Tag Archives: Star Wars

The Kaleidoscope of the Noughties – OWW! – Games #1

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As video games become more sophisticated, more complex and for lack of a better term, more artistically minded in their conception, production and execution, you wonder how detrimental the moniker of “video game” is for a medium with its own unique set of possibilities. “Video” remains indicative of a previous age – somewhat rubbish, a bit eccentric and certainly not something to be taken seriously – and “game” reinforces the idea that the video game is simply a way to waste away time, therapeutic all the same, but serving no great purpose other than that. Some day I am sure the video game moniker will fade away, with our society appropriating a more suitable term for a medium whose potential is only just being considered with any seriousness. Perhaps the Noughties – Ergck! – will eventually be defined as a key decade in which video games really began to explore this potential, or at least mainstream audiences and more importantly multi-national conglomerates began to recognise it. But then again, concerning how gaming has developed over the last few decades, in would be hard to discard any development cycle as worthless.

STAR WARS: KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC (BIOWARE, 2003 for PC/XBOX)

Knights of the Old Republic, to me, was one of these transitory games where, even if it was not truly innovative, it had the polish and the instant appeal on top of an already well-crafted and satisfying core game, to absolutely enthral me. A large part of this comes down to the Star Wars license, this must be said, wielding all the hallmarks of the series – but the key for this is the quality of the story and the writing. If the Star Wars prequels proved anything, it was that the series is more than a number of repeated motifs, sounds, memorable dialogue and music. KOTOR, as it has since been known, arrived for me one Christmas and kept me busy for weeks, months even, suffering itself to be replayed by my younger self again and again, under an increasingly avid addiction to the flexibility available with the game.

Describing the plot again elicits nostalgic thoughts: 4000 years before the rise of the Galactic Empire, a Republic cruiser harbouring a powerful yet naive Jedi comes under attack above the planet Taris; you, an insignificant Republic soldier, are tasked with making sure the Jedi escapes the Sith. What follows is a terrifically enjoyable adventure that evokes all the fun and banter of the original Star Wars films as you begin to unravel the mysteries of the Galaxy, discovering the source of the Sith’s new found power. It’s an engaging story, populated with many lively and intriguing characters and involving numerous strange and wonderful worlds. The sheen and freshness may have diminished under repeated playthroughs, but its significance in many peoples gaming memories is inarguable and the popularity of its protagonist remains undwindling.

If there’s another thing that KOTOR did what other games didn’t do for me, it was to establish the name of a developer in my mind. Bioware, who have since flexed their muscles far and wide in the industry, would have already been familiar to veterans of RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights, but for me this was the first time we met. Developing into a cerebral gamer as I have, I’ve been interested in whatever they have gone on to do – although circumstance has ruled the much celebrated Mass Effect out of my reach for now. But I’ve played Jade Empire (great, despite its somewhat unsatisfactory length) and I have my eyes on Dragon Age: Origins, and certainly optimistic towards Star Wars: The Old Republic.

A Good Year For Sci-Fi?

Science fiction films of late have been somewhat lacking in the science fiction department.  In fact, due to the success of Independence Day, The Matrix and of course, Star Wars, the whole notion of science fiction has become somewhat blurred.  Of course, The Matrix is rife with quasi-religious cyberpunk stylings and spiritualism, but more memorable are its mammoth action set pieces and fight scenes.  So if anything, 2009 has been a year where we learned to appreciate that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, science fiction was more than explosions in space.

Three films spring to mind this year that have recieved general acclaim and all of these films are the works of talented filmmakers making their feature length debuts, or in JJ Abrams’ case, merely their second.  Indeed, Abrams’ formula for success with Star Trek borrows heavily from the aforementioned action films, and yet the reinvention of Star Trek  captured the imagination of cinema goers all around with its wonderful characterisation reigniting the failing star; an excellent step for a series that never really qualified as an acceptable subject in public discussion. Star Trek, always a cerebral entity, feels fresh, young and hip again, and as a flagship icon it can now evolve as a platform for allegorical science fiction where no well liked men have gone before.  And I didn’t even like Star Trek before I saw it.

Moon, the debut of Duncan Jones (I’m reminded by compulsion to mention he is David Bowie’s son, although he’s since proved that such trivia is unnecessary), was a highlight of the summer blockbuster season, offering a perfectly engineered alternative to the brash, throwaway bonanza’s that infiltrate the summer evenings – and became a savour for cinema against the corrupting nightmare of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  It featured the delight of Sam Rockwell giving two masterful, nuanced performances with pathos that equal or better his finest work.  Of course, Sam Rockwell wouldn’t be Sam Rockwell if – even when playing a serial killer – he made you want to become his best friend, although the kind of friend you’re sure is privy to an excellent joke that you aren’t.

The film, set on a lunar mining installation, hangs on his performance to succeed, yet it is much more than a film of performances: Moon is atmospheric and haunting, its ethereal score permeating the sterile white labs and corridors and the grayscale deserts outside – and with its commentary on themes of identity, corporate control and cloning, Moon works on the mind and the eye.  And it was made for only five million dollars – five million fucking dollars (not even five million pounds)!  It’s a fine work of fiction, a fine homage to the great works of science fiction like A Space Odyssey and Soylent Green, and a fine debut for someone clearly in control of such fine artistic talents.  I only hope the funding arrives for his next film, Mute.

