Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Real Reason Why Luke Skywalker Was Cut Out of Force Awakens

So you remember sitting through The Force Awakens and you get to the end and there (finally) is Luke Skywalker… and he just turns around and says… nothing. (!?) It’s a completely weird scene to begin with, especially when you consider how much Luke Skywalker concept art was done for the movie.

Well, it turns out that J. J. Abrams originally pushed hard to have Luke Skywalker made into a first class element of the film… but they just couldn’t make it work. Here’s why:

“Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass,” Arndt said. “It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012.” Apparently the issue was Luke’s presence was always upstaging everyone in the script. “It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over,” Arndt continued. “Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’”

Well, that can sure got kicked down the road. You can almost pity Rian Johnson for having to deal with it. And even his solution to this almost begins to make sense. If the real Luke Skywalker shows up at all, the new sub par characters are shown for what they are: empty imitations with a veneer of Star Warsy stuff slathered over them. So the new “Not Luke Skywalker” has to come out of nowhere, drinking milk hot out of the space cow and behaving completely out of character.

Pulpy, old school adventurers are so appealing and so engaging… they had to wreck a four billion dollar franchise rather than give people a glimpse of an actual hero. It’s not because they didn’t try, either. Their concepts of how myth and storytelling work are fundamentally incompatible with the film series they were tasked with building off of.

There’s no way that what they wanted to do could work. And they didn’t know it until it was too late!

(h/t Bradford Walker for this video The Decline of Star Wars Part One— the Luke bit cited above is mentioned at the nineteen minute mark.)

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The Buffalo Bill – Madame Mandelip Connection!

The word is in from the Appendix N Podcast. A. Merritt’s Burn Witch Burn might lose a few political correctness points due to its stereotypical Italian mobster and comic relief Irish Beat Cop. And yes, sensitive readers will experience a brief moment of triggering at the the mention of how women were put away for “hysteria” in the bad old days of prohibition. If you thought that there just wasn’t anything in here truly worth getting offended over, then think again. Because Burn Witch Burn is danker than you think!

Check this out from the podcast: One of the things that did stick out to me though is actually something that I still see today but was especially common as recently as the nineties is this idea of the gender non-conformist as a villain because here Madame Mandelip is like this big masculine woman with this hairy upper lip and these like big hands and like I think using this masculine woman as an equivalent to villainy is also kind of the same way that you see effeminate men and dandies as a way of standing for decadence and evil often times in Conan stories but even in like Disney cartoons….

Mind. Blown.

This one went right past me when I was reading. Sure, I was vaguely conscious of the “big hands” bit. Mainly, I was too horrified by the thought of a woman that ugly having the ability to appear unfathomably beautiful… and going around seducing unknowing men for her nefarious purposes. It’s fundamentally, rivetingly horrible in a way that very little of contemporary storytelling manages to attain.

One of the guys on the show unironically ponders what it is that people will look back and see that is so “problematic” about the stories of our day… as if we are all just going to continue to get more and more refined and more and more sensitive to an even more comprehensive list of horrible awful no good things over time. And of course, there’s no way to tell what the next big offensive thing will be. And that is true… in a sense.

This stuff is scary if you think about it, because the only sure thing in this is that we are all being extremely problematic even without meaning to and without knowing what it is that we’re doing that’s do awful! Imagine living like that. I mean really, honestly living like that. Being vaguely aware that everything you build is founded on the shifting sands of a fickle and opportunistic ideology. Not having any way to even conceive of being genuinely “okay”, but remaining in sort of a permanent defensive posture at all times because you know that you can fall afoul of the collective determination of whatever the next scandalously problematic thing is supposed to be.

The only way you would be able to cope with that would be to publicly and loudly join up in some sort of weird cultural police force, doing the public a service by alerting them to dangerous people and materials at all times. Stoking and feeding the general hysteria with nearly every social interaction in order to keep attention on people that are noticeably more problematic than you… but knowing that still in spite of all your efforts the mob can still come for you at any moment!

It can’t be healthy.

At any rate, yes… traditional notions of witches and witchcraft are “problematic” today. Most contemporary treatments of them are necessarily eager to invert, sacrifice, or dilute age old mythical elements in exchange for a very tenuous brand of virtue that has an explicit expiration date right on the package. I wouldn’t be surprised if the early twenty-first century fails to produce much in the way of timeless classics. The spirit of this age is opposed to such things on principle.

Fletcher Vredenburgh on A. Merritt’s Burn Witch Burn

At last! Sword and sorcery junkie Fletcher Vredenburgh has finally relented and done a good turn to his own self by reading a masterwork by the great A. Merritt:

I read somewhere that Merritt wrote with “lush, florid prose,” but that wasn’t the case in Burn, Witch Burn. However he may have written his other books, that’s not the case here. He writes, yes, with occasional overwrought flourishes, but with precision. His prose rushes the reader along, winging him deeper and deeper into the story’s nightmarish events.

With the nighttime arrival of a patient who seems to be suffering from no known malady, accompanied by his mobster boss, Merritt kicks the book off at full speed. With each ensuing chapter, the tension builds and Lowell and his compatriots’ fear increases. Gradually, the action moves from crisp and clinical corridors of Lowell’s hospital to the druggy, psychedelic chamber of Madame Mandilip, highlighting the fight between reason and unreason. Slowly the curtain obscuring the villain is raised, until we see her in her full, dark horror. Merritt knew how to grab you by the lapels and keep shaking you with increasing ferocity to the very last page.

Read the whole thing!

Fletcher’s assessment is completely on point here. Merritt’s writing is among the best of the best… and yet much of the commentary on him seems carefully engineered to steer people away from the guy. As another example, that same source that Fletcher mentions there regarding Merritt’s supposedly “lush, florid prose” neglects entirely to mention that he was known as The Lord of Fantasy.

And while you can maybe wrap your head around the fact that some guy you never heard of held that distinction in the twenties and thirties, you may not be able to grasp just how long Merritt was able to hold on to that particular appellation. As Deuce Richardson points out:

…Merritt’s title of “Lord of Fantasy” went unquestioned here in the States from the 1920s until the 1960s. I’ve spoken with numerous pulp scholars and all agree that Merritt’s sobriquet went virtually unchallenged during that period. Donald Wollheim, the most important publisher/editor in the history of SFF, repeatedly called Merritt by that moniker for decades. Tolkien’s reign is only now reaching the longevity that Merritt’s enjoyed.

That’s right. A. Merritt was as central to the definition of fantasy before 1970 as Tolkien was after it. He’s that big.

If you haven’t read his works already, you really owe it to yourself to check him out.

Space Empires: Replicators is the Bee’s Knees

This expansion really make Space Empires 4X an order of magnitude more fun.

The super sized terrain tiles…? They’re just flat out gorgeous. And it’s so much easier to read the board. Also, the names of the planets remain visible for the duration of the entire game now. Heck, you’ll go explore deep space now just for the chance to place another one of these onto the game board…!

Now… about those replicators. This is the all-new all-different fifth-player faction, the Cylon/Borg/Terminator faction. I only have a passing familiarity with the rules for these, but I have to say… watching someone else run these things, their in-game behavior really is completely alien compared to the standard player factions.

They can explore their home space in half the time. They have this huge incentive to explore deep space, too. They don’t have much to think about everyone else is shopping for tech and ships. But during the movement and combat phases, they will spend a lot of effort battling against the unknown. They are denied the usual exploration tech, so it’s interesting to watch them get eaten alive by Danger!, Black Holes, and Doomsday Machines. The Minerals and Space Wrecks they collect are well worth the loss in scouts, though.

The big downside to them is that you’ve got all this crazy technology for the standard Empire factions… and then with the Replicators in play, they have this gigantic disincentive for using any of it!

It’s tough!

The game-play here feels more or less like the solitaire games from the original base set. You commit to a fairly narrow production strategy and then wait for the bad guys to come to you. The strategy notes do suggest throwing a series of technological curve balls to keep the Replicators off balance… which sounds more fun. I didn’t do that in my game, though, because I drew Giant Race for my empire advantage, which made Attack-2 Defense-2 Move-2 Destroyer stacks my preferred weapon. (Though springing for that extra move and defense maybe hurt me more than it helped when the toasters turned it into research points.)

The main thing that I’d do differently based on this first experience with the new faction is that I’d probably invest in more space exploration earlier than what I did. The Replicators look intimidating, but they do need to wait a while before they throw a punch. Exploring the edges of the board is tempting. Raids are (unfortunately) less tempting because you need a specially equipped transport to fully burn down a Replicator colony. On the other hand, beating up their ships before they can combine to become dangerous seems like a very good thing. So while you don’t have the option of doing something crazy that seriously dents their production, they does seem to be plenty of good reason to go fight them early on.

Given the number of things I’m puzzling over here, I have to say… the new faction is probably working exactly like it was intended to… and has fewer of the problems than I expected to see. So if you have an opponent that would rather play the robots than a “real” Space Empires empire, don’t fret. You’re still going to get to do each of the four X’s that make up the game.

Besides, turn ten where the Replicators start losing entire worlds due to pure exhaustion is right around the corner!

Everything Published After 1940 is Inauthentic

Everything published after 1940 is inauthentic. To explain why I’m going to introduce my own “three-legged stool” theory of successful literature.  The three legs are thrills, wonder, and romance.

Thrills, because no one wants to read a story where nothing exciting happens. Adventure, heh! Excitment, hrumph! A jedi maybe isn’t supposed to crave these things. But everyone else sure does!

Wonder, because no one would settle for a mere story when they could instead experience a legend. An epic, even. An encounter with something truly mythical! Underworlds, overworlds, gods, and heroes are fundamental to the human psyche. People crave encounters with the superlative and the transcendent.

And romance. Ah, romance! Because face it, there is only one thing that can truly motivate an adventurer to risk everything in a daring journey into the unknown. Sure, there are all kinds of other motivations out there you could think up. But this one trumps them all!

What happened in 1940?

In a word, modernism. A tepid materialist outlook that decreed that the transcendent was out of bounds. An unctuous, slinking cowardice that insinuated that all heroes have feet of clay. A smarmy, contemptuous pretentiousness that insisted that our concepts of good and evil were arbitrary social constructs.

These losers rolled into town and kicked away the old stool. They declared it juvenile. They sneered. They mocked. They made a lot of noise about their “literary qualia” and the supposed deficiencies of their predecessors. They beat their chests and gave each other awards. And then they went on a decades long crusade in order to ensure that people couldn’t even imagine what the old stuff was like. And they made a new stool: instead of thrills, wonder, and romance, they gave us lectures, “realism”, and a celebration every conceivable evolutionary dead end you could mention.

But on a fundamental level, that stuff really doesn’t speak to who we are. They thought they could take the reins of culture and write whatever they wanted on the supposed blank slates of our minds. Yet time and again in field after field we see the same pattern: the greater the success of these sorts of people, the more astonishing the ensuing market correction.

They told us we were on the wrong side of history. But all this time it’s been them that had this distinction. And watching this play out, it’s clear: those “childish” stories of the ancient Greeks that we’ve told and retold over the course of centuries…? They’re far more applicable to describing what is actually happening in the wide world than anything the Poindexters have managed to put forward.