Star Wars: The Rise of Nostalgia

Rise of Skywalker Nostalgia

Okay before we begin, I want to be clear: I am basing this off the first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. This is in no way a commentary on the film itself, which I have not seen…yet. I’m only breaking down the marketing methods behind this:

Okay – I hope this avoids any confusion, should you be reading this after the film has been released. With that in mind…let’s dive in.

Continue reading Star Wars: The Rise of Nostalgia

What Writers can learn from Star Wars Rebels

Last night, I finished watching Star Wars Rebels. The adventures of Ezra Bridger and company came to a close and, overall, I think I will look back on the series with a general thought of “It was all right, but I felt like it could have been so much more.”

The season 4 finale in particular had me scratching my head and sighing, feeling like a letdown after the superior writing of the mid-season finale. The sad part is, after the season 3 finale, I wasn’t surprised.

Star Wars Rebels hopes to teach its audience many lessons about life, morality, and consequences. However, I think it best serves as a message to writers and, unfortunately, I believe it will go down as a cautionary tale more than anything else. Let’s focus on the writing of Rebels and break down exactly what I’m talking about (warning: spoilers to follow).

The Importance of Payoff

When I think of Rebels, I label it as a show that raises many good questions and ideas. Ezra is a jedi trainee outside of the temple – at a time when temptations to the dark side should be at their peak. After all, he’s relatively powerless against overwhelming odds, and his chief drive is to protect his new family. On top of that, he’s a young kid in the middle of a war. Sound familiar?

Ezra Anakin Rebels Writing
The parallels between Anakin and Ezra aren’t hard to spot.

And the show seems to be aware of this. We see Ezra tempted by the dark side. In pervades all of season 2 and is the dominant theme. Kanan is worried, stormtroopers are mind tricked into murder/suicide – it seems like Ezra’s “soul” is in real danger.

Then he meets Maul and Kanan gets blinded and…that’s it? The temptation of the dark side effectively vanishes for the remainder of the show, despite having numerous opportunities to resurface. This makes Ezra look incredibly strong-willed, which is odd because he doesn’t seem to really mature much elsewhere. He is still impetuous, he’ll still do anything for his friends, he still is placed in many life-and-death situations.

But the payoff never comes. Star Wars Rebels does this with an art form – build to events that never happen. Let’s go through the seasons. Season 1: Pretty solid – actually not much to report there. Season 2: The temptation of the dark side – payoff: Kanan gets blinded by Maul and Ezra is forever “cured.” Season 3: The rebels face Thrawn, who continually lets them go – referencing a larger plan – Payoff: Thrawn stumbles onto their base through unrelated events. Season 4: Lothal is revealed to be deeply connected to the Force, including force wolves and a portal that controls time – payoff: Ezra calls in some space worms from season 2 to save the day…?

Yeah it’s not great. Throughout its four season span, Rebels continually raises plot lines that it doesn’t pursue to conclusion. It isn’t the first show to do this, nor will it be the last. Thematically, it is more challenging to explore a theme in its entirety – but also much more rewarding. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the audience gets the feeling that the two writers really thought about war, violence, and resolving conflict. Almost every aspect is thoroughly explored, and I never once got the impression the writers were talking down to me.

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If Star Wars Rebels can teach you anything about writing, it should be that plot threads should be fully developed ahead of time (or refined in editing) to erase most of the dangling story points.

Creating Characters with Arcs

All through season 4, there was one character I was wondering about: Zeb Orrelios. Namely, the thought on my mind was “What happened to him?” Zeb has no character-focused episodes in the final season, instead sitting on the sidelines. I also started thinking about his character. Throughout the series, he did have several arcs – he found his people, persuaded Agent Kallus to rebel against the Empire (really easily), and…that’s it.

And while Zeb had his character arcs – I couldn’t really figure out what he ever did for the main plot. He was always there, it’s true, but his stuff felt very superfluous. Kallus’ betrayal never amounts to much (he’s in season 4 even less than Zeb). In the greater struggles of Rebels, Zeb is a passive character, largely just along for the ride. He could have left at any point without making a noticeable impact. There is no “it” that he has that the other characters don’t.

