I wouldn’t usually post trailers for a video game, but these deserve a bit of extra attention. Below you’ll find the trailers for the upcoming MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, a game developed by Bioware (Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic) and LucasArts. It’s a super-prequel of sorts, taking place 3,500 years before the events of the events of The Phantom Menace, depicting a conflict arising in the midst of a wobbly peace between the Galactic Republic and the Sith.
More to the point, this combined eight or nine minutes of footage is absolutely fucking balls-out spectacular. I’ll go ahead and say it: The two videos shown here are hands-down better than any of the action scenes in any of the prequel films, with the possible exception of the Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan/Darth Maul fight in The Phantom Menace. It’s actually rather breathtaking.
Which leads us to inevitably ask the question that’s now making the rounds on the internet — why not just let Bioware’s writers develop the next cinematic (or televised) chapter in the Star Wars universe? Because the unflinching truth as I see it is this: Since Return of the Jedi, George Lucas and the various other writers and directors associated with the properties have basically given us nothing. Lucas has given us three middling-to-terrible prequels and a fucking Ewok Christmas Special. As for the rest? We’ve seen a decent, if unspectacular set of mini-episodes of The Clone Wars, a disappointing Clone Wars movie, and not much more. Now, I know Lucas didn’t have a direct hand in writing or directing all of those items, but they all came under his watch, and none of them have lived up to the expectations of the fans — except for those who’ve talked themselves into believing that those entries are better than they actually are.
Think about that. Return of the Jedi was released 27 years ago. And in that time, we’ve been subjected to several new entries in the series, and what have been the best ones? Some of the innumerable novels, and video games. The games have been most notable — dating back to ones like Rebel Assault, to the impressive Dark Forces, to the numerous MMOs, to the fun Battlefront series, to 2008’s very good The Force Unleashed. There have been a number of solid entries, and the stories and cinematics are only getting better.
It says two things — one, that George Lucas lost control of the ship decades ago. We always knew that he was better as an idea man than as a director, and even his writing has suffered. The prequel trilogy suffered from over-plotting, impenetrable and unnecessary political exposition, hideously bad dialogue, excessive exposition (midichlorians! GODDAMN YOU GEORGE!), and stunningly wooden acting. There was miscasting left and right, and, as was evident in the travesty that was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Lucas has become far more enamored with technology than with creating a viable and entertaining story. The effects promptly overwhelmed the story, and somehow those effects managed to be impressive, yet unconvincing.
The geek questions are valid ones. Why not give someone else a seat at the wheel? I realize this discussion is pretty much like firing in a well, but it’s an interesting discussion nonetheless. Because here’s the second thing: I’ll be honest — I gained far more satisfaction from playing The Force Unleashed than I did from watching any of the prequels — and it’s not even a great game, just a pretty good one (although I have high hopes for the sequel due out this year). Lucas has indicated that the future of the Star Wars universe lies in animation, and watching the trailer footage for The Old Republic, you can see some of the most lush, gorgeous animation you’re likely to see. The cinematography, wholly artificial as it may be, is jaw-dropping. The battle scenes are harrowing, intense and unbelievably choreographed. The lightsaber fights are simply stunning. This is the Star Wars universe that I’m guessing most people wish they could see, instead of the disparate, convoluted quagmire that we ended up with.
Obviously, the game’s actual action isn’t on the same scale as the trailer footage, but the trailer footage is what makes the idea so compelling, because it shows that it can be done. If you’re going to submerge the story in CGI, why bother with live actors anyway? Why not just go whole hog and shoot an entire film using the same technology? Why not accept the technological advancements that the video game industry continues to not-so-quietly advance and use them to create something on a larger scale? Lucas spent a fortune creating the prequels, and it still ended up a discordant mess, the human/animation interaction never quite working. If the future tech of the Star Wars universe lies in animation, why should we suffer through the same cartoonish animated series or films — get some good writers, and turn the filming over to people who can do something truly interesting. Companies like Bioware have demonstrated a dedication to furthering the universe through incredible visuals, but also through inventive and interesting storytelling, leaving people to marvel at some of their work, instead of leaving us feeling empty and frustrated as we were with the films. So why not give them a shot to take it to the next level?
Seriously, why the hell not?
Here’s the newest trailer that debuted at E3 2010 (entitled “Hope”)— I highly recommend you watch it in HD if you can:
Here’s the earlier one, showing the Dark/Sith side of things (called “Betrayal”). It’s just as impressive, if not more so in some ways: