The Attack of the Clones conspiracy


In a way, AOTC is possibly the most interesting Star Wars movie in its implications. To assume control of the Republic and destroy the Jedi, Palpatine engineers the Clone Wars. But for the Clone Wars to happen, two things have to happen: (1) the Jedi have to become aware of the clone army that Palpatine had created for them (through Dooku/Tyrannus), and (2) they have to be given a reason to use it. The way that happens in the movie is via Obi-Wan – Jango kills Zam Wesell with a Kamino dart, planting the clue that will lead Obi-Wan to Kamino to discover the clones. Then Jango (for no other obvious reason) travels to Geonosis, luring Obi-Wan and many other Jedi (and incidentally Anakin and Padme) into a trap that will give the Jedi a reason to employ the clone army. So although Jango appears to be doing his best to kill Obi-Wan for half of the movie, if he had actually succeeded, Palpatine’s plot would have ground to a halt. In fact, if Jango had simply killed Zam Wesell with a blaster bolt, the movie would have been over in the first 20 minutes. Palpatine would have to have found some other way to make the Jedi learn about and employ the clone army.


There are only a few possibilities to explain this:

  1. Jango was deliberately holding back in his fights with Obi-Wan, despite all appearances to the contrary, and was basically putting on a show for Boba and any other observers.
  2. Jango was trying his hardest to kill Obi-Wan, but Palpatine knew that Obi-Wan would be clever enough to survive.
  3. Jango was trying his hardest, and Palpatine just got lucky.

Anyway, the outcome of a fight between a Jedi and a Mandalorian bounty hunter is a pretty fragile thread on which to hang a multi-decade plot to take over the galaxy and wipe out the Jedi.


Also, there are something like a hundred Jedi in the Geonosian arena to rescue Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padme. What were they doing during the initial monster attacks, just hoping that the three in the arena would somehow survive? Or had they just barely arrived in time to ignite their lightsabers at the same time that Mace walks up to Dooku in the skybox? They’re either callous or suuuuuper lucky.

Anyone else bothered by these things?

Posted in prequels, Star Wars | 1 Comment

A long time ago…


As I’ve been looking forward to The Force Awakens, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes Star Wars feel like Star Wars. And something new crystallized for me:

Star Wars feels old.

I don’t just mean that the individual things in Star Wars are old – the “used future” aesthetic – or even that cumulative effect of all of those old things produces a time abyss. I mean that Star Wars does not feel like the future, it really does feel like something that happened in the distant past (I’m speaking of the original trilogy here). It feels not just old, but ancient.

Rancor eat

It is very hard for me to separate my thinking on this from the influence of paleontology, and specifically from having been crazy about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals from about the age of 3 onward. I grew up with the bone-deep knowledge that monsters signified the past, whether it was the mythical monsters on the terra incognita at the edge of Renaissance maps, or the real monsters of Earth’s deep history. Star Wars not only had biological monsters (dianoga, wampa, space slug, Rancor, Sarlacc…), but also monstrous machines that seemed like they had been resurrected from some kind of mechanical prehistory. AT-ATs are basically dinosaur tanks. Jawa sandcrawlers and Jabba’s sail barge are not far behind.

Y-Wings in Death Star trench

So I think the visible old-ness of the things on screen works on two levels: the aging and weathering – the blast marks on the war machines, the rust on the desert vehicles, the obvious patchwork repairs on the Millennium Falcon and the Rebel Y-Wings – establish that these things are old within the context of the story. But the very alienness of their design works on another level. The best vehicles in Star Wars do not seem like products of our late-20th and early-21st century design culture. No civilization that depends on things like Chevrolets, iMacs, and F-15 Eagles is going to produce AT-STs. They come awkwardly tottering in from somewhere – and, crucially, somewhen – else. So these physical objects don’t just seem used to the characters within the story, they also seem ancient to us, the audience.

