizontal progression in which the acquisition of set bonuses, min-maxed, gear, Tactical items and Amplifiers take a greater time and credit investment.

A freshly minted level 75 character will feel pretty weak with the starter gear from the story, but once they start collecting upgrades, they’ll get far more durable and powerful. Right now, getting a cool set piece or a good Tactical is pretty satisfying. It can take some effort to get the exact pieces you want, but unless you’re really pushing the toughest content, they gear you get along the way will carry you just fine.

With Onslaught many of the big changes SWTOR has made since 4.0 finally feel like they’re coming together into an integrated whole. Legacy group content has been with us for a while, but Spoils of War allows different content to reward upgrades in a different ways. The Galactic Command system of Knights of the Eternal Throne basically gave the same reward for all content regardless of difficulty. Something of that remains in Onslaught, but players who venture into tougher and newer flashpoints and operations will find greater rewards than before. I think this is a good thing.

It’s not all perfect, however. Between the sheer range of gear we’ll be collecting, the huge variety of item modifications, the many sets, the numerous Tacticals and the dizzying array of Amplifiers, it can be overwhelming even to veteran players. I’ve been trying to unpack each of these new systems one at a time, rather than try to make sense of everything all at once. I’ll let you know when I’ve got Amplifiers all figured out. It might take a while.

Where Spoils of War failed out of the gate was with crafting. I realize crafting is a tough nut to crack for any MMO, and Bioware has announced changes to crafting coming next month. As I await those changes, I won’t dwell on this point at length, except to say that I think 6.0 crafting launched in its worst state ever.

Conquest is another system with disappointing changes. I understand the bonanza that was Conquest at the end of KotET might have needed to be dialed back a bit, but I think Bioware went too far. Conquest is the only source of important crafting materials, and the equipment crates rewarded from it are a solid source of gear upgrades. I don’t mind being nudged in the direction of Conquest, but right now Conquest is a hard push. With the changes in objectives it can be a pain for a casual player to even reach the weekly goal. This week, for example, the Pirate Incursion Conquest has only two objectives actually related to the event. One is non-repeatable and the other is a tedious Rampage mob-grind. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: Conquest should not be work; there should be sufficient objectives for a any style of player to hit their Conquest target in an afternoon or so of targeted play. And I think Onslaught Conquest fall short of that mark.

There are also oddities with the Level Syncing of legacy content. Rather than beefing up group content to level 75, characters are instead scaled down to level 70. While level locked, our characters’ Mastery, Power and Endurance are set to static values; our overall item level can enhance those stats, but nothing else does. Most of the stats on our gear and augments, most relic procs, most stims and many guild perks have no effect in the vast majority of the game’s group content. I find myself in the odd position of recommending Primeval Fatesealer and Ephemeral Mending relics not because those two traditionally worst relics are finally good, but because they are the few relics that actually do anything these days. It’s very weird, and not at all ideal.

Now What?

Three years ago, I concluded my Knights of the Eternal Throne overview with this same question, but back then I asked it nervously. It would be months before Bioware even started talking about what content would come next. But Onslaught’s more or less smooth launch has me hoping the good folks at Bioware have hit the ground running. Papa Keith Kanneg has already shared plans for the end of the year including more heroics on Mek-Sha and a much needed revision to crafting.

It’s an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. With Rise of Skywalker only weeks away, and Onslaught, Fallen Order and The Mandalorian appearing to be worthy additions to Star Wars lore, I am optimistic for next year. Onslaught‘s story ends by teasing at least three different possible adventures to explore, and I honestly don’t know which I’m most eager to see, but I can’t wait to find out.

 

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