Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why Even Try to Fight It?

I'm done trying to make excuses for ever more frequent posts about the Marvel Star Wars comics. The simple fact is I loved these things as a kid and, unlike a lot of stuff I liked back then, I think these actually hold up pretty well more than 30 years later. At the very least, they're incredibly inspirational to me as I turn my mind toward science fiction and space fantasy.

Which brings me to the Wheel:

The Wheel was basically Las Vegas in space, a pleasure station owned and operated by Senator Simon Greyshade, who seems to have stolen his wardrobe from Dr. Strange (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Greyshade isn't exactly a villain; he's more of an antagonist. In fact, looking back on him now, he comes across as a kind of Lando Calrissian figure -- a guy quite happy to keep raking in the credits until he gets in over his head in a bad deal with the Empire, a deal that puts him at odds with our heroes, until he finally finds the courage within himself to do the right thing.

Like Baron Tagge, what I find interesting about Greyshade is what his existence implies about the Empire. Marvel's vision of the Empire is far more corrupt than Evil, if that distinction makes any sense. Yes, there are plenty of evil men in the service of the Empire. Indeed, the Empire provides lots of scope for such men to give vent to their evil. But, mostly, the Empire is about the acquisition and maintenance of power by any means necessary. In such an environment, a giant casino in space -- complete with live gladiatorial games for prize money -- seems natural, indeed plausible, rather than goofy.

I have a hard time imagining a place like the Wheel in the official Star Wars universe, whose Empire is too monolithically evil, from its black magic-wielding Emperor down to its lowliest jackbooted minion. Don't misunderstand: I love the good versus evil vibe of the Star Wars movies and I certainly don't think what the setting needs is a lot of moral grayness. Still, I do think that, by making Darth Vader an exemplar of what the Empire is rather than a throwback, an aberration, used by it for its own purposes, a lot of dramatic possibilities are lost.

As I noted in my post about Tagge, I much prefer an Empire filled with plots within plots, where everyone of any ambition and influence is using every tool at his disposal to advance himself one step toward the top of the heap. From a roleplaying perspective, it's a really great set-up and provides plenty of scope for a multitude of campaigns where the PCs don't feel like second-stringers who aren't fighting the Empire "for real" since they're not staring down Vader or a bunch of dark side adepts personally sent by the Emperor to hunt them down. Space opera is supposed to be a wide open genre and on this the Marvel comics really delivered.

24 comments:

  1. Hey, there is an identical spaceship in Battlestar Galactica! It's a civil one, if I remember right.

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  2. Look at the top http://toyroom.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/galactica.jpg

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  3. Plus the whole "decadent pleasuredome" thing is just classic. Buck Rogers featured a similar setting in the 1979 episode "Vegas in Space."

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  4. I have to say, the art and the storylines remind me a bit of the old micronauts comics Marvel did in the early 80s...and those I devoured voraciously! Wonder where THAT IP is today?

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  5. Still in Marvel hands. I cannot recall off the top of my head, but a recent storyline in the last couple of years had an appearance of the Microverse.

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  6. Yes! More Marvel Star Wars! In fact more anything with Marvel (Marvel plus Conan, Marvel plus Dracula, etc..)

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  7. Interestingly, I think the early movies had some of those dramatic possiblities you mention. Lando was in "Empire" after all, and a shady character. Han Solo was a bit of a wild card...when he still shot first that is. And, don't forget the Imperial Admiral in "Star Wars" who insulted Vader by saying:

    "Don't try and frighten us with Sorceror's ways Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebel's hidden fortress..."

    Definitely attacked Vader as an aberration and a throwback and helped shape my early images of what he and the Force were and how old it was all supposed to be. Although Lucas went and ruined that with his prequels which made the ancient religion of the jedis something from about 18 years prior...

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  8. I should point out the best Star Wars comic stories between the first and second movie appear to have been written by Archie Goodwin, who seemed to understand good elements of Space Opera, although as one column writer wrote, those first issues had the flaw of the characters going from one trap to another.

    I particularly liked the character of Beilert Valance, who had a big impression on me as a kid.

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Beilert_Valance

    He only appeared for 3 issues but they were powerful ones.

    Sadly, I missed out on everything after issue #29, as at the time I was still getting comics from the news stands, and my local news-stand decided to do away with comics. So I never got to see a lot of the Tagge storyline.