AT-ST on Endor

It’s worth pondering why the not-of-our-time-ness of Star Wars points so convincingly to the past instead of to the future. I think there are a lot of elements that conspire to make that happen, from the opening lines of the movie (reproduced in the title of this post), to the used-future aesthetic playing a perceptual trick on us – if things in-universe seem old to the characters on screen, and we identify with those characters, then those things can’t help but seem old to us as well – to things like the ubiquitous monsters, which you don’t have to be a paleontologist or dino-nut to know are cultural signifiers of the past. Finally, the mythopoeic grounding of the story itself points back to a bygone age of knights and princesses, not a (comparatively) sterile future of space station engineers and hydroponics techs.

Incidentally, although I haven’t seen much discussion of this aesthetic effect, I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. As the first commenter on this article put it:

Whenever I watch Star Trek, I clearly get the impression that it takes place in the distant future. However, when I watch Star Wars, for some odd reason that makes no sense, I almost get the feeling that it takes place in a VERY distant past.

I think this has implications for why some things feel more like Star Wars to me but other’s don’t. It’s probably part of the reason for my dissatisfaction with the prequels – all of that shiny history-less futurism feels a bit weightless compared to the gritty realism of the original trilogy (the death-by-bluescreen and clumsy execution certainly don’t help).

Imperial dungeon ship

Turning to the (now abandoned) Expanded Universe, I think it’s part of why Dark Empire works for me more than the Thrawn Trilogy (which I still very much enjoyed). DE is full of weird stuff – like Imperial dungeon ships, hunter-killer probe droids, and viper automadons – that capture the same alienness-of-the-past vibe I get from the original trilogy. In contrast, Timothy Zahn introduced very few new elements in his books. He mainly plays with established ideas and technology, and even though he sometimes combines them in stunning ways (e.g., Nomad City), it gives his books a more limited feel than the full-throttle weirdness of the old movies.


I hesitate to speculate about The Force Awakens. All we’ve seen so far are brief glimpses of a handful of things in the trailers and some teaser photos in magazines – like this one, of something called a ‘luggabeast’. But from what I’ve seen so far, I am hopeful. Three more months…

Posted in sequels, Star Wars | Leave a comment

Comparing Original Trilogy and Force Awakens X-Wings and TIEs

X-Wing comparo 3

Original trilogy T-65 X-Wing on the left in red livery, Force Awakens T-70 on the right in blue.

I already blogged about the new Star Wars Micro Machines that London got on Force Friday. I got a little something myself – the new Force Awakens core set for the X-Wing Miniatures Game (currently an exclusive at Target and possibly other brick and mortar stores, going into wide release on Sept. 18). The set isn’t that different from the first core set. It’s still one X-Wing and two TIE fighters, this time reflecting the slightly different versions of these vehicles from the upcoming movie. This is the first time I’ve been able to compare the new and old X-Wing and TIE fighter designs side by side.

McQuarrie dogfight over the Death Star

The ‘new’ T-70 X-Wing is a curious beast. In many ways it’s not a new design at all, but rather a return to the mid-development versions that Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie drew and painted for Star Wars back in the late 70s. Here is one of McQuarrie’s production paintings showing hemispherically split engine intakes and a somewhat smoother nose profile than the version that made it to the screen in the original trilogy.

X-Wing comparo 1

The two most obvious differences between the two X-Wing models are the big engine intakes on the T-70 and the way that its wings split, with the top and bottom wings lying in-line when closed, instead of stacked as in the original. That split-wing design is not something I’ve seen in any of the old concept art. I could just about convince myself that it was present in that McQuarrie painting above, but if you look closely there’s no evidence that either wing is further forward or back. I think it must be new for this movie. (That’s neither good nor bad, by the way – I like the new version and I’m glad it exists.)

The photo above shows a couple of additional differences that are more subtle. At least in these game pieces, the T-70 has a longer canopy over the cockpit, and a longer nose cone at the front end. There are also very minor differences in the wingtip laser cannons.

X-Wing comparo 2

Finally, when seen from behind the T-70 has a narrower, more tapering rear fuselage, and the new engine design puts the exhausts slightly farther apart than on the classic T-65.

