The Good Old Star Wars as Opposed to the New: Battlefront and the new stepdad

I was with a VIP catching a flight at O’Hara International Airport toward a destination that would take me along the coast of Russia and a spit in the wind from North Korea when I was asked about my thoughts on The Force Awakens, the Star Wars movie Matt Clark and I had brutally reviewed on his radio program just a few weeks prior.  CLICK TO REVIEW.  Along the concourse that headed toward the big oversea flights was a lit up advertisement for the new Star Wars movie and the man with me knew I liked Star Wars and wanted a referral.  I pointed him to the podcast of the WAAM radio show which he could download before we took off on what would be a very long flight because I didn’t really want to talk about it more than I had on that broadcast.  Star Wars was always something my family enjoyed together and this new generation felt like a family with a new step dad in it that wanted to replace our old dad.  The new dad was much more progressive than the old traditional dad and I found I didn’t like him, even though he was full of good intentions.  They were intentions that didn’t feel conducive to what Star Wars meant to my family—so I put it out of my mind.

As I sat with that VIP at a bar having a 9:30 AM beer and some nachos we looked through the big window onto our big 747 that was being prepped for our journey and he thought it was funny that probably for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to talk about Star Wars or the importance of its mythology upon the world stage, which I tend to do.  Our conversation drifted off onto other things happening at that time, the NFL playoffs, whether or not Trump would make the Republican nomination, and the goals of our travels.  But lingering in my mind was that bad feeling about the direction Star Wars was taking—a much more Huffington Post—Star Wars, as opposed to the dystopian THX-1138 version that I feel in love with as a kid—the small government, pro-freedom imagination fueling engine that really changed science, mechanical engineering, and philosophy for the human race under the guidance of George Lucas.  For kids, Star Wars was great because it combined two of their favorite things—guns, and cool machines into one movie.

The new Star Wars writers, directors, and producers were more concerned about social inclusiveness—ethnic diversity, sexual empowerment, and a hippie like love of the “Force” than the hot rod inspired George Lucas had been as a former race car driver who took his love of mechanics and applied them directly to an unlimited free market tapestry of a galaxy functioning as a Laissez-faire capitalist bastion which was carrying that society toward a type two evolutionary threshold.  After all, that was what made the original trilogy such a tragedy was that the oppressive Empire was seeking to control the entire galaxy from a central government through force.  Even as George Lucas become more progressive the older he became, that original essence stayed with him on every Star Wars project he worked on through The Clone Wars animated series.  Noticeably in the Rebels television show and now with The Force Awakens, it was obvious to me that George Lucas wasn’t calling the shots anymore, it was now a bunch of progressive San Francisco residents with body piercings and tattoos who had much different values in life than I had, and it bothered me.  It was like our metaphorical mother—Star Wars—had married an old hippie with a bald head except for a long ponytail of fringed gray hair stained with the smell of pot smoke informed us that he was our new dad—and I didn’t like him.

I didn’t have a history with this new dad.  I did with the old one, I had read every book, every comic and followed most everything that happened in the Star Wars storyline for thirty years and now this new dad was throwing out a bunch of stuff that reminded him of the old dad so that he could have sex with our mom and not think of what was there before him.  For me the final straw was when Disney tossed out the expanded universe books which my wife and I had read for two decades and proposed that their future stories would “borrow” from those books, but that from now on, the new dad would be calling all the story shots—which was noticeably less exciting and filled with original thoughts.  This new dad was not better than the old dad—he was different—and I have been rejecting him.