    JB--While the Micronauts themselves are not being worked on (although Hasbro is working to reboot the franchise), a lot of the Micronauts characters who were not owned by the toy line, including Bug, Marionette, etc., became the Microns and actually now appear in Incredible Hulks: Enigma Force.

    As an aside, Lucasfilm was probably the first licensor to strongly control the properties--a lot of other licensed properties, like Conan and Shogun Warriors, and Godzilla, allowed Marvel to make their own characters and divorce them from the main properties when the licenses expired. I'd have to wonder if that didn't happen we would have seen the FF battle Darth Vader, or places like the Wheel become the lounge of Pip the Troll.

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  9. It may also be worth pointing out that, while the Marvel series is considered by LA S-Canon (just above non-Canon, which means you are free to use or ignore it, and where it clashes with higher canon, the higher one wins), a lot of people have fondness for the old Star Wars Goodwin characters.

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Orman_Tagge

    made his way into some newer comics as his younger self, as seen on this wiki page,

    while

    http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/The_Wheel

    was also used in more recent comics.

    It's nice to see those early stories made a lasting impression on the readers, some of whom have become the new generation of writers.

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  10. Brain Daley's Han Solo "Corporate Sector" novels are like this. The Lando Novels are like this too.

    I rather prefer these and if I were to play or run a Star Wars game I'd grab these, some of the comics and maybe Splinter of the Minds Eye.

    And yes this means leaving out Empire and Jedi. Its a bit different than standard Star Wars but it feels like a better place for someone else to have an adventure.

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  11. JRT has the truth of it, regarding Marvel's Micronauts comics. The licence turned up at Image in the early 2000's, then at Devil's Due a couple of years after that, but there's been nothing since.

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  12. Other than one or two stray issues, I'd never read any of the Marvel star wars until even after Revenge of the Sith came out, and I still really like them, with no *opportunity* for nostalgia :)

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  13. Plus the whole "decadent pleasuredome" thing is just classic.

    Oh, it is! Back then Marvel was really good at seizing on classic space opera tropes and introducing them into the Star Wars universe. I really miss that.

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  14. I have to say, the art and the storylines remind me a bit of the old micronauts comics Marvel did in the early 80s...and those I devoured voraciously!

    I was a big fan of those comics too. I haven't read them in years, so I have no idea if they hold up as well as the Star Wars ones do. Maybe I should pull them out and see ...

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  15. Although Lucas went and ruined that with his prequels which made the ancient religion of the jedis something from about 18 years prior...

    To be fair, the original film has this problem too. I mean, Obi-Wan and Luke's father were supposed to have been Jedi "before the dark times, before the Empire," so it couldn't have been that long ago since the fall of the Republic. But how is it that, in that short time, the Jedi were largely forgotten and the idea of the Force equated with "nonsense?" The two elements don't jibe very well in my opinion.

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  16. Brain Daley's Han Solo "Corporate Sector" novels are like this. The Lando Novels are like this too.

    I loved the Han Solo novels, but I never read the Lando ones. I heard mixed things about them.

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  17. "I mean, Obi-Wan and Luke's father were supposed to have been Jedi "before the dark times, before the Empire," so it couldn't have been that long ago since the fall of the Republic."

    I had always assumed since this was a "long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" that these people weren't "human" as we know it and could live a lot longer, especially if they were Jedi. Either they are aliens entirely or they could have been like Tolkien's Numenoreans, who lived a lot longer than normal humans did. The Prequels however, took that option away.

    But I absolutely agree it's ridiculous how everyone completely seems to have forgotten about Jedi and "the Force" in a decade or two...especially when we learn that characters like Chewie had connections to Yoda and the rest.
    I mean, as much as I try to forget Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" as the top song of 1990, I can't. I'd think people would recall the lightsabre-wielding zen-monks running around who seemed to run the government a few years ago...

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  18. To be fair, the original film has this problem too. I mean, Obi-Wan and Luke's father were supposed to have been Jedi "before the dark times, before the Empire," so it couldn't have been that long ago since the fall of the Republic. But how is it that, in that short time, the Jedi were largely forgotten and the idea of the Force equated with "nonsense?" The two elements don't jibe very well in my opinion.