Of course these game pieces are not the models and life-size mockups used in the movie and they probably do not record the T-70’s form with complete fidelity. But from what I have seen, the folks at Fantasy Flight have gone to great lengths to make their models as accurate as physically possible at this scale (within the limits of mass-production). So I think it’s more likely than not that these subtler differences are actually there in the X-Wings we’ll see in The Force Awakens.

TIE Fighter comparo

This is our current Imperial/First Order Fleet: the TIE Defender out front, followed by the two First Order TIE/fo models, and then by the OT TIE/ln models. The most obvious difference for the new First Order TIE fighters is the flip-flopped paint scheme, with white solar panels bordered in black. But these aren’t just repaints of the old TIEs, they’re new sculpts. You can see this in the superficial lines sculpted into the cockpit ball, the inner and outer wing “hubs”, and the raised ridges on the wing “spokes”.

Rebel - Resistance Fleet

And for completeness, here’s our Rebel/Resistance fleet: E-Wing out front, new and old X-Wings, and the Y-Wing.

Gameplay for the new models hasn’t changed much. The TIEs have a single point of shields, now, and the T-70 X-Wing has one additional shield token. The Force Awakens ships have access to new maneuvers, including new 180-degree turns. The TIEs can now get target locks, and the T-70 X-Wing can boost. The asteroid pieces that come with the new set are actually new shapes and paint jobs, not just clones of the originals, which is a nice touch. The rulebook that came with the original is now updated, expanded, and broken into three separate pieces: a short “Learn to Play” guide, a long “Rules Reference” organized alphabetically, and a very short setup guide for the (new) scenarios. I’m hugely in favor of this – the Rules Reference book is much better organized than the old rulebook, and it really cuts down on the time needed to check rules during games.

X-Wing 9-ship battle

We mixed it all together for a massive battle that occupied the whole table. We got a big sheet of black felt at Wal-Mart for $3.97, which has the dual benefits of (1) keeping stuff from sliding around too easily, and (2) looking like space – at least, more than our wooden tabletop. London made the point that somehow, the playspace seems bigger with the black felt on it. I don’t know what’s behind that perceptual trick, but he’s right, it does.

Expanded Universe meets Force Awakens

I had a funny realization when I was cropping this last photo: it’s the collision of two futures. Since The Force Awakens is ignoring all previous continuity other than the films, the old Expanded Universe is no longer canon. But Lucasfilm and its licensees don’t want to just kiss off that whole legion of popular and lucrative books, comics, and so on, so they’re still being issued under the heading of Star Wars: Legends. And here in this battle we have the E-Wing – originally created for the Dark Empire comic book series – squaring off against the First Order TIE fighter from a different, non-overlapping timeline. That’s trippy, and if I was a canon purist it would probably drive me nuts.

I’m glad I picked up the new core set – the new ships are a pip, and now we have two sets of maneuver templates and all of the dice we need. A lot of advice about getting into X-Wing starts with recommending two core sets to get all of that useful stuff, and now you can do that without getting straight duplicates of the ships.

Posted in Dark Empire, Expanded Universe, sequels, Star Wars, toys, X-Wing Miniatures Game | Leave a comment

d20 Spaceship hit location table

space dogfight over 2nd death star

I’m using this for Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game first edition, but it’s really system neutral. Grab a d20 and rock out. This tells you where the hits landed, but it doesn’t dictate the consequences. For example, on a power core hit the ship could explode, or suddenly be without power, or start spewing radioactive plasma, or maybe the crew have d4 rounds to lock it down, or…

  1. Roll twice
  2. Cockpit
  3. Power core
  4. Life support
  5. Escape pods (or ejection system, on small ships)
  6. Fuel tank
  7. Sublight drive
  8. Airlock/docking port
  9. Communications
  10. Coolant lines
  11. Crew quarters
  12. Flight computer (maneuverability, orbits) or navicomputer (hyperjumps)
  13. Hyperdrive
  14. Maneuvering thrusters
  15. Sensors
  16. Shield generator
  17. Targeting computer
  18. Weapons
  19. Galley/consumables or Cargo bay/carried equipment
  20. Repulsorlift engine or landing gear
Posted in roleplaying, RPG tables, Star Wars | 2 Comments

Comparing old and new Star Wars Micro Machines


Yesterday was Force Friday so after work and school, London and I went to Target to check out the new Star Wars toys. It’s a good thing we’re more interested in vehicles than action figures – the place had been absolutely stripped. But there were tons of Micro Machines, and that’s what London was mostly interested in. He got the three-pack of ships from A New Hope shown above: a TIE fighter, Corellian Corvette, and Imperial Star Destroyer.