And I feel like this is true of a lot of the main characters in Rebels. Their arcs are general or barely there. How does Sabine Wren really change from the first to the last episode? How does Hera? Most characters are very static – with only small deviations (hey remember that time Sabine left the rebels for all of three episodes?).

Even Ezra – the main character – does the bulk of his changing in the first season, going from a loner to a team player. He doesn’t really sway much past that point. Many character arcs relate to the goals of the story. Here is a chart:

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Most of the characters never go through this change, in part because many don’t have serious flaws to be corrected. In much the vein of traditional Star Wars archetypes – the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad (in every sense of the word). It fits but…eh, it’s a bit dull for a series.

The Importance of an Intimidating Villain

I’ve already written about this in an earlier post on Thrawn, as well as touched upon the broader writing lessons in my ‘Beat Up Your Heroes‘ post – but it bears repeating here. The villains of Rebels were typically dull and uninteresting. Part of this was the movie armor. Darth Vader is imposing as heck but then…stops pursuing them? The rationale is never given.

Likewise, it is a joke by this point that stormtroopers can’t aim, but Rebels elevates this to laughable heights. The final episode features stormtroopers firing – and missing – a stationary target roughly five feet in front of them. It would be okay if I didn’t think the show wasn’t trying to be serious – but you can’t have serious when your standard villains are less threatening than unarmed children.

The rebels are never beat up – for an oppressed group, they seem to be doing very well for themselves. Only one of them dies, and even then it feels more like the will of The Force than the actions of the villains.

Star Wars Rebels villain writing
Whoever gave this woman control of anything more powerful than a teacup should be fired.

If you want the hero’s victory to feel incredible, they’ve got to earn it. Rebels ends with a James Cameron’s Avatar moment: The intergalactic threat is defeated and just…leaves? Never comes back? What? It’s a happy ending but it doesn’t feel like an earned ending. With everything at stake on Lothal – why would the Emperor, a dude so evil he looks like Satan, let Lothal go?

Also if that’s all it took to free Lothal then they could have done it seasons ago – just saying.

Managing Escalation

At its heart, I think the Rebels‘ writing team had a real problem managing the escalation of stakes. When it was a little show about a small group of rebels on one backwater planet, resisting whatever the Empire had time to throw at them, it was believable and fun.

Toward the end, they were blowing up star destroyers left and right and crippling whole operations like it was nothing. How did these guys not single-handedly defeat the Empire?

There is one episode in season 4 where they fight 2 trandoshan slavers (one voiced by Seth Green doing his Cobra Commander voice) and they struggle. I mean, it takes them a whole episode to capture the freighter. While I liked this hearkening back to the first season’s scale, it stuck out to me. Why were they having so much trouble with 2 non-military personnel?  After all I’d seen them do?

I could go on – and I’ll probably reference Rebels again in future articles. For now I will just say this: A lot of good stories can be ruined by laziness or sloppiness. I don’t think Rebels was ruined, but it was never great. If it wasn’t Star Wars, I don’t think people would have been as hooked.

When writing your stories, manage your payoffs – keep character arcs in mind – and write to suit escalation.

Top 10 ports I want on Switch

The Nintendo Switch seems to be a hit. With just over a year under its belt, it has sold just under 20 million units – already over 6 million more than the poor Wii U ever sold in its entire lifespan. While the Switch has some impressive original software, the main drive behind its success appears to be its play potential. Gamers finally have a modern portable that feels amazing (and can double as a home console).

I own a Switch and I love it. I take it with me on the T and hook it up to my TV when I’m home. I have no doubt that Nintendo will continue to bring original quality content to their platform for the foreseeable future. So today, let’s not talk original content – let’s talk ports. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a video game port is simply a game that was originally made for another system before being “ported” over to a new one. For example – Bethesda’s DOOM originally came out for PS4, Xbox One, and PC before being released – or ported over – to the Switch.

All right, now that we have the terminology out of the way – let’s talk ports!