    Though the prequels are packed to the gills with dumb stuff, for some reason, this has never remotely bothered me. I think there are two factors as play here.

    1. It's operating, rather than the ostensible space opera, on a fairy tale logic where the previous generation is almost veiled away. The movie is from the perspective of a guy like Luke, to whom "just 20 years" ago is just not remotely comprehensible. Other characters, like Han, have opinions that fit that mythic flow of time. Everybody does. The passing of Obi-Wan's time to Luke's time changes EVERYTHING.

    2. Imperial propaganda can push : there are no heroes. Jedi powers were tricks to fool the credulous. There WERE no heroes. The hero is the imperial governor. Believe in the purchasing power of the imperial credit. Etc.

    It doesn't make sense, per se, but it makes story sense.

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  19. I am a player in a d6 Star Wars game, and we were playing yesterday, and the same topic was brought up (there is some force using NPC with us, and we met Han Solo between the New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back somewhere), and we couldn't came up any good explanation, BUT

    now I think about it, and it is not that unbeliveable. At least the way my DM handles Star Wars, is that its a BIG galaxy, and you can meet with absolutely ANYTHING there. At the same time he is a Star Wars fanatic, read/seen/memorized everything, but he also puts in his game anything that comes to his mind, from whatever sci/fi or other source... So in this chaos at least my character would absolutely believe that there are people in the galaxy, who remember the JEDI as paladins, and there are people like Han, who thinks about the force as hokus-pokus...

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  20. The Jedi of Star Wars were a lot more low-key than the Jedi of even Empire Strikes Back, let alone the prequels. Obi-Wan did some neat stuff with the force, but none of it was all that flashy. If that was what Jedi did, and in the original conception, I think that _was_ what Jedi did, then I can easily imagine people not really "believing in" Jedi while they were running around in the open, and even moreso once they were extinct/underground.

    By Empire, Vader was long-distance force choking people and causing windstorms. In the prequels, Jedi were out-and-out superheroes in open service of the government.

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  21. The number of Jedi running around in the prequels (especially since they only appeared in order to be slaughtered) made the whole thing a bit harder to believe, also. If the Sith and the Jedi were just a few mysterious people with odd beliefs nobody knew much about, and powers more talked about than seen, you can see people in the Old Republic regarding the Jedi as being odd but useful, and then later regarding them as simps who got themselves killed by believing their own propaganda.

    Possibly the prequels modelled the Jedi too closely on the Templars and their sudden destruction by King Philip the Fair.

    The one thing I really didn't believe was that concept that the Jedi had all those tiny kids around (without marriage among Force sensitives to raise a crop of Jedi). I don't care how persuasive the Jedi are; people aren't going to give up their kids in super-early childhood. The Jedi in the prequel universe should have been remembered as ominous child-stealers, like the fairies.

    The original Star Wars made it sound much more like they recruited adults who turned out to have Force powers, though there might also have been Jedi settlements around.

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  22. There was an era in Star Wars gaming when things like the Wheel and the Corporate Sector were both viable and had a place. WEG's original SWRPG had quite the open ended universe for SW, mainly because the canonista's were not fully vested yet into the setting and before there was ANY mention of a prequel or re-mastering.
    In a game room far far away...

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  23. Good thing...toy manufacturers then did not know too much about comics...as many a kid, I would have made my parents bankrupt asking for all those things that I saw in the comics...that the movies could not portray.

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  24. In the 1990s I had a long-running Star Wars campaign using the WEG blue-cover D6 rules. Most of the official products were written with the assumption that the PCs were second-string Rebels earnestly fighting the Empire, but my players had no interest in that. Instead, they wanted to play a sandbox game about space scum. The group was comprised of smugglers, con men, thugs, bounty hunters, alien fugitives, and so on.

    It was a lot of fun, and in many ways not unlike my understanding of an old-school D&D campaign. The older three movies created an impression that there were millions of variations on Mos Eisely and Bespin, and we had a lot of fun exploring our own takes on space-Vegas, space-Detroit, and space-Australia. The D6 rules facilitated improvisation; I could invent partial stats for an NPC or vehicle off the cuff without any worry that I'd make an "impossible" combination of abilities. And the advancement system made it possible for characters to evolve in any direction.

    I'm happy to see that the OpenD6 and especially Mini Six projects are keeping that spirit alive.

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