I had a zillion or so Star Wars Micro Machines back in the day, before they went on their long hiatus. When London was about six, I discovered that some of the of old school Micro Machines are still available at non-ruinous prices, so I got him a big pack of 20-odd vehicles. He still has all of them, so we pulled out the old ships that correspond to his new ships to see how the new generation compares. Here are the TIE fighters – the new one is larger, more blue than grey, and has straighter wings.


Here they are from the back. The sculpting on the old TIE fighter (left in this image) is a bit more detailed, as is the paint job: the top cockpit windows are black and the ion engines are red on the old model,  but unpainted on the new one. The new one is a bit bigger and a proportionally more accurate with its larger wings. If you zoom in on the first picture, you can also see that the texturing on the wings is better. Don’t read anything into the deformation of the wings on the old TIE – it’s been sitting at the bottom of a bin of Star Wars toys for years.


Here are the old (left) and new (right) Star Destroyers. In this view you can see that the sculpts are slightly different, and as with the TIE fighers, the old sculpt records finer details. But also notice that the old SD is not perfectly straight – the hull has a shallow upward bend toward the prow, like a surfboard. This bend is not from having other toys piled on, it’s been there since the ship came out of the packaging.


This shot from the back shows a couple of interesting things. The engines on the old model (left) are better sculpted, but check out the shield generators (the ball thingies that stick up from the bridge tower). On the old model, an attempt to sculpt in more detail is largely ruined by clumsy casting, with lots of flashing left around the seam. The new model doesn’t even attempt to detail the shield generators, they’re just featureless white balls, but at least the casting is clean.


Now, the monster Corellian Corvette comparo. From left to right, and largest to smallest, we have:

  • The old Titanium Series metal corvette
  • The old regular Micro Machines plastic version
  • The new plastic version from London’s three-pack

First off, the old plastic version is off proportionally – it’s too short and fat. More of a Corpulent Corvette. The new plastic version wins on that score. But as usual for this set, it’s less detailed than the old version. It’s the smallest of the three vehicles in London’s pack in terms of volume. The overall sense I get is that having made the TIE fighter and Star Destroyer marginally larger, the designers had to take something away to keep the costs reasonable, and the corvette suffers a bit in terms of size and detail. (Or, a more charitable thought that occurred to me later: they deliberately made the corvette small to get you closer to re-enacting the capture of Princess Leia in A New Hope.)

One more thing I should note: the old vehicle three-packs always came with the clear plastic stands I used in shooting these photos, but the new ones do not. Happily they still have little sockets on the bottoms so they work with the old stands. Maybe Hasbro will release new stands at some point, but in the meantime you can make your own with a little ingenuity and some glue: the sockets are just the right size to fit onto cotton swap sticks once you’ve cut off the cotton tufts.


To sum up, here’s how the new vehicles stack up against the old.


  • Less detailed sculpts
  • Less detailed paint jobs
  • No included stands


  • Better plastic. I didn’t mention this above, but the old Micro Machines are made out of something that feels more rubbery than brittle. Slight asymmetries and distortions are very common. The new ones are made out of a different material which definitely feels more like hard plastic, and which feels more pleasant in the hand.
  • Better casting. As shown by the Star Destroyer shield generators, they new machines have essentially no visible seams or ‘flash’. Maybe we just got lucky here – we’re working from a sample size of one pack, after all – but the machining, although less detailed, feels better executed.
  • Better proportional accuracy, at least for the TIE fighter and Corvette.
  • Still only $4.99 for a three-pack. The prices for lots of toys are going up because the cost of plastic has soared over the last decade. I was very happily surprised when I saw that the new vehicle packs were only five bucks – I was expecting them to be $7.50. I think it’s great that Hasbro held the line on prices, even if it means that we don’t get stands and that the paint jobs are a bit less detailed.