About a month before The Force Awakens came out the videogame Battlefront was released to the PlayStation 4 counsel and it was reportedly a dream for Star Wars fans.  I love Star Wars games for all the reasons little kids love the movies and toys—because there is a lot of energy, strategy, and imagination in them which I find is like a personal vacation for me to visit those places to step out of the daily pressures of my life—it has become for me kind of stress management.  I enjoy visiting big concepts in that boundless universe–conceptually.  Star Wars has always given me hope that mankind can step away from the limitations of our past into a future full of opportunity.  The games always make it easy to visit that world—especially through the Fantasy Flight Games products and the video games that have been produced over the years.  But with Battlefront, I wasn’t sure I was going to accept this new dad in Star Wars who was throwing out all the things I had spent time getting to know over several decades.  So even though my kids, and Matt Clark along with many others were pushing me to get the new Battlefront game so they could play it with me online—I was being very stubborn about it.

Shortly after that oversea trip my wife and I bought a next generation entertainment system with a 4k 70” television that is as crystal clear as anything I’ve ever seen.  Since we’ve had it we have purposely watched anything filmed or created to fulfill the market parameters of the 4K technology except the new Star Wars products.  I didn’t buy The Force Awakens at first when it came out on Blue Rey, I gave up on the Rebels television show, and I refused to buy Battlefront even when our television salesman offered to give it to me for free for spending so much money with him.   I said no because I didn’t want to deal with the new ponytail hippie dad that Star Wars had become to me.

After a few months of dancing around the issue the news that Battlefront was releasing a VR experience for on their upcoming PlayStation VR system made me look seriously at what was going on with Star Wars Battlefront.  I had already become used to what the 4K television experience could provide and I consumed all the media I could without any of it being Star Wars—but finally knowing that I was going to participate in the VR PlayStation release, I decided I wanted to pick it up Battlefront and learn to play.  Softening my position on Star Wars also was my grandson who has discovered all my old collectibles that I have from nearly four decades ago, and they are his favorite toys to play with bridging generations with some common ground to work with.  So I purchased the game and was just a little blown away by the experience.

I last remembered Battlefront 2 on the old Xbox so it’s been about five years since I really paid attention to what’s going on in the platform video game market.  As I have said before, my wife and I played The Old Republic online for a few years and I have been into the Fantasy Flight Games tabletop releases—so I haven’t had much time for other things.  I have a busy enough life; I have to pick my leisure events carefully.  So I never picked up a PlayStation 3, as I stated when recently discussing the Uncharted games.  I went from watching the PS2 graphics to essentially the latest and greatest in PS4—which is essentially 7 years of technical development.  I really never thought a game like Battlefront would have been possible.  Some of the levels such as the ATAT Attack in the Endor forest where an All Terrain Armored Transport makes its way down a creek bed to destroy a Rebel Transport before it can take off complete with rich vegetation, slowing running water and insects flying around were simply astounding—bewildering good graphically.  Then there was a moment at the Rebel Depot where a Millennium Falcon was sitting in a hanger and the battle takes place around it where I had to catch my breath and just think how cool that ship was sitting there.  The vehicle was nearly photorealistic and was something that was a childhood dream for me.  Essentially, after those two battle modes my position on Star Wars softened a lot.  Not completely, but I found enough value in those experiences to heal some of the betrayal I felt for the abandonment of the Extended Universe to essentially reboot for a new generation that was noticeably much more politically progressive.  Yet what I was seeing on Battlefront was something I observed on the multiplayer modes of Uncharted, a very laissez-faire capitalist economy that rewards the best and most hard working and provides equal opportunity for everyone who wants to be the best they can be.  That is why I found myself enjoying that environment and seeing a new level of benefit in the Star Wars franchise that certainly wasn’t available when I was a kid.  It’s not just about movies anymore, but the extended experience that takes place in our everyday lives.

