A long time ago.

18 03 2011

“Who shot first?” asked a fan at the Star Wars Q&A at PAX East this past Saturday.

The lead writer for The Old Republic, Daniel Erickson, sounded as if he couldn’t stress his answer enough.

“Han. Han. A thousand times, Han.”

I can remember being a kid and watching the original Star Wars movie – before the others were even out – repeatedly, on the ancient light brown couch in our living room, mesmerized by the vastness of it. Even as I got older, the scope of it all still blew me away: a society in which FTL drive was thousands upon thousands of years old and humanity (or it’s very near equivalent) was spread across innumerable star systems. The tech was all just background. The real appeal was watching the Star Wars-style Peter Parker find his rough and harsh road to adulthood, leading the underdog Rebels in the toppling of an elitist, racist (species-ist?), fascist regime whose resources were far superior. When Star Wars “Special Edition” was released, I stood in that line at the theater for hours. Perhaps watching Greedo take that shot should have been the first sign.

We’ve all seen and read review after review of Star Wars Episodes I through III; it’s so old hat that rehashing how bad it was it here would just eat space. (If you actually missed all of it, or want a poisonous recap, check out *RedLetterMedia’s reviews*. I support you skipping the “dark comedy” elements in the Episode 2 review.) Suffice it to say, Lucas seemed to demonstrate that he’s very interested in making money and that he has no real talent for writing or directing. The prequels treated the Star Wars IP the same way that retailers treat symbols like Santa Claus: as a gimmick to up sales. Sure, it’s his IP and he can do what he wants with it. If he wants to milk it for money, that’s his business. It would have been nice, however, had the result also been a solid story that made some lick of sense.

Star Wars and I started to have a rocky relationship post-prequels. Of the innumerable Star Wars video games that came out in their wake, only one was any good, and it’s stuck with me: Knights of the Old Republic. I liked it because it was a universe I felt I knew so much about, but the entire game showed me time and time again how little I actually knew, tapping that vastness and mystique that I found so alluring in the first place. Turns out the guys at Bioware can actually write.

On a whim and a Steam sale last year, I picked up Mass Effect, and I rediscovered all over again my love for the RPG. I’d sit for hours just reading the codex entries, and I played through both ME and it’s sequel several times a piece to see how different pivotal decisions would impact the story. The BioWare radial select-what-you’re-thinking speech menu has forever set the bar for in-game dialog in my mind. I found myself excited to follow Command Shepard, entranced by how characters reacted to him. I tried Dragon Ago: Origins also. It was good, though not as good. Were I asked to identify the reason, I’d have to say it was the lack of protagonist in DA versus ME. The nameless, voiceless Grey Warden pales in comparison to the forceful presence of Commander Shepard. The *real* difference was that Shepard had a voice and the Grey Warden did not.

And now I see that Bioware has the helm on the Star Wars IP, and it’s lead writer – Daniel Erickson – does in fact recall who pulled the trigger. Not only this, but they all seem to agree – as I’ve seen hungrily watching every SW:TOR interview I can find – that a main character needs a voice.

The Mass Effect games had a sort of laughable combat system; it was frustrating at harder levels (given how dumb your followers could be) and trivial at the Casual level…so Casual I played. I wasn’t in it for the fighting anyway. I overlooked the combat, watching it passively as if Cmdr. Shepard really was so bad ass that the universe was on Easy Mode for him. The story was so good that I forgave everything else about the game that I didn’t like. I’m not saying I’d enjoy an MMO where the combat was either trivial or frustrating: I did very much enjoy combat in WoW, WAR, and other titles when things got tense. What I am saying is this: if it’s true that there’s more content in TOR than all previous BioWare titles combined, and if it’s true that every character big and small has a voice, then the combat can be middling and still be forgivable in my eyes. It’s doing for me now what I’d started to think was impossible. It’s giving me hope for Star Wars.

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