Verdict: well worth the five bucks. Man, I’m glad these things are back.

Posted in Star Wars, toys | 1 Comment

Crazy fun: the X-Wing Miniatures Game

X-Wing Miniatures actual play 1

I have a mostly-love-but-kinda-hate relationship with Fantasy Flight Games. One on hand, they make a lot of really nice, really fun games, including some Casa Wedel favorites like the Warhammer 40k game Relic. On the other hand, they sell them dearly. And a lot of the games seem to suffer from some degree of component bloat: everything runs on craploads of cards and mountains of special dice, and sometimes the starter sets are semi-horked because they don’t include quite enough bits for the game to play cleanly. I always get the feeling that they’re trying to coerce me into buying an extra pack of their special dice at an insane markup.

But on the gripping hand, when you open the box, all the stuff is nice. Verging on luxurious. You may spend a lot on the box, but when you open it, you will know where your money went.

And on the I-don’t-even-know-which-hand-to-call-this-cuz-Moties-only-go-to-three-and-this-is-another-positive-point-anyway hand, most FF games have at least one mechanic that is innovative enough that I want to hack it and apply it to other games. From Relic, it’s the cardboard dials to track your character’s stats. Man, I would love to have those for so many other games that I play.

Anyway, the hate part of this love-hate thing is why I put off getting into the X-Wing Miniatures Game for so long. The starter set has a retail price of $40, street price around $27, for which you get all of…three ships. Two basic TIE fighters and one lonely X-Wing. Extra ships retail at $15 apiece, street price of $10-12. So if you want a 3-on-2 battle, you’re looking at about $50. Which I realize is small potatoes in the bigger world of miniatures games like 40k, where apparently you need to invest a few hundred bucks just to get started. Aaand you can cheat this a bit: the X-Wing starter box has several pilot cards for each ship, so if you have other minis to stand in, you can set them on top of the ship tokens and push them around just like the official minis. We’ve done this once and it works okay, but the official minis are so nice – miles beyond anything done at this scale for Star Wars before – that a good portion of enjoyment of the game is aesthetic satisfaction. The ships don’t look like stand-ins for the movie ships, they look like they flew right off the screen and onto the table. And stand-in models rather ruin that effect. (Curse you, Fantasy Flight, for making me want your expensive stuff so badly! I must punish you with a steady stream of greenbacks!)

So I circled around this game for a long time (much as I’ve been circling around FF’s Star Wars RPG), until a tentacle of Amazon credit pulled me into the Sarlacc Pit of X-Wing ownership. I had enough credit to get the starter box and one expansion, and I chose the Y-Wing for historical and sentimental reasons. It is a testament to the addictiveness of the game that when London got his allowance the very next weekend, we went out and bought the TIE Defender and E-Wing expansions (he doesn’t get that much allowance, but we pooled his dough with my available fun money). Here’s an in-progress shot from the game we played this evening, showing the TIE Defender at bottom center and the E-Wing on the right:

X-Wing Miniatures actual play 2

(London won, BTW. First his TIE Defender ionized Luke’s X-Wing, allowing the TIEs to shoot it to bits, and then the three ships had little trouble dispatching my E-Wing, despite serious damage to both of the standard TIEs.)

As the post title implies, the game is crazy fun. It plays fast – we’ve had some games run a bit over an hour, but nothing like the all-afternoon commitment required for Relic or BattleTech. It’s intuitive to pick up. And the movement mechanic is just brilliant. Every ship gets a little maneuver dial, specific to that kind of ship, and during the planning phase of a round, the players secretly set the maneuver dials for all of their ships. (The maneuver dials are the face-down discs next to the ships in the photo above.) So a huge part of the game is trying to guess where your opponent’s ships are going to end up, so you can get your own ships squarely on target. You’ll cheer when a prescient move gets your best ship on the enemy ace’s six, and groan when an unlucky guess dumps your fighter into a shooting gallery.