Child of Light

Ubisoft appears to have a weird relationship with Nintendo at the moment. Over the past two console generations, the companies have presented together as friends, but the Ubisoft library on Nintendo consoles has been…lacking. One of the first third parties to endorse the Wii U – the company quickly backtracked, cancelling a project and moving exclusives Rayman Legends and Zombiu to wider markets.

One game that the Wii U did receive was Child of Light. An indie-style 2D adventure RPG that was quaint and charming, Child of Light isn’t a classic by any stretch – but I remember enjoying my playthrough. It is a light-hearted, simple game that would feel right at home alongside many of the indie darlings already on Switch.

I feel like Ubisoft has some really low hanging fruit here when it comes to increasing their revenue on Switch. I could see this game selling really well if priced between $15 and $20.

Assassin’s Creed IV

And speaking of Ubisoft, let’s give another of their recent classics some new life. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag has already sold over 5 million units – on PS4 and Xbox One. That’s right, just the remastered editions. Clearly this is a game that fans love and are willing to double-dip for.

If we’re all honest, Assassin’s Creed seems like a series suffering from fatigue. Few intellectual properties successfully transition from generation to generation (remember Prince of Persia?) and, until they add significant gameplay adjustments or just set a game in Japan, I personally feel like the future of the franchise is less than exciting.

So why not relive the glory days? Having a pirate adventure on-the-go sounds pretty great! If Ubisoft is feeling bold, they can even throw in an Assassin’s Creed Classic Trilogy collection as well.

The Mass Effect Trilogy

Hey remember that time EA released Mass Effect 3 (and only Mass Effect 3 – minus DLC) on Wii U? Me neither. Let’s all join in not remembering that event by enjoying the full trilogy on Switch. Mass Effect is in a bad spot right now. The once A-list series suffered a less than stellar ending in Mass Effect 3 before releasing the equivalent of a Disney direct-to-DVD sequel in Mass Effect: Andromeda.

The brand needs to rebound and EA has already released a trilogy package for 360 and PS3. The Switch can handle it, and the move would remind gamers of all the fun they had with the first three games…while not talking about the 4th.

I know I would buy it, but I’m also a huge fan. I mean – I did write a fan screenplay.

Soul Calibur II HD Edition

So, some time ago Namco re-released Soul Calibur II  for both Microsoft and Sony. This version was dubbed Soul Calibur II HD Online and featured both previous console exclusives Spawn and Heihachi. That’s great and all, but they missed the best exclusive.

Despite having a much small install base, Soul Calibur II for the Gamecube nearly outsold its PS2 rival. Why? One word: Link. Link fit into Soul Calibur II like Kratos fit into Mortal Kombat. Given that Nintendo is trying to bolster its presence in online gaming, getting a remastered port (with all three exclusive characters) would be a boom. Not to mention Nintendo seems to have a good relationship with Namco – working with the company on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS.

Red Dead Redemption: Definitive Edition

Let’s be real for a second. We all know that Red Dead Redemption II will never come to the Switch. I love that little system but it is nowhere near powerful enough. So, while Nintendo owners nurse the pain of not being able to take the latest Rockstar adventure portable, why not toss them a bone from memory lane?

The first Red Dead Redemption is an amazing game. In my opinion, it is the best experience that Rockstar Studios has created so far. And, since it never got a PC port, people don’t have an easy way to play it right now.

Taking Red Dead Redemption – along with all of its amazing DLC – on-to-go sounds fantastic and a profitable fit for both Nintendo and Rockstar. With Bethesda reporting solid sales numbers from its early Switch endeavors, there appears to be a market for mature gaming on Switch. Adding the original Red Dead Redemption would go a long way to bolster said offerings.

The Monkey Island Classic Trilogy

Once upon a time, LucasArts existed. Not only that – they made games! Even more unbelievably, most of those games were gems; classics of timeless quality and appeal. With the news that one such product, Grim Fandango, is coming to the Switch, we can only hope that LucasArts’ other classic adventure game series isn’t far behind.