My favorite mode is Fighter Squadron where players can fly Star Wars ships in combat over ground targets, through smoke, clouds and vicious firefights.  Graphically, everything is very photorealistic. It reminded me of the countless flight simulators I’ve played over the years—but it was by far the best.  It didn’t take me long before I was flying against other people—many who seem to always be playing the game 24 hours a day—and I was on the top of the leaderboard with 34 ships shot down in one match and I was only a level 11 at the time.  It was a lot of fun for me to get into something that was so familiar, yet so new and polished that I saw the great benefit that was happening intellectually, and philosophically.  As I was shooting down other pilots from all over the world at 4 AM in the morning with a vicious firefight that only history pointed to as a similar experience, and I noticed how some players tagged onto my wing to provide assistance without being asked and people were working together to achieve objectives because it was in everyone’s best interest to do so—I saw many good things happening to people that they aren’t learning in school.  Thinking of the other players online with me, some who were very good showed that a new evolution was clearly taking place and it was a global phenomenon which transcended traditional political parameters—and it centered on laissez-faire capitalism as a foundation.  Video games by their very nature are very free market entertainment options, and based on the behavior of that very vibrant world, it was working and people were enjoying it in every time zone on earth—together.  A lot of people have come to take this kind of thing for granted, but for me, it wasn’t that long ago where I was on the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot Center in 2003 when my daughters and I first learned about the possibility of global communication through web browsers.  I think at that time we still had to pay a usage fee for internet use.  Gaming with all the information that travels over the various internet connections involves a tremendous amount of information that a 4K 70-inch television that can be bought at Costco for the price of a house payment, can show.  I wouldn’t say that I’m old, but I certainly have had a front row seat to all this development both on the Star Wars front, and on the technological part—and the mythology, and the philosophy of economy was certainly inspiring.

It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that I was playing the very first computer game, X-Wing which was a DOS based game which came out in 1993.  In 1994 I bought my very first powerful PC which could play the game, and I was in love with it—I really never forgot the experience.   I stayed up many nights playing it with my nephews and we had likely some of the best times of our lives with that game and some of its sequels which started toying with the idea of online play which was attractive to us since they lived in Florida at that time.  But it was nothing like the smoothness of Battlefront—so I was a little bit enchanted with my experience and maybe not so critical of the new step dad.  I don’t think the new makers of Star Wars are even close to being able to make movies as original as George Lucas did.  At best, they may copy elements of the original series and the films will be enjoyable.  But if that’s the best that we get, it’s still a lot more than a world without Star Wars—which is changing the philosophy of the human race a little bit each and every day in a positive way.

Star Wars Battlefront is just one online experience—there are in fact hundreds of possible titles all fighting for attention in a very exciting marketplace.  Battlefront has the advantage of being associated with a popular space saga that has already captured the imaginations of several generations and speaks a universal language that transcends established trends, even religion—which is why to me it is such a nice vacation for my mind.  When time prevents a real vacation, I have for years vacationed in the world of Star Wars and enjoyed it for all that it brings—primarily the fighting and hot rod space ships.  For others, they like the philosophy of the Force.  For me, that is too much kid’s stuff.  I like the strategic combat that is involved in the wars of that galaxy far, far away.  I’m not ready to give the step dad a hug, but I’m at the point where I might not leave the room.  We’ll see how good the new Rogue One movie is.  That will decide a lot.  But for now, Battlefront was just spectacular and a real treat of a sandbox video game that I found I liked a lot more than I would have thought.  I not only enjoyed it for what it is—a technical marvel, but for the evolution of philosophy that it offers players on such a grand scale.  There are some very special things going on in that gaming industry and it is fun for me to not only watch, but to participate in.  I enjoy sharing those experiences with my kids, people like Matt Clark, and even my grandson who spent most of the weekend mesmerized by the images on the screen.  I have gotten used to the big television now, but to him it was like looking into another bright world full of energy and excitement.  It was fun for me to just see the excitement coming from him.  So in that regard, I’m liking Star Wars again.  Hopefully the people at Lucasfilm and Disney don’t screw it up any further.  Because there is an opportunity here to do something very special—and I hope they don’t blow it.  If Battlefront is a sign of things to come—that looks to be a concern I don’t need to have.

Rich Hoffman

 CLIFFHANGER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

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