That maneuver mechanic is what I want to port from X-Wing to every other miniature-based wargame that I play. A huge part of why BattleTech takes so long to play is the paralysis-by-analysis that accompanies sequential movement for each ‘Mech. If all of the moves were planned and revealed simultaneously, the agonizing chain of move, react, react-to-that, react-to-that, etc., etc., that eats up most of the gametime would be nipped in the bud. Naturally this would require rules for what to do when units bump into each other, which X-Wing has, and which could be DIYed for BattleTech pretty easily. For fast-movers and jump-capable ‘Mechs, the number of possible legal moves is too large to simulate using a dial, but everyone could write down their ‘Mechs’ moves in secret and then all reveal in sequence. Heck, that’s what London and I did in X-Wing when we used the off-brand minis, and it worked fine. I guess death-from-aboves would be almost impossible, but heck, they’re hard enough anyway to only appeal to the desperate or reckless.

The upshot is that if you’re remotely interested in Star Wars and tabletop games, you should give this a shot. I’m glad I did.

These last two photos are mostly for my future reference: the squads we fielded for tonight’s game. With the three Imperial ships we have right now, the best possible Imperial squad we can field costs 83 points:

Imperial Defender plus 2 83-pt squad

And here’s a matching 83-point Rebel squad that does not include the Y-Wing:

Rebel E and X 83-pt squad

It’s also possible to make an 83-point squad that does include the Y-Wing, but with low-skill pilots on all three ships and very few upgrades. However, the Y-Wing’s turret-mounted ion cannon is so good that it kind of unbalances the game, unless the Imperials have something to match, and ours don’t yet. I suppose the next thing for us to try is the three Rebel ships versus the three Imperials, minus the ion turret for the Y-Wing. I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in actual play reports, Star Wars, wargames, X-Wing Miniatures Game | 1 Comment

Thinking about The Force Awakens and spoilers

Force Awakens - strafing

The impending release of a new Star Wars movie – and a new Star Wars trilogy – has me thinking about the last time a new trilogy launched, back in 1999. My brother Todd and I took opposite approaches to learning about the film in advance.

I remember, a few months before The Phantom Menace came out, I was in a bookstore and one of the sci-fi magazines supposedly had the leaked plot of the whole movie. I read it, and a few months later, it turned out they were right. I always regretted knowing the story in advance. Even though TPM turned out to be…well, you know…movies are more fun if you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That was the first time I ever felt like I had truly spoiled something for myself by overeager rumor-hunting.

Todd skewed as far in the other direction as I’ve ever heard of anyone doing. Whenever a trailer or TV spot for The Phantom Menace came on, he would close his eyes, stick his fingers in his ears, and hum the national anthem. It sounds like a joke, right? But he did it, for real, and the first time he saw anything substantial from The Phantom Menace was in the theater, watching the movie. Being surprised.

Force Awakens detention center

I don’t know how The Force Awakens is going to turn out. There are positive and negative signs in several directions. On the positive side, none of J.J. Abrams’ movies have been as clumsy and poorly executed as the prequels – but then, none of them have been as clever or memorable as the Original Trilogy. On the negative side, a ton of movie merchandise is coming out on September 4, “Force Friday”, and it’s almost inevitable that some of this stuff will include spoilery details. But on the plus side, Abrams and Lucasfilm have been holding their cards very close to the vest about the movie’s plot and the arcs of the characters, especially Han, Luke, and Leia. (And least in terms of mass-release information – I’m not worried about what might be lurking out there where I’d have to deliberately go hunting to find it.)

Anyway, however good the movie turns out to be, I know I’ll enjoy it more than I would otherwise if I know as little about it as possible. So I’d probably better cut myself off from any further spoilers starting now.

Whether I’ll actually have the willpower to keep that up for another four months is anyone’s guess.

Posted in movies, sequels, Star Wars | 2 Comments