Playing as a pirate is fun, Guybrush Threepwood taught me that. The Monkey Island series had three stellar entries before falling off into obscurity. These share would fit in well alongside other quirky games like Night in the Woods and Golf Story. I don’t know who owns the rights to these three games – but given that two have already been remastered (and the third is available on Steam), I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to get them working on Nintendo’s newest hardware.

Fallout: New Vegas

While rumors of Fallout 3 on the Switch have existed for some time, I haven’t heard as much talk about the other, arguably better Fallout game of the 7th generation. This is likely due to Fallout: New Vegas having a more complex ownership. Developer Obsidian Entertainment partnered with Bethesda to create the post-apocalyptic romp through the wasteland, and getting both publishers to sign off on a remastered version may take some doing.

Regardless, New Vegas is a gem among modern RPG games. Bethesda has already enjoyed success with Skyrim on Switch, so bringing in its old Fallout library makes sense. If we do see Fallout 3, I can only hope that a New Vegas announcement is soon to follow.

Alpha Protocol: Remastered Edition

So far, I don’t think my list has been unique. Most of these potential ports have been discussed on other sites at some point in time. But now, here is one that I am almost certain no one else will have talked about – because most people don’t remember it…because it wasn’t super great when it first came out.

Alpha Protocol was an attempt by Obsidian Entertainment to launch its own IP – back before the days of Pillars of Eternity. It was a spy RPG in the vein of Mass Effect, where the player took on the persona of a secret agent, and every choice impacted story progression. And, in terms of story – it was fantastic! I remember playing it and being really absorbed, loving how I was always a jerk…but I could decide exactly what kind of jerk I wanted to be. To offer a modern comparison: It is like how CD Project Red handled Geralt in The Witcher 3.

The problem was the combat. Released close to Mass Effect 2, Alpha Protocol felt slightly worse than Mass Effect 1. The skill tree felt unbalanced, with certain abilities like hand-to-hand combat feeling under-powered and useless in boss fights. The resulting gameplay issues turned critics off, and the game sold less than 1 million units.

BUT – I maintain that it is still mostly a good game. One that could be fixed with less than a year of work. It might not become a classic, but Alpha Protocol could enjoy a second life on Switch. Several other games have already seen similar revivals on Nintendo’s new system, so – if I worked at Obsidian – I would at least consider it. Great stories are timeless – and Alpha Protocol had an immersive plot.

Star Wars: Rogue Leaders HD

Once upon a time, a company called Factor 5 made some great Star Wars games on Nintendo systems. If you’ve ever played Rogue Squadron or Rogue Leader, you’ve sampled their work. Then, as with many game companies, they hit bad luck and, ultimately, went bankrupt.

What makes this story worse is they had a completed game set for launch on the Wii that just didn’t happen. LucasArts was notorious for cancelling promising projects in development at the time (never forget Battlefront III) and Rogue Leaders became just another casualty.

Which is a darn shame because those old games are great and, since Disney took over the franchise, there has been a shortage of quality Star Wars video game content. How amazing would it be to throw the fans a bone by releasing an HD version of a game that was already intended to be a remaster of a classic Gamecube title? Talk about minimal work for maximum gain.

There is money to be made here – Disney just needs to move on it:

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

I’ve tried to leave Nintendo games off this list. For one thing, I firmly believe that every Wii U classic will be on the Switch at some point because, you know, money. For another, I wanted to be more creative. That said, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker remains my personal favorite Zelda game.

The treatment that Nintendo gave it for the Wii U was superb so, I simply ask – bring to the Switch man…come on. I can only put so many hundreds of hours into Breath of the the Wild. The work is done – the game looks amazing – let’s just get a move on.

And that’s it for my list. If you’ve made it this far – thanks for reading. If you were expecting something more literary from me – sorry for this offshoot but I’m a gamer as well as an author. Don’t worry, I’ll have something book-related for you soon!

A couple of honorable mentions real quick: Can we get the original two (or three) DOOM games on Switch…and where is Resident Evil 4? I thought Capcom had a quest to put that game on every system.