Moon was not the only film to provide a visual and mental feast.  District 9, the thinly veiled allegory of apartheid – although it would be fair to add that its sentiments stretch outside of South Africa – was a knock out effort.  Neill Blomkamp, swindled alongside Peter Jackson on their prospective Halo movie, was given a budget and freedom to create a science fiction film with $30 million, and by god did he do well.  Despite certain shortcomings, District 9 was a film that delivered on its hype, providing us with thrills, scares and awe inspiring events that allowed an audience to enjoy an action romp and still be worked upon by the films more weighty themes of intolerance and xenophobia.  With its critical and commercial success, D9 proved that audiences were able to handle allegory and even take it to heart – many times I was asked whether I had seen that “film about apartheid,” before being assured it was very good.

Discussions about Star Trek’s sequel have begun appearing on media sites all around, and the writers seem to have reached the consensus that the follow up  – while of course living up to the spectacle and adventure that the first film delivered so well – should and will incorporate the franchises hallmarks of analogy and allegory,to some capacity.  That capacity better be wide enough to prove the point of this flippin post.  I hope they realise that their sequel bears a heavy burden now.  But more to the point, they hopefully realise that the franchise they are dealing with is not just important to the purile, insolent fans – who should be forgotten, by the way* – but to the science fiction genre itself.

Audiences have shown that they will respond to science fiction that talk to the mind as well as the eyes, D9 was one of the years most successful films, and Moon, despite a horrendous absence from all but a minority of theatres, was able to recoup its budget with ease.  Both were received well by critics and both were made for extremely tight and restrictive budgets.  Will Star Trek take up their mantle? Will it be a champion of a new age of science fiction? Or will Star Trek decline? Will it become simply another action blockbuster set in space?

I feel as though I’ve been spoiled already this year.  My hunger and thirst haven’t quite been clenched, but I won’t be greedy.  Greed would only stipulate the production of lesser films and expecting Avatar to be more than a humdrum retelling of Braveheart and a more respectable, yet ultimately arbitary work, the name of which escapes me right now, would border on gluttony.

*This should include fans of ANY to-be-adapted work. Nothing they say matters.  Nothing.

Star Wars Sequel?

According the MarketSaw blog, there may be the possibility that the Galaxy Far, Far Away that we’ve all come to greet with apathy may be returning to cinemas.  A strong source suggests that the success (or quality) of Star Trek’s reinvention has whet George’s appetite for more Star Wars movies.  This time however, we’ll be treated to a trilogy in 3D – this all depends however on the success of James Cameron’s Avatar, which seems to be drawing on Star Wars’ legacy of infantilising the public’s perception of science fiction.

Noah Berger/AP

Good news for what would otherwise be a heinous and vile suggestion would be that Lucas is willing – or planning – to relinquish his autocratic control on the reins of the franchise.  With little production input, and no director’s chair, the iconic franchise could be in the hands of someone with a fresh angle and perspective, and someone who can write snappy dialogue.  The other side of this coin is that Lucas may only be willing to let his old chums from film school take a crack at it.  And while Spielberg taking a shot would probably lead to predictable but worthy results, the idea of the fading powers of Francis Ford Coppola controlling Star Wars is a bit of a stomach churner.

Lucas before has stated that his initial intention was for three trilogies chronologing the fall of the Empire.  This is probably a bad idea; the franchise is almost bursting from the seams with the amount of film, TV shows, comics and crap books documenting the Galactic Civil War already, with little room for a whole trilogy.  Only the pairing of the planned live-action TV show (that’s presumably still going ahead) with the word “Battlestar Galactica” piques any interest at all, for its about time Star Wars matured a little and grew a philosophical limb – and by that I mean returning to more than just Zeitgeist Jedi bollocks.

So what other period in the Star Wars timeline could possibly give enough fruit to be worthy of a 3D trilogy?  The future, envisioned with increasingly ludicrous novels, ranging in quality from shockingly bad to forgettably readable, is problematic. There will undoubtedly be question concerning the fate of Luke, Han and Leia that cinema goers will want to know, and the amount of times we see the resurgence of the Empire, the resurgence of the Sith, the resurgence of another Empire, the invasion of Star Trek villains the Vong is endemic of Star Wars playing by the same old tricks again.

The past of Star Wars – way before the fetid prequels – has been plundered before to reasonable success.  The Knights of the Old Republic era, from the first comics documenting the ancient Jedi to Bioware’s fantastic roleplaying games (including the in-development MMO, The Old Republic), are set far enough before the events of the Galactic Civil War to overcome any notion of knowing what’s going to happen before the characters do – a large problem of the prequels.

The best of these additions to the franchise borrow the fun, humour and types from the original trilogy and plant them in a mythically framed universe slightly different from the one that burst onto the screens in 1977.  But because there has been a great deal of success with the Knights of the Old Republic era – and thus many different iterations of it – one wonders whether there is enough room for more galaxy spanning wars or confrontations between robed monks at all.

Why not simply a story about a Smuggler? Everybody loves a Smuggler.