A New Hope

The entire nerdosphere is buzzing about the big news that came down yesterday: Disney has purchased Lucasfilm from George Lucas for 4.05 Billion Dollars, and will launch new Star Wars films in 2015 with Episode VII. If you’re reading this blog, I suspect that your social media feeds, like mine, are overflowing with commentary about this particular turn of events. I’m sorry to add to the noise, but as someone whose initial viewing of Star Wars in 1977 set me on the path to where I am professionally today, I can’t really let something this big slide by without comment, even if it’s only for my own reference later on in life.

(A brief aside before continuing: The image at left is one that I stumbled upon a while ago, reading coverage of the big Star Wars Celebration convention. I have no idea who the artist is, or where it’s from — but I LOVE it. If you have any info, please leave it in the comments below.)

Edited to Add: Thanks to Peter Mars over on Google+: The art is called Shadows of Tatooine, by Raymond Swanland

Very briefly, to sum up: I think this is a very good thing.

Unpacking that a bit more:

  • Star Wars is Best When Lucas Doesn’t Have Sole Control. The two best films? Star Wars — where he had to work with a team to cut corners and work with what they had, rather than satisfying every creative detail perfectly — and The Empire Strikes Back — where he came up with the story, and other folks wrote and directed. When Lucas has control over every detail? You get the prequels. Watch the “Making Of” extras of Attack of the Clones sometime, and see a CG artist get micromanaged for days over the animation of Yoda’s brow.

    Lucas is going to be a “creative consultant” on this new stuff. In his own words, he’s handing over his story outlines, and that’s pretty much about it. That’s a very good thing.

  • Disney Handles Its Subsidiaries Really Well. Disney owns a bunch of studios, and knows to pretty much leave them alone to do the things they do best. Miramax’s best stuff was released after the Disney acquisition in 1993. Pixar, since acquisition, has released Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Brave. Marvel? You might have heard that post-Disney-acquisition, they hired Joss Whedon to write and direct The Avengers, which was pretty damned good.

    So, you’ll forgive me, but the nerdrage and snark about “Disneyfication of Star Wars” and such? Pretty much entirely without merit.

  • Kathleen Kennedy is Fucking Brilliant. The new president of Lucasfilm and the brand manager of Star Wars is the #2 producer of all time in terms of box office, behind only Steven Spielberg. She’s forward-looking and one of Hollywood’s more innovative producers — to quote Jeff Gomez of Starlight Runner:

  • Star Wars will most likely be made by people who grew up loving it. If you think about the average age of screenwriters and directors in Hollywood, and the general vibe of “geek ascendancy” which has been commented upon, as the awkward nerd of the past now find themselves in decision-making positions, it’s going to be first-generation Star Wars fans who will be making the new stuff. Folks from their 30s to 50s, raised on action figures and steeped in the same stuff that we love. Take a look at The Clone Wars cartoon, considered by many to be better than the prequel films — Lucas was producer, but the show is run by supervising director Dave Filoni, a guy born in the early 70s who grew up on Star Wars. Expect to see that sort of dynamic continue.

For the first time in over a decade, I’m hopeful about Star Wars again. I can’t wait to see what’s coming. For that alone, for the chance to remember what it felt like to really love Star Wars and eagerly await the next thing, the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney is, to me, a great thing.

2015. Episode VII. I’m there.

Thoughts on a Bond Day

Today marks the 50th Anniversary of the release of the first James Bond film, Dr. No (which I had the joy of seeing on the big screen for the first time last month). It’s been declared “Global James Bond Day”, a celebration of all things 007. So, y’know, absolute catnip for a guy like me.

Yesterday, the theme for the new film, Skyfall was released, performed by Adele. It hearkens back to the classic Bond ballads, like You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only. It’s funny — I’ve seen criticism online (go figure, it’s the internet) that it isn’t “hard-hitting” or “a call to action” — which makes me wonder if those making such charges are familiar with the tracks I mentioned.

Here’s the debut “lyrics video” for the song:

The release of the theme, the forthcoming release of the score (due at the end of October) and the film itself, plus all of the associated 50th anniversary hoopla (books, etc.) have definitely put me in a very Bond frame of mind.

Over on Facebook and Google+ I posted the following image:

That’s the front and back cover art to the James Bond 007 roleplaying game, published in the early 80s by Victory Games. That was the game that made me want to become a game designer. Before it, I had never seen a game system that emulated a genre — systems were, in my meagre experience of the time, mathematical models of action, and that’s it.

But James Bond 007, designed by Gerry Klug, showed me that you could create systems that helped to bring across the feel of a thing — the chase rules, for example, bring the tension and rising stakes of a chase directly to the players through the rules, not just the results. It was an epiphany. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Mr. Klug — he’s long since left tabletop gaming — but I’ll take this opportunity to publicly thank him.

In the mid-90s, I ran a long-term campaign, one-on-one with my friend John Phythyon, where he played Richard Deming, 001. We dove into it– a new “film” every few weeks, complete with all NPCs described in terms of the actor cast in the role (Deming himself was initially portrayed by a pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan, before Adrian Paul stepped into the role)…

Hey, I said we dove into it.

There were movie posters, even soundtracks — John would compose and record a theme tune, an action piece and a “sneaking around/contemplative” piece for each “film”, working off the titles I’d give him (at the end of the previous adventure, of course — “Richard Deming will return in…”). We started to have friends interested in just watching us play, and then they’d start coming in as guest stars, playing recurring characters like Deming’s CIA Liaison, etc.

It was, hands-down, the best roleplaying game experience of my life. Yet to be topped.

I’m very pleased to hear that Joseph Browning of Expeditious Retreat Press is working on a “retro-clone” of the Bond game, under the title CLASSIFIED. Here’s hoping for a robust release schedule filled with adventures. I may have to dive back in…