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Monday 24 February 2020

Games Day: Star Wars, West End Games, & What If

West End Games are know for two things. Going bankrupt during what was meant to be the Golden Age of Role-Playing Games* and for the Star Wars Role-Playing Game, which they alone had a LucasArts approved license** for.

*I mean, that's debatable, you'd probably say that the late 1990s (and West End Games went bankrupt in 1998) marked the end of the 'Golden Age' as computer games had gone from niche interest to mainstream (although not totally acceptable yet). And more than a few companies proved that they had not an idea how to change their approach in the wake of such a major shift in gamer's interests.

**Now this might seem massive, but I can't really remember any 'fandom menace,' such as there is nowadays for the various different IP franchises, at the time for anything Star Wars or not. Trekkies notwithstanding, but their devotion was at the time seen as risible and ridiculous, whereas similar behaviour today is seemingly encouraged.

I'm thinking about this old game from my youth because I'm having another burst of enthusiasm about running a game. As mentioned before, I've been thinking 'What If' about the sequel trilogy of Star Wars films. I'd love to be able to make something as great as the following three videos by the excellent Belated Media (Michael Barryte), but I'm not going to be able to knock-up three quality videos any time soon, if ever (videos at the end and highly recommended).

So, why the West Games version of Star Wars? After all there have been several licensed versions of the game, Fantasy Flight Games' current table-top version, and a Wizards of the Coast version that resembles the D&D d20 system that came out after West End Games. However, as I've said before there was a certain punk DIY spirit that I like about these older games, in that you are given a basic set of rules that you can reapply to whatever else you create in your game. Whereas, even without looking at the FF version of the game, I know that their setup will be a totally modular product. You want the new rebel trooper? You have to buy the miniature and the character card, RRP $20.99. The benefit of the older West End Games version is that most of these old books now exist only as PDFs online, as the copyright has lapsed, and even if you don't want all of these (I'll maybe get one or two but don't need much more than the full rules) the game is developed in a way that creating your own worlds, aliens and stories is positively encouraged with only the basic rules. Further to this (possibly, most importantly) is the simplicity of the basic rules such that most ideas could be accommodated in straight-forward fashion. As opposed to overly complex rules and a reliance on 'special kit' (i.e. dice with fancy colours and icons) rather than simple six sided dice and easy to follow rules.

My 'What If' and the impetus for (potentially) running a game is [STAR WARS SPOILERS] because at a point in Rian Johnson's otherwise crushingly mediocre 'Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi' there is setup the possibility that the status quo will be destroyed and the rather closed world of Star Wars will be torn open and irrevocably changed. This possibility was in itself thrilling and by far my favourite scene in any of the SW films, however, the capitulation of this and the subsequent total failure to really follow through and achieve anything of note in terms of character development or world building (albeit this might be a bit harsh) ended up making me dislike this film more than any of the others in the 'Sequel Trilogy' (and I'm really not a fan of Jar Jar Abrams either, so this is quite an achievement by Rian Johnson).

In the original scene having tricked his former master Snoke and subsequently bisected him with Rey's lightsaber, Kylo Ren and Rey then fight Snoke's praetorian guard in an excellent action scene. At the end of the scene Kylo Ren offers Rey his hand in a parallel to Darth Vader offering Luke Skywalker his hand in ESB, both are offers to "rule the galaxy together." However, as the throne room scene in Last Jedi was instead setup similarly to the throne room scene in ROTJ in which Darth Vader betrays and kills Emperor Palpatine to save his son Luke, so I had hoped that this was Ben Solo overthrowing the Dark side influence of Snoke to save the woman he loved, Rey, but instead it becomes some point about not believing in the survival of an ideology (or something).

In the Last Jedi both Luke and Kylo Ren talk about "killing the past" but ultimately it is the past that kills The Last Jedi, in that the attempt to free the plot from the choke hold narrative of Jedi v. Sith, or Light v. Dark, or indeed the childishly simple Good v. Evil, is shown to be inescapable. The film ends with the status quo totally restored and the attempted 'rebellions' of Kylo/Ben and Luke have been shown to fail. In the end Luke realises that the Jedi were great goodies after all and Kylo thinks that being super evil is instead a brilliant idea (until the next film when something lesser makes him finally kick the 'evil habit' for good).

The film could have been The Last War, which rather than resulting in the actual end of war would have resulted in something more realistic with the fracturing of various parties along differing ideological perspectives. Then the black and white division of the galaxy would be replaced with a much more messy and believable situation, were someone cannot be said to be 'good' or 'evil' simply by their uniform. In my 'What If' then when Kylo Ren makes his offer to Rey, rather than losing her voice and power that she has held up until that point, then mutely resisting, causing the lightsaber to explode and allowing her to escape from the First Order's capital ship somehow. Instead, Rey makes Ben a counter offer, she states that she would take his hand if offered by Ben and not Kylo. She then goes on to explain that Kylo Ren is already dead, he died when he rightly betrayed Snoke knowing that he was evil and that his way was foolish. Indeed, that perpetuating this endless cycle of Jedi/Sith conflict will do nothing but damage the galaxy and that they can instead show the potential of another way.

With Kylo, now Ben Solo, joining Rey we could imagine some on both sides (both the First Order and the Resistance) wanting to join these new figureheads and others wanting to oppose them. For example, some would see Kylo Ren's murder of his father as unforgivable, whether he was being influenced by Snoke or not. Those enslaved by the First Order would see this as an opportunity for freedom and might not all agree on how they will exercise this freedom. The fallen New Republic might attempt to reform, with some opposed to retrying a twice failed system of government and etc. Mostly I see General Armitage Hux futilely attempting to hold control of the crumbling First Order, much like the squabbling of Alexander's generals in the aftermath of his death.

